The Milk Carton Kids “The Only Ones” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)

With ‘The Only Ones,’ The Milk Carton Kids go back to their roots: acoustic guitars and ethereal harmonies delivering lyrics that detail all the emotions love evokes. Musical duos will inevitably be compared to those that came before, and while The Milk Carton Kids conjure everyone from Simon and Garfunkel to the O’Kanes, ‘The Only Ones’ prove they can confidently hold their own, alongside their influences. Continue reading “The Milk Carton Kids “The Only Ones” (Thirty Tigers, 2019)”

Crow vs Lion “The Heart, The Time, The Pen” (Independent, 2019)

The number thirteen is one of the most mysterious and storied numbers in our numerical system. For the superstitious, it’s bad luck, but for many religious and folklorists, as well as tarot readers and tattoo enthusiasts, its significance runs deep, man. Thirteen plays into ‘The Heart, The Time, The Pen,’ the sophomore release from Crow vs Lion, the brainchild of Dan Gallagher. Though Gallagher hails from the States (Bucks County, Pa, to be exact), the sound of Crow vs Lion incorporates many nods to skiffle and traditional English folk. Continue reading “Crow vs Lion “The Heart, The Time, The Pen” (Independent, 2019)”

King of Birds “Eve of Destruction” (Valuable Recordings, 2019)

When the chorus kicks in on ‘Down On the Corner’ – the opening track on ‘Eve of Destruction,’ the debut album from sibling songwriters Charlie and Stirling Gorman, known collectively as King of Birds – the adrenaline follows. It’s a shock to the system in the best way. King of Birds, although hailing from the village of Elderslie, 14 miles west of Glasgow in Scotland, recall the best of the heartland rock of America. Its songs encapsulate long, scenic drives along the fruited plains, conjuring the 1980s heyday of the Bruce Springsteens, the John Cougars, and, especially vocally, the BoDeans.

Del Barber “Easy Keeper” (Acronym, 2019)

Too often these days, when an artist tries on the sound of the past he may get the music right – using all the proper amps, vintage guitars, analog equipment and such – and still not have anything interesting to put on top of it. Kind of like a hipster with a Civil War beard and suspenders who owns a vintage typewriter but who’s only capable of typing out Dick and Jane-level prose. So much posing, so little substance. It’s pretty simple: when your music and melodies sound like they could have been outtakes from the legendary mid-70s progressive country documentary, ‘Heartworn Highways’ – sitting around the kitchen table with Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, and Steve Earle – your lyrics better deliver. Thankfully, Del Barber delivers. Continue reading “Del Barber “Easy Keeper” (Acronym, 2019)”

Kacy & Clayton “Carrying On” (New West, 2019)

“Should’ve married for money, like any woman in her right mind would do / instead I settled for love and don’t you know that that’s the worst thing you can do.” So begins ‘The Forty-Ninth Parallel’, the opening track on ‘Carrying On’, the new album from Canadian country/folk duo – and second cousins – Kacy & Clayton, and their first since 2017’s acclaimed ‘The Siren’s Song’. Continue reading “Kacy & Clayton “Carrying On” (New West, 2019)”

Alasdair Roberts “The Fiery Margin” (Drag City Records, 2019)

Alasdair Roberts continues his exploration of traditional song structures, melodies, and instrumentation with a foot – and an ear – in the present with his latest, ‘The Fiery Margin.’ Joined again by bassist Stevie Jones and Alex Neilson on percussion, Roberts expands his sound, and deepens the traditional touch, with the addition of Irish violist Ailbhe nic Oireachtaigh. Together they form a sound that’s both timeless and relevant to these times. Traditional Scottish, English, and Irish forms lay a perfect foundation for Roberts’s expressive vocals. Continue reading “Alasdair Roberts “The Fiery Margin” (Drag City Records, 2019)”

Stuart Smith “The Sun EP” (Independent, 2019)

Stepping into 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, not to take a tour but to actually record your own songs, takes a special kind of nerve. Yet as Stuart Smith points out on his website, “There’s intimidation in that for sure, but there’s also a freedom in knowing that nothing you do will ever compare. So you can just do you.” Indeed, standing where everyone from Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm stood can be overwhelming, but it’s undoubtedly inspiring. Continue reading “Stuart Smith “The Sun EP” (Independent, 2019)”

Che Apalache “Rearrange My Heart” (Free Dirt Records, 2019)

“Now, you and I can sing a song / and we can build a congregation / but only when we take a stand / will we change our broken nation.” Those lyrics are lifted from ‘The Dreamer,’ the first single from ‘Rearrange My Heart,’ the new album from Americana/Latingrass/folk group Che Apalache. ‘The Dreamer’ chronicles the life of Moises Serrano, a DACA Dreamer born in Mexico and raised in North Carolina, also the home state of Che Apalache frontman, Joe Troop. Troop worked on the song with Serrano (who is also the subject of a documentary, ‘Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America’), and it’s the centrepiece of a powerful and diverse album that musically touches on everything from bluegrass, Americana, and folk, to Latin, jazz, swing, even rural Japanese melodies. Continue reading “Che Apalache “Rearrange My Heart” (Free Dirt Records, 2019)”

Pat Dam Smyth “The Last King” (Quiet Arch, 2019)

‘What the hell is going on?’ Pat Dam Smyth asks at the beginning of ‘Kids,’ the track that kicks off ‘The Last King,’ Smyth’s follow-up to his 2012 debut, ‘The Great Divide.’ What’s going on is the sound of someone with a serious Pink Floyd fetish (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The droning synths that open the album point the way toward an atmospheric journey of moody, classic pop that keeps a foot in the present while acknowledging the past. Continue reading “Pat Dam Smyth “The Last King” (Quiet Arch, 2019)”

Jack Cade “Bear Bones” (Collision, 2019)

Jack Cade will never be accused of having a golden throat. Imagine Kris Kristofferson in a heated argument with Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, and Johnny Cash. If it helps, or just for fun, picture the gigantic yellow bear head that graces the cover of his second solo album, ‘Bear Bones,’ as the singer of the songs within. Once you get it, though, you’ll be glad you stuck around, because ‘Bear Bones’ is one captivating listen. Continue reading “Jack Cade “Bear Bones” (Collision, 2019)”