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)”

Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars” (Columbia, 2019)

The lone traveler sticks out his thumb and his journey begins. Across the country he hitch-hikes, catching rides from family men, truck drivers, muscle car owners and the like, listening to their stories and situations as he moves from town to town. So begins ‘Western Stars,’ the most densely cinematic Bruce Springsteen album since ‘The Rising.’ Continue reading “Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars” (Columbia, 2019)”

Owen-Glass “The Rope & The Rabbit” (August Eckler Media, 2019)

One of the best albums of the first half of 2019, Owen-Glass’s ‘The Rope & The Rabbit’ keeps on giving; each song is better than the last.  Delicious, hushed harmonies hover above folk-pop arrangements that stay consistent in mood throughout.  The result is a mesmerizing, hazy mix of lazy, jazzy-funk dreamscapes filtered through an East Texas awareness of gospel, blues, country, and soul.  Imagine members of the War on Drugs jamming with Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd on some 13th Floor Elevators deep tracks. Continue reading “Owen-Glass “The Rope & The Rabbit” (August Eckler Media, 2019)”

True Strays “Homeward Bound” EP (Fieldview Records, 2019)

There’s no doubt True Strays can rock out.  The drums pound.  The cymbals crash.  The guitars crunch and slide and the bass bellows below it all.  Their latest EP, ‘Homeward Bound’ kicks off with the hard rock stomp of ‘Homesick Blues,’ characterized in the press materials as a song for “the wandering, zero hours contract, minimum wage wayfarer with no home to call their own.”  Continue reading “True Strays “Homeward Bound” EP (Fieldview Records, 2019)”