Scott Hildebrand “Fill Your Cup” – Listen

It’s always interesting to hear a new artist for the first time and it’s especially so when you get to hear them with a minimum of outside influence and professional polish layered on. The new EP from this Chicago-born and currently Berlin-based singer-songwriter is an opportunity to do just that. The four songs on the EP give listeners a sense of the broad palette that Hildebrand brings to the craft. The song sketches are solid and call to mind songwriters ranging from Rivers Cuomo to Jack Johnson. Listeners who stick around for the full run of the EP are rewarded as the final track ‘Fill Up Your Cup’ is the strongest by far. The instrumental arrangements, lyrics, and vocal delivery all point toward what Hildebrand is capable of.

Classic America Albums: Cracker “Kerosene Hat” (Virgin, 1993)

The early nineties was a weird time in America. It was weird socially. It was weird culturally. A lot of that weirdness was voiced in music and a lot of that music found an audience. Of course, weird is a relative term. Compared to the present moment, the early nineties seem like a Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Good Old Days”. But it’s worth remembering that in 1993 the U.S. was emerging from a 12-year run of conservatism defined by trickle-down economics, the war on drugs, and Cold War brinkmanship. Continue reading “Classic America Albums: Cracker “Kerosene Hat” (Virgin, 1993)”

AUK’s Chain Gang: Benjamin Tod “The Mountain”

In last week’s instalment of the Chain Gang, Tim Newby described the connections between Ola Belle Reed’s ‘High on a Mountain’ and Roy Acuff’s ‘Wreck on the Highway’ as “tenuous”. In contrast, the connections between Reed’s ‘High on a Mountain’ and Benjamin Tod’s cover of Steve Earle’s ‘The Mountain’ could be described as ubiquitous. That doesn’t mean those connections are uncomplicated. Continue reading “AUK’s Chain Gang: Benjamin Tod “The Mountain””

Afton Wolfe “Petronius’ Last Meal” (Twangri-La Records, 2020)

You won’t find the feel-good hit of the summer on Afton Wolfe’s debut EP. But it’s a pretty safe bet that feel-good hits weren’t high on the list of priorities that he had for this project. With songs that meditate on death, decay, and departure—these tracks will be a great soundtrack for watching leaves turn and fall, shorter days, and darker nights. That’s not to say that the songs on the album are depressing or bleak. Wolfe examines each theme with a sober subjectivity that never loses touch with the understanding that endings are the precursors to beginnings in the cycle of life or the long-view of history. Continue reading “Afton Wolfe “Petronius’ Last Meal” (Twangri-La Records, 2020)”

Charley Crockett “Welcome to Hard Times” (Son of Davy/Thirty Tigers, 2020)

If you’ve been looking for something new to listen to, but you aren’t quite sure where to turn then there’s good news. Charley Crockett’s self-professed goal for his new album was to “make an album that would reclaim the entire conversation about country music”. That’s a pretty high bar for an artist to set for himself, but when you’ve got Mark Neil producing and songwriting assists from Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach—you should shoot for the moon. Continue reading “Charley Crockett “Welcome to Hard Times” (Son of Davy/Thirty Tigers, 2020)”

Classic Americana Compilations: Various Artists “Songs for Slim: Rockin’ Here Tonight – A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap” (New West Records, 2013)

If you remember the 1980s – and I can think of several reasons why you wouldn’t, not the least of which is the ever-expanding possibility that you weren’t even alive yet – then you probably remember The Replacements. As a fan of Americana music, you might be wondering why I bother to bring up a “punk” band on these pages. ‘The Mats’ certainly earned their reputation as a wild and unpredictable live performance, but their sound and sensibilities changed over time. Continue reading “Classic Americana Compilations: Various Artists “Songs for Slim: Rockin’ Here Tonight – A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap” (New West Records, 2013)”

Prinz Grizzley “To My Green Mountains Home” (DoWhWa Records, 2020)

Egg, Austria isn’t someplace that you would expect to be the launchpad for an album that sounds like it was born somewhere exactly halfway between Memphis and Nashville. But geography isn’t the only reason that listeners will find themselves doing a double-take when they listen to the sophomore release from Prinz Grizzley. The album’s twelve tracks are a carousel of musical influences that are polished up with production that will have listeners wondering which decade they’re in (in a good way). Continue reading “Prinz Grizzley “To My Green Mountains Home” (DoWhWa Records, 2020)”

AmericanA to Z: Brittany Howard

There have been some pretty impressive entries in the AmericanA to Z feature under the letter “H” already. We’ve had Ed Hamell and Emmylou Harris. It’s a letter so loaded down with talent that no-less-than Ray Wylie Hubbard had to get in where he fit in under “R” (or was it under “W”?). Continue reading “AmericanA to Z: Brittany Howard”

Kory Quinn & Co. “The Blueroom” (Independent, 2020)

It’s a bit of a challenge to pin down exactly where Kory Quinn is from. Most signs point to Portland, OR but there’s a Twitter account that says Chicago and a Soundcloud page that points to Houston. If it weren’t for the troubles unique to the present moment, he would have spent the past weekend celebrating the release of his new album with a show in Florida. If you didn’t do any outside investigating, you might conclude that Kory is from Oklahoma thanks to a sound that is part Woodie Guthrie and part roughneck. It seems appropriate that it is tough to pin down the singer’s geographical roots because the songs are those of a troubadour, a wanderer, someone who has put in the time and traveled the miles to be able to take the pulse of the nation, deliver a diagnosis, and hazard a prescription. Continue reading “Kory Quinn & Co. “The Blueroom” (Independent, 2020)”

American Aquarium “Lamentations” (New West Records, 2020)

BJ Barham has always been better than average when it comes to delivering hard truths in the form of memorable turns of phrase. Fans of American Aquarium have come to expect songs that are plain-spoken, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued. While the band’s track record up to now has been remarkably consistent in light of line-up changes and other challenges, ‘Lamentations’ is more than another installment of business-as-usual. Even with all of the good music in their catalog, this one sets a new standard. It’s hands-down one of the best cover-to-cover albums of the year and makes a solid argument for Barham’s name to be included in every conversation about the best songwriters putting in work right now. Continue reading “American Aquarium “Lamentations” (New West Records, 2020)”