One down, two to go… Angharad Drake, as far as I know (I mean, I wasn’t there, Nanaimo being a lo-o-ong walk from Oregon), finished her one gig on Vancouver Island and is set to play two more in Vancouver before leaving for her homeland, Australia. Those will happen (barring God and Act of Congress— and we have seen how Congress has been acting lately) on Friday and Saturday, June 23rd and 24th. On Friday, she will play Trees Organic Coffee and Roasting House and on Saturday, The Heatley. Here is a sample for your listening enjoyment.
Seriously. I am doing you a favor. Consider this your chance to see and hear an artist the quality of a young Joni Mitchell or Sandy Denny. Mark the dates.
2017— One Hell of a Year Thus Far
Partially due to the release of Angharad Drake‘s Ghost. It is a stunner of an album. Among the best I’ve heard, and not just this year. I kid you not, Drake is going to be one international draw as soon as people catch on. I know I have a tendency to glorify what I like but Drake is beyond that. Like I’ve said before, if she sold stock, I’d sell the house and buy some.
But there are others. Lots of others. So many that I am anxious about what I’m missing. There are so many and so little time, right? So please afford me this opportunity to highlight a few for you. Starting with…
SCOTT COOK/Further Down the Line
He’s a B.C. Boy and a purveyor of what I like to call Modern Folk. All he needs is an instrument, an attitude and a song and Cook can turn a campfire into a concert. My first impression of his brand new album (Further Down the Line) is that he has a lot of what made John Stewart the man he was: songwriting talent, a voice worth hearing, and an appreciation of his audience. The album is packed with good songs of the folk variety, not the least of which are Dogs and Kids (in which he admits ti being “a better person when he’s hanging with dogs and kids”), Alberta, You’re Breaking My Heart, and a modernized version of the old folk song I heard as a youth— Walk That Lonesome Valley(which I just found out was written by Woody Guthrie).
The album comes in booklet form— more chapbook than anything— the size of a CD and put together with artists eye and heart. In it, Cook gives you reason to ponder— thoughts, reasons and beautiful photographs abound, plus lyrics with I’s and II’s and IV’s, which I will understand some day if it kills me. Right now, I have neither time nor energy and, truth be told, the music is more than enough.
A real surprise, though it should not be. I knew the dude had talent, I am just glad that all the pieces fell into place in this one album. It’s a beauty.
BOBBY MESSANO/Bad Movie
‘At damn Messano has me back into the blues, though I think what he does is more rock than blues in most places. Think the fringes of blues like Stevie Ray Vaughn and The Nighthawks. Blues with a purpose beyond the blues and I think he even knows what that purpose might be, by the gods. The guy can sling a guitar, has a great sense of humor, and can rock out with the best of them. He put in time on Planet Earth playing with the likes of The Stanky Brown Group and STARZ, but I think he is most comfortable serving up the blues. I will give him credit for being on of the most humble musicians I have ever known. Of course, he had better be after all of the problems he has had. You can see most of them in this video. Just his luck that he got hit by a bus advertising this album.
Hey, the guy isn’t all practical jokes and three chords. I think he knows four. I wonder who he got to play the others on this track. I’m kidding, of course. Bobby’s a class act and someone you should see live. Hell, while you’re there, buy a vinyl copy of the album and have him sign it. By the way, you can buy it from his website too.
Boy, did the former Microsoft whiz kid Jim Allchin fall into a good thing. I mean, he had been playing guitar for years and he obviously loved it, but he didn’t really have a chance to really put on the musicians cap until he retired— he did retire, didn’t he? Anyway, he started putting more time and emphasis on his music if nothing else. I remember hearing his album Overclocked a number of years ago and being blown away. Life’s still the same. His new one (Decisions) blows me away too. There used to be an old cartoon in which all of the would-be-musicians are standing in front of the stage watching a guitarist and every one of them saying “I could do that.” The difference between them and Allchin is that he could. And does. I also remember when the unplugged thing became a standard. I hated it. I mean, if God had wanted guitarists to play acoustic all the time, he would not have invented amps. Which makes Allchin all the more important to me. He can unplug, he just prefers not to (most of the time). Want a taste? Here’s a taste.
WES SWING/And the Heart
The Swing man is another of those dreaded Charlottesvillains I write about on all too regular occasions. Something about that town (and region) which cranks out musicians like a machine gun. If I started writing names of all the musicians I know from (or knew from) the area, I would still be typing in the morning. The main thing is, Wes is one of them.
Wes has roots in a number of genres and comes up with some fascinating ways to make them work together. With a voice between tenor and soprano and a way with looping machines, he brings an adventurousness to not just his album but to his live performances. The following video will give you a good idea of what he does. And just so you know, the album was produced by one of my favorite musicians and producers, Paul Curreri. Swing and Curreri is a one-two punch to the gut,
I include this video so you can see and hear how unique is Wes’s vision of his music. It is of his album release party in Charlottesville where he is joined by a number of local and regional musicians. It might be a bit long for you to listen here, but I recommend you bookmark it and watch it when you have the time.
Chris Bathgate/Dizzy Seas
Not that long ago, Chris Bathgate was just a guy singing interesting songs in the woods, or so it seemed. I had a link to a couple of videos and visited the links a couple of times. A few times, I should say, because every time I watched, I wanted to go back and watch again. His voice, textured a bit like Greg Laswell’s, captured my ear. It didn’t seem to be anything new, but it was put together so that it struck a chord with me.
When Dizzy Seas hit the street, I jumped. Part of the fascination I found was his use of tremolo in a world almost devoid of it outside certain genres. The other part was songwriting to still the heart. The perfect three in the morning album.
JARED TYLER/Dirt On Your Hands
Tyler almost threw me with this one. The leadoff track, Death of Me, is one of those rag/dixieland jazz mixes favored by the likes of Jim Croce and Leon Redbone, two artists I never could get into. I listened once a few weeks ago and tossed it aside, assuming that the rest of the album followed suit. When I listened again, this time all the way through, I realized that the song was an anomaly. That, in fact, Tyler was more slightly country-leaning and had a band of which to be proud. The songs bend like reeds, this one more country rock, this one more rock, this one more folk, but always within Tyler’s range. One bonus, for me, is the band’s tendency toward hillbilly, not unlike Cowboy on their album Reach For the Sky. The more I hear this, the more I like it. Good songs played exceptionally well.
TODD ADELMAN & THE COUNTRY MILE/Time Will Tell
One bonus, for me, is The Country Mile’s tendency toward hillbilly, not unlike Cowboy on their album Reach For the Sky, maybe with a bit of Dr. Hook and a touch of The Dillards on the side. But what do I know? Seems like every time I try to categorize something, someone somewhere calls bullshit on me. I don’t claim to be an expert here, but I know the difference between Big Band and Country (the real Country and not that crap major label Nashville seems to label Country). There is a definite twang to these guys I like, just enough to give the music a real rural flavor, but they can be smooth too. A very impressive outing.
VARIOUS/Treasure of the Broken Land
I am not a big fan of various artists compilations largely because of the inconsistencies of such projects. Most are jumpy, songs being recorded by different bands and artists in different studios with different producers, etc. They just don’t feel right for a straight-through listen. But the people who put together Treasures of the Broken Land— The Songs of Mark Heard knew what they were doing. Jeff Grantham, the executive producer of the project, assigned musician/producer Phil Madeira the task of stringing the artists and songs together and he came through big time. The eighteen Heard-penned songs here were matched to the artists carefully and arranged to give a feel of, if not one band, one sessions work.
I somehow had missed Heard when he was recording, something I shall have to remedy, but this album gives credence to him as a songwriter. Some of these are not classics only out of omission, each of the eighteen needing only ears to make them so. Among my favorites are What Kind of Friend (Lily & Madeleine), Nod Over Coffee (Rodney Crowell), House of Broken Dreams (Amy Speace), and Freight Train to Nowhere (North Mississippi Allstars), but that doesn’t really mean much. Each track stands on its own, each band and artist tuned in to the whole. Everyone involved in the project hits a home run. Among the best compilation albums I have ever heard.
Just so we know who this is all about, here is a little of Mark Heard himself, may he know that his music is not forgotten.
CINDY LEE BERRYHILL/The Adventurist
If I didn’t know Cindy Lee Berryhill‘s music, I would know her. Good friend and musician/poet Gary Heffern has been singing her praises since we reconnected in Seattle after a short friendship in San Diego before he became manic frontman for The Penetrators. He is still singing—- praises and songs. Here is the last communique we shared.
in my youth i remember cindy lee berryhill at shows with her long blonde hair, a sundress and combat boots. and a big beautiful smile always. she stood out because she had her own style. it kicked ass. no one else looked like her. and no one messed with her either. here is what i wrote about the album ” This landmark album by CLB, is the bookend to Lou Reed’s Berlin. Poetic, dark, beautiful, sad, and honest, the music counterbalances the lyrics, at the same time accentuates them. This is a perfect Sunday morning first cup of coffee album. It makes me glad to be alive. It makes me grateful there are important singer-songwriters still doing their thing. Still keeping it real. Most of all keeping it honest. Listening to her music keeps me in balance and reminds me constantly of the fragility of life
I think Heffern pretty much nailed Berryhill, the person. You can hear the sincerity in her music. In fact, as I listen, I can see her in that sundress and those combat boots (do they even sell them anymore?), shuffling and swaying if not dancing, more than likely with eyes glued to the stage, soaking everything in. Like Heffern, who used to tell me he was going to be in a band, be a star, she probably wanted it too. There is a magnetic attraction to rockdom that some cannot ignore.
They might have called The Adventurist alt.rock back in the days they were alt-ing everything. What the hell did alt mean anyway? I guess I took it to mean not major label, not overslick. Honest music presented honestly. Well, you can hear that here. Berryhill’s almost theatrical at times approach to songwriting serves her well, especially handled as well as it is. The chamber music approach, the pop rock approach with the sixties/seventies edge, the take it as it comes attitude all add up to one of this years best.
You want to know what I really think, though? I didn’t have to take her driving. Seems like most albums are having trouble getting through the past few months and I don’t know why. I have to take them for a drive to really listen. Not this one. It broke through easily and I don’t know why. Because it’s that good, I suppose. And it is unpretentious in a world of pretension, if that’s a word. Listening to the album keeps Heffern in balance. It keeps me smiling. Good, good stuff. And the production is superb. Berryhill teamed up with some of the best— David Schwartz, Ben Moore, and Sheldon Gomberg, whose name, if I was a namedropper, I would drop. Like, hey, I know that guy!
Here is the leadoff track. It just gets better from there. Buy this album or Heffern will track you down. Swear to God.
JEFF FINLIN/The Guru In the Girl
Jeff Finlin is one of the best writers and performers out there! Have you not been paying attention? I guess not. He is unique. He lives in his own world. We should be happy he is willing to share it with us. One thing he is not, though, is rich, so the only video he has to share at this time is a trailer. You would think, what with all of the bottle bill states we have, he would at least be able to cash in a few bottles and cans. Sigh. Well, take it from me. You want creative? You want unique? Take a listen.
ELKHORN/The Black River
Excellent twelve string with electric guitar and collage. I love this album— adventurous yet melodic, striking. Better yet, instrumental. Mind tripping, even.
THE SUITCASE JUNKET/Pile Driver
Hard to believe one guy could not only pull it off in the studio, but pull it off live as well. This, his second, easily matches the first. I’ve got to see this guy live!
LOST LEADERS/Heavy Lifting EP
I want to go out and walk the streets and play this record for everyone, it is so good. As good as their first self-titled album, in fact. These guys should be headlining major concerts, sports fans. But you don’t care. Go ahead and post another picture of your lunch. Freaking losers.
Chris Milam has a voice which reminds me vaguely of John Denver. The first thing that came to mind was Denver, in fact, though the song is all Milam. Very impressive. If the rest of the album is as good as this track, I’m in for a pound.
Too many musicians I put a lot of faith in recommended Sam Amidon. Edgy. I could see myself getting into this guy and his music.
Good news in the works for fans of No Small Children. They are working on a new EP, in fact. While the music is not yet available for thirsty ears, allow me to post one of my all-time favorite NSC songs.
I sometimes want to just plain give up. Right now, I am enveloped in memories of the Viet Nam war and wonder what has happened to us all. I can’t figure it out. The US, as flawed as it was, used to be a country in which I took pride. Trump and the Tea Party have destroyed that. And so I bury myself in music and hope for the best. Recently, I uncovered one of my old columns and found this gem of a song by Sam Morrow. Titled War, it is about the struggle between two people but it is much more than that. To me it is analogous to actual war. The destruction, mentally, can be the same. Worlds change drastically and there are extreme winners and losers— mostly losers. I have watched my friends go through similar breakups and through war itself. I don’t know. Maybe if we just stopped and listened once in awhile. Or paid attention. Anyway, without music such as this, my life might well have been over by now. It doesn’t help me understand, but it helps me cope
I found this video when digging through the archives. I bet money that Skye Wallace was going to be huge by now. What the hell are you people doing out there that you can’t recognize real talent when you hear it?
While many people are trying to break through on the rock or pop charts, musician Attilio Panasiddi III has back tracked to musique noir— let’s call it Detective Rock. I dig it.
I personally think the dude is onto something. Call it cross-genre-ative or what you will, Panassidi has a touch when it comes to overlaying influences. Like this:
SUSTO pays tribute to Bob Marley in this video, Jah Werx.
I’m really not sure what the hell is going on here, but I like it. Shades of dementia a la The Great Sadness.
Just the other day I was thinking, you know what we need more of? Tremelo! And sonofagun if I didn’t just receive a link to this the next day. Serendipitous! From Canada’s Whitehorse.
And in case you missed it, here is a reload of their previous video, Nighthawks.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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