Posts Tagged ‘Americana’

Loose Koozies

I’ve said it many times, but its worth repeating, the past few years have been a golden age for alt-country. The strains are many — cosmic-tinged psych that dots a few pot leaves on the ol’ nudie suits, indie country that pulls from No Depression template, folk strummers with a touch of twang, wage-puncher rags that take the edge off. The latest LP from Detroit’s Loose Koozies employs most, if not all of these subsets at once, while making the transitions appear seamless. While the can scrape the infinite with the best of ‘em, mostly they’re splitting time between the Jayhawks/Tuepelo template and The Replacements shaggy dog day-job sufferers with a bit more barroom twang on board. The band’s E.M. Allen has got a damn fine Jay Farrar gristle in his windpipe and that might make the comparison lazy if it weren’t so spot-on. Aside from the aesthetic similarities, the band excels at making the ordinary trappings of work, vice, sorrow, and simple pleasures elevate from the benign to divine, like both of their influences before them.

While Detroit might not have the stamp of a country hotbed, it’s certainly got all the right pieces in place. Having grown up in Michigan myself, I know the hold the genre can have on the populace. Seems their prowess proved infections and the band caught the ear of local legend Warren Defever (His Name is Alive), who hopped on board to help guide the grooves that the Koozies lay down. He also found himself studio-side contributing a bit of keys to the record. It’s easy to see what enamored Defever with the band as they’ve captured one of the more raw-nerve version of the new country grit that I’ve heard elsewhere. Many have tried, but few have found the right balance of country-rock chops and sweat-stained honesty that made that ‘90s wave click. Each spin on this record locks it down further as a jukebox staple just waiting for a college town or night-shift bar to embrace it as their own. Don’t let this one slip away.



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Arbouretum

While Arbouretum has undoubtedly been on the RSTB radar over the years, I have to admit that attention to them has wavered here and there. The band knocked down a couple of heavy catalog necessities with 2007’s Rites of Uncovering and 2009’s Song of the Pearl. The former bears the scars of songwriter Dave Heumann’s time with the brothers Oldham, and dips into the well of road-worn Americana with the best of ‘em. The latter grips a bit harder and finds its way towards the spirt of Crazy Horse. That’s not to say that the rest of the catalog isn’t worth your time (it certainly is) but these were the times I remember them grabbing me. They return with seat another instance of excellence on this year’s Let It All In, an album that arrives perhaps almost serendipitously in a wave of Cosmic Americana that the band’s Heumann has long been riding.

That others’ are just now catching up to his cracked leather vision of road-beaten folk rock proves that it wasn’t that the band was out of step, they were just waiting for the world to come back around to their senses again. With a double drummer setup, seasoned session players like Hans Chew popping in for some keys, and some of the most adventurous arrangements in their discography, this is the band bringing to a head a lot of the qualities that have made Arbouretum such stalwart travelers. The touching, spiritual melancholy remains in Heumann’s vocals. The slight singe of jam in the arrangements pushes through to breaking, which it finally does within the sprawling grandeur of the title track. In a solid catalog it stands out as a peak, garnering attention that was long overdue. If, perhaps like myself, Arbouretum has existed on the periphery of your ‘to play’ pile, let this one push it to the top. This is a welcome highlight among 2020’s Americana interests.



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Mapache – “Read Between The Lines”

West Coast duo Mapache has been more than giving in the run up to their sophomore LP on Yep Roc, with a steady stream of videos pouring out. Each new clip is doused in the late summer sun and cooled by the salt-scrubbed breezes of a slower life. On “Read Between The Lines,” the band lays into a hammock of strum and harmony. The bulk of the album has been unfettered by extraneous production, choosing to focus instead on the pairs interplay and sanguine folk prowess. They don’t stray here, and the video continues a thread of day-in-the-life captures that seem to accompany the lead up to the album, showing the duo enjoying the carefree countenance that soaks into their songs. The record is out next week, and I couldn’t recommend it more.

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Frank Hurricane and the Hurricanes of Love

Nestled in among the oddities, noise freaks, and psychedelic travelers on the Feeding Tube Roster rests a few releases from Frank Hurricane. The persona once held sway over Frank’s duffle-bag beats and scattershot flow, but he’s long since embraced his soulful side, melding rambling folk with a strain of small town Southern spiritual blues. The swap in sound’s done Frank good over the years, but nowhere more so than on his latest LP (splitting release between Feeding Tube and Crash Symbols). Along with a band dubbed The Hurricanes of Love, Frank fleshes out his sound adding in a few more voices to the mix, the occasional parade of horns, and the slow swing of drums behind his marmalade croons. Of course, bare-bones Frank tracks still abound, with Hurricane testifying his own brand of mud-caked gospel over the sunny tangle of strings.

Now at first blush, I might’ve balked on an album that goes so far as to include a Juggalo logo on the front cover. While I’m nestled in the Catskills these days, growing up in Michigan, on the backporch of Juggalo country in the ’90s, that was a totem that could often conjure trouble. However, Frank’s a seer and a singer, a poet laureate of the rusted underbelly of America, rust I often found myself scratched on growing up. He finds transcendence in the asphalt of Tennessee’s most scorched country – giving a reverent Americana profundity to PCP warnings, haunted devil towns, pimpin’, Shrympin (sic), and yeah lonely Juggalos at the local Burger King. Its all spiritual to Frank and he lets it flow through him and sow him like the soil piled behind a local gas station.

With a countenance that recalls Wooden Wand (albeit with a heavier howl) brushing up against Robbie Basho and boiled down in Charlie Patton’s American Gothic updated for 2019, the record is warm and inviting. Frank’s stories are peppered with characters and its clear each one has rubbed off on him and in turn, they likely took a bit of Frank’s hubris with them. This is a record for the porch, the tape deck on the tailgate, or anywhere that the sun can crack in and the mountain air fills the lungs. Damn fine summer songs, and just in time too.



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Joseph Childress

There are a lot of singer-songwriters you’ll encounter in life. Picking up a guitar and baring one’s soul isn’t such a unique experience among songwriters, but once the layers are peeled, it’s the soul that makes the difference. There’s a line between mere player and troubadour. For Childress, that line gets crossed on by the time we hit the second song on his debut proper. “Footsteps” is an emotional thunderball, building slowly in the distance, but arriving with an alchemical heft that’s proof that Childress has ability far beyond his years. It also proves to be no outlier on an album drawn from a well of stark beauty.

His eponymous LP is distinctly rural, capturing his move to ranching in Wyoming in all its isolating depths. There’s dust on the strings when Childress opens on the timely “My Land,” an ode to hard grit love and living in a time of constant consolidation by the powers that seek to keep a thumb down on the last bit of dirt that holds any worth in this world. He evokes the wild rivers in the ramble of guitar that accompanies “Whispering Tide” – creating a song that’s reflecting the clear blue stretch of sky right back out of the water’s ripples. “10,000 Horses” is grey-hued and smoldering like fog on the creek, beer worked and worn like the lone seat at the bar filled in the afternoon.

He’s not merely crafting a country album here. This is an otherworldly Americana born of modern means, yet crafted looking for timelessness. Childress has harnessed the quiet closeness of recording in solitude, confessional and quavering, a quality that often comes from albums made in sequester. He’s taken that solitary confinement and channeled a deep woven sadness that only comes to light when the tape captures a complete lack of self-preservation. There’s a parallel to be made with the States-based work of Sufjan Stevens, though Childress handles it with far less preciousness than Stevens prefers. The two men are both looking to record desperation, but Childress is capturing the stark permanence of gas station lunches and Marlboro Reds on the cracked Formica.

Actually, in an unfortunately prescient coincidence the album also brings to mind Tom Petty’s WildFlowers in that album’s quieter moments. Like that treatise on divorce and self-examination, Childress takes time to run his hand over each wrinkle in the mirror and turn the inner sadness into a bittersweet reflection on what makes us all unable to fully smile even in the most joyous times. Childress seems to know that even when the candles on the cake are burning for you, its all just a future ache of absence that will forever tug with a tidal pull on our emotions. For his complete commitment to that feeling though, I’m grateful that Childress has sent this quiet nod across the bar.




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Mapache – “Chico River”

Picking up the West Coast psych rock tradition and peppering a liberal dose of country swoons n’ American croons, Mapache are heirs apparent to the Rademaker brothers’ crown of Alt-country warblin’. The first cut from their upcoming eponymous LP on Spiritual Pajamas is sweltering in the afternoon heat of slide guitar and rambling plucks, but its the honeyed twining of their voices that seals the deal. The duo work their way around harmonies with the grace of artists twice their age. It seems that they’ve caught on to the old soul early and are making it work well to their advantage. Keep this one in your sights when the album hits next month.




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Wooden Wand

Perhaps there has been no more steady hand guiding Raven Sings the Blues than the presence of James Toth’s Wooden Wand. Since the site began in 2006, there have been myriad releases from Toth and as I’ve changed, so has the music of Wooden Wand blossomed from noise experiments with The Vanishing Voice, to psych-folk’s crowning glory and on into a pure distillation of Americana that rings far from the hollow brand of weekend alt-country that so many Brooklyn pickers would adopt fecklessly over the years. No, Toth has always been independent music’s poet laureate, whether he’s got the onion skin to prove it or not, we all know its true.

On Clipper Ship, his first album in three years (a relative dearth in terms of Toth’s output), he crafts an album that puts the musical heft ahead of the lyrical focus. A groundswell of his fellow craftsmen have found their way to the studio for this dragging the net from Glenn Kotche (On Fillmore, Wilco) and Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine) to Zak Riles (Watter, Grails) and sought after sidemen Luke Schneider (Margo Price, JEFF The Brotherhood, Natural Child) and Jim Elkington (Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn). The songs jut out from the piers of Fahey and Basho and then tumble into endless buzzing drones and blissful hums. Stripped of the words this would rival any Scissor Tail release for acoustic dominance.

Though that’s not to discount the lyrics on Clipper, they’re as literate and as personal as ever, lending the album Toth’s own brand of rural mesquite, a woodsiness that flecks each song with a mouthful of smoke. In his aim to construct an album that stands alone on it’s instrumentation, he’s succeeded and then some. Combined, however, the instrumental acumen and lyrical quality push this towards one of Toth’s finest releases. The lyrics suggest a haunted America; full of murder ballads and codeine comedowns for a generation adrift and reaching, grasping and grappling with truths that seem to grow less plausible every day. Toth has said that in the wake of 2016’s political heft, he may slow down output, not wanting to add to a glut of musical content out there. But if the spigot slows and each new release is of this caliber, then I’m on board for the wait.




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