Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

Jeffrey Alexander on Keith Jarrett’s – Restoration Ruin

Among the artists that dominated RSTB last year, Jeffrey Alexander was one of the most prolific, showing up with Dire Wolves (in one of their best yet), on a solo jaunt for Feeding Tube, and playing the RSTB anniversary show with a new group dubbed The Heavy Lidders. The latter featured members of Elkhorn and Bardo Pond laying waste to the blues in fine fashion. In anticipatetion for Dire Wolves’ latest album, on the way next month from Centripetal Force, Jeffrey’s contributed a pick to the Hidden Gems series. Picking out an oddity in the typically jazz-centric catalog of Keith Jarrett, he sheds some new light on an often maligned piece of the artist’s repertoire. Check out how this record came into Alexander’s life and what makes it such a treasure.

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Elkhorn – “Electric Two (Part B)”

Elkhorn’s latest is a longform exploration of improvisation, set to tape with the band’s friend and collaborator Turner Wiliams one snowy night, shut in from the outside. The band’s releasing bits of the two sidelong pieces in the runup to the album release and they’ve let out one of my favorite portions today. Paired with a dizzying time-lapse, “Electric Two (Part B) locks the duo’s guitars with a sonorous drone — with the strings playing against one another like overlapping winds in the storm that raged outside the windows, the biting cold as constant as the oscillating tone underneath. As acoustics give way to the chemical burn of electric fuzz, the track brings on that familiar feeling of doom that’s woven between the bars of Elkhorn’s works from last year. This is vital, raw piece of work that’s among their best. Check out the video above and look out for that LP on 2/7.

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Ben Seretan – “Power Zone”

There’s a soft lilt to “Power Zone,” the fist peek into Ben Seretan’s upcoming LP, Youth Pastoral. The song is baked by the sun – a yielding Autumn sun, not an unforgiving mid-summer swelter – and the aura around the track grows tight with a bittersweet comfort. There is breeze in the song too, and it washes away the ache of the sun with a chill that soothes. There’s almost a feeling of rolling waves crashing through the courses, not surf, but the lament of proximal water that’s too cold to enter. That ache and yearning is wrapped in a a touch of tender country swoon – slide guitar and ombré harmonies that slip into one another. Dusky sax leads the way out of the song like the aforementioned afternoon sun trailing into the horizon, holding onto every inch of sky before letting go. Rambled plucks saunter through the song with an unhurried grace and it all frames Seretan’s voice with a humble charm. It’s a wonderfully shaded song that begs to hear the rest of the record, which arrives February 28th on Ben’s own Whatever’s Clever Records. As an added bonus, the record was recorded at Black Dirt with Jason Meagher so you know it sounds crisp.




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Bill Fay

Its not always a given that artists can resurrect a career and keep the same quiet dignity that marked their revered works. British songwriter Bill Fay released two albums on Deram in the early ‘70s that, while not commercial killers, eventually became sought after works that would become in demand on the secondary market. The demand would eventually also bring him back for a second leg of his career over this past decade. His newer works have matched the depth of his early recordings, but added a shading of age and experience that let them trace the scars of a life lived. It’s astonishing, then, that his third album into this renewed fertile period is one of his best yet. Pulling back to sparser surroundings, Fay lets his words and melodies shoulder the burden. There’s still some orchestration at play, but this is as much a solo folk record as ever, with his scars laid plain for all to bear.

Fay doesn’t shy away from hurt, but he doesn’t dwell. There’s much beauty in the cracks and crevices of Countless Branches. He ruminates on the wonders of nature without making sound like schtick. He finds the humility of family life and lifts it up to something more than routine. Bill’s early records, while worth their reputations were pocked with the self-involvement of youth. His debut was serious to the point of bleak and the follow-up, a true folk breakthrough that would take years to find its crowd, was doused in his preoccupation with faith. Here, those edges soften, as must everything in time, yet there’s a different kind of faith — a faith in love and humility as the harbingers of true meaning. There’s something alluring about reaching Fay’s age and still finding those bright spots against all odds that the current world throws at us. For that, the album is a wellspring of hope and a reminder that no matter how dark the dawn, there’s brightness if you look in the right spots.



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Kyle Forester – “Know What You’re Doing”

On his sophomore LP Kyle Forester (Crystal Stilts, Ladybug Transistor, Woods) finds himself enmeshed in worn-in comfort and cracked bittersweet soul. It’s easy to feel the warmth of the record from the glow of “Know What You’re Doing,” but there’s more at work here than just a hummable melody. The song bends in the breeze, soaks in the late autumn sun, but it also sighs with an aged soul that’s quietly restless. The song has an ache to it that’s hard to shake. For all the auburn shimmers, the song has a lonesome shadow that trails long behind it – tied up with age and doubt.

Despite the melancholy mood, Kyle found the song came naturally, slipping out of his fingers quickly. He muses, “I read this thing one time about how John Lennon’s favorite songs of his own were the ones he wrote in one sitting, like “Across the Universe”. I’m no John Lennon, but I also wrote this song really quickly and it’s probably one of the reasons I feel a lot of fondness for it. I suppose it’s about being surprised by the expectation one feels as a adult to “know what you’re doing”, like just in general. That’s never felt particularly natural to me. Michael O’Neill (Crickets, High Time, MEN) plays what is in my opinion a killer guitar solo in the middle and I’m really proud of the fact that this one has a real “outro”, I really like outros.” His new LP, Hearts In Gardens is out February 21st.


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Miquela – I A De Sers

I can always count on Finders Keepers to dig through the offbeat foreign language bins and scoop out the records that need re-examining. Prior to this review I could honestly not have told you that there exists a dialect native to Southern France, Northern Italy and parts of Spain called Occitan. I could certainly not have told you that a record label (Ventadorn) that was dedicated to solely releasing records in the dialect in the ‘70s, but this gem was sprouted from the Venn Diagram of these circumstances. The record is the sole album recorded by Miquela, though it was preceded by a single and she’d go on to work with a folk-rock combo called Lei Chapacans latter on. The record was recorded in a classroom studio, but sounds like it was given over to much more monied locales than this. The austere setup belies the fact that its threaded with strings, brass, accordions, and lush orchestration – jazz and folk touches that bump against the quietude of hidden harbors.

The record, quite properly, feels like a secret. The folk songs, indecipherable to those who aren’t versed in Occitan, seem like a scripture from a long-lost enclave. Miquela’s vocals hang in the air like cold fog, weighted with sadness and sorrow. The supporting cast is no less impressive, having picked up collaborators from her surround Occitan musicians, giving this less the air of a commissioned document (which it was) and more of a treasured gem (which it also is). The record has been long out of print, but with this reissue the movement of Occitan folk and Miquela’s contribution are reignited for a new generation.




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Mapache – “Life On Fire”

Shortly after bringing the country croons of their eponymous 2017 LP back into print, Yep Roc announces a new LP from Mapache, From Liberty Street, due out March 20th. The distinctly West Coast duo spent their last record distilling the country-folk foldings of Flying Burritos, Gene Clark, Beachwood Sparks, and The Byrds, and they’re continuing to find footing in the salt-scrubbed eddies of similar terrain on “Life On Fire.” With veteran collaborator Dan Horne (Cass McCombs, Allah-Lahs) in the mix, they settled down into a home-recorded setting that only gives the songs more intimacy. “Life On Fire” is practically reclining in its urge to strip the stress from your day. The song dips just below the horizon, squinting against the afternoon light and letting the bittersweet bliss sigh out in every direction. If you missed the last LP, catch up and get this on your calendar.



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Sarah Louise, Sally Anne Morgan & Kryssi B – “Cherry Tree Carol”

Black Dirt has been kicking out some real gems from their NATCH series in the last year and it looks like 2020 is off to a similar start. Entry number 11 in the series is a collaboration between Sarah Louise and Sally Ann Morgen of House and Land and Kryssi Battalene of Headroom/Mountain Movers. The set finds a balance between styles, feeling neither as heavy as anything Battalene is typically involved in or as pastoral as Louise and Morgen’s duo or solo works. Some of the best moments of the set comes in the longform pieces that the trio puts together, weaving the folk with Kryssi’s gnarled guitar. “Cherry Tree Carol” is a particular highlight of dark, shadowy folk. In other news Black Dirt is looking to restructure the studio game, and working towards a patron-based system of keeping the doors open so they can do more great sessions like this and keep bands from having to hammer out their best works at hourly rates. One of the best studios running so give ‘em some love it you have the means.




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Matt Lajoie – “Everlasting Spring”

Matt Lajoie is another artist who never seems to rest. After a packed 2019 that saw offerings from Starbirthed, Ash & Herb, and his solo debut, the artist follows that solo record with his second as we tip-toe into 2020. Under the title Everlasting Spring, both the album and the track seek to bring an eternal vernal lushness to the world. Matt’s playing is often more spiritual than some of his fingerpicked brethren, and he showcases the wonder and patience that are his core on this track in particular. The song sparkles with a crisp dewiness that’s cooling, comforting and rejuvenating in a way that wipes away the worry that’s been accumulating in the wrinkles of 2019. The song inhales all the negativity in the room and exhales a peaceful surrender to joy. With the aid of loops and a soft blanket of reverb, Lajoie turns the acoustic ripples of this track into kosmiche meditations that pick up the yoke from Manuel Göttsching and Popul Vuh. Fans of either should find quite a lot to lay into here. Knock this one high atop the pile of 2020’s most anticipated, its shaping up to be an essential release.




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Joseph Allred

The last outing from Joseph Allred, 2019’s O Meadowlark solidified Allred’s reputation as a consummate picker, one whose style moved with an effortless grace from slippery Fahey runs through the more buttoned up blisters of Kotke and the spiritual slants of Basho. Like the latter player in that triumvirate, Allred takes a swipe at vocal blues on his latest, Traveler. While the majority of the record still showcases his chameleonic stringwork, on the album opener and title track, he lends his voice to an emotionally fraught tale that proves out of the gate that he’s not just a master of the strings. Over the next few songs Allred works his way through brambles and rabbles of notes that, while certainly virtuosic, also serve to salve and calm. It’s a pastoral, primal record that’s knotted with tangled roots and torn soil. Allred wears the mantle of natural conduit well, lending Traveler a soiled grace that’s hard to shake.

When his blues pop through once more, they don’t break the spell, instead giving the earthen rambles an anchor of humanity that tills the topsoil of the instrumental odes. “The Crown” feels sung by moonlight – a barn song that rings through the rafters with a pang of sadness. Allred swaps between banjo and guitar with such admirable ease that the change in instruments doesn’t jar in the least, letting the two timbres weave together into a tapestry of sound, looping lustrous thread through the earth tones of his sonic fabric. He caps off the vocal offerings with “O Columbia” a song that snags a few loose Fahey ends (specifically “In Christ There Is No East or West,”) and ties them to a sighing track that slips beneath the horizon as the record lopes into the last lap. The record finally fads away with a touching tribute to Glen Jones that tips a hat to one of Allred’s more modern influences. This may very well be his finest, and hopefully opens the door for more vocal offerings from the songwriter.



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