Posts Tagged ‘Singer-Songwriter’

Zachary Cale

The latest album from Zachary Cale, while awash in a sort of sunset dulcet feeling is also soaked in a good dose of uncertainty that feels rather relatable. While the album’s been in the works for the last five years, that uncertainty captures the feeling of a year that seems unable to let up. Cale’s pace quavers between rambling fingerpicked rivulets and the kind of buttered comfort that’s made Kurt Vile, Mike Polizze and the Philly set simmer. He peppers in instrumentals that let his understated prowess shine — skewing pensive at some times, and propulsive at others — tying the album together like a faded tapestry. It’s in his equally worn and weathered lyrics, though, that Cale glows the warmest.

False Spring, as the title suggests, deals with a glimmer of hope snuffed by chance and change. Time is beast on this record, leaving the protagonist stranded, stifled, and generally set adrift. Cale’s songs gnaw at uncertainty and are in turn gnawed right back. Occasionally he revels in the looseness of it all, but more often than not Cale is leaning into the bitter winds with an eye in both directions. He’s looking for the lamplight on the horizon and it’s never quite clear if he’s bound to find it. He brings along a pretty good crew on the voyage, though. His tight backing band including Brent Cordero and Charles Burst of The Occasion is amplified by particularly languid pedal steel from Dan Lead, whose lent his tone to Jess Williamson, Kevin Morby and Cass McCombs. The record is a raft in waters that aren’t so forgiving and its worth holding on tight.




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Buck Curran

2018 saw the release of Curran’s last album, a quiet and contemplative affair that leaned heavily into his stringwork. The album, aptly titled Morning Haikus, Afternoon Ragas split its works between the Takoma school and the more eastern leanings of Basho and Bishop. This time Buck reinvigorates his focus on the lilting, fingerpicked works but also lets his mournful troubadour side shine as well. Curran cut his teeth in Arborea, whose fragile psych-folk feels as if it would be consumed among the grey skies that he creates here. The title track shakes with a clenched dread, but the feeling doesn’t dominate the album. Rather, there’s weariness here — sorrow and ache that seem overwhelming, melancholy that curls like ash on the air. Curran’s tapped into some of the same streams that fed Chasny’s work before he lit the fuse on the ragged wire electric burndowns. In place there’s no char on the album’s bones, just the winds whipping through the caverns of the heart, cold and lonesome but hopeful that home is on the horizon.

The singer-songwriter side looks good on Curran, and No Love Is Sorrow finds itself easing into a comfortable sway, even when there’s a lump in Curran’s throat. In trying years, its worthwhile to look at the love and let it overhwelm. The goodness can be just as daunting as the bad and the balance between ache of loss and ache of gain fights for control of No Love Is Sorrow. If your folk tendencies tend towards the doom-clouded or psych-folk fodder then there’s much to love here. Curran’s expanded his arsenal and let the strings stand on an even footing with his songcraft and furrowed sentiments. This one’s proving to burrow deeper with repeated listens.




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Jess Williamson – “Wind On Tin”

Very glad to see that the country croons of Jess Williamson have returned this year. In her absence there’s been a wealth of great voices added to the sunset striains of alt-country, but her’s has always been a welcomed voice in the genre. With a subtle swish of the cosmic fabric, Williamson wields melancholy through the stardust whispers of the wind. “Wind On Tin” is a spiritual sojourn born out of grief in a dessert town. Williamson claims she’s heard god on the wind, “God” or something else — nature, the vibrational thrum of the earth, the strings of the cosmos. Whatever was on the wind is strung with the fiber of the universe and her song ruffles the same hairs on the neck that may have sprung to life in her hearing. The video, directed by friend and collaborator Eli Welbourne plays into the myth of the mournful cowboy, but its saturated with just the right amount of divine light. Williamson’s new album is out May 15th on Mexican Summer.

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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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Richard Youngs and Raül Refree

Soft Abuse’s slide out of 2019 leaves the world with some great offerings and this tender, hypnotic collaboration from Richard Youngs and Raül Refree is a gorgeously undersung gem from the latter half of the year. The record is built around just four-pieces, but they stretch the bounds of the singer-songwriter format, each clocking in well past the eight-minute mark. With brushes of Shearwater, Talk Talk, and recently reissued Jansch gem Avocet in its veins, the record is wounded, broken, but not beyond repair. The songs swirl around repeated phrases and figures until the pieces become mantras and meditations on loss and the lacerations of the past.

Youngs’ guitars are as languorous as ever, feeling lived in yet lucid. Refree adds a twist of heartbreak to the mix, his orchestrations drape All Hands Around the Moment in grey streaks of rain that tumble down the panes of its pain and seep into each and every groove of the record. Youngs is at his height of humility here, and the listener can feel the weight on his heart begin to pull them under as the record locks into the whirlpool of melancholy. Mercifully the album pulls out of its peril in the second half. There’s hope and relief in the verdant rebirth of “Another Language.” The song is a parting of the clouds and a calming of the hairshirt sighs of the opening two numbers. The record winds up hopeful, though still tempered by hurt with another quivering number to close out the collection. Youngs’ catalog is a dense garden to enter, but if you’re looking for a rather essential inroads, this right here isn’t a bad place to start, nor a bad place to linger.




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Mixtape: Some Cowboy You Turned Out To Be

While this doesn’t really fall under the year-end banner, I’m going to place it in alongside the rest of this wrap up. It’s actually been a year since the site’s last mixtape and I think these have fallen by the wayside too long. For this one, I’m shifting focus on the mixtape series to contemporary over archival releases to wrap up some of the excellent strains of alt-country, country-folk, and dusted singer-songwriter tracks that have come out in the last few years. The creep of country into indie has had a nice push lately, bringing forth some of the most affecting and aching tracks of years past. While I’d wager to say that Cosmic Americana has had the strongest resurgence in years past, I’m making the case for alt-country as a close second. The lay lines on this sort of genre are shifty and mercurial, so feel free to disagree, but I’d wager this mix has some strong contenders in its ranks.

These songs are full of heavy hearts, failed marriages, missed connections, youthful melancholy, and maturing reflections. There’s joy, but it’s between the somber sway of pedal steel and the bittersweet twang of guitar strings. I offer this mix as a companion to solo drives as the sun dips low and endless stretches of road lie ahead, or rainy evenings on the porch alone. It’s a solitary set of songs, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope in its heart.

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Grace Cummings

The debut LP from Australian songwriter Grace Cummings snuck out last month and maybe it’s the end of year crush of content, but this one should be kicking up more dust. Cummings’ voice is raw, rankled, and electric – packed full with notes of stripped pine, floral gin, defiance and defeat. It’s no surprise that she’s come to the attention of her label with a cover of Bob Dylan. Her voice falls into that same ineffable, indefinable valley as his own, the kind of voice that divides a room but brings a community together in the right corners of culture. Now, if she were just to possess a voice on par with past idols like Dylan, Buckley, and Van Ronk, that would be notable but not necessarily transformative. Good thing then that she’s also a songwriter of the highest order and that makes Refuge Cove one of the year’s secret gems.

For a debut this hits incredibly hard, a record wrought with rifts as Cummings’ world seemingly dissolves around her in strands of celluloid. Feelings don’t slide in subtly on the record, rather they tear recklessly at Grace’s soul and in turn she exhumes the ghost of grief and glory and sets it to tape. There have been great records that gutted lately, but it’s been a while since one has set the humors on fire like this has. Grace’s songs can be felt traveling through the nerves, alchemically transmuting sorrow and sin to exhaustion in an incredible act of catharsis. The only sad capper on this is that the label (Flightless) only pressed this in an edition of 500 and they’re seemingly gone in a snap. Hopefully this one will return to the fold, though digitally it still delivers. Still some of the year’s best coming out, so don’t let the lists fool ya.




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Will Johnson – “Cornelius”

Another one that’s slipped between the cracks this year, the latest album from Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel) is a weathered and worn take on country, folk, and Americana that shows the long-running songwriter in top form. Johnson’s been a part of the American songbook for years, playing alongside Jason Molina and Jay Farrar finding those moments of truth that lie between the dust of genres. Wire Mountain should find purchase with those who’ve been digging deep on that latest Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy LP and want another album to help heal the cracks and creases of age and shoulder the weight of heartache through the night. The video features Will in the studio alongside Britton Beisnherz (who also recorded the album at his studio Ramble Creek outside Austin), Jon Dee Graham, Thor Harris (of Shearwater and Swans), and Lindsey Verrill (of Little Mazarn) who all contributed to “Cornelius.” There’s an intimate vibe to the clip, a humble beginning to a heavy song. Johnson’s about to embark on a West Coast tour alongside the likes of Bob Mould and John Moreland. Definitely worth seeking this out in the live setting.

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Eric Osbourne – “Long Way From Home”

A sweet and soft spot from Fort Worth’s Eric Osburne prefaces his album out in January of next year. “Long Way From Home” is an airy folk wander that stops to linger a moment on the small details. Bolstered by a crack backing band that includes plaintive strings and features Angel Olsen on backing vocals, the song is sweet and could almost come off twee if Osbourne’s voice wasn’t lacqured in so much unspoken hurt. The track is packed with enough ennui to pin the listener to the floor – swooning and staring at the ceiling fain, letting the repetition of the blades blur the edges of the melancholy moorings that knocked the feet out from under you in the first place. I’m eager to hear where the rest of this goes, but for now, “Long Way From Home” seems perfect to keep on repeat until sleep takes away the sting of sadness.




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Gabriel Birnbaum – “Not Alone”

Taking a solo tangent after years spent with the likes of Wilder Maker (Northern Spy), Violence Jazz and Debo Band, Gabriel Birnbaum sets himself up in the vein of road weary troubadour and it looks good on him. The title track from his upcoming LP Not Alone is a loose, untucked and heart-heavy song that spins in lyrical circles. The track plays Gabe’s sandpapered vocals to great effect. Over a loping guitar line, he turns the rather modern medium of texting into something more timeless, soaking the song in a Townes / Fred Neil grit that grounds itself in the idea of connecting with long distance love through small moments.

Inspired by albums like Jim Sullivan’s UFO and some of the more immediate entries to the Neil Young catalog, the song has a looseness to it while remaining clear that the crew behind the record is on the highest order. No stranger to session work himself, having appeared on records from Lady Lamb to Eli “Paperboy” Reed over the years, Birnbaum gathered a group culled from members of Okkervill River, Sam Evian, and avant jazz circles for his own recording and they give the song a live in the room quality that’s buoyed by Birnbaum’s intimate delivery. The record is out 11/22 on Arrowhawk Records.


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