Posts Tagged ‘Singer-Songwriter’

Vetiver

While Vetiver has always had a preternaturally calm demeanor, there’s something inherently broken-in, yet endearingly comfortable about Andy Cabic’s latest LP under the name. Vetiver captures the worn and weathered valley between ennui and ease and the album is marked by a familiarity that’s hard to shake, but mostly because Cabic’s able to synthesize his influences into a faded denim delivery that couldn’t be mistaken for anything other than Vetiver. His past catalog obviously speaks to the same feelings, but there seems to be a particular abundance of warm amber waves and cool blue ripples that slip off of the ends of Up On High. He’s dug into a secret stash of country touches and folk flecks that coalesce into an album built on hurt, but also built to heal.

Themes of wanderlust, lost love and new beginnings have (rightly) earned the album comparisons to Tom Petty’s mid-life high water mark Wildflowers. Shades of R.E.M. jangle up and there’s a rootsy honesty that knocks at Crazy Horse’s door, but it’s Petty’s ode to the dissolution of routine that hangs its head over the album the heaviest. Cabic similarly seems to embody a sense of loss and loneliness and packs the record with an ideal of finding oneself beyond the horizon no matter how many times you have to cross it. The record is one of his best since 2009’s Tight Knit, reinvigorating Vetiver even while technically mellowing. The record is a comfort for the soul in troubled times, and honestly that’s something we could all use time and again.



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Simon Joyner

Omaha’s Simon Joyner has a painter’s tongue and his way with words lays out a landscape caked with the dust of an American promise gone to seed. He’s carving out simple truths that lie ignored on the shelves of corner shops and gas stations next to quarter juices barrels and car parts – dreams deferred, expired, or squandered. There’s something small in Joyner’s songs, and that’s not a slight, he’s a man who not only notices the minutia, but finds the poetry that radiates through it. Between the grease of diner eggs, borrowed prescriptions, and beers beset by nagging end of season bees, Joyner finds a humanity that seems to have been obscured by the constant clip that life acquired when it got wired up. Joyner snips the sizzle and slows it down to just the tangibles. He drains out the seep of over-saturation and lets things snap back into their naturally rusted hues once more.

There’s been a tendency to compare Joyner to Townes Van Zandt over the years, and that’s apt. I won’t fight it. Both artists share an innate ability to paint a picture that focuses on the cracked hinges and weathered wood rather than the crowd pushing through the door. He trades in vignettes of normalcy giving the slightest details the weight and worth they deserve. The details are small, but the scars they leave run deep. Like Townes, Joyner’s got a wry wit that’s in a constant tug ‘o war with his realist’s melancholy. He’s able to devastate the heart but slip in a grin at the end to stem the tears, or at least sop them up a bit.

Underneath Pocket Moon drips a subtle country cavalcade that wraps his words in heavy sighs and deep set hues. Joyner’s been working with a consistent crew of locals who’ve been seasoned in his soul for years. Yet for Pocket Moon he steps away and throws himself into the unknown, relocating to Phoenix and set adrift into the hands of a crew of players assembled by his longtime collaborator Michael Krassner. The trust is warranted, to say the least, as the players shape this into one of Joyner’s finest offerings. The album is tender, polished by his standards, but not overly so. The players step back and let Joyner shine, but like true seasoned session troupes they shade in the edges with a sound that elevates the songs. It’s been said that Joyner is your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter, and that’s largely true, but if he hasn’t found his way into your own repertoire until now, this is a fantastic starting point. Wade deep, and then swim backwards into his vast revue. In the meantime, Pocket Moon is working its way the essentials list for 2019 and getting hard to beat.



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Dylan Moon

LA via Boston songwriter Dylan Moon draws a line directly to the private press gems that haunt forgotten dollar bins. Picking at some of the same sores that fellow folk shut-in Dylan Shearer wore clean on his two quiet gems, Moon is likewise a bastion of bittersweet sighs. More than just Shearer, though, there’s also a good dose of the boarded bedroom hush that haunts the likes of Bobb Trimble, Carl Simmons, or Danny Graham. The slight mustiness of claustrophobia that hangs on certain tracks is more comforting than suffocating, but where Moon differs most from these peers is that while his recording itself feels sequestered, it’s clear that he spends his off time (and likely some of the songwriting time) out in the air, soaking in the pale afternoon sun or drying in the salted sea air.

There’s an undeniable lonesome quality to the album, but that lonesomeness brushes against humanity rather than hides from it. Moon is a parkbench observer, a coffee shop lingerer. His junkshop drum machines shuffle with a worn mockasin slipper softness, but his guitars sparkle like the sun off the sea. Perhaps that’s what makes Only The Blues so affecting, it’s full of yearning from the edges, a feeling that most find themselves projecting at one time or another. It’s a folk-pop album at heart but the dust and scuffed veneer that Moon applies make the songs solidify into a sepia-toned sizzle.

At times the record feels like tossing faded poloroids out the window of a borrowed car, letting them fall where they may to inspire the finders to craft their own story from the baked-on vingettes. This is a great LP for the last gasp of summer since it’s ingrained with just the right amount of lament, a pang that speaks to the soul. It’s a Sunday depression that’s eased with each passing minute by the Tecate and lime used to mark the passage of afternoon hours, and Moon is right there with the listener at the other end of the bar, watching the patrons work through their own small sadnesses — islands adrift in the same sea.



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Wooden Wand – The Thump Sessions

Well I suppose the sad news first. James Toth is putting up the possibility that these may be the final Wooden Wand recordings. I suppose everything comes to an end and over fifteen years we’ve all gotten a good fill of great music from Toth’s alter ego. Though its hard to think of a guiding light of the site going dim. This year’s hard enough. The good news is that these final recordings were made with Jarvis Taveniere at Thump Studios and feature a backing band that included Jeremy Earl, Kyle Forester, and John Andrews of Woods, and singer Katie Von Schleicher. So, in a way this is Woods(en) Wand and that’s, quite honestly something I fully support.

The four songs on offer are sweeping and lush, probably on par with James’ work during the Ecstatic Peace to Ryko transition – tender melodies that streak the windows in just the right ways. There’s a reworking of his song “Don’t Let Love Make A Liar Out of You,” that first appeared on the one-off Carlos The Second, a song he recorded with Langhorne Slim originally. Here he’s alone here, but no less bittersweet. The set is essential for any longtime fans of WW and up now on his Bandcamp. Stop by and say a heartfelt goodbye to an old friend.



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Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn

Canadian psych keystone Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn has a seemingly infinite reserve of boundless energy, already lending his talents to two solid releases for 2019 (The Cosmic Range, Sacred Lamp). Add in touring duties with U.S. Girls and this would stretch most songwriters thin, but this month he’s following up on his two(!) excellent solo albums from last year with another bout of faded singer-songwriter gems. Lightbourne made the biggest impression in the press, but it was swiftly followed by the equally sun-streaked Some Horses Run, which tumbled out just a few months later, and might rightfully get chalked up as one of 2018’s most overlooked record. Continuing to mine his country-flecked, rambling pop predilections on Upper Canada Blues Dunn douses the speakers in a honeyed drawl and low simmering arrangements that pull back from his more psychedelic output.

Dunn’s solo records tend to run the early ‘70s ambitions of Van Morrison through a denim wash that dries deep on the line in the Laurel Canyon sun. Dunn’s versatility as a sideman (tightening the turns for U.S. Girls, lending airy atmosphere to MV & EE) come crashing through on Upper Canada Blues. The arrangements are lush to the point of quenching an invisible itch. As the slides saunter in on “Ribbons” there’s a smell of wet grass, hot coals, and rain on the air. Dunn has an ability to instantly feel familiar, like an artist you’d grown up with – crackling from the AM speakers on an uncle’s truck, humming on the hi-fi of an older sibling, somehow always around and waiting to be found when your ears aged to the proper temper.

That familiarity never rubs off as stagnant, though. The easy entry to Dunn’s work is only further rewarded by its richness. The leather lounge of “Save Our Grace,” the hip-swing wink of “The Beast,” the exhale ease of “Running Right Out” – Dunn’s crafted another afternoon sipper of an album. This is the kind of record that slips off a hard day every time and its likely you’ll be thankful for Dunn’s gravitas. The last couple seemed to slip away from folks, I’d warn not to let this one fly under cover as well. Its too good to miss.



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Kevin Morby on Paul Westerberg – Stereo

As I’ve previously mentioned this week Kevin Morby’s latest is a double-wide opus to spiritual connection and a step away from his usual guitar grounded albums. It’s a big and bold move that’s vaulting Morby even further into the indie rock pantheon’s ranks of ambitious songwriters. That’s not to disparage his back catalog in the least, though. The artist’s rise over the last few albums has been a constant source of joy over here and its great to have Kevin contribute a pick to Hidden Gems. For his pick Morby dips back into his reserve of youthful influences for a Paul Westerberg solo jaunt. Check out how this Midwestern classic came into his life and ultimately what role it played in shaping his own works.

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Kevin Morby

Within the songwriter/downtrodden troubadour ranks Kevin Morby has become a constant confidant. His literate drawl draws out this generation’s atrocities like venom from a bite. His guitars are slung loose and limber, right up until they light a fire under your feet. He’s always had something of a spiritual bent, not religious mind you, but there are some songwriters whose poetry reaches the pulpit without seeking to save. Seems he’s just now embracing it as well and thus, Oh My God is born. The album is a shift for the songwriter, pushing his guitar to the side in favor of a wiped whiteboard relatively free of jangle and strum (though a few solos still crinkle the kindling here and there). In place of his usual tangle there’s a folkloric spread, thrown wide to the panorama of sound – horns hum, flutes tan the timbres, pianos pound from barroom to bedroom and choirs seem to fill the fields rather than the pews of his songs.

There album is conceptually spiritual, seeing the title’s phrase as not a vanity taken lightly, but a hosiah of faith – a mantra that brings us closer in times of calamity. Morby spends the majority of Oh My God helping his flock find the dock in a flood that threatens to consume us all. If ever there was a year for a plea to the powers that be, whether cosmic or of the cloth, it might be 2019. Morby connects to the idea of faith and keeps it a thread in the album’s twisting narrative. His faith isn’t necessarily in the god that pops up in picture books and Sunday service, but a faith in people, faith in art and beauty, faith in the ground beneath his feet, even when he’s 30,000 feet above it.

Woven within his spiritual tableau is a thread of dreams, a waking life conversation with himself that feels hallucinatory. Within Oh My God there’s a Lynchian grandiosity, an idea that what’s been perceived as real may just be reflections and that modern ghost, fables, and prophecies might just be the ones out to get us all along. It’s a big, bold move from Morby and one he pulls off with grace and gravitas. For a weighty double LP, there’s no strain to work your way through his opus, even as the themes turn dark. As he touches on gun violence, the erosion of environmental security, the absurdity of life, the friction of banality, and the overcast certainty of death we’re all there swaying in the circle with him. In these end times the church walls have come crumbling down and whether we know it or not, we’re all part of the church of daily atrocity humming the hymns on a subconscious level. Morby’s just pressing play on the recorder to save it for posterity.



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Drugdealer – “Honey”

The second single from the sunset slathered new LP from Drugdealer reaches out this week and it features a vocal contribution from his longtime collaborator Weyes Blood. The pair have always managed to shift time in a way that drapes the listener in memories of the past without truly succumbing to the kitsch of nostalgia. It’s the feeling of childhood FM radio as you fall asleep in the car with the sun on your face – a sense of coming home, safety, security, serenity. There’s more than a little George Harrison coursing through the strings here and Collins lays out an inviting musical landscape for Natalie Mering to luxuriate in. Her vocals here, as on her own eternally classic compositions, are tinged in sepia tones and tugging at the emotions like a permanent lump in your throat. Mering is just one of a few great vocal ringers that Michael Collins employs on his latest album, which is proving to be his most complete and immersive album to date. Pick it up from Mexican Summer on April 19th.



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Kevin Morby – “No Halo”

Excited to see a new offering up from Kevin Morby today. The songwriter’s post-Babies career has only seen him perfect his shaggy L.A. troubadour persona, and with “No Halo” he’s sliding into a refined space – adding a cascade of flutes, stabs of sax, and smoky background vocals to his palette. The song is both a long way from his debut Harlem River, in terms of production, and yet not so removed from the heavy-lidded, heavy-hearted delivery that’s made each new of his records essential. With the expansive approach, Morby also turns in a high-concept video directed by perennial collaborator Christopher Good, who’s been putting his imprint on artists like Mitski, Waxahatchee, Anna St. Louis, and Okkervil River. The new record’s out April 26th from Dead Oceans, which you can apparently pre-order with, a, uh 24-page hymnal and sheet music. I guess. Sure, why not?



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Martin Frawley

While the name Martin Frawley doesn’t won’t jog immediately for some folks, the name Twerps might. The Melbourne-based songwriter headed the band over the last few years until both his relationship and his band dissolved – the two events inextricably linked. In the wake of such upheaval Frawley seemingly let the world get on top of him, as the album’s standout “End of the Bar” recounts in a Trees Lounge-esque tale of becoming a permanent fixture always over the limit and lamentably acting in ways he’d live to regret. The album also paints a picture of coming to terms with the loss of such an important piece of one’s life. Over the course of Undone at 31 Frawley contemplates the constant second guessing of loss, the joy of finding a partner, and the work of letting them go.

In Frawley’s case that involves (as “Just Like The Rest” details) finding a way to not only walk alone, but sing alone as well. The record reflects the more solitary tone in both his lyrics and the music. Twerps were never a particularly overwrought band musically, but Undone bests them at their own minimalist game. The songs are steeped in austerity – morning plunks of piano, single guitar strums, the lonesome whinny of violin – and the weight of loss is felt from the very corners of the record.

Now while the road to hangdog troubadour is never one wrapped in joy, the upside here is that it seems to truly suit Frawly. The handprints of ‘70s loners are all over this record – from his Townes masquerading in Nilsson’s bathrobe delivery on “Does She Want Me?,” to the picking-up-the-pieces epiphanies of Gene Clark. Most have had the bottom of the world drop out from them every once in a while, but it seems that Martin has managed to translate that sense of disarray into poignant sketches about picking the pieces up and fitting them back together, even when that means trying to cram those pieces into a life that somehow seems too small now. We all have to get our shit together sometime, but at least now we have a soundtrack to ease burden.


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