Posts Tagged ‘Singer-Songwriter’

Wooden Wand – “Mexican Coke” + Carlos The Second

Good news today out of the Wooden Wand camp, there’s a new album on the way from Three-Lobed, Clipper Ship. The album arrives in May and is preceded by the gorgeous new single “Mexican Coke,” a sighed country ode to having to supplement income with side hustles. The album marks a shift away from Toth’s last few, stripping back to more of the sing-songwriter countenance that permeated his lone album for Rykodisc under his given name. The album boasts an impressive supporting cast of players ranging from Wilco’s Glenn Kotche to session stars like Darin Gray, Ryan Norris, Jim Becker, Luke Schneider, Zak Riles and Jim Elkington. All the players have contributed to accomplished visions of folk and country over the past few years and they bring that drive and finesse to Clipper Ship. Its been a touch since Toth had a Wooden Wand album out and it feels good to have one on the way for sure.


The announcement makes the news doubly good today because while we were all wrapped up in the tail end tail spin of 2017, James and a few friends slipped an album out under the name Carlos The Second. It features some nuanced instrumentals from Ryan Norris (who also appears on the new album) and sets Toth’s honeyed croon agaist some starker than usual settings, and even a smattering of beat driven tracks. Its new territory for sure, but fits well into a catalog that never shies away from collaboration. As an added bonus, Langhorne Slim swings by for a flat-out wonderful country rocker that has both singers at their best. Check out “Hall Of Mirrors” below:

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Ryley Walker

Emerging from the accolades of a beloved album is no easy feat. Walker’s previous album Primrose Green nailed the stylistic marks of the wave that crested out of the ’60’s folk boom and into the jazz inflections and more experimental lengths that would fleck landmarks like Astral Weeks, Goodbye and Hello or Roy Harper’s Flat, Baroque and Berserk. So where do you go from there? Walker follows his Tim Buckley muse down the line and reaches for the more sprawling and ambling shores of Blue Afternoon. He pines for the expansive reach of Gene Clark’s No Other. One would think maybe he was pushing for Harper’s Stormcock too, with talks of the suited record he originally envisioned. In that regard, he pushes the track lengths here past the scope of typical pop.

Occasionally this works and Walker winds up untethered and spinning into a kind of poetic grace. Other times he’s letting himself stretch a bit longer than the song calls for, allowing some live instincts to drape onto the studio for a track that feels like the session was likely fun that day, with precision players feeling their way to a resolution, but at the expense of the listener’s attention (see: “Sullen Mind”). But when he’s on, he’s on and that’s more often than not. Walker allows his indulgences, as did plenty of those tumbling out of the ’60s and into a more progressive ’70s, but his troubadour’s soul saves him from an experimenter’s curiosity.

It’s taken me a little while to let this one settle because its been too damn hot to even let it into my consciousness. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is an autumnal record for sure. Its the kind of record that’s comfortable with its collar braced against the wind. Some records are, quite frankly, whiskey records and this is one of them. Its not an all night bender, mind you, its the kind of record that finds the sweet harmony between the joy of day drinking in good company and that warm ball of contended sadness that forms about four or five drinks in. Maybe that’s why it meanders a bit, in that state everything seems like a better story and there’s a tendency to become a bit maudlin; to ponder mistakes and religion and fate. The record stretches out and wraps its arms around the listener like a bar buddy it’s never known sober and one whom it hopes will listen to its woes a little while and nod sympathetically. There’s a charm to that kind of person and in turn that kind of record. Walker’s an accomplished musician and Golden Sings showcases his ambition, even when it gets the better of him.




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Magic Trick

I’ve always loved that Magic Trick is Tim Cohen’s outlet to go full 70’s Tim Buckley. To wander down Gene Clark roadways and flesh out his troubadorisms outside of the bounds and expectations of The Fresh & Onlys. His voice has the easy, mellifluous quality that lends itself to his payday jangle-pop; but its just as comfortable in a dusted blazer, strumming songs alone in a smoke cloud, center studio to be augmented with all manner of accoutrements in post. Fresh & Onlys is a push-pull between Cohen’s gravitas and Wymond Miles’ furrowed tension, but left to their own devices they’re able to amp up their strengths, as is evident with Miles’ stunning turn earlier this year. In his own right Cohen lets Other Man’s Blues shine as a darker corner of his songwriting, feeling far from breezy, the album is interested more in creating a collective enviornment that utilizes the studio as process and as partner.

The album benefits from a huge, rotating cast of players, as Cohen holed up for a week with Phil Manley but invited plenty of friends to drop by and shape the record. The result is less slap/dash than it its the culmination of several secret weapons all converging as one to give Cohen’s songs wings. James Barone (Beach House) and Alicia Van Heuvel (Aislers Set) turn in time and studio Swiss Army knife Emmett Kelly (The Cairo Gang / The Muggers) rears his head as well. The album certainly doesn’t come off as something that went into recording open-ended, but the collaborative spirit gives Other Man’s Blues that right sense of drinking-til-dawn-to-find-the-song that gave life to those 70′ hallmarks of excess turned brilliance. Cohen may have only spent a week hammering out the cramps on Other Man’s Blues but the mindset of month long jaunts and nights spent ’til dawn in the live room take root here, making it feel like someone lost a fortune for us to all find hope in its arms. Even if that’s not the case, the record’s still bigger sounding than most living rooms, cars or headphones can hope to contain and for that I’m grateful.



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Steve Gunn

First time I heard Steve Gunn was back in 2007 on a small label called Onomoto, known for acts like Taiga Remains and Ghosting. Gunn was pulling down ragged fingerpicked odes that hung in the air like frost. The sound quality was scratchy but the talent was clear under the hiss. Its been years since those days and ever since the second phase of Gunn’s life rolled down with 2013’s Time Off he’s been marked for greatness, steadily straightening the rumpled blazer sound that he’s stepped into. Eyes On The Lines is Gunn fully formed, running at peak but still never feeling flashy about it. The man can play. If you need any proof, plunk down a copy of Seasonal Hire, his collaboration with The Black Twig Pickers. That ought to set you straight. But even with the talent in tow, it’s the way he wields that makes him unique. Most of his songs tend to capture the feeling of the highway stretching endlessly on the horizon; sauntering in a way that clips by like the steady pace of pines out the rolled window. In this respect his solos never blister, they feel like the pent up relief of a good stretch when the car stops. They’re air in the lungs and feet on the ground.

Eyes On The Lines deploys those moments of clarity in ample doses but the surrounding build and fade is hardly shabby either. Sure its a more accessible and, dare say, mature record from Steve, but he’s finding a way to show age in style. The country touches whisper in at the edges, a bend of twang here and a dusted dose of strum running its way under the chorus. He’s still got some of his ragged roots showing though, there’s certainly a warble of psych that curls in with the rest of the smoke filling up the rooms of this record. In the end though, its all those touches coming together to make a perfect montage of diner coffees, halogen lights flickering over gas pumps, center lines and steel girders; the air peppered with throat dust and the cold freshness of leaves on the air. That’s the heart of Eyes On The Lines, that and the itch of needing to get moving, even when it feels good to stretch.

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Kevin Morby

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Kevin Morby made the move to Dead Oceans. He was due for a wider stage. His last album, Still Life was a leap forward from his debut both in musical depth and lyrical intensity and he doubles down on those qualities for Singing Saw. The album explores an even darker vein from Still Life, delving through explorations of life’s brief tenure. The biggest change, musically, comes from a new reliance on piano as a centerpiece. Before, Morby’s ballads were charged by his guitar and lonesome troubadour delivery, but the influence of Sam Cohen’s production brings the instrument into the forefront while also filling out Morby’s world with a gorgeous array of strings and brass, keys and percussion.

The album has a gravitas that places it on a shelf above Morby’s past work, solo or with The Babies. Its restless and strangely world weary for a person so young, but maybe that’s just an old soul peeking out through Morby’s songs. It feels like a soundtrack to a movie with little dialog and long pensive shots that carry menace in their bones; eyes in the rearview, deserted gas stations and looming mountains that never seem to get closer. The lyrical arcs evolve like the light coming over that stretched horizon. “Cut Me Down” is calm and even, but lyrically it seems like such a foreboding entry point, steeped in sadness and resolution, all qualities that continues on through “I Have Been To The Mountain” and “Singing Saw,” right up until “Drunk On A Star” sighs and lets some of the edge falter. By the closing strains of “Water,” somehow the dawn’s crept in and everything feels like it will be all right, even if deep down those feelings of bleak doubt remain. A gorgeous statement by Morby and a true 2016 highlight.



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Steve Gunn – “Conditions Wild”

Its always nice to see longtime RSTB faves grow to the kind of widespread attention they deserve. Steve Gunn has been a fixture on the site for quite a while and his classic Golden Gunn album remains on constant rotation on my turntable. Way Out Weather broke him to a wide audience and signing to Matador probably won’t hurt either, huh? The first taste of his new album for the venerable label, Eyes On The Lines, takes a more accessible direction than ever, delving into the lushest bit of singer-songwriter territory Gunn’s ever explored. But with that unmistakable Gunn guitar snaking its way through the track and a crack team of players assembled for the album – Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, organ), Hans Chew (wurlitzer), James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro), Mary Lattimore (harp), Jason Meagher (bass, guitar, flute), Paul Sukeena (guitar), Justin Tripp (bass, keyboards), and John Truscinski (drums) – it would be hard to keep this one under wraps for long.

The video takes Steve on a stop-motion diorama trip through the woods that ends with Steve charming his would be threats with his guitar. Seems like a solid plan to me. This is looking to be an album worth keeping tabs on until its June release.

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Alan Price – Savaloy Dip

Alan Price is probably best known Stateside for being the keyboardist for The Animals, but like many members of that vaunted band, he had a long career outside of its bounds as well. Following on from a well received film soundtrack for the Malcolm McDowell comedy O Lucky Man! he prepared a follow-up solo album, Savaloy Dip. The album was built on a similar frame of R&B as the soundtrack and runs in the same vein as contemporaries Van Morrison, Randy Newman and later era Kinks with a quaint eye on small town everymen. Now the album may not be, as Omnivore proclaims, a masterpiece, but its a well rounded pop album and the fate that befell it was seemingly unfair.

Warner Bros. deemed the album unfit for release, and though it was scheduled and even produced in some quantities, it was axed last minute. Price would salvage a track from the album, “Between Today And Yesterday,” to appear on his album of the same name; an album that ostensibly replaced Savaloy Dip. The record built up a bit of a reputation in collector’s circles for having leaked (in the 70’s fashion) when Ampex’s 8-Track plant pressed and shipped a few copies of it to stores, only to recall them as quickly as possible. But some of those copies did make it out to the public and thus its legend grew. The record has a lot of bright spots and for fans of the white boy Soul ‘n B and salt of the earth singer-songwriter moves from the 70’s this one has a lot to offer, so thankfully this is back in print in its entirety for, if not really a demanding public, at least a deserving one.




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