Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 2


Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, by Dave & Phil Alvin

Dave & Phil AlvinThis album is no doubt a labor of love. Sure, the Alvin brothers have a reputation for family squabbles. They are still brothers, however, who share a passion for music. So I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve reunited – for the first time in almost 30 years – to pay tribute to a songwriter who inspired their careers in music.

The man in question? Big Bill Broonzy, a guitarist and songwriter who emerged in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Broonzy was a pioneer of acoustic country blues and is considered by many as one of the forefathers of rock and roll.

The brothers Alvin tackle twelve songs from the Broonzy catalog, ranging from early gems like “Big Bill’s Blues” to later classics like “Key to the Highway.” Not surprisingly for those familiar with the brothers earlier work in the Blasters, they bring these songs to life like few others can. Brother Phil is in fine voice while brother Dave lets loose on both electric and acoustic guitar.

Tracks like the acoustic opener “All By Myself” and “How You Want It Done?” have a healthy swing; others, like “I Feel So Good” and “Truckin’ Little Woman,” have a great juke-joint swagger.

Two masters paying tribute to a legend – what’s not to like?

Audio Download: Dave and Phil Alvin, “Key to the Highway”

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Get as Gone Can Get, Sarah Borges and Ward Hayden with Girls Guns and Glory (from the Lonesome Day Records single Baby Don’t Go b/w Get as Gone Can Get)

Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory have already independently released two of my favorite albums so far this year. I didn’t think that they’d be able to top that. Man, was I wrong. The two have collaborated on a killer new vinyl/digital single.

One side is their take on the Sonny & Cher classic “Baby Don’t Go.” It’s the flip side, however, that really rocks. The Borges-penned track may clock in at just under two and a half minutes, but it packs one hell of a punch.

Well, I was drinking whiskey and he was drinking wine
I had a bottle in my pocket, it tasted like turpentine
We was gettin’ loose to the hillbilly sway,
I knew I should have turned around and run the other way.

Audio Stream: Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory, “Get as Gone Can Get”

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Our Kind of Love, Christopher Denny (from the Partisan Records release If the Roses Don’t Kill Us)

Denny has a voice the likes of which you’ve likely never heard before. It’s beyond retro, it’s vintage. Think Al Jolson crooning back in the early 20th century. There’s a bit of drawl and plenty of character in his singing as well.

While that alone would make Denny unique, his songwriting voice is equally distinctive. He brings to life the hardships that he has encountered, more often than not with a positive attitude and outlook, and reveals a tender romantic side as well. The results are magical.

Shock to the System, Eli “Paperboy” Reed (from the Warner Brothers Records release Nights Like This

Back in the 1960s there was an dazzling type of R&B-flavored pop song, soulful and made for dancing. The lyrics used simple language without being simplistic. The results were infectious.

Reed has spent years studying the forebearers while honing his own musical style. Whereas his earlier releases had a strong retro feel, his latest crackles with a contemporary vibe. The blend of old and new is potent and makes for the perfect soundtrack to your summer.

Reed traveled to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record this alternate version of a fave track from Nights Like This. The backing band includes legendary Swampers David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and Spooner Oldham.

How Would You Feel, Cowboy Mouth (from the Elm City Records release Go)

It’s great to see that, as Cowboy Mouth celebrate their 25th anniversary, the New Orleans-based quartet haven’t lost their step. Fred LeBlanc still bristles with a manic energy while band co-founder John Thomas Griffith still has a knack for writing catchy pop anthems. As this track clearly illustrates, they have no intention of slowing down. Here’s to another 25 years.

Audio Download: Cowboy Mouth, “How Would You Feel”

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Timmy, John Murry (from the Evangeline Records ep release Califorlornia)

Oakland by way of Mississippi songwriter Murry follows up his excellent 2012 release The Graceless Age with another gem, this time an ep. His songs can be jarring but that’s part of their charm. Whether telling stories (“The Murder of Dylan Hartsfield”) or capturing moments or emotions (“The Glass Slipper”), he applies a vivid and darkly realistic eye.

This song pays a moving tribute to his late friend and producer Tim Mooney, known to many for his work with American Music Club and Sun Kil Moon.

Haas Kowert Tice – You Got This

A few years ago I saw Casey Driessen at a music festival down in Austin.  Of the perhaps 100 people backstage at the moment, I’d guess half of them were fiddle players.  Every fiddle player who was performing that day was there.  It was impressive to see all that talent make their way to see someone who was an inspiration for them to improve their art and skill.  Bela Fleck has that effect on banjo players.  Chris Wood for bass players.  There are just a handful of musicians that have that unique combination of physical skill and creative ability that set the bar for the rest of the world.  Listening to the just-released first album from Haas Kowert Tice, You Got This, I wonder if I’m hearing the early career of someone else that will make that exclusive club.

The group is composed of Brittany Haas on fiddle (Darol Anger, Crooked Still), Paul Kowert on bass (Punch Brothers), and Jordon Tice on guitar and seemingly the chief songwriter of the group.  These three have been playing together since college, but careers took them to other groups, only to discover how much they enjoy making their own music.  The album is a completely instrumental work.  Haas and Kowert seem to shine a little more when it comes to specific licks and catchy phrases.  But it’s Tice’s work on the guitar that holds everything together and makes this a band, not a trio of individuals who happen to be playing on the same record.

Without a background in music theory, I’m somewhat challenged to even describe to you the music on this disc.  Grandpa’s Cheesebarn has a combination of staccato solos and flowing melodies in interesting keys that remind me of the first time I heard Igor Stravinsky.  Classical, bluegrass, I don’t know how they’re even remotely related, but it somehow seems that way.  Better Off is like chamber music for bluegrass instruments.  The Switchback Games have a dissonant sound in the intro and segues that really holds your attention.  El Camino has a walking bass and flowing fiddle that just says wanderlust to me.

haas_kowert_tice Although I’m hard pressed to explain exactly why I like You Got This, it’s something I threw in my CD player a couple of weeks ago and have found it really hard to not keep going back to it.  So if you’re interested in some Americana that’s off the beaten path, but still sucks you in, I recommend Haas Kowert Tice.

Readers’ Pick: Acoustic Classics by Richard Thompson

You picked Acoustic Classics by Richard Thompson as your favorite for the week of Jul 22, 2014.

Readers’ Top Picks (last 4 weeks)

  1. Counterfeit Blues by Corb Lund (82)
  2. Terms Of My Surrender by John Hiatt (16)
  3. Acoustic Classics by Richard Thompson (15) [7/22]
  4. Remedy by Old Crow Medicine Show (13)
  5. Still on the Levee by Chris Smither (12) [7/22]
  6. Eagle Rock Fire by Joe Purdy (6)
  7. Wild Animals by Trampled by Turtles (4)

Don’t forget to vote in our weekly poll to help us make this list.

Newport Folk Festival Preview

After 55 years, the Newport Folk Festival is still relevant. Not only is it relevant, it is still bringing together disparate influences and challenging the notions of “folk” music in the same way that Bob Dylan did back in 1965 (though now the public expects it). Case in point, Son House admirer, producer, blues, folk writer, Jack White is one of the headline performers this year. Jack White’s history proves that he certainly won’t stay put in any one genre. Jack White has dabbled in old-time (“Wayfaring Stranger” from Cold Mountain), folk (“We Are Going to be Friends”) and the usual blues-rock. But wait, maybe those are all different views of the same thing. I’m not sure, but I’m excited to see Jack and his band.

Another genre bender has certainly been Ryan Adams. He’s single-handedly responsible for opening me and my wife up to country music. Ryan started that way with his seminal alt-country band Whiskeytown. Then he spun through a dizzying array of genres: singer/songwriter, rock & roll, punk, lo-fi, jam band, and country to name a few. While some may criticize his prolificacy and his derivativeness, those are the very things that make him so likable. In fact, those things are what drew me to his foray in straight ahead rock “Gold” and opened my eyes to the other genres that Ryan spun through, particularly country iterations. He even dabbled his toes in bluegrass in “Pearls on a String.” This certainly makes Ryan Adams a performer who has gone through many different iterations and can be unpredictable. That’s certainly part of his appeal.

Another band, seemingly the most traditional in the list, has managed to come back together after seven years off, better than ever. Nickel Creek, while generally keeping to their genre amalgamation (bluegrass, folk, country mixture), have released an absolutely classically crafted set of tunes. They’ve always bent the rules a bit by playing bluegrass-y stuff without a banjo, without the traditional tunes, but with all of the immaculate chops and often more of the beautiful compositions. They’ve attracted the attention not just from the folk music crowd, but managed to appeal to the young indie rockers. They have opened up bluegrass/acoustic country to a whole new generation and they bring their rock roots back to that group. They’re the hardest rocking bluegrass band I’ve ever heard. Oh and the new record has some serious bluegrass harmony.

That’s just the beginning; Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, and Robert Hunter round out the legends.  Dawes, Lake Street Dive, the Milk Carton Kids, and Shovels & Rope are bands that I keep hearing about but haven’t had the chance to see yet. Which brings me to one of my personal favorites: Sun Kil Moon. I’ve been a fan of Mark Kozelek since he was in Red House Painters. He’s an atmospheric master whose lyrics are profoundly affecting. Red House Painters tune “Have You Forgotten How to Love Yourself” roped me in a decade ago.

The Newport Folk Festival is not only relevant these days, but for an alt-country kid like myself, it’s the most exciting summer concert festival. It’s a bit of a coming out party for Americana music. Can’t wait!