ALBUMS OF THE SEASON
Stay Reckless, by Austin Lucas
Some may disagree with my classification, but this is my kind of country. It starts with Lucas’s voice, which has just the right amount of relaxed drawl. When he sings, “I don’t want to be alone in Memphis, I don’t want to be alone in New Orleans” in “Alone in Memphis,” for example, it rings out with an air of lonely authenticity.
It comes through in his lyrics as well. Take “Small Town Heart,” a song of escapism with a touch of truth. “I got a small town heart but big city eyes,” he confesses as a pedal steel wails, “You can only run so far, you’ll always have a small town heart.”
What I find especially appealing about this collection is how Lucas blends his punk rock side into the mix. Make no mistake, there is a rock and roll heart beating in these songs. The pounding rhythm of “So Much More Than Lonely” and the dueling guitars of “Let Me In” are the musical equivalent of a sonic blast.
Which isn’t to say that Lucas can’t sing the tearful ballad. A mournful pedal steel guitar and fiddle provide a moving backdrop for “Rings,” a song that finds Lucas taking someone to task for a failed marriage. “”I hear you lost someone or rather left them far behind when you moved to Tennessee,” sings Lucas, before continuing
That ring was slipping off your finger
Just like it was raining wedding bells
And you’d swear it had a mind of its own
Just a piece of gold, it never fit your hand
Whether fast and furious or slow and sorrowful, these songs of longing and loneliness fit well in the country canon.
Audio Download: Austin Lucas, “Alone in Memphis”
How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me, Scott Miller (from the F.A.Y. Recordings release Big Big World)
Miller’s eagerly awaited release finds the singer-songwriter in a reflective mood. True to form, Miller rocks a little here and rolls a little there with songs that are intelligent and appealing. It is the two acoustic folk songs that bookend the record, however, that stand the tallest.
In album opener “How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me,” the singer pondering his own motives and behaviors. Miller’s rapid-fire lyrics offer more questions than answers, singing “if you help those who help themselves, how come the meek don’t fare so well?”
Miller contemplates his own mortality in the delicate closer “Going Home.” Against a plaintive melody and rich gospel harmonies, he ruminates about “taking leave of senses and all doubts and all fears” before asking “perhaps you’ll find it in your heart to shed a golden tear.”
Audio Download: Scott Miller, “How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me”
I Hate Myself for Loving You, Justin Currie (from the Endless Shipwreck/Ignition Records release Lower Reaches)
Currie has long been one of my favorite songwriters. His songs are immensely satisfying, immediately catchy yet with a level of intelligence that sets them apart from the typical pop fare. He explores the ups and downs of romantic relationships with a deft eye and sharp language, not to mention a cynical wit.
Said wit is on prominent display in the brilliant video for this song, itself an apparent homage to Bob Dylan’s video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Check it out here.
Like That Richard Manuel Song, Fort Shame (from the Peloton Records release Double Wide)
As if releasing his own material and performing with Lydia Loveless wasn’t enough, Todd May teamed up with former Scrawl singer-songwriter Sue Harshe to form Ft. Shame. I’m a late-comer to this fall 2012 release but better late then never, right? This track is one of the stand-outs and is the perfect blend of their styles — the sense of longing in May’s songwriting set against Harshe’s gentle but stoic piano.
Audio Download: Fort Shame, “Like That Richard Manuel Song”
When the Moment Comes, Mia Dyson (from the Black Door Records release The Moment)
Rock and roll doesn’t get much purer than this, a rousing anthem with a perfect pop hook. Dyson’s voice, reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt or Heart’s Ann Wilson, only adds to the intensity.
I dare you to listen to this song and not start singing along. Loudly.
Joe and Jolene, The White Buffalo (from the Unison Music Group release Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways)
The latest from Jake Smith, aka the White Buffalo, is a wonderful collection of mostly acoustic-based songs that becomes even more remarkable when you realize that it is actually a concept album. I’ll let Smith set the stage in his own words:
This is the story of Joe and Jolene, a pair of young outsiders thrust together by chance, forging a deep, emotionally charged relationship that would at once haunt and sustain them throughout their lives. The musical and literary narrative of this album follows our broken hero, Joseph White, through his many trials and tribulations from young adulthood to death. His ballad is a tale of love, war, murder, the search for redemption, and a lifelong experiment of good and evil, asking many of the questions of human existence along the way. It is ultimately a story of hope and the power of love.
Audio Stream: The White Buffalo, “Joe and Jolene”
Ditch, Sam Baker (from the self-released Say Grace)
Baker is a wonderful storyteller, spinning tales of well-intentioned, if not always triumphant, characters. Their general contentment in spite of their struggles gives his songs an uplifting quality. I suspect that fans of John Prine will enjoy Baker, both for his songs and his half-spoken, half-sung style.
Audio Stream: Sam Baker, “Ditch”
Take It As It Comes, J. Roddy Walston & the Business (from the ATO Records release Essential Tremors)
Ah J. Roddy and crew, always the life of the party. From Walston’s bombastic piano to the sugared harmonies, this is feel good music. Sure, winter is coming but the sun is always shining when J. Roddy is playing.
Elvis Presley’s Hits, Todd Mathis (from the Jangly Records/Step Out of the Line Records release Please...Don’t Tread On Me (The Whiskey Tango Revue Sessions))
In the interest of full disclosure, Mathis is a Twangville contributor who has become a friend over the years. While I first got to know his music through his rock band American Gun, he has a habit of moonlighting in other genres. As if to prove the point, he recently joined up with South Carolina band Whiskey Tango Revue to record a handful of his more country-oriented songs.
Bias aside, damn if they don’t hit the mark. From the southern boogie of “Long Haired Country Boy” to the sauntering “20lb Hammer,” these songs exude down-home country fun. Here’s the group’s rollicking tribute to Elvis Presley. Dig that boogie-woogie piano.
(See Eli and Shawn’s take here.)
Audio Download: Todd Mathis, “Elvis Presley’s Hits”
Hell’s Kitchen, The Westies (from the self-released West Side Stories)
Chicago musician Michael McDermott has built a loyal following through the years. As a solo artist he has played the major label game, traversed the rough patches and settled in as an independent artist. A gathering with like-minded musicians in Nashville last winter resulted in a new band and a collection of songs about “love, betrayal, murder, hope and redemption.” The crew takes their name from a ruthless gang that ruled Hell’s Kitchen in NYC back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a fact that stands in stark contrast to the gentile nature of their music.
The group recently released this free ep in advance of their forthcoming debut release. If these exquisite tracks are any indication, we’re in for a real treat.
Audio Download: The Westies, “Hell’s Kitchen”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.