ALBUMS OF THE MONTHS
There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between punk and Americana. While punk has its raw intensity and Americana its musical sincerity, both styles are rooted in emotion and authenticity. The latest to prove the point is Chuck Ragan who takes the rock intensity that he honed with punk outfit Hot Water Music and applies it to his roots-based solo work.
The opening “Something May Catch Fire” illustrates how the genres can come together. The song all the qualities of a great Springsteen song, a rousing roots anthem with an invigorating sing-along chorus.
“Gave My Heart Out” tells the tale of a young rebellious outsider who, over time, finds himself a jaded insider. A pulsing energy propels the song to its triumphant conclusion when he is saved, so to speak, by love.
Several songs explore the effects of a nomadic lifestyle, no doubt influences by Ragan’s years of touring. “Bedroll Lullaby” describes a life spent rambling, both figuratively and literally. “I’ll shut my eyes and lay these bones to rest,” he sings, “Off the beaten path we all know best.”
Ragan reflects on a woman lost to the road on “Vagabond,” a spirited melody giving the song an almost uplifting quality.
Still I find myself in some town
burning the pillars of tradition down
waking up on the wrong side of fantasy
waking up on the wrong side of you and me
Ragan’s band, the Camaraderie, add their own edge to the music. Todd Beane on pedal steel and Jon Gaunt on fiddle, in particular, give the songs depth and character. Many of Ragan’s Revival Tour compatriots put in appearances as well, including Ben Nichols (Lucero), Dave Hause (The Loved Ones), and Jon Snodgrass (Drag the River).
Kimbrough took his time with his latest release, his first since 2010’s Wings. It wasn’t time spent idly, however. Kimbrough filled his days touring with the likes of Emmylou Harris and working on an album with the newly established Willie Sugarcapps*.
Well, our patience has been well-rewarded with Sideshow Love. While not quite a concept album, it is certainly a thematic piece that examines the nature of romantic relationships. Rather than explore the extremes, Kimbrough mostly plays the musical everyman as he chronicles the daily highs and lows of love.
Kimbrough’s perceptive eye and gentle compassion shine brightly across every song. Each is infused with a sense of warmth and comfort, from the affectionate “Soulfully” to the sorrowful “Has Anybody Seen My Heart.”
As if his thoughtful songwriting weren’t enough, Kimbrough’s tremendous musicianship is on fine display here as well. I don’t think that there is a stringed instrument that he hasn’t mastered. His performances, from From the slide guitar on “Let the Big World Spin” to the old timey banjo of “Home Economics,” are note perfect — never showy and always pleasing. The result is an album of remarkable maturity and grace.
*Willie Sugarcapps is Kimbrough’s relatively new (and spirited) roots quintet with the likes of Grayson Capps, Sugarcane Jane and Corky Hughes. Check ‘em out here.
Bad Self Portraits, Lake Street Dive (from the Signature Sounds release Bad Self Portraits)
Ah, the eagerly awaited song of spring. Each year there is a song released in late winter that is so warm, shimmering and good that it immediately lifts us from the winter doldrums. Here’s the 2014 edition, courtesy of Lake Street Dive.
If there is such a thing as a perfect pop song, then this is it. “Bad Self Portraits” is the nexus of exceptional musicianship, compelling songwriting and irresistible enthusiasm that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Best of all, Lake Street Dive’s latest release is full of similar gems.
Oh, and be sure to give the lyrics a close listen to see why this is an anthem for the selfie generation.
Audio Stream: Lake Street Dive, “Bad Self Portraits”
Sympathies, Peter Mulvey (from the Signature Sounds release Silver Ladder)
I’ve often considered the Milwaukee-based Mulvey a folk singer. On his latest release, however, he does his best to prove me wrong. Sure there is some folk in the mix, but there is also a healthy serving of magical roots-based pop.
“Trempealeau” is an example of the former, an enchanting song that demonstrates that the simplest of songs can be powerful and evocative. “Sympathies” showcases the latter, a happy-go-lucky melody that stands in sharp contrast to the pull-no-punches lyrics.
The consistent thread is the strength of the songwriting. One listen to Silver Ladder and I expect that you’ll agree.
Audio Download: Peter Mulvey, “Sympathies”
Cushing Avenue, Rod Melancon (from the Medina River Records release Parish Lines)
Louisiana native Melancon may call LA home but his latest release is chock full of classic heartland rock. This track, an ode to hometown memories, is a particularly glorious dose of rock and roll.
Audio Download: Rod Melancon, “Cushing Avenue”
What’s On Your Mind, Greyhounds (from the Ardent Music release Accumulator)
Austin’s Greyhounds have one heck of a musical resume. The duo of Andrew Trube and Anthony Farrell have spent time as members of JJ Grey & Mofro and have written songs for the likes of Ruthie Foster and Derek Trucks. As they strike out on their own, they serve up a collection of songs that are boozy, bluesy and bad-ass.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.