It’s time to get back in the playlist game. After a not-so-brief hiatus during which I opened the Twangville office in Dallas, I’m ready to get back to the playlists. And, given that the last one appeared in August of last year(!), let’s just say that I’ve got some catching up to do.
To that end, I’m going to take a speed-dating approach – brief commentary with, of course, some music – to survey some of my favorites released in the past several months.
There’s something special about hearing a band hit stride. The Band of Heathens may have started as a casual hometown residency with an acoustic attitude but they’ve morphed into a cohesive, hard-touring country rock powerhouse. Though Austin is home, Duende mines the depths of California country rock with songs that are as heavy with hooks as they are with harmonies. Gram Parsons would be proud.
Sometimes we all need to try something different. Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles, would undoubtedly agree. “I need something else or something new” he sings on “The Same Town,” one of several standouts on the debut Dead Man Winter release. There’s a winsome pop charm to the music even as lyrics portray a darker tale of divorce and despair.
If you’ve ever been to New Orleans you know there’s something special about the city. (And if you haven’t been there, what the hell are you waiting for?)
But what is it about the city and its horn players? More specifically, in this instance, it’s trombone players. Musicians like Trombone Shorty and Glen David Andrews are perhaps the more recognized local players, but it’s time to pay attention to Corey Henry. A member of many local musical mainstays, including Galactic, Henry has just stepped out with his debut release. It’s a party classic that is filled with glorious funkiness, from the classic NOLA sound to modern R&B. In a bad mood? Give this album a listen and it’s a fair certainty that in short order there will be a smile on your face.
Sometimes simplicity is best, a point that Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough re-affirm on their first-ever duo album. The combination of DeMeyer’s sometimes silken, sometimes bluesy voice with Kimbrough’s masterful (mostly) acoustic guitar creates some magical moments. Both contribute songs and trade off vocals, the resulting collection flowing with a gentle and enticing air.
A sitar may be the cornerstone of Elephant Stone’s sound, but that instrument hardly defines them. The group brings together a heavy pop sensibility with the finer qualities of 1990’s indie rock. Heck, their music is also ripe for the dance clubs – the healthy beats and slick production make the songs ripe for pulsing remixes. For those not of the dance club variety, don’t let that dissuade you, their rock and roll hearts beat strong.
If you’re in the mood for some straight-up rock and roll fueled by a powerful electric guitar, you’ll be hard pressed to find much better than Eric Ambel.
His resume speaks for itself, Ambel having been a founding member of both Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and the Del-Lords, not to mention time spent working with everyone from the Bottle Rockets to Steve Earle.
Last year he released his first solo record in more than a decade, a welcome reminder of his songwriting and guitar-playing prowess. As good as that record was, hearing live performances of tracks from that release – including his incendiary take on Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio” – alongside some classics from his catalog serves as an exclamation point on his return. Crank it up loud – it sounds better than way.
North Carolina singer-songwriter Michael Rank has been on a creative tear for the past several years, having released six albums since 2012. All the more impressive than this prolific output has been the consistency of the songwriting across each release. Rank apparently has a deep well that he continues to mine with tremendous aplomb.
Musically, this latest collection stretches from the back porch country that has been a hallmark of his recent releases into more Cat Stevens acoustic pop territory. Rank has also found a wonderful vocal collaborator in Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire. Their voices blend beautifully, matching McEntire’s subtle elegance with Rank’s rough edges.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.