ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
See You On the Moon, by Tift Merritt
I suppose that Merritt could sing the alphabet and I’d listen. There is such a genuine quality to her voice, an infectious spirit. It is a spirit that shines through her music despite the dark overtones of her latest release. “Engine to Turn” typifies this contrast. “I don’t know how to fix the world, I don’t know how to fix myself,” she sings against a foot-tapping melody. Brooding strings add tremendous texture to “Papercut,” finds Merritt comparing a former lover to a paper cut. “I don’t I don’t know why it would hurt, I can’t see why it would hurt but it does,” she sings while strings and a thumping back-beat add a brooding texture to the song. “Live Till You Die” is a personal favorite, a mid-tempo song anchored by hearty guitar power chords and a buoyant horn-laced chorus. The song contains the defining lyric of the album, as Merritt declares, “I have to say the things I feel, I have to feel the things I say.” Amen.
Audio Stream: Tift Merritt, “Mixtape”
Bears & Bulls, by The Stone Foxes
I wasn’t surprised to hear that this band hails from San Francisco. There’s a certain feel to the band’s music, a collegial feel that hearkens back to the city’s heyday. It was a time when musicians like the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane had a collective feel that transcended the music. The Stone Foxes have a similar vibe that fills their blues-based rock. And boy do they bring on the rock. “Patience” is a musical fireball led by a bruising guitar riff. If that weren’t raucous enough, the song breaks down into a sweltering guitar jam. “I Killed Robert Johnson” keeps up the intensity with the tale of a bluesman with a dark secret. “Through the Fire” slows things down a bit, but only a bit. What starts out as a slow-burning blues ballad builds to a fervent chorus. The album stand-out is “Passenger Train,” the sympathetic tale of a man who turns to robbery to cope with hard times. As a slide guitar wails, the man explains, “Times are hard and broken down, at least I can say that I tried, but I ain’t that bad and I ain’t that good, I just did what I did to get by.” If the Stone Foxes sound this good on record, I can only imagine what they sound like live. When are you coming to Boston, boys?
Audio Download: The Stone Foxes, “I Killed Robert Johnson”
White Blank Page, Mumford & Sons (from the Glass Note release Sigh No More)
I’m perhaps late to the party but better late than never, right? The London quartet mine territory similar to the Avett Brothers,but with a fuller sound and, perhaps, a bit more intensity. This song is the perfect example, an ode to unrequited love that finds Mumford singing, “You desired my attention but denied my affections, my affections.”
The Ballplayer, Joe Purdy (from the Mud Town Crier Records release Sigh No More)
Purdy writes for quiet late night moments, performing acoustic guitar or piano ballads that focus attention on the ache in Purdy’s voice. This track tells the somber tale of a ballplayer reflecting on a less-than-successful career and the sacrifices that he made while pursuing his dream.
Audio Download: Joe Purdy, “The Ballplayer”
Second Last Call, Jay Bennett (from the Rock Proper release Kicking at the Perfumed Air)
Bennett was completing this album before his pre-mature passing last year. ‘Tis a tragic loss as he was hitting a creative stride coming off the brilliant Whatever Happened I Apologize. This boisterous acoustic song tells the tale of a guy meeting a girl at a bar but watching it all go wrong.
Bennett’s family and friends have made Kicking at the Perfumed Air available for free download here. They have also formed the Jay Bennett Foundation to honor his legacy in support of music and education programs.
Audio Download: Jay Bennett, “Second Last Call”
Memphis, KaiserCartel (from the Daniel Records release Secret Transit)
The Brooklyn duo serve up dreamy acoustic pop. While Courtney Kaiser usually sings the lead parts, Benjamin Cartel steps up on this ambling ballad. Even then, it is the combination of their voices that gives the song a magical quality.
Audio Stream: KaiserCartel, “Memphis”
Enjoy the Silence, Nada Surf (from the Mardev Records release If I Had a Hi-Fi)
Lately there seems to be a rash of covers-only albums. Nada Surf, a band with an extraordinary track record of marrying pop sheen with intelligent songwriting, steps up with their contribution – a collection of alternative and indie rock gems. This, their take on the Depeche Mode classic, keeps the tension of the original while giving the song a more jangly feel.
Great American Goldmine, Vanish Valley (from the self-released Vanish Valley)
Singer-songwriter Andrew McAllister moved to Los Angeles and connected with the Southern California country-folk legacy of Gram Parsons and his contemporaries. Never a bad thing. This gentle ballad has a captivating gentle sway.
Audio Download: Vanish Valley, “Great American Goldmine”
Alcoholic Baby, Barb (from the Yep Roc release Barb)
What happens when a group of Australian musical friends gather in the studio for a month with mass quantities of wine? Musical collective Barb is born. Liam Finn and touring partner Eliza Jane Barnes are the most known (at least around Twangville), but the members are equally talented. Call it angular pop, driven by a persistent drum beat and swirling with harmonies, piano fills and an abundance of electric guitar.
Where’s It Going, Ellery (from the self-released This Isn’t Over Yet)
The first thing you’ll notice about this husband and wife duo from Cincinnati is Tasha Golden’s voice. It is simultaneously silky and strong. It blends perfectly with the group’s piano-based pop for a refreshing summer soundtrack.
Audio Download: Ellery, “Where’s It Going”
Driver 8, Old 97s (from the New West Records release The Mimeograph EP)
In between their own studio releases, the Old 97’s tide us over with a four-song covers EP. This take on the REM classic stays true to the original but with the 97′s trademark energy. See the Twangville review of the entire EP here.
One Picture, Peter Bradley Adams (from the Sarathan Records release Free Sampler EP)
Formerly part of the duo eastmountainsouth, Adams scores with this simple yet tender love ballad about waking up next to a lover. “If there was one picture that I could take in my life, I’d take the one beside me in the dawn’s early light.” [Note: Adams is offering this song as part of a free sampler available on amazon.com here)
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.