ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
Beauty, Wit & Speed, by Nathan Hamilton
“Give me the mad ones, the sad ones, the ones who’ve got nothing to lose,” sings Hamilton in “Through Ether and Time” from his latest release. It is a telling comment and a great introduction to an album that deftly explores the search for comfort and contentment in one’s passing years.
“In All That We Might Find” finds Hamilton longing for the past, recalling the excitement to be found in earlier times. “In the age of information the screens of isolation, Bathe us in a cool blue glow,” he reflects, “The network imperfection, the lack of real connection has left us feeling more alone.”
“Fire to Metal” is a haunting reflection on the wound’s left by an ex-lover. A drum beat that echoes a heart-beat starts the song, soon joined atmospheric synthesizers and an acoustic guitar. “There is no greater pain or consolation than the memory and phantom feeling of your touch,” he sings as the song’s musical accompaniment and intensity increase.
The piano and muted trumpet on “Rust of Age” recall a late night jazz club, the perfect feel for the confessional tone of the song. “We all must face our grave mistakes of body, mind and soul,” he sings, “But I believe I’ll take the dirt and leave behind the hole.”
The tempo, if not the sentiment, quickens on “The Heart That Aches to Open.” Electric guitar solos at the beginning, middle and end of the song weave a shimmering melody as Hamilton takes a more assured tone in his quest. Don’t get me wrong, Hamilton is still feeling lonely and alone, but there is a welcome sense of contentment on this track.
Amy Cook joins Hamilton for the slowly burning “Days of Caution.” The song perfectly captures the swirl of emotion between two lovers:
The days of caution rise
And lift themselves to show
Surrender in our eyes
And a hunger in our soul
It is a rare find to encounter an album that commands attention with an alluring blend of intelligence and restraint. Put this one down on that list.
Audio Download: Nathan Hamilton, “The Heart That Aches to Open”
Number Seven, by Will Hoge
Can anyone guess what studio album release this is for Hoge? I thought that you could. Looking at this release in the context of its predecessors shows the evolution of the artist. If the early years were spent as an carefree rocker, Hoge has mellowed and matured over his last few releases. That said, his songs have lost little of their charm and appeal.
“Fool’s Gonna Fly” finds Hoge saying goodbye to a lover. Longtime readers know that I have a sarcastic streak and love a good “kiss off” song, so there should be no doubt that I would enjoy this one:
Shakespeare was a traitor as far as I’m concerned
He wrote a bunch of stories ’bout stuff he never learned
He never loved a woman least not one as mean as you
Romeo would’ve just split town and tried to find somebody new
If “Fools Gonna Fly” is his break-up song, “No Man’s Land” is his ode to falling short in a quest for love. “I count my blessings on the days we get along, but I can count on one hand the days that I do nothing wrong,” he laments. The song becomes a fine bar-room sing-along as Hoge kicks into the chorus, “She’s like a fine wine, I’m like whiskey from a jar…”
“Too Old Now to Die Young” finds Hoge reflecting on the wild years of youth with the perspective of middle-aged maturity. “I loved the pleasure and cursed the pain, oh, foolish things I’ve done, I’m too old now to die young,” he sings while a bristling slide guitar wails.
Hoge slows things down for “Trying to Be a Man,” a tender ballad that chronicles the celebration and tragedy of a young man finding love and family. Vince Gill guests with some solemn acoustic guitar accompaniment for added effect.
While a part of me misses the more raucous songs of Hoge’s early career, it is refreshing to see an artist explore new musical horizons.
Audio Stream: Will Hoge, “Too Old Now to Die Young”
Midwest Winters, Bradley Wik and the Charlatans (from the forthcoming release Burn What You Can, Bury the Rest…)
“Those midwest winters will suck your soul away,” sings Wik on this song that starts off melodic and brooding before exploding into a cathartic guitar fury. Although he now resides in Oregon, these songs were born from growing up in the Midwest and have the hearty rock feel of that region. Burn What You Can, Bury the Rest… is filled with this heartland rock and roll, rich with tales of hard-working, well-intentioned characters.
Audio Download: Bradley Wik and the Charlatans, “Midwest Winters”
Pine, The Poison Oaks (from the self-released Pine)
What happens when you gather together a large group of Americana musicians in the studio to “experiment”? Apparently you end up with some great pop tunes and performances. Boston-based fiddler Laura Cortese, the cornerstone of this new collective, is joined by a talented group of friends whose musical pedigree includes Crooked Still, The Low Anthem and Josh Ritter’s Band, among others. If this is an experiment than we will call it a resounding success.
Audio Download: The Poison Oaks, “Pine”
Good Luck and True Love, Reckless Kelly (from the No Big Deal Records release Good Luck and True Love)
Austin’s Reckless Kelly have always been a bit of a paradox. The boys established themselves in Austin with songs rooted in the Americana storytelling tradition. Yet the boys clearly live to rock and roll. Don’t believe me? Check out their latest release. Pure rock and roll, Texas style.
Audio Stream: Reckless Kelly, “Good Luck and True Love”
Gimmie Back, 13ghosts (from the This Is American Music release Liar’s Melody)
My recollection of 13ghosts was a band that produced music dark, brooding and demanding. Well, this doesn’t sound like that band. The tempos are faster and the songs are grittier. All the better, I say. As singer-songwriter Brad Armstrong says, “I got my radio tuned to the independent rock and roll station.”
Audio Download: 13ghosts, “Gimmie Back”
The Weight of Changing Everything, Tim Easton (from the self-released release Since 1966, Volume 1)
Easton has blessed us with two albums this year, the first a rollicking rocker and the second an acoustic gem. This track is from the latter release and is a shining example of Easton’s powerful songwriting. In a single song he deftly tackles politics, both personal and national, with a message of positive change.
Nobody’s perfect, nobody should be
Nobody can get it right every day
Maybe you happen to have some answers
Please shine your light to help us spread
The weight of changing everything.
Audio Download: Tim Easton, “The Weight of Changing Everything”
Maybe, Paul Collica (from the self-released It’s Not Me… It’s You)
I’ve always had a musical sweet tooth and this track – and album – is downright cavity-inducing. The guitars sizzle, the bass pounds and the chorus soars. Knowing that Collica recorded all the instruments himself, mostly in his home studio, is just icing on the cake. This is a sonic boom of the best kind.
Audio Download: Paul Collica, “Maybe”
Punchline, The Farewell Drifters (from the Heart Squeeze release Echo Boom)
If you like your bluegrass with a pop sensibility, this just may be the band for you. The instrumentation may say bluegrass, but the vocals and songs have a clean-cut 1960’s pop feel.
Audio Download: The Farewell Drifters, “Punchline”
American Tune, Crooked Still (from the Signature Sounds release Friends of Fall)
The Boston folk quintet celebrate their 10th anniversary with a splendid ep, placing their distinctive stamp on some cover songs and sharing a few originals. This take on the Paul Simon classic is a prime example, with Aoife O’Donovan under-stated vocals accompanied by the band’s sublime arrangement.
Audio Download: Crooked Still, “American Tune”
Message To Ya, Daryl Hall (from the Verve Forecast release Laughing Down Crying)
It’s been seven years since Hall’s last solo release and a few more than that since his last proper release with John Oates. Yet Hall hasn’t been idle, hosting a web series “Live From Daryl’s House“, a cool show that finds Hall hosting veteran and emerging artists for song and conversation. Perhaps those collaborations sparked the creative burst behind fun-loving tracks like this.
Audio Download: Daryl Hall, “Message To Ya”
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound (from the Bloodshot Records release Want More)
It may seem odd for Bloodshot Records, notorious for a roster full of outstanding Americana artists, to sign a soulful old school R&B artist like Brooks. It isn’t, though, when you consider that Bloodshot’s hallmark is music as accomplished as it is authentic. Brooks fits right in when measured against that criteria. His soulful croon, matched with the rich grooves of the Uptown Sound, makes for some potent R&B. And what better introduction then to hear the band’s killer take on this Wilco classic.
Audio Stream: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.