More Than a Feeling: A Special Boston Playlist*


Smith & Weeden, by Smith & WeedenSmith & Weeden

It’s always a treat to stumble across a band that, quite simply, sounds like they are having fun. Such is the case with the Providence-based quartet* Smith and Weeden, whose songs run the gamut from harmony-laced country to guitar-fueled rock.

In the country category are ambling tunes like “Drinking” and “Wondering.” Singer Jesse Emmanuel Smith has a voice perfectly suited for these songs, ably buoyed by the band’s tasteful harmonies.

“Drinking” is a ready-made country classic, bringing together a honky-tonk melody, a woeful tale of heartbreak and, well, alcohol. “Well you don’t get answers fast from a bottle or a flask,“ sings Smith, “I’ve got some time to kill so I’ll have another glass.”

How many songs of heartache do you know that include a snippet of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic?” Well, “Grace and Glory” does, along with some acoustic guitar traces of “Amazing Grace.” It makes for an interesting combination and a mighty fine song.

In the rock category are “Aim to Please,” “Boys in Bands” and “Playing a Part.” Guitarist Seamus Weeden shines on these songs, shifting from bruising power chords to nuanced solos with ease. His playing is full of character yet never loud and gratuitous.

They are a regional band for now, but hopefully they’ll hit the road and bring some of their rock and roll fun to a town near you.


Love Me Tender, Jess Tardy (from the forthcoming Sky City Lullaby)

Ten years! That’s how long it has been since Tardy’s last release. We could blame the delay on a lot of things, including a failed record deal, but let’s not fixate on the negative. Rather, let’s celebrate a sublime collection of (mostly) classics from the American songbook.

Tardy, with help from her friend (and talented mandolin player) Sean Staples, kept the arrangements simple. The restrained accompaniment puts the emphasis where it should be: on the songs and Tardy’s captivating voice.

Her take on “Love Me Tender” is a great example. Where others would be tempted to tackle it as an overwrought ballad, Tardy takes a different path. A mid-tempo swing and some exquisite harmonies give the song a fun 1940’s Andrews Sisters feel.

Other gems to be found on Sky City Lullaby include Tardy’s take on Ernest Tubbs’ “Waltz Across Texas,” Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and her own “City of Gold.”

Audio Stream: Jess Tardy, “Love Me Tender”

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Easy to Love, Old Jack (from the forthcoming What Is Home to You)

One might be tempted to label Old Jack as happy-go-lucky. Their sound would certainly support that description. The have a big band rock feel that is steeped in soul, overflowing with an assertive pop attitude and plenty of wonderful harmonies.

Listen closely to their forthcoming release, however, and the lyrics reveal a darker side. These are songs of considered reflection, expressing doubts and questioning life decisions. The result is something special, a collection that is lyrically dense and musically satisfying.

Audio Download: Old Jack, “Easy to Love”

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A Little Bit Low, Aloud (from the Mother West Records It’s Got to Be Now)

I love my twang but sometimes, especially on those first warm days of spring, I want to crank up the guitars and some full-on power pop. Lucky for me, the latest release from Boston quartet Aloud arrived at just the right time to satisfy my craving.

The group gets right to the point with their music, with nary a track over 3 minutes in length. Even better, the songs on It’s Got to Be Now are high energy blasts filled with tight guitar hooks and vocal harmonies. Most of the songs, including this one, recall classic late 1960′s pop yet with brim with a crisp 2014 freshness that is perfect for sunny afternoon listening.

Johnny St. John and the Doom Band, John Powhida International Airport (from the forthcoming release Airport Life)

Former Rudds singer-songwriter Powhida makes his return with John Powhida International Airport. The group took top honors at the 2011 Boston Rock and Roll Rumble and has spent the last few years meticulously crafting their debut release.

The resulting 15-song opus is a pop record of sophistication and eccentricity. It comes across as a smooth and sinewy mix of Prince and Hall & Oates with some jazz flourishes thrown in for good measure. Heck, even the song titles — “John Mayer Dines with Taylor Swift” and “Cover Me I’m Going for Milk” for example — give an indication of the humor and creativity in Powhida’s songwriting.

Audio Download: John Powhida International Airport, “Johnny St. John and the Doom Band”

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Woman of Mine, Russell Kaback (from the self-released Message of Love)

The Greenfield, MA-based Kaback has clearly studied at the Al Green school of music. His songs are sweet and soulful in just the right way. Message of Love saunters along with plenty of tasty horns, graceful guitars and luscious keyboards. Front and center, though, are Kaback’s soothingly smooth vocals.

Consider this track just a taste of what you’ll find across the full release.

Audio Download: Russell Kaback, “Woman of Mine”

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Let Me In, Brian Carroll (from the self-released Miscellaneous)

Carroll has quickly established himself as a presence on the Boston roots scene. Calling him a dabbler isn’t quite right, although he has spread his tentacles far and wide. Carroll hosts regular gigs that range from singer-songwriter showcases to picker’s extravaganzas and even found time to spearhead a forthcoming compilation of area songwriters covering one-another’s songs. If that weren’t enough, he just released a satisfying 7-song EP of his own mandolin-driven compositions.

Audio Download: Brian Carroll, “Let Me In”

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*Yes, I know several of these artists aren’t quite from Boston proper, but since when has Twangville been proper?

Mayer’s Playlist for April 2014, Part 2


Parker Millsap, by Parker MillsapParker Millsap

What is it about Oklahoma? As if the state’s musical credibility weren’t long ago established, there’s been a surge of great young artists emerging from the state. Count Parker Millsap among ‘em.

Millsap blends gospel, bluegrass and folk to perfection all the while filling his songs with colorful characters. “Quite Contrary,” for example, reimagines the lives of nursery rhyme characters as if they lived on the other side of the tracks. These include the fabled Mary, Mary, who is transformed into a street walker. This may not be kid-friendly Mother Goose, but it is darn good fun.

“Truck Stop Gospel” tells the story of an evangelist who preaches the gospel from the back of a flat-bed truck. “Just want to modify your behavior, I just want you to love my savior,” Millsap sings with such zeal that you’re not sure if he is being cynical or reverential.

Millsap gets personal on a few songs, portraying the foibles of love. “The Villian” is a somber break-up song that finds the singer reflecting on a poisoned relationship and taking the steps to end it. “I don’t want to be the villain in your dreams anymore,” Millsap intimates in a voice heavy with resignation. Although the song is primarily centered around Millsap’s acoustic guitar, occasional string and horn flourishes give the song a dramatic effect.

“Disappear” is a happier tale. The ambling fiddle-laden country song finds Millsap trying to convince a lover to leave town to find a new life together. “I’ll hold the map honey if you’ll steer, make like we were never here,” he implores, “you and me mama gonna disappear.”

The instrumentation is sparse, generally a single guitar with bass and fiddle accompaniment. All the better to focus attention on the charm and appeal of Millsap’s songwriting.

Audio Stream: Parker Millsap, “Truck Stop Gospel”

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You Ain’t Worth the Fight, Hannah Aldridge (from the Trodden Black Entertainment release Razor Wire)

I’ll admit that it was Aldridge’s cover of Jason Isbell’s “Try” that first caught my attention. She recorded it with no less that Isbell’s own 400 Unit and it rivals the original in raw intensity. Dig into Aldridge’s own songs, however, and you’ll find a talent to watch. Her country-based songwriting has a rough edge to it, feisty and filled with attitude.

Audio Download: Hannah Aldridge, “You Ain’t Worth the Fight”

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How Can You Turn Around, Northcote (from the Black Numbers release Northcote)

Canadian singer-songwriter Matt Goud (aka Northcote) spent his early years in a hardcore punk band. When he embarked on a solo career a few years ago, however, he veered into pop territory. All the better, I say. He maintains some of the intensity from the hardcore days – a good thing to these ears – while letting his polished pop melodies shine. He writes and sings with an earnestness that is infectious, his weathered voice giving his songs warmth and texture.

The Bad Days, David Ramirez (from the Sweetworld release The Rooster – EP)

One of my SXSW discoveries this year was Austin singer-songwriter Ramirez. Armed with just his guitar he captivated a late afternoon crowd with his poignant songwriting and impassioned performance. Here is a sample to get you started. If you like what you hear, Ramirez is offering free sampler and live show recording via his web site.

No One Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore, John Moreland (from the Last Chance Records release In the Throes)

I’m a bit late to the John Moreland party. But at least I got here right?

I sought Moreland out on the recommendation of several singer-songwriters that I admire. Damn if they weren’t right. The Oklahoma acoustic troubadour sings with a raspy voice that gives his songs, already strong in their own right, even more potency. His songs are wonderfully world-weary and conjure up images of traveling down dusty roads. “I heard truth is what songs are for,” he sings on this stand-out from his 2013 release, “Nobody gives a damn about songs anymore…”

I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You, The Hold Steady (from the Positive Jams/Washington Square release Teeth Dreams)

It’s been a long four years since the last release from the Hold Steady. A really long four years. Thankfully the wait is over. Teeth Dreams finds the boys ready to rock, with new guitarist Steve Selvidge joining co-founder Tad Kubler for some glorious rock fury. Singer-songwriter Craig Finn is in fine form as well, spitting out tales of wayward characters trying to find their way.

Light of Day, Nick Dittmeier (from the self-released Light of Day)

With so much mediocre country rock to be found on the radio and elsewhere these days, it’s refreshing to hear something that rings of authenticity. Meet southern Indiana singer-songwriter Nick Dittmeier. His songs have an honest and hearfelt feel to them, not to mention a nice heartland rock sensibility.

Audio Download: Nick Dittmeier, “Light of Day”

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Mayer’s Playlist for April 2014, Part 1


Till Midnight, by Chuck RaganChuck Ragan

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).

Sideshow Love, by Will KimbroughWill Kimbrough

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”

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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”

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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”

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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.

Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2


English Oceans, by Drive-By TruckersDrive-By Truckers

I suppose that this review could be titled “Cooley Steps Out.” The band co-founder, who has historically contributed only a couple of songs per release, is credited with six songs on English Oceans. Ever better, they are some of his strongest songs in years.

The opening “Shit Shots Count” is classic Cooley, a guitar-fueled shot of attitude. “Pride is what you charge a proud man for having,” he barks, “Shame is what you sell to a whore.”

“Hearing Jimmy Loud” finds Cooley, well, shooting the shit with a guy named Jimmy. The song mingles tales of hardened blue collar life with life teachings like “the moral lessons of a charmed life only get through guilty ears.”

He reflects on old age with the melancholy “Primer Coat.” A jangly guitar propels the song forward as he sings, “He’s staring through his own taillights and gathering speed.”

Patterson Hood, too, serves up a fine batch of songs. His story-telling and character studies are as vivid as ever. The somber “When Walter Went Crazy” is the dark tale of a husband and wife who have drifted apart and whose lives have spiraled into darkness. “When Walter went crazy he had rattlesnake in his eyes,” Hood explains, “blended whisky in his veins and murder in his heart.”

Hood’s “Pauline Hawkins” starts with a brooding guitar and snare drum beat before exploding into a piano-fueled rave-up. The song, inspired by a Willy Vlautin novel, tells of a fiercely independent title character warning companion, “I won’t let you cage me or lock me away.”

Album closer “Grand Canyon” is an epic and moving tribute to a longtime friend of the band who passed away last year.

If the recently departed make the sunsets
to say farewell to the ones they leave behind
There were technicolor hues to see our sadness through
as the sun over Athens said goodbye

Dark Night of the Soul, by Jimbo MathusJimbo Mathus

The latest album from Jimbo Mathus has an interesting backstory. The artist was given access to a studio near his home for nearly a year to work on the release. With the time and freedom to explore, Mathus emerged with an album that is a bit darker and more rocking than his recent work. As he so brilliantly describes it, it is “more ultra chrome and less sepia tones.”

The song collection hearkens back to the finer moments of the 1970’s rock era, calling to mind a number of the finer artists from that period.

“Tallahatchie” has the musical feel and storytelling style of a long-lost song from the Band while “Casey Caught the Cannonball” would fit well in the Little Feat cannon.

“Fire in the Canebrake” has a mighty fine Neville’s groove. A simmering organ and some funky guitar propel the song towards the forceful chorus.

Mathus showcases his mountain country roots on “Hawkeye Jordon,” the tale of a happy-go-lucky moonshiner.

“Rock and Roll Trash” is, well, a dirty ol’ rock and roll song with a Faces vibe. “Yo mama say she don’t like the rock & roll, your friends say you ain’t nothing but trash,“ he sings as guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel joins in with a healthy dose of electric guitar and harmony vocals.

The album may have dark overtones, but it sure is a whole heap of fun.

Audio Stream: Jimbo Mathus, “Rock and Roll Trash”

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Half the City, St. Paul and the Broken Bones (from the Single Lock Records release Half the City)

Last fall we chronicled some of the incredible music bubbling down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (read more here). St. Paul and the Broken Bones were among the up-and-comers featured on the list. Well, fast forward a few months and the boys and have finally unleashed their debut album. Damn, if it don’t sound good.

This is old school soul in all its glory. Horns figure heavy in the mix with just the right amount of electric guitar added to usher the melodies along.

And then there is vocalist Paul Janeway. Upon first glance he looks somewhat academic with his blazer and glasses. Any impression that he is quiet and subdued, however, disappears when he opens his mouth. His voice is equal parts honeyed gospel and gritty soul shouter.

Hope Dies Hard, Jonny Two Bags (from the Isotone/Thirty Tigers release Salvation Town)

Jonny Wickersham, aka Jonny Two Bags, is known to many for his work with Mike Ness as a member of Social Distortion. Well, the time has come for Mr., um, Two Bags to step out on his own. Based on the strength of the songwriting on his debut release, one wonders why he didn’t do so sooner. These are honest and heartfelt songs about striving for, but not always achieving, happiness.

Wickersham is joined by a veritable all-star cast that includes Jackson Browne and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), among others.

I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright), Hurray for the Riff Raff (from the ATO Records release Small Town Heroes)

There’s a wandering spirit that wafts through songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra’s songs. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given Segarra’s history. She set out from her Bronx home at the age of 17, heading west and eventually settling in New Orleans. She and her talented collective of musicians perform with a loose and jammy feel. Their performances ebb and flow, filling Segarra’s songs with grace and charm.

Though Segarra is still a young 27, she has an old soul. That’s a glorious thing for a folk singer, for sure.

The Mighty Storm, Peter Bradley Adams (from the I Me Mine Records release Mighty Storm)

Adams is a songwriter’s songwriter. His songs are brilliantly crafted yet they possess a raw honesty. The title track of his latest release is a great example. A simmering tension makes for an evocative song.

Audio Download: Peter Bradley Adams, “The Mighty Storm”

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Violet, The Damn Choir (from the self-released Creatures of Habit)

With a name like the Damn Choir, it isn’t surprising that this Chicago-based sextet has an edge. Yet there is a brilliant majesty to their music. Some of this comes from the contrast between Katy Myer’s elegant cello against singer-songwriter Gordon Robertson’s impassioned vocals. Robertson writes from a place of honesty and raw emotion, which the band brings to life with a sound that is as graceful as it is intense.

Mary’s Getting Married, Amelia White (from the White-Wolf Records release Old Postcards)

I like my Americana with a rock edge and damn if White doesn’t hit the spot with Old Postcards. The songs on her latest release are fueled by driving drum beats and plenty of electric guitar. Throw in White’s weathered songwriting and vocals and you’ve got a keeper.

Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 1


Somewhere Else, by Lydia LovelessLydia Loveless
I suppose that Lydia Loveless could have gone in two directions after 2011’s outstanding Indestructible Machine. She could have turned towards the country terrain of her earliest work. She chose, instead, to turn up the guitars and dive head first into the glories of rock and roll. I, for one, am glad that she did.

Loveless has never been one to pull her lyrical punches and things are no different on Somewhere Else. She writes and sings with an edge, often focused on relationships and, well, sex. Songs like “Head” (about exactly what you think it’s about) and “Hurts So Bad” (reminiscent of classic Linda Ronstadt) sit firmly in this category.

Several songs recall Fleetwood Mac during the prime Buckingham-Nicks era. Jagged guitars create a sense of tension that stands in contrast to harmony-laced pop melodies of these gems. The album’s title track is a great example, with Loveless contemplating her claustrophobia in a relationship. “Then again things ain’t looking too good on the other side,” she reflects, “the grass is greener but it’s tended by wolves.”

Tasty hooks abound, most notably on “To Love Somebody” and album stand-out “Wine Lips.” Loveless showcases her sassy side on the latter as she pines after a fading love. “Why don’t you smile at me like that no more,” she sings.

Which isn’t to say that she has fully left her roots behind. “Everything’s Gone” has a winsome country sound. The song showcases the power and emotion in her voice, augmented by an aching pedal steel guitar.

Loveless closes the album with a cover of Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know.” While she generally stays true to the song, the jangly guitars and the strength of her voice give the song just the right amount of swagger.

Riverman’s Daughter, by The GrahamsThe Grahams
Alyssa and Doug Graham took the concept of living for their art to an extreme while writing for their latest release. The husband and wife duo spent a year traveling down the Mississippi in search of inspiration along “The Great River Road.” They played a variety of juke joints and dive bars to soak up the atmosphere along the way, ultimately moving into a houseboat in rural Louisiana to write the songs that make up the Riverman’s Daughter.

Now anybody could make that trip, but it takes a special talent to capture its musical essence. This isn’t a collection about Huck Finn and life on a riverboat, to be sure. It’s something better: an album of alluring songs that are infused with Mississippi mud.

The duo kick back with the front-porch pickin’ of “Carrying the Torch” while “You Made Me Love You” skews towards a classic country sound. “Revival Time” sounds exactly as one would expect — like a good ol’ hootenanny.

“Lonesome Child” tells the tale of two would-be lovers who never quite get things right. “You went off the rails and I went straight,” reflects Alyssa, leaving no doubt as to how the story ends.

A restrained electric guitar and some alluring harmonies chime in for the lustrous “A Good Man.” The song’s gentle Southern soul brings to mind Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, which is never a bad thing.

The brooding title track, which tells the tale of a daughter anxiously awaiting her boat captain father to return home, has perhaps the closest connection to the river. A banjo and a string section combine to give the song a flowing yet ominous feel.

One word of caution, though. Listening to this album will likely make you want to replicate the Grahams trip down the Mississippi. At least it did for me. Anyone care to join?

The recently released deluxe edition on iTunes includes the duo’s stirring cover of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.” Check it out here.

Audio Download: The Grahams, “A Good Man”

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Somebody Closer, James Maple (from the self-released American Dreams)
Our friends at Red Line Roots threw a music-filled party last week to celebrate their first anniversary. One of my discoveries that evening was CT-based songwriter James Maple. The singer-songwriter has a wonderfully expressive voice, a captivating blend of soul and grit. His music conjures up Neil Young finer acoustic moments with a touch of the Band thrown in for good measure. Sounds like a good combination right? Give it a listen – you won’t be disappointed.

Audio Download: James Maple, “Somebody Closer”

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Kiss Me Darling, Twin Forks (from the Dine Alone Records release Twin Forks)
If there is one thing that we know from Chris Carrabba‘s work with Dashboard Confessional it is that he knows his way around a pop hook. Twin Forks, his newest project, applies that pop sensibility to a decidedly roots setting. Songs like the banjo-driven “Something We Just Know” to the hoot and holler of “Picking Up the Pieces” are ripe for sing-alongs. Even when the group slows it down a bit, as they do on this track, you’ll be hard-pressed to not feel energized. This self-titled debut simply radiates fun from start to finish.

Audio Download: Twin Forks, “Kiss Me Darling”

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On My Mind, Jeremy Fisher (from the Hidden Pony Records release Mint Juleps)
I included a song from Fisher’s recent live release in last month’s playlist. It was a wonderful reconnection with an artist that had slipped off my radar. Of course, this sent me back to explore what Fisher has been up to lately. 2012′s Mint Juleps finds Fisher in fine form; his songwriting as fervent and intelligent as ever. Best of all, the simple acoustic arrangements put the focus right where it belongs – on his fantastic songs.

Audio Download: Jeremy Fisher, “On My Mind”

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Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word, Sad Bastards of Brooklyn (from the Slacker Music release Volume 1)
You’ve gotta love the story behind this album. Charlene McPherson and Mo Goldner of the New York City rock band Spanking Charlene holed up with producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on a rainy Friday night. A few hours later they emerged with this completed release.

There are no original songs here, just a collection of covers that are beautifully delivered with just McPherson’s voice and Goldner’s guitar. One won’t be surprised to hear The Replacements oft-covered “Here Comes a Regular” but how many times have you heard a brilliant rendition of “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet Movie? And then there is this stunning take on this classic Elton John piano ballad, one of my favorites from the release.

Truth be told, I’d like this duo for the name alone. All the better that their performances are so striking.

Sing O Muse of the Mountain, Marah (from the Valley Farm Songs release Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania)
You’ve perhaps heard about how these songs came to be. Marah’s David Bielanko and Christine Smith discovered a 100 year-old book of song lyrics that chronicled rural life in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The duo set the lyrics to music and invited a talented cast of folksy musicians to the party. The result is a freewheeling celebration that is filled with charm and personality.

Do What I Do, Love Come Down, Ocean Carolina (from the Old Hand Records release All The Way Home)
Here’s a bit of a paradox. A band from Brooklyn whose name references the Carolinas and whose music has a Southern California Americana sound. No matter, this is a well-crafted album that sounds good whatever the geography. I was originally tempted by “Drink You Back Again” (“one beer in my hand will always end up ten when I’m tryin’ to get you off my mind.”) but ultimately it was this wistful song that captured my attention.

Audio Stream: Ocean Carolina, “Do What I Do, Love Come Down”

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