ALBUMS OF THE MONTHS
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”
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”
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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”