Mayer’s Playlist for Sept 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

You've Got the Wrong Man, by Joe Fletcher Joe Fletcher Singer-songwriter Joe Fletcher drew inspiration for You've Got the Wrong Man from the field recordings of the early 20th century. The process, most notably used by John Lomax during his musical exploration of the Southern US, places particular emphasis on the raw emotion and storytelling nature of folk and blues music of that period. The constantly-touring Fletcher dusted off his four-track recorder and, guitar in hand, began recording songs as he traveled. Now it’s one thing to replicate the recording technique, it's quite another to capture the essence of the approach. Fletcher hits the mark on both fronts. The album opens with the ambling “Florence, Alabama.” Fletcher picks at his acoustic guitar as he matter-of-factly describes the failed romance of a soldier and a bartender. “You’re the prettiest bartender in the last bar in the South and I thought you were an angel until you opened your mouth,” he wryly croons. The album continues with an imagined tale of spending time with Hank Williams, a song that was sparked by a trip that Fletcher made to the Hank Williams museum. “I ordered up two beers, said ‘Hank, what are you drinkin’?” sings Fletcher against the lonely backdrop of his electric guitar. Williams responds in kind, “Joe, I think I like the way you’re thinkin’, when I stand still sometimes I swear I’m sinking, I think tonight I’ll drink whatever it is you’re drinkin.” Fletcher turns to his acoustic guitar for the long-time live show staple “I Never.” It is a colorful sea-faring tale with a great sing-along chorus, “I’d a never gotten on this ship if I had known that it was gonna take me home, I was never meant for life on land and I can’t make it on my own.” The album concludes with a moving tribute to Dave Lamb of Brown Bird, who succumbed to leukemia earlier this. Fletcher invited a veritable who’s who of like-minded artists – from Deer Tick's John MacCauley to Patrick Sweany to JP Harris and others -- to perform Lamb's "Mabel Gray."

Audio Download: Joe Fletcher, "Florence, Alabama" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/01%20Florence%2C%20Alabama.mp3]

THE PLAYLIST

Good and Ready, Anthony D’Amato (from the New West Records release The Shipwreck from the Shore) There’s long been something magical about Anthony D’Amato’s songwriting. He writes with a poetic style, choosing his words carefully to tell stories that are rich with imagery. Let’s call them sophisticated folk songs. For his New West Records debut, D'Amato headed to Maine farmhouse to record his work with producer Sam Kassirer, who has done wonderful work with other Twangville faves such as Josh Ritter and Lake Street Dive. Working with Kassirer, D’Amato conjured up a more majestic sound with lush arrangements. Depending on the song, you’ll hear varieties of strings and horns along with some wonderful choral harmonies. From the percussive glory of “Back Back Back” to the subtle beauty of “Ludlow,” the results are exquisite.
Downbound Train, Joe Pug (from the Lightning Rod Records release Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born in the U.S.A.) Bruce Springsteen’s classic 1984 album gets the tribute treatment from some of Americana’s finest artists. Blitzen Trapper serve up a bluesy take on “Working on the Highway” while Trampled by Turtles shine on a bluegrass performance of “I’m Goin’ Down.” Leave it to Joe Pug and Jason Isbell to highlight the darker side of an album that is so often noted for its upbeat rock anthems. Isbell’s somber “Born in the U.S.A,” punctuated by Amanda Shire’s haunting fiddle, speaks to the pains of a soldier returning home from war. Pug’s stark and evocative “Downbound Train” vividly captures the anguish of a character who is brokenhearted and broken.
Burning Pictures, Justin Townes Earle (from the Vagrant Records release Single Mothers) Justin Townes Earle continues to evolve his sound. His songs are still rooted in, well, roots but they now have a mighty tasty injection of Southern soul. Lyrically, he still mines heartaches and break-ups with skillful precision. “I asked my baby if she loved me, she said, ‘Ask me later,’” he sings on “Wanna Be a Stranger.” He looks to his mother for comfort after a failed relationship on “Picture in a Drawer.” “Mama she’s gone, just a picture in a drawer,” he intones. Lest anyone think that this is a mellow affair, Earle and crew crank up the guitars and tempo on songs like “My Baby Drives” and “Burning Pictures.” The latter is a personal favorite with Earle cautioning a friend on his dating habits, “Summer comes you’ll have a new love, but mark my words come winter, you’ll be starting fires and burning pictures.”
Young Women and Old Guitars, J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices (from the Cow Island Records release Home Is Where the Hurt Is) One need look no further than Harris's web site to figure out what type of music he prefers – www.ilovehonkytonk.com. Whether he’s singing songs about drivin' trucks or drinking away a failed romance, his songs ring out with a whiskey-soaked authenticity. His voice recalls Merle Haggard with all the requisite grit and attitude. As if that weren't enough, Harris recorded this album in Ronnie Milsap’s old studio. Home Is Where the Hurt Is does the country legends proud.
Goshen ’97, Strand of Oaks (from the Dead Oceans Records release Heal) There are some albums that are rooted in personal discovery and dripping with emotion. Put this one on that list. Timothy Showalter – aka Strand of Oaks – started his career with a more rootsy tone. Over the past several years, however, he has reflected on his life and used it as inspiration for a new sound. Acoustic guitars were traded for electric guitars giving an extra edge to his songwriting. This song finds Showalter reflecting on his formative teenage years. “I was lonely but I was having fun," he sings before declaring, "I don't want to start all over again." Later on the album he pays tribute to the late musician Jason Molina. “I got your sweet tunes to play,” he sings against a wash of guitars.

Lost & Nameless and Other EP Gems

Several good EP's have crossed my listening desk over the summer, and while individually there wasn't quite enough material in each of them for a full review, they're all worth a listen. First up is the latest from Lost & Nameless, When You Walked Into the Room.  I first ran across this group early in the year when their Empty Spaces EP came out.  I noted at the time they had a fun and diverse sound, and their new release continues down that path.  The title cut opens the EP with an up-temp0 commentary on love-at-first-sight that will give you a chuckle, "you turned your head in my direction and my future was planned out."  Say Goodbye features the youngster in the band, Kimberly Zielnicki, on vocals along with guest Todd Phillips.  Have We Lost has a definite new grass sound, while May I brings in a touch of gospel.  The EP ends with an acoustic, fiddle-drive piece, Matthew's Reel/Reel a Levis Beaulieu.  I'd comment on who plays what, but with just about everyone in the group playing half a dozen instruments, you'd need a scorecard.  So instead just sit back and enjoy a really fine band with roots from Ireland to Austin. Next, I'll call  your attention to Strikes And Gutters, the latest release from Brian Pounds.  Pounds is perhaps best known as one of the contestants on last season's The Voice.  A couple of tunes on this EP, Hold My Head High and Sunday Dress, certainly reinforce the idea of a pop country crooner.  Somewhere, Maybe Carolina is a little more old school country.  Keep My Hands To Myself, my favorite on the disc, has a clear soul sound to it.  The EP finishes with Jesus, Don't Let Me Die (On My Feet) that's part prayer and part assessment of a situation familiar to all too many folks. The last EP is not exactly Twangville material.  The only twang you're going to hear out of The Nightowls is if someone breaks a string in a live show.  An Austin band by way of 60's Detroit, with some Bootsy Collins thrown in for good measure, The Nightowls have dropped an EP of "B-sides" from their album last year, Good As Gold.  If you're old enough to know what a B-side is, you'll remember that it was no reflection on the material, more just a commentary on what the label liked, and this set reflects that.  The Feel Good gives you a taste of Funkadelic-style soul.  Nobody Ever Wants To Leave was chosen as the official song of the Austin Convention & Visitor's Bureau.  After All has some old school Stevie Wonder sounds to go with the Motown vibe.  Either Way finishes the EP on a high note with the horns asserting themselves in all the right places.

Phoebe Hunt & the Gatherers – Walk With Me

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like The Belleville Outfit is becoming sort of like Big Star or Nick Drake.  Which is to say that if everyone who currently claims to have been a huge fan from the beginning had actually bought records or gone to shows when the band existed, they'd have been a hugely successful phenomena.  Instead, the group recorded a couple of albums 5-6 years ago and then split up to pursue other things.  Fortunately, a couple of the band members continue to make music in a similar style.  Phoebe Hunt and Connor Forsyth are playing and recording the genre-bending mix of big band jazz and traditional country music that The Belleville Outfit was known for, and have just released a new album, Walk With Me. Although she's certainly an accomplished fiddle player, it's Hunt's voice that will stop you in your tracks.  Add to that Forsyth's keyboards and you have the core sound that's at home on a wide, wide range of musical styles. Warm Summer's Evening sounds like an updated 40's pop song with Hunt's velvety vocals and some subtle muted trumpet from guest Kevin Flat.  Long Gone adds the horns again along with guitar from Willie Pipkin adding to Gatherer guitarist Marshall Hood to produce a spot-on Muscle Shoals sound.  Forsyth turns to a Stevie Wonder-like organ arrangement to give Darkness a 70's radio-friendly feel.  You Know By Now also captures a little of that that 70's deja vu feeling. My favorite song on the disc is Walk Of Angeline.  It features more of Hunt's fiddle and is more uptempo and country than anything else on the album.  Although Flee Fly Flow Flum also captures some of that spirit, I'm still left wanting a lot more of that particular sound. phoebe hunt cover The musicians, both guests and Gatherer members, play a huge role in Phoebe Hunt's latest release.  But what holds it all together and sets it apart is her voice.  The sum total of those parts is a rich texture of unique sound that, like the sirens of old, leaves you no desire to escape its warm embrace.

Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Resolution Road, by Easton Stagger Phillips Easton Stagger PhillipsI don’t like to draw direct comparisons between artists but it’s hard not to do so with the latest release from Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips. This talented trio of singer-songwriters conjure up the finer moments of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Resolution Road flows with the laid-back feeling and gentile harmonies that were – and are – a CSN hallmark. Phillips kicks off the album with “Always Came Back To You,” a graceful love song made all the richer by the trio’s warm harmonies on the chorus. His reflective “Lucillia” has similar qualities and a day-dreamy vibe. Stagger brings a tempered rock attitude to his contributions. A persistent drum beat ushers along “Traveler” as vocal harmonies give way to a George Harrison-flavored slide guitar solo. Easton’s closing “Baby Come Home” is simultaneously melancholy and sentimental. “Sitting here late at night wondering where you might be,” he laments before the others join him to declare “baby come home right now, I need you for the rest of my life.” Guest Derry deBorja adds some subtle yet expressive organ flourishes. Each singer-songwriter bring their own personality and songs to the group. Yet they blend together beautifully, as if they were meant to perform together. Like CSN, Easton Stagger Phillips prove that sometimes 1+1+1 equals more than three.


Dereconstructed, by Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires Lee Bains III and the Glory FiresThere's an old adage -- write what you know. Birmingham, Alabama native Lee Bains takes this to heart with a searing album about life in the modern South. His lyrics reflect on the weight of history, religion and everyday economic struggles of small town Southern life; his songs are fueled by incendiary guitars and furious rock beats. Bains doesn’t shy away from social commentary on tracks like “The Kudzu and the Concrete”:

You can talk, talk, talk about it: Repentance, and forgiveness, and loving your neighbor as yourself. But what the hell does that mean when all your neighbors look the same and think the same or else live a couple miles down the rural route?
He wrestles with the love-hate relationship of growing up in Birmingham in “The Weeds Downtown.” “I know that Birmingham gets you down, but look what it raised you up to be,” he sings. “The Company Man” takes a stand against greed and blind obedience. “All it takes is one wicked heart, a pile of money and a chain of folks just doing their jobs,” he cautions. Bains lets his guitar do plenty of talking, too. Dereconstructed is a no holds barred rock album. Bains and fellow guitarist Eric Wallace trade licks like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor back in the day. The entire band sounds ferocious, rough and ragged. Bains describes it best on “Dirt Track" when he says, “Squeezing glory out of three rusty chords.” The results are glorious, indeed.
Audio Download: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, "The Weeds Downtown" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/05%20The%20Weeds%20Downtown.mp3]

THE PLAYLIST

Bernadine, Adam Carroll (from the self-released Let It Choose You) I’d lost touch with the music of Austin folk-country singer Adam Carroll a few years back. I recall him tending towards humor in his songwriting yet always equally adept at finding the tenderness of a moment. His latest release shows that he hasn't lost his touch. While there are still occasional glimpses of humor, his latest batch of songs tend towards the sincere end of the spectrum. His voice and music have a gentle aura about them, his songs filled with thoughtful character-driven stories.
Audio Download: Adam Carroll, "Bernadine" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/01%20Bernadine.mp3]

Carry On, Denver (from the Mama Bird Recording Company release Rowdy Love) Three singer-songwriters out of Portland serve up songs that are alternatively ramshackle and relaxed. The eleven tracks on Rowdy Love are rooted in country but sometimes veer towards mountain folk-rock territory that is reflective of the region from which they take their name. Then there is this track, a personal favorite, which has a decidedly Gordon Lightfoot feel.
Down, Kingsley Flood (from the self-released Live at the Armory) I wouldn’t often call a live album one of an artist’s best releases but it’s appropriate in this instance. To tide us over until their next studio release, the Boston and Washington D.C-based six piece sextet took over an intimate venue to perform a career-spanning set. They impressively find a way to breathe fresh life into older songs and ratchet up the intensity of their already forceful more recent work. It also showcases the talents of songwriter Naseem Khuri, who crafts songs that are exceptionally intelligent and damn catchy, too. You can download a free six-song sampler from this release here.
Monday, Caleb Caudle (from the This Is American Music release Paint Another Layer on My Heart) New Orleans by way of Winston-Salem North Carolina singer-songwriter Caudle says that much of this album was inspired by a year of touring and the corresponding yearning for home. “I’m really leaving it’s really Monday, I don’t know how it got here so soon,” he laments on this stand-out, “lately I’m finding so little to trust in, that’s why it’s harder leaving you.”
Too Long I’ve Been Gone, Dom Flemons (from the Music Maker Relief Foundation release Prospect Hill) The Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder continues his exploration of the early American music canon on his latest release. Flemons roots himself in folk but masterfully blends countless other genres into the mix. “Georgia Drumbeat” beautifully blends jazz, country and folk while “Have I Stayed Away Too Long?” has a touch of Dixieland and “I Can’t Do It Anymore” brings in some tasty blues playing. I’m partial to this song, a more traditional – and winsome – ballad.

Mayer’s Picks – The Best of 2014, So Far (the Albums)

The year is off to a strong start and I expect that it will only get better. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite releases from the first half of 2014.
Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless
SOMEWHERE ELSE by LYDIA LOVELESS
“Simply bad-ass” is the phrase that overwhelms my thinking every time I give this album a listen. Loveless isn't one to pull any punches and her rocking band gets in more than a few jabs of their own. This is my kinda rock and roll. Key Tracks: Really Wanna See You, Wine Lips, Head, Verlaine Shot Rimbaud, Somewhere Else Featured Twangville coverage of Lydia Loveless: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 1, Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless, and Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless
Alexandria, Chris Mills
ALEXANDRIA by CHRIS MILLS
There has long been something magical in Mills’ writing and his latest release is no exception. Mills wears his musical heart on his sleeve, crafting songs that are filled with emotion and intensity which he then brings to life with a voice that is passionate and full of conviction. Key Tracks: Alexandria, Rubicon, Blooms, The Sweet Hereafter, Quiet Corners Featured Twangville coverage of Chris Mills: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills, and Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills
Hard Working Americans
HARD WORKING AMERICANS by HARD WORKING AMERICANS
You never know what you’re going to get when a “super group” of musicians come together. Leave it to the newly formed Hard Working Americans to demonstrate how to do it right. They hit the bulls-eye twice, first with their stand-out performances and musicianship. Second, by covering a collection of songs written by some of theirs – and my – favorite songwriters. Key Tracks: Another Train, Down to the Well, Stomp and Holler, Welfare Music Featured Twangville coverage of Hard Working Americans: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1
Drive-By Truckers
ENGLISH OCEANS by DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
Are you ready to rock? Well the Truckers certainly are. English Oceans finds Patterson Hood in fine story-telling form and Mike Cooley filling his songs with plenty of piss and vinegar. The results are pretty damn potent. Key Tracks: Shit Shots Count, Primer Coat, Pauline Hawkins, Hearing Jimmy Loud, When Walter Went Crazy, Grand Canyon Featured Twangville coverage of Drive-By Truckers: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2 and Drive By Truckers – Live at Track 29 in Chattanooga, TN
Chuck Ragan
TILL MIDNIGHT by CHUCK RAGAN
Ragan has found a way to marry his punk pedigree with the edgier side of Americana. Let’s call it rustic punk... and a mighty fine listen. Key Tracks: Something May Catch Fire, Vagabond, Non Typical, Bedroll Lullaby, Gave My Heart Out Featured Twangville coverage of Chuck Ragan: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1.
Sarah Borges
RADIO SWEETHEART by SARAH BORGES
Borges returned from her musical hiatus by releasing what is arguably the best album of her career. Radio Sweetheart bristles with swagger and attitude, not to mention plenty of guitar-driven punch. Key Tracks: Girl With a Bow, Think of What You’ve Done, The Waiting and the Worry, Start Again, Record on Repeat Featured Twangville coverage of Sarah Borges: Happy Valentine’s Day: Radio Sweetheart from Sarah Borges , Monday Morning Video: Amy Black, Girls Guns & Glory and Sarah Borges , and More Video Fun from Sarah Borges, Amy Black and Girls Guns & Glory
Girls Guns and Glory
GOOD LUCK by GIRLS GUNS AND GLORY
While they remain true to their love of Hank Williams and vintage country, Girls Guns and Glory let their rock and roll colors fly on Good Luck. It makes for one rollicking good time. Key Tracks: All the Way Up to Heaven, Be Your Man, One of These Days, C’Mon Honey, Rockin’ Chair Money, It’s Your Choice Featured Twangville coverage of Girls Guns and Glory: Mass Ave – A Special Boston Playlist , Photos that Rock: Girls Guns and Glory , and Girls Guns and Glory at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse
Parker Millsap
PARKER MILLSAP by PARKER MILLSAP
The Oklahoma native sets a high bar for himself with an outstanding debut release, deftly mixing up a stew of country gospel, folk and bluegrass. Key Tracks: Old Time Religion, Truck Stop Gospel, The Villain, Quite Contrary, When I Leave Featured Twangville coverage of Parker Millsap: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, and Old Settlers Music Fest 2014 Edition .