The Twangville 2014 Release Preview

If the releases below are any indication, 2014 is shaping up to be a musical embarrassment of riches. What releases, whether on this list or not, are you most excited to hear?


Hard Working Americans

HARD WORKING AMERICANS by HARD WORKING AMERICANS
(21 January on Melvin Records/Thirty Tigers Records)

What happens when a group of musicians — Todd Snider, bassist Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), guitarist Neal Casal (Ryan Adams/Chris Robinson), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi ) and drummer Duane Trucks (King Lincoln) — get together for a jam session? Well, something like this. The Americana/jam band super-group of sorts take on songs by Randy Newman, Lucinda Williams, Hayes Carll, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings and Brian Henneman (The Bottle Rockets), among others.


Parker Millsap

PARKER MILLSAP by PARKER MILLSAP
(4 Feb on Okrahoma Records)

I stumbled across Millsap in Nashville last fall when I crashed his CMT Edge taping. His blend of bluegrass, gospel and folk crackles with a vibrant energy. He is definitely one to watch in 2014 and beyond.


Hurray for the Riff Raff

SMALL TOWN HEROES by HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF
(4 Feb on Okrahoma Records)

New Orleans musician Alynda Lee Segarra and the Riff Raff crew serve up music that is best described as indie-folk. Their songs are true to the indie rock ethos, packaged in mighty fine folk arrangements.


Lydia Loveless

SOMEWHERE ELSE by LYDIA LOVELESS
(18 Feb on Bloodshot Records)

Loveless teased us last fall with a five-song ep. Now we’re ready for what will undoubtedly be a raucous and rockin’ full-length affair.


Will Kimbrough

SIDESHOW LOVE by WILL KIMBROUGH
(18 Feb)

Musical journeyman Kimbrough has spent the past few years playing with Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and a host of others. Fortunate for us, he is stepping forward with his first solo album in four years. We’re expecting him to pick up right where he left off with 2010′s Wings – plenty of splendid pop melodies wrapped in rootsy Americana arrangements.


Jimbo Mathus

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL by JIMBO MATHUS
(18 Feb on Fat Possum Records)

Mississippi musician Mathus is wasting no time following up last year’s mighty fine White Buffalo. Word on the street is that his forthcoming release takes a darker and rock-oriented path with, as Mathus describes it, “more ultra chrome and less sepia tones.”


St Paul and the Broken Bones

HALF THE CITY by ST PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES
(18 Feb on Single Lock Records)

The Birmingham Alabama-based sextet got soul. ‘nuf said.


Drive-By Truckers

ENGLISH OCEANS by DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS
(4 Mar on ATO Records)

Any year with new music from the Truckers is bound to be a good year, right? Well Messrs Hood and Cooley are back with another character-driven Southern rock and roll record. The songs are just about evenly split between the two writers. We’re particularly excited to hear the opening track called “Shit Shots Count.”


Johnny Cash

OUT AMONG THE STARS by JOHNNY CASH
(25 Mar on Legacy Recordings)

Cash recorded these songs in Nashville back in the early 1980′s and they’ve languished in the vault ever since. We’re counting down the days until their March release. The legend continues.


Archie Powell and the Exports

TBD by ARCHIE POWELL AND THE EXPORTS
(April)

Powell’s Great Ideas in Action was one of my favorite albums from 2012, filled with glorious power pop melodies delivered with cranked up guitars and an in-your-face intensity. I’m expecting more of the same with their forthcoming release. Bring it on, gents!


Matthew Ryan

TBD by MATTHEW RYAN
(TBD)

Ryan traveled to upstate New York to work with producer Kevin Salem. Sounds like the recipe for a great rock record with plenty of cranked-up guitars. We’re salivating at the prospect.


Joe Fletcher

TBD by JOE FLETCHER
(TBD)

Fletcher has taken his time prepping his forthcoming album. Originally scheduled for a 2013 release, Fletcher’s incessant touring has kept him from putting the final touches on the collection. We’ve no doubt that it will be well worth the wait.


John Fullbright

TBD by JOHN FULLBRIGHT
(TBD)

It’s going to be tough for Fullbright to top 2012′s brilliant From the Ground Up, but we’ve no doubt that he is up to the challenge. We’re expecting another outstanding collection of incisive songs and a sound honed by a year and a half of non-stop touring.


Photo credits: Scott Simontacchi (Matthew Ryan); Jesse Golding (Joe Fletcher)

Honeylark – Heavy

This time of year the shadows stretch long across the frozen landscape, adding a lightly brushed undercurrent of foreboding to everything.  It’s always there, lurking, feeding the darker human emotions, even when the event of the moment is a totally enjoyable holiday celebration.  When you put that feeling to music, you get what Honeylark calls folk noir, which is the exactly right description for their debut album, Heavy.

Honeylark + Fiawna Forte – “Afternoon” (Official Music Video) from Nathan Poppe on Vimeo.

The first cut on side 1 of the album (that’s right, it’s vinyl or download only, no CD) is Widow, a musing about the black widow spider on the window sill, with a gothic chorus that makes the song kind of creepy beautiful.  Riverbed is a brassy, bouncy, light-hearted song about…death.  Hospital carries more of an indie sound in the early going, but builds a Wagnerian crescendo that’s practically oppressive.  Yours & Mine features the Ryan Houck half of Honeylark’s husband and wife songwriting team on banjitar, and similarly builds to a crescendo at the end, though not perhaps so Teutonic as Hospital.

11298_fullsize A number of tunes on the album take the much lighter approach I mentioned earlier, with the noir a much subtler bit of the background.  Afternoon is a bitchy fun song about being either a morning person or a night person, I’m not sure which.  Love Is Red is mostly bluegrass, but singer Natalie Houck puts a bit of steaminess to it.  The final cut of the album is Big Red Alarm Bell, with a Celtic lilt that laments, “I wish I was stupid enough to be happy.”  I’d like to hear The Pogues or Flogging Molly do a cover of it.

Heavy is my first album to review this year and it’s a great place to start.  It’s full of texture and melody and emotion–the perfect answer for what to do if you’re stuck inside because the weather outside is frightful.

Mayer’s Picks: Best Songs of 2013

I posted a best songs list for the first half of 2013 back in July (here). Rather than replicate that list for my full year review, consider this the continuation — the best songs from the second half of the year.


Closed Hand, Full of Friends, Foy Vance
(from the Glassnote Records release Joy of Nothing)

Vance’s writing is filled with an alluring mysticism and an uplifting spirit that will pick you up on even the darkest of days, to wit: “I will find my means to an end, with an open-hearted hope and a closed hand, full of friends.”

Watching him perform this song at the Bushmills Distillery is just the icing on the cake. The liquid kind of icing, that is.


Alone in Memphis, Austin Lucas
(from the New West Records release Stay Reckless)

When I wrote about Lucas earlier this month, I talked about him as a country crooner fronting a rock band. The album version of this song rocks through and through, so here’s the acoustic version to prove my point.


My Favorite Picture of You, Guy Clark
(from the Dualtone Music Group release My Favorite Picture of You)

Clark’s ode to his late wife is simply stunning.


When the Moment Comes, Mia Dyson
(from the Black Door Records release The Moment)

The title track from Dyson’s latest release bursts with infectious energy and fervor. I’m always overcome by a spontaneous need to crank it up every time I hear it.


Handyman Blues, Billy Bragg
(from the Essential Music release Tooth and Nail)

This is one of those songs that is brilliant in its simplicity and charm.

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed
But I can write a song that tells the world how much I love you instead
I’m not any good at pottery so let’s lose the ‘t’ and just shift back the ‘e’
And I’ll find a way to make my poetry build a roof over our heads


Evelyn, Andrew Duhon
(from the self-released The Moorings)

I had a tough time narrowing it down to just one song from Duhon’s latest release. There’s the mesmerizing ballad “Feel It in My Soul” and the Louisiana bluesy groove of “Feelin’ Low Down,” but it’s the rich storytelling and melancholy melody of this song that keeps drawing me back.


Just One Night, Patrick Sweany
(from the Nine Mile Records release Close to the Floor)

Sweany throws rock, soul and blues in a blender and comes up with songs that sound simultaneously fresh and timeless. It’s hard to escape the soulful groove on this one. I certainly can’t.

Patrick Sweany

Audio Download: Patrick Sweany, “Just One Night”

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Sometimes the Grass Is Greener, Robbie Fulks
(from the Bloodshot Records release Gone Away Backward)

Even if it wasn’t such an enticing bluegrass gem, Fulk’s ode to life in the music business would have made this list for the chorus alone.

Now I’ve seen the sun go down on the streets of New York town
And I watched it from the hills of old Virginia
Beauty’s what the eye beholds,
One man’s dirt is another’s gold
And sometimes the grass is really greener.


Love in the Worst Degree, Shannon McNally
(from the Sacred Sumac Music release Small Town Talk)

McNally, with help from Dr. John and the Lower 911 Band, paid tribute to the late Bobby Charles by recording an album of his songs. Their spirited performances breathe new life into these classic songs, hopefully introducing new legions of new fans to the Charles catalog.


Dreamin’, Please Please Me
(from the self-released Shake a Little Harder)

This is one of those occasions when the title is the perfect match for the song, a wistful and haunting piece of pop perfection.


Down at the Heel, The Silks
(from the self-released Last American Band)

How’s this for a 1970’s style classic rock song, complete with fuzzy guitar and cowbell. A glorious racket!


Key Bump, Faithless Town
(from the self-released American Refugee)

I love rock songs that walk the line between abandon and restraint. Put this one on that list.


Click here for more Twangville Best of 2013 coverage.

Mayer’s Playlist for Fall 2013, Part 3

ALBUMS OF THE SEASON

Stay Reckless, by Austin LucasAustin Lucas
Some may disagree with my classification, but this is my kind of country. It starts with Lucas’s voice, which has just the right amount of relaxed drawl. When he sings, “I don’t want to be alone in Memphis, I don’t want to be alone in New Orleans” in “Alone in Memphis,” for example, it rings out with an air of lonely authenticity.

It comes through in his lyrics as well. Take “Small Town Heart,” a song of escapism with a touch of truth. “I got a small town heart but big city eyes,” he confesses as a pedal steel wails, “You can only run so far, you’ll always have a small town heart.”

What I find especially appealing about this collection is how Lucas blends his punk rock side into the mix. Make no mistake, there is a rock and roll heart beating in these songs. The pounding rhythm of “So Much More Than Lonely” and the dueling guitars of “Let Me In” are the musical equivalent of a sonic blast.

Which isn’t to say that Lucas can’t sing the tearful ballad. A mournful pedal steel guitar and fiddle provide a moving backdrop for “Rings,” a song that finds Lucas taking someone to task for a failed marriage. “”I hear you lost someone or rather left them far behind when you moved to Tennessee,” sings Lucas, before continuing

That ring was slipping off your finger
Just like it was raining wedding bells
And you’d swear it had a mind of its own
Just a piece of gold, it never fit your hand

Whether fast and furious or slow and sorrowful, these songs of longing and loneliness fit well in the country canon.

Audio Download: Austin Lucas, “Alone in Memphis”

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THE PLAYLIST


How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me, Scott Miller (from the F.A.Y. Recordings release Big Big World)
Miller’s eagerly awaited release finds the singer-songwriter in a reflective mood. True to form, Miller rocks a little here and rolls a little there with songs that are intelligent and appealing. It is the two acoustic folk songs that bookend the record, however, that stand the tallest.

In album opener “How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me,” the singer pondering his own motives and behaviors. Miller’s rapid-fire lyrics offer more questions than answers, singing “if you help those who help themselves, how come the meek don’t fare so well?”

Miller contemplates his own mortality in the delicate closer “Going Home.” Against a plaintive melody and rich gospel harmonies, he ruminates about “taking leave of senses and all doubts and all fears” before asking “perhaps you’ll find it in your heart to shed a golden tear.”

Audio Download: Scott Miller, “How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me”

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I Hate Myself for Loving You, Justin Currie (from the Endless Shipwreck/Ignition Records release Lower Reaches)
Currie has long been one of my favorite songwriters. His songs are immensely satisfying, immediately catchy yet with a level of intelligence that sets them apart from the typical pop fare. He explores the ups and downs of romantic relationships with a deft eye and sharp language, not to mention a cynical wit.

Said wit is on prominent display in the brilliant video for this song, itself an apparent homage to Bob Dylan’s video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Check it out here.


Like That Richard Manuel Song, Fort Shame (from the Peloton Records release Double Wide)
As if releasing his own material and performing with Lydia Loveless wasn’t enough, Todd May teamed up with former Scrawl singer-songwriter Sue Harshe to form Ft. Shame. I’m a late-comer to this fall 2012 release but better late then never, right? This track is one of the stand-outs and is the perfect blend of their styles — the sense of longing in May’s songwriting set against Harshe’s gentle but stoic piano.

Audio Download: Fort Shame, “Like That Richard Manuel Song”

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When the Moment Comes, Mia Dyson (from the Black Door Records release The Moment)
Rock and roll doesn’t get much purer than this, a rousing anthem with a perfect pop hook. Dyson’s voice, reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt or Heart’s Ann Wilson, only adds to the intensity.

I dare you to listen to this song and not start singing along. Loudly.


Joe and Jolene, The White Buffalo (from the Unison Music Group release Shadows, Greys, and Evil Ways)
The latest from Jake Smith, aka the White Buffalo, is a wonderful collection of mostly acoustic-based songs that becomes even more remarkable when you realize that it is actually a concept album. I’ll let Smith set the stage in his own words:

This is the story of Joe and Jolene, a pair of young outsiders thrust together by chance, forging a deep, emotionally charged relationship that would at once haunt and sustain them throughout their lives. The musical and literary narrative of this album follows our broken hero, Joseph White, through his many trials and tribulations from young adulthood to death. His ballad is a tale of love, war, murder, the search for redemption, and a lifelong experiment of good and evil, asking many of the questions of human existence along the way. It is ultimately a story of hope and the power of love.

Powerful stuff.

Audio Stream: The White Buffalo, “Joe and Jolene”

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Ditch, Sam Baker (from the self-released Say Grace)
Baker is a wonderful storyteller, spinning tales of well-intentioned, if not always triumphant, characters. Their general contentment in spite of their struggles gives his songs an uplifting quality. I suspect that fans of John Prine will enjoy Baker, both for his songs and his half-spoken, half-sung style.

Audio Stream: Sam Baker, “Ditch”

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Take It As It Comes, J. Roddy Walston & the Business (from the ATO Records release Essential Tremors)
Ah J. Roddy and crew, always the life of the party. From Walston’s bombastic piano to the sugared harmonies, this is feel good music. Sure, winter is coming but the sun is always shining when J. Roddy is playing.


Elvis Presley’s Hits, Todd Mathis (from the Jangly Records/Step Out of the Line Records release Please​.​.​.​Don’t Tread On Me (The Whiskey Tango Revue Sessions))
In the interest of full disclosure, Mathis is a Twangville contributor who has become a friend over the years. While I first got to know his music through his rock band American Gun, he has a habit of moonlighting in other genres. As if to prove the point, he recently joined up with South Carolina band Whiskey Tango Revue to record a handful of his more country-oriented songs.

Bias aside, damn if they don’t hit the mark. From the southern boogie of “Long Haired Country Boy” to the sauntering “20lb Hammer,” these songs exude down-home country fun. Here’s the group’s rollicking tribute to Elvis Presley. Dig that boogie-woogie piano.

(See Eli and Shawn’s take here.)

Audio Download: Todd Mathis, “Elvis Presley’s Hits”

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Hell’s Kitchen, The Westies (from the self-released West Side Stories)
Chicago musician Michael McDermott has built a loyal following through the years. As a solo artist he has played the major label game, traversed the rough patches and settled in as an independent artist. A gathering with like-minded musicians in Nashville last winter resulted in a new band and a collection of songs about “love, betrayal, murder, hope and redemption.” The crew takes their name from a ruthless gang that ruled Hell’s Kitchen in NYC back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a fact that stands in stark contrast to the gentile nature of their music.

The group recently released this free ep in advance of their forthcoming debut release. If these exquisite tracks are any indication, we’re in for a real treat.

Audio Download: The Westies, “Hell’s Kitchen”

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View Part 1 and Part 2 of the Fall Playlist.

Mayer’s Playlist for Fall 2013, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE SEASON

Joy of Nothing, by Foy VanceFoy Vance
Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance spent his childhood years traveling the American Midwest and South with his preacher father. He soaked in the rich American musical traditions that he encountered during these travels, which later infused his music upon his return to Ireland.

This rich musical background permeates every corner of Vance’s stunning new release. Joy of Nothing is filled with songs that have an enchanting purity to them — spirituality combined with realism; a longing for happiness and contentment balanced with a recognition of short-comings and limitations.

Album opener “Closed Hands, Full of Heart” is uplifting and bristling with energy. The chorus explodes with a string accompaniment as Vance proclaims:

In the recitations of the parish poets
In the buildings, in the burrows, in the locked boats
I will find my means to an end
With an open heart in hold and a closed hand, full of friends

Many songs find Vance reflecting on failed relationships and the subsequent quest for new love. “At Least My Heart Was Open” is a prime example. The singer acknowledges his faults but defiantly declares his emotional commitment. “Well, I tried to do what I felt was right and I know I fucked it up sometimes,” he sings, “but at least my heart was open.”

“You and I” continues this theme as the singer contemplates a difficult relationship. “Trying find my feet and find my ‘joie de vive’ again,” he sings as a gentle yet insistent melody propels him forward.

The soulful ballad “Feel For Me” has a quiet gospel feel, even as the singer pleads to his lover to “take my heart into your hand, you think you can’t but I know you can.”

The gentle “Guilding Light” closes the album on a high note as Vance sings, “When I need to get home, you’re my guiding light.” It is a fitting end to an album full of songs that shine so bright.

Audio Download: Foy Vance, “At Least My Heart Was Open”

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THE PLAYLIST


Some Days, Sturgill Simpson (from the High Top Mountain Records release High Top Mountain)
Sturgill Simpson is the antidote for those who don’t think that there’s much country in country these days. The Kentucky-raised singer-songwriter hearkens back to the classic era of country, locking into the tradition of artists like the late George Jones and Merle Haggard. Simpson oozes authenticity, whether he is singing a tear-in-your-beer ballad or kicking up his heels on tracks like this one.

As Simpson declares, “I’m tired of y’all playing dress-up and tryin’ to sing them old country songs.” No dress-up here, this is as real as it gets.

Audio Download: Sturgill Simpson, “Some Days”

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Since I’ve Been Home, Band of Heathens (from the BOH Records release Sunday Morning Record)
This is music that just makes you feel good. Even when they are singing sad songs, as they are here, there is just a warmth that emanates from the performances. This tender ballad reflects on how the singer and his family re-adjust to life when he returns home from the road. The harmonies are simply magical.

Audio Download: Band of Heathens, “Since I’ve Been Home”

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The Best Mistake I’d Ever Make Again, Motel Mirrors (from the Archer Records ep release Motel Mirrors)
The Motel Mirrors are John Paul Keith and Amy Lavere, both of whom have well-earned reputations as Americana singer-songwriters. Put ‘em together and you’ve got something special. This collection runs the gamut from vintage Buddy Holly-style rock (“Dearest”) to the Memphis country fare of “Suddenly You.” I was drawn to the shuffle of this track, made all the better by the intertwined vocals of Lavere and Keith.

Audio Download: Motel Mirrors, “The Best Mistake I’d Ever Make Again”

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It’s A Sin, Alejandro Escovedo (from the Plowboy Records compilation You Don’t Know Me: Rediscovering Eddy Arnold)
I can’t say that I was well-versed on Eddy Arnold before listening to this release. Shame on me as this collection is filled with wonderful songs that have a timeless quality. Artists ranging from Jason Isbell to punk legend Cheetah Chrome drive the point home as they deliver varied arrangements of Arnold’s classic songs. I’m partial to Alejandro Escovedo’s take on this melancholy ode to lost love. (Learn more about Arnold and this compilation here.)

Audio Download: Alejandro Escovedo, “It’s A Sin”

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Heart Darker, The Smoking Flowers (from the Bandaloop Records release 2 Guns)
Don’t mess with the Smoking Flowers. There’s a certain sweetness to the duo’s music but, make no mistake, it has a decided edge. Their bio name-checks Gram and Emmylou, but I also hear plenty of Lindsey and Stevie in the mix as well.

Audio Download: The Smoking Flowers, “Heart Darker”

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Key Bump, Faithless Town (from the self-released American Refugee)
These Atlanta rockers were a pleasant find earlier this year. Fans of the Old 97’s will undoubtedly enjoy “San Andreas” but, as for me, I’m sticking with this fist-pumping ode to a broken relationship and spending too much time in bars.

Audio Download: Faithless Town, “Key Bump”

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The Last Breath of Her Lullaby, Mark Pickerel & His Praying Hands (from the Candy Cross Records release Tess)
Since cutting his teeth as the drummer with the Screaming Trees in the late 1980’s, Pickerel has played with artists ranging from Kurt Cobain to Neko Case. Since 2006, however, he has been releasing his own material. There’s a dark and mysterious quality to his music, as this song illustrates.

Audio Download: Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, “The Last Breath of Her Lullaby”

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Have You Seen My Baby?, Tommy Keene (from the Second Motion Records release Excitement At Your Feet)
Keene takes a break from his own music to share a collection of some of his favorite songs that were written by others. He mostly steers clear of the classics, instead treating listeners to some lesser known but equally deserving power pop gems. Keene generally stays true to the originals yet somehow makes the songs his own. Simply stated, Keene just knows how to rock ‘em. In this case he is revving up a Flamin’ Groovies classic.

Audio Download: Tommy Keene, “Have You Seen My Baby?”

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View Part 2 and Part 3 of the Fall Playlist.