Ali Holder – In Preparation For Saturn’s Return

I can’t say I ever thought about going to a smoky jazz lounge and hearing something twangy.  After listening to Ali Holder’s solo debut, In Preparation For Saturn’s Return, I can now picture that happening.  There are certainly artists fusing jazz and country or bluegrass.  See our coverage of Phoebe Hunt’s latest for an example, and oh by the way she plays violin on this record and contributes vocals to several songs.  But it’s Ms. Holder’s smoky voice that really pushes this into Village Vanguard or Green Mill Lounge territory.

Falling Up starts the disc with a Miles Davis-kind of cool number that just oozes hipness, not to mention some nice instrumental riffs including violin and trumpet.  I Saw A Wolf features some nice organ parts and a vocal duet with guitar Daniel Thomas Phipps.  Blood In the Basement is the darkest song on the album with Holder singing about “just trying to wrap my head around this thing we call love.”

For more of a twangy flavor I recommend Drinking Double.  With it’s steel guitar presence it has that cheating-heart feel that any Hank Williams fan will appreciate.  All With Your Help is a little funkier, but with some nice picking.  Mourning Dove picks up some Appalachian sounds and with a production value that comes across as having the band sitting around your living room, very nice.

Holder cover In Preparation For Saturn’s Return refers to an astrological event associated with one’s transition to adulthood and maturity.  It’s a nice milestone for a songwriter to celebrate with stories of what life has taught them.  Ali Holder shares some of her perspective, supported by a crack team of musicians, and turns the whole thing into a really enjoyable album.

Mayer’s Playlist for July and August 2013, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

American Ride, by Willie NileWillie Nile
Willie Nile is on a roll. After playing the major label game twice in his nearly 35-year career, Nile quietly self-released 1999’s outstanding Beautiful Wreck of the World. Since then he has delivered three more compelling albums filled with high energy rock songs and touching ballads. Well, he’s done it again with the American Ride, the latest addition to the Nile canon.

Nile writes a lot about what he knows: life in New York City. “Bleecker Street” sets vingettes from Nile’s Greenwich Village neighborhood against a bustling melody. “This is life on Bleecker Street where the tourists shuffle to a boom-box beat,” he sings, “old men sit and stare at their feet, this is life on Bleecker Street.”

Nile hits the road for the melancholy “American Ride,” a celebration of the rich beauty and history of the United States. While the song is ostensibly about a cross-country trip, the chorus is a gentle plea for companionship as Nile pleads, “ride with me baby come on.”

“If I Ever See the Light” and “She’s Got My Heart” are quintessential Nile. The former features verses that build to an anthemic chorus while the latter is a mature love song with a gentle sway. There’s just an infectious energy to his Nile and his music. It’s as if he is defying you to not break out into a grin and sing along.

The lone cover is a rousing take on Jim Carroll’s legendary “People Who Died.” As a rock and roll survivor with New York City street cred, Nile is among the few who can do the song justice. The song also serves as a showcase for his formidable band. These guys know how to rock, and they rock this one hard.

The tempo slows on the beautiful ballad “The Crossing.” Accompanied only by a piano with some light string flourishes, Nile reflects on the immigrant experience:

Sing we of our kin and kind
All those we have left behind
Ever in our hearts and minds
We who made the crossing.

It seems apropos that the opening track is titled “This is Our Time.” Keep on waving the rock and roll flag, Willie, ‘cause this is your time.


Audio Stream: Willie Nile, “American Ride”

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THE PLAYLIST


Elegy (In a Distant Room), Cold Satellite (from the Signature Sounds release Calvacade)
What happens when a poet Lisa Olstein joins forces with a folk singer Jeffrey Foucault? They make a killer rock album, of course. There are a couple of ballads in the mix however it’s the bruising guitar-driven rockers that caught my ear. The songs have a great road-worn feel to them, in fact they’re the perfect soundtrack for long drives down rural highways.

Audio Download: Cold Satellite, “Elegy (In a Distant Room)”

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When the Drugs Kick In, The Del-Lords (from the GB Music release Elvis Club)
After a 13(!) year hiatus, New York City’s Del-Lords went back into the studio and picked up right where they left off. This is an album filled with amp’d up guitars and pounding beats, weathered vocals and rebellious lyrics. What’s not to like? This is rock and roll the way it was meant to be played.


Audio Stream: The Del-Lords, “When the Drugs Kick In”

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Box I Take to Work, Mike Stinson (from the self-released Hell and Half of Georgia)
After 18 years in Southern California, singer-songwriter Stinson relocated to the musically inviting climate of Houston, Texas. Damn if it doesn’t suit him well. He reminds me of Steve Forbert both in voice and writing style. His songs are filled with colorful stories that will bring a smile to your face. Even the sad ones radiate humor and warmth.

I love this song that finds Stinson reflecting on a traveling musician’s tools of the trade. “I got a torn envelope that says band money,” he sings, “let me tell you that’s an oxymoron, honey.”

Audio Download: Mike Stinson, “Box I Take to Work”

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Dreamin’, The Please Please Me (from the self-released Shake a Little Harder)
This was one of those glorious random discoveries when I stopped by my local late one Saturday night a year or so ago. I gotta imagine it was tough for the band to be playing to a talkative club crowd far from their Austin home. Well, they earned at least one fan that night.

Singer Jessie Torrisi has a bit of edge that she channels through her earnest songwriting. Torrisi’s bandmates, percussionist Agustin Frederic and cellist Alissa McClure, add their touch to create a soundscape that has a compelling tension yet is immediately engaging.

Audio Download: The Please Please Me, “Dreamin’”

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Treme Second Line, Kermit Ruffins (from the Basin Street Records release We Partyin’ Traditional Style)
Ruffins has become something of a New Orleans institution, a musician whose regular weekly gigs across town always draw a fun-seeking crowd. And for good reason: Ruffins and his band know how to throw a party. As the album title suggests, his latest hearkens back to the classic era of jazz. Alongside covers of Louis Armstrong and others from the bygone era is Ruffins’ own rollicking “Treme Second Line.”

If you’ve been to New Orleans and haven’t seen Kermit, then you haven’t been to New Orleans.


Audio Stream: Kermit Ruffins, “Treme Second Line”

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Homesick Tributaries, Christopher Paul Stelling (from the self-released False Cities)

Armed with just his guitar, Stelling packs his songs with enough energy and intensity to be the envy of a full-on rock band. Of course, having said that, I picked a ballad for the playlist. Well, whether fast or slow, his songs have a depth that command attention.

Audio Download: Christopher Paul Stelling, “Homesick Tributaries”

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Mayberry, I Can Lick Any SOB in the House (from the self-released Mayberry)

How can one not like a band with a name like this? Even more so, how can one not like ‘em when they sing a rock song about Andy Griffith? Singer-songwriter laments a loss of innocence, telling the tale of a boy with an abusive father and a troubled life. “They don’t make men like Andy Griffith anymore, Mayberry is dead and gone.” If you like your Americana infused with Jack Daniels, then this is the band for you.

Audio Download: I Can Lick Any SOB in the House, “Mayberry”

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Like a California Wildfire, Deadstring Brothers (from the Bloodshot Records release Cannery Row)

Lead Deadstring Brother Kurt Marschke relocated from Detroit to Nashville and absorbed the Nashville influence into his music. His music still has the rough edges and freewheeling attitude of the band’s earlier work, but now has a more laid back country feel.

Audio Download: The Deadstring Brothers, “Like a California Wildfire”

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Ain’t Gonna Let the World, Dan Israel (from the self-released Live On)
The prolific Minneapolis singer-songwriter has unleashed the 12th release of his 22-year career. While many of the songs reflect on falling short despite the best of intentions, they are fortified with a delicate optimism. “I ain’t gonna let the world get me down… sayin’ no to the sorrow, no to the pain.”

Audio Download: Dan Israel, “Ain’t Gonna Let the World”

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Ghosts Along the Brazos – When It Rains It Pours

Some songs, and albums, take you to a particular time in your life, junior year in high school maybe, or the first summer of backyard barbecues in your first home.  Others take you to an era, the 30’s of NY with early Duke Ellington, or Bakersfield in the early 60’s with Buck Owens.  And some take you to a place–how can you think of anything but New Orleans when you hear Professor Longhair’s Tipitina?  The sophomore release from Austin-based Ghosts Along the Brazos, When It Rains It Pours, falls into the last category.  For reasons I can’t fully explain it takes me straight to the Hill Country of Texas.

I suppose what really leads me there is the mix of swing and country waltzes and jazz riffs, sprinkled with some Norteno and pop, all rolled into a Friday night dance hall.  Take Down ‘n’ Lonely, a waltz featuring Connor Forsyth on piano and guest Warren Hood on fiddle.  You can just see the couples on the dance floor, hear the chatter by the bar, and sense the hipsters with their eyes closed just absorbing the vibe.  Part Of the Past takes you there, too, as does the title track.

There’s also a couple of serious uptempo tunes.  Corndog Shuffle could have been a Little Feat number with its boogie piano and Kristopher Wade’s sweet bass lines.  Beaver Stew is kind of a Junior Brown meets Austin Lounge Lizards song.  My favorite on the album is a bit the outlier; I’ll Get Home, with its Randy Newman lyrical hooks and pop sounds.

Ghosts-Brazos cover When It Rains It Pours is only 8 songs and 25 minutes, but there’s no filler.  If you want to get a sense of,  or just have a reminder, of a warm summer night in Gruene Hall, this is the record for you.

Phoebe Hunt – Live at the Cactus Cafe

I’m pretty sure Phoebe Hunt could sing a used car commercial and make it mesmerizing.  The former lead singer and fiddle player for the Belleville Outfit just released her first full length solo collection, Live at the Cactus Cafe, and it does a great job showing off her musical and vocal range.

Several of the songs on the record do have that crossover country/jazz sound that Belleville Outfit was known for.  Fly On, the opening cut has that spice to it, as does the funky Flee Fly Flow Fum.  A little more in the jazz vein are Oh, So Many Ways and the almost steamy rendition of One Trick Pony.

For me, though, the strongest songs on the disc take that jazzy influence and add just a touch of, dare I say it, a progressive, folk rock sound of the 70’s.  On Walk Away, it’s so easy to hear Hunt channeling Joni Mitchell.  Wild Oats, her self-proclaimed folk anthem, has guitarist Reed Turner injecting some sweet synthesized sounding guitar.  Woman On Fire, the most up-tempo song on the album outside the Bo Diddley beat of I Got Love, carries a certain Celtic folk influence to it.  Good Blood has a Ricki Lee Jones club performance feeling, some of that I suppose from the always great vibe of the Cactus Cafe.

Hunt-thumb The material on this album celebrates a lot of styles that get thrown into the Americana mix.  There are slow, acoustic ballads and upbeat pop songs, gospel, blues and country.  So in many ways it’s the perfect accompaniment to this Independence Day weekend.