ALBUMS OF THE SEASON
Joy of Nothing, by Foy 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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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.
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?”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.