Songwriting is arguably a numbers game. For many artists, the quantity of songs released is a fraction of those that are written. It’s a shame, really, as some quality songs can get left on the shelf gathering dust. For his latest album, Glen Hansard opens up his musical closet to unearth some of these hidden gems.
In many ways Between Two Shores is a typical Hansard release, filled with songs that explore human emotion with a mystical soulfulness. Hansard pours himself into both song and performance, infusing tremendous tension and emotion into every note.
Tracks like “Why Woman” and “Wreckless Heart” ebb and flow with a free-flowing ease even as the heartache oozes freely. Hansard takes it further on the moving “Time Will Be the Healer,” unleashing a falsetto that takes the song to even greater heights.
He kicks it up a notch with a few rockers that are sure to please fans of his former band the Frames. “Wheels on Fire” and “Roll on Slow” bristle with an urgency propelled by horns and simmering keyboards.
Between Two Shores both satisfies and leaves one eagerly wondering what other treasures Hansard has in his musical closet.
Grant-Lee Phillips was made for these times. He came of age in another period of social and political upheaval of the Reagan era and, with his band Grant Lee Buffalo, created music that captured the turbulence with a rootsy yet insistent intensity. Inspired by, or more likely reacting to, today’s charged world, Phillips once again channels his anxiety and energy into a powerful artistic statement.
He roars out of the gate with the driving acoustic rocker “Walk In Circles,” declaring:
At the risk of inflaming the religious
Most certainly there are the loving kind
But the zealots make the rest of us suspicious
And who wants to walk on eggshells all the time
The pointed commentary continues on tracks like “King of Catastrophes” and “Something’s Gotta Give”. The former finds him counseling “The secret to survival in a world like this is use your head before your fist” before reflecting “Hope to my soul there’s a shot for humanity, not like there’s someplace or somewhere to run” on the latter.
Later in the album things settle into a more relaxed groove on tracks like “Another Another Then Boom” and “History Has Their Number.” Yet the lyrics maintain their unease. “Another Another Then Boom” cautions that normality can quickly become extreme while “History Has Their Number” proffers “No one should have to beg for what is just.” A true sentiment for our times.
How have Fruition managed to elude my radar for their first ten years of existence? There latest release is a welcome introduction – a wonderful collection of songs that stretch from the Beatles-esque pop of “Turn to Dust” (think a slightly darker “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”) to the Stax/Muscle Shoals stylings of “I Should Be (On Top of the World)”.
The arrangements, created with assistance from producer Tucker Martine, are tremendously nuanced. Many of the songs are filled with wonderful flourishes of piano (both acoustic and electric) and strings, not to mention plenty of delicious harmonies. Yet there are also some raw and fuzzy rockers, like the anthemic “I’ll Never Sing Your Name.”
Although the songs are delightfully eclectic, the common thread is well-crafted melodies, often with an air of melancholy. Watching It All Fall Apart is incredibly satisfying and sounds better with each subsequent listen.
Gauthier’s new album features a special group of co-writers – military veterans and their families. The purpose of the release is to shine a light on the difficulties of returning to civilian life. The stories chronicle everything from coping with war memories to readjusting to time at home and with family, told with a simultaneously raw and poignant realism. The songs, of course, have Gauthier’s magic touch, specifically genteel and moving melodies coupled with delicate and restrained performances.
Learn more about Songwriting With Soldiers here.
Joplin, Missouri’s Ben Miller Band established themselves as whiskey-laced backwoods troublemakers, serving up full helpings of honky-tonk and country. Not the country two-stepping kind but rather the illegal backwoods variety, where the moonshine flowed as freely as the spirits.
Their latest release introduces a much broadened sound, not to mention a new band line-up. Sure, there is still plenty of bad-ass, booty-shaking raucousness, but it sits alongside a mix of electrified blues and relaxed country. In the latter camp are songs like the accordion and banjo-led “Trapeze” and the piano and string-laden ballad “Lighthouse” – songs that recall the finer moments of Austin’s late, great The Gourds.
Nashville by way of Columbus, Ohio rocker Blinn settles into a steady rock groove on her latest release. The hooks that have always anchored her songs are as strong as ever, bursting with an infectious spirit. She may be singing about tough times in songs like “Dreamers Heart” and “A Little Rain”, but she reflects on the moments with an uplifting outlook. All the better that she and the band let loose on the choruses, singing them loud and proud. You should, too.
LA’s The Americans announced themselves last year with a tasty debut release that channels the old time spirit of rock and roll. This is the kind of music that you want to hear on a Friday night after a tough week, balancing a bluesy gruffness with an energy that, if it doesn’t get you onto the dance floor, will certainly get your foot a-tappin’. They shift effortlessly from the retro electrified stylings of “Long Way From Home” to the banjo-laced acoustic country blues of “I’ll Be Yours.”
There’s been a dearth of fun piano-driven rock for quite some time but folks like McLaughlin are determined to remedy that fact. You know the style that I’m talking about, a free-wheeling and classic rock sound that exudes good times. McLaughlin channels a rich history of colorful rockers, starting with legendary piano-men Leon Russell and Randy Newman while incorporating some of the colorful songwriting of folks like Warren Zevon and Tom Waits. The result is best described as attitude-driven rock and roll, something we could use a bit more of these days.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.