Session Americana in concert is more than a show, it’s an experience. The group takes their musicianship seriously yet are equally focused on delivering a relaxed, freewheeling and entertaining performance. Live at the Haybarn, recorded in Dec 2016, is a perfect snapshot for both longtime fan and new acquaintance. While they’ve mostly removed the between song banter that can occasionally rival the musical performances, it offers a rousing survey of the group’s recorded history and their tremendous talent.
They charge, well saunter, out of the gate with the opening ballad “Barefoot Sailors” (from Great Shakes, their most recent studio outing). The song’s melancholy tone is raised to incredible heights by the brilliant interplay between electric guitar, acoustic guitar and harmonica.
From there they roll through 12 additional songs that showcase the group’s expansive personality, in part reflective of the multiple singer-songwriters who contribute to their catalog. From Ry Cavanaugh’s aforementioned “Barefoot Sailors” to Jim Fitting’s roadhouse “Making Hay” (complete with a sly electric guitar nod to the James bond theme song) to Dinty Child’s plaintive “It’s Not Texas” to Jefferson Hamer’s rumbling “Helena” to Kimon Kirk’s ambling “Cowboy Coffee” to, well, you get the drift.
They supplement their originals with some exceptional rootsy covers, including Charlie Louvin’s “What Are Those Things (With Big Black Wings)”, Jason Molina’s “I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost” and the Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Woman”.
While there is no substitute to seeing Session Americana live, Live at the Haybarn will certainly tide one over until that opportunity presents itself.
Singer-songwriter Naseem Khuri has never been one to pull his punches and he certainly continues that trend on Neighbors and Strangers, Kingsley Flood’s latest long-player.
Khuri is a deft writer who excels at exploring the world around him with an astute and intelligent eye. His perspectives are pointed, using the Fourth of July holiday to confront prejudice in America (“Fifth of July”), portraying economic stratification (“Bottom of the Barrel” and “Find Me Out”) and tackling the intricacies of personal relationships (“Never Been Home”).
The lyrical content is matched in intensity by the band’s fiery arrangements. Guitarist George Hall unleashes multiple solos that are occasionally angular and always blistering. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Barrett adds varied texture, from the rollicking piano on “Bottom of the Barrel” to regal trumpet on “Carry On Fine.”
The songs are hook heavy and often ripe for sing-alongs, from the insistent ballad “Not Right Yet” to the ferocious rock of “Little Man” or the 1960’s brit-pop stylings of “Carry On Fine”. Overall Neighbors and Strangers is as catchy as it is impactful.
Will Dailey makes a bit leap on his latest full-length release. Whereas 2014’s National Throat was a more rootsy and occasionally reggae-tinged album, Golden Walker is a much more sonically expansive affair. That said, it is generally pensive and restrained, challenging the listener to dig into the songs. Those who do will be amply rewarded.
“Bad Behavior”, an album standout, hearkens back to the 1970’s with a Paul Simon-esque verse that slides into a Bee Gees style chorus while “Up To Your Heart” is driven by slick but rollicking electric guitars. Elsewhere the album tends to be more relaxed with gentle ballads alternating with mid-tempo pop songs. All are sophisticated yet refined and are delivered with passion.
Lyrically, Dailey is in a contemplative mood. The album’s grand theme is a reflection on the world around him, both at a macro and a micro level. “Bad Behavior” represents the former, as Dailey takes a positive view on the “bad behavior” of those using civil disobedience to promote change.
In the latter camp, “It Already Would Not Have Worked Out By Now” considers the deep comfort that comes in a long-standing relationship while the darker “Today Is Crushing Me” (with the memorable line “Well I’ve been crushed before, I used to be 6 foot 4.”) confronts a feeling of desperation with a pledge to “keep working it out.”
Golden Walker is richly gratifying, a moving artistic statement from an artist on a tremendous musical journey.
I saw Hatfield perform a couple of Olivia Newton-John covers at a holiday party late last year. What was surprising at the time now makes sense with the release of this tribute album. Hatfield meticulously walks a fine line – staying true to her indie rock disposition while maintaining the pop charm of the songs. Electric guitars are a bit edgier and tempos are occasionally more urgent but the often winsome tone persists.
Hatfield’s tribute covers all parts of Newton-John’s extensive career, from early gems (“I Honestly Love You”, “Have You Never Been Mellow”) to 80’s pop classics (“Physical”, “Make a Move On Me”) to Newton-John’s movie soundtrack success (“Hopelessly Devoted to You” from “Grease” and the title track from “Xanadu”).
The Newton-John tribute coincides with a limited edition 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of Hatfield’s debut Hey Babe.
Ok, so Shellye Valauskas and her partner Dean Falcone may reside in CT but much of this album was recorded at Somerville’s famed Q Division Studios. Said studio has a reputation as power pop haven, making it the perfect spot for Valauskas and Falcone to bring their songs to life.
History of Panic hearkens back to the finer moments of 1970’s and 1980’s power pop. The songs are filled with sparkling melodies powered by sharp and often jangly electric guitars. Harmonies, some contributed by the Posies Jon Auer, abound.
If you’re looking for a summer soundtrack that is exuberant and infectious, you’ll be hard pressed to find much better than History of Panic.
Time To Set It Off, The Sheila Divine
The Sheila Divine are something of a Boston institution, having exploded beyond the region to national and even international acclaim back in the early aughts. Their sound married the angst of grunge with the melodic sheen of indie pop to create commanding rock anthems.
Although they release music and perform only sporadically these days, “Time To Set It Off” proves they still know how to pack a punch. The just released single celebrates the youthful activism that has emerged during our time of social turmoil. “Our whole world is fake news, but in their eyes there is truth… it’s time to set it off.”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.