Andrew Duhon is an old soul. One can hear it both in the warmth of his voice and the captivating charm of his songs. The New Orleans singer-songwriter bridges pop, folk and a touch of jazz into a sound that is gloriously captivating.
Some of his latest album’s finer moments find him musing about romantic relationships with both a wistfulness and a perceptive eye. On “Heart of a Man” he counsels a lover, “the heart of a man is a runaway train.” Later, on “No Man’s Land”, he reflects “your heart is miles and miles of placid ocean, mine is a rowboat that I drag through land-locked towns” before lamenting that he’s “somewhere between not right now and if not now, when.”
“They Don’t Make ‘em” is a plaintive pop gem. He waxes nostalgic about the simpler times of the generations that came before him, including “Sal down at the music shop, he’s a modern day Geppetto, instead of boys he fixes cellos and my guitar.” He gets to the punchline later, ushered along by the aforementioned cello, “Bad habits we fell into, trading old for brand new until a man can’t fix a damn thing anymore.”
The back half of the album gets darker in tone. “Mississippi Be My Guide” has tremendous complexity, both in composition and arrangement, as Duhon reflects on death and the raw power of the Mississippi. The bluesy “Gotta Know” finds Duhon questioning a lover’s true intentions, “What I gotta know, what I need to know right now is this still some habit that we haven’t shaken lately, what I gotta know, what I need to know right now, is what to do with all this love we’ve been makin’.”
Duhon ends the album a high note with the ambling “Easy Ways.” The song ponders the things that we do that are easy and those that are hard, concluding that the latter can be much more rewarding. He does so, in part, by taking a brilliant swipe at “pop” Nashville. “Nashville Johnny, you can buy the hat, you can play the part, but they don’t go the places I been.” Even if one doesn’t appreciate the glorious humor of that line one can certainly appreciate the sentiment of the song. If you do, then you’ll undoubtedly appreciate False River.
This is not your parent’s Parker Millsap. The Oklahoma singer-songwriter has traded in his acoustic guitar for an electric one on Other Arrangements, the fourth album of his young career. It is perhaps a logical progression, if a rapid one. Heck, Millsap even addresses the change in the rocking album opener “Fine Line”, declaring “you better look out, look out, I’m about to start swerving.”
The electric guitar gives an edge to the ambling “Your Water” and the bluesy “Tell Me.” Once one gets beyond the new sound, however, the consistency of Millsap’s writing is apparent. Millsap combines his Pentecostal roots with a roots pop sensibility that is tremendously satisfying. In fact, songs like the foot-stomping “Gotta Get To You” or the grooving title track would undoubtedly sound equally enjoyable in an acoustic and fiddle arrangement versus the electric-driven versions presented here.
The gospel overtones that have become a Millsap hallmark remain strong. A choir gives “Coming On” a strong sing-along earnestness while “Let a Little Light On” rumbles with a soulful urgency.
Millsap closes the album with the entrancing “Come Back When You Can’t Stay,” co-written with and featuring Jillette Johnson. The piano and acoustic guitar duet is an ode to casual relationships that masquerades as a genteel ballad.
Other Arrangements reflects an artist who has defined himself but is still musically searching. Art is, in part, about exploration. We’re fortunate to be sharing in Millsap’s musical journey.
Memphis guitar-slinger John Paul Keith brilliantly captures the essence of rock and roll, hearkening back to the genre’s formative early years. His songs brim with catchy melodies, crunchy guitars and tight arrangements that are occasionally punctuated by hearty horn bursts or romping piano and organ.
Much like his forebears, Keith uses language that is clear and simple. He gets his points across – generally about love gone right or wrong – with a refreshing directness.
The same craftsmanship and restraint embodies his guitar-playing. It’s crisp and contains no filler as he shifts effortlessly from the melodic ambling of “Someday Somebody” to the badass rambling of “Leave Them Girls Alone.”
Heart Shaped Shadow is like a breath of fresh air, not to mention the perfect soundtrack for one hell of a rock and roll dance party.
Simultaneous with his solo release, John Paul Keith, alongside collaborators Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, also shared a new Motel Mirrors album. It has similar retro overtones, albeit with a more rootsy feel and a bit more swing.
The songs are wonderfully diverse, no doubt reflective of the three songwriters in the group (although Keith and LaVere handle most of the vocals). The fun “Remember When you Gave a Damn” has a decided Buddy Holly feel while “Loving in the Morning” is steeped in the Sun Studios sound of the late 1950’s. They also offer a tasty cover of the early country gem “The Man Who Comes Around.”
There’s something liberating about Mia Dyson’s music. Even when she tackles feelings of doubt and helplessness she somehow makes it feel uplifting, sometimes lyrically and sometimes spiritually. On “Fool” she confesses “I tell myself not to be a fool, it comes so naturally to me” even as the song explodes into furious rock glory. She is more philosophical on the inspirational “Gambling,” ruminating on taking chances in life and enjoying the journey. “It’s not a waste of time to play without a victory,” she counsels.
The other side of the Dyson coin is her tremendous talent as a guitarist. She is badass and bluesy on “Nothing” and unleashes a punk edge on “Open.” Even when she slows things down, as on the murky “I Defy You,” her guitar still sets the tone for the song.
Dyson recorded the album in Muscle Shoals, AL and is ably assisted on If I Said Only So Far I Take It Back by David Hood of the Swampers on bass, John Paul White contributing background vocals and Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes on keys (and producing). Make no mistake, however, this is the Mia Dyson show. Crank it up and enjoy.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the duo of Marie Seyrat and Bruce Driscoll call Los Angeles home. The group’s music is unabashedly bright and airy. Their indie folk melodies are immensely catchy, supplemented with touches of strings and horns that make the music even more infectious. This is compounded even further by their shared vocals, sometimes harmonizing and sometimes just layering their voices.
There’s a retro quality to the songs, something the duo acknowledge in the opening title track. “Kicking it old school is what we do,” they explain, “anything for a good time.” A good time, indeed. If ever there was an album made for summer listening, this is it.
One of the fun parts of Twangville is the random email from an artist that results in a new musical discovery. The latest on that list is this band of brothers – literally – from Alberta, Canada who recently sent along their latest ep.
The group’s sound hearkens back to 1990’s alternative rock, with shades of bands like Big Country and the Proclaimers. The songs are freewheeling but purposeful, driven by resounding electric guitars. The verses are melodic and the choruses anthemic. It’s the kind of music that is perfect for a rocking summer soundtrack.
Brooklyn’s The Creamery Studio celebrates the artists who have recorded there with a stellar digital mixtape. Not surprisingly, the collection is eclectic. Equally not surprising, it’s good. The selections runs the gamut from the acoustic folk of Matt Sucich to the indie rock of Oxen Free to the instrumental goodness of Antibalas to the world beat of Innov Gwana. This Americana gem from Lauren Balthrop is a particular favorite.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.