Immortal Americans feels like the album that Austin Lucas was destined to make. The road there certainly wasn’t easy as he overcame a series of challenges, both personal and professional, along the way. It ultimately led him back to his roots in Indiana and and re-established roots in his Indiana hometown. He draws from this experience to create a striking, and often stark, new album.
The collection pulls from all periods of his musical journey. There are ruminating acoustic songs that are a wonderful representation of the acoustic performances that have sustained him through the years and showcase his exacting guitar picking (“Between the Leaves”, “Shallow Inland Sea”). There are brooding rockers layered with pedal steel guitar that echo his punk roots (“Immortal Americans”, “Monroe County Nights”, “My Mother and the Devil”).
Lyrically he reflects on youthful hope and ambition, often with the disheartened perspective that evolves over time. “I came to ask: I’m supposed to be a fox why do I feel like a hen?” he sings on “Killing Time,” a song that tackles the struggle to find oneself and the restlessness that can spawn bad behavior along the way.
In “Between the Leaves” he asks “Brother, is this the life I want” while later, in “Shallow Inland Sea,” considering, “Where do they go, the dreams of the young?”
Yet there are also moments of hope and contentment. In “Happy” he inquires “Are you drowning in the dream of shiny new beginnings just like me? Are you happy?”
I suppose the true happiness is hearing Lucas make an album on his own terms, and more to the point, true to himself.
Do the dishes
With the windows open
Soak the dirt
From under your nails
Pour a double
Put a record on the table
The light’s always perfect
Just before it fails.
There’s something special about a vivid opening line, all the better when it’s the album opener. It’s a point that Jeffrey Foucault makes with exquisitely in “Dishes”, the lead-off track from his latest release.
The Western Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter has a knack for songs that are a vivid as they are authentic. He conjures up images of life in rural small towns, capturing both the simplicity of experience and the complexity of the underlying emotions. It’s all set to music that is evocative and earthy.
“Blown”, a duet with Tift Merritt, finds the singer resigned to his small town experience even as he encourages his companion to escape and explore the world. “So if you go, you go like hell,” he sings, “don’t ever look back.”
“Little Warble” is a song of heartbreak that is told in an honest and matter-of-fact style. Foucault reflects on the innocent and promising early years of a relationship before describing its breaking point. “You asked me why I loved you but no reason would suffice,” he contends, “all the words that I could give you could never meet your price.”
He remembers his father on the poignant “Cheap Suit.” He describes the melancholy of watching his father coming home from work and attempting to find solace in a “knock-off Gibson leaning in the corner.” Foucault concludes:
And I see him from the doorway,
See that look in his eye.
And I know I’m going to go there,
Where my father’s dreams lie.
The closing “Pretty Hands” is equally moving. The simple guitar duet features The Milk Carton Kids’ Kenneth Pattengale. “Oh pretty hands, oh pretty hands, dirty nails, wedding band,” sings Foucault, effectively closing the circle from his description of dirty nails washing dishes in the opening track.
There are fewer and fewer threads that tie back to the classic era of outlaw country. It’s a shame, really, as there was a welcome authenticity to the music that emerged during that period. Artists drew from their own lives, generally the rough and tumble experiences that were as colorful as they were entertaining.
Shooter, the latest album from Shooter Jennings, is steeped in the outlaw tradition. Songs like “I’m Wild and My Woman Is Crazy”, “Do You Love Texas” and “Bound To Get Down” conjure up 1970s radio have full-blown arrangements complete with horns and back-up singers galore. More to the point, they are rollicking good fun with a boisterous charm.
There’s plenty of hard-livin’ in these songs. In “I’m Wild and and My Woman Is Crazy” he proclaims, Sometimes we act like Bonnie and Clyde, guess we’re both a little Jekyll and Hyde.”
Album closer “Denim and Diamonds” has a foreboding tone as Jennings describes a woman looking to escape the monotony of her life with a night out dancing. “Don’t you try to stop her unless you’re lookin’ for fight, boy,” he sings.
Album stand-out “Fast Horses and Good Hideouts” finds him considering his life journey and those who have shaped him, including both his father and his late manager. The song speaks to the value of friendships, both given and received.
Well, if John wasn’t gone, he’d put a coin in the jukebox
Someday never comes
And I pray that my son knows a friend like him
The dance doesn’t end ‘fore the song is done
I carry a piece of him and my dog
And my daddy with me today
And I give a little piece of myself each time
Someone else just rides away
Cody Canada strips things down, at least in terms of the number of band musicians, on his latest release. The trio-driven (and aptly titled) 3 cranks up the guitars and leans heavily in a bluesy direction.
Overall the musical tone is restless. At one extreme are fiery songs of dissatisfaction like “Lost Rabbit,” “Paranoid” and “Sam Hein.” The first two songs chronicle the motivations and repercussions of making troubling decisions while the last song is a thinly veiled broadside at politics and a particular current politician.
Things are a little less blistering, at least musically, on “A Blackbird”. A persistent banjo gives the song an ominous tone as Canada sings, “Asked for heaven but it’s just been hell.” An ambling melody and accompanying harmonies may soften “Unglued” but doesn’t hide the lyrical discontent with today’s social upheaval.
Even melodically inviting songs, like the harmonica-laced “Lipstick” have a somewhat dark tale to tell. In this case, there’s an air of resignation as Canada laments:
And here we go
Over and over again
And how many times
Must we try to pretend
That it’s ever gonna change now?
It ain’t never gonna change now
It ain’t never gonna change
Lest anyone think 3 is all dark clouds and gloom, Canada offers up a ray of hope on the sauntering “Better.” “And tomorrow will be better, baby,” he sings.
San Antonio, Texas-based Jared Putnam, aka The March Divide, has been on a creative tear of late. Over the past several years he’s released a slew of new music, the latest of which – Anticipation Pops – has just arrived.
Putnam continues to wear his heart on his sleeve, filling his songs with tension and anxiety. That said, the melodies are as catchy as ever, even with their occasional air of melancholy.
“Spinning” plays as an alternative love song. “I know you think I’m crazy, I’m not crazy, I’m just kind of bored,” he confesses at the beginning before professing “I don’t know, why the world spins around, around, around, but all I know is I’m glad you’re spinning on it with me.”
He captures the pivotal decision point of a failing relationship in the resolute “I’ve Got Mine”:
I’m alright, I’ll be fine,
It’s like the light came on,
& it happened just in time
You’re alright, you’ll be fine,
We don’t have to live the same,
You’ve got your way & I’ve got mine
“We’ve Got Time” is a piano-tinged ballad that finds him mourning a lost love with a bit of contempt. “I guess I’m never going to know what you had to say, but I bet it wasn’t really much of anything.”
“Lucky”, the album closer, confronts the angst with an air of hope. “Familiar feelings, abandonment & the beauty that comes with it,” he sings, “ But I’ll pick myself up, just like I always have.”
Minneapolis, MN singer-songwriter Dan Israel is as consistent as he is prolific. His 14 album catalog, dating back to 1993, is filled with folk rock songs that are both restless and reflective. His latest, if anything, intensifies the anxiety as well as the optimism.
You’re Free opens with a touch of hope amidst a troubled world. “See, this ugly world, and still I know, there’s some rainbow,” he sings with an air of optimism on “Gets You Through It.”
“You’re Free” is fueled by chugging guitars and inspiration. “Nobody else can choose your destiny,” he sings, “You can drag these chains around endlessly or you can let them be.”
Things take a darker turn on “Long Gone Dream” as bluesy electric guitars and guttural drums fuel a rumination on lost dreams. He further scratches his blues itch on the “Porch Storm”, an alluring acoustic guitar instrumental that closes the album.
The album’s centerpiece, at least to these ears, is the wonderful “Make This Life Mine”. A refined violin opens the song before percussion and Israel’s acoustic guitar join in, followed by a funky bass and then harmonized vocals. The ambling melody is warm and uplifting as Israel proclaims, “I had my head held down so long I didn’t know that the sun still shined, but somehow, I’m feeling it now, I’m gonna make this life mine.”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.