Ryan Bingham stretches out on American Love Song, offering up a roadhouse full of of songs about on love, political commentary and boisterous escapades.
Opener “Jingle and Go” kicks things off playfully, recalling Little Feat with its intertwined piano and slide guitar that is accompanied by near-shouted gang harmony vocals. “I got the hustle, I got the struggle,” they sing, “that’s how I jingle and go.”
Bingham gets political on the acoustic blues of “Beautiful and Kind”. The song laments social and economic troubles in the world, yet ends on a hopeful note. “I wish the world was beautiful and kind,” he sings.
He covers similar ground, albeit with less optimism, on “Situation Station.” The approach here is one of escapism as Bingham declares, “feel I need some kind of vacation, think I’ll go on down across the border, drink tequila and smoke marijuana ‘til I’m high, high.”
“Pontiac” and “Lover Girl” find him slipping into romantic territory. The former is more of the lustful variety while that latter is tender and affectionate.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Bingham record without some colorful characters and storytelling. “Hot House” dips into the sinister realm, both musically and lyrically as menacing guitars shade Bingham’s tale of murder and gambling. “Nothin’ Holds Me Down” is a fiery tale of wanderlust, complete with a message home to Mom – “Don’t you worry Mama, I’ll call on the telephone, don’t ask me where I’m goin’, all I know is where I’ve gone.”)
American Love Song sparkles with all the gruff and rootsy charm that one expects from Bingham.
The first thing you’ll notice about Norway’s Northern Belle is their harmonies, which are gently soothing and pristine. The group’s voices weave around one another as much as they do around the songs.
The next thing you’ll notice are the song melodies – spacious and genteel. While they are rooted in country and folk, they have an intoxicating pop sheen. At various moments across Blinding Blue Neon, the group recalls artists as varied as the Mamas and the Papas, Fleetwood Mac and the more recent I’m With Her.
Yet the melodic glow can’t hide the grey overtones in the lyrics, which often speak to fading love and broken hearts. One of the notable exceptions is “What I’ve Heard”, a spirited fiddle-laced country anthem that falls somewhere between an empowerment and a kiss-off song.
Who says the best Americana needs to come from the US? Northern Belle prove that the genre is alive and well in Norway.
Amy McCarley’s Alabama roots figure strongly in her music. It starts with her voice, an instrument that is simultaneously warm and well-worn,complete with its marked Southern accent. It continues in her songwriting, brought to life on her latest release through a collection of songs that shift from backporch country to scruff, more electrified Americana.
Lyrically the album chronicles a gentle search for contentment. “If you offer me a clue, I just might take it from you” she sings on opener “A Clue”. On the folksy “Never Can Tell” she confesses, “Everybody I know got someplace they’re trying to get, and I’m on my way but I swear some days it just makes me want to sit still.”
Later, on the fiddle-laden “Ain’t Life Funny”, she asks, “What if everything we hope for happens and every dream we had came true, would I suddenly be happy or would I just start wanting something new.” The answer is, undoubtedly, yes.
Artists don’t come much more authentic than Dale Watson. In a world where genuine country music is getting harder and harder to find, Watson continues the carry the honky-tonk torch.
In his own way, Watson offers a brief tour through country’s heyday, recalling everyone from Hank Williams (“Haul Off and Do It”) to Johnny Cash (“Run Away”). There’s also a healthy dose of Bakersfield on stand-outs like “Inside View” and “Restless.”
Call Me Lucky is a fun listen from start to finish and a welcome reminder that country music is doing just fine, at least if you look in the right places.
New Orleans-based Carsie Blanton has a knack for creating satisfying pop albums. Buck Up, her latest, is a real gem that is filled with glorious pop that ranges from the jazzy, R&B flair of “Jacket” and “Mustache” to the string-laden melancholy of “Harbor” and “Desire”. Heck, the title track, which features Oliver Wood, even sounds like a long-lost John Prine song.
Blanton’s lyrics often stand in contrast to the melodic playfulness. “Bed” opens with her declaring, “Not gonna get out of bed today, I’ve got my reasons; I don’t have to say” before providing a list of reasons why she is depressed. “American Kid” takes a cross-generational – and often biting – view of American politics:
Don’t look now, but it won’t be long
They’re gonna wonder what we did
And we’ll have to admit that we done them wrong
God help the American kid
She sings of lust and love on “That Boy” and “Harbor”, respectively. “I wanna make one last mistake,” she sings on the former before telling a lover on the latter that “hearts are made for breaking, you were made for me; so batten down the hatches, honey, sail away to sea.”
Some songs sound as good – if not better – when put into bluegrass arrangements. That’s what makes Chatham County Line’s Sharing the Covers so much fun. The talented quartet tackle some of their favorite songs, a diverse, multi-genre lot that ranges from Wilco (“I Got You (At the End of the Century)”) and Beck (“Think I’m In Love”) to the Rolling Stones (“The Last Time”) and John Lennon (“Watching the Wheels”). They also throw in some bluegrass classics like Carter Stanley’s “Think of What You’ve Done” and John Hartford’s “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry”.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.