Singer-songwriter Todd Thibaud decamped to rural Vermont to craft his latest album. He returned to Boston with a collection of songs somber and introspective, no doubt reflective of the environment in which it was born. Stark but nuanced arrangements play into the pensive nature of the songs as Thibaud deftly explores the nature of interpersonal relationships, especially of the romantic kind.
Things ostensibly start out innocently enough with the opening love song “Find Your Love”. Yet even as Thibaud consoles his companion, an ominous undercurrent persists in the song.
Tension and anxiety quickly take hold. “Hold Me Down” finds Thibaud unsettled and looking for help in finding his footing. The sentiment continues on “Great Unknown”, in which he acknowledges past discretions even as he tries to look beyond them. His uncertainty peaks on “Disappear Instead” as he asks, “will I rise to the occasion or disappear instead.”
A sense of optimism eventually emerges as the album reaches its conclusion. “Into Place” and “Path of Us” still possess a subtle uneasiness but one can hear a tone of self-assuredness developing. “No regrets, no remorse,” he sings on the latter, “keep your head and stay the course.”
The sentiment grows stronger on “Reckless Heart” as he sings, “I’m tired of the bad days and all the little ways I fall” before later adding “Time to let go I guess, and burn this mess.”
The album closes on an encouraging note as Thibaud finds a sense of contentment on the stripped down “4th of July”.
I’ve been lost, I’ve been found
I’ve been virtually drowned in my old ways
I’ve been loved, I’ve been loathed
Even properly clothed on my good days
I’m leaving footprints in the sand
I’m here to do the best I can
Tonight the stars in the sky look like the 4th of July
And I’m here to do the best I can
The Suitcase Junket (aka Matt Lorenz) started from humble beginnings with an acoustic guitar that he rescued from a garbage bin, complimented by a variety of pans and percussion (partially activated by a baby shoe). On Mean Dog, Trampoline, his latest album, he broadens his music palette without losing any of his gritty, ramshackle charm.
The songwriting on Mean Dog, Trampoline crackles with his typical mix of earnestness, humor and intensity. Album opener “High Beams” sets the tone in energetic fashion as Lorenz sings about a wobbly relationship with colorful language that includes a description of the singer leaning on a jukebox eyeing a Joan Jett record.
Plenty of infectious sing-alongs follow, including “Everything I Like” (complete with an entertaining Billy Joel musical reference), the bluesy romp “Stay Too Long” and the slightly more subdued “Gods of Sleep”, which features wonderful harmonies from his sister Kate.
Lorenz showcases his humorous side with “Scattered Notes from a First Time Home Buyers Workshop”. The lyrics come from his actual experience at a workshop several years ago and provide the album with its title, a reference that Lorenz describes as two things insurance companies really hate.
It’s been three years since trio Lula Wiles announced themselves with their debut album. The subsequent years of writing and touring have served them incredibly well on What Will We Do. There’s no sophomore slump here, for sure. To the contrary, they’ve risen to greater musical heights.
Save a wonderful cover of the Dolly Parton/Porter Wagoner classic “The Pain of Loving You”, the album showcases the trio’s impressive songwriting skills. Some are group collaborations, others are written by individual members. The results come together as a cohesive — and remarkable — collection.
Album standouts “Nashville, Man” and “Independence Day” share a common thread in the form of romantic rejection cenetered around the post office. The former finds singer/bassist Mali Obomsawin anxiously awaiting a love letter that hasn’t and may never arrive as her bandmates serve up a buoyant fiddle-led dance hall groove behind her. Singer/guitarist Isa Burke’s downhearted “Independence Day” finds her lamenting a broken relationship as she sings:
Hey there, honey, would you write me a letter
I don’t need it but I might feel better
I knew we wouldn’t last forever
The theme of independence continues in singer/guitarist Eleanor Buckland’s moving “If I Don’t Go.” In this case, however, she speaks to the pressure to conform and the importance of being true to oneself, regardless — or rather in spite — of any pressure to the contrary.
True to the folk music tradition, the group doesn’t shy away from politics. Rather, they confront it head on with the simmering intensity of “Good Old American Values” and “Shaking As It Turns.”
What Will We Do establishes Lula Wiles as a leading light in contemporary folk.
The roots of Providence country singer Charlie Marie’s latest ep took hold at an AirBnB in Charleston, South Carolina. Marie and guitarist Brian McKinnon took advantage of a home-based studio there to record a number of demos that she subsequently released as the Chucktown Takes. Fast forward and, after asking fans to vote for their favorite Chucktown tracks, Marie took a handful of the songs to Nashville to record full band versions in a local studio.
The results hearken back to country’s golden age. Marie’s powerful voice stands front and center, shifting effortlessly between songs that are brash and those that are vulnerable. In the former category is ep opener “Rhinestone” – “Just because you wear a Stetson and you say you were made in Texas, doesn’t mean you’re country and western” while the latter is represented by “Countryside”:
There’s neon lights in New York City,
bumper stickers that read “I voted for Willie.”
Ain’t it evident? It’s a small world we’re living in.
Sky scrapers may kiss the sky,
but everywhere’s got a countryside.
Charlie Marie sparkles with a charm and authenticity that is refreshingly enjoyable.
Sometimes it’s good to let your hair down. Or in Nat Freedberg’s case, take it off. For more than two decades he’s donned a powdered wig as the singer-guitarist for the hard rocking The Upper Crust, who’s persona and songs are centered around 18th century British aristocracy.
Freedberg’s latest solo release packs a similar rock punch, filled with tight hooks, roaring guitars and his distinctive voice. He establishes his rock intentions right out of the gate with the rousing “Devil Rockin’ Man”, complete with horns, gang vocals and some funky electric piano grooves. “I Think I Died and Went to Heaven” rumbles with a Bo Diddley beat while the more mid-tempo “If That’s The Way You Want It” downplays the guitars to let a Wurlitzer piano gloriously take center stage.
Better Late Than Never is a glorious blast of rock and roll. Crank it up.
Fake Songs finds troubadour Greg Klyma in a reflective mood, reacting to the political and social upheaval in the world with thoughtfulness and sincerity. He opens with some positive reinforcement, declaring “There are 6 billion, 999 million, 999 thousand, 999 other people just trying to make their way, maybe I could be little kinder, maybe I just needed a reminder” on the appropriately titled “Reminder.”
From there Klyma takes the listener on a musical journey, reaching from rock to country to folk and all parts in-between. There are folk songs like “The Root”, a commentary on the Trump sign in a neighbor’s yard to the anti-folk “School”, which begins with the warning “I drop the F-bomb twice.”
He tackles personal accountability on the sea shanty “Hole in a Ship” and veers into old time country for “Grandpa’s Purple Heart” and the amusing double entendre of “Mamma’s Gotta Point”, a song about lessons learned from Mamma delivered along with a pointed finger.
Fake Songs is as entertaining as it is eclectic, reflective of the artist who created it. And thanks for the reminder.
Nate Leavitt is on a quest with I Miss Me Too, his latest album. As the title suggests, it’s an introspective journey, an attempt to cope with feelings of loss, insecurity and doubt.
He sets the tone with the opening “Where Do I Go From Here”, asking:
Something is changing, in my word
What I used to know isn’t real
Once I had passion, so much passion
Now I’m questioning how I feel.
The clouds get darker as the album progresses, with Leavitt revisiting heartbreak and failed relationships on brooding songs like “Hold Me Down”, “House of Fallen Trees” and “Let Me Go”.
As one might expect, moments of despair are often punctuated by outbursts of fury, in this case appearing in the form of the scorching “Nothing About Me”. The song starts on a slow burn as Leavitt takes his antagonist to task but it builds towards a fiery conclusion led by his electric guitar.
If you’re looking for a happy ending, you won’t find one here. But that’s fine. In art, as in life, it’s often more about the journey than the destination.
On any given Monday night, you’ll find the White Owls belting out the blues at renowned Cambridge venue Toad. The talented group of players – fronted by Dennis Brennan and including guitarist Tim Gearan (formerly with Susan Tedeschi Band), slide guitarist Steve Sadler, organist Dave Westner and the potent rhythm section of bassist Jim Haggerty and drummer Andrew Plaisted – have clearly brought the live show energy and musical camaraderie into the studio to create their debut release.
The collection includes bruising takes on blues classics from the likes of Willie Dixon (“I Live the Life I Love”), Johnny “Guitar” Watson (“Cuttin’ In) and Mose Allison (“Foolkiller”). They also throw in a handful of band originals, all of which fit comfortably alongside those of the blues masters.
If you’ve got a hankerin’ for the blues, you’ll undoubtedly love Live at Electric Andyland. Then get yourself to Toad on a Monday night – you won’t be disappointed.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.