Have You Seen My Girl, Todd May (from the self-released Let’s Go Get Lost)
There are certain albums that were meant to be heard on vinyl. While the latest from Todd May isn’t available in that format, one can hear both its inherent warmth and insistent crackle in every song – even when streamed or downloaded. Said differently, Let’s Go Get Lost plays like an album from rock’s classic era but with a freshness that is invigorating.
There is always at least one track on a Todd May record that becomes an addiction for me, and this latest release is no exception. This time it is “Have You Seen My Girl” – rock and roll in its finest form. The interplay between bass, drums and a wash of electric guitars surround the infectious music hook in a glorious cacophony. May’s half-shouted vocals only add to the song’s ragged glory.
Alongside rockers like “Have You Seen My Girl” and album opener “Another Stupid Thing” (with its references to Dostoevsky and Nathaniel Hawthorne), are some wonderful ballads. “Down in the Dumps” has a musical unease that complements May’s restrained vocals, resulting in an intoxicating restlessness. “Every Time is the Last Time” conjures up images of a deserted city street at 3am, a subtle tenor sax adding to the song’s soulful vibe.
The late night mood continues on “Eighty Four Glide”, albeit with a more sinister feel. A similar sense of brooding infuses “Kentucky Long” and “Hard to Love You.” The latter song, the tale of a troubled relationship, straddles the line between country and classic rock.
Strings and horns make periodic – but eventful – appearances across Let’s Go Get Lost. Horns give an uplifting air to “X Takes the Center Square” while a brief string interlude magnificently surprises on “Bright Lights”. The two orchestral families come together on “Get A Load”, with both a fiddle and a trumpet combining to give the song a regal feel.
This is one of those perfect albums that has a song for every mood. Now we just need to hear it on vinyl, Todd. Just sayin’.
Eilen Jewell is one of those songwriters and performers who never fails to impress. Her catalog is littered with great songs that are an amalgam of country, folk and blues. So should we expect anything different on her latest record? We shouldn’t – Gypsy is another great addition to the Jewell canon.
Jewell is a bit edgier on this latest release, no doubt influenced by the social and political turmoil in the world today. “79 Cents (the Meow Song)” tackles pay equity while “Beat the Drum” is a social and political call to arms. Jewell doesn’t pull her punches on either, singing “If we resist we win the fight, If we don’t persist all hope will die” on the latter.
Elsewhere Jewell offers up some classic country gems. The ballad “Witness” and the swinging “You Cared Enough to Lie” are perfect for honky-tonk dance halls. “Who Else But You” is wonderfully evocative, with Jewell accompanied by just simmering organ and a restrained electric guitar.
For an album born of tragedy and despair, Love and the Dark can be remarkably uplifting. The arrangements are grandiose in a captivating way, sometimes showcasing and sometimes softening lyrics that are raw and emotional. Harris uses sonic contrast to dramatic effect, with restrained verses that build to dramatic choruses and interludes.
“Cussing at the Light”, a tale of drinking through heartbreak, has an ambling country flair before surprising with a tasty piano-laden pop chorus. “Confused” is a smile-inducing country love song fueled by barroom piano and rollicking guitar while “Giving In” leans towards power pop with its rousing, sing-along melody.
The album’s centerpiece is “Phantom Limb”, a moving and powerful song reflecting on the death of his mother. It builds from a gentle beginning, Harris accompanied by a gentle electric guitar before swelling into an epic string-laden conclusion.
Love and the Dark is an impressive debut, regal and enthralling in both songwriting and performance.
Alabama native Hannah Aldridge has arguably found greater success in Europe than the US, so there was little question where she would record her solo acoustic live album. Captured in London last year, the set list pulls from the rich depth of her two most recent albums. The stripped down arrangements shine a light on the rawness of her songwriting and the power of her voice. The result is a magical and moving release.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since Joe Pug has graced us with new music. Thankfully, he has finally returned with a magnificent new album that hearkens back to the simplicity of his earliest releases. Pug’s voice and guitar are the central focal point, as they always have been. Unlike his past few records, however, there is only light musical accompaniment. An accordion here, some harmonica there.
The songs on The Flood in Color have a striking sobriety. The title track is ostensibly about torrential rainstorms, but speaks more broadly to how life can be overwhelming. That sense of anxiety permeates several songs, such as the solemn “Here Again”:
It’s all fun and games
Until you find out what you’re fighting for
Is the very piece of chain
That’s held you here in place
“Empty Hands and Broad Shoulders” finds Pug questioning someone’s life decisions, perceiving that the choices have neglected compassion and kindness. “You’ve got less to show than you have to hide,” he sings.
The gentle waltz of “The Stranger I’ve Been” does little to hide the song’s lyrical darkness. “Well I started out honest and true to my word,” he confesses, “but somewhere I lost it, I took a wrong turn.”
Yet Pug also offers some notable glimmers of light. “Well my blistered heart
has been lifted up,” he sings on “Long Midnight”, later adding “Now my road is wide and my grievance gone.”
The Flood in Color is a welcome return for one of the truly distinctive voices of American folk.
Beth Bombara’s Evergreen is the perfect soundtrack for a cloudy day. The songs that make up her latest collection are rather brooding, even as they are fueled by crunchy electric guitars.
“I Only Cry When I’m Alone,” the opening track, is a prime example. An insistent rhythm and reverberating guitars keep Bombara’s tale of confronting insecurities from becoming maudlin. The sentiment continues, albeit with a different focus on “Growing Wings”. Slide guitar and gentle harmonies surround Bombara’s advice for handling the tension, “Try not to hold on to tightly, ‘cause the strain ain’t gonna do you good.”
She gets political on the steadfast “Good News” and the plaintive “All Good Things”. The former finds her wryly riffing on “fake news” with a plea for sensibility and decency while the latter takes on a serious, reflective tone on the state of the world before concluding with a sentiment of restrained hope.
Leland Sundries make one hell of a glorious racket. The group’s latest EP is chock full of ramshackle goodness, anchored by songwriter Nick Loss-Eaton’s colorful storytelling.
Opener “Food Court Blues” conjures up an image of the Velvet Underground playing a Waylon Jennings cover, with Loss-Eaton spitting out lyrics as the band pushing him along with their rumbling accompaniment. “If You’re Gonna Drive, I’m Gonna Drink” is country drinking song with a beatnik, East Village, NY vibe, all the more so when the song breaks down into a garage rock fury near its conclusion.
Add in imaginative songs like “Song for the Girl with the Replacements Tattoo” and “ The Ballad of Wiley Post & Will Rogers” and you’ve got one fun listen.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.