A song of the year nomination at last year’s Americana Music Awards put Mark Erelli on a stage that he has long deserved. Over twelve albums, Erelli has honed his songwriting craft and become one of Americana’s leading, if until recently under-appreciated, songwriters. Blindsided, his latest release, shines further light on his talent in what is one of the best outings – yet – of his career.
The album overflows with great pop songs that are delivered in a variety of styles. The title track and “Her Town Now” play like classics from the Tom Petty catalog while “Stranger’s Eyes” and “Doubt My Love” recall 1960’s pop gems with a slight touch of R&B. “The Western Veil” and “Rose-Colored Rearview” have a majestic quality, the former with its vivid mountain imagery and the latter with its nostalgic take on seemingly simpler times.
Lyrically, Erelli stretches from wry wit to thoughtful social commentary, sometimes in the context of a single song. “There was a time we all watched the same screen,” he amusingly sings to open “Rose-Colored Rearview”, a somewhat sarcastic swipe at our addiction to staring at our phones. That tone quickly gets more politically pointed as he considers “there was a time we all pledged allegiance and we thought we knew what we meant when we stood and faced the flag.”
Erelli considers love in its various stages, although the more potent moments are of the troubled variety. He injects a touch of humor into the upbeat but downhearted “Her Town Now”. “A little bad TV would’ve helped me through,” he laments about a failed relationship, “or some Blonde On Blonde but she took that too.”
He gets poignant and personal on the plaintive “Lost in Translation” (“The only thing I’m afraid of is when you say nothing at all”) before closing the album with the frayed and impassioned beauty of “Careless”:
Oh the days are long but the years pass in the blink of an eye
For a love to stay strong you got to work it all the time
It’s more than just the birthdays and the anniversaries
And I know just what I’d say if you walked through that door
and found me down on my knees
Dinty Child is the cool uncle in the Boston music scene. There are few area folk and Americana artists who haven’t collaborated with Child, let alone shared a stage with him*. No doubt at their urging, the talented singer-songwriter-musician has finally stepped out on his own with a long overdue solo release.
The frequent comedic foil in Session Americana, Child mostly plays to his serious side on Lucky Ones. The string-laden melancholy of “I Made A Mistake” finds the singer lamenting his missteps in a failed relationship. The relaxed beauty of “Down to You” is a love song to his wife on the occasion of their 25th anniversary.
Child does intersperse a few lively songs in the mix. “The Fall of the Summer of Love” is a fun and upbeat pop tribute to the 1960’s. “Alright Baby” has a dirty blues groove while “Hell No” is rollicking Cajun fare.
Here’s one of my faves from Lucky Ones, with the memorable line: “I just want to hold you but you’re staring at your phone, you’re connected to the whole damn world but still feel all alone.” Well played, Dinty.
*Joining Child on Lucky Ones are Zachariah Hickman, Dietrich Strause, Ellie Buckland & Isa Burke of Lula Wiles, Kris Delmhorst, Sam Kassirer, Sean Staples, Laura Cortese, Sean Staples, Kristin Andreassen, Dave Godowsky, Annie Lynch, Brian Webb, Jocie Adams, Rachael Price, Charlie Rose, Miss Tess, Rose Cousins, Mark Erelli, and Rose Polenzani.
Some projects are true labors of love. Session Americana instigator Ry Cavanaugh’s first solo album in nearly 20 years is a touching tribute to his late father.
As Cavanaugh explains, his father was a self-taught musician and aspiring songwriter. ““There were always mandolins, basses, drums, dobros, every kind of folk instrument around the house, and people to play them.”
On Time For This, the younger Cavanaugh honors his father’s legacy with toughing performances of his father’s songs. Album opener “Carillon” sets the album’s tone, wistful and contemplative. The eight songs that follow are imbued with longing and loneliness. It’s easy to imagine being transported back to a 1960’s West Village folk club, captivated by the music’s sobriety and wistfulness.
The arrangements are sparse – with just Cavanaugh and noted musician Duke Levine on acoustic guitars and occasional delicate harmonies from Jennifer Kimball – letting the songs speak movingly for themselves.
Answers, Town Meeting (from the self-released Make Things Better)
New England quintet Town Meeting call to mind Blues Traveler with their blend of pop melodies and jam band sensibilities, not to mention a healthy dose of harmonica. Song titles like “Bleeding Hearts” and “A Goddamn Song”, and most notably “Fuck the Man”, reveal the angst in their lyrics. That said, the group’s feel good vibe shines bright. I’m particularly partial to – and thrilled happy to premiere – this song and its Old 97’s style exuberance.
Bonus points for awesome cover art…
Although he now resides in rural Montana, drummer Billy Conway has been a storied part of Boston music history – first as part of Treat Her Right and then with Morphine. Those familiar with those groups will recall Conway’s signature sparse drum kit. He brings that subtle yet expressive tone to Outside Inside, the first solo release of his more than 35-year musical career.
Many of the songs on Outside Inside have a Tom Waits vibe, albeit with less grizzled vocals. From the opening “Get Well” to the closing “If I Had a Dollar”, Conway looks at the world around him with a meditative, if austere, eye. “If I had a dollar and everything was free, would you stay with me,” he asks on the magical closing track.
The release of Outside Inside also serves as a fundraiser for Conway, who has been diagnosed with stage IV liver cancer. Conway’s friend and bandmate Jeffrey Foucault penned a beautiful note about the artist and his fight.
Sometimes you can leave the music but the music never leaves you. Starting with 1980’s rock group Face to Face and then with Orchestra Morphine and Twinemen (featuring members of Boston legends Morphine), Sargent possessed one of Boston’s distinctive musical voices before she stepped away from music and moved to Montana in 2008.
She returns in 2020 with an eclectic rock and roll collection. While straight up rock and roll forms the musical base, she mixes in a little bit of soul (“Love Devine”), little bit of funk (“Water”), some dark blues (“Stupid Wish”), and a few ballads (“Still the Sky”), and, well, some glorious percussive romps (“Smiley Face”).
This track is a particular Smiley Face stand-out, a swaggering plea to live in the moment (with an opening swipe at social media addiction).
Singer Craig Rawding and instrumentalist Duncan Arsenault may not be familiar by name, but longtime readers may recall our coverage of quintet The Curtis Mayflower, their earlier project.
Ghost Land, released last fall, rekindles all of the great qualities of The Curtis Mayflower releases, albeit in a more stripped down duo format. Well, sorta stripped down. Rawding and Arsenault build their sound with acoustic guitar, often surrounded by brooding electric guitar and the occasional steady drum beat. Rawding’s mournful lyrics conjure up vivid images that deepens the music’s gravity.
Like many artists, touring troubadour Greg Klyma has been filling his calendar with periodic – and exceptionally entertaining – live streams. As the shows have progressed, he has gotten into a routine of letting friends and fans build the setlist. It’s difficult to say whether that is easy or hard. Klyma is prolific writer with an extensive catalog of songs. Heck, he released three albums last year. While that offers a lot of material from which to chose, it is also a lot of material from which to chose.
Klyma has taken the most requested songs of his recent live streams and recorded a stripped down acoustic collection called, appropriately enough, By Request, Vol. 1. Here’s my regular Klyma request…
I don’t often write about collections of previously released music but this album is worthy of exception. Back in my pre-Twangville days I stumbled across a short blurb about a Boston band called The Kickbacks. While I can’t remember what about it grabbed my attention, it piqued my interest and I immediately sought out their then new album. It still stands today as a favorite album – a stirring mix of rock and twang filled with rousing guitars and instantly memorable melodies.
Band member Tad Overbaugh continued that band’s legacy with a string of glorious solo albums. Open Road & Blue Sky: A Retrospective is a wonderful survey of these solo albums along with some choice tracks from his time with The Kickbacks.
This is one of those rare occasions where it’s simply too tough to settle on a single song to highlight from a release. So here are two songs from Overbaugh’s new career retrospective that were originally released on The Kickbacks’ brilliant Blindside View.
Shake Like Jello, Ward Hayden & the Outliers (from the self-released Live Bootleg, Volume 1)
Ward Hayden & the Outliers sure do know how to put on a show. I suppose that it isn’t a surprise that they put on such exhilarating performances as they’ve honed their live game the old fashioned way – hopping in a van and grinding it out on the road.
But that’s only half the story. The group is Americana in the truest sense of the word, shifting effortlessly from rock to country and back with stops along the way for occasional forays into folk, rockabilly, and even some bluegrass. They inject it all with a glorious and infectious energy.
As a special treat to fill the time between studio album releases, they’ve shared a limited edition live set (really two sets) captured back in 2018 at The Parlor Room, one of the finer music rooms in Western Massachusetts.
Although the album is not available digitally to share here – it’s only available at shows (whenever those start happening again…) – here’s the band performing one of their raucous originals at the Extended Play Sessions back in 2018.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.