What began as a collection of archival material emerges as a full-fledged album, complete with some wonderful new compositions. All flow with the grace and melodic charm that are Pug hallmarks.
The Diving Sun is a mix of quiet acoustic and restrained full band arrangements. “Wild Kind of Longing” and “Deep End” epitomize the quiet and acoustic side. “Wild Kind of Longing” starts with Pug’s acoustic guitar with some subtle accordion and strings joining in for added richness. The accordion reappears on “Deep End”, albeit this time accompanying an acoustic piano rather than guitar. The song finds Pug partly chastising and partly pleading a hesitant friend, perhaps a lover, to make a commitment:
‘Cause if not now, then when?
Shut up, jump in
Both feet, deep end
If not now, then when?
On the full band side are opener “Crescent Bridge” and the ambling “None the Wiser”. The songs share a lyrical focus of unsuccessfully trying to find love. In “Crescent Bridge”, he admires a woman from a distance and sharply disparages the man she is with. “He drives a dark car, no heart, rebel with a gold card,” he sings.
In “None the Wiser”, he travels cross-country to try to rekindle an old, seemingly abbreviated, relationship only to discover that she is married and doesn’t remember him. “I pledged my heart to her forevermore,” he confesses, “she laughed and asked if we had met before.”
New songs aside, if this is a sample of the brilliance that Pug has in his archives, I’m eager for more.
Jaimee Harris bills her latest album as an acoustic release but it is more aptly described as a stripped down take on songs from Red Rescue, her outstanding 2018 debut. The arrangements unlock even more of the raw emotion in Harris’ songwriting.
“Damn Right,” a fiery rocker on the debut, in transformed a quiet acoustic ballad. Whereas the album version focuses on the anger, uncomfortable pain and anxiety permeate this new version.
“Depressive State” retains some of the original pop sheen, with subtle keyboards and electric guitar wrapping themselves around Harris’ acoustic guitar. “Red Rescue” bristles with a self-assuredness fueled by heavily strummed acoustic guitar and some stellar harmonies, only to be punctuated by a sense of foreboding in the form of Ray Bonneville’s yearning harmonica.
“Snow White Knuckles”, a signature song that chronicles her battle with addiction, is infused with a subtle but intriguing gospel feel. I, for one, would love to hear a full gospel arrangement.
How Many Times is an album of heartbreak that avoids being maudlin. Sure, Rose shares some pain and regret, but she packages it in a mix of New Orleans folk and jazz that keeps the music buoyant.
A fiddle helps Rose kick things off with the title track. “How many times will you break my heart,” she asks repeatedly. “My Bad Mood” finds her both missing her ex and the companionship that they shared and getting frustrated with the mood that it engenders:
You got your new blue jeans and the girl of your dreams
I guess that I should go and do the same
But I’d rather sing in harmony, the way we used to do
I’m getting pretty tired of me and my bad mood.
Rose gets more reflective on the acoustic “Songs Remain”, recognizing that the memories and feelings will persist long after the relationship ended. “Letting go doesn’t mean you lose, ‘cause a part of me lives on in you,” she tells him before admitting, “I’m glad that it was you that broke my heart.”
How Many Times is wonderful in both Rose’s lyrical candor and its musical earnestness.
Bones Owens bursts out of the gates with a fun and rocking debut album. “Good Day” is an energetic sing-along punctuated by a feisty guitar solo. “Hey hey, that’s a good day, can’t say a single thing that I’d change” sings Owens with an air of confidence.
“Wave” brings a touch of 1980’s alternative rock swagger and a jittery edge into the mix while “Ain’t Nobody” is centered around a classic 1970’s blues rock riff. “Keep It Close” bristles with a cantankerous attitude that recalls early Oasis.
“White Lines” is an uproarious rocker that tells the tale of the singer racing home to his lover, a fitting image for an album that has a decided highway feel. Bones Owens is the kind of album primed for a motorcycle rally soundtrack. So hit the road… and crank it up.
Fruition’s Mimi Naja made the most of her pandemic time. Most importantly, she entered a substance abuse program and emerged with a healthy new outlook. She captures the experience on the recent released EP Nothing Has Changed.
Acoustic and harmony drenched opener “All You Know of Me” reflects on those who only know her from the past. “Pass the bottle ‘round, put the money down,” she sings, “that’s all you know of me.”
“No Captain” chronicles the loneliness and abandon of her former life:
I came to confused and lost,
shipwrecked, turned and tossed,
no compass, no trace, no track,
I don’t know where I’m bound and I can’t look back.
She closes with two versions of the lyrically stark and self-reflective “Nothing Has Changed”, first as a somber ballad and then reprised as a jarring rocker. The song scrutinizes the life she had been living, viewing it from her new found perspective.
Nashville-based Charlie Treat takes listeners on a Southern musical journey with The Comet. He kicks off the odyssey with “Ain’t Gonna Be The One”, a New Orleans-laced country song with a Leon Russell flair. The relaxed “Biggest Fool on Earth” follows with some Memphis soul before “Dancing At the Bar (The Quarantine Song)” brings in some 1980’s pop elements and an anthemic chorus.
“Dollar for Dollar” is all about the funk, Muscle Shoals style. The song is built around a glorious bass line with additional support from electric guitar, organ, piano, and, towards the end, harmonica. “Rain Again” retains some of that funkiness but adds a healthy dose of Southern rock, a la Lynyrd Skynyrd. The result is fiery and potent.
The ballad “Drive My Blues Away” is, not surprisingly, anchored in the blues. It is wrapped, however, in an enticing pop luster. The song gloriously crescendos towards an aching slide guitar solo and a great sing-along conclusion.
Part of what makes this album so special, beyond Treat’s songs and expressive voice, is the extravagant production. A bit of clarinet and horns here, some heavy harmonies there – it all adds up to give The Comet a regal air.
Fretland, led by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland, ply a lovelorn trade. It’s hard to decide which is more haunting, the group’s songs or Fretland’s voice. Put them both together, however, and the result is devastating in the best possible way.
“Could Have Loved You” opens the album with just Fretland accompanied by an acoustic guitar. She considers a failed relationship, initially singing “don’t look at me that way, you know I understand I could have loved you,” before confessing “I still love you”.
The lost love continues on the ambling “One More Try”. “You know I don’t want to sing the blues, all of my life,” declares Fretland, “because every song would be about you, and giving it one more try.”
One exception, sort of, to the sobering tales of love lost, is “Too Much”. The somewhat upbeat song is seemingly about the singer’s excessive drinking and playfulness but really about the self-doubt that it masks.
The intoxicating “Do You Think of Me” starts off with a strummed guitar but is later joined by a simple, yet gripping, piano accompaniment. In contrast to much of the album, this song offers a glimmer of romantic hope. “Do you think of me?” asks Fretland, “do you think it’s a possibility, I could make you happy.”
Could Have Loved You is a striking release, filled with winsome melodies that are simultaneously warm and melancholy.
What do you do when a pandemic destroys your touring life and livelihood? Sure, you might get upset and untethered for a bit, but if you’re guitarist Rick Holmstrom, you pour yourself into the creative process of a new album.
The first thing that strikes me when listening to Rick Holmstrom’s See That Light is the expressiveness of his guitar. There’s a simplicity to his playing, yet it conveys so much emotion. Consider album opener “Take My Hand”. Holmstrom’s guitar is brilliantly melodic, becoming almost a duet partner for the singer. “Waiting Too Long”, with somewhat of a Ritchie Valens vibe, is another fine example.
“Got To Go” finds Holstrom brilliantly locked in with rhythm section Steve Mugalian (Lucinda Williams, Harry Dean Stanton, Chuck Prophet) on drums and Gregory Boaz (Dave Alvin, Mick Taylor, John Mayall) on bass. (All three tour with Mavis Staples, for whom Holstrom serves as guitarist and bandleader.)
The slow, brooding blues of “Losing My Shit” is partly agitated and partly cathartic. As that song title suggested, this isn’t an overly happy album. Of course, that’s perhaps what one should expect from a touring blues musician trying to navigate a pandemic lockdown. For further evidence, see “I’d Rather Be a Loser” followed immediately by his brutal tell-off “I’m An Asshole”.
Even in its unhappiest moments, however, Holmstrom’s See That Light is an energetic and entertaining listen.
Dreamers and Fools, Tom Paxton (from the Diamond Ranch Records release April In Your Eyes – A Tribute to the Songs of John Lilly)
April in Your Eyes is a labor of love. Colorado musician Jackson Emmer organized the album as a tribute to his friend and mentor, West Virginia singer-songwriter John Lilly. And apparently Emmer wasn’t alone in his admiration for Lilly and his songs. A diverse array of artists – from bluegrass multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien to folk legend Tom Paxton to renowned country artist Kathy Mattea to celebrated guitarist Bill Kirchen – offer up glorious takes on Lilly songs. The arrangements are generally reflective of the songs – plaintive and thoughtful.
Paxton, by way of Lilly, sums things up nicely:
Thank God for dreamers and fools like you and me
Hopeless romantics, wild-eyed wanna-bes
Taking their chances and breakin’ the rules
Thank God for dreamers and fools.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.