Lambert, Randall, and Ingram. Kind of sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it? In this case it’s a trio of songwriters who have just released some intimate recordings from their writing retreats in Marfa, Texas.
There are two types of songs included in the collection. First are those that are somber and beautiful. That list starts, of course, the trio’s award-winning and awe-inspiring “Tin Man”, an imagined conversation with the Land of Oz character about the pains of a broken heart. “’Cause if you ever felt one breakin’,” sings Lambert, “you’d never want a heart.”
“Winds Just Gonna Blow” and “Breaking a Heart” both chronicle the end of a relationship. “Dust ain’t ever gonna settle, the wind’s just gonna blow,” declares Lambert in the solemn “Winds Just Gonna Blow” while Ingram confesses on “Breaking a Heart”:
Goodbyes are nеver easy
I don’t know if the hardеst part
Is bein’ heartbroken or breakin’ a heart
Bein’ heartbroken or breakin’ a heart
Lest anyone think all the songs on The Marfa Tapes are about heartbreak, the trio share the tender “I Don’t Like It”. The song contrasts the joy of time spent together with the unhappiness of being apart. “I don’t like being away from you,” they sing, “I don’t like it when you’re not here.”
Then there are the songs of the fun-lovin’ and entertaining variety. “Homegrown Tomatoes” sits atop that list. The trio themselves admit in a bit of post-song banter that even they aren’t clear what the song is about. Regardless, it’s a whole heap of fun.
Sittin’ in the shade, loaded lemonade, watchin’ the hummingbirds
Humming me a tune all afternoon, best song I’ve never heard
Texas sky and big blue eyes starin’ over aviators
Got a big boom box, Bulleit on the rocks, homegrown tomatoes
“Geraldene” is the trio’s version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” while “Tequila Does” is their tribute to the fiery beverage. “And when I’m drinkin’ doubles, I’m nothin’ but trouble,” admits Lambert, “and trouble’s so easy to find.”
The Marfa Tapes is a tremendous collection of songs captured in their truest – and most beautiful – form.
The pandemic became a time of experimentation for many artists, The Accidentals among them. Besides developing an expertise in live streaming, the duo of Sav Buist and Katie Larson collaborated a who’s who of talented performing songwriters – Kim Richey, Tom Paxton, Maia Sharp, Dar Williams, Mary Gauthier, and Jaimee Harris – to craft the songs that make up the Time Out, Session 1 EP. The results are as intoxicating as they are beautiful.
Not surprisingly, the songs are reflective of the times in which they were written. “Wildfire”, co-written with Richey, finds the duo contemplating pre-pandemic times with the hindsight of the suffering that was to come. “Who knew we were drunk on borrowed time?,” they sing, “Waiting on a wildfire, who knew we were.”
“Anyway”, co-written with Paxton, contemplates the social upheaval taking place in America. “Open blinds, shuttered minds,” they reflect, “we’re living in thе strangest times, I won’t lie, I’m tеrrified.”
Yet they also find hope, in the form of the beautiful gospel of “All Shall Be Well”, co-written with Gauthier and Harris. “In the end, all shall be well,” they insist in stunning harmony. Amen.
For a guy who spends (or at least pre-Covid spent) a significant portion of his time touring as a member of rock and roll titans Drive-By Truckers, Jay Gonzalez sure knows his way around a pop song. Back to the Hive is a glorious pop collection and a tremendous showcase for Gonzalez’s musical talents.
The instrumental “Sunspots” kicks things off with a tremendous 1970’s symphonic pop vibe before giving way to the title track, a kiss-off song that is both happy-go-lucky and melancholy. “I’m happy that you’re going but I’m sad to see you go,” sings Gonzalez.
“I Wanna Hold You” is a perfect little pop song, clocking in at just over 2 minutes. “You Make It Hard (To Be Unhappy)” is a similar piece of pop confection, in this case steeped in 1960’s folk with its emphasis on acoustic guitars and harmonized vocals.
Gonzalez adds a bit of sophistication to songs like “Trampoline”, “Never Felt Bad”, and the instrumental “Loons on the Lake”. “Trampoline” has a staccato piano that gives the song a jumpy tension while “Loons on the Lake” has a brooding Dick Dale vibe. “Never Felt Bad” ambles with a glorious wistfulness centered around Gonzalez’s electric piano, punctuated by a scruffy yet melodic electric guitar.
For those looking for some beguiling pop, look no further than Jay Gonzalez’s Back to the Hive.
It’s apparent from the first track on Shannon McNally’s tribute to Waylon Jennings that we’re in for something special. First there’s the confidence and attitude in McNally’s voice as she sings, “I’ve always been crazy but it’s kept me from going insane.” Then there’s the crack band that infuses their own spirit into the song, not the least of which is a spectacular song-ending jam. And that’s just the beginning.
McNally and company tear through 11 (13 with bonus tracks) Waylon classics, reveling in the glory of the songs and their classic country heritage. They do so with an infectious enthusiasm and some spirited honky-tonk swagger.
“Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This”, featuring a cameo from songwriter Rodney Crowell, and “Black Rose” are appropriately feisty while Haggard’s signature “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” bristles with a matter-of-fact charm.
The ballads are equally impressive. McNally beautifully wraps her voice around the plaintive “Help Me Make It Through the Night” before unleashing it on the crescendo chorus of “We Had It All”.
And it’s worth noting that this collection only scratches the surface of the Jennings catalog. So perhaps a volume 2? Here’s hoping.
Brigitte DeMeyer’s Seeker is a little bit country and a little bit soul, all wrapped up jazz standard arrangements. The songs flow with an earthiness and charm, all anchored by DeMeyer’s enthralling voice.
DeMeyer opens the album with the mysterious and sultry “All the Blue” before adding in some funk for “Cat Man Do”. The funkiness is also a subtle presence in the acoustic love song “Already In”.
The jazz elements come to the forefront on “Ain’t No Mister”, with producer Jano Rix’s piano injecting the song with a healthy swing.
Adding to the musical cornucopia are songs like “Louisiana”, which has the swampiness of its namesake, the somewhat bluesy “Salt of the Earth”, and the folksy “Wishbone”.
Atop this music are DeMeyer’s ethereal and poetic lyrics, which infuse a spiritual wanderlust reflective of the album title. Lyric and music come together to create an exquisite musical package.
There’s something special about rock and roll that is done right, a point that John Paul Keith takes to heart. The Memphis musician hearkens back to the glorious early days of rock when songs were simple, direct, and authentic. The Rhythm of the City, his latest, is a master class in the music of the 1950’s and 1960’s, delivered with a 21st century sensibility.
Keith brilliantly channels the Sun Records sound – think Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley – on “Love Love Love”. He adds some Memphis soul, not to mention a horn section, to the sauntering “The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again” before dipping into the blues on the insistent “If I Had Money”. And then he serves up the infectious classic 1960’s pop of “Ain’t Done Loving You Yet”.
The late Harlan Howard described quality music as containing “three chords and the truth”. Although he made the comment to in reference to country music, it’s an apt description of the soulful rock charm of The Rhythm of the City.
There are two things that resonate across Trapper Schoepp’s latest album – the pandemic and Schoepp’s piano. We’ll start with the piano. Schoepp’s early work centered around the singer-songwriter’s guitar but the pandemic afforded him time to expand his piano skills. That instrument, not surprisingly, appears frequently on May Day, and generally gives the songs a relaxed and nuanced feel.
The ambling “May Day” kicks off the album with Schoepp trying to come to terms with a broken relationship. “You’re a bad drug, it’s time to kick it,” he sings even as he admits “I need you in the worst way.”
“Hotel Astor”, with its prominent piano riff, is based on the true story of a fire at the Astor Hotel in Milwaukee. The tense “River Called Disaster”, for which Schoepp set ablaze a Craigslist piano in the accompanying video, lashes out against troubling times with an air of frustration and fight.
That sense of anxiety highlights to the pandemic’s impact on May Day. While the album title reflects a sense of rebirth, many of the songs here, both literally and figuratively, reflect on the darkness of the pandemic. “Solo Quarantine”, a tale of trying to re-connect with someone from the past a means of breaking through the isolation, is an obvious example. The subdued “Paris Syndrome” also focuses on isolation while the simmering “Little Drop of Medicine” draws a parallel to the fall from the Garden of Eden.
From darkness comes light, and with May Day, Trapper Schoepp shows us that music can help us process and endure through difficult times.
Everyone has their own way for dealing with anxiety. Brett Newski faces it head-on with his artistic endeavors. He brings together his visual and musical talents this spring by releasing a book of illustrations accompanied, of course, by a musical soundtrack.
The title lays the subject bare – It’s Hard to Be a Person: Defeating Anxiety, Surviving the World and Having More Fun. The opening “I Should’ve Listened to Ferris Bueller”, which features Steve Page of Barenaked Ladies, captures all that is great about Newski and his music. The coming-of-age saga confronts the anguish of adolescence with a cheeky reference to the classic John Hughes film on the topic. Like many a Newski song, it has an immensely catchy melody and a rousing sing-along chorus.
Many of the acoustic songs on the album have a Violent Femmes vibe, most notably the escapist “If I Had a Car”. Against a frenetic musical backdrop, Newski sings ” If I had a car it would get me free, I would get off this bus where they pick on me.”
“Lillian Road” is about navigating a difficult – and no doubt an ultimately failed – relationship. “I hide in my dreams,” Newski confesses, “cause it’s a little like hell in reality.”
There are also a couple of raucous full band jams. The frantic “Life Underwater” features a healthy dose of electric guitar and a fiery solo as Newski tries to look forward when faced with adversity, “Everything implodes eventually, let’s start this over get me free.”
And in a throw-back to Newski’s pre-Covid wanderlust days, he is joined by Netherlands quartet Bony Macaroni on the blistering closer “Dead to Me”.
One objective of art is to shine a light on important topics and issues. Kudos to Newski for doing so, and making it sound infectious as well.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.