… of the best things I never finished writing about in 2011.
Girls Guns and Glory – Sweet Nothings
“Sweet Nothings” is the 4th album from Boston’s Girls Guns and Glory. They were the first country act to win the WBCN Rumble and at the most recent Boston Music Awards they were named Best Americana Act (which they also won in ’08). Chad Ochocinco offsets his lack of production on the field by being a big fan. Their name may imply an irreverent, cocky take on country but the music is anything but. The approach is firmly rooted in throwback 50’s country, rockabilly, and honky tonk. Ward Hayden’s got a strong voice, and comparisons to Dwight Yoakum or Raul Malo are in line. Yoakum – vocal cracks, hiccups, and all – is especially apt on the swallowed vocal delivery of “Root Cellar.” “Baby’s Got A Dream” sets the album off to a great start – a strummed lament swelling into the celebratory ownership of a broken heart. The album is sparkled with great moments like the picking on “Nighttime,” the spoken word interlude in “Last Night I Dreamed,” and a duet with Sarah Borges on “1,000 Times.” Best country album of the year.
Baby’s Got A Dream
The River Has Many Voices – Barton Creek (ep)
There was something about the voice on this that grabbed immediately. Leisured, husky, intimate. Pleasantly reminiscent of English Americana folk singer Jason McNiff but more spare. The River Has Many Voices is Austin’s Matthew Payne. And “Barton Creek” is 6 beautiful songs of longing, loss, and optimism. The 41 minutes of the ep are bulked up by the heartrending 16 minutes of the closing track, “Picture In A Thousand Words,” short cyclical vignettes of unfulfilled desire, offset by the glimmer of hope. A deep, heartfelt album about the human condition. It’s available (for free) on Bandcamp.
No Death Could Ever Take The Life From You
C. Bailey & H. Burns – Stranger
I wrote about the Chris Bailey and H-Burns album, “Stranger,” prior to its release but never followed up. I’m not really sure why. It’s great. A favorite from 2011. It’s got some of Bailey’s strongest writing in years. But at it’s core it’s a little hard to figure out what it is. Look at the songwriting credits and the track list alternates between Bailey and H-Burns (Renaud Brustlein) penned tunes, until seniority claims the last two spots. Vocal performances follow suit. No shared vocals. No discernable harmonizing. Where the album does coalesce is around lyrical themes of disconnectedness and disillusionment. The music on Bailey’s tracks are generally more rock, H-Burns more folkish. But behind the upbeat music on Bailey’s tracks are lyrics conveying the opposite, especially pronounced on the bouncy, banjo-propelled country of “Winter,” with the lyrics “Black is the color of my coat and my intention, Black is the mood of my soul.” On “Hey You!” Bailey approaches his pessimism more lightly, and the album closes with Bailey confidently imploring “Stranger at my shoulder, Get thee behind me.” There’s less of a juxtaposition on the H-Burns tracks mainly because of his forlorn, nasal vocals but the tracks are no less strong. “So Long Dying Cities,” a track from H-Burns last solo album, “We Go Way Back,” is revived, less solemn, longer, and more robust. Maybe the heart of this album is just the camaraderie and inspiration between an elder musical statesman and a great young talent. If so, this album succeeds on all counts. And hopefully it’s not just a one-off venture.
Buy: Vicious Circle
East Cameron Folkcore – Sound And Fury: Songs In The Key Of Love And Death
Equal parts drunken perspiration and pretentious aspiration. Or maybe it’s the other way round. Either way, it adds up to a potent mix on “Sound And Fury: Songs In The Key Of Love And Death,” from the Austin collective East Cameron Folkcore. On the pretentious side, the obvious nod to The Bard. The piano and string heavy chamber bent of “Prologue” and “Epilogue” to open and close the album. References to “Prometheus Bound” and Greek choruses on their Bandcamp page. Band photos with 17 members. On the drunken side, a prevailing looseness and raucousness to the performances. Lead singer Jesse Moore’s raspy, parched voice. An overwhelming, end of the night “I love you, man” vibe, imbuing the album with a feel good warmth and sincerity. And band photos with 17 members. Much of the album was inspired by the the tragic death of Jon Pettis, Moore’s Bankrupt And The Borrowers bandmate, and, on the title track, when the full band belts out “I just want to put the world on pause, And stay where we are” it’s impossible not to feel the love and humanity behind this.
Carrying The Fire (For The Misunderstood)
Bethany Larson And The Bees Knees – When We Reach The City
Ok, it was the drawing of the sad eyed cowgirl on the cover that initially hooked me. I knew I would like this. And listening, I was fully validated. I am a firm believer in judging an album by it’s cover. Bethany Larson And The Bees Knees are from Minneapolis and “When We Reach The City” is their first full-length (following up a 2009 ep). It’s filled with songs picking and pulling from a board spectrum of country and folk. Larson’s delivery ranges from sexy romantic come-on (“Why Don’t You Come Over”) to broken romance pissed-off bitterness (“Don’t You Want To Know”). Those tracks, along with the with the should-be-a-hit “Still” – heartbreak defiantly rejecting the cause – and the slightly clumsy (“I’ve been reading Kerouac, wishing that you would come back”) to classic (“While you hear the rush of the wind, I sit here drinking my gin”) lyric couplets on “Last Thing On My Mind,” are just a few reasons that made this one of my most played albums of the year.