The Coal Men’s fourth release, Escalator, is solid Americana album set for release by Todd Snider’s Aimless Records on August 27th. The standout tracks truly standout – particularly the Jack Whitesque blues-rock grind “Stuck” and the panoramic ballad “Tennessee.” You can download a free, legal mp3 of the former and stream the latter below. Also of note are the quirky, laidback blues ditty “Sanity” and the amped up rock riffs of “One Thing At a Time.”
I really wanted to hate this album, or at least feel indifferent enough to ignore it. I tried, really I did. I didn’t even listen to the unrequested advance promo I received. Then a second promo arrived from Jones’ record label, so I thought I’d see how bad it is while I mopped the kitchen floor. I still can’t believe I like a Tom Jones album. The man best known to my generation for his vomit-inducing cover of Prince’s “Kiss” and even more atrocious dance hit “Sexbomb” has recorded what I must admit is a twisted, bluesy and actually quite good Americana album. A collaboration with producer Ethan Johns, the album was recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio and features covers by such artists as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and The Low Anthem.
The weird, Western noir isn’t quite Nick Cave, the blues wailers aren’t quite Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the reflective old man country songs aren’t quite Johnny Cash, but you can hear those influences in several songs and they definitely suit Jones’ voice. And there’s no denying the instrumentation on the album is superb.
Highlights are Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” (the video of which you can watch below), Tom Waits’ “Bad As Me,” Joe Henry’s “All Blues Hail Mary,” “Hit or Miss,” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man.” The album also includes a cover of The Low Anthem’s “Charlie Darwin.”
So yeah, judge me if you must, but I like a Tom Jones album.
Amy LaVere and Shannon McNally have teamed up and will release their debut collaborative EP, Chasing The Ghost Rehearsal Sessions, on October 23rd. Brought together by their mutual mentor to form the band The Wandering, the two female singer-songwriters immediately clicked, jammed and recorded the EP. Says McNally of their chemistry, “We were both instantly struck by our numerous similarities. It’s not your average gal that drinks bourbon neat, walks around with a pocket atlas and a drives a big white gear van. I thought she was charming and awfully funny.” You can stream two songs, “Never Been Sadder” and “If It Were Mine to Keep,” from the EP below. McNally seems to have added some pep to LaVere’s noirish Memphis sound.
Listening to Goodnight Texas’ brilliant forthcoming debut, A Long Life of Living, for the first time was much like when I first heard The Felice Brothers’ debut. I kept thinking: who is this band and how can anyone make an entire album of music this good? Song after song, I would think I’d heard the best of the album only to be even more amazed by the next track. This is music for any band to aspire to and for any music fan to get very excited about.
I worked in her fields and under her trees
I picked all her cotton, it stung me like bees
I shoveled her dirt when no one else would
I gave her way more than I ever should
And I’m still here with nothing whatsoever
But I’m going to work on Maggie’s Farm forever
Goodnight Texas are San Francisco’s Avi Vinocur (formerly of The Stone Foxes) and North Carolina’s Patrick Dyer Wolf. They call A Long Life of Living their “transcontinental garage Appalachian collaboration.” Whatever genre label you slap on it, this is storytelling at its finest.
The opener “I’m Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm Forever” is an exquisite, lush, classic country-influenced folk song. It sounds like Springsteen covering Simon & Garfunkel, it’s that good. You can watch the song’s video below.
“Submarine” is a fiery, hard plucked acoustic ballad.
“Old St. John” is pure, deliciously eerie folk. The song exposes the hypocrisy of a so-called holy man with it’s foreboding refrain “haven’t you ever been lied to?“
“Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine” is a haunting, mesmeric Appalachian folk narrative set in a West Virginian coal mine. If the lyric “my love is somewhere in that mountain” doesn’t break your heart, I question whether you really have one. You can download this gorgeous song by entering your email address below or simply stream it.
Just when you think it can’t get any better, “The Railroad” rumbles in on a freight train of bluesy guitar, clap-and-stomp percussion and chilling chain gang harmony.
A Long Life of Living will be released on October 2nd and is sure to be on my best of the year list in December.
Carsie Blanton’s new album, Idiot Heart, will be released on January 31st. Carsie has opened for Paul Simon and also performed in stage productions of Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown. Idiot Heart is an immensely charming collection of catchy jazz- and folk-influenced Americana. You can download two free, legal mp3s from the album below, then I suggest you buy the rest.
Queen Esther is in the process of recording what she calls her “Black Americana” album and is asking fans to help fund the project via Kickstarter. She only has 4 days left to raise $13,213. Please donate if you can. If her cover of “I Feel Like Going Home” (which you can stream at the link below) is any indication, this is going to be an extraordinary and superb album. It’s the most moving cover of the song I’ve heard since the Inner Voices Choir sang it on My So-Called Life.
Driftwood Fire will release their debut album, How To Untangle A Heartache on August 23rd. Though Driftwood Fire are billed as an Americana duo comprised of former scientists – singer-guitarist Lynn Scharf and multi-instrumentalist Charlotte Formichella – the two women were joined by several other talented musicians for the recording of How To Untangle A Heartache. The resulting album is truly a delight.
The opening tracks are airy pop-folk songs that fall somewhere between Crooked Still and Beth Nielsen Chapman, but How To Untangle A Heartache really finds its footing with the panoramic “Let It All Go.”
“Appalachian Hills” is the album’s biggest stunner. The haunting folk ballad explores the beautiful landscape and horrific racism in the Shenandoah valley during and after the Civil War.
Other highlights are the jaunty Tin Pan Alley instrumental “Intermission” and the gentle pluck of banjo in the atmospheric finale “The Salty Sea.”
Driftwood Fire – Let it All Go (mp3 expired)*
*mp3 posted w/ permission of band’s PR rep
The album is not yet available for purchase, but should be at the links below closer to the release date…
Traces is the new album by former eastmountainsouth singer-songwriter Peter Bradley Adams. Written and recorded within six months of his previous release leavetaking, the new disc follows through on Peter’s pretty blend of languid folk and dusky Americana.
The songs on Traces flow seamlessly and beautifully together. So much so that it’s difficult to pick a stand out, but if I had to it would be the gentle ballad “For You.”
Also of note are the slightly darker, melancholy melodies of “I Won’t” and “Darkening Sky.”
Angel Snow sings on several tracks, and Katie Herzig lends her voice to “Family Name” and “Heart of a Girl.”
Singer-songwriter Claire Small returns for “I Cannot Settle Down.” I saw Claire perform with Peter at Mountain Stage last year, and also reviewed her solo album Ledger.
Peter Bradley Adams – For You (mp3 removed)*
*mp3 provided by & posted w/ permission of artist’s label. The above mp3 will be removed from my server in two weeks, but Peter has also made the song available for free download on his site…
Joshua James’ spectacular sophomore album Build Me This will be released on September 22nd. The singer-songwriter’s debut The Sun is Always Brighter was sleeper hit on my Top Albums of 2008, and I’m pleasantly surprised that the new disc is even better. The warm tone of Joshua’s voice and the lilt of his phrasing continue to remind me of Xavier Rudd (a big compliment), but there’s a harder rock edge to these new arrangements.
The quiet, almost a capella intro of “Coal War” is quickly yet gently fleshed out into a bluesy gospel number replete with handclaps, stomps, and a backing choir. The latter part of the song bursts from hushed chain gang clang into soaring rock accented with militant drum.
The lyrics of “Magazine” describe a painful separation, but musically it is an Americana ditty – all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings.
“Mother Mary” is a darker rock ballad dealing with spiritual and social themes – the album’s title Build Me This is a reference to Joshua’s longing for something to believe in. “Black July” remains in murky waters, but churns up into a blues-rock thump.
Other tracks lighten the mood with a return to the softer sound of James’ debut. The prettiest of these is the unrequited love anthem “Lawn Full of Marigolds”.
Joshua’s voice reaches Glen Hansard levels of desperation amid a haunting chorus of voices in “Daniel”. And “Benediction” closes the album with atmospheric rock piano and beautiful, orchestral strings.
Searching Hype, Elbo & Google, it seems the following mp3 is an exclusive to Muruch, at least for now…
Joshua James – Magazine (mp3 expired) *
*mp3 posted for limited time w/ permission of Music Allies