Goodnight Texas: Uncle John Farquhar (Exclusive “Dearest Sarah” Song Premiere!)

Goodnight Texas’ sophomore album, Uncle John Farquhar, was just released today and is a top contender for my favorite album of the year. Goodnight Texas have written songs about moonshiners, coal miners, loggers and steel workers, songs about the struggles and comforts of rural life, songs that would make Woody Guthrie proud, songs that are like Steinbeck novels set to music.

Conceptualized as a scrapbook, Uncle John Farquhar was inspired by stories, letters, books and archives from the band members’ respective family histories – particularly Patrick Dyer Wolf’s titular great-great-grandfather.

The followup to their debut, A Long Life of Living, is so magnificent that all of my praise of that album is just as applicable here: “…who is this band and how can anyone make an entire album of music this good?” The new album recaptures and builds on that impressive foundation, this time with a bit more pep akin to Wildflowers-era Tom Petty.

While bands in the Americana/folk revival genre have become a dime a dozen in the post-Mumford era, Goodnight Texas stand out with a brillance and authenticity far above the rest. I adore the dark, ferocious undercurrent to their multi-layered, cross-genre arrangements and especially the rustic poetry of their lyrics.

The exquisite ballad “Dearest Sarah” is written as a letter from a Civil War soldier to his wife. Avi Vinocur perfected the song over a period of 8 years, culling the story and poignant lyric “my love for you is deathless” directly from an actual Civil War letter – written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his “very dear wife” just days before his death. Vinocur expertly mimicked and expounded on the letter’s eloquent, genteel language for the rest of the song’s lyrics and set them atop some truly gorgeous instrumentation. I’m very excited to premiere the song here on Muruch at the end of this review.

Other highlights include the moody backwoods outlaw anthem “Moonshiners,” the heartwarming ode to country life “Uncle John Farquhar,” the rugged finale “Knock Em Stiff” and the album’s jaunty first single “A Bank Robber’s Nursery Rhyme” – the free, legal mp3 of which you can download here.

It’s a shame Goodnight Texas haven’t performed at Mountain Stage yet, it’ll be a crime if they don’t do so within the next year. This is a band destined for greatness.

Buy @ Amazon

Goodnight Texas Official Site

Goodnight Texas on Soundcloud

Bastille: All This Bad Blood

Bastille’s Bad Blood was named one of 2013’s best albums by more than one Muruch writer last year, long before the single “Pompeii” began ruling the radio. On the heels of the song’s success, Bastille released an expanded, two-disc version of their hit album called All This Bad Blood. I’m not usually a fan of such “deluxe” editions, but this is an exception. I can’t get enough Bastille.

If you’ve heard any of the songs from the original Bad Blood album, you already know Bastille’s music is a refreshing and rare blend of catchy pop melodies, rock instrumentation and intelligently poetic lyrics.

“Pompeii” is the prime example of Bastille’s talent for masking exquisite lyrical depth with an irresistable pop hook and, in this case, a chanting backing male choir. Even after what must have been a thousand listens, I’m still enchanted and enraptured by the song to the point of obsession. I mean, come on, a pop song about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius? What’s not to love about that?!

Beyond their accessible and incredibly infectious arrangements, songs like “Pompeii” and the equally haunting “Things We Lost in the Fire” cleverly use material losses as a lyrical metaphor for emotional damage.

Other standout tracks are the mythical, theatrical ode to self-destruction “Icarus,” the wistful ballad “Oblivion,” the rolling, rollicking, Biblical piano anthem “Daniel in the Den” and the dark, pulsing, Lynchian rock tribute “Laura Palmer.”

The new songs, b-sides and demos included on the second disc of the reissue don’t deviate from the sound established on the original album, though it’s easy to understand why the band chose to release these somewhat lesser songs as bonus tracks instead of as a separate album.

The exception that makes All This Bad Blood worth purchasing is the mesmeric incorporation of “Oh Holy Night” into “Tuning Out.”

Other highlights include “Sleepsong,” “Durban Skies, “The Draw”” and “Of the Night,” which is an unexpected electro-rock mashup cover of “Rhythm is a Dancer” by Snap! and Corona’s “Rhythm of the Night.”

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Lykke Li: I Never Learn

Lykke Li’s debut, Wounded Rhymes, often wasted her enchanting voice on vapid pop songs, but had plenty of strong, stunningly eccentric arrangements and eerily sparse ballads to make up for its uptempo weaknesses. Unfortunately, her sophomore album, I Never Learn, seems to suffer from the opposite affliction – an overabundance of lifeless, melancholy tracks.

I love Lykke’s unusual voice and thus keep hoping her new album will grow on me like Bat For Lashes’ slow-burner The Haunted Man and Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow. The album had the misfortune of arriving at the same time as Mirah’s exquisitely poetic Changing Light and Tori Amos’ eccentric whirlwind Unrepentent Geraldines, so it definitely suffered by comparison. Even after repeated listens, I Never Learn has neither the dramatic intensity nor the heartbreaking delicacy to make it memorable.

Thankfully, there are some exceptions. The haunting singles “No Rest for the Wicked” and “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” as well as “Gunshot” are by far the standout tracks.

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Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 25 years since Tori Amos released her groundbreaking solo debut, Little Earthquakes, and 20 years since Under the Pink established Tori as the singer-songwriter to which every female pop pianist who followed would be compared. What a long, strange trip it’s been. After exploring the classical genre on her magnificent previous release, Tori Amos makes a welcome return to her trademark chamber-pop piano style on her fourteenth studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines.

My reaction to this collection is very similar to how I felt about 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk. It’s an undeniably solid album with some truly great songs and is a refreshingly far cry from the surprising mediocrity and silly marketing gimmicks that plagued her last few piano pop endeavors, yet not quite exciting enough to ever be the first album I reach for when I want to listen to Tori Amos. Still, I seem to like it more with every listen and it’s wonderful to hear that unmistakable Tori touch on the piano again.

It’s the quieter moments of Unrependent Geraldines that are most captivating. Tori’s lilt is especially lovely on the “all lay down” refrain of the opener “America.” The piano-centric ballads “Wild Way” and “Weather Man” both have a wistful ache akin to, albeit not quite as potent as, classic Tori torch songs “China,” “Baker Baker” and “Northern Lad.” And “Wedding Day” plays like a Celtic folk-influenced, multi-instrumental followup to “Jackie’s Strength.”

Tori’s daughter, Tash, adds her distinctive, rich and impressively agile voice to “Promise.” If our favorite red-haired piano prodigy is grooming her progeny for a solo debut, I’d be very interested in hearing it.

“Giant’s Rolling Pin” takes Tori’s penchant for eccentric lyrical fables and eclectic orchestration to the ultimate level. The result can either be a jubilant or irksome listening experience depending on your mood, but I recall having the same fickle opinion of “Happy Phantom” back in the day. You have to admire Tori’s whimsical weaving of the NSA wiretapping scandal into her lyrical tale of a lie-detecting pie, all set atop of a rollicking folk-pop melody.

There’s a strong piano interlude halfway through the album’s title track that most recalls Tori’s fiery yesterdays and the standout track “Rose Dover” is a dazzling demonstration of her ability to stretch one song’s limits with a rollercoaster arrangement.

I’m working my way back to me again,” Tori Amos sings in “Oyster” and, with Unrependent Geraldines, she seems to be succeeding.

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Tori Amos Official Site

Mirah: Changing Light

Mirah‘s recently released fifth solo album, Changing Light, has it all: cleverly poetic lyrics expressing deep emotion, heartstring-tugging melodies, lush orchestration and gorgeous vocals. The album features contributions from Mary Timony as well as members of Deerhoof and tUnE-yArDs among others, but Mirah’s honey-dripped, intimate vocal phrasing gives the impression she’s singing just for you.

Said the goat to the shepherd: “I will cut your throat, I will eat you whole,
I will let you know who’s in control of the mountain”

With those menacing lyrics wrapped in Mirah’s sultry croon, “Goat Shepherd” gives the album a strong and fierce, hell-hath-no-fury opening.

“Oxen Hope” follows suit with another mesmeric lyrical fable using beasts of burden as a metaphor for the brutal end of a relationship.

Mirah herself has called Changing Light a breakup record, but its beauty and innovation transcend the personal turbulence from which it was inspired.

The beautiful, string-accented ballad “Gold Rush” builds to an exquisite symphonic crescendo.

Another highlight is “I Am The Garden,” which seems to be a prerogative sequel of sorts to “The Garden” from 2002’s Advisory Committee.

Changing Light is one of those multi-faceted albums that gets better and more exciting with each listen.

Buy @ Amazon

Mirah Official Site

Mirah – Goat Shepherd (SoundCloud Page)