Allison Crowe: Sylvan Hour (Album Review & Mp3)

Recorded live in a log-cabin in the Canadian wilderness during a cross-country journey, Allison Crowe’s new album, Sylvan Hour, may be her best yet. The private, one-hour performance at a friend’s home in 2006 includes raw, solo takes of songs that would be re-recorded in group sessions for This Little Bird. The recording was lost for nearly a decade and was rediscovered this winter. What a find it was! Allison’s extraordinary voice is in its purest state accompanied only by guitar and piano.



From the opening cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling, Be Home Soon” to originals like “Effortless” and the fierce rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” Allison’s vocal prowess and control is on astonishing display.

Among the album’s many standout tracks are “Phoenix,” “These Words” and “Skeletons & Spirits.” These “stripped down” versions are even more powerful and clear than their This Little Bird counterparts.

Allison’s supernaturally agile and exquisite voice is especially stunning, even shocking, as she bends and stretches every note in the haunting, truly chill-producing ballad “Silence.” You can stream and download a free, legal mp3 of the song via the Soundcloud widget below.

The music seems to rise from deep with her chest, sometimes ripping out of her throat in full roar, other times being restrained and shaped with the skill of a master sculptor. Sylvan Hour is truly a masterpiece.



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Elle King: Love Stuff (Album Review)

Elle King’s Love Stuff is competing with Brandi Carlile’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter as my favorite album of 2015 so far. Elle’s music has garnered much deserved high praise and somewhat accurate comparisons to The Black Keys, though I’d also throw in references to Jack White, Imelda May, Joan Jett, Maria Muldaur and the outlaw country era. In other words, Elle King’s genre-bending blend of blues, country, folk and rock really can’t be compared to any other single artist. Elle truly stands in a class of her own.

“Where The Devil Don’t Go,” “Ex’s & Oh’s” and “Last Damn Night” are fierce Delta blues-rock wailers, while “Under the Influence” adds a trippy pop rhythm to the mix.

“Kocaine Karolina” falls into a lovely, gentle banjo melody before handclap percussion picks up the tempo again in “Song of Sorrow.”

“America’s Sweetheart” is a tough chick anthem with shades of Mumford in the arrangement forming a folk-pop revival bridge between country and rock.

“Not Gonna Drown” is a slinky slice of Western noir.




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Elle King Official Site

Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper’s New Movie Serena is Appalachian Noir

Ignore the NYC and LA critics giving Serena bad reviews, particularly those complaining about it’s “lack of humor.” They must prefer vapid comedies over sophisticated, character-driven drama. They certainly don’t understand the gritty, loyal nature of Appalachian culture nor appreciate the rugged, spectacular beauty of its mountainous wilderness. They haven’t even read the book on which the movie was based — Ron Rash’s eerily intriguing, Appalachian noir novel about the Macbeth-like owners of a Depression-era timber empire.

Serena is a brilliant, suspenseful, slow building drama of Shakespearean proportions.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The film reunites David O’Russell darlings Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, who were perfectly cast as the dastardly and passionate Pembertons.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Director Suzanne Bier did a phenomenal job reflecting the moody atmosphere and rustic panoramas so masterfully conjured by Ron Rash’s novel. Prague and the foggy, mountainous Czech Republic countryside were surprisingly worthy stand-ins for Appalachia.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The movie doesn’t quite flesh out the individual characters as well as the book, but that’s typical for a film adaption. The only real misstep was the casting of Toby Jones as the local Sherriff. His failed, somewhat Australian attempt at a Southern accent is unintenionally comedic.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Reading some of the more ridiculously scathing and innaccurate reviews, I was reminded of lines from Muriel Miller Dressler’s poem, “Appalachia”:

“I am Appalachia…
and, stranger, you don’t know me!…
You, who never stood in the bowels of hell,
Never felt a mountain shake and open its jaws
To partake of human sacrifice?
You, who never stood on a high mountain…
You, who never danced to wild sweet notes…
You, who never once carried a coffin
To a family plot high up on a ridge
Because mountain folk know it’s best to lie
Where breezes from the hills whisper, ‘you’re home'”

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Following the successful Veronica Mars multi-format release model, Serena is now available On Demand, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes and Google Play in advance of its March 27th theatrical release. Please see it in whatever form you can and I hope it eventually makes its way into WV cinemas. This film deserves every bit of attention that was lavished on Birdman and Boyhood. Serena has the substance and unique style so desperately needed in the movie industry.

Serena Movie Official Site


Brandi Carlile: The Firewatcher’s Daughter (Album Review)

It’s here! And it’s magnificent! Brandi Carlile’s fifth studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, was just released via ATO Records and it sure is somethin’ else. Recorded almost entirely as first takes without any demoing and little rehearsal, The Firewatcher’s Daughter is an unparalleled display of musical brillance.

We throw around the word “wail” so easily when it comes to big voices, but Brandi’s wail is a true, heart-in-throat keen so full of emotion it sounds on the verge of breaking yet so strong it deftly bends every note to her whim. And her longtime collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth (a.k.a. “The Twins.”) are with her every glorious step of the way.

“Wherever is Your Heart,” “Beginning to Feel the Years,” “Wilder (We’re Chained)” and the string-accented “I Belong to You” are the kind of beautiful ballads that would tug heartstrings no matter who sang them, but Brandi’s supernatural voice lifts them up to a celestial realm.

The album’s first single, “The Eye,” finds Brandi reigning in her extraordinarily big voice for gentler, sun-drenched, pop-folk harmonies.

“Things I Regret” is a deceptively uptempo, high energy road song that quickly builds, gaining momentum like a steam engine til the roaring finale.

Then “Mainstream Kid” throws a quaking, blues-rock stick of absolute dynamite on the tracks and blows the whole thing to hell. This woman can make Hendrix, Skynyrd, Ram Jam and Nirvana sound like soft jazz!

“Alibi” stays at full throttle rock level, but there’s an unexpected, subtle undercurrent of summery, California pop to the chorus melody that gives it a catchy and slightly disorienting swirl.

“The Stranger at My Door” is an intoxicating, mesmeric gulp of noir, a phantasmagoric masterpiece that bends the mind as much it does genre…like Johnny Cash fronting Led Zeppelin in a David Lynch movie then Trans-Siberian Orchetra jumps on stage to close with a freakin’ rock riff of “When Johnny Comes Marchin’ Home Again!” It is one of the greatest, most deliciously unusual songs ever constructed. Wow, just wow.

The album closes with a fitting cover of The Avett Brothers’ “Murder in the City.”

There is truly no one like Brandi Carlile at her fierce, brilliant best. She’s somehow simultaneously the heir to The Beatles, Janis Joplin and The Man in Black. I’ll be shocked if The Firewatcher’s Daughter isn’t my #1 album come December.

Buy @ Amazon

Brandi Carlile Official Site




The Vespers: Sisters & Brothers

The Vespers will release their third independent album, Sisters & Brothers, on February 10th. A “Southern Folk Pop Family Band” comprised of two sets of siblings, The Vespers sound like no one else. Their honeyed harmonies are layered over lush folk instrumentation with songs ranging from heartfelt and genteel to fierce and bombastic.



The standout tracks are the thunderous, dramatic opener “Break the Cycle” and the delicate exploration of faith in the modern age “Cynical Soul.”

Other highlights include “We Win,” “New Kids,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “The Curtain” and “Please.”

You can download a free, legal mp3 sample including tracks from the new album at Noisetrade.



Buy @ Amazon

The Vespers Official Site