Cover Story: Artists On the Verge, 2009
The conclusion of our Artists On the Verge, 2009 spotlights three new bands with debut albums out: HONEYHONEY, signed to Kiefer Sutherland and Jude Cole's Ironworks label; DELTA SPIRIT, on Rounder; and DAWES, presently unsigned, but not for long, we suspect.
HoneyHoney: 'There's No Wrong Note'
On its debut album, First Rodeo, the duo known as HONEYHONEY—Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe—demonstrate the potential to be major players on the contemporary scene, by dint of their savvy blending of country, folk, blues, jazz, pop and straight-ahead, bruising rock 'n' roll—not rock, but rock 'n' roll—and incisive, blunt lyrics, delivered by Santo in a voice that can be, alternately, as sultry as Shelby Lynne's, as cheekily petulant as Duffy's, as swaggeringly confrontational as Chrissie Hynde's. As a guitarist, Jaffe ranges far and wide for influences and maybe in the end sounds like nothing so much as a rock 'n' roll version of Chet Atkins, precisely on the notes, easily adapting tone and attack to suit the shifting styles and moods of the songs, making every note count and calling attention to himself not by flashy displays of technique but rather by the tasteful economy of his instrumental voice.
Explosion Impending: Delta Spirit Feels Your Pain, Even If You Don't
In Ode To Sunshine, DELTA SPIRIT has crafted one of the best debut albums in rock 'n' roll history, emerging as a band capable of greatness, if not Beatles-like dominance, as if any band ever will do that again. But a band that could make a difference in people's lives, could distill the issues of its time down to The Word? As far away as they may be from such an exalted plateau, Delta Spirit is closer to scaling it, and abiding there, than anyone can imagine. (Cover photo of Matt Vasquez by Noahm at www.noahm.com)
Dawes Puts Truth Back Under the Knife
Having a largely unknown band come onstage and blow you away is one thing; hearing in this band a sound for the ages, the potential to be a major voice in its generation, is about as rare as the sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Arkansas Delta. In one fell swoop, opening for Delta Spirit at the Bowery Ballroom in New York on February 21, the Los Angeles-based, unsigned quartet known as DAWES did exactly that, and did it again the next night in a smaller venue before a smaller, but still packed, house at Arlene's Grocery. Looking back, it's still hard to believe what unfolded on those two nights.
Altered Priorities: Brigitte DeMeyer, Mother and Songwriter, Couldn't Be Happier
Just because BRIGITTE DEMEYER is pictured on the cover of her new album standing in front of stained glass windows with her head bowed, don't go thinking Red River Flower, the album in question, is, you know, churchy.
Film Review: CADILLAC RECORDS
If Only Tyler Perry Had Played Moms Mabley. And Where's Phil?
by James Porter
Our critic appraises Cadillac Records as a pretty good movie for what it is. Plenty of drama, a few laughs, some decent approximations of '50s blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll. Just don't confuse it with the facts, given that some seem to have been a bit untidy for the filmmakers to deal with—note, for instance, that Phil Chess, who co-founded Chess with his brother Leonard, is absent altogether from the story.
NEWS & NOTES
You can play mandolin with Ronnie McCoury at the first DELFEST ACADEMY, scheduled for May 18-21, preceding the 2nd Annual DelFest 2009. Details herein.
BOB WILLS, The King of Western Swing, speaks
An unknown recording of Western Swing legend BOB WILLS has been discovered and is being released to the public. Austin resident Dwight Adair, of www.bobwills.com, learned of the recording's existence through an email message sent to him by a Bob Wills fan and former musician, Gary Frietag of Florida, who revealed the existence of a recording made on a reel-to-reel tape deck by a musician friend, Ray Riggs, also of Florida. Riggs interviewed Wills in a hotel in Fresno, California, in 1949/50, when Wills and the Texas Playboys had come to town for a show. Riggs has kept the tape recording under lock and key for all these years, hoping to find the appropriate person(s) or organization to which he could entrust it for posterity. It is now available on CD and as an mp3 download. Links are provided.
ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: Bruce Springsteen, WORKING ON A DREAM
By Billy Altman
There's an old saying about fame and fortune that goes something along the lines of noting that the song you hum in your marble-walled, gold-fauceted shower isn't necessarily the song that got you into that shower in the first place. On his new album, Bruce Springsteen is in many places, few of them where he really belongs.
ALBUM SPOTLIGHT: Van Morrison, ASTRAL WEEKS LIVE
By Christopher Hill
AND VAN TRANSCENDED...WHAT? Everyone has things they wish they could transcend. It’s just that if Van thinks he’s transcended the Astral Weeks vision, maybe he should write a new piece of music about that, and not offer us Hamlet with a happy ending, Astral Weeks with a smile painted on.
Michael Martin Murphey, BUCKAROO BLUE GRASS
Buckaroo Blue Grass advances the animating themes of Murph's life in some songs from his past revisited (some of which he had previously reconsidered on 2001's Playing Favorites, herein given a new whirl altogether), some from his "Cosmic Cowboy" days in Austin in the '70s to more recent fare originally crafted for his acoustic albums, plus two new songs that could hardly be more moving bookends to this stirring collection.
Pam Gadd, BENEFIT OF DOUBT
Songwriter, vocalist par excellence, and a pretty fair banjo picker, Pam Gadd can pretty much do it all when it comes to music. She's done exemplary work as a member of the New Coon Creek Girls, the Muddy River Band and the beloved Wild Rose, as a backing vocalist for the likes of Patty Loveless and Porter Wagoner, and especially as a solo artist. Benefit Of Doubt takes her artistry to a higher level than ever with, arguably, the best original songs she's ever committed to disc; impeccable, soulful country and mountain vocalizing; and the support, vocally and instrumentally, from some of the finest artists of the day. The album hews to traditional bluegrass and country, with some tasty instrumental forays punctuating the sharp focus on each song's message, which is another way of saying it's Gadd's deeply involved singing that's the story.
Megan Munroe, ONE MORE BROKEN STRING
Arriving radio ready, appealing to the eye, the ear and the heart, intensely immersed in her largely self-penned songs, Megan Munroe is set to join the lineage of tough country gal singers descended most recently from Gretchen Wilson and Miranda Lambert, the latter being whom she most resembles in her sassy attitude and chip-on-the-shoulder self-assurance. She sets herself apart on her sophomore album by the simple act of putting the load right on herself when it comes to pinpointing the fault lines in her romantic relationships. This is not to suggest that the fetching Ms. Munroe goes gently into the good night of broken hearts and lost souls.
April Verch, STEAL THE BLUE
In Steal the Blue April Verch has crafted a mature, striking album full of heart and heartbreak, wondrous and nuanced instrumental work and rich, rustic textures. Produced by a couple of her former band members, Stephen Mougin and Jon Weisberger, the long player is indeed "blue," and manages the neat trick of stealing a listener's heart with each new song. Should any critic grouse about Ms. Verch sounding too much like a certain Ms. Krauss, pay the complainant no mind—when you can get deep enough into a lyric to make it seem as personally revealing as this artist does, you are blessed with a singular gift.
Randy Weeks, GOING MY WAY
Following up his heralded 2006 release, Sugarfinger, Randy Weeks rolls out another stimulating exercise in fine songcraft and inspired playing on Going My Way. To call it '60s-style garage band country-rock is a compliment. Though well played, the music has a shambling, Band-like quality, mostly owing to the consistently busy drums sounding slightly off mic and the mix having a bit of a sludgy, extemporaneous feel. Over this soundscape, Weeks's Reedy (as in Lou Reed), unaccented voice, deceptively unpolished but always eager, earnest and, when appropriate, sardonic, is exactly right for the setting.
BEYOND THE BLUE
Mickey Clarke, WINDING HIGHWAYS
Mickey Clark knows a thing or two about the wandering minstrel's life, and he's put his insider's savvy to good use on the appropriately titled Winding Highways, an album of graceful, soothing rhythms and literate, wise storytelling that, apart from, say, the contemporary country thrust of the lilting ballad "Sarah," comes from a sprawling zone bounded by the '60s folk revival and today's alternative country and folk scenes. That is to say, this album would fit right in at pretty much any moment in the past 40-plus years of our country's history, but happens to sound right on time for the moment at hand.
Fontaine Brown, TALES FROM THE FENCE LINE
If this album doesn't enhance veteran Fontaine Brown's profile, well, let's not go there, because all the elements of a winner are firmly in place: Brown has come up with a dozen terrific songs, he's produced by Don Dixon (who sits on bass, 10-string bass and marimba), and his bandmates include guitarist Mitch Easter, keyboardist/mandolinist Peter Holsapple of the Smithereens, drummer Jim Brock and backing vocalist Kelley Ryan. Which might account for the Fence Line's bracing admixture of Motor City muscle and southern-fried soul and blues. Singing and playing ferocious guitar and heated harmonica moans and wails (and some piano), Brown is nothing less than formidable every time he steps into a song. But what makes the music so compelling is the incredible tightness of the entire band-these guys may never have played with each other before these sessions, but they demonstrate the synchronicity and seasoning one expects from musicians whose long-term communions allow them to anticipate each other's every move.
Conveniently released as our former President—the one who left office with a 29 percent approval rating—was ratcheting up his legacy tour in an attempt to tell us everything bad that happened on his watch didn't really happen the way we saw it with our own eyes (the expression "What are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?" has rarely been more apt), here comes Darryl Rhoades to shove it back in his face, on Weapons Of Mass Deception. Although Rhoades does a number on the lies and deceptions of those in high office, he also takes a look at those same devices in the service of personal relationships, and strikes some resonant chords in the heart. Put it like this: Rhoades has delivered one powerful record.