Monday, November 30, 2015

Lana McMullen -- Traveling Light

Traveling Light, Lana McMullen's evocative debut, is a collection of quiet epics -- six songs that are never shorter than four minutes. Each track is a thoughtfully crafted piece, devoted to complex characters. McMullen, whose operatic training adds a sense of gravity to these songs, has proven herself as accomplished a writer as she is a vocalist.

It would be a mistake to call this album folk music -- even though it highlights the stories of some very down-and-out folk -- but calling it pop would be a disservice. McMullen and her colleagues push against the borders of jazz and even hip-hop (the songs are supported by some rock-solid beats) to deliver brooding, textured ballads. The dense fog and gloomy clouds of McMullen's newfound Seattle home weigh on the music, but more as a counterweight to McMullen's warm vocals. Even on a song like "Elizabeth," which details the flight of a woman and her daughter from an abusive relationship, McMullen's love for her subjects and craft break through, like a sunbeam on a cloudy day.

Lana MacMullen -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Mekons and Robbie Fulks -- Jura

If you're reading this, you're probably not checking out Record Store Day. It'd behoove you to do so, because then you can buy the Mekons and Robbie Fulks' latest collaboration, Jura. For me, this is my introduction to both artists. The legendary folk-punk band and musical wunderkind Robbie Folks joined forces on the lonely fishing island of Jura, off the coast of Scotland, to record their next album. This was probably for the benefit of mankind, should anything go awry when their powers were combined. Fortunately, instead of a black hole in the center of Scotland, we got a bad-ass folk album.

For fans of the Mekons' earlier works, Jura might seem tame. One of my friends, a longtime Mekons fan, seemed bemused. Since I don't have much of a frame of reference, I enjoyed the rough-and-tumble scrabble they brought to their songs. All of these folks are road-tested, of course, and years of life on the margins absolutely inform these songs. Some of these songs sound traditional (though I believe they're all originals) -- like "An Incident Off St. Kitt's" -- but the songs that warm the cockles of my heart are, of course, those with strident politics, like "Refill" and "Land Ahoy!"  

Jura is an enjoyable footnote on the storied careers of the Mekons and Mr. Fulks. Even if you're not a completest, it's worth adding Jura to your shopping bag. This is, after all, a limited-edition record and it does, after all, document the collaboration between two of the most important artists keeping our respective folk traditions alive. English folk wins out in the balance, but it's important to respect our roots.

Purchase album from Bloodshot Records

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Nathaniel Talbot -- Swamp Rose and Honeysuckle Vine

Nathaniel Talbot is clearly a man of passion and intensity. The songs on Swamp Rose and Honeysuckle Vine are vivid in imagery and lush with warm, inviting guitar wizardry. Talbot is evidently a scholar of poetry, which can be seen in his evocative imagery. Talbot's main interests are capturing childhood innocence -- such as "As the Way" and the brilliantly realized "Before There Was Blue" -- and trying to understand how our capacity for wonder and joy become stripped away as we get older, a question that is answered with the rich, multi-generational saga of "Able Man." Oh, and to top it off, Talbot works full-time on his organic farm.

Talbot's voice reminds me of James Taylor -- a curious mixture of gentleness and worldliness. But the comparison ends there. I find Taylor to be somewhat trite. Talbot, on the other hand, pushes our understanding of our selves through the intensity of his songcraft. Even the instrumental tracks are enough to make you stop what you're doing and listen. This is an album best enjoyed during quiet moments. It's too finely crafted to be relegated to background noise.

Nathaniel Talbot -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, November 23, 2015

"I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby" -- The Ladybugs

Just or a change of pace, I wanted to hep you to jazz revivalist band The Ladybugs. The band gives the Fats Waller an airy treatment that gives the song a light, whimsical touch.We might be preparing for our Thanksgiving torpor, bu he song has spring in the air.

The Ladybugs are furiously gigging around New York and released their first album this spring. Check them out if you can!

The Ladybugs -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby

Friday, November 20, 2015

Joey Kneiser -- The Wildness

When The Wildness showed up in my inbox, the subject line instructed me to leave room for it on my year-end list. Whatever -- most of solicitations will say that this time of year. Somewhere about halfway through the second song (also the title track), however, I was hit by a profound realization: this is the album. There is no other album.

I mean that in a very metaphysical sense. Kneiser hits all the bases: love, loss, and heartbreaking devotion to rock'n'roll. Kneiser's not the first or last to write about these themes, but he's absolutely one of the best. He distills all the themes that resonate with anyone who loves this odd little corner of country, filters out a lot of the gloom, and throws in a touch of pride and acceptance. I'm tempted to ask, why listen to anything else? That's silly, of course. If we only needed one love song, there'd be even more starving musicians than there already are. However, The Wildness would absolutely be my desert island CD.

Many of these songs appeared on Live From Standard Deluxe, but they benefit from the studio treatment. Though Kneiser played all the instruments himself, The Wildness feels like a Glossary album, the band with which he has already achieved greatness. But with Glossary on long-term hiatus and his recent divorce from Kelly Smith (who appears on almost all of the songs on the album), The Wildness, is clearly a reckoning of sorts. Where Long Live All of Us is zen-like in its mellow acceptance of all the universe has to offer, The Wildness is a reckoning of sorts -- things are definitely not going the way anyone planned, and that's frustrating, but this, too, shall pass. That'll be a useful sentiment to keep with me while I'm suntanning on my island.

Joey Kneiser -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tapes and Tubes AND Michael Cerveris

A small grab bag of odds and ends today. First up is Tapes & Tubes' latest release, Man in the Window. As always, the three tracks create a mystical atmosphere that is slightly creepy (Austin Potter's hoarse sing-whisper half-submerged in jangling guitars and thrumming background noise can just as easily send you into slumber as jolt you out of it) but ultimately rewarding -- spiritual, even, if you go in with the right mindset.

Potter's yearning and isolation are driven home by his unique vision. The songs feel fragile, like if you listen a little too closely they'll pop like a bubble. You can download the collection at any price you wish, or you can be one of Those Kids and buy it on cassette for $5.

Tapes & Tubes -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

If Michael Cerveris' name sounds familiar, that's because he just won a Tony for his depiction of Alison Bechdel's dad in Fun Home. It is worth noting that Cerveris is also a New Orleans native and accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right. Cerveris just released a single off his upcoming album, Piety, which will feature Adobe & Teardrops-favored artists Paul Sanchez, Alex McMurray, and members of Sweet Crude. If you like what you hear and live near New York City, Paul and Michael will be playing at Hill Country on Monday, November 23rd. It'll be a great way to get your 'cue and your tunes on.


Michael Cerveris -- Official

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ona -- American Fiction

It's impossible to resist the deep, power-pop grooves on Ona's debut album. But you get the sense that the band's members know a thing or two about swaying hips. American Fiction is replete with songs of tragic women who keep falling into the arms of the wrong (presumably) guy. The music has just a touch too much of a psychedelic edge to become songs of the summer, but the tension these two influences creates makes the music powerful.

Bradley Jenkins' tired vocals seem to tell us all we need to know about the band's small-town namesake, and it keeps the music down to earth. The band itself is a tight unit -- just when the songs seem to sleep away into the surreal, the band brings us back to familiar territory. It's evident that these songs have been carefully tempered over many hours. There's a lot of heart in American Fiction -- even when it's buried under layers of that most American sentiment: bitter irony.

Ona -- Facebook, Bandcamp