Husband-and-wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks explore some dark, wistful americana on their 2003 album Singing Bones. With its mandolin and trumpet, ‘Far From Any Road’ evokes dusty backcountry, far removed from The Handsome Family’s Chicago.
Has it really been a decade since Midlake released their sublime second album The Trials of Van Occupanther? To my ears, they have never again reached those high sounds. That said, in 2013, the troubadour in them had a momentary return. From their fourth album Antiphon sprung ‘The Old & The Young’ with its echoes of the psychedelic side of Laurel Canyon.
Last Friday, I went to a Richmond Fontaine gig in London. Love songs, art songs, folk songs, smart songs, Willy Vlautin’s narration always sounds like a man ruminating about modern life. The flannel shirt helps that impression. It is what alt-country should sound like before Jeff Tweedy turned it on its head. ‘The Warehouse Life’ was the opening track on 2005 album The Fitzgerald.
Jumping a decade, the new millennium had hit and The Flaming Lips had released their brilliant LP Soft Bulletin to top off the 1990s. And so, it was no coincidence that I was lapping up all things americana and psychedelic. Released in May 2000, The Sophtware Slump is the second studio pressing from Grandaddy. The opening track ‘He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot’ is lush, conceptual and multi-layered. Have a great week.
From one opening cut to another – ‘Jim Cain’ kicks off Bill Callahan’s 2009 Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. “I started out in search of ordinary things/How much of a tree bends in the wind/I started telling the story without knowing the end/… I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again…” Apart from some airborne sting arrangements, it’s a delightful spoonful of gentle self-indulgence.
Chicago-based Whitney is fronted by former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Julien Ehrlich who sings the lead on the forlorn ‘No Woman’. Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado worked on the production; Max Kakacek provides the all-important and effortless guitar. I really like this sound.
‘Is A Woman’ is the title track off Lambchop’s 2002 long player. The album sealed Kurt Wagner’s move away from alt-country. The dry sing-speak voice is the same, but in this single – the closing track on the album – Wagner turns his hand to a touch of reggae. As if Randy Newman was backed by the Wailers.
‘Song for Zula’ may be the signature track on Phosphorescent’s 2013 release Muchacho, but the 7-minute + ‘The Quotidian Beasts’ is a harder rocking number. And within it, Matthew Houck is able to convey a dark slice of americana. “She laid her claws all upon me and she found me a glass/I know I’ll be up early, I mean you drew me up bad/And the beast came upon me, I guess it wasn’t so bad.”
Lead singer Ben Bridwell is the only link between Band of Horses’s first album, Everything All the Time, and 2010’s Infinite Arms. Bridwell penned the latter’s fifth track ‘On My Way Back Home’ and thereby showcasing how his choruses would command the band’s take on americana. Have a great week.
Seattle’s Fleet Foxes have had a few mentions on this blog, but no sound until now. In 2008, the band released their freshman pressing, the Sun Giant E.P. Its fourth track ‘Mykonos’ would become a classic example of their baroque folk. While the first half is full of folksy harmonies, the second half demonstrated their wont for climactic musicianship. And it all sounds very seasonal during these dark days. Have a great weekend.
Non-believers in americana, please bear with me while I risk barely losing you. Off Richmond Fontaine’s 2003 long player Post To Wire, the second single on the album showcases Willy Vlautin as both singer and songwriter. So effectively simple, the song tells listeners of three days’ gambling in Reno. Vlautin narrative style with witsful slide guitar to match, wishing that we’ll never have to go back.
There were big expectations after Boy & Bear’s first album Moonfire. But, incredibly, they were able to deliver Harlequin Dream and more specifically the genre classic ‘Southern Sun’. Singer/ songwriter Dave Hosking has set sail for americana and in the accessible way that Wilco and Fleet Foxes have done in recent years. But unlike Jeff Tweedy and Robin Pecknold’s bands, Hosking is travelling far away from home – Australia. Have a great week.
I’ve always wanted to go to the Carolinas; never been. We planned it one year, but were stopped in our tracks by a hurricane. North Carolina’s Hiss Golden Messenger have a new album Lateness Of Dancers and are becoming less of a secret that they once were. In ‘Mahogany Dread’, MC Taylor and Scott Hirsch have created lush folk/americana sound that I would have wanted to hear on the streets of Charlotte. The organ solo towards the end brings out the best of the guitar arrangement.
Damien Jurado has been around the block. But gone is the sound of pure americana and arrived is something far more interesting – Latin drums, some rich Tropicália psychedelics and otherworldly vocals. He has been working with Richard Swift of The Shins – and it shows. ‘Silver Timothy’ features on his new album Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son. Damien Jurado meets Tame Impala – who would have thought it? Have a good week.