Monday, July 24, 2017

DeRobert and the Half-Truths -- I'm Tryin'

Nashville is known for country, of course, but Nashville is home to a wide diversity of people from all walks of life. It might surprise you that not all of them are into country music. A few months ago Bandcamp ran an amazing rundown of soul artists in Nashville, though I unfortunately can't find it. DeRobert and the Half-Truths was just one of many fantastic acts proving that there's more to the Nashville Sound than what most of us have come to expect.

I'm Tryin' comes at the listener from all sides. The first few songs on the album are tour de forces in asserting one's identity and leaning on family and friends to get through the hard times, making sure you don't give up on your dreams.

You know, the mature shit.

The rest of the album is the world's best breakup album. It's not the moment you realize it's not going to work. It's not the moment you've broken up with the person. It's the moment you realize that that person was holding you back and you're better off now. All set to a blazing brass band and DeRobert's not-quite-androgynous tenor lifting the lyrics above petty and into self-righteousness. You can hear the band's raucous joy as they play their hearts out. I'm Tryin' is not an album to be missed.

DeRobert and the Half-Truths -- Facebook, Bandcamp

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Michael Lyon -- Pictures

I've been churning out two reviews a day to keep abreast of my to-do list and I'm still barely caught up. (There's now only a 2-month wait time between when I get a song and when I write about it here!) My point us, what makes it up here is a fraction of a percentage of all of the music I actually listen to. So when I came across Michael Lyon, I was immediately struck by the music's...purity.

In Roxane Gay's essay "The Smooth Surfaces of Idyll" she writes:

Happiness is not a popular subject in literary fiction. We struggle, as writers, to make happiness, contentment, and satisfaction interesting. Perfection often lacks texture. What do we say about that smooth surface of idyll? How do we find something for narrative to hold on to? Or, perhaps, we fail to see how happiness can have texture and complexity so we write about unhappiness.
Michael Lyon does not have that problem. Pictures is whimsical and practically vibrating with contentment.  Unlike a lot of other similar music that crosses my Inbox, Pictures is simplistic in its emotional impact but not because the songs are. A lot of "happy" music I find tends to be a bit manic, almost certainly drug-induced, or childish. In Pictures, Lyon shows us that happiness just isn't that complicated.

Sonically, Pictures feels a bit like a throwback -- essentially, if Peter, Paul, and Mary had a jam session with Neil Diamond, here's what you'd get. Clear-eyed but with a sprinkling of kooky sound effects and interludes just to keep things interesting. Especially these days, Pictures allows us to put our burdens down for a moment and let life be uncomplicated and, even, enjoyable.

Michael Lyon -- Official (but not working as of 7/21), Purchase on CDBaby

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Mike Younger -- Little Folks Like You And Me

Little Folks Like You And Me is a reminder that sometimes you don't need to learn new tricks -- you just need to be excellent at the ones you've got. Mike Younger's got a rasp reminscent of a young Mellencamp, with the same eye for detail and storytelling as his obvious influence. Songs like "Never Was a Dancer" showcase Younger's roots rock credentials. But it's Younger's deep concern for the environment and his protest songs about climate change that bear the emotional heft of the album.

"Poison Rivers" is a plainspoken protest song that doesn't pull punches. Younger links his environmental concerns with the real, ordinary people they affect; it's not just about the leisure to go out and enjoy nature or compassion for cute animals here. Younger has brought supplies to Standing Rock and raised money for Flint, Michigan -- the song isn't abstract for him. "How to Tell a Friend Goodbye" channels Memphis soul to break your heart into a million pieces. Little Folks Like You And Me is an unassuming album about the unassuming dramas in the lives of most of us unassuming people. But it'll sneak up on you if you let it -- much like the power of the people Younger hopes to channel.

Mike Younger -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Mike Younger

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Heather Scarlett Rose -- Boundless

It's midsummer. It's hot. Everyone's just a little bit cranky. Why not slow down with Heather Scarlett Rose's Boundless? Rose, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, populates her songs with struggles and victories. There are certainly a lot of things to worry about in the world -- and what would a roots album be without acknowledging those? (Bro country, I guess.) But Rose doesn't let those things keep her down for long.

Boundless has a breezy, 70s West Coast feel. That seems keeping in line with Rose's constant reminders to just let life roll through the way it needs to ("Take it Slow.") But the twangy guitars remind us of the Austin dirt under Rose's feet. As she meanders between country, blues, gospel, and folk, the generosity of Rose's spirit is clear. Boundless will help you take a step back and enjoy the moment, muggy as it is.

Heather Scarlett Rose -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes

Patreon, Ko-Fi

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Morning Music!

1. B.R. Liveley's "The Blue" is a warm contemplation of the transitory nature of life.

2. Australia's Outside the Academy bring us "Anaesthetise." The song not only challenges American spellings of words, but successfully marries dreamy bedroom folk with electronic drums.

3.  Jack Cookson delivers warm British folk rock on "Thistle." Cookson brings out the best in the tradition with his finely detailed account of his travels.

4. Beale Young's "American Radio" is a plaintive call to arms for discerning music lovers such as ourselves.

5. JUTUAN's "Let it Die" is a rocking number that evokes blues, soul, and gospel. Songs don't get much better than this one.

6. Jay Lewis's "Lost" is a sweet song of encouragement that will quietly strengthen you throughout your day.

7. La Bête Blooms kick off their post-apocalyptic post-punk rock opera with "Lost and Found." Don't worry -- a song with a kickass beat and killer riffs doesn't get lost in the concept.

8. The slow build in Pavey Ark's "Close Your Eyes and Think of Nothing" is worth the payout in this beautiful folk song.

9. Radio for June rounds us out with "A Minor Maze," an elegant composite of pop folk duets, contemporary indie rock beats, and warm fuzzed-out guitars.

10. Bradley Wik's "Some Girls (Still Love Rock'n'Roll)" is a really excellent example of what I have controversially (apparently) called the Tragic Woman. As the song unfolds, Wik's deep empathy and understand for the character is evidently clear. The subject isn't a source of objectification  or moralizing. Whether or not this woman is real, in the song she is a complex and fully realized human. Straight cis male singer-songwriters of the world, take note: this is how you write a song about a woman.

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PREMIERE: Harrison Rimmer -- "I Am on Fire"

Harrison Rimmer's gruff voice and pop delivery make for an intriguing combination. His newest single, "I Am on Fire" shows him to be an urgent songwriter who captures the frustration and exhilaration of writing a song. Not shabby for a song that was improvised at 2 in the morning with a friend. The song evokes the power pop of the 90s with the sprinkling of folk that the kids can't get enough of these days.

Harrison Rimmer -- Facebook, Bandcamp

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lavender Country -- Lavender Country

It's kind of silly, given that I'm a history major, that it didn't occur to me that there was a first gay country album. Maybe it's because by the time I was coming up, we already had Amy Ray and Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang. I guess I thought there wasn't a first album because, in my consciousness, Melissa was the first truly commercially successful openly gay country-ish artist. (This is my high school and college information -- I know now the chronology is a little different.) So my introduction to Lavender Country felt like quite a find. I thank, as always, Karen and the Sorrows and the Paisley Fields for furthering my queer country education. I knew they weren't the first. I just never thought about who the first actually was.

Unfortunately, a lot of Patrick Haggerty's 1973 opus is sickeningly relevant today. While it's true that gay people are no longer subjected to shock therapy or arrested on sodomy charges as a matter of routine, effeminate men are often targeted for public indecency and prostitution arrests. Sexual orientation is not a federally protected class. There are no special hate crimes legislation in most states. Politicians are hellbent on targeting trans* people even as same-sex couples secure their legal rights under marriage. And, of course, trans* women of color are murdered at an alarming rate. When Haggerty calls for the destruction of the state in "Waltzing Will Trilogy" and points to the failures of capitalist patriarchy throughout the album, it's hard not to feel like Lavender Country could have been written last week once you update the slang.

Clearly, Lavender Country, is not a typical album. It's the kind of scathing humor that is now consigned to drag queens but is born of repression, bitterness, and the determination to live your truth. Not all of the songs are such bitter pills -- the album's closer, "Lavender Country," envisions a world free of gender, sexual oppression, and division. That's a place I want to go.

Patrick will be playing Karen and the Sorrows' album release show on September 22 here in New York. (I'm not sure where exactly but stay tuned. I'll be sure to trumpet it to the heavens.)

Lavender Country -- Purchase the album from Paradise of Bachelors

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