Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Podcast Time! -- Reversal of the Muse with Laura Marling

If you're an aficionado of public radio, you have no doubt heard Laura Marling's latest song, "Wild Fire"  and its truly genre- and mind-bending guitar licks.

In addition to wrists and a serious set of pipes, Marling's got a true journalistic instinct. Marling's been performing since she was a teenager, which has led her to many experiences -- both positive and negative -- based on her gender. Reversal of the Muse is a series of interviews of women throughout the music industry discussing their experiences. While there are some amazing musicians featured in the first season -- including Dolly Parton and Emmylou in a single episode, Haim, and others. For me, though the most interesting interviews were with those who sit on the other side of the microphones -- the lone women sound engineers, producers, record execs, and even guitar shop owners.

It's this glimpse into the music industry that very few people get. Not only does it give us laypeople some insight into what the heck those credits on the album (assume we even read those) means, but also how, at every step of the way, the music industry is simply not designed for someone might want or need regular hours or pay -- in other words, someone who wants to raise kids and, for now, that group consists largely of women. All of the industry vets remark that more and more women are joining the ranks of production staff, though, so who knows how ways of doing business will change in the coming decades?

Marling's an excellent interviewer, allowing her subjects to shine as they discuss the art they're passionate about and to take pride in their skills. Even if you don't care about gender (but, like, why don't you?) listening to experts be experts will motivate you to pick up your guitar, your mic, your pop screens, and get cracking on the projects you've been putting off. Marling asks all of her subjects if they believe "female creativity" differs from "male creativity." The answers are as varied as the number of people responding to the question. But one thing remains clear from the first season of one of my favorite podcasts: we won't know the full potential women have -- musically or otherwise -- until their contributions are respected and uplifted.

Reversal of the Muse -- Official, iTunes, Facebook 

(NB: I can't seem to find it on Stitcher but you can listen to it on Soundcloud)

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Monday, March 27, 2017

FREE MUSIC: Old Nobodaddy -- "Bury the Hatchet"

Old Nobodaddy -- nee Ian Francis -- knows how to dig deep into that Southern Gothic feel. "Bury the Hatchet" begins with an eerie, gospel-like chorus and slowly but surely ramps up into a full-on boot stomper. Old Nobodaddy specializes in that creepy blues style that makes you forget you're in your office and sends you to a shack in the bayou. Pairs well with Scott H Biram's The Bad Testament.


Old Nobodaddy -- Facebook, Bandcamp

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sera Cahoone -- From Where I Started

Sera Cahoone's newest solo album is, in a word, delightful. It serves as an interesting bookend to Caroline Spence's Spades and Roses. Where Spence is hurt and vulnerable, Cahoone's songs come from the same wounds but are playful and healing. I get the sense that Cahoone's coming at these songs from a greater distance, with a little bit of contemplation and self-reflection to help the medicine go down.

Cahoone strikes a delicate and expert balance between folk and country. Shimmery mandolins and soaring string arrangements pair well with steel guitar and fiddle. Cahoone approaches heartbreak and fresh starts with a similarly warm, almost detached approach. Contrary to alienating the listener, these songs feel cozy -- like you could snuggle up in them (or maybe listen to them while you're snuggling up with someone.) Folksy without being folk, down-home without being country, From Where I Started incorporates a patchwork of identities and experiences to create a lived-in, well-realized whole. It's right up there as one of my favorite albums this year.

Sera Cahoone -- Purchase from her official site or Amazon

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Moonage Shine -- Catacombs EP

I never really quite know what to make of a Moonage Shine EP but I always enjoy where it takes me. Catacombs is murkier than the Texas-based band's previous releases. Instead of channeling heat stroke-induced visions, Catacombs asks us to descend deep underwater (or at least that's what I hear.)

As you settle into depths, every so often an intelligible lyric or a detuned country lick shimmers through. Catacombs seems to be invoking an ancient spirit -- someone much more innocuous than Cthulu, but potent nonetheless.

Moonage Shine -- Bandcamp

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jake McKelvie -- The Rhinestone Busboy

Man, I thought my relationship history was dysfunctional. But compared to McKelvie's L Word-worthy messes, mine are just Sweet Valley. McKelvie's got an aloof self-deprecation that makes these painfully awkward and tense standoffs a little more bearable to listen to. These are war stories, to be sure, but McKelvie revels in using them for entertainment.

McKelvie's got a country crooner voice, which makes lyrics like these all the more incongruous:

At 2 a.m. after two hours I sign off
And no one has come scrape the dead porcupine
Off the road by your house, where you just kicked me out
'Cause I flat-out can't kiss you with food in my mouth 

Instead, we get the sense of a man who's belatedly realizing that the antics of his teens and early twenties maybe aren't so charming anymore, assuming they ever were. Rhinestone Busboy is a refreshing take on realizing that you're getting older -- it's not too self-conscious, serious, or self-deprecating. It just slyly worms its way into your brain.

Jake McKelvie -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Shawna Virago -- Heaven Sent Delinquent

What is a virago, you may ask? It used to be a slur for a woman who had "masculine" traits. Like being brave, pugnacious, and bawdy. I can't for the life of my remember her name, but there was a well-known woman in Elizabethan England who dressed like a man and beat up ruffians. I wrote a pretty good paper in college about a truly mediocre play (there's a reason Shakespeare is as revered as he is) that may have actually had some pretty interesting political implications. But I just wish I fucking remembered the name of the woman it was based on. Point is, there were a lot of people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) who went around brawling and dueling and sleeping with women. And that's my Saturday night.

However, it is also used to refer to a woman who manages to transcend the frailty of her sex and act nobly etc. etc. etc. like a man.

Shawna Virago straddles both definitions.

Virago's songs are plainspoken, feeling almost like conversations or monologues set to guitar. Her lyrics are alternately sweet and bawdy, delighting in wordplay and blunt -- often in the same song. Virago's most strident on barnstormer "Gender Armageddon," which imagines a world in which gender no longer matters, and the beautiful mayhem that ensues. But I also like the quieter songs that are about...well, not love, exactly, but not just lust. "Bright Green Ideas" (a clever pun in itself) and "Last Night's Sugar" are both poignant in their attempt to make something fleeting last. Virago's addressed the trans* experience throughout her long career. Heaven Sent Delinquent wears those highs and lows like an elaborate tattoo -- Virago's alternate longing for acceptance and reveling in being outside of the norm create a beautiful tension in this album. But she's making sure we all have fun while we're in it.

Shawna Virago -- Official, Bandcamp

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Bill Mallonee -- The Rags of Absence

Bill Mallonee puts out an album every six months. Minimum. There's never a dud and I wish I had more time to just sit with each album. But then a new one comes out. It makes me wonder if Mallonee hits the studio once he's written another ten to twelve songs -- never mind culling the pack because he's just that good. Each of Mallonee's album is recorded with a devotion and desperation like he's scared it'll be his last. So when Mallonee writes (and he always writes extensive liner notes) that this might be his best solo album, that means something.

I think it's also my favorite of his in a long time, too. What is it that's different? As I've written before, Mallonee often reuses similar chord structures and melodies, and specific symbols and imagery make regular appearances in Mallonee lyrics. I don't think this is a bad thing; to me, it's Mallonee revisiting a theme to refine his language. To be sure, one must wonder what hasn't been said about loneliness, heartbreak, love, and religion on Mallonee's other 77 (yes) albums.

I will say that Rags of Absence is a lot bolder sonically. This is a roots rock album that rests comfortably with Mallonee's Vigilantes of Love output. Though Mallonee's voice has been aged by 20 years of pounding the asphalt, this time he sits on his bass and middle range, as opposed to reaching for what is now a high and lonesome (see what I did there, Mallonee fans?) upper register on his more acoustic-oriented albums. The songs also feel a little more focused. The album feels like a slice of life on the road. While many of the songs hit you where they need to, I appreciate "Two-Fingered Wave's" ability to capture a small moment -- when a driver and a pedestrian salute each other for no particular reason -- and turn it into genuine poetry. I think that song does a nice job of capturing the whole album, and even Mallonee's ethos -- even in the midst of our bubbles of isolation and guilt and loneliness, caused by all kinds of socio-cultural factors that Mallonee digs deep into, we all search for connection. And no matter how small those moments are, they're worth something.

Bill Mallonee -- Official, Bandcamp