Category : Americana
Clampitt, Gaddis & Buck
Engine Number 3
No this isn’t some strange incarnation of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This is Clampitt, Gaddis and Buck. More catchy, huh? This track sort of came out at me from left field because I was sort of expecting a slow appalachian type folk song, perhaps in the manner of Iron and Wine.
Instead, “Engine Number 3″ is a raucous bluegrass infused hoedown worthy of a lost episode of the Beverly Hillbillies. Anyhow, plunking banjo and alternating male and female vocal lines make this a really fun track to listen to. Interestingly, the band hails from Oregon as opposed to Tennessee or West Virginia which is where it sounds this type of music might come from.
Continue reading “Clampitt Gaddis and Buck – Engine Number 3″ …
I told myself I wasn’t going to label Great Lake Swimmers as Band of Horses meets Norfolk and Western. But there’s a big difference between telling yourself that and having it obliterate any useful RIYL information running around in your head.
But truly, this is a great band that plays the dreamy and reverbed type of Alt-Country Americana Folk (er, Canadiana Folk) that Band of Horses is known for. They’re much more toned down, however – less of the anthemic indie rock feel. Great Lake Swimmers are from Toronto, and I’ve yet to hear a song of theirs that I haven’t liked – which means I should probably get on the ball and buy their CD(s). “Moving Pictures, Silent Films” is probably one of the most starkly beautiful songs that I’ve ever heard – so full of yearning and open spaces. It is unbelivably gorgeous and has been known to move many a Hockey-playin’ man to tears… Ok I made that up but you get the idea.
Bodies and Minds video
Great Lake Swimmers website
Iron and Wine
The Shepherd's Dog
Regular readers of Palebear (all 3-4 of you) will note that I love to complain. I love to hijack other people’s reviews to spout forth my own nefarious propaganda from upon the blog soapbox. I love to put a damper on the party with doom and gloom about the current direction of the music biz. I love to self-aggrandize with exaggerated and mixed metaphors.
Well, this review is going to be another of those. So I apologize in advance to anyone who’s here looking for a real Bitchforkian or Rolling Boneian review of Iron and Wine’s new album The Shepherd’s Dog. Go view those publications to get the real, actual scoop by writers that are paid millions of bucks.
But really, Mr. Sam Beam doesn’t need any of my help. The album is quite different from his earlier ones and if you’ve gone straight through from those skipping the Woman King EP or the Boy with a Coin single, you might be a bit shocked. But add those little releases in (and note the ubiquitous Postal Service cover) and you’ll see that there’s continuity; the direction he was going in was easily foreshadowed by those EPs and he continues to hold the torch of one of the best bands currently on Sub Pop.
I really like the album, although he’s muted the lo-fi Appalachian folk presentation in favor of fuller instrumentation. Beam’s voice still, well, BEAMS – a bright beacon on songs that in others hands might be bloated currency filled with unnecessary meandering. I suspect that far from alienating his current fans, he’s bound to pick up a few new ones, maybe some avant-garde musicologists and those who thought that his earlier work was too hushed or slow. A few songs are sorta wacky – in particular I thought the end of “Wolves (The Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” was positively funky street. But there’s enough of the old folky Beam in the other songs to tide me over until he the day where he goes completely back to his old stuff. I dunno if he will do that, though – I think he’s too restless musically to go for a reprise of “Creek”.
Ok, so I promised some complaining. You can just skip down to the links below if you’d rather not hear it. Here is my unstructured grousing: I’m a part-time music reviewer who’s supposed to reviewing for “fun”. Long ago, I gave up any illusions of making a career out of this. I’m just not a good enough wordsmith to command music-moola from Spin and too old to be a collegiately wide-eyed music reviewer who writes reams of reviews for free just because “it’s the music, man.”
No, it’s gotta be that I write for 1. “Fun” in my spare time 2. The dubious pleasure of receiving promos in advance of the music buying public.
Let’s talk about “Fun”. Sure, it’s fun to write about an album once in awhile. However, the catch is that if you can write a halfway decent review (or, as it’s come down to, even a decent 100 word blurb), then bands, songwriters, record labels and publicity houses by the thousands will beat a path to your door. There are just so many emails and packages that I get from these people, who I actually sympathize with. We used to run a record label and it was so difficult trying to figure out who to send stuff to. So when you did find a music reviewer that you thought was good and whose taste fit the style of what you were releasing, you’d be sure to send them a CD.
But it’s a Catch-22 for a one-man reviewing operation: the better and more open you are, the more stuff that you receive and the more your workload increases, and consequently the greater the chance of the quality of your writing suffering. And at some point, it stops being “fun” and more like a job. But, as I’ve said I’m just not into working myself to the bone for free. I don’t have a crapload of time or patience on hand. You just get Burnt Out On Blogs™.
So, it comes down to this. Other than to unburden myself in diatribes like this or to promote the occasional release that I absolutely feel needs to be supported because it’s such a great album and no one knows about it, I’m writing for the occasional feeling of Specialness. The great feeling that, hey, look I got an album from one of my favorite songwriters – and I got it before anyone else did, and for free, and it’s such an awesome album. And I get to talk about it so my 3 readers will know what its like before it comes out Whoo-hoo! I rock!
And then I go on the internet and it turns out that the album has already been in the filesharers hands for months.
I hate to dredge up cliches, but digital music is such a blessing and a curse for people involved in music. On the one hand you’ve got super-wide distribution and a larger audience, and on the other hand, that same ease of accesibility makes it so easy for people to get music without paying for it. I’m not going to get all high and mighty – I don’t use the filesharing systems, but I’ve gotten music illegally for free online before. Guilty.
So maybe it’ll seem I’m somewhat of a petulant hypocrite to say this – but man, you gotta give me SOMETHING to keep me writing reviews day in and day out for free. My love of music is large, but reviewing just cannot exist in a vacuum for long unless you’re in college or being paid by the word. I need to be able to feel that I got something out of it, and I get sort of depressed by all the MP3s being slung like jai-alai balls between people who have no idea that they are slowly but surely KILLING the one thing that sometimes keeps me writing.
CDs aren’t worth anything nowadys. Trust me, I’ve gone to Amoeba and tried to sell back copies of CDs. I think I tried to sell back 100 CDs and they took maybe 3. So if CDs aren’t worth the paper and plastic they’re made out of, and the songs are already online for free, what’s so special about receiving a promo?
A side note: this is recently why I’m interested in vinyl LPs. At least there’s something physical there to collect. Please do send me all the promo LPs you have!
If I was a much more sane music reviewer, I’d just ignore all that shit and just count myself lucky that I’m in the game. I do get promos, sometimes even fairly far in advance. I get to compete with 500,000,000 or so other indie music review bloggers for the attention of the music-buying public. I get to occasionally receive snide comments on posts (thank you, to the few who do actually write nice comments). I get to wade, nay swim through manilla envelopes and online press releases for fun. I get to be ignored by a lot of big major music blogs that I try to make friends with, but when I do happen to make a small complaint about them in a post, I get a one word comment or sad face from them in return and then they go back to ignoring me. I get to feel guilty about not reviewing really great indie bands even though they really deserve a well-written review.
Oh, it’s a wonderful life. But for some reason I just refuse to play along. </endrant>
p.s. Subpop reps, please ignore this post. =)
Found this artist through the ever reliable Sixeyes. A former Australian turned Londoner, M. (Martin) Craft plays a mishmash of mellow melodic folk tunes mixed with a slight groove at times. A side note first: What’s with all the folks/bands wanting to abbreviate their first names as “M”. I speak of M. Ward, M. Coast, etc. Oh, M. Night Shyamalan, hehe.
His debut album Silver & Fire was released this past summer, and while he gets hit with that “psychadelic folk tag” I just don’t hear that as much. Although, there is different sort of disco and waltz tempo to what might just be standard folksy stuff in other musicians’ hands. From the tracks I heard, it could be a semi-combination of Bill Callahan, Jose Gonzalez, Hayden, Radar Bros. and Pedro the Lion. I did get to watch the video for “You Are The Music” and OK, maybe that’s more on the psychadelic side. Looks a bit like Max Headroom.
One interesting thing is that in addition to streaming the album, you can also download the entire thing in MP3, but with the tracks as instrumentals only. Never heard of that technique before, but it sounds like a great way to get a feel for what the tracks will sound like.
Norfolk & Western
The Gilded Age
I have to admit that I’ve needed to keep the new Norfolk & Western album The Gilded Age percolating in my Itunes “To Review” playlist for quite awhile before taking a stab at giving it a review.
You see, I’ve been a huge fan of theirs (the band revolves around Adam Seltzer and Rachel Blumberg) and have been following their work since 2003 or so. The general feel to their music is, well, it is often “hushed” and introspective (small wonder they’re on the Hush label). And I LOVE this kind of stuff, and the band has never disappointed. They take porch rock and imbue it with all sorts of instruments like banjo, pedal steel, and strings. Long before the Decemberists hit it bigger with their carnival-like atmospherics, N&W were the band who filled that niche for me.
But with their latest album they completely deconstruct the folky notions that I’ve had about their music. And not surprisingly, it ends up working due to their musicianship and songwriting capabilities. I mean, the first song is called “Porch Destruction”. What do YOU think that’s about? They’ve definitely upped the rawer and distorted side of their music, though I’d argue that they’ve had that potential all along. I always felt they were more of a band with the dynamics of say Low, Red House Painters or Lambchop than straightahead folk music anyhow.
Interestingly, the music for “Porch Destruction” really reminds me of an old Sparklehorse song. And despite its name, the real fireworks don’t start until nearly halfway into the song and it’s tempered by strings and xylophone. The title track “A Gilded Age” starts out right away with distorted and delayed guitar fighting it out with a funny little banjo line.
“Watch The Days Slowly Fade” may be the track on the album that sounded the most different to me. The chords and melody remind me of Neil Young plus Matt Pond PA. This one really rocks out at times which was cool. The sound collage “There Are No Places Left For Us” is classic Norfolk and Western … it’s an instrumental intermission that’s almost like a creepy Russian radio broadcast.
Continue reading “Norfolk and Western – The Gilded Age” …
Solving My Own Puzzles
[Hand to Mouth]
Got in this rather nice CD from Origami Ghosts the other day that’s been making the rounds on my Itunes. Though the band is mostly the vehicle of John Paul Scesniak from Seattle, he doesn’t drive the car all by his lonesome preferring to create some rather nice soundscapes with the help of various musical friends.
The influences listed include Modest Mouse and Pinback, which might be a good starting point. I especially here that in the vocals. But there is less rockabout and a stronger, evocative Americana /Folk type of feel injected throughout many of the songs. Part of this probably has to do with the different instrumentation (hammered dulcimer and cello?).
But it’s also inherent in the songs themselves which mostly run in the vein of moody acoustic folk dirges punctuated by occasional off-kiltre drum outbursts. The overall effect is fairly artsy, but not beyond the average listener’s reach.
A few of the artists brought to mind are Matt Pond PA (must be the cello), Built to Spill, Sam Prekop, American Music Club and Joan of Arc though Origami Ghosts don’t by any means sound exactly like any ONE of those bands. I liked at least 3/4 of this disc which is saying a lot in the new Palebear review format. Which is pretty darned picky…
Only As The Day Is Long
I’d actually been looking forward to this album for a really long time. Funny, the first time I heard Sera Cahoone I had no idea she also sprang forth from the (now seminal) band Carissa’s Wierd. I just knew she was somehow related to Band of Horses and I really liked the songs from her first solo album that I heard.
Now that SubPop picked her up, she’s got another album out – “Only As The Day Is Long.” It’s a lovely little folky country album. Truthfully, I like the more sparse moments of the first 3 songs on the album – when “Runnin’ Your Way” starts up I get a little antsy. For me, the current alt-country-folk americana thingy that’s so popular walks a pretty delicate line between boring mainstream country and amazing indie folk. It’s never the Dixie Chicks (thankfully), but give me the slower stuff on the album any day. “You’re Not Broken” is a great track – plaintive and simple.
I’d pretty much forgotten to post about Sera Cahoone who I found out about during my pre-Band of Horses absorption days. She actually is a drummer, having played with Carissa’s Weird which was an early incarnation of Band of Horses. She also contributed the drums on the latter’s Sub Pop release.
In any case, her self-titled album is definitely worth a listen – a great blend of straight up country and more modern folk balladeers. A little Gillian Welch, Emily Haines and Edith Frost being channeled through her mostly mellow tracks. She has a really warm and distinct voice – uh, kinda like that Poptart that’s now almost completely done in my toaster oven.. gotta run, but have a gander:
The Great White Jenkins
Winter of Discontent
Some cool indie pop tracks from a band called The Great White Jenkins. The songs are more on the mellow, folky side but have some nice instrumentation going on as opposed to a singer-songwriter vibe. “Winter of Discontent” has a nearly loungey feel at times but although there is that Oberst-quaver in the vocals it never turns into Bright Eyes (thankfully). The warm keyboards and kettle like drums add nice atmosphere to the song.
“Fishing Trawler” sounds a bit more expansive, like Belle and Sebastian at times. Strings and soft horns add a nice feel to the well balanced mix, and the instrumentation reminds me most of “large band” proponents such as Lambchop.
The Harpeth Trace
Man And The Cousin
There used to be a band called Boxing that the Shmat had reviewed on his site awhiles back, but at this particular point in time he can’t seem to find that CD. It could also have something to do with wiggy confusion over all the bands that have “Box” in the name that have been reviewed such as: Boxborough, Boxing Rebellion, Box Underscore, The Boxer Program, etc etc…
But anyway, Josh from Boxing sent the Shmat this nice little EP called Man and The Cousin which is from his new band The Harpeth Trace. The overall sound of the songs tends toward the dreamy, creepy and darkly carnivalesque, but Josh’s voice is not your typical dream-folk rocker’s. There’s a bit of a gravelly smoker’s tinge to these songs, like Dylan or Will Oldham singing Red House Painters songs that the Shmat liked.
The music is sparse, spare and undeniably minor, sometimes sounding like echoey Dirty Three or Songs:Ohia. The feel also reminds the Shmat sometimes of a great band from Denton called Shiny Around The Edges as well as a bunch of the artists from Hush or Keep Recordings.
“Cottontail” combines angular guitar chords with a falsetto that occasionaly reminded the Shmat of My Morning Jacket. “A Letter To The Room” is arguably the most upbeat of the songs. Fair warning – if you don’t like slower music, you might be falling asleep. The title track is a porch rock waltz that sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair filtered through dirty leaves and Southern trees. “Ghost and You Know It” could be a Mazzy Star outtake. At least the music could be, with its slow drumbeat, oozing bass and restless guitar in the background. Very evocative songs.
Rob Poynter – drums, percussion
Barry Poage – bass guitar
Josh Kasselman – guitar, vocals
The Love Letter Band
Fear Not My Brothers ...
I was actually fearful that the extremely long name of this nifty little CD by The Love Letter Band would explode the Palebear database constraints, so I’ve waited until here to print it in its full glory: “Fear Not My Brothers, Fear Not My Sisters, For I Have Seen The Future…”. Woo!
There’s a weird folk/country stream of consciousness theme going on in the songs, and at times it feels like Conor Oberst is mixing it up with Bonny Prince What’sHisNameNow. I don’t usually go in for ribald emo-angster singing, but the songs were really engaging and complemented the style really well. No slap against the singing, but just something I usually pass on; if the songs weren’t so good then I definitely would have handed this CD off.
The band is a “loose nuclear family” revolving around the nucleus in question – Chris Adolf. Because many of the tracks are very short, it’s got that GBV feel to it. Devendra Banhart definitely comes to mind as well.
The title track (I’m not going to write out the name AGAIN) is a wonderful Southwestern cantina romp complete with trumpets and pedal steel with Adolf egging the rest of the band on.
The room chorus at the end of “Everybody Sings Their Own Little Song” is VERY Saddle Creek, but the fun instrumentation (recorders, melodica, accordian, etc.?) is more E6 styled. The nice guitar instrumental right after that reminds me of something off of M Ward’s latest. “Love Will Be My Home” is like a Buddhist Woody Guthrie clapping (with one hand) along in time with the music, while “I Will Be Here” is a more standard, pedal steel driven country pop tune.
You can find this one out on the ever-pleasing HHBTM label from Athens, GA…
The Stalking Horses
This Is Your Signal
I have two words for you: Bettie Serveert. Indeed, I’d only recently looked up that group which was one of my fave bands of the 90s and found that they were still making music. So when I put in The Stalking Horses CD I thought that maybe for some reason I’d accidentally gotten a Bettie Serveert album mixed up with it. Sarah Pinsker reminds me so much of Carol Van Dijk, of course minus the Dutch inflections.
However, when the second song “Push On” kicks in, its clear that there are other musical ideas afoot. I definitely do hear the damaged post-punk reference to Afghan Whigs in the music, though the everything isn’t as over the top as Greg Dulli and company can get. The underlying music is more rootsy than punk. I have to confess I’m not such a big fan of “roots-rock in the heartland” type music, however indie it is… in fact if it weren’t for the Bettie resemblance this might have been a CD I’d have passed on. However, listening to the CD a couple times the whole thing started to grow on me.
They have other songs like “Still Be Here” that are a bit more varied and mellow, almost alt-country like if that phrase still means anything nowadays. A bit of an Americana-rock feel to other tracks. For some reason I also hear the echoes of a 90s band called Madder Rose. This is another worthwhile release from The Beechfields label.
Well sit me on a porch with a washboard and break out that old time jug ‘o moonshine. The Wowz certainly put you in that sort of mood with their strange Appalachian musical ways. There’s a little bit of everything in here, country folk with drunken down harmonies, kitchen sink percussion, and the requisite banjo. But there is something strange and off kilter in the mix that makes them sound more like the Silver Jews or Bill Callahan.
The singing on “Happy Today” from their Long Grain Rights CD is pretty quirky as is the rest of the instrumentation. It sounds sort of like the boys just set up shop on grandpa’s porch and started in on the hoedown.
Continue reading “The Wowz – Happy Today” …
Wax and Wane
I feel uneasy. That’s the mood that Baltimore’s Wax & Wane puts me in. I got a copy of their Winter CD and its spent a good amount of time in my Itunes playlist so far. Word is that they’re channeling Broken Social Scene.
I guess that could be correct, but the truth is they are channeling a TON of stuff here. There is a lot of moody strings haunting the tracks which definitely adds to the strange uneasy feeling they put you in. This seems to be another one of those great collective-type groups (Reindeer Section, New Pornographers – although there are only 5 members listed) where everyone plays “Various Instruments”. The other instruments range from horns and piano to what sounds like handmade bells.
Lead vocals switch from male to female nicely. Other RIYLs might include Low and Norfolk and Western. Uh, a little American Football perhaps? Anyhow, I dig the organic songs, dig the pretty melodies, and dig the overall folksy mood. Beautiful stuff.
Wax and Wane on Myspace
Valiant Death Records