Bahamas Bahamas Is Afie Brushfire Records 4 stars out of 5
Bahamas is the alias of Afie Jurvanen, and his third album is called Bahamas Is Afie. That part is pretty self-explanatory. The connection between the Canadian folky and the Caribbean island chain is a little less so, but there’s no complaining about the results.
Mother Hips Chronicle Man (independent) 3 out of 5 stars
San Francisco’s Mother Hips seem to garner more attention in retrospect than they generally do with their regular releases. When the four disc rarities compilation Days of Sun and Grass made its belated appearance in 2011, it went a long way towards introducing the masses to the band’s backstory, a feat that had yet to be accomplished by the group’s earlier official LPs.
Consequently, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Chronicle Man, yet another collection of heretofore unreleased recordings, might be that perfect primer for the uninitiated. If nothing else, its mix of vague psychedelia and a ‘60s sensibility should provide enough incentive for anyone with an appreciation for those frequent retro references to consider getting on board.
An acoustic singer-songwriter who muscles his way onto the pop charts and into Grammy voters’ hearts is a rare breed indeed these days. Yet that’s exactly what Great Britain’s Ed Sheeran managed with 2011’s + (pronounced “plus”), which even broke big in America thanks to the bittersweet character sketch “The A Team.” Expecting another lightning-in-a-bottle, gentle hit like that seems like a fool’s errand, so it’s probably a good move by Sheeran to embrace his inner Timberlake on his new album X (pronounced, you guessed it, “multiply.”)
Aphex is known for its top-notch audio signal processors found in professional studios around the world. In fact, Aphex developed the well-known Aural Exciter and other ‘psychoacoustic’ processors that enhance the vocals on hit recordings and the voices of radio and television personalities. Now, they’ve built their renowned analog effects into a quality USB condenser mic simply labeled: Microphone X. While most professional recording engineers are not fans of USB mics, this one could turn some heads.
Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball-Deluxe Edition (Nonesuch) 4.5 out of 5 stars
Even with the luxury of 19 years to ponder, absorb and unravel its allure, Wrecking Ball still sounds groundbreaking. Many credit producer Daniel Lanois for pushing Emmylou Harris to work in a new sonic landscape back in 1995 when she was considered strictly a country/folk/bluegrass musician. But, as we find out from the DVD documentary on this expanded and remastered edition, the idea to work with Lanois was all Harris’. Even though this is as much his concept as hers, she was clearly ready to take the plunge into more adventurous waters.
For those unfamiliar with this Americana masterpiece that received nearly unanimous acclaim on its release and remains a high water mark in Harris’ bulging catalog, the dozen tracks are laced with Lanois’ now trademarked ominous atmospherics. Vocals are slurred, guitars are looped, drums subtly pound with tribal resonance all in the service of terrific, often obscure and deeply rearranged material from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and even Jimi Hendrix. The mix of folk/swamp/country and a hint of rock filtered through the Lanois mindset sounded nothing like anything Harris had previously recorded although Dylan’s 1989 Lanois produced Oh Mercy explored comparable territory with similarly successful results.
Willie Watson Folk Singer Vol. 1 (Acony) 3.5 out of 5 stars
The solo debut from from former Old Crow Medicine Show rhythm guitarist Willie Watson is a straightforward collection of folk traditionals and covers. Produced by Dave Rawlings, Folk Singer Vol. 1 presents a version of folk that ranges from 19th century standards (“Stewball”) to 50’s R&B hits (“Mother Earth”), to 60’s murder ballads (“Rock Salt and Nails”), but Watson largely sticks to the blues canon of the pre-WWII American south.
There are several genuine treats on this old-fashioned covers record. “James Alley Blues” and “Rock Salt and Nails” are both perfect fits for Watson’s expressive tenor; he nails the phrasing on the the latter is a haunting, devastating showstopper so heavy that it makes the rest of the album seem inconsequential.
Pixies Indie Cindy (PIAS America) 2 out of 5 stars
In 2010, after spending a half-decade collecting overdue checks on an extended series of Pixies reunion tours, Black Francis laid all his cards on the table in a surprisingly candid interview with The Quietus: “This ain’t about the art anymore. I did the arty farty part. Now let’s talk about the money.”
By that point, the dollar signs in the Pixies’ eyes shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Outside of one throwaway song — “Bam Thwok” — the band showed little to no interest in writing any new music, and were playing to audiences ten times the size of those that heard their manic indie pop songs the first time around. Everything seemed to be in a state of equilibrium, and as nice as the idea of some new Pixies material might have been, being able to see them live again was reward enough.
David Nail I’m a Fire (MCA Nashville) 3.5 out of 5 stars
Sometimes, we need to be reminded of where we come from to realize where we should be going. Such is the case with David Nail’s I’m a Fire: specifically, the cover of Glen Campbell’s “Galveston,” with Leanne Womack, that centers the album in the rich history of country songwriters — a tradition that seems obvious to some, but has lost traction in recent years as cheesy wallet chains replaced leather belts and bonfire jam sessions were phased out for spring break parties.
Nail struggles a bit with what world in which to exist – admittedly tricky, when it’s easier to make a living with a black baseball cap on than a cowboy hat, and particularly when your songs at times fit more cleanly in 90’s country than anything either outlaw or bro territory.
Damon Albarn Everyday Robots (Parlophone/Warner Brothers) 3.5 out of 5 stars
Between his previous high profile stints as the frontman of Blur, the brains behind funky/techno-cartoons Gorillaz, a member of world music supergroup the Good, the Bad & the Queen and the impetus behind Bobby Womack’s 2012 comeback among many others, it’s startling to realize this is Damon Albarn’s first “pop” project under his own name. Considering the wildly diverse styles the UK musician has dabbled in, often quite successfully, it’s encouraging that he and producer (and XL label owner) Richard Russell have crafted this warm, chilled-out set that rides basically one groove, yet does it exceptionally well.
One of the coolest things about Matrimony’s debut full-length album Montibello Memories is just how difficult it is to characterize. Just when C.J. Hardee’s mandolin and banjo starts to take a song into rootsy territory, Jordan Hardee comes crashing in with walloping drums, creating momentum that hoists it into the cheap seats. As soon as you get used to Jimmy Brown singing anthems about the push and pull between hometown memories and the need to keep moving on in one’s life, Ashlee Hardee Brown (Jimmy’s wife and sister of Jordan and C.J.) takes over and muses poignantly about relationship struggles.
There will probably be those who want to label Matrimony as a kind of Americana Arcade Fire. While there is some accuracy in that description because of the way songs like “How Do You See Me” and “See The Light” soar to sudden crescendos seemingly out of nowhere, the comparison fails to capture the innate warmth of this music, especially when Ashlee’s ethereal vocals float above the fray. And yet the layered harmonies of the married pair sometimes bring forth raw, complex emotions that resemble Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac.