White Violet Stay Lost (Normaltown) Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Frontman/auteur Nate Nelson brings a full band to his sophomore album as White Violet, but the ethereal sound he introduced on 2012’s debut remains. Nelson has moved his base of operations from Athens to Nashville, although there isn’t any overt country influence in Stay Lost. Rather this is dream pop, deliberate yet never pushy led by Nelson’s heavy lidded singing and underpinned by introspective, mostly downbeat lyrics with a strong poetic narrative.
It’s difficult to make out what Nelson wants us to bring to words such as “the stifling of stagnance, a tombstone/a sharper instinct’s guidance, run home,” but he seems sure of what he’s trying to convey and the easy going, floating melodies make it all go down regardless of its meaning. There are echoes of Bare Trees/Future Games era Fleetwood Mac here, along with early R.E.M. (perhaps that Athens connection), Conor Oberst at his most wistful and 90’s Luna. Even though nothing jumps out, it’s all reflective, somewhat hypnotic and never seems to get engulfed in a self-made groove that seldom alters from one track to the next.
Marc Ford Holy Ghost (Naim Edge) Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“Maybe people still want me to be a guitar hero and that’s it. I’m determined to change that,” says Marc Ford in the press release for his first solo album since 2008. That explains the subtly structured nature of these tracks which consciously avoid the tough, rocking guitar work he is best known for due to his contributions to the Black Crowes and more recently Ben Harper. Some of those solos crop up within the context of the predominantly downbeat roots tunes that populate this introspective, wonderfully heartfelt release, but they are brief and always serve the song.
Review: Fender American Standard Telecaster Electric Guitar
(Street: $1,249 and up, depending on color)
Fender Telecasters are part of a rich tradition of American music, guitars that have made history by changing – if not helping create – the sound of every genre of modern music. Country players like the Hag, blues giants like Muddy Waters, rockers like Keith Richards, even jazz players like Mike Stern, have all made their marks playing Telecasters.
One of the hottest electrics out there right now is Fender’s American Standard Tele, which has all the features that have made Teles great, plus a few more that will make some players even happier. With a hefty alder body (ash body on some colors), the electronics include a Fender Custom Shop Twisted Tele neck pickup and a Broadcaster bridge pickup that sound great. The neck pickup is nice for softer jazz and smoother blues tones, while the bridge pickup can summon up that classic James Burton – Brent Mason – Danny Gatton Tele sound that makes the instrument its own animal. Using the three-way switch to combine the pickups allows a player to dial up his or her individual flavor, depending on whether one is playing with or without a pick. The sky’s the limit with tone on this guitar.
Leonard Cohen Popular Problems (Sony) Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
There are very few songwriters who leave you hanging on their every word for fear that, should you miss the slightest aside or tossed-off phrase, something of profound significance will have slipped past. Leonard Cohen, about to celebrate his 80th birthday, is one of those rare songwriters.
Yet even as his center-of-the-Earth deep voice bestows import on each line and even when the subject matter is the weighty stuff of love, life, and death, the twinkle in his eyes that’s somehow audible on his recordings keeps things light and nimble. All of those contrasting and complementing qualities are on sterling display on Popular Problems, Cohen’s latest humbly-presented yet impressively-rendered set of musings.
These days, “transitions”—risers, falls and sweeps, have veritably replaced drum fills in electronic and dance-based pop music. Until now, creating these transitions from scratch was usually a time-consuming process, as a knowledge of synth programming was pretty much mandatory. AIR Instruments’ the Riser is a unique plug-in that enables any songwriter/producer who isn’t a synth wiz the means to generate all types of transitions on the fly.
The AIR Instrument Expansion Pack is probably the best bang-for-the-buck suite of virtual instrument plug-ins I’ve encountered. In one affordable package, you get three synths, an electric piano collection, a drum machine, a sampler and a loop mangler. This set of plug-ins is best suited for any songwriter or producer who wants to go beyond the singer/songwriter realm of country, Americana or acoustic, and explore crafting tracks from a production perspective. What that means is if you have a song that you would play at the Bluebird Café (and accompany yourself only on guitar), you could arrange and produce it using these virtual instruments and get close to emulating the current production styles that are more pop and Top 40 oriented, a la Max Martin and Dr. Luke. Though there are a few caveats, I immediately took to the trio of synths (Hybrid, Vacuum and Loom), the pianos (Velvet) and the drum machine (Strike). And as a bonus I’ve included a link to a track I created (in under 30 minutes!) using only instruments from the AIR Instrument Expansion Pack.
Lera Lynn The Avenues (Lera Lynn) 4 out of 5 stars
Many music fans were first introduced to singer/songwriter Lera Lynn through her haunting, wonderfully subtle yet sweltering version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire,” released on an EP earlier this year. Her 2011 debut introduced us to Lynn’s auburn and honey vocals but seemed to be searching for a consistent theme or direction. She’s found it on this sophomore album.
Even though most listeners will be attracted to Lynn’s crushed velvet voice – a combination of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmons and the female equivalent of Chris Isaak – these 11 songs find a melancholy atmospheric mood and ride it for 42 magnetic minutes. Instrumentation is stripped down to just skeletal drums, upright bass and occasional extra guitar which leaves plenty of room in the mix for Lynn to work her vocal magic. Lyrically the songs latch onto the subdued audio vibe with simmering wordplay about lost, unrequited and missing love.
The View (Rural Rhythm Records) 3.5 out of 5 stars
Canadian brother and sister bluegrass duo The Roys have been steadily chipping away for years, recording and traveling relentlessly and winning consecutive Inspirational Country Music (ICM) Bluegrass Artist of the Year and Duo of the Year awards. On their new album The View, Elaine and Lee Roy follow their usual successful formula, but have also earned the support of some country and bluegrass veterans who help bring their material and performances up a notch.
Various Artists: The Buddy Holly Country Tribute, Remember Me
The Buddy Holly Country Tribute: Remember Me (Nashville America Records) 3.5 out of 5 stars
More than half a century has passed since Buddy Holly’s plane went down in Iowa, and his once-pervasive rock ‘n’ roll influence has dwindled somewhat in the new century. But a group of old-school Nashville country stars has released a new album of some of Holly’s greatest hits, and the result is a recording that is bound to be a great source of enjoyment for a select group of fans.
It’s always tricky to read too much into an album’s title, but when an artist puts something out that’s self-titled, the implication, whether it’s intended or not, is that the music contained therein is a good representation of where that artist stands in his career and his life. Since Ryan Adams has always been an artist who’s been particularly hard to pin down due to the frequency and variety of his releases, his own new self-titled album really should pique the interest of both his diehard fans and those who might have checked out some time after the original hype.