Archive for the ‘2018’ Category

Freakin’ phenomenal. That, in a nutshell, sums up the latest single from Rylie Bourne. It conjures the outlaw country ethos of yore, with a taut rhythm, stinging guitar, and confessional lyrics that are equal parts self-reflection and self-recrimination. “You think you know who I am/but I know who I’ve been/and I don’t see that changing anyhow/I haven’t walked the line/not the way I’m supposed to/I’ve been so unkind/to ones that I am close to…”

And, of course, there’s that voice. It engulfs the soul.

In an interview with Music Central Update, Rylie explains that the song’s inspiration was a past relationship. “I was in a situation in which I could feel myself changing as a person, and not for the good. We were both unhappy and I was doing and saying things that I wouldn’t normally. I no longer felt true to myself.” (It’s an interview well worth reading, so check it out.)

To my ears, the song sounds like a lost track from Hank Williams Jr.’s Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound or The Pressure Is On. In fact, and perhaps it’s due to me listening to the tune on repeat during my morning commutes this week, but “Untrue” brought me back to a specific sonic odyssey from my own bygone outlaw days, aka the mid-‘80s. When heading home from the Penn State mothership in Happy Valley, I often ferried passengers, who paid for gas and the tolls. On this day in question, it was myself, my roommate, and two freshmen. As we pulled out of the dorm’s parking lot, I asked them, “so what kind of music do y’all like?” 

“Anything but country,” came the reply from one. The other agreed.

My roommate chuckled. He knew what was coming, if only from the glint in my eye. And, with that, I pushed a cassette into the tape deck, and the woozy title track to Hank Jr.’s Whiskey Bent staggered from the speakers. Some tapes were albums in full, but at least one was a mix – not all outlaw, but it was all country and country-flavored – Lone Justice, Flying Burrito Brothers, Jason & the Scorchers, possibly Dwight Yoakam.

“Untrue” would have fit right in. It’s traditional, rebellious, country and rock. It smokes.

I’ve taken the turnpike, a toll road, every work day for the past 18 years, save for those occasions when I work from home, but I don’t have – nor do I want – E-ZPass. For those readers who aren’t from one of the 16 states that offer it, it’s basically an automated toll taker. You place a transponder on your windshield, pay into an account online, and then, when you drive through the correct entry or exit lane, the payment is instant. There’s no muss or fuss, and – theoretically speaking – no backed-up lines of cars at the toll plaza. (In practice, however, at least for the times I enter and exit, the E-ZPass lanes are often backed up even more than the cash lanes.) Pennsylvania, my state, also offers a discount vs. the cash option.

In other words, I generally see the same faces collecting tolls, and often trade quick talk about the weather, traffic and other stuff. “Hey buddy.” “There he is.” “How you doing?” “See you tomorrow.” “Have a great day.” “How ‘bout them Eagles?” Or, sometimes, “You’re later than usual.” I always thank them, and bid them a good day or night. It’s routine. It’s nice.

There’s a larger point I could make about the downside of automation, but that’s for another day. Rather, I’m sharing my toll booth tales for no other reason than this: More often than not, music – though not too loud, as I always turn it down – engulfs the background of those short conversations. And yesterday morning, one of those same faces commented, “You’re always listening to something good. Who is that?”

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Toll Booth Tales (aka What I Listened to This Week)

1) Erin O’Dowd – “Wewoka.” The answer to the question the toll booth collector asked is Erin O’Dowd, whose Old Town has received many plays from me this week. My hopes were high when, just about this time last year, I pledged for it on her Kickstarter page. I suspected it would be good. But this good?! After a week of listening, I can safely say that everything I wrote in my First Impressions of it is an understatement. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year, thus far.

 2) Belly – “Shiny One.” Back in 1993, I fell under the spell of Star, the Rhode Island band’s debut album, and played it the only way I know how – again and again, and again after that. “Feed the Tree” was, and remains, freakin’ awesome – one of the greatest songs of the era. I’d love to say that I also played their 1995 follow-up, King, in the same fashion, but can’t – my main memory of it is one of disappointment. Anyway, leap forward to the present, and I can say without equivocation that the reformed Belly’s third studio offering, Dove, is a keeper. (Highway Queens has a great review of it.) Also, just as an aside, this song – the lead single – seemingly channels one of the great under-appreciated bands of the 1980s, Opal.

3) Mazzy Star – “Quiet, the Winter Harbor.” And speaking of Opal, there’s this, the lead single from the forthcoming Still EP from Opal’s successor, Mazzy Star, which I have on pre-order from Amazon. It’s the kind of dreamy song that takes you places. 

4) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Warning Sign.” One of my big regrets of recent vintage is not recording this killer song when Diane and I saw Courtney Marie & Band perform it in Philly. It collects and reflects a myriad of influences, so much so that you’ll swear you heard it buried somewhere on either the Complete Stax/Volt Singles or Beg, Scream & Shout: The Big Ol’ Box of ‘60s Soul mega-sets. And with that…here she is delivering a stirring rendition of it in Liverpool last month. (The video’s only negative: Dillon’s guitar gymnastics take place off screen.)

5) Juliana Hatfield – “Suspended in Time.” Juliana performs this Xanadu song, from her insta-classic Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John album, just last week in Somerville, Mass. (She’s not touring at present, which is both a shame and understandable.)

I was driving in my car this morning, windows down, stereo up high – and Americana singer-songwriter Erin O’Dowd’s debut album, Old Town, sending my spirits soaring higher than the beautiful May morn. I won’t delve too deep into the tracks via a high-falutin’ review – I’ve heard the set exactly three times since its release yesterday, which is a few spins too short to say more than this: It’s a gem.

Erin has one of those voices, and the songs to match. At times, her vocals conjure Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffith, though her inflections are shaded a tad darker; and a Dylan influence can be discerned on a few songs, such as the honky-tonk “One Trick Pony.” But, most of all, what you hear is her old soul shining through. 

Here’s one example: the opener, “Miss Neelye.”

And here’s another, “The Letter.”

You can sample the album in whole below, or via the Horton Records’ Bandcamp page (though it’s also available via Amazon, iTunes, etc., etc.).

Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers returns to her roots on this, her 12th studio outing. In the press release announcing it, she explained that “I grew up in the remote outback of Australia living a unique lifestyle isolated from civilization. The campfire was the heart of our existence: for survival, creativity, inspiration. We hunted all our own food and then cooked it on the campfire. My brother and I did all our schooling via correspondence around the campfire. We used the campfire for warmth and light. We gathered around the campfire at night to play songs together as a family. Our connection to music and the land has developed through and around the campfire since I was born, so it has always stayed with me as a special part of my life.”

Accompanying her: Brandon Dodd of Grizzlee Train, who’s been part of Kasey’s touring ensemble for a few years now; Alan Pigram of the Pigram Brothers, a longtime family friend and Aussie indigenous elder; and the man who led her family into the outback all those years ago, her dad, Bill Chambers. Guitars often chug along, a harmonica wails, and voices come together as one or, as often, with a call-and-response that’s as joyous to hear as it must have been to sing. About the only thing missing: a campfire crackling in the background.

But make no mistake: This isn’t a collection of stereotypical campfire songs, many of which are kid-friendly sing-alongs that date to the 18th and 19th centuries. (Think “Home on the Range,” “Bingo Was His Name-O” and “The Hokey Pokey,” which I recall singing on a fifth-grade camp weekend.) No, by and large, these songs address such topics as life, love, longing, death, and (as evidenced by the above clip) David vs. Goliath. One speaks directly to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (“Oh we failed you Abraham, we’ve come unstuck/so many times you’ve bailed me out/oh we failed to understand and fucked it up/we laughed out loud/nobody’s laughing now…”)

Another highlight: “The Harvest & the Seed,” which features a guest appearance by Emmylou Harris.

Yet another spellbinding song is “Now That You’ve Gone.” Last year, after seeing Kasey in concert, I wrote that her vocals bypass the ears for the heart and soul – this is a good example of what I meant then. Built from the same cloth as “Ain’t No Little Girl,” it’s a vocal tour de force (and a guaranteed showstopper in concert, I think).

By album’s end, the darkness recedes with a few songs one can actually imagine singing with kids around a campfire – “This Little Chicken,” the metaphoric “Fox & the Bird,” and “Happy.” They’re sly and fun, and further burnish what is a stellar set of songs.