Archive for the ‘First Impressions’ Category

“Woke up this morning, thought it was a dream/I can’t watch the news for the life of me/Seems the seeds that we’re sowin’ are gettin’ heavy to bear/Less than a dream, more like a nightmare.” So opens “Lived and Let Go,” one highlight from Kentucky country/roots singer-songwriter Kelsey Waldon’s new White Noise/White Lines album.

Who doesn’t feel that way, these days? But what lifts the song above a broadside about the ugliness that permeates life circa 2019 is what comes next: “And the voices, they call, and they promise, they swear/They’re talkin’ so loud, but don’t get anywhere/And I’m not one to claim more than I know/But we live here and die here, take heart ‘fore you go.”  

White Noise/White Lines, as a whole, mines the earthen strains of country music that mainstream Nashville, too often these days, ignores. It’s not the country-pop played on the radio, but the country-punk once played in the honky-tonks. It’s raw and ragged, real. Black soot courses through its veins.

One of my favorite songs is “Kentucky, 1988,” about growing up in the oddly named community of Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky. It’s neither a gauzy nostalgia fest nor a bitter reminiscence, I hasten to add, just an honest remembrance of life as it was, and how she carries those years with her, still. “This is my DNA/No matter how far I get away/There’s just some things that will never change/Kentucky, 1988.” 

Here she and her band are on The Burl Sessions performing it:

In short, Kelsey’s Kentucky twang is as strong as her talent, and her talent is on full display in these 11 tunes. I hear echoes of everyone from Loretta Lynn to Townes Van Zandt to Dwight Yoakam in the grooves, but most of all I hear her heart beating strong. White Noise/White Lines is highly recommended.

(For more on Kelsey’s backstory, and insights into the album, be sure to read this No Depressions article and this NPR piece.)

For those scoring at home, over the past few weeks I’ve deemed not one, not two, but three Neil Young albums as “essential.” As I noted a while back, at a certain point over the summer my listening habits retrenched to the tried-and-true, aka the music of my youth and college years. It’s not a new phenomenon – this blog is a testament to that. Some days, weeks and months I reconnect with past masters to the detriment of today’s pet sounds.

Much of music is what the listener makes of it, after all, and the connections I have with that old music were forged long ago. The Beatles together and apart, Neil, Linda, Springsteen, Seger, Weller, Maria McKee, and the Paisley Underground, among other acts and scenes, are just part of my musical DNA. In the decades since, of course, a slew of newer acts have attached themselves to my nucleotides, too, but – youth is youth. Certain sounds stick with us.

Which leads to this: A new song by an act I “liked” on Facebook (and featured in a Top 5) a few years back, and then promptly forgot about, leapt out and struck a chord with me yesterday when it appeared in my newsfeed. The group in question: The Sundowners. According to their FB page, the Liverpool-based band’s influences include, among others, the Velvet Underground, Byrds and Bangles. I gave the song a listen and – as I’m apt to say – “wow, just wow.”

They sound like they stepped out of a time capsule from 1966 or 1985, when the Paisley Underground was in full swing. Echoes of the Beatles (circa Revolver), Byrds (circa “Eight Miles High”) and Bangles (circa All Over the Place) are discernible in the grooves, yet the music sounds fresh and new.

Whether you’re young or old, or somewhere in-between, give them a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

The end of the decade is nigh. I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it until this week, but the clock’s hands are tick-tick-ticking closer to midnight. Before this annus horribilis gives way to the Year of Visual Acuity, however, listen to this:

That’s the opener to Leslie Stevens’ new album, Sinner, which as a whole conjures a century’s worth of country music in its 10 tracks, echoing everyone from Glen Campbell to Dolly Parton to Gram Parsons to Emmylou Harris and her Spyboy band. It’s the kind of album you play once, and wind up playing again and again, each time hearing something new. Her vocals are a thing of ever-shifting beauty, soulful and sweet and pure, and the songs are strong and sure.

It’s traditional. Alternative. Unique. Her voice trembles, rises and falls, dynamic and dramatic, in sync not just with the lyrics but the soul. Some are story-songs. Others are from the heart.

Here’s a live rendition of another of the album’s highlights:

Leslie Stevens is currently on tour in the States, and thankfully isn’t bypassing my neck of the woods. You can see where she’s playing, and buy Sinner, at her website. (It’s also available via the normal streaming sites.)

Swampy Southern Rock meets Outlaw Country on LoneHollow’s potent self-titled EP. The Nashville duo consists of Damon Atkins, who was born at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and one of my favorite up-and-coming singers, Rylie Bourne, who hails from Illinois. It’s quite the combination: His is a voice brimming with soul; and hers is a voice that pierces the soul. Together, they’re akin – somewhat – to Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams circa the late ‘90s: rough, gruff and stirring. They’re quite the combination.

Of the music itself: Lost spirits accent the melodies and rhythms, which fire with the wearied precision of a weather-beaten still. I’ve had the five-song EP – which is available on both Apple Music and Spotify – on repeat for most of the morning, and highly recommend it.

For more on them, check out this interview from late 2018.