Archive for the ‘Nichole Wagner’ Category

“Tucson Train,” the latest tune released from Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming Western Stars album, is another trek through the windswept sounds of a distant era. Like “Hello Sunshine,” it conjures the Jimmy Webb-penned classics of Glen Campbell, this time while spinning the tale of a man who fled his life in San Francisco in order to save himself from himself: “I come here looking for a new life/one I wouldn’t have to explain/to that voice that keeps me awake at night/when a little peace would make everything right.”

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Boss Sounds.

1) Caroline Spence – “Racing in the Streets.” Caroline Spence’s Mint Condition (which, due to time constraints, I’ve yet to review) is as stunning and strong an album as I’ve heard all year. Here she is, two years back…

2) Nichole Wagner – “Tougher Than the Rest.” The Austin-based singer-songwriter recently released last year’s and the sky caught fire on vinyl – it comes with a cool baseball card, and is well worth the investment. Likewise, this understated performance of the Tunnel of Love tune is well worth a listen:

3) Steve Earle & the Dukes – “State Trooper.” Is this the greatest cover of a Bruce song? Perhaps not, but it definitely ranks near the top. (That said, if Jade Bird ever covers this Nebraska song, that rendition is sure bet to become the best ever.) 

4) LeAnn Rimes – “Secret Garden.” LeAnn is anything but blue during this mesmerizing spin on the oft-forgotten (at least be me) Springsteen song.

5) Soccer Mommy – “I’m on Fire.” Although not as mesmerizing a performance as the Staves’, this is a solid cover that’s grown on me.

Austin-based singer-songwriter Nichole Wagner delves into matters of the heart, the daily grind, and a little baseball via 10 melodic dispatches on And the Sky Caught Fire, her full-length debut. Her lyrical acumen is deft; she displays a poet’s knack for illuminating the soul. “The Winner Takes All,” which opens the set, is a good example.

With just a few well-placed brushstrokes, she paints a scene that reflects the fading embers of a relationship, or at least the last wisps of an unsettled night. “Too late now, can’t take back what’s been said/And the sky caught fire as the smoke curled around your head.”

“Dynamite,” the second song, is about life in a factory town after the factory’s been shut down: “I can’t see living in a dying town/It’s like I left my soul in the lost and found/Every night I say that tomorrow’s the day/Initiate, detonate, blow it up and walk away.”

Another highlight: “Yellow Butterfly,” about a brief encounter with a winged insect of the nice kind… 

“This Kind of Love,” which I’ve shared before, is another gem. Like many of the other songs, it’s about moving on from a failed relationship: “There was a time I was certain you were what I wanted/Then the feeling faded, it left me haunted.”

Her rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Reconsider Me” is another highlight.

“Sparks & Gasoline,” the closing track, may well be my favorite. It’s about a gal and guy who are “more like Stevie and Lindsey than Johnny and June” yet their love is true. “You and me babe, we’ll continue to sing/Our songs are different but they mean the same thing.” (If you listen, you’ll also hear a funny line about designated hitters in baseball.)

If you enjoy country-flavored folk, such as Tift Merritt, Nanci Griffith or Mary Chapin Carpenter, And the Sky Caught Fire is well worth picking up. It’s a keeper. 

The track listing: 

  1. Winner Takes All
  2. Dynamite
  3. Yellow Butterfly
  4. Rules of Baseball
  5. The Last Time
  6. This Kind of Love
  7. Let Me Know
  8. Fires of Pompeii
  9. Reconsider Me
  10. Sparks & Gasoline

(The album is available from the usual suspects, including Bandcamp, and can be streamed via Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube.)

I planned to trip back to September 18, 1984, this morning and bore into my first two published reviews – in the Ogontz Campus News, the weekly newspaper for what’s now known as Penn State Abington. But my archives are not as organized as, say, Neil Young’s. From the time I hit on the idea – Friday – to Saturday afternoon, when I finally located said newspaper, something happened: I discovered two new-to-me artists whose music made me feel young again.

So, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. XLI.

On Friday night, while browsing the Paste Magazine sessions (always a rewarding endeavor), I stumbled across singer-songwriter Jillette Johnson’s four-song set, which was live-streamed earlier in the day. 

Her latest album is All I Ever See in You Is Me (2017) and, based on the above performance, I’ll be checking it out this week. 

Then, Saturday morning, a fan post on the Nanci Griffith Facebook Fan Page recapped a Nanci tribute in Austin that was organized and hosted by Austin-based singer-songwriter Nichole Wagner. That led me to look Nichole up on YouTube. Here’s her boss rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s classic “Tougher Than the Rest,” a track that has been covered by a coterie of cool artists in the past, including Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin.

That led me to check out her own songs – and, as I’m apt to say, wow. Just wow. I’m looking forward to her forthcoming album, which is slated for release on July 13th.

Another group that I came across on Paste’s YouTube channel, albeit earlier in the week: Haerts. They’re originally from Munich, but moved to Brooklyn some time ago.  Very cool retro vibe and harmonies. As Diane just remarked, “they’re fabulous.”

Another band with a cool retro vibe: the UK-based Treetop Flyers, who borrowed their name from a Stephen Stills song. Here’s the lead single from their forthcoming self-titled set, “Needle.”

I’ve mentioned Mikaela Davis’ Delivery, due out July 13th, before. Here’s the funky “Get Gone” as performed live at the Layman Drug Company in Nashville.

I’ll close out with what a classic track for the bonus – Willie Nelson’s “Living in the Promiseland,” which I’ve returned to quite often in recent months. The David Lynn Jones-penned song was a No. 1 hit for Willie that same year, and the cornerstone of Willie’s 1986 Promiseland LP, which I believe was the first album of his I purchased.