Posts Tagged ‘First Impressions’

So, after reading a few positive reviews, I lassoed this Wildhorse a few weeks back and immediately fell under its spell. Norwegian singer-songwriter Malin Pettersen’s ethereal vocals fly atop a captivating set of songs, essentially a high lonesome sound that aches, breaks and shakes the heart and soul. The 11 songs – nine penned by her – conjure the country music of yore, yet blends a modern sensibility into the proceedings.

Obvious influences (to me, at least) include Emmylou and Gram, Waylon Jennings and Dwight Yoakam, yet those forebears never overwhelm the music; rather, they buttress it. From what I’ve read (and this article and this article are recommended), theirs are the songs that course through her veins, so it makes sense that she’d express herself via the same musical language. (As the above articles detail, she’s loved country music since she was a kid, when she sometimes joined her father – Ivar Brynhildsen of the group Country Heroes – on stage with his band.)

I hear echoes of Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs,” for example, in parts of “Hometown.” Whether intentional or not, the slowed-down motif works as an artful homage – much as Yoakam’s tune paid tribute, in similar fashion, to one of his heroes, Buck Owens.

In any event, here’s a stripped-down performance of the song:

Likewise, “Weightless” – another standout track – channels Spyboy-era Emmylou. “People used to tell me still water was the deepest/I used to hope I’d lose my tongue/But now I’m older and I know better/And I know they were wrong/And now I wanna live/With everything that I’ve got/Cause everything I’ve got I have to give/And everything I give I get in return.”

If you listened to one or both of the above clips, you pretty much heard the sound of time stopping. That’s what happens for me, at any rate; I lose myself in the videos – and the album as a whole. (As I sometimes say, “it takes you there, wherever there is.”) In some songs, her vocals remind me of Emmylou Harris; and, as on “Let’s Go Out,” I hear Kasey Chambers.

The closing “Queen of the Meadow” is another gem. Here’s a live in-studio rendition:

Recorded in Nashville in September 2019 and March 2020, and backed by some of Music City’s top session musicians, Wildhorse is one of my favorites of the year. (As I noted yesterday, it’s among my Top 25 for 2020.)

 

Here’s the track list in full:

Finally, for those who haven’t seen it, this compelling clip finds her performing four songs: “Get You Back Again” from her 2019 Alonesome EP, and “Hometown,” “Let’s Go Out” and “Wildhorse Dream” from Wildhorse. It makes me yearn to see her in a live setting.

Late last week, I stumbled upon Irish singer-songwriter Niamh Regan’s rendition of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” on Twitter. For those who don’t click through to watch the 1:46-minute clip, she plays the tune on an acoustic guitar instead of piano and mostly murmurs the lyrics while (likely) referencing them on her computer screen. It’s not a perfect performance by any means, but intriguing nonetheless. She captures and conveys the nuances of the song.

I quickly discovered that she’s from Galway and that her debut album, Hemet, was released in early September. Named after the California city that her husband (Wesley Houdyshell of the band Hippie Cream) hails from, it’s a tremendous set accented by melodies that linger in the mind and lyrics that pop up from the back of the brain long after the music has ended. To my ears, it sounds somewhat like a lost album from the early ‘70s; I hear echoes from Laurel Canyon in the grooves, not to mention a little Laura Nyro and Carly Simon, too. Here are a few highlights:

In any event, I learned more about her from this well-done article by John Meager on the Irish Independent newspaper’s website. The past few years have been a whirlwind of good and bad times for her, from marriage to losing her mother, and much of that is reflected in the songs she recorded for Hemet. One quote that stood out to me: “I find it hard to talk about really personal stuff,” she says, “especially when much of it resonates in a universal way. I would love to think that the songs would connect with people and they can take what they want from them.”

The moving “Freeze Frame” is a good case in point. Anyone who’s lost someone will hear aspects of their experiences in her poetic lyrics.

 

Here, she performs the bulk of Hemet for an “album release” event posted to YouTube. Although stripped to their essence, the songs lose none of their luster; in some ways, they resonate all the more. (To quote the bard Neil Young, “live music is better/bumper stickers should be issued.”)

The album can be streamed from the usual suspects, plus purchased from Bandcamp on CD, vinyl or digital.

Since its release on September 18th, Irish singer-songwriter Emma Langford’s sophomore set has been in regular rotation here in my den; in some respects, then, this is more akin to my 50th impression. (I’m exaggerating a might, but you get the idea.) I’d planned to write about it a while back, but – as is my wont – got distracted by other albums, other artists. But to not spotlight it would be a disservice, as it’s an excellent outing.

From afar, the picturesque scenes Langford paints are pristine, replete with gentles waves, bobbing boats, and seagulls skating the sky. A closer inspection, however, reveals a violent sea: waves thrash, bash and batter capsized boats; and those gulls are swooping low in hopes of plucking their meals from the water. The painter and sea, of course, are little more than metaphors in this construct for a singer and her songs, with my blessed rage for order explaining the rest. It’s what we fans often do, if one thinks it through, translating the artist’s hues into those of our own souls. 

In any event, Langford delves into the vagaries of this thing called life with artful precision, delineating poetic insights time and again. Her clarion vocals often conjure Joni, sometimes Sandy, and others whose names escape me at present, with her lyrics delving into more than just matters of the heart (though there’s that, too). Self-esteem and self-worth are among those other subjects, as exemplified by the stark and stirring opener, “Birdsong.”

The title track, my favorite from the set, is a thing of genius she crafted after experiencing anxiety, insomnia and fever dreams while pursuing her masters degree a few years back. (The CD booklet gives background information about the songs.) In some respects, it’s the sonic equivalent of that moment when one drifts into or out of sleep, when the conscious and subconscious minds collide.

Another standout track is “The Winding Way Down to Kells Bay,” which she wrote in memory of her grandfather. 

Dreamscapes, seashores and more – that, in a sense, is what the album explores. Ostensibly, it would or should be classified as “folk” or “folk-pop.” (All of its songs would’ve been at home on my long-ago Folk Show and, back in the early ‘90s, on such AAA radio stations as WXPN, which regularly played the likes of Mary Black and Maura O’Connell.) Anyway, the “more” I mention above includes the upbeat “Ready-O,” about being true to one’s self, that’s guaranteed to get one’s feet a-tapping and one’s fingers to snapping.

The captivating “Goodbye Hawaii,” which she released as a single last year, explores the backward-looking aspect of some epiphanies: “You know the funny thing about the day you realize who or what you are/Is that by the time it happens you’re probably not that anymore.”

As a whole, Sowing Acorns is well worth more than a few listens; one can buy it via Bandcamp or listen to it on the major streaming services. (And, if you do, don’t be surprised if you hear the opening strains of “Sowing Acorns,” the song, seep into your head as you drift off to sleep.)  

The track list:

Also of note, for those who prefer the live experience, she performs eight of the songs below. While no substitute for a concert, until the pandemic fades, it’s the best we can do…

Melody Gardot’s Sunset in the Blue finds the soft hues of the chanteuse’s heart lilting like a leaf lifted from the ground by a gentle breeze on an autumn afternoon. In many respects, it conjures her 2009 breakthrough, the classic My One and Only Thrill, in sound and style, with deft orchestral touches underscoring her emotive vocals. The main reason for the similarity: she’s again working with that set’s production team – Grammy Award-winning producer Larry Klein, arranger/composer Vince Mendoza and engineer Al Schmitt. Yet Sunset in the Blue is no mere retread; the album incorporates the life and musical lessons she’s learned in the years since.

As evidenced by “If You Love Me,” the leadoff track, the space between notes is on full display throughout; she never rushes a phrase, preferring to hang back and, a la that leaf I mentioned above, ride the wind. Actually, now that I think about it, that metaphor is off: Her vocals are akin to a hawk gliding high in the sky until it spots prey, when it swoops low, talons out. She plucks us from the ground again and again, in other words, though we’re never left bloody. (Maybe that’s not the best metaphor, either.) Anyway, “C’est Magnifique,” which features Portuguese singer António Zambujo, is another example of what I mean.

The languid pace of the album is accented by similar, sumptuous melodies and rhythms; it’s like listening to a lush dreamscape, just about, and one you won’t want to wake from. Nine of the 13 tracks are originals co-written by Melody, though one of those – the duet with Sting, “Little Something” – is only available on the physical release, though it can be streamed from YouTube. (Which means, since my vinyl isn’t slated to be delivered until January, I’m stuck without it for the time being.)

Of the four covers: “Love Song,” written by Lesley Duncan, hails from Elton John’s 1970 Tumbleweed Connection LP, “You Won’t Forget Me,” by Richard Spielman and Kermit Goell, was first performed by Helen Merrill in 1956 (though it’s probably best known, these days, for Carly Simon’s rendition from her underrated 1997 Film Noir album); “Moon River” is, of course, the classic Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s; and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne, was first sung by Frank Sinatra in the 1945 musical Anchors Aweigh. Each, as one might expect, is luscious and wondrous in Melody’s hands. 

I’ll sidestep everything else I planned to write, as – honestly – words alone can’t quantify the beauty inherent in Sunset in the Blue. My wife says she hears hints of Billie Holiday within some songs; that may be so, but most of all I hear Melody, her heart and her soul. The music stops time for me in a way few other releases have this year.

The track list: