Posts Tagged ‘Old Town’

’Tis the season for making lists and checking them twice, and determining which album is the Old Grey Cat’s ballyhooed Album of the Year. The honor, which is celebrating its 40th year this year, came about late in 1978 due to my dream of becoming a rock critic (yeah, I know: crazy!), and continued through the decades because…well, why not? Over that span, it’s chronicled the evolution (or lack thereof) of my musical tastes.

It is a decidedly personal affair, in other words. In years past, and on the updated tally I post early each year, I explain the process thusly: “The candidates are drawn from what I’ve purchased, so the pool is decidedly limited in comparison to, say, what the writers at Rolling Stone or Allmusic.com are exposed to. Some years I buy a lot and some years not, primarily due to my listening habits – I play albums I love over and over and over until they become one with my subconscious (obsession, not variety, is my spice of life). So the more I like certain albums, the less overall I hear.”

But in the immortal words of Ron Ziegler, “that statement is no longer operative.” In the age of Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, no one needs to actually purchase an album to enjoy it. Just about every new release can be had for the price of one CD a month (aka the subscription fee) or the willingness to put up with commercials. (Yet, although I don’t purchase as much as I once did, I own all the albums that made their way onto my list. How could I not?)

Also, as I wrote last year, “The candidates are also winnowed by my age, race, gender and idiosyncrasies. I’m a middle-aged white guy, in other words, with catholic tastes.”

Some years, I revisit all the contenders. This year? There was no need. They are albums that I’ve turned to time and again since their releases, and have never grown tired of. That said, there were a few surprises: Although I thoroughly loved First Aid Kit’s Ruins and Courtney Marie Andrews’ May Your Kindness Remain, as the year wore on I found myself listening to them less and less often. I’m sure it had more to do with me, and the headspace I found myself in, than the music. I deem them two of my three “honorable mentions” for the year. Mikaela Davis’ Delivery is my third.

And, with that… 

Juliana Hatfield’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John is my Album of the Year. 

I got chills when she announced the project – as Hopelessly Devoted to Liv – during her concert with Wesley Stace at the Ardmore Music Hall in October 2017, and those chills were multiplying after she sang “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and “Physical.” (Just as an aside, Stace suggested that she call the album JH Sings ONJ, as the title conjures such cover sets from yesteryear as The Hollies Sing Dylan. It obviously stuck.) 

In my review, I noted that the set is, in some ways, an extension of the moving “Wonder Why” from her 2017 Pussycat LP, “in which she sought refuge from the madness of the present via the memories of her childhood. These songs, for her and us, are a similar escape into the past. They conjure another time and place, and also pay homage to a singer (and sometime songwriter) who, in that long-ago era, created a safe room where many of us dwelled on occasion.”

FYI: It’s the sixth time that Juliana has nabbed my year-end honors.

The first runner-up: the Stone Foundation’s Everybody, Anyone. In my review, I said that the songs “feature taut rhythms and lyrics that strive for something more than the rudimentary reflections that make up much of today’s mainstream music. They’re metaphysical musings of the highest order.”

Paul Weller co-wrote that Stone Foundation track, “Next Time Around.” His own release this year, True Meanings, is the latest classic in his own oeuvre, and is my second runner-up. Due to offline events, this blog was placed into a holding pattern around the time of the album’s release, so I never reviewed it. But make no mistake: It’s one of his best. 

The third runner-up: Shelby Lynne’s Here I Am, which features her songs (and some poetic snippets of dialogue) from her movie of the same name. Originally available only on vinyl, it’s now out on CD (via Shelby’s online store). The songs are as mesmerizing as her performance in the film.  

The fourth runner-up: Erin O’Dowd, whose debut album, Old Town, took up residence in my heart and head way back in May, and provided much-needed sustenance on a long road trip Diane and I took in September. In my First Impressions piece on it, I said that the songs sent “my spirits soaring higher than the beautiful May morn.”

The fifth and final runner-up: Becky Warren’s Undesirable, which is an album-long treatise on America’s unofficial caste system. As I wrote in this piece, it’s akin to a series of short stories set to song. It’ll draw you in, make you think, and make you tap your feet.

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.).

Photo by Draven Nicole.

Last weekend, I whiled away part of Sunday afternoon on PledgeMusic and Kickstarter, where many music artists caught my eye. Only one, however, caught my ear: Tulsa-based singer-songwriter Erin O’Dowd.

 

In her introductory paragraph, she shares a “lo-fi” video for her song “Old Town,” which I’ve embedded above. While it may be lo-fi, her soul comes through at the highest of bit-rates. Curious and wanting to hear more, I turned to the Internet’s oracle for such things – YouTube.

Check out her song “Robin’s Egg Blue”:

And here she is with the honky-tonkin’ “Trick Pony”:

And, last, here’s her emotive cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery”:

She’s someone whose album I’d buy tomorrow and likely obsess over, as I’m apt to do, and someone I’d head down to Philly to see in concert without a second’s thought. Travis Linville, the guitarist in Hayes Carll’s band, has committed to producing her debut album – and, hopefully, their $10K goal is met so that whatever they need, they get.

I asked if she’d be willing to answer a few questions via email, and she agreed.

Photo: Draven Nicole.

When did you know you wanted to be a singer?

Since I was just a little kid. I was always singing and making up songs. I did my first talent show when I was 2 or 3. I sang “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.

When did you take up guitar?

I took up guitar when I was 15. My older brother played and that turned me onto it. I grew up playing piano and that was my first instrument.

Who are your influences? Do you have a favorite songwriter?

My top influences are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, Loretta Lynn, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, the Band, Ryan Adams, gosh I could go on forever.

What was the first album/CD/download you purchased?

It was definitely a Christian CD – I grew up pretty sheltered and a pastor’s kid. I believe the singer’s name was Jaqui Velasquez, but I don’t remember the title! Really beautiful stuff.

And, on the flip side, what was the last album you picked up (or added to your library, if you stream via Spotify or Apple Music)?

The last full album I listened to was John Moreland’s latest release, Big Bad Luv. It’s fantastic!

On my blog, I sometimes spotlight albums I deem “essential” – things everyone should hear, at least once, in my opinion. What are a few of yours? What is it about them that draw you back, time and again?

Oh, wow – well, for me, definitely Dylan’s first several hits: Freewheelin’, Nashville Skyline, and Bringing It All Back Home. Blonde on Blonde. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite among those. The songs are all equally poignant and inspirational. There’s something about the train of inspiration he hit after his first two that just struck gold and it didn’t stop. It still hasn’t stopped for him. There’s a soulfulness, playful creativity, and an honesty to those songs that never looses its luster to me.

Are you into vinyl? Prefer downloads?

I’m totally into vinyl. I had a massive collection that I lost to a mold problem in some places I lived in. It was totally devastating. So right now I’m into streaming, but only because that’s what I can afford.

Photo: Tony Shanks

On your Kickstarter page, you mention that Tampa is your other hometown. What led you to move to Tulsa?

I moved to Tulsa when I was 11 years old with my family. My Dad took up a new church here, and so here we came. I was actually born in Mississippi while he was in school there, but I don’t remember it at all.

How did you connect with Travis Linville?

Travis is an Okie guy with a huge talent for songwriting, performing (multiple instruments), and production. I first met him seven years ago or so at a show of his in Tulsa. It was the first time I had seen him and I was blown away. I actually didn’t know he did production until a few years later. I was struggling to find the right producer/engineer to work with and a few friends threw his name out. I decided, what the hell, I might as well ask him. Happily, he was into the idea!

You mentioned that you had concerts lined up in NYC and Canada for April. How did they go?

I had a great little tour of the Northeast in April. I started in Brooklyn, did one in NYC, one in Toronto, and one in Ottawa. I picked up a couple extra in Brooklyn and Toronto along the way. It was a super fun time, full of wonderful memories. I had some amazing musical experiences jamming with fellow buskers in the subway, with new best friends in Toronto, and with a friend from Folk Alliance in Ottawa. I made some really great connections and I can’t wait to go back along that route.

Do you get a chance to attend concerts, or are you too busy playing out? What are some of the more memorable ones you’ve seen?

I am pretty dang busy playing out – up to five or six engagements a week, usually, but I make it out to see other folks as much as I can. That’s what keeps me going! We have such an incredible music community in Tulsa. Within our local music scene live some of my favorite artists, including Jared Tyler, Linville and Chloe Johns. I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. The most recent bigger shows I got to see were Sondre Lerche (in Toronto) and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes). Two of my all time faves, as well. I have a lot of favorites. I guess I’m kind of a music nerd.

To learn more about Erin, visit her website and her Kickstarter page.