Monday, February 28, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue: 2/28/2011

The Uprooted Album Revue highlights new releases, reissues, and my own latest discoveries. 

Sean Rowe
(Anti-, 2/22)

"Man, that voice". That's what I found myself saying as I began smiling and shaking my head to "Surprise", the opening track on Sean Rowe's Magic. His singing just hit me like a ton of bricks. As his rich, dark, and uniquely singular baritone softly-sung "“You were nothing but the fragrance of an old dream / that was just time playing tricks on my mind", I knew I stumbled onto something special.

Magic, is a brilliant album that builds and opens up as it goes, and intuitively begs to be revisited repeatedly. It displays Rowe's command of restraint, as much as his willingness to unleash a wide range emotions, both lyrically and sonically. The collection allows the listener to take in Rowe's extraordinary voice and masterful lyricism, while the layered arrangements of the tunes run the spectrum from hauntingly sparse to calculatedly dense, by employing a wide range of strings, percussion, and backing vocals.

After a couple of listens to the album, it's evident that much will be made of how unique and captivating Mr. Rowe's voice is, but what I really admire, is that his vocals never sound overemphasized, but naturally engrossing. This allows Magic to remain distinct, and make it's claim as a collection of carefully crafted songs by a riveting new talent. The music seductively swerves, startles, and staggers, while declaring a clarity of mission, deliberately allowing Mr. Rowe to weave his imagery within dark, earthy guitar-driven compositions.

Everything here is intentional and displays a careful attention to detail. The naturalistic songwriting and rustic instrumentation gel remarkably well, allowing Magic to sound honest, genuine, and singular. Even though Magic is Sean Rowe's second album (his first was the independently-produced 27), it marks his true arrival. Magic is an album with rich lasting power that is hard to find anything less than remarkable. 

Lucinda Williams
(Lost Highway, 3/1)

It seems that every album Lucinda Williams has put out, without fail, gets judged and compared to her Grammy-winning and alt-country classic, 1998's Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. As a long-time Lucinda fan, who has consistently enjoyed her post-Car Wheels work, I have always found this frustrating and unfair.

Essence was equally brilliant and offered some new shifts in direction from Car Wheels, rather than just a continuation, while Words Without Tears and West were also both strong offerings, (although I personally could have passed on the rap-delivery of "American Dream"- I do credit Ms. Williams for trying new things). Her last outing, Little Honey, found Lu bringing back some swagger, power, and seduction of her own brand of country-rock (and rock for rock's sake) in full-force. It was a strong collection and a welcome addition to her catalog.

Blessed finds Ms. Williams digging back into the strengths that have made her previous efforts so rewarding, while matching her songwriting with a powerfully strong cast of players. This album sounds great- and will definitely draw some all-too quick "return to form" praise from Car Wheels devotees, who are stuck in '99. But for the rest of us, there's lots of reasons to rejoice. Blessed is not Car Wheels, or Little Honey II for that matter, and it's not trying to be either. It's a record that easily stands on it's own, and effortlessly brings the goods.

Blessed delivers the Lucinda that has been producing rewarding records for years, and if you're someone who has stuck with her and has enjoyed her work throughout, you will have lots to dig through here. Honestly, it took me about three listens to really sink into all of it- because there is a lot here. I prefer an album that opens up and continues to reveal more with each listen as you live with it, and Blessed certainly does exactly that. Blessed is a varied set that covers a lot of ground, and may require some time to fully sift through to appreciate, but ultimately- it is a really strong effort by an incredible songwriter and performer, and it's well worth your investment in every way.

I'd also strongly recommend picking up the 2-CD deluxe edition of Blessed, which includes a full CD of demo versions of each song on the studio album, simply titled The Kitchen Tapes. It's an insightful glimpse into Lucinda's writing process, and an immensely rewarding listen which should not to be missed.

Eddie Spaghetti
(Bloodshot, 2/15)

Sundowner is Eddie Spaghetti's third solo album and his first solo album for Bloodshot Records. The collection finds the leader of the legendary punk-rock outfit, The Supersuckers, kicking back and offering up his own brand of tried-and-true country rock.

The Supersuckers have released a slew of classic punk-rock records during the 1990's and 2000's, but also have taken breaks from their proclamation as "the greatest rock 'n roll band in the world" and released some classic albums of countrified tunes: Must've Been High and it's live counterpart,  Must've Been Live.  Not to mention recording with Steve Earle back in the day on his El Corozon LP, as well as sharing duties on an awesome split Sub Pop single from back in the day (which featured the artists covering each others songs).

Much like The Sauce and Old No. 2, Eddie has gathered up a set of classic covers for Sundowner such as Steve Earle's "If You Fall In Love", Dave Dudley's "Cowboy Boots", and Willie Nelson's "Always On My Mind". He also his brought some of his own originals including the first single "Never Thought I Would", as well as some more surprises (including a Dwarves cover). Longtime Supersuckers' fans will enjoy a re-worked rendition of "Marie", a sincerely heartfelt tune from deep within his band's catalog that really shines from the "countrified" treatment. The song originally appeared on The Supersuckers' Sacrilicious album of 1995, but fits right in beside the standards and new Spaghetti tunes.

Sundowner's not going to shock or surprise too many fans of The Supersuckers and Eddie Spaghetti. To anyone who enjoys the band's more country-ish albums and Eddie's previous solo outings- you can't go wrong picking this one up. The man is nothing but consistent, delivering the goods each time as promised, with tongue firmly-in-cheek. The album is loose, easy to enjoy, and finds the man paying homage to his heroes with a smirk, while keeping his listeners smiling under their own cowboy hats.

Ralph Stanley
Something Old, Something New
Digital Reissues (Rebel Records, 2/22)

February 22, 2011 was the 40th anniversary of Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys'  first recordings for Rebel Records. To honor the occasion, Rebel has reissued two classic  albums for digital download:  Something Old, Something New and I’ll Wear a White Robe.

Among the tracks Ralph recorded during that Rebel Session back in February in 1971, several made it onto Something Old, Something New.  Something Old was his second LP to be released on the Rebel label and the first that included secular material.  The album offers a wide variety of Clinch Mountain Boys era tunes. Hard-driving bluegrass numbers like “Going to Georgia” and “Katy Daley,” slower songs with powerfully rich harmonies like “Will You Miss Me” and “That Lonesome Old Song,” old-time instrumentals like “Old Time Pickin',” and a couple sacred numbers including “Gloryland” sung a cappella in quartet formation.  

The band on the album features The Clinch Mountain Boys in their classic early 1970s lineup with Jack Cooke on bass, Curly Ray Cline on fiddle,  Roy Lee Centers on rhythm guitar, Ralph Stanley on banjo and the band’s then-newest members – Keith Whitley on lead guitar and Ricky Skaggs on mandolin and fiddle.  Lead singing duties are split between Roy Lee and Dr. Stanley.

This album is a treat for new and old fans of Dr. Ralph Stanley, and still sounds remarkably fresh today. And for $8 to download it on Amazon, it's a no-brainer.

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