Saturday, February 5, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue: 2/5/2011

Welcome to the first installment of a new feature I am calling the The Uprooted Album Revue. My goal is to highlight new releases, reissues, and new discoveries I have made in the hopes of sharing works that I find moving and encourage you to check out for yourself.

Daniel Martin Moore
In The Cool Of The Day
(Sub Pop, 1/18)

Before I even played this album I was in love with the ideas behind it: Mr. Moore was going to be revisiting gospel numbers and spirituals from his younger years by memory, while re-arranging, and re-contextualizing them from his own perspective as an adult. And In The Cool of The Day just gets better from there.

Mr. Moore delivers gently sweeping melodies with subtly shifting arrangements that add a new level of unexpectedness to tunes commonly referred to as "gospel". Regardless of one's religious faith or following, or to the degree of one's beliefs, this is an album that covers a lot of ground in atmosphere and feeling. Uplifting, moving, somber, reflective, and yes- lots to believe in.

The Secret Sisters
The Secret Sisters
(Universal, 2010)

I arrived a little late to this party, but late is better than never. I discovered this T Bone Burnett produced album when a friend recommended it, and before I knew it- I was not just playing the recording over and over, but anxiously lined up an interview feature and live performance review.

I really love this record. It feels familiar upon it's first spin as the sisters play respectively to their influences, while gracefully allowing their own personalities shine. Recorded on analog equipment, the album is a refreshing glimpse of the past while reminding us that sometimes doing it as it was done "back-in-the-day" can still sound exciting. A great live act not to be missed.

Carolina Chocolate Drops/ Luminescent Orchstrii
(Nonesuch 1/25)

Genuine Negro Jig was easily one of my favorite records of last year. The Chocolate Drops brought it in force, and seemed to make quite a splash into a variety of music communities with their authenticity and strong performances. This new EP teams the Chocolate Drops with the Romanian-gypsy-string-band Luminescent Orchestrii for an all-too brief set of tunes that leave me craving a full length.

The short and joyious set showcases each act's strengths and attributes, while allowing each group to lead the way on alternating tracks. An inexpensive and all-too-brief work that is easily worth twice it's value compared to some of the full-lengths out there. A terrific addition to your Chocolate Drops collection, as well as highly recommended to new comers seeking something new (as I was to Luminescent Orchestrii).

Abigail Washburn
City of Refuge
(Rounder, 1/11)

I've really enjoyed Ms. Washburn's previous efforts, so I was surprised by not initially liking City of Refuge. There, I've said it. I didn't like it when I heard it- and I'm not going to try to hide it. That said, Song Of The Traveling Daughter and her album with the Sparrow Quartet were two albums I discovered last year and were two of the most surprising and captivating works featuring the banjo that I have heard in a long time. I read that City of Refuge would be a change in direction, but I did not expect such a swerve towards pop, considering that her previous efforts seemed anything but pop. So after two full listens I shelved it.

Well, with many thanks to Daytrotter, and after replaying Ms. Washburn's excellent appearance on the web-broadcast multiple times, I took a chance and tried City of Refuge again. And it's been played a heck of a lot since. Although initially I found the record to be too "pretty" (much like Alison Krauss at her most commercial), I'm over the "pop" hump and am rolling with the tunes as they are within feel of the record.

So to anyone who digs her work and was turned off (or on) by Refuge, do yourself a favor and check out that Daytrotter session. Maybe it'll sway you and help you, like it did for me, to put aside any previous expectations or initial lackluster impressions you may have had towards the new LP, and allow you take it purely on its own merits- surprises and all.

Dylan LeBlanc
Pauper's Field
(Rough Trade, 2010)

Pauper's Field marks the arrival of the 20-year old studio musician and singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc. The debut album finds Mr. LeBlanc mining his rich vocal style and matching it with some lush and nimble finger-picking guitar work. The collection illustrates his deep respect for songwriting while offering up his strengths as a genuine and unique performer all of his own. I imagine the young Mr. LeBlanc as an artist who basks in the present as much as the past.

Pauper's Field draws from a range of influences and can rest easy on it's own merits alongside new country-tinged classics and old familiar favorites. I would proudly recommend this album to folks who enjoy Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker, My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves, Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, and the Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut. Without a doubt, he's someone to keep your eye on.

The Decemberists
The King Is Dead
(Capitol, 1/18)

Simply put, The King Is Dead is a grower that is a stripped-down affair with Colin Meloy and his cohorts regaining the traction that was lost from the disappointing miss-step, Hazards of Love. The band has returned with a direct, simple, and solid Americana-styled album. There's been a lot of talk of this album from both camps: the roots music community vs. the Decemberists purists.

I've always enjoyed the pre-Hazards works immensely, and was quite surprised how boring this album seemed when I first heard it. No boisterious choruses and  no literary trap-doors inciting google searches and dictionary page flipping here. But King is a grower, and one that finds the more familar-sounding and catchiest material raising up the initially-sounding, more mediocre tunes in-between, to new admirable heights. It didn't take long before my faith was restored, revealing a solid album all the way through that finds the band growing and moving somewhere it has not been before.

On the surface, the collection seems far from an innovation, but for a band to leave all of it's bells, whistles, and fans' expectations at home is quite a ballsy move. And one that has been rewarding each time I revisit the album.

The Jayhawks
Hollywood Town Hall (Remastered and Expanded Edition)
Tomorrow The Green Grass (Remastered Legacy Edition)
(Sony Legacy, 1/18)

These two classic-era Jayhawks album reissues are must haves for any alt-country/ roots/ americana fans- whether they already own the originals, and especially if they don't. Hollywood Town Hall features the original album plus five bonus tracks. Tomorrow The Green Grass was the last album to feature Mark Olson, and marked the end of the Olson-Louris era of the band. The Legacy Edition is well worth the cash because it pairs the original album with a full second CD of Gary Louris and Mark Olson playing 18 acoustic recordings called The Mystery Demos.

I could go on about how influential and brilliant these records are, but why listen to me? Go pick these up and listen to the band at it's best for yourself.

Jody Stechor
Going Up On The Mountain
(Acoustic Disc, 2000)

I discovered Jody Stechor's work after listening to an excellent interview with him on the Down Home Radio Show podcast. After listening to the terrific podcast, and realizing he was a member of Peter Rowan's band (who's spectacular Legacy album was one of my top picks of 2010), and a Brooklyn native, I immediately hopped onto Amazon and purchased Going Up On The Mountain. It has been an album that has been in steady rotation ever since, and has begun my process of collecting more of his work.

This collection gathers up some of Mr. Stechor's best work from his early albums of the 1970's, Going Up On The Mountain and Snake Baked A Hoecake, and delivers many highlights, including his first duet performance with his wife and singing partner Kate Brisling. The album feels effortlessly genuine, and is so easy to listen to and natural sounding- it is addictive. And Mr. Stechor's virtuosic performances here are outstanding. For me, it has been a wonderful introduction to Mr. Stechor's discography, and a recommendation I gladly pass on to anyone who enjoys bluegrass and old-time music.

Tony Trischka
Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular (Rounder, 2007)
Territory (Smithsonian Folkways, 2008)

A good friend of mine, who is an aspiring banjo player, turned me onto these two albums by Tony Trischka, and they have been hard to put aside ever since I got my hands on them. Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular finds Mr. Trischka teaming up with an impressive roster of banjo-playing guests, performing as a full-band two-banjo bluegrass unit for this acoustic and mostly instrumental album. Guests include Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Steve Martin, Noam Pikelny, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas. Mandolinist Chris Thile and Michael Daves harmonize on "Run Mountain", and Dudley Connelly lends his vocals to classics including "Fox On The Run" and "Live And Let Live".

Territory is a rich 21-track set composed of 12 solo performances and 9 tunes that pair Mr. Trischka with fellow banjoists Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Bill Evans, Bill Keith, Bruce Molsky, and other guests to mine and celebrate one of America's signature and unique musical instruments. Territory is an apt title as this collection covers so much ground, illuminating many strengths, as well as the surprising range of the banjo. Mr. Trischka explores a wide variety of tunings, experiments with banjo-sounds, and celebrates traditions that keep this instrument so vital to the American musical vernacular. Not to be missed.

1 comment:

  1. Love this feature! Great picks. Will be looking forward to this each month.