Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue 3/30/2011

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

Brian Wright
House On Fire
(Sugar Hill, 3/29)

Brian Wright's new album, House On Fire, is an engaging listen filled with a wealth of enigmatic storytelling and a brilliant assortment of musical arrangements. Stylistically, the record covers a lot of ground- which is quite an accomplishment considering that Mr. Wright played all of the instruments on the album himself.

While Brian Wright may not be a household name yet, House on Fire is sure to widen his audience and draw enthusiastic appreciation for the man's work.  The album's opener, "Striking Watches" is a rich, steady number that follows a bending guitar lick with some muffled drum pounds. It opens up slowly and continues to build momentum with shuffles, twangs, and hand-claps to boot.

From there the record continues to reveal an accomplished songwriter with a lot to say, both musically and lyrically. There's innovative and stylistically striking ballads like "Live Again", 'Mesothelioma", Mean Ol' Wind", "Maria Sugarcane", and "Friend" that all demonstrate the man's power to deliver well-crafted song-songwriter fair. And then there's the county guitar licks of "Blind April", the dusted off "Accordian", the blues-infused "The Good Dr.", and the soulfully layered affair of "Still Got You".

The tunes range from full band arrangements to stripped down affairs, while maintaining an earthy traditionalism, with surprising twists of instrumentation and narrative. The set crosses genres, pulls from across the map, and never rests on nostalgia. Mr. Wright's new record reveals a musician who is clearly a fan of the past, as much as the present, and combines a wide range of influences and styles to create a work that is entirely his own and completely genuine. 

House on Fire is Mr. Wright's third studio album, and his first for Sugar Hill Records. For a limited time, you can pick up House on Fire with a bonus EP called El Mono. You can grab both here.

Ben Hall
Ben Hall!
(Tompkins Square, 3/29)

Ben Hall arrives with his Tompkins Square debut Ben Hall! It's a timeless listen of masterful and graceful guitar playing by the youthful Mr. Hall. The collection marks Hall's arrival with a confident record composed of classic material, featuring compositions by Merle Travis, The Louvin Brothers, Roger Miller, and Woody Guthrie, as well as classic jazz standards, and one original.  

From the grin-and-nod inducing swing of opener "Cannonball", to the shuffle of "Guitar Rag" to the glide of "Alabama Jubilee" the album sets a the pace with a string of irresistible numbers that do not let up in their appeal. The album's eleven tracks seems to glide right by over the course of the brief half-hour set, but is almost too-easy to keep on repeating a few times through each time. One play just doesn't seem like enough, and I certainly found myself listening to the album at least a few times through every time I took it for a spin.

According to the press release, Ben Hall won the National and International Thumbstyle Guitar Contests in 2005, as well as the Horizon Award from the National Thumbpicker’s Hall of Fame. But Hall wasn’t strongly pursuing a professional career until the legendary Charlie Louvin found him and eventually led him to Tompkins Square label, which had released Louvin’s last few albums. Hall has been working as an in-demand playing on recent albums by Louvin, Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) & Cortney Tidwell, among others.

Ben Hall! is another fine effort released via the Tompkins Square label that has been releasing some fine and stylistically varied releases by superb guitar players such as Michael Chapman, William Tyler, Nick Jonah Davis, Frank Fairfield, and the eclectic and sprawling collections series, Imaginational Anthems. It's had not to talk up the label, because I am consistently impressed by it's output of incredible releases. And Ben Hall! is right up there with some of the best albums the label has to offer.

Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons
White Lighter
(Wrong Reasons, 2010)

Joe Fletcher is a songwriter from Providence, Rhode Island who has been making quite a name for himself lately.  He has toured with a roster of incredible artists including The Low Anthem, John Doe, Robert Earl Keen, Deer Tick, Phosphorescent, Those Darlins, The Supersuckers, Shooter Jennings, Holly Golightly, The Dutchess and The Duke, The Devil Makes Three, and many more. And he's building his audience up the old fashioned way: putting out his records and playing shows whenever, and wherever he can.

White Lighter is Mr. Fletcher's second self-produced album, although this time he had some help from his Kickstarter project to help fund the final stages of production. Joe Fletcher, who seems to have solidified his Wrong Reasons band here, brings a maturity and strong sense of accomplishment to his sophomore effort. It's a much more fleshed out sounding album compared to his debut, Bury Your Problems. Mr. Fletcher has added a bunch of guests, back-up vocalists, and has taken a large step forward by expanding the instrumentation on his new record. White Lighter respectfully conjures the ghosts of country's past, while adding some rock n' roll swagger with the immediacy of a good old honky-tonk bounce.

The variety of tunes on White Lighter give the album a lot of twists and turns, and showcase the songwriter's strengths equally as both a songwriter and performer. It's a well-paced and carefully crafted collection of county-blues tunes. Mr. Fletcher has said that he is much more focused on getting folks to hear his record, rather than pocket each dollar of every copy sold. And he's certainly put his money where his mouth is: for a limited time you can download White Lighter for FREE here. Do yourself a favor and take Mr. Fletcher up on his offer and download it now while you can. You'll be glad you did.

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