Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue 4/19/2011

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

Ralph Stanley
A Mother's Prayer
(Rebel, 4/19)

Dr. Ralph Stanley's new album, A Mother's Prayer, simply put, is a spiritual album. It is a collection that exceeds expectations and is as timeless sounding as it is rewarding to listen to. 

Often referring to his own work as "mountain music", Dr. Stanley is the genuine article and a true living legend. His legacy is as astonishing as it is inspiring, and on A Mother's Prayer, his seasoned and stirring vocal performances are perfectly fused with the transcendent and true raw power of the material. Listening to the record, it is easy to understand why spiritual music stands the test of time despite how music trends come and go. Mother's Prayer grants it's promise as a pure, genuine, and carefully crafted batch of songs that are masterfully performed and easy to get swept up by.

Dr. Stanley's rich, earthy vocals conjure up the humbleness of his Clinch Mountains home in Virginia, and as the photograph on the album's cover suggests, it's as if he has brought us there on this recording to join him in the time-honored tradition of song. Stylistically, Dr. Stanley guides us across the record as it delivers rapid breakdowns, heartfelt ballads, and stirring acappella performances. With a total of 14 spiritual tunes here, the set spans a rich musical landscape, and brings us a living treasure, who humbly shares a deeply moving and powerful work that is as rewarding as it is moving. A Mother's Prayer will no doubt stand the test. 

I would highly recommend this one along with Johnny Cash's My Mother's Hymn Book (whic is also included in his Uneathered American Recordings box set). Together they compliment each other as two modern spiritual albums with such naturalistic appeal, by legendary artists sharing immensely moving and personal meaningful material with the listener. Just awesome.

O' Death
(Ernest Jenning, 4/19)

It seems only appropriate to follow a review of the new Dr. Ralph Stanley album with a band that shares the name of a tune that the man made famous on the O' Brother Where Art Thou album, and exposed a whole new audience to tradional music, the band O' Death.

O' Death's new album, Outside, finds the band expanding on their previous efforts, with all of their theatrically-nuanced storytelling and Appalachian-inspired musical prowess firmly intact. It's an equally declarative and measured record from the New York band. Although it's still one that enthusiastically lurches forward without inhibition along with the band's other fine albums, O' Death seem to have crafted Outside with a purposeful attention to it's details.

The band may employ ukuleles, banjos, fiddles, and drums, but O' Death admirably sidesteps the mere "folk" label boundaries with their patchwork delivery and diverse instrumentation. These songs are honest, narrative, and pure, and while the band does in fact draw inspiration from deep musical traditions, O' Death is reaching deep within themselves as a collective, and in turn, creating their own interpretive sound and style. 

While Outside bravely moves between rollicking parades, haunted plucks and shuffles, and electric sing-alongs, the record maintains it's authenticity throughout. Whether they are dragging us through rough terrain, raising us up on their shoulders, guiding us along a creaky floor in the dark, or singing us to sleep, it is easy to trust them and want to go along. Fans of Sam Amidon, Okkervil River, and Cave Singers will have much to enjoy here.

The Feelies
Here Before
(Bar None, 4/12)

Time For A Witness is an album that has almost always been played once on each roadtrip I have taken since I bought my first copy back when I was in high school. By first copy, I mean that I literally wore out my first copy (a CD mind you), and had to replace damaged and lost ones at least two of times over the years (that I can easily recall, maybe more...). 

I first discovered The Feelies when I heard "Sooner Or Later",  which was the first single off of Time For A Witness. As a young fan of Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, R.E.M., and other mainstays of 90's alt-rock radio stations that was equally as influenced by new wave, punk, and DIY aesthetics, I found The Feelies' relaxed and catchy sound irresistible and quickly sought out their other releases. Needless to say, Time for a Witness was the band's last studio album, and that was about 20 years ago.

After catching the band in 2008 with Sonic Youth on a special 4th of July show in NYC,  I saw them again when some more reunion dates were announced. It was a welcome return to form, and soon word quickly spread of some new studio work. Although the band's debut album, Crazy Rhythms (which is now reissued and sounds great) is the stuff legends can be based on, it is a singular effort that stands apart from the group's larger discography. 

The Feelies changed direction stylistically with their second record, Good Earth, and continued on down that path with Only Life, and Time For A Witness. The band's new album for 2011, Here Before, finds the band continuing on in the vein of the majority of their recorded work. While it may not sound like much of a departure from their previous efforts, The Feelies are as dependable in their songwriting as they come, and Here Before certainly delivers the goods.  

The band's sound is as consistent, enjoyable, and rewarding as ever on Here Before. Layered with acoustic guitar strums, nimble picking on clear bright electric guitars, and a rhythm section that is as predictable as a heartbeat, I am so happy to have these guys back on the scene making new music and playing live shows. It's like when you haven't eaten a PB & J sandwich in ages and when you finally have one, you can't believe it's been so long. Here Before is kinda like that kids.

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