Monday, July 18, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue 7/18/2011

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

Pokey LaFarge and The South City Three
Middle of Everywhere
(Free Dirt Records, 7/19)

Mr. LaFarge and the South City Three return hot on the heels of their excellent last album, 2010's Riverboat Soul, and their recently released 7" single for Jack White's Third Man Records, "Chittlin' Cookin' Time In Cheatham County" b/w "Pack It Up", with their superb new long player, Middle of Everywhere.

The group's outstandingly addictive new album, Middle of Everywhere, finds the instantly likable Mr. LaFarge and his partners expanding their sound on this effort with the addition of horn players, as well as continuing to punctuate their numbers with their always-dependable nimble guitar playing, bass slapping, bell-ringing, washboard scratching, and harmonica wails. The familiarity and playfulness of these old-time musical ingredients come together in a fresh recording that is best served hot.

There's lots to dig into on Middle of Everywhere. The grin-inducing call and response of "Head To Toe", the glide of "Shenandoah River", the toe-taping inducer "Drinkin' Whiskey Tonight", and the guitar bounce of "Good Country Girls", are just a couple of the many highlights to be found here that go down easy. But these are just four numbers among the thirteen here that can all equally be called favorites, depending who you talk to.

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three gracefully toe the line of their influences here, but pivot just enough to the side to have it both ways: to make their own recordings singular, while tempting the record collector and newcomer alike to dig into some older recordings of the past. The group has delighted fans during their performances in small clubs, as well as converted newly-acquired enthusiasts at their festival dates. Middle of Everywhere continues the trend, and is a tough one to put down. I should know- I've been listening to my advance copy constantly since May. It's a recording well worth your scratch, and one you will joyfully revisit many, many, times. Simply essential.

I interviewed Pokey LaFarge last April. You can read the interview here.

William Elliott Whitmore
Field Songs
(Anti-, 7/12)

William Elliott Whitmore hails from his farm in Lee County, Iowa. His story begins when he was drawn to the DIY lifestyle and culture of punk rock and hardcore music, and began hitting the road opening up for his friends' bands, armed with his banjo. He soon found himself with a three-record deal from Southern Records, and spent time opening for such eclectic acts as The Pogues, Clutch, Murder By Death, and Converge to name a few.

In 2009, William Elliott Whitmore signed with Anti- Records and released Animals In The Dark. He has also continued to tour, most notably with Chris Cornell on his last sold-out solo acoustic tour.

William Elliott Whitmore just dropped his highly-anticipated new album, Field Songs last week on July 12th.  Throughout the record, Mr. Whitmore projects his distinctively earthy and powerful vocals to conjure up tales of the American landscape and it's people who work it. His impassioned vocal performance is matched with instrumentation rooted in country, folk, bluegrass, and protest songs.

Banjo and bass drum kicks drive the set, giving Field Songs a casual and intimate feel, allowing the narratives to unravel at their own pace throughout. The result, as commonly found in some of the most timeless folk music around, is a rustic sounding collection of string-driven tunes that never rely on nostalgia for nostalgia's sake, but refreshingly push themselves unflinchingly into our very present times of unease and uncertainty.  

Field Songs offers as much ponderous reflection and observation, as it does carefully crafted attention to its narrative details, deliberate instrumentation, and intimate appeal. It's a rewarding record that fit's well among Mr. Whitmore's previous efforts, and provides a comforting sense of optimism- something we can all use a little bit more of in order to get us all through challenging times. 

You can read my recent interview with Mr. Whitmore here.

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