Sunday, August 14, 2011

Uprooted Album Revue 8/14/2011

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

This edition of the Uprooted Album Revue includes releases by Richard Buckner, Dex Romweber Duo, Maiden Radio, Dead Man Winter, and Kris Delmhorst.

Richard Buckner
Our Blood 
(Merge Records)

Since recording and touring for his last record, 2006's Meadow, Richard Buckner seemed to have all but disappeared, leaving fans only to speculate what his next move would be. As time passed it wasn't too much to guess that the wondering by fans turned to questions of if there would be something else coming from the songwriter.

During this span of time since Meadow, Richard Buckner moved from Brooklyn to upstate New York, took on a film score, endured equipment failures, had his batch of new studio recordings stolen and his house broken into, and was mistakenly entangled with the law over a burned out car and dead corpse. So, not too surprising to any of his fans after learning this bit of news- it's understandingly taken him a little bit of time to sort things out and offer up a new album of recordings.

Our Blood was well worth the wait and does not disappoint. It's a cinematic record that clocks in just below 40 minutes that retains the sparseness of Buckner's best work while punctuated throughout by deliberate nuances and atmospheric layers of guitar, bass, organ, loops, and of course- Buckner's distinctive voice. With song titles like "Traitor", "Escape", "Thief", "Witness", "Confession", and "Hindsight", listeners can look to Buckner's own personal history behind the making of this album as much as dig into the murky, ponderous, and enigmatic pieces completely for their own sake.

Our Blood is a strong record by one of my favorite songwriters that surprisingly opens up more and more with each listen. The set hits upon several of the artists previous accomplishments: the personally revealing  aspects of Bloomed and Devotion & Doubt, the sonic layering of Since and Impasse, and the straight up consistency of Dents and Shells and Meadow. But Our Blood also brings in a new fresh element to the man's process: a mysterious and ambiguous cinematic quality that hasn't quite been this evident before. There are some curious turns on the road running through this landscape. Some stretches build gradually and ease us into them subtly, while others surprise with their sharpness, and even run off. Whether it's taken as a concept album slab, or broken up into smaller bits, Our Blood more than satisfies while also enticing us to wonder what Buckner will offer us next.

Richard Buckner will be hitting the road this month on a co-headlining tour with David Kilgour. You can read my two-part interview with Richard Buckner here: Part One and Part Two.

Dex Romweber Duo
Is That You In The Blue?
(Bloodshot Records)

The legendary Dex Romweber and his sister Sara, aka the Dex Romweber Duo, have gloriously returned with their latest full-length record Is That You In the Blue. On their last studio album for Bloodshot, 2008's Ruins of Berlin, Dex and Sara were joined by a roster of impressive guests including Chan Marshall (Cat Power), Neko Case, and Exene Cervenka of X. Since then, the duo connected with Jack White to record a 7" single as well as a 10" live record at White's own Third Man Records in Nashville.

With Is that You In The Blue, the criminally under-appreciated and impressively prolific Dex Romweber Duo have crafted another excellent album that continues to hit upon all of the group's strengths while stretching out a bit too. Surf, rock, swing, soul, and country are all here. The two move between styles throughout the set, and while stylistically influenced by the past, make no mistake: the genuine passion, inspired energy, and visceral delivery are very much in the here-and-now. As with Ruins of BerlinIs That You In the Blue was recorded at the studio of Rick Miller (Southern Culture On The Skids), and the sound of the record intuitively dismisses nostalgia to deliver a set of tunes that is sharply honed in on the duo's songwriting chops, their agile stylistic shifts, and Dex's captivating delivery.

I remember when I first saw Dex and Sara live in NYC opening for Cat Power in the mid 2000's. As for many opening acts, I didn't have high expectations to see a band I never heard of. Well, when Dex and Sara took the stage, all hell broke wildly loose. Dex's and Sara's performances were all out enthralling. It was one of the most awe-invoking and inspiring sets I have ever seen.

I still talk about the impression that performance had on me pretty frequently. I mean Dex just poured everything he had into it live. At the time, I was at a low point creatively, and struggling for direction. When I saw Dex and Sara dish it all out with everything they had to a half-filled house (at most)- I was artistically-moved, creatively fired-up,  and freshly motivated in such a BIG way. The crowd didn't matter. The two were just so in it, and to see Dex pouring himself so completely into his performance- it just blew me away and still inspires me artistically to this day.

Is That You In the Blue is a great entry point to Dex's catalog for newcomers,  as well as another welcome reward for longtime fans. The duo's energy and passion translates crystal clear here. This is one of the man's best records, and easily one of the year's best too. Highly recommended.

Maiden Radio
(Ol Kentuck Recordings)

The women of Maiden Radio have just released their second effort, Lullabies, on Daniel Martin Moore's brand-new record label called Ol Kentuck. It's the first official release for Mr. Moore's new record label, and it all came about with Moore simply asking his friends if he could put it out there. You can read more about the album in my interview with Maiden Radio here.

My appreciation for the group began when I first discovered Cheyenne Marie Mize's 2010 collaboration with Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham), called the Among The Gold EP. That release sparked my interest and inspired me to track down more of Mize's recordings, including the first Maiden Radio self-titled debut. Maiden Radio is a catchy and appealing debut, filled with a collection of traditional tunes are as easy to listen to as they were casually recorded.  

Lullabies makes a great companion to Maiden Radio. The new album is filled with some spectacular covers such as "Lavender Blue", "Go To Sleep Little Baby", and Gillian Welch's "Dear Someone". Sure, the title of Lullabies delivers on it's promise, but for casual listeners to overlook this record because of the title would be a big mistake. Lullabies is as casual and intimate a listen as it is respectful to its influences and source material. The record plays as music for music's sake, offering itself to community, family, friends, and any and all welcome ears.  My suggestion: pick up Maiden Radio and Lullabies and then combine them in the same playlist on your music player. I assure you that it will be in your steady rotation before you even know what hit you.

Dead Man Winter
Bright Lights
(Banjodad Records)

Dave Simonett, best known as the singer and guitarist of Trampled By Turtles, drops the debut album, Bright Lights, from his new project called Dead Man Winter. Although Mr. Simonett leads the band's lineup, which includes fellow TBT bandmates Ryan Young and Tim Saxhaug, this is not a Trampled By Turtles record.

Dead Man Winter is a full-band affair, in the alt-country sense of things, and Bright Lights is a record filled with the kind of dependable, insightful, and lasting songwriting that Mr. Simonett has delivered consistently with Trampled By Turtles for years. The acoustic instrument repertoire of his other band (which I love by the way) has been shelved for a much more sonically expansive, plugged-in album filled with guitars, bass, drums, as well as some surprises.

I recently spoke with Dave Simonett (for a forthcoming interview feature), and he talked a quite a bit of his songwriting process. As a prolific man who seems to always be working, he explained that when he's writing, he's very self-directed, and the tunes he comes up with can usually fit stylistically into either project. And sometimes the songs just happen to go back and forth between acts, as found on Bright Lights. For example, although "New Orleans" first appeared on Trampled By Turtles' Palomino album, the song was actually originally written as a Dead Man Winter tune. "New Orleans" is wisely nestled inside the second half of the record, offering up the new tunes to listeners first and then hitting them up with a familiar song, but in a new arrangement.

For fans of Trampled By Turtles, Bright Lights offers a new perspective of Dave Simonett. Since  Dead Man Winter shines the light primarily on Simonett's own songwriting, the album allows fans to expand their impression of him beyond his other band. Bright Lights is a solid release by an artist clearly capable of stretching himself out in fresh and rewarding ways, without sacrificing any of his attributes. Sometimes looking at things, or in this case, listening to a familiar voice, in a new way, makes you appreciate it all the more. We should all be so lucky.

Kris Delmhorst
(Signature Sounds)

From the opening acoustic guitar lines of the album's first track "You Might Think",  I was immediately struck with memories of that landmark video by the Cars back in the 1980's when videos still ruled MTV. But make no mistake, Cars by Kris Delmhorst is not a simple nostalgia trip, but a enjoyable, fun, and tight set of respectful renditions.

Filled with 11 numbers that clock in just under the 45-minute mark, Cars surprisingly stretches out and opens up the source material by changing up the new-wave instrumentation from electronic and electric to largely acoustic and organic. Guitar, fiddle, accordion, upright bass, suitcase drum kit, mandolin, clarinet, penny whistle, and harmonica are all here. And just as The Cars deceivingly convinced the casual listener that their radio-friendly songs were simple and catchy, Ms. Delmhorst preserves the pop appeal of each track, while going in a looser, more organic direction. The results illuminate the multiple layers that exist in these songs, bringing a new perspective to the songwriting and instrumentation.

Longtime fans of The Cars, and judging from this record- I count Ms. Delmhorst as one of them, have known that Ric Ocasek and company were not just composing catchy ear candy, but some of the best popular songwriting and contemporary instrumentation to come out of the 1980's. On Cars, Kris Delmhorst faithfully offers upbeat hits like "You Might Think", "Shake It Up", "Just What I Needed", and "Best Friend's Girl". She also wisely keeps the bouncy upbeat pace and playfulness of these originals intact (Check out "Hello Again"). While "Drive" sheds the original's ghostly haze for a more casual, passive lament.

The production of Cars is not as thick as found on Heartbeat City or Shake It Up. Delmhorst is not after a rock record, but she also steers clear of the singer-songwriter record too. She's smartly stripped down the production while staying true to the dense arrangements and sly humor inside of the originals. Delmhorst has filled each of the tunes with a softer sensibility, while allowing the intimacy of the performances to evoke gentler smiles and grins, but just as much foot tapping as The Cars did with these songs. The casual delivery and fresh sounds of these tunes may be stylistically lighter, but they sound just as sweet, allowing listeners to pick out new surprises while enjoying the beats as much as ever.

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