FolkWorld #47 03/2012

CD & DVD Reviews

Wayne Haught "The Crying Kind"
Resist Not; 2011

Appalachian folk/blues music from the very urban Oakland, California is not something often mentioned in one sentence. But it is not too surprising, as this sort of music is quite popular when there are artists sharp enough with their playing and interpretive skills. Especially when this artist has headlined famed punk club 924 Gilman Street. Along with an intense attitude, Wayne Haught has all the classic skills needed and of course adds some nicely pointed modern lyrics in his songs. His sister assists nicely with additional vocals and instrumentation along with a few other musicians. There is a lot of space in the music which allows the lyrics to strike the strong chord here. The direction is often an interesting one in that there is a spiritual confrontation toward people who think themselves spiritual in talk, but not action. This is an interesting twist and comes off well amidst the steady guitar strumming and instrumental fills. The music was solid enough, but the lyrics are what stay with me most after a full listen.
© David Hintz

Brendan Devereux "Into the Orange"
Sitric Records; 2011

For those of you that like Irish folk music, even when the vocals are NOT delivered with that classic instantly recognizable accent, then this album is right up your alley. While I am hardly a linguist, I do find the range of accents in the Irish music I listen at to be quite fascinating. Of course it is not just the accent, but the timeless classic vocal style in general that Brendan Devereux has which adds much to the success of this record. And that is all fine and well, because it is all acoustic guitar thereafter (and a touch of the harmonica). The guitar work is fine without offering anything spectacular. After looking at all of that, the main focus is on the songs. The title cut is excellent and “Bad Times” carries a nice little power to it as well. This is one Dubliner that I will be on the lookout if he is playing when I next visit that lovely city.
© David Hintz

Little Feat "40 Feat. The Hot Tomato Anthology"
Proper; 2011

The late Lowell George and his slide guitar work have endured for many decades now and there still is plenty of interest in his band, Little Feat. This is a compilation of the band’s live recordings that is designed for the hardcore fans. There are 3 CDs filled with rare recordings from different parts of the band’s 40 years. Only the first disc features Lowell George with live recordings from 1971 to 1978. Personally, I never cared for the band when I was young but found this material more interesting now. There are some typical blues and old-time rock’n’roll moves that do not offer a whole lot out of the ordinary, but George is a fine guitarist with a tough voice. “The Fan” and “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” rock out nicely and show off a few nice songwriting moves as well. Bonnie Raitt guests on one cut. Sound quality is varied, but at its worst, it is decent bootleg quality and that is as they promise as the goal here is to provide material toward a fuller history of the band. They still remind me of some sort of cross between the Grateful Dead and the Band with elements of funk, Spanish-classical, and honky-tonk tossed in. There are two ‘post-George’ discs, which cover 1988-2004 and unsurprisingly have better sound quality (but lack some of the raw appeal). The good thing is that the original members and newer players hold their own and offer many more fine live songs from their extensive back catalog. The songs breeze by and although this has not converted me into a rabid fan, the rabid fans will come back to this often.
© David Hintz

Mark Mulholland "The Cactus and the Dragon"
Cannery Row Records; 2011

Although there is a title cut finishing off this album, the title also gives a nice nod to the musical feeling established throughout the record. The cactus of the western plains is there, but there is also an exotic, worldly touch with the guitar sounds and deep in the mix accordions that gave me a bit of the Eastern feel of the dragon. The tempo directs things toward laconic folk rock. There is a nice mix of electric and acoustic guitar between the songs. The vocals are perhaps a bit too laid back at times, but they have a nice quality that keeps things a bit dreamier than the usual folk-rock album. That is aside from one lounge song misstep that sounded out of place on this album. But the title cut closed this out in fine fashion with its Decembrists meet Spiritualized feeling. Mark Mulholland is an interesting artist and one worth keeping an eye on.
© David Hintz

Wes Tucker & the Skillets "Live in NYC"
Own label; 2011

Wes Tucker and his band cover familiar Americana turf, but enough gusto and energy to warrant further listens. The songs are solid and there is just enough variety between the heartland alt-country sound, gutsy rockers, and even a cool Isaac Hayes guitar led number to give discriminating listeners plenty to chew on. The guitar work is consistently crisp and capable of taking over when needed. Rhythms are sharp and keyboards are welcome as this band sounds quite connected with nowhere to hide in this live recording. There is some safe territory within this genre, but this band rises above often enough for me to give this additional listens.
© David Hintz

Priscilla Ahn "When You Grow Up"
Blue Note; 2011

Here is a nice little surprise, although it should not be. Priscilla Ahn has recorded a classic folk record that has that magic feeling of the late sixties and early seventies in the manner of Joan Mills, June Tabor, or Vashti Bunyan. Although many folk albums then were not psychedelic per se, many contained the psychedelic vibe that was simply part of the culture back then. This album also has that spirit. Although this is primarily voice, acoustic guitar, and keyboards, there is some nice bass, glockenspiel and light percussion that add just enough to these songs. They really do not need a lot thanks to the haunting vocal style especially noted in a song like “9th song”. The dreaminess in the vocals fits into a more modern style, but this album effectively bridges many styles of folk into a fulfilling blend.
© David Hintz

Ed Hale "Beautiful Losers"
Dying Van Gogh Records; 2011

There are quite a few subtle variations in these songs. I hear slick singer songwriter material, folk, and indie rock moves as well. I was initially worried that Ed Hale, from the British band Transcendence, may be trying a bit too much, but as the record went on, it was clear that he had written some lovely songs and his multiple arrangements and styles provided some nice variations. Some of the album got a little too comfortable for my tastes as it went on, but it is hard to complain about these likable songs and solid delivery. Hale has an excellent voice and will continue to win over a lot of fans with his passion evidenced on this record and likely his live shows as well.
© David Hintz

Fiddler’s Green "Wall of Folk"
Deaf Shepherd Recordings; 2011

Although fans of the Pogues and Gogol Bordello should immediately look into this band, they actually share only the most general theme of bringing punk energy to folk recordings. Musically, this band is much closer to Swedish prog-folk-metal band Hagen with the crunching guitars and speedy foot tapping rhythms. “Irish Speedfolk” is what they call it and that title works well enough, as this is very Irish and very fast. The song “Victor and the Demons” reminds me of a cross between Green Day and Boston’s great Irish punk band “Street Dogs”. Being that I always see Street Dogs when they tour through, I would love to see this band as well. They would be a blast live and this studio recording captures the intensity as if it were live (with quality production evident). There are some folkier ballads to offset things with the lovely “Lost to the Moon” being the standout with the nice acoustic guitar and haunting flute. There is also some excellent violin work that varies speed and tones nicely for those that are worried this is too guitar heavy.
© David Hintz

A Seated Craft "The Savage and the Small"
Songs & Whispers; 2011

We have eleven songs of delicate modern folk songs. There is a light touch throughout with clean innocent female vocals atop rock and lounge instruments. This is agreeable to the ear, but plays it a bit too safely by not breaking out from the pack. Still, they succeed in providing a steady album that will play well in the background or up front for those that want to relax and drift away with them.
© David Hintz

Hi-Lo & In Between "We are not the Wind"
Beste! Unterhaltung, 2011

I really like this record. Rarely does the simple meet the complex and meld together so majestically. The loner stoner folk style is present in many songs, but there are also dream pop tones and lots of instrumental color. “I’m Going to the Valley of Sorrow Pt. III” was the song that had my head spinning with its Velvet Underground meets jazz during a drone session sounds. All that and a folk song were somehow buried in there as well. Amazing sounds, not unlike This Mortal Coil’s folkier efforts. “Virginia’s Eyes” almost sounds like an American pop song with a slightly jangled guitar. But not much else is American from this Finnish band, aside from the lyrics, all sung in English. There is a timeless European flavor with a nod to the classic Berlin art scene. But that is just my imagination drifting off to this wonderful music. This is fresh vital music for today.
© David Hintz

The Monotrol Kid "What About the Finches"
Own label; 2011

Nice loner folk here with delicate acoustic guitar and quietly intense vocal work. The harmonies are particularly good and I believe they are all that of the singer/guitarist Erik Van den Broeck who is indeed the Monotrol Kid. “The Devil Song” has a nice dark distant space established like an old blues song, but sounding like timeless folk. Good effort here and well worth a listen of folk fans that want to see a few twists and turns. Do take the time to listen, as the conviction here will give you a quick idea if this is something you want to latch on to.
© David Hintz

Cowboy Junkies "The Nomad Series –
Volume 3: Sing in my Meadow"
Latent Recordings, 2011

There are three reasons why I really love what the Cowboy Junkies are doing with this series. First, this four-part series consist of four full-length albums released within 18 months. Not since the 1960s have many major bands maintained this sort of release schedule. And I for one am tired of waiting 3-4 years for a new album from some artists, especially when they have the songs that they could be recording. Second, this type of series allows full creative explorations for the band with room for individual whims and explorations (a previous release featured Vic Chesnutt covers for example). Third, this band is simply great and I just love hearing new music by them any time I can. I am immediately excited by this release with a strong fuzz guitar opener that continues through the entire album. The songs do vary from psychedelic jams to eerie folk rock with the fuzz guitar deeper in the mix. If you really enjoy the sort of thing Robert Plant has done in the last ten years or you get into bands like Woven Hand, Dead Meadow, and the Decemberists, then you should be listening to this series and about anything else this band puts out.
© David Hintz

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst "Kindness"
Silent City; 2011

This begins with a real country feeling, but ultimately a straight-ahead rock approach takes over. There remains a countrified singer songwriter approach, but this band wants to keep things upbeat and strong. Even when things slow down a bit, the rhythm section keeps a gutsy beat and the guitars thrust things forward. This really enlivens the material as so often this kind of music slips away into the background for me. And that is a good thing because the lyrics don’t quite reach these heights. But these guys bring the feeling of a vibrant live show to this recording and offer some nice variety of sounds with a violin in particular. Nice job.
© David Hintz

Hat Check Girl "Six Bucks Shy"
Gallway Bay Music; 2011

If there is such a thing as dream lounge, then this may be the poster child for that subgenre. There are nice dream pop elements with the languid instrumentation with plenty of sustain and echo. But the vocals are something out of a jazz bar, yet they enhance this style nicely. At times there is more whispering than singing, but it is quite effective in bringing out the stories in the lyrics. There is a male voice that also joins the mostly female leads, which also gives a nice depth and variety to the songs. I would not call any of this folk, but the open spaces in the songs make for a nice fit with folk/singer-songwriter acts. They do find room for a neo-gospel number called “Jake & the Five Plaids” and a few country moves here and there which add some subtle movement between songs.
© David Hintz

Trevor Hall "Everything, Everytime, Everywhere"
Vanguard; 2011

I admit to being a bit worried with the opening song’s sanitized reggae sound. But the next cut “Brand New Day” brought a big smile to my face as Trevor Hall showed exceptional pop songwriting with a great rocking arrangement. The song was clean and accessible, but there was a lot going on in the mix. Most of the album leaned toward the rhythms of the first song, but there were nice folky touches and dancehall moves as well. The variety kept things interesting and there was a slick production throughout, which was difficult to judge whether or not that was an enhancement or not. I lean toward looking at it as a positive, although there were times this was a bit too slick and mainstream for my tastes. However, I think there is a strong audience for this quality music and solid delivery.
© David Hintz

Freebo "Something to Believe In"
Poppabo Music; 2011

Chances are you have seen or heard Freebo as a part of the bands of Bonnie Raitt, CSN, Maria Muldaur, Ringo Starr, and many others. Freebo takes his quality bass playing along with some guitar work and lead vocals to these ten original songs and one cover. All of the originals are co-written and he has good session drummers and a few other guests, most notably Ten Years After guitarist Albert Lee on the final cut. The songs don’t exactly excite me a whole lot, but they are quite varied. From titles like “She Loves my Dog more than Me” to “My Personal GPS” they range from cute to cringe worthy. Musically, things are comfortable and a bit too safe and simple to really latch onto for many listeners, certainly this one. It is safe to say that I would much prefer his instrumental prowess behind other singer-songwriters.
© David Hintz

Son of the Velvet Rat "Red Chamber Music"
Monkey, 2011

As my CD changer spun around to a new disc that I had forgotten I had in the tray, I heard a raspy Bob Dylan voice greet me. My Dylan CDs were on the shelf, so I finally figured out that this was the new Son of the Velvet Rat CD. By the second song, I was hooked and found the Dylan comparisons to be subtler and fully positive (although Tom Rapp and more modern folk equivalents are probably the better comparison). Georg Altziebler’s original songs are thoughtful with deep rootsy arrangements that allow for flexible flourishes from the players. “The Vampire Song” has some great salsa brass, but succeeds as a very catchy folk-rock sort of song. Lucinda Williams adds some vocals on a few tracks and all the back-up singers and players do a great job at creating atmosphere for these songs. All in all, this is a very good record for folk fans and songwriting aficionados.
© David Hintz

Jack Harris "The Flame and the Pelican"
Own label; 2011

Good clean simple folk is served on this menu. The acoustic guitar has delicate picking while the voice is soft with just a little thrust to it. There is some light accompaniment on some songs, but Harris’s guitar playing is far enough above average that it can carry the songs along quite nicely. The songs are easy to get lost in with the nice melodic patterns and smooth production. Jack Harris could easily carry a coffee house crowd or a larger club with his skills. It is always nice to hear a deft finger style guitarist and this record will warrant multiple listenings.
© David Hintz

Gypsy Soul "Wanderlust"
Own label; 2009

This record is a couple of years old, but still was well worth the listen. This is a primarily a duo featuring female vocals and a multi-instrumentalist handling all but a few duties. They do well with the arrangements as the strings integrate nicely with the expected bass and drums. And the guitar work on the instrumental “Epona’s Wild Daughter” is quite lovely. Ultimately, this is a nice sounding record. Musically and vocally it is quite strong with a lush pop-rock-near country feeling. It is more of a California vibe than anything else, although it is a bit more universal than the Topanga County bands usually sound. The lyrics do not seem to stand out quite as much as the music and there may not be anything much beyond what you have heard before. But there is a strength in the sound that is worth giving a listen to either here or at a live show.
© David Hintz

Bottoms Up Blues Gang "Handle It"
Blue Skunk, 2011

There is more jazz in this St. Louis styled blues duo than I expected. In reading the notes, there is mention of New Orleans influence and I can go along with that when I hear the horn arrangements on many of the songs. That and the kazoo give a good-natured feeling to some of the songs. The edgy female vocals deliver plenty of gutsy blues, although they have restrained tension and do not go over the top (a welcome change of style). There is also some fine harmonica and raw percussion that feels like it is coming right of someone’s spare bedroom. There is plenty here for all blues fans and people who like the quality of few different styles working their way into the mix of quality songs.
© David Hintz

Ian Foster "The Evening Light"
Own label; 2011

Often when I get stacks of CDs, I wonder why there is not an artist up to the challenge of playing pure folk music with both a sense of history and modern sense of place. Much of the music I hear is good to excellent, but it is only every now and then someone like Ian Foster captures that great ‘folk’ feeling I am after. His songs are all thoughtful devoid of many of the wincing clichés I hear in other records. His acoustic guitar work is above average and not overly flashy. He uses light accompaniment to full band arrangements depending on the song. Foster is from the fertile folk ground of Newfoundland and has toured Canada and Europe. I am hoping he makes it down my way, as he would no doubt do a great job in a folk club. Folk clubs are always in need of quality writers and players. Ian Foster is all of that.
© David Hintz

Mary Black "Stories from the Steeples"
3u Records; 2011

The legendary Mary Black is back with her first studio album in six years. She shows she has as much vigor as anytime in her 36-year career, which began as the singer for a nice little band called General Humbert. I have seen her live show in the past year and this album sounds arranged in roughly the same manner as that show.[44] There are some more thorough string arrangements here, which are somewhat excessive in my view. Most of the arrangements are contemporary and like Ms. Black’s extraordinary voice, do not fall into Irish accented stereotypes. Although I love a thickly accented singer like Dick Gaughan or Shane MacGowan, Mary Black has a voice flexible enough to cover a lot more ground. She can also bring a lovely Irish feeling when the song calls for it, such as on “One True Place”. My favorite cut was “Mountains to the Sea” written by a pair of Australian songwriters she has worked with often. She also features the contemporary songs of a young Irish songwriter Danny O’Reilly who featured heavily in her live show. She shares some vocal duties with such luminaries as Imelda May, Janis Ian, and Finbar Furey. And future star (and daughter) Roison O also adds some backing vocals to a couple of songs. Fans will not be disappointed with this rock solid record.
© David Hintz

Andy Poxon "Red Roots"
EllerSoul; 2011

Never mind the roots, Andy Poxon’s shock red afro will really take you back to the sixties every bit as much as neo-psychedelic bands will. His music is much cleaner and straightforward than that and settles nicely into blues-rock. The vocals are solid and the guitar work is first rate. The sound is particularly nice with a crisp note for note attack evident in spite of the use of just the right amount of fuzz. A couple of other fascinating things are present here. First, he recorded these tracks at the age of 16, so if this is his starting point, I think we can expect an outstanding future. Second, he lives right here by me in the Washington DC area, so when he gets old enough to play in bars, I will be one of the first in line to check out what he can do live. This will likely be even more fun in a club. But for now, check out this red-hot guitar workout present on “Red Roots”. There are some clichés here, but a few of the songs are a bit more mature than I would have expected, so I will be listening to this one a few more times.
© David Hintz

Stan Rogers "Fogarty’s Cove"
Borealis Records, 2011

I confess to pleading ignorance of Stan Rogers. Although I listen to many of the historical great folkies from the UK, the US and Europe, I have somehow missed this Canadian legend, while paying much closer attention to Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot. Sadly, his career was cut short at age 33 when he died in an airplane fire in Cincinnati in 1983. I lived near there and do not recall the story only to learn by listening to this album of what was lost. Rogers is an old school classic folk performer with a booming yet sensitive voice partnered with a nice acoustic guitar style. He does remind me quite a bit of Gordon Lightfoot and Archie Fisher, whether he sings a sea shanty or a deep introspective piece. He has a full band and arrangements are nicely varied. Coincidentally, Garnet Rogers plays on this record and I own an old Archie Fisher/Garnet Rogers album of my own. Well, this is not a coincidence as Garnet and Stan are brothers. This particular album was recorded in 1976 and is the first of five Stan Rogers albums to be remastered and rereleased. If the others are this good, you will want them all.
© David Hintz

Celtic Pink Floyd "Celtic Pink Floyd"
Vented Irish; 2011

The gimmick here is twelve Pink Floyd songs arranged and played in a Celtic folk-rock style. With only four songs chosen from Pink Floyd material prior to the Wall (and six from that dreadful album), I was skeptical. But maybe this would be a livelier approach to the duller songs I did not like originally? No. “Wish You Were Here” which I do enjoy came off best. But even that really did not want me to listen to this album again. Instead, I will return to the Pink Floyd albums I enjoy and the Celtic albums I enjoy. This album I will turn to as often as I combine pickles and ice cream.
© David Hintz

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