Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Diana Jones "Better Times Will Come" (2009)

The first thing you notice is the voice.  The impossible voice.  It seems almost inconceivable that voices like this can come from modern America.  Yet somehow they do.  The first comparison that comes to mind is Iris Dement.  Not because they sound alike, but because they are both so distinctive.

The voice is accompanied minimally & tastefully.  Then you begin to notice the songs.  Songs of the broken.  But this is not any kind of emo wallowing in their problems.  In fact, there's a defiant spirit -- as if the speakers know that life is hard, but enduring, & somehow thriving, is in fact possible.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ry Cooder "Ry Cooder" (1970)

A title that is as imaginative as its contents.   I don't know why I even have this one.  It is brought down by the period arrangements (apparently Lenny Waronker & Van Dyke Parks are to thank for that) that seem to be ungainly & too busy.  The better tracks are covers of prewar blues & folk songs -- which 40 years later seem to be rather ho hum.  I suppose that in 1970 it was exciting to hear a hip young musician run through a Robert Johnson number.  It's not nearly so revelatory in the 21st century.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ben Reynolds "How Day Earnt Its Night" (2009)

You're on a train.  You think it's a nice quiet scenic ride.  Just riding around & looking at the lovely countryside. Suddenly you realize that the train has been accelerating.  You can tell the speed keeps increasing.  Will it slow down?  Will it crash?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

William Elliott Whitmore "Animals in the Dark" (2009)

In some alternate reality, there's a story about an old blues singer -- some unknown member of Son House's cohort -- who swaps places with a hardcore Iowa farmboy.  We'll say they're using a perception filter or something so that no one notices the young white dude is really an old black man.  The album he records is this album.

While still personal & direct, this is a document of our depression.  The songs are angry at the leadership of our nation.  They feel sorrow for the loss of better times.  But it never feels like polemic.  Whitmore approaches everything from a place of personal emotion, and on a personal scale.

The simple instrumentation (guitar, banjo, drums) echo the prewar songs that documented the hard times early in the 20th century.  The cliche is that his voice is the voice Tom Waits wishes he had.  Perhaps it's true, but to me his voice is the voice of the old blues.  His powerful right hand drives the music & accentuates his anger.  Powerful stuff.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pines "Tremolo" (2009)

If a sense of place does provide a background for music, is Iowa's comparatively peaceful history responsible for the generally quiet, personal music that comes from the state?  The Pines are one of the younger generation of Iowa musicians (for those of you keeping score, bandmember Benson Ramsey is the son of Iowa's Bo Ramsey), & seem to tap into that introspective domestic space that Greg Brown began staking out years ago.

Tremolo is a quiet introspective record, & that seems to be both it's strength & it's weakness.  Too much of a piece, a bit too monochromatic.  That being said, its midtempo acoustic base is a wonderful starting point, highlighting The Pines' lyrics.

I think these are musicians to watch, & hope that their future releases will be a bit more varied.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Justin Townes Earle "Midnight At The Movies" (2010)

Apparently the midnight movies that JTE enjoyed were very very different from the ones in my youth.  For Earle, it's a time of loneliness, isolation, & alienation.  This is a collection of songs of broken love affairs, of unrequited emotions.  In that regard, his songs have more in common with his namesake (Townes Van Zandt) than his father (Steve Earle).  There's more than a hint of traditional Texas country music in the music on this album.  It's noticeably more traditional than the majority of his father's catalog.