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The Best Albums of 2013: Brandy Clark – 12 Stories

Brandy Clark – 12 Stories

If the album is due to share the fate of the Passenger Pigeon , no one let Brandy Clark know. Her fabulous collection of musical short stories might well be the best release of a pretty good year.

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Brandy Clark has written some of Nashville’s most engaging and thoughtful songs for artists like Miranda Lambert (“Mama’s Broken Heart”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow”) but apparently she has saved her best for this finely crafted collection of 12 Stories. Clark writes with a matter-of-fact directness about the everyday realities of life, creating a dozen 3 1/2 minute short stories that speak of regular lives, youth gone to seed, love turned to boredom, and people seeking relief from pills, drink and maybe even playing the lotto.

When Clark points out the resignation of the hollowed-out middle class in “Pray to Jesus”, she does so with a bracing honesty absent of the bitterness we’ve become to expect from the blowhards on cable TV…

“We live in trailers and apartments too
From California to Kalamazoo
Grow up get married and when that one ends
We hate sleeping alone so we get married again

Don’t wanna be buried in debt or in sin
So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto
Cause there ain’t but two ways
We can change tomorrow
And there ain’t no genie
And there ain’t no bottle
So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto”

The first single, Stripes, shows why she has become one of the go-to hit writers in Nashville; a toe-tapping and twangy revenge fantasy where the betrayed singer resists the temptation to commit murder because of her aversion to having to wear orange or prison stripes. No doubt she can turn a phrase with the best of them. As a songwriter, Clark deftly paints understated portraits of women struggling with a decision to begin an affair (What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven) or repeating the mistakes of their mothers (Just Like Him). This is not the “real America” of Fox News, but it’s probably much closer to what much of the heartland struggles with and dreams about every day.  The best example of Clark’s craftsmanship is Hold My Hand. Within  the first minute she has laid bare the insecurity of feeling that your’s might be a rebound relationship and the ache of hoping for reassurance that it isn’t.

She walked up and said, “Hello, it’s been a while”
Don’t think I didn’t notice the nervous in your smile
Wasn’t that long ago you were a whole lot more than friends
This would be a real good time to hold my hand

Don’t let this moment linger
Now would be the time
To reach out with your fingers
And get ’em tangled up with mine
Let her know for sure
That I’m more than just a soft place to land
This’d be a real good time to hold my hand

She joins some of country and contemporary folk music’s best storytellers (think of the great Patty Griffin or perhaps Nanci Griffith in her prime) with this masterpiece.

The startling honesty in Clark’s songwriting distinguishes her from much of what we’ve come to expect out of Music Row. From typical country-song struggles like love and infidelity to more untouchable topics like smoking weed and popping pills, she’s not afraid to go there. But that’s not what makes her such a remarkable artist. She’s a warm, wry and personal performer. Her voice is as clear and colorful as a glass prism. And she has a knack for enlivening country music with what has been lacking for nearly a generation: a reverence for real life, not just the parties and pickups. —Kim Ruehl, Folk Alley

By |December 20th, 2013|Music|0 Comments

The Best Albums of 2013: The Lone Bellow

The Brooklyn-based trio creates intensely emotional music, rooted in country, folk, rock and gospel. Three part harmonies never sounded bigger or more passionate. The continuation of a list of the best albums of the past year…

The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

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When the eponymous debut album of The Lone Bellow was released in the early days of February it was pretty apparent that this was going to end up on many “Best of” lists. The trio of Zac Williams, Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin sing with a full throated exuberance that is warm, rich and at times, almost startling. Although many of the songs are born of personal tragedy (Williams’ wife was nearly rendered a paraplegic from a horseback riding accident), they are anything but brooding. There is a recurring theme of plans turned upside down, relationships strained to the breaking point (and beyond), but eventually coming around to acceptance, revival and hard won redemption. Produced by Charlie Peacock (who also produced both of the great albums from The Civil Wars), the sound evokes the intimacy and spontaneity of music made by close friends in a living room.

The Lone Bellow figured out a way to harness the acoustic-rock template being mined by Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers and The Civil Wars and add a sense of powerful vocal incandescence… – Holly Gleason, Paste

The Lone Bellow – “The One You Should’ve Let Go”

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The Lone Bellow – “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To”

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By |December 18th, 2013|Music|0 Comments

The Best Albums of 2013: M.I.A. – Matangi

Some of the best hip-hop music of the past year did not come from the usual boys club. Londoner, by way of Sri Lanka, M.I.A. returned with a bracing album, Matangi. Here then, continues an overview of some of the best albums of the past year…

M.I.A. – Matangi

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M.I.A. has been stirring the pot for the better part of the last six years and her most recent and oft-delayed “Matangi” provides a continuation of her unique mix of beats, politics and nimble rhymes. Most of us became acquainted with Ms. Arulpragasam either through the brilliant “Paper Planes” from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack or the visual spectacle of the very pregnant M.I.A. displaying her “Swagga Like Us” with the likes of Kanye West and Jay-Z at the 2009 Grammy Awards. And who could forget her double middle finger salute that she flashed at the Super Bowl that has her embroiled in a $1.5 lawsuit from the NFL? All of that controversy may have let us forget just how important an artist she has become to the world of hip-hop. M.I.A. brings a beat heavy perspective, a global melting pot that sounds like it could be something from the future.

 ‘Matangi’ is sparse, cold steel… Beats are constantly morphing, and every track chucks handfuls of sonic debris at you … – Gavin Haynes, NME

 M.I.A., “Bring The Noize”

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M.I.A., “Y.A.L.A.”

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By |December 17th, 2013|Music|0 Comments

The Best Albums of 2013: HAIM, Days Are Gone

The Haim sisters sweep out of LA like a blast of heat from the hills. Who says no one is making good pop music anymore? Here then, continues an overview of some of the best albums of the past year…

HAIM – Days Are Gone

Haim

Este, Danielle and Alana Haim grew up in the San Fernando Valley steeped in the popular music of the 80’s and 90’s – indeed they played in a cover band with their parents (with the awesome name Rockinheim) as kids. Their debut full length album, Days Are Gone brings the melodic sensibilities and harmonies of Fleetwood Mac, Doobie Brothers with a dash of TLC’s sass. That isn’t to suggest that HAIM’s music is solely derivative or mired in the pop of decades gone by – this is a collection of highly original and well crafted tunes.

HAIM, The Wire

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HAIM, Falling

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By |December 16th, 2013|Music|0 Comments

Aoife O’Donovan’s Red & White & Blue & Gold

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Aoife O'Donovan

Aoife O’Donovan

The limpid sound of Aoife (pronounced EEF-ah) O’Donovan’s first featured song from her album Fossils evokes thoughts of late summer afternoons at the lake. There is a decided sense of place to her blend of Irish folk-inspired songs – of New England or the Adirondacks. Some may recall that O’Donovan penned the song “Lay My Burden Down” from Alison Krauss’ Paper Airplanes release – her version is less melancholy and dark.

“Fossils and fables, both of which are beautiful images to me, are things of old, but they continue to be relevant. Some of these tunes on the album are older than others, yet they’re still relevant songs that I love to sing. They’re old folk songs that I grew up singing,” she says.

By |July 22nd, 2013|Music, Song du Jour|0 Comments

Retro Soul From Clairy Browne and The Bangin’ Rackettes

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What would you get if you take a former Australian school teacher, combine a touch of Irma Thomas and some old school R&B, and finish with some big-haired backup singers and a growling baritone sax? You might get Melbourne’s breakout band Clairy Browne and The Bangin’ Rackettes. Their new album “Baby Caught The Bus” is a total kick in the pants and may become the backdrop music for the summer or 2013.

Browne and her bandmates take an authentic love for the rhythm and blues of the 50’s and 60’s and combine it with sassy lyrics and post millenium vibe to create music that is at once a throwback and completely of the current day. You may recall a Heinecken Beer commercial from late last summer that featured Browne and her band looking like Amy Winehouse back from the beyond. The song “Love Letter” features overdriven vocals that will make you remember how your old car radio would distort when you really turned the volume a little too loud.

Browne’s father was in a band in South Africa while she was a kid and her love of the soul singers and doo wop bands comes through loud and clear in the new album. There are echoes of Etta James and Martha Reeves (and of Winehouse, save the self-destructive craziness), but this is not a reverential theme project – it has a sensibility that is firmly rooted in the here and now.

By |June 3rd, 2013|Music, Song du Jour|0 Comments

Patty Griffin’s New American Kid

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One of America’s finest singer/songwriters released her first album of mostly original songs in almost 6 years today – and the wait has been worth listeners’ patience. Patty Griffin’s American Kid should occupy a prominent place on most “best of 2013” lists. Griffin has been engaged in a variety of interesting projects over the past few years, including the gospel collaborations of her 2010 release Downtown Church as well as touring and recording with her beau Robert Plant (yes, that Robert Plant) in the Band of Joy. She began writing the songs that would become the new record in 2009 as she was dealing with the impending death of her father. The sound is stripped-down, free of the technical gloss and pitch correction that renders recorded performances so perfect and so antiseptic. This is closer to a live performance with a rawness and immediacy that fits with Griffin’s ruminations on a life winding down and the heartbreak of losing both a parent and the stories and memories that would be lost with his passing.

The death of Griffin’s father has inspired a collection of songs that are united in themes of souls parting and meeting again, reflections on life’s passing moments – imaginings of her father’s childhood in “Irish Boy”, the wedding of her grandparents in “Get Ready Marie”, and the grief of letting someone go in “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone”. “Ohio” is a haunting fantasy of the meeting of runaway slaves featuring Griffin and Plant’s voices floating and soaring through the ether. The emotional center of the album is “Highway Song” as the promise “I will wait for your return…” becomes both a prayer and a promise for souls reuniting in some other place.

By |May 7th, 2013|Music, Song du Jour|0 Comments