There is a whole lot to like in today overview of current Americana recordings.
So much so, that I’m splitting the Disc of the Day award in two. Our female winner is Elizabeth Cook, and our male prize goes to Paul Burch. These two are among the best this genre has to offer.
The DisCovery Award goes to singer-songwriter Derik Hultquist. His is the most “different” sounding record in this stack, and for that we applaud him. Don’t be surprised if pop/rock programmers aren’t smitten by him as well.
DARRELL SCOTT/Love Is The Reason
Writer: Darrell Scott; Producer: Darrell Scott; Publisher: none listed; Full Light (track)
-Scott’s songwriting resume includes “Born to Fly,” “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” “Long Time Gone,” “Heartbreak Town,” “No Way Out,” “Family Tree” and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” all of which are best known in versions by others. But he remains his own finest interpreter, as the performances collected on his new Couchville Sessions CD demonstrate. The album includes treatments of songs by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Peter Rowan and James Taylor, but at its heart are the nine gems from the songwriter, himself. This one is a rippling, lilting, uplifting tune sung in Scott’s characteristically warm, enveloping voice.
THE HONEYCUTTERS/On The Ropes
Writers: Amanda Anne Platt; Producers: Amanda Anne Platt; Tim Surrett; Publishers: Button Down/Windsor Forest, ASCAP; Organic (track)
– Don’t let the name throw you: This is a country combo. The group is fronted by singer-songwriter Amanda Anne Platt, who delivers the goods in a tart, yearning tone that is captivating. Her fellow band members are tight and super engaging. This title tune to The Honeycutters new CD is a portal into a myriad of alternative honky-tonking delights. The group is a cornerstone act on the Asheville, North Carolina, music scene. Sign me up for the Nashville fan club.
SAM BUSH/Bowling Green
Writers: Sam Bush/Jon Randall Stewart; Producer: Sam Bush; Publishers: Samanda Lynn/BMG/Whayasay/Reynsong, BMI; Sugar Hill (track)
– How do I love him; let me count the ways: Awesome instrumentalist, hearty vocalist, great record maker, fabulous human being. Bush’s upcoming Storyman CD is all over the map, stylistically. Which is another reason to love him. Jazz, folk, blues, reggae, swing and more bubble in the mixes. This toe-tapping ode to his hometown is so rootsy and grassy it sounds like a folk song. It is immediately followed by a honky-tonk shuffle called “Handmics Killed Country Music” (co-written with Emmylou Harris and complete with Pig Robbins on piano) and then a down-home blues titled “Where’s My Love.” Go, man, go.
DERIK HULTQUIST/Dark Side Of Town
Writers: Derik Hultquist; Producers: Frank Liddell/Eric Masse; Publishers: Scrambler/Carnival, ASCAP; Carnival (track)
– This singer-songwriter is a real find. This clear, dark, direct song is delivered in a conversational hush that’s surrounded by an ethereal electronic soundscape. The mysterious audio settings throw his super-strong songwriting skills into high relief throughout his Southern Iron collection. Enthusiastically endorsed. Pop tastemakers also take note.
ELIZABETH COOK/Straightjacket Love
Writer: Elizabeth Cook; Producer: Dexter Green; Publishers: Agent Love/Wixen, SESAC; Agent Love (track)
– Exodus of Venus is Cook’s brand new collection. She simply doesn’t know how to make a dull disc. This rousing mountain country rocker features harmony vocals by the sublime Patty Loveless. It’s great, but you can “needle drop” anywhere on this record and strike audio gold.
NED VAN GO/Lost In The Trouble
Writers: N. Hill/B. Grant/R. Becker/C. Becker/M. Webb; Producer: Michael Webb; Publisher: none listed, ASCAP/BMI/SESAC; DSF (track)
– This Nashville band used to lean toward a rock sound. But the addition of mandolin ace Bob Grant in 2010 led to its evolution into an Americana act. The group’s current CD, The Dirt and the Sun, features this wildly energetic crowd favorite. It brilliantly fuses rock attitude with acoustic instrumentation.
TONY JOE WHITE/Hoochie Woman
Writers: Tony Joe White/Leann White; Producer: Jody White; Publishers: Wampus Cat/Wolf Woman, BMI; Swamp/Yep Roc (track)
– This ageless cult figure still conjures magic with his groove-tastic swamp rhythms and spooky lyrics. His womper-stomper guitar sets the tone in this dark, sexy, throbbing portrait of a witchy beguiler. It leads off a splendid collection titled Rain Crow.
JENNIFER WARNES/The Well
Writers: Jennifer Warnes/Doyle Bramhall; Producers: Martin Davich/Jennifer Warnes; Publishers: Warnes/BMG, BMI; Porch Light/BMG
– I have been in love with this woman for years. Best known as a peerless interpreter—“Right Time of the Night,” “I’ve Had the Time of My Life,” “Up Where We Belong” and the like—she now emerges as a songwriter of striking strength. This CD was originally recorded in 2001, but is only now getting an “official” release. Its title tune is a heartbeat pulsing meditation on nature that marries lilting instrumentation to her always caressing vocals. The album also features her silky versions of songs by Tom Waits, Billy Joel, Jesse Winchester, Cindy Walker and Arlo Guthrie, in addition to her originals. Warnes is now working on a new collection. I can’t wait.
PAUL BURCH/Back To The Honky Tonks
Writers: Paul Burch; Producers: Paul Burch/Dennis Crouch; Publishers: Borrowed & Broke, BMI; Plowboy (track)
–Meridian Rising is a stunning achievement. Burch imagines the life of the legendary Jimmie Rodgers in a 20-tune song cycle that takes the Singing Brakeman from his Mississippi roots to his premature death from TB in a Manhattan hotel room. On this tune, he’s vowing to die as he lived, to the accompaniment of a cool little jazz combo. This whole project is absolutely essential listening. Buy it now.
JIMBO MATHUS/Play With Fire
Writers: Jimbo Mathus/Robert Earl Reed; Producer: Jimbo Mathus; Publisher: none listed; BLM (track)
– Mississippian Mathus is a mainstay of the esteemed vaudeville/folk/swing ensemble The Squirrel Nut Zippers. His new solo project is a nine-song, gumbo/voodoo delight titled Band of Storms. This track is a neo-rockabilly summons to romance featuring twang guitar, echo-chamber vocal and a cool, lingering hiss each time he sings the word “yes.” Elsewhere on the collection, you’ll find elements of blues, rock, honky-tonk and bluegrass. It’s all good.
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