It’s Americana week in Music City, and the listening is groovy.
The spectacularly gifted Malcolm Holcombe lands our Disc of the Day award with his new Nashville-recorded release.
The DisCovery Award goes to a husband-wife duo who call Nashville home, My One and Only.
But don’t stop with those two. There’s plenty more to hear here. Extra recommended are Mary Gauthier, Amos Lee and Jennifer Warnes. If I were choosing runners-up for our two top awards, they would be Mandy Barnett and Great Peacock.
AMOS LEE/No More Darkness, No More Light
Writer: Amos Lee; Producer: Tony Berg; Publisher: Soma Eel, ASCAP; Dualtone (track)
– The burbling track is quite light and lively, but there’s something serious going on in this lyric inspired by school shootings. As always, he sings with great elan and conviction. His highly recommended, brightly produced new CD is titled My New Moon. You’ll dig it.
MARY GAUTHIER/Soldiering On
Writers: Mary Gauthier/Jennifer Marino; Producer: Neilson Hubbard; Publisher: Mary Gauthier/SongWritingWithSoldiers, ASCAP; In The Black/Thirty Tigers
– Gauthier collaborated on all of the songs on her new Rifles & Rosary Beads collection with service men and women. The results ring with emotional honesty and stark inner truth, as though she tapped into their psyches like a therapist. Hubbard’s rumbling production on this track underscores her intense vocal delivery. This gifted singer-songwriter staged her Americana showcase on Wednesday at City Winery and will appear today at one of the convention’s discussion panels.
JENNIFER WARNES/Just Breathe
Writer: Eddie Vedder: Producers: C. Roscoe Beck/Jennifer Warnes; Publisher: Universal, no performance rights listed; Porch Light
– This peerless song interpreter and longtime Leonard Cohen collaborator has a new album titled Another Place, Another Time. It leads off with this striking reinterpretation of a Pearl Jam tune. The eclectic collection also dips into the catalogs of John Legend, Mark Knopfler, Mickey Newbury, Marcus Hummon and Warren Haynes/Derek Trucks. This track shimmers with French horn, cello, strings and organ. But elsewhere you’ll find everything from blues to country. She remains an enduring treasure.
MALCOLM HOLCOMBE/The New Damnation Alley
Writer: Malcolm Holcombe; Producer: Marco Glovino/Jared Tyler; Publisher: Gypsy Eyes, BMI; Singular (track)
-This gritty North Carolina mountain troubadour evokes dark hollows and woodsy shadows whenever he sings. Iris DeMent and Greg Brown are his harmony singers on the new Come Hell or High Water CD. This dark-umber composition illustrates why he’s a songwriter’s songwriter. The acoustic production lets his smoke-stained voice plainly wheeze out its condemnation of “millionaire barbarians” and “limousine liars” who drag the bleeding poor to despair. Gripping and great.
ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL & THE AVETT BROTHERS/Willie Got There First
Writer: Seth Avett; Producers: Ray Benson, Sam Seirfert, Seth Avett & Scott Avett; Publishers: First Big Snow/Nemoivmusic/Ramseur Family Fold/Paw Paw/Lew Bob, SESAC/BMI; Bismeaux/Thirty Tigers
– It’s a slow waltz, not a scampering western swinger. “I had such a good idea for a song/But Willie got there first.” It seems that wherever the singer gets close to a gal and wants to woo her with music, the soundtrack has already been written by the Red Headed Stranger. Lots of Willie song titles are name-checked in the clever lyric. The rest of the Wheel’s New Routes CD hews closer to what one might expect. Its Americana showcase is late, late Thursday night at Mercy Lounge.
KATE CAMPBELL/Damn Sure Blue
Writers: Kate Campbell/Tom Kimmel; Producer: Will Kimbrough; Publishers: Large River/Morrissette, BMI/ASCAP; Large River (track)
– The title track to Kate’s new album is a laconic lament with a steady backbeat and some dandy vocal and twang support from her illustrious producer. She’s down but not out. And least not quite. Her always piquant originals form the core of the collection. But she also tosses in a pair of Johnny Cash covers as well as The Louvin Brothers’ “Great Atomic Power.” The album drops a week from tomorrow.
MY ONE AND ONLY/To My Rescue
Writers: Ben Wilson/Kassle Wilson; Producer: Abdrija Tokic; Publishers: none listed; MOAO (track)
– Two-steppin’ country, taken at a brisk pace. The production (by Alabama Shakes helmsman Tokic) is spare and twangy. They’re a husband-wife duo who share leads and harmonies. I like it that they start softly and then let fly with some grand hillbilly wailing. The Past Year is their debut CD, and it makes for some happy listening. Americana talent scouts, take note. These guys deserve some wide distribution.
MANDY BARNETT & JOHN HIATT/A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done
Writers: none listed; Producers: Marco Glovino/Doug Lancio; Publishers: none listed; Dame/Thirty Tigers
– She’s been typecast as a country neo-traditionalist, but at heart she has always been a torch singer. Thus, the new Strange Conversation CD’s repertoire spans Sanford Clark (”The Fool”), The Tams (”It’s All Right”), Tom Waits (”Puttin’ on the Dog”), Mabel Johns (”More Lovin’”) and Greg Garing (”Dream Too Real to Hold”), because all lend themselves to her sultry stylings. Not to mention a simmering, drunken-gypsy take on this Sonny & Cher chestnut with John Hiatt along for the ride. This is one extremely cool album. Check her out at Mercy Lounge on Thursday night. It’s bound to be an Americana convention highlight. The album drops next Friday.
GREAT PEACOCK/One Way Ticket
Writers: Kenneth Andrew Nelson/Stephen Blount Floyd; Producer: Dex Green; Publishers: Uncle Ken’s/Back 40; SESAC; Ropeadope (track)
-This Nashville band showcases at 5:00 p.m. at Musicians Corner on Thursday afternoon. Its new Gran Pavo Real CD contains this classy country-rocker boasting a delicious melody, high-lonesome harmonies, ultra-tight ensemble playing, dynamic rhythms and a terrifically engaging tenor lead vocal. Captivating and addictive.
AMANDA SHIRES/Parking Lot Pirouette
Writer: Amanda Shires; Producer: Dave Cobb; Publisher: Little Lambs Eat Ivy, BMI; Silver Knife (track)
– Her new To the Sunset CD has made her Americana’s current “It” girl. This track from it illustrates the collection’s strengths — pop song craftsmanship, layered arrangement, pert-soprano delivery, echoey atmosphere. Amanda’s convention showcase performance will be Thursday night at the Basement East.