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Thursday, January 30, 2014

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
January 25, 2014
Scott Foley

Members of Marah don't stick around for long.  I knew them as a "brother band" back in 2005 when I called their If You Didn't Laugh ... You'd Cry one of the year's best.  They've also flirted with musical styles from album to album, from the ramshackle banjo rockers of their earliest release to a much more polished roots rock via Springsteen sound, and one of the most disappointing holiday releases of all time.  2010's Life Is a Problem proved to be a more pared down affair in the wake of Serge Bielanko's departure, leaving brother David and Christine Smith as Marah's core.  Relocating to rural Pennsylvania, their new record was inspired by an antique book that collected the traditional songs of the area's mountain people.  I knew as soon as I heard this story that the album would find Marah returned to their earlier messy jangle of noise that I had come to love.  Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania sounds like it was recorded direct to tape in a cold, abandoned church.  Like all the band's best, it can be a sonic mess, a tangle of tape anchored by David Bielanko's punk inspired vocals.  There are scratchy fiddles, mouth harps, clumsy banjos and an 8 year old prodigy who sounds like a wee Shane MacGowan.  "Sing! O Muse of the Mountain" aptly ties together the traditional acoustic folk of the past with an edge of more contemporary electric instruments.  The CD's quintessential moment, however, lies with "Ten Centes At the Gate", which manages to turn a barbershop vocal group with bawling horns and a barrelhouse piano into something wonderful. 

*  Rod Picott, "Dreams"  Hang Your Hopes On a Crooked Nail  (Welding Rod, 14)
*  Possessed By Paul James, "Dragon"  There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely  (Hillgrass Bluebilly, 13)
*  Amy Black, "We Had a Life"  This is Home  (Reuben, 14)
*  John Moreland, "Blues & Kudzu"  In the Throes  (Last Chance, 13)
*  Uncle Tupelo, "Before I Break (Demo 89)"  No Depression (Legacy)  (Columbia, 14)  D
*  Wellspring, "She Things I Still Care"  Deer Lodge - George Jones  (Deer Lodge, 13)
*  Scott H. Biram, "Slow & Easy"  Nothin' But Blood  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Lydia Loveless, "Really Wanna See You"  Somewhere Else  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Drive-by Truckers, "Pauline Hawkins"  English Oceans  (New West, 14)
*  Laura Cantrell, "Beg Or Borrow Days"  No Way There From Here  (Thrift Shop, 14)
*  Water Liars, "War Paint"  Water Liars  (Fat Possum, 14)
*  Hurray For the Riff Raff, "St. Roch Blues"  Small Town Heroes  (ATO, 14)
*  Blake Brown & American Dust Choir, "Rise n' Fight"  American Dust Choir  (Self, 14)  C
*  Rev Horton Heat, "Mad Mad Heart"  REV  (Victory, 14)
*  Seasick Steve, "Home"  Hubcap Music  (Third Man, 13)
*  Shelby Lynne, "Call Me Up"  Thanks  (Everso, 13)
*  Ellen Foley, "If You Can't Be Good"  About Time  (Urban Noise, 13)  D
*  Langhorne Slim, "Early In the Morning"  This Is the Town: Tribute to Nilsson  (Royal Potato, 14)  D
*  Hard Working Americans, "Wrecking Ball"  Hard Working Americans  (Melvin, 14)
*  Great American Taxi, "Olden Days"  Paradise Lost  (Self, 11)
*  Girls Guns & Glory, "All the Way Up To Heaven"  Good Luck  (Lonesome Day, 14)  D
*  Doug Paisley, "What's Up Is Down"  Strong Feelings  (No Quarter, 14)
*  Far West, "Wichita"  Any Day Now  (Medina River, 14)  D
*  Jason Eady, "A Memory Now"  Daylight Dark  (Thirty Tigers, 14)
*  Rosanne Cash, "World of Strange Design"  River & the Thread  (Blue Note, 14)
*  Sacred Shakers, "Lord I Am the True Vine"  Live  (Signature Sounds, 14)  D
*  Marah, "Falling Off the Pine"  Mountain Minstrelsy  (Dalley Farm, 14)  D

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