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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
August 23, 2014
Scott Foley

In all of americana, is there a more distinct, beautifully alien sound than the blended voices of Be Good Tanyas? In the span of three studio records, Trish Klein, Samantha Parton and Frazey Ford trademarked a sound that has yet to be replicated.  Plus, they performed one of my favorite covers of all time on "When Doves Cry", a hidden track on 2006's Hello Love

While Jolie Holland officially departed the group she helped to found early on, her influence carries throughout all three records as a writer, a vocalist and instrumentalist.  Holland's solo debut came via a curious assemblage of lo-fi demos in 2003's Catalpa.  Subsequent records have proven her to be a multifaceted talent, with music ranging from early folk to experimental jazz depending on where the needle drops.  I've been playing Holland's most recent album since its May release.  Wine Dark Sea launches into the dark and fractured soundscape of "Dark Days".  To foster the adventurous spirit of the collection, Holland gathered two drummers, a trio of guitarists, as well as bass and woodwinds, with most of the players hailing from New York City's experimental music scene.  To her immense credit, rather than being buried by the musical ambition, Holland seems fully in charge of the proceedings.   Even on a seemingly straightforward cut like the parlor folk of "Route 30", the touch of electric guitar distortion and the somewhat rude baritone sax lift Holland's arrangement beyond the obvious.  "All the Love" is pure soul (replete with a clarinet solo broadcast via a dysfunctional amp). 

A current Tanya, Frazey Ford, has just issued her second solo record.  For her part, Ford collaborates
with Al Green's legendary Hi Rhythm Section:  Charles, Leroy and the late Teenie Hodges.  The presence of the Hodges could easily overshadow a lesser artist, though here the brothers seem fully at the service of Ford's idiosyncratic vocals. Having become so familiar at the helm of the Be Good Tanyas, the originality of her voice and her vocal choices remain at center stage.  While she chooses to remain more musically grounded than Holland, there is still so much soul in tracks like "Runnin'" or "You Got Religion" that anything added would seem inappropriate.   Even the relatively contemporary groove on "Done", with its epithets and broiling resentment, comes across as smoothly swinging. 

Aside from their respective roots, much of what binds these releases is their pervasive soul, a quality so frequently lacking in our kind of music.  I would argue, however, that it's actually been quite a year for soulful americana, between Christopher Denny's gospel tinged numbers and Justin Townes Earle's easy country-soul on Single Mothers.  And then there's Benjamin Booker.  While the presence of horns and keys certainly doesn't hurt, it takes more than instrumentation to generate the genuine soul evident in both Holland and Ford.  As writers, arrangers and vocalists, both present a fuller picture of the range of American music, from jazz to blues, country to gospel and folk. 

*  Sadies, "Walking Boss"  Pure Diamond Gold  (Bloodshot, 99)
*  Cory Branan, "Daddy Was a Skywriter"  No-Hit Wonder  (Bloodshot, 14)
*  Matt Woods, "Lucero Song"  With Love From Brushy Mountain  (Lonely Ones, 14)
*  Lucero, "What Else Would You Have Me Be (live)"  Live From Atlanta  (Liberty & Lament, 14)
*  Deadwood Saints, "My Irene"  6th Street and Trinity  (Self, 14)  C
*  Lucinda Williams, "Burning Bridges"  Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone  (Hwy 20, 14)   D
*  Emmylou Harris & Milk Carton Kids, "Apache Tears"  Look Again To the Wind  (Sony, 14)
*  Ray Charles, "Ring of Fire"  Ray Charles Forever  (Concord, 13)
*  Benjamin Booker, "Wicked Waters"  Benjamin Booker  (ATO, 14)
*  Sturgill Simpson, "Life of Sin"  Metamodern Sounds in Country Music  (High Top Mt, 14)
*  Pieta Brown, "Before Gas & TV"  Paradise Outlaw  (Red House, 14)  D
*  Hiss Golden Messenger, "I'm a Raven"  Lateness of Dancers  (Merge, 14)
*  Court & Spark, "Denver Annie"  Witch Season  (Absolutely Kosher, 04)
^  Frazey Ford, "Done"  Indian Ocean  (Nettwerk, 14)
*  Tweedy, "High as Hello"  Sukierae  (dbPm, 14)
*  Steelism, "Landlocked Surfer"  915 to Fame  (Single Lock, 14)
*  Caroline Rose, "Blood On Your Bootheels"   I Will Not Be Afraid  (Little Hi!, 14)  D
*  Justin Townes Earle, "Worried Bout the Weather"  Single Mothers  (Vagrant, 14)
*  Elliott BROOD, "Jigsaw Heart"  Work and Love  (Paper Bag, 14)  D
*  Drew Kennedy, "Cold Goodnight (live)"  Sad Songs Happily Played  (Self, 14)
*  Josh Grider, "One Night Taco Stand"  Luck & Desire  (Amp, 14)  D
*  Greensky Bluegrass, "Windshield"  If Sorrows Swim  (Thirty Tigers, 14)   D
*  Cahalen Morrison & Country Hammer, "Sorrow Lines the Highway of Regret"  Flower of Muscle Shoals  (Free Dirt, 14)
*  New Basement Tapes, "Nothing To It"  Lost On the River  (Harvest, 14)   D
*  Ryan Adams, "My Wrecking Ball"  Ryan Adams  (PaxAm, 14)
*  Chuck Prophet, "Lonely Desolation"  Night Surfer  (Yep Roc, 14)
*  Walter Salas-Humara, "Satellite"  Curve and Shake  (Sonic Pyramid, 14)  D
*  Sons of Bill, "Brand New Paradigm"  Love & Logic  (Thirty Tigers, 14)  D
*  Ben Miller Band, "Ghosts"  Any Way Shape or Form  (New West, 14)
*  Holy Ghost Electric Show, "Kerosene Heater Blues"  Great American Holy Ghost Electric Show  (This is American Music, 14)  D

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