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Thursday, March 10, 2016

a home for the americana diaspora
March 5, 2016
Scott Foley

One of my favorite records is Ferron's Driver from way back in the halcyon days of 1994.  I've never actually played it on R&B, though I dive into songs like "Girl On a Road", "Cactus" or the heartbreakingly bittersweet "Sunshine" when the moment is right.  Driver arrived as the "women's music" movement had begun to wane, with artists like Dar Williams, Catie Curtis and Cheryl Wheeler being welcomed into the ranks of contemporary folk singer-songwriters. Portland's Chris Pureka began recording several years later, though her warm, acoustic songs would've readily earned a place in either of these factions.  After a six year absence, Pureka is releasing the aptly titled Back in the Ring,  a collection that replaces the acoustic intimacy of her previous albums with a harder, more immediate electric setting.   "Betting On the Races" is built around a loose electric guitar line, joined soon by drums, keys and a wall of sound that makes more noise than anything else in Pureka's catalog:  "Wishing I could / Wishing I would / Cut loose and let it go".  Her voice, previously a gender non-specific moan cushioned low in the mix, is seemingly liberated in these new arrangements.  Even darker, more restrained cuts like "Blind Man's Waltz" speak to this releaseThe familiar lower range remains part of Pureka's repertoire, but her powerful upper register comes across like singers more celebrated for their instrument like Patty Griffin or Neko Case.  Songs such as "Tinder" sacrifice none of the intimacy or intensity for their electric setting. "Holy" skitters along on brushed drums and chiming guitars, part hymn and part waltz:  "To the West / I need anchors / To the West / Gonna find me a goldmine / So sing it a song of redemption / I'm doin' alright, I'm doin' alright, I'm doin' alright ...Back in the Ring's title track is a lovely, lilting thing dirtied just enough by fuzz guitar and Pureka's slurred and bluesy delivery.  Boasting its fair share of understated moments, the album is not so much a reinvention as much as it is a liberation of an artist's talents. 

What's more: We set ears upon the debut single from Sturgill Simpson's not-too-long-awaited followup to his career defining Metamodern Sounds.  The year's most random supergroup arrives in the form of Neko Case, kd lang and Laura Veirs - three great vocalists that sound great together.  And from 1995 Jonathan Richman proves you don't really need to know all the words (or the tune) to attempt an effective cover. 

- M Ward, "I'm Going Higher" More Rain  (Merge, 16)
- John Moreland, "Blues & Kudzu" In the Throes  (Last Chance, 13)
- Cactus Blossoms, "Mississippi" You're Dreaming  (Red House, 16)
- Donovan Woods, "What Kind of Love is That" Hard Settle Ain't Troubled  (Meant Well, 16)
- Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, "Road That Leads To You" Sarah Shook & the Disarmers  (Disarmers, 15)
- Centro-Matic, "No They Ain't Mine" Eyas  (Centro-Matic, 10)
- Brad Armstrong, "Them Old Crows" Empire  (Cornelius Chapel, 16)
- case/lang/veirs, "Atomic Number" case/lang/veirs  (Anti, 16)  D
- Jonathan Richman, "Heart of a Saturday Night" Step Right Up: Songs of Tom Waits  (Manifesto, 95)
- Lucinda Williams, "Dust" Ghosts of Highway 20  (Hwy 20, 16)
- Cowboy Junkies, "Jesus Is Coming Soon" God Don't Never Change: Songs of Blind Willie Johnson  (Alligator, 16)
- Grant-Lee Phillips, "Loaded Gun" The Narrows  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Anderson East, "Learning" Southern Family  (Elektra, 16)
- Caleb Caudle, "Tuscaloosa" Carolina Ghost  (This is American Music, 16)
- Mount Moriah, "Fox in the City" How to Dance  (Merge, 16)
- Gourds, "Decline-o-Meter" Heavy Ornamentals  (Eleven Thirty, 06)
- Roosevelts, "Go Down Easy" Greatest Thing You'll Ever Learn  (Roosevelts, 16)
- Jayhawks, "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces" Paging Mr Proust  (Thirty Tigers, 16)
- Aoife O'Donovan, "Magpie" In the Magic Hour  (Yep Roc, 16)
- Amanda Shires, "Unwanted Things" West Cross Timbers  (Shires, 09)
- Brothers Comatose, "City Painted Gold" City Painted Gold  (Swamp Jam, 16)
- Chris Bathgate, "Big Ghost" Old Factory  (Quite Scientific, 16)
- Paul Burch, "Fast Fuse Blues" Meridian Rising  (Plowboy, 16)
- Jolie Holland, "Sweet Loving Man" Living and the Dead  (Anti, 08)
- Sturgill Simpson, "Brace For Impact (Live a Little)" Sailor's Guide to Earth  (Atlantic, 16)  D
^ Chris Pureka, "Holy" Back in the Ring  (Sad Rabbit, 16)  D
- Hacienda Brothers, "A Lot of Days Are Gone" Arizona Motel  (Proper, 08)
- Left Arm Tan, "Freedom Bus" Lorene  (LAT, 16)
- Pine Hill Haints, "Never Cry" To Win or To Lose  (k, 09)

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