ROUTES & BRANCHES
a home for the americana diaspora
March 14, 2017
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
It's not enough to have a voice for the angels. A singer has to communicate authenticity. To use some obvious female examples, a young Linda Ronstadt wrung pure emotion from her voice. My first exposure to Iris DeMent was a revelation. Maria McKee, Lucinda Williams, Lydia Loveless. Last year about this time I was basking in the backalley glow cast by Sarah Shook (whose 2016 record will soon be re-issued by Bloodshot). Today, I'm flirting with Holly Macve, whose Golden Eagle swooped down upon us this week from Bella Union Records.
Just to set the stage, Ms Macve was born in Ireland and raise in England. She recently assembled a playlist of music that populated her childhood and inspired her debut record at the tender age of 21. Artists on that mixtape included Leonard Cohen, Gillian Welch, Angel Olsen, Ryan Adams and others. Accordingly, her music tends to dwell on the dark side of country. Think dusk and long shadows and neon just flickering to light. AllMusic's recent review likened her to "a yodeling Lana Del Rey" ...
Likely not the review she cut out and posted on her fridge. But the idea isn't entirely without merit. Macve definitely hails from the country side of the avenue, wielding an unmistakable high lonesome sound that would be proof enough to earn her entrance to any classic country roadhouse. Check out "Heartbreak Blues". Macve's voice is a keening, breaking wonder, a multipurpose tool capable of slicing, swooping or caressing at will. It's complimented by sad sad pedal steel, picked electric and a dancefloor-ready drum track. The song grabbed my attention the instant I heard it, settling easily onto my ears. I had to hear more.
"No One Has the Answers" has a similar appeal, as well as revealing more of a 60s folk strain. There's a fuller, more contemporary arrangement, characterized by a tambourine's jangle, a strummed acoustic and otherworldly atmospherics. Macve's voice is a bit wilder here, stronger and more confident in its deep twang.
Even more captivating are Golden Eagle's more hushed tracks, featuring little more than voice and guitar or piano. The title cut is a hymnlike piece that showcases Holly Macve's voice at its barest and most genuinely beautiful. "All of Its Glory" draws its inspiration from writers like Leonard Cohen, and reveals a different shade of her singing while remaining with the piano/voice arrangement. Remarkably, the song also drops almost any hint of country roots. This is also where I hear more of a resemblance to Lana Del Rey. Or Angel Olsen, if you'd rather.
Somewhere between Macve's extremes lies a song like "Corner of My Mind". Like Courtney Marie Andrews or the ladies of First Aid Kit, she demonstrates an uncanny ability to communicate a mood with her voice. Classic elements intertwine with contemporary touches, leaving us with the promise that Holly Macve is more than just a costumed girl at the state fair with a pretty good Patsy Cline imitation.
I don't automatically enjoy spoken word stuff, but when it's done right, it can be great (see "I'm New Here" by Gil Scott-Heron and/or Bill Callahan, the occasional Willy Vlautin and "Kiss and Say Goodbye" by The Manhattans). We'll add to that list Craig Finn's "God in Chicago". Also this week, make room make room for new Benjamin Booker! Also, there's some Camper Van Beethoven, which it turns out is Just The Thing. And let's all agree to look forward to Colter Wall's self-titled production.
- Romantica, "Let the Light Go Through You" Shadowlands (Last Chance, 17)
- Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band, "Let the Light Shine On" Front Porch Sessions (Family Owned, 17)
- Nikki Lane, "Send the Sun" Highway Queen (New West, 17)
- Samantha Crain, "Oh Dear Louis" You Had Me At Goodbye (Ramseur, 17)
- Ha Ha Tonka, "Arkansas" Heart-Shaped Mountain (Bloodshot, 17)
- Phosphorescent, "Joe Tex, These Taming Blues" Aw Come Aw Wry (Misra, 05)
- Will Johnson, "Childress (to Ogden)" Hatteras Night a Good Luck Charm (Undertow, 17)
- Craig Finn, "God in Chicago" We All Want the Same Things (Partisan, 17) D
- Kasey Chambers, "Hey (w/Paul Kelly)" Dragonfly (Essence, 17)
- Gasoline Lollipops, "Jesus" Resurrection (GasPops, 17) C
- Banditos, "Fine Fine Day" Visionland (Bloodshot, 17) D
- Son Volt, "Static" Notes of Blue (Transmit Sound, 17)
- Leif Vollebekk, "All Night Sedans" Twin Shadows (Secret City, 17)
- John Moreland, "It Don't Suit Me (Like Before)" Big Bad Luv (4AD, 17)
- Angaleena Presley, "Good Girl Down" Wrangled (Mining Light, 17)
- Ryan Adams, "Shiver and Shake" Prisoner (PaxAm, 17)
- Camper Van Beethoven, "Sad Lovers Waltz" II & III (Cooking Vinyl, 86)
- Rodney Crowell, "Nashville 1972" Close Ties (New West, 17)
- Charlie Worsham, "Southern By the Grace of God" Beginning of Things (Warner, 17) D
^ Holly Macve, "Heartbreak Blues" Golden Eagle (Bella Union, 17) D
- William Matheny, "Blood Moon Singer" Strange Constellations (Misra, 17)
- Quaker City Night Hawks, "Bible Black Lincoln" Torquila! Torquila! (Wizardvizion, 11)
- Benjamin Booker, "Witness" Witness (ATO, 17) D
- Shinyribs, "Tub Gut Stomp & Red-Eyed Soul" I Got Your Medicine (Mustard Lid, 17)
- Mavericks, "Damned (If You Do)" Brand New Day (Mono Mundo, 17)
- Sunny Sweeney, "Bottle By My Bed" Trophy (Aunt Daddy, 17)
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy, "Mama Tried" Best Troubador (Drag City, 17) D
- Caroline Spence, "Slow Dancer" Spades & Roses (Tone Tree, 17)
- Jamie Wyatt, "Your Loving Saves Me" Felony Blues (Wyatt, 17)
- Colter Wall, "Thirteen Silver Dollars" Colter Wall (Young Mary's, 17) D