Every month Rolling Stone magazine recommends ten new country/Americana artists to hear. It’s a good read and covers the whole spectrum of the massive country genre – from the traditional sounds of Hank Williams/Loretta Lynn to honky-tonk that is pushing right up against other genres, such as funk and soul. The writing has some refreshingly gentle humour in it too: Newcomer Devin Dawson is described as sounding like ‘John Mayer, if he’d grown up listening to Garth Brooks and worried more about other people’s feelings’; and Lucas Hoge as ‘easygoing, optimistic pop-country that won’t upset any delicate constitutions.’ The link is at the bottom of this post.
We’ve got some very talented alt-country/alt-folk artists in the Southern hemisphere too – here are a few I’ve been listening to lately:
Julia Jacklin, from the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, is a classically trained singer who produced a debut album last year full of confessional, bittersweet alt-country gems. It doesn’t surprise me that she loves Fiona Apple. She’s in concert in Auckland on May 27th at the Tuning Fork – go see her if you can.
Aldous Harding and Marlon Williams – both Kiwis, both immensely talented singer-songwriters. This creative couple live in the artsy hub of Lyttleton. Williams blew everyone away with his debut album Marlon Williams. He’s got huge stage charisma and a resonant arresting voice. Harding is equally mesmerising. She is incredible in concert, as if her life depends on the delivery of each song.
Another Kiwi to watch is Nadia Reid. Music critics all over the globe are smitten with her music, largely due to her warm, intimate voice. Her latest album ‘Preservation’ is a spare listen, just her voice and an acoustic guitar, but it’s full of interesting utterances that can catch a listener by surprise. Nadia is touring NZ end of March, early April and tickets will be selling fast. Click on this for info http://nadiareid.com. Sing on NZ!
Breakup albums. I’ve got a fair few on my ‘Albums I Listen to Incessantly and Never Tire of’ list: Ryan Adams’ ‘Heartbreaker’ is one, http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/36-heartbreaker/, and Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ another, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-best-albums-of-the-2000s-20110718/beck-sea-change-20110707 . I like these particular albums, not because I have schadenfreude tendencies, but because unexpectedly raw beauty has been created by two artists, neither of whom were previously known for their overly-sensitive sides. Beck sat on his twelve songs for two years not wanting to ‘strew his baggage across the public lobby.’ I suppose with track names like ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine,’ ‘Lonesome Tears’ and ‘Already Dead’ there could have been accusations of wallowing self-indulgence. Although the album is awash with lush string arrangements, the lyrics are so honest, so stricken yet delivered in a deadpan detached tone, that any hint of sentimentality doesn’t get a look in. Continue reading
In the mid-2000’s a Seattle-based band, the Fleet Foxes, was garnering attention with gorgeous harmonies, acoustic arrangements and pure four-part hymnic vocals. Their sound was an eclectic mix of folk, choral baroque and americana, interwoven with references to Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young and the Beach Boys. Fleet Foxes released a five-track EP, ‘Sun Giant,’ in early 2008. This was followed by a full-length album, ‘Fleet Foxes’, in June. Music media and listeners alike immediately flew into overdrive, firing out rapturous remarks such as: ‘a landmark in American Music, an instant classic’ from The Guardian; ‘It’s like watching the sun rise over the distant mountaintops, over and over, familiar and captivating all at once’ from Paste Magazine; and, succinctly, from Q Magazine, ‘a pure pleasure’. I think the painting by Bruegel on the album cover says it all. With quaint song titles like ‘Meadowlarks’ and ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ plus lyrics to match, the album feels ye olde worldely. This is not a sparse album, unlike Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ released the same year. Instead, it’s jam-packed with lushness and depth – there’s a lot going on. Lead singer, Robin Pecknold, has a voice that I feel very safe with (unlike the uncomfortable vulnerability I experience when watching a contestant on ‘X-Factor’ or ‘Idol’ – it’s the price you pay). Robin is fully in control of the vocals and is supported beautifully by the rest of the skulk (ah, that’s a great word) of foxes.
I have been carrying on an unrequited love affair with Ryan Adams for many years now. It all started in 2003 when I was listening to a Beth Orton song, ‘Concrete Sky’. I found myself focussing on the voice supporting her. It was a voice I wanted to climb into, the perfect foil to Beth Orton’s quirky Londontown sound.
The track is here if you’d like to listen to it (try and hang in there until the 2min, 33 mark):
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