Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Two Countrymen: The Hasslers / Will Bennett and The Tells

August 24, 2016

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The Hasslers‘ State Center and Will Bennett and the Tells‘ Wichita have a few things in common: an expansive view of country music, a perceptive eye toward life in the flyover states, and melodies you’re going to be humming for a while. As a ex-pat Midwesterner, I have a deep affection for both these records that goes beyond their excellent music.

Both albums drew me because of their state-specific lyrical content. State Center mentions my native Oklahoma and highway I-19; Wichita is named after the largest city in Kansas and references I-35 (the spine of the great plains states). Both albums mention far-off places (Hasslers: San Jose; Tells: Ann Arbor, Manassas) but are firmly concerned with the inner workings of life in the flyovers. The Hasslers’ detailed stories of hard drinkin’, tough livin’, and bad lovin’ are the sort of jam-packed, witty, and clever lyrics that beg to be called incisive and literary; Will Bennett’s wry ruminations on relationships point out elements of love that don’t get discussed much (“She’s Got a Problem”) along with those that do (“Paloma,” “I Hope You Hear This on the Radio”). Both bands prominently discuss that they need to be inebriated to dance. Welcome to the Midwest.

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Where the two albums diverge is in the way they treat country music. The Hasslers’ country-inspired music leans toward indie-pop and folk, while the Tells’ music is more of a country-punk creation.

The Hasslers’ music is an impressively smooth fusion of country, indie-pop and folk; they’re so adept at handling the genre mashing that it’s hard to pick out exactly where one stops and the other starts. Opener “Falling Out of Love” segues directly into  “Tall Orders,” creating a nearly-8-minute tune that features lazy horns, an easygoing full-band vibe, and a zooming organ solo. “Oh My Dear, Oh My Darling” is a straight-up country song, complete with pedal steel, walking bass, and saloon-style piano. (“What Is Wisdom Anyway” reprises this turn.)

“Loves Company” is the standout ballad, merging folk verses into a pretty country chorus. “I did” is a beautiful solo acoustic tune that draws on indie-pop and even some acoustic singer/songwriter tricks.  “Little Blue House” sounds like Counting Crows meets Old Crow Medicine Show in the most raucous possible mashup. Each song has individual charms, which is a rare thing. There’s a lot going on in State Center, but the whole thing has a warm, comfortable feel that keeps it cohesive.

Even though the songwriting and instrumentals are brilliant, Matt Hassler’s vocal performances are even more stellar. He has the sort of lithe, evocative voice that can sell any line, whether it’s a wisecrack, a confession, or an observation. By the end of the album, I felt like I was friends with him–both through his lyrical candor and his precise, careful, delivery, he worked his way into my heart. It’s a remarkable album-long performance that should not go overlooked; rarely are artists able to capture this level of quality over a whole album.

Will Bennett and the Tells start off Wichita with “I Hope You Hear This on the Radio,” which sets up a country-punk template for a lot of these tunes: traditional country arrangements sped way up with high tenor, pop-punk-esque vocals. Following tracks “She’s Got a Problem” and “The Villain” slow down the tempo to show that this really is a country band, and both are great successes; “The Villain” has one of the most indelible vocal melodies set against a snare shuffle and an acoustic guitar strum.

Still, it’s tunes like the punchy “Somewhere Down in Texas” and the bouncy “Paloma” that stick most with me. The mid-tempo rockers, like “Ann Arbor” and “Jolene” (every country band needs a song about Jolene), are also tight–Bennett’s vocal melodies are crisp and memorable wherever he deploys them, so each of the songs have that going for them. The good-natured quality of the album–much of it is in the major key–make it perfect summer festival or summer cookout music.

If you’re looking for a country album to pair with the dog days of summer, both of these would fit the bill excellently. Both have great lyrics, strong vocals, and melodies that could turn out to be the engine in your song of the summer.

JPH – Songs of Loss

August 22, 2016

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Mourning itself is so personal that it is largely insulated from standard interpretation of people’s actions: unbeatable legends stumble and expectations falter. It is so hard to deal with that some people would rather call it a mental illness. Some people write albums in response. Grief albums are not common (at least, not near as common as breakup albums), but they do exist. The Collection’s Ars Moriendi is a revelatory example. However, grief albums are uncommonly hard to review. How do you explain the sound of someone’s ache, nevermind judge whether it’s good or not? Yet people who write about music are called upon to do this from time to time, and JPH‘s Songs of Loss is the latest call to somehow muddle through.

Songs of Loss would be hard to explain even if it weren’t so openly dealing with the loss of the artist’s father. The music itself draws a triangle between outsider atonality and erratic rhythm (“Song 7,” “Song 2”), ambient electro-acoustic music (“Song 8,” “Song 4”), and atypical but recognizable singer-songwriter work (“Song 1,” “Song 6”). Each individual song leans toward one point of the triangle, but the traces of each influence stamp themselves on every piece. Imagine if LCD Soundsystem had committed to only using acoustic instruments but still wanted to make the same sort of rhythms, or if Jandek had become dancier. These are strange things to try to imagine, I am aware.

There’s one other connection to LCD Soundsystem: “Someone Great” is the rare song that sees an artist obviously deep in the mourning process turning out complex, idiosyncratic work that fits within a pre-existing ouerve. (“I Hope You Die” by Wye Oak also falls in this category.) JPH’s work here is raw with grief: the lyrics of each tune, insofar as they exist, are specifically about questions of death and dying. But the work is also carefully developed within a specific vision. Jordan Hoban’s modus operandi on this release is to create a drone and manipulate what goes on atop it. However, the drones are unusual, as “Song 0” loops a hiccuping tom-and-snare-rim beat; “Song 3” puts a distant casio on repeat; “Song 6” uses a chanted lyric stream as the base for dissonant piano; and first part of “Song 8” builds a complicated ostinato from accordion, shaker, and palm-muted guitar. The 8 and a half minutes of “Song 8” are almost minimalist in a Reich-ian way, as the guitar noodling on top of the structure is almost more “variation” than riffing.

On top of those structures Hoban’s whispery voice alternates between talking, singing, and whispering. This is a very personal record, and so I am not going to talk about the lyrics at all beyond that. The overall effect of the instruments + lyrics is much different than a standard album. I am not much for the “art can create empathy with other people” argument, because not much art has ever made me feel like I was walking in other people’s shoes. However, the atypical musical environment and close proximity with the lyrics about death made me aware that I would definitely not have thought to create this. I am aware of being very near someone else’s experience of grief. But it’s not an overtly crushingly sad release; the sadness is omnipresent, but often in the spaces between the background and the frontmatter. There’s a palpable sense of absence that Hoban has carefully cultivated. Songs of Loss is an unique album that lets you enter into a grieving process both artistically and emotionally. That’s valuable time spent, regardless of whether you’ve been through a death recently.

Daniel G. Harmann: Occupying a Distinctive Songwriting Space

August 20, 2016

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Daniel G. Harmann has been recording, solo or with previous band The Trouble Starts, for the last 15 years. It is not surprising that Slowing Down spends time exploring and investigating the intricacies of the sound he’s created over that time span. His early days as a lushly-orchestrated indie rock songwriter meet his crunchy guitar side and mingle with the sparseness he cultivated all along the way. What results is a thought-provoking album of distinctive indie rock.

Harmann’s most distinctive feature is his voice: he has a sonorous tenor that swoops, swoons, quavers, and warbles elegantly. He is fond of rapid interval leaps and drops in his vocal lines, which gives his melodies an inherently dramatic quality. In his early work (The Books We Read Will Bury Us), the songs were built around these giant moments, but here Harmann integrates his vocal stylings into the arrangements much more. Opener “Carbondale” buries his voice in a shoegaze-like way under a barrage of percussion and synthetic sonic haze, but that’s an extreme case. “Hesitations” is as much about the martial stomp of the drums and synth as it is his voice; the melancholy of “Volition” is powered equally by the guitar performance and his pipes.

That trio of tunes holds down the rock end of the spectrum here; on the other end lie delicate tunes “Dues,” “Zocalo” and “Tectonic.” Harmann has always shown an affinity for the acoustic guitar and has often released guitar and voice songs (Westroy Sessions); here he’s polished those skills to a shine. But Harmann’s acoustic songs are not standard singer/songwriter fare. The unique vocal melodies he is fond of give the work surprising twists and turns. “Dues” is as pretty a song as Harmann has penned in his long career, challenging my personal favorite “Last Swim of the Year” for the crown.

The central piece of the album is “Endless,” which brings together his rock interests and his beauty-minded writing in one package. It starts off with a brittle, distorted slice of guitar work before dropping into mid-tempo minor-key rock. His voice soars over the guitar twice: once as lead, once as ethereal backup. The ghostly vocals usher the transition from the minor-key verses to the major-key “chorus,” where the gritty guitar returns with a bright, muscly, uplifting vibe. It strongly echoes early ’00s Deep Elm Records work, like the White Octave, Appleseed Cast, and the like. After the chorus, the guitar fluctuates again, sending the song out on a chunky, powerful riff and repeating square synth. It’s breathtaking, showcasing the nuance and thoughtfulness that can come from 15+ years in the game. It’s a bit noisier than his early work, but there’s a direct line between then and now in this tune.

If you’re into serious indie-rock, Slowing Down should be on your to-hear list. Harmann has spent years tweaking and refining his sound, creating a distinct sonic space for himself. Those interested in clear, strong songwriting voices will have much to celebrate in Slowing Down. 

Sean Duncan’s Impressive Debut

August 18, 2016

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Sean Duncan’s first solo release Saturated Diluted is a surprising blend of acoustic and electronic elements. Some tracks (“Vultures With Human Hands”) show a heavy ‘80s electronic influence, while others (“The Story of Betty”) give off more acoustic/singer-songwriter vibes. Nevertheless, Saturated Diluted maintains a consistent aesthetic with the beauty of Duncan’s vocals and lyrics.

The instrumentation of Saturated Diluted is unexpected; each track has a sound all its own. The first track, “Everything is Sinking Pt 1,” sets the groundwork from which the album then takes off. The song feels very typical singer/songwriter at its start, with heavy use of the acoustic guitar. Yet, as the song progresses, more electronic elements are introduced. At about three-quarters into the track, there’s a quick build to an explosion of sound with the addition of the drums and electric guitar. Long-forgotten are the acoustic vibes from the beginning of the track. From that eclectic beginning, each song that follows goes off in its own direction.

The final track of the album, “Everything is Sinking Pt 2,” opens with spacey synth sounds and is quickly paired with the electric guitar. The track continues in this way until almost 2 minutes in, where everything fades away. We are left with the acoustic guitar and vocals, which doesn’t last very long. Once the chorus arrives, a heavily percussive outburst of sound takes over with the lyrics, “Everything is sinking … Everything is dying”.  (At this point in the track, I really wish I had better speakers to get the full effect.) Towards the track’s end, the explosive instrumentation slowly fades away as the acoustic guitar closes out the song. The album could not be ended any better.

Along with the diverse instrumentation, the crisp vocals and thoughtful lyrics glue the album together. Sean Duncan’s voice has the tonal qualities of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. The clarity of Duncan’s voice enables listeners easy access to the lyrics of the album. “The Story of Betty” provides the best example of the beautiful, raw lyrics. The track tells the story a lonely woman “all by herself / with just her thoughts / to keep her company”. As the song progresses, we find out that a man that was coming to meet her arrives and the song closes with the lyric– “he kisses her goodnight/ as he pulls her finger from/ the trigger.” It is unclear whether that means Betty committed suicide, and the ambiguous nature of the lyrics serve to make it even more poetic. The primarily acoustic guitar instrumentation pairs well with the thought-provoking lyrics.

Sean Duncan’s self- written, recorded, mixed and mastered album Saturated Diluted is an impressive combination of unique sounds, solid vocals, and gripping lyrics.–Krisann Janowitz

Al Scorch: Ragged, rowdy, frantic, immediate

August 14, 2016

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Al Scorch‘s Circle Round the Signs combines country-rave-up fervor, frantic banjo playing, and an assured sense of melody that creates one of the most immediate, electric offerings I’ve heard all year.

Opener “Pennsylvania Turnpike” is a madcap 2:21 that feels even shorter than that, as Scorch blazes his way through the tune with barely-contained abandon. If you miss the ragged, rowdy first four Avett Brothers records, you’ll have found a new best friend by the time that “Everybody Out” makes it to your ears: Scorch’s unhinged voice manages to make klezmer music even more vital than it already intrinsically is. (Potentially because this klezmer outfit contains a bone-rattling banjo.) If you’re not convinced, the wild, staccato, who-cares-about-time-signatures center of “Want One” could not be closer to a lost Mignonette song–in the best way possible. It pains me a little to think how many banjo strings Scorch goes through. (But only a little–never change.)

Scorch does have a balladeer hiding inside himself: “Lonesome Low” is a swaying singalong with female vocals and an unforgettable vocal melody, while “City Lullaby” is exactly what it sounds like. And these songs are definitely great, but it’s the rocket-speed approach to songwriting that is the real treasure here. After the ballads, we get “Slipknot” (an old-time band on uppers) and closer “Love After Death” (an album highlight that combines his frantic approach with a real sense of loss over friends that have died). Scorch can slow down, but he’s at his best when he’s blazing. If you’re into any sort of acoustic music, this is a must-hear. Highly recommended.

Young Mister: Breezy, expansive, and effortless

August 10, 2016

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Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism was an important guide in my transition from pop-punk to indie-rock (and then, via “Passenger Seat,” to acoustic music). I pulled it out earlier this summer to find that it sounds more like a pop-rock record than I remember. The songs are in no way diminished, but they feel noisier than I wanted them to be–I was looking for the distinctively indie-pop set of aesthetics (soft sounds, crisp edges, less clang, more clatter). But it’s an indie-pop-rock record, probably one of the best. We can get into a discussion of power-pop (early Weezer) vs. indie-pop-rock (Tokyo Police Club), but the point is that Young Mister‘s self-titled indie-pop-rock record feels like the direct successor to Gibbard et al’s masterpiece work, from its breezy California milieu, expansive take on indie-pop, and straightforward-yet-arresting lyrics.

Young Mister blasts put of the starting gate with “The Best Thing,” where Stephen Fiore marshals a sunshiny a.m. radio guitar radio riff, bouncy bass, and wryly honest vocal delivery to apologize for oversleeping his girlfriend’s hour of need: “I heard your car stalled on the interstate / I hope you got where you were going.” The chorus is a bubble of air breaking the surface, a rush of horns and lightness after the restrained verses. “Would It Kill You” and “Pasadena” continue this chipper, breezy pop vibe; the tunes pop out of the speakers with clarity and confidence. The deft hand with which oft-subtle musical and emotional shifts is handled shows Fiore as a songwriter with great skills. The shifts also echo the great sweeps of “Tiny Vessels,” “We Looked Like Giants,” and even “Transatlanticism” itself.

Elsewhere the tunes tend toward the expansive rather than the speedy, just as in its predecessor album: “Sound of Settling” is the single, but “Title and Registration” is the home base. Fiore gives “Would It Kill You” and “Take Me Away” some edge to keep things fresh into the album’s depths, but the composure of quieter tunes like “American Dream Come True,” “Carolina,” and “Everything Has Its Place” makes them shine brightest. “American Dream Come True” is a mid-tempo pop song with beautiful guitar work, a lovely vocal performance, and a devastating lyrical turn. It recalls Fountains of Wayne’s more pensive work. “Carolina” is a rueful, mourning break-up tune, wishing a lost lover the best. The sonic palette isn’t that different from “American Dream,” but the distinctive, anthemic chorus moves it into “songs other people might want to cover” territory. Dropping everything to its bare bones,”Everything Has Its Place” creates a floating world couched in delicate reverb, very precise melodies, and a deep sense of romanticism. It’s as if the sparseness of “Lightness” and the emotional ballast of “Transatlanticism” were merged into one daydreamy tune.

The lyrical punch of “American Dream Come True” is not an isolated incident: Fiore is an excellent lyricist. He’s as comfortable singing about “the fucked-up systems that failed you now” (“Would It Kill You”) as he is petitioning Christ for grace (“Carolina”) and sighing at the incredible effort of dating when you’re not in your early ’20s anymore (“Take Me Away,” “Anybody Out There”). His turns of phrase are clever, his topics are more than your standard stock, and his work is highly polished. But the lyrics don’t stray into the esoteric or the hyper-specific; he grounds his lyrics firmly in well-observed and carefully described experience. It’s the rare indie-pop-rock album that can add to the quality of the album with the lyrical effort, but Fiore has certainly done that here.

Young Mister is so carefully and meticulously crafted that it doesn’t show any of the seams. An immense amount of effort went into making indie-pop-rock songs that sound effortless and natural. You can sing along with these songs, write the lyrics on your bedroom wall, or just let the experience wash over you–all the things that my friends and I did with Transatlanticism. Whatever you choose to do, you should start by giving the album a thorough listen. Fans of pop music won’t be disappointed. I’ll be spinning this one for a long time. Highly recommended.

Premiere: A Valley Son’s Sunset Park

August 9, 2016

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I’m the sort of Dawes fan that considers “When My Time Comes” an absolute essential for a successful Dawes concert. The major-key romp is tied for “Little Bit of Everything” as my favorite tune in Dawes’ oeuvre, even though most of their work (and basically every bit of All Your Favorite Bands) sounds more like Laurel Canyon laid-back country. So it’s with great excitement that I’ve discovered A Valley Son‘s Sunset Park, which is six tracks of enthusiastic full-band alt-country with lots of American roots rock thrown in.

After a scene-setting instrumental intro, AVS kicks it in with the fuzzed-out guitar and blaring organ of “In the Low Light of the Late Afternoon.” “Low Light” is a song of youthful excess and bravado, matched in fervor by Trey Powell’s confident vocals. Powell’s low tenor is lithe and adaptable: he swings from observant to mocking to self-deprecating in rapid succession, selling each change with subtle intonations and careful delivery. He can also throw down a joyful chorus: the refrain here is one that I’ve been humming for days, as much for its enthusiasm as its melodic quality. Powell shows off his versatile vocals elsewhere in the more straight-ahead rock song “Lights in the Sky” (which we premiered) and the careening closing ballad “Shaken, Abrupt.”

The latter tune is a particularly valuable turn instrumentally as well; it shows off another side of the band after four midtempo rock songs. The band knows how to crank out the rock: they can turn out zinging lead guitar lines (“Dark Places”), chunky bass runs (“Sunset Park”), and mood-setting drums (“Lights in the Sky”) with ease. Most of this EP was recorded live, and it really shows. Instead of sounding clinically precise, the songs roll and lunge along in a satisfying way. The closing instrumental salvo of “Lights in the Sky” feels raw and organic, like a band having such a good time that they’re going to run it back some more. I can’t help but get behind a band like that.

But about “Shaken, Abrupt,” the color tune in a clutch of strong rockers: while it does have some guitar theatrics toward the end, this one relies less on the band and more on Powell’s vocals and electric rhythm guitar. Powell is up to the challenge, as he delivers a confident vocal line over a guitar performance that doesn’t get in the way. Powell’s howls here aren’t of the abrasive type that Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) conjures up, but the two vocalists share a propensity to just go for it on a big, sweeping line. That quality gives this and all the rest of the tunes a distinct character which points towards good things for the band.

A Valley Son’s debut EP establishes them as a band to watch. Between the distinctive, versatile vocals and the enthusiastic alt-country/roots rock instrumentation, AVS has a lot of pieces that can translate easily onto bigger and brighter stages. At the moment, they’ve created six tunes that are satisfying in a variety of ways. Sunset Park drops today. You can check the band out in New York over the next few weeks:

August 10th, Sofar Sounds NYC
August 13th, Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY (Album Release)
August 26th, Rockwood Music Hall, NY, NY

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Galapaghost — I Never Arrived

August 1, 2016

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Galapaghost released its self-produced album I Never Arrived earlier this year. Recorded in Italy, the album shows classical influence in the intricate acoustic guitar work. The layered vocals, creating a Simon & Garfunkel effect, are also notable. What really makes this album shine is how all of the elements come together to create a sound all its own.

The acoustic guitar begins every song off in I Never Arrived, with the exception of “The Secrets our Body Keeps,” which begins with the electric guitar. The beautiful intricate guitar work displayed in this album is stunning. Right off the bat, with “Mazes in the Sky”, listeners get hit with gorgeous acoustic guitar picking that continues to be a theme throughout the album. For example, towards the end, “Goodbye (My Visa Arrived)” pairs brilliant guitar picking with a twangy electric guitar that’s suiting for the somber track.

Another notable feature of the album is the layered vocalization. Beginning with “Mazes in the Sky”, we get introduced to two sets of male vocals. The first is a softer, higher voice and the second is more of a deeper baritone one. Together, they create a classic Simon & Garfunkel sound that proves quite soothing. For many of the other tracks, the deeper, crisper voice stands alone (“Salt Lake CIty”) or immediately enters in with the harmonizing set of vocals (“Science of Lovers”).

Many of the tracks take on a more eerie tone. “Science of Lovers” is a great example of the harmonization taking on a creepier effect. In particular, the melismatic “Ahhh”’s that the harmony intersperses throughout the track adds a certain level of eeriness–think modern day Gregorian chant. “I Never Arrived” also has a similarly brooding sound. Here, the instrumentation makes the track sound darker with the acoustic guitar/ piano combination that is also met with spacey effects. The meditative lyrics of “I Never Arrived” also add an extra level of melancholy, with lyrics like “Can I/ be who I used to?”. The tracks are in great contrast to the few that are abundantly more hopeful, namely “Bloom” and “Somewhere.”

It’s interesting that Galapaghost thought to add “Somewhere” followed by “Bloom,” adding in more cheery tracks close to the end. “Somewhere” starts off the mini-hope train with a more peaceful acoustic guitar and piano combination. “Somewhere” is a very hopeful song, with the chorus repeating “Somewhere/ you’ll arrive/ Somewhere/ the sun will rise.” “Bloom” kicks it up one notch further with a bit of whimsy. For the first half of the track, the lyrics tell a tale of jealousy and pressure, while everyone else is finding deep success. The turning point in the song begins with the lyrics “But I’m happy for you/ Everything around me/ and everyone around me/ is in bloom.” The next verse depicts beautiful moments within the speaker’s own life, leading up to the final lyrical climax of a slower, self-realized repetition of the above chorus.

Overall, I Never Arrived is a calming album, filled with many beautiful elements. I highly recommend checking Galapaghost out. —Krisann Janowitz

Jenny and Tyler Live, presenting Andrew Picha! 

July 28, 2016

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Jenny and Tyler‘s work has moved from sun-flecked acoustic pop to full-band, emotive indie rock over their discography, and 10,000 Miles (Live in 2015) solidifies their mature approach to songwriting. Where their most recent studio release Of This I’m Sure showed their diversity of songwriting and arranging, this collection shows that they can really knock the songs out of the park live. They also show off how to make a live record that really works.

This album could be attributed to Jenny & Tyler featuring Andrew Picha, because their drummer is a game-changer. Picha’s thunderous percussion performances give “Song for You,” “My Dear One,” “Of This I’m Sure,” and “Faint Not” huge swells of dynamics and extra shots of adrenaline. These songs have percussion in the studio versions, but Picha really makes the songs come to life in this setting. The album isn’t all their loudest songs at maximum volume (although I, and probably Andrew Picha, would be totally okay with that); full band interpretations of the tender “In Everything You Do” and the yearning “Beloved One” are given extra dimensions by thoughtful, interesting percussion work. “Beloved One” is a particularly excellent take, as Picha delivers the churning drumbeat that underpins the legato vocals expertly. (Jenny and Tyler’s vocals are on point, as ever–their voices just sound so good together.)

It should also be noted that Picha’s drumming isn’t notably different than the original version of the track, but the recording of this album is expertly mixed and mastered to show off a different side of the tunes from the studio version. Songs never sound exactly the same as they do in the studio on stage, and the engineering team of Trent Stegink, Shane D. Wilson, and Bob Boyd decided to embrace that instead of trying to replicate the studio sound (which often ends up being clunky). Instead, the engineering here is bright, clear, and drums-forward, which gives the songs pop. Some live albums can sound muddy or distant, and none of those sonic missteps are present here. This recording is high quality.

J&T have an increasingly deep discography to draw from, so they had to make some cuts to get 10,000 Miles down to 16 songs. Thankfully, it seems that my interests and their interests align: excellent opener “Song For You” is the fourth different version of it that you can hear (if you include the 7 Songs version), “See the Conqueror” and “Psalm 46” are treated to beautiful acoustic versions, and even fan favorite (but now out-of-character) “One-eyed Cat” makes an appearance with a charming spoken introduction. There’s something for every J&T fan here, whether Of This I’m Sure was your first introduction or if you have early albums by them that can’t even be purchased online anymore.

This album is a must-have for any fan of J&T, and a great introduction to their work for those uninitiated. Even if you own their previous acoustic live album 7 Songs, 10,000 Miles builds on it in every way by including great arrangements of a full band, funny/serious stage banter, and impeccable song selection. Jenny and Tyler are working at a really high level right now: if you’re into earnest, acoustic-based indie-rock, you should check this record out. You can pre-order the record at iTunes now.

Disclaimer: This is an expanded version of a review that I originally posted to their iTunes pre-order.

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Quick Hit: Hello Friend by The Hollow Trees

July 26, 2016

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Kindie rock is definitely a thing, so it’s not surprising that kindie-folk is a thing. And I do mean kindie-folk, not singer/songwriter (mad props to Tom Chapin though, that was my childhood right there). Hello Friend by The Hollow Trees is a vintage-style string band that also happens to be singing to children. Given the quirkiness of old-timey string bands [and the fact that “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants in My Pants)” is a real historical song that was sung to adults], nothing in this album is that out-of-character for this type of sound.

So! Goofy lyrics abound (“What Do You Want on Your Taco?”, “Backward Bill,” “I Like To Draw”), but there’s also some here for the parents (“Poor Papa,” “It Ain’t No Fault of Mine,” “My Metaphor,” “The Whole Thing”) that have more depth when I thought about them. The music rattles along smile-inducingly with jaunty banjo strum, acoustic guitar picking, accordion, occasional kazoo, and fun male/female vocals. Closer “The Harmony Hills” plays up the warbling, breaking vocals to hide that it’s really a beautiful shuffle-snare country ballad; this band has chops, don’t sleep on that. If you’re looking for a really fun, summery folk album, you’ll find an unexpected gem in Hello Friend. 

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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