I’ve often compared Red Sammy to Tom Waits, as Adam Trice’s gravelly baritone and minor-key acoustic musings drew a pretty clear line between the two of them. However, the relationship is less clear on Creeps and Cheaters: Trice moves his outfit into its own territory by incorporating swampy Southern rock (“King on the Road”) and CCR-esque country-rock (“Seeds”) alongside his ominous, minor-key acoustic tunes.
The base sound is still there: opener “Dirty Water” situates the listener in a dark, seedy bar and delivers the gravelly rasp that I’ve come to love. The walking-speed tempo, subtly dramatic electric guitar and lyrical images of the underbelly of society (“I’m the dog that roams the streets” / “dirty water dripping down”) are all square in the wheelhouse–until the end, where Trice jumps an octave, gets all ratcheted up and pushes the bounds of his voice. It serves to change the mood, and that shift is continued throughout the record.
“I Got Creepy When Lou Reed Died” continues the vocal shift by being more akin to Reed’s work in the Velvet Underground than a country-rock song. Trice’s voice shines as the arrangement frames his pipes in an unique way. The aforementioned “King on the Road” and “Seeds” turn out different vibes too, allowing Trice to get out some great punctuating yawps in the rock’n’roll style. “Hanging with Uncle Elvis on Christmas” sees another turn, going more traditionally country with a dobro guitar and a clean vocal delivery. Trice’s vocals are still recognizably his own, but this performance shows that he can give the listener a lot of different looks. It’s one of the prettiest songs he’s ever put to tape–mostly because Red Sammy songs aren’t shooting for “pretty” in the conventional sense most of the time.
And there are some of the back alley tunes that he’s come to specialize in: the ominous vibe of “Lawnchair” sounds just like it should, fitting like a coat that doesn’t quite keep out the cold. “Take a Ride” pulls out a similar vibe. The centerpiece of the record is the 6:31 of “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real,” which IC had the pleasure of premiering. The whole band sounds assured and tight, coming together to create a seamless tune that rolls along effortlessly, like a lazy river in fall. It distills all that this album is about into one track: starts off in his pensive style, but grows to a different mood with some excellent electric guitar work.
Creeps and Cheaters shirks genre barriers and instead makes excellent tunes. If you’re interested in any type of alt-country, you’ll be interested in Red Sammy’s take on things. The growth that this album shows points to great things in the future, but that shouldn’t minimize the great things now: Creeps and Cheaters is the sound of a band hitting its stride and not slowing down.
It’s difficult to tell just from listening to “Closet” that John Vournakis‘ The Devil You Know is a debut solo album and a departure from his other bands (New Junk City, Gold-Bears). Even though he’s recorded EPs and singles over the years, “Closet” shows off unusual skills and confidence in delivering on the conventions of a genre without feeling the least bit trite.
Vournakis’ clear, passionate voice is perfectly at home in the acoustic folk/country environment, and the loping miss-you break-up tune displays a remarkable songwriting confidence.The treatment of the electric guitar and drums are particularly striking, as Vournakis creates a great amount of ethos and just the right amount of space for the vocals to take center stage without dominating the track. Those vocal melodies soar and simmer appropriately, evoking that feeling we all know of looking back at the one that got away. Vournakis understands the way this genre works, and that makes “Closet” sound like the confident, assured work of a much more mature singer/songwriter. Check it out below.
The Co Founder‘s Whiskey and 45’s is a raw, stripped-down acoustic offering that falls at the intersection of slowcore singer/songwriter vibes, rough-n-tumble country delivery, and alt-rock gruffness. The arrangements in the EP skew toward the sparse, but The Co Founder rarely lets things go totally acoustic. There’s a lot of atmosphere built into the five songs here, which serves to underscore (while helping create) the unique world these songs live in.
Hayden Eller’s vision of acoustic music is contained in the two opening tunes. “Balance and Composure” is a slow boat paddling, a lazy breeze over a brown-grass hill, a rolling pastoral that displays difficult emotions without poring over them. Elephant Micah would have been proud to write this one, aside from the muscly, guitar-chord-heavy chorus that provides a counterpoint to the gentle surroundings. If the verses are the composure, the chorus is the balance. “Yves St. Laurant” flips the script, focusing on the tough exterior; it’s raw, rough, and intense. It feels like a hollowed-out alt-rock song or an the sturdy skeleton of ominous alt-country tune. Yet quiet moments exist amid the brittle, powerful delivery. It’s a tension that Eller keeps at the forefront of his work.
That tension is pulled together with the subtle arrangement touches that help build the ambiance of the tunes. “Yves St. Laurant” includes clips of Heath Ledger as the Joker talking about morals, which is enough to make any song skin-crawling. It fits perfectly with the heavy delivery of the tune. The wide-open tom pounds that punctuate “Balance and Composure” point to the space and flow of the sound. Elsewhere, the distant lead guitar of “Harris Avenue” sends me to an empty street in an ominous, dusty frontier town; the background of “His Own Damn Self” is filled with found sound and pad synths. (Eller is aware of this; he includes an acoustic version of this one as the final track.) Closer “March 13th” includes indiscernible conversations for texture. Each element provides a pop of definition in the tunes, staking out remote and rare sonic territory for The Co Founder’s own.
Whiskey and 45’s is a pretty intense EP. Eller’s interests in minor keys, powerful delivery, and sonic texturing result in a collection that cuts against the current grain of easy-going folky tunes (that I love, it should be pointed out). Eller wrangles the striking sonic elements and the expectation inversions together with great success: the results display a distinct and memorable point of view. I’m intrigued to see how his songwriting voice develops and where his experiments with sonic texturing lead him.
1. “Sometimes It’s a Song” – Rob Williams. The fresh, round, earnest qualities of Williams’ voice match the subtle sweetness of the surrounding arrangement, resulting in the sort of song that feels real and weighty without being heavy or loud. It makes quite an impact.
2.”Heart of Stone” – The American West. This one captures the easygoing, lilting West Coast country sound in full flower, with the pedal steel more floating than weeping and the guitar more calming than cutting. The vocals and lyrics, however, supply all the heartbreak you could ask for from a country tune.
3. “Lovedrunk Desperados” – Annabelle’s Curse. That opening thumping kickdrum creates a sense of urgency that cuts through the banjo and acoustic guitar songwriting and lends it the hint of grandeur that compels me to keep listening. The rest of the song does not disappoint.
4. “Set on Fire” – Magic Giant. They’re not referencing their meteoric rise, but this rave-folk outfit (seriously, right there with Avicii, in only a slightly different way) is making a big noise in a lot of places. This particularly tune will keep their star right on rising.
5. “Mountains” – Andy Hackbarth. Even though its title says otherwise, this one invokes the beach: chill, Mraz-style acoustic-pop meets reggae in a sunshiny brew.
6. “Molly Put the Kettle On” – Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons. It doesn’t get much more authentic-sounding than this rootsy, bluegrassy croon/holler tune featuring harmonica, banjo, and fiddle.
7. “Mother” – Adam Busch. Touches of psychedelia flavor this otherwise unassuming, easygoing, fingerpicked acoustic tune.
8. “Lighthouse” – Phillip LaRue. The subtle alt-pop of Peter Bradley Adams meets the flitting, romantic strings of Sleeping at Last for a romantic, lovely tune.
9. “Cool and Refreshing” – Florist. Sporting another not-quite-yet-self-aware title, this tune delivers fragile, melancholic, beautiful indie-pop that really seems like it should be acoustic. Shades of Lady Lamb, Laura Stevenson, and Kimya Dawson appear, but Florist uses the references as touchstones instead of crutches. Just beautiful.
10. “Ein Berliner” – Jacob Metcalf. This tune has the gravitas to convey history in all its glory and terror–a tune so infused with lyrical weight that a single sigh can speak volumes. Distant trumpets, careful strings, twinkling glockenspiel and gentle baritone make this some sort of cross between Beirut and Kris Orlowski, which is only positive. Metcalf previously was in IC faves The Fox and The Bird, and it seems he hasn’t missed a step since stepping out.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.