Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Four folk albums

January 6, 2013

ReinaDelCid

Reina Del Cid has a rare melodic gift. Her 10-song release with The Cidizens is titled blueprints, plans, and each song features one absolutely stunning vocal melody after another. She could have made any song on the whole album the single, and they all would have been just as effective at showing off that Reina Del Cid can write unforgettable tunes. Her pop-folk/bluegrass-lite makes great use of traditional sounds, rhythms and instruments to float her brilliant vocal melodies, from the condescending “Pretty Lie” to the forlorn “Expiration Date” to the striking “Brutal Love.” All of these tunes are mixtape-worthy, which is incredibly unusual. If you’re into anything from Jason Mraz to Nickel Creek to Ani Difranco, you’ll find something to love in Reina Del Cid and the Cidizens. And if you like all of them, then you’re in for a treat.

davidullman

David Ullman lets you know exactly what you’re going to get immediately. Ullman opens Light the Dark with a single sharp acoustic guitar strum and a howl of, “This is my cry in the dark!” As the rest of “Who You Say” unfolds, it becomes very clear that Ullman comes from the Damien Rice school of singer/songwriters, where hearing the tension and struggle in the vocals is a large part of the charm. Light also features instrumentation similar to Rice’s, with acoustic guitar, piano, strings and vocals taking up the lion’s share of the work. Ullman’s voice is grittier than Rice’s, making some of the tunes here positively punishing on his vocal chords. The lyrics deal with struggle and tension in religious themes, so there’s fertile ground for crescendo and catharsis. If you’re into gritty, powerful singer/songwriter fare, Light the Dark will be right up your alley.

hunterswhitelies

The strength of hunters.’ white lies is the interplay between easygoing alt-country vibes and the impressively descriptive lyrics. From describing a picturesque summer evening in standout “Ft. Lee, VA” to chronicling the life and times of the titular character in “Ambulance Chaser,” vocalist Rosa Del Duca nails the lyrics. She has strong control over her voice as well, lending these tunes a knowing, confident air. White Lies is fun to listen to on all levels, as hummable melodies, interesting arrangements, and memorable lyrics abound. This seven-song release is very worth your time.

jane.11183

I associate Damien Jurado with fragile, delicate folk, so it’s no surprise that my favorite tunes on Maraqopa are the quietest. “Working Titles” pairs a gentle ukulele strum with swooning backup vocals and very high steel drum notes (no foolin’) to create a swaying, beautiful tune. “Museum of Flight” depends on Jurado’s falsetto to sell the dreamy tune, and it works out perfectly. The rest of the album is a bit noisier, moving almost over into the dream-pop/indie-pop realm instead of the singer/songwriter genre that he established himself in. It’s definitely a unique sound that new fans may enjoy and embrace. It’s a tough sell for this old-school fan, though.

Singer/songwriter Laurel Brauns' album is crisp and refreshing

November 22, 2011

I much prefer Colorado to Cozumel. Everything seems clearer, cleaner and more alive up in the mountains. I know that some prefer the easy pace of tropical living, but I associate it with sunburns and itchy sand. I relax much easier on a cabin porch in the woods.

Singer/songwriter Laurel Brauns’ blog is titled Indie Girl in a Mountain Town, and that aesthetic informs all of House of Snow. The album possesses a clear, crisp, refreshing sound that reminds me of my time in Colorado Springs: relaxed, unhurried, simple. From beginning to end, the album ripples with a pleasant, confident vibe. It’s the soundtrack to the montage of good moments before the real trouble of the film sets in.

Brauns’ songwriting pulls from inspiration from the folk sounds expected of a rural, high mountains community, but there’s also a lot of modern singer/songwriter mixed in her sound. Highlight “Westfall” sounds more like Brandi Carlile than Mumford and Sons, and “Kaleidoscope Eyes” is very much the same. “Puppy Love” draws more from a ’50s pop groove than anything else. “Dreams” is reminiscent of angrier singer/songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple, and even Damien Rice.

Throughout the tapestry of tunes weaves a few consistent threads: acoustic guitar, hefty string contributions, and Brauns’ dusky alto voice. The strings are the most surprisingly element of the sound, as they are employed in very different ways, from the forceful thrust of “Dreams” to the graceful swoon of the title track. The album would certainly not be the same without them.

Brauns’ alto is most often the counterpoint to the strings, delivering melodies that ping off the strings and hook in the listener’s mind. She does have elements of more traditional country and bluegrass singers (Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, etc.) in her voice, but her songs are varied enough that she doesn’t get pigeonholed into anyone’s footsteps.

House of Snow is a wonderful listen; in an age where the album is getting less and less love, this one is a whole and complete piece. There are standout tunes, but they sound even better in the context of the whole work. That’s something that I admire in a release, which is why I am so enamored with Laurel Brauns efforts here. If you’re up for a folksy, charming album, this one should be on your shortlist.

A Girl that Can Scat is to be Praised

March 12, 2009

Intricate instrumentals compliment Tiffany Christopher’s smooth vocals. This Arkansas native roams around these here Midwest parts laying down her sweet voice and jamming on the guitar. Complex finger picking in the style of Ani Difranco and Bela Fleck swings in and out of her strong, smooth vocalizations. In places you can hear an early-Regina Spektor influence. Songs like “Scat” feature, you guessed it, Ms. Christopher herself scatting.

It’s quirky and eclectic songs like these that make the physical appearance of Tiffany Christopher slightly ironic. She’s small, skinny, and wears jeans and a tank top in most of her videos. Nothing would suggest the dexterous accompaniment she plays along to her own melodious voice.

She graces us with only four myspace songs and a handful of youtube videos, but her reputation has grown through extensive touring in the northwest Arkansas and southern Missouri region. This acoustic/folk queen promises a CD soon. I sure hope so.

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

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