I love complicated, in-depth, hugely orchestrated albums. (See here and here.) But I also love the simple purity of a bunch of guys in a room with instruments, singin’ and playin’. The Parmesans‘ Uncle Dad’s Cabin EP is the latter.
Since the Internet, regionalism is much less of a thing–which is why I’m comfortable telling you that The Parmesans are from San Francisco and play thoroughly credible bluegrass.The guitar/banjo/mandolin/bass/group vocals set-up is employed to great effect. They kick the short set off with “Blooming Rose,” which is pretty much a marker to establish their bluegrass bona fides. It’s got everything you need to know about their technical skill. Then it gets interesting, as highlights “The Riddle Song” and “Brahms Was a Satanist” (!) come next. The first has a jaunty mood, memorable melodies and harmonies, and a great feel. The second features the guitarist, and picks up the question of what, exactly, Johannes Brahms believed. Their, uh, unusual take on the idea is presented in a pretty hilarious way.
Two more solid tunes follow, and they cement the aesthetic and my enjoyment of it. If you’re into porch-pickin’ bluegrass, you should definitely check this out. Although I’m not sure how many porches exist in cramped San Francisco; whatever. The spirit stays the same: I mean, they have a song on their tumblr called “Heinous Pit of Death.” Yes.
Pineross‘s Detached is a set of rustic Americana tunes with mostly spoken word vocals on top of it. In tunes like opener “A Vision,” the cadence and flow come close to rapping; in the following track “Run So Fast,” there’s more of a storytelling vibe about it with some easygoing singing. The tunes here run the gamut, from the saloon-vibe piano-led pop of “Run So Fast” to the accordion-led Spaghetti Western feel of “Motorbike” to the carnival-esque, modern sounds of the rap-heavy “Ruins” and the bluegrass vibe of “No Soundtrack.” Acutally, that’s just the first half of the album; that’s how varied and interesting this thing is.
Songwriter Kevin Larkin is good at both the rustic sounds he creates from his instruments and the vocals he inventively lays on top of those songs, making for a fascinating and unique experience. Explaining it any more than that is nearly impossible to me; it’s such a complete, formed idea that it seems an injustice to try and explain it in words. Go listen to it for yourself if you like alternative rap, unusual acoustic music or something different in general.
It’s twice in a row now that Adam Hill has delivered. If another one of his discs winds up on my desk, he’s going to have to work hard to outdo himself again.
When examining Hill’s work, he starts to seem less like a folk musician and more like a folk composer. This album is not the work of a group that took the name of its leader. Hill, in fact, plays every instrument on Them Dirty Roads (except for the fiddle) and provides all the vocals (aside from some of the backups). Hill is in control of every aspect of the album and compiles it into a sort of an operatic Americana symphony.
Whereas his previous album, Four Shades of Green, was more subdued in tone, Them Dirty Roads comes off as restless and in need of wandering. Guitars, pianos, walking bass lines, and an almost total lack of percussion, along with Hill’s twangy vocals (which often come with some echoing reverb) provide an atmosphere akin to the wide open spaces that make up the album’s cover art.
Hill’s sound takes a more indie-minded turn in Them Dirty Roads, especially with the insertion of piano ballads like “Fool’s Gold” and his cover of Dave Carter’s “The River, Where She Sleeps.” The cover is especially wonderful with Hill’s choice to stick with piano and what sounds like wine glasses being played with spoons for the accompaniment to his vocals. The song exudes a sense of joy that will prove infectious to anyone.
In a sense, Hill also takes a turn toward classical music in the arrangement of the album. Similar to the way he put four versions of the song “Down In The Valley” in Four Shades of Green to provide cohesiveness to the album, Hill inserts transitional and framing tracks, “Prelude,” “Intermezzo I,” “Intermezzo II,” and “Coda” in Them Dirty Roads. These tracks are generally just a collection of sound effects, though “Prelude” includes a Bach arrangement played on trumpet over the sound of radio static. While normally I might write tracks like this off as superfluous to an album, when taken within the whole album, these tracks give Them Dirty Roads unity and cohesiveness.
Tracks of note are “Fueled Up,” which is very reminiscent of the later work of Johnny Cash, and the aforementioned “The River, Where She Sleeps,” as well as “State of Grace” and “Ribbons and Curls.”
Anyone who appreciates folk, bluegrass, or country should find something to love about Them Dirty Roads. And those who don’t should definitely give it a try as well.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.