Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Nikki Lane

July 24, 2011

Nikki Lane‘s Gone, Gone, Gone EP is about as good a primer on old-school country as I could ask for, and about as solid an introduction as an artist can give.

The title track is an ominous, spaghetti Western-inspired piece that showcases Lane’s husky, gritty alto voice. The guitar reverb is dark and a tad malicious, which makes the lyrics of leaving all the more cutting. “Western Bound” sees her voice in a higher register, invoking drawling, old-time country divas. It’s the most immediate of the four, with charming pedal steel. “Down to the Wire” is a straight-up Western swing tune, to make Bob Wills proud. I felt wrong not dancing to this tune about drinkin’, which features Lane’s voice in the higher register again.

“Comin’ Home to You” shows her voice with the most character on the EP, as she drops affectation and just lets it be. It’s an arresting one, and full of grit and turns and pockmarks, and while the songwriting is impressive, it’s Lane’s voice that sticks out at the end of the ten-minute EP. I can see Lane going quite far with both of those elements in her pocket. One to watch.

Them Dirty Roads are rather nice.

May 4, 2009

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.

Citizen 5's Circles: Super Globalized Yet Super Indie

April 26, 2009

Citizen 5, out of Norman, OK, is a band of many roots, musically and geographically. Musically, they range from pop country of the lead singer Jimmilea Manley to the Latin influences of keyboardist Ricardo Sasaki to the heavy rock of guitarist Scott Sunderman to the indie influences of bassist Jason Long.

They come from many places, from Bolivia to Mexico to just local homegrown Oklahomans. Citizen 5 is unique in that they are a globalized band, which ties into their name, connected with the fact that they are five citizens of the world. This is where they are talented, and even the title of the album plays on the interconnection of everyone.

Definitely Citizen 5’s melding of genres and styles helps make them unique an indie market where being unique is a prerequisite for success. The intro and outro, for example, are Latin-influenced,with a talented trumpeter from the premier mariachi band in Oklahoma playing a Latin dirge. New wave influences can be heard in much of the music, notably in “Make it Real,” where singer Jimmilea Manley’s strong and soaring vocals add a womanly, southern twang, strangely complimenting the indie and psychedelic influences already at play. Add to that their retro eighties-like chord progressions, you’d think these guys would be going overboard. But the band manages to make solid pop songs that tie all these influences together without really jumping off the experimental cliff.

I had the chance to sit down keyboardist and producer Ricardo Sasaki, who said Citizen 5 has been influenced by acts ranging from Led Zeppelin to David Bowie to Oklahoma’s greatest recent psychedelic success story, the Flaming Lips. Produced by very indie label Ares Recording (which has only been in business for about three weeks), right next door to a Starlight Mints-owned Opolis, a live act club, Citizen 5 definitely has the indie cred to make a footprint on the music world outside the local scene.

But more important than the connections that Sasaki has from his eighteen years of producing and world tromping is just the talent I heard when listening to Circles. Sometimes its buried, but I can still hear it – this is a band that has yet to realize its potential. Things I was impressed with include the way the band manages to craft very familiar lyrics and chord progressions without sounding cliché. Perhaps the influence of all the aforementioned backgrounds of the members of Citizen 5 keep things fresh, like a mango from South America or a homegrown tomato from an Oklahoma backyard.

Sasaki himself said that their next LP, currently untitled and due for release in a few months, is better than the first. I am eagerly awaiting that release, hoping that in it that the band’s voice rings stronger than the first. If I had to guess, I would say the band’s voice can be found from the melding of their different backgrounds, musical and geographical. I think that if they just somehow amplified all these influences and dared to experiment a little more, they could be scary good.

But for what it’s worth, I recommend Citizen 5 and Circles heartily. It’s a fun indie/retro listen.

Attention Planet Earth: Corinne Gooden is Absolutely Amazing!

March 2, 2009

Released in 2008, All My Days is perhaps the most heartfelt album I’ve reviewed this year. Corinne Gooden’s voice has a warm country twinge which simply arrested me on first listen. Her voice is intimate and makes you have to sit and listen. Corinne’s feelings are obviously completely entwined in her words and notes. It’s impossible to listen to All My Days without feeling along with her. Corinne has a rare gift for drawing you in and letting you feel her love, her happiness, her pain, her heartbreak, and her hope.

Corinne’s voice can be haunting, especially on track three, “All My Days.” Corinne sings a melody here that’s so innately familiar, yet original in its own right. Her voice is painted over a perfect tapestry of her interlocking acoustic guitar and what seems to be a keyboard, the latter of which begins and ends the song. The drums provide perfect accentuation to the notes and lyrics. The lyrics are perfect, the chorus saying: “All my days/a world which pushes down the pain/I cannot make this go away/all my nights/a dream that haunts my sleep again/I cannot seem to make you stay.” Simply beautiful. Make no mistake – “All My Days” is a hit.

But Corinne doesn’t stop here. All her following songs are great (as well as those preceding “All My Days”). “Come This Far,” rocks pretty hard. The bridge is very powerful and Corinne’s voice really shines here, offering a nice contrast to “All My Days.”  “Come This Far” also lets her accompaniment shine; they really help Corinne to reach high in this album.

“17th Street” is a tragic yet beautiful song dealing with something many struggle with. The song is about how people pass a homeless man on the corner  in their cars, completely ignoring him. Corinne isn’t accusatory – she admits she does the same, and that this is even normal. The tragedy lies just in the fact that it’s normal. This song takes this example to expose the numbness in the human heart, a numbness which makes us forget that we need each other.

Corinne is talented as a songwriter and has the ability to draw the listener in and make him or her feel. I would definitely like more people to know about Corinne Gooden, because she is simply amazing. She is the best female vocalist I’ve heard this year, hands down. She has crafted the kind of album where, after listening to it, you feel like you know her.

She has song samples on both her site and her MySpace – be sure to check them out!

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

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