1. “Home Away” – Valley Shine. This song excellently combines two things I love: enthusiastic folk-pop and Graceland-style African music influences. It’s the sort of jubilant yet suave work that transcends genre barriers and should be appreciated by people across the pop music spectrum. Just a fantastic song.
2. “Brother” – Jack the Fox. Doesn’t need more than an acoustic guitar, some warm pad synths and an arresting voice to totally take over a room. It’s quality on par with Josh Ritter and Fleet Foxes, but doesn’t sound like either artist.
3. “One Day I’ll Be Your Ears” – Mateo Katsu. Ramshackle, enthusiastic, chunky, herky-jerky acoustic indie-pop from the school of Daniel Johnston and Page France. It’s the sort of charmingly off-kilter work that lo-fi was meant to celebrate.
4. “Lil to Late” – Brother Paul. Here’s a fun, easygoing acoustic blues shuffle with hints of rockabilly, vintage country and self-deprecating humor sprinkled throughout. It’s topped off with just the right amount of Motown soul-style horns.
5. “The Time It Takes” – The Show Ponies. This Americana outfit sounds like a Joe Walsh moonlighting as the leader of a Nashville country outfit: saloon-style piano, radio-rock ramblin’ vibe, and male/female duet vocals straight off your local country radio. It’s not usually what I’m into, but it hooked me and kept me.
6. “Return to the Scene” – Aaron Atkins. Weary yet sturdy, this alt-country/folk tune ambles along on the strength of great rumbling bass lines and a convincingly-achy vocal performance.
7. “Phoenix Fire” – Simon Alexander. From the Josh Garrels/Hozier school of intense singers comes this thoughtful, mature pop song with a great chorus.
8. “Melody, I” – Pluto and Charon. A warm, intimate acoustic performance that retains the fret squeaks and string buzz. It’s more rough in its fidelity than Damien Jurado ever was, but it has a similar sort of vibe in the dignified vocals.
9. “Waterski to Texas” – Budo and Kris Orlowski. Now this one really does sound like Damien Jurado, but the latter-day Jurado. Budo and Orlowski walk a fine line between big, sweeping arrangements of singer/songwriter work and a very personal, even raw, emotive quality. The vocals here are particularly fine.
10. “Gold Ring” – Redvers Bailey. This one’s a lovely, romantic, gently layered song that floats somewhere between Josh Radin’s delicate work and the wide-eyed wonder of “Casimir Pulaski Day”-style Sufjan Stevens.
11. “High Rolling” – Jake Aaron. This acoustic instrumental manages to be complex and inviting at the same time, subverting expectations by not just jumping to the highest treble notes for the lead melody. By keeping the melody low and close to the fingerpicked foundation of the piece, the tune feels both comfortable and complicated. It’s very worth your time, even for those who aren’t generally into acoustic instrumentals.
We all have a Platonic ideal of music. You can read what mine was five years ago, but it has changed since then. Now it’s something along the lines of beautiful melodies that get stuck in my head, an effortless voice, gentle acoustic guitars, storytelling lyrics, and subtle emotions.
Ovando‘s “Dupuyer” gets pretty close to that Platonic ideal: Nate Hegyi’s vocals seem like they tumble gracefully out of his throat, while the female harmonies are similarly unadorned. Those voices carry a song of woe about the American West (are there any other type?), floating over lithe, smooth guitar fingerpicking.
Even though the song is spartan, it is assured and complete; the song doesn’t sound like it’s missing anything. Instead, the careful performances fill in all the spaces of the tune to make it feel full and right. “Dupuyer” feels like a Rehearsals for Departure-era Damien Jurado tune, which is a high compliment from over here.
The songs are wide-open, beautiful ballads. The guitar strum in “The Painter of Great Falls” slightly pushes the tempo forward; sonorous, legato strings push back. It frames Hegyi’s voice neatly, giving him space to tell a story. “Saskatchewan” incorporates pizzicato strings and staccato-yet-gentle vocal melodies to recall Michigan-era Sufjan Stevens; “Vigilante Cabin” sees Hegyi speed up the delivery of the vocal in the verses only to slow back down for one of the most memorable melodies of the EP in the chorus.
There’s tape hiss evident throughout each of the tracks, which only serves to heighten the sense of close, intimate performance. These four songs feel like they could have been played in bunkhouses of the West by people waiting out long winters, or around campfires of people working in the summer. Yet they don’t feel self-consciously “vintage” — they feel timeless.
Aside from the music, one of the most interesting inclusions on the EP is a radio clip at the beginning of “The Painter of Great Falls” that explains in very talk-radio fashion the story of a standoff between land owners and the federal government (the likes of which we just saw in Oregon–in fact, the clip may be about the Oregon situation). Cattle Ranching doesn’t shy away from the tensions there in the West, acknowledging that trouble and hardship aren’t just historical things, but ongoing things. The story of “Dupuyer” might be in the past tense, but losing the farm is a real concern for people today. It’s this sort of engagement through storytelling of the livin’ and dyin’ out west that makes Cattle Ranching more than just pretty music.
Ovando’s Cattle Ranching in the Americas, Vol. 1 is a magnificent EP. Its four songs contain beautiful moods, strong melodies, remarkable arrangements, and evocative lyrics. Those who like slowcore music, troubadour folk, or gentle music in general will find much to love in Ovando’s work. I am already looking forward to volumes two and three.
3/25 – Missoula, MT @ VFW*
3/26 – Spokane, WA @ Organic Farm Show for KYRS Community Radio*
3/30 – Seattle, WA @ Capital Cider*
3/31 – Cottage Grove, OR @ Axe and Fiddle*
4/01 – Portland, OR @ Turn, Turn, Turn*
4/02 – Willamina, OR @ Wildwood Hotel
4/03 – Coos Bay, OR @ 7 Devils Brewing Co.
4/05 – Columbia City, WA @ Royal Room*
4/06 – Anacortes, WA @ The Brown Lantern
4/07 – Conway, WA @ Conway Muse**
4/08 – La Conner, WA @ Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage
4/09 – Winthrop, WA @ Old Schoolhouse Brewery
1. “Days With Wings” – Black Balsam. In a post-Mumford world, folk-pop is seen with some suspicion. Tunes as genuinely engaging and fun as this one should help with the fears of those who are over-banjoed.
2. “Sugar Moon” – Jonas Friddle. Folk-pop can also regain its footing by not taking itself too seriously, and Friddle’s artwork of a man playing a banjo that turns into a pelican by the end of the fretboard is a good start. The tune itself sounds like Illinois-era Sufjan mashed up with a Lumineers track at a Beirut concert. In other words, it pulls from everywhere and ultimately becomes a Friddle tune. Totally stoked for this album.
3. “Star of Hope” – Mairearad Green (feat. King Creosote). Green is what Frightened Rabbit would sound like if they weren’t constantly thinking about death: chipper, major-key, acoustic-led indie-rock led by a vocalist with an unapologetically Scottish accent. It’s just fantastic.
4. “We’ll Live” – Stephen Douglas Wolfe. Wolfe’s tenor voice carries this alt-country tune with great aplomb. The pedal steel also provides a great amount of character here.
5. “Only Time” – Ryan Downey. I know you’re not going to believe this, but this is a multitracked-vocals-and-clapping version of the Enya staple. It seems remarkably honest in its intentions, and it’s remarkably engaging as a result. You think you’ve seen it all, and then…
6. “If I Could Fly Away” – Alan Engelmann. The warm brightness of this acoustic pop song makes me think of the spring with a great longing.
7. “Where Am I?” – Amy Virginia. A clear, bright voice cutting across a stark folk frame makes for engaging listening.
8. “Either Way” – Sorority Noise. We’ve come a long, long way from “Good Riddance” on the punk-bands-with-acoustic-guitars front: Cam Boucher’s musing on suicide and loss is a heartrendingly beautiful, spare tune that can fit right next to any early Damien Jurado track (who, of course, was once a punk with an acoustic guitar).
9. “The Curse (Acoustic)” – The Eastern Sea. An intimate performance of rapid fingerpicking and emotional vocals. Not much more I could ask for.
10. “Prologue” – Letters to You. A gentle, pensive acoustic ditty expands into a beauty-minded post-rock bit.
11. “what if i fall in love (with you)” – Isaac Magalhães. A soothing, nylon-stringed guitar performance matches a bedroom-pop, lo-fi vocal performance to create something deeply personal-sounding. Impressionistic RIYLs: Iron and Wine and Elliott Smith.
12. “Most of the Time I Can’t Even Pay Attention” – Crocodile. An off-the-cuff sort of air floats through this one, as if you showed up at your friend’s house and he was already playing a song, so you let him finish and then you both go off to hang out. The lyrics are a bit heavy, but the soft, kind vocal performance calms me anyway. It won’t ask too much of you, but it gives you a lot if you’re into it. You could end up writing a lot about it, you know?
13. “Pickup Truck” – Avi Jacob. It’s hard to quantify maturity, but it’s sort of a mix between knowing your skills, knowing how to maximize them, and not trying to push beyond that. It’s the “sweet spot.” Avi Jacobs hits it here, putting accordion, piano, fingerpicked guitar, and female background vocals into an arrangement that perfectly suits his just-a-bit-creaky-around-the-edges voice. From the first second to the last, it hits hard. Keep a close watch on Jacob.
1. “Spring” – Sam Burchfield. Measured guitar strum and an evocative vocal performance draw me in, but it’s the gentle keys and the ragged drumming that give the song character. The rest of the song just seals the deal. Shades of Brett Dennen here–nothin’ but a good thing. What a single.
2. “Vacation” – Florist. Within seconds the tentative, relatable guitar picking has drawn me in entirely. Emily Sprague’s tender, confessional delivery gives this a magnetic appeal usually reserved for acts like Laura Stephenson, Lady Lamb, and old-school Kimya Dawson.
3. “Little By Little” – Niamh Crowther. The melodic folk-pop is charming, and then she starts singing and it jumps way up into the stratosphere. Her voice is just remarkable. Serious one to watch here.
4. “Nevada City” – John Heart Jackie. Pulls the incredible trick of not feeling like a song, but like part of the environment you were already in, turning the corners brighter and lightening the vibe throughout. The easy maturity of this tune is not to be underrated or underestimated, especially when it bursts into a beautiful crescendo near its midpoint. Undeniably powerful.
5. “Reality Show” – Sam Joole. Adept at reggae and acoustic pop, Joole blends the lyrical and musical sentiments of both into a piece of spot-on social criticism about social media that doubles as a chill-out track.
6. “A Bone to Pick” – Ten Ton Man. The gravelly, circus-like drama of Tom Waits’ work collides with the enthusiastic world-music vibes of Gogol Bordello to create an ominous, memorable track.
7. “Walk Right” – Pete Lanctot and the Stray Dogs. An old-timey revival is the site of this tune, where the stray dogs admonish all those listening to forsake their lives of sin and “walk right.” The vintage sound is updated with great production and a hint of a knowing wink.
8. “15 Step” – Phia. The kalimba-wielding indie-popstress drops a gently mindbending cover of the Radiohead tune with just thumb piano, distant guitar, claps, stomps, and layered vocals. Just whoa.
9. “It’s Not Your Fault” – Gregory Uhlmann. Soft woodwinds deliver pleasant texture to this swaying, loose, thoughtful piece. Uhlmann captures a beautiful, unstructured mood here.
10. “If I Go” – Jake McMullen. Hollow and distant yet visceral and immediate, McMullen creates slowcore acoustic tunes similar to those of Jesse Marchant or Gregory Alan Isakov at his most ethereal. Shades of Damien Jurado’s tortured voice creep in too. It’s gorgeous stuff.
David Wimbish‘s lyrics are incredible, but with so much going on in his 7-to-18-piece indie-rock orchestra The Collection, the lyrics sometimes take a backseat to the enormous amount of things going on around them. His solo EP On Separation strips away some (some) of the musicians to put the focus squarely on his voice and lyrics. The tender, gentle acoustic tunes that result will please fans of the Collection and gather new fans of quiet music under his wing.
In a nod to the solo nature of the work, Wimbish takes the time to write out some explanatory liner notes in the first person. In explaining the title, he writes, “Each song on On Separation deals with different aspects of disconnection, whether it be marital divorce experienced by my friends lately, or self-imposed loss of close friendships from the past.” To whit, standout “Circles and Lines” begins with, “Today she dropped the glass and shattered many things / and you had not yet thought of where you’d set your ring.” Yet not all of the lyrics are so literal, as Wimbish prefers to plumb the interior spaces of the involved parties and observers of the events (“A Ghost and A Scale,” “Back and Forth”). They’re complex, multi-layered lyrics, full of personal musings, places, and religious allusions: Cain and Abel make appearances in their eponymous tune, and the prodigal son makes a reappearance (from the Collection’s “Broken Tether”) in “Lost and Found.” Wimbish’s ability to turn a phrase that both sounds great and has meaning is in top form here.
These lyrics are paired with some of the most beautiful music Wimbish has yet written. “Circles and Lines” pairs the heavy lyrics against a beautiful, fingerpicked, cascading acoustic guitar line. The song builds to the loudest moment on the EP with the inclusion of strings and slapped cello for percussion, but it returns to its delicate roots for the conclusion of the tune. That underscores the approach here: while these are songs that deal with dramatic events, the overall tone and timbre of this EP is quiet and even understated at times (at least in comparison to the weightiness of the lyrics). The rhythms and string arrangement of “Back and Forth” seem a little like a Collection song with the bombast removed–the chiming autoharp of “A Ghost and a Scale” recalls his band as well. But other than those occasional flourishes, these songs do feel like a statement by Wimbish instead of stripped-out versions of full-band work. They’re elegant, not empty.
Part of the understatedness of the release is realized in the sharp focus that Wimbish puts on his voice delivering the lyrics, to the exclusion of complexity elsewhere. This is particularly true in “Cain and Abel,” which uses Wimbish’s voice as both lead and background vocals. Gentle marimba and cello occasionally show up, but this one’s about the voice. Wimbish’s tenor, so often used for roaring in The Collection’s work, is gorgeous in this quieter setting, as his range, tone, and nuances of delivery stand out. (All those are present in The Collection’s work, but as previously noted, there’s a lot more elements going on there.) His voice is soft, clear, and comforting–if you didn’t listen to the lyrics, these tunes would be the sort of thing to lull you peacefully to sleep.
David Wimbish’s On Separation is a beautiful EP that showcases a singer/songwriter with a clear sonic and lyrical vision. Fans of Damien Jurado, Josh Ritter, or Gregory Alan Isakov will find much to love in the music, while fans of the dense, thoughtful lyrics of The Mountain Goats or Sufjan Stevens’ Michigan/Illinois work will celebrate this one. Highly recommended.
The songs on Dana Sipos‘ Roll Up the Night Sky fit the album title well. Almost to a tune, these folk compositions feel like an apt accompaniment to staring up into a clear night sky, feeling the gentle sense of awe that comes from looking at great beauty. Sipos’ ability to set a mood without losing track of the song allows her to create striking individual tunes within an excellent whole.
The impact of Sipos’ sound is not that far from the mystic, hazy folk of Gregory Alan Isakov; however, where Isakov uses gentle distortion and reverb to create his sound, Sipos plays with empty space in her clear-eyed arrangements to invoke an ethereal sense. “Old Sins,” “Morningside,” “Full Moon Sinners” and more imbue stark arrangements with a sense of romance and mystery via Sipos’ engaging, controlled voice. Sipos is the opposite of a belter: she commands attention through tiny inflections here and there, specific phrase lengths, and delicate melodies. There’s drama all throughout Roll Up the Night Sky, but it’s not theatrical in the ostentatious sense of the word. The album is a thoughtful art house film, not a Michael Bay joint.
But let us not lose sight of her instrumentation amid her vocals and careful use of space. She knows how to intricately work an arrangement so that nothing feels cluttered or crowded: “Night Sky” includes fingerpicked mandolin, stand-up bass, percussion, and a horn. Instead of being a jubilant, full-throated blaster, it’s a regal, dignified, calm tune. It reminds me of the sorts of beautiful work that Damien Jurado and Matt the Electrician can put together in their starkest moments. It exemplifies the sorts of arrangements that exist all throughout the album; due to this consistency, Roll will reward you if you listen to it all at once.
Every song on Roll Up the Night Sky is commendable. “Road to Michigan” shows her vocals and guitar at their most Isakov-ian, while “My Beloved” is a poignant, traditional-sounding gentle bluegrass/country ballad. “Holy People” opens with a string section that counts as some of the heaviest work on the album (which points firmly to how quiet this whole work is). Further bonus: these songs are all long. Only two of 12 fall under four minutes, and five are over five minutes. And I haven’t even had time to mention the lyrics, which are shot through with astronomy and loveliness.
Roll Up the Night Sky is a powerful statement made through restraint. It’s a gorgeous, evocative, delicate folk album that shows off Dana Sipos’ formidable talents as a vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. Fans of serious music, female vocalists, or romantic-leaning folk will find themselves with a brilliant talent to enjoy and watch in the future.
Singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski has been a shooting star for the fast few years, moving quickly from local roots to premiering his latest album Believer on Pandora to recording a three-song EP with the venerable Damien Jurado at the helm. Columbia City Theater Sessions is the outcome of that collaboration: three songs of stripped-down acoustic work with delicate touches that are indicative of Jurado’s ear.
The new version of “Believer” retains the heavy strum pattern of the original, but foregrounds the lead and backup vocals. It creates a more collective vibe to the tune, as opposed to the very individualistic vibe that runs through the lyrics and original full-band version. (You can check the full version of “Believer” as the bonus track on this EP.)
The revelation here is “Fighting the War,” which is transformed from an anthemic pop-rock song into a tender, delicate tune that incorporates distant piano, warm background vocals, and even flute. It feels very much like a Jurado tune, in its tension between spare vibes and lush aspirations. It’s a stand-out tune both ways Orlowksi has cut it so far, which is truly remarkable.
The new track, “Winter, Winter” is truly a solo effort, vocals and guitar only. I don’t know how much influence Jurado had on it, but the insistent strum pattern is similar to the work that Damien would put out. Jurado’s fingerprints are all over these three quiet re-interpretations, and it shows a side of Orlowski that he hasn’t flexed in a while. If you’re looking for a solid little EP to play on a snowy day (like today), this one would be a great choice.
The folk-grounded indie-pop of In Tall Buildings‘ Driver gets better as it gets weirder. Opener “Bawl Cry Wail” is a traditional modern folk tune that wouldn’t be out of place in a Elephant Micah record, and it’s by no means bad. But things start to sparkle on “All You Pine,” as Erik Hall introduces rubbery, staccato bass; complex drumming; and subtle synth undertones. Then a gritty, grungy guitar solo appears. It’s all very “other” to modern folk, and it’s intriguing. Lead single “Flare Gun” relies on arpeggiated synth and perky drumming to float his guitar picking and vocals; the overall effect is remarkable. “I’ll Be Up Soon” manages to create the separated, synthetic electronic vibe without any obvious electronics, which is an impressive feat.
Once you’ve heard the album once, go back and listen to it again; once you’ve listened through, the context of the whole thing becomes clear and even dramatically un-electronic songs like “Bawl Cry Wail” fit into the amalgam. Songs like “Aloft” could be electronic or organic–it doesn’t matter. They just sound right together. If you’re into adventurous, sonically experimental music (but not in an avant-garde sort of way), Driver is for you.
Usually when I get a music release from someone who’s already famous in another artistic medium, I ignore it. The space that I have is best used on people trying to work their way up from nothin’. However, Michael Malarkey is an exception because his music is really good. Feed the Flames EP shows Malarkey in optimistic fingerpicking troubadour mode, like some cross between Alexi Murdoch, Josh Ritter and Josh Radin.
The chorus vocal line of “Through the Night and Back Again” has been stuck in my head for days, as Malarkey’s gentle baritone lilts its way through a pastoral setting that includes lazy pedal steel. It’s an impressive, mature tune. “Lost and Sound” and “Bells Still Ring” keep that feel going, giving a sense of motion and lightness to the release that can’t be dragged down by two darker tunes. The title track is a minor key tune, still with strong melodicism and fingerpicking, that plays up a romantic feel. “Everything’s Burned” is a helter-skelter klezmer/gypsy tune that taxes Malarkey’s vocals in delivery speed. It’s a fun, quirky tune that never feels overly kitschy.
Acting (Vampire Diaries) first made Michael Malarkey famous, but his singer/songwriter chops are just as strong as any one-art artist could hope for. I really look forward to what Malarkey will do in the future, musically–his first offering is impressive.
Kye Alfred Hillig introduced himself to me with the powerful and incredibly diverse Together Through It All in 2013: it powered through a half-dozen discrete genres with ease. This year’s Real Snow honed in on his electro-pop side, becoming an album-of-the-year contender in the process. Then he bought a nylon string guitar, became obsessed with it, wrote a whole album’s worth of voice-and-guitar material in a week and a half, recorded it, and released it two months later as The Buddhist. Must be tough to choose set lists now.
Together Through It All was a series of almost uncomfortably intense vignettes, carefully constructed for maximum emotional impact. The Buddhist is the polar opposite of that songwriting style. Several of these songs have too many words in particular lines to fit the scheme; instead of meticulously rewriting them, Hillig just sings the extra words faster and crams them in. The guitar lines, lyrics, and vocal delivery are paramount here: the vocal melodies, not so much. There are several memorable vocal lines (“Come Play with Me” and “I’m Alive Because of Nuclear Bombs” in particular) but that’s not the point of this record. If you want to hum, go for Real Snow. Start with “None of Them Know Me Now.”
But if you want to hear some heavy, heady lyrics, you need to plant yourself on a couch and listen carefully to The Buddhist. The titular character appears to sing many of the songs in first person, identified by particular recurring characters (one named Barbara, another named Sarah). The album can be reverse-engineered into a whole life history of a person, or seen as vignettes from a bunch of different characters. Either way, the poem-like attention to detail in the lyrics of each of these songs is astonishing; there are all manner of little touches to the lyrics (descriptions of things, stray names of people, place names, etc.) that give this an intimate quality. Instead of being intense by being grandiose epics, these songs are powerful because of their lack of pretense. Hillig is just sitting there, picking and singing about a tough life in highly literate fashion. It’s disarming.
Each song could be a highlight in its own way, but “I’m Alive Because of Nuclear Bombs” is the most single-like in that it has an obvious chorus, upbeat tempo, and a sort of jaunty mood (sort of because look at that title). “Riverside Park: Devil Mask & Wings” is one of the most emotionally devastating tunes, although “Come Play with Me” is a close second. “Buried a Cop” is a gorgeous tune melodically that splits the difference between the two previous ideas. But I could go on and on.
I believe that you find the core of a songwriter when you take away all of the surroundings. (Nothing against the other sounds or members of the band; I’m a bassist, after all.) Pulling away Hillig’s arrangements reveals something even more impressive than I expected. Instead of becoming an acoustic version of a indie-pop songwriter, he transforms and applies his skills to fit the situation. The Buddhist is a remarkable album, one that has initial charms and grows on you. It requires you to really listen, but you’ll be highly rewarded if you do. Fans of The Mountain Goats, Red House Painters, Damien Jurado, and Josh Ritter will all swoon for this.
It is hard to put together an album that holds a consistent instrumental palette, melodic thrust, and overall mood without getting repetitive. Palm Ghosts has accomplished this difficult task on their self-titled record. Palm Ghosts lives in a warm, relaxed space with just a touch of ominous haze on the horizon, carving out a space for itself next to artists like Damien Jurado.
Bandleader Joseph Lekkas takes great care in setting moods; the album opens with a tender track that uses the wordless voice as an instrument to convey a peaceful feeling. The follow-up “Seasons” begins with breathy “ahs” as well, carrying the mood over to a perkier version of his acoustic-led sound. Even though there are some drums pushing the tempo here, the dreamy piano line pulls back against the motion. The guitar and vocals sit right in the tension, not celebrating but resolving the dual issues. The result is a track that is both comforting and nimble; beautiful but sturdy. It’s a good analogy for the rest of the album.
The other five tracks on the record are varied without losing the poignant mood developed in the first two tracks. “Oh, Sleepytime!” manages to get squealing trumpets and booming electric guitar into the tune without breaking the mood of the album, which is an impressive feat. “All My Life (I’ve Been Waiting)” is an alt-country tune not unlike The Jayhawks or Mojave 3’s work. “Airplane Jane” combines indie cuteness with alt-country ominousness, which is a odd combination that Lekkas somehow pulls off seamlessly. Lekkas has very clearly written many songs before; even though this is a debut, the deft skill with which Lekkas combines disparate genres into an enjoyable fusion is impressive.
Palm Ghosts is the sort of record that you can enjoy without much thought or delve deeply into. The mood and melodies are surface joys; the intricacies of the arrangements and the subtle ways Lekkas makes various genres work together are pleasures that take a little more work to achieve. Either way you go, it’s a great album. I look forward to hearing more from Palm Ghosts.
Some people are allergic to the term “country”–I admit that I used to be one of these people when I started Independent Clauses. But in the decade since, I’ve come to love the crisp, poignant sincerity of a barebones country track. Zachary Lucky’s The Ballad of Losing You is about as perfect a recreation of that old-school, lonesome country sound as you’re going to find. (Although–It’s entirely possible that this wasn’t what country sounded like, and this is merely what we imagined country sounded like, but I digress.)
Yes, Lucky is as country as they come, even as he tries to apply an asterisk: cowboy hat, the word “ballad” in the title, and pedal steel applied liberally. He even lists his Bandcamp bio as “the laureate of the lonesome song.” Yet he stops short of calling it country–maybe because he doesn’t like the term, but maybe because this will appeal to tons more people if they don’t have to feel like they’re listening to country. Lucky’s smooth voice, delicate arrangements, and calm moods were recorded directly to tape (!), which means that this has all sorts of atmosphere and heart in it. Fans of music as disparate as Damien Jurado, Wilco, Once, and Death Cab for Cutie will all find Lucky’s songwriting to be absolutely irresistible.
Each one of these songs are breathtaking in their stark beauty, but “Merry Month of May,” “Ramblin Man’s Lament,” and “After All the Months We’ve Shared” are memorable in their vocal performances. Lucky’s dusky baritone can carry several hatfuls of emotion in its impressive range; Lucky is an experienced hand, and never pushes his voice to where it can’t go. These songs just seem to spill out of him fully formed, as if he doesn’t have to try to make this happen. The performances are so comfortable as to seem effortless; that’s a rare feat.
If you’re into acoustic music of any stripe, Zachary Lucky’s The Ballad of Losing You is an album you need to hear. It’s a calming album, impressive in its impeccable songwriting and spot-on arrangements. You can sit back with a beer and listen to this all the way through with ease. Highly recommended.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of instrumental music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.