After a long, slow climb, Jason Isbell has hit the burners: five years ago I saw him in a dive bar in Auburn, Ala., and just last month I declined to see him again in a 2700+ person venue in Durham. He has officially made it. If you’re looking for your next up-and-coming dive bar Americana champion, I volunteer Edward David Anderson. Anderson’s Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessionsdoes everything you want an Americana record to do and then some.
Americana starts with the voice, and Anderson’s is great: a smooth, comfortable tenor delivered just right. His melodies fit in between Isbell’s gravitas and Nathaniel Rateliff’s infectious enthusiasm (see “Silverhill” for more on that idea). The tunes surrounding the vocals are spartan and carefully arranged to not clutter anything: there’s not much you can do to help a melody so pure as “Cried My Eyes Dry,” so the band backs off and lets Anderson sing it. This is their approach almost everywhere, except for the hustlin’ crime tale “Jimmy & Bob & Jack” that’s closer to a rock arrangement than anything else here. And it’s the right approach, because Anderson himself is the centerpiece, whether he’s singing over a gently rolling banjo in “Hidin’ at the Hollow” or leading the back porch picker “Sadness” (surprisingly cheery). The songwriting is just right there.
Lower Alabama: The Loxley Sessions offers up spot-on vocals-centric Americana songwriting. It does its thing and does it well. If you’re looking for more Southern songwriting pathos in your life, here’s to Edward David Anderson.
Archie’s EP by Aryl Barkley is an intimate release that combines the intense focus and breathy vocals of Elliott Smith with the fingerpicking of early Iron and Wine. “High on Inhibition” is a tune right out of Sam Beam’s wheelhouse, a tender major-key rumination on the past. The fingerpicking is just lovely, fitting beautifully with the whispered vocals. The minor key and gentle strumming of “Inside the Playhouse” speak Smith’s language, pondering something heavy without ever becoming heavy itself. “Two of the Ten Best” closes the three-song EP with a tune which includes ghostly background vocals over minor-key fingerpicking, something like a mash-up of the two previous tunes into something that starts to point toward his unique strengths. The ghost of Bon Iver holds out somewhere in the distance, but this last track is where Aryl Barkley really starts to put his name out there. I look forward to hearing more from this Aussie.
Haleiwa‘s Palm Trees of the Subarcticcombines acoustic guitar, Scandinavian dream-pop, and the occasional post-rock touch to create songs that feel bright, fresh, and cinematic.
The trick is that they’re cinematic in a low-key, indie-movie type way, not is a surging melodrama sort of way: “Wall of Blue Sky” feels like a pensive roadtrip scene, while the quiet expansiveness of standout “Seals and Sharks” points more in the direction of the “personal revelation” scene. The blend of acoustic instruments, electronic sounds, and live drumming is arranged and mixed perfectly, creating warm pieces that feel effortlessly pulled off. Just check out the title track or “The World Beyond” for a seamless melding. “All Sparked” focuses more on a flowing acoustic guitar line, which makes the song one of my personal favorites.
Haleiwa’s unique blend of sounds puts it in the same league as The Album Leaf, Teen Daze, and Grandaddy, but different from each of those. Palm Trees of the Subarctic is an exciting work that should be celebrated.
1. “Arizon” – La Cerca. Thoughtful, walking-speed Western music: gentle keys, reverbed clean electric guitars, thrumming bass, easygoing vocals. Sometimes the title (sic, by the way) is all you need to know.
2. “Jimmy & Bob & Jack” – Edward David Anderson. Some songs don’t need or deserve lyric videos, but this rollicking tale of three would-be criminals had me hanging on every word from Anderson’s mouth. The swampy, country instrumentation that floats the lyrics is pretty great too.
3. “Need a Break” – David Myles. I don’t get sent that many old-school, rapid-fire, talking-country tunes, but David Myles has delivered me a tune that I can’t stop tapping my foot to.
4. “Falling in Love” – Nathan Fox. Right what it says on the tin, with raspy/gritty vocals reminiscent of bluesy hollerers.
5. “Beacons” – Scott Bartenhagen. Structured, mature, serious acoustic music that made me think of Turin Brakes for the first time in a long time. Regardless of what happened to the “Quiet is the New Loud” movement, I’ll still be a fan of intense, focused acoustic singer/songwriter work.
6. “Lazy Moon” – Brave the Night. If you’ve ever (secretly or unabashedly) enjoyed an ’80s Billy Joel ballad OR were enamored with Norah Jones OR don’t think “lounge” is a bad word, this tune will tickle your fancy. Sweet trumpet, too.
7. “One More Time” – Cape Snow. Bree Scanlon’s voice sounds so composed and mature in this tune that it’s tough to not start assigning positive moral qualities to it. She guides this gentle tune through its four minutes, sounding like the direct descendants of Mojave 3 the entire time.
8. “Easy on Me” – Runner of the Woods. The premiere of this song includes songwriter Nick Beaudoing coining the term countrygaze. As this mashes up country and shoegaze (and, by my own personal extension, chillwave), I am on board with this term. I want to believe.
9. “Origins” – Jesse Payne. Excellent widescreen, engaging indie-folk calling up The National comparisons as easily as of the obvious Fleet Foxes/Grizzly Bear woodsy bands.
10. “White Queen” – Benedikt and Friends. You’ve had a hard week. You need a song that gets that, as well as helping you slip into relaxation. This tune offers tons of pathos to empathize with, as well as crisp melodies and tight engineering of the nuanced, subtle arrangement. And it’s Norwegian.
11. “RMDN” – +Aziz. Linking ancient religious practice with social media and traditional acoustic guitar with gentle beats results in a song that realizes its lyrics in its sound and vice versa. It’s an intriguing song that never lets the concept take away from being a good tune.
If you didn’t hear about Backyard Tire Fire while they were alive, that’s pretty sad but I won’t blame you. My favorite song of theirs was called “The Daze,” which was a song about a band that seemed suspiciously like Backyard Tire Fire. Their brand of perky indie-pop-rock was a ton of fun. But all good things go solo, and now Edward David Anderson has released a solo album. Lies and Wishes is a folk album (because most solo albums these days are, I suppose), and it’s pretty great (because of course it would be).
My favorite BTF song was roughly autobiographical, so it’s fitting that my favorite EDA song off Lies & Wishes is also (probably?) autobiographical. “Son of a Plumber” abandons some of the folky, rolling acoustic strum in favor of a slightly toned-down version of the perky indie-pop that BTF was so good at. When Anderson yawps, “hey!” and lets an accordion solo take over, it sounds just perfect. It’s a song that seems like it always has been and always should be. Even if it doesn’t sound folk, isn’t that the definition of folk?
But the rest of the album holds a little tighter to the folk sound. The opener/title track has cascading fingerpicking reminiscent of early Iron & Wine, framing Anderson’s evocative, occasionally creaky tenor well. “I Missed You” has some downtrodden country strum and sway; “Taking It Out on You” adds some Dawes-esque guitar crunch. “Fires” is a conflicted love song that leans in towards romantic, adult alternative territory (which is not a complaint from this blogger). Closer “The Final Melody” is a perky fingerpicked number that recalls Justin Townes Earl, New Orleans blues, and a cheery chorus fitting of BTF. It’s a perfect mix of the old and new. (Check that whistling!)
If you’re not obsessed with purism in your folk and instead mostly see it as a lens from which to see a variety of melodies and lyrics, Edward David Anderson will charm your socks off. Lies and Wishes is a laidback, enjoyable set of folk/indie-pop tunes that takes itself realistically: not over-serious, but not undervaluing, either. Anderson knows what he’s about, and it shows here. Very enjoyable.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.