Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Quick Hits: Eric and Happie / The Soldier Story / M. Lockwood Porter

December 19, 2016

Eric and Happie‘s It’s Yours is a pristine example of a male/female duo folk-pop album in 2016. The eight songs of the album rarely feature more than guitar/bass/drums, which is just the way I like it. The subtle inclusions of ukulele, strings, and accordion provide great accent to the tracks. Eric and Happie are credited with vocals on every track. It’s an uncomplicated collection of tunes that works excellently.

The songs are not as high-drama as those of The Civil Wars, nor as perky as The Weepies’; it’s not as radio-curated as The Lumineers’ work (with the exception of “Falling For You,” which is a romp complete with “hey!”s). Instead, these are folk songs with pop melodies that you can sing along to with ease. There are romantic songs (the title track, “Falling for You,” “A Dream”), travel songs (“Louisiana,” “Oklahoma,” “Stranger”), and more poetic offerings (“They’ll Never Take Us Alive”).

The tunes often land in the realm of Jenny and Tyler’s early work, which was warm, friendly, and pop-oriented. It’s a pure, unadulterated sound that often doesn’t last past a few albums, as the lure of larger arrangements draws so many. (And those larger arrangements can be awesome too.) But there’s a special glow that shines off an intimate, simply-wrought album like this; that lightning in a bottle is rarely caught.

The Soldier Story‘s Flowers for Anonymous inhabits a dusky, complex space triangulated between the suave nighttime antics of Bloc Party, the howling reveries of The Walkmen, and the manic fever of MuteMath’s first record. The songs of this record absorb the best bits of each of those bands and synthesize them into something new and fresh. The trick here is that Colin Meyer has the chops to pull off frantic, mathy indie-rock, but he distills those melodic and rhythmic tendencies into tension-laden mid-tempo pieces that are just as ghostly as they are grounded.

Tunes like “Drifting Apart” have patterned guitar leads, syncopated drumbeats, whirling vocals, and more, but in the service of a subdued, push-and-pull mood. Follow-up “Talk With Our Eyes” barely contains the underlying power and passion, as it spikes up through the tension in the form of synths, drums, glitchy beats, and more. It’s a tune that carries the OK Computer torch, updating the “contemporary technological fears in sonic form” palette. (It’s not surprising that various eras of Radiohead are a touchstone for these pieces as well.)

But Meyer isn’t all chaotic rock filtered through massive restraint filters. Elsewhere Meyer turns his penchant for complex, burbling guitar lines into an indie-pop mold, creating beautiful, subtle tunes like “Life is Short” and “An Overdue Farewell.” These tunes balance Meyer’s complicated arrangements with his smooth, airy, at-times-feathery vocal melodies. He can soar with the best of them, but he can also disappear off into the distance. This tension between the chaotic and the delicate is a powerful element in making Flowers for Anonymous a big success. There aren’t many people making music like this; adventurous listeners will greatly enjoy hearing Meyer’s carefully constructed sonic landscapes.

I’m pretty far behind the bandwagon on reviewing M. Lockwood Porter‘s How to Dream Again, even though I have it on vinyl. It’s been getting a ton of accolades from people like Paste and No Depression, so it’s been doing pretty well without me chiming in. But as a person who’s reviewed both Judah’s Gone and 27, I did have a few thoughts that maybe haven’t been said before. (Probably not.)

The new lyrical direction of How to Dream Again has been getting a lot of play: it’s a protest record, save for three love songs at the beginning of the record, and it’s an incisive, thoughtful turn. It pushes on both on internal problems (“Sad/Satisfied”) and external issues (every other song) in a style that’s more Woody Guthrie than Bob Dylan; there aren’t a whole lot of stacked metaphors, but there is a whole lot of direct analysis. Porter also continues to grapple with religion, this time taking God to task over the question of God’s lack of direct intervention on issues of injustice. It’s a question that has resonated through the ages, and one that fits in a protest album. Even if Porter and I come to different conclusions on the matter, the question is real and remains.

The musical direction is also different, albeit more slightly. The songs here are a synthesis of the folk of Porter’s first record and the American rock’n’roll of his second; the troubadour folk style that comes along with protest lyrics is present throughout as well. The three sounds come together to make a mature sound for Porter, one that may not be his last stop (who among us can claim to be in our final form?), but certainly indicates his direction. There are dashes of Dawes (“Sad/Satisfied”) in the rhythmic vocal delivery, rattling ’50s rock’n’roll throughout, and more things thrown in the pot. The title track, which closes the album, brings it all together into a very American amalgam. It’s Porter’s distinct voice that leads the way, adding the final element to make the sound unique. If you’re into protest music or American folk/rock/other, How to Dream Again should be on your to-hear list. It probably already is.

Premiere: John Calvin Abney’s Better Luck

January 24, 2015

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Until John Calvin Abney reappeared with Better Luck, he’d been a fixture in one particular corner of my mind. The last three semesters of my college experience were a difficult time for IC, as they include a 6-month shutdown of IC: the only substantial break I’ve taken in 11.5 years of writing here. I restarted tentatively in January 2009, trying to wrap my head around the impending end of college and the seemingly-unanswerable question of “what am I doing with Independent Clauses?”

That’s when I got to know John Calvin Abney: I went to his concerts, listened to his music, and even got him to help me record my debut indie-pop album. The working relationship helped get me back into music when I had been stalled for a while. But all things go; I left college, he left college, and we lost touch. So it’s with much amazement that I note several incredible things: 1. I get to debut John Calvin Abney’s Better Luck here on Independent Clauses and 2. John Calvin Abney is touring right now with M. Lockwood Porter, whom I met in high school and premiered an album for in 2014. It’s mind-bending, the smallness of worlds.

Click here to stream Better Luck.

Yes, yes, that’s very nice disclosure-cum-nostalgia, Stephen, but how does the record sound? Better Luck is a confident collection of tunes that draws off troubadour fingerpicking, alt-country arrangements, and a history of woodshedding. If you can imagine what Jason Isbell’s alt-country might sound like if he was a little more influenced by freak-folk and indie-pop, then you can imagine Abney’s sound. Fingerpicking ballads like “Scarecrow” and “James and Julie” are evocative, catchy, and beautifully arranged, while noisier tunes like “Stepladder” and “Dallas City Lights” include some of the guitar solos that made Calvin such an impressive musician to watch live a half-decade ago.

But where earlier versions of Abney wanted to be a indie-pop songwriter and a guitar god simultaneously, Better Luck shows him in tasteful, refined form. I’d bet Abney can still wail live, but on record he’s developed a cool, confident persona that translates to easily-relatable songs instead of towering walls of guitar heroics. There are moments that call for some guitar thunder, but they’re set in service of the overall song instead of vice versa. His voice has also tightened up: the melodies and delivery are easy, smooth, and inflected with subtleties that turn songs like “James and Julie” and “Scarecrow” from good songs to great ones. (He can also still wail a harmonica with the best of them, which is a bonus wherever you can get it.)

Abney’s songs have a home base in the space between alt-country (“I Can’t Choose,” “Stepladder,” “Cut the Rope”) and folk (“Sirens,” “Scarecrow”), with some outliers in related genres: the ominous, bluesy slant of “Gold Silver”; the Coldplay-esque piano balladry of “Museums”; and the perky, indie-pop-influenced title track, which would have fit neatly as the best track on an early EP of his. Throughout it all, Abney delivers memorable vocal performances, strong songwriting, and tight arrangements.

Just as I noted for tourmate M. Lockwood Porter, John Calvin Abney inhabits these songs thoroughly: nothing feels out of place, nothing feels forced. Porter uses that ease to shuffle through genres like a deck of cards; despite the distinct genre influences that can be noted throughout, Abney seems to be honing down into a definable style. What I can only assume was ruthless editing throughout the process has delivered these songs to their final form in top shape. Better Luck is the product of hard work in developing a sound; that work results in a tight, crisp, earnest album of alt-country/folk songs that resonate easily and deeply.

Top Albums of the Year: 1-10

January 3, 2015

Without further adieu, numbers 1-10 in the best albums of the year.

Album of the Year: The CollectionArs Moriendi. (Review) This album epitomizes the type of music I look for: intricate, complex arrangements of acoustic-led, folk-inspired indie-pop tunes with deeply thoughtful lyrics about life, death, and religion. The fact that you can shout along to half of the tunes only makes this more impressive. This was a no-contest winner for album of the year.

2. Kye Alfred HilligReal Snow. (Review) Temporarily shedding the acoustic singer/songwriter mantle, Hillig struck gold with a set of electro anthems cut through with his well-developed indie-pop songwriting techniques and evocative, thought-provoking lyrics. “None of Them Know Me Now” is the jaaaaaaam.

3. St. EvenSelf-titled. (Review) I love concrete poetry that relies on images to portray meaning instead of adjectives. St. Even knocks that type of work out of the ballpark here, pairing it with playful, unexpected, herky-jerky, innovative arrangements of horns, piano, and strings. “Home Is Where You Hang Your Head” is a stand-out among stand-outs.

4. Brittany Jean and Will CoppsPlaces. (Review) Giant washes of sound meet indie-rock emotion over acoustic instruments to create something that’s not exactly electronica, indie-rock, or singer/songwriter. It hit me in unexpected ways, and always from unexpected angles.

5. The Fox and the BirdDarkest Hours. (Review) The folk-pop boom is largely over, meaning that we can get back to people doing folk-pop because it’s their thing, not because it’s a trend. The Fox and the Bird produced the best straight folk-pop this year, both lyrically and musically. Challenging lyrics and breezy, easy-to-love music is a great combo for folk-pop, and Darkest Hours has both.

6. CancellieriCloset Songs. (Review) Welcome to Mount Pleasant was a gorgeous album, but this collection of demos, b-sides, and covers was the Cancellieri release that stole the most of my listening time this year. Ryan Hutchens’ delicate voice is beautifully juxtaposed against a single acoustic guitar, putting his songwriting, song re-envisionments, and impeccable taste in covers on display. A perfect chill-out album.

7. Little ChiefLion’s Den. (Review) Arkansas folk-pop outfit Little Chief took the path trod by The Head and the Heart in creating chamber-pop arrangements to fit on their pastoral, rolling songwriting ways. The subtlety and maturity in the songwriting is astonishing from such a young outfit. If you need an album to drive around to in fall or winter, here’s your disc.

8. Novi SplitIf Not This, Then What / Keep Moving Disc 2 / Spare Songs / Split. (Reviews) My favorite hyper-personal, intimate songwriting project got a massive bump in exposure this year. David J took the recordings of a decade that were spread about the internet and finally compiled them in one place. I’ve heard almost all of them before, but the fact that they’re official and can be easily accessed caused me to listen through them again. They’re all still amazing examples of painfully poignant bedroom singer/songwriter work. Do yourself a favor and get acquainted with Novi Split.

9. M. Lockwood Porter27. (Review) Porter’s second full-length expanded his alt-country sound in dynamic ways while developing his lyrical bent. The results are memorable rock tracks (“I Know You’re Gonna Leave Me”) and memorable ballads (“Mountains”), a rare thing indeed.

10. Jacob FurrTrails and Traces. (Review) The subject matter of Trails and Traces is even heavier than Ars Moriendi, but Furr takes a nimble, light approach to his alt-country. Instead of wallowing in despair, Furr’s heartbreaking lyrics are backed up with hopeful, searching melodies. I’d usually say “not for the faint of heart” on matters like these, but Furr has truly put together one that speaks hope for the hurting and hopeless. Search on, friends.

Some CMJ’ers: Brook Pridemore / Blake Brown

October 24, 2014

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I tell every band that will listen that the long press cycle is a real thing. You’ve gotta get content out there at periodic and consistent intervals so that press people remember that you’re there and then therefore tell their readers. This means dribbling out content in ways that don’t necessarily fit with the last 30 or so years of music history (but actually fit real nicely with methods of the 30 before that; truly nothing is new under the sun).

There is no one who is a champ at this more than Brook Pridemore (person and band). Between 11 videos, a teaser EP, and a live release that started all the way back in early 2013, I feel like I’ve been listening to Gory Details for years already because I have. At its worst this could produce burnout, but with Brook it basically just makes me love the album. I mean, who doesn’t like an album where you can sing along with half of the songs the first time you press play?

It helps that Brook Pridemore’s work perfectly matches my favorite styles of music. Gory Details starts with the energetic strum of folk-punk, layers on impressively thoughtful lyrics sung via infectious indie-pop vocal melodies, then arranges the whole thing with an excellent band and even some horns. It’s like Andrew Jackson Jihad mellowed out into The Mountain Goats with some Josh Ritter thrown in for good measure (“Damage Control”). The weird way I’ve heard this album kind of skews the review: my favorite tracks are the tracks that were already my favorites. “Oh, E!” is tons of hyperactive, travelogue fun with an earworm melody; “Listening to TPM” is awesome for its horns as well as its tight control of mood. “Celestial Heaven or Leap of Faith” has a great instrumental hook and an urgent vibe throughout; the intelligent set of lyrics make it seem somewhat like a super-powered version of a Johnny Flynn song. “Brother Comfort,” one of the more aggressive tracks here (and new to me), is also fun in its neat complexity.

Gory Details is, above all things, a ton of fun. Brook Pridemore has a lot of things going for them on this album, and all the complex pieces have come together to make an album that transcends them all. Great lyrics, mature vocal control, excellent production job, solid contributing rhythm section; all of it comes together to make tracks like “Oh, E!” seemingly obvious songs: when has this not existed? When was it not amazing? To steal a song title, no one belongs here more than you. Of course you’re one of my favorite songs. Of course you are. You always were, as soon as I knew you existed. You need more Brook Pridemore in your life.

You can get more Brook Pridemore by going to his CMJ set at Muchmore’s in Brooklyn on Saturday.

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Maybe it’s the World Series, but there’s all sorts of baseball metaphors I can make about Blake Brown and the American Dust Choir‘s Three EP. The band’s straightahead alt-country could be called a fastball straight down the pipe, because you know exactly what you’re going to get and you can smash a home run off it. You could also call it a change-up, since the band prefers mid-tempo, Jayhawks-style work as opposed to the hectic Old ’97s style. If I were really reaching, I could point out there are only a few baseball teams left that use organ as prominently as Blake Brown’s outfit does.

The first two tracks of the three-song outing are the sort of pedal steel/harmonica/organ/acoustic guitar fare that is most recognizable as ’90s-era alt-country. The band doesn’t give in to Wilco-style minimalism or Drive-by Truckers’ rock-oriented guitar walls; they just stay in the pocket and do their work on vocal vehicle “Get Out.” The band is tight and clean throughout the track, notably so. The band gets a little funky on “White Rose” (check those Wurlitzers!). But the standout here is the subdued, late-night mope “Surrender (La Di Da),” which allows Brown to show off his melodic sensibilities and nuanced arrangements. Brown and co. manage to glue me to the track that never gets faster than a mosey and never raises louder than speaking voice through a beautiful electric guitar tone, distant droning organ, and thoughtful percussion.

If you’re in the market for some alt-country at CMJ, I’d look up Blake Brown on Saturday at Wicked Willy’s. (He’ll be there with M. Lockwood Porter, too!)

Premiere Stream: M. Lockwood Porter’s 27

October 7, 2014

I have the honor of premiering 27 by M. Lockwood Porter today! You can preorder a vinyl or CD of the record at Black Mesa Records.

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The deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and more have inspired the myth that 27 is the age past which no musical youth icon can live. M. Lockwood Porter, also aged 27 but definitely alive, thoughtfully grabbed the number for the title of his sophomore alt-country/country-rock/just plain rock album. His debut Judah’s Gone focused on the past (just look at that title); 27 is a coming-of-age rumination that turns his gaze from youthful aches to the troubles of living in the adult world.

27 does not contain fluffy or stereotypical lyrics: while there are a couple jilted-lover tunes, they fit into a larger paradigm of the difficult questions Porter is asking about life. Thoughts about mortality (“Chris Bell,” about another lost 27-year-old musician), the possibility of not achieving dreams (“Restless”), religion (“Couer D’Alene”), and leaving behind a legacy (“Mountains”) paint a picture of a person standing at the edge of adulthood and grappling with what he’s found so far. I may not agree with every conclusion, but I’m deeply glad that the sentiments are expressed with enough depth and clarity that I can actually agree or disagree with them. That’s a pretty rare accomplishment in the rock world.

The album’s centerpiece is the ballad “Mountains,” which pulls all of these thoughts about life together. It starts with tom hits that sound like a heartbeat before Porter wearily sings, “When I was young my father said / that faith could move a mountain / now there’s mountains as far as I can see.” Striking piano, tasteful percussion, and an earnest guitar line fill out the raw, earnest tune. I wish I could write out all the lyrics for you, but Porter distills it all into one sweeping statement to close the tune: “And as I stare across the vast expanse / I can hear my father shouting / but mountains are all that I can see.”

Porter serves up these musings in expertly crafted alt-country/country-rock tunes. Porter’s been in a bunch of bands of various genres over the past dozen years, and he’s learned things from all of them. Opener “I Know You’re Going to Leave Me” crescendoes to a pounding, ragged, desperate, shiver-inducing rock ending; he follows it up with “Chris Bell,” which is about as perfect an alt-country song as Gram Parsons could hope to hear. “You Only Talk About Your Band” is a rollicking, impassioned ’50s rock’n’roll tune that sounds like it fell out of a time machine somewhere, while Bruce Springsteen would approve of the insistent piano and urgent vocals in “Restless.” “Secrets” sounds like a San Francisco indie-pop mosey, an influence holdover from his time in The 21st Century. “Couer D’Alene” is a delicate acoustic-and-voice tune to close out the record. All of these songs are impressive in their own right, and yet none feel out of place on the record.

Porter keeps these disparate sounds and ideas held together through a consistent vocal presence on the record. No matter what genre Porter writes, he works to make his voice inhabit the song. There are no bad vehicles here: Porter sounds completely at home in each of these tunes. Instead of sounding pristine, the opposite is true: by feeling comfortable throughout, he’s able to allow his voice some fluctuations and character without needing to edit it out. It gives the whole album a careworn, comfortable feel, similar to a Justin Townes Earle song or Josh Ritter’s The Beast In Its Tracks.

27 has the sort of musical and lyrical depth that causes me to come up with more things to say than I have space for. (Two things that got cut: 1. comparing the lyrics of “Mountains” with my favorite Ryan Adams track “Rock and Roll,” which you should do on your own time; 2. The production job is excellent.) Personally Porter is in transition, but lyrically Porter is hitting his stride to be able to describe the struggles so compellingly. Musically he’s creating work that shines as a whole and as individual tracks, which shows a rare maturity. You need to hear this one.

Fri, 10/10 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick and Mortar w/ Victor Krummenacher
Fri, 10/17 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Blue Note
Sat, 10/18 – Tulsa, OK @ Mercury Lounge
Sun, 10/19 – Lawrence, KS @ Jackpot Music Hall
Mon, 10/20 – Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s
Tues, 10/21 – Chicago, IL @ Reggie’s
Wed, 10/22 – Eaton, OH @ Taffy’s
Thurs, 10/23 – Philadelphia @ The Grape Room
Sat, 10/25 – NYC @ Wicked Willy’s at 6:30 pm (Official CMJ Showcase)
Sun, 10/26 – NYC @ Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1
Mon, 10/27 – Charlotte @ Thomas Street Tavern
Tues, 10/28 – Chapel Hill @ The Cave (I’ll be at this one)
Wed, 10/29 – Nashville, TN @ The 5 Spot
Thurs, 10/30 – Huntsville, AL @ Maggie Meyer’s Irish Pub
Fri, 10/31 – Clarksdale, MS @ Shack Up Inn
Sat, 11/1 – Lafayette, LA @ Artmosphere
Sun, 11/2 – Austin, TX @ Sahara Lounge
Mon, 11/3 – Dallas @ Opening Bell

Unrelated to SXSW, pt. 2

March 12, 2014

The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.

1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.

2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.

3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.

4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.

5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.

6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.

7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.

8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.

9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.

10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.

11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.

Top Ten Songs of the Year

December 29, 2013

Independent Clauses is a wide-ranging blog, but it still comes home at night to folk and indie-pop. So those genres are very well-represented in the Top 10.

10. “Song for Zula” – Phosphorescent. Yup, I’m thoroughly on board with all the love this is getting. Just beautiful.

9. “Home Sweet Home” – Russell Howard. The sound of loss and longing rarely sounds so sweet as in this singer/songwriter tune.

8. “The Mantis and the Moon” – Son of Laughter. Clever lyrics, sprightly arrangement, poignant performance: I hummed this a lot in 2013.

7. “Aaron” – JD Eicher and the Goodnights. Sweeping, widescreen folk-pop that leveled me with a great melody and this line: “I don’t write sad songs/they just seem to write me.”

6. “Judah’s Gone” – M. Lockwood Porter. It’s a tough thing to pack nostalgia, disillusion, and rage into one folky tune without any yelling, but Porter navigates the wildly varying emotions deftly.

5. “American Summer” – Jared Foldy. Gentle fingerpicking and reverb create a strong atmosphere, as Foldy offers the sound of beloved summers that sadly have to end.

4. “The Riddle Song” – The Parmesans. Poignant yet flirtatious, this bluegrassy love song is wonderful.

3. “For the Sky” – Wolfcryer. The opening riff of this folk tune, optimistic and yearning, sets the stage for an inescapable tune.

2. “Creeping Around Your Face” – Novi Split. The most tender, gentle love song I heard all year, steeped in the reality of hard times but the hope of good to come.

1. “Everything Is Yours” – Jonny Rodgers. Wine glasses cascade and swoop through the quiet indie-pop arrangement, giving Rodgers a fascinating canvas on which to paint lovely vocal melodies and descriptive lyrics. I couldn’t stop listening to this for weeks.

M. Lockwood Porter sings the song of the ex-Oklahoman

July 17, 2013

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I’ve been listening to M. Lockwood Porter‘s bands since 2005. In that time, he’s been in an early 2000s emo band, an energetic post-rock band that held my personal “favorite band ever” title for a good five years, and a San Fran indie-pop band. Now he’s stepping out on his own with a solo record called Judah’s Gone. And although it’s been almost a decade since he’s lived in Oklahoma, the record is largely about that place which Lockwood and I share as a home state.

Neither of us live there anymore, but apparently an Oklahoma flag hangs in the background of both our minds. The three highlight tracks from the record (“Judah’s Gone,” “Now My Time Has Come,” and “Osage County”) all reference the state specifically and neatly lay out the narrative of the album. Opener “Judah’s Gone” tells the story of Lockwood’s childhood and parentage in the state (spoiler: it doesn’t go so well), which leads to him fleeing the state as soon as he graduated high school (“Now My Time Has Come”). A bunch of relationships and regrets occur in his forays on both coasts (all the other songs on the record), before he looks back longingly at Oklahoma in a complicated, attached sort of way (“Osage County”). It’s the story of many, many Oklahomans, this one included. If there’s an ex-pat Oklahoman Facebook group somewhere, Lockwood should be promoting this there. It would sell like dry-rub chicken barbecue.

The fact that Judah’s Gone sounds largely like a lost Neil Young record would help the sales pitch as well. The arrangements are twangy, but in that laid-back, Southern sort of way that Neil Young virtually patented. Lockwood’s voice breaks and bends over notes (a la Neil), but largely stays in a recognizably “correct” range. Porter is a lot less nasally than Young, which is also great. The album only has one rockish tune: the fast-paced “Tonight,” which barely gets over 2:00. Porter puts some distortion on his voice for the tune, and it fits nicely. It’s nowhere near an art-rock tune from his previous ventures, but you can tell that Porter has a rock background. Otherwise, this is a folky alt-country record the whole way.

The few quibbles that could be lobbed at the record have to do with this being his debut in the genre: tunes like “Darkside” and “Higher Home” fit perfectly into the proscribed narratives of what folky alt-country should sound like, both in sound and word. The tunes sound fine, but they don’t show off Porter’s skills as a storyteller or melodist very well because of their adherence to tried-and-true formulas. Porter shows on tracks like “Stephen” (not about me) that he can bend the formulas to his skill set: the track is a mid-tempo song about the guy with vast promise who never left home. The tune is memorable because of the melodic chorus and the detailed care with which the lyrics are composed. So even if some tracks are a bit less shiny than the rest, it’s not something that a few more albums of songwriting can’t polish up.

M. Lockwood Porter has established himself as a talent to watch on Judah’s Gone. Tracks like the title track and “Osage County” show a melodic and lyrical talent with range and depth. It will be interesting to see where Porter goes from here as he gets familiar with the genre. I’ll be listening attentively to whatever it is. (Especially if there’s more Oklahoma angst.)

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

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