I review a lot of really good folk music here at Independent Clauses, but every now and then someone comes along who sits head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. B. Snipes is that rare breed, and the 5-song Away, Away is his calling card. From compelling lyrics to evocative melodies to clear-eyed production, there’s nothing on Away, Away that is out of place.
Some people try to establish a sound in an EP; others try to showcase their breadth. Snipes manages to do both here: while establishing himself as a storytelling troubadour through his lyrics and nuanced vocal delivery, he sets a surprising array of sounds around him in the arrangements. It’s a remarkable balancing act that establishes him as a high-talent artist to watch.
The cleverest trick Snipes pulls to accomplish this balance is to vary what you might expect in a track listing. Instead of starting with his loudest track and getting quieter, Snipes starts out with the intimate, stark, beautiful “Death Came Knocking.” The first half of the track features just a Snipes’ gravitas-laden voice, a bright acoustic guitar, and an upright piano to lend some bass to the proceedings; even when he adds in a banjo to fill out the sound, it still feels like you’re hanging out in Snipes’ living room. The tune itself tells of Death showing the narrator around town, talking about both the narrator and death’s lives. The chorus yearns for a beloved maternal memory–it’s uncertain whether the narrator or death sings the chorus. It’s this sort of subtle touch that gives Snipes’ work the depth that endears it to me.
Elsewhere Snipes shows off his arranging skills, including an open snare on the kit and wailing organ in the dramatic folk tune “Michael.” “Clark Gable Blues” has a 3/4 meter, giving the tune a plaintive, mournful, country waltz/blues feel. The lyrics of lost love and a swooning violin only help the country vibe. The title track and “My Home Town” have a more alt-pop feel, leaning toward Josh Garrels’ brand of twilit, sweeping adult-alternative. At its apex, “My Home Town” gathers steam into the sort of jubilant/morose chorus that Iron & Wine has perfected on his full-band records–the vocal melody seals the deal on it.
All of this is recorded and engineered excellently: the sounds pop out of speakers with astonishing clarity and ease. It’s not easy to engineer a record this bright, clean and clear without it getting a false-feeling sheen on it. B. Snipes and crew have really nailed the balance between clarity and emotive grit. It’s like a Ray LaMontagne album in that regard: it feels raw and passionate without actually sounding lo-fi. It’s a rare thing, and worth noting. Everything sounds gorgeous on Away, Away.
B. Snipes’ debut EP Away, Away is a remarkable release that shows off the beginnings of what could be something really amazing. With thoughtful lyrics, memorable melodies, and striking arrangements, B. Snipes establishes himself here. If you’re into Josh Ritter, The Avett Brothers, or any of the aforementioned bands, you’ll find much to love in Away, Away.
Before you listen to this album, you must first grab your favorite bottle of wine, draw yourself a warm bath, light a candle and soak. You just created the perfect listening party for Hannah Miller’s recently released self-titled album. Hannah Miller’s soulful instrumentation and sultry voice create the ultimate arena for relaxation.
At the top of the album, “Help Me Out” sets the mood with a seductively played electric guitar. After a few measures of the solo guitar, Miller’s alto voice enters into the mix. These two elements are quite the power couple; keys and percussion add further flavor, but they in no way compare to the power of the first two. Watch the music video to see what I mean.
The soulful sound of Hannah Miller is akin to many different artists that exist within soul’s extended family. In “Falling” the keys shine, similar to neo-soul artists like Jill Scott. The prominent bass and funky guitar in “You Don’t Call” remind me of Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans.” Throughout the album, Miller’s voice and instrumentation could be compared to Adele’s blue-eyed soul music, particularly in 19. There is no denying that Miller’s sound fits at least partially into the genre of soul, but which sub-genre would be a topic up for debate.
“Soothed” begins similarly to “Help Me Out,” and its calming instrumentation provides the perfect backdrop for Miller’s beautiful voice–her pipes become the focal point of the track. Aptly titled, the instrumentation on “Soothed” is entirely made up of a soulful, beachy-sounding guitar. Miller’s voice lingers in the higher part of her register here, and the outcome is really quite relaxing. Ironically, the lyrics actually speak to her refusal to be “soothed,” while she clearly has no problem soothing others.
One interesting piece of the album is the two versions of “Promise Land.” The chronologically first version has quite a funky instrumentation with the blues-infused electric guitar, soulful keys and a rare addition of background vocals (which adds a ton of depth to the sound). This “New version” of the song has a much fuller sound than the second “Chernobyl version,” but that doesn’t mean it is superior. In the second “Promise Land,” the simple acoustic guitar accompaniment shows off the peaceful aspects in Miller’s voice that might be slightly overshadowed by the full instrumentation of the first. Both versions are beautiful; both have the same lyrics that delve into the world of spirituality, at least in the metaphorical sense.
Song after song, Hannah Miller proves to be a very soothing experience. The sound of Hannah Miller contains great depth while sounding effortless. If your life is filled with stress and you need something–anything–to help you unwind, look no further than Hannah Miller’s self-titled album, out now. —Krisann Janowitz
While Underlined Passages’ self-titled release is a debut, my roots with the band go back deeper. The two principal band members were formerly in The Seldon Plan, a Baltimore indie-rock band that I started reviewing in 2006. After some time off, Michael Nestor and Frank Corl have regrouped as Underlined Passages. Their debut release is on Mint 400 Records (a connection I helped make), and their rainy-day indie-rock fits perfectly with other M400 bands like the Maravines and the Sink Tapes.
The nine songs of Underlined Passages sport various amounts of energy, but each have some sense of melancholy about them. Even when the drums are thrashing away and the guitars are chiming wildly on “Magic, Logic, Life,” Nestor’s vocals are bereft of aggression. The guitar arpeggios and slow pace of “It’s Ok” are more stereotypically melancholy, with emotively-driven lyrics, mournful melodies, and a warm sense of nostalgia/affection. There’s a lot of emotion in these songs, but it never goes over-the-top; like so much on this album, it just fits.
Considering the emotive push, Underlined Passages could definitely hang with the emo revival bands: the one-two punch of opener “Perspective” and “Every Night” are right there with Football, Etc. in aesthetic similarity. But for the most part, Underlined Passages doesn’t have the brash, punchy aspect that many emo bands inherit from their punk roots. These are earnest, passionate, mid-tempo songs for grey days. You don’t have to look farther than the swirling “Sonata” and the intimate “Like 2009” to get where Nestor and Corl are coming from.
Underlined Passages is an excellent companion on a rainy day. The melancholy arrangements, the hooky melodies, and nostalgic overall mood invite you to curl up under a blanket and watch the rain come down. If you’re looking for some moody, earnest indie-rock today, look no farther.
If you are searching for a collection of songs that will make you experience an array of emotions, look no further. Singer/Songwriter Amber Edgar’s latest EP Good Will Rise will make you feel, and often. The four tracks here speak larger volumes than many twelve-track albums do. What makes Amber Edgar’s music so impactful? Edgar’s brilliant, raw lyrics mesh with her unique instrumentation and gorgeous vocals to create an EP that will move even the most deadpan music appreciator.
The title track begins the collection on a hopeful note. Edgar’s crystal-clear mezzo-soprano voice shines alongside her main accompaniment–the acoustic guitar. The combination of her sweet yet soulful voice and the acoustic guitar creates a wonderfully unassuming sound, similar to much of Priscilla Ahn’s music. The sound, alongside the modestly hopeful lyrics, gains further flavor through a layer of horns played by one of her very talented musicians. Yet the horns do not take control of the sound; Edgar’s beautiful lyrics and voice still shine the brightest, only adding to the hope that “good will rise.”
The use of the Wurlitzer in “The Key” and “Danny Was So Young” adds a bit of a funky sound to the hauntingly beautiful songs. “The Key” contains some eerie background vocals towards the end that really leaves listeners with a slightly unsettling feeling, fitting for the EP.
“Danny Was So Young” provides a bit of discomfort mainly through the painfully vulnerable lyrics focused on friends that have committed suicide. The acoustic guitar makes perfect sense to be the lead instrument on such a delicate song. The level of maturity it takes to tackle such a dark topic in such a poetic way is simply astounding.
In the song, there certainly exists a feeling of melancholic mourning that all who have lost loved ones can relate to, yet lingering under it all is still hope that normalcy will return. The lyrics compare the pain one feels in missing friends to an anchor. What a brilliant way to imply that the pain does not disappear–it becomes a part of daily life alongside all the other emotions one feels. I can really not say enough about the beautifully poetic nature of “Danny Was So Young” and, really, all the tracks off Good Will Rise.
“Only In Dreams” highlights Edgar’s skills as a multi-talented instrumentalist, beautiful vocalist and amazing lyricist. With assists from other skilled musicians, “Only In Dreams” opens with a lovely banjo/cello combination. Other instruments, such as drums, slowly trickle into the arrangement. Edgar shows her impressive range by soulfully dipping low in the verses and shining at the high notes in the chorus. The lyrics tackle the topic of love through beautiful sailing and nautical imagery, with lyrics like, “Well I am just a little boat/When I see you I begin to float.” The overarching metaphor of “dreaming” really takes the track home, with the closing repetition of “Never wake me up” showing listeners that lyrics can also double as poems.
Amber Edgar’s latest EP Good Will Rise will blow you away with its unique instrumentation, beautiful vocals, and poetic lyrics, leaving you to press repeat over and over again. –Krisann Janowitz
Just like my bottle of Prairie Bomb! (Beer 1), Independent Clauses began its life in Oklahoma. After eight years in OK, the travels began: a summer in Austin drinking Shiner (Prickly Pear: Beer 2), two years in Alabama drinking Bell’s (Oberon: Beer 3), and now two years in Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina drinking all sorts of local beer (Triangle White Ale: Beer 4).
It’s allowed me to do crazy things I never expected, like manage a folk band currently residing in the UK (Old Speckled Hen: Beer 11), and helped me meet a wonderful woman who became my wife. I drank Trappistes Rochefort (Beer 12) at my bachelor party this past November, reminiscing on my personal and professional past. It’s been 12 years of Independent Clauses as of May 15, and I can’t imagine my past, present, or future without it.
Thanks to all bands, readers, writers, record labels, PR people, and music business types for being a part of Independent Clauses’ past 12 years! We wouldn’t be here without you. (Special thanks to Bottle Revolution and Ridgewood Wine and Beer for making this post possible.)
So I’m on the board of directors of a brand-new non-profit called Croquet Records, which is a record label and band incubator. We help young artists get their start in the industry. It’s similar to what I’ve been doing here at Independent Clauses for the last 12 years, but it focuses more on funding and networking than on press development. (All three are necessary parts of a young band’s life.)
More than that, you’ll be able to be part of this band incubator’s first project–we plan on growing into a non-profit that secures funds from grants and other sources like Kickstarter to help musicians. Getting in on the ground floor of this makes your donation a down payment on many future projects–by helping Croquet get through this first project, we’ll establish a track record that will help us garner more diverse sources of funding (grants, matching funds, etc., as well as crowdfunding) for future projects. It all starts with this Kickstarter.
Thank you so much for being a part of Independent Clauses over the past 12 years, and for sticking with me through a variety of projects!
I’m pretty sparing with the Kickstarters I post–I don’t post nearly as many as get sent to me. The ones I do post, I’m behind 100%. I’ve covered Jenny & Tyler’s work since 2009 with great enthusiasm. They’re able to create heavily-orchestrated folk-pop (as shown on their cover of “We Will Become Silhouettes,” which IC commissioned as part of its 10th birthday) as well as intimate acoustic tunes that leave me misty-eyed. They’re one of my favorite bands I’ve covered here at Independent Clauses (another thing I don’t say very often).
Their $15,000 Kickstarter will fund their first-ever full-band tour and live record. That’s a pretty giant undertaking for any independent artist. They’ve got the normal rewards (digital download, physical albums, t-shirts, etc.) at the lower levels, but the upper levels have some really impressive stuff going on (handmade instruments!). So when I say, “check out their Kickstarter!” I really mean “check out their Kickstarter!!!!”
Again, generally I don’t do the whole salesman thing, but Jenny & Tyler!
Cavepainters recently released their sophomore album With the Trees, and it is a folk masterpiece. With the Trees’ banjo-heavy instrumentation, sardonic lyrics, and effortless vocal harmonization reaches back in time to bring the sounds of late 20th century folk music to our ears.
Opener “Heart Full of Smoke” is a great example of how Cavepainters creates the perfect folk combination. With magnificent banjo solos galore, honest storytelling lyrics, and brilliant vocal harmonization reminiscent of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, “Heart Full of Smoke” drips with the sound of Appalachian folk. Through their refreshing sound and realistic lyrics, the members of Cavepainters really show themselves as an honest band with an honest sound.
Writ large, With the Trees is an album for the people. “Everybody’s working, always working, all day working” is the opening lyric to “Sweet Relief,” which both pokes fun at and validates the hardworking American experience. The band pairs truthful lyrics with an upbeat sound to speak sardonically about the meathook realities of life in a lighthearted way that almost makes it all feel better. The lyrics here and in the rest of the album cover many ongoing American struggles, while the cheerful instrumentation serves to speak into those realities and say, “It’s all gonna be okay!” Cavepainters does a really wonderful job at pairing lyrics to their instrumentation counterpart.
“Little Brooklyn” is yet another example of Cavepainters’ instrumentation and storytelling lyrics being welded together to create a superb salute to true folk music. “Little Brooklyn” is chock full of anecdotal lyrics that truly make you laugh. It compares Chicago to Brooklyn and includes lovely lyrics like “and if skinny yuppie people walk their skinny yuppie pets, who will know?” The banjo/accordion/acoustic guitar arrangement pairs really well with the whimsical lyrics as it makes you sway (and maybe even dance!) to its lighthearted sound.
Although the album is not all whimsy, With the Trees is an album that truly makes you happy to be alive. So if you need validation that life is tough and oh so wonderful, I’d recommend buying Cavepainters’ With the Trees. And even if you don’t need that pick-me-up, I’d say buy it anyways! With the Trees is out now! –Krisann Janowitz
Joel Michael Howard’s clip for “Something Different” is indeed something different. I didn’t really understand it until I got to the end, when I had a sudden burst of ’90s nostalgia. I don’t know if it was the hackey sack, the Windows 95 screensavers, the goofy dancing, or Howard’s quirky entrances and exits; maybe it was all of that together. But the result is a charming, smile-inducing clip that I can’t help but like.
The song itself is an unusual breed as well: Howard combines soft-rock keys with funky bass and guitar rhythms, then layers gentle, breathy vocals on top of it. It feels like a modern person trying to recreate ’80s pop and ending up with a cross between Hall & Oates* and Graceland. I know, that sounds like a horrible mix, but Howard pulls the whole thing off with a convincing confidence. It’s just as winsomely engaging as the accompanying video. Check it.
Maribou State’s Portraits is just as much a bird’s-eye view of the British landscape as it is an album. The two U.K. producers have composed a dewy electronic prodigy, complete with a fearless combination of techno, idyllic instrumentation and gripping vocals. Just look to the album art to get a sense of what I mean: a blurred forest and streaks of earthy colors resonate with the natural, raw emotion this album bravely confesses.
“Home” starts off Portraits with a surprising dose of clean, irresistible electric guitar and alluring techno beat that instantly gets you swaying. It incorporates Bondax-like glitch through vinyl record hiss and muffled, soft vocals. You can almost hear laidback beach groove, but “Home” never actually goes there, or any place that carefree, just as the album never offers anything less serious than sultry sadness.
Tracks such as “The Clown” and “Rituals” are anchored by dark, dramatic elements. “The Clown” includes Sam Smith-sounding melodies, piano, and powerful string sections that build theatrical, Victorian tone. It all culminates in James Blake eeriness. The repeated lyric of “Rituals” (“sell me your soul”) mingles with guitar builds and emerging techno roar before erupting into irresistible rhythm. When combined with sensational string drop-ins, this track transforms into a dazed, slow motion club banger. As if it’s not operatic enough, it ends with a crashing of token horror movie sounds.
“Wallflower” and “Raincoats” emphasize grim soundscapes, like the gloominess of walking along a cobblestone street during a light drizzle. On “Raincoats,” the breathy vocals have a unique walkie-talkie filter to them–just one instance of Maribou State’s deft ability at combining digital distortions with diverse instrumentation.
“Steal” smooths out the wrinkles of glitch through Holly Walker’s sorrowful lyrics and celestial voice. “Now, I need somebody that could ease my mind,” she sings gently, gliding over stop-and-go rhythm. While Walker sings despair on “Steal,” her vocals on tracks like “Midas” balance Portraits with a blanket of affection. When paired with piano and pulling on the more soulful strands of her range, there is an ooey-gooey, honey-colored groove on this track. By the end of “Midas,” Walker’s wordless up-and-down vocals evoke gospel qualities.
But I was most blown away by “Natural Fool,” which uses startling bass guitar to create one of the most hauntingly beautiful tracks on this album. Perhaps it is the fascinating finish of twinkling bells that make it stand out and add to the current of sultriness riding through the songs.
Nothing about Portraits is inconsequential; every sound and texture is loaded with rich, resolute purpose. It stops short of jovialness, but echoes its possibility through arrhythmic rhythms and touching vocals. It’s intoxicatingly complex and carries effortless dynamism. Join the rapture June 1st.–Rachel Haney
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.