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
I deeply admire intricate arrangements, but I fall in love with simplicity. Singer/songwriter Jared Foldy‘s American Summer is a graceful, simple, beautiful seven-song release that is an easy candidate for my end of year lists.
It’s not just that the songs are simple, because anyone can do that. Foldy has taken great care in choosing and maintaining a specific mood throughout American Summer. The album art does an excellent job of interpreting the feel of this record: gauzy, but not opaque; relaxed, but not lazy; calm, but not uninterested. This is beautiful, beautiful music.
The sparse arrangements are light, airy, and smooth without turning maudlin or sappy; the early work of Joshua Radin and Rehearsals for Departure-era Damien Jurado come to mind. All three artists espouse a wide-eyed wonder about the world without getting maudlin or sappy. The effortless grace of Mojave 3’s Ask Me Tomorrow also is a strong touchstone, as Foldy and M3 share an elegant gravitas.
Foldy’s opener “See It All” has the gravitas and passion that only a patient, experienced singer/songwriter can draw out. The chorus-less song builds to a strong conclusion through clever use of instruments (and smart refusal to use others, like snare drum). The songwriting is strong, the performances are inspired, and the production is simply incredible to pull it all together.
The rest of the songs are more verse/chorus/verse oriented, but they are no less beautiful. Title track “American Summer” is an absolutely stunning song that leverages all the best things about the album into one piece: Foldy’s light, gentle tenor floats over warm fingerpicking in a calming, uplifting mood. It’s a lyrically beautiful song as well, gently appealing to a woman playing hard to get. It’s everything I want in a song.
“Wide Eyes” is also firing on all cylinders. Foldy’s voice and guitar playing are augmented by piano, strings and brushed percussion, merging the excellent arrangement of “See It All” with the memorable vocal melody of “American Summer.” Even though “American Summer” is my favorite tune to hear on the record, “Wide Eyes” is the one I hum to myself.
Jared Foldy has grown leaps and bounds since 2011’s Everyone’s Singing. Foldy had the songwriting skill then, but now he’s put his own stamp on the sound. American Summer is an outstanding collection of tunes that I would recommend to anyone who like beautiful music, but especially those who like folk/singer-songwriter/acoustic. I hope this release pushes Foldy into the brighter spotlight that he deserves.
Sam Buckingham‘s I’m a Bird is also a bright singer/songwriter affair. She emanates an assured, confident vibe, similar to KT Tunstall. Her guitar and often sassy voice are the main players here, with only light accompaniment throughout. But she doesn’t need a full band to pack tunes like “Follow You,” “Hit Me With Your Heart” and “Tomorrow I’ll Wear Black” with a ton of attitude.
The third of the trio is most fascinating: “Tomorrow I’ll Wear Black” tune composed entirely of Buckingham’s vocals, group vocals on the chorus, and clapping. For a song about changing yourself so that someone will love you, it’s surprisingly chipper and flirty. It is the penultimate tune on the album, and it made me sit up and take notice. It’s a great pair with the charming, cutesy “Rabbit Hole” to end the album.
In between that closing and the opening salvo “Follow You”/”Hit Me With Your Heart” is a lot of music to explore: “Mountain Sun” features a tuba and clarinet; “So Much Loving Left to Do” slows things down for a piano ballad. The tunes in the middle are less immediately arresting than the beginning and end, but when you have such high-quality tunes at the front and back, it’s tough to keep that level of excellence going on. Overall, there are very few clunkers on the album, with Buckingham bringing her A-game consistently.
Buckingham has a clear vision of what her sound and style are: she executes that vision very well on I’m a Bird. If you like strong, sassy female singer/songwriters, then you should definitely check out Buckingham’s music.
I love fall. It’s the best season ever, just like spring and summer. I will definitely be posting a fall playlist soon, but for now I’m going to suggest that you bust out your Damien Jurado albums.
And if you don’t have any Damien Jurado albums, you should remedy that situation. While many of his albums have the feel of autumn in them, Rehearsals for Departureis the quintessential fall album for me. The songs are stark in instrumentation, but warm in tone.
Songs like “Tornado” and “Letters and Drawings” are much like trees with half their leaves left: great beasts showing the starkness of empty branches, yet still bearing the glory of colors to display to the world. The trees (and the songs) should be much denser and livelier than they actually are, but they have not passed into the total starkness of winter.
“Love the Same” and “Curbside” carry the melancholy of the season in their hands, presenting the listener with the realization that winter is coming. “Ohio” and “Rehearsals for Departure” peg the feeling of crisp air that turns ever colder with each passing day. They fade into cold, just as the season does.
But the highlight displays the glory of fall and not its shame. “Saturday” revels in the glory of the season turning, seeing the leaves slowly fall and blanket the ground in a series of tiny events that lead to the great revelation that is fall. The season unfolds itself bit by bit, and so does “Saturday.”
Rehearsals for Departure is a stately old album, just as fall is a stately old season. It is not a season for rashness, nor is it an album prone to excitement. But it is a perfect soundtrack for the season. Check it out.
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.