Little things can make an amazing difference. Rebecca Zapen strums a cavaquino—a South American relative of the ukulele featuring non-metallic strings—for most of her folky album Nest, and the change of string tone elevates this album. The delicate nature of these 13 songs is accentuated by the fact that there are few (if any) jarring moments on the album- hard stops are just difficult to do on this graceful instrument.
That grace lends tunes like “Swamp Pit,” “Lakewood,” and “Grandfather’s Song” a lilting, gentle quality that sets them apart from other musicians’ works. It’s likely that these songs would not sound as arresting with a metal-strung acoustic guitar. The strummed instrument in “I’m Gonna Make So Many Things For You” has a resonance and string squeak that are indicative of a standard acoustic guitar; the song sounds much more like Sandra McCracken and other upbeat female folksters than the rest of the tunes. “I’m Gonna” is a very good song, but its charms come from its vocal melody and rhythm patterns, not from its tone. The rest of the songs, which draw all of those three elements together, truly shine.
But Zapen isn’t a one-trick pony, as she proves with “Colorado.” The state-inspired closer actually sounds more like it should be called “Ireland,” as Gaelic-reminiscent cello and violin lines accompany Zapen’s tender voice in a very Unthanks-esque tune. It’s pretty, but certainly unusual in the context of the album. Then again, it’s not as strange as the bossa nova cover of “Addicted to Love” (seriously) that directly precedes it. This is not your average album in many ways.
Nest‘s brightest moment is the aforementioned “Swamp Pit,” where poise meets charm, and tone meets melody. The arrangement is subtle, yet strong: understated, but confident in it. Rebecca Zapen realizes a fully formed vision, and it is unsurprisingly resonant emotionally. The rest of the tunes attempt to hit that height, and succeed to smaller degrees: “Jarcaranda” probably comes in second, although the Simon and Garfunkel-esque ballad doesn’t display her own idiosyncratic vision as strongly. The clarinet in “Grandfather’s Song” helps create a beautiful tune as well.
Nest is a beautiful album that draws the light toward a talented, unique songwriter. It is not without room to improve, but it certainly offers a lot to hear and revel in.
I’ve rarely been on-the-ball enough to get my year end lists done by December 31, but this year I made a concerted effort to have all my 2011 reviewing done early. As a result, I was able to put together not just a top 20 albums list, but a top 50 songs mixtape and a top 11 songs list. Here’s the mixtape, organized generally from fast’n’loud to slow’quiet. Hear all of the songs at their links, with one exception of a purchase link (#27). The other lists will come over the next few days.
The latest edition of SLTM the Podcast is sponsored by Independent Clauses. You don’t want to miss it, especially if you’re a fan of heavy music, 1800s poetry, or The Parson Red Heads.
Elizaveta initially comes off as Regina Spektor/Ingrid Michaelson follower, but there’s a sharp left hook in the chorus that has me very excited for the future. Don’t worry; you’ll know it. Hers is a career to watch closely. (As for the video? Well, it’s got serious wtf factor.)
Noisetrade’s Fall Sampler includes several artists that IC has featured among its 30-strong ranks: Brianna Gaither, Jenny and Tyler, Joe Pug, David Ramirez and Sleeping At Last, the last of which was covered so early on in Independent Clauses’ history that the review isn’t even on this version of the site. There are also several bands we highly recommend that haven’t been officially covered here at IC: The Middle East, Derek Webb + Sandra McCracken, Ivan & Alyosha, Josh Rouse and Josh Garrels. I’m guessing the other third is full of joy and wonder as well – I’ll be checking it out soon.
If you’re into the whole ’80s nostalgia thing that’s going around, you’re going to be all over Geoffrey O’Connor. His album Vanity is Forever is streaming in full over here. Seriously, it’s 1985 on that webpage.
Beirut’s The Rip Tide is still keeping me company, and now a visual aid has been supplied! Sunset Television made this bizarre yet somehow fitting clip for “Santa Fe,” and while I’m not really sure what’s happening, I enjoy it.
There is no model for releasing music anymore. Case in point: Sons and Daughters, a band from Franklin, TN, in the vein of Sandra McCracken, Derek Webb, Waterdeep and everything else on Noisetrade (check them out right now, if you haven’t already).
I first heard of the band via blogsurfing; a friend of a friend posted the video of “All the Poor and Powerless” to her blog. The video doesn’t even state the artist; it simply shows the two members of the band playing the gorgeous song, interspersed with beautiful shots of people ostensibly poor and powerless. I scoured the Internet looking for the authors of this song, but no dice. I messaged the guy who posted the video, but he never got back to me.
Fast forward three months. I remembered “All the Poor and Powerless” because of a different song I was listening to while writing this poem, and I sought out the video again. This time, I found the bandcamp page of Sons and Daughters, offering a free download of the song. This version, however, is a bit more tricked out, with a choir and a rhythm track. After a bit more searching, I found the band’s website, which shows evidence that there has been touring. I deduced that the band passed through the Christian college of the enlightening blogger.
I kept digging (surely there must be more, I thought) and found a free two-song sampler from Noisetrade. Unsurprisingly, one of those songs was “All the Poor and Powerless.” The other was a decent track called “Your Glory.” That’s where the trail dies. There are only two recorded songs from a band that has apparently has enough material to be touring.
In short, they are gaining a following after releasing exactly two songs. Their debut release is coming out in May (seven months from now!). This is an incredibly peculiar business strategy.
But! If the goal is to reach people and play music, they’ve hit on exactly the right formula. It’s an odd way to go about it, but they’ve figured something out: one absolutely stunning song can get you far in today’s music world.
“All the Poor and Powerless” is exactly that: absolutely stunning. It is stately, passionate, powerful and calm in turns. But over all of that, it is just breathtaking. The male and female voices are wonderfully paired, the instrumentation is incredibly well recorded, and the songwriting has a gravitas not heard or felt in many songs. You need to hear it (and I’ve given you almost half a dozen links to do so. Here’s the Twitter, for good measure)
So, here’s to “All the Poor and Powerless” and to Sons and Daughters. I eagerly anticipate their upcoming release. And isn’t that what good singles are supposed to do? Yes.
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.