Today marks the first column from Uprooted Music Revue’s CHRIS MATEER. He’ll be introducing us to he recent obsessions, new artists and frequent spins.
Welcome to my new column for The Sitch. Since I have been given free reign to post a bi-weekly column, my goal for Steady Rotation is to share some of the various artists, albums, books, and other assorted art forms that I happen to excited about, and am eager to share with you. As you will surely discover my reading this edition, the content will not be limited to any specific genre of music. I love roots, Americana, folk, blues, soul, and bluegrass. But I also get excited about a lot of other kinds of artists and albums too, some I personally have a hard time classifying or categorizing.
Since you’re the kind of listener/reader who stops in at The Bluegrass Situation, there’s a good chance you will find something here to be excited about and/ or maybe even some new projects to discover- which to me is exactly why I read about and continue to enjoy writing about music. Let’s get to it….
Lena Hughes was born in Grape Grove Township, Missouri in 1904. Though she never recorded any 78s during her lifetime, she performed often at various fiddler conventions and folk festivals throughout the Ozarks. She played fiddle, banjo and guitar, mastering parlor pieces and the specialized tunings that were necessary to play them. She lived most of her life in Ludlow, Missouri and passed away in 1998. Lena Hughes did manage to record one full-length LP that has up until very recently, been a very elusive recording for anyone to own or even listen to. This album is a treasure, and thanks to Tompkins Square, you can now easily get your hands on one.
Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock is a traditionalist juke-joint honky-tonker who incorporates rockabilly, western swing, blues, and old-time appeal into each song he writes and every live performance he gives. His influences are rooted in the classics, and his closest admirers often drop the names “Hank Williams” and “Jimmie Rodgers” when describing Wayne’s brand of toe-tapping swing. The Ride stays true to the recipe the man has been serving since his first solo album, 1995’s Thunderstorms and Neon Signs. Recommended as a new edition to longtime fans, as well as a solid entry point for newcomers.
This new 11-song collection was inspired by the classic Bakersfield honky-tonk sound, something Jay Farrar has been keeping a close ear to since picking up the pedal steel about two years ago. Longtime fans of Son Volt will also be glad to hear that Jay and his band have brought their trusted well-worn acoustic sounds to the table, the same ones that keep Trace a mainstay in many record collections. Thankfully this album is not a nostalgia trip for either classic country or for Jay’s earlier post-Uncle Tupelo work. Honk Tonk is a rewarding new Son Volt record that touches upon the band’s past, but is entirely focused on the future.
Following up his all-too-short EP Let It Roll and an absolutely killer Daytrotter session, Woody Pines returns with his first long player since 2009’s Counting Alligators. Woody has been touring around the globe almost non-stop since the release of Let It Roll, writing new tunes whenever and wherever he could, and recording them when he was able. Check out Rabbits Motel and read my recent interview with him here on BGS for a glimpse into the artist’s travels and the making of his new record.
William Tyler is a guitarist and songwriter who collaborated with Lambchop, the Silver Jews, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Charlie Louvin, Candi Staton, and many others. His first solo album, Behold the Spirit dropped in 2010 to critical acclaim, establishing him as one of the most creative and innovative guitarists working today. Impossible Truth is his debut for Merge Records, and it was heavily inspired by two recent reads: Barney Hoskyns’ Hotel California and Mike Davis’ The Ecology of Fear. The word is out on Tyler, who is currently out on the road touring nationally for Impossible Truth. Check it out.
Although Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain of Brown Bird captured a lot of what’s to love about their live sound on their previous album Salt for Salt, the duo have really hit upon a new stride with Fits of Reason. This one finds them firmly maintaining some of the minimalistic rawness that has entranced spectators at their live shows, while also expanding their landscape with an increased variety of instrumentation. Fits of Reason is easily one of my favorite albums of this year, and an effort I am confident will be elevating Brown Bird’s profile to new and much deserved heights.
Hiss Golden Messenger has returned with a stellar, new length-album called Haw. It is HGM’s first set of new material since their much-celebrated Poor Moon, not including the recently released Lord, I Love The Rain, which was composed of some of MC Taylor’s unearthed home recordings, previously unreleased tunes, and covers. Named after a river in Piedmont, North Carolina, as well as a type of laugh, Haw sifts through Taylor’s southern roots while digging through some emotionally dark territory. HGM has been building a discography filled with their enigmatic folk that is well worth seeking out. In addition to Haw, MC Taylor has another exciting release out now as well. It is a collaborative effort with guitarist Steve Gunn, called Golden Gunn (via the Three Lobed label).
Weary Engine Blues: Songs of Jason Molina (Graveface)
The prolific songwriter Jason Molina (of Songs Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.) passed away at the age of 39 on March 16th. He was one of my very favorite artists and losing him so young is something that many admirers, family, friends, and collaborators are still struggling to accept. This tribute album from Graveface Recordings brings together a wealth of 34 artists (including Mark Kozelek, Will Oldham, Brown Bird, Will Johnson, Damien Jurado, Phil Elverum, Alasdair Roberts, and many others) paying homage to the life and music of a brilliant artist.
If I had to call out my favorite albums by Steve Earle they would be Train A Comin’, I Feel Alright, El Corazón, and Transcendental Blues. After TB, Earle’s next string of more politically focused albums just didn’t hold my interest (although I shared his views on all of the issues he was raging against), and although Washing Square Serenade seemed to spark the beginning of a possible return to form, it never really measured up to the other Steve Earle albums. Maybe by taking on acting roles in The Wire and Treme, as well as honoring his friend and mentor Townes Van Zandt (Townes) had an impression on the songwriter because his last effort, 2011’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive was his strongest album of original material in years. The Low Highway picks up where that one left off, finding Earle with his touring partners The Dukes and The Duchesses (featuring his wife, Allison Moorer), who give the album a well-worn familiar feel. The Low Highway captures the songwriter sounding as strong as ever.
I first discovered Luke Winslow-King when I picked up his Old/New Baby album in 2009. Best know for his slide guitar playing, the New Orleans-based artist returns with his long overdue follow up and his Bloodshot debut. Mr. Winslow-King continues to mine genres such as traditional jazz, pre-war blues, delta-folk, ragtime, and good old-fashioned rock and roll. Luke & co. are very much attuned to the sounds of a bygone era while constructing a sound and feel all their own in the here and now. And boy, are we lucky! The Coming Tide is made up tunes that jump, glide, bump, and stroll as the players please. Throughout, the record humbly highlights the musical versatility as well as the wide palette of stylistic offerings that Luke Winslow-King and his band (singer/washboard player Esther Rose, bassist Cassidy Holden, trumpet/ piano/ bass-drummer Ben Polcer) live and breathe. As much as The Coming Tide will entice upon the first listen, it is the repeated plays that drive home the tasteful and graceful performances and songwriting. Excellent work.
As a big fan of José González’s mostly acoustic solo albums (2007’s In Our Nature and 2003’s Veneer), Junip is not to be mistaken as a ‘José González and friends’ project. Instead, the trio has from the start, since 1998, always been equally composed of José Gonzaléz, Elias Araya, and Tobias Winterkorn. The Swedish group put things somewhat on hold for Mr. Gonzaléz’s success as a solo artist, but in 2010 finally dropped their first full-length album called Fields (which has since been expanded into a deluxe edition, featuring the band’s earlier EPs). Junip builds upon the momentum that Fields initially offered: González’s haunting vocals and guitar, teamed with Winkerkorn’s organ and synth, and driven by Araya’s percussion.
This is Sam’s Nonesuch debut. His lady, Beth Orton, recently released her own debut for the label, Sugaring Season, (which Sam contributed to). On Bright Sunny South, Sam comes across as a man with a renewed purpose, offering restraint as well as deliberate and restrained focus. Bright Sunny South is a rewarding and surprising departure from Sam’s previous albums that were punctuated with uniquely reworked traditional tunes. The songs on Sam’s new record offer a fresh perspective on a remarkable, and entirely singular voice of modern folk.
Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood: Black Pudding (5/14, Ipecac)
Enigmatic songwriter, vocalist, and frequent collaborator Mark Lanegan follows up his recent densely layered solo album, Blues Funeral, with a new project with British songwriter and guitarist Duke Garwood. The two met in 2009 at a Soulsavers show (who Lanegan has made two albums with) and the idea was born for the two to make a record together. The result, Black Pudding, is a mostly acoustic affair between Duke Garwood’s incredible guitar work with Mark Lanegan’s mysterious and smoky vocals. Listening to the album it is staggering to think of Garwood composing alone in London while Lanegan wrote lyrics to the music he received in Los Angeles. Black Pudding is seamless, soulful, ethereal, and essential. Longtime followers of Mr. Lanegan’s solo work (as well as his recordings with Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Gutter Twins, and Soulsavers) will surely be digging this stripped-down and intimate album. If you like what you hear, use this record as an entry point to explore Garwood’s own discography- which is well digging into.