David Dondero will always have a place on this little music blog. “Rothko’s Chapel” is one of my favorite songs and over 9 albums of original material David Dondero has always been able to capture what his life is like. The new album is called This Guitar and it’s that title song that I link to here. The song deals with David’s feelings for his guitar and how it (guitar, music, touring) has ruined and saved his life.
Roy Davis sent me a tune off of the Coloradas new record Big Empty the other day. I am taken by the stark and lonely sound of the song “All I Can Do For Today”. I can’t describe the music of the Coloradas any better than the band itself:
It often sounds like the blues. It sometimes sounds like country music, back when country music sounded like itself. There are moments of mountain bluegrass, dark folk, and old time. The songs are written and earnestly delivered, re-interpreted as folk music, complete with fingerpicked guitars, clawhammer banjo, and soulful mandolin. There’s a pentecostal junkyard man, a soldier with a drinking problem, and a handful of first-person narratives.
So I’ve been a little bit out of it here at Songs:Illinois. Not a lot of posts but I’m still here. I guess I haven’t been paying a ton of attention to the roots music gossip either because I had not heard of the americana supergroup Willie Sugarcapps. Formed out of a singer-songwriter in-the-round that takes place at the Frog Pond in Silverhill Alabama by Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Corky Hughes and a duo called Sugarcane Jane.
Here’s their song “Oh, Colorado” from their new self-titled debut available here.
It’s the summer and hard to get motivated to do blog posts with the sun shining here in Chicago. Nevertheless there are a couple of releases that should be on your radar but due to the state of music pr, the decline of radio, and the demise of music blogs I’m guessing that they are not.
Peter Cooper is a successful music journalist but first and foremost he is a wonderful singer songwriter. His new album Opening Day is his third… Here’s the title track:
Tim Easton has become a man about americana much like Eric Ambel before him. He’s a modern renaissance man; producing, playing on and collaborating with many of the greats in the genre. But it’s his own solo work that made a name for him and that is what continues to resonate. His new album is called Troubled Times and here is the retro title track:
It’s no secret how I feel about Sam Baker, it’s been 4 years since my stunt blog post on his record Cotton. To recap back in 2009 I said I would stop writing the blog unless people bought his new record. I was happy with the results and I’ve been back at the blog ever since. But a new record by Sam Baker is still a special day in the songs:illinois world. That’s because I’m constantly amazed by his music, by his off putting at times halting vocalese but as always it’s the songs and the characters that inhabit them that are most unforgettable (although on this record the band really steps forward!).
As I said the music on the new record Say Grace is spectacular. Sam produced this himself and claims it’s his most orchestrated record yet. Say Grace features Gurf Morlix, Anthony Da Costa on guitar, and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s drummer Rick Richards and more. Whether it’s the guitar freak out and accordion of “Beast” or the stark piano of “Tattooed Woman” or the simple finger-picked guitar (and equally simple sentiments) of “Isn’t Love Great” the arrangements and playing on this record stand out. Lyrically Sam is in complete command of his imagery.
On “Isn’t love Great” he juxtaposes imagery of “fishnet and leather” with a couple holding hands and words like “princess, gimp, and limp” with “isn’t love great” and “isn’t love grand”. The song is a parable which states that no matter what type of love people share it’s a lovely and wondrous thing. That’s not a theme that is easily shared in a way that doesn’t come across as either pompous of pretentious; here it’s neither.
On the song “Ditch” Sam examines the working class man and his troubles. With lines like “crawling back down in the ditch today”, “glad I got work, glad I got paid”, and this description of his wife “my wife thinks she and Taylor Swift were twins at birth, separated at birth” you get a pretty good mental image of this ditch diggers life.
“The Tattooed Woman” is an ode to unrequited love and “the tattoed woman that sleeps in my bed”. This is what Sam Baker says about this one with it’s imagery of rain and impending doom:
We recorded the piano (Steve Conn) in Nashville added drums (Rick Richards) vocal (me) second piano with effects (me) in Austin and guitar in Alberta (Anthony daCosta). The piece opens with a 17th century French melody then morphs into a meditation on the sleeping woman. It returns to the French melody in the bridge and in the outro I learned that melody as the hymn
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent
when I was a child.
I can’t possibly absorb the totality of this record nor can I say where it will stand in the Sam Baker’s cannon. But I’ll tell you what. I’m glad this was made, I’m glad there is someone like Sam Baker making music, and I’m glad I am able to share it with you. I guess I’d like to say grace for all of that.
I usually don’t let the madding crowd affect my judgement. But M. Lockwood Porter has been getting some attention for his debut solo record Judah’s Gone and I’m going to jump on the growing bandwagon. While it seems like Porter has appeared out of nowhere the fact is he’s been playing in bands since he was a high schooler in Oklahoma, a college student at Yale, and now a bay area resident. With his background as an okie farm boy and saddled with an ivy league education it’s no surprise that his songs are so well written. While his vocals may be rough around the edges that may endear him to me even more. On the title track his voice wavers in all the right places making the song more powerful. Pick up the whole record here via Bandcamp.
One of the best compliments I can give a record is to say that it was very difficult choosing which song to share with you. That was the case with this new release from Danny Rush and the Designated Drivers. Should I go with a punk sounding song like “SHT YR FKN MTH MY DRLNG” or a more sedate song like “Tired” or maybe one with pedal steel like “Dead As A Doornail” for the americana fans out there.
How bout none of the above?! What I love about the new album Malverde is that it’s pretty hard to classify. I hear strains of Matthew Sweet, Violent Femmes, Jayhawks, Wilco, and probably Texas bands like Centro-matic and Spoon. “Our Love Is Real” is a great example of the band performing a song that feels bigger and better than a simple genre piece. It’s epic in a way that I typically don’t hear in a band that is as bootstrapped and indie as this one. You can buy the new record from Danny Rush and the Designated Drivers here via Bandcamp.
I tried to like some of the big new releases out now and in the foreseable future. It’d make this blog easier if I could just suck it up and write about one of these records I got in the mail or in my inbox. But it’s an unheralded record I wrote about last month by a folksinger from Seattle that has me jazzed up again. I’d just much rather point you in the direction of a record like this that you may not have heard about than add my small voice to the cacophony of praise for someone with more of a “story” (Jason Isbell for example). Click here to read Kevin’s coda and his take on the need for a “story” in today’s music world.
“Colors and Hues” is a song off of Kevin Long’s new release Buena Vista; it has more of an indie folk sound and production than the first song I linked to from this record (here). If you’re going to buy one record why don’t you make it this one and support an artist that is struggling to make heartfelt and honest music in a day and age when that sort of introspection is rare.
This is the third record by Nashville singer-songwriter Mando Saenz and it’s the third time I’ve covered his music. To my ears he’s one of the best lyricist working in “americana” as well as a distinctive singer. The new record sees Mando collaborating with the likes of Kenny Vaughan, Pete Finney, Jedd Hughes, Kim Richey, and Bobby Bare, Jr.
The song “Hard Time Tennessee” has all the elements you could want in an americana song: including references to blind men, stray dogs, and hard times. And I’m assuming that’s the masterful Kenny Vaughn on electric guitar. You can buy the new record Studebakerhere now.
It’s been six years or more since I wrote about Gregory Alan Isakov’s debut record The Gambler (at the time I could only link to his MySpace page). In that time he’s gone from an undiscovered gem to an acclaimed critics darling with a small legion of faithful fans. Musically not too much has changed – his music still has that “gauzy layer of slight reverb that gives the songs below a hint of both mystery and maudlin sadness” that I mentioned in my original review. His songs are less intricate stories and more vignettes or scenes.
Here’s a song from his new record, his third, entitled The Weatherman.
P.S. It’s been at least a month since I posted on here. I have no excuse except for the fact that I found nothing quite deserving of a post. My inbox is full of junk and even the “big name” releases have been a let down. I hope you’ll stick with me during this dry spell
Something’s wrong in this world when Denison Witmer’s new record gets hardly a mention from hype machine’s selection of music blogs. This self-titled record, his 9th or his 10th depending on who you listen to, is a little lusher than past efforts and reminds me of Ron Sexsmith, Josh Rouse and company. Guests include labelmate Sufjan Stevens, William Fitzimmons and Dawn Landes.
You can stream the whole thing here at Bandcamp or buy the download, cd or lp.
Kevin Long is a Seattle based singer songwriter whose new record Buena Vista is out now. Kevin’s been compared to James Taylor by some; both for his rich vocals and his super sensitive songs (I would have gone with Richard Shindell but that’s just me). Live I imagine Kevin’s show is just him and his guitar but on this record the songs are imbued with a string section and on some a rhythm section.
You can download the new record here via Bandcamp. Check out the beautiful title track below.
The Will Callers are an Austin based band that combines the whole roots music genre into a big gumbo of folk, rock, and country. They’re basically a duo comprised of Jake Murphy and Daniel Slatton but on this recording they are joined by Austin man-about-town Scappy Judd Newcomb and Bukka Allen. The record is ably produced by Ray Wylie Hubbard.
The debut record from The Will Callers What Else Is Left is available now here via iTunes or here via Bandcamp.
The fine folks at Nine Bulletts have already covered the new record In The Throes from John Moreland. And their impassioned post will not see its equal here. Although I do have an opinion or two about the music of John Moreland and the malaise of the average music fan.
I’m sure that a comparison to early Bruce Springsteen will not shock John Moreland and company. His songs are honest like Nebraska era Springsteen and his voice has that same slightly husky delivery. The boss obviously has millions of fans but do you think even half of 1 percent is ever going to hear of the music of John Moreland. I’m afraid not. And why is that. I guess you can blame the decline of radio (esp formats suitable for music like this), the unadventurous listener, and tv shows like The Voice that reward stellar vocal performances without any substance (would it kill them to have the artist perform an original song somewhere in the competition).
I don’t know the answer but I’m just glad there are still folks like John Moreland writing songs like these and performing them in dives and juke joints across the country. Preorder the new lp or cd here.
This little blog rarely contributes much to the larger society. We don’t do any good works besides trying to spread the word about deserving artists. So when the chance came to both spread the word about Alastair Moock and point you in the direction of a great cause it was an easy post to write.
Last year one of Alastairs twin girls was diagnosed with Leukemia. They have been battling ever since. And one of the few ways Alastair knew how to help was through his music (and circle of musician friends). So he (along with his daughter Clio) put together an album of songs to help kids with cancer called Singing Our Way Through: Songs For The Bravest Kids. While you can buy the record; the plan is to use the record as a free resource for patients and pediatric oncology programs around the country. Therapists and child life specialists will be able to add this CD to their arsenal of tools aimed at helping kids cope with cancer.
You can buy the digital version of the record now here, or pre-order the cd here or just donate to the project here.
Here’s Alastair and Chris Smither performing the classic song of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”
All my favorite Austin bands play at a place called The White Horse. Whether it’s Ramsay Midwood or Mike and the Moonpies or national acts like Elana James they all wind up at White Horse in one way or another. Now one of the “house bands” have created an ode to the White Horse and I think it accurately describes the charms of this place.
Here’s Them Duqaines with the song “Over At The White Horse” which should be available on the band’s upcoming record.
It goes without saying that you should catch the band tonight at 10pm…where else…but at the White Horse in Austin, Tx.
A love song performed as a duet from the perspective of the sea and the shore with a guest appearance from the moon doesn’t sound like the recipe for a breakout hit and I guess it won’t be to the larger music world. But to me, in my small corner of the music world, it’s in the running for song of the year. The song is credited to Amy Speace of course (since it’s on her new record How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat) but it is John Fullbright’s deep voice (as the sea) that kicks the song off. Fresh off his Grammy nomination Fullbright adds an amount of solemnity and gravitas that sets a somber mood for the song. Once Amy comes in (as the shore) with her apologies for hooking up with the moon I’m all in and completely hooked.
You can and should purchase the whole new release here. Other guests include Mary Gauthier and Ben Sollee.
Well this is fun and unexpected. The Backsliders have released a long lost recording as an EP called Hictopia. It contains five songs that were produced by the great Eric Ambel but left off their last record (Southern Lines, Mammoth Records, 1999). The music (and the promo photo above) bring me back to the day when there were fewer releases, more quality stuff, and vinyl. The band broke up shortly after this release but members went on to play in or form bands like Two Dollar Pistols and Whiskeytown.
As of 2012 the band is mostly back together and performing shows in and around their howetown of Raleigh, NC. Pick up the free ep (though tips are appreciated) here at Bandcamp.
P.S. It seems John Fullbright is the man of the moment. He’s been featured on a couple albums, was nominated for a Grammy and is even scheduled to appear at Bonnaroo. Here’s a duet he did with Amy Speace for her new record How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat. Buy it here. I’ve already heard talk of this tune for song of the year and although it’s early I can’t argue with that.
Over the years Howe Gelb has explored just about every nuance and every square inch of the rock landscape. With Giant Sand he has played noisy experimental rock, rootsy folk, instrumentals and choir music. He’s explored spanish music by collaborating with a Band Of Gypsies, country rock with his band Band of Blacky Ranchette, and as simply Howe Gelb he has performed solo in a style that could be called desert folk. The desert and the Tucson surroundings are always present in his songs whether it’s obvious through the lrics or more subtle through the soundscapes he employs. On the new Howe Gelb record Dust Bowl he has captured the lonely sounds of the desert through the use of reverb, piano, banjo and guitar. Here’s the title track. The album is availble on Bandcamp for $3.33.
The Quiet American is a husband and wife duo from the great northwest. Aaron used to be in the band Boulder Acoustic Society but left to get back to basics. On this new record they explore the story of “Wild Bill Jones”. Musically you’ll hear everything from ukelele to jug band sounds. There are similarities between this group and Pharis and Jason Romero – most notably they both are duos, both are exploring old time country music and both make their own instruments.
You can buy Wild Bill Joneshere via Elderly Instruments. Here’s the song “Keys To The Kingdom”.
Glad you found me at my new url. Songs:Illinois is committed to writing about music that is under-appreciated and unique. I've found that the music I write about shares a couple of traits. And they are: lyrical integrity, musically diverse, and written/performed by compelling characters.
Most songs found here are free and legal and have been provided by either the artist or label. If for some reason you'd like to have a song removed, please email me at cbonnell (at) gmail.com.