Archive for December, 2010

**Best of 2010 Repost Series** Zoe Muth And The Lost High Rollers

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

My love for Zoe Muth’s debut album has been validated by her signing to Signature Sounds. She will be releasing a followup in 2011. Here’s a repost from September of a song from her debut.


This release is not exactly new but the accolades are pouring in and it’s the best thing I’ve heard in a minute so here goes. Zoe Muth And The Lost High Rollers are based in Seattle but you won’t hear any grunge in their take on traditional country. Most of the songs are on the slower side with weepy pedal steel; it’s on these songs that Zoe succeeds in melding singers/writers like Lucinda Williams, John Prine and Emmylou Harris into her own unique style. The recording of her debut album puts her voice front and center. Like all good old country the sound of the record emanates a soft warm glow like that old comfortable sweater you get out each November.

“You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying” is a nice twist on the jealous boyfriend and cheating girlfriend song genre. Buy the record here through Signature Sounds Signature Discoveries series.

You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying [Download]

**Best Of 2010 Repost Series** Danielle Doyle – “Cartographer’s Wife”

Monday, December 20th, 2010

There are certain types of releases that are so humble, thoughtful, and low key that they are probably never going to appear on über hip top 10 lists, but that doesn’t make them any less deserving. I’d argue that Danielle’s debut record has more to say about the human condition than all the electro and no wave of 2010 does combined. Here’s my post from May updated with a concert listing for Feb. of 2011.


I imagine a simple song is one of the hardest to write. I imagine it must seem every combination of words has already been used up. I imagine there are lots of false starts and endless revisions. I imagine at the end of the day you hope you’d wind up with something like “My Bird” off the new record The Cartographer’s Wife by Danielle Doyle.

This is Danielle Doyle’s debut record and was put together with the help of a bunch of up and coming Boston based artists. She has already been rewarded by being named a 2009 Mountain Stage New Song Youth Winner, as well as opening up for a bunch of luminaries (Loudon Wainwright III, Dawn Landes, Heather Masse). She’ll be appearing on Feb 26 at the Natick Center for Performing Arts.

Pick up the new record here via CD Baby.

My Bird [Download]

**Best Of 2010 Repost Series** Johnny Dowd – “Wake Up The Snakes”

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Wow! This was an easy choice. I’ve been literally startled by the quality of Johnny Dowd’s last two releases.


It’s interesting and a somewhat sad commentary on music blogs that someone like Johnny Dowd, whose new record was released in March of this year, is nowhere to be found. While the regular cast of music bloggers that I like write about stuff that is under the radar, on the whole it seems like if you don’t issue multiple press releases with several different pr firms you’re not going to get any attention on the blogs. It’s a shame because Johnny Dowd is a living national treasure. He’s Alex Chilton, if Chilton didn’t have a hit with The Box Tops. He’s Tom Waits, if Waits never made it and was still a barfly in Ensenada. And he’s Nick Cave without the long face (and occasional pretension).

“Yolanda” is a swampy rock thing that describes a woman and her abusive father (who eventually gets what he deserves). It’s from the new record called Wake Up The Snakes. A perfect title for a record that at times recalls a Pentecostal revival. Buy this here via Johnny’s site.

Yolanda [Download]

Johnny Dowd from the film “Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus”

Also from “”Searching For…”

Panties in a bunch over Caleb and the Caroling Caravan (aka Happiest Lion)

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Alright I’m not going to lie. For some reason my panties are in a bunch for Caleb and the Caroling Caravan. I wrote about Caleb’s previous Christmas song outing here. When he’s not coming up with ornate arrangements of traditional Christmas songs, playing all the instruments, directing the “choir”, or writing his own holiday numbers Caleb can be found around Boston playing as Happiest Lion (review here). The 2010 release Mammoth Moon by Happiest Lion is available here via Bandcamp.

Usually I’d just tack this on to the ever evolving Songs:Illinois Christmas mix (and I will) but this deserves it’s own post. To quote myself:

If I were to rename this blog I think something like “Awkward Dude With Guitar…” might be apropo. Some of the best music of the last few decades could be described as such. Think Bob Dylan, Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, etc., etc. I’m not saying Happiest Lion is in the same category as those guys but he’s at least on the same planet. Happiest Lion is Caleb Groh.

I feel that “Christmas is the Best” is the unofficial title track. It’s theme of friendship and gathering together in celebration as the main idea behind Christmas is universal and comes though on this joyous track (the choir is 14 members strong and aside from the bass Caleb plays all the instruments). The bonus song is Caleb’s cover of the 1864 carol “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”. Buy Vol. II of the Christmas collection here and name your own price via Bandcamp.

Christmas is the Best [Download]

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day [Download]

Videos from Mammoth Lion:

“Lo in the Leaves”

“Pretty Deep Thoughts…”

**Best of 2010 Repost Series** Chris Coole’s “Old Dog”

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Chris Coole has been a victim of bad timing. His release Old Dog was released at the very end of 2009 and didn’t make it into that years “best of” yearly roundup. So I thought that I would add it to the best music featured on Songs:Illinois in 2010 since it’s such a wonderful record, is completely independent, and has stuck with me now for a good solid year. I’m going to combine the two reviews I wrote for it below and link to two of the songs on there. You simply must buy this record though!


A couple weeks back Canadian based blogs Herohill, Slowcoustic, and Chicago based Song:Illinois (here) went a little overboard over Canadian singer-songwriter Cam Penner. There was some good natured ribbing and recrimination over the fact that I was first to discover this excellent Canadian singer-songwriter in their own backyard. Now I hate to say it but I’m going to do it again.

Chris Coole is a Toronto based clawhammer banjo player of some renown (in fact he may be one of the best in the world). He’s played with and for some great artists over the years (Jenny Whiteley, Jim Cuddy, Sylvia Tyson, and Justin Rutledge.) But it’s with this, his first solo record, Old Dog, that Chris has really stepped out/up. The album features 5 original songs as well as some traditional numbers and covers of songs by The Band, John Hartford and Dave Dudley. The record also features friends on fiddle, pedal steel, mandola, cello, and percussion. The song styles range from traditional folk to honky-tonk to contemporary bluegrass. I like that Old Dog has a nice, easy, casual feel. The record sounds organic and the songs are a natural for Chris’ laid back vocal delivery and masterful guitar/banjo playing.

It was hard to pick just one song since there’s a variety of styles on the record and since there are so many fine songs. But I forced myself to choose one and it’s the Chris Coole original “Hell To Pay” (although a close second was either the title track “Old Dog”, the duet called “The Bottle Got The Best Of Me” that reminded me of Prine/Dement, or the John Hartford cover “Wish We Had Our Time Together”).

Buy Old Dog here through Elderly Instruments.

Hell to Pay [Download]

Old Dog [Download]

Texas Gladden – “Whole Heap Of Little Horses”

Monday, December 13th, 2010

I’ve written about a lot of female artists over the years. I’ve compared many of them at one time or another to Gillan Welch, Joan Baez, Lucinda Williams, Dar Williams, etc., etc.). But I probably should have gone further back and compared them all to Texas Gladden (1895-1967). That’s how far back Joanna Newsom went when once asked about her influences.

Here’s a field recording of Grandma Texas Gladden singing a lullaby to her granddaughter. This is on a new compilation of Alan Lomaz field recordings on the Global Jukebox label.

Whole Heap Of Little Horses [Download]

Hello…anybody else out there?! New David Dondero record “A Pre-existing Condition” available now (Ghostmeat Records, Feb 22)

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Come on guys. I can’t do this all myself. There’s a new record by David Dondero called A Pre-Existing Condition and no one is writing about it. I wrote about it here first and expected that since then there would be a lot of coverage. No such luck.

I’m sorry that there are no remixes on here. And no, Kanye doesn’t guest on it. And it’s not on one of the “approved” indie labels. Posting about David Dondero’s music will not improve your ranking on Technorati, will not get you on the top blogs list on either Elbows or Hype, and will not lend you any indie cred (or any hits for that matter). There hasn’t been a big push by Team Clermont, Fanatic, and/or Shore Fire about the record, in fact the record label itself is a non-profit (can’t get any more indie than that!). But if you truly claim to write about important independent music and not simply the next hot trend band (Beach House, Teen Daze, Girl Talk, etc. etc.) you owe it to yourself and your readers to cover stuff like this.

Alright, rant over.

A good example of what David Dondero brings to the table is the title track “A Pre-existing Condition” which tears apart the American health care system…as well as the complete capitalistic nature of have’s and the have-not’s in this country. It’s an important song from one of the best, most prolific, busiest (he’s always on the road) artists of his generation.

The record can be purchased here through Ghostmeat Records.

Pre-Existing Condition [Download]

West coast folk collective Branches new EP “Cabin”

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about 2 new Christmas songs from the west coast folk collective known as Branches. But that’s not really the whole story on this band. They have just released their second ep and it’s fantastic. The three song ep is titled Cabin – probably from the Santa Cruz cabin the record was recorded in.

The song “In the Morning” has the handclaps all the indie kids go nuts for, harmonica reminiscent of Greenwich Village circa 1966, and a singalong chorus that wouldn’t be too out of place on an Arcade Fire b-side. The song only clocks in at a little over 2 minutes so you’ll really have to buy the whole ep (here via Bandcamp) to get the full effect of this rising band.

If you’re in the LA area check out the band this weekend at Hotel Cafe (Dec. 10).

In The Morning [Download]

Bonus Christmas songs:

O Come All Ye Faithful [Download]

Silent Night [Download]

**Best of 2010 Repost Series** – Sean Hayes “Run Wolves Run”

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I expect that each year Sean Hayes releases a record it’ll make my “best of repost series”. The combination of risk taking vocals and at times experimental found sounds and/or unusual percussion/instrument selection makes this Northern Californian singer/songwriter a perennial favorite.


I like Josh Rouse, Josh Ritter, Ron Sexsmith, Brett Dennen, Mason Jennings, Tom Brousseau, etc., etc., etc. Something about this group of guys with their unusual delivery, solid songwriting, and indie folk tendencies appeals to me. Sean Hayes deserves to be in that group, but I’m not sure if he is yet. His new record is due out March 16 and is titled Run Wolves Run. Perhaps with this release he’ll enter this upper stratosphere of singer-songwriters.

He does some unusual things with both of these songs off of Run Wolves Run. On “Garden” he uses an odd assortment of percussion, bass and guitar (including a slow searing electric lead). On “When We Fall In” the instrumentation is simple enough but this time he adds a slightly unusual call and response section. Point is Sean Hayes is willing to take risks with his music. Take a risk yourself and pre-order the new record here (there’s a cool option to get the vinyl, a download code and a free ep).

Garden [Download]

When We Fall In [Download]

Video for “Garden”

**Best of 2010 Repost Series** Adam Carroll and Michael O’Conoor – “Hard Times”

Monday, December 6th, 2010

I like to have these “best of” repost features to be mostly about sleepers. No one record is sleeping as soundly as Hard Times by the duo of Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor. Pick any song on the record and you’ll get moments of sheer poetic beauty.


I know that as a roots rock fan I should be bowing down to the alter of Ray Wylie Hubbard right about now. But I’d rather point out a record that tackles it’s subject with a relentless energy and one track mind and one that will no doubt be overshadowed by the new Ray Wylie Hubbard. That record is the new one from Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor called Hard Times. The result of their collaboration on this song cycle is a concept record that succeeds on a number of levels: lyrically, musically, and thematically.

If you remember your 8th grade research paper than you’ll remember your teacher imploring you to narrow down your topic. Here’s what she probably said: “No, baseball is not a good topic”, “No, the Texas Rangers doesn’t count”, and finally “Yes, a statistical evaluation of Nolan Ryan’s no-hitters will work.”

I think Adam Carroll and Michael O’Connor must have gone through the same process. First they probably thought about doing a record about the recession, then narrowed it down to hard times in Texas, and then narrowed it even further geographically to the Gulf Coast of Texas and then finally to a very particular creature: the “Gulf Coast Losers”.

I suppose this song cycle written and sung by any other artist might be seen as insensitive, crass, and/or exploitative. But these songs are so expertly wrought in such fine detail that I figure at least half of them are autobiographical in nature. And the other half, while flights of imagination, are fine examples of the state we’re all in. Plus at least half of these sad sacks are lovable losers. The other half are simply contending with a miserable economy compounded by their own poor decisions.

Sampling of just some of the deft lyrics:

“One eyed Wanda said she’d pass the jar up and down the bar, she said she’d shake it like she did when she had the other eye”
“I’m tired of myself, tired of pissing through the same small hole”
“With a bar tab twice as long as Billy Gibbons beer”
“The president said we’d all be fine if we bend all over and take it up the behind”

When I asked to post a song from this record Adam Carroll suggested “Bernadine”. I wish I could share the 10 other songs with you as well. They’re that good. Buy the whole record here via Lone Star Music.

Bernadine [Download]

**Best of 2010 Repost Series** Anais Mitchell – “Hadestown”

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas songs. I’ve done that already. It’s time to recap the year in music. I don’t do “best of” lists; instead I repost some of the best music I’ve written about for the year. I don’t think you’ll find many of these on any other “best of” year-end lists. They simply fly too far under the radar, are too challenging, and at times too unorthodox to make such lists.

With that said Aniais Mitchell’s folk-rock opera Hadestown is a good place to start. Hadestown was released in January on Ani DiFranco’s label Righteous Babe Records. Buy this record, some would say masterpiece, at Amazon here.


I usually don’t jump at writing about press releases (in fact I get so few since I unsubscribed to just about every email list) but there are a few people that I still listen to. So when I read about something new from Anaïs Mitchell by way of Thirty Tigers it was news to rejoice to. The new record Hadestown is a recording of her adaptation of the greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. I’ve heard a song or two in person and they are special and unique in the world of music. How can they not be? The songs that make up her folk opera, which is based on a story thousands of years old, use the folk idium to loosely tell a story that bends and twists in ways that are unique and challenging.

As a result on the song “Way Down” you get Tom Waitsesque vocals, muted trumpet, an angelic choir and Anaïs’ own unique vocal delivery.

Way Down [Download]

P.S. Anaïs Mitchell will join about a hundred other folk artists this February 17-21 in Memphis, TN for the annual folk pilgrimage known as Folk Alliance.

Annie Keating – “Long Shot”

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I don’t have much time today, but I did want to leave you with one song from the new Annie Keating record. Like Mary Gauthier, Zoe Muth, and Gina Villalobos, Annie Keating treads quietly with reserve and compassion in the female americana scene. She has a husky voice delivered over a layered musical bed of twangy guitar and mid tempo beats.

“Long Shot” is off her just released record Water Tower View; get it here via CdBaby.

Long Shot [Download]