It’s not just laziness that’s making me cut these down, but a desire to cover as much as possible when there so much music and so little time. [Well, to be fair, there’s time, but we’re killing it on the porch smoking and drinking.—Mimi] Some things to add to your list to pick up the next time you’re at your local record shop or killing time in iTunes when you should be working: The Avett Brothers, Amy LaVere, The Robber Barons and the Hackensaw Boys.
Avett Bros. – Emotionalism
Honestly, I’m sparing you with this short review. Or sparing Mimi anyway. We already know that I can completely spaz over this band. The new album, Emotionalism, is no exception.
Overall it’s less frenetic than Four Thieves Gone or any of their previous albums. Not mellowed exactly but a change for the good. If nothing else, please get “Die Die Die” off iTunes, but the whole album is well worth the investment of your time and money.
“Die Die Die” and “The Ballad of Love and Hate” are the songs I’m currently utterly swooning over. The first is a bouncy, almost cheerful sounding reflection on mortality and how no one knows what happens when you go. It’s full of the jangly, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink folk sound you’ve come to expect from these boys, though more insightful, perhaps, than their songs of lost love. “Love and Hate” is an amazement of love and hate personified. The song tells the tale of their interactions with each other as Love opens herself to all possibilities and Hate self-destructs and tries to take everyone else down with him. [I feel this is an allegory that we should be paying attention to, but like all insight, I’d rather watch Cops.–Mimi] It’s slow and as reminiscent of a folk tale as it is a folk song.
Both “The Weight of Lies” and “Shame” are darker, grimmer than I’m used to from the Avetts. “Weight” tells us that we can’t escape from who are, no matter how far we run. “Shame” is full of its title as the singer realizes that he was a jackass and maybe can’t do anything to repair the damage. The songs are slow and carefully picked out on the guitar. There’s a smoothness to them that makes you realize how much music grows and changes even when played by the same musicians. These boys are definitely growing from a sprout of an interesting sound into a formidable tree of musicianship. [HAHAHA. That metaphor is fail. Can we insert catmacros into these reviews?–Mimi]
I’ll refrain from listing every fabulous quality of every song in detail, suffice to say you really seriously need to have this album; it’s an awesome achievement, hopefully loved by old fans of the band and a good introduction for new ones. [I haven’t heard this album, but their previous stuff always makes me feel like I’m walking down Main Street USA in Disneyland, which gives them a shiny star in my book.–Daisy]
Amy LaVere – Anchors & Anvils
I wavered over this– I couldn’t write a full review of this because I don’t love it enough, but it’s really growing on me with repeated listenings. It’s taken me a bit to figure out what’s bugging me about the record. She has a breathy, little girl kind of voice that becomes almost creepy with subject matter she sings about. But that’s the problem. I want it creepier. Her voice is suited to a darker, rougher, old-time sound. The album almost catches it, but it’s too slick, sounds too over-produced. I’d love to see Miss Amy live with perhaps only her upright bass and an acoustic guitar played along side.
The most standout songs on this album are the ones she wrote herself, “Killing Him,” “Overcome” and “Cupid’s Arrow.” Her lyrics are dark and the music works well with them, although maybe not perfectly.
“Pointless Drinking” is a good old sad song, leaning more on jazz and torch songs than country, though Chris Scrugg’s steel playing firmly sets it on the twang side of music.
Pick up Anchors & Anvils. It has garnered glowing reviews elsewhere, and I think it’s a great start, but I am definitely waiting to hear more from LaVere as she finds her sound and settles into it. And I’ll be seeking out her debut album, This World is Not My Home in hopes of a slightly rougher sound to go with her voice.
Robber Barons – Kerosene Communion</em>
Kerosene Communion is very Western, in a rock kind of way and also in a totally Old West kind of way. Think good 80s alternative music tied neatly up with a healthy dose of twang. It’s sharp, electric and new. Yet somehow it manages to carry the voice of 100+ years of history with it. Americana infused with punk sensibilities with lyrics that seem to come from a good Gothic novel about the Old West. [There are good Gothic novels? I protest this untruthiness!–Mimi] The album puts me on an old steam train, carrying my few possessions and wearing my one good dress and bonnet as I head for San Francisco to meet my merchant husband who has gone out to make his fortune off the influx of gold prospectors. A time when desperate people left the east hoping to find a better life, quite literally the original American dream, and there’s a certain sense of hope that permeates it all–despite the dust and the terrible conditions and the leap into the great unknown of your own future.
The Hawaiian guitar on the opening of “Slide on a Rail” pulls me right in. It’s real alternative country in the sense of using what’s traditionally expected from country music to make a different kind of music that will appeal to an audience very distinct from country radio listeners. The lyrics are neat, though gloomy, match to the sound.
“Mountain Time” kicks it up a bit and makes me a little desperate to be driving through the Rockies on wild trip with a romantic interest doomed to fail. I’m not sure I can find musical comparisons for this band. It’s not so much that they are all over the place, or completely original, but they aren’t as classified as the (mostly unclassifiable) music I cover here.
The album closes out with “Bare November Days” which kicks the leaves right off my fantasies of gallivanting through the West. It’s chill and empty in a way that’s still completely satisfying. The fiddle has the sound of solitude and the mountains I’ve been envisioning all through the album, but in this song the mountains are now dark and waiting for the heavy snowfall of winter.
This is a mood-setting album for loneliness and remembered goodbyes. It’ plays well on a dreary, overcast summer afternoon, but I think I’ll be pulling into much heavier rotation on cold, sad winter nights. Get a copy yourself, so you’re prepared for those days when we’re all huddled up in blankets and drinking hot cider. [Because we don’t have heat.–Mimi]
Hackensaw Boys – Look Out!
One thing I know for absolute sure is the Hackensaw Boys recent release, Look Out! is definitely not hangover music. It’s upbeat, or more precisely, up-tempo. Even the slowest songs are toe-tapping to the point of being bouncy. A couple tracks strike me like they were recorded by some guys who listened to speed metal as teenagers and never quite lost the pace, even after they started playing old-timey music.
Their sound is reminiscent of Old Crow Medicine Show although there’s a more genuine quality to the Hackensaws that I don’t hear from OCMS. If you think you like OCMS, I’d put the Hackensaw Boys out as an improved alternative. (Yeah, I don’t know exactly what I have against OCMS, but they rub me the wrong way.) [I don’t like them either.–Mimi] Standout tracks from Look Out! are “Baltimore,” “Oh Girl,” “Sally Ann,” and “Hobo” on which Tom Peloso of Modest Mouse sings. Good on him for sticking with bands he’s previously been in and keeping his musical world wide and varied. Bad on me, and probably a bunch of other reviewers, for mentioning him and not giving props to the rest of the band, who surely deserve it even more.
The Hackensaws have been in heavy rotation for me for a few weeks now but, again, this is an album that requires a specific mood. It didn’t click with me on first listen and I almost didn’t give it a second chance. For me this album requires late afternoon on a sunny day, a beer in hand, and many long, uninterrupted hours on the porch and watching the world go by. [Or the drunks stumble by, which is often the case.—Mimi] Fortunately, I live in a place where all those things are easy to come by. There are still many long slow days of summer left, so I suggest running out and getting this album and setting your own toes a-tappin’.
Hmm, it’s probably best that I didn’t bother to look up any bios of the band before writing this. Otherwise you’d have gotten nothing but some squealing about how damn cute all those boys are. Dayum. [Wait, what? goes and looks AWESOME! We are so seeing them live.—Mimi]