Album: Long Day in the Milky Way Artist: Kris Delmhorst Release Date: August 14, 2020 Label: Big Bean Music Favorite Tracks:
“Wind’s Gonna Find a Way”
“Nothing “Bout Nothing”
Thoughts: I first learned of Kris Delmhorst when she was playing gigs in Somerville, MA just after I moved there in the late 90s. Her albums Five Stories and Songs for a Hurricane area among my all-time favorites. But I totally missed it when her most recent album was released last August.
The album features Delmhorst’s typically well-crafted songs. I particularly like the harmonies of Rose Polenzani, Rose Cousins, and Annie Lynch on back-up vocals. But with very few exceptions the songs are all slow tempo, and just not as engaging as I’d expect. The music is pretty though, and the lyrics offer flashes of hope and healing in troubled times.
Album: Shore Artist: Fleet Foxes Release Date: September 22, 2020 Label: Anti Favorite Tracks:
Can I Believe You
A Long Way Past the Past
I think this is what they call “headphone music” because the rich instrumentation and lush harmonies of Fleet Foxes become readily when pressed up against one’s ears. There’s a definite warmth to the album which according to the band’s frontman, Robin Pecknold “celebrate “life in the face of death.” And so I can say “it speaks to our time of COVID” for about the 100th time in this blog. But if good art is one of the few worthwhile things that the pandemic brings us, then I will accept that.
Blitzen Trapper has always sounded a bit like a throwback band, but on this album they explore a folk rock/alt country sound reminiscent of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Doubly so because the album draws inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead which was also popular during the psychedelic era. Nevertheless, whatever deep metaphysical thoughts are in the lyrics, the tunes are warm and breezy and a pleasure to listen to.
Album:Dandelion Artist: Carolina Story Release Date: September 4, 2020 Label: Black River Americana Favorite Tracks:
Light of the Moon
Lay Me Down Easy
Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s I was deeply invested in the contemporary Folk/Folk Rock/Folk Pop/Americana, etc. scenes. Eventually I drifted away, partly because everything started sounding the same and I wanted to hear something different. Hearing Carolina Story reminds me of the excitement of discovering something new during the height of my folkie days.
The duo is the married couple Emily and Ben Roberts of Nashville. They remind me a little bit of Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer with more country twang and less mysticism. But the best thing about Carolina Story is that they interpret traditional folk sounds in a voice that’s completely their own. They are especially good using their voices to provide a wide range of expression and the instrumentation of the duo and their backing band is particularly rich.
Album: Put the Shine On Artist: CocoRosie Release Date: March 13, 2020 Label: Marathon Artists Favorite Tracks:
Lamb and the Wolf
Slow Down Sun Down
Sisters Bianca “Coco” Casady and Sierra “Rosie” Casady have been creating weird and eclectic music for nearly twenty years. Their style is basically Americana with electronic instruments and has been classified as New Weird America. This is their first album in five years. I find it hit or miss, or maybe it’s just that CocoRosie is better in small doses. Listening to the entire album all the way through and their weirdness starts to feel like an act. I particularly don’t like it much when the Casady sisters rap, but I do like their punk rock vocals. Nevertheless there are some good moments on this album when they achieve their peak fun and creativity.
Album: Unlovely Artist: The Ballroom Thieves Release Date: February 12, 2020 Label: Nettwerk Records Favorite Tracks:
I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended. Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time. The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.
Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies. I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:
We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light
The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.
This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.
The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”
Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights Artist: The New Pornographers Release Date: September 27, 2019 Favorite Tracks: “You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver,” “The Surprise Knock,” and “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile” Thoughts:
I’ve been a longtime fan of The New Pornographers but finding my enthusiasm for the Canadian band dwindling over there past few releases. This new album has everything one would expect of the New Pornographers, the unique mix of power pop and folk rock, harmonies, virtuoso instrumentation, and clever titles. The first three songs on the album are good, but there are no standout gems like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Challengers,” or “Crash Years.” The remainder of the album is just boring. I guess The New Pornographers and I have just drifted apart.
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Obserst have made a career of collaborating with other artists, so it’s natural that they ended up working with one another. Their new album is ten tracks of indie folk rock with sweet harmonies. The pair of singer/songwriters invest the lyrics with raw emotion that holds out hope for redemption.
Album: Remind Me Tomorrow Artist: Sharon Van Etten Release Date: January 18, 2019 Favorite Tracks:
I Told You Everything
No One’s Easy To Love
Van Etten’s first album in five years features folk song arrangements over synthesizers with lots of oscallation and distortion. The effect is atmospheric and emotionally piercing, especially the lyrics the focus on surviving trauma, falling in love again, and muddling through the ever-messy present. This is a terrific work that is worth multiple listens.
Artists:Fleet Foxes Album: Crack-Up Release Date: 16 June 2017 Favorite Tracks: “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar,” “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” and “Fool’s Errand” Thoughts: After a six-year absence, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes return with this brilliant collection of new tunes. The gorgeous harmonies expected from Fleet Foxes are still here. There’s also a lot of experimentation in crafting the songs, many of which are suites of songs that shift dramatically in tone, but not only enough to be disarming not to to annoy. The lyrics are dense and full of allusions, so much so that songwriter Robin Pecknold annotated the songs on Genius, but I find myself content letting the music wash over me. Crack-Up may not be everyone, but I find it the lovely end product of pushing folk rock to its limits.