Peter Mayer : Awake

To celebrate the arrival of my first Peter Mayer CD (Million Year Mind) in the mail earlier today,

here’s a live version of his song Awake (not on that CD). It’s a fine, lovely and thoughtful song with some mighty fine guitar work.

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer : Gentle Arms Of Eden

This song was newly written at the time of this recording at Sisters Folk Festival in Sisters, OR. It also appeared on the last album Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer should record together before Carter’s death in 2002, Drum Hat Buddha. Read my review of their album Seven Is The Number here

Bill Morrissey : Birches

To celebrate the occasion of ordering my first CD by Bill Morrissey (who I wasn’t aware of until a few weeks ago), his collaboration with Greg Brown titled Friend Of Mine, here’s his track Birches (not on Friend Of Mine).

Dave Van Ronk : Cocaine Blues

About time I’m posting a video/song by Dave Van Ronk on here, this one from his fantastic ‘Inside Dave Van Ronk’ (THE album to get if you only get one of his records – and I suggest you do) record. Have been listening to (and enjoying it a lot) this album again these past few days. I really should be writing something about it for this blog, if I could only find the time. Well, someday, I promise. Anyway, enjoy!

He was the inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis btw. – a film I have yet to see I have to admit.

 

 

Joshua James – Doctor Oh Doctor

A new discovery through Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids (where he’s playing on the 16th of this month) for me, although he’s been around since 2007 and did release his most recent album back in 2012. Haven’t got that yet but I will be writing about it on here in the near future I guess. This track is splendid and lovely.

 

The Pines : Tremolo and Dark So Gold

The Pines are the next in a line of great artists out of the Midwest scene that brought us Greg Brown, Dave Moore and Bo Ramsey, all artists I hold in very high regard indeed, as you will undoubtedly have noticed if you visited my blog before (see here, here or here or have a look at my tag cloud). Not only share two members of the Pines the surname with Bo Ramsey, they are indeed his sons Benson and Alex. Benson is one of two principal songwriters alongside David Huckfelt, his brother Alex can be heard on keyboards and piano. They are based in Minneapolis, also home to their label Red House Records. I have to applaud The Pines for chosing Red House as their label home anyway, as it is perhaps not one of the hippest labels to be on if you are young musicians (which they are). Which of course isn’t to say Red House isn’t a good label as far as I’m concerned, just the opposite as I have come to have a tremendous love for a lot of their artists (and I am by far not finished exploring their roster in more detail).

The fact that the Ramsey brothers and Huckfelt hail from Iowa is very much in evidence in their music and extends to the cover design of both records that feature barns, scarecrows, fields and woods. Given their ages, naturally their sound is a tad more modern than that of the artists mentioned above, although it has to be said, rather marginally so.

Having found out about the Ramsey brothers involvement in The Pines somewhere I wasted no time to do a bit of research and luckily found the live in studio recording of one of Dark So Gold’s best tracks All The While (see my post from a few weeks ago) and I have to say that the live version is actually even a bit better than the one on the album, as it is a perfect rendition with a superb arrangement (see the outstanding and understated percussion work of drummer J.T. Bates for example).

 

The Pines Dark So Gold album cover jpeg

Dark So Gold (2012)

Their style can be described as Gothic Americana Folk, with some moderate blues leanings, and it’s fitting then that I hear traces of Sixteen Horsepower in a number of songs, most notably Be There In Bells, which is one of the few tracks on either album which could almost be described as a rock song – thankfully, and surprisingly given their young age, in my opinion is the fact that they totally avoid the temptation to ‘rock out’ and make do without the usual distorted guitars that more often than not go with bands their age – I for one am very happy about that.

Others hear traces of Ryan Adams in Benson Ramsey’s vocal delivery (Rob at 45spins), a comparison they can probably live with well too, I should imagine.

As mentioned above, instead of turning up their amps, they fortunately prefer to imbue their music with melancholy and a rather peaceful (if sometimes a tad moody), dreamy atmosphere and introspective and rather soft arrangements that don’t sound one bit lifeless or dull. Things are helped further by the skilful acoustic-electric guitar interplay and Alex Ramsey’s keyboard/piano sounds. In contrast to the predecessor Tremolo the band also took on a more hands-on role with producing the album that shows how much they have grown together as a band. Three tracks, Moonrise, IA , Grace Hill and album closer Losing the Stars are rather short instrumental tracks, short in length maybe but high on ambience. Other highlights for me on Dark So Gold are the dark opener Cry Cry Crow, the lovely and slightly uptempo If By Morning and the rather optimistic and catchy and folky Chimes.

 

The Pines Tremolo Cover jpeg

Tremolo, the 2009 predecessor to Dark So Gold doesn’t sound much different compared to their latest release. The main difference being the fact that at this stage The Pines were actually a duo comprised of Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt also most of the other musicians that can be heard on Dark So Gold are on here as well. Also noteworthy and clearly audible is the bigger role Bo Ramsey does play on here. This can most outstandingly heard on Behind The Time which features one of his trademark sparse, understated and soulful electric guitar solos that literally make the hairs on my arms stand up almost every time I listen to the song – nobody I can think of on top of my head can do that sort of thing better than him. He also does provide the beautiful Weissenborn that can be heard on Lonesome Tremolo Blues.Alex Ramsey’s keyboards are given slightly more space to shape a couple of songs, namely a contemporary update of Mississippi John Hurt’s Spike Driver Blues and album closer Shiny Shoes. The album is chock-full of excellent songs, I especially love the exceedingly tuneful (and fittingly accompanied by brushed drums and/or percussion) songs such as Heart & Bones, Meadows of Dawn and Skipper And His Wife – the latter being written by Spider John Koerner, apparently a semi-legendary Folk artist I wasn’t familiar with at all until recently, but one I will most definitely be investigating in more detail in the near future – Skipper And His Wife being an absolutely wonderful song, although the arrangement on here I suppose is quite different from his.

The Pines offer a very welcome alternative to the myriad Alternative bands around – theirs is not the sound of an urban generation but decidedly just the opposite. Their voice is one infused with true values and a rural background which is pervading pretty much every inch of their sound and making them something rather special and absolutely cherishable in today’s music scene.

http://www.thepinesmusic.com

 

 

Rachel Ries : Laurel Lake EP

The first time I ever heard of Rachel Ries was spotting this poster in late September in a shop window in Fairfield, Iowa, announcing here show there a few days later.

Rachel Ries show poster

Unfortunately I couldn’t hang around to go and catch that show as I had to continue my travels, so I decided to check her out later that evening in my motel room on the internet. I quickly found her bandcamp page and discovered the Laurel Lake EP. I immediately liked what I heard (a lot), especially Letting You In, which took hold of my heart immediately. It took me until last week to finally get around to buying the EP and now I am sad I didn’t discover her fine work earlier, when I would have had the chance to buy one of the 417 CD’s with handsewn covers, so now I am left with a considerably less nice burned CD, oh well.

The music however does make amends for that somewhat. It’s excellent stuff from start to finish. The songs on the EP were played and recorded alone by Rachel Ries in a house next to Laurel Lake in Tennessee and the EP was originally released in early 2012. It starts with I’ve Forgiven Time of which I am especially fond of the accordion/acoustic guitar arrangement and her vocals are shown at their most expressive (on this EP anyway). Holiest Day might be my favourite song on the EP at the moment, a quiet, gentle song with reflective lyrics and a mood that could almost be described as pastoral, it’s utterly lovely. As mentioned above, Letting You In was the first song of the EP I loved – and I still very much do, it’s possibly the most upbeat and cute song (at least musically) on here, starting off with a single keyboard/electric piano accompaniment and then the build-up from a clean to a mildly distorted electric guitar. The lyrics on the other hand are making clear that she’s not exactly a happy camper, describing feelings of guilt and regret  ‘… I know I am to blame, I left my bike in the rain and snow, through seasons I watch it rust and fade, I know I am to blame…’. Top song, that.

Next song Willow sees her straying on slightly darker ground, the stark, bleak lyrics only increasing the song’s dramatic atmosphere – all in a low-key way of course, no post-rock crescendos to be found on here of course. You Can Go is even more downbeat in mood and theme – from the first time I heard it I had to think about some of my feelings during the slow death of my mother a few years ago, although I may be misinterpreting the lyrics which seem to be about letting somebody go you feel close to. It’s haunting, but all the better for it.

Standing Still brings this 22minute EP to a rather conciliatory close, with a mellow, sunny feeling – although the lyrics feature tornadoes.

I am very glad I stumbled upon this poster, who knows if I would have ever heard about this extraordinary new(ish, she has released a few albums in her career) voice in the Alternative Folk-Rock scene otherwise. Her, undoubtedly equally fine, new album Ghost Of A Gardener will be released on February 18, 2014, and I guess you will be able to find a review of it on here then. In the meantime, if this sounds like the kind of music you are interested in, do yourself a favor and head over to Rachel’s Bandcamp page http://rachelries.bandcamp.com and check out this gem of an EP full of homemade charm.

For more information check out her website at http://www.rachelries.com

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer : Seven Is The Number

Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer : Seven Is The Number

(2006 Tracy Grammer)

I hadn’t heard about Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer at all until a few weeks ago, when the album was recommended to me by iTunes (of all things, oh well, at least Apple is good for something). As (to my knowledge) it isn’t available on CD anymore, I had to make do with downloading it, which I normally try to avoid if at all possible as I greatly prefer CD’s/LP’s, old-fashioned as I am. They were only active together from 1998 up to his death at the too-early age of 49 back in 2002, but Tracy Grammer released Seven is The Number after his death and has by now found a home at Red House Records, as always one of the finest purveyors of fine Folk albums so that is a nice fit. In US American Folk circles they achieved quite a bit of renown and went on tour with John Baez in 2002 – but all of that hadn’t reached me, but better late than never.

If you, like I was, are new to their music, the album opener and title track is a good pointer to what you can expect, both lyrically and musically. Instead of some dumb 666 Satan crap as you find on stupid rock albums here seven is the number for mankind with all its weak and strong points that clearly was/is of great concern to them. I am not sure of there’s some direct lyrical connection to some religious or spiritual belief or work, from what I read on their Wikipedia page Dave Carter was very much influenced by spiritual and mystical works, so that might be the case. The track is also rather short, and therefore almost seems like a statement of intent to me.

The sound throughout the album is airy and light, (which isn’t meant in a derogatory way at all) and dominated by Carter’s soft, gentle voice, with him playing the guitar and doing most of the lead vocals with Tracy Grammer mainly playing the violin – very fine indeed, as on, what is possibly the most melancholic song on the album, Red (Elegy), although a certain downbeat, sad feeling is evident on most of the songs on the album. Pretty much the only exception being the Hillbilly sounds of Texas Underground, a song possibly not meant to be taken too seriously, about a daytime nightmare, the devil and ‘… a smokin’ little band with a Country sound…’, done in the Carter/Grammer way as Carter most definitely didn’t possess any of Steve Earle’s raucous tough guy image. With regards to the possible involvement of other musicians I can’t really be certain, as I haven’t got a booklet and so am short on more background information, but there’s various other instruments to be heard, such as the mandolin on Gas Station Girl.

Instantly my favorite track became The Promised Land (it also went straight onto my Desert Island Playlist). It’s slightly more uptempo than most of the other songs on the album and a tune that found its way straight into my heart and refuses to get out. That haunting organ in the background is just too beautiful. Lyrically, it’s touching story about people on the fringes of the American society ‘I’m just doing what I do best, running with the devil and the dispossessed, waiting on a mission trying to make a plan, chasing my angel through the promised land’. The lovely following Hey Tonya is a tad more relaxed and also permeated with a touch of sadness. Gas Station Girl was actually the first song I heard of theirs, I couldn’t resist checking out a song with a title like that, could I? Glad I did though, as it’s a excellent, relaxed Country waltz, complete with mandolin, lyrics about long interstate drives and ‘the lips of a gas station girl’ – (classic theme, isn’t it).

Words fail me how to adequately describe the beauty of next track Long Black Road Into Tulsa Town, it’s unremarkable enough stylistically, just another slow Folk ballad, but that chorus is just heavenly, full of emotion, meaning and, for me at least, it’s impossible to be utterly captivated by lines like ‘… states of misery, states of grace, trouble and joy on a young man’s face, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, take me down that long black road into Tulsa Town…’. Wonderful.

Working For Jesus is a gorgeous tune too, it’s about a couple probably not looking eye to eye when it comes to the religious beliefs. Gun Metal Eyes is yet another song made that good by the story being told about an Indian meeting his fate in a confrontation with a company of loggers and the police – very poetic from start to finish and a new spin on the old story of confrontation between white people and Native Indians, ending as you would expect.

One doesn’t have to think too hard about who Carter and Grammer’s sympathize with, and it’s also got a nice Southwestern touch which is very well suited to the song’s theme. The album closes with Sarah Turn ‘Round of which I can’t say much more than that it’s beautiful, it sounds rather optimistic and sunny, in contrast to most other songs on Seven is The Number.

As I said before, the album isn’t exactly easy to come by, but everybody into music steeped in 60’s Folk traditions (I am more than once reminded of Arlo Guthrie’s work), should definitely check this very fine album out. Let Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer calm your soul and make your day a better one – at least for the 47 minutes Seven Is the Number lasts and most probably even longer than that.