Glenn Jones : Bergen County Farewell

This post is partly meant as a reminder to myself that I have to check out Glenn Jones’  latest album ‘My Garden State’ which was released in May of this year on Thrill Jockey.

As of yet I know only very little about him, apparently his work does belong to the school of American Primitivism – of which I don’t really know anything either, but I will someday soon.

 

For R.

John Prine : Souvenirs

JP_Souvenirs

 

John Prine : Souvenirs

(2000, Oh Boy Records)

 ‘Fifteen new recordings of classic songs’ – that’s what the front cover states, so far, so good. What it doesn’t say is how excellent these new versions are.

Recorded in ‘Cowboy’ Jack Clement’s The Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa in Nashville the sound is excellent. What we get is mainly John Prine and his finger-picked acoustic guitar at his best, augmented by a select cast of uniformly accomplished musicians (just listen to Angel from Montgomery) on the usual instruments in that Singer-Songwriter/Folk/Country context (electric guitars, bass, mandolin, fiddle and accordion and so on). All very well and nice to have, but that wouldn’t count for much, wouldn’t he write such damn good songs. I don’t own all of his records (yet) so I can’t say which songs he left out I would have loved to have on here as well – apart from one and that is Daddy’s Little Pumpkin (from The Missing Years), given that that version is already so perfect maybe it’s better it isn’t done here again. As far as I’m aware, it’s note one of his most popular songs, but it is my favorite.

The album starts with Souvenirs (from Diamonds in the Rough), setting the course of the album nicely, his gravelly voice, a lovely acoustic guitar only backed by an electric guitar and a little bit of bass and mandolin – the sound as pure and clear as a fine winter morning. Next song Fish And Whistle (from his 1978 album Bruised Orange) features some fine accordion backing, and is one of the more Country-influenced songs on Souvenirs (together with Grandpa Was A Carpenter and Please Don’t Bury Me).

Far From Me (from the first, self titled album) which was also recorded by Justin Townes Earle on Broken Hearts And Dirty Windows in a mighty fine version, but the version on here is far more melancholic, which suites the lyrics of the theme better. It’s about a couple going through something of a rough patch (‘…. Well. Ya know, she still laughs with me But she waits just a second too long…’), but the way the song is set (with him picking her, a waitress, up at the end of her shift) is one of the best examples of Prine’s songwriting capabilities – it just begs to be given a cinematic treatment, at least I can imagine a short film/music video version perfectly well. Next track Angel From Montgomery, which I was familiar with from a radically different, but excellent version by Canadian outfit The Leslie Spit Treeo (anybody remember then?), is a slow ballad, augmented by the lovely interplay between pedal steel guitar and mandolin.

The following Donald & Lydia is another prime example of why Prine is regarded so highly as a songwriter, the lyrics mirroring American small-town life perfectly, it’s about a would-be couple that tragically never meet in real life although they only live a few miles apart and are both dreaming about finding love (‘They made love in the mountains They made love in the streams They made love in the valleys They made love in their dreams But when they were finished there was nothing to say ‘cause mostly they made love from ten miles away’) – how touching is that?

Grandpa Was A Carpenter is an old-timey Country tune with a prominent fiddle and suitably rustic, old-style lyrics (‘Well he used to sing me ‘Blood On the Saddle’ And rock me on his knee And let me listen to the radio Before we got T.V. Well, he’s drive to church on Sundays And he’d take me with him too Stained glass in every window Hearing aids in every pew…’) – proving that he can do both sad, melancholic and upbeat, good-natured songs equally well.

The Late John Garfield Blues is another highlight for me – slow, quite melancholic and with a lovely tune, one of his finest songs if you ask me.

But it’s next song Blue Umbrella, which I probably love best on here – just John Prine, his voice and a picked acoustic guitar – actually pretty much the only things he needs to sing his songs write into my heart.

Six O’Clock News is one of the saddest songs on here, telling the sad story (‘… The Whole town saw Jimmy On the six o’clock news His brains were on the sidewalk And Blood Was on his shoes…’) of young James Lewis, son of Wanda, and it’s also one of the loveliest arranged one, I very much like the interplay between the electric lead guitar, accordion and piano.

Well, what’s to say about Sam Stone? Another, and probably, if I am informed correctly, one of his best known songs (covered by the likes of Johnny Cash) about a war veteran (most probably from the Vietnam war), coming home with military accolades, but also an addiction to morphine which ends with his overdose – not very surprising it was/is so popular in the US, very sad indeed – I am especially moved by the line (‘… While the kids ran around wearing other People’s clothes…’), a great song, that.

Next to last song Please Don’t Bury me is another slightly faster and good-natured song with a ueber-catchy chorus. I have to admit that I actually like the version on his first album of album closer Hello In There a tad better – an excellent song and the lyrics are a very good example of his maturity in both outlook on life and as a songwriter, even at an early stage in his career (he was only in his mid-twenties when that album was released in 1971).

A lot of catching up for me left to do I guess, when it comes to his work, as I only own this album, The Missing Years and the first album so far.

 

Josh Ritter : The Beast In Its Tracks

Cover of The Beast In Its Tracks (LP)

 

Josh Ritter  : The Beast In Its Tracks

(2013 Pytheas Recordings/YepRoc Records)

Josh Ritter’s return after the lushly produced and arranged So Runs The World Away from 2010 is a much more restrained affair, featuring the usual bunch of talented musicians, nowadays known as The Royal City Band.  As it is a break-up album, written and recorded after his marriage with fellow singer/songwriter Dawn Landes fell apart, it’s supposed to sound much sadder or more depressed than The Beast In Its Tracks actually does.

Yes, the arrangements are a quite stripped down and many of the songs are slow – but despite the lyrics reflecting the theme of a break up they don’t really sound all that melancholic. Take Nightmares for example – it’s a splendid song with a lovely tune and some fine solo acoustic guitar work by Josh Ritter himself augmented by a bit of keyboard and a bass guitar. What I always liked a lot about Josh Ritter is his voice, at once sounding resonant and full as well as neutral, with none of the extreme characteristics of people such as Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits.

The album starts with the (very short) acoustic guitar/vocal song Third Arm, which nicely fades into second song Evil Eye, like almost all songs on The Beast… dominated by an acoustic guitar and a great tune. Next song A Certain Light is probably my fave song on the album, one of the loveliest – in a bittersweet kind of way – songs I heard in a long time, the lyrics telling about a new love he found, but as ‘she only looks like you in a certain kind of light’ implies, he’s still thinking about the love he lost a great deal.

Hopeful is probably the only song on here I don’t quite like too much, although it’s pleasant enough on its own right – but it’s just not AS good as the other songs. New Lover is one of the most fully arranged songs (together with Joy To You Baby and Hopeful) in a conventional Folk-Pop/Rock sense, with proper drums and intertwined guitar lines almost giving the song a nice Ambient-ish feel. I also love the last line ‘… but if you’re sad and lonely and you got nobody true I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too’.

Heart’s Ease features no less than four guitars all played rather delicately, so it’s by no means a rock-song. In Your Arms Again is maybe the most folky-sounding song on the album, slightly up-tempo with a light, airy feel to it. Maybe even more of a fave of mine than A Certain Light is The Appleblossom Rag, albeit in a very different way. It’s just a quiet song with just an acoustic guitar, Ritter’s voice and some kind of background noise, according to the liner-notes ‘gossip’, but actually more sounding like noise made in a kitchen, with rattling cups and such. I could listen to it for ages (I do that, actually). Afterwards, things get a tad more lively, starting with Bonfire, again a slightly folky, acoustic song, but more up-tempo and with equipped with a gorgeous tune.

Next track In Your Arms Again is as muck Rock as it gets on The Beast In Its Tracks, featuring almost a full drum set, although it’s only a bass and a snare drum (if I am not mistaken) and some background vocals giving it a rather full sound, compared to most of the other tracks on here. Next to last song Joy To You Baby is a summery, laid-back Folk-Pop tune and album closer Lights might be the most obviously melancholic track on the album.

As I mentioned, the direction is a bit of a surprise after So the World Runs Away, but nevertheless The Beast In Its Tracks is once again a fully convincing album by one of the best of the current young-ish crop of songwriters, and one I while most definitely be enjoying for ages.

Sam Doores + Riley Downing & The Tumbleweeds : Daytrotter Studio 4/10/2013

Sam Doores + Riley Downing & the Tumbleweeds

I have been following Sam Doores & the Tumbleweeds for quite some time now, but still have to buy their first album Holy Cross Blues. So this Daytrotter session will have to do for the moment, but it’s a mighty fine one in any case.

None of the four tracks on here does disappoint: I already was familiar with the first one on this session (from the band’s Reverbnation/Facebook music player)  Throw Another Cap On the Fire , it’s reproduced here immaculately. It’s a swinging Country & Western tune dominated by a steel guitar, with a harmonica solo and a super-catchy hookline. The lead vocals are by Riley Downing, who’s got a husky, smoky voice of the Tom Waits variety (although not quite as gruff), very much suited to the Cowboy lyrics of the song (‘as I stared out ‘cross the prairie searching for what I can’t say I know, Bourbon won’t you warm my soul like sunshine’).

The next song Alligator Shoes is a slowly shuffling and slightly brooding track with a  spooky guitar solo. Alligator Man (the band are from New Orleans, in case you haven’t guessed so already), in contrast, is more up-tempo and upbeat with the happy fiddle providing the outstanding musical flavor – it’s short, snappy and could surely be a first rate feelgood hit – in a backwater world with good taste at least.

I Got Found is a slow song steeped in gospel stylings and I can’t help thinking about the chain gang scene at the beginning of the Coen Brother’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? listening to it – it should also be a sure highlight in their live set.

With this short 4 track session Sam Doores + Riley Downing & The Tumbleweeds prove to be an outstanding and highly original new act on the Alt-Country scene, with a sound clearly informed by their hometown. And, as should also be evident, a highly entertaining live act.

http://www.samdoores.com/