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>  Longest Day of the Year, Turn Into the Ground     COLORADO MUSiC!

Very strong debut CD from a Boulder band of whom Greensky Bluegrass blurbs, “It’s not every day that you hear a band that is able to preserve the best of Americana while bringing a whole new sound to the game.”  Guitarist and vocalist “t. mule” wields one of the gruffest voices in recent memory, contrasted with a smart and witty lyrical touch that works to lift TLDOTY above the fray.  Glimpses of blues, grass and jam throughout make this an impressive and recommended debut.  The band will unleash their CD in Fort Collins on the 31st at an Avogadro’s Number show with the Honey Gitters.
Produced by:  Jason McDaniel & TLDOTY
Label: Mulewax
File Under:  Americana / Local



>  Jesse Manley, Devil’s Red  COLORADO ARTiST!

Just goes to show you …  I received this fine album a couple months ago.  It lived on my dusty old desk until this week, when I decided to clear things away.  I sorted CDs a bit, coming across a few that I wanted to re-preview, just in case.  Like Jesse Manley’s fine album.  Manley is a talented Denver folk/pop musician, with a voice somewhere between Jeff Finlin and Colin Meloy, and a musical sensibility not unlike those two.  Manley and his producer Willey play just about every instrument on the album, with nice arrangements featuring occasional mando, banjo, lap steel and “Baldwin Fun Machine”.  Why I didn’t respond to this CD immediately I might never know.  But here it is now, and it deserves your attention (prob’ly sooner than later).
Produced by:  Dave Willey w/Jesse Manley
Label:  Self
File Under:  Rock / Local



>  Crags, Big Divide   COLORADO ARTiST

An interesting trio from Durango that manages to bring to mind bands like Missing Persons or Motels as filtered through a contemporary garage ethic.  Singer and songwriter and guitarist Tracy Ford wields an effectively deadpan voice, appropriate for the band’s subtle sense of humor.  The album’s production adds nothing to the barebones guitar / bass / drum lineup, lending to the project’s definite DIY aesthetic.  Depending on the light in which it’s all viewed, listeners might also detect a slight “cowpunk” influence, especially on the title track.
Produced by:  Tracy Ford
Label:  The Crags
File Under:  Local / Rock



>  Tom Hagerman, Idle Creatures  COLORADO ARTiST

>  Tom Hagerman, Water Music

Devotchka’s multi-instrumental wizard Tom Hagerman is releasing these two instrumental albums simultaneously (just to make everyone else feel lazy and unproductive).  While they’re both truly impressive works, Water Music is certainly more experimental and will have more of a difficult time finding its way into our playlist (nevertheless, I thought to add it to our collection just because … ).  You’ll likely hear hints of Hagerman’s contributions to Devotchka’s sound on Idle Creatures, where he primarily sticks to violin.  Nevertheless, it’s not a Devotchka album, being more of a collection of chamber-pop string arrangements, spiced liberally with more exotic world influences.  It’s actually beautifully done stuff, typically short pieces for small ensemble, but accessible enough for anyone who appreciates acoustic string music. There’s a definite element of the macabre to Hagerman’s work, as evidenced in titles such as “Happy Music For Sad Children” or “Granny Old Wound”.  Pieces that I’ve bulletted might even fit into a Mix show (please preview though).  Recommended (Idle Creatures).
Produced by:  Adam Selzer
Label:  Tom Hagerman
File Under:  Local / Classical?



>  Poison Oaks, Pine

Leader and fiddler Laura Cortese calls this project a “folkestra”, crowded with 16 contributors.  In addition to Cortese and her fiddle, there are members of bands Uncle Earl, Small Ponds, Joy Kills Sorrow, Crooked Still and more.  Their music could best be described as indie-folk, with a strong emphasis on mass vocals and bright instrumentation.  This 5-track EP takes the classically trained acoustic sounds of bands like Crooked Still and adds a respectful bit of indie noise to the proceedings.  It’s just the kind of music you might imagine Dennis playing on his fine Monday Afternoon Mix (hint, hint).
Produced by:  Matt Malikowski
Label:  Poison Oaks
File Under:  Rock



>  Candi Staton, Who’s Hurting Now?

Despite soul and gospel singer-songwriter Staton’s impressive resume, she has been relatively inactive over the past two decades, aside from a series of gospel recordings.  Originally released in Europe in 2009, Who’s Hurting was never released stateside until now, owing to label politics.  Produced by Lambchop’s Mark Nevers, it is an excellent collection of rootsy southern soul and americana, featuring some worthy covers and a couple Staton originals.  Tracks span the spectrum, from a reinterpreted tune Staton cowrote with Groove Armada to covers of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Chris Smither and more.  There’s even a moving take on Mary Gauthier’s acclaimed “Mercy Now”.  Staton has been writing and recording since 1969, and it’s nice to finally see this album released domestically.  Recommended.
Produced by:  Mark Nevers
Label:  Honest Jons
File Under:  Soul



>  Dale Watson, Sun Sessions

Dale tells the story of how he was heading for a show in Memphis, and placed a call to the venue en route.  When the venue told Dale that they did not have him on their schedule, he decided to head over to the legendary Sun Studios with his Texas Two and record an album.  He goes on to relate how he wrote six songs on the way to Sun.  Everything here is pure Dale, so he does no covers, but explains how he “channels the heart and soul of the hillbilly / rockabilly / rock ‘n roll universe” on his new recording.  True to the tradition, these songs are typically sub-3 minute deals, with a couple not even reaching two.
Produced by:  Dale Watson
Label:  Red House
File Under:  Americana



>  Michelle McAfee, Up In the Air

Singer-songwriter / guitarist McAfee actually grew up in Nederland, and cut her musical teeth here as a young woman, before heading to Nashville for a successful career as an inhouse songwriter (and then to Oregon).  McAfee brings some of those tunes to her debut release, produced by the stellar slide guitarist David Jacobs-Strain, a fellow Oregonian who also plays and sings throughout.  Like Anne McCue or Kathleen Edwards, McAfee is a worthy guitarist, with an obvious lyrical gift.  There is a nice interplay between McAfee’s twang-friendly voice and Jacobs-Strain’s slide on these tunes, which rarely climb above a gentle pace.  One might find a comparison between this album and the recent collaboration between Kelly Joe Phelps and Corinne West.
Produced by:  David Jacobs-Strain
Label:  Awake Now
File Under:  Americana



>  Amelia White, Beautiful and Wild

This is the Brooklyn artist’s fifth CD of gritty, graceful  I’ve been a fan of White’s for several years, mapping her somewhere between Eliza Gilkyson’s unexpectedly expressive voice and Lucinda Williams’ ability to write about the cracks in life’s sidewalks.  I’d also compare her to Alejandro Escovedo, in an effort to escape the gender trap when it comes to comparisons.  Like Escovedo, White’s music can be tough and aggressive, bringing to mind urban scapes and life’s rough edges.  Especially like Gilkyson’s later material, however, she can achieve a balance by telling these stories in a beautiful voice.  Extra points for an adventurous take on Roxy Music’s “More Than This”!  Recommended.
Produced by:  Marco Giovino
Label:  Amelia White
File Under:  Americana



>  Sugar & the Hi-Lows, Sugar & the Hi-Lows

Sugar & the Hi-Lows are actually made up of two successful Nashville singer-songwriters, Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup.  The results add a soulful, slightly retro R&B feel to their americana, with Dabbs and Stroup sharing lead atop a bed of Dabbs’ tasty electric guitar.  In light of obvious comparisons, Sugar & the Hi-Lows are more loud fun than Civil Wars, and less self-consciously clever than She & Him.  One would hope that this very fun exercise proves to be more than a one-off side project for the artists involved.
Produced by:  Jeremy Bose
Label:  Milk Glass Music
File Under:  Americana



>  Folk Uke, Reincarnation

This odd album is the product of the collaboration between a handful of progeny from renowned parents.  The primary work is performed by Amy Nelson (Willie’s girl) and Cathy Guthrie (Arlo’s daughter), with additional contributions from Shooter Jennings and Casey Kristofferson (Kris’ offspring).  Yes, both Amy and Cathy do play uke throughout, but it’s their deep, backwoods harmonies that carry this release, along with their truly unusual sense of humor as demonstrated on nearly every quirky cut (altho it seems to have been toned down a bit since their debut EP that featured cuts like “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow” and “Motherfucker Got Fucked Up”).  Despite the emphasis on simply having a good time, these are talented folks, with beautiful, classic voices.  Dads Willie and Arlo actually appear on a “dueling guitars” solo on one cut.
Produced by:  Abe Guthrie & Folk Uke
Label:  Folk Uke
File Under:  Americana


New to Our Holiday Shelves  (briefly)


>  She & Him, A Very She & Him Christmas

This holiday collaboration between Zooey Deschanel and M Ward undoubtedly fulfills the sweet quotient for your winter season.  The retro spirit that has dominated their work together is very present here, especially in Deschanel’s vocals and Ward’s guitar work.  Ward even get a lead vocal on one cut, and a duet vocal on “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.  While standards rule the setlist, I appreciate the inclusion of a couple Brian Wilson originals.  Among my favorite holiday offerings for the year.
Produced by:  M Ward
Label:  Merge
File Under:  Holiday


>  Various Artists, This Warm December Vol 2

Toasty holiday treats from Jack Johnson and his labelmates from Brushfire Records.  Featuring artists such as G Love, Matt Costa, Zee Avi and Johnson himself, some on originals, some on less originals.
Produced by:  Various
Label:  Brushfire
File Under:  Holiday


>  Mark O’Connor, An Appalachian Christmas

A diversity of string-related things, including some bluegrass, some country and a bit of classical.  Actually, a nice assortment, with vocalists ranging (widely) from Jane Monheit to Renee Fleming (and Alison Krauss being all feathery in between).  Mark O’Connor’s versatility is impressive.
Produced by:  Various
Label:  OMAC
File Under:  Holiday


>  Vanessa Peters, Christmas We Hoped For

Texas-based artist does quite a nice job on an album that mixes trad with originals.  Peters has a voice that works well with holiday stuff, and which there’s a good amount of trad here, Peters’ arrangements are thoughtful and hardly rote.
Produced by:  Rip Rowan & Vanessa Peters
Label:  Vanessa Peters
File Under:  Holiday


>  Mandy Barnett, Winter Wonderland

Singer Barnett has had a relatively minor country music career, and is perhaps best known as the voice behind the stage production Always … Patsy Cline.  These holiday standards were obviously inspired by artists like Cline and producer Owen Bradley, with classic arrangements and vocals.  It marks Barnett’s first solo recording since 1999.  As producer and voice behind Winter Wonderland, Barnett certainly has the sound down, bringing to mind a definite time in the history of country music.  Her voice is so evocative, and given the early buzz that surrounded her as a youngster, one might wonder why she hasn’t recorded more to date.
Produced by:  Mandy Barnett
Label:  Rounder
File Under:  Holiday


>  Donna Ulisse, You Cannot Stay Here / You Will Be Delivered

Bluegrass vocalist Ulisse offers this 2-song CD, a promissory note towards a full album to come (some day).  Both songs are originals, and beautifully well done, addressing characters in the Bible’s manger story.
Produced by:  Keith Sewell
Label:  Hadley Music Group
File Under:  Holiday



>  Skaggs Family, Skaggs Family Christmas Volume 2

A CD / DVD  package, only half of which will probably be of use to programmers.  Say what you want about Ricky Skaggs, he is a true professional.  These are fine arrangements of contemporary and classic holiday tunes, mostly with a bluegrass or country slant.  While Skaggs himself is everywhere, he allows his family to take lead on several tracks, and they seem to have inherited much of Ricky’s golden touch.
Produced by:  Father Skaggs
Label:  Skaggs Family Records
File Under:  Holiday



>  Michel LeGrand, Noel! Noel!! Noel!!!

An odd project that features conductor Michel LeGrand and his orchestra performing “AN ALBUM OF THE GREATEST CHRISTMAS SONGS” with a curious assortment of vocalists.  Jamie Cullum is appropriately upbeat on “Let It Snow” and Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright carry a lush take on “White Christmas”.  Carla Bruni, Mika and Madeleine Peyroux show up and practice their French.  Out of nowhere comes Iggy Pop, whose “Little Drummer Boy” makes Bob Dylan’s manic holiday album from last year sound heavenly.
Produced by:  Sylvain Tallet
Label:  Verve
File Under:  Holiday



>  Various Artists, My Favorite Gifts

A fairly non-traditional benefit album from the folks from North Carolina’s Ramseur Records.  Matter of fact, there’s nary a standard here among the tracks offered by David Wax Museum, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Avett Brothers and more.  Tunes are universally rootsy and a bit understated, with a couple cuts not necessarily even obviously holiday songs.  A good alternative for programmers who would like to acknowledge the season without breaking out the jingle bells and the ho-ho-hos.
Produced by:  Various
Label:  Ramseur
File Under:  Holiday

Albums reviewed by KRFC’s own Scott Foley, host of Routes and Branches.

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