Jul 232020
 

Gillian Welch David Rawlingsjenn champion the blue albumGiven the slow, unsteady cadence of the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings release schedule, their many followers take delight in news from either one of the pair. (They always come as a pair, though they are not always billed that way.) Even if a new offering is not new, original material—even if the songs are covers, and older ones at that—it’s newsworthy.

So here’s what’s new: All the Good Times, a collection of 10 covers, some of their “favorites,” recorded during the pandemic lockdown. It’s their first such collection, and the first album in their 25-year career to be credited as “Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.” The partners share the billing because, for the first time, they split the vocal duties right down the middle.

And here’s what’s old: Everything else about the release. (That’s not a diss.) Welch/Rawlings apply the same tried-and-true formula they’ve honed for a quarter century now: all-acoustic, duet-style, singing into a single mic. Even the recording method is antiquated: they dusted off a reel-to-reel to capture these songs; no DAT or hard drives for these two. (On one track, the tape reel runs out well before the last verse is over. It’s one of the more charming technical glitches in recent memory, a bug shrugged off as a feature. For a few seconds there I thought my laptop died.)
Continue reading »

Jul 092020
 

ryley walker covers epjenn champion the blue albumThe most basic, clinical way to describe singer-songwriter-guitarist Ryley Walker’s signature sound would be to liken him to legends like Bert Jansch, John Martyn or Michael Hedges. Which is to say he’s jazzy, folky, eccentric and joyfully unpredictable. But the ideal way to describe his sound requires that we get flowery and overly sentimental for a second: He infuses such an undeniable brightness into whatever he plays that he quite literally sounds like the sun peaking through the trees on a quiet street in the summertime.

On his new cover EP, titled, yes, covers, his slips his beautifully optimistic style onto tracks by Grouper, Cass McCombs, Isotope 217 and Amen Dunes. You don’t need to be familiar with the originals here to appreciate the EP’s sweet, embraceable sound. In fact if you aren’t, Walker’s engaging versions of these tracks might inspire you to check out the originals (in which case you are in for a treat). Continue reading »

Jun 292020
 

Saving for a Custom Vanjenn champion the blue album

Adam Schlesinger died on April 1st from COVID-19 complications. Not even three months later, “collaborators, tourmates, friends, and fans” put together Saving for a Custom Van, an extensive tribute album spanning songs from his varied career. Schlesinger is best known for being a founding member of Fountains of Wayne, but he also was in the more indie band Ivy and the supergroup Tinted Windows (with members from Hanson, Cheap Trick, and The Smashing Pumpkins). He also wrote songs for a variety of movies (Music & Lyrics, That Thing You Do!, Josie and the Pussycats), television shows (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), and Broadway (the postponed show, The Bedwetter) that also make an appearance on this tribute album.

The resulting collage of covers is heartfelt and plays like a personal mix tape of sorts. This makes it hard to pass any judgment. Overall, it is a powerful homage that also educates listeners on the history of Schelsinger’s work. In the sad context of the album, lyrics stand out as especially poignant, from the sad irony of “All Kinds of Time” to the evergreen “Troubled Times.”

Continue reading »

Jun 262020
 

John HartfordOn the Road: A Tribute to John HartfordSongwriter, banjo-picker, old-time fiddler, dancer, tv star, radio dj, and, perhaps most importantly, professional riverboat pilot. Welcome to the weird, wide world of John Hartford.

Hartford was a cross between Bill Monroe and Mark Twain—he titled one of his albums Mark Twang. He was among the first to join hippie sensibilities with hillbilly ways. During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Hartford was both a vivid reminder of America’s past musical heritage, and also a harbinger of things to come; he shaped contemporary music almost in spite of himself. “Newgrass,” which in turn fed into the jam band phenomena, is basically Hartford’s concoction (though mandolinist Sam Bush gets some credit too). Even Americana, as it is currently defined, is impossible to imagine without him—the blockbuster O Brother, Where Art Thou project has Hartford’s fingerprints and spirit all over it.

So a new John Hartford Tribute album is most welcomed, and now we have one in hand: On the Road, from LoHi Records. It’s a dang good tribute album, too, starting with the opening cut (by Hartford’s co-conspirator Sam Bush), and never letting up.
Continue reading »

Jun 022020
 

My Darling Clementinejenn champion the blue albumGiven we are again treading the tearstained paths of country music, as soon as bawling follows brawling, and sinking follows drinking, one other thing in the world to rely on is the expectation honed by entitling anything as “Volume 1.” Not that it always delivers or guarantees a followup, but when husband and wife duo, My Darling Clementine, dropped Country Darkness, Vol. 1 (reviewed here), my hopes for a volume 2 went high and held there. Thankfully, the wait for said volume has not been a long one.

Country Darkness, Volume 2 has arrived. Once more it is an EP of songs of Elvis Costello, tackled by Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish. The duo maintain their mantle as a latter-day George Jones and Tammy Wynette, tho’ with fewer guns and lawnmowers and (hopefully) less naggin’ and nippin’. And once more it is the rippling fingers of guest Steve Nieve that does the heavy lifting beneath their vocal interplay, again proving himself a less frantic and more sensitive player than when with his usual employer. An EP, like its predecessor, with another four songs; I wonder how many more are in the box? (The press release suggests one more, 12 songs having been chosen overall.) Certainly there is no shortage of Costello songs that fall into this genre, and despite the relative annoyance of this gradual drip feeding, I am sure it makes for good accounting for the duo and their record company. Plus, I can’t wait for the eventual compilation, duplication be damned.

Continue reading »

May 112020
 

Cover Two reviewJoan Wasser started out as a violinist, performing in a variety of bands throughout the ’90s including The Dambuilders, Black Beatle, and Antony and the Johnsons. She eventually broke out on her own, assuming the stage name Joan As Police Woman (inspired by the TV show Police Woman) and releasing her first solo album in 2006. After two solo records of original material, Joan As Police Woman released a limited edition covers album in 2009 that included a variety of songs, from T.I. to David Bowie. Four albums and over a decade later, Joan is back with Cover Two, a similarly eclectic batch of cover songs.

Joan As Police Woman describes the process of creating this album: “I start with the question, ‘WHY, exactly, do I love this song?’ I take those elements and reform them, sometimes removing much of the remaining material to refocus them through new glasses.” Her process is evident in the sound of the album. Her covers are sparse, but still evocative.

Continue reading »