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(Brown Records/Fat Possum/Columbia, $11.98)

Band of Horses

Music with transformative powers is bound to rise to the top. Listening to the sparkling harmonies and glorious melodies of “Infinite Arms” will have you seeing stars in a Midwestern sky and woozy with hopes of falling in love. This is one of the best albums of 2010 as Band of Horses outdoes itself on this folk pop dream. The heart of their genius lies in the brilliant harmonies of Ryan Monroe and Tyler Ramsey as the pair exudes effortless warmth that is breathtaking. The opener, “Factory”, sets the stage with a dramatic flourish of strings rolling in to a sweet southern charmer. “Compliments” showcases the driving pop charm Band of Horses is collectively capable of. The title track soars with an angelic, cinematic tranquility that tosses other love songs to the curb while “Evening Kitchen” is a simple ode to making amends. The infectious “Older” is a sweet shuffle with a catchy chorus that’ll have you happily singing along. The yearning of “For Annabelle” and “Blue Beard” will break your heart but stop it from rending completely on the latter when echoes of that ‘70s gem “Afternoon Delight” pop up in the bridge. Nice to see this fivesome is capable of a wink amidst all the beauty.

(Vanguard Records, $17.98)

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

One time Belle and Sebastian member Isobel Campbell and former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan return for another go-around on “Hawk”, the follow-up to their 2006 “Ballad of The Broken Seas”. This time the pair elevate their nod to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood (as heard on the mysterious track “Time Of The Season”) by entrenching themselves in backwoods, murder ballads (“You Won’t Let Me Down Again”), noir-like cuts (“Come Undone” and “Sunrise”) and bombastic instrumentals (“Hawk”). Produced by the clever Campbell, the album’s title was chosen for its dual identity as a noun and verb and has a huge dose of femininity and grit infused throughout.  Lanegan’s lead vocals on the Townes Van Zandt cover “No Place To Fall” brings to mind the sensitive sound of Nick Drake while the barn burner “Get Behind Me” would be perfect onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. The countrified “Cool Water” is a lovely stroll while “Eyes of Green” bounds right out of the Irish hillside. Guests include former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and a chorus of backup gospel singers on the final track “Lately”. With Campbell’s angelic whisper and Lanegan’s baritone growl, “Hawk” is a fantastic work by two exceptional musicians. 

(Vanguard Records, $17.98)

Merle Haggard

Country music legend Merle Haggard is in a reflective mood these days. On his latest, Haggard’s focus is history (“I’ve Seen It Go Away”), his upbringing (“Oil Tanker Train“) and, both figuratively and literally, family (“Down At The End Of The Road”). Wife Theresa sings backup, nabbing the spotlight for herself on “Life And Love Always”, while their teenage son Ben delivers impressive guitar work throughout. As seen on the recent PBS “American Masters” documentary, Haggard has an authentic ease when sharing his personal life in song. It’s as if surviving his recent health problems (including the partial removal of a cancerous lung in 2008) and reaching the age of 73, has renewed him with a force that finds him at the top of his game vocally and, along with his longtime band, The Strangers, writing all new material for “I Am What I Am”. Haggard tries out a south of the border waltz with “Mexican Bands”, a vintage torch song on “Pretty When It’s New” and keeps his Bakersfield sound alive on several cuts including “Stranger In The City”. Haggard ends the disc with the title track where he simply and endearingly refers to himself as both “a seeker and a sinner”.

(Partisan Records, $11.00)

Mountain Man

The angelic, haunting a cappella sounds of early Appalachia is what you get from Mountain Man, the deceptively titled female trio of Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath who met at Bennington College thanks to their shared affection for vintage American music. Endearingly homespun, “Made The Harbor” was recorded in an old ice cream parlor and resonates with squeaky wooden floors, clearing throats and whispered vocal cues, punctured by sparkling, heartbreaking folk harmonies. Unaccompanied for most of the album, Mountain Man’s sisterly vocals cover a wide musical terrain, including stoic hymns (“Babylon”), spirituals (“River”) and multiple siren songs. The lone sound of a guitar drops in occasionally, most notably on the first track, “Buffalo”, as the initial lyric beckons the listener to “follow, follow, follow…” and yes, you will…happily! Themes of nature, animals, love and kinship are woven throughout. The sweet echoing vocals on “Animal Tracks” welcome summer’s arrival while the tongue twisting, whimsy of “How’m I Doin?” would make Woody Guthrie proud. Mountain Man is the realization of the great mystery of how three lovely, separate voices somehow find each other and collide with magical results.


(Red House Records, $17.98)


On a whim after a joint tour, songwriters Eliza Filkyon, John Gorka and Lucy Kapalansky ventured in to the studio under the name “Red Horse”. (“White People With Problems” was suggested but eventually nixed.) This prolific folk trio filled their debut with their own re-worked material, covers of each other’s songs and personal favorites. Kapalansky chose her most well known song, “Blue Chalk”, to re-visit, while Gorka tackles her song “Don’t Mind Me”. Gilkyon sings Gorka’s “Forget To Breath” and collectively, Red Horse covers Neil Young’s “I Am A Child” perfectly echoing the lush harmonies of CSNY in their heyday.

(Capitol, $12.98) 

Eli A throwback to the glory days of soul, singer/songwriter Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s debut resonates with the refreshing sound of a someone pouring his blood, sweat and tears in to his music. A boyishly pompadoured kid from Boston whose unapologetic about looking to greats like Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett for inspiration, Reed moved to Chicago and the Mississippi Delta to get a first hand education in R & B. Punctuating his songs with bright brass arrangements (“Tell Me What I Wanna Hear” and “Name Calling”), Reed’s finest moment comes on the last track when he lets loose with James Brown tactics on “Explosion”.

(E1 Music, $17.98)

Jimmy Webb

With a hit catalogue that could rival America’s best contemporary songwriters, Jimmy Webb gathers a talented group of friends and musicians (Willie Nelson, Jackson Brown, Vince Gill and Mark Knopfler) to help him revisit his best work. Lucinda Williams and Webb transport “Galveston” in to a touching affair, while Linda Ronstadt comes out of semi-retirement for the sweetly sung “All I Know”. The best performance surprisingly comes from New Yorker Billy Joel who matches Glen Campbell’s Southern California delivery note for note on “Wichita Lineman”. Campbell himself enters on the languid “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, proving Webb’s song will last through eternity.

(Nonesuch Records, $15.98)

Philip Selway

Stepping out from behind his kit, Radiohead drummer Philip Selway strikes out on his own with a delicate, thoughtful collection of songs he’d been working on for the past 8 years. The first cut, “By Some Miracle”, evokes the haunting charm of Radiohead minus the underlying sinister edge. The remaining nine have a contemporary folk bent to them and feature an eclectic mix of guests including singer/songwriter Lisa Germano, Soul Coughing’s Sebastian Steinberg and Wilco members Glen Kotche and Pat Sansone. Knowing the bar was set high for himself, Selway delivers a debut that he can be quite proud of. / Issue 113 - September 2018
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