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RYAN ADAMS “PRISONER” ($7.99, Blue Note) paxamrecords.com

RYAN ADAMS “PRISONER”Released in February, Ryan Adams’ “Prisoner” has legs well into summer 2017. The finest track on Adams’ latest is “To Be Without You”, a 1970s, guitar plucking heartbreaker that transforms Adams into John Denver’s doppelganger. The rolling, contemplative lyrics are gentle, thoughtful, and hypnotic, placing it alongside the finest work he’s ever produced.  “Do You Still Love Me?” progresses to the era of new wave with its stop and start instrumental bridge and choral assault that questions the very status of his relationship. With an answer never revealed, the inquiry persists. “Outbound Train” finds Adams in a petulant alt-country mood, groaning about how he “was so bored, I was so bored” and not lonely before he met a girl. Even cranky Adams is compelling. The acoustic love song “Tightrope” is powerful in its simplicity and the introduction of a saxophone in the middle heads it straight in to Springsteen’s Asbury Park territory, while the track “Doomsday” punctuates love’s loss so effortlessly. “Prisoner” comes on the heels of his divorce from actress Mandy Moore and this album plants him firmly in that loss and a new life he now finds himself in.
 
BRANDI CARLILE “THE STORY” ($12.00, Legacy Recordings) brandicarlile.merchtable.com
 
BRANDI CARLILE “THE STORY”In continuing the 2017 theme of resistance in America, musicians as diverse as Dolly Parton, Adele, Pearl Jam, and the Avett Brothers have contributed to a new tribute album to benefit War Child UK, a charity providing help to children affected by war. “Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates Ten Years of The Story - An Album to Benefit War Child” is a song-by-song cover of Carlile’s 10-year old album “The Story”. The singer-songwriter and activist took up this project after becoming a mother, seeing the refugee crisis, and having a problem with “the reality of a child’s beautiful life being torn apart by war”. Parton does a faithful version of the title track, “The Story”, while Adele takes on “Hiding My Heart”, a song the British singer has covered in concert for years. Carlile’s poignant lyrics and emotional delivery are ideal for Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam (“Again Today”) while the plucky beat and winding harmonies on “Have You Ever” is a perfect fit for the Avett Brothers. The only non-musician contributing to the album is President Barack Obama who was kind enough to wrote the forward in the liner notes.
 
TARA JANE O’NEIL “SELF TITLED” ($9.99, Gnomonsong Records) tarajaneoneil.com
 
TARA JANE O’NEIL “SELF TITLED”At the behest of her friend and Chicago musician Mark Greenberg (Eleventh Dream Day, The Coctails) Tara Jane O’Neil returns with her singular, ethereal sound on her ninth full-length album “Self Titled”. Recorded partly in her home studio and Wilco’s rehearsal space, each of the 11 tracks are simple, one-word titles like “Purple”, “Sand”, and “Joshua”, emphasizing the clear, unpretentious manner of her music. The first single “Sand” floats her dreamy, sparkling guitar over vocals, ebbing and flowing with sheer beauty. “Kelley” is angelic in its layers of harmonizing vocals and pedal steel, while “Cali” has a determined, slow pace filled with quiet drama. “Metta” is O’Neil stripped down and singing alone to an accompanying guitar that builds into a gathering of instruments around her. While she has a squad of musicians playing throughout, she herself contributes keyboards, guitars, percussion, and bass. The album in its entirety is quite deceptive in that a dozen people perform O’Neil’s music yet they’re delivered as if she’s a lone entity in the world.
For the listener, “Self Titled” presents each song as a gift, as if you’re a witness, waiting for each one to be unwrapped.
 
SON VOLT “NOTES OF BLUE” ($9.99, Transmit Sounds) sonvolt.net
 
SON VOLT “NOTES OF BLUE”Son Volt returns with album #8, a sharper-edged, half-hour of sonic blues quite unlike Jay Farrar’s signature Americana. Farrar and company build Son Volt’s muscle using the weight of guitar assaults and bleak lyrics, centering on atonement (“Sinking Down”) and mortality (“Static”). “Lost Souls” is a jagged, wake-up call “Where the world meets the sidewalk/So many lost before their prime”. The volume alone is arena-ready. “Back Against The Wall” is a fitting anthem to this country’s current swell of protest. “All the signs say pick up the pieces/All the signs say make a stand as one.” The dirge “Midnight”, Farrar takes a trip down in Hell, with a static vocal coming from that subterranean location. “The Storm”, with its woeful, high vocal and acoustic guitar, could have fallen out of Neil Young’s catalogue. The stand out ballad, “Cairo and Southern”, features plinking, metallic notes over repeating lyrics of a lost man barely holding on. The closer, “Threads and Steel”, is game-changer in terms of lifting Farrar’s songwriting in a new direction. He digs deep with a sing/speak tale of a “man goin’ round takin’ names”. Cinematic in its lyrics, “His car’s the color of his clothes/He cracks a hundred proof smile/Doesn’t dance, doesn’t sing/Keeps the world on a string”.
 
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BATTLE HYMNS (pay what you want or suggested $20.00) quasiband.com
 
Indie rock’s finest line up on “Battle Hymns”, a compilation of new tracks “created in direct response to the current political situation in the U.S.A.” Overseen by Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss and her Quasi bandmate Sam Coomes, the 14-song album is pay what you want and features The New Pornographers’ Carl Newman (“Our Nero”), Superchunk’s Mac Macaughan (“Happy New Year (Prince Can’t Die Again)”, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck & his Filthy Friends (“Love In The Time of Resistance”) and Portlandia star/Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein and Katie Harkin under the moniker MEDS (“No More Fizz”). Sales from the disc are split evenly between the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and 350.org.
 
OUR FIRST 100 DAYS ($30.00, Bandcamp) ourfirst100days.us
 
The Year of Action continues at Bandcamp.com with “Our First 100 Days”, to raise awareness of President Trump’s proposed policies that threaten a number of groups and laws. The site plan is to sell 100 unreleased, rare, or exclusive songs from various artists to raise money for climate, immigration, LGBTQ, reproductive rights, music, and community organizations. Folks like Angel Olsen (“Fly On Your Wall”), Califone (“Comedy”), Tara Jane O’Neil (“Ballad of El Goodo”), and Speedy Ortiz (“In My Way”) are among the artists who contributed a song. A minimum of $30.00 will get you access to all 100 songs.
 
THE SHINS “HEARTWORMS” ($10.99, Aural Apothecary/Columbia Records) theshins.com
 
There is something so inherently captivating about the sound of The Shins that it really should be studied at MIT. The mesmerizing voice of lead singer James Mercer over the rolling melodies of the band’s latest release is simply seductive. The heart-warming pop on “Heartworms” bounces around with hand clapping joy. The first single “Name For You”, features Mercer’s signature acrobatic lyrics, tumbling forth with a pro-feminist theme. “Somebody with an antique notion/Come along to tighten the line/They’re just afraid of you speaking your mind.” The jaunty “Dead or Alive” is a British-invasion pop gem filled with laughter and a carnival atmosphere. A summer listen, through and through.
 
SLOWDIVE “SLOWDIVE” ($10.49, Dead Oceans) slowdiveofficial.com
 
Ambient U.K. band Slowdive has quite the story. Formed in 1989 as teenagers, the group went from releasing an acclaimed EP, placing them in the shoe gazing gang of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins, to being the scourge of the press thanks to a rushed second album produced in a cannabis-induced haze, leading to little label support and their demise in 1995. But time proves to be a game changer. After hitting the festival circuit in 2014, Slowdive has released its first album in 22 years and it is drenched in shimmering, ringing guitars, a low, weighted bass, and dreamy lyrics. These 8 songs are a beautiful sonic return to what they started nearly three decades ago.


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 192 - November 2017
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