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ANITA CARTER “SONGBIRD”
(Omni Record Corp., $18.99)
www.worldwentdown.com/omni

Hailed the “greatest female country singer of them all” by her brother-in-law Johnny Cash, Anita Carter is also the most prolific. This collection of 28 songs was gathered from her solo albums, recordings with The Carter Family and duets with Hank Snow and Waylon Jennings. “Songbird” showcases a gifted country performer whose singular talents were overshadowed by her family’s historic success. Along with being a pitch perfect singer and stand up bass player, perhaps the youngest Carter sister missed her calling as a clairvoyant. The disc starts with a song recorded in 1972 titled “2001: Ballad To The Future” where she sings, “The destruction of my fellow mankind/I see the collapsing of society” and “On our lust for great power/The Earth slowly chokes”. Yikes! The flip side of this tune is “Travelin’ Minstrel Band”, a bouncy sing-a-long that personifies The Carter Family’s tight country harmonies. But Anita, alone, holds her own and even surpasses her contemporaries like Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. She makes no apologies on the pro-single gal anthem “It’s My Life (And I’ll Live It)” and belts out “Is It For Me” and “You Weren’t Ashamed To Kiss Me (Last Night)” with incredible power and heartbreak. Anita Carter = quintessential American country music.

NEKO CASE “MIDDLE CYCLONE”
(Anti- Records, $17.98)
www.nekocase.com

Red-headed siren Neko Case poses on the cover like a warrior ready for battle. Sword in hand, knees bent on the hood of her vintage car, Case will pounce on anyone to defend those in peril…animals, the planet and, more importantly, her own heart. This is the focus of “Middle Cyclone”, a lush, poetic collection featuring her best and most personal lyrics. On the title track, Case’s melancholy floats atop an arrangement of guitar and music boxes with touching, universal lines like “Can’t scrape together quite enough/To ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love”. Recorded partly in her Vermont barn that houses half a dozen pianos, Case takes advantage of the ivory orchestra with a dramatic cover of Harry Nilsson’s post-divorce ode “Don’t Forget Me”. She ramps up the power on another cover, Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”, a protest song/wake up call of symphonic proportions. The best line on the entire record is “The next time you say forever/ I will punch you in your face” from the song “”The Next Time You Say Forever”. Brilliant! Case wraps things up by giving equal time (some 30 minutes!) to crickets and other creatures singing their own sweet, beautiful songs.

JANEY WINTERBAUER + MARC PERLMAN “25:32:47”
(Susstones, $7.99)
www.myspace.com/janeyandmarc

The Jayhawks bassist Marc Perlman and Astronaut Wife singer Janey Winterbauer team up for a 6-song, jangly guitar-driven EP that blends bittersweet lyrics of love with plaintive vocals. The genius is that it never turns pitiful thanks to Winterbauer’s rather sunny manner. What initially was a Perlman solo project evolved in to this lovely collaboration. As a songwriter, Perlman has a knack for poetic phrasing and sweetly wearing his heart on his sleeve but for all his desire of love, he seems to constantly be pushing it away. The opener “Back To You” enters with a Bob Dylan-esque “Lay Lady Lay” arrangement before rolling in to a wistful paean to leaving.  “Goodbye Kiss” is a love ‘em or leave ‘em conundrum whose chorus “I never meant to bring you down” answers the riddle pretty plainly. Themes of abandoned devotion, along with starry nights, continues on “Love Me Once Again” while “With You” touches on that classic “go, no stay!” merry-go-round ride of relationships. “When I’m with you I feel like I could save the world” she sings one minute and “Blame it on lust so much desire” the next. The catchy, foot tapper “Beautiful Day” turns this collective misery in to surprising find…much needed peace of mind.

THE VASELINES “ENTER THE VASELINES”
(SubPop Records, $16.98)
www.myspace.com/thevaselines

For a definitive example of  “twee” music, there’s no better primer than “Enter The Vaselines”, a career-spanning 36-song set from the late 80s band The Vaselines, a Scottish boy/girl duo whose garage pop charms are awesomely primitive and endearingly punk. The brief career of Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly lasted a mere three years but their very existence set bands like Belle and Sebastian in to motion. With noisy guitars, crashing rhythms and sweet harmonies, The Vaselines had a hardcore fan in Kurt Cobain, whose own band Nirvana covered “Molly’s Lips”, “Son Of A Gun” and the most heartbreaking song ever written, “Jesus (Don’t) Wants Me For A Sunbeam”. This widely seen recognition launched the Scots to reverential heights. “Enter The Vaselines” is a SubPop deluxe-reissue of a 1992 compilation that includes album cuts, never-before-heard demos (which aren’t that different from the finished cuts) and live performances from Bristol and London.  Out in support of the release, The Vaselines toured the U.S. for the very first time this past spring…an impressive feat for a group that stayed within the confines of Scotland and produced only 2 EPs and one album more than 20 years ago.

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS:

CAMERA OBSCURA “MY MAUDLIN CAREER”
(4AD, $14.98)
www.camera-obscura.net

The Scottish quintet returns with the follow-up to 2006’s phenomenal “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”.  They could’ve easily titled this record “Let’s Get Out…Part II” since it mirrors that album’s signature lush, string-filled, ‘60s pop sound.  For Camera Obscura, it’s a sound that On the plaintive “James”, Traceyanne Campbell’s vocals stab you right in the heart as she sings of a relationship’s end and “why love gets up and goes” sometimes. The gently rolling “Forests & Sands” has an easy country feel while “Other Towns & Cities” is a near, run-on a cappella. All in all, a great summer listen.

MARK AND JOHN’S CHILDREN’S RECORD
(Tight Ship Records, $9.99)
www.tightshiprecords.com

Nothing will have you skipping down the street faster than the happy sounds of “Mark and John’s Children’s Record”. This rather simple title belies the talent of these two Chicago musicians and former members of The Coctails. John Upchurch and Mark Greenberg have six children between them and culled their lyrics and songs from the imaginations of their offspring and during late night feedings when the hours are long and can set a songwriter’s mind to wandering. “Lawnmower Song” is a fun-loving romp designed to make weekend chores manageable while “Pat, The Alligator Lady” is a true, mind-boggling story of a little old lady who housed a menagerie of animals in her weathered Victorian house. “A Counting Error” gives kids the chance to playfully mess up numbers and the alphabet. As the disc comes to a close, the songs slow down as if hearkening the end of day. “Until The Dawn” and “My Blue House” are loving lullabies that will entrance the coldest of hearts.  It’s always a trick to find children’s music that will appease parents on the 200th listening and I think “John and Mark’s Children’s Record” does just that exquisitely.

STEVE EARLE “TOWNES”
(New West Records, $17.98)
www.steveearle.com

Troubadour Steve Earle shared a complex relationship with his mentor and friend Townes Van Zandt. Both suffered at the hands of addiction and Van Zandt often belittled Earle when given the chance. While Earle garnered career success with Grammy awards and chart topping albums, Van Zandt seemed to shoot himself in the proverbial foot when rewards and opportunities arose. In an attempt to demystify Van Zandt’s doomed legend, Earle covers 15 of his songs including “To  Live Is To Fly”, “No Place To Fall” and his most covered, “Poncho and Lefty”. “Townes” is a quiet, straightforward record so listeners can hear what Earle heard…the songs of an outstanding American songwriter.

SON VOLT “AMERICAN CENTRAL DUST”
(Rounder Records, $15.98)
www.sonvolt.net

Jay Farrar and company return after a several-year absence with what amounts to his coming full circle. The experimentation of previous efforts has been replaced with the echoes of Farrar’s first band, the country-punk Uncle Tupelo. Dotted among the dozen tracks are twang-infested songs like “Roll On” and “Dust of Daylight” which will be a delight for fans of the earlier, more countrified Son Volt.  Farrar’s rustic musings clouded in mystery have become his signature as has his plaintive delivery, both of which he delivers fully.  Surprisingly, he sings of Keith Richards’ excesses on “Cocaine and Ashes” where Farrar notes he’s “the same as everyone, just kind of lucky”. Funny.
www.Dishmag.com / Issue 99 - October 2017
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