Posts Tagged ‘country’

Massy Ferguson – Hard Water
October 19, 2010

For those of you who enjoy the southern charm in music, a strong mix of ballsy southern rock and the gentle rootsy/americana influenced storytelling, from now on you can just as well find it in the Northwest. Massy Ferguson, hailing from Seattle is not the next grunge sensation, no, they don’t play grunge, but they might well be one of the newest sensations in country-rock music.

All through the past 6 decades there have been huge acts in this genre. The heydays may have been in the late 60s to mid 80s, but still the music has a huge following. And with their sophomore album, “Hard Water”, Massy Ferguson is bound to tap into that following. With an Eagles-like flair and sometimes the grit of Springsteen they release an album in the tradition of Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks. It doesn’t quite reach that level yet, but the band is starting to get awefully close.

“Hard Water” features 10 altcountry songs that are very pleasant to listen to and show a lot of musicality. There’s a certain honesty in this album that helps it flourish. Combined with the strong melodies and the passionate performance makes it a very strong release.

Standout songs are Freedom Country, Wenatchee Eyes & Dreams of St. Petersburg, but the whole album deserves a listen. Massy Ferguson is a band to watch. Their debut album may not have been top of the bill yet, but this second one surely belongs up there. And if they continue to evolve with this pace, there’s no telling where their story ends. One of the best albums in the genre in 2010.

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Michelle Branch – Everything Comes And Goes [EP]
July 26, 2010

Michelle Branch came up fast with her blend of pop and rock n’ roll with some americana influences. She had great mainstream success in North America and the success even crossed into Europe and Australia. After a venture into country (The Wreckers), she is now returning to her solo work. “Everything Comes And Goes” was supposed to be a full-length album, but for now we’ll have to settle for 6 new songs.

The country/americana influences are much more present than they were in Branch’ early albums. But it’s not as much of a centerpiece as it was with The Wreckers. Single Sooner or Later even sounds like an updated version of Branch’ older work and will put smiles on the faces of many fans.

The EP kicks off with a gritty rock & roll song (with bluesy americana influences). Ready To Let You Go has some twang to it, but it also has an interesting edge and a driving rhythm. Instead of portraying the sweetness of her vocals, Michelle Branch chooses to show the powerful side of her vocals this time. Together with the single Sooner or Later this makes for an excellent start of this EP.

And then we reach one of the best songs of this year. I Want Tears is a hit single in the making. Relatable lyrical content, catchy chorus and it pretty much does what Ilse deLange has been doing in the Netherlands and Belgium for the past 5 years. Mixing pop with americana influences and mixing it into a powerful pop song that speaks to fans of different musical preferences. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the song that puts Michelle Branch right back at the top of the pop world, where she belongs.

The more laid-back Crazy Ride is a song that can grow on you. It’s not the strongest track on the EP, and the country influences (which I do not mind by the way, I actually believe it fits Branch’ vocals) are more prominent. But it has a certain quality that makes the song get a little better each time you hear it. Summertime is a solid song, but compared to the other songs on the record it’s slightly predictable at times. Closer, and title track, Everything Comes And Goes took me a couple listens to fully appreciate, but it’s a song that shows off strong vocals and a subtle arrangement that is both classy and musically sound.

With “Everything Comes And Goes” Michelle Branch shows that she is still going strong and that she still belongs at the top of the world of pop music. The record is consistently strong and all the songs can stand their own. Too bad it’s not a full-length where Branch would have more opportunities to show off more variety and creativity, but for a 6-song EP, this is an excellent release and one that deserves the credit. Michelle Branch, welcome back!

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Little Kim & the Alley Apple 3 – Riding The Rails
March 1, 2010

From the moment you press play “Riding The Rails” takes you back to forgotten times. Combining western swing, hot jazz, bluegrass, a touch of blues and some very early rock & roll and you have a sound that hasn’t been popular for decades. Through the first half of the 20th century however, this was the proverbial ‘it’.

And while it all sounds very vintage it doesn’t sound outdated. Not for a second. It’s an hommage to an almost forgotten era in music and on top of that it’s a reminder. A reminder that this mix of rootsy genres isn’t dead at all. Little Kim & the Alley Apple 3 prove that throughout 15 very strong  songs.

You might not say it when you hear the music, but this band hails from the beautiful country of Belgium. Where, I hear you say. Yes, Belgium. There is a lot of musical talent in Belgium, but the better known names (K’s Choice, dEUS, Soulwax) are in a completely different genre. Even other acts like Jacques Brel, Hooverphonic and Vaya Con Dios aren’t close musical neighbours. If there’s one other well-known musician from Belgium that you could tie this band to it’s jazz musician Django Reinhardt who was popular in the thirties and fourties.

So yeah, that’s what you should know Belgium from. But lets get back to Little Kim & the Alley Apple 3. As I mentioned before, they bring an almost forgotten genre back to life. The combination of excellent songwriting, technically very strong musicians and a female lead singer that not just has that classic beautiful look but also a classic beautiful voice that gives this bands all the facets they need to be successful in this genre. “Riding The Rails” is only the band’s debut full-length but this world would be very unfair if there wouldn’t be many more albums to follow in the future.

It would be almost unfair to say certain songs are highlights because the level of the CD is extremely high. But if I’d have to pick a couple songs I would say the title track Riding The Rails, Who Walks In When I Walk Out, Before The Storm, Ballad of the Old Oak Tree and Lou Ella Brown are tracks that you should at the very, very least listen to. Tom de Poorter is a very skilled guitar player and his fingerpicking skills are quite astonishing, combined with the iconic lapsteel playing of Pat Cattoir, Slappin’ Slim’s impeccable timing on the double bass and Kimberly Claes’ pure, clear vocals (with excellent range), make Little Kim & the Alley Apple 3 one of the most surprising, intriguing and one of the most impressing bands I’ve come across in the last 5 years.

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Adam Green – Minor Love
February 16, 2010

Adam Green, while still young, has been around for a long, long time. “Minor Love” is his sixth solo release. We’ve come to known this artist for his storytelling approach with clever melodies and excellent lyrical content. A combination of Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and maybe a little Springsteen in his approach, vocally closest to the former.

If we’re honest, Green has always sounded a little bit outdated as his vocals and musical arrangement are much closer to what we heard in the 50s and 60s. But because of just that, he also sounds refreshing. It’s not a very popular style of music when it comes to the commercial masses, but for those people who still like to listen to songs the way they used to be played, this is a gold mine.

With influences from country, blues, jazz, americana, folk, rock & roll and pretty much everything else that was popular in the ‘early days’, Green builds up his songs in a very strong fashion. And very much like back then, Green keeps his songs short. None of the songs on “Minor Love” reaches the 3 minutes mark.

But where the album is pleasant and actually quite strong, it is by no means Green’s strongest release. There are no real surprises on “Minor Love”, no real excitement, and for ultimate pleasure the album should be listened to on vinyl instead of CD or digital download. The album breathes, it’s almost like it’s alive. But while it’s alive it doesn’t sound very lively, unfortunately. Stand out tracks are Cigarette Burns Forever, which has a very melodic feel, the cheeky Castles & Tassels and the closing track You Blacken My Stay which has a few honky tonk influences without sounding like a honky tonk song.

“Minor Love” is a solid album, and the fans of the genre will cherish the album, as the songs are all well-written and performed to near perfection. But to say that this album is memorable would be too much. It’s a great listen when it’s playing, but it’s not the first album you will take off the shelf to put on when you’re looking for something. Green’s previous album would be a better candidate for that.

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Jo Henley – Inside Out
February 2010

Jo Henley - Inside Out

Jo Henley’s first release “Sad Songs And Alcohol” was a very interesting and pleasant album with musical roots in the americana/bluegrass/country genre. The country-pop genre has been doing quite well the past couple years with it’s mainstream and current sound. And while it is perfect for radio and commercial use, there is something generic about it, most of the modern country-pop albums don’t have that special directness reflecting everyday life or emtional depth that the old honkytonk and country albums used to display.

However, there have been a few examples of bands and artists that show a similar personal connection and emotional depth in their music. For me, Jo Henley kind of bridges the two. The songs have a very pleasant and radio-friendly sound to them yet the music is reminiscent of the old country music in its feel and message.

“Inside Out” is a real album, where all 11 songs fit together perfectly and musically it all forms a whole. It opens with The Great Depression, which is kind of a classic country song with some honkytonk and bluegrass influences. The uptempo, feelgood melody and typical country lyrics just make you smile.

The Fire reminds me of a 70s country song, but I can’t remember which song exactly. The rootsy, more paced sound is soothing and intriguing, yet the song doesn’t have the catchiness or current sound that makes it fit as a radio song. The mid-tempo title song, Inside Out, is one of the album’s top tracks. Very danceable and it is a good mix of a more classic and a more current sound. The most impressive part of Save The Last Dance For Us is how the vocals and music are coming together. While it’s not extremely uptempo or has a distinctive beat it still is somewhat catchy.

When I listen to Cheyenne, I can just picture an old saloon where the band is playing this song. I believe it would make a very good radio song, it’s easy to sing along, the melody is catchy and it’s one of those songs that just stick in your head. I think it is one of my favorite songs on “Inside Out”. Jo Henley continues with Holly, which is a slower song. Musically and vocally, there’s nothing wrong with the song but I keep waiting for the song to get going, to take off, so to speak. But unfortunately it doesn’t really. It’s a very decent song but it could’ve used a little more punch or a climax in the song.

The interesting Gonna Make It Right continues the album. The catchy song is another good example of combining the old country feel with a more current sound. One of the better songs on the album. It would also make a good radio single. It’s uptempo and gets you in a good mood. With Only I Can Break Your Heart, Jo Henley shows a more emotional side. With the electric guitar and the poppy melody it feels more like a current country-pop ballad, and it works very well. The song may have radio potential as it could be a sing-along, but most of all I think it could make a good closer for a live set. Tears On My Sleeve is a very pleasant song and the rootsy, comfortable feel it produces, combined with the excellent musical arrangement makes it a very interesting and fun track to listen to.

Apart from loving the title of the song, Getting Good At Goodbye, is a very good song. It showcases that emotional depth I was talking about and with the arrangement and impressive vocals those feelings come out wonderfully. To me, apart from being my favorite song on the album, Getting Good At Goodbye also has the best lyrics. It may be because they perfectly reflect a time of my life, so I can easily connect to the lyrics personally, but Jo Henley is able to put the sentiment from the lyrics into the music, which is something that always impresses me when a band does that. The album ends with Love (Is A Long Way Down), which has a bit of a blues-rock feel to it. Not what I had expected, but I enjoy it. The almost gritty and somewhat raw sound makes it a very suitable end to this excellent album.

“Inside Out” is a very worth successor to “Sad Songs And Alcohol”. It shows more variety and more depth in the songwriting, and it shows Jo Henley is a band that has the potential of breaking through to a wider audience, not in a couple of years, but right now. The quality of the music and songwriting is good, the band is passionate about their music and can deliver it accordingly. If “Inside Out” gets a chance, and people are willing to stand behind it (and why wouldn’t they?), it could definitely be the band’s breakout album. In its genre, this is probably my favorite release of 2010 so far.

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