GROOVES & CUTS – John Apice
When it comes to Americana-Roots-Alt/Country music one of the elements I find in disfavor is the introduction of unnecessary electronics, synthesizers & techno embellishments. Also, many submissions received — are not Americana, roots, folk, soul, blues, jazz, bluegrass, or alt-country.
I sadly have to pass on many viable artists in an effort to not be too critical. Not because they’re bad recordings – quite the contrary. Many are impressive. They’re just the wrong genre.
I write with as much knowledge & sense as possible. I’m not a critic. I review. But some CDs/streams are not what we focus on. Rap, techno, electro, grunge, punk, R&B, house music, hip-hop, industrial – wrong publication. The music isn’t bad – I’m not experienced enough in that music, to be honest. Pure & simple.
What I am outlining pertains to some recordings. Not all. Songs at times that fill CDs are performed well. But lyrically have no redeeming value, no noticeable originality. They say nothing. Not all music is about the groove. Not all music is meant to be danced to. The most glaring giveaways are song titles or album titles with no imagination.
The state of song quality & content: While some artists — some, have well-written songs, memorable melodies, & play proficiently, many aren’t carefully thought out. Cliche abounds, repetition is monotonous. Some melodies have intensity & are lovely. But many are retreads. While the musicianship is often good & singers solid — many have little to say that captures the imagination.
People like Eric Clapton & Elton John practice to attain & maintain perfection on their instruments. You get the drift. But composers seem to not learn from the lyrical perfection of Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Townes van Zandt, Tim Hardin, Carole King or Laura Nyro. They don’t realize some of the best have full-time lyricists: The Grateful Dead, Elton John, Procol Harum, & King Crimson. Maybe these composers are too young to go back that far to understand how compelling song quality can be achieved?
When I wrote songs in the 70s, I indeed went back to Oscar Hammerstein, George Gershwin, Brecht & Weill to study their lyrics. The words to many modern songs are mundane, lame, bad poetry — if even that. Writing lyrics to great melodies takes a practiced pen with imagination. Same as Clapton practiced his guitar & Elton his piano. I wish the musicians would put more effort into what they say, wish to convey. Maybe then, they’d write a classic everyone would want to cover.
Now as for emotional intensity visit the “poor man’s Moody Blues,” — Barclay James Harvest. A band basically obscure in the USA despite recording & performing to sold-out stadiums in Europe since 1966. Now, why would they be in an Americana column? Their influences, diversity & magnificent musicianship while intense, creative & melodic as the Moody Blues, BJH were always edgier. Sample their masterpiece the marvelous 2-chords of “Hymn.” This could be covered by any Americana-Folk-Roots artist. “The valley’s deep & the mountain’s so high if you want to see God you got to move on the other side.” If you listen closely, you hear the spirituality & care that went into this. This — from a rock group.
Michael Dinner (“Tom Thumb the Dreamer”) only issued 2 well-produced LPs on Fantasy. “Apple Annie,” is one classic. “Oh Apple Annie, won’t you come out tonight, the moon’s on the highway, and you’re looking ripe….”
The LP featured 2 Elton John’s musicians, strong background singers & superbly orchestrated songs like “Pale Fire,” which is mindful of Elton John’s “Burn Down the Mission” finale. Exceptional.
Obscure: Recorded in the 70s with Americana clarity & gorgeous musicianship from Colorado’s Tumbleweed label is an expertly recorded LP by Arthur Gee. Masterfully creative with 2 beautiful songs among so many, “Love Song 451 & 450.” Both stellar. Even today. This is a good example of an artist who was original, creative & daring.
Regional acts: As good as Emmylou Harris, or Mary Chapin Carpenter is the Midwest’s beautiful Carrie Newcomer who has a rich voice (“Leaves Don’t Drop They Just Fall”). The creative Michigan artist is always impressive and marvelous.
Since 1980 Carrie has many LPs worth exploring. Listening to her is always a pleasant experience.
SPILLED MERCURY: A pleasant surprise from Canada — The Kings, well known for their 1980 hit “This Beat Goes On,”/”Switchin’ to Glide,” (Certified Platinum Single & Gold LP) return with their remarkable vocalist David Diamond. Their new single already out is “I Know So,” — another exciting romp.
The Kings produced an ingenious video for this song with varied wonderful dance scenes from many sources & eras. I must say it’s been a while since I watched a music video that pasted a smile ear to ear, from beginning to end on my face. A new LP later in the year.
From Trespass in Canada: the critically-acclaimed/award-winning NJ singer-songwriter Loretta Hagen (who performed with the late Pete Seeger) comes with a well-produced & recorded “Not Now,” (single drops April 1). With a rich alto voice/acoustic guitar Loretta, instead of bellyaching about Covid-19 addresses surviving.
Wonderful allusions, tight benevolent lyrics & a heartwarming melody with no anger, no regrets or bitterness, just optimism. She thinks about the people not just as victims. No politics, no accusatory finger-pointing. There are no soaring showboating vocals here – Hagen delivers on the strength of her soulful musical gifts. https://airplaydirect.com/music/LorettaHagenNotNow/
Guitarist Gary Hagen lays down some exceptional work, bassist Teri Avella joins with backup vocalists: Debby Maggiulli & Jackie Sierch. 5 Stars. Do you hear me Cat Country? 5-stars.
Also, a new single from Tia McGraff — “What If.”
This features Tia’s warm delivery akin to a Melissa Ethridge-Kim Carnes-Bonnie Tyler style. Tia’s voice has a genuine soul streak through her country pedigree & this tune is a golden introduction. I look forward to an entire CD of Tia.
Excellent musicianship. https://www.tiamcgraff.com/
CDs can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.