Grooves & Cuts — April 2022 – Reviews by John Apice
GROOVES & CUTS – Spilled Mercury Special (14) Capsule Reviews
Heavy-duty selection of capsule reviews this month. So I’m forgoing writing anything of the fairytale musical nature with journalistic importance with nostalgic wit & lots of jargon.
Artists discussed — Courtney Jaye, Jon Chi, Christopher Lockett, Abigail Lapell, Dida Pelled, Roisin O, John Doe, Mama’s Broke, Holland Belle, Kurt Deemer, Moonfruits, Bob Sumner, Barton Stanley David & Laney Jones.
Courtney Jaye – Hymns and Hallelucinations – Tropicali Records – Drops May 20
A few short words on interesting artists start with the seductive & equally beautiful voice of Courtney Jaye. She has a strong pop-country vocal style heavily laced in a 60s arrangement variety. Walks through her videos as if she’s the embodiment of Eve in the Garden of Eden – and I’m inclined to believe it.
There’s nothing vulgar in this performance. Ms. Jaye is angelic right from the start & her voice displays a sound effectively & seriously with the instrumentation. Back in the 60s a song like the first one — would’ve been an instant hit. Mainstream attraction poured all over it.
The videos are done well & capture her “Hymns and Hallelucinations/Video Trip (Part 2-The Journey)” excellently. There are multiple songs that segue into one another creatively as she walks through a paradise.
There’s obviously a spiritual slant but not necessarily a steadily religious one. She presents it with such appeal. It’s a cleverly produced melodic journey — smartly conceived.
The 10-cut was produced by Ms. Jaye, features William Tyler (guitar), Jack Lawrence (bass), Loney John Hutchins (keys), Luke Schneider (pedal steel), Mikaela Davis (harp) & Austin Hoke (cello). Directed by Joshua Shoemaker with Director of Photography Cory Riley. Color image by: Julia Drabczyk. Available @ https://courtneyjaye.bandcamp.com/album/hymns-and-hallelucinations & https://www.courtneyjaye.com/
Jon Chi – River of Marigolds – Independent – Released April 22
Chi’s the former frontman for Rainmaker & this is his 3rd self-produced solo CD River of Marigolds. Recorded in CA Chi addresses calamities, wildfires, floods & quarantines. The inconvenient issues include isolation, protests/riots, the volatile political climate & raising innocent children who are coming into awareness of these issues.
What’s refreshing? Chi admits he doesn’t have a solution or answer to these obstacles. But they’re the varied subjects Jon Chi (Guitars/Vocals) crafted his music around for this new ensemble effort.
The 9-track has an emotional thread that runs through each song. With well-written lyrics, the songs have the benefit of a soulful horn-driven sound. A natural flow between instruments, whether enthusiastic or moody, especially from guitar to B3 organ to lap steel guitar done with finesse. Each song is a story & they’re fully realized with skill. Quite an enjoyable set.
Recommended tracks: All will provide pleasure depending on what a listener enjoys. Good eccentric guitars, bright horns, melancholy interplay, swampy guitar (“Dannemora Blues,” is exceptional). Photo by video director: Laura Kudritzki. Available @ https://www.jonchi.com/
Christopher Lockett – At The Station – Independent – Drops May 13
Chris is a rootsy-blues artist & award-winning director/cinematographer who’s released 12 outstanding story-based songs produced by Fernando Perdomo (drums, percussion, bass, organ, lead guitar). The set features former Bob Dylan violinist Scarlett Rivera & vocalist Kitten Kuroi (Elvis Costello).
Chris (acoustic/electric guitars/harmonica) performs many songs with distinctive tantalizing female support vocals by Kitten that electrifies “The Reckoning.” A simple attractive tune with violin is featured on the upbeat & somewhat old-fashioned “In the By and By.”
Additional musicians: Korey Simeone (fiddle/dobro), Chad Watson (mandolin), Bob Bernstein (pedal steel) & Robbie Gennet (piano).
Lockett’s vocals are not similar to the cookie-cut vocalists on country radio. He has a warm distinctive voice between original & traditional. If John Prine teamed up with a backcountry barn dance band this is what he might sound like (“Wet a Line”). Chris isn’t pushing things to sound innovative – he’s true to the genre with merit in each recording.
Hot harmonica blows & there are hard snap beats on the snare. He’s not quite Steve Earle or Lyle Lovett but his relaxed performance leans toward Tom Russell & the late John Stewart. The duetting with female vocalists is a wonderful touch.
Though each song has its own attraction “The Reckoning,” is an ass-kicking beauty. If this is the future of country-folk music they have a great lead vocalist in Chris Lockett. B&W Photo courtesy of KG Music Press. This 4th release is available @ Bandcamp + https://www.christopherlockett.com/music
Abigail Lapell – Stolen Time – Outside Music – Released April 22
Toronto’s award-winning singer-songwriter Abigail Lapell explores the intense subject of immigrating to a new world. Evoking the spirits of past folk singers who have also sung about those hardships experienced by migrants, immigrants & expatriates.
Though there can be conflicting issues about the process of being able to successfully migrate it’s a sorry situation that needs to be addressed properly. Few sing about that. Its solution is not an easy one since there are some undocumented people who aren’t coming with good intentions & that can’t be denied or ignored.
This is the caution some citizens & politicians insist on while others dismiss it. It’s unfortunate for honest, hard-working, dedicated immigrants who just wish to start a new life, assimilate & contribute to society.
Ms. Lapel addresses this subject with expertise & silky vocals on this set produced by Howard Bilerman. Her music is built on emotional melodies, structures that would indeed impress the likes of a Woody Guthrie or Dave Van Ronk.
Abigail’s single “Land of Plenty,” & title track “Stolen Time,” are intensely good as she sings with the tenderness of a Buffy Sainte-Marie. This is a recording of quality. There’s nothing bombastic or pretentious here. It’s all woven delicately. Similar to the songs & voices of the Chicago-based Sons of the Never Wrong (Deborah Maris Lader & Sue Demel) on their “Queen of Today.”
Abigail reminds me in certain instances of past work done by Cris Williamson (“Last Sweet Hour”) & Ferron. Her acute songwriting leaves nothing simplistic. Just creative & deep. The LP features 11-songs performed by a perfect band for Ms. Lapell’s voice. Musicians — Dan Fortin (bass), Dani Nash (drums/vocals), Christine Bougie (lap steel, guitar), Rachael Cardiello (viola), Katie Moore & Chris Velan (vocals), Pietro Amato (French horn), Ellwood Epps (trumpet), Fats Kaplin (pedal steel) & Peggy Lee (cello). Available @ https://www.abigaillapell.com/
Dida Pelled – Sylvia (Lost Her Sense of Being a Woman) – Independent Single – Released March 29
Brooklyn-based Israeli singer Dida Pelled with bandmate Yammi Wisler wrote what appears to be a song about a true situation. When Dida was snowbound for a week in a Swiss village she met Sylvia. Apparently, this was a sibylline woman on the upswing from depression.
Sylvia was torn between grieving her fading youth, fertility & as she described — losing parts of herself. Watching her old ideas dissipate. However, she felt empowered by the new identity she was growing into.
Not the stuff of popular music. But you have to respect a songwriter who focuses on such a heavy-duty manifestation. Drawing inspiration from it & created quite an original song to document it.
Dida was quoted as saying Sylvia had risen like a phoenix but maybe it was more accurately the process of chrysalises. Sylvia became a butterfly after many challenges.
Dida is a renowned jazz guitarist & considered one of the East Coast’s best. She turned toward Americana songwriting & redefined her voice as a singer/writer. With this single, she’s created a musical beauty. Its intensity flowers brilliantly through the infectious melody & her lilting vocals.
She manages to sing with a tint of optimism for Sylvia. This is what makes the tune different, strangely radiant despite the subject matter. Quite an achievement. I’m not thrilled with the finale when it loses a little melodic focus & gets aggressive & grinding. But I can understand the undertone since it was for Sylvia a “pulling apart.”
Photo courtesy of Shervin Lainez. The song’s available @ https://didamusic.com/
Roisin O – Courageous – Blix Street Records – Dropped April 29
The 2nd album by acclaimed Irish singer Roisin O provides 10 original songs produced by Phillip Magee (with co-producer on some tracks Cian McSweeney) that document the standard fare – love, heartbreak, seesaw in relationships, dealing with emotion & redemption with optimism during isolation. But the Irish do this well through their energetic melodies, intense poignant words & colorful phrases.
“Stolen,” is a gourmet blend of moving vocals that’s chillingly good. Roisin O’s near angelic in nature – a warmer more powerful Sarah MacLauchlan-type tone. She sings with energy with good phrasing, intonation & always velvety smooth. A delightful listen.
The musicians are striking & accompany her with impeccable sound. I’m not even going to comment on her fiery red hair. Just as beautiful as her voice.
Players – Rob Kennedy (drums), Cormac Curran (keys), Caoimhe Hopkinson (guitar) & Roisin (guitar). Image with bright light by Nicholas O’Donnell. Studio color portrait image provided. The CD is available @ http://roisino.com/
Mama’s Broke – Narrow Line – Free Dirt Records – Drops May 13
With song subjects that dip a finger into violence, injustice, climate issues & misogyny it’s hard to find the foot-stomping good time in such music. But Canada’s Mama’s Broke doesn’t disappoint after cooking up tunes for 8 years.
There are 11 dark haunting melodies on their sophomore CD that includes harmony duets that follow a somewhat traditional route respectable to the genre. The playing isn’t based on showboating but on creating an atmospheric musical ambiance. Mama’s Broke succeeds right from the first song “Just Pick One.” If I had to compare I’d say they fall between the cracks of The Indigo Girls, The Roches with a pinch of The McGarrigle Sisters for authenticity.
Their vocals especially when the solo is Appalachian rich with a genuine Iris DeMent, Gillian Welch tone. Each song is carefully stitched together & woven into little mountain stories that sound like something passed down by ancestors.
This is not country-pop music it has a fine vein of vintage, antique melody lines that Lisa Maria & Amy Lou Keeler maintain with expertise. The songs were written in Amy’s cabin in rural Nova Scotia. Quite an engaging set that despite its rootsy ingredients sparkles with originality. Photo by Blanca Chavez. Available @ Bandcamp & https://mamasbroke.ca/
Holland Belle – Bird Song – Basement Floods Records – Drops May 13
Catskills, NY artist Holland Belle’s debut CD is sophisticated & sublime with a touch of jazz overtones in her pristine mellow vocals. She sings on “Magnetism” low, but it draws you in like a Venus flytrap. But this melody is slow, seductive & soothing its attraction — benevolent.
Her creative approach is to sit quietly in tranquility & beauty despite the chaos. It’s mysterious stuff but her natural voice sends a clear content message in a manner similar to an old saying – “silence is a strong reply.”
I always thought it was easier to rock out than sing something whispery with intense words. The emotion needs to shine through the instrumentation. Transcend the lyric & become a message, not a groove. Singer Adele gets credit for this vocal style but before her, there was Bird York (“In the Deep”) who was mesmerizing with each vowel. Much the same as Belle’s “Magnetism.”
Proficiently produced by Dante Bardo (guitar/bass/drums/keys) helped Holland Belle (guitar/keys/percussion/vocals) find her new “self” through these songs with Jonathan Talbot (strings) & Wesley Harper (additional keys).
Hopefully, the entire LP will reflect the quality of this song. B&W image courtesy Clarion Call PR. CD’s @ https://hollandbelle.bandcamp.com/track/magnetism
Kurt Deemer – Reclaim The Night – Independent – Drops May 6
This is the 3rd Kurt Deemer (vocals/guitar/producer/writer) LP & he’s quite the distinctive singer-songwriter. With a signature style akin to some great Americana artists such as the late Robert Hazard, Marc Cohn, John Hiatt, Joe Henry, John Wesley Harding, the late Willie DeVille & Canada’s Tom Wilson – he has a deep resounding vocal that’s instantly attractive.
Deemer treads a dark course of the melodic endeavor. Not necessarily deviant but in the underbelly of places, people & things. “Weeds,” is an example, with an excellent arrangement it indulges the ears to think about what’s being said. Kurt doesn’t overload the senses with lots of words but the carefully chosen lines resonate cleverly.
Deemer’s a heartland rocker – more Mellencamp than Springsteen. His approach is more melodic than Bruce’s. Songs are shaped in a carefully commercial-friendly manner that teeters in serious well-designed songcraft. The cool reserve of the harmonica’s haunting in “Dead of Night.” It’s story-driven & Kurt’s arid vocals are perfect for this kind of lyric.
It’s an ambitious set of workingman’s music. I found it enjoyable. Color photo by Shane Gardner. The CD is available @ https://kurtdeemer.com/home
John Doe – Fables In A Foreign Land – Fat Possum Records – Drops May 20
This is a veteran artist who’s always reliable & has been consistent with his work for decades. Los Lobos’ Louie Perez & Terry Allen, Garbage’s Shirley Manson, X’s Exene Cervenka co-wrote some songs with Doe. There’s a rural, homegrown feel though nothing new is revealed. The songs are relatively simple, well-played & energetic.
Considering that Doe was originally a punk-pioneer his metamorphosis into a great roots artist is lauded. There are 13 songs written over a 3-year period. The LP is a concept that explores scenarios from another era – sleeping on the ground, hunger, isolation, parts of life that had been taken away — that all seems to fit as well today.
Some musicians with Doe are Kevin Smith (bass, worked with Willie Nelson) & Conrad Choucroun (drums).
Standout cuts: “See the Almighty,” the Los Lobos inspired accordion driven “Guilty Bystander,” is uplifting & charming. Doe delivers & this is just another well-developed idea equally elaborate & enjoyable.
Doe goes Spanish with hand-claps on “El Romance-O” that sounds as if the tune was traditional. It’s a story song Doe tells convincingly. Spanish lyrics by Mr. Perez. Even if you’re not Spanish this is quite a cool tune. Heavy-duty acoustic guitars fill up the spaces.
B&W images by Todd V. Wolfson. Available @ http://www.theejohndoe.com/
Moonfruits – Atoms In the Apartment – Single – Independent – Dropped April 29
Another French-Canadian duo — invigorating as the best years of Peter, Paul & Mary. This is their first teaser single before their sophomore LP “Salt,” which is forthcoming (Fall 2022).
According to Alex, the song is a nerdy love song to their apartment which says that it’s a colorful ode to the quirks & (quarks) of home. Thinking of all the atoms that made up their 700-odd square feet apartment. Very early Joni Mitchell in inspiration.
Fresh sounding with a theatrical flair. The voices of Kaitlin Milroy (glockenspiel) & Alex Millaire (guitar/samples/orchestration) work well. Good color to their voices & energetic.
Joining the Moonfruits are Tobias Meis (double bass), Kelly LeFaive (violin), Brian Sanderson (horns), Liv Cazzola (mission organ/synth) & Olivier Fairfield (drums).
Some prior songs have been in French along with English lyrics. It’s a practice even the McGarrigle Sisters used to good effect. Their music’s always elaborate, easy on the ears & pristine. A good showcase with an appealing quality. Color image courtesy of their Facebook Page. Available sample listen & purchase @ https://moonfruits.bandcamp.com/ + https://moonfruits.ca/
Bob Sumner – Broken Record – Single – North Country Collective – Drops May 5
Bob Sumner (guitar/vocals) has always gone to the well of tradition both in his musical style & perceptive vocals.
On the single “Broken Record,” Sumner has just enough George Jones added to his sad ballad to make the talkers in a bar stop & listen quietly. But this is what makes a great country song that could easily become a classic.
Nice lounge-style piano, Spanish acoustic guitar & pedal steel slowly negotiate the beer & peanuts, lonesome tabletop crowd. Boy it got quiet in this place — got something in your eye mister?
Sumner’s vocal is perfectly suited for this kind of tears in your beer ambience, “when you wake up one morning to that sad lonesome truth.” Yeah. That’ll get a big guy to draw moisture from his eyes. The song features Etienne Tremblay (guitar), Erik Nielsen (bass), Leon Power (drums), Jesse Zubot (strings), Matt Kelly (piano/pedal steel) & Paul Rigby (nylon-string guitar).
In a fair world, this would be a major hit on country radio & covered by many famous country singers. Images courtesy of Bob Sumner. Music available @ https://bobsumnermusic.com/home
Barton Stanley David – Crest – Independent – Dropped on April 22
7 tracks occupy this new CD by a former decade-long New Yorker who took his creativity back home to Dallas, TX to capture what was necessary to realize this work.
The project had tragedy when the original co-producer Jeff Saenz lost both arms in a freak accident in his yard with a downed power line. Barton was able to finish with help from Stephen Deering a young engineer & violinist (The Eagles).
Barton Stanley David’s (vocals/guitars/piano/synth/programming) stand out is the masterful “All Ways,” which has an infectious melody — steady & easy to dig. Barton sings with authority with a seasoned tonality. The performances are stellar. Barton knows how to channel his rock heart into his Country captivating showcase.
The majority are autobiographical. Musicians — Matt Young (drums), Chris Anderson (bass), Ben Fisher (piano/keys), Douglas Edward & Scarlett Deering (violin/viola), Walker Adams (add’l drums), Burton Lee (pedal steel), Tom Hopke, Tyler Martin, Steven Cooper & Jeff Saenz (guitars/noise). String arrangement by Scarlett Deering, Douglas Edward & Nathan MacCormack & Barton. Photo by Becky Digiglio. Available @ https://bartonstanleydavid.bandcamp.com/album/crest +
Laney Jones – Stories Up High – AHPO Records – Drops May 20
Another Nashville hopeful with producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Langhorne Slim) tackles a lusher country sound with Laney Jones (co-producer). Jones has pipes, some good songs with arrangements that glow with instrumentation that’s dramatic & surprising. Bells, tympani & the like.
It is, however, for selective tastes. It’s not music that grabs the throat or necessarily sets your hips to swing.
But Laney’s interesting & she explores pop via country via avant-garde just short of dark excursions like Brecht-Weill. There are creative highlights that may interest some. The old-world glamour & faded gothic scenes, chintzy atmospheres of gaudy places. Though these are suggested they never take center stage.
Laney (vocal/guitar/keys) is not new to this. She’s been around but hasn’t found her “niche” 100%. She’s still trying on musical hats though her talent alone is enough to suffice. Her voice is attractive & versatile. There’s a certain air of eccentricity & it’s not like anything else that’s clawing its way up the charts.
Joining Laney is Brian Dowd (drums), Ian Jones (guitar), Jeff Ratner (bass/glockenspiel) & John Pahmer (organ). Color image courtesy of her Bandcamp site. Available @ Bandcamp & http://www.laney-jones.com/
CD & Digital Links can be bought at the artists’ respective websites.
Grooves & Cuts reviews for April 2022.