”This is for all of you that feel the way I do. The game’s not over, the people are gone. I don’t mind getting older, it’s just the timing’s all wrong. Dreams don’t change, they adjust with the times.”
Will Courtney by Dal Wolf
Folks don’t slow down a lot these days, pausing to listen to what’s whispering in the wind or murmuring within. It’s valuable to take a breath and open up to what’s being said instead of drowning these subtle messages out with our pre-scripted responses and chatter – there’s tiny truths and tenderness waiting in the slipstream. Will Courtney puts his perceptive ears to work in this realm on his shimmering, ever-so-pleasing solo debut, A Century Behind (released April 22). Feelings about love, God and all sorts of things are held up to a soft light, coaxed gently to a low light glow, the stuff most don’t discuss given a comfortable space to move around.
A Century Behind both builds on and moves away from Courtney’s quality work with Brothers and Sisters – the uninitiated are pointed to 2007’s boffo Fortunately album to get schooled – by consciously courting intimacy. This is still rock ‘n’ roll but in the vein of the more hushed corners of Neil Young, The Jayhawks, Ryan Adams, and Chris Bell, whose I Am The Cosmos comes to mind several times during A Century Behind. Courtney’s voice is a pleasing open wound, scars starting to form but the healing still in process, his quivering tone making each brave step into honesty that much more effective. The arrangements are spare but nicely decorated by choice elements, just enough of everything to feel fleshed out but never bulky. This album is a lovely, compact opening salvo from one of the strongest contemporary Americana artists out there, a slow burn that lingers
Will applied his inquisitive mind to DI’s philosophical roundtable, and here’s what he had to say.
stuffed Maker’s Mark with John Lennon!
”Never settle when you got nothing to lose. You may become filled with black and blues. Nobody else is gonna fill your shoes. Ah, the world is just a puzzle and it’s easy to get confused.”
There’s a preternatural wisdom and lived-in worldliness to Philadelphia duo Modern Inventors that doesn’t at all reflect the youth of creators Matt Kass and Josh Benus. In fact, there’s a rightness and mature craftsmanship to the pair that seasoned pros would give their eye teeth to possess. Press play on their recent debut Trains & Aeroplanes (pick it up here) and one is quickly reminded of Neil Finn, Josh Rouse, Michael Penn and James Taylor in his 70s prime. Modern Inventors joins this dear choir of pop-rock universalists with a sparkling song cycle that dig into human experience and pull out tunes that make one close their eyes and shuffle, understanding given catchy melodies, intertwined harmonies, and words that make sense of things we all struggle against.
A recent trip hop-ish cover of Paul McCartney’s “Every Night” (listen here) proves this is no retro act, and has even garnered some appreciation from the “Cute Beatle” himself (likely appealing to Macca’s The Firemen side). The track builds on the sculpted feel of their debut, showing off the care and playfulness woven into the fabric of this band. As breathlessly smooth as their songs appear to be this dynamic only occurs through thoughtful planning and attentive execution. This is pop descended from the era that birthed McCartney and his Liverpool mates’ foundational combo, so it’s little wonder the man himself gets a kick out of it. And like the best work of the 60s & 70s, Modern Inventors’ music feels vibrantly immediate, not some looking back but something built for today and tomorrow.
We asked Matt Kass, who we already dug mightily in his old band, the shoulda-been-huge The Brakes, to get gently philosophical with us.
tokin’ with Carl Sagan!
”Fallen thoughts/ On the ground/ And I lost the one thing I thought I found/ I’m home bound/ If it’s still there/ If you care.”
The Midnight Pine
Certain music arrives to us fresh and free from time’s easy markers; sounds and scenarios shimmering with a beauty and pertinence that resonates with today and tomorrow while gamely chattering with the past. San Diego’s The Midnight Pine possess a delicate, heart-sore timelessness of this sort, their gently grasping hands and clear eyes wringing emotion from a consciously sculpted, whisper rock intimacy, where the trio clearly listens to one another, each rise and fall a shared breath that makes one inhale and exhale with deeper gulps.
Skirting sicknesses and possessions, The Midnight Pine hums on the same wavelength as John Martyn, Bridget St. John, and modern practitioners like Wooden Wand and Daniel Martin Moore. However, what their contemporaries lack is the achingly seductive voice of singer Shelbi Bennett, whose personal, intuitive phrasing and exceedingly warm tone recall a time before talent competitions and focus groups determined what being a good vocalist meant. Place Bennett somewhere between Beth Orton and Zooey Deschanel and you’ve got a sense of the shivers this lady induces – and for the Impound’s money we’ll take her over either of those touchstones, particularly when she swings on a classic pop moon, her voice lifting one’s heels, a wind of human construction that blows away the dead leaves and dried scabs we carry around in the long, black bag we drag behind us.
Paired with the empathetic envelopment of Heavy Guilt members Sean Martin (guitars) and Alfred Howard (lyricist, percussion), the whole is country road sweet and ruminative late night bittersweet. The three have crafted a debut, Awake Now (BUY) (LISTEN), that’s haunting in a way that suggests an instant cult classic; the sort of record Devendra Banhart would give Vashti Bunyan to make her smile and sigh.
We asked Al Howard to apply his supple, lovely-strange mind to DI’s quasi-philosophical questions, and as with all things Al, he knocked it out with style.
sushi with Townes Van Zandt!
Album title or philosophy?
Dearly Beloved begins their Spring 2013 tour today, April 10, in Ottawa. Check out the schedule of dates and stops below!
Toronto’s Dearly Beloved grapples and gropes modern ontology in a fierce, roughly sensual manner, the sweat and blood of living and what we think about it dripping from their songs. You can tell it gives them a lot of sleepless nights, chain smoking and pouring shot after shot, wondering, “Where is my mind?” and not simply letting that be a Pixies reference – a veteran act whose early work shares some primal kinship with Dearly Beloved joints like last year’s fantabulous Hawk vs Pigeon. In some ways, this Canadian force-to-be-reckoned-with is the sonic equivalent of incisive psyche peelers like Dennis Cooper and Chuck Palahniuk, where humanity’s muck isn’t kept at arm’s length, an active embrace of the parts of us people don’t usually hold up to the sunlight. What’s fun about this exploration with Dearly Beloved is how raucously joyous their soul spelunking can be, where the battered and beaten are welcomed to the dance as much as those in pretty dresses and ruffled tuxedos.
We asked Dearly Beloved’s Rob Higgins if we could stick a fork in his brain and pull out some insights and he readily broke out his bone saw to assist.
choppin’ mountains with Hendrix!
They really don’t make singer-songwriter joints like Memories & Birds (released April 2), the latest substantive salvo from Kenny Roby. It’s a work that harks back to enduring hallmarks like Fred Neil’s 1966 eponymous album, Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter, and John David Souther’s 1972 debut – all music cut loose from time, ready for all ages given the truths and feelings they truck in. Roby’s song cycle stands ably in this strong company, announcing to lonely listeners, “You don’t have to go it alone,” in a most wooing manner.
The gentle flurry of clarinet and strings that greets one on the opener foreshadows the intimate merger of sound and sensibilities on Memories & Birds, where the delicately played but pitch perfect accompaniment to each track underscores and expands on carefully sculpted lyrics and the rich emotion in Roby’s measured, fascinating singing. While all eight cuts hang together empathetically, repeat spins reveal the diversity of moods, from the inward-outward reflection of the title song to the would-have-been-a-hit-for-Dusty-Springfield bounce of “Tired of Being in Love” to the patient journey of “Colorado” to the dark stroll and black wit of “The Monster” to the reverb-ed modern doo wop of “Me and the Monkey” to the enchanting waltz step of “The Craziest Kid Around.” Each element seems consciously chosen and placed with care, and the ultimate effect is to make one acutely aware of how lazy and carelessly/obviously the majority of pop and Americana is by comparison to Memories & Birds.
Like fellow Roby fans Neal Casal and Ryan Adams, the Impound has been diggin’ on what he’s been laying down since his days in 6 String Drag – High Hat is one of our favorite albums of the 1990s – and his solo evolution has been nothing but interesting. But even so, Roby’s latest offering marks a new high point, mature and sophisticated but utterly approachable despite its many deep thoughts.
We asked Kenny to tackle our little philosophical roundtable, and he was nice enough to oblige.
gettin’ the Babe high!
To seduce is no easy task. It requires subtle levels of control and abandon, conscious and unconscious behaviors swirling in real time to draw one in. However, sometimes seduction comes naturally, as in the case of San Francisco-based The Northerlies, who need all of a single minute to insinuate themselves in your comfort zone with their floating, folk-dappled “pop music-making.” Amidst siren sweet vocals, sighing keyboards, softly ringing guitars, and a rhythm section that envelops one like a friendly love seat, the band’s ever so winning debut, The Great Escape, stirs memories of Belle and Sebastian at their gently probing best (though with oodles less snark and loads more sweetness) as well as more recent charmers like Lavender Diamond, The Mumlers, and Admiral Fallow. In short, this is REALLY nifty music that’s got depths beyond its immediate surface appeal. The Great Escape is one of those albums that the Impound is sure will continue to reveal it’s fine qualities over time. What with its light-handed update of 60s girl group/classic radio single tropes and shuffling, deceptively breezy tunes, it’s not hard to imagine this sneaking onto a few of the brighter Best of 2013 lists come year’s end – and they’ve already got a lock on DI’s own picks for standout debuts this year.
We invited Becky Uline (vocals, guitar, this ‘n that) and Whitney Bekolay (keys, vocals, other fun) to tackle our little philosophical roundtable.
fancy port & summer air!
” What makes a man but tiny little spirals/ Read my palm, read my blood/ Torn apart and slowly reassembled/ Flip my switch start me up.’”
The Old Ceremony
Dodging ghostly fingers along winter heavy forest trails, The Old Ceremony dances with the mysteries that hold us together. So instantly winning are their songs that careless ears may miss all the subterranean activity going on below. That’s often the best way for truth and wisdom to seep into our pores; the direct assault too easily dismissed and deflected.
This Durham, NC group’s list of “likes” in their Facebook profile – Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, The Beatles, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan – show the creative company they’d like to keep, and an honest reading of their catalog since 2004 shows their melodically charged, instrumentally lush, cerebrally stimulating work deserves a seat at this table more often than not. Nestle inside their warrens and hills and one finds music with long, strong tendrils thrown into folklore, pop culture, and bedrock psychology, yet all handled so gracefully one might never know they’ve stumbled into a most pleasant kind of enlightenment – a sensation felt most acutely on their current long-player Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide (one of DI’s Favorite Albums of 2012).
Chief songwriter-lead singer-guitarist Django Haskins agreed to entertain DI’s lighthearted philosophical roundtable. Haskins once sent the Impound a short note that simply read, “Thanks for giving a shit.” We absolutely do, and if you’ve got a heart able to be broken and an ear for sophisticated pop-rock then you should give a shit about The Old Ceremony too.
very old scotch & Nick Drake!
”I went to see the doctor. He said, ‘You should be dead.’ I said, ‘I was, doc, but now I’m back. I’m holding on. Yes, I am.’ The doctor looked right through me, shook his little head, and said, ‘What do you know about that?’’”
Chuck Prophet by Keith Corcoran
Resurrection seems par for the course for Chuck Prophet, who digs around in mortality’s nutrient rich soil to cultivate music that rooted in the raw stuff of life and death, the dirt of our inevitable final fall evident in his verses as well as honest joy at still being able to fog a mirror each morning. Big ideas suit him but always addressed with a workingman’s heart, his smarts earned through sometimes hard living, his wisdom ever-streetwise though flecked with high brow splashes that make one wonder just how much Chuck really knows about this clockwork universe.
Prophet shimmies with revolutions – personal, economic, global, social – in unmistakably rock ‘n’ roll ways – this ain’t no folk circle – and it’s often only a good while after his songs finish that the full weight of them hits one. As finger-snapping, flip your collar up cool as his tunes first appear, there is nearly always something else floating in the ground water – a moist, mineral creep that enters the bloodstream smoothly and silently. Put another way, the cat is deep AND hip. For all the accolades and arenas that greet guys like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, it’s worth noting that Prophet is every bit the talent they are and it’s only the world’s cruel inequities that haven’t placed him in the same comfortable spots. In a way, one wonders if his albums would have the same close to the bone incisiveness if he was riding in the back of limos, but for the Impound’s money there’s no better chronicler of the still unfolding (or perhaps near-to-folding) American Dream today than Chuck Prophet.
We asked Chuck to tackle our little philosophical roundtable, and he was nice enough to oblige.
Pink Dragons & God’s Power Point!