9/25/20

Pete Kronowitt: September 2020 Artist of the Month

Pete Kronowitt

Do Something Now

Mean Bean Records

 

 

[Please note: This album has just been released, so check YouTube to see if new songs have been added.]
 

 

If you’ve been wondering where all the great protest singers are now that Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips have joined Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs in the Great Beyond, the answer is that they’re out there; you’re just no looking in the right places. Take New Jersey-born, Florida-raised, and San Francisco based Pete Kronowitt, for example. His 5th album Do Something Now tells you where he’s coming from. It is a dozen tracks that pull few punches.

 

I used to chat with Utah Phillips (1935-2008) on a regular basis, and he’d occasionally rail against “pretty” protest songs. He was fond of saying, “There’s a world of difference between ‘How many seas must a white dove sail’ and ‘Dump the bosses off your back.’” That was his way of saying that the best call-to-action songs are short on poetry and long on getting to the heart of things. Kronowitt is in that wheelhouse. The title track appears twice–as a stripped-down acoustic version and as one with a band–and I recommend the sparer of the two. It’s a relatable singalong tune that doesn’t beg, rather tells us in no uncertain language, “Don’t just bitch and moan/Time to get on the phone.” If that’s too subtle, the last line is, “Time to get your ass in gear.”

 

This might suggest that Kronowitt is an angry man. He is to some extent. “Are We Great Yet” is a folk-rock takedown of the current Commander in Thief, and Kronowitt isn’t afraid to ask, “Lock a kid up in a cage, is this what we’ve become?” Nor does he put on kid gloves when he inhabits Trump’s dark soul and sings, “Build a wall/When they yell/Kill them all.” For the most part, though, Kronowitt wants us first to think and then to act, rather than hitting the streets in a lather without a plan. There are two environmentally themed songs, “Ladybugs,” with its wistful Western feel; and “Roly Poly,” another folk-rocker that asks us to imagine  a world without animals small and large: from bees and caterpillars to polar bears.

 

When he does implore, it’s usually to center us toward things that should matter more than they often do. “Stay Safe,” for example is Kronowitt’s take on COVID. Like a good folk song, it opts for simple lyrics to remind us we can find solace and renewal in loved ones. A sample lyric for dealing with a heartless world runs, “When the world is a little bit colder/You can be a blanket for me.” Music can also be a balm, a theme he explores in “Big Ole Stick of Wood.” As the title infers, this one is offered up country style, complete with some standup bass from John David Coppola and pedal steel from Tim Marcus. Just to mix things a bit more, there’s a Tejano feel to “You Never Ever Never Know.”

 

Kronowitt and Coppolla often perform together, with percussionist Darian Gray riding shotgun. Justin Kohlberg adds electric guitar and additional acoustic work on the album. Most listeners, though, will be instantly drawn to the gorgeous harmony vocals of Veronica Maund. I emphasize once again, though, that social change music is most effective when the message, not production, is at the fore. Were I in a mood to be critical, I’d note that Kronowitt’s voice is occasionally obscured when there’s too much instrumentation. I’m inclined, though, to give him a free ride. He is a founder of the Face the Music Collective, a coalition of likeminded activist artists that includes folks who have been reviewed on this blog: Olivia Frances, the incomparable Eliza Gilkyson, and The Nields, the pride of Northampton, Massachusetts. Plus, Pete Kronowitt gives us just what we need as November 4 approaches: a swift kick in the pants.

 

Rob Weir

 

 

9/23/20

Trump Shouldn't Win, but Biden Can Lose


 


 

Five weeks to go and I have the sinking feeling that Trump will be reelected. If that happens, Armageddon is upon us. Black Lives won’t matter, nor will corruption, democracy, human rights, feminism, working people, Social Security, the Post Office, health care, the environment, or basic decency. It would take so long to undo two terms of Trump that people my age will spend the rest of their lives under robber barons.

 

I want to be wrong. If not, the Democratic Party can kiss my keister. It has broken my spirit too many times. In 1988, Democrats proclaimed if they couldn’t beat George H. W. Bush they were in the wrong country! In 2000, Al Gore lost to H.W.’s son, a guy with the IQ of broccoli, though Kerry managed to make him look bright in 2004. Hillary Clinton tanked four years ago and lost to a man who is arguably the worst person on Planet Earth.

 

Biden is sinking in swing states and has about as much mojo as he has youth. He still has a path to victory, but he needs to rev into a higher gear. He cannot simply hope that undecideds will yawn and vote for him. He also needs to pay attention to the following:

 

1. Don’t let Trump define you. “Sleepy Joe” has given way to “Masked Man Joe” and “Appeaser Joe.” If Trump is allowed to wrap himself in law and order, God, and the flag, Biden is toast. Did Biden not get the memo that the best defense is a good offense? He could start by denouncing rioters and blaming their presence on Trump. When Trump calls Biden a socialist, call Trump a Putin “communist.” Not many people know what socialism actually is, but they think communism is bad! Mostly, though, he needs to act, not react.

 

2. Ignore handlers who says Americans don’t like mudslinging. Actually, they do. Remind everyone that Trump attacked your son, so you want to know about his family’s alleged misdoings, including Melania’s emails. Quiz Trump on the Bible; let everyone see his Bible is just a prop. Biden should compile a list of people and groups Trump has wronged and repeat it like a broken record. Emphasize the Republicans on said list. Ponder why Trump can’t get along with anyone and muse that maybe people don’t like to bullied or lied to.

 

3. Perceived strength wins more votes than being likable. The American presidency has seldom bred warm, fuzzy candidates. (Maybe Harding and Reagan, but their presidencies were ruinous.) Toughen up. Some of the best presidents have been mean SOBs: Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ…. Some real bastards have won over “nicer” opponents: McKinley over Bryan, Nixon over Humphrey, Nixon over McGovern, Trump over Hillary….

 

4. Use this mantra: Release your taxes! Hammer Trump like a rusty nail with “Release your taxes!” When Trump says they’re too complicated, counter that he must think the American people are stupid. Insist that only candidates with something to hide won’t release their taxes. Suggest that Trump’s either done something crooked, or that he’s broke. Repeat, “Release your taxes!” Look the other way at anti-Trump rallies where the chant “Lock him up!” resounds.

 

5. Scare the hell out of the electorate. Tell voters Trump will steal their retirement funds, drill for oil in their parks, make their daughters unsafe, disrespect the military, and kill their grandparents. Mention COVID early and often. In every swing state, choose a city of 200,000 and say that Trump’s inaction means that the equivalent of the population of Des Moines, Grand Rapids, Madison, Scottsdale, or half of Minneapolis has died from COVID. When Trump brags of his efforts, point out that he ignored COVID until 30,000 had died, and his absence yielded 170,000 more lives. Mention  that without a change in tactics, the death toll will surpass 400,000 by year’s end.

 

6. Stay on message. Screw nuance and blue papers. Simplify and save the wonky stuff for roundtables, Cabinet meetings, and academic debates. You can hate or admire him, but the genius of Bernie Sanders is distillation and repetition. FDR did that as well, as did LBJ and Bill Clinton.

 

7. Wise up: Wall Street doesn’t give a rat’s ass about average Americans. Sucking up to big donors is a losing game. The tech industry is dominated by libertarians and Wall Street is in GOP pockets. Recent successful Democratic candidates have had the guts to say that there is little correlation between how the Stock Market is doing and how things are for wage earners.

 

8. What about Latinos and evangelicals? If Biden loses, pundits will ask why Democrats spent so much time courting 13% of the electorate, much it located in states Democrats had no chance of winning, but so little with the Latino 17% heavily concentrated in swing states. Nor can Biden ignore or diss the white evangelical vote. He can’t/won’t win it, but he must make a decent dent. It unsettles freethinkers, but 41% of Americans identify as evangelical.

 

My fear is that all Biden will do is vogue being “presidential” and “moderate.” That might not be enough, may God rest our souls.

 

Rob Weir

 

9/21/20

Magic Lessons: Maria Owens Unveiled


Magic Lessons (October 2020
By Alice Hoffman
Simon and Schuster, 416 pages
★★★★

When it comes to the fine art of storytelling, few American authors can hold a black candle to Alice Hoffman. That’s the paraffin color we need to consider in Magic Lessons. In 1995, Hoffman published Practical Magic, which introduced us Gillian and Sally Owens, and their aunts Frances and Bridget. Each was gifted with conjuring power that traced back to Maria Owens, a 17th century ancestor tried for witchcraft.  In 2019, Hoffman penned The Rules of Magic, a prequel set in the 1950s that gave us the backstory of aunts “Franny” and “Jet.” 

This time Hoffman dishes out the über sequel, that of Maria Owens herself. We learn that she was abandoned by her mother, Rebecca, who took up with actor/conman Thomas Lockland. Maria isn’t a bloodline Owens; that’s the surname of Hannah, the woman who raises her and teaches her about herbs and spells–mostly from the white arts with admonitions of the dangers of dabbling in the black. Maria grows up with a crow named Cadin as a familiar, discovers that she floats, watches local women come to Hannah for cures, and eventually comes to grips with the knowledge that her powers exceed Hannah’s.

Tragedy will send her to Curacao, where she works through an indentured servant contract and becomes an herbalist. Alas, she has the same curse that will later befall other Owens women: her teen years involve falling in love with the wrong man. In her case, the 15-year-old Maria is impregnated by 37-year-old John Hathorne, a youthful-looking Massachusetts merchant visiting the island. (You might recognize the name!). She gives birth to Faith, whose red hair and grey eyes mark her an oddity, as does a half moon-shaped birthmark on her left hand.

Love draws Owens women to impulsive behavior and it doesn’t get much more impulsive than deciding to go to Massachusetts to search for Hathorne, over whom Maria is a besotted mooncalf. She locates him in Salem in 1680. Uh-oh! I won’t say too much more about this, other than to note that intrigue and tragedy are deflected by a Portuguese Jewish sailor/ex-pirate Samuel Dias—several times.

There are subplots in which Faith is separated from her mother, dabbles in black arts Maria counseled against, and seeks revenge against her Puritan bigot of a father. Hoffman excels at organization and manages to weave into the novel tales of Samuel’s father, a mysterious woman named Catharine Durant, a progressive doctor, new familiars, a second daughter, and several near-death experiences. You will also gain insight into grimoires (spell books), how Wall Street got its name, how the rules of magic acquired its third commandment, and—for fans of early 1960s pop songs—the actual ingredients of Love Potion # 9. Along the way, you’ll get a personalized take on Puritan intolerance, and perhaps come away thinking it might have been better had New York remained a Dutch colony. For purposes of the Hoffman witchyverse (my term), we see the power of Owens women increase with each new generation, , though not necessarily knowledge or wisdom. Hoffman ends her book as the 17th century is about to give way to a new one. Two sisters endure, Faith and Hannah, so there’s plenty of room for future Owens’ adventures. (Will there be an interquel, a sequel to a prequel?) 

Alice Hoffman continues to delight with books that are to be gobbled, not nibbled. Among the spells she casts is that she reverses the photocopy curse. That is, each of her Owens family books thus far has been stronger than its templates. Each novel focuses on magic and the healing arts, but is immersive in the sense that external details unveil the customs and social milieu in which they are set. Rosemary, lavender, and Indian ginseng are said to increase creativity. Alice Hoffman must have a garden filled with them.

Rob Weir





9/18/20

Roddy Doyle Love in Need of Counseling

Love (2020)

By Roddy Doyle

Penguin Random House, 328 pages

★★

 


 

 

Have you ever been in a pub in which people are getting so blasted that stories start, stop, start, stop, meander, start and stop? If the dynamics of such a conversation fascinate you, you will enjoy Roddy Doyle’s Love. If not, you will find it tedious.

 

Love covers a long day in Dublin in which two men in their late fifties who’ve not seen each other in decades reconnect. Joe and Davy were best friends in their school days, but Davy has lived in Oxfordshire, England for nearly 40 years, and Joe remained in Ireland. This sets the table for an awkward conversation in which what they think they know about each other has been dipped in now-hardened amber that only partially dissolves in the heat of a string of Irish pubs.

 

Over the course of the day, the two get drunk and sober numerous times. Joe does most of the talking, with Davy acting as a combination inquisitor/voyeur whose reason for wanting to hear Joe’s tale is ambiguous. The only deep connection between the two lies in the 1980s, when they perceived themselves becoming “men” the first time they entered George’s Pub, were addressed as “gentlemen,” argued about music, and quaffed legal pints. After that, their bond is hazy and it’s not just the drink that’s talking. Joe false starts many times over in a story about a girl they both allegedly mooned over back in the days, though Davy claims to recall only that he thought her attractive in the few times he saw her and never knew her name. In their adult lives, Joe married Trish, whom Davy knew back then, and Davy wed the tart-tongued, whip smart Faye.

 

Both men profess deep love for their wives but, in Joe’s case, there is a twist: Jessica, the girl from the pub. He tries to tell Davy about how he met Jessica 37 years later at a parent conference at his daughter’s school. He has moved in with her and, Joe claims, they’ve not even had sex but he loves her for reasons he can’t articulate. Neither man, it seems, can articulate much of anything, though they do tell each other to “fuck off” numerous times. (In a good way?) Joe still loves Trish and thinks she’s “grand,” but says he needs to be with Jessica. At times Joe’s rambling justifications reminded me of an old David Crosby song, “Triad,” in which he sang “I don’t really see/Why can’t we go on as three?” Mostly, though, the day’s drinking yields verbalizations more akin to a doll whose string one pulls to hear it speak the limited set of phrases in its repeating loop.

 

Doyle intersperses flashback chapters, which was a good strategy or we’d know almost nothing about Davy. He too carries a burden, though from something of a different nature from Joe’s. I shall say no more about it, as it provides the book’s only real revelation. I have enjoyed many of Doyle’s past efforts–especially The Barrytown Pentalogy and Smile–but he misfires in Love. The most intriguing thing about the novel is its title. Does it refer to someone being there when most you need them? Ideal (or idealized) love? Immersion in a culture one understands without filters? Deep friendship lurking beneath shallow surfaces? All of the above? If Doyle wants us to ponder such things, he failed. It seems all the world as if the greatest love is that pint of beer on the book jacket.

 

I wish I had kept a stroke count of the number of pints Joe and Davy consumed over a roughly 10-hour period. They were certainly plentiful enough to make me disbelieve that either man could still be on his feet. Are we supposed to see Joe and Davy as the Ghost of Irish Alcoholism Past? There’s not enough to suggest that, aside from a few oblique remarks about people in business suits quaffing white wine and Joe and Davy’s obviously false remarks that they’ve pretty much given up drinking. Indeed, one could come away from Love with the accusation that Doyle is trading in stereotypes. (For the record, 7.4% of Americans are alcoholics; in the Republic of Ireland it’s 6%.) However we want to spin this, Love is a beer-fueled version of the movie Diner (1982) without the wit and humor.

 

Rob Weir  

9/16/20

Nine Perfect Strangers Entertains, but Pulls Its Punches

 

Nine Perfect Strangers (2018)

By Liane Moriarty

Flatiron Books, 453 pages.

★★★

 

 


If you enjoy creepy and funny,  Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers is the sort of novel that grows darker degree by degree and even then, what you see isn’t exactly what you get. That’s both a good thing and (sometimes) a disappointing one. 


It opens in Sydney–Moriarty is Australian–where high-powered executive Masha Dmitrichenko is clearly ill, though she insists she’s fine and continues to respond to emails as EMTs check her vital signs. She orders them about, then goes into cardiac arrest. Ten years later, Frances Welty, a 52-year-old romance writer of declining reputation is having a panic attack over her decision to check into Tranquillum House for her bad back, weight issues, a devastating book review, and heartbreak over an Internet romance that was actually a scam. She can’t even get in the gate until a young couple, Ben and Jessica Chandler, show up in a flashy Lamborghini and punch in a code that was apparently too much for Frances.

 

 You’ve now met three of the nine perfect strangers who think a health retreat will cure their First World woes. The Chandlers are filthy rich after winning millions in a lottery, but with the cash has come an inability to deal with realities such as the fact that Ben’s sister is a drug addict and that Ben cares more about his car than he does about Jessica, whose numerous Kardashian-like body “improvement” surgeries are turn offs. The Marconi family–teacher Napoleon, midwife Heather, and their about-to-be 21-year-old daughter Zoe–are very fit, but harbor deep hurt over Zachary’s suicide three years earlier. (He was Zoe’s twin.) To the mix, add Lars Lee, a gay 40-year-old lawyer, who fears he will lose his partner who wants kids; Carmel Schneiber, a divorced 39-year-old mother of four daughters who needs to lose a few pounds; and Tony Hogburn, a divorced 56-year-old former Australian football star who needs to lose a lot of weight and get over his dog’s death. 

 

 Tranquillum House has mostly great ratings on social media sites, even from those who warn some of its modalities are unusual. Now meet the staff, massage therapist Jan, who has a new relationship with a cop; office assistant Delilah; personal assistant Yao, who was part of the EMT crew that worked on Masha 10 years earlier; and Masha herself, reborn as a New Age spiritualist, health food advocate, and salesperson extraordinaire. She promises that in ten days, each person in the group will be transformed. 

 

 Things get off on the wrong foot. Some guests who tried to smuggle in forbidden contraband (junk food, booze, tobacco, gadgets) are angry that their bags were gone through while they were doing yoga; Ben freaks when he can’t see his car; Heather thinks she smells a fraud; Lars sees lawsuits at every turn; and Zoe has smuggled in a few things. Only Napoleon seems willing to go with a program that begins with three days of “noble silence.” Decisions are split as to whether Masha is a genius or as twisted as an Outback snake. 

 

 Exactly! Moriarty wants to keep us off balance. There are numerous moments in the book in which someone you trust proves unworthy, or another you think is sane is crazier than a kookaburra. No matter what one might think of Masha’s intent, her methods are at best unorthodox and her spiritual exterior is easily pierced to reveal an arrogant Russian soul. We come to suspect her of evil intentions, but are we correct?

 

 Nine Perfect Strangers is a good end-of-summer page turner that manages to keep reader attention, even though we realize early on it’s no weightier than one of Frances’ romance novels. Moriarty had me until the very end, in which where she rolled everything in an easily digestible sugar coating and asked me to swallow. She even takes voice away from her characters and as, as the formerly hidden observer, assumes a role akin to free-frame coda labels at the end of movies that tell us what happens to the characters in the future. Do we need to know this, or is like the Wizard of Oz stepping out from behind the curtain? The latter, I think. In the wink of an eye, Nine Perfect Strangers goes from a yeasty stout to a Bud Light. 

 

 Rob Weir   

9/14/20

TurnPark Art Center: Don't Miss It

 TurnPark Art Space

2 Moscow Road

West Stockbridge MA

 

Ever been inside an eye made from twigs?
Ever been inside an eyeball made from twigs?

 
A decade and a half ago, two Russian immigrants, Igor Gomberg and Kaya Brezgunova, had a vision. Before moving to the United States, they had befriended artist Nikolai Silis and had spent time at his Moscow studio. As is often the case with artists, Silis’ studio was also a community gathering spot. Gomberg and Brezgunova wanted to create something like that in their new home and found an ideal spot in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on a small bluff that sits against the pond of an old quarry. From this TurnPark Art Space was born. It’s no accident that many of the artists represented are also Russian, Russian-American, or from former Soviet republics.

 TurnPark Art Space is deceptive in its outward appearance. A low slung whitewashed concrete building greets you as you pull into its parking lot. The side closest to you is a windowless blank, though the other has glass that helps illumine indoor exhibits. The galleries are small and are closed at present, but the grounds are open. Officially, this white structure, which looks like it might have escaped from Mies van der Rohe’s sketchpad, is called the Gatehouse. You can walk through it and see a few pieces, but after putting money in the donation box, I suggest you walk atop it.


Bohr and Einstein

Don Quixote

TurnPark Art Space is deceptive. At first glance, it looks small and, by the standards of places such as New York’s Storm King or the deCordova in Concord, Massachusetts, it is. Still, TurnPark Art Space is bigger than you imagine: 16 acres and growing. A winding path takes you on a journey that’s a blend of sculpture, environmental art, and conceptual pieces. One of the first pieces you see will bring a smile. At a glance, Vladimir Lemport’s “Bohr and Einstein” might look a bit like Ma and Pa Kettle smoking matching corn cob pipes, but the name gives it away. Lemport is whimsically honoring Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, arguably the two greatest names in 20th century physics. Another amusing piece comes from none other than Nikolai Silis himself, “Don Quixote V” shows Cervantes’ noble fool cast in steel and sniffing a cut tin daisy. 


Inhabitants of Childhood


There are lots of real daisies and woodland flora to be viewed along the path, as well as a stone amphitheater that, in non-COVID times, is the setting for performances of everything from classic
al music and dance to lectures, yoga, ethnic fairs, movies, and comedy. The middle part of the grounds, where one finds the amphitheater, is a grassy expanse hemmed in by woods. For a unique look at this setting, see it reflected in “Heliograph 2,” a Vadim Kosmatscher inground mobile. If you want frisson from something spookier, installations from Uta Bekaia’s “Inhabitants of Childhood” will do the trick. His childhood was apparently more something out of the Grimm Brothers and macabre Georgian folk tales than Winnie the Pooh! 

 



Some of the pieces are just fun, such as stylized discuss and shotput competitors, and others that look amusing are more profound. This is notably the case of “Rain” from Ukraine’s Nazar Bilyk. It depicts a six-foot bronze figure with upturned head and a giant glass raindrop resting across his face. Bilyk wants us to consider several things, not the least of which is humankind’s delicate and precarious place within nature. There are also works that fall into the conceptual realm, such as Ben Butler’s “Jigsaw,” Gene Montez Flores’ “Puerto,” and Alexander Konstantinov’s “Wandering Rocks.” 

 

You may not like everything you see. To me, Konstantinov’s work on top of the Gateway evokes stacked window frames, though I liked his installation across the pond on the quarry wall, which is truly suggestive of rock striations. This is the beauty of art such as you will see at TurnPark. You can be enthralled or baffled, none of it is stuff you see every day, a mark in its favor. A bigger one still is that art such as Bilyk’s “Rain” stretches the mind. There are many meanings and interpretations one can assign to such pieces and each is probably valid. Plus, the grounds are simply a nice place to commune with your surroundings and plop down for an informal picnic.

Don’t worry about having trouble finding TurnPark. The go-to stop in West Stockbridge is No. Six Depot, a popular coffee and light snack destination. TurnPark is just up the hill from it. Don’t make my mistake of being in West Stockbridge dozens of times before finally paying a visit to the TurnPark Art Space.

 

Rob Weir 

 

9/11/20

Music: Brian Johannesen, Lone Bellow, Chris Mardini, and More

 

 



There always seem to be more in my in-box than can get reviewed promptly, so it’s clean out time once again.

 

An increasing number of country singers sit on the right side of history these days. Count Brian Johannesen among them. His newest record, Holster Your Silver, has the rasp, twang, and tempos associated with country music, but his is more the soul of a folksinger imploring listeners to pay attention to things that matter. This is most obvious in “Copper Queen,” which sets a serious mood from the start and invokes the 1917 Bisbee Deportation, one of the most egregious violations of civil liberty in labor history. Bisbee was a company town ruled as the personal fiefdom of the Phelps Dodge copper trust. When members of the Industrial Workers of the World struck for better conditions and pay, they were loaded into boxcars, shipped out of town, and dumped in the desert. If you know that, you will appreciate the line “I’ll never bend my knee to the Copper Queen.” Johannesen, who lives in Iowa, uses idioms and vernacular language, but they do little to disguise the literacy of his pen. “If I Thought I Could Win” is a heartbreak song, but it doesn’t wallow. Instead, it’s subtle advocacy of knowing when to fold your hand. That’s something that should have been done by the protagonist of “Fremont,” who dreams of being a country star. Many of your favorites get a nod in the lyrics–Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and others–but our antihero doesn’t have the sense to know the things Johannesen reveals in “Music Business Blues Breakdown.” It’s a great takedown of the music industry and the corpses it strews: I’ve been working on these songs/No, I ain’t going back to school/I’ve been working like a dog/Yes, Mama, this is a job/But this business is like the mob…. Listen also for the lines that skewer Donald Trump. You can catch Johannesen’s quieter side on “Damn These Saints,” with its cowpoke tempo and its rejection of faux optimism. Anxiety also comes into play in the title track, which might be subtitled “winter is coming.” This is Johannesen’s second release and if he ends up a music business victim, there ain’t no justice.


Lone Bellow
is from Brooklyn, but if you listen to “Good Times” and think Mississippi delta, you can be excused. Brian Elmquist and Kaene Donehey Pipkin wail like the Apocalypse is just around the corner. Zach Williams, the band’s founder, airs out his baritone on “August” while his bandmates slice into the seams. Check out Pipkin on “Just Enough to Get By.” She’s a mite, but a mighty one with a huge voice. She also has some righteous anger going on as the song is about her mother, who was impregnated by a rapist when she was 19, and was sent away to have the baby. Four albums in and 7 singles down, The Lone Bellow has won a devoted following–rightly so. They are generally viewed as an Americana band. Fine, but they are much more. And I love a band that pours energy onto the stage and doesn’t leave until it’s all gone.

 


The Springs
, the husband/wife duo of Stewart and Holly Halcomb, have made some ripples on the country Billboard chart. This well-scrubbed Nashville-by-way-of-Alabama act is in the acoustic country vein of The Civil Wars, except they are on the ins rather than the outs. Their songs are catchy and most of them are love letters to each other. “Old-Fashioned” is Holly’s declaration that she’s a traditional kind of gal or, as she puts it, “like an 8-track player in an old Chevy.” “Someone,” “Right Kind of Love,” and “Sweet Spot” are in the same ballpark. I like the last of these the best. It’s infectious and Stewart’s quick patter makes it distinctive. They feature tight harmonies. I prefer Stewart’s leads to Holly’s because his voice is clearer, a quality I always value over sweetness.

 


Chris Mardini
can bring the noise and he’s all of eighteen. His is a blend of hard rock, pop, and on “Retrospective Outlook,” some rap. His single “Sleepless” has gotten some airplay. It’s a softer song, but it has a New Yorker’s tough edges: So here I lie on my side/these sleepless nights/chaos in my head, doused in dye/won’t let you win. The vibe is similar on “Something’s Going On.” His tracks are loud but also dreamy. His is teenage angst, but with, I might, something going on that makes his music more than sturm und drang.

 


Leif Vollebekk
is a Canadian who has Juno nominations in the category of adult alternative music. He’s of Norwegian and French Canadian descent, who accompanies himself on guitar, piano, and fiddle. His “Blood Brother” is an electric delight in which he raises his voice into falsetto range. The small but poignant twist is that his blood “brother” is a she. Vollebekk has a way with words: You know your lips whenever they kiss me/It’s like a gun against my skin.  “Transatlantic Flight” is a soulful yearning for a lover separated by an ocean. “Apalachee Plain” (filmed in Iceland) also yearns, but this time for a love that has broken apart. It even has a touch of yodeling to add to the pathos. Vollebekk is an interesting talent whose “alternative” label wears well. Damned if I know what else to call him.

 


Emily King
is billed as an R & B/soul/post-disco singer, whatever the blazes the last term means. Her newest album is titled Sides, acoustic versions of songs that appeared on previous recordings. I’d call her new approach jazz-laced folk and soul. Ms. King has a very supple voice. I just wish the songs grabbed me more. “Look at Me Now” is typical, in that King’s vocals are impressive, but not much lingers when the song ends. In her recent Paste concert, “Teach You” was the song I liked best, as it has the most structure; it’s like a cross between the drama of a show tune blended with café-style moodiness.