Shakey Graves, Steve Forbert, Peach Kings, Darlingside, David Ramirez

Is Shakey Graves a great name for a country singer or what? The Austin-bred Graves was actually born Alejandro Rose-Garcia, but the stage handle fits like a glove. Check out his most recent release, And the War Came (Dualtone Music). These days about the only difference between country music and rock is the twang, but Graves further obliterates that blurry line. There are a surprising number of stylistic shifts on the record. "Pansy Waltz" unfolds with clipped vocals akin to a poetry slam tempo; "Only Son" has the dreamy sonic feel of acid folk; and "Perfect Parts" has a buzzy grunge vibe. Some singers are smooth with hard edges, but Graves is the opposite. His voice is robust and husky, yet capable of delicacy when the mood strikes—which is only occasionally. Most of the songs on this album are about doomed relationships and pain, but of the variety tempered by passion, hope, and a refusal to let set-backs turn into beat-me-downs. The morning after in "Hard Wired," for instance, reveals a doomed relationship in full light: Well you are as you came/Mostly blessin' cocaine/Just a match begging for fire, but it was still a helluva night! In keeping with the themes of attract/retreat, many of the songs are duets with Esme Patterson, whose lovely voice provides grace to Graves' grit. When you hear lines like, Well, I've never seen life as a chore/Or a treasure to find/I've read the news, abused the booze/And often wondered why you are hearing what country music does best: offering a velvet fist. Take a listen and you'll know why the mayor of Austin once declared a Shakey Graves Day.  {Noted: The link on "Perfect Parts" is acoustic, not electric.}

Steve Forbert is a certified road warrior that lots of people remember for his 1980 hit "Romeo." That one was something of a fluke; Forbert writes a lot of songs with solid hooks, but he isn't really a pop charts kind of guy. His voice is too unusual for the gleam and generic sparkle of Top 40­–too much smoke, quaver, and growly bottom, especially now that he's turned 60. His new record, Compromised (Rock Ridge Music) is his 16th studio release to go along with a passel of compilations and website-only recordings. Despite the title, most of the songs are about change as a natural life progression rather than something with which one must settle. The record reunites Forbert with John Simon, who produced his second record back in 1979. It also places Forbert at the front of a band, which allows for bigger arrangements. "Big Comeuppance" has very cool brassy blues horn from Kami Lyle that makes the song reminiscent of Dr. John back when he tempered his jazz-soaked offerings with accessible pop hooks. Another winner is "Rollin Home to Someone You Love," whose memorable bass lines perfectly supplement the song's working-class feel. Joey Spampinato's bass also anchors "Devil (Here She Comes)," a classic tale of moving deliberately toward the Siren's flame knowing full well that you're going to get scorched. This is a fine release from Forbert, with a few reservations. The wear and tear on his voice is starting to show, so don't expect it to be 1980 all over again. On a more substantive note, three of the songs are labeled as "Americana" versions of earlier tracks. Forbert's version of Americana is mainly to slow the bass and tempo, which I found more gimmicky than effective. That's also what I thought of the speeded up cover of "Send in the Clowns," and Forbert's thinly veiled appropriation of the hook from The Who's "Baba Riley" on "Whatever Man."

The Peach Kings are the LA-Based duo of Paige Wood and Steven Dies. Their most recent release, Mojo Thunder (Mophonics), is probably illegal in the Bible Belt. It's a heavy breathing rock and roll EP that blends Wood's sultry voice with Dies' hard-edged guitar. The half-sung/half-spoken word "Hold On" is like Barry White on acid and the title track uses a surf guitar meets swamp rock arrangement to front vocals such as Fell you coming on harder now sugar/Puttin' on your push/Push…. Somehow I don't think Wood is singing about her partner's brilliant defense of Schopenhauer's critique of Kant's view of the noumenal. Sexy, dark, and slightly ominous—think dashes of the Velvet Underground and P.J. Harvey.  

Darlingside has just released a new CD titled Birds Say (!KZ Records) that demonstrates the quartet's evolution from a group of Williams College students messing with folk, rock, and bluegrass into one featuring a complex interweaving of melodic, ambient, and transcendent sounds. Check out "The Ancestor," which invokes the drenched sounds quality of a band such as Snow Patrol. Its gorgeous harmonies and tight instrumentation make it sound at once sunny and enigmatic.

Austin singer/songwriter David Ramirez has a new release, Fables (Sweetworld), which is great news. By his own admission, Ramirez smacked into writers' block after his 2013 EP The Rooster. "Rock and a Hard Place," a featured video from Fables is reason enough for cheer. Ramirez tends not to be fancy—just thoughtful songs, solid guitar, and a soulful voice that exudes an honesty embedded in simplicity.

Rob Weir

No comments: