Folk rock generally occupies the "warm" end of the sunny to gloomy spectrum. Think artists such as Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Arlo Guthrie, The Youngbloods, The Byrds, The Decemberists, or Great Big Sea. Perhaps, most of all, think James Taylor. And think Pat McGee. He's been around since 1995 and has followed the usual folk rock path: get signed by a major label, get dumped by it, leave the fast lane, and find peace as an indie artist.
I invoked Taylor because McGee's repertoire and voice are strongly reminiscent of Taylor's. His is a soothing voice especially strong in the high register and with the same reedy assonance as Taylor. He even builds a song the same way—a nice smooth groove building to up-the-scale drama, cut to some harmonies, and let the music wash over like a soothing bath. Heck, on "Take the Long WayHome" (not the Supertramp song!), he even invokes Massachusetts. His song "Kite String" is a soft rock/PG-13 blues number akin to Taylor's "Steamroller Blues." I don't mean to suggest that McGee is derivative—his band is cooler, to note one difference—but the resemblance to Taylor is uncanny. McGee is on the road again these days and has a new 5-song EP, Pat McGee (Noble Steed Music), to go with the tour. He's well worth catching. Check out "Overboard," which features old friend Pat Monahan from Train on vocals and guitar. Aye.
Tow'rs is also (sort of) in the folk rock vein. Its new album The Great Minimum (Tow'rs Music) is a polished affair finds an introspective seam between arty and traditional. This five-piece group from Flagstaff, Arizona, is anchored by the husband/wife duo of Kyle and Gretta Miller. They, along with three friends, are often reviewed as a "Christian" band, though they are not preachy, and their repertoire is more of a secular-meets-mystical blend. I suppose the Christian music crowd likes them because the songs are rated PG and many of them drop the message that home may not be on this mortal coil. Their best songs, such "The Swan and the East" and "The Boy and His Shadow" have the country/folk-rock feel of early Neil Young, though Kyle Miller's voice would be the silk to Young's gravel. Mostly the songs deal with love or the transitory nature of life,and are populated by lines such as "Is there an answer in the silence/Are we asking the wrong questions?" and "…man is but a breath hanging by his skin." The album's major downside is that, like many inward-looking projects, it's heavier on musing than music. It's all skillfully done but since much of it is cut from the same cloth, you might not recall a single melody a half hour after listening. In the end, some listeners may find it better contemplated than consumed. Aye/nay (It depends on whether you enjoy the entire introspective folk rock genre.)
Bridge 19 hails form Louisville, Kentucky, and is a band on the rise that has shared the stage with the likes of Richard Thompson, Brandi Carlile, and Sarah McLachlan. Their new CD, Riding on a Wire (Bridge 19), is full of verve that comes at you with country/folk/pop chops. Amanda Lucas and Audrey Cecil, who write most of the material, and handle lead and harmony vocals, anchor Bridge 19. Both have voices best suited to quick tempo selections such as "Chain" and "Nothing Else." The interplay of vocals, guitar, and percussion is especially crisp on the latter. Call this music without a lot of empty spaces, pull up your socks, and get down. Aye
I'm a Juliana Hatfield fan—of her mature work. Once upon a time (1986-91), though, she was a member of the Blake Babies, which attracted brief notice. My attention span was briefer; I thought the Blake Babies (Hatfield, Freda Love, John Strohan, and sometimes Evan Dando) one of the worst bands I'd ever heard. Noisetrade offers a free download of the Blake Babies Live, 1989, so I thought I'd reconsider. Now I think they might actually be the worst band I've ever heard! Hatfield became a good artist, but back then her voice was thin and her ear was tin. The Blake Babies emerged at the dying tail end of the grunge heyday, back when audiences were growing impatient with sloppy DIY music and a lot of bands were cleaning up their acts in (the mostly vain) hope of commercial success. Call it a lost period and never dial that number again. Nay. Cick here for a track
Old Man Canyon is mostly Vancouver's Jeff Pace, a changing ensemble, and lots of technology. OMC is trying to whip up enthusiasm for a new project called Delirium and has been sending out its 2013 EP Phantoms and Friends in support of it. My take is that OMC, which integrates sonic loops, synthesizers, visuals, and projections on stage, would be more interesting to watch live than to listen to on its own. At his best, Jett's work evokes a band such as Darlingside, but without the latter's ability not to take itself too seriously. The music sets mood and ambiance and there are pleasant vocals, though they are immersed in such a thick sonic soup it's often hard to know what they're about. The music seeks to be alt.folk, but it often comes off as a hipster with too many toys. Nay.