April Folk Roundup
I get asked from time to time, "Where has folk music gone?" Answer: It hasn't gone anywhere. There are plenty of folks taking up folk music these days, though in today's mashable culture their take on "folk" tends to collapse genres.
Colin Hay is still recalled by many as the front man and primary songwriter of the Aussie rock band Men at Work. That's weird as Fierce Mercy (Compass Records) is his 13th solo release. Like several other pop/rock stars—Natalie Merchant comes to mind–Hay amped down when he stopped living on the pop charts. Fierce Mercy is 13 tracks of hummable songs in the seams where folk, rock, country, and retro pop meet. Toss in some lifted riffs, Hay's distinct voice, and a collection that's heavy on love songs, and you have a very likable release. The album opens with a killer pop song, "Come Tumblin' Down," an homage to things past (wishing wells, railroads, Ferris wheels, dreams). It's the kind of song that latches onto your brain and sinks in its hooks. There are several such catchy songs, another being "I'm Outside In," which has the brightness of an old Hollies release. Hay doesn't confine himself to pop these days. Songs such as "Secret Love" have country grit, "I'm Walking Here" is soulful commentary on the Trayvon Martin shooting, "Blue Bay Moon" has a Jimmy Buffett vibe, and much of the melody from "The Last to Know" flat out lifts the tune from The Eagles "Best of My Love." Or shall I say re-purposes it? If you like folk that's more quiet, try "Frozen Field of Snow," or the poignant "Two Friends" and "She Was the Love of Mine," which are about loss–two comrades in the first and his mother in the latter. One of my favorites was "Hundred Million Reasons," whose poetry is a bit forced. But Hay does as a good singer should do and breathes emotion into lines such as these: When the sun comes up over Paris/It's like any other day/Except that you're in Paris/What more need I say? Indeed, the depths of love transcend poetry and a skilled singer makes us feel as well as hear. Hay fits the bill. Sample all of these tracks at: http://www.colinhay.com/news/http://www.colinhay.com/news/
The Western Den makes you feel cleansed just from hearing them. Their latest EP is titled All the Birds and it will make your soul glide. The Western Den is a Boston-based ensemble that embraces the term alt.folk. That one normally raises my hackles, but it's apt for a trio (Deni Hlavinka, Chris West, Alec Alabado) and a passel of friends whose music is dreamy and contemplative, but is more Nick Drake than New Age. It is, in turn, as gentle as the spring rain-like piano notes we hear in "Tumbling Down," yet as soaring in its build up as an avian flock taking flight. The EP's unstated themes are the constancy of love and moving forward despite obstacles. The title "Carter Hall" is suggestive of an old ballad, but it's actually about putting down roots as relationships grow and change. Ms. Hlavinka's gorgeous voice is one of the many things that will tear out your heart, as will West's dulcet tones, their delicate harmonies, the big-production choral swells, and sentiment such as: Been a while now, we're still in our house/Filling the void, and hoping our fates align from the aforementioned "Tumbling Down." Props for knowing you need to work on things and that as much as we'd like to freeze moments in time–a feeling expressed in "Stay the Sun"–that's not how it works. Also check out their retelling of the Biblical story of "Eden"–a smart look at the contrasting temptations in Paradise: Oh this kingdom is not for the dwellers/There's no vacancy for the other side of me.
It's usually not a good thing to describe music as somnambulant, but in the case of Galapaghost (Casey Chandler) it fits. Chandler's music often feels like being inside a dream. I Never Arrived (Lovely Lady) is deliciously ambiguous and vulnerable in the sense that Chandler's not afraid to say he doesn't have things figured out–perfect themes for his semi-dreamlike musical wrappers. "Science of Love" opens with sounds that evoke the music of the planets, but his chemistry is more earthly: Suppose I lie and say I love you/Suppose you do the same/Is it better not to know/Or is it better to be alone? Drifting, ethereal tones also show up in the title track with guitar and piano producing a tune that's somewhere between folk, café music, and experimental music. "Secrets Our Body Keeps" establishes a repetitive groove that induces a soft trance. Chandler's voice is smooth and comforting, which adds to the ambience. This is especially the case in which it blends with a "female" voice on selections such as "Mazes in the Sky," "Somewhere," and "Salt Lake City," the last of these has little to do with Utah; it's the place where two lovers confront their differences with an eye toward resolving them or parting. This is typical of Chandler's candor. This shows up again in two songs–"Bloom" and "Mister Mediocrity"–in which he confesses worries over whether his art is good enough. Yes. It is! About that "female" voice–it's Chandler, who also plays nearly all of the instruments as well.
The New York-based ChameLeon is a five-piece ensemble built around vocalist/keyboardist Chloe Lowry and vocalist/acoustic guitarist Andrew Ross–she with a whispery pretty voice and he with smooth tones that contain hints of rasp. A percussionist, bass player, and lead guitarist join them, and all five come from a rock background. Their EP White Movement One lies in that uncertain border between folk-rock and ambient rock. It's heavy on sonics, which sometimes drown the vocals. At their best, ChameLeon surrounds us with sound. I liked the jangly effects in the first part of "White Flag" and wish it had continued in that mode. To me, though, the project feels overproduced. My favorite track was "Fade." Sample this band on NoiseTrade and see what you think.