New Stuff: Edward + Jane, Treehouse Sanctum, Steve McComick, Mark O'Connor, Dreadnaught


Edward + Jane are actually Timothy and Emilie Carpenter, two folks who were born in Ohio, went to college in Chattanooga, married, stayed in Tennessee, and overcame the relocation blues by building an intentional family of friends. As Family We Gather is testament to the success of their endeavor. This is small gem EP in the best Americana tradition. Normally that’s just a label for those running from the term “folk music,” but in this case, it describes a music that’s a not quite folk, bluegrass, mountain music, or country but has echoes of each. It is a lovely harmony-driven EP that’s both intimate, but has a big sound. The latter is because of all those friends who now feel like family. You’ll hear lots of instruments in “We Will Meet Again,” but nothing gets in the way of their perfectly balanced harmonies. This is wholesome, energetic, goes-down-easy music. On “Days” they sing: There are things you don’t understand yet, but your family gets. And family is both who you are and who you find on the way. ★★★★

Treehouse Sanctum tells about a different Jane. In "Jack and Jane" this six-piece Denver-based folk rock band personalizes the age-old question of whether boy + girl = good pair, or bad match through a catchy tune, robust instrumentation, and the sharp-edge/soft-edge vocals of Sam Rymer and Danya Lynn Uptegrove. It's one of eleven amazing songs on Vivere, which means "to live" for those of you whose Latin is as lousy as mine. This band is new to me, but now that I know, I can't get them off my playlist. You name it and they do it right—splashes of trumpet of "Chacala," punchy 1-2-3 vocal combos, a magic moment, and shifts accurately described as "hush to howl." Rymer is a gifted singer in the sense of really knowing how to use his voice effectively. On "Rest of Me," for instance, he puts one in mind of Van Morrison without channeling him. It's the way Rymer uses his voice to punch through a big mix and then let it ride with the sequencing. About those big mixes, I mean rolling Hammond B-3, brass, and percussion-enhanced big. The title track uses the tale of Paul on the road to Damascus as a foil for the moment when life takes a 180-degree turn and, if you have any doubt about this band's IQ, some of the lyrics are indeed in Latin. The way in which the song builds is a marvel, with power chords, crisp drum beats, swelling sound, and mighty vocals marking the conversion. It's the sort of song that would called "signature," were it not for the fact that they top it with"Pilot and Crew," which recounts the true tale of a World War II crew of ten shot down over Germany that endured ten months of a POW camp. Check out what they do with snippets in the opening and close, and how well they evoke an aerial melee. Want more? "Shelby" is a bluesy jazz piece built around big-production piano. This CD is a dazzler. ★★★★★

Steve McCormick is one of those versatile "How 'ya want it?" musicians. Maybe it's because he's spent a lot of time doing sessions work in LA cranking out tunes for commercials, writing movie soundtracks (Felicity, Jack Frost), building high-end microphones, and collaborating with big name producers. Or maybe he's just eclectic. His new Noisetrade EP The Tripping Years showcases his many moods. He puts on detached hipster garb for "Say a Prayer for New York City," which unfolds to blue horns, robust bass, and attitude: Say a prayer for New York City….don't you dare show no pity…. At the other end of the spectrum is a country/pop cover of Townes Van Zandt's "At My Window," and a take on Lucinda Williams' "Fruits of My Labor" that milks emotion from keys and blue-eyed soul. In between lies the Delta/Chicago blues fusion of "Lying on the Bottom," which features grit, spit, grungy guitar and gospel-like female backup singers. Flip it again for "Hello, Hello," which is simultaneously melancholic and inviting—literally so with lyrics like: Come into my life my love/Don't you be alone. This is a really strong body of work that proves that McCormick can command the mic on his own. ★★★★

Anytime you see the name Mark O'Connor you want to pay attention. At this writing, O'Connor is about to drop Coming Home, a live CD that features his own genre-defining fiddle work with additional string work from his wife Maggie and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law Kate Lee, plus mandolin from son Forrest, standup bass from Geoff Sanders, and flat-picking from Joe Smart. How good are they? Three sample tracks told me all I need to know. "Those Memories of You" is a live track that leaves the station on a high, lonesome note and arrives with a full head of steam that needs to cool down after one of the best covers of “Johnny B. Goode” you’ve heard in ages. Among the passengers: sizzling fiddle work, newgrass jazz licks, bold slap bass, vocals delivered auctioneer-style, and sold-my-soul mandolin virtuosity. "A Bowl of Bula 14" unfurls with quick mando runs and five minutes later, you'll find yourself gasping for breath. Instruments break across each other's bows and wakes like they're in a mad dash to make it to harbor first. Do I even need to tell you that O'Connor paterfamilias is pretty damn good? "Macedonia" impresses in a different way. Forrest O'Connor uses his mando to set up musical conversations within a melodic structure punctuated by breakouts and swells. I've not even heard the rest of the album yet, but I'm already thinking five stars!
 Since 1996, New Hampshire's Dreadnaught—not to be confused with an Australian metal band of the same name—has cranked out what it calls “experimental prog-Americana.” It’s latest effort, Hard Chargin’, will be hailed as inventive by some and a big mess by others. I’m somewhere in the middle. Imagine a heavy metal band with the weirdness of Frank Zappa and his serious forays into jazz, and you’d get something like this. “Have a Drink With Dreadnaught” is like heavy metal cowboy music fused with pop. By contrast, “Mummies of Cobboseecontee” is a blender full of soundscapes, electronic pulses, jazz, and metal. “Bo-Leg-Ba” is both the title of a track and its entire lyric, and “Takin’ a Ride With the Fat Man (Fatta Fattta Puck Puck)” isn’t a whole lot more verbose. This one left me perplexed, as it struck me as an intriguing departure from the ordinary at one moment, and just an excuse to make loud noise the next. ★★

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