Gilmore, Way to Egress, Riverside, Ranky Tanky, and Others


It happens a few times a year: so much music pours into my review bin that a few things slide, not because they’re unworthy, but because I got sidetracked. Here’s my 2018 midwinter cleanout of artists you should check out.

Thea Gilmore, Run

Thea Gilmore is a treasure. Last year she dropped a new LP titled The Counterweight and NoiseTrade heralded it by offering Run, a five-track Gilmore sampler. Gilmore, though well known in the UK, where she has recorded 17 albums and a passel of singles, isn't as familiar to North Americans. She's the real deal, folks. (Among other things, the Sandy Denny estate contracted her to write melodies for ten unfinished Denny originals.) Gilmore mixes dark and light, but mostly favors the shadows and the tones of her voice are colored with faintly Gothic hues. Check out "I've Got to Run," with its syncopated strum and edgy vocals. In Britain, Gilmore is known as both a rocker and a folk artist; the five tracks on Run highlight the second persona. Try "Think of Me," as well. Don't be fooled by its quiet ambience; the theme of this one is "I will be moving on." Gilmore has a fantastic voice—sultriness mixed with hints of danger. That mix is palpable on "Something to Sing About," so much so I'm not sure I believe her when she goes sweet on "Several Angels."

This Way to the Egress, Onward Up a Frightening Creek

And now for something completely different. Listen to the song "Voodoo" from This Way to the Egress. The accordion, blarting tuba, Dr. John-like growling vocals, the edginess, the mysteriousness…  You'll assume that these folks are either from New Orleans or are missing from the set of Sweeney Todd. Now try "Ode to Bukowki's Women," which sounds as if it might be the theme song for a cable TV after-midnight horror series. Then watch them live as they perform "Mark of the Beast" and maybe you'll think of some really offbeat kids channeling a little Gogol Bardello. Except Bardello doesn't flirt with social commentary like this band does on "See No Evil."  Now here's the real shocker: the rooftop concert footage is from Allentown, Pennsylvania—not exactly a hotbed of voodoo culture or New Orleans boogie music (or anything else, really). These folks are from the town next door, Bethlehem, PA. If you want to take a walk on the wild, weird, and oddly seductive side, This Way to the Egress is certainly not your play-to-formula group. I love this band!

The Riverside, Appalachia in the Morning

Don't be deceived by the title of The Riverside's latest; it's just the name of song and the band is actually from California, a state they honor is a pastoral mando-led song that evokes unhurried meanders through the countryside. The Riverside is the flip side to bluegrass bands that come at us with lacerating energy. Instead, this six-piece unit (four women, two men) takes a velvet glove approach and deliberately keeps things quiet and simple—as in "Dakota"—with an aim of making studio efforts parallel what you hear live. Listen to the above tracks and then the stage performance of "Starry Night," and I think you'll agree they achieve that admirable goal. Lead vocalist Jake Jeanson has a calming voice that melds beautifully into background harmonies. This is what a fresh, sun-dappled morning should sound like.

Ranky Tanky, Ranky Tanky

Fresh Air fans might have heard of this band; Terry Gross did an interview. This Charleston, South Carolina ensemble mines Gullah traditions; that is, the hybridized West African/Christian/communal culture that emerged along the ante and postbellum Southern seaboard. Musically it has a Stax-meets-gospel flair—the pedigree of folk, splashes of jazz, the muscularity of rock, and a lot of blues. Listen to the get-right-with-God "That's Alright," a song infused with trumpet, a thick bass groove, and big vocals from Qiana Parler. If that impresses you, listen to her go BIG on "Been in the Storm," where she trades chops with Kam Franklin. It's just the two of them, some backing percussion, and brace-those-walls power. Then try the quieter "Sink 'em Low," with mellow horn, and dialed back guitar, bass, percussion, and voice. Say amen!

Michelle LeBlanc, A Man Like You

Born in South Carolina into a family in which her dad is a musician, LeBlanc moved to New York and got involved in a bad relationship. A tarot card reading told her she should move to Nashville and follows her father’s path. Okay, I can hear your eyes collectively rolling from that last phrase. For all I know, she may be a tad flaky, but her new EP indicates promise. I really liked “Loving a Hurricane,” a solid piece of Americana wrapped in country pop wax paper. She has a nice voice and has lots of energy. The downside is that its easy to confuse her with a cover singer of the same name. I did so because this LeBlanc has songs with titles that suggest covers from the other, including one of John Hiatt's "Lovin’ a Hurricane.” Similarly, our LeBlanc’s “Highway” is an original, but it’s also the title of an Ingrid Michaelson composition that the other LeBlanc covered in a video! How does one compensate for such confusion? My recommendation is more originality in titles,  more bottom to the voice, and the development of a signature sound that leaves no doubt.  It's a crowded scene out there and LeBlanc needs to make waves distinctively her own.

Rob Williams, An Hour Before Daylight

If you gave a Virginia-born songwriter a Ph.D. (educational leadership), a rough-to-smooth voice, and a band, he’d probably sound a bit like Rob Williams (not to be confused with the English pop singer). He is sometimes compared to Jason Isbell or Josh Ritter, which is to say his is an Americana blend of roots rock and (slightly) twangy folk. He came by the first from listening to older sibs play 60s rock (Beatles, Rolling Stones) and later discovering REM and John Prine, to give him a down home folk twist on his rock and roll. “Icarus Dreamt” is a reminder that high hopes are important, even when they have consequences. For something with alittle pain, there’s the barstool confessional/warning of “Broken.” Williams also likes history and gives a little surf rock echo to “Lucy, You’re Lovely,” homage to an ancestor. And speaking of Lucy, he does a nice cover of the Lucinda Williams (no relation) “Blue.” Tonally, I’d prefer a bit fewer mid-range vocals, but this is Williams’ third album and I suspect he knows what he's after.

Peace Worshipers, Peace Worshipers

This three sarod collaboration with violinist Elmira Darvarova, a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra mainstay, is the brainchild of 74-year-old Amjad Ali Khan, one of the world's masters of the sarod, a non-fretted, lute-like instrument of 17-25 strings that's a staple in Hindustani music. You'll often see it played in conjunction with the better-known sitar because the sarod usually has just 4-5 melody strings and the rest vibrate sympathetically to give it more reverb than the sitar. This is contemplative music suitable for yoga or quiet reflection, not zumba   or pillar-to-post tasking. Try a shorter composition such as "Romantic Ecstasy" and work your way up to longer pieces like "Gentle Sunset."

 Rob Weir

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