New Releases for August 2017

I recently devoted a column to female musicians, so it's only fair that to give equal time to the gentlemen and rogues of the road.

My favorite in this batch is Cold Answer, an EP from Matthew Perryman Jones. The Pennsylvania-born, Georgia-raised, Nashville-based Perryman has been recording since 2000, and this EP is a distillation of a 2015 full-length album. His best tracks evoke the smart, pensive songs of Richard Shindell.  When Jones sings of "Wrestling Tigers," it's self-analysis and the dangerous beast inner self-destructiveness. The title track is melodic and lush, but its look at a dead relation cuts deeply: Remember saying all the places we'd go/Once we've found the road to take us there/But we spend too much time waiting by the window/And ended up not going anywhere. I don't know much about his personal life, but songs like "Can't Get It Right, and "I'm Sorry" certainly suggest he has hit a few potholes here and there. But don't expect self-pity or apology. There is a repeating line from his you-can-do-better leaving song "I Can't Go Back Now" that runs, This is not what I planned. Jones' combination of raw emotions, lovely tunes, and sensitive voice linger and haunt long after you've taken out your ear buds.   ★★★★

The Adam Ezra Group is a six-person lineup from Boston that has been recording since 2003. Hurricane Wind, their 7th album, airs out a repertoire that's on the rock end of the folk rock scale. Ezra anchors the band with vocals that are simultaneously growly in tone but smooth in transition. Sometimes, as in the song "The Toast" with its parting song feel, the AEG sounds like an Irish folk rock band biding us goodnight.  By contrast, here's a countrified boot rock kick to "Steal Your Daughter" and a pop/party shimmer to "You Speak Girl." One of my favorite tracks is "Let Your HairDown," an affecting take on seizing the moment when boy-meets-girl and sparks ignite a fire that might not last the night. The AEG is superb at doing little things well—a splash of piano, rapid-fire couplets, or just a quirky line that's just right: You're sweet like a melon/sly like a felon/and I've been watchin' you dance all night. John Oates guests on the last track—a good match of talents that are not quite pop, folk, or rock but something of all three.★★★ ½ 
adam_ezra @adamezra

Drew Holcomb has just released a new CD titled Souvenir. To promote it he has released a previous record, Medicine, on Noisetrade, for whom he is its first artist in residence. Souvenir continues the musical journey of an artist who manages to remind us of old favorites without being derivative of any of them. On the new record, "Fight For Love" has a post-1975 Bob Dylan feel, yet "Postcard Memories" and "Mama's Sunshine, Daddy's Rain" evoke the wry commentary and stripped down instrumentation of John Prine. Overall, Holcomb and his band often draw comparisons to The Jayhawks. The pay-as-you-wish Noisetrade release of Medicine includes Holcomb standards such as the country/folk/Appalachian blend "American Beauty," the funky, LA rock with a secular gospel choir "Sisters and Brothers," and the instantly relatable "Ain't Nobody Got it Easy." My favorite is "Shine LikeLightning," which is just great rock n' roll—the kind someone like Springsteen might sweat his way through. ★★★★
Waldemar is the professional persona of Wisconsin-based Gabe Larson. His EP Visions has been described as "painting with sound." If it has a genre, it 's experimental rock, but that's hardly adequate for Larson's pastiche of electronics, piano, ambient vocals, trombone, guitar, and percussion. Visions is challenging—perhaps more of an artistic statement than concert music. Give a listen. You'll know pretty quickly whether you wish to imbibe further or if it's simply not your cup of tea. ★★ ½

There's a standing joke about the dearth of happy songs in folk music. That helps explain why so many artists draw upon the pen of Jesse Terry and why they want to record with him. Terry writes sunny, pop-infused folk that will remind graybeards of the light-voiced, optimistic Emitt Rhodes. Terry has just released a new LP, Stargazer, and has followed Holcomb's lead in bundling a few tracks with back catalogue material for those seeking to discover his music. The title track of the new record was inspired by his boyhood devotion to the Electric Light Orchestra. Dar Williams joins him on a song with a drift-across-the-night-sky feel. He rocks out a bit more on "Runaway Town," but the mood is like a more upbeat Roy Orbison. Finally, there is "Kaleidoscope" (with Sarah Darling), which is introspective and so atmospheric that it skirts lullaby terrain. These three are bundled with five other songs on Natural. Each track features a guest artist. I particularly enjoyed the Paul Simon-like "Mr. Blue Sky" with Liz Longley, and "Carry" with Kim Richey. You might long for a tad more diversity from Terry, but it's hard to quarrel with optimism. ★★★ ½    [Note: Williams and Richey are not on the YouTube clips]

"Sunny" isn't an adjective routinely applied to Justin Townes Earle and Kids in the Street won't alter that. That's not to say that it's a downer, but it is shot through with C&W heartache. "There Go a Fool" is the kind of tale Willie Nelson would tell—a guy who's been around the block enough times to suspect that tonight's date won't end well. "Faded Valentine" also lays on the pathos, though in the deliciously retro fashion of an old country weepy. From the content of "Maybe a Moment" it sounds as if Earle knows a few less savory Memphis streets. This one is acoustic, but sung in a soulful syllable-packed manner reminiscent of Van Morrison. For something more cheerful, try "Champagne Corolla," with its big horns, rolling arrangement, and N'awlins flavoring. Who can resist a pretty lady on the open road? ★★★

Are you a Greg Brown fan? Peter Mulvey is another artist in the same growly Midwestern acoustic folk blues style. Eleven Ways of Looking at Peter Mulvey is a good introduction to good introduction to his music. Fellow songwriters tend to admire the emotive concision of Mulvey's songs. "Are You Listening?" exemplifies this. It's a deliberately shaky-voiced song about being dumped with repeated and simple lines—Are you telling me you got a new life?—that capture that endless loop of despair that comes from being dumped. On the other end of the spectrum is the caffeinated splatter of words in "The Other Mornin Over Coffee." Mulvey's "Song for Michael Brown" has gotten attention and (alas!) its politics remain relevant. The fiddle texture of this one is evocative of Civil War era music, frighteningly appropriate for what he has to say about dangerous angry white men. Mulvey also dabbles in poetry and this collection has two spoken word tracks. I confess that I prefer songs with stronger melody, hence my favorites from Eleven Ways are "Shirt" and "Kids in the Square."  ★★★

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