New Music for Early October: Featuring Shelly Waters, Swearingen and Kelli and More


Remember this name: Shelly Waters. Her new self-titled recording showcases a voice that demands adjectives such as huge and wide ranging. Best of all, she really knows how to sing. These twelve tracks capture her in many moods. “Drink the Water” is a gritty and grungy song in which the soulfulness of an old Motown record meets the muscularity of a Stax recording with Waters wailing above the Hammond B-3 about the man who done her wrong. She gets saucy on “Red Hot Red,” a retro road song with surf guitar, gets bluesy in old-style country way on “Jackpot,” covers Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine” like it’s a six-tissue weepy, makes the miles melt away in the (ahem!)  MyFirst Car,” and goes all Emmy Lou-like on “Evangeline.” Waters milks emotions from her material, sometimes in a commanding way, as she leads a bold electric song like “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” and sometimes by making herself vulnerable, as in the lovely “Louisiana Rain.” ★★★★

Add E.J. Ouellette to the list of local artists whose music ought to get out more. He’s a Virginian by birth, but he and his band Crazy Maggie have long been a fixture in the Boston rock scene, though he’s more of a hybrid than a true rocker. Think Steve Earle with a fiddle. A Noisetrade sampler highlights his mix of roadhouse rock, blues, folk, and Celtic. He can swamp out on songs like “Conjure Man,” but hecan also put on the Irish and get reel; “Jenny’s Jam” is an exciting exploration of the Celtic standard “Jenny’s Chickens,” which is known in Scotland and Cape Breton as “Sleepy Maggie.” ★★★ ½

The National Parks” bills itself as an “alternative,” a (perhaps too expansive) label thrown onto music that takes advantage of electronics and strays a bit too far from the pop mainstream. The first adjective that pops into my mind upon listening to Until I Live is “shimmery.” Songs such as “Caracao,” “Anywhere,” “Meridians,” and “Take You Away” are indicative of the band’s preference for upbeat love songs and a surround sound presentation style that generally opens small, becomes big, and swells. Vocalist Brady Parks has a pleasant voice, though it is sometimes subsumed by all the production. At times, “alternative” means too many musical ingredients, which is what I felt about the string bridge of “Monsters of the North.” But I liked the use of strings on “You Are Gold” where things come together in a dramatic manner that feels like it ought to be playing behind a film. I also liked the simpler, sincere, yet mildly goofy “BaBa Ra.” Guess I’m suggesting that this band could use my stylistic variation—not just more things added to the mix. ★★★

The husband-wife team of Swearingen and Kelli (A.J. and Jayne) offer up a delightful new album heavy on love songs. Swearingen grew up in Pennsylvania with a love of outlaw country, Jim Croce, and the guitar playing of David Lindley. Kelli was weaned on artists such as John Denver, Glen Campbell, and Fleetwood Mac. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that their music draws from country, folk, pop, and soul—the stuff we tend to call Americana. It’s honest stuff and they have great voices. Listen hard to the launch notes from Swearingen; he’s a baritone, but you’ll hear bass at the bottom. Kelli is skillful in adding hints of defiance to her prettier tones. The title track of Marrying Kind is tender, but forceful—as befits a song about a woman who thinks she might not be cut out for matrimony, but might go there—on her own terms! Freedom and risk-taking also get workouts on “Trying to Try” and “Survival.” For his part, Swearingen adds husk through both voice and a variety of guitars, including a lap steel and an old Rickenbacker. The only video currently available from the new record is “Annalise,” a bittersweet remembrance of true love. This one is a tad lighter than some of the rest, so check out older stuff on their Website as one of the things I like about these folks is the way they mix things up. ★★★★     

Feel like you're out of touch with what the college crowd is into? Since 2003, Louisville's Forecastle Festival has showcased hot bands. I heard a mix tape previewing the 2017 festival that also included some past performances. Check out reggae-influenced "Feels Like Summer" from Weezer; the emo "Barbary Coast" from Conor Oberst; the ambient "Horizon" from Tycho; cacophonous rock from Big Thief ("Shark Smile"); power pop from Farro ("Walkways"); punk from Beach Slang ("Spin the Dial"); and soulful sounds from Chicano Batman ("Friendship")and Jeffrey James. There's also some badass rap that disses Kanye West from Jack Harlow. Others to check out include: Rayland Baxter, Jay Jayle, Oyster Kids, Whitney, and a host of others. You won't like it all, but at least you'll set your personal refresh button. ★★★

Joshua Radin and Rachel Yamagata have teamed up for a EP appropriately named The Coffee House Tour. Radin has been around for a while and you may have caught him on TV with Ellen DeGeneres. He offers sweet-voiced acoustic music that's like being wrapped in a blanket made of musical fleece. "Falling" is a fragile, pretty song about cutting to the no-BS part of a relationship: When you're falling/Do you think of me?/Are you the road or the end? "High and Low" is the logical follow-up: an I-in-for-the-long run song of commitment. These, like "My My Love" are bright songs sung in high tenor voice. I wish he'd do more at places where he aspirates, but that's me. Rachel Yamagata is the one who adds oomph. Her "Let Me Be Your Girl" won't knock you over with its pop lyrics, but she gives it some blue-eyed soul grit and meshes well with the song's strong bass structure. She's jazzy soulful on "Stick Around," and evokes late-night country blues on "Black Sheep." ★★★ ½

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