Fugitives, Brooks Dixon, Rusty Young, Iain Matthews, Canty, Strawn

The Fugitives, The Promise of Strangers

I think I've figured out why I like Canadian music so much: the market is smaller and creative folks up that way feel less pressure to play to formulae. Add The Fugitives to your list of performers that are just flat-out amazing. They don't so much transgress the boundaries between folk, rock, bluegrass, and other genres as treat them as non-existent. This creates infectious melodic structures that sound both familiar yet unique. This Vancouver lineup is built around Adrian Glynn, Brendan McLeod, and a bunch of folks who cycle in and out. They are a mostly acoustic lineup, but when they hit on all cylinders their energy is as powerful as any indie rock band.  Glynn has a voice like an angel and I'm talking Art Garfunkel levels of celestial glow. Let's start with "No Words," which was penned the day Leonard Cohen died (11/7/16). I can't imagine a better tribute. It begins Cohen-like spare and builds to a gospel chorus with long pauses into which the air seems filled with the spirit of the departed. Try to stay in control as Glynn's voice cries out I have no words/I think he took 'em all with him/I have no voice/To shout from the ground. Watch the video—recorded in a resonant church—as it's simply more moving than my words can convey. Now watch this band do "Better Than Luck," whose melody is built around a balalaika, and is where breakdown bluegrass meets folk rock. Want a dose of nostalgia? "London in the Sixties" captures that zeitgeist. Need something sentimental? McLeod and Glynn pay tribute to their moms in "My Mother Sang," which tells us, my mother sang/but she could not sing and we know exactly what they mean. Or how about a pretty love song? Try "Northern Lights." There's even "Come Back Down," which they describe as a "tubular bells-gang party," which makes no sense at all until you listen to it. This fabulous record makes me want to shout, "O' Canada!" ★★★★★

Brooks Dixon, White Roses

We need Ancestry.com to do some serious blood work in the ridges and hills of the Carolinas as I pretty sure that James Taylor's ancestors dumped their DNA into local wells. It's stunning how many male singers have that same warm, slightly reedy, lacking-in-vibrato baritone voice. When you hear someone like Brooks Dixon you can't help but think he has to be a close cousin. Like Taylor, his repertoire favors a folk/pop/soft rock blend that's sweet without being cloying. "Aeroplane" sashays down the runway and its pleasures are magnified by winsome fiddle that invites you to traipse across the room. "Roses" has more of a country feel, including just a splash of pedal steel. My favorite new track is "Anymore," which is introduced with a spray of bright electric guitar notes and becomes that rarest of things: a cheerful break-up song. More to the point, it's the giddy moment you realize you've turned the corner and are over the heartaches. The melody will stick in your head (in a good way). White roses symbolize purity and charm. I'm not sure I'd want to saddle anyone with purity, so let's call this one a charming release. ★★★★

Rusty Young, Waitin’ for the Sun

Does the name Rusty Young ring any bells? No—he’s not kith and kin to Neil, though you might wonder when you hear the giddy-up guitar and world-weary voice on “My Friend.” Maybe it will resonate if I tell you that that song references some guests on the album: Timothy Schmidt and Richie Furay. Yep, this the Rusty Young who was a mainstay in the folk-rock band Poco; that’s Young on pedal steel on “Kind Woman,” one of Poco’s many hits. At age 72 and after 28 Poco releases, 24 singles, and 30 compilation albums, Young has released his first solo recording and it’s a treat! The title track has a Beatles-like background swirl. “Heaven Tonight” is also evocative of the Fab Four, “Crazy Love” is a classic country/folk not-over-her ditty, “Honey Bee” has more bounce than sting; and “Gonna Let the Rain” has been aptly labeled rock ‘n soul. Young sounds great, the instrumentals are solid, and the music is nostalgic but never throwback stale.

Matthews Southern Comfort, Like a Radio

Everyone knows Joni Mitchell wrote "Woodstock," right? But do you remember that it was Britain's Iain Matthews—he was Ian back then—who took it to the top of the pop charts? From 1969 into the late 1970s, Matthews was a key figure in the folk rock scene and few could rival his vocal combination of gentle but poignant. Matthews even moved to LA for a time, but by the 1980s, his career had cratered. But he never stopped worked and it might surprise to know that he has more than 50 recordings to his credit. In 2000, Matthews relocated to Amsterdam and his band Southern Comfort is Dutch. Like a Radio is a new release and a very good one. At 71, his voice has lost some of the candied tones of his youth, but listen to "Bits and Pieces" and you'll hear instantly that it retains heft and expressiveness. The song, by the way, is a reflection on his rolling stone vagabond ways. The title track has a Byrds-like shimmer as filtered through touches of cool jazz. Among the fifteen tracks are also classics such as "Something In the Way She Moves" and a particularly gentle and lovely revamp of "Darcy Farrow." Don't call this a comeback album, though. Matthews has gotten around, but he never went away. ★★★

Caitlin Canty, Motel Bouquet and Sampler

Caitlin Canty's newest CD has just breached and she released a sampler of back catalogue material along with a preview song from the new record: "Take Me For a Ride." It has a misty, dreamy feel in which vocals meld into a mix dominated by guitar and reverb. It has a nice feel, but Canty has a small voice and it seems like too much production. The Proctor, Vermont-born Canty has lived and recorded in Nashville for the past two years. It's hard to judge based on a single track, but I hope she avoids overly slick production. When I hear older material like "Get Up," you can feel the urgency when she sings: Get up get get up/Before the road pulls you under. Similarly, we are drawn into the tale of "Still Here" in which Canty imagines herself as an older man who never strayed far from home: There are those who go/There are those who stay/You cannot have it both ways. Canty sometimes draws comparisons to Lucinda Williams, but she's not; her voice is much closer in register to someone like Aoife O'Donovan. Nothing wrong with that, but songbirds with fragile, pretty voices run the danger of getting drowned out if too much is happening behind them. I want to reiterate I've heard only one track, but a caution flag is raised when older material shines brighter. ★★★  

Ben Strawn, At Sunset

Ahh, to be young! There is just one way to enjoy this debut EP: take all your cynicism, hang it in the dark recesses of the closet, and walk away. Ben Strawn is a recent college grad, has a lovely wife, and a dulcet voice. Listening to a song such as "How Sweet It Is (To Come Home to You)" is like donning a cozy fleece and sitting down to warm caramel for dinner. There's nothing real complex about songs like "You Don'tMind" with its repeating chorus: I don't deserve your love (3x)/You don't mind. Bit it says all it needs to say and tosses in a wee bit of pedal steel to make it sound a bit more country-like than in "It Don't Rain." He rocks out a little on "Woman with the Wind," but if I wanted to nitpick I'd say Strawn's songs need more variety. I'm content to let these gentle songs wash me down. My only gripe is that I think the LP ought to be called At Sunrise; it's more suitable for a guy with a bright future ahead. ★★★ ½

Rob Weir

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