Andrew Bird’s Are You Serious is the May Acoustic CD of the Month. This is the work of a high-caliber musician. Known initially for working with Squirrel Nut Zippers, Andrew Bird has been putting our critically acclaimed albums since 2003. All are immaculately written, full of surprise with a different pallet of instruments and arrangements than the average singer-songwriter. But Andrew Bird is not average.
For this new work, Bird issued his own challenge then answered it with this project. Bird said, “That friction between the tone of the music and what the lyrics are saying creates the humor and melancholy that helps us deal with it all. If its dark on dark my eyes glaze over or I think ‘are your serious?’ In fact, that’s what I was thinking of calling this record, I guess because the songs got into a personal territory that, dare I say, are almost confessional, and that naturally makes me a bit uncomfortable.”
In Bird’s personal life since his last album, he has gotten married, had a child — and his wife battled cancer. The single, “Capsized,” sings uncharacteristically in plain terms his experience with a break up. The title track teases that he “used to be so willfully obtuse, semantics like a noose, get out your dictionairies” and declares “this is all non-fiction.” In the duet with Fiona Apple “Left Hand Kisses” confronts love’s charm and vulnerability. Other favorites are “Puma” and “Saints Preservus.”
WNRN’S Electric CD of the Month for April is Pete Yorn’s Arranging Time. His sixth album has found him collaborating with multiple producer/multi-instrumentalists including R. Walt Vincent who had been a part of Yorn’s breakout debut musicforthemorningafter 15 years earlier. The parings make for a multi-faceted album shown in songs like “I’m Not the One” with the Casio-style electric piano, the sharp guitar edges of “Screaming at the Setting Sun” or the near-classically arranged string section and grand piano on closer “This Fire.”
Highlights for me on this album also include “Summer Was A Day”, I was hooked at first listen. Although his voice sounds road-weary, to me “Roses” has some sort of timeless appeal, like this piece could have been written and adored anytime in the past 40 years.
The April 2016 Acoustic CD of the Month is the new album from Mavis Staples, Livin’ On a High Note. Staples grew up singing in church, with her family’s band, The Staples Singers, joined the Civil Rights movement, and has a 50 year solo career. Rolling Stone calls her “one of the greatest singers of all time.”
Mavis Staples and producer, M. Ward, put out a call for notable, “friends of” songwriters to have a once in a lifetime chance to write for her. The result goes beyond a collection of new songs to add songs to Staples’ canon. These are songs that were tailor made for her range and sense of place in history. The single and title track, “High Note” is by Valerie June. WNRN played several song from June’s critically acclaimed debut, “Pushing Against Stone.” Other notables are Benjamin Booker, Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs), Ben Harper, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Nick Cave and a co-writing effort between Neko Case and Laura Viers.
The Electric CD of the March is Lissie’s My Wild West. As she was writing
songs for her third album Lissie realized that her subconscious was saying she
needed to get out of California and find those “forty acres in the sun” she
references in the song “Hero”. Upon Completion of this album she moved to a
farm in Iowa.
More than just a manifestation of her life’s path My Wild West has a great rise
and fall of introspective songwriting teamed with a driving rock beat. “Don’t
You Give Up On Me” and “Daughters” might highlight this best. Enjoy the
reflection of life on “Go For A Walk” and “Ojai”. “Stay” and “Hero” have
that haunting feeling that reminds me of Lissie’s first album Catching a Tiger
and songs that reveal themselves to you with multiple listens. You know, that
“this song gives me chills” feeling.
Lake Street Dive’s release of Side Pony marks a new era for this Boston based group. It is their first on a major label, Warner’s subsidiary, Nonesuch, and was produced by Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Anderson East). With the help of this new muscle, they are able to bring their own way of writing, singing, and playing that brought them to some prominence with Bad Self Portrait to a wider audience.
On its fourth record, lead singer Rachael Price’s voice leads the way through all the tracks and can turn from vulnerable to sassy on a dime. The bands other considerable powers are the interplay as well as shared songwriting duties. All of their collective and individual strengths and charm shine on this new release.
Exceptional. Weird. Accessible.
15 years ago in Philadelphia, Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman started writing The Psychedelic Swamp which was the music that would lead to the creation of Dr. Dog. The sessions were put onto cassettes for fans in the year 2001, but was ressurrected last year when Dr. Dog decided to re-record the songs and collaborate with a theater troupe to bring the character of Phrases, a swamp inhabitant, to life. Think of it as Dr. Dog’s Rock Opera.
Dr. Dog isn’t trying to leave you completely confused by their idealistic musical creation. On the contrary, they just want you to come to The Psychedelic Swamp and enjoy yourself.
I would suggest listening to the album in its entirety to let the concept wash over you, but highlights for me include the subtle harmonies of McMicken and Leaman on “Dead Record Player” and the surf guitars of McMicken’s “Swampadelic Pop.” You should listen to “Bring My Baby Back” where Leaman has crafted a solid song that could easily have been included on any of Dr. Dog’s albums and “Engineer Says” in which Leaman pulls you into a bluesy world that develops into organized chaos.
Tedeschi Trucks Band third album, Let Me Get By, is testament to the commitment, hard work and musicianship of the husband wife team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. These 10 new, original songs are produced by Derek Trucks, and co-written by Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Mike Mattison, Doyle Bramhall II and members of the band. Now that all solo efforts and Derek’s work with the Allman Brothers are past, they are all-in on this new record where you can hear echos of their previous work and influences, but the sonic center of Let Me Get By is their own sound being forged together. (photo credit: Mark Seliger)
Dylan LeBlanc’s 3rd album, Cautionary Tale, is Anne’s pick for January’s Acoustic CD of the Month.
Dylan LeBlanc was born in Shreveport, Louisiana to a hit writing dad, James LeBlanc. Dylan moved with his father to Muscle Shoals to allow James to become a session musician and write songs for Rick Hall and Fame Studios. Surrounded by this musical atmosphere, Dylan started writing songs. Dylan returned to Shreveport, lived with his grandmother, and started his music career. Dylan eventually walked away from a major label deal after two albums, but returned to Muscle Shoals to create this new one and get help from John Paul White (Civil Wars), along with Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes). This third album continues with more quiet, haunting tunes brought to life with his falsetto voice and sparse instrumentation, but now with more wisdom and knowledge that one must approach life as a Cautionary Tale.
Dylan LeBlanc will be performing at the Southern Cafe and Music Hall on Saturday, January 30.
The December Electric CD of the Month comes from our neighbor in Albemarle County Suz Slezak and her husband David Wax who decided to move back to the area to raise their young family. David Wax Museum’s Guesthouse is the tale of a band that has grown up together, feel in love and now has adult responsibilities. With Guesthouse there is a lovely progressesion from David talking about himself as “Young Man” to “Everything Changes” as ‘two becomes three’.
With their first 4 albums David Wax Museum explored a Mexo-Americana soundscape with unique textures, complete with donkey jawbone. Guesthouse brings you into a vivid, yet relaxed world with opening track “Every Time Katie” and expands into new territory for David Wax Museum with huge synthesizers on “Dark Night of the Heart” and on title track “Guesthouse”.
Raucous fun leads to the love song “Singing To Me” that will leap into your heart and the single guitar strummed beauty of “Time Will Not Track Us Down” that could easily be a lullaby for the couples daughter. There is much to appreciate about David Wax Museum and Guesthouse features a great time capsule of who David and Suz have become and points (more than one) interesting path for future efforts.