The next couple of months will see some exciting new roots and Americana releases. From Americana staples to a septuagenarian’s first recording to young twin sisters who are steeped in the bluegrass tradition, ND readers will love the seven selected here.
Chris Smither - Call Me Lucky (March 2)
I will not call Smither lucky. I call myself lucky for having purchased his first album not long after its release nearly 50 years ago, and I have been a fan ever since. Smither has a signature sound, in his voice, his phrasings, and his guitar playing, that results something that both rocks and sweetly rolls at the same time. This album, his 18th, features Morphine drummer Billy Conway and the one-man band known as The Suitcase Junket and takes Smithers' blues-folk roots and creates a multilayered recording and mixes things up.
I saw him perform many of the new songs just a couple weeks back, and his “Nobody’s Home” song that contains a reference to an orange comb-over that passes as a man got the night’s most enthusiastic response. Smither is also known as a great interpreter. This time he puts Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” in a minor key. The transition is menacing, and makes you wonder if that was not Berry’s intent all along. The album also contains a second disc, some of the songs done with different arrangements. He said he was just having some fun. Fun it may have been, and we are all the richer for it. Call yourself unlucky if you don’t get this record.
Kathleen Saadat & Pink Martini - Love for Sale (March 2)
This is septuagenarian Saadat's first recording. Long known for her political and LGBTQ activism in Portland, Oregon, she became friends with Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale. He soon learned that she was also a phenomenal vocalist. With a haunting intimacy and a phrasing that only comes from a life richly lived, Saadat’s presence is a commanding one, even on record, that reminds me so much of Mabel Mercer.
I thought I knew every nuance of these ten standards by heart, and while she brings out the best in them all, the definitive ones are the ballads, including “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and “For All We Know,” which closes the album. Too many vocalists sing "For All We Know," made popular during war, as one of sweet seduction. Not so Saadat. When she delivers the lines, “We won’t say goodbye till the last minute/I’ll hold out my hand and my heart will be in it/For all we know this may only be a dream/We come and go like the ripples on a stream” with such a longing that it leaves you aching for every lost lover; and if the gods are apt to be kind, they’ll be thinking of us as well. Like a melody that haunts your reverie, this album lingers in your heart and mind long afterward.
The Price Sisters - A Heart Never Knows (March 23)
I got to see these twin sisters for the first time a couple months ago as part of a Hank Williams tribute. But even that little bit whetted my interest for more of this fiddle/mandolin duo. For all who thought a younger generation had left traditional bluegrass behind, this album, a mix of lesser known gems from the Carter Family and the Delmore Brothers, with satisfying new songs, is definitely for you.
But it is not a duo record. They bring in some ringers, such as Bryan Sutton, to give it a full band sound. Whether it be the driving “Love Me or Leave Me Alone” or the mournful country-flavored “If I’m Gonna Be Lonely” or lush waltzes and old-timey gospel, the sisters bring a high-spirited sense of immediacy to bluegrass. They even pay homage to Bill Monroe with “The Lee Wedding Tune,” on which they played Bobby Osborne’s 1924 Lloyd Loar mandolin and a fiddle that belonged to Kenny Baker. In other words, bluegrass is in good hands. For another take, and to hear a track from the album, check out Lisa Snedeker's article here.
Lindi Ortega - Liberty (March 30)
In this self-described three-part concept album, Ortega’s "country gothic noir" persona comes out of the gate breathing the fire of an Ennio Morricone instrumental and hits the ground running into a David Lynchian landscape as if traveled by Kate Bush. This south-of-the-border road trip of the heart takes many twists and turns as Ortega traverses her way through a darkness inhabited by murky characters into an eventual light.
But it is the journey that fascinates us. The songs fall into one another, swimmingly, dream-like. It has a hypnotic quality as she draws from a variety of influences. “Till My Dyin’ Day” recalls the 1963 Cascades hit “Rhythm of the Rain” as Ortega too reminisces about a lost love. “In the Clear” is as if it were lifted from a hymnal, life being but waters of a river leading you to an ocean where there are no “hurricanes or tornadoes.” Not since Anais Mitchell’s 2010 Hadestown has there been a “concept” album so completely arresting.
Western Centuries – Songs from the Deluge (April 6)
Fans of the country & western sound that Jim Miller brought to the original Donna the Buffalo lineup are going to love this band’s new album and its sound even more so, with the accent on the western part of that equation. Miller is joined by co-writers Cahalen Morrison and Ethan Lawton and together they do not ignore the other essential ingredients in western music, including stringband, Texas fiddle traditions, cowboy songs, Delta blues, norteno, and honky-tonk.
These are stories of hard men in dark bars, people who've been beaten down by the modern world; it's not some keep-on-the-sunny-side of an idealized rural oasis. But it doesn't mean that you can't get your cowboy boots up off the bar stool and take a swing around the dance floor. Case in point, the danceable "How Wild You Run" asks, "But when your restless body cries out for its soul/To find it's grown cold" you know you're in a honkytonk time warp. This just may be my favorite song of the year. Cowboys & Indians has just premiered "Warm Guns" here.
Phil Madeira - Providence (April 6)
Americana fans should take note of Madeira’s newest record. First, it demonstrates that he is more than Mercyland and one of Emmylou’s Red Dirt Boys – and that is a lot. Second, this seasoned Nashvillian hails from Rhode Island. Third, this is not your typical Americana record as it is piano driven, and a jazz one at that. He adds John Scofield on jazz guitar, along with brass and reeds, to round out a kind of Tipatina-like ambiance by way of Randy Newman.
But he does not blindly go there, as he has a couple of other Red Dirt Boys, including Will Kiimbrough, to keep him grounded as he explores the tugs of his New England raising and pulls of the South. One can either drown or flourish in such stark contrasts, but Madeira uses the conflict to enrich his music, using it almost as a muse. American Songwriter premiered "Crescent Park" here.
Dead Horses - My Mother the Moon (April 6)
Hailing from Wisconsin, here is another compelling quartet, featuring lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff playing a bowed double bass. Recorded live in a Nashville studio, they present a sound that oscillates between sweeping orchestration and layered finger picking with a mandolin and a soft banjo. Vos’ aching, haunting vocals share tales of working-class men and women in rural America while she fleshes out her own sense of spirituality. Together, they strike a balance not unlike the Timmins siblings.
But a lot has gone down since The Trinity Sessions, especially in "American Poor," where they "Discount the diagnosis, dear/Give you piss/And take away your fears/American poor, America here." The end result is a shell game, giving you a sense of pride while living in a poverty, economic and otherwise. But all the songs are not that direct; they seem to be roundabouts beneath clear, bewildered western skies, lullabyes sung to the lonely and lost. It's a lovely album.
Now, as with all these columns, cruise through photos of the above artists that your ND photographers so diligently captured.