Well, it’s a grey kinda day… perfect for those voices that perforate darkness. And these three voices do just that. Cash, Scott-Heron and Manuck have that unflinching honesty that unsettles the masses. Voices that tell their truths with the necessary sparseness to ensure they hit the very centre of their targets. This handful of songs presents you with some stark realities, but then again, reality is never really sugar coated. Embrace the clouds and open yourself….
Ain’t No Grave – Johnny Cash
The sixth (and final) installment of the American Recordings series is about to be released and if Ain’t No Grave is any indication, it may be the crowning glory. Cash’s baritone may have lost some of its brute force in his final years, but if anything, the edge is sharper and cuts deeper. And the lyric is so true… There ain’t no grave gonna hold this body down. In life and death, Cash is a giant. A musician who embraced his fragility and channelled it into a lifetime of song.
Me and the Devil: Gil Scott-Heron
On this, his first new track in some 16 years, Scott-Heron is sounding as vital as he ever did, like he made a pact at the crossroads of blues and hip-hop and is breathing fire into this stark take on the Robert Johnson classic. His blues holler soaring over the top of the restless samples and minimalist electronica. Let’s hope I’m New Here, brings this streetwise, well lived voice to a whole new generation.
Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos): Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band
It’s always a pleasure to have folk-punk monsters A Silver Mt Zion creating their unique orchestral squall. Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos) builds to a piano-string-tight crescendo, that will tear the breath from your chest. Guitars, violin and upright bass chime together while Efrim’s French-filtered voice is an agitated wail. Kollaps is the thunderous, free falling sound of a band at its peak.
As the clouds roll in and the humidity continues to rise, dip your toes into the sounds of these new folk sounds. Take a ride to the rugged coast of Kerouac’s Big Sur with the Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard; be mesmerised by the messianic tones of Cohen as he tames the crowd at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival and rug up in the snow storm of Bon Iver’s Blood Bank. You won’t regret it…
Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard – Big Sur
Taken from the soundtrack to the new Kerouac film, One Fast Move or I’m Gone, this is a sweet slice of folk from the pages of Big Sur. And while Kerouac was more of a jazz man, I can see him driving along some mid-west highway, arm out the window, nodding approvingly. There is an ache in both Farrar & Gibbard’s voice that lends an authenticity to Kerouac’s words and the arrangements distill Kerouac’s bummed-out prose beautifully.
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne
Forty summers ago, Cohen stepped on stage at the Isle of Wight festival. His set followed Jimi Hendrix (touted as one of the best of Hendrix’s career) and the audience was close to rioting. Standing in the centre of what had become a political maelstrom, Cohen looking like a ragged messiah, stood undaunted and delivered a set of songs and poems that brought the crowd to a stand still. For the first time, this set has now been released along with DVD footage of the concert and a documentary by Murray Lerner. After his mesmerising tour earlier this year, this is on the must have list.
Bon Iver – Blood Bank
After the release of the much lauded For Emma, Forever Ago, many wondered whether Bon Iver mainmain, Justin Vernon would be able to capture the beauty of his lovelorn debut. Blood Bank puts all those doubts to rest… The warmth of Vernon’s voice sits somewhere in the chest cavity and reverberates, longingly. Images of stacked up cups of blood, snow storms and secrets that fuck with your honour are pieced together to create a song that sweeps you away. Breaking up has never sounded so good…
Right now, the Spring sky is as wide open as the weekend. And as always, I’m colouring my Saturday morning with a burst of that new folk sound. Hope it paints your sky as big as you like…
Ten Paces Away – The Gin Club
The belting first single from Brisbane’s folk/country/rock collective The Gin Club’s last album Junk. These guys are something to see live, with four (or is it five?) vocalists/lyricists, leading the band through country rave ups, folk ballads and staright up rock ‘n’ roll. Personally, I love it when Ben Salter (also of Giants of Science & Wilson Pickers fame) takes the wheel as he does here on Ten Paces Away. He is without a doubt, one of Brisbane’s best singer/songwriters. You can catch them live at The Zoo in Brisbane on November 27!
Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show
Drawing on the long history of hillbilly, bluegrass, folk & country, Old Crow Medicine Show, have gone from busking on street corners to playing sold out shows with the likes of Merle Haggard, The Felice Brothers & Dolly Parton. They are one of those bands that makes you want to drink good whiskey and sing loud… ‘rock me mama like a wagon wheel…’
Lover of the Bayou – Mudcrutch
This is Tom Petty’s pre-heartbreaker band and man do they rock. Their debut album from last year (that’s right… it took em over thirty years to get around to making it) is raw and filled with some of the best guitar playing you will ever hear. And just check these lyrics…
‘I was raised and swam with the crocodile/snake eyes taught me the mojo style/suckled and weaned on chicken bile/I’m the lover of the bayou’
Tom has always been the master of southern-fried rock and this rave up of The Byrds classic is up there with his best.
Here are three more albums that have got these ears excited in 2008.
Forget the radio!
No One is Holding a Gun to Your Head (Songs To Run To): Bremen Town Musician
Bremen Town Musician are a three-piece experimental folk-blues freak-out. No One is Holding a Gun to Your Head (Songs To Run To) is the second album and charts new sonic territory for the band. This album smoulders, opening with the instrumental tracks Song to Run to and Governor Wren. The introduction of vocals on Steady lifts the intensity again and segues perfectly into Sailor Song; Marissa Allen’s voice bristling above the swirl of violin, drums, guitar/bass. Each song takes on its own character – the ethereal Love; the abrasive Disco Frogs and Shooting Stars Under Midnight; the delicate You Don’t Have To. No One is Holding a Gun to Your Head is one of those rare albums that demands high rotation. Every listen takes you somewhere new, uncharted… so throw away the map; this is an album of discovery.
Tell Tale Signs (The Bootleg Series vol. 8): Bob Dylan
Well, here is a man who needs no introduction and with 40+ albums already available why buy another bootleg? Well first up, there is never a definitive version of any song for Dylan. Each recording is a time capsule; the song as it was at that moment. Tell Tale Signs captures 27 songs from the period 1989 – 2005, including 5 live tracks, 6 alternate versions, 3 songs previously only available on Soundtracks, demos and other unreleased gems. Red River Shore is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful songs Dylan has ever penned. Possessed by the love that damned him, Dylan spins an old school narrative with his trademark mix of religion and existentialism. Another stand out is the song Mississippi. Three versions are included and it is here that Dylan’s ability as a singer is showcased. By exploring tone and phrasing Dylan uncovers new possibilities for this song with each take.Version #1 a soft-spoken lament, Version #2 dog-tired and raspy and Version #3 a powerful last stand. Tell Tale Signs is not a fan only affair. This is Dylan capturing moments of truth.
This Culture Of Background Noise: Because of Ghosts
This is the second long player from innovative Melbourne 3-piece. Recorded at the legendary Hotel2Tango, This Culture Of Background Noise, is anything but (background noise, that is). Each track (all instrumental) is a soaring mix of inticiate guitar, drums and live sampling. Each creates an atmosphere, somewhat akin to that electric feeling that prickles the skin just before a summer storm cracks open. The drums gather and build the momentum, the guitars stir and tremble. Importantly, this album has space for the mind to create its own narrative. The sound never too busy, never too dark, never too moody. Just the right amount of melancholy and raw noir introspection to hold you entranced.