Posted in Reviews, Top Picks

The Lone Bellow’s Sophomore Release Somehow Improves on Their Debut

It was always going to be difficult for The Lone Bellow to exceed their soaring first album. And yet, the Brooklyn trio that’s so difficult to assign a genre to has shown they can somehow equal its highlights while missing of fewer songs. The harmonies are sharper and arrangements slightly less predictable; this time around the only formula followed is variety.

For fans of the first album, everything is there and more. “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” provides a foot-stomping good time. “Fake Roses” expertly describes loneliness before easing the pain with a bit of compassion. “Then Came the Morning” is a breakup song equal parts bitter and uplifting. “Call to War” is haunting and shockingly pretty considering its subject. Links to the videos can be found here.

But the highlight has to be Marietta, which really doesn’t compare to anything the group has done before. It tells the story of a relationship troubled by mental illness. “I’ll let you in again,” Williams sings to the title character, “and patiently wait for your storm.” He refers to a time Marietta was at a low point as “in your midnight,” a time when loneliness “seeps through the cracks in your floor.” He also includes the line “what you call your family are gone.” It’s heavy and almost too dark to bear for someone with a similar character in their life. It’s also uncompromisingly true and therefore gorgeous. Thank you, The Lone Bellow, for representing such a difficult topic with such beautiful words. Even in the banner year of new releases that is 2015, this song and album will likely still stand out.

Score: A+

Must Hear: “Marietta,” “Fake Roses” “Then Came the Morning” “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” “Call To War” “Diners” “Cold As It Is”

Skip: “I Let You Go”

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Posted in Reviews, Top Picks

The Mulligan Brothers Remain Near Perfect

2836393In their first album, The Mulligan Brothers suggested they one day might write a song just stupid enough to make the radio. Thankfully for their fans, they haven’t yet.

“Via Portland,” the Alabama group’s second studio effort, finds them all in fine form, especially Ross Newell. His voice is still sweet and rich and the lyrics he sings with that voice are still worthy of it. “Wait For Me” is one of the better album openings I’ve heard in a long time and though the words are simple, something unusual for this band, the melody more than carries the song.

Some of the ideas this band comes up with for songs are absolutely unbelievable. A man talks to himself unconvincingly about a breakup while driving in his car to distract himself from the very topic he’s rambling about in “City Full of Streets.” In “Calamine,” another man is taken on a terrifying ride across the country and eventually killed by his murderous friend who earned his nickname for relieving the itch of his trigger finger. Calamine, of course, is a gun. “Let Them Ring” uses patriotic language to describe a drinking problem fueled by a breakup in a way that illustrates the downside to a certain kind of freedom. There’s also “Bad Idea,” a song named for something that the brothers claim make for beautiful days. “Let Them Ring” may miss the mark, but it’s better to hear a band try something ambitious than listen to another song we’ve heard done before.

Of course there are scores of great lines to choose from in this album, but I’ll point to one in the song about long distance relationships made difficult by distance and death, “Run On Ahead,” as my favorite.

“I wish we lived forever/Oh, how I wish it wasn’t so/That our minds wear out our bodies just like shoes.”

Is “Via Portland” as good as the debut album? Almost, but it only fell short because nothing was quite as perfect as “Sensible Shoes.” The harmonies are better, this time around, though, so it is of a high enough quality to earn my top mark and keep The Mulligan Brothers at the top of my list of most promising and under-appreciated talents in Americana music today.

Score: A+

Must Hear: “Wait For Me,” “Calamine” “I Don’t Wanna Know,” “City Full of Streets,” “Run On Ahead,” “So Are You”

Skip: “Let Them Ring” “Not Always What It Seems”

Posted in Top Picks

Top 10 Songs of 2014

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#10 Wade Bowen -West Texas Rain

The combination of earnest Red Dirt rock lyrics and the incomparable Vince Gill highlights an excellent album for the native Texan. The sprawling message and long harmonies are perfectly worthy of the rainstorms of the region Bowen harkens to.

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#9 Old Crow Medicine Show -Shit Creek

A furious cry against a futile relationship, “Shit Creek” features the veteran pickers at their quickest and closest to punk. Not enough can be said about their playing on this song. Really, the whole album is shockingly fresh after the departure of Willie Watson.

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# 8 Hurray for the Riff Raff -The Body Electric

Considering how true this political statement is, it’s shocking it hasn’t been made so effectively until 2014. Celebrating the murder of women (or men, for that matter) is not really the best use of music, Alynda Lee Segarra argues brilliantly. The last two lines should forever dispatch the use and advocacy of violence. And the fiddle work is sparse but stunning.

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#7 Zoe Muth -Mama Needs A Margarita

There’s still exciting work being done in the world of traditional country and Zoe Muth may be the very best proof of that in 2014. The titular character in this song sings of an escape from her newfound responsibilities over a beautiful background of strumming and steel. The tone is somewhat mournful though, as it’s clear she won’t take off or be able to return to her younger days. Maybe that’s not the worst thing. Maybe singing songs like these are enough of an escape from the mundane pains of everyday life. Listening to them sure helps.

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#6 Parker Millsap -Truck Stop Gospel

Millsap’s gorgeous raspy vocals bring to life a quirky character on the road who brings church to truck stops. In a truck, of course. The swinging guitar mixes well with fiddle and piano flourishes and the lyrics are great for a laugh.

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#5 Amy Ray -Anyhow

The Indigo Girl’s bittersweet rumination on love, life, death and faith is as devastating as it gets. It’s also shockingly simple. Life can be harsh, but there’s always something to be thankful for. The last verse may have more healing power than any therapist can offer. Also, the dobro playing is exactly what Amy Ray’s voice needs as a compliment.

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#4 Miranda Lambert -Bathroom Sink

Overlooked on Miranda’s chart-topping Platinum but not on this list, “Bathroom Sink” picks up where “Mama’s Broken Heart” left off. The mother-daughter conflict is present as is the theme of covering up emotional pain. While not quite as catchy as its predecessor, “Bathroom Sink” runs deeper and cements Miranda’s place as the queen of mainstream country in a way “Automatic” or “Platinum” never could. They might be hits now, but this is the type of song that’ll be relevant for decades.

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#3 Lee Ann Womack -The Way I’m Livin’

Epic is probably the only word to describe Womack’s title cut from my favorite album of the year. The vocals are flawless and the orchestra tops what almost any other artist who makes sense with this song would have gone with. The lyrics are unremarkable, but the melody is the best of 2014. The delivery is even better.

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#2 Zoe Muth -Annabelle

Annabelle earned Muth a rare second spot in one of my top ten lists by bringing two complex characters to life at once. Annabelle is a wanderer and a rich story teller; her sister loves her but harbors some anger toward her at the same time. The piano and cello dance at the end just as the two do in the lyrics and, even though the moment is beautiful, it’s clear nothing will change.

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#1 Angaleena Presley -All I Ever Wanted

By far the most ambitious song on this list, “All I Ever Wanted” lands at number one despite having a few flaws. Religion is a complex topic that most songs address too simply. Presley’s conversation with the devil reveals what Pope Francis has said to be true: Good people do go to  heaven regardless of their level of devotion to the church or even God. All Presley ever wanted was ‘a real good time’ and it appears she’ll get it.

Honorable Mention:

Little Big Town -Girl Crush; Eric Church -Give Me Back My Hometown; The Infamous Stringdusters -Let It Go; Mickey Guyton -Safe; Balsam Range -Everything That Glitters; Maddie & Tae -Girl In A Country Song; Doug Seegers -Angie’s Song; Sturgill Simpson -Turtles All The Way Down