Americana Spring

 

by Andrew Elias

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Bailey Bigger

Coyote Red

(Madjack)

     

     With a voice sounding somewhere between Gillian Welch and Judy Collins, Bailey offers a dazzling collection of personal songs delivered with a casual comfort that belies their depth. The combination of her luscious vocals and upbeat melodies make for an album perfect for spring and summer.

     ‘You Somehow’ is a bona fide gem. But it does not stand alone. ‘No Falling Out of Love’ and ‘God Help Me Stop Forgiving’ are particularly moving. Another standout, in that it is really a blues song amidst a collection of folksongs, is ‘The Levee’.

     Her band is outstanding throughout, offering lilting piano, sparkling guitars, and delicious mandolin accents. 

Whether it be the honesty and grace of her songwriting or vulnerability and beauty of her vocals, Bailey Bigger is sure to become a star on the American music scene. 

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Taylor Rae

Mad Twenties

(self-released)

     

     A strong debut by an exciting singer/songwriter, Mad Twenties showcases Rae’s infectious energy and affinity for a bluesy country style that moves into pop and jazzy territories, a sound that evokes the influences of the likes of Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Norah Jones and Miranda Lambert.

     ‘Sink or Swim’ is a standout, sounding a lot like it could be a track on one of Kacey Musgraves’ albums; as is ‘Never Gonna Do’, which sounds like it could be a recent release from Maren Morris. ‘Fixer Upper’ sounds a bit like something from a Jenny Lewis album.

     With a knack for writing songs with an indelible hook, and a beautiful voice, Taylor Rae deserves the success she will inevitably attain. Mad Twenties is just the start of a promising career.

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The Whitmore Sisters

Ghost Stories

(Red House)

     

     There is nothing quite like the harmonies of family members and that has never been more apparent than with the singing of the sisters, Eleanor & Bonnie Whitmore. Although Bonnie has released four albums of her own, and Eleanor has made four with her husband, Chris Masterson, as The Mastersons, this album marks the sisters’ first collaboration.

     Showcasing not only their remarkable ‘blood harmonies’, but also their considerable songwriting talents, Ghost Stories tackles the emotional landscape of grief, loss and longing. ‘‘Friends We Leave Behind’ is heartbreakingly gorgeous, the title track is hauntingly melancholic, and ‘Hurtin’ for a Letdown’ sounds like a classic, certain to be covered by many duos. 

     But the album is not just a collection of sad songs. ‘Big Heart Sick Mind’ is a rocking hoot, and the fiddle-driven ‘The Ballad of Sissy & Porter’ is an oddly upbeat tale of a tragedy. The sisters also offer a beautiful cover of Sir Paul McCartney’s ‘On the Wings of a Nightingale’, written for the Everly Brothers. The Whitmores’ version is better.

     An outstanding country music album, filled with heart and soul.

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Jeremie Albino

Past Dawn

(Good People)

     

     With the first words out of his mouth, you can tell that Albino is the real deal. When he sings, “All I ever wanted was a house and a couple of acres of land’, you understand his plea and appreciate his passion. 

     Equally adept at writing an anthem-like rocker (‘Acre of Land’) as an intimate folk ballad (‘Lola’), and even a soulful groove (‘Rollin’), his sound should appeal to fans of rootsy Americana music. In the tradition of the likes of Springsteen, Mellencamp and Browne — Albino speaks to our lives and dreams. 

     Produced by Shovel & Rope’s Michael Trent, Past Dawn is an auspicious album from an exciting new troubadours. Listen to his soaring ‘Acre of Land’ and see if you can resist him.  •

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The Honey Dewdrops

Light Behind Light

(self-released)

     

     Imagined and created during the pandemic, The Honey Dewdrops’ seventh album deals with themes of loss and mercy, memories and death. The first track, ‘Delia’, is a fresh re-imagining of the classic folk tale tragedy of Stagger Lee, with Laura Wortman’s sorrow soaking every line. Another gem, ‘Heart Wants’, finds the duo trading licks, Laura Wortman on banjo and Kagey Parrish on acoustic guitar. Amazingly, the songs that follow, ‘Weep’, ‘Luck’ and ‘Moon Pies’ are their equals, deeply emotional explorations of the human condition. 

     Sparse and intimate, honest and direct, The Honey Dewdrops’s new album matches the best album’s by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. This is top shelf mountain music, sweetly soulful and with impeccable musicianship.

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Taj Mahal & Ry Cooder

Get on Board

The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee

(Nonesuch)

     First playing together in 1965 in a seminal and short-lived blues band, The Rising Sons, both Mahal and Cooder have had long and storied careers featuring some of the classic albums of rock’s golden ages of the 1960s and 1970s. Each has been a pioneer of what is now known as Americana roots music, and each an influence on dozens, if not hundreds, of musicians enjoying success in the genre today. 

     Just as they have been a huge influence of so many musicians, they, too, have been influenced by many trailblazing musicians that preceded them. Get On Board pays homage to two of the greatest folk and blues artists, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. 

     Recorded in his son’s living room, the album features Taj’s unique growling vocals and harmonica, and Cooder’s expert guitar playing, occasionally picking up a banjo or mandolin. Joachim Cooder adds drums and bass. It is stark in its simplicity, and it is that simplicity that allows the genius of Terry & McGhee to shine.

     The collection includes folk classics like, ‘The Midnight Special’, ‘Pick a Bale of Cotton’ and ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’ along with lesser-known nuggets like ‘Pawn Shop Blues’, ‘Cornbread, Peas, Black Molasses’ and ‘Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee’. For those once familiar with this important music, Get On Board is a refreshing rediscovery, and for those unfamiliar with these historic songs, it is a great introduction. 

     It is almost criminal that Taj and Cooder have not yet been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This album reinforces the wrong of that oversight. It also makes a good case for induction of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee as well.

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May/June 2022