Mason Jennings – Always Been
Mason Jennings folk/pop musician released his first solo album in 1998. Since that time the folk/pop musician has come to develop a style of simple melodies driven just by his singing and acoustic guitar and intimate lyrics. For his latest album, Jennings secluded himself in a remote cabin to write and record demos all winter long. He emerged with about 30 songs and the basis for Always Been. He recorded the album with what he calls “dream collaborations” as he enlisted help from Neil Young’s drummer Chard Cromwell and Iris Dement.
With few exceptions, the songs on this album are catchy, acoustic-driven, well-crafted folk/pop tunes. “Lonely Street” and “Rainboots” are both upbeat gems. The centerpiece of the album is “Wilderness,” which finds Jennings in a much more introspective mode. Though these are definitely pop songs the production is very straightforward and so Jennings’ roots-y tendencies as well as his grittier side are occasionally allowed to show.
Always Been is another solid entry in what is becoming (if not already is) a very strong discography for Mason Jennings. Prolific though he is – putting out an album every year or so – Jennings has proven that he still has some new ideas. Always Been is an eminently listenable album. It’s the kind of album that, if you’re not careful, you’ll accidentally listen to twice all the way through without stopping. At only 38, it will be exciting for us to see what comes next from this talented musician.
Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires Of The City
Indie darlings Vampire Weekend hit the ground running on their debut eponymous album in 2007 and took the music world by storm. Since then, they have continued to expand their reach, but as they advance in their careers they are no longer spring chickens. A more mature band emerges on their third album Modern Vampires Of The City.
Their first single, the upbeat “Diane Young”, displays a much more reflective mood. The song title, meant to sound like “dying young”, explores the feeling of being young and how you cannot fear death. Complex rhythms continue to drive their music on tracks like “Unbelievers”, but their simple instrumentation adds a new aspect. For much of “Everlasting Arms” no more than three instruments are used at one time, yet the song still includes a complex element.
Every darling needs to grow up one day. Some never live up to their early success by sticking with their formula. In this case, Vampire Weekend continue to evolve their approach and should look forward to a long existence.
Dawes Stories Don’t End
Being a cutting edge band while keeping the music connected to the past is a skill few can accomplish. Up and coming band Dawes has returned with another album that does just that. You could swear they decided to combine the sounds of fellow California acts Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, and Nash to create their new release Stories Don’t End.
Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith shows his songwriting chops on “From A Window Seat”, a catchy, upbeat track about his fear of flying. He gets a little more serious on “Someone Will” as he details the nerve wracking situation of expressing his feelings of love for someone who may not be interested. “From The Right Angle”, another highlight, is all about they way we perceive life.
Stories Don’t End fits Dawes so incredibly well. Goldsmith very well may be this generation’s Dylan or Springsteen with his impeccable ability to put difficult emotions perfectly into song. Expect Dawes to continue telling stories for a long time to come.
Overmountain Men The Next Best Thing
David Childers’ impact on music in the Charlotte area is unquestioned. Over the past few years he has joined forces with Bob Crawford of Avett Brothers fame, son Robert, long time friend Randy Saxson, Scott Daley, and Geoffrey White in Overmountain Men. Their creative take on traditional folk and Americana continues on their recent release The Next Best Thing.
Childers once again crafts some of the most unique lyrics around and tells a story like no one else. He describes the affects of drug abuse and alcoholism in “Smoke And Mirrors” with references on lying to oneself to create a false truth. On “For The Warmer Lands”, he tells the tale of a man who joined the Tories during the Battle Of Kings Mountain in 1780. He eventually fell during hand to hand combat and says “I must leave you now for the warmer lands”, which is written on a stone on the mountain today and inspired the song’s creation. Childers and company also prove that Americana isn’t all banjos, fiddles, and mandolins as they rock out on “Grackles”. Then comes the fun and spontaneous “Hard Loving You” with a rollicking piano that will be sure to get your toe tapping.
This collaboration is at the heart of what Childers and Crawford are all about. Although they are at different places in their musical journey, Crawford busy on the road with The Avett Brothers and Childers playing more sparingly these days, hearing them come together is satisfying for any fan of either musicians’ other work.
A Fine Frenzy Pines
From time to time, musicians need to leave their comfort zones to explore new techniques and styles. A Fine Frenzy, nee Alison Sudol, recorded mostly pop leaning albums to begin her career. On her recent release Pines, she becomes far more introspective as her music shifts to more atmospheric sounds. You can hear this new focus right off the bat on “Pinesong” as she delves into deeper emotions and thoughts. She has a certain darkness surrounding the first half of the album, but she emerges on “Sailingsong” as she sings about the dawn breaking. The second half shows off her pop sensibilities on “It’s Alive” and “Now Is The Start” before wrapping up with the reflective “Untitled (Grasses Grow)”. To a certain extent, we never want to see our favorite artists lose their roots. At the same time, they need to grow and expand like A Fine Frenzy has here. It’s creativity from musicians that allows music to evolve over time.
Ben Harper With Charlie Musselwhite Get Up!
From time to time, an album comes out that reminds you how powerful a certain style of music can be. We heard the rockabilly sounds come alive again in 2012 from JD McPherson. In 2013, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite join forces to remind us the power of the blues. Harper has spent most of his career traveling along the musical spectrum, from his earlier singer-songwriter work to his more recent hard rock sounds. Musselwhite, on the other hand, sticks to his iconic harmonica skills that made him legendary in the blues world. The two have come together on their new album Get Up!, bringing the blues alive in 2013. Right from the start on “Don’t Look Twice” they stick to a stripped down sound. The recording is modern, but the setup hearkens back to the days of Robert Johnson and Son House. “We Can’t End This Way” keeps it simple as well, with just a couple of guitars, Harper on vocals, Musselwhite on the harp, and claps from the backing vocalists to keep the beat. “I Don’t Believe A Word You Say” provides just the right kind of wake up call with spirited vocals from Harper and blazing guitar. In many respects, this is a modern album. You can tell it was recorded within the last few years. On the other hand, so much of it pays tribute to the artists who built the blues into one of the most powerful forms of music. Thankfully Harper and Musselwhite bring us the proper mix to keep blues thriving.
Danielia Cotton The Gun In Your Hand
Much of Danielia Cotton’s life has been about survival. In her early years she dealt with being one of very few minorities in Hopewell, NJ, a small town just outside of Trenton, however that experience led her to an appreciation of rock music. Her survival instincts are as keen as ever on her new album Give Up The Gun. She expresses her emotions from some of the harrowing events she’s experienced over the last few years. On the first track “Save Me”, you can hear the pain and distress in her voice as she deals with life’s challenges. That theme continues on “Lighthousekeeper”, where the panic has subsided for hope and optimism to keep moving forward. Her raw emotion shines through on other tracks like “Watch Me Bleed”. Not matter how you approach this album, this is all about expression. Cotton’s sharp vocals and unbridled passion can only be described as controlled chaos. Her star can only keep rising by remaining true to herself like she did here.