Tag Archive for 'Tennessee'

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #1. Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

Gillian Welch - The Harrow & The Harvest

that's the way the cornbread crumbles

So 2011 was kind of an odd musical year for me. A lot of my ALL-TIME favorite artists released new music, even relatively reclusive ones like Tom Waits (7 years since last album), Kate Bush (6), Radiohead (4), PJ Harvey (4), and Gillian Welch (8). I mean, getting one album from one of them would be enough, but all of them?! It was exciting!

When I’m rating and reviewing, I try my best to not compare an artist’s new album to their older work. I don’t always succeed at that, but it’s my goal, and I think makes my reviews more readable. It is one of my rules I follow when writing these things. But sometimes, with some of my favorites–who I know so well and have been following for so long–it is tough rule to follow. How can I not, even subliminally, compare to Kid A?

And when it came down to it, as much as I liked so so so many albums this year, there were not many where I liked an artist’s 2011 album more than my preferred favorites of their older work. I mean, I love the new Kate Bush and Radiohead albums–but more than their classics? In all honesty, probably not. That’s not a knock, or a claim they’re slipping, just tastes. And while I love taking a patient view of a career over time, frankly, the excitement before a release kept ending too soon.

Except for Gillian Welch. Gillian Welch! And David Rawlings! Their new album, The Harrow & The Harvest, is every bit the classic, and THE masterpiece by anyone in 2011. The authenticity of her old-time songwriting has been completely absorbed, as she turned inward to produce an intimate and harrowing record about the aftermath of blues, sin, heartbreak temptation. Dark, yes, but stunning nonetheless.

The album starts with a couple of beautiful, matter-of-fact blues songs. “On the day I came to Scarlet Town / You promised I’d be your bride / You left me here to rot away / Like holly on the mountainside,” she reflects, matter-of-factly, on “Scarlet Town.” “Some girls are bright as the morning, and some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind.”

A series of three songs (“The Way It Will Be” / “The Way It Goes” / “The Way The Whole Thing Ends”) also turn on this bluesy existentialism. “The way you made it, that’s the way it will be,” she whispers sadly and a bit confused. “Did you miss my gentle touch? Did I hurt you very much? That’s the way it goes,” she sings, flipping the script a bit. The sadness is everywhere, and this existence is explored, over and over again, as inevitable.

But at the same time, she fully embraces it; heartbroken or otherwise, she wouldn’t have it another way. And there lies the power of these songs. “I try to be a good girl / it’s only what I want that makes me weak / I had no desire to be a child of sin / Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek,” she sings on the incredible “Tennessee.” “I’ve tried drinking rye and gamblin’ / dancing with damnation is a ball / But of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself / Well you might be my favorite one of all.”

Musically, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (one of my favorite guitarists ever) kind of fall into their own little pocket between country, folk, bluegrass and blues. Rarely are the songs more than two voices and two acoustic guitars, maybe a banjo or harmonica if needed. A couple of songs here have a little upbeat bluegrassness to them, but most are calmer and more laidback. The two of them blend together, vocally, guitarly, everything, into one. This album displays that chemistry better than any of their others, easy. In the past, they have expanded their sound a little bit, but here they’ve got it down to just the essentials, nothing extra needed. This kind of intimate recording/performance, combined with the sadness and blues of the lyrics, make the whole thing feel like a journey on a psychological landscape.

I have no idea why it took Welch and Rawlings eight years to get to this album, but the sound they settled on here is the perfect distillation of what they do better than anyone: intimate, affecting, real, beautiful, stunning.

Gillian Welch “Tennessee”

Gillian Welch “Silver Dagger”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost NP: Abigail Washburn – City Of Refuge

City Of Refuge

dreams of nectar

Alright, I think we might get some more best-of-2010 posts up on here soon by other writers, but I’m moving forward. 2011 people! Keep up! (Thanks Btrxz, your haikus were awesome; if only I could be so beautifully concise.)

I intend to keep sharing music I’m currently checking out, whether that means a new album I like, or dislike, or the old videos I’ve watched on YouTube that entertain me, or a show I went to, or whatever strikes me each week. Breathmint named this blog Now Playing, and I take that to mean, be as current as possible.

So the last few days, since my countdown (and 2010) ended, I’ve been checking out the new album, City Of Refuge, by Abigail Washburn. She is generally known as a talented banjo player. Thus, her early albums were close to bluegrass, but I found many of her songs to be much more laidback than real true bluegrass. Chillgrass*, I call it. Here’s one song from her first album:

Abigail Washburn “Red & Blazing”

And here’s the title track from her first album:

Abigail Washburn “Song of the Traveling Daughter”

Cool huh? Now I’m sure you’re going: wait, that last one, that’s not in English! Turns out, Washburn is fluent in Chinese, having spent some time in China. So she occasionally mixes in some Chinese lyrics or sounds into her bluegrass. The whole album makes for a striking atmosphre: banjo, blues lyrics, country voice, Chinese influence.

Which brings us to her new album, City Of Refuge. Just as Song Of The Traveling Daughter could be striking, this one is almost un-striking*.

As City Of Refuge album moves forward, many of the blues and banjo leanings are pushed to the background, or are lacking entirely. No! Come back, Chinese chillgrass blues!

What is left? Unfortunately, nothing terribly unique. It sounds to me like she is joining the crowd: Neko Case, Laura Veirs, The Mynabirds, to name a few, all likable female singers with pretty voices, who borrow from country and acoustic rock and bluesy folk and don’t do too much drastically different from each other.

I hate to make unnecessary comparisons when thinking about an album. And certainly this is some pretty tunage: well-made, sounds nice, lots of instrumental flourish, appropriately moody, Washburn’s voice always excellent. There’s a few songs that can drop you: “Dreams Of Nectar,” “Bring Me My Queen.” “City Of Refuge” is an old blues song, and might be the best recording she’s ever made. Most songs borrow something from old-time American music nicely. Really, I won’t deny, City Of Refuge on its own comes off pretty solid.

But where did Abigail Washburn go?

I’m not going to share any mp3s of the new stuff this time: but you can listen to the entire album over at NPR’s First Listen website: [here!]

*Good critics make up their own words. =P

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #5. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

Sea Of Cowards

I can smell the gasoline

#5. The Dead Weather – Sea Of Cowards

The Dead Weather were the best live band I saw this year. I saw them twice, and each time, one thought was left with me: damn, they are rock stars. Just bad-ass, don’t-mess-with-us rock stars, full of charisma and intensity. But this isn’t a countdown of who had the most killer stage presence of the year. I mention it because their new album, Sea Of Cowards, is a bad-ass, don’t-mess-with-us album, full of charisma and intensity.

Sea Of Cowards is relatively short, but the compactness does nothing but make The Dead Weather’s nasty streak nastier. The nastiness is relentless, breathless. All good rock stars take no prisoners, and that’s what they tap into. On “Blue Blood Blues,” Jack White starts the madness off (“All the neighbors get pissed when I come home / I make ’em nervous / All the white girls trip / When I sing at Sunday service”). From there, Alison Mosshart takes over. She’s an amazing singer, versatile, and always with intensity. The band follows her, basically. Jack Lawrence’s bass often kicks off the songs, his spazzy rhythms climbing out of the crashing embers of the prior song. (The album is more or less set up like a long medley of songs, loosely connected by theme.) The keyboard/guitar riffs by Dean Fertita (and White sometimes) are at times thrilling (“Gasoline,” “The Difference Between Us”).

I feel like I may be making this sound more extreme than it is. It is intense and relentless, but like good rock stars, The Dead Weather know how to make it listenable. That charisma is what makes them special, and what kicks their songs up another notch. Any one of these four could be stars of any band. Together, they are a real force. If you like your rock dirty and bluesy and not watered down, Sea Of Cowards is the first place to start.

The Dead Weather “Blue Blood Blues”

The Dead Weather “I’m Mad”

- almostaghost