Is everyone ready for another edition of Chris’ Pick Six? If so here are six more albums that are worth checking out. Each one showcases talented songwriters and a variety of different sounding music. Give them a listen and enjoy.
Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers
Justin Towne’s Earle’s life is a myriad of highs and lows that trek through his personal and professional affairs. His trials and tribulations have always found their ways into his music and the album Single Mothers is no different. One of Earle’s more personal records he fills it with a wealth of lyrics that peel back the curtain and allow listeners a peek at his life. A melancholy haze encompasses Single Mothers in songs about a life satiated with loss and anguish. The sparse “Picture In A Drawer” deals with losing a loved one. While everything may look the same on the outside, underneath it will never be the same. The title track “Single Mothers” depicts sauntering through a life with a father that bailed and has never truly owned up to fatherhood. The boisterous “Burning Pictures” touches on the catharsis exorcising people in your life can bring. “Wanna Be A Stranger” sums up this record with Earle sings about wanting to just walk away from everything leaving the people and places in his life behind. Maybe expunging these things would make his life better. Justin Townes Earle has always been an incredible songwriter and Single Mothers sees him elevating his craft to new heights.
Justin Townes Earle – Absent Fathers
Released a few months after, Absent Fathers is the companion piece to Justin Townes Earle’s Single Mothers. Once again he tackles a life full of anguish and despair and once again he delivers a brilliant set of songs. On Single Mothers, Earl questions the life he was dealt at times letting the pain control him. Absent Fathers is a statement accepting how things are, and while the pain is still there it is time to move on. Earle wastes little time opening with the biting “Father From Me”. No reflections or reminiscing it is an open letter to a father that has done nothing but disappoint. He follows that up with “Why” a song that tries to figure out why a loved one would walk out. The bluesy “Someone Will Pay” finds Earle looking to get even with the people that have hurt him. No questioning why on this track, just solutions. The album comes to a close with one of Earle’s best songs, “looking For A Place To Land”. He has weathered a tough life and now he is ready to find that place to call home and start anew. Absent Fathers needed to be a separate album so listeners could absorb each set of songs on their own. While he is still haunted by a life of despair and abandonment there is some accepting and understanding starting to take place in his music. Absent Fathers, along with Single Mothers, give Earle an outlet for his frustrations as he attacks his demons head on and moves along with his life.
Ian Siegal – The Picnic Sessions
If you have not had the pleasure of listening to the music of British singer/songwriter Ian Siegal then you need to become familiar with it ASAP. His music incorporates influences traditional blues, Americana and folk creating a sound lying somewhere between Tom Waits and Muddy Waters. His latest record, The Picnic Sessions, is a raw stripped down peek at five musicians hanging out and having one hell of a time. After playing the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic Ian Siegal partnered with some of Mississippi’s finest musicians for a jam session at the famed Zebra Ranch. Siegal was joined by friends Luther & Cody Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart of the Mississippi Mudbloods fame from Siegal’s album Candy Store Kid. Rounding out the handpicked super group line-up is the talented Jimbo Mathus. The Picnic Sessions consists of revisited tunes from Siegal’s past albums, a few new ones and some traditional blues standards. As they play songs like “Keen and Peachy” or “Stone Cold Soul” you get the feeling they are just five friends hanging out on the front porch having a good time. While Siegal’s gravelly vocals are the focus it is the additional talents of the Dickinson Brothers, Hart and Mathus that make this record so damn tasty. Their playing and singing adds to Siegal’s music creating something different so it is not just a rehashing of already existing music. Listen to “Heavenly Houseboat Blues” and take in the vocal harmonies. When they are in tune it is truly something special. Another aspect of the record is the conversations the group has before, after and during some of the songs. You get to experience what they were thinking and how they want to arrange the music and lyrics. It allows listeners to feel a part of the jam session. If you didn’t know Ian Siegal you would swear his is from Mississippi because he is able to capture the South on this album. The focus is definitely Siegal’s songs and vocals with the other guys happily supplying the soundscape for him to sing over. Check out The Picnic Session because it is such a good listen.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – So Delicious
When people that have not been enlightened by the music of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band ask me to describe their sound I just reply with a simple word, GOOD. While most people demand that their music be neatly filled into a self contained category you really cannot do that with Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. With a solid blues foundation the Reverend Peyton and crew layer in sounds from country, folk, soul, gospel and rock & roll as they sing about everything under the sun. Their latest album, So Delicious, walks the same path as their previous ones, a path that is rarely travelled by fellow musicians. Reverend Peyton’s “hair-on-fire” guitar playing and big bold voice set the stage but the music would be lacking if not for Breezy cranking out the accompanying washboard licks and singing backup. So Delicious finds them once again singing about what they know, the people, places and things found common in small town life. Songs about an honest day’s work (“Dirt”), a damn fine meal (“Pot Roast and Kisses”) and sitting outside picking a guitar (“Front Porch Trained”) drive the record with vivid imagery. Another aspect of the record is their ability to capture the rawness of their live sound. More than a few bands have a big bold live sound and when they enter a studio it crawls into a hole and hides; but by utilizing vintage instruments and recording techniques Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band avoids this dilemma. So if you want to treat your ears to some good music then listen to the music of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn band, and So Delicious is a fine place to start.
Murder By Death – Big Dark Love
Always willing to do things differently Murder By Death has perfect the art of writing songs full of sadness, anguish, death and despair wrapped neatly in an eerie package. On their latest record Big Dark Love the band rarely strays from the path they are so comfortable following. The songs on Big Dark Love focus on various aspects of love, but not in a way that you would think. Murder By Death looks past the flowers, poems, chocolates and romance peeling back the curtains to the darker side of love that is always lurking underneath but most ignore. On the title track, “Big Dark Love” Adam Turla sings about the feelings that encompass people when they are in love. As you listen to his words it sounds like he is describing the symptoms of a junkie rather than someone in love. As the songs reaches the climax Turla’s vocals build as he demands a fix. Love is treated as a chore on the song “Last Thing” with loneliness, pain and sadness being more welcomed than dealing with everything involved in a relationship. The song “Hunted” delivers an extremely creepy vibe as Turla sings about unrequited love. Like the title the song delves into a person hunting for love but you get the feeling it is for nefarious reasons. Lyrically Big Dark Love has some of the finest songs from Murder By Death with each track possessing a deep bond with each other. Musically there is a shift from past records. While Turla’s vocals and the haunting cello from Sarah Balliet anchor each track, they tend to get lost in the surrounding soundscape which at times can be cluttered with multiple musical layers. The additional sounds and more polished feel do nothing to take away from the strength of their songwriting but it does take a bit of time to get used to. Big Dark Love is the essence of Murder By Death with songs that strip away the layers that prop love up as a fairy tale. They let people know that for all the good that comes from love there is an equal amount of bad. Don’t let the darkness of Murder By Death’s music deter you from sampling their wares because you will miss out on some killer music.
Steve Earle & the Dukes – Terraplane
(New West Records)
A man of many masks, Steve Earle’s music career has more turns than a road map. His fight with personal demons has given us some albums that were lacking and any more that were flat out brilliant. With some of the best music of his career coming to fruition over the 15 years the man has decided to change lanes once again with Terraplane an album that taps into the traditional sounds of the blues. Yes many of Earle’s songs have been infused with blues undertones but he has never attempted an all out blues record. Not looking to reinvent the wheel Steve Earle has assembled a batch of tunes about rocky love affairs, a wealth of vices and a face to face with Beelzebub himself. Musically the album pulls from obvious influences, Johnson, House, Hopkins, cultivating a sound straight from the early 20th century. Lyrically Earle continues to show why he is considered to be such a prolific songwriter. His words stimulate the brain conjuring mental images of a weathered man sitting on a front porch singing about life, the proverbial crossroads, or a singer hunched over an old chair bemoaning the loss of his woman, money and/or dignity. It makes you wonder if some of the songs were born from his own transgressions. Steve Earle is a man of many layers and in some way each album unveils a layer to his listeners and Terraplane is no different. As you listen to him warble on about pissing money and life away in “Gamblin’ Blues” you wonder what took him so long to get to this record. Terraplane may not be the best of his long list of albums, but it is damn good.