High up in the mountains of the Himalayas are colorful cloths strung along its rugged ridges and peaks called prayer flags. These flags are used to bless the surrounding countryside and homes with their woodblock-printed symbols, mantras and prayers that are carried off by the wind sending positive vibrations and balance to the inhabitants and their environment. And, like these prayers floating in the wind, Pickering Pick’s poetic lyrics drift across his delicately fingerpicked guitar lines emanating some hope, remembrance and beauty into the universe on his new album, Prayer Flag.
An Englishman whose genteel charm rings clearly through the fresh and open sound of his California-based vibe, Pickering Pick has created a laid back, peaceful, almost spiritual album perfect for the new beginning that is Spring. Pickering Pick who released his last album, Tiger Balm, on Yer Bird last Summer, independently released Prayer Flag in February. Keeping on the same path as Tiger Balm, Prayer Flag continues his steady climb upwards reaching new heights where he creates beauty and plants “prayer flags” with each peak he calls an album.
Identical twins Laurie and Katelyn Shook are just two-thirds of the indie-folk trio, The Shook Twins. Laurie who plays wah-wah banjo and has been known to drop a mean beatbox in the middle of song and Katelyn plays the guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, sings into a telephone and bocks like a chicken while the “third twin” Kyle Volkman lays down some bass grooves creating an eclectic and unique sound from these eclectic people. Their new album, Window, embraces their irreverent quirkiness blending it with beautiful harmonies and interesting arrangements. So, if you’re looking for something creative and witty, Window is the album for you. Simply put, it’s infectious and fun.
Winter King. Anyone who has been a loyal reader knows my love for this album and its creator Tyler Butler, and those who are not will quickly find out because Tyler has remastered Winter King and is re-releasing it under Yer Bird Records on March 20. The album was featured in the top 5 of my Best of 2011 list, and if I thought it was awesome then…well…it’s phenomenal now! Recorded in Tyler’s home in late 2010, Winter King is the perfect soundscape of a winter’s isolation in Edmonton. This revamped version includes the remastered cuts of the first four tracks known as the House Painter EP, fan favorite “Feral Horse”, and now making its appearance “Winter King”. Borrowing heavily from winter mythologies, Tyler integrates these myths to create wonderful creatures and characters who develop incredible tales for his hometown of Edmonton. And, even though the first recording of Winter King was a selection of lo-fi loveliness, this improved re-release is as crisp and pristine as the air from which it was written.
First video comes from DAWNS, the songwriting project of Montana-based artist David Boone. Boone who on advice from friends sent demos out catching Danton Supple’s (Coldplay, Morrissey) attention. He traveled to London where he worked with Supple and Audrey Riley who has previously worked on the string arrangements for such bands as The Smiths, The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins. The result of this collaboration is a self-titled EP which will be released this summer. The first song from the album, “Evidence and Answers”, is an extremely poignant song with beautiful lyrics and sweeping instrumentals. Watch the stunning video for this equally stunning song. You can also visit DAWNS’ website to download “Evidence and Answers” for free.
If you’re a fan of Canadian prairie folk and Zachary Lucky, then I think you’ll like his friend Jordan Kurtz’s band, Fisticuffs. This video for “Live Well” is from a Shot At The Dark video session taken in Calgary in -30 degree weather. The temperatures may look uncomfortable, however the song is anything but. According to Fisticuffs’ facebook page, you can expect a new album this year.
Saskatchewan. What can I tell you about this province? Nothing. I’ve never been, but I would like to go. And, since writing Common Folk Music I have had a rush of Canadian submissions and gained quite a few Canadian friends causing my fondness for my Northern neighbors to grow. So, it is through this kind of kinship that I long to visit…No. I long to live in it’s vast dichotomic environs where mountains, prairies, wildernesses and metropolises meet, but all the people seem the same – earthy, friendly, hospitable and polite. I want to live where there is a sense of pride and community and where the community is music and that is how I imagine Canada.
This sense of pride is clearly shown by Zachary Lucky on his new album, Saskatchewan. Lucky, one of the hardest-working musicians in Canada is known for his long tours that crisscross Canada, so it’s only natural that he wrote an album that acts as a love letter to his home province. Saskatchewan is a pensive album where every song is beautifully crafted with the melancholic longing found in the homesick heart of a touring musician. It’s stark instrumentation brings attention to the personal and candid lyrics that deal with themes of separation and pining. The song “Back in the Fall” alludes to a personal relationship between two people while my favorite track, “Leaves Are Falling”, is another track about the separation of two lovers featuring the lovely vocals of Carly Maicher. The leaving happens in the aptly titled “Leaving Pt. 1″ and the desire to return in the title track which also showcases the bittersweet pedal steel played by Lucas Goetz.
While listening to Saskatchewan I get a sense of what it’s like to be Canadian, more specifically a Saskatchewanian (?), and it makes me want to call Saskatchewan my home. And, unlike the massive province itis dedicated to, it’s quite small. Saskatchewan plays for about 20 minutes, therefore I’m not sure if it’s an album or EP, but I do know that it is well worth buying.
Although I haven’t been listening to Hip Hatchet as long as some of you, I have become extremely connected to their albums and comforted by Philippe Bronchtein’s sturdy voice. So, it really comes as no surprise that I’m soothed by his warm vocals on Hip Hatchet’s new song, “Sing Me a Reprise”, from their upcoming album, Joy and Better Days, out April 10. Written when Philippe relocated from Vermont to Portland, the song deals with transition and the memories of home and relationships. The combination of Philippe’s masterful songwriting and deep, wistful performance makes for an exceptional song. It’s a sad song that has greatly improved my evening.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not the biggest fan of compilation albums. I like it when the album I’m listening to has a cohesive sound and style and with compilation albums I’m just turned off by the lack of continuity. I’m sure it has something to do with my aversion to surprises and my obsession with lists, labels, and structure. When something doesn’t fit or make sense, then I wrack my brain trying to find the logic or understanding so I can rest peacefully. If I don’t find that understanding, then you might as well count on me disliking your music, album, or compilation. This may account for why I’m not the greatest at making mixed tapes or playlists, but I digress.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Recently, Jeremy Quentin, who you probably know as Small Houses, emailed me about his upcoming Kickstarter campaign for a new compilation album. I of course watched the video, and, to my surprise, I liked it. I like it so well I’ve decided to support it as much as I possibly can. It’s safe to say, I’m behind this project 100%. After all, this is Jeremy Quentin, who is a singer-songwriter I highly regard.
Now, to the details. Old Hills, Young Mountain was an ambitious undertaking that has yielded a beautiful result. Instead of various artists recording in different studios scattered throughout the country, the artists recorded in one studio in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Produced by Jeremy and Pat Carrol, this album was made in the Double Phelix Studios using analog, reel to reel gear to create and capture the artists singing live. This compilation will give the listeners an organic sound that can only be produced by musicians in the comfort of their natural environment making Old Hills, Young Mountain a delightful and refreshing take on the ordinary compilation.
To get a better idea of this very impressive project, watch the video below, then head on over to Kickstarter to find more information on the artists and to donate to the campaign.
Little Arrow is Willaim Hughes’ new music project. After spending four years as the lead singer and guitarist of the Cardiff indie-folk band Frederick Stanley Star, William returned to the wilderness of west Wales where he set two goals: to live in the country and record an album with friends and family.William was able to accomplish this with his first record, Music, Masks & Poems, which was released last year. Now, following in last year’s footsteps, William will release his new album this summer. But, until then, you can listen to the first single and a crowd favorite, “Our Taste Is Violence”.
Listening to Barna Howard is like stepping into a time machine. Born in Missouri, Howard moved to Portland where he recorded his debut, self-titled album in a basement studio. Influenced by Bert Jansch, Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, and James Talley, Barna Howard echoes the same legendary sound. Barna Howard is so honest, sincere and charismatic it’s hard to believe that it was released just over a week ago. It most certainly is one of the finest examples of true folk music I’ve heard lately. And, while writing a review for the album, I’m finding it hard to translate my feelings into words. I absolutely love, LOVE this album and that’s all I can say. Expressing my admiration and adoration for it would be like me trying to explain the meaning of life.
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CFM welcomes submissions for album review, so please feel free to contact me, or send your song(s) or album through the SoundCloud DropBox or click on the ReviewShine icon below. I will TRY to respond to your request and will ONLY listen to and post on the albums that fit the style of this blog. Also, keep in mind, I am unable to post something on every submission and please be patient as it may take a while to actually post. Thanks.