Wow! Another year has gone by without much blogging, but I’m still listening to what’s out there. So, here are my favorite albums of twenty-fifteen, and here’s to hoping and wishing that my job will allow me to write more in twenty-sixteen… But, you know what they say about wishes.
10. Where in Our Woods, Elephant Micah
9. All Your Favorite Bands, Dawes
8. High On Tulsa Heat, John Moreland
7. Coming Home, Leon Bridges
6. Something More Than Free, Jason Isbell
5. Windfall, Joe Pug
4. Swan City Vampires, Will Johnson
3. This Is The Life, Andrew Bryant
2. Over and Even, Joan Shelley
1. Traveller, Chris Stapleton
Lately, most things Appalachian is making a resurgence, especially the folk music. Appalachia is concentrated in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee; however, it is important to realize that West Virginia is the only state that can be considered entirely Appalachian. So, as a West Virginian — born and raised — it isn’t hard for me to distinguish authentic Appalachian folk music or good folk music in the Appalachian vein, and I must say that Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle are shining examples of this music tradition. Combining their love of storytelling, interest in the Appalachian music, and their beautiful voices, Anna and Elizabeth do this folk tradition a-world of justice on their new self-titled album, Anna & Elizabeth.
Traditionally, Appalachian music has been centered around the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, etc., and you can hear most of these instruments on the album, however they’re sparse embellishments that give room for the duo’s harmonies making each song sound as old as the mountains yet as fresh as the mountain air. Their honest, salt-of-the-earth vocals are indicative of the rugged landscape singing about familiar themes of the region — religion, love, death, and work. The amount of respect these ladies have shown the tradition and ultimately the Appalachian culture through these collective songs is extraordinarily reverent and sincere, and that is what I appreciate most about this album. Anna and Elizabeth are world-class preservationists without the pretension because they not only sing the Appalachian songs, they know region firsthand. They do not pay lip-service to Appalachian music simply because it’s what is in vogue, but they have lived it and loved it, and it definitely shows on this album.
Purchase Anna & Elizabeth
Anna & Elizabeth: Website; Facebook; Twitter
As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.
Today’s tribute comes from Jeffrey Fields, the frontman for Philly’s Morning River Band. Although Jeffrey never met Jason, he has been greatly influenced by his music and songwriting as evident in his short but reverent tribute below. Morning River Band has also contributed a raucous and celebratory version of “Whip-poor-will”, which I have included at the end of the post. Oh, yeah, and be sure to check out Morning River Band’s new EP, Abyssal Channeling, due out on May 29th. I think you’ll like it.
Photo by Amrit Singh
Few who frequent Jason Molina’s world of ringing bells, blue lights, and black crows return unchanged… some don’t return at all. Those who do emerge with the realization that Jason’s songs are mirrors. Those little, sad eyes staring back from inside the music are your own. Though the creator of that universe has passed on, his work remains. The choir continues to wail through the fog; and, so long as man has ears to hear, the double tongues will sing. Farewell, Jason. Though I hardly knew you, you weren’t hard to love.
— Jeffrey Fields
Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Morning River Band: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; Bandcamp
Andrew Bryant’s album, This Is The Life, gives the listener — us — a little glimpse into his life and thoughts. Known for his low harmonies in Water Liars, Bryant showcases the depth of his voice and songwriting talents TITL. Throughout the album, he eloquently expresses the struggles of his life (or life in general) without the bullshit.
Bryant starts the album encouraging himself to do what he loves in the gentle anthem “Do What You Love.” He continues the theme in the next track “Losing My Shit.” With gritty garage guitar, Bryant loses his shit doing what he loves. By releasing all of his love and emotion in a song and working hard at it, it becomes a beautiful thing. And, I whole-heartedly agree. “Keep It Together” is moody and brooding with the driving guitar that matches the determination Bryant sings about in the song.
Bryant is at his vocal best in “The Free.” His voice is rich, thoughtful, and soulful with a sadness that is enhanced by the haunting cries of the steel guitar. The reflections coupled with the retro sound in “It Takes Time” is some of Bryant’s strongest songwriting, while the yearning poetics in “I Want You Final” is intense and strangely sexy. And, the repetive nature of “Fool Heart” is mesmerizing staying with you long after listening to it. I’ve had days where the song has been on repeat in my head. My favorite song on the album, “My Own Saving Grace,” is a heartbreaking hymn of self-preservation and love told through dark imagery, while “Do Your Work” closes out the album. Purposesfully placed at the end, “Do Your Work” reminds himself, as well as us, why he does what he loves — making meaningful music. And, on This Is The Life, Bryant has most definitely found his voice among the whispers on a long dark road.
Purchase This Is The Life
Andrew Bryant: Website; Facebook; Twitter
It has been so long since I’ve actually posted something other than a Molina tribute, so I may be a bit out of practice. Please bear with me as I try to get back to my ol’ bloggin’ self, and as I do, I would like to begin with Elephant Micah’s new album Where in Our Woods, which is absolutely stunning.
Elephant Micah, also known as Joseph O’Connell, takes a little departure from his previous albums on Where in Our Woods. On this album, O’Connell leaves the experimenting behind and opts to take a more traditional folk path. On it you’ll hear a more stripped-down sound with just vocals, guitar, a pump organ, and drums (provided by his brother, Matthew O’Connell) weaving in and out of tales of his childhood home in Indiana. A folklorist by trade, O’Connell has always used his profession to create interesting stories, but his talent shines remarkably bright on Where in Our Woods because of its collection of masterfully minimal songs. And, as the ever consummate folklorist, O’Connell anthropomorphizes vultures giving them a voice bemoaning the fast-paced world by the adoption of Daylight Savings Time in “Slow Time Vultures”, while he combines three stories taken from the headlines of his hometown newspaper in “Albino Animals”: hunters killing an albino deer, a hometown rower’s disastrous transatlantic passage, and drug addicts avoiding prosecution after setting a trailer on fire cooking meth. These are just a couple of beautifully crafted songs from an extremely exquisite album that showcases O’Connell’s ability to write captivating Midwestern narratives. And, it is an album that has kept me company through this cold and harsh winter.
Buy Where in Our Woods
Elephant Micah: Website; Twitter; Bandcamp
Alas, another year without writing as much as I would have liked, but that’s my life right now. And, although I may not be writing, I’m still listening. Here are a few of my favorites from 2014. Hope to see you in the new year.
15. Shriek, Wye Oak
14. Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless
13. Parker Millsap, Parker Millsap
12. Swimmin’ Time, Shovels & Rope
11. Water Liars, Water Liars
10. Marigolden, Field Report
9. Don’t Disconnect, Sarah Jaffe
8. Paint Another Layer On My Heart, Caleb Caudle
7. All Dies Down, Fire Mountain
6. Half the City, St. Paul & The Broken Bones
5. Lateness of Dancers, Hiss Golden Messenger
4. Electric Ursa, Joan Shelley
3. My Favourite Faded Fantasy, Damien Rice
2. Heal, Strands of Oak
1. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, Sturgill Simpson
The albums below are probably my favorites of the year, but couldn’t find the proper place for them in my list. Y’all know I love Jason Molina, so I felt that his albums stood apart from the rest.
Didn’t It Rain (Reissue), Songs:Ohia
Journey On, Songs:Ohia
What originally attracted me to both folk and punk music was the simplicity of the production. There’s a lack of pretense in those genres that allows songs to stand naked and be enjoyed without any added fluff or bluster. It’s this rawness that immediately caught my ear when I first heard the new album from The Far West, Any Day Now. The album’s opener, “On The Road,” has a relaxed western atmosphere and you can nearly feel the dry heat of Los Angeles as Lee Briante sings, “I can see the mountains out my window. The Hollywood sign is out there too.” The whole album is chock-full of solid songwriting, great arrangements that bring out the darker elements of the songs, and production that fits the band’s aesthetic just right. Let a little California sun into your life on this cold February day and check out Any Day Now.