The Avett Brothers (Concord, NC) – While the Carolina bluegrass sound of The Avett Brothers that I fell in love with back in 2004 is pretty minimal in the band’s latest album due out on September 11th, the unmatched and poignant songwriting and melodies that ushered the band into their current stardom could not be more alive and well with The Carpenter (NPR First Listen, Amazon MP3 Pre-Order). Music writer Marissa Moss rightly critiqued the album’s position in the band’s lifespan and in today’s music scene with an American Songwriter story on Thursday, saying “as folk music has become increasingly mainstream, The Avett’s music has veered further away from both their roots and roots in general…There’s less piano than last time, too, but there’s just too little banjo. Unlike Old Crow Medicine Show, who dealt with the mass-culture-ification of their genre by going full-force into Appalachia on Carry Me Back, The Avett Brothers have smoothed out and up.”
While somewhat disappointed by that direction, it’s still good stuff. I like this Rick Rubin-produced album more than the last, which, sadly, left me feeling like I had grown out of the Avetts. On The Carpenter, there are poppy rock numbers that I’ve skipped over while listening this week, but there are also folk songs like “The Once & Future Carpenter”, “Winter In My Heart” and “February Seven” that are dripping with authenticity, using the organic imagery of nature and seasons to tell deeply honest stories about real life and love (and even some nice string features). Personally, this band, probably more than any other, brings up emotional memories of my battle with cancer and life with my former wife. However, despite how those memories creep up and throw off my day, the genuineness of this band makes them hard to turn away from. They go with me.
Rayland Baxter (Nashville) – Few in Nashville become stars after one little EP. But after Rayland Baxter released his first EP, The Tennessean noted that he was “quickly becoming one of Nashville’s most buzzed-about singer-songwriters” and The Civil Wars invited him to come open their sold out tour. Baxter’s full-length debut, Feathers & Fishhooks (Amazon MP3 & Spotify), was released by ATO last week and was followed by glowing reviews. From the first track to the last (which actually is the same song, but the latter features fellow Nasvillian Caitlin Rose), the new album kept me engaged. It’s is pretty memorable, both lyrically and musically. A “David Gray meets The South” kind of sound, Feathers & Fishhooks is polished and well produced, but doesn’t compromise Baxter’s simple, indie feel. “The Mtn Song” and “Olivia,” the first two songs, are my favorites.
David Wax Museum (Boston) – I can’t think of anyone else that I listen to that could fall in the genre of World Music other than David Wax Museum. I fell in love with the band’s 2009 album Carpenter Bird, which was largely influenced by Wax’s Mexican stint, just before their historic hour in Newport in 2010. But Knock Knock Get Up (Amazon MP3), the Museum’s latest album that’s due out on Tuesday, has more exotic components, including field recordings and natural sounds from the city of Santiago, Tuxtla in the Mexican state of Veracruz. “Vivian,” my favorite track off the album, was first written as a bluegrass hoedown before it grew a Caribbean inspired accordion hook and a Brazilian drum part in the studio.
Evening Hymns (Toronto) – Jonas Bonnetta doesn’t like playing his latest album and doesn’t really ever listen to it. Bonnetta finished, Spirit Guides, his band’s last record just as his father was dying. With his new album Spectral Dusk (Amazon MP3 & Spotify), which we previewed a couple months back and was released just a couple weeks back, Bonnetta wanted to create an experiential tribute to his father. As he outlines in an audio Q&A about the album, he aims to create a very personal and independent “hour long movement, instead of a collection of songs or just another record.” Like Spirit Guides, Spectral Dusk has an ominous mood that entrenches the listener in Bonnetta’s deep mournful state. This is particularly true in “Family Tree” and “You and Jake,” a song that flashes back to a memory of Bonnetta’s brother and his father. While Bonnetta claims that the musical experience of this album (in and of itself) is pretty secondary on this record, it’s still impressive. Of note on that note, is “Asleep in the Pews” and the album’s title and final track.
Kelley McRae (Brooklyn) – I first heard Starkville, Mississippi native and fellow Brooklynite Kelley McRae a decade ago when a mutual friend dragged me along to her show. Back then, the singer songwriter was playing the kind of somber ballads featured on her 2006 critically acclaimed album Never Be, which was followed by another somber record two years later called Highrises in Brooklyn. Brighter Than the Blues (Amazon MP3), McRae’s latest album which will be released with shows New York at Rockwood Music Hall on September 14th and in DC at The Corner Store on September 15th, was inspired by the people and places encountered on a coast to coast with her husband and guitarist, Matt Castelein, playing over 200 shows and putting 35,000 miles on their VW camper van (with a stove!). While the new album is still mostly of the quiet singer songwriter vein that McRae has owned since the beginning, this time the lonely themes found in her previous albums were overshadowed by the hope and adventure of life on the road. Brighter Than the Blues is impressive lyrically and minimalist in music, with stunning love songs like “When The Evening Comes” and a beautiful gospel song called “Let the Light In.”
The Parmesans (San Francisco) – I do get a fair amount of emails from bands and write about few of them (Sidenote: Guys, it’s a time thing. You’re all awesome and I love your emails and music and photos. Keep sending.), but Brendan Welch of the young San Francisco bluegrass band The Parmesans recently hit me up with the band’s new EP Uncle Dad’s Cabin and it just caught me at just the right moment. The five song raw, unpolished EP offers up some hilarious lyrics (look for “Brahms Was A Satanist”) set to a traditional foot-stomping bluegrass sound.