I bought so many albums over the summer holiday I can barely recall all of them, but here goes.
Larkin Poe – Kin
First comes the best, in the shape of Larkin Poe’s debut album (you’ll find a couple of folky/Americana type EPs on the iTunes, but they won’t prepare you for this). The Torygraph described it as T-Rex meets Americana, which is exactly what occurred to me on my first listen (although whisper it quietly that the drums might be more reminiscent of The Glitter Band than T-Rex). The beats come straight out of the 70s (T-Rex, Sweet, whatevs), and the harmonies are about what you’d expect from two sisters who can sing.
I first encountered Larkin Poe as part of Kristian Bush’s backing band at the Country2Country gig at the O2 in 2013. Megan, the blonde one, plays a mean lap steel guitar, and Rebecca tackles most of the lead vocals. Check out the album teaser video above and then buy the album, because it deserves to be a smash.
Brad Paisley – Moonshine in the Trunk
Something interesting happened with the marketing campaign and release of Mr Paisley’s latest. He seemed to take over promotional duties from the Sony marketing department, and took to leaking tracks on YouTube, with links via Twitter, enlisting the help of others when Sony kept taking the vids down. He has denied that it was a put-up job, and insists that he really did what he did. His argument is that he wanted to leak the tracks individually in order to talk about what inspired them and so on.
Whatever the reasoning, what’s true is that Paisley is an object lesson in how an artist can use social media to engage with fans. One thing he did was encourage aspiring guitarists to post videos of themselves attempting the solo to his song Perfect Storm (he claims it’s his favourite solo) – and they did, in numbers. Paisley posted links on his Twitter feed, and made comments, not all of them complimentary (“You need to change your strings” springs to mind). The standard industry response to such videos might be to get them taken down, to threaten to sue people with breach of copyright, but Paisley actually seems to understand his fans in a way that record company executives don’t.
As to the music, it’s another strong set. Paisley is an artist on a hot streak. The songwriting is excellent, and the guitar playing is as good as ever. Crap album cover, though.
(The solo comes in at 2:42 – and it’s not very long)
Billy Pilgrim – Billy Pilgrim
In preparation for the release of Kristian Bush’s solo album, I downloaded this earlier (1994) incarnation of him, pre-Sugarland, pre-fame, to see what it was like. It’s actually quite good, and probably criminally overlooked. But then, if it hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have Sugarland, so there’s that.
Sunshine and Whiskey – Frankie Ballard
Is Frankie Ballard the new Keith Urban? He seems to come out of the same school of good-rockin’ songs with good guitar about girls and booze.
So he’s a good looking kid, and ridiculously young, but let’s not hold that against him. He can really play, and one should never overlook that. I can’t hate anyone who does a cover of ‘Night Moves’, either! His voice has a pleasant grittiness, to it. The danger, if it’s really a danger, is that he’ll go down the Keith Urban route and cater exclusively to his young female fans. This would be a shame for the likes of me. Brad Paisley has continued to put his guitar playing front and centre, whereas Urban’s recent release was very light on the good guitar. I don’t mind a bit of pop, but I love the guitar, as you might have noticed.
Get Hurt – The Gaslight Anthem
Hmm. Confess I bought this on impulse and haven’t really listened to it more than once, so I’ll reserve judgement. Bought it for the kids really, but it sounded all right.
Small Town Heroes – Hurray for the Riff Raff
One of those albums/artists you could swap around and be none the wiser. They seem to be more of a loose collective than an actual band. Another impulse purchase, this is more Americana than country and therefore less of my thing. It’s got an olde worlde feel to it, sounds like dark songs from the mountains, though there’s also a contemporary and political feel, and some of the darkness relates to stories ripped from the headlines. I like ‘Crash on the Highway’ and ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ and singer Alynda Lee Segarra has a voice that could come from some scratchy 1920s recording. I like the pastiche of this, but I’m not sure how long it’ll last on my iPod.
Good Road to Follow – John Oates
This intrigued me, though I didn’t download all 15 tracks (just 6 of them). I believe it was originally three different EPs, I suppose along the lines of Vince Gill’s multi-disc set These Days. iTunes now presents it as one overlong album. There’s a good mixture of soul and rock here, and Oates sounds gruff but still in good voice. The whole album runs through a variety of styles, so you’d have to pick the ones that appeal to you. Some of it was recorded in Nashville (Vince Gill is a guest on one) but that doesn’t make it country. I suppose its closest analogue is Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee, which wasn’t country either.
Bring Up the Sun – Sundy Best
I have an issue with the spelling here, but let’s try to focus on the music. Acousticy Americana that evokes that America that nobody really lives in, the one with dirt roads and hollers and pine trees. Another pastiche of nostalgia, but pleasant enough to listen to. There is something fascinating about people singing about wanting to go home. Some of us can’t think of anything worse. But wanting to go to an imaginary home you never really had is very interesting. Official single is “Until I Met You” which has a more contemporary country feel. One of them needs to get a haircut.
Provoked – Sunny Sweeney
Finally, coming a close second to Larkin Poe, is this release from Sunny Sweeney, which was produced independently following a Kickstarter campaign. There are enough good songs here to make you wonder all over again what the fuck is wrong with the record industry. Then again, out of this neglect comes an artist unafraid to provoke, nobody to suck up to, and with a good-sized chip on her shoulder. I love ‘Bad Girl Phase’, ‘You Don’t Know Your Husband’, ‘Used Cars’, ‘Backhanded Compliment’ and ‘Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass.’