Mailbag Monday: New and newfound coverage
from Sam Gleaves, Shakey Graves, Jack Carty, Sunday Lane & more!
Sometimes, the world just works in your favor: after a long bout of pneumonia left me with a backlog of mailbag delights and otherblog passalongs, along comes a blizzard of historic proportions to trap me home for a four-day stretch, leaving ample opportunity to spin the discs and downloads into a sticky, stellar web of sound sure to tickle your ears out of their post-Grammy stupor.
Underground Austinite Shakey Graves looks young enough in pictures, but he can’t be that new to the scene – though the other albums it contains date from the last few years, his bandcamp page claims that Rolling Bones was recorded in 1987, aka the year I entered high school. But although the bluesy one man band approach singer-songwriter (and occasional film/TV actor) Alejandro Rose-Garcia brings to his work under the Shakey Graves moniker can yaw from true-blue retro country blues to sparse, experimental, grungy punk- and nu-folk, it’s all both delightfully lo-fi and eminently folk, as this pair of growled tunes from a quarter-century apart demonstrate. Bonus points for quick-fingered hipsters: the wonderful finger-picked Lucinda Williams cover below comes from Story Of My Lifehttp://shakeygraves.com/, a name-your-price rarities and b-sides EP which is only available for a short window surrounding “Shakey Graves Day” (Feb. 9) each year; the collection also includes a garage-band cover of Neil Young, a quite traditional-sounding Willow Garden, three originals, and an absolutely startling ska-folk take on Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl which is not to be missed. Snag it today; tomorrow will be too late.
- Shakey Graves: Passionate Kisses (orig. Lucinda Williams)
- Shakey Graves: I’m On Fire (orig. Bruce Springsteen)
At 19 years old, Sam Gleaves is somewhat of a wunderkind of the Appalachian traditions that surround his native Virginia; according to his bio, he’s already spent several years passing along the fiddle tunes and fretwork to a host of others. But this young tenor and clawhammer master isn’t just a teacher: two solo albums and several collaborations into what promises to be a stellar career, his output runs a complete gamut of tradfolk stylization on the full range of mountain strings – guitar, fiddle, autoharp, banjo, and dulcimer – offering both gentle beauty and a comprehensive primer on the sounds, range, and influences of Appalachia. To be honest, had I discovered his sophomore album A Little While in the Wilderness last spring when it was released, it would have tied for Best Tradfolk Album of the Year in our year’s end compilation – but the best music only ripens with age, and this is one for the ages. (Thanks to April at Common Folk Music for the hat-tip on this one!)
- Sam Gleaves: Your Long Journey (orig. Doc Watson)
- Sam Gleaves: Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes (orig. Carter Family)
I posted a track from new husband and wife duo The Quiet American last week in our exploration of the Child Ballads, but going back to this one for a second glance is worth it, in part because – for this particular release, at least – context matters: their debut duo project Wild Bill Jones is a hand-crafted concept album, and as such, it is best enjoyed in its entirety. But what a concept, and what an execution, we find in this rootsy, well-curated pastiche of covers and originals which husband and wife duo Aaron and Nicole Keim have strung together to retell the myth of “original rounder” Jones, the young girl he seduces, and the mystery man who brings a dubious salvation to the pair through the death of the titular character: sweet and bittersweet, tonally rich and totally timeless, with traditional fiddle and fingerplucked tunes and a surprisingly apt album-closing take on a Daniel Johnston classic that adeptly collapses the mythos of hope and despair.
- The Quiet American: True Love Will Find You In The End (orig. Daniel Johnston)
- The Quiet American: What Are They Doing In Heaven Today (orig. Washington Phillips)
The phrase “folkpop darling”, which features prominently in Raveena Aurora‘s press materials, is one of the most overused genre tags in my mailbag. But while it is eminently clear from first listen that the 18 year old Sikh Indian-American from the NYC suburbs is clearly aiming for that particularly recognizable branch of indie folkpop stardom typified by the likes of Rosie Thomas, Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson, there’s nothing wrong with accurate genre-grounding – and in this case, the hint of Adele and Regina Spector’s potency in her soulful, nuanced vocal delivery, and the subtle yet stirring organic feel she and her playmates bring to live, stripped down pieces such as those that comprise last year’s Rooftop Sessions, easily validate her claim. (And the streetsounds and sirens audible in the background of those session tracks, most notably in her Beirut cover below, are charming.)
The reminder that not all rising stars are created equal is warranted, and Raveena can prove it: the smaller-scale demos and in-studio pieces which she has so far released via the usual streaming media are both highly catchy and unusually delicate and tender, and among the still-innocent originals that populate her Soundcloud page, several covers stand out. Raveena’s first studio EP Where We Wander will drop February 19th, and predictably enough, its production and arrangements place it squarely within the more atmospheric, round tones of the folkpop genre, but that’s not a bad thing at all: we’ve heard it, love it, and encourage you to pick it up.
- Raveena Aurora: Somebody Loved (orig. The Weepies)
- Raveena Aurora: Nantes (orig. Beirut)
Can the world take yet another cover of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love? Begone, naysayers: though ragged and raw, there’s something about the warble in Sunday Lane‘s voice here which keeps us hitting replay, and the shift from male vocals to female lead with male harmonies which Lane and compatriot Max Helmerich offer here is more transformative than we might have expected. All this, despite a plethora of indie-hipster cred, from a Coachella performances to two separate appearances of her original work on indie proving ground One Tree Hill, validate our increasingly sidestream attraction to the modern music scene in one fell swoop, serving as no small apologia for this reviewer and fan: though her brand new radio-ready album From Where You Are is eminently poppy and piano-driven, there’s a clear and prominent spot on our guilty pleasures list just for Sunday.
- Sunday Lane w/ Max Helmerich: Skinny Love (orig. Bon Iver)
I discovered Jack Carty recently, through a personal recommendation from downunder folkblog Timber and Steel; subsequently, this morning, his label rep found me through the same connection, citing head writer Gareth’s pass-along as a sort of apologia for emailing me out of the blue with a huge collection of YouTube coverage from the young star, who will cross several oceans on his way to make his way to SXSW this year to begin building critical acclaim beyond the borders of his native Australia. But apologies are never necessary when passing along the good stuff, and this is why I’ve learned to love and trust such passalongs: as heard below, Carty is a gem, clearly grounded in the traditions of the colonies yet unafraid to put his own stamp on the likes of Sufjan, Elliott Smith, and The Postal Service, and even a sweet Radiohead cover on solo banjo and vox. Don’t take my word for it: listen, and hear; odds are, you, too, will be moved to check out Carty’s two and a half studio albums afterwards.
- Jack Carty: Pitseleh (orig. Elliott Smith)
- Jack Carty: No Surprises (orig. Radiohead)
- Jack Carty w/ Packwood: Decatur (orig. Sufjan Stevens)
Last, but absolutely not least, comes Sugardrum, an acoustic storytelling project centered around musician and web designer Nigel Bunner, who both performed the music and created/directed the video for this wonderful deconstruction of New York, New York, and has played as Sugardrum both solo and with friends at a growing set of folk festivals and hip gatherings in his native UK. Our history with this musician is sparse, to date – it’s hard to move past the cover, honestly, which we offer as true testament to its power – but anyone who can find and control the ringing, fragile suspensions of Nick Drake’s brittle branch of the singer-songwriter folkstream in the bawd and blare of Sinatra’s famous paean to the city that never sleeps certainly bears watching.
- Sugardrum: New York, New York (orig. Frank Sinatra)