Oct 052009

Please Remember Me

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This is for my friend (and until an hour ago, roommate) Kenlyn, who’s leaving to move to DC. She’s moving there for a great job and a great opportunity and all, but DAMN I am going to miss her.

Bye, Kenlyn. You’re amazing, and I hope you have a great trip and a fantastic time in DC.

Oct 042007

Well, it’s that time of the week again and, after a tie vote in last week’s ballots, I’m casting my deciding vote in favor of the new Springsteen album. Why? Two reasons. 1.) As I told Paul in the comments for last week’s voting, if this blog weren’t a democracy, it might well be a Springsteen-ocracy. 2.) I can’t get the single, “Radio Nowhere”, out of my head. So Magic it is for next week. Thanks to all that voted.

And speaking of voting, this week’s voting options are all primed and ready for you. A lot fewer big names in this set, though Kid Rock and Jennifer Lopez are still apparently releasing albums. Still, there’s some great stuff in there. Personally I’m pretty stoked about the new albums from The Hives and The Raveonettes. But without further ado, your options:

Fiery Furnaces, Widow City LINK
The Hives, The Black and White Album LINK
Kid Rock, Rock and Roll Jesus LINK
Jennifer Lopez, Brave LINK
The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust LINK
She Wants Revenge, This Is Forever LINK

Oct 042007

Iron & Wine, The Shepherd’s Dog

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Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: The Shepherd’s Dog
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.9.25
Score: 10/10

Sam Beam, purveyor of American-Gothic Folk is at it again and his latest LP, The Shepherd’s Dog, definitely delivers on the promise made by his earlier work. Which isn’t to say his previous releases weren’t good, quite the contrary, in fact. But whereas The Creek Drank the Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days were both strong albums which set up a unique musical niche, The Shepherd’s Dog feels like it actually defines Sam Beam’s unique folk project. It is the best example to date of what Beam, under the Iron & Wine pseudonym, is bringing to modern folk music.

The Shepherd’s Dog is an album of impressing depth, subtlety, and stark beauty. “House by the Sea” is an excellent testament to this, with rich, complex and interesting rhythms, a haunting melody, and thick, melancholy harmonies. It also features one of the single most powerful moments on the album when, during a brief vocal break, Beam confesses “The jealous sisters will sing on my grave”. It’s a perfect climax to a sad song about jealousy, obsession, and hurting the ones we (ostensibly) love. The song is also testament to Sam Beam’s incredible talent for powerful lyrical images and potent turns of phrase (“I’ve been sparing my neck from their chain”).

The whole album is full of songs that, like “House by the Sea”, not only sound good, but pack amazing artistic and emotional power. Beam is not only an excellent musician, but a great songwriter, lyricist, and singer as well. His sometimes muddled-sounding lyrics and his smooth, unornamented vocal style belie a masterful command of both the folk genre and of the English language. The psuedo-title track “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)” is a moaning, mournful tune, which is thick with dark, bluesy guitar lines and pattering percussion. The song also features an excellently messy, reverb-laden instrumental ending with some quality guitar work. The biblically-themed “Innocent Bones” floats placidly along, belieing the shard-tongued religious commentary of its lyrics (“There ain’t a penthouse Christian wants the pain of the scab / but they all want the scar”). “Resurrection Fern”, perhaps the most traditionally “folky” song on the whole album is a simple, acoustic-guitar-driven tune shot through with Beam’s image-driven, highly figurative lyrics (“In our days, we will live like our ghosts will live / pitching glass at the cornfield crows”

What’s perhaps more impressive than the simple, austere beauty of the album is how well Beam has managed to weave in new influences to his unique folk sound without sacrificing any of the melancholy power. “The Devil Never Sleeps” brings in upbeat American blues themes on the piano, which combines well with Beam’s smooth, lo-fi sound. The first album single, “Boy with a Coin” has some complex percussion which, while definitely not folk in origins, works well with the folk-y guitar hooks that it accompanies.

This is not folk in the Cat Steven or Joni Mitchell sense of the genre. It is more closely related, though only slightly, to the more contemporary Indie Folk acts like M. Ward, Elliot Smith, or Bright Eyes. It’s thematically rooted in American folk music, but has a decidedly “American Gothic” feel to it. Beam makes extensive and pointed use of religious imagery and of lyrics and stories set in rural America. He also uses instrumentation and musical themes which, while not traditionally “Folk”, are thoroughly American and are indigenous to such quintessentially American genres as Blues, Jazz, and Bluegrass. Even the religious tone of the album is particularly American, evoking notions of the Baptist revival culture of the South.

I don’t know how else to say this, really: buy this album. The Shepherd’s Dog is an interesting and enjoyable listening experience. It possesses incredible, dark beauty and tremendous emotional power. It is at turns rewardingly complex and deceptively simple. The album is musically and lyrically rich throughout. Sam Beam has not only far outdone his previous releases but has added finished, defined feel to his own subgenre of the American Folk project. It’s a subgenre rich in rural Americana and steeped in a quintessentially American musical heritage.

Sep 272007

First of all, thanks to everyone who voted last week. We had some GREAT turnout. And, by a significant margin, the new Iron and Wine album was selected for next week’s review. So check in next week when I’ll have a review of the latest from Sam Beam and his amazing beard.

In the meantime, more albums for your voting pleasure. And, in continuing with the trend of the past few weeks, there are some awesome releases in this week’s batch. Of particular note is the comeback studio album from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But if the Boss really isn’t your thing, there’s also some stuff from seasoned pros like The Cult, Dashboard Confessional, Matchbox Twenty, Annie Lennox, Robert Plant, and John Fogerty.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Magic LINK (Couldn’t turn up any audio for you folks online, unfortunately. Link goes to Springsteen’s official website.)

The Cult, Born Into This LINK

Dashboard Confessional, The Shade of Poison Trees LINK

John Fogerty, Revival LINK

Annie Lennox, Songs of Mass Destruction LINK

Matchbox Twenty, Exile on Mainstream LINK (Link goes to the video for the single off the new album.)

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand LINK1 and LINK2