Wooden Wand: Death Seat

RIYL: Acoustic Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits

Wooden Wand’s latest, Death Seat, is a collection of acoustic dirges that recall long nights sitting around drinking, maybe on the front porch with the fireflies flickering up the night, or maybe in a dank bar somewhere in the sticks, where the beer is a little flat and the whiskey has a cheap bite.

Singer, songwriter James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, has a voice reminiscent of a young Mick Jagger. It has that darkness and snarl we all fell in love with the first time we heard the Stones. The songs Toth has written for Death Seat are soaked in folk and the blues, giving the album the feeling of something recorded 40 years ago, not 2010.

The highlight of the album is “Bobby,” a pained ballad that reflects on a friend who’s left this world too soon. It’s a haunting song that will stir up remorse for anyone who has lost a friend this way.  Songs like “I Made You” and “Servant to Blues” are spooky numbers, while “I Wanna Make a Difference” is a soulful confession between the protagonist and a lover or a family member.

If you’re a fan of Springsteen’s Nebraska or Johnny Cash’s American recordings, sparse albums full of dark storytelling, Death Seat falls in that same territory. It’s not the kind of album you throw on in the middle of a house party. However, once the guests have left and everyone is winding down, Death Seat has the kind of late night coolness that feels just right. (Young God 2010)

Wooden Wand MySpace page


Cara Jean Wahlers and Grover Parido: Goodnight Charlotte

RIYL: Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Joni Mitchell

Goodnight Charlotte is the debut album from Cara Jean Wahlers and Grover Parido. It’s an intimate collection of songs that feature the primary instruments of Wahlers’ wonderful singing voice and Parido’s cello playing. This unique paring of singer/songwriter and cellist working together for an entire CD may not be new, however, on Goodnight Charlotte, the music is fresh and vibrant and the lyrics are thoughtful, creating a unique experience.

Wahlers’ songwriting is very visual, creating a sense of place and time. As a storyteller, she’s reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Joni Mitchell, two names her publicist has included as influences. The singer’s voice recalls the elegance and naturalness of Mary Chapin Carpenter, another great singer/songwriter who can put you at ease, even though she’s breaking your heart.

Parido’s cello playing adds another layer of poignancy to Goodnight Charlotte. The instrument is such a melancholy instrument to begin with that no matter how hard Parido may try, his performances tinge the songs with sadness. Take a listen to “Black Dog,” a beautiful tale about a long lost love, and you’ll understand. Parido takes a solo on every single song and his presence fills in the empty spaces of Wahlers’ sparse guitar playing. This partnership between Wahlers and Parido is effective and lifts the material above the usual coffeehouse fare.

Still, it would have been interesting if they’d included a couple of songs that were just Wahlers backed by her guitar, and maybe some other acoustic instruments. The singer has a strong enough voice ad her guitar playing is subtle enough that she could have survived without the cello. This would have given Goodnight Charlotte just enough variety to make the album a classic. That said, it’s still a fantastic debut and will keep me looking out for this duo when they release future albums. (CDBY 2010)

Cara Jean Wahlers MySpace page


Steal This Song: U.S. Royalty, “Monte Carlo”

Holy west coast pop, Batman. Now this is a sound that we wouldn’t mind seeing catch on and infiltrate the mainstream…again.


We’re on our first spin through Mirrors, the debut album U.S. Royalty, a band who is about as far removed as one can get from the west coast while still being in the States (they’re from Washington DC), and it has a vibe to it that is instantly familiar without sounding derivative. Big, soaring vocals with some nicely stacked harmonies, along with the occasional foray into feedback, these guys are definitely a band to watch. Fans of Fleetwood Mac are going to jump all over “Monte Carlo.” It’s like “Dreams” as a driving song. Get it now, so you can say you were there first.

Click here to download U.S. Royalty – Monte Carlo


Sarah Sample: Someday, Someday

RIYL: Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Ray LaMontagne

Sarah Sample rises above the typical “Grey’s Anatomy” genre of female singer/songwriting-heart-on-my-sleeve-because-the-whole-world-hurts music with her distinct voice and country-tinged songwriting. It’s the kind of voice that gets under your skin and can lift you up. Her voice can also lift up the material she’s singing, as it does on her album, Someday, Someday.

This album of adult alternative music is full of intimate songs about love and relationships. The lyrics are straightforward and effective, coupled with Sample’s gift for beautiful melodies. Upon first listen, you’ll be immediately taken by Sample’s upbeat delivery, even on the gentle ballads she’s written. Someday, Someday grows on you after repeated listens and soon you’ll find yourself with songs like “I’m Ready,” “One Mistake,” and the soulful rocker “Staying Behind” stuck in your head for days on end. You’ll also feel your heartstrings being tugged.

Sample’s voice can really stir up the emotions, making her much better than so many of her contemporaries. Since radio is dead and TV and film soundtracks are where new artists get most of their exposure, let’s hope some music supervisor comes across this fine album and helps Sample get the exposure she deserves. Until then, it’s up to word of mouth to spread the word about an artist like her. We’ve done our part; now it’s up to you. (Groundloop Records 2010)

Sarah Sample’s website

Purchase Someday, Someday through Amazon


Mt. Desolation: Mt. Desolation

RIYL: The Thrills, The Pogues, The Lilac Time

If you had asked us what we expected the next move to be from Keane after they released their fourth album Night Train in May of this year, our gut response would have been “lengthy hiatus, followed by announcement of signing with new, smaller label.” Don’t get us wrong, we love the boys from Battle, but the release of Night Train, coming so quickly on the heels of the band’s 2008 album Perfect Symmetry, looked for all intents and purposes like they were trying to fulfill their contractual obligations to Interscope and move on. Consider this: Night Train was designated EP status in their native England. Here, it’s a full-fledged long-player. Hmmm.


Keane may very well be going on a lengthy hiatus, but two of its members have already cranked out their first side project, which makes it their third album in two years: Mt. Desolation, a collection of, wait for it, country songs, filtered through their English sensibilities. It’s country in the same way that the Thrills are West Coast pop, but Mt. Desolation is a charming album just the same. Rice-Oxley and Quin don’t have the booming voice of their bandmate Tom Chaplin, but their voices actually suit these songs better, though it would be nice to hear Chaplin take a whack at the Keane-ish “Bitter Pill” somewhere down the road. The album has its share of drinking songs (“My My My”) and shit-kickers (“Annie Ford,” “Platform 7”), and while it’s clear that country music is more of a hobby than a lifestyle for those involved, it’s also clear that these songs come from the heart, making this a more honest country record than most country records. Writing a song that could pass for a B-side to Beck’s Sea Change (“Another Night”) doesn’t hurt, either. This is one side project that we’d like to see grow some legs. (Cherry Tree/Interscope 2010)

Mt. Desolation MySpace page
Click to buy Mt. Desolation from Amazon