Jesca Hoop: Hunting My Dress

RIYL: Tom Waits, Petra Haden, Laura Marling

The slightly off-kilter wordless harmonies that open Jesca Hoop’s “Whispering Light” immediately inform you that you’re in for a strange and possibly wonderful listening experience. With her folk music pedigree and Tom Waits connection, Hoop creates a sound firmly grounded in traditional instrumentation, with flashes and trickles of oddball noise made strangely beautiful.

Hunting My Dress is one of those records that opens up with repeated listening, for those with the patience and persistence to remain engaged. The charms of “Feast of the Heart” might escape you at first – its distorted vocal and wild-ass percussion are not typical fodder for easy listening. Get past the initial shock of the noise, though, and the layers of longing reveal themselves. The little-girl voice Hoop uses in “Angel Mom” may initially seem put-offish, but listen to it again. Hear how that voice wraps itself around the story of the child whose mother “visited me from beyond,” and determine for yourself whether Hoop could sing in any other register and be as effective.

Or consider the title track, which closes the album, and does so with a nod toward traditional folk singing and tight, multi-part harmony. Hoop’s vision – indeed, her art – can be encapsulated in this very song – her beginnings reflected in the album’s end.

Listeners open to the possibilities of the un-obvious melody, an unexpected noisy flourish, or the simple charms of a plaintive voice telling a story, will likely appreciate the artistry at work in Hunting My Dress. It might take a bit of work to get to that point, but the effort is worth it. (Vanguard 2010)

Jesca Hoop’s Myspace Page
Click to buy Hunting My Dress from Amazon


Matthew Ryan: Dear Lover

RIYL: Bruce Springsteen, Josh Rouse, Ryan Adams

Singer and songwriter Matthew Ryan is one of the most prolific musical artists out there, as evidenced by the fact that his new release, Dear Lover, is his twelfth album, and his sixth since his last major label effort, 2000’s East Autumn Grin. Since then, Ryan has been refining and re-inventing his sound, enjoying the fact that he can make music his own way without the “input” a major label tends to impose on its artists. On Dear Lover, the same smoky, Americana-tinged vocal that is Ryan’s trademark is there, and the subject matter is personal and profound yet universally appealing. Musically, however, Ryan seems to have stalled a bit this time around, as if he’s been running on the same treadmill for a while and can’t get off of it. That doesn’t mean it’s awful; it only means that the music is not much different from recent efforts, and there is a bit too much similarity in tone, tempo and arrangement. If you’re a fan of Ryan’s, chances are you’ll find something to like here, particularly, the mid-tempo but raunchy title track, the piano-laced “We Are Snowmen” or the dark and introspective “The End of a Ghost Story.” But if you’re just discovering him for the first time, you might want to jump back into his catalog a bit for perspective. (The Dear Future Collective 2010)

Matthew Ryan MySpace Page


The Band of Heathens: One Foot in the Ether

RIYL: The Band, Little Feat, Kings of Leon

After evoking obvious reverence for classic Americana on their self-titled studio debut, the Band of Heathens morph their roots rock regimen with hints of blues, soul and a swampy moan. The allusions to the Band are still there of course – the new album’s “L.A. County Blues,” “What’s This World” and “Look At Miss Ohio” instantly reaffirm those references – but this time around they expand their palate, journeying up the Mississippi with “Golden Calf,” emulating an old-time gospel choir on “Shine a Light” and taking a funky furlough via “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Somebody Tell Me The Truth.” Varying the pace from unassuming shuffles to tattered refrains, the group colors the arrangements with rustic embellishment – banjo, Wurlitzer piano, dobro, mandolin, lap steel and forlorn vocals – clearly enhancing the set’s distinct retro feel. An able demonstration of genuine down-home resolve, One Foot in the Ether provides the band taking a sure step forward.

The Band of Heathens MySpace page


Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons: Bend in the Road

There’s something comforting about hearing the voice of one of your favorite singers, and Mark Stuart’s familiar husky, twangy vocals might be just that if you favor his brand of Americana. Of course, Stuart, former front man for Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, has jaunted off on his own, calling his new project Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons. The debut album of this project, Bend in the Road, is much more in the vein of traditional alt-country than Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, a band whose sound at times bordered on alternative rock. Bend In the Road even starts with a cover, Billy Joe Shaver’s “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal,” but then features eleven of Stuart’s own songs, beginning with “Restless Ramblin’ Man,” a twang-fest if there ever was one, with its banjo and fiddle and slick three-part harmonies. There are moments that are pop/rock-tinged, like on “When Love Comes a Callin’” or “Way Down the Road,” as well as the blistering honky-tonk of “Miles to Memphis.” Stuart even turns down the volume nicely on “Carolina,” which also has some really nice pedal steel play. Depending on why you became a fan of Stuart or BSOJC, you’re either going to love this record or feel a bit cheated, but there is no question the guy can write solid Americana, and his voice is as strong as ever. (Texacali 2009)

Mark Stuart and the Bastard Sons MySpace Page


Jace Everett: Red Revelations

Jace Everett is billed as a singer/songwriter, and he is one, yes. But since singer/songwriter has become a genre that usually implies a single person with a guitar or piano, it’s probably more accurate to just call Everett a rocker in the Americana vein. Everett is best known for being the dude behind the song “Bad Things,” which is the opening theme for HBO’s “True Blood” (and this album’s closing track), so the guy already had somewhat of a launching pad for his career. Which brings us to Everett’s new (and third) album, Red Revelations, a serviceable collection of tube amplifier- and Fender guitar-charged rock songs. At various times, Everett channels Elvis and Johnny Cash and Mellencamp and Springsteen, but most closely resembles Chris Isaak, and while the songs are rocking and entertaining enough, it’s not likely that you’re going to be humming most of them a few minutes later. And Everett also drops into that Elvis “Thank you, thank you very much” lower register a bit too often than he needs to. Regardless, there are a few standouts, like the upbeat “More to Life (Cmon, Cmon),” which has gang harmonies that give the track a Huey Lewis & the News feel, and “Little Black Dress,” which features some pretty slick guitar work. (Weston Boys 2009)

Jace Everett MySpace Page