Natalie Maines, the lead singer of The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), has never resiled from showing us what is on her mind and in her heart. Her voice is an instrument of truth in that whatever she’s feeling can be heard in it. Either she recognised early on that it would be like that or she decided that that’s how it would be, but it has to have shaped the songs The Chicks write – and that means her bandmates, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, have to commit to the truth as well.
The Chicks’ last studio release, 2006’s Taking the Long Way, was written and recorded in the wake of Maine daring to express an opinion onstage when apparently she was meant to ‘shut up and sing’. The Chicks were ‘cancelled’ before that verb was used in that way, and their response was to come roaring out with an album that was not only their best but which reaffirmed that they were a trio of talent, skill and passion, united in their vision. They showed their work, and it was phenomenal. ‘Not Ready to Make Nice’ remains one of the best, most articulate cries of defiance in modern culture, Maines’s exhortation to herself to not do what was expected of her – to make nice – and, in the process, telling her audience it’s all right if they don’t want to make nice either.
It is clear on their new album, Gaslighter, that they are still not ready to make nice – actually, they will never be – and we are all the beneficiaries of that. This album is also a cry of defiance and, as with Taking the Long Way, The Chicks are not pretending its context is something other than what all their fans know it to be: in this case, the end of Maines’s marriage.
Continue reading “Album review: Gaslighter by The Chicks”
American singer-songwriter Casi Joy will be known to Australian audiences – and in her home country – because of her appearance on The Voice. Her country-pop sound turned all four chairs in the audition, and she chose Blake Shelton as her coach. With over 27 million video views and 250 000 followers on social media, Joy has clearly become a fan favourite – and she’s now released a poignant new song, ‘Poor Angel’, as the follow-up to her 2019 EP The Bright Side. With its introspective, heartfelt lyrics, the song gives comfort to anyone who is searching for meaning – and also offers hope. Joy’s voice conveys the emotion of the song and demonstrates her ability to be powerful and subtle.
Joy is originally from Kansas City but moved to Nashville, then spent quite a lot of time on a tour bus, and she has shared the stage with artists such as Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Carly Pearce, Easton Corbin, Dustin Lynch, and LOCASH. Joy is also an advocate for children and animals, and has done extensive charity work for a range of organisations. She also spent many years teaching students and special-needs children voice, piano and guitar.
Apple Music | iTunes
The appeal of certain songs can be rationalised: the melody’s great, the lyrics are meaningful, the chorus is fantastic. But it’s not really our rational selves that are making the decision about whether or not we love a song, or an artist. Our responses to music are immediate and, usually, emotional – ‘I love it’, ‘I hate it’. It’s only then that we try to rationalise why we’ve responded that way, and those rationalisations have meaning, because they come from a place of curiosity. Why do I love that song so much? What are the elements that are so appealing?
So attempts could be made to rationalise why ‘Never Look Back’, the new song from American roots/Americana singer-songwriter Matt Jordan, is great, but it comes down to this: it’s very lovable. (It’s also making its Australian premiere on this site today.) And here are the reasons: there is emotion in this song, and the authenticity of that emotion is in Jordan’s voice; it has a catchy chorus that lingers in the memory; and it’s tight, in that Jordan doesn’t waste time on lyrical or musical flourishes that would obstruct the meaning of the song.
In 2016 Missouri native Jordan released the single ‘Chicago’, which gained him notice in the press and features by The Shotgun Seat and American Songwriter highlighting his country-rock songs. Then he became a father and decided to take some time away from music. This song is his first in three years and while Jordan is likely unknown to Australian audiences, that should change with its release, which will appeal to fans of a few different strands of country music, and of rock.
Listen to ‘Never Look Back’ now on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/mattjordanmusic/never-look-back/s-smYIy
After its official release on 20 September you can find it on:
Apple Music | iTunes | Spotify
Country music has a strong lineage of drinking songs. There are the bro-country songs that seem to encourage rampant alcohol consumption, but they’re of a piece and don’t offer much of a story compared with the songs that are about the singer’s relationship with alcohol and usually extend to ruminations on life in general, through the prism of that relationship.
Alabaman J.P. Harris is in the latter category with his single ‘When I Quit Drinking’, from his new album Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing. As the chorus goes, ‘When I quit drinking I start thinking about starting up again’ – but that’s actually the least sophisticated line amongst the highly entertaining lyrics that are married with a clean honkytonk sound.
For over a decade, Harris travelled the US, often alone, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains while making his living as a farm labourer, shepherd, woodsman, and carpenter. These days, apparently, he doesn’t call himself a musician so much as a carpenter who writes country songs. Carpentry seems an apt trade for a songwriter whose songs have a structure that is not only solid and strong but made so neatly that the listener detects only the art wrapped around them. ‘When I Quit Drinking’ is a very good song, and there are more on his album.
Listen to ‘When I Quit Drinking:
Apple Music | Soundcloud | Spotify
Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing is out now on Free Dirt Records.
On the ‘about’ page of Andrea Colburn and Mud Moseley’s website there is this: The King and Queen of the Hillbilly Underground from North Georgia – which is a declaration and a story all in itself. In this way the statement is a very suitable introduction to Easy, Sleazy and Greazy, the new album from Colburn and Mud Moseley.
There are stories galore on this album, some of them exploring dark underbellies and darker emotions, some stepping straight into the toe-tapping traditions of country. Colburn doesn’t so much sing as you call you in, to pay attention to her (although she does have a great singing voice). She’s accompanied by guitar parts – presumably played by Moseley – that have their own stories, although at first you’ll want to listen to Colburn’s voice telling you what’s what.
This is not a beginner’s introduction to country music, particularly if you’re used to lyrics that sound like a repeat of so many other love songs. This is country music for those who love the storytelling side of country, and the side where people aren’t afraid to bring their real selves to their work. Colburn and Moseley seem so real that they could set up their gear in the corner of your living room and play just to you, and you’d think they’re singing just to you, but in the way of true artists their work is not only intimate but universal, familiar and strange all at the same time.
Easy, Sleazy and Greazy is out now.
Bandcamp | Apple Music | iTunes | Amazon
Kayla Woodson released her debut EP in 2016 and has now followed it up with a mighty new country-pop song, ‘Unfixable’.
At the age of seven Woodson started playing the Texas/Louisiana Opry circuit and, by age ten she was fronting her own band and performing at parades, parties, and festivals across the region. Her musical roots are in country, rock, and soul, and her influences include Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Guns ‘N Roses, as well as Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood.
It’s clear from her background that Woodson appreciates strong vocals and melodies, as well as understanding that the artist is only half of the equation in any song: the audience also has to be considered. Woodson sounds like she’s singing her heart, and heart’s sorrow, to someone standing right in front of her, and that willingness to connect, and her fantastic voice, are what you’ll find on ‘Unfixable’.
Watch ‘Unfixable’ below:
Apple Music | iTunes | Amazon
South Carolinian James Scott Bullard has said, ‘All my songs are about making bad decisions.’ While one could speculate about the nature of the bad decisions, they’re clearly good fodder for songs, as he proves on the single ‘Jesus, Jail or Texas’, taken from his forthcoming album Full Tilt Boogie. The title refers to the ways the narrator’s exes might get away from him … while he’s ‘one more drink away from getting over you’.
Bullard makes country music that will appeal to fans of Johnny Cash and also to those whole like their honkytonk. This is straight-up entertaining fare – musically and lyrically – and I could take a whole album of it. Luckily, there’s one on the way.
Listen to the song here.
Apple Music | iTunes
American singer-songwriter was born and raised in Vermont, where he still lives. He has three albums behind him, as well as instrumental tracks that have appeared on various television shows.
The title track of his latest album, Hide Away (from the Sun), was written shortly after the death of Pronto’s mother after a ten-year battle with cancer. It is, therefore, a personal song, and Pronto does not shy away from honest lyrics and emotions. That’s not to say that the album is maudlin – it is not at all. Pronto’s voice contains within it the balance of light and dark, cheekiness and seriousness. Given the context of the album’s creation, the inclusion of a cover ‘What a Wonderful World’ could be ironic, but Pronto sounds sincere without being sappy.
Hide Away (from the Sun) contains eight tracks, each with their own flavour – and, accordingly, each evoking different experiences for the listener. Sometimes he sounds like a good ol’ boy (’74 Dodge Dart’), at other times the gentle son. His style as named as folk and Americana, but there’s definitely rock and pop in there too. In other words: he knows how to write a solid song, he knows how to entertain, and this album proves it.
Hide Away (from the Sun) is out now.
American singer-songwriter Amber Ikeman grew up in the state of Florida then moved to live and work in Yellowstone National Park in Montana. This journey echoes that of Australian artist Harmony James, whose first album, Tailwind, was created while she was working on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory, and just as the Barkly lefts its mark on James’s music, so has Ikeman’s state of residence influenced the music she creates in her second album, Rise.
Rise is, therefore, not the music of sunshine and beaches – from its first song, ‘Wild Buffalo’, it’s evocative of spaces and land and history, and of relationships forged around those elements. Ikeman’s lineage is cited as folk and Americana, and there is traditional country music in there too. Her voice has a beautiful pure quality, and she has wonderful control of it (with excellent diction – longtime readers will know how highly I prize this!). When a singer can turn a phrase the way Ikeman can there’s a temptation to say they sing ‘sweetly’ but while Ikeman’s tones are sweet, there is an edge there throughout that is intriguing. Although that sweetness does hook you immediately.
Ikeman’s is a voice that simultaneously suits an old-time sound and modern songs. Which is, probably, a way of saying that it’s a well-developed instrument that can adapt to its material. That adaptability is evident in the first three songs, as she moves from the grit and force of ‘Wild Buffalo’ to the plaintive love song ‘Cheyenne’ to the ballad ‘The Firefigher’. Ikeman’s voice has a lot of nooks and crannies, and there are surprises accordingly. But it’s all very well to listen to a voice – the songs have to be there to provide the right vehicle, and Ikeman has them. She’s a storyteller who embraces emotional tales, and that’s not a way of saying they’re all love songs. There are songs of strength and challenge, and of loneliness. The love songs that are on the album also acknowledge the aforementioned spaces and land and history – albeit the history of the relationship concerned – as well as distance and challenge.
While the musical arrangements of the songs are spare – not sparse – all the better to support the songs and the singer, there is a lot going on in each song, to the point that before each song is over you know you’ll want to go back and listen to it over and over again. This might be a second album but Ikeman is no sophomore – this is a very well-rounded and well-executed work that should attract listeners from across the spectrum (including pop) to bring Ikeman the audience she deserves.
Rise is available now on Bandcamp.
I was already a fan of American artist Sarah Jarosz when I found out about her new project, a band called I’m With Her that includes Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan.
The women – who have several Grammy Awards and nine albums between them – had crossed paths over the years, but I’m With Her came together by happenstance for a performance at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Clearly they realised they were on to something special – and that can be heard in ‘See You Around’, the first single from their upcoming album of the same name.
To have three singer-songwriters and musicians of this calibre (Watkins plays fiddle and ukulele, Jarosz mandolin and banjo, and O’Donovan piano and synth, as well as each playing guitar) performing together is a rare treat – their harmonies alone are magical, but in this one song their years of craft are also evident. It’s not a foregone conclusion that three solo performers can blend this well together – after years of working alone, melding with others can’t be easy. What is required is, often, a sense of serving a greater purpose in the music that you’re making together. The members of I’m With Her have come together to create something beautiful. And that’s just one song. The album is sure to be an event.
Watch a live performance of ‘See You Around’ on YouTube.
See You Around is out 16 February 2018.