Self-Released September 2, 2016
Bryan Minks has been a prominent member of the Lexington country // Americana music scene for several years now – you may know him for leading the long-standing band, Those Crosstown Rivals. But where TCR are a diesel-powered, punk-influenced group, the Kentucky Sons channel a more standard modern country sound. Their music is laid out by some member in common with TCR, as well as some new folks – fleshed out with acoustic guitar, fuzzy electric guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, as well as the occasional slide guitar and female vocals.
Many of the songs on Last Will and Testament deal with some fairly heavy stuff: loneliness, regret, and longing for the past. You can hear this well on “Borrowed Time” which is laid out with lots of slide guitar and fiddle, with a repeated chorus of ‘time is all I got left, and there ain’t none to borrow.’ “Cover Me in Hay” is a new take on a TCR song I first heard in 2012, and it’s interesting to hear it in this different light – stripped of the ‘cow-punk’ style it had on Kentucky Gentlemen, it’s quite a bit more somber and serious, but expands on the original song with some more depth and emotion. The standout on the album is “Proud,” a track that nearly hides how dark and lonely the lyrics are with the upbeat sounds in the instrumentation. The song (which has a video you can see here) deals with depression and the desire to make your loved ones proud – ‘I was cold long before my body was ever found, I was a ghost long before you put me in the ground’ are some of my favorite lyrics on the album.
The musicians on Last Will and Testament play with some great chops, and Sneak Attack’s Jason Groves does an excellent job capturing and balancing them all. I’ll admit: I was surprised by the emotion and darkness on this record, but impressed by how Bryan Minks approached the subjects so honestly and straightforwardly. Last Will and Testament is a great sounding record which grapples with some of the big, heavy stuff in the human experience.
Tracks I Liked: Reckless and Free!, Borrowed Time!!, Beautiful Soul!, The Answer!, Proud!!!
Ben Southworth – October 8, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Self-Released – August 12, 2016
It’s great to have some new stuff from Warren. His first full length, The Fabled Canelands, lives in a special, sentimental part of my mind with records like Jeffrey Lewis’ A Turn in the Dream Songs and Yellow Ostrich’s The Mistress – all albums that populated the playbox at WRFL during my first semester of late-night/early-morning shows. I’ve revisited that album – especially songs like “Sidewalk Kings of New Orleans” and “Home” – several times since the spring of 2012, and I’ve taken something new from it upon each repeated listen.
With references to the French Quarter and “the storm” as well as to Old Frankfort Pike and Henry Clay, Heavy Makes You Happy listens like a love song to Warren’s homes – past and present – in New Orleans and Lexington. Alongside these more direct references to place, live more personal life experiences. “Elkhorn Flood Blues” is a night in late summer, paying homage to the might of our own, modest Elkhorn Creek when it occasionally swells past its banks. “Ice” is a live take from UK’s Chandler Hospital that recalls the sounds of trees shedding limbs after an ice storm, and “Water Tower” opens with the line “there’s a lot of love in this land locked town, some days I try and drink it down.”
“Get Real” is an altogether beautiful song, and fantastic close to the album – a breathtaking reflection on life in New Orleans “after the storm” that slowly heats up until it boils over with emotion. By the time the song nears that emotional break, I can’t imagine hearing “when the mud starts rushing down and crushing through the town, I better find some loving hands and hold on for dear life” with dry eyes.
Heavy Makes You Happy tells stories of experiences we’ve shared collectively through the lens of the individual. I remember being without power for nine days following the ice storm of 2009, the yearly flooding of the Elkhorn Creek, and watching helplessly from Kentucky as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans at full force. Warren has chronicled his own memories of these experiences, and many more, into songs that add up to an emotional album that feels relatable and bittersweet from start to finish. For someone who has lived in Lexington his whole life, this album makes me homesick, even though I still live here.
Tracks I Liked: Elkhorn Flood Blues!, Ice!!, New Best Friend!, Water Tower!!, Get Real!!!
Ben Southworth – August 28, 2016 – Kenwick Place
Self-Released – December 4th, 2015
The first time I saw Small Batch perform, they were set up on the porch of Griffin’s Modern Motel as we celebrated the mounting of the Colonel Harland Sanders weathervane on the building’s top-most turret. But even though I’d never seen these five perform together before, I had heard many of them perform in other groups before –
in fact, these five have played in so many groups between them that I really can’t think of a good way to type it all out here. All this is to say – Small Batch is comprised of some very talented and experienced musicians, and True Loves is reflective of this.
True Loves is named for the album’s second track, an up-tempo coming-of-age song ruminating on the joy of youth and navigating family dynamics. The songs here come across as honest and personal reflections, and the album is made more interesting by the fact that no two songs in a row are sung by the same person. Though Small Batch ends up having three lead singers over the course of these songs – Reva Williams, Tree Jackson, and Warren Byrom – the consistently tight instrumentation and vocal harmonies keep True Loves sounding like one, cohesive work. What is gained from this is a feeling of well-roundedness – it’s nice to glean some philosophical and musical insight from each member of the band individually.
Standouts on the album for me are “Dark Days,” “Home,” and “Tickled Pink” – each for a different reason. “Dark Days” is a model for what a good lead-off track can sound like: it starts off simply, gradually adds texture and energy, and possesses a really gorgeous chorus that showcases Reva’s voice and the band’s knack for vocal harmonies. “Home” is a song of Warren’s (also recorded on his album, The Fabled Canelands) that shows off Small Batch’s ability to flesh out a member’s ideas for a song – adding what needs to be added, but with restraint. “Tickled Pink” is light, fun, quick-shuffling, and short – in much the same way that “Dark Days” was the perfect way to start the album, “Tickled Pink” is a great way of closing it.
It’s certainly worth mentioning that for all the great songwriting chops that the three singers bring to the band, they’re backed up by two very talented rhythm players. With Scott Wilmoth on bass and Robby Cosenza on drums, the group is held together sturdily, but in a way that both musicians are able to add their own sort of signature on the sound. Either’s presence on True Loves is felt as strongly as any other, and between all five members you’ve got a group of very talented, tasteful, and experienced musicians making some very good music. True Loves is honest, refreshing, insightful, and an album that I’m very hopeful people will decide to hear.
Tracks I Liked: Dark Days!!!, True Loves!, Jubilee!, Arizona!, Home!!, Tickled Pink!!
Ben Southworth – November 27th, 2015 – Mount Horeb
Drag City Records – January 27th, 2015
My introduction to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy was more or less recent, at least in the context of Will Oldham’s twenty-two year career. I was moved by the simplicity and honesty found on his self-titled album, released in mid-2013, which caused me to do a lot of catching up with his music which preceded it. His most recent issue, “Mindlessness,” was issued in late-January this year, and features a cut from his 2014 album Singers Grave – A Sea of Tongues, as well as a new song, “Blindlessness,” for its B-side.
The single, “Mindlessness,” is a poppy alt-country track, adorned with banjo, mandolin, and gospel choir – it has a similar sound to many of the tracks found on his 2009 release, Beware. Throughout the song, Oldham fills his verses with an array of existential questions – “What was I saying / where do I stand?” and “If I pretend to be sane, will I become so?” – his chorus responds, “Nobody answers or will look me in my eye / you are out my mind, and now so am I.” Left without the answers he was looking for, the chorus is repeated, still, and more cheerfully with each succession – if Oldham can live without these answers, surely the listener can, too.
Having first been exposed to Bonnie “Prince” Billy as a stripped-down, guitar and voice musician, “Blindlessness” was more familiar sounding to me. Here, Oldham is accompanied by his acoustic guitar, electric bass, layers of his own voice, and the sporadic barking of a small dog. This song is sparsely textured, especially in juxtaposition to the music found on the other side of the single – much like in his self-titled record, rather than strumming, he simply imitates his vocal melodies with notes on his guitar. For all the joyfulness of “Mindlessness,” this track is quite a bit more somber, and thoroughly more personal and intimate. You can hear the song for yourself, and watch the official video from Drag City below:
Both songs here are really beautiful tracks, and are certainly worth a listen – you can find the 7″, as well as digital downloads of the release on Drag City’s website.
Ben Southworth – March 8th, 2015 – Maxwell and Hagerman