Sweet Southern Rock
Self Released – May 12, 2017
I first heard of Louisville’s Bendigo Fletcher in early March. Around that time, they put out “Sleeping Pad” as a single (which you can read a little more about here), following that up in May with a four-song EP. The release opens with “Sleeping Pad,” which sets a nice tone for the remaining tracks in the lyric “open your eyes and find a damn good reason to live.” “Joni Blue” is a little dreamier with a lot of texture in blending violin and understated synthesizers – it manages somehow to turn a clever phrase about wanting someone to come back using global warming as its metaphor. The opening of “My Dad” is washed out and filtered from somewhere far away before it locks instantly into focus. The track is the catchiest and most concise of the four here as Anderson sings about his dad flying back from overseas to land back in his mother’s arms. Last on the EP is “Dislodger,” a sweet track about wanting to understand another person. Bendigo Fletcher come across in their music as a band made up of kind, happy folks – listening to their music just makes you feel good.
Tracks I Liked: Sleeping Pad!!, Joni Blue!, My Dad!! Dislodger!
Ben Southworth – June 11, 2017 – Post Road
Dreamy Baroque Folk
Self Released – April 21, 2017
Last summer, Austin Wilkerson made his residence in an old farmhouse and recorded this album. Altruisms is largely his invention – the record is ten songs of refreshingly creative and personal music. It opens with “Come to the Garden,” a track that very effectively sets the tone and color of the album to come. After a quick, rich intro, Austin’s voice dances lightly over an odd meter as he sings “life never is what we want it to be, I’ll never know all the secrets it keeps.” “Worthy” bounces back and forth from a hazy, finger-picked guitar and a more upbeat feel – the transition into the final verse is almost startlingly rich. The world appears from nothing on “Creation Song,” as Austin joyously sings “I can hear the oceans forming, I can see the mountains rise, I know it’s good, oh yeah!”
“Memory Harp” begins with ringing bells before layers and layers of acoustic guitar form the song’s foundation – each section flows seamlessly into the next, constantly evolving so that no moment is wasted. Austin’s string accompaniment is used most effectively on “Elegy,” where the double bass echoes the melody of his lyrics after he sings “in my dreams I follow soundlessly down to the water, there I spy your body shimmering beneath the moonlight.” “Called from Above” begins with sounds of nature set behind an acoustic guitar, before the song leads the listener through another set of delicately placed sections of dreamy music. As an album, Altruisms never settles into a single sound for more than a minute or two – even several times through, I am still hearing new things on each listen. The music is beautiful and personal: it breathes air of compassion and beauty.
Tracks I Liked: Come to the Garden!!, Worthy!!!, Creation Song!!, Towers by the Sea!, Memory Harp!!, Jeremiah!, Elegy!!!, Called from Above!!, Valley of the Bees!
Ben Southworth – June 4, 2017 – Post Road
Lo-Fi Chamber Folk
Gubbey Records – May 19, 2017
Dream Eye Color Wheel is a project based in Louisville // New Albany, Indiana made of many musicians and led by Ben Traughber. Their new album, False Omega opens with the plodding instrumental, “Slow Thundergeist,” a dark, richly orchestrated piece (featuring my favorite woodwind, the bass clarinet) that toes the line between feeling mechanical, even machine-like, but ultimately human and raw. “Saw Teeth” opens as a waltz, led by acoustic guitar before Traughber’s soft vocals enter, eventually giving way to a lovely organ-violin solo. Later is “Flying Erase Head,” a beautiful piece that feels transmitted from a long time ago – everything is whispered and washed-out, like it’s coming from a distant memory. “Gamma” rumbles into focus on a low synthesizer note before acoustic guitar and Traughber’s voice enter, him singing a repeated “gamma, gamma, gamma… rays.” Balanced somewhere between upbeat and psychedelic, “On Arrival” challenges what a bossa nova can be, throwing a noisy guitar solo on top of an already disorienting track. The album closes with “Goodbye (Listen Here),” which starts as an unsettling duet between rewound guitar and an angry voicemail (the caller eventually cools off). Dream Eye Color Wheel is a fascinating, refreshingly creative project of Ben Traugbher – False Omega is a strange, disorienting listen, but a beautiful and enjoyable one at that.
Tracks I Liked: Slow Thundergeist!, Saw Teeth!!, Flying Erase Head!!!, Gamma!, On Arrival!!
Ben Southworth – May 21, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Three Lobed Recordings – May 5, 2017
I almost wasn’t going to write about this album – in trying to stick to a blog about Kentucky music, I wondered if it were right to write about Wooden Wand after James Toth had moved to Virginia. However, upon receiving my preorder of the CD in the mail and hearing how good it is, I felt it appropriate. Aside from being a stunningly rich and beautiful album, its roots still stretch throughout Kentucky – a combined four tracks were recorded in Shelbyville and Lexington, and many feature the talents of a handful of Kentucky musicians. Despite being made from these many collaborations and stitched together from a few recording sessions, Clipper Ship is cohesive, intimate, and retains a feeling of Toth’s singular vision.
“School’s Out” is the record’s second single and opens the album with shimmery acoustic guitar and Toth’s reverberating vocals. The first two verses are divided by interjections from a glowing pedal steel and satisfyingly rich bass; on the second verse, Toth asks a deceptively enticing volcano to spare his only daughter, that “she was not made to be a martyr.” These conjured images of human sacrifice are hinted to again on “Sacrificial,” a song orchestrated simply by finger-picked acoustic guitar and voice – the richness of the previous song’s thick instrumentation is replaced by the intimacy and fidelity in this one’s recording. “Mexican Coke” features droning strings from James Elkington and Jim Becker, as well as the rustling percussion of Glenn Kotche. The track expresses appreciation for antiquity, and contains the album’s most immediately understood lyrics on the fleeting nature of time and one’s best intentions going awry.
“Mallow T’ward the River” and “One Can Only Love” stand tall as lengthy centerpieces to the album. The former is a ballad about an Uncle Perry – a man who “cheated many women and murdered men for gold.” When our narrator asks the uncle if he has any fears about what might come of his misdeeds, the track’s texture blossoms as Perry responds confidently “nephew, you are such a foolish one / I’ll be here tomorrow, same as river, same as sun.” Eventually, age, his enemies, and nature itself catch up to Perry – “they beat uncle like a beast / the river changed direction and the sun set in the east” – Toth personifies our world beautifully, imbuing it with supernatural power. “One Can Only Love” is the most sonically striking track of the album, and its three droning sections push forward past the eight-minute mark. Throughout the breathtaking first section, the musicians assembled feel entirely unified as if they were a single instrument; the latter two sections – both instrumental – are equally stunning as the first.
The album’s title track features the talents of Lexington’s Joshua Wright and Seth Murphy (of Bear Medicine), as the trio conjures imagery of a clipper ship moving fast across the water, “cracking through the dawn like a horsewhip.” Finally, an instrumental reprise of “Mood Indica” (the second of the three sections of “One Can Only Love”) brings the album to a close. Though the album originates from four recording locations and thirteen musicians, its seven songs fit together as one long breath, and Toth’s voice feels clear and intimate throughout. Clipper Ship is a fabulous album of beautiful, haunting stories with vivid imagery.
Tracks I Liked: School’s Out!, Mexican Coke!!, Mallow T’ward the River!!!, One Can Only Love!!, Clipper Ship!
Ben Southworth – April 23, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Experimental Folk Scrapbooking
Self-Released October 21, 2016
It’s been just over four years since Ben Sollee released Half Made Man, his last major full-length album. I got to host Sollee and his reliable musical partner, Jordon Ellis, on WRFL-Live that fall to promote the album, and the two have been performing together on the road ever since. And so it’s fitting that Infowars features them together in a setting that feels every bit as much like a live performance as it does a studio album.
Promotional materials for the album acknowledge this unique feeling, saying “Listening to this record is like looking through a scrapbook or reading a diary. Jordon and I stitched together audio memories from our years on the road to inspire new sounds and ideas.” It really does convey that feeling, too – spanning nineteen tracks, Infowars features nearly as many short instrumentals and bits of field recording as more traditionally sung songs. This mixture of songs and captured sounds accomplishes precisely that ‘diary-of-life-on-the-road’ listening experience.
The highlight of the album is “Long Lavender Line,” which incorporates lots of effects, samples, and electronics, as Ben mourns our modern dependency on technology – even including a verse about a man walking off a cliff because he was too wrapped up in Pokémon GO. “Coming Down” is maybe the most traditionally ‘Ben-Sollee-sounding’ track on the album, and feels very live, capturing the two musicians at their most in-sync with each other. A close second for my favorite track is “Eskimo Annie,” featuring Alabama legend Lonnie Holley – Ben puts a nice drone from the cello beneath the vocals, and Jordon contributes just the right amount of shuffling drums to the mix. Towards the end of the album is “A Small Town Sunday in Spain,” a slow, calm, romantic memory of a relaxing afternoon overseas.
Infowars is well conceived as an album, establishing its atmosphere from the outset, and sprinkling it tastefully throughout. Even with its experimental use of effects and electronics, the album should remain accessible to long-time fans. Because of this evolution as an artist, and along with these captured moments of his life as an artist, Infowars manages to sound like the most personal work that Ben Sollee has issued to date.
Tracks I Liked: Cajun Navy!, Long Lavender Line!!!, Coming Down!, Fanfare for a Crowded Room!, Eskimo Annie!!, A Small Town Sunday in Spain!, Distractions!!, Repaired!
Ben Southworth – October 30, 2016 – UK SA/VS Building