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