No Quarter – May 5, 2017
Louisville’s Joan Shelley is known for her quiet, soothing music and beautiful, clear voice – Joan Shelley is elegantly all of these things, and a quietening listening experience throughout. The album begins with the quiet track, “We’d Be Home,” featuring a pair of guitars churning softly beneath Joan’s voice as she repeats “if you were made for me, we’d be home.” On “Where I’ll Find You,” the space is filled with shuffling, brushed percussion and a light organ – the song’s highlight is Joan’s vocal duet in the chorus. My favorite of the album is “Even Though,” a brief, simply-orchestrated song of plodding, finger-picked guitar and voice that manages a beautiful, melancholic fullness in its sound. Piano is added to the texture on “Pull Me Up One More Time,” with electric guitars crying softly in the background – Joan addresses her sister, “have I lingered too long, sister?” before reaching out for a hand, “pull me up one more time, for I have fallen.” The album ends with a droning, dissonant acoustic guitar on “Isn’t that Enough,” where piano doubles Joan’s voice several octaves below during the verses; her final lyrics of the album ask, “isn’t that enough, that you were meant to be free?”
The talent of the album’s remarkable collaborating musicians James Elkington, Nathan Salsburg, and Jeff and Spencer Tweedy is in their subtlety and restraint, adding only what is essential to the texture of these songs. Joan Shelley is an utterly appropriate title for its namesake’s fourth LP – despite the album’s superstar collaborators, Joan’s signature voice and songwriting are the driving, dominant force behind this music. I’d recommend this album with headphones, so you can catch every beautiful, nuanced note beneath the surface.
Tracks I Liked: We’d Be Home!!, Where I’ll Find You!, Even Though!!!, Pull Me Up One More Time!!, Wild Indifference!, Isn’t That Enough!
Ben Southworth – May 1, 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
Released March 13th, 2015
Perhaps I just haven’t been paying much attention lately, but when Ben Sollee posted a link to a three-song EP on his Facebook today, I was quite surprised. Though I don’t know too much about the context of this EP, Steeples Part One, is presumably the first of some series of releases coming from Ben. It starts with a short tune, “Forgotten,” which pairs cello and vocals for an intro before slowly adding layers of drums, electric guitars, strings, and additional vocals. Short interludes between verses become increasingly rich, and the sound he arrives at for the coda just feels really good. “Pretend” is my favorite track of the EP – it’s a soul-pop tune that discusses notions of simplicity and love, and the repeated lines, “I’ll be there when things get tough, and I’ll hold your hand,” ought to resonate with people who grapple with the expectations of love. The final track, “Loving Memory,” is quiet, somber, and the most intimate of the bunch, featuring mostly cello, voice, and bass. All in all, the EP is pretty stripped-down from the sounds found on 2012’s Half Made Man – he’s moved a little bit back towards the sound found on his Learning to Bend and Dear Companion. But this simpler sound lends itself well to his music – it feels more natural, and definitely a step back in the right direction. Hopefully we’ll know soon whether there’s more stuff like this on the way.
Tracks I Liked: Forgotten!!, Pretend!!!, Loving Memory!
Ben Southworth – March 13th, 2015 – Mt. Horeb Pike
If you recall, back in December, Warren Byrom and friends released a seven song sampler of holiday tunes. That album was done in collaboration with Apartment Four, the same folks responsible for this one. Unlike that Christmassy collection that had a certain endearing sound of folkiness and relative lo-fidelity throughout, this compilation features artists from several genres of music. It’s front-loaded with a pair of electronic tracks, heads through some acoustic, rock, blues, hip-hop, and more – giving the collection a variety in sounds and moods. But much like that release from December, Apt. 4 is staying in line with one key thing – they’ve brought together several musicians to create an album that hopes to benefit a local charity. Though it’s hard to say whether the musicians on this album were ever all in the same room (while a handful were recorded at Apt. 4, several were recorded and submitted by the artists) they’ve all convened at the idea of helping out a good-doing organization – this time Seedleaf. Moving beyond this, the music isn’t just a cheap collection of mediocre music to drum up a little money for a good cause – though there’s a wide array of sounds, they’re all of high quality and great musicality. The tracks that were recorded on-site at Apt. 4 have a wide variety of sounds and tone, and show that the folks behind this project have more than just charitable intentions in their wheelhouse of abilities – they’re able to capture music effectively. If you’re wanting a great array of local musicians, and want to feel philanthropic at the same time, I’d recommend grabbing a copy.
Ben Southworth – June 6th, 2013
I imagine that this is a topic I’ll be blogging about more than once – especially as it seems like I hear about plans for a new album to come out almost every day – but here’s the first installment. Let me tell you about a few local albums that I’m looking forward to.
And you should be too!
Englishman – Unsafe & Sound
If you read the blog very often, you’ll know that I’m particularly fond of acoustic/singer-songwriter music. In fact, it’s what first drew me to Englishman’s eponymous LP. Since my first impressions of his first album – which was both a uniquely and beautifully recorded piece – my tastes have changed quite a bit. I’ve retained my love for the “easy-listening” that made up much of his first few releases, but have also learned to get excited for stuff with a little more grit. From the sounds of the first-released track on this upcoming EP, it sounds like English has too – there’s heavy synth-basslines and distorted guitars all around, things that definitely didn’t make it onto his first albums. That said, his recognizable sound and lyric-writing are both still strong here, and I’m very excited to see where he’s going with the rest of the songs. That, plus artwork from Robert Beatty (that I think is somewhat different from the image to the left,) as well as a few other things, make this a really exciting release.
Hear “More Than Insects” –
Warren Byrom & Fabled Canelands
A lot like Englishman, Warren Byrom and the Fabled Canelands were one of the first groups from around here that I got into – both of them are still favorites of mine. Though I’m not super sure what exactly it is that Warren and the boys have in store for us, from the last couple of times I’ve heard them – I think it’ll be good. Warren has been hinting around (and downright telling us) that they’ll be going into the studio to record eleven new songs within the next month. If I heard him correctly at his show with Joan Shelley on Friday, they’ll be doing their work at Shangri-La – Duane Lundy is a talented engineer, and Warren, Jose, Seth, and Robby have all got no shortage of chops. If you liked their first album, one that did a great job of sounding clean, while retaining the energy of their live performances, I think that this upcoming release will be great as well.
Hear their first album, “The Fabled Canelands”
In addition to these two, there’s some more that are on their way – I’d write about them now, but I don’t know much about them at the moment – I’ll have some words about them soon!
- Mayonnaise – 7-Song Demo
- The Rough Customers
- They Yearn For What They Fear
- Cheyenne Mize – Among the Grey
- Everyone Lives, Everyone Wins
- And yes… The WRFL-Live! Summer 2012 Compilation (keep your eye here and on our Facebook page, I promise we haven’t forgotten about it!)
I’m sure I’m forgetting something, and there’s always more to come, so I ask you this:
“What local releases are you looking forward to??”
– Ben Southworth