Richard Swift: The Atlantic Ocean (Secretly Canadian, 2009)
“Anthropological swag with rock and roll banjo and a trift-shop synth” says the sticker on the cover. Someone has come up with quite a marketing sentence, but I suppose it worked because I bought the album. Well bigger reason for that was that I really enjoyed his debut double album The Novelist / Walking Without Effort and therefore I thought I will give this a shot (I had already missed the second album). It was a minor mistake, because it seems that Richard Swift nowadays makes too good music for me. He has turned into this pop genius with an experimental side and I’m a boring person with a simple taste of music. That is not a match made in heaven. I can’t say that the guy doesn’t have an ear for melody anymore, because there still are several gorgeous moments within the songs. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Atlantic Ocean was the pop album of the year for several people, but for me it just doesn’t work as a whole no matter how hard I try.
Richard Swift Website
Richard Swift at myspace
Gene Parsons: Kindling (Collector’s Choice Music, 2009)
Gene Parsons is best known as a drummer of The Byrds (1968 – 1972), but he also made two solo albums. This first one entitled Kindling is a small cult classic and thankfully it has now been reissued by Collector’s Choice Music. I’ve been waiting to hear it for several years, but the prices of the previous out-of-print releases were way too high for me. Kindling was released in 1973. Soon after he quit The Byrds and before he joined The Flying Burrito Brothers. The album doesn’t completely fullfil my extremely high expectations, but it’s still a really good rootsy album that ranges from country rock balladry to bluegrassy songs that have that traditional banjo and fiddle thing going on. Beautiful country/folk rock songs Long Way Back and I Must Be A Tree are my favourites and in overall Kindling is a very fine country-flavoured album.
The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You (American, 2009)
The Avett Brothers have really given ammunition for the indieminded music freaks who have been sketching their “The Avett Brothers sold their soul” speeches since the news that the band have signed a deal with a major label arrived. Where’s the bluegrass influences and where’s the banjo? What the hell are all these piano-driven ballads and pop songs? There’s just a couple of minor issues that destroy all these understandable arguments. Scott and Seth Avett still write the finest songs in the world and The Avett Brothers is the most honest and heartfelt band around.
The Avett Brothers have been my favourite band for a couple of years. I found them few months after their previous album Emotionalism was released and it was an instant love affair. I soon bought everything I could find and found out that the earlier releases were equally amazing. Their music is just a perfect mixture of folk, country, rock, pop and bluegrass and I love how their lyrics are always so pure, honest and almost excessively emotional without sounding one bit over-sweet or over-dramatic.
After five beautiful albums, several amazing EPs and a huge success on the road, Rick Rubin signed The Avett Brothers to his label American Recordings and also produced their new album I and Love and You. Rick had a difficult job as a producer. Well at least if his job was to please The Avett Brothers fans. For people like me, they were already the greatest band there is. So basicly the move to major label could only maintain the same level of perfectness or make them sound worse then before. Thankfully they did maintain the same level of perfectness and Rick did a fine job as a producer. Of course I and Love and You does sound cleaner and more detailed, but it isn’t overpolished and it still feels alive and joyful. In the end it’s very logical continuation to The Avett Brothers story. The only surprise is that the piano takes such a major role. I can’t really complain because all the piano-driven material sounds marvellous, but maybe the ideal The Avett Brothers album for me would contain one half of this album and one half of those earlier banjo-driven songs. The song material is gorgeous throughout the record. Slight Figure Of Speech and It Goes On and On during the last stages of the album are the only ones I’m not that thrilled about. Really good pop songs for someone else, but I think there would have been even better songs in the songwriting vaults of Scott and Seth Avett. My biggest favourites at the moment are January Wedding that shows that they haven’t forgetten bluegrass influences, Laundry Room that has the most perfect lyrics (tonight I’ll burn the lyrics / ’cause every chorus was your name) and the enjoyable future pop hit Kick Drum Heart.
The Avett Brothers is still my favourite band and I and Love and You is a fabulous album. Whether one prefers the earlier rootsier albums over this new album that also has pop songs and piano ballads is a matter of opinion. I think both sides of The Avett Brothers are absolutely wonderful. And well why should I even talk about sides. It’s the same great band and I and Love and You is a very logical follow up to Emotionalism. Maybe Emotionalism will still take the album of the decade award here at the onechord headquarters, but I’m fairly confident that I and Love and You will happily settle just for the album of the year trophy.
The Avett Brothers Website
The Avett Brothers at myspace
Richmond Fontaine: We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River (Decor, 2009)
At first, I was actually a little bit dissapointed with this new album by Richmond Fontaine. Then one night I was listening to this with headphones half asleep in a sorry state of mind and suddenly I was wholeheartedly hooked into the lives of the people in the songs. And then when Willy Vlautin started singing the words “Maybe we were both born blue” in such a perfect way, it was hard to keep the tears away. The words drifted deeper than any doctor could reach and healed more than any army of Harvard shrinks ever could. Willy Vlautin has also written two great novels (especially Northline is wonderful) and he is such a great writer when it comes to telling stories about kindhearted people whose lives might be totally fucked up, but who can still soldier on one way or another (ok, there are some real arseholes in his stories as well, but even they are not presented as generally bad people. There’s some kind understanding towards them and their unjustified actions). The thing that striked me so hard with Maybe We Were Both Born Blue was that I could see myself singing it and I could see the wonderful characters of Willy’s novel Northline singing it. It just perfectly captured the way I felt at that given time and the way I feel about Richmond Fontaine in general. After that I seriously fell in love with the album.
Richmond Fontaine Website
Richmond Fontaine at myspace
I love it. I also listened to old The Avett Brothers albums (Emotionalism, Mignonette and Four Thieves Gone) in the car today and was thinking that if I needed to make a list of top 10 albums of the decade right now, it would probably contain four The Avett Brothers albums. That’s how badly I’m addicted to them. I think Emotionalism would take the top spot on that list though and I and Love and You would have to settle for the album of the year award…
Dan Auerbach: Keep It Hid (V2 Music, 2009)
I’m not the biggest The Black Keys fan out there, but I bought used copy of their Attack & Release album last year and noticed that I can enjoy blues rock to a certain degree. Therefore I decided to give this solo album by Dan Auerbach a chance as well even though I knew that it might not be totally my slice of cheese cake. Not a bad decision, because Keep It Hid is an enjoyable affair. It doesn’t hit the jackpot though. The problem with the bluesy material is that it feels that The Black Keys could make it sound more powerful and dangerous. However, Keep It Hid is more than just bluesy guitars. There’s quite a lot of variation actually and for me the highlights are beautiful ballad When The Night Comes that features wonderful Jessica Lea Mayfield on harmony vocals, folkier Whispered Words (Pretty Lies) that was written by his father and My Last Mistake that has a Fogerty-ish pop sense.
Dan Auerbach at myspace