Monday, October 12, 2009

CD Reviews - Chris Smither, Caroline Herring, Hollis Brown, Ed Snodderly, Rome In A Day

We have a good selection of different styles of music for installment of CD reviews.

The first is Time Stands Still by bluesman Chris Smither and to be blunt, this is perhaps the blues CD of the year. It is that good. Smither is the blues equivalent to Guy Clark - from the songwriting, to the raspy voice, and the minimalist approach to playing: foot tapping and a guitar. The CD starts with the seducing "Don't Call Me Stranger" and continues with classic finger picking and a soul sound with "Time Stands Still". Most people just trying to survive in this economy can relate to "Surprise, Surprise" and as a relatively new parent "I Don't Know" speaks directly to me. "Call Yourself" contains the great line "I have a suspicion that the world is on a mission - to show me just how little I can do" and "Old Man Down" is a classic blues tune. The CD includes three covers: Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry"; Mark Knopfler's "Madame Geneva's"; and "Miner's Blues" written by Frank Hutchison. The last may be my favorite track. Basically, Time Stands Still is outstanding - we recommend for anyone but particularly for any blues or Americana music enthusiast. In addition, Smither has scheduled an intensive a national tour in support of the album. Go see him live.

The next CD is from singer songwriter Caroline Herring - Golden Apples of the Sun. We had never heard Herring's previous work before receiving the CD, so a little research returned that many critics have compared Herring's voice to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, This being rather large shoes to fill, she nails it. Besides her voice, we primarily liked the minimalist production inherit to this compilation, just Herring's vocals and acoustic guitar. The CD starts with nice pickin' and songwriting in "Tales of the Islander". "A Turn Upon the Hill" shows why she is compared to Baez and Mitchell; but make sure you listen to the entire collection to hear other comparable songs via "Song of the Wandering Aengus" and "The Great Unknown". Most of the material are originals, however she includes a few covers. "True Colors" is easily the best of these - barely recognizable from Cindi Lauper's version. She converts this pop song to a true folk song - nicely done. Another interesting cover is the classic "Long Black Veil" - the first time I've heard performed by a female - which inverts the song's context - but she makes the song believable. On the other hand, "See See Rider" felt gimmicky and not believable. Despite our thoughts on this song, this CD was a real treat. We will be following Ms. Herring much closer.

Now for something completely different, we requested the self titled CD from Hollis Brown after missing one their shows due to a scheduling conflict. Over the past few months we have gradually heard more about this Queens based rock band and wanted to know what the "buzz" was all about. And after hearing the CD, its is evident that this truly is a rock band. The CD starts instantly with "Show Love" - a classic guitar hook that gets your head rockin'; but for a real jam continue to "Rock on Water". Get ready to dance to the line: "To walk on water you need to be ready to drown" - a poke at hypocritical politicians. These first two songs brought me back to a late 60's and 70's classic rock sound that I can't seem to find nowadays. The band turnd to a more bluesy sound for "Carolina, Carolina" - harp included - which is my favorite tune. They get Tom Petty-ish with "Completed Fool"; venture into country ballads with "No More Nights"; and get funky in "Bring It Down". And "Don't Wanna Miss You" reminds me of something special - just can't determine it now. That's the best part of this CD, no two songs are the same. Right now Hollis Brown is known primarily in the NYC area - that won't last long.

The only CD we purchased at the 2009 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion was from local artist Ed Snodderly, Brier Visions. To us, Snodderly reflected the musical heritage of the region and we knew we were in good company seeing TO listening near us. He had delayed his departure in order to watch Snodderly's set. Initially I purchased this CD in order to support a local artist, but also because it contained two songs we enjoyed during his performance: The title track and "Crying Boy". The first describes Appalachia as told in the tradition of AP carter. The second is similar to Smither's "I Don't Know" - this time as a parent trying to talk sense into a child. But the CD also contains other excellent songs we heard that day - "Basket of Singing Birds"; "Working in the New Mine"; "Farther Than Your Eyes Can See"; and "Dog Gone". The softer "Second Story" reminds me of the late John Hartford and is my favorite track. Throughout the CD I enjoyed the clever songwriting and Snodderly demonstrating his musical prowess by transitioning between the guitar, lap steel, and banjo. This collection is probably not for everyone - but anybody that loves roots, blues, bluegrass or traditional old time music - this CD is for you. Oh, and as an added incentive, Missy Raines plays bass on several songs.

The final review is from a CD we received during the Dewey Beach Music Conference 2009, "From Hereafter" by Washington D.C. based Rome In A Day. The sound produced by the band is "harder" than what we normally select, so we listened a couple times to this CD in order to give fair treatment. The good news is this is not simply noise - the sound that dominated during many sessions at the Dewey festival. Instead, the CD is laced with distinctive notes and harmonies; and actually, the songs with the most harmonies were our favorites. Lead guitarist Ali DiPippo compliments frontman James Stevens during these songs - particularly in "Into The Sun". These harmonies are by design, considering that Stevens performed in an a capella group while in college. However, the main focus of the band's music is "edgy" guitar work and this style is most evident in "The Siren" and "Breathing Now", and "Undone". Ironically, their most popular song, "Kiss, Disaster", was our least favorite - it actually seemed too predictable as compared to the other songs. Obviously, people can have completely different tastes. For those who crave this style of music - thinking directly of my college aged nephew - this CD is worth a look. For us, we're glad for a chance meeting with Stevens, otherwise we would have avoided this CD. We aren't total converts yet, but we my try to sneak out of the house Halloween will be setting our calendar to their show at Iota.

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