Album Review: Nikki Lane – Denim and Diamonds

‘Making a record with Nikki Lane saved my life. Her songs about life, love, loss and just plain picking yourself up to go for another round in the ring…helped me do the same,’ Josh Homme declared on Instagram last week, a sentiment which honours the power of the Highway Queen herself and also references the trouble he’s been in lately. Truly I know how he feels, since I started this blog five years ago during a particularly low point in my life, after being inspired by Nikki’s spirit, attitude and musical style.

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Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – Married Alone

Can a song fix everything?

Songs are lifeboats for me. Music saves my soul and my sanity every damn day. Hitting the repeat button until a new song is inside your heart and soul is one of the joys of my life. Other people may let music wash over them, a background soundtrack to other more interesting pursuits. But for me, for most of us reading this blog I’m sure, music is the answer to a question we don’t even know how to ask.

Sunny Sweeney understands. On this new album she shows us how music can save your life, bring you comfort when life gets rough, maybe even bring someone back to life even for a moment. Music is the closest feeling we have to that kind of miracle.

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Album Review: Amy Ray – If It All Goes South

At the Americana awards in Nashville this week the Indigo Girls were recognised with the Spirit of Americana/ Free Speech in music award for lifetime achievement as songwriters and activists. Brandi Carlile introduced the award by describing the duo as ‘heroes who are still paving the way…for the people and of the people.’

Amy accepted the award with a speech echoing the sentiment Joan Baez once expressed to her: ‘I’m not going to pass my torch to anyone…I’m going to hang on to it and help others light theirs. We all need to keep that flame of social justice alive.’ It was a powerful statement of continued intent from a duo who have quietly blazed a trail for LGBT musicians for decades.

Amy embraces her Americana roots on this excellent solo album, working with an array of friends and collaborators who understand the power of community. Written during the pandemic, If It All Goes South offers solace and hope for turbulent times.

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Album Review: Kelsey Waldon – No Regular Dog

Kelsey Waldon’s distinctive voice commands your attention, as though she’s looking you straight in the eye through the speakers. Choosing producer Shooter Jennings for this new record was a wise move considering his stellar work with Brandi Carlile, Tanya Tucker and the underrated Jaime Wyatt. No Regular Dog has a classic Americana sound, brimming with personality and a little extra bite.

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Album Review: Leona Naess – Brood X

In the early 00s, Leona Naess released albums of beautiful songs conveying the ache of desire and the devastation of broken hearts. After a particularly difficult time in her personal life she took a break from music to become a mother. Years passed and I always wondered what she was up to – following her on social media in the hope of finding out about new music. This year my patience was rewarded with the release of Brood X, a joyful and surprisingly poppy collection of new songs exploring motherhood, marriage, life and loss.

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Album Review: Miranda Lambert – Palomino

During the restlessness of the last couple of years Miranda Lambert decided to become something she hadn’t had a chance to be for a long time: a tourist. Taking her Airstream and husband along with her she drove around the country, savouring the sights which had long since just become nothing more than blurry tour stops.

Of course this is Miranda Lambert so she didn’t exactly relax for very long. That time led to her recording the Marfa Tapes project, which in turn fed into the writing of this new album Palomino (she also released the underrated Pistol Annies Christmas album last year too). Her career as a popular mainstream performer on the country music festival circuit and live scene is cemented for life and consequently there is a sense of freedom to the music on this album which suggests she’s taking a pragmatic approach to commercial chart success (ie she tries a little but doesn’t really care about the outcome).

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Album Review: Amanda Shires – Take It Like a Man

The highlight of Amanda Shires’s pre-pandemic album ‘To the Sunset’ was a song called ‘Break Out the Champagne’ which was about embracing the apocalypse with a defiant shrug and celebration. Get on with the shit show, she hollered, as if she sensed trouble was brewing up ahead.

On the surface it seemed like Shires had it all: successful solo career, creator of the supergroup the Highwomen, famous husband Jason Isbell, gorgeous daughter, the privilege of beauty, brains, a nice house and home studio, money for expensive designer clothes and round the world travel. What could she have to worry about?

Yet behind the scenes, Shires admits to having been in turmoil. In the studio her music was criticised and she felt overlooked (by whom she has not been specific, but previous producer Dave Cobb is notably absent here). She also admitted that her and Jason endured a fractious time when recording the 400 Unit album ‘Reunions’. 

Then the pandemic hit and soon Shires felt like quitting music altogether. 

Continue reading “Album Review: Amanda Shires – Take It Like a Man”

Album Review: Caroline Spence – True North

The poet Mary Oliver once wrote that ‘Every poem is music…in poems we muse (as we say) about the tragic and glorious issues of our fragile and brief lives: our passions, our dreams, our failures. Life, death; mystery, and meaning.’ And so it goes that the best music must also muse on the very same concerns as the poets.

Caroline Spence understands this, and indeed, dedicates the first song on her new album True North to Mary Oliver herself. The album begins with Spence seeking to know the mystery and meaning of her own life and art. All I’m gonna be is a heart on a sleeve, she concludes. Emotional vulnerability and honesty strengthens the power of her voice and her lyrics.

The Gift is about memory, loss, time, trying to escape the past by embracing the present.

Sometimes of course the past catches up with you. Making a Clean Getaway isn’t as simple as just dreaming about it. In the end you can’t escape yourself. The melodies and production on these opening songs are rich and gorgeous, a perfect soundtrack to the blossoming springtime sunshine.

On ‘Blue Sky Rain’ the horizon darkens slightly with her quiet acceptance of the transient nature of some relationships. Change is necessary but painful.

Scale These Walls is an invitation to love. Maybe she can’t get there herself just yet but in her heart she’s ready.

And so the theme continues on Walk the Walk where she’s singing to all the introverts out there, those who know the answers but find it hard to put them into practice. Wallflowers can bloom of course, with a little help from their friends.

The album mixes light with darkness musically too. I Know You Know Me starts with a more ominous guitar sound, a searching sound for a searching song. Matt from the National sang on a different version of this song where her delicate, fragile voice worked nicely in contrast with his. Without him the elegiac strings add weight to her lonely echoes.

Icarus is more of a straight indie rock song, and here she admits to being reckless, a little brave and foolish even. Just call me Icarus, she wryly concludes. There’s quiet ambition here and confidence in the leap.

Her concerns look outwards on True North and The Next Good Time, offering comfort and advice to others. The latter is co-written with Lori McKenna, another wise songwriter of understated profundity.

The album finishes with There’s Always Room which has a light, whimsical quality. She goes back to her heroine Mary Oliver, the poems she reads as ‘scripture’. She’s lost, suffering, but recognises pain comes from love.

True North is an elegant and beautiful reminder to find the poetry, and the melody, in this wild and precious life. A little spring peach to savour.

BUY: https://carolinespencemusic.bandcamp.com

Album Review: Maren Morris – Humble Quest

Maren Morris has been criticised for many things in her short career: being over-confident is one, attention seeking is another, and most recently she’s been under attack for her outspoken views on country music’s failings. Her music has always fizzed with energy, attitude, self-confidence and heart.

A year ago she released the brave and powerful ballad ‘Better Than We Found It’ – a rallying call for everyone to do better, be better and not shy away from atrocities happening in America. Alongside her speech honouring black women in country music, she has shown herself to be a willing ally and someone unafraid and unapologetic in her views.

So then what to make of an album called ‘Humble Quest’, with cover art where she is half submerged in water, and a mood that is overall understated? Where is the blistering confidence of before? Where is ‘Better Than We Found It’ and her political voice? Has she been made to shut up and sing? Why the hell do women in county music have to be humble anyway? Continue reading “Album Review: Maren Morris – Humble Quest”

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