2016 albums

Richmond Fontaine: you can’t go back if there’s nothing to go back to

When Richmond Fontaine singer-songwriter Willy Vlautin announced in early 2016 that alt-country fans were finally leaving him, the news came as a complete surprise to all but the band’s closest confidants. Even though RF had taken a backseat as Vlautin recorded a couple of sublime albums with his retro soul country crew The Delines, it was assumed that the Portland-based band would simply pick up where they left off with The High Country of 2011.

In truth, The High Country was a somewhat uneven and uncomfortable record that did not live up to its author’s ambitions, leaving Vlautin doubly determined to make a final album that would allow the band to go out big. The result was the glorious You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back to, a fascinating American masterpiece that surpasses even the group’s undisputed field milestone Post to Wire (2003). So there was a silver lining to the band’s breakup after all, as Richmond Fontaine delivered a magnificent parting musical shot that will resonate for decades.

Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life

Being touted as a ‘phenomenal songwriter’ by none other than Ryan Adams certainly pushed Courtney Marie Andrews to deliver something truly out of the ordinary on her latest album Honest Life. It’s lucky, then, that Andrews isn’t exactly your average recording artist; She’s a workaholic for starters: Honest Life is her sixth album in eight years (revealing though, it’s her first since 2013), she also released a six-track EP, Leuven Letters, and managed to go on a tour. world or two as a showgirl with her compatriots from Phoenix; Jimmy Eat World.

While Honest Life doesn’t actually have a European release until January next year, it has been enthusiastically received in America (it doesn’t pass a review without a comparison to Joni Mitchell!). The wonderful first single “How Quickly your Heart Mends” is as good a country song as Margo Price’s masterful “Hands of Time” and leaves no doubt about Andrews’ persuasive form with lyrics:

‘Empty promises and a broken heart / Hiding in the bathroom of this bar / Crossing out your name in my mind / I will cross out yours now that you’ve crossed out mine / The jukebox plays a sad country song / For all ugly americans / Now I feel like one of them / Dancing alone and shattered by freedom ‘.

Other standout tracks from this country-folk classic are the lonely ballad “Table for One” and the pensive dancer “Irene,” but there really are no soft spots in what a career-changing album should be.

David Corley – Lights Out

When you have to wait until age 53 for your debut album to hit stores, you’re not going to let the dust settle under your feet when it comes to reserving the recording studio. Understandably, then, not even a major heart attack suffered during an encore in Groningen 14 months ago could prevent Corley from setting up a quick sequel to last year’s jaw-dropping Available Light (nominated for best album on this blog last time). ). year).

After the exceptional work he did coordinating, producing and performing on Available Light, Hugh Christopher Brown returned to supervise the production and keep an eye on our wayward hero. Equally intoxicating but considerably more edgy than its predecessor, Lights Out once again mixed Dylan, Waits and Springsteen in an exciting and eccentric way. Highlights included the funky sound of “Lightning Downtown,” the rock ‘n’ roll thunder of “The Dividing Line,” and the energetic ballad “Down with the Universe.” These are weird and beautiful tracks, with the added bonus that each one is sung (sort of) with that uniquely twisted and throaty voice!

Karl Blau – Introducing Karl Blau

Twenty years into a career that, so far, has branched out into indie-rock, campfire folk and the occasional flirtation with Afrobeat, nonconformist, multi-instrumental singer / songwriter Karl Blau joined forces with producer Tucker Martine (The Decembrists, Surfjan Stevens & My Morning Jacket) to come up with an album of unlikely covers that would encompass everyone from The Bee Gees to Townes Van Zandt.

The order of the day here is a collection of easy-to-listen earworms for country music devotees into eccentric geniuses like Bill Callahan and Terry Allen, with the highlight being the sad, fractured baritone that Blau puts on his heartfelt and Painful from Tom T. Hall’s Ballad “So I Got to Memphis.” The next best thing is the ten minute tour de force “Falling Rain”.

Aled Rheon – A Magnificent Charge

2016 saw bilingual singer-songwriter Aled Rheon deliver his first recording in English and it turned out to be an absolute joy, with a handful of wonderful folk-pop classics topping his top five tracks. The EP starts off with a personal favorite, the soft-hearted ballad “September” (after a strong drink or two, I’m even known for tweeting that “September” is the song of the century), so it comes in as a true surprise to find its companion piece, “Wrap up Warm”, emerging as the high point of this collection.

Rheon is capable of writing songs that, at first listen, barely seem able to support their own weight, but soon reveal, layer by layer, an unsuspected seriousness. A good example is “Wrap up Warm,” delicately adorned here with a well-equipped cello, beginning with Rheon poignantly dispensing all sorts of practical parenting advice, from “eat your veggies” to “call me when you get there,” and ends with the singer adopting the role of mystical companion –

‘Find your friends, open your mind / Take those books off the shelf and get an idea of ​​yourself / Play around, find what’s right / choose your limits and choose your fights … / Find your feet, or run away / It’s a There’s a big world out there, so take a bite / Find the right one, hold on tight / The future pulls, the clocks tick. ‘

It’s beautifully judged lyrics with a performance to match, as Rheon’s fine, nostalgic voice manages to make James Taylor sound like Jello Biafra.

While a debut album may be a long way off, we must count our blessings; A Gorgeous Charge is a musical comfort blanket that will comfort your heart and soul against the long winter nights ahead.

Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Mixing honky-tonk hedonism and harsh narrative ballad made Mid-West Farmer’s Daughter one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year, achieving high-ranking positions in year-end polls on NME, Uncut, Rolling Stone, Mojo. and anywhere else you are interested in looking at. It’s not hard to see why: Price is a sassy, ​​soulful, shit-kicking country diva in the making (not that the deplorable, ultra-commercial, and decidedly non-country Association agrees). Price is also a talented songwriter, with an eye for lyrics that go straight to the chase and a harrowing backstory that could provide enough material for half a dozen uncompromising albums along the same lines.

The opening verse of “Since You Put Me Down” shows its confessional and no-nonsense approach:

‘Ever since you left me / I’ve been drinking just to drown / I’ve been lying to the bottom / I’ve been waltzing with my sin / He’s an ugly evil twin / He’s a treacherous, back stab the thief.’

Often compared to country legends like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, songs like the incomparable opening “Hands of Time” justify all the hype from the press and more.

Dori Freeman as Dori Freeman

2016 has been a stellar year for American country and Dori Freeman’s self-titled debut is a near perfect example of why; there’s a folk integrity, the outspokenness of a singer / songwriter, and the air of combative defiance of a country singer that builds these ten good songs together.

In late 2014, Freeman sent an unsolicited song, via Facebook, to esteemed musician Teddy Thompson, who was simply knocked unconscious from the track, recalling that it only took him ’10 to 12 seconds to realize that “Lullaby” was great ‘and to determine that he wanted to participate as a producer for Freeman. Just a few months, and a Kickstarter campaign later, the 24-year-old from the small town of Galax, Virginia, was at Thompson’s studio in New York preparing the demo for its surprising debut.

Best of all are the aforementioned “Lullaby,” the heartbreaking “Where I Stood” (featuring a harmony by Thompson himself), and the starkly beautiful “Go on Loving,” in which Freeman’s country quiver turns into style. vowel of a certain Iris Dement. Now if that’s not enough recommendation!

Borders – Climbing Trees

Climbing Trees’ debut album Hebron (2013) was an eclectic masterpiece, blending elements of folk, gospel, alt-country and indie-pop into a heady drink that the band, only half-jokingly, encoded as “Cymrucana.” . His long-awaited follow-up, Welsh Music Award nominee Borders, was a more focused affair, with the direction of the journey clearly mainstream. However, identifiable traces of the old Climbing Trees sound sustained the record, especially the poppy “Amber” and the ethereal and harmonious “Fall”, but it was the wonderfully catchy “Lost” with its huge chorus of me. , that testified to the fact that here was an album with more killer hooks than a Chicago meatpacking plant at Christmas.

As for the way the band will take things in 2017, who knows, but a clean shave and costume change could turn these roots rockers into a version of The Killers of Valley!