Album Review – Freedom Highway by Rhiannon Giddens

 

Rhiannon Giddens is probably best known for her stint in the band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Freedom Highway is her second solo album.

And what an album it is. Riding on top of a plethora of banjo licks, mixed in with a dose of soul, funk, and R&B, Giddens’ powerful gives life to stories of black in America from the opening track based on a  slave’s diary to the eponymous closing track, which is a cover of the classic Staples Singers song.

To be perfectly honest, I am enamored of this album and have a hard time envisioning that a better folk album will be released this year. Like all albums I listen to, I have my favorite tracks (in this case, the beautifully rendered Birmingham Sunday, the aspirational We Could Fly, and the explosively sung Come Love Come). But I don’t really think there is a bad track on this album, and I do think it benefits from full listening. There’s a story here, for the people who want to hear it. And Giddens own songs, as well as the tracks she chooses to cover, do a great job of telling it.

Recommendation: Buy It

Tracks I have a Playlist for: Birmingham Sunday, We Could Fly, Come Love Come, At the Purchaser’s Option

Tracks I would Thumbs down: none

Album Review: Cardinal – Pinegrove

 

Cardinal is the first album by Montclair, NJ indie folk-rock band Pinegrove.  Opening with Old Friends, a song that’s equal parts of nostalgia and self-reflection, and closing with New Friends, forward-looking and expansive. The album moves in this direction, gradually moving from looking back, to looking forward.

This band’s influences seem to be all over the place from alt-rock bands to straight up folk acts and everything in between. I can hear strains like Sufjan Stevens and the Avett Brothers, Flaming Lips and Arcade Fire, all echoing through intimate, rough guitar and the pleasant vocal twang from frontman Evan Stephens Hall.

Their bandcamp site says they are a ” five-piece rock hard at work in the promotion of introspective partying!” Cardinal leads me to believe that they are about figuring out how to navigate being people having relationships to other people.

Recommendation: Buy It

Songs I have a Playlist for: Old Friends, Aphasia, New Friends

Clunkers I will thumbs down: There aren’t any terrible tracks on this album.

Song Spotlight: This Will End by The Oh Hellos

 

So, the Oh Hellos are kind of an alt-country/folk rock/Irish music band out of Texas. I missed their album Dear Wormwood last October when it came out, or it probably would have been on my top albums from last year.

This Will End is a great song that I came across in a totally random manner, i.e. Pandora. It was good enough that I felt like making it a spotlight song.

Album Review: Jet Plane and Oxbow by Shearwater

Honestly, I didn’t think bands were making albums like this much anymore. Jet Plane and Oxbow is Shearwater’s 9th studio album. I’ve not listened to any of their other albums, but I will probably start working my way backwards through their catalog.

Jet Plane and Oxbow is a quiet, focused album that reminds me of nothing so much as Steve Hogarth-helmed Marillion, from the period around Blind to about Marbles. Late 70s Peter Gabriel would also be an apt comparison. I like the admittedly throwback feeling sound.

This album feels instrumentally lush, but the focus is squarely on supporting and lifting the confident vocals of frontman Jonathan Meiburg. Not every song is a homerun, like the percussive Filaments where the vocals can feel a little overwhelmed, but even at it’s least impressive, this new Shearwater album is still pretty impressive. It makes me want to dig out some late era prog rock to compare and contrast.

Recommendation: Buy it

Songs I have a Play list for: Quiet Americans, Pale Kings, Wildlife in America, Stray Light at Clouds Hill

Clunkers I will thumbs down: Nada…I honestly like every song on this album.

Song Spotlight: Cigarettes by Noah Gundersen

Noah Gundersen has 2 LPs and 4 EPs to his name. In 2008, he was part of the band Courage. Cigarettes is off the album Ledges.

This song has all the hallmarks of a spotlight song on a Place for My Stuff. It’s a folk-rock ballad sung with heart and fervor. This was probably my single favorite song released in 2014 and this is my favorite music video that wasn’t a concert video in probably the last decade.