Annie Lynch is one of those talents that seems destined. She began her music career as I imagine many do, begging her parents for an instrument. In this case, a violin. Lynch had spent day after day hovering in the empty halls of her elementary school, following the wain and bellow of supermarket violins emanating from the gymnasium. Infatuated with the idea of joining the Cape Cod Little Fiddlers, Lynch begged her parents for a fiddle, a request they were happy to entertain. Violin led the aspiring musician to Joni Mitchell, who led Lynch to singing, which led to guitar, which led to Annie and the Beekeepers.
Thanks, mom and dad.
The band’s latest record, 2012′s My Bonneville, showed up on my desk a few weeks ago. As the host of a weekly radio show, about 30 CDs a week show up on my desk, and though I’m shy to admit it, judging a book (CD) by its cover (album art) certainly comes into play when dealing with numbers like that. I sift through piles of your classic country cover (a cowboy boot wearin’ five o’clock shadowed man leaning against a pick-up truck) until my eyes are ready to burst aflame. The sweetly innocent (almost childlike) illustration that adorns My Bonneville immediately caught my attention, and gave my eyes the respite they desperately coveted. Instead of immediately listening to the record, I decided to put it to the side, hoping that it’s charming cover art meant what I wanted it to mean, something worthwhile on the inside. I wanted to save it for the moment in which I’d listened to too many bad country or folk records in a row. I wanted the music to be a reprieve for my ears the way the cover was to my eyes. Continue reading
If 2012 was the year of The Lumineers, 2013 is the year of The Lone Bellow.
When I was first turned onto this Brooklyn country-pop trio, I was wary. At first look, the group screams of a Lady Antebellum clone. Three attractive bandmates, two male, one female, harmonizing their way through country tunes. I was scared. But, the similarities end there. Unlike the former, which reeks of commercialization and the over-produced music system (Lady Antebellum feel about as natural as Captain America, without any of Steve Rogers’ charm), The Lone Bellow feel honest.
Take today’s stirring NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Tell me you’re not drawn to the band’s magnetism. Tell me. I’ll scoff at you. All three of the members could stand on their own and be successful folk acts, but the true star here is Zach Williams (the band used to be Zach Williams and the Bellow). He has a Hansardian power to his voice, and a similar contortion to his face and body as he rifles through songs. You can see the music in him, to put it in cliche terms. You know he’s not there because some label rep saw him one day and said “Hey Zach, you should join up with these two other beautiful people and make a record, it’ll sell millions.” He’s there because one day his dad told him to listen to Hank Williams (my personal guess), and he fell in love. While Williams alone would be enough to draw you in and keep you to say, The Lone Bellow wouldn’t be what they are without Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist. The group is built on harmonies, which even the most novice musician knows can’t exist with only one person (this is a lie, it can, it’s just not as fun). Pipkin and Elmquist flank Williams beautifully, but they’re not just background performers. As I said above, everyone in this group could be a wonderful solo artist, and it’s not uncommon for any of the three to steal the show. Continue reading
Canadian country rockers Cuff the Duke first appeared on my radar with the release of Morning Comes late last year. I was immediately impressed by their upbeat style that blends folk, country and indie rock stylings, but it wasn’t until the release of Union (a companion to Morning Comes) early last month that I really fell in love.
Union sees the band venture into new areas sonically. While their previous record was acoustic based, more traditionally country/folk sounding, Union sees a wide variety of sonic elements often associated with modern and indie rock. Electric guitars soar over up tempo rock jams, and electronic warbles (and other sounds I can’t quite describe) radiate throughout the record. The more rocked out vibe of Union is a really interesting direction for the band. The sound is more modern rock, but at the heart remains the country twang that I know they’re capable of producing. The record really shows that these Canadian rockers not only have talent, but depth. Continue reading
For the past two weeks, no one has dominated my listening more than Caleb Groh. Formerly known, in the music world, as Happiest Lion, Groh released his first record at just 16 years of age. He’s been going strong ever since, and in 2012 he released Bottomless Coffee, one of my favorite records of the year.
I originally discovered the singer-songwriter thanks to Kiersten Holine (who I did an interview with this summer). Groh sings accompaniment on “Queen of Hearts Blues,” from Holine’s latest, a song I quickly became obsessed with. For months, his name rattled around my head, calling out to me.
Once I finally listened, I couldn’t stop.
The most striking aspect of Groh’s music, is his fragile, quivering voice. Incredibly emotive, honest, and evocative, Groh’s singing is anything if not stirring. On intimate tracks, like “Bottomless Coffee,” it sounds as though it could break under the weight of life at any moment. As if he’ll reach a time in which he can’t bear to continue, no matter how much you scream him on. Continue reading