Kensington Prairie ~ Captured in Still Life
With the number of submissions to Folk Alley increasing every month (easily over 200), it has become cumbersome to find the good ones. An artistic eye-catching cover can help. That’s what made us notice the Kensington Prairie CD, and the group is being rewarded for their detail, because once we heard what was inside we knew you had to as well.
The overall mood is dreamlike, yet thoughtful. The instrumental mix is unusual: guitar, cello, vibraphone, harmonica, Wurlitzer, glockenspiel, and an unconventional and understated banjo. The various combinations support singer and writer Rebecca Rowan who is the main focus of this band (or maybe orchestra?). Rowan uses her imagination well. In “A Million Skies” she looks up on a clear night and sees another’s eyes in the stars. She smartly uses analogy in the song “Bluebird,” comparing a slipping memory to the fleeting bird. During “Crooked Things Straight” she helps us realize that we can’t always change sadness, but she provides kindness through a wish.
Kensington Prairie may eventually be referred to as Vancouver’s version of Brooklyn’s “Hem,” the easiest comparison for me to make. Listening to Captured in Still Life is like being treated to a new restaurant where every meal is rewarding. This CD is that good.
Joe Crookston ~ Able Baker Charlie and Dog
Joe Crookston has arrived. He has matured as a writer and has filled out his sound
with choice musicians. Most of the songs uncover for us the stories of ordinary people from today and from history, in challenging situations. “John Jones” was a Virginia slave who escaped but dared to return and helped gain freedom for 800 others. “Freddy the Falcon” is a 17 year-old skateboarder and artist who came from a difficult background. Joe spent time with incarcerated youth in the Seattle area and created songs documentary style; he sings as Freddy, 1st person narrative. The album’s title is about his grandfather who was stationed on Tinian Island during World War II and made runways such as the one used by the Enola Gay.
These songs are smart, offering the listener insight as well as entertainment. Richie Stearns and Judy Hyman of “The Horseflies” fill out the sound and add variety. This album leaves you feeling impressed, and continuing with our restaurant analogy, you’ll come back for seconds.
Peech ~ Peech
Ouch. This one hurts. Here’s an example of an eye-catching cover that rewards you with nothing. “Peech” is Chelsea Dohermann and Megan Osborn from L.A. They are young singers who recorded too early in their careers. The songs are full of cliches about broken hearts and they resort to foul language which is not only childish and offensive, it’s a cheap shortcut to good writing. Every song sounds the same and it’s all noise. Perhaps Peech was sent to us by mistake. This CD is a mistake.
Jackson Browne ~ Solo Acoustic Volume 2
When we received Solo Acoustic Volume 1 a couple years back we were instantly anxious for Vol 2. Both recordings are intimate performances with Jackson and his collection of guitars and reminiscences. (He switches to piano on occasion.) This latest collection doesn’t include as many instantly familiar songs as the first, but if you are a Jackson Browne fan you’ll know them or you’ll want to.
“Enough of the Night” offers comfort to someone who’s really down, and reminds that person of his or her reputation for spirit, daring, and satisfaction. This act of kindness is admirable and a reminder for us how necessary we can be as friends. “Alive in the World” is another wonderful message directed straight to someone who has lost interest in participating in life. We’ve all met people this down. We’ve all been this down. My question is – how did Browne know? How is he able to look into your soul and then offer a hand up through music when no one else is able? He is a songwriter and melody maker to be sure, but he is also a counselor and part-time angel. Listening to these very folk-like recordings when you’re feeling good will make you feel better. When you’re down, Jackson Browne will pick you back up. Either or both of these volumes would make excellent gifts to important friends – or to yourself!
Jim Blum 4/19/08