Who is Beth Wood? Unless you’re from Arlington or Austin, you may not know. Once you hear her though, you’ll start asking that question. This lady has power and confidence (i.e. Bonnie Raitt) and is a good wordsmith (i.e. David Wilcox). Initially, you may hear more blues in Beth than folk on this, her 7th CD, but at the end she delivers a delightful surprise: solo acoustic versions of three of the album’s best full ensemble, more electric arrangements.
Included in these extras is the album’s title in which she finds a bit of her unusual father in herself. Another is “Funeral Day” where she describes her friends’ belief that a funeral ought to be a joyous experience, celebrating the deceased instead of mourning him. Sadness, she feels, is something more personal that will hit you later when you are alone. Despite the acoustic alternative, we have chosen to air the original, as it is even happier.
Another standout is “Our New Century,” a biting political commentary about America today. Though she wrote this a few years ago, I believe it is included here for a reason.
Not much has changed, she feels, in the past 8 years. There has been one big change for Beth, however. She just got married and moved to Colorado where her husband was hired at a micro brew pub. Beth continues to tour the country; don’t miss her.
Banjo ace Tony Trischka’s last album (Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular) featured a 2nd banjoist on ever tune or song. There were many guest players and singers and many different studios to collaborate. Surely his next release would be less ambitious right? Wrong.
Territory also features many guests: Banjoist Bill Keith, Violinist Brittany Haas, Guitarist Michael Daves, and banjoist Bill Evans. Three of the melodies were written for the NPR show: The Next Big Thing. The arrangements are sometimes in odd time signatures and the melodies have untold stories. Tony plays a different and often unusual banjo on every tune. For example, he plays a gourd banjo and a one of kind national resonator banjo. “Tromp De L Oreille” which features Paula Bradley on piano and Bill Keith on the 2nd banjo, starts the melody on the downbeat and midway through changes it by half a beat to starts on the upbeat. “French Creek” is played on only one banjo string.
It’s possible that only your subconscious would notice these details, but all the variety makes you search for the liner notes. What will happen when we all download songs one at a time and there are no more album jackets? Don’t tell Tony Trischka.
Resonator Guitar, Washtub Bass, Washboard, Fridge Door, and Hand Drum — that’s the musical lineup for this Minneapolis based “Alt-folk stringband.” The group is led by Steve Kaul who wrote all the songs except for their version of a Yiddish traditional piece, which is so unique, they might as well have written it.
Song topics include the story of a tinsmith, and a moment by moment description by a miner and a canary as the mine collapses. Steve also vividly details what a factory worker is thinking about as he produces parts for a bomb. The song is cleverly titled “Killing Time.” This is fairly thoughtful fodder for a bluesy string band, but they did say they were ‘alt-folk.’ This ‘alt’ term is being thrown around a lot lately; perhaps for The Brass Kings ‘alt’ means traditional instruments backing intelligent editorials. I think they’re ready for a national audience. Folk Alley will give them one.
If the name sounds familiar, yes Justin is Stacey’s nephew and Steve’s son. That may explain why The Good Life doesn’t sound like a rookie release. Justin writes of difficult issues in a very poetic way — it seems his Dad and his Aunt’s influences have rubbed off.
Aside from the album’s ballads, however, there are several spirited and original honky tonk numbers, so Earle knows that his audience wants to have fun too.
Take the album’s 1st song, “Hard Livin’.” The melody is a ‘click your finger’ piano and fiddle romp (Josh Hedly & Skylar Wilson). While you’re dancing, you can laugh at Justin’s confusion about love, because you’ve probably experienced it and thought you were the only one until you heard this.
Three ballads are stand outs. “Who Am I to Say” is a humble view on how we judge ourselves and others. “Lone Pine Hill” describes a hike to a viewpoint, but the view is more inward. “Turn Out the Lights” is a reminder that nighttime stops the world so we can finally think.
The entire album may not be “A” material, but to have four “A’s on a debut is pretty darn impressive. I’m betting Justin Townes Earle will soon be known for being more than “Steve’s Son.”
~ Jim Blum