If it seems like Asheville music has evolved into a heady brew of world beat, experimental, indie rock and quirky pop, these four discs — all recently released by well-respected Asheville-based songwriters and musicians — prove that roots music (namely Americana) is alive and well.
• Long Days Above Ground by Pierce Edens and The Dirty Work
Pierce Edens and The Dirty Work's new album, Long Days Above Ground, mixes influences of rock, blues, rockabilly, country, honkytonk and bluegrass. Edens' powerful voice is often compared to Tom Waits; that gravely, sandpaper-in-the-throat style is unique to Edens' sound. Backed by a spectacular band, his down home, workingman's lyrics (paired with that unmistakable voice ) hit their stride. Though the disc is a studio album, it has all the raucous joy of a live festival recording. "Ghost on the Radio" is the album's most emotional track. On "Black Shiny Shoes," which begins a capella, Edens' voice sounds like a tuba: even more so when the actual tuba comes in. The album is brought home with the last track, "Soberin' Up," which is reminiscent of a drunken sing-along with plenty of Saturday night hooting and hollering. At 12 tracks, the album keeps the listener on his toes throughout.
— Gabe Chess
• Blood in Black and White by Johnson's Crossroad
"He smells like nightmares and ripple," sings Paul Johnson on the track "To the Bitter End," his voice all bass and gravel. Johnson's rough-hewn lyric style has a way of conveying a story that suits the narrative songs of Johnson's Crossroad. It's telling that, earlier this year, the band added singer/songwriter Moses Atwood on Dobro: Atwood is a weaver of tales himself. Johnson's Crossroad is Americana with more than a passing nod to bluegrass (a departure from Atwood's shoegaze-y indie-folk), but this band is not nearly as concerned with genre as it is with musicianship. Besides carefully crafted lyrics, Blood in Black and White also offers up supple picking ("Bail Money," with some lightning fast banjo), charmingly/achingly sweet waltzes ("Tired") and a tear-jerker or two. Where Johnson's Crossroad is at its best is on a slowed down number like "Heart's Done Time" where Keith Minguez's mandolin weeps, a lonesome harmonica trills and easy harmonies lend depth to Johnson's already rich vocals.
— Alli Marshall
• Onlooker by Dave Desmelik
Americana singer/songwriter Dave Desmelik plays nearly all the instruments on his new album, Onlooker, with a little help from a few others who complement him nicely. Desmelik, the world's nicest guy, has a fittingly-sweet style. His acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and piano all sound as if the musician is in the room with the listener. Lead track, "If It's Good For You," highlights Desmelik's warm voice: It's like a one-man Avett Brothers tune, minus the harmonies. The next track, "Who Says?" is a departure from form but also one of the album's highlights. It reveals a serious, frustrated voice drawing a line in the sand. A haunting banjo part furthers that sentiment. Desmelik is much recognized on the Americana circuit (surprisingly, most often in Europe!) and Onlooker, his sixth independent album, could continue that success.
— Gabe Chess
• When I Find Time by Sons of Ralph
Asheville's favorite bluegrass band (I'm not just saying that; year after year this group is been nominated tops in that category in Xpress' annual Best of WNC readers' poll) is back with a 12-track studio album, made at Hi Five Recording. There's a sentimental tug to the collection, starting with the album cover (a sepia-tone photo of patriarch Ralph Lewis as a scowling youngster) to the almost talkin' blues of "Mississippi Rail" on which the elder Lewis sings. Guitarist (and son) Marty Lewis provides most of the lead vocals and song writing. Interesting: The title track offers up a beachy theme in keeping with pop-country artist Kenny Chensey's turn as the new Jimmy Buffet. The rest of the album is vintage Sons of Ralph from the sweepingly lovely instrumental "Cold Mountain Waltz" to the driving country rock of "Therapy Groups."