(from Echo Mountain’s oasis of high-end equipment to home setups powered by Garage Band) cutting tracks and polishing their sound. Xpress checked out four recent releases.
• Brian McGee & the Hollow Speed
On this superb debut, Brian McGee seamlessly blends the attitude and angst he honed as front man of the punk rock trio, Plow United, with the timeless authenticity of old country and blues. The self-titled disc consists entirely of originals written by McGee, and while many pay unspoken homage to masters such as Johnny Cash (“The Turnaround”) and Elvis (“Built for You”), the stories and whiskey-soaked voice howling them are uniquely his own. His backing band has seen lineup changes since forming in 2006, but McGee was able to assemble an A-Team for the album—Darin Gentry on fiddle, David Hughes on slide guitar and banjo, Cary Fridley on backup vocals and bass, and Brian Landrum on drums—who all tastefully bang, pluck, scream and weep to McGee’s twang-heavy guitar. The group laid down all of the tracks in a marathon 16-hour session at Asheville’s Collapseable Studios, capturing a sense of raw energy and emotion honored by minimalist postproduction.
Catch Brian McGee & the Hollow Speed at The Grey Eagle (with Blue Mountain and Elsa Cross) on Friday, Sept. 19. 9 p.m. $10 (or $7 at the door with a Downtown After 5 wristband). 232-5800.
• Resolve by Aaron Burdett
If Jack Johnson grew up in the hills of Appalachia and collaborated with Ricky Skaggs, the result might sound something like the relentlessly pleasant, laid back, bluegrass-infused folk rock of Aaron Burdett’s Resolve. Tracks highlighting Burdett’s love of bluegrass include “Butterbug and Heart,” an instrumental in which he shows off his flat-picking skills, and “Boozi Suzi,” an old-fashioned drinking tune featuring outstanding Dobro, banjo, and fiddle soloing by guest picker David Johnson. Examples that cast Burdette as a Southern-accented Jack Johnson include “You Still Amaze Me” (the album’s stand-out single) and “Now or Never,” both of which showcase the tasteful percussion work of River Guerguerian. The disc was recorded and mixed by Chris Rosser at Hollow Reed Studio in Asheville, but the glossy, highly polished and compressed sound he and co-producer Burdett favor would be right at home among the Nashville material dominating the modern country charts.
Aaron Burdette takes the stage at the Blue Ridge Performing Arts Center (opening for Craig Bickhardt) on Saturday, Oct. 11. 8 p.m. $12. 693-0087.
• To be a Bird by Nikki Talley
The highly autobiographical songwriting and warm, stripped-down acoustic sounds of Nikki Talley’s sophomore release, which was recorded in her Asheville apartment, give it the feel of being her musical journal, full of intimate reflections on past loves and adventures. The local singer/songwriter’s influences parallel her travels—songs like “I Love the Way” and “O to be a Bird,” with their banjo- and fiddle-fueled twang, echo her Appalachian roots in a way that fans of Gillian Welch would appreciate. Meanwhile, tracks like opener “Just for the Record” and closer “Take a Breath” bring to mind early Suzanne Vega and sound like products of the time spent gigging in the smoky cafes and clubs of Toronto. The album’s simple production allows Talley’s breathy voice to shine, showing why she won last year’s Carolina Star singing competition (a local version of American Idol).
Nikki Talley plays the French Broad Brewery on Friday, Sept. 19. 6 p.m. Free. 277-0222.
• The Buckerettes
While it’s clear from their debut studio album that the three women who make up The Buckerettes—Deb Criss (guitar and harmonica), Robin Cape (bass) and Roberta Greenspan (fiddle)—have tremendous musical chops, their self-titled disc suffers from the stirring of too many creative ideas into their musical melting pot. To this reviewer, the campy appeal of the Western-cowgirl hyperbole wore thin, leaving a disc that plays like a mash-up of equal parts country hoedown, children’s sing-along party and New Age Zen/folk tutorial. Although possibly resonating with certain demographics in Asheville, the overt spirituality expressed throughout the mix of styles ultimately limits many of the songs’ appeal. The band is best when it keep it simple and let its instrumental prowess shine: “Tear in the Sun” and “Bring me to Love” are outstanding fiddle tunes that transcend the shtick.
The Buckerettes hold their CD release party at The Orange Peel on Thursday, Sept. 25. 8 p.m. $7 in advance, $8 at the door. 225-5851.