Goosebumps on Pangea by Chachillie:
Throughout the album, hooky choruses sung in sweeps and creshendos drip with Auto-Tune. Posturing is juxtaposed with Judeo-Christian prophecy and philosophy on subjects ranging from environmental decay and astral projection to karma and the politicized fate of the American poor. “Stars” is among the strongest tracks, and the title track in a way. A lithe rap name checks the prophets from nearly every major religion, and the album’s liner notes offers a glossary of terms. The elastic snap and bounce of rhymes paired with the silken tones of Stewart’s singing voice showcases his range. Read the full review here.
Orange by Hector’s Nectar:
there’s more than the smooth jazz references and Xanadu-flavored fantasy-dramatic lyrics. A lot of what makes Hector’s Nectar so good has to do with the ambiance that singer-songwriter-one-man-band Ben Gibbs creates. …Launching with a snarling guitar and frenzy of tambourine, “Imitation Leather Gloves” is less disco, more lounge-noir. Gibbs’ vocal, a smooth-pop baritone for most of the album, takes on a snarl as he recounts the story of a woman who can only be won with pleather hand wear. Read the full review here.
Quit Trying by The Decent Lovers:
“Abilene” is the single off The Decent Lovers’ new record. The upbeat quirk-pop song is all misfit good vibes from the xylophone hits to the raw guitar chords. “Liquor shelf to yourself, you still seem as cool to me as when we were 16, I fell in love with the pawnshop prom queen,” Elijah Wyman sings. It’s a complicated tune that comes off as simple. Memory given the benefit of hindsight paired with the festering infection of time. Read the full review here.
Swinging for the Fences by Jonathan Ammons:
Opening track “Rag Apple Blossoms” sets the scene with an ambling alt-country feel. Steel guitar flows into snare played with brushes, and Ammons’ tenor is slightly hoarse, slightly rough. Paired with a soft soprano (both Beth Bombara and Reva Williams sings backup), the vocal infuses the song with a palpable wistfulness. “Little Birds” is based on those same country beats and bittersweet guitar tones. Ammons’ palate is one of longing, space, memory cast in a rosy glow, coffee growing cold and shadows growing long. Read the full review here
Something In The Water by Leigh Glass & the Hazards:
The record’s title track sets the mood, opening with pure rock guitar, menacing as a motorcycle. It’s only a minute in before Glass’ vocal takes off. She’s a big singer with the kind of voice that can belt without betraying the effort. But Glass also knows how to reign it in, allowing the intensity to build. “Hometown Superstar” has a country radio feel. …Surely there’s a bit of autobiography to the song, in which the singer passes up a recording contract because she’d rather be herself with a small-town fan base that appreciates her. Read the full review here.
Words from the Well by Deep Chatham:
At 13 tracks, Deep Chatham’s Words from the Well is a bluegrass album mainly in that it uses bluegrass instrumentation as a canvas for the band’s darkly beautiful songwriting. Songs like “Rude Beauty” and “Familia De Muerta” reveal complex story telling. These are stories conveyed through shades of understanding paired with a deep sense of mystery. The way the strings are layered, the way the bass lurks low in the background and the banjo add texture, sets a sonic mood — a template upon which the dream of these songs unfolds. Read the full reviewhere.
Self-titled LP by Alarm Clock Conspiracy:
“Tomorrow’s Past” is a wistful song, soaked in ‘70s-era California country rock glimmer. “On Me” moved farther into that territory, its sound the breeziness-juxtaposed-with-longing that The Eagles captured so perfectly during their hey day. That song is underscored with the warble of mandolin. “What You’re Waiting For” steps back even farther into bygone eras, into the more mystical, “Johnny’s Garden” moments of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It drips with morning rain, sparkles with pale sun, breathes. The guitars shimmer, matched by a light, brushes-on-snare percussion. It crackles with electricity just below a smooth surface. Read the full review here.
Self-titled by Telecine:
There’s an acrid sapidity to the five tracks. Moments of prettiness and ease are spliced with feedback and industrial churn. Background vocals are accordant enough, but Larson’s lead often pushes up against a raw and tattered edge. Compositions wear intrigue and layered sophistication with jagged jolts of electricity and crushing percussion. The slowed beat and warm tones of “Coming Down With Her,” matched to sparkly guitars and lush vocals, is a welcome reprieve. The sweetness and ache of the song comes through, perhaps more so for the preceding assault. But it also feels, with its twilight stutters and bleeps, that it’s drawn from the same emotional pallet as its album mates. Read the full review here.
Make Believers by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo:
Skidoo raps to vintage jazz on “Space Cadet.” No hip-hop beats here; the pulse comes from a snare and a tuba. That song is a family affair, too, with Ms. Skidoo (aka Bootysatva) singing and baby Skidoo (aka MC Fireworks) rapping. …“Rocketfuel,” a collaboration with the Secret B-Sides, is a standout track. Here, Skidoo’s rap is a syncopated skipping. Words trip like flat stones cast over a lake, barely breaking the surface. Juan Holladay’s vocal is smooth, floating up the octave effortlessly. Effortlessness is the key here — there’s a lot going on but it’s folded into the lightness of the instrumentation. Read the full review here.
R&S/Cedars by Marley Carroll:
The three-track album begins with “R&S,” a slow climb into layered sound, its build unhurried though it pulses and undulates in thick bass and jingling percussion. The melody lives behind the vocal, a single syllable that may not even be human (a sample, a xylophone, a drop of water in a vase?). This is artful minimalism, stripped of instrumentation and players and, instead, floating bodiless in some warm space, free of gravity. Read the full review here.
Backroads & Bonfires by CrazyHorse & Colston:
Backroads quickly separates itself from standard hip-hop fare — “Cruise Control” takes its cues from an unspoken but documented tradition of naming places (think: Dion’s “The Wanderer”). “Mirage” is underscored throughout by a sample of symphonic strings. “Where the Water Runs Deep” has a hooky chorus and some thoughtful spoken word parts that reveal a spiritual bent (one more concerned with nature than the church). Read the full review here.
The Spectrum by CaroMia:
“Just A River” is a standout track, rife with atmosphere and building excitement. CaroMia’s vocal bounces and sweeps, much like the river she sings about. But it’s the background that really elevates the track: support vocals from Mary Ellen Bush and Williams and tasteful strings arrangements. …“Nothing Like You” edges up against Otis Redding-type soul, but where Redding might have added horns, CaroMia brings in mandolin, steel guitar and the heavy thump of stand up bass (Bush). And if that sounds like a strange experimentation, Spectrum proves that mountain strings do not come up short in the soul department. Read the full review here.
You Gotta Roll by Woody Pines:
“Long Gone” kicks off the album with the kind of snap and drive that followed swing and predated rock. The groove sits on a sturdy baseline allowing for some fancy clarinet work. “Red Rocking Chair” is a gathering thundercloud, trading the brightness of the first track for minor chords and a spooky fiddle so eerie that it sounds almost like a ghostly voice. The song is attributed to old-time musician Moran Lee “Dock” Boggs (all of the songs on Roll are covers by musicians who, Pines told No Depression, “have all changed my life”). Read the full review here.
Late Bloomer by Night’s Bright Colors:
It’s, perhaps, a risk, that the instrumental is the second longest track on the album. Especially as this is a 15 track album. In an era of five-song EPs, 15 tracks seems epic, but few of those on Late even reach the three-minute mark. Such is Smith’s trademark touch: light, brief, lingering just long enough to say what needs to be said. …The title track (at under two minutes) is sung at almost a whisper. Close to the mic. Pillow talk, though not necessarily of the romantic ilk. “Every moment counts in the night,” Smith tells us, his song both a lullaby and a call to action — to find purpose even in dreams. Read the full review here.
Get Outside by Josh Phillips Folk Festival:
Opening track “Angelina” is an Appalachian approximation, a country death song filtered through Phillips’ funk/soul filter. Here, Nicky Sanders (Steep Canyon Rangers) lends a searing fiddle part while a cymbal shimmers with the hiss of a rattle snake and the dark thump and snarl of the song is flush with banjo, guitars and foot stomps. The title track (which falls, unconventionally, at the end of the 10-song album) is, perhaps, Phillips at his best. There’s a luminosity to the song, a sleepy hush paired with wide-eyed wonder. “And I think I’ll just get outside and find a spot and lay down, wherever it looks inviting, and listen to the water flow,” sings Phillips in the Zen-among-the-chaos chorus. It’s a song about being human in the big world, about the golden in the mundane, about being in the moment. Read the full review here.
Orange by Shod My Feet:
The 10-track LP starts with the slow, contemplative (and, at turns, tongue-in-cheek) “Fake Break Up.” It’s a solid song, but the album’s real surprises come later. Like the spastic hand claps (or, perhaps, foot stomps?) that give way to perfectly-timed drums at the beginning of “Poor Boy,” and the way Keebler’s vocal on that songs hints at Grace Slick. …“Happy Song” has shades of a comedic role in Keebler’s voice, but it’s the album’s title track that really introduces Shod My Feet’s ability to pair earnest musicianship with a sense of whimsy. Read the full review here.
Geekamongus by Will Chatham:
The predominant high hat and the stuttering rap of “Get Back Fellas” is a far cry from your garden variety geekery. Instead, that track — like much of Geekamongus — is equal parts stylized strut and sly wink. “At The Right Time” flashes jazz teeth, shoulder dipping along church choir vocals, hand-drums, beat boxing, jingle bells and a sort of ambling Vince Guaraldi-esque melody line. Disparate, yes. But the whole picture, when all the pieces are assembled, reveals a warm grin. Read the full review here.
The Ghost of Galapagos by The Hermit Kings:
This is a song cycle that whispers and screams, tiptoes and stomps, waltzes and slam dances. This is songwriting that doesn’t shy away from blood and guts, or the dark, or bad dreams. Nor does it fear tender emotion or human frailty. And, as such, the songs are (like the album title suggests) haunted and strange. …“Flesh and Blood,” which rails against bad parenting and imposed ideas of normalcy. This song is the album’s longest (nearly seven minutes) and devolves from a loping beat into a spooky carnival of percussion and menacing guitar. Not that it ever totally deconstructs. This is a point at which the Hermit Kings excel: controlled chaos. Read the full review here.
Anniversary by Angela Faye Martin:
As much as Martin was affected by the late Sparklehorse musician Mark Linkous (who produced her Pictures From Home, one of his final projects), hers is a unique voice and style that draws on deep roots and deeper mysticism. (Seriously, hold Martin up against your Gillian Welch, your Be Good Tanyas, your Lucinda Williams — this girl can write.) “Honey” slinks through the snarl of guitars and dark washes of bass. Martin’s voice sweeping easily between a low whisper and a high lilt. Her sense of dynamics is impeccable, as is her ability to marry mountain balladry with modern electronics and hooks that are catchy if not completely poppy. Read the full review here.
Crooked Hollows by Ty Gilpin:
Crooked is High Windy mandolinist Ty Gilpin’s solo project, but it’s hardly a solo effort. The mandolin player tapped “the best of the Asheville roots music scene” (as he puts it, on a handbill that accompanies the CD). On the country waltz, “Smiling For The Camera,” Darren Nicholson (Balsam Range) plays guitar, Sav Sankaran (The Dixie Bee-liners) plays bass (those two also sing baritone and tenor harmony vocals, respectively), Matt Smith (Pierce Edens) is on pedal steel and Tim Gardner (High Windy) plays fiddle. …The final track is a remix of moody, lyrical “Queen of the Crows,” crafted by local electronic composer Danny Peck (aka dep). Here, the mandolin still stars, but organic percussion also surfaces like a cold rain, a hard frost, a flurry of bird wings taking flight. Read the full review here.