Let’s hear it for the girls. Oops, sexism aside here’s a slew of albums received recently from a bunch of great female artists. One thing you can say about Americana is that there’s a decent ratio of male/female artists with 9 out of 20 women in the current EuroAmericana chart including three of the albums reviewed here.
First up is Ashleigh Flynn, originally from Kentucky and now based in Portland Oregon with her third album, American Dream (Home Perm Records) and a bit of a dream it is too. Flynn has a truly fine voice, well suited for these songs with a little bit of backwoods twang and a little bit Sarah Jones smokiness in there she makes it all seem effortless. The ten self-penned songs are all excellent from the poppy Mystery to the hard luck story of Isaac on 3rd and Burnside. To top it all Flynn has gathered a great band of musicians with fine contributions from Paul Brainard (Richmond Fontaine) on pedal steel and trumpet. The upright bass, played by Jim Bromberg is an important part of the equation but there is some fine fiddle and Dobro flying throughout. The Seventh Sea is a perfect example of the picking and playing here with Flynn’s vocals betraying her Kentucky background. A fine album indeed.
Listen The 7th Sea
In a similar vein is Lynne Hanson, based in Canada, originally from the American south. She too fronts a fine band of pickers and writes all the songs on Once The Sun Goes Down. Where Flynn’s album has an organic feel around the production, this album has a burnished feel with David Baxter’s production similar to Daniel Lanois’ trademark sound. Guitars ripple and burn while the percussion has a brooding quality to it best heard in Here we Go Again. Hanson’s voice is planted firmly in front and on a song like No More Rain she recalls early kd lang but the best elements here are the slower pieces. Somewhere A Lonely Flower is a sublime, impressionistic account of a trip to London while the last song, Lilacs Dancing, catches a romance in the moment it starts. Riptide is a sinewy snarl of a song with evil sounding guitar over a ripple of banjo. Again, a cracking listen.
Listen Here We Go Again
Tara Linda’s Tortilla Western Serenade is a different kettle of fish altogether. Linda defines her music as tortilla western, “a musical genre blending spaghetti western, rock and Tex-Mex styles; roots music influenced by the land and stories of the American Southwest. So far so good. This boils down to a collection of songs, some with the rock inspiration to the fore as on the fabulous opener, Muse’s Duel with its twang guitar and mariarchi horns which is incredibly invigorating. Dream out Loud is another guitar-based song that is sexy and sinister while Crossroads showcases the guitar playing of Az Samed as it grumbles menencingly. This approach reaches its apogee on Leavin’ Texas (Drivin’ Slow) where LA punk inspired guitar and screeching Mexican horns collide
A good part of the album however is more restrained. Songs about historical Mexican figures (Teresita de Cabora, Padre Kino) have a more traditional “conjunto “ (the button accordion, the bajo sexto) approach. That some of the accordion is played by Flaco Jiminez is a recommendation in itself. For a debut album this is impressive and is heartily recommended for anyone into Calexico, Los Lobos or even Ry Cooder.
Listen Muse\'s Duel
Finally we have Annie Keating with Water Tower View. Keating comes from a folkier side with an earthy delivery, her vocals husky, at times sounding like a female John Prine, at others reminiscent of the frailty of Melanie Safka. Her subjects are the usual folk topics, tales of losers for the most part and one might wonder what more there is to say about the underbelly of American life. However Keating has the ability to take a well worn scenario such as gambling in On the Loose and breathe new life into it.
With some very sympathetic backing from a variety of players all of these songs beg to be heard but the standout songs are The Borderline with a very restrained backdrop and Keating’s vulnerability well to the fore and the closing Scene I/Scene II which, as the title suggests, is like an aural movie. Intimate and engaging, an excellent recording.
Listen The Borderline