It’s been some time since Bronwynne Brent released Stardust, an album which achieved near universal acclaim. Backed up by some impressive live shows in the UK, Brent came across as an up to date Karen Dalton, a folkie with a jazz inflection to her voice, and on Undercover, she travels a little further along this route.
Undercover is not as beguiling as its predecessor, it’s a more straightforward album in style and there seems to be less despair as Brent’s vocals dance happily over some pretty upbeat songs. Dig a little deeper however and she’s still singing of broken hearts. That said, the songs are enlivened with an inventive array of keyboards, ranging from the 1960’s Farfisa like parps on the title song to the whirling organ on Someone That I Loved. The band altogether are excellent. They create a fine and funky blend of folk and soul on Walking Relapse, which comes across as if Pentangle were backed up by Billy Preston and a horn section, and then sailing into neon slicked honky tonk groovyness on Brent’s cover of Chuck Willis’ Whatcha Gonna Do When Your Baby Leaves You with Brent digging into Peggy Lee territory. Lost In The Moonlight meanwhile is a slinky late night torch song.
Brent’s folkier side predominates on several songs. Raincoat is the first of these and, as with some songs on her last album, it’s reminiscent of Melanie’s deeper thoughts while Brent uses it as a vehicle for some inventive vocal interludes. Empty Pot Of Gold, emboldened with a tremendously sympathetic band and string arrangement is hauntingly beautiful and River Lullaby, again with a magnificent backing, is simply gorgeous.
Bronwynne Brent is currently touring the UK, all dates here.
Somewhat out of the blue, Don Gallardo released The Lonesome Wild on Thursday to coincide with his latest UK and European gigs. Currently it’s only available to download via the usual online outlets so if you’re going to any of the upcoming shows in Germany don’t expect to see it at the merch table. Stylistically it kind of sits on a fence between Hickory and Still Here with fewer of the country inflections of the latter, leaning more towards the former’s California roots.
Gallardo opens the album in troubadour mood on the very fine Just Another Yesterday Song, sounding for all the world like Steve Earle aping Neil Young. Even more stripped back is the downbeat cover of Andrew Comb’s Too Stoned To Cry, one of the highlights of the album with a lonesome Dobro (played by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Joe Andrews) amplifying the strung-out ennui of the song. However, most of the album is composed of sweet (and occasionally sour) songs with dollops of pedal steel and slide guitars along with swathes of acoustic guitars and occasional mandolin and keyboard. Ghosts & Hummingbird reminds one of when Wilco was still playing “alt country” while Honeysuckle Rose glows with ranks of glistening guitars creating a slightly psychedelic haze with Gallardo’s vocals reminding one of The Beatles later pastoral moments. I Wish You Well has a similar haziness to it although here, the keen guitars allied to a sense of melancholia and Gallardo’s yearning vocals recall the glory days of Big Star. Interestingly Gallardo uses a couple of Beatles’ lines in some of the songs, see if you can find them.
There is some muscle involved as What We Were Yesterday buzzes with a Neil Young like corkscrewed guitar and Your Mistake snarls with an attitude, its gritty guitar and punchy beat almost NY punk. There’s some roustabout blues on What You Want which one would like to imagine could be a tribute to the late Mike Wilhelm. Anyhow, it has that insouciant old time swagger which was the trademark of the early Flamin’ Groovies, Sopwith Camel and The Lovin’ Spoonful, so full marks to it.
Radio Songs has to be mentioned as the focal point of the album. Almost veering into cosmic county territory due to its superb pedal steel colourings, at heart its soul is in the reinvented country blues of The Stones on Their Satanic Majesties and Rod Stewart on An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down. Gallardo’s lyrics are stained with a doomed romanticism over a world weary guitar strum, snakelike slide guitar and that glorious pedal steel. Perhaps the best song we’ve heard this year so far.