By Lee Zimmerman
Rants and raves are synonymous with ongoing praise for new indie releases that are sadly confined to environs that lie well below the radar. Perhaps that’s worthy of a rant in itself — the fact that so many great offerings fail to attract the attention they deserve. However, in raving about their worthiness, the rants and raves find equal compatibility.
Having said that, here’s another half dozen new releases worthy of your notice.
In live performance, Gerry Colvin comes across as a comedian, although a decidedly musically endowed showman at that. Colvin’s latest release "Back & Forth" follows two wryly titled previous entries, "Jazz Tales of Country Folk" and "Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other," while adroitly summing up his distinctly whimsical approach to contemporary British folk music. A veteran of several earlier folk outfits and a noted singer/songwriter in his own right, Colvin pens songs that are rich, riveting and filled with urgency and affinity. Accentuated by guitar, fiddles, mandolin, double bass, and Colvin’s richly expressive vocals, they grab hold on first encounter. A mainstay at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festivals, Colvin is adept at winning over audiences with an affable stage presence and a sound that finds audiences swaying in time to his instantly engaging offerings. Every track possesses that singularly sensible sound, making it a must for anyone with a fondness for Anglophile aptitude in a richly stirring context.
The Waterboys seem to have been missing from the limelight lately, but it would take more than the absence of a few years to keep the band’s mainstay, Mike Scott, from reclaiming his place in rock’s higher ethos. Consequently, the group’s current album, the aptly titled "Out Of All This Blue," is newly emerged as a two record set boasting no less than 23 songs, all of which suggest that Scott’s time has been well spent. While the Celtic elements that have always added drama and defiance to Waterboys music are still evident throughout, the sounds of soul, pop and full throttle rock ‘n’ roll also play a predominant role in the mix, making this sprawling opus Scott’s answer to The Beatles’ "White Album" as far as diversity and direction are concerned. Scott’s vocals — a sneer and a sizzle that’s part Dylan, part contemporary crooner — adds the necessary drama, but the soaring arrangements and relentless rhythms also contribute to the inherent fury and finesse. If anything, the music sounds more down to earth, a bit removed from the fury and frenzy that characterized the band’s earlier efforts. Even so, it’s no less inspired, and given refrains which seem to shout towards the heavens, it suggests that this is an epic of a singular sort.
Despite their ongoing indie trajectory, Grizzly Bear has never been an easy outfit to get an easy handle on. By turns hypnotic, alluring and seemingly surreal, they effectively defy expectation through an unlikely mesh of tones and textures. Their latest effort, "Painted Ruins," is their most intriguing effort yet, a lushly expansive series of songs that are best described as soundscapes of a decidedly ethereal variety. Fifteen years on, the Brooklyn-based band’s blend of experimentation, psychedelia and high harmonies creates an eerie impression that only begins to fully gel after repeated listens. And while their moody melodies don’t find full impact with the first listen, the after effect is simply stunning. Their sound can be quite captivating, especially given the shifting array of tones and textures. While it may seem challenging to fully digest at first, there are ample rewards to be found in trolling through this tasteful yet turbulent tapestry.
Gordy Hunt makes an affable sound that easily gets under the skin, thanks to songs that are easy, engaging and perfectly in sync with the approach once defined by top 40 radio. His subjects are of the everyday variety — mostly having to do with the quest for love and happy endings that result when one finally wins the object of his or her affection. There are occasional quirks along the way, particularly as it applies to “Face On Mars,” a song that deals with strange phenomenon, conspiracy theories, unsolved mysteries and supposed secrets of UFOs. Hunt’s vocals are tailor made for immediate accessibility, given a high pitched tenor and a smooth set-up that makes the material instantly appealing. The follow-up to his two previous outings, the live "Red Weather Reunion Dance Party" and an earlier self-titled debut, this Detroit denizen translates his songwriting skills into an individual offering that’s fine-tuned, while still sounding both effortless and ambitious. Having hits certainly isn’t out of the question.
Their handle may be somewhat ubiquitous, but the uniformly mellow and melodious tones produced by March to May define the duo as ideal exponents of today’s nu-folk genre. Helmed by Elizabeth Welche and Darren Guyaz, their first full length effort, "Through the Night," draws comparisons to The Civil Wars, Damien Rice, the Swell Season, Lone Bellow and the Lumineers, while still possessing a shimmering radiance all its own. The mood is uniformly supple and subdued, but within those graceful realms, there’s a precious sanctity that pervades the album overall. Granted, this isn’t the sort of thing you want to play in order to get the party started, but in the aftermath of an evening filled with festivities of a more upbeat variety, it’s the perfect morning after anecdote when much-needed rest and recovery are called for.
The essence of true Brit rock has been somewhat diffused these days by the emergence of such global giants as Coldplay, Muse, Radiohead and the like, but thankfully, there are still some bands that define the essence of that exquisite Englishness that defined such bands as The Who, the Kinks and, natch, the Fab Four. The Clientele are one of those outfits that are unafraid to share some ethnic eccentricity and the simple homilies of their homeland in a distinctly modern sense. Consequently, their exquisite new album, wisely titled "Music for the Age of Miracles," offers a glorious widescreen tribute to the melodic musings championed by their forebears. Replete with hushed harmonies, soothing sentiment and artfully airbrushed arrangements, it creates a richly rewarding listening experience that sweeps through each of its dozen offerings. It’s the stuff of which classic albums are made, and if it fails to affect you, it would be best to check your pulse before any further activity is planned. This is, to say the least, a real keeper.