By Lee Zimmerman
Salim Nourallah can claim ample credits in service to others -- production contributions to the Old 97s and the Damnwells, his efforts alongside brother Faris in the amply dubbed the Nourallah Brothers and his individual outings under the name the Happiness Factor. Yet it would be a shame not to underestimate his prolific solo career, which has not only yielded a number of exceptional albums, but also reaped him well warranted acclaim all on his own. His latest effort, the tellingly-titled Somewhere South of Sane, was preceded by a series of stand alone EPs and may be his most ambitious offering yet. It boasts 21 songs on a single CD, mostly cast in a low cast sonic quilt of ambiance and atmosphere. Imagine an entire album dedicated to variations on The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and get some idea of the drift and delivery. It’s seductive to be sure, but its elusive imagery begs repeated listens to fully appreciate its overall allure.
Walter Salas-Humara, late of the band the Silos, long outgrew the band which he rode to what should have been fame and fortune. Once a resident of Florida, now making his home in Arizona, he’s always embraced his Hispanic heritage but also incorporates into his world view. A string of stirling solo albums have graced his carer so far, but his latest, Walterio, is his most formidable effort so far, stirring, emphatic but clearly embossed with genuine heart, confidence and compassion. With a pair of songs sung in Spanish and former Silos drummer Konrad Meissner in tow, Humara easily transfers his intents into a universal declaration of rock ‘n’ roll intent, summed up succinctly on the track entitled “Here We Go.” In concert, Humara is a people’s performer, one who tends to take leave of the stage and share his songs in the close embrace of an adoring audience. That simpatico sentiment is evident here, thanks to a knowing approach that draws the listener in and compels a closer listen. The time spent is well worth it.
Vincent Poag makes an immediate impression with the wistful “Beautiful Day,” the carefree album opener on Heroes and Demons, his third outing to date, and further proof that he’s mastered the art of easy accessibility. Poag’s unassuming vocals belie the gravitas of the album’s title, suggesting a casual cross between Randy Newman, TomWaits and Bob Dylan, the latter in one of his occasional carefree moods. In fact, it’s a bit of a mystery why he named this theatrical set of songs the way he did, given the genial mood that pervades the disc overall. Nevertheless, Heroes and Demons is a decidedly easy listen, and when he name-checks Bob Dylan, Davy Crockett, Tom Petty, and any number of other pop cultures heroes on “One Step Ahead of the Gloom,” he’s clearly bowing to the more casual constraints that he pursues purposely throughout, shifting styles all along the way. So what to make of this amiable auteur? Suffice it to say he’s made an album that’s easy, breezy and simply made to be enjoyed.
On their new five song EP, prophetically titled Where I Roam, the band that calls themselves Roanoke offer up five songs soaked with expression, emotion and the kind of upward gaze that inspires and galvanizes all at the same time. Combining seamless harmonies and riveting arrangements, they create a rich musical tapestry that runs the gamut from upbeat anthems to breathtaking balladry. Obvious signposts come in the form of the Indigo Girls, Poco, Shovels and Rope et. al., but there’s little doubt that even at this relatively early stage in their collective career, Roanoke have achieved a singular stance that puts confidence and credibility on an equal footing. Each of these five songs shine like diamonds, suggesting they’ve reached a plateau that will likely only be the first of many in their continuing career. These soaring, heartfelt melodies are so instantly affecting, they burn their way into the consciousness even on first hearing. Where I Roam offers an invitation to share their journey and then delight in the destination.
Credit the excellent Sierra Records label for putting out archival offerings that tout the rich legacy of the music we now refer to as Americana. Over the course its 40 history, owner John Delgato has steadfastly mined the vaults of exceptional -- but oftentimes ignored -- artists and ensembles whose quest for wider recognition remained elusive at best. On Record Store Day, Delgato released what might be one of his best offerings yet, a rare six song vinyl 45 boasting six heretofore unreleased recordings by legendary Byrds frontman Gene Clark. While some songs boast full arrangements, most simply feature Clark singing to his solo guitar accompaniment, still retaining all the emotion and eloquence his music always expressed. While there have been other archival offerings from Clark recently -- Omnivore’s Gene Clark Sings for You among them -- this new set of songs is absolutely indispensable for anyone who considers him or her self a Clark aficionado. Also new from Sierra, and of equal merit as well -- a collection of heretofore unreleased recordings from Tim Hardin titled Lost In L.A., a remastered take on Randy Meisner’s post Eagles solo excursion Take It To the Limit, and a reissue of the classic compilation Early L.A., featuring seminal recordings by the Byrds, Leon Russell, the Gosdin Brothers, David Crosby and others.
It ought to come as no surprise that Jeff Larson and Jeffrey Foskett, two musicians whose resumes proudly boast association with America and The Beach Boys, respectively, ought to procure a sound that’s so flush with exuberance and expression. That’s what’s emanated in the duo’s sweetly sumptuous new effort, Elua Aloha. Enlisting a number of the fellow travelers they’ve collaborated with before, the album echoes the illuminating designs associated with surf, sand and sun, with soft shimmering melodies, rich harmonies and the aura of innocence so frequently associated with Southern California’s day-glo sensibility. It’s a soothing set of songs to be sure, one that would certainly find favor with both the ensembles that provide their day jobs. The song titles really tell all; “Hazy Sunshine,” “Need a Little Summer” and “Shadows of the Canyon” bring those ‘60s signposts fully to the fore. What a wonderful reminder of the effusive optimism that still rings like a timeless treasure.