Indie Spotlight: Jeff Kelly, Over the Rhine, Tom Russell, Lambchop and more

Indie Spotlight author Lee Zimmerman reviews the latest from indie artists such as Jeff Kelly, Over the Rhine, Tom Russell, Lambchop and more.
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Although Jeff Kelly made an emphatic impression with Seattle’s trippy Green Pajamas, his solo sojourns have found him traipsing through more terrestrial planes. Not surprisingly then, his latest individual effort, Beneath the Stars, Above the River, has him venturing still further from the 1960s psychedelia that his band cultivated so thoroughly over the course of their 20 year run. Inspired by recent visits to Spain and Portugal, Kelly assumes the role of a travel guide and romantic gypsy, imbuing the music with a romantic allure that’s intensely exotic. It’s evident that Kelly was enthralled by the lure of those distant destinations, and indeed, it only takes a cursory look at the song titles to get a sense of the atmospheric imagery he aspired to throughout. “Hush of the Summer Night,” “Moon Over Granada,” “The Lisbon Vampire,” and “Alleys of Madrid” are etched with reverence and fascination, all dream-like soirees spawned from cobbled streets, sidewalk cafes and hillside villas overlooking the sea. Occasional hints of the Green Pajamas’ cosmic musings occasionally intrude and intrigue, but mostly they entwine with the ambiance overall.

Linford Detweiller and Karin Bergoquist, collectively known as Over the Rhine, create an ethereal sound that shimmers and sparkles in ways both mesmerizing and melodious. Naturally, the duo are well versed in this approach, but even so, nothing they’ve done in the past ever adequately prepares the listener for the beguiling draw of each and every new release. Their latest, Love & Revelation, lives up to the sumptuous tones its title suggests, thanks to a collection of soft and subtle songs that tear at the heartstrings with grace and delicacy. Several songs barely rise above a whisper, but no matter. Their carefully hewed harmonies and quietly mined ambiance entice and enchant, and on songs such as “Broken Angels,” “Rocking Chair,” “Los Lunas” and the title track, the articulate arrangements quickly burrow below the skin. Bergoquist, who takes most of the lead vocals, is a compelling performer who exudes a natural allure and sensory appeal. Detweiller plays the role of an able arranger, and with the help of such luminaries as Greg Leisz on guitar and pedal steel and drummer Jay Bellacrose, among several others, the duo fashion a quietly compelling series of soundscapes that effectively illuminate the entire album.

The fact that Tom Russell has been making such stirring music for decades and hasn’t received but a fraction of the recognition he deserves remains not only one of the great tragedies of our times, but a mystery as well. As a singer and storyteller, he draws on the great Texas tradition, but in a larger sense, his indelible melodies and profound delivery easily recall the rugged imprint of Johnny Cash and California troubadour John Stewart in all their demonstrative glory. Russell’s latest masterwork, October in the Railroad Earthprovides yet another sobering set of songs, all etched with his rich, riveting vocals and a personal perspective that Russell relates so well. The melodies may sometimes seem tarnished and tattered, but even with their frayed edges, they always manage to find an emotional connection. Reflecting the air of the great Southwest, the songs occasionally drift to south of the border, and it’s that remarkable aural imagery that makes these melodies so dogged and defiant. This Railroad provides one compelling journey.

A supergroup of sorts, the humbly dubbed SALT features the talents of two top power pop practitioners, Ken Stringfellow, a mainstay of the Posies, and Anton Barbeau, an able artist who has previously operated under his own aegis. The noise they make in tandem with co-conspirators Fred Quentin (bass), Stephane Schuck (guitars) and Benot Lautridou (drums) is overtly expressive, ringing and resonating with power and purpose. Nevertheless, The Loneliness of Clouds isn’t as dark and dire as its title suggests. For all its intensity, there’s a spirited drive and deliberation inherent in each of these songs, ignited no doubt by the fact that it was recorded in Paris, not far from Stringfellow’s European second home. As a result, these songs beg a deeper connection, allowing each offering to create a decided impression even on first hearing. That fact alone offers proof that SALT seasons their songs with extra flourish.

Those who may not be familiar with Sheldon Pickering would best be advised to think of the sensual piano style of George Winston, a musician known for his soothing soundscapes and evocative offerings. Pickering parlays much the same sort of music here, but where Winston relies solely on his gilded keyboards, Pickering adds hints of percussion, bass and strings to provide tone and texture. As a result, each offering is lush, lovely and evocative, ideal mood music for meditation or one’s mindset. Along for the Ride provides a descriptive title as well, due to the fact that the unobtrusive melodies offer an ideal mesh of sight and sound, especially for a particularly scenic sojourn. Granted, instrumental music often proves fleeting, but even a casual listen brings out the beauty of these alluring instrumentals, making even a passive listeni a decided delight. Whatever the definition -- new age or symphonic suggestion -- Pickering’s penchant for creating works of delicate beauty makes Along for the Ride a journey to enjoy.

Lambchop is a sprawling ensemble guided by Kurt Wagner, the consistent and constant helmsman of this oftentimes eccentric outfit. It’s hard to put an exact handle on their sound, given the fact that their music draws from everything from avante garde experimentation to the mellower tones of subdued Americana. The group’s new album This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You) is equally intriguing, and if one doesn’t listen closely, the quiet lull of its beguiling melodies sometimes seem to drift into the ether. Nevertheless, with a extensive crew of guest musicians -- the legendary Charlie McCoy among them -- there’s a quiet hush about these proceedings that’s as seductive as it is sublime. Wagner’s in a rarified mood, and true to form, he follows his muse regardless of where it takes him. Hushed with a spectral sensibility, these eight songs make for an ideal Sunday morning respite, when the day is still dim and the cobwebs created on a rowdy Saturday night are still being swept away. It’s subversive in a sense, but fully alluring in its own way.