By Lee Zimmerman
A seasoned singer/songwriter, Laurie Jones creates a sound that’s both tender and tenacious. Often compared to a cross between Dusty Springfield and Tom Petty, she’s also been described as “Chrissie Hynde with a folk guitar,” while sharing references to Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow. All of those elements come into play with her expressive new album, Dark Horse, a set of songs that share a variety of emotions with a distinctive dynamic. Jones gleans her skills from years of playing, performing and recording, but with her new album she’s reached a higher plateau, one that finds her ready for the mainstream and the wider recognition that’s eluded her far too long. The songs are emotionally charged, flush with a searing sense of urgency and intent. All but one of the nine songs was penned by Jones herself, adding extra emphasis to her efforts overall. Credit her for crafting what will likely be considered the most essential effort of her career.
Andrew Leahey & The Homestead take a no-nonsense approach that leans heavily on a rugged roots regimen while delivering a decidedly determined sound. Leahey shares a sound that bears the obvious influence of Tom Petty and other heartland heroes, one that rocks relentlessly but still maintains a melodic core. With hooks a-plenty and any number of compelling choruses to boot, the music resonates with a decided drive and determination. American Static Vol. 1, Leahey and company’s latest opus, shares the same rugged regimen, resulting in what is arguably his best effort yet. Songs such as “Somewhere Between,” “Shadows That Still Stretch” and “Become the Enemy” make an immediate impression, given a sound that’s flush with willful resolve. Leahey clearly has the right instincts; both the stoic “Guilty Man” and the album’s big ballad, “My Avalanche,” share a cocksure attitude and an assured swagger that underscores his credence and conviction. It’s only a matter of time before a big breakout becomes a reality.
On first hearing, Ian Jones comes across as a tattered troubadour, a singer/songwriter whose worldly observations come with a decidedly dim view of the world and its effects on the psyche. An L.A. transplant relocated from his native Seattle, he offers a knowing perspective, undimmed by false promises and unfulfilled prophecies. His newest offering, a six song EP titled The Evergreens, is both sturdy and assured, flush with both determination and defiance. It’s a rugged-sounding record, occasionally reminiscent of Jackson Browne in terms of its furrowed outlook and shared sentiment. “Liars, Criminals, Beggars and Thieves” is the cornerstone of the effort overall, a rallying cry that urges everyone to stand tall and not be swayed by those that who would waylay others to further their own intents. It’s clear that Jones remains undaunted by such distraction, and even when he veers from his demonstrative delivery — as on the uplifting and optimistic “Hallelujah” and “Promised Land” — it doesn’t deter him from circumspect. His conviction is clear and his delivery is nothing if not decisive.
Mac Leaphart could be considered a tattered troubadour in the same vein as Jason Isbell, Gram Parsons, John Prine, Chris Whitley, or any of other seasoned singers and songwriters who regularly roll up their sleeves, put their hearts on the line and don’t mince words when it comes to expressing their frayed emotions. He’s country to the core, adept at honkytonk and heartbreak in equal measure. Leaphart’s latest, Music City Joke, takes a wizened view of Nashville’s norms, offering both a wink and a nod to what passes for a rootsy regimen. With a whiskey-stained vocal that shares tales of regret and remorse, his music takes on a sad, sobering perspective with a mix of tears-the-beer ballads and rugged rockers. Other classic influences come to mind — Waylon, Willie, the Flying Burrito Brothers, among them — but Leaphart’s irreverent attitude and insurgent stance finds him a rebel with a cause, one who’s just as likely to flash a middle finger as to serenade with a song. Leaphart may be an upstart, but he’s gritty and grounded as well.
Taylor Rae may be a newcomer, but with her debut album Mad Twenties, she sings with a clarity and conviction that belies her relative youth. Adept at a variety of styles, be it country, cabaret or easy listening, she shares a smooth, sensual vocal that comfort and caress, while also underscoring a cocksure attitude that defines her as someone that needs to be taken seriously. That perspective is summed up succinctly in “Wait and See,” s song that sums up her independent outlook. There are any number of other offerings that also do well in defining her stance — “Taking Space,” “Windows,” “Home On the Road,” and “Leaving You” among the many — and the fact that Rae herself is solely responsible for writing every offering on the album only adds to the perception that this is an artist who’s emerged fully formed, but also one who’s both eloquent and unstoppable. Clearly, Mad Twenties is just the beginning, one that leaves the listener eagerly anticipating whatever will come next.
The loss of Joe Tullos last November was not only a stunning blow to the entire musical community, but especially difficult to those that knew and worked with him in his native New Orleans. A new posthumous album, Vessels, serves as a lingering musical memento that sheds further light on the exceptional abilities he possessed, both as a singer and songwriter. Think Tom Petty in an affable state of mind. He fully invested his songs with lovely, lilting, sublime melodies that radiate and resonate in ways that fully articulate his talents. His songs run a gamut from pure pop to subtler shades of zydeco and contemporary country, and he sings them with an unassuming style that invests the music with a constant charm that ensures each offering becomes easily engaging from the first listen on. Sadly, Tullos never attained the widespread fame that was so clearly his due during his lifetime, but hopefully Vessels will provide the vehicle that delivers that well-deserved appreciation to all those that may have been unawares. It is, in every regard, an excellent album.