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By Lee Zimmerman
Here are the latest indie artists to be spotlighted:
Rees Shad has been making music for quite a long time, nearly 30 years in fact. In that time, he’s developed a reputation as an esteemed songwriter, one who’s never found the need to repeat himself or fully pursue the same sort of sound twice. His new album, Tattletale, is a case in point. It’s carefree at first, but the mood changes dramatically after the first few songs, and by the time the album’s midway through, Shad has settled into a more reflective posture, one that brings to mind Elton John or Billy Joel in full piano man mode. Yet even at that point in the proceedings, Shad still manages to shift his stance, with “In the Arms of Tania Vanessa” coming across as an evocative European-style waltz, while “Lost In Translation” sounds like a smooth south of the border samba. So too, songs such as “Nobody Said” and “Can’t Remember” are essentially soulful serenades. That said, the breezy “Carolina Wren,” a duet with Ruth Ungar, unearths its charms through an otherwise unassuming attitude. A consummate artist and entertainer, Shad’s songs shine throughout.
Singer-songwriter Bern Kelly makes music that speak volumes, even when the instrumentation is keep to a minimum and the accompaniment is limited to only an acoustic guitar. That hasn’t always been the case; earlier albums found him fussing over fastidious arrangements and adding some specific sonic support to bolster his sound. Consequently, his new album, Garden City, marks an abrupt departure from that previous approach, one that opts for intimacy in its examination of alienation and the absence of care and compassion in the way society treats the less fortunate. The title track is a case in point, given its abject condemnation of the way homeless people are treated as being something less than human. “I liked our campsite but the city made us move,” the narrator sings. “The man says we can’t have the rich folks seeing you on their way home.” Given the stripped-down setting, Kelly conveys the sentiment from a personal perspective, allowing the music to ring and resonate even within the solitary confines. Ultimately, Garden City becomes Kelly’s most expressive effort to date, one that needs no more than craft and conviction to drive its message home.
Elena Rogers’ debut album, Opus One. makes a formidable impression, one that finds Rogers combining a particular penchant for pop with a melodic approach that manages to make an instant impression. A soulful quality is infused into each of these songs, but it’s her smooth and savvy delivery that takes precedence overall. It’s little surprise really; with producer Jamie Hoover — a seasoned veteran of such notable ensembles as the The Spongetones, The Van Delecki’s, Hootie and the Blowfish and The Smithereens — at the helm, and to Rogers’ ebullient and infectious approach is given the support it so decidedly deserves. The songs themselves sound like timeless standards culled from an era where radio-ready tunes were the stuff from which popular music was made. Comparisons have been made to such disparate entities as Rickie Lee Jones and The Waitresses, but a more apt description might also incorporate the Go-Go's and Bananarama, due specifically to the giddy nature of the proceedings. Nevertheless, Rogers is clearly a singular artist, given the confidence and credence that radiates from each of the album’s entries. Consider Opus One the opening salvo in what promises to be a bountiful career.
Abe Partridge is an accomplished singer and songwriter, which explains why his remarkable new EP Alabama Skies serves as more than simply a stopgap effort prior to the release his forthcoming album Love in the Dark. He’s no single dimensioned artist, as evidenced by the range of moods and melodies the new EP has to offer. Opening track “Young Love (Alabama Skies)” is a tender songs of reflection and reminiscing but the progression shifts suddenly into the unapologetic rant of the aptly titled “Abe Partridge’s 403rd Freakout” and the downright disparaging “Pop Country Is For Posers.” Side two kicks off with the decidedly downcast “Breaking Up Christmas,” hardly the holiday cheer so prevalent this time of year. “Dumb”and “Fake It Til You Make It” are similarly expressive. Ultimately, despite its brevity, this is a telling new effort and one that makes an impressive addition to his recorded resume.
Tim O’Connell takes a knowing look at the life of an aspiring songwriter in the early ‘70s, and the trials and tribulations of trying to find success in that Mecca known as Music City, Nashville Tennessee. Beyond the narrative itself, On Broadway is flush with heartfelt happenstance, and songs that are deeply affecting and even remarkably relatable. O’Connell himself has obviously learned a few of those lessons well, and that becomes evident in the expressive melodies and radio-ready hooks found in each of the album’s 14 songs. The fact that O’Connell and Angela Daeger do the bulk of the singing and leave the instrumentation to Buck Brown makes this all the more remarkable, especially given the fact that the music and storylines are so fully fleshed out. Ultimately, O’Connell can be credited with a remarkably telling and descriptive first effort, one that’s as potent and profound as any offering in recent memory. The first of three albums to convey an ongoing narrative, On Broadway bodes well for whatever is destined to follow.
Forest Sun — yes, that’s his real name — is another storied singer-songwriter with an impressive resume. His songs are both touching and tender, each shared from the hear with grace and dignity. Although his new album, aptly titled Follow the Love takes a low-cast perspective in terms of its tunes, it’s no less affecting given the emotion wrung from each of its offerings. Notably too, the album offers a mix of Sun’s own original material and some notable covers, among them lovely renditions of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” “Colours” by Donovan, Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” and the traditional hymn “This Little Light of Mine.” The songs segue together perfectly, providing a mellow mix that resonates with every hearing. That makes Follow the Love another ideal example of Sun’s ever-embracing skills, all of which are shared in the dozen albums he’s previously released. Again, Sun continues to shine ever-so-bright.