By Lee Zimmerman
Eric Andersen should be considered one of the founding fathers of the modern folk music movement, a man who stands shoulder to shoulder with Bob Dylan, Tom Rush, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, and the rest of the Greenwich Village regulars who helped propel that vibrant resurgence throughout the early ‘60s. Andersen hasn’t always gotten his due, although his early ‘70s album Blue River has deservedly been hailed as one of the best works ever produced by any singer-songwriter either before or since. Releases have been somewhat intermittent over the years — his “super group” Danko Fjeld Andersen notwithstanding — but for those that are in need of a quick catch-up, Woodstock Under the Stars, a comprehensive three disc live album recorded in various Woodstock locations and featuring an array of cameo appearances by John Sebastian, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Eric Bazilian of the Hooters and the legendary Happy Traum, ought to sufficiently suffice. With songs culled from practically every phase of Andersen’s 55-plus year career, it’s an excellent archival offering, another exquisite showcase for Andersen’s softly hued vocals and the tender trappings of his rich, alluring melodies. Respected indie label Y&T Records deserves kudos for this coup, one that serves as nothing less than an essential addition to folk’s lingering legacy.
After two previous albums and an EP, Singer-songwriter Brian Dunne clearly comes into his own with his superb new album Selling Things, a collection of emphatic offerings that resonate with abject emotion and absolute reassurance. Dunne’s always been a superb songwriter, but this time around his combination of tenderness and tenacity strike a resilient tone that’s as dynamic as it is dramatic. “You might find a little comfort in the world I roam,” he sings on “Walk Me Home,” and indeed his entreaty is tough to resist. The rest of the album is equally emphatic, allowing for an exhilarating impression even on the initial encounter. Suffice it to say, his music is a soothing salve for these troubled times. It’s strikingly beautiful and exceptionally breathtaking in equal measure, a set of songs that are as rich and riveting as any heard in recent memory. Dunne has an excellent eye for detail, a cinematic sensibility that’s so decidedly nuanced it brings every subject in his songs into clear focus. Highly recommended, Selling Things certainly sells itself.
Kevin Daniel delivers his music with a forthright finesse and an approach that’s decidedly determined throughout. His career began auspiciously enough when, at age five, he started singing Disney songs into a turkey baster turned microphone. Fortunately, he’s progressed considerably since then, thanks to a pair of EPs that established his penchant for a diverse dynamic and a sound fully informed by rock, Americana, country, and a sense of instant engagement. Things I Don’t See marks his first full length effort, and here again, his varied delivery finds consistency and cohesion through a set of songs surprisingly astute and well constructed for one still in the in infancy of his career. The instrumental additives contribute to this multi-hued tapestry, with pedal steel, fiddle and accordion finding equal standing with trumpet and trombone. It’s further indication that Daniel is devoted to making music that’s both resonate and reflective without regard to adhering to any sort of traditional tapestry. After all, it’s the songs that count, and with Things I Don’t See they reveal an artist with a decided sense of ability and authority. That in itself offers ample cause to anticipate what comes next.
Although he staked his initial reputation on his work with the band Trampled By Turtles, Dave Simonett shows he’s well prepared for solo success, courtesy of Red Tail, the first album he’s released under his own auspices. Tackling songs that are both tender and tenacious, he shows a clear confidence in his ability to operate outside the confines of the band he’s been affiliated with for over two decades. To be sure, this isn’t the first time he’s stepped out of the Turtles’ orbit; two albums released under the branding of Dead Man Winter demonstrated he needn’t be confined to any sole scenario. Nevertheless, the eight songs included here put a singular stamp on Simonett’s efforts. Several songs reflect the looseness and spontaneity that he imbued in the proceedings, but regardless, the material is solid, sharp and absolutely sturdy. It’s clear that Simonett possesses the ability to operate on his own, and that if he ever choose to abandon his day job, he’ll have no trouble capably carving out a career of his own.
Given that it’s often a fine line that exists between folk and Americana, the five-piece outfit that refer to themselves as Satin Nickel tread that divide without allowing themselves to be confined to either genre. In fact, the material contained on their album Shadow of Doubt does, in fact, remove any shadow of a doubt that they’re capable of varying their template to also include a sound reminiscent of radio-ready pop. The follow-up to their self-titled debut EP, the new album not only covers a wide musical terrain but also shows that they’re extremely adept at doing so. The group’s combined vocal imprint and shared songwriting reflects a common commitment to creating music that creates an emphatic imprint, much of it sounding like it’s been spun from a timeless template. Whether it’s the solid rumble of “Just Keep Running,” the traditional-sounding narrative “The Ballad of Yankee Jim” or the soft-hued hushed balladry of “Free,” the quintet’s diversity and executions are both wonderful and remarkable. Consider them a candidate for break-out band of the year.
“Baby try to understand, I’m a working man…learning the hard way what it means to bleed,” Roger Street Friedman sings on “Carry Me,” the opening track of Rise, his sumptuous new album produced by veteran guitarist, helmsman and sideman Larry Campbell. Friedman, a highly heralded Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter captures a series of disparate subjects through his affecting musical vignettes, many of which are a reflection of a vagabond existence maintained since a series of life-changing events drove him to making music his career in 2014. Inspiring and infectious, Friedman’s music has earned him widespread acclaim from a variety of influential sources, and given the enthusiasm, energy and melodic intent infused in this striking and seductive set of songs, it’s no surprise. It’s the culmination of a career that’s seen his reputation elevated to upper strata of today’s most consistent Americana artists. While he’s been compared to any number of famous names — Jackson Browne and Ready Newman among them — those associations clearly don’t do Friedman justice. Rise clearly lives up to its billing.