By Lee Zimmerman
Jared Rabin is a natural when it comes to making music. A dedicated musician since the age of five and the grandson of a former first chair violinist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, he gained a head start in his musical pursuit by studying jazz composition and developing his skills as a multi-instrumental, award-winning wunderkind. Rabin’s third album, No Direction, belies its title with an accessible set of songs that find his lithe, softly-hued vocals fitting comfortably at the fore. As always, Rabin plays the lion share of the instrumentation, one reason why the songs come across so well constructed and easily engaging. The sound is filtered through a seminal ‘70s influence and given an Americana imprint, allowing the material to find a comfortable fit with current tastes and trends. Rabin’s efforts offer the feeling that a big breakout is all but inevitable, and given a little exposure he could easily become a fan favorite. For now however, his status as a credible contender ought to suffice.
Naturally, it’s easy to imagine that Kai Clark, the son of the late Gene Clark, would have a natural affinity for the music his father made on his own and in the storied company of the Byrds. After all, his dad left a lasting legacy that enjoyed sporadic appreciation over the course of his career, but ultimately didn’t bring him the same measure of fame that he gained early on. So credit Kai with recording an apt tribute to the elder Clark with Silver Raven, a set of songs that boast both standards (“Eight Miles High,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn, Turn, Turn!” et. al.) as well as those that could be considered somewhat obscure by comparison. To ensure the close connection Kai doesn’t take many liberties with the original arrangements and his voice carries the same timbre and tone as his father’s. That makes any difference between the seminal songs and the remakes negligible at best. Still, it’s a worthy reminder of the timeless tapestry left by by one of music’s most indelible icons, and for that reason alone, Kai Clark provides a most worthy return.
David Haerle is an easy, affable troubadour whose music is easy on the ear in a soothing sort of circumstance. He comes about his craft in a very knowing way — his family was involved in radio and his father started a record label, now known as the CMH Label Group, and he’s served as its president for nearly three decades. Ten years ago, he turned his attention towards the idea of making music of his own, a quest that eventually culminated in his first album, 2018’s Garden of Edendale. His new album, Death Valley, purveys the same easy, breezy tone with occasional forays into a rockier repast. Haerle mentions on his website that many of the songs are drawn from personal experience, a fact evidenced by several of the song tiles. One track in particular, “Edendale,” hints at a return to the theme of his aforementioned first outing. Haerle may be a latecomer to making music, but it’s also evident that he caught up quickly. Suffice it to say, he’ll continue to be one to watch.
Chelsea Williams further defines her pop/Americana stance on her lovely new album Beautiful & Strange, a set of songs that finds her soft, sensual voice front and center across an array of catchy, compelling melodies. Optimism abounds as Williams and her husband and producer Ross Garren expand their instrumental palette to include strings, saws, a toy piano and a full symphony comprised of harmonica and keyboard. By turns sensual and seductive, as well as whimsical and wistful, it’s a delightful set of songs that come across like delicious ear candy — shimmering, soothing and immensely enticing. Williams, who got her start busking on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, is a knowing performer, as evidenced by her series of Mockingbird Mixtape covers and the kudos she received early on from the likes of Ron Howard, Sheryl Crow and Maroon 5. Williams clearly possesses an immense amount of commercial cred, but her music remains unique, specific and entirely her own. The title Beautiful & Strange may not sum her strengths up entirely, but it does offer indication that she’s a gifted performer fully capable of making her mark.
Ultan Conlon hails from Ireland but he’s found a base of operations for himself and Los Angeles, a setting that’s served him well over the course of his current career. That bond is etched even deeper with There’s a Waltz, an absolutely exquisite set of songs that finds Sean Watkins in the producer’s chair and an all-star cast providing the back-up. It includes such stellar studio veterans as Don Heffington on drums, Sebastian Steinberg playing bass, Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Rich Hinman on pedal steel, Tyler Chester on keys and Sean’s multi-talented sister Sara Watkinson providing the backing vocals. Even so, the most emphatic elements in the mix are the sentiments shared through the songs, whether Conlon’s offering his thoughts concerning alienation in the digital age (“World from a Window”), the dire state of the world (“A Landslide”), his efforts to gain self-acceptance (“There’s a Waltz”), or his own battles with addiction (“A Long Way Back”). Yet despite the weighty topics, the accompanying melodies are soothing and sedate, mostly distilled through the folk tradition of his homeland while remaining easily accessible as well. It’s lovely in its largess and also a fine find indeed.
Although Invisible Lines is J.M. Stevens’ solo debut — he was previously connected to the Austin band Moonlight Towers — it reflects the sound of a master craftsman, an artist who is clearly confident in both his delivery and in his dedication. His is a sound that brings to mind such popular rockers as Tom Petty and Elvis Costello when it comes to his ability to craft mainstream melodies. The majority of these songs sound as if they’ve been lingering in the ethos forever, uncannily familiar and yet edgy enough to catch immediate attention and then resonate well beyond. Stevens clearly has a certain savvy, and his pop perfect sound ought to elevate him onto a higher plateau within a relatively short time. Indeed, if radio was the force it once was, he’d be an FM staple and/or a fixture on MTV. That’s an indication not only of the music’s obvious appeal but also his talent and tenacity as well.