By Lee Zimmerman
While their odd handle and a recent live appearance at AmericanaFest confounded some folks, the Brit band known as Curse of Lono show on their intriguing new disc 4 amand Counting that they can create a melodious sound that doesn’t necessarily veer too far outside the norm. Although their songs sometimes tend to come across as overtly ominous and harrowing (“I got a bullet for your lover’s chest,” they intone on the somewhat sobering “Valentine”), the melodies mostly tend to strike a responsive chord. More often than not, the tunes are propulsive and compelling, and packed with rollicking refrains and artful arrangements. Granted, it takes a deeper listen to fully appreciate the variety and versatility that Curse of Lono convey, but taking the time to really listen all but assures its rich rewards. It’s also of particular note that pedal steel player BJ Cole, a musician who’s worked with everyone from Fairport Convention to Humble Pie, makes several cameos here. It’s nice to know a young outfit can appreciate the storied legacy of a truly accomplished contributor. For more information, go to curseoflonoband.com.
A year after the rerelease of their seminal album Glum and their first new album in three years, Returns to Valley of Pain, Giant Sand make a quick turnaround with Recounting the Ballads of Thin Line Men, an album that shows even that after an earlier extended absence, the band is in fine form. Leader and guiding light Howe Gelb remains at the helm of this ever shifting ensemble, and as always he’s responsible for a strange assortment of sounds that are often as inexplicable as the album title itself. As a result, Recounting the Ballads of Thin Line Men offers a series of menacing melodies -- one moment, loud and unruly -- and then the next, several that are, by equal measure, somber and subdued. Howe himself possesses a vocal quality that conveys a decided sense of gravitas in his doom-laden delivery. “Get your acid at the door,” he suggests in the opening verse of “Tantamount,” and indeed a psychedelic mindset might well be the key to full appreciation.
It’s hardly surprising that with his latest LP, Gerry Beckley retains the melodic sensibilities that have always been so essential in his day job with America. While some might question why he chooses to go the solo route when it diverges so little from the music he makes with erstwhile partner Dewey Bunnell, his new album Five Mile Road, his seventh solo outing to date (not including his three way collaboration with Carl Wilson and Chicago’s Robert Lamm Like a Brother), does allow for a more personal and intimate endeavor. It’s little surprise that he’s a superior songsmith, borne out by the fact that he wrote all the songs himself, save a cowrite with actor/musician Billy Mumy. With contributions from America cohort and colleagues Jeff Larson, Hank Lindermann and son Matt Beckley, he excels with a series of supple melodies and the same soft, sedate vocal style that has become so much a part of the home ship’s signature sound. Needless to say then that any of these offerings would be well in sync with anything offered on an America album, right down to the hushed harmonies and blissful balladry. While one would hope he and Bunnell will also enter the studio sometime soon, Five Mile Road proves an excellent connection in the interim.
Katie Dahl’s fourth album to date, Wildwood, produced by JT Nero of the band Birds of Chicago, is the Wisconsin native’s most her personal effort yet, an insightful look at life in the American heartland circa the present day. While Dahl’s name may not be known to the general populace, her tender, touching songs sound like they’ve been in the ether forever. Wildwood is the kind of album that provides comfort and solace, the feeling one gets while wrapped in an old quilt sipping peppermint tea in front of a roaring fire on a snowy afternoon. The melodies are at once immediate and unfailingly familiar, bringing to mind the vintage sounds of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, and the Laurel Canyon crowd. Hopefully this album will bring her one step closer to the acclamation that’s decidedly overdue, and in turn, put her on the kind of pedestal she so definitely deserves. Yes, in fact, it’s just that good.
Mark Oblinger has had a storied career up until this point, having served time in the classic country rock bands Pure Prairie League and Firefall. A Grammy nominee and five-time Emmy Award winner, he’s found success writing songs for other folks as well. Nevertheless High Water Line finally puts him front and center, affirming his astute ability to deliver songs that can resonate with pure pop perfection. Oblinger’s music bears a familiar sound, one that finds echoes of Crosby Stills and Nash, Poco, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and others that once honed their talents in the communal confines of Laurel Canyon and the Hollywood Hills. Indeed, each of these twelve tunes convey a timeless quality and vintage motif that finds them at once both focused and familiar. There are hooks to spare as well as ringing refrains, all part of a radio-ready sound that all but guarantees its instant accessibility. Hopefully High Water Line will bring him out of the shadows and into the spotlight, reaping him the greater recognition he so decidedly deserves. Go to markoblinger.com for more information.
On her lovely new album, Paws of a Bear, Sweden’s Sofia Talvik explores life’s journey with hushed tones and a gilded delivery in ways both intriguing and enticing, even on first encounter. Woven with a dream-like delicacy within a decidedly surreal setting, Talvik explores the deeper depths of the human experience and does so within the lush confines of a folk-like finesse. Although the album’s initial single, “Take Me Home,” debuted in the top ten of the American folk radio charts, the album overall provides a more intimate experience, one that suggests it’s best to simply lean in and listen. Talvik’s voice is a thing of thing of singular beauty, and combined with the atmospheric ambiance with which it’s enveloped, it becomes a mellow, melodic and serendipitous experience. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Talvik in the coming months and the years that follow; after all, given these tumultuous times, it’s a welcome respite to share in such a comforting caress. Go to sofiatalvik.com for more info.