By Lee Zimmerman
As their name implies, Trigger Hippy, the on again-off again communal combo originated by Black Crowes co-founder/drummer Steve Gorman and bassist/vocalist Nick Govrik, is a loose amalgam that plucks elements of southern rock and classic R&B,and fits them together in a seamless sound that recalls the best of what FM radio first finessed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Their new album, Full Circle & Then Some, is their first in five years, but their rootsy vibe clearly hasn’t suffered during their down time. Although former members and prominent names Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene are no longer in the fold, soul singer and saxophonist Amber Woodhouse and guitarist Ed Jurdi,the latter on loan from Band of Heathens, help make up for their absence. At times Woodhouse threatens to steal the show, her dynamic presence lending an intensity and authenticity that indeed brings truth in advertising as far as the over-arching title is concerned. Let’s hope Trigger Hippy doesn’t wait another five years before loading up again.
Few artists can convey sentiment with as much range and determination as Austin Plaine. With his new album Stratford, Plaine manages to make good on the excellent effort put forth in his stunning debut, and come up with a follow-up that was clearly worth wait. The sound is stoked with sentiment and a delivery that can, by turns, be both tender and tenacious. As an incisive and evocative songwriter, he possesses the skillset of a Petty or Springsteen, and he uses it to garner attention even at the outset. Credit Plaine and producer Jay Foote for the evocative ambiance and decided determination, and even more importantly, sharing a sound that possesses instant appeal. Indeed, after only two outings, Plaine’s already has his sights set on stardom. It’s rare to find an artist that’s not only adept at writing incisive songs, but also has the ability to put them across with such credence and commitment. Plaine’s presence is unmistakeable.
As the wife and performing partner of singer/songwriter Fred Eaglesmith, Tif Ginn is more or less confined to play second fiddle to her entertaining yet eccentric husband. A multi-faceted instrumentalist and support singer, she’s never had the opportunity to take the solo spotlight and share the full range of her abilities, at least until now. Still, Ginn’s first solo album, Moving Day, may take many Fred Heads by surprise. Although some of the songs were composed by the two in tandem, there’s no hint of the mirth or merriment that generally comes across in concert. Instead, Ginn assumes the role of a late night chanteuse and seductress, her hushed vocals and sensuous stylings bringing to mind a singer like Sade in full supper club motiff. With few exceptions, she generally plays it cool throughout, rarely giving free reign to unbridled exposition. Eaglesmith himself remains well behind the scenes, adding only occasional acoustic guitar while Ginn herself multi-tasks on everything else. Several listens may be required before it all sinks in, so consider a nightcap before engaging in earnest.
“We put our pants on one leg at a time,” Jimbo Pap declare at the outset of their debut album It Can Aways Get Worse. It’s an early indication of the unassuming, offbeat humor, self-effacing style and decidedly dry attitude that pervades the album as a whole. Taking their cue from the casual honkytonk and cool country sounds that informed bands like the Byrds and the Burrito Brothers, the group finds a core connection with their upbeat enthusiasm and an effortless delivery that makes every song seem to shine. Initiated by main songwriter Jim Bowers, formerly of the little appreciated indie outfit the Radar Brothers, the band manage to carve a credible niche immediately at the outset. The songs range from wry to wistful, with some -- “Yard Sale,” “Nothing’s Quite the Same,” “Another Ticket on the Windshield” and the aforementioned “Submission (Nice Pants)” -- making light of everyday happenstance. Immensely entertaining, it will be interesting to see what they come up with next.
Kristy Krüger appears as if she emerged from another era entirely. Fever of Unknown Origin finds her sounding like a vamp in a late night bar, entertaining an audience of barflies, bachelors and bachelorettes with sultry songs of seduction and temptation. Inspired by her brother who lost his life in Iraq, she pursued a love of history by digging deep into the firmament of American music, extracting inspiration from the songs of Johnny and June (a low-cast take on “Folsom Prison Blues” is wholly unrecognizable as being in any way even related to the original, while the tender “Johnny and June” ponders the possibilities of true love ) and the great jazz singers of an earlier era such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Peggy Lee, and all the others that built their careers as true divine divas. Indeed, Krüger deserves to be included in their ranks as well, given the confidence and credence she conveys through her sassy, brassy songs. It’s something of a revelation to find an artist both so erudite and intuitive, but Krüger clearly has a gift that’s as captivating as it is compelling.
With his latest album, Fires for the Cold, Jonah Tolchin lays bare the challenges and difficulties that have confronted him over the past year. A failed marriage and his own inner turmoil found him dealing with a disconnect that tugged at his very core. Happily, the new album allowed him to work through those harsh scenarios, and with the help of some special guests -- Jackson Browne and Rickie Lee Jones who sing on a sublime cover of Little Feat’s “Roll ‘Em Easy,” Sara Watkins, who lends her vocals to “Supermarket Rage” and “Honeysuckle,” as well as drummer Jay Bellerose, Little Feat guitarist Fred Tackett, pedal steel player Greg Leisz and guitarist Ben Peeler -- he’s made one of the most telling efforts of his career. It’s little wonder then that Fires For The Cold resonates the way it does -- quietly, confidently, and with skill and sobriety. Tolchin is still at a relatively early phase in his career, but even so, it’s clear he has the makings of an influential artist.