Tift Merritt – Stitch of the World


Tift Merritt has been on the road with Hiss Golden Messenger. And it shows. And in a good way. On her fine new album, there’s more than a hint of that soulful, comforting, MC Taylor sound. It’s particularly evident in the first two tracks, ‘Dusty Old Road’, and ‘Heartache Is An Uphill Climb’. The upshot is that if ever you’ve longed for a band called Tift Golden Messenger, then you’re in luck. Mostly, though, there are variations on more typical Tift Merritt themes. ‘My Boat’ is the quintessential singer-songwriter composition. An acoustic-led story that turns on the lyrics in the very last line. It’s a classic Janis Ian trope. The title track itself would be at home on any previous Tift Merritt album. But it’s not all. The final three tracks all feature Sam Beam of Iron and Wine fame. His input is recognisable, but nonetheless restrained. These are still Tift Merritt tracks. Yet the two artists complement each other beautifully. Indeed, the combination is perhaps more rewarding even than Beam’s recent full-length collaboration with Jesca Hoop. It’s been five years since Tift Merritt was Traveling Alone. Stitch of the World shows that she’s found some new friends and influences along the way. And good ones at that.


Pinegrove – Elsewhere


The mighty Pinegrove have just made available a live album. Most of the tracks come from their award-winning release, Cardinal. Well, it should have been an award-winning anyway. With songs full of wistful lyrics. “I keep going over it over and over, My steps iterate my shame, How come every outcome’s such a comedown?”. And all played in a wonderfully raggedy, sometimes slightly punky style. It was one of last year’s highlights. Whereas Cardinal included a little banjo and even the plaintive sound of old-time pedal steel, Elsewhere features no fewer than three guitars and the ripple of keyboards. So, there’s a nice variation on some familiar Pinegrove favourites. And recorded with hundreds of gigs already behind them, the wonderfully raggedy playing is down pat. For those who, like Pinegrove, experience the world as a sequence of “solipsistic moods”, both Cardinal and Elsewhere are both highly recommended. As a bonus, all the proceeds from sales at their bandcamp site are currently going to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Flo Morrissey/Matthew E. White – Gentlewoman, Ruby Man


There’s a basic formula for a great cover version. It’s when a well-known song is so totally transformed that it’s turned into what amounts to a new composition. Bob Dylan and Neil Young are masters at doing this to their own songs. Here, Flo Morrissey and Matthew E. White have a go with other people’s. Of course, what counts as a well-known song is highly personal. If you’re of a certain age, then you’re probably more familiar with Tales From Topographic Oceans than Frank Ocean. In which case, the cover of ‘Thinking Bout You’ here might sound like an original song in the first place. And a good one too. There’s a similar formula for a disappointing cover version. It’s when a song is so well known that no matter what’s done to it you can’t get the original out of your head. And there are some culprits here in that regard. The cover of ‘Grease’ can’t dispel the iconic image of tight black leather trousers and slick-backed hair. ‘Suzanne’ and ‘Sunday Morning’ elicit an equivalent reaction, though without the thought of the leather trousers. On Gentlewoman, Ruby Man, the best moments are when the signature late-night, ’70s, white soul, Spacebomb sound creates something a little unexpected. Top of the list is the closing track, ‘Govindam’, a traditional Hindu song that came to a certain prominence in 1971 on an album that was produced by George Harrison. Here, the original influences are clear, but the track has been Spacebombed just enough to make it sound like a fresh composition. And that’s the secret of a great cover version.

Courtesy of NoiseTrade, a sampler found its way into my in-box this morning. It was by a band called Steep Ravine. They’re from California and they sound like it too. And in a really good way with their mix of folk, rock, and newgrass. Turns out that their third album has just reached its funding target over at PledgeMusic. So, with luck, we’ll hear some new music from this later in the year. In the meantime, the sampler is available at a leave-you-own-tip rate over at NoiseTrade. And here they are recording a session at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone studios in Oakland.

Happy New Year. Surely, 2017 can only be better than 2016. But who knows at the moment? What’s for sure is that music will always be a comfort. In that spirit, highly anticipated 2017 releases include confirmed albums from Elbow, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Grandaddy, Grizzly Bear, Horse Thief, Nadia Reid, Nikki Lane, Real Estate, Ryan Adams, The Shins, Son Volt, Strand of Oaks, and Sun Kil Moon. And then there’s always the H-LM wish list. This year, it includes Adrian Crowley, Alela Diane, Anaïs Mitchell, Bill Callahan, David Vandervelde, Feist, Field Report, Fionn Regan, First Aid Kit, Israel Nash, Jason Isbell, Jim White, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Noah Gunderson, and Phosphorescent. Mind you, some of these artists were on my wish list this time last year. So, fingers are tightly crossed. Whatever happens, let’s start the new year with some good news. Word is in that Kramies is recording new demos. I can’t wait to hear the end result. In the meantime, here’s Kramies (feat. Jason Lytle) with ‘Clocks Were All Broken’.