With the spring equinox just passed, here are some of the best releases of the year so far
The Delines – The Imperial
If listening to sad songs could heal your own sadness, then Amy Boone, Willy Vlautin and the rest of The Delines would put the counsellors of the world out of business. Because The Imperial is packed full of very sad songs.
Cass McCombs – Tip of the Sphere
Another bunch of quirky songs from Cass McCombs. The artist who walks you right up to the threshold of a memorable melody only to reach over and ring the bell of the slightly grumpy neighbours next door. Frustrating at times, but features some really great bass lines.
Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
There’s a typically eclectic feel to the new Deerhunter album. On ‘Greenpoint Gothic’, for example, Gary Numan is surely in the house. For the most part, though, this is a fine bunch of exciting indie riffs for guitar and keyboards. Oh heaven. ‘Element’ is a particular highlight in the earworm department and it’s a great song to drive to.
Hand Habits – Placeholder
Don’t be fooled by the slightly shy-sounding vocals. There’s plenty of power to the songs on Meg Duffy’s second solo album. Most are about relationships of different types and, typically, there’s a sadness to the outcomes. There, though, the similarity with The Delines ends.
This is a time of looking forward. To the familiar artists that will return. To the new artists that will be discovered. This year, like any other, comes with a wish list. Some albums will never materialise. Others will slightly disappoint. A few will remain life-long friends. Fingers crossed for the latter. In no particular order, apart from alphabetical, my 2018 wish list includes new releases by Alela Diane, Anäis Mitchell, Bill Callahan, Caitlin Harnett, Cat Power, East River Pipe, Field Report, First Aid Kit, Jacob Golden, Jenny Lewis, Jessica Pratt, Jim White, Jonathan Wilson, Laura Veirs, Lewis & Clarke, Pearl Charles, Phosphorescent, Pinegrove, Richard Edwards, The Delines, Vetiver, Wooden Shjips, Wye Oak and the artist formerly known as Young Man.
And yet, there is a special place in the 2018 wish list for a new album by Kramies (pronunciation to be determined). With rumours going back at least a couple of decades, there are unconfirmed reports that an album is finally on its way and that Ireland had some part to play in it. We wait with fingers crossed, though we have learned not to hold our breath. The hard way. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful feature by Shon Cobbs and his Behind The Scenes colleagues from Denver. It features Kramies answering questions and sometimes asking them too. Plus a lot of laughing.
Part 2 of the year’s best albums. We’re counting down in reverse order.
First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
The Söderberg sisters have voices made in heaven. But is everything tickety-boo in their Swedish paradise on earth? Last time, the Lion Roared. This time, it expressed more than a little self doubt. Perhaps it was the influence of that Conor Oberst chap. More of him next time.
Miranda Lambert – Platinum
The songs were no more spontaneous than the cover photo. But the lyrics were genuinely amusing at times. And there was a greater confidence to the song-writing than before. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, it’s artificial. It’s the CMA’s best album of the year for goodness sake. But don’t hold that against it. Too much.
The Delines – Colfax
The Delines did not win anything at the CMAs. Late night stories of relationships gone bad long ago. Jobs that are barely worth the name. And all told against the background of a mournful guitar. This was Willy Vlautin in a different incarnation, but still at the top of his game.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Rosanne Cash took us on a very personal journey. Memories tinged with all sorts of emotions. But the highlight was the playing, which was, unsurprisingly, top notch. And ‘A Feather’s Not A Bird’ was one of the year’s great songs.
Field Report – Marigolden
Field Report tell serious stories. And they tell them very slowly and deliberately. All of which should be a real downer. But no. Chris Porterfield and Co. wrap the stories up in lovely melodies. And this time, they added a little hint of electronic jiggery-pokery to their more traditional Americana.
The Delines – Colfax
In 2011 Richmond Fontaine delivered one of the best albums of the year. Set in a small logging community, The High Country was a simple, but powerful album-length story of love, jealousy and, without giving away too much of the plot, murder. Partly narrated, partly sung, it was the culmination of Willy Vlautin’s work to that time. The acclaimed novelist and the established songwriter coming together to create something genuinely new. It was a tough act follow and it’s perhaps no surprise that, since then, Vlautin has focused almost exclusively on the long form of his writing, not least because he’s so much in demand. Now, though, he’s back musically and in a super-group of sorts. With help from members of his own band, The Decemberists, The Damnations, and others, many of the themes on Colfax will be familiar to long-time Richmond Fontainers. Confessions of couples clinging to relationships because they’ve little else going on in their lives. Vignettes from folk in crummy jobs who see only the prospect of precariousness in front of them. The narratives are no less moving for being familiar. On the contrary, it’s the everyday familiarity that makes them so moving. Musically, despite the 1950s name, things are never bent on big balladry or faux doowoppery. Instead, the sound is understated. The guitars weep almost continuously, but imperceptibly. And if the careworn vocals sound similar to those of Deborah Kelly on The High Country, then it’s because her sister, Amy Boone, is centre stage this time. Colfax is an exceptional album. Songs like ‘Calling In’, ’82nd Street’, and ‘Colfax Avenue’ itself would grace any Richmond Fontaine album. Yet it’s much more than just a Willy Vlautin solo album with a female vocalist. ‘Sandman’s Coming’ with just piano and vocals is a case in point. And, without giving away too much, no one gets murdered.
For Folk’s Sake review
The Line Of Best Fit review
Irish Times review