SAMANTHA CRAIN & THE MIDNIGHT SHIVERS – SONGS IN THE NIGHT


Though this album came out early in 2009, it took her coming through town for me to decide to check the cd out. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I put the cd in my car but it certainly isn’t what I got.

What I got was 11 tracks of lyrics piled high with dark overtures and melancholy undertones riding on top of a country/rock bounce and shuffle musical accompaniment. While the music and songs themselves are good enough, it’s Samantha’s voice itself that I find truly captivating. Her voice and enunciation somehow manage to be both odd and completely captivating at the same time. In fact, her diction is so unusual that I was taken aback to find out she’s from Oklahoma rather than some far off country.

As I said earlier, this album has been out for quite sometime and there are plenty of reviews out there for you to read from Rolling Stone to The New York Times and our good internet friends over at Love Shack Baby are probably the biggest Samantha Crain fans I know of, so if you want more words go check all of them out. Me, I’m just gonna bow out with some sounds:

Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers – Devil’s In Boston
Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers – Scissor Tales
Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers – Rising Sun

Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers’ Official Site, Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers on lala, Buy Songs In The Night

WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION – WPA

WPA

With the word “collective” bringing images of hippies and the faint scent of patchouli to mind I wouldn’t normally jump on a band that defines themselves as such however if you start tossing around names like Glen Phillips and Sean Watkins I start putting aside preconceptions and take notice. Tell me they just released an album and you’ll get me excited. Well that’s just what’s happened. Works Progress Administration has released WPS. I can’t figure out how to describe Works Progress Administration so I’ll just them do it in their own words:

WPA is an expandable collective, with Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett), Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek) and Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) at its core.

We will usually appear as a 5 piece (listed as Core Band on the tour page), but whenever possible we will have 7 or 8 people (Expanded Band). All configurations will kick ass.

WPA is:

  • Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket) – vocals, guitar
  • Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family) – guitar, vocals
  • Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band, Lyle Lovett) – fiddle, vocals, guitar

Executive Board Members:

  • Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) – fiddle, vocals
  • Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) – piano, organ
  • Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell) – pedal steel
  • Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello and the Imposters) – drums
  • Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Cracker) – bass

Audio Archivist:

  • Jim Scott (Wilco, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rolling Stones)

Yeah…so the concept of having an executive board for a band eludes me completely and I don’t even want to try and wrap my head around music made by committee. What I do know is that this album is good. It’s an album that will have a place in my rotation for a long time. It doesn’t come out of the back room and hit you in the head with a baseball bat to get you to take notice. It’s more like the girl next door that you didn’t notice for years and then one day you didn’t remember not noticing her. At least that’s how it happened for me. I shoved it in my rotation at work the day I got it and never paid it much attention. Then one day I noticed I was singing one of the tracks while I was walking to my truck and it hit me: “That’s a damn good album!” So I dug it out of the playlist and gave it a good listen and was amazed. I think that’s the way it had to happen.

I guess the concept of a musical collective isn’t all that far-fetched even for me for instance I used to love Pigface back in the day but something about the way this album is put together is just right. You can tell these are seasoned artists and their chemistry can’t be denied. It’s not my usual whiskey sodden fare for review but it’s a strong album that won’t leave you disappointed. You can pick this one up over at the WPA website and I highly reccommend that you do. Pick it up and just drop it into your random shuffle and you won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile enjoy a couple-a-three tracks off of WPA:

Works Progress Administration – A Wedding Or A Wake
Works Progress Administration – Remember Well
Works Progress Administration – The Price

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: THE LOW ANTHEM


Remember when bands made records? Not ten-song collections of iTunes downloads, but complete, thematic bodies of work meant to be analyzed and appreciated as such? It is worth noting that, while the “single” as a concept has been around since long before Steve Jobs revolutionized portable and digital music, many of the most enduring songs of the last half-century were elements of larger artistic statements (“Like a Rolling Stone,” “London Calling,” and “Purple Rain,” to name a few).

With Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, The Low Anthem have crafted a collection of sparse, dynamic songs which, lo and behold compliment one another sonically and thematically. Imagine that. OMGCD deals, in large part, with the terrifying spectre of the American cultural landscape, where prayers are cast into the stratosphere via text message and photographs are “processed,” not developed. At its core, OMGCD is a collection of hymns sung to Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Woody Guthrie, to a country plowed under and built over. As stark as that image may be, The Low Anthem delivers these twelve songs beautifully, the tension palpable but not overwhelming, the fear and anger brimming but not boiling over.

OMGCD was initially released in 2008 as a limited-edition, hand-painted CD and subsequently released when The Low Anthem – Ben Knox Miller, Jeff Prystowsky and Jocie Miller, the three of whom met while students at Brown – signed with Nonesuch. The re-release garnered The Low Anthem glowing reviews from Uncut, Rolling Stone and a number of other publications, and recognition from Bruce Springsteen and Ray Lamontagne. That’s all fine and good – who doesn’t enjoy the occasional accolade – but the fact is The Low Anthem were going to get recognized at some point. Songs this good will always have an audience.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth mentioning that I just spent a week on tour in support of The Low Anthem, but that run of shows only served to support my opinion that somebody – or, rather, many people – ought to be championing this band. As good as OMGCD is – and make no mistake, it is a very, very good album – the songs are so vital when performed, they take on an almost primal quality. There’s a gravity there that isn’t nearly as evident on the record. Likewise, Miller’s vocals are at once searing and tender live, while the treatment of vocals on the album borrows slightly from Iron and Wine, treading the line between atmospheric and over-processed. The discrepancy between performances on the album and in a live setting is not great – great musicians tend to sound good in any format – but it’s enough that in order to really appreciate The Low Anthem, you’ve got to see the show. Think of the performance as a companion piece to the album, or vice versa.

Some recommendations come with a caveat, “before you pick up this record, you should know…” This is not one. The Low Anthem is a band you need to hear.

The Low Anthem – To The Ghosts Who Write History Books
The Low Anthem – Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around

The Low Anthem’s Official Site, The Low Anthem on myspace, Buy Oh My God, Charles Darwin