Two new albums have burrowed their way into my soul as we head into the fall of 2015 - so good! Would like to grab you, make you listen to 'em... but since that would be kind of weird, I'll tell you about them instead.
One exceeds expectations and the other is a pleasant surprise.
Had some high hopes for the new Blitzen Trapper album All Across This Land - can happily say it's great - a timeless masterpiece. No lie.
And Cambridge, Massachusetts based Darlingside's new release Birds Say is the unexpected pleasure - though I knew of the band, I hadn't heard their music before this album. The stunning harmonies from this four piece shine here - their vocal alchemy is powerful stuff.
Let's start with Blitzen Trapper - been playing the title track on the radio. Heard an album stream early, too. But it's one thing to hear it on your computer and at work... and another thing entirely to drive along with it blasting on your car stereo. And this is one you really should blast on your car stereo - great driving album! Took it out for a "test drive" when I finally got the CD.
It is a real trick to release an album that's timeless enough to sound like it could have come out in the 1970's yet doesn't sound dated today. Blitzen Trapper have managed that with All Across This Land. They've even divided the songs into "Side One" and "Side Two" - and to me they sound like two sides, with slightly different personalities: side one the public, side two the personal.
Side one opens with the fresh-air blast of the title cut, a call to action, to hit the road or take off on some more musical journey. That's followed by four more tightly written straight-ahead rootsy rockers: the classic stage call out "Rock and Roll (Was Made For You)", the autobiographical sounding "Mystery and Wonder" with the narrator and his muse given the names of the title's abstracts, "Love Grow Cold" drawing subjects back to the somewhat personal before the "side" wraps up with "Lonesome Angel", where a musician on the road sings to his love at home a sweet, intimate country-rock love song.
Side two feels a little less universal in tone, more specific and concrete. Maybe it's the geography - Oregon shows up in the first track, "Nights Were Made for Love", and the "Cadillac Road" of the next sounds as real as the story it tells as it unfolds - if fictional, it echoes many folks' realities. "Let The Cards Fall" and "Even If You Don't" return us to more traditional themes before our narrator takes a dive into the water between this life and the next, visiting his father, in the beautiful closing ballad "Across The River".
All Across This Land is a crisp, fresh new entry in the annals of the Great American Rock Tradition, building on the foundations of those who came before, everyone from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Graham Parsons, to John Mellencamp, Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Jackson Browne and more. Instead of worrying about sounding like anyone, they borrow a bit from everyone and serve up a sound both traditional and new, and entirely their own - pure Blitzen Trapper!
Darlingside also manage to make the traditional sound new. This new version of the band, which has been around for a few years, is a four piece with a greater focus on stripped down instrumentation and vocal harmonies, a more traditional folk-style approach. But the harmony "voice" they've created singing in unison transcends genre labels the way Crosby Stills and Nash did, the way Fleet Foxes did. And it's real - they played live in the studio at the radio station (link is below) - they're powerful performers very conscious of their dynamic and their unified sound.
As a jaded ol' radio Music Director, you wouldn't think I'd be susceptible to it, but the song "Do You Ever Live?" actually moved me, drew a tear to my eyes when listening to lyrics and the harmonies soar in the middle of the song - right song, right time on a few levels. Other favorites include "Go Back" - the lead track at radio; "The Ancestor" which opens up the album and "White Horses" which follows; "The God of Loss" which they played live in the studio; "Good For You" feels like a hidden gem, tucked in as it is at album's end.
"Harrison Ford" shows off the band's virtuosity and clever side - maybe a little too clever, but they get away with it here. My only complaint might be that it feels a little short. A few songs here fall on the short side - "Water Rose" for example is very brief, just a lush sketch, really. In fairness, it's almost more an intro to "Do You..." than a stand-alone piece. But even the longer tunes feel a little short in a good way; sign of a classic - when immersed in the sounds, you never want the songs to end.
If you're looking for real music, the good stuff, get these two albums, Blitzen Trapper All Across This Land and Darlingside Birds Say. My musical experience this year has been narrow and deep, getting into just a few albums, but getting into those releases all the way through. These two now make the cut. Maybe I shouldn't gush about these albums like this? I mean - I've met these guys, both bands. Blitzen Trapper and I follow each other on Twitter. I've exchanged emails with Darlingside. May be a bit embarrassing to be so enthused?
Nah. This is what I do. Tell you what's good, so you can get it.
BONUS: Here's Darlingside live with me in The Point Studios: