I know very little about Valerie June, and aspire to keep it that way. A natural mystery swirls around this woman similarly to the tresses emanating from her topside like a living, organic crown. Valerie June seems more apparition than woman vanishing and appearing in the most random moments like a mythical character born in the mind of an early European troubadour that goes on to become a seminal player in mythology. She’s like a damsel in the middle of some struggle pitting man vs. Gods for the right to sit in audience with her siren melodies; the Gods coveting the beauty of her tone, but the claim belonging to man since the vessel of such beauty is a mortal. The imagination Valerie June can evoke is a greater audio enhancement than any studio magic can muster, and is one of her music’s greatest attributes.
Shakey Graves is quickly becoming an inspiring independent roots music success story and in a big way, despite what seem to be his best efforts to remain as unassuming, humble, and non-commercial as possible, while people gladly shove dollar bills at him left and right for his music that speaks to them in such a crafty and sincere manner. He’s becoming sort of a unknown superstar, a cult enigma, not from sly marketing, but because he’s really as socially awkward and troubled, yet full of light and brilliance as he seems, all while still coming across as unusually grounded and affable for someone with such a robust creative spark. He’s simply a dude who wants to share his songs with you, and remains as surprised as anyone how much his simple, one man presentation has been embraced warmly by appreciative, attentive, and distinguishing fans of roots music and songwriting.
Shakey has recently secured a band for a different approach to his music, and will be releasing his new album And The War Came on October 7th from Dualtone Records.
Nickel Creek: Better together than apart. That’s for sure. They certainly can’t be blamed for wanting to take some time for themselves when they announced back in 2006 that they’d be going on an indefinite hiatus. What a wild ride they’d endured; starting off in a pizza joint when the oldest member of the trio was only twelve, to getting swept up in the whole bluegrass craze that ushered in the 2000”²s on the heels of O’ Brother and Alison Krauss producing a Grammy-nominated album for them. Brother and sister Sean and Sara Watkins, and Chris Thile are lifers, but they needed to take some time to discover life beyond each other.
But maybe it took Nickel Creek’s separation to truly realize the virtues each player possessed, both as a listener, and for the player’s themselves. With lessons learned and life beyond Nickel Creek explored, they can come together once again to create fellowship through music and share it with an audience hungry from the seven year hiatus.
Possessed By Paul James
If there is one artist who can completely lose himself in the music and let it take over every fabric of their being, and then commune that complete loss of self with the crowd to where the experience borders on the religious, it is Texas school teacher turned music madman and spiritual medium Possessed by Paul James. With Possessed By Paul James, it’s not just about the music and words, it’s about the entire human experience, the bubbling up of emotion and memory with music simply being the excuse. You will walk away from a Possessed by Paul James experience a changed person.
With a gift for poetry like Townes Van Zandt, and a penchant for the whimsical, progressive approach to bluegrass akin to John Hartford, you never know exactly what you’ll get with Robbie Fulks. If you’re confused already, that is right where Robbie wants you; intrigued, guessing, and on your toes about what’s coming next, with the long-time Fulks fans following him since the first slew of late 90”²s Bloodshot albums fully knowing whatever it is, it is going to be good.
Robbie released a stunningly entertaining, brilliantly-balanced, deep, and instantly-engaging comeback album called Gone Away Backward in 2013, and it went on to be nominated for Saving Country Music’s 2013 Album of the Year.
From the tales of dying and dismembered men, to the disenfranchised, homeless, lost souls and forgotten, they are all canonized through Charlie’s honesty and amazing clarity into perspective. Charlie doesn’t sing about subjects in third person, he becomes the subject of his songs in an uncanny channeling of character, and makes the story flesh and bone right before your eyes.
That is, until his latest about called Hollandale that is an instrumental master work and maybe the most stunning album of his 12-album career. Hollandale is a leap beyond measure, with no regard for the firmness of the landing. It is an act of both faith and improvisation, but bound and directed by the unspoken communion between a master musician and his instrument, immersed in the inspirational atmosphere that permeates an artist as he submits himself wholly to the musical experience and allows it to breathe through him.
The Black Lillies
The Sadies from Toronto, Canada should be modern day music gods. All they do is stand on their head every time they put on a live show or release an album, throwing a proverbial musician’s clinic with their cutting-edge instrumentation and jawbreaking prowess. Their music appeals to a broad panoramic of the music listening public: from punks, to country, to mod, surf, blues, rockers, and rockabilly types alike, moving through influences with ease and credibility from their adept and studious knowledge of American music modes.
Though they might be best known for backing up such big names as Neko Case, John Doe, Jon Langford, or Andre Williams, in both the recorded and live formats, they really shine when they simply let loose as their own band. The Sadies are like a controlled explosion, shocking you with how good they are, bringing mod style and stupid good musicianship to the country & western context.
One of the founding members of Old Crow Medicine Show who left the formidable throwback outfit back in 2011, Willie Watson has re-emerged with a new album and a very, very old approach to country and folk music. Willie took what he did with Old Crow Medicine Show and boiled it down even further to the kernel of his creative genius where he’s channeling with almost ghostly authenticity the very folk singers, country troubadours, and blues men he seeks to resurrect through his music. Stern faced and focused, he comes out and sings with such a fierceness, dedication, and heart to the emotions and humanity behind the stories he’s singing about, Willie Watson comes across more like Woody Guthrie than Woody Guthrie.
His new album Folk Singer Vol. 1 comes very highly recommended.