‘Best of’ year-end lists are very subjective, being subject to the individual musical tastes of the compiler and my list, of course, is no different. Thus, the albums I have named (in no particular order) are simply the newly released ones that I enjoyed listening to the most during 2014.
Love and Gravity – Mary Fahl: This newest album by Mary Fahl recalls the glory days of her now defunct group October Project and excels them. Fahl’s rich contralto voice sounds as good as ever with no fillers here. Each track is a treasure, but a few standouts warrant special mention. It is hard to imagine a siren more spellbinding than in the song, “Siren,” and Fahl’s cover of “Both Sides Now” sounds like the song was written especially for her, infusing it with a deep emotional introspection I never appreciated before (not to take away from Collins’ timeless original). Then there is the beautiful memorial, “The Dawning of the Day,” written for the fallen firefighter heroes of 9/11. This is a stunning album from start to finish.
Read more »
John Fullbright, Woodyfest 2011, Okemah, OK
“I have no doubt that in a very short time John Fullbright will be a household name in American music.” – Jimmy Webb
“[At SXSW], this young Oklahoman’s name was on everybody’s lips.” – American Songwriter
In a graveyard on the north side of the small rural town of Okemah, Oklahoma, where 23-year-old John Fullbright was raised (and still resides) are two tombstones marking the graves of two very different men. One is on the east side of the cemetery; the other on the west. In between the two is where Fullbright says he’d like his own tombstone to be placed. Why? Because the two tombstones bear the names of the two most influential people in his life – his grandpa and Woody Guthrie. It is the subject of a song Fullbright wrote called “Tombstone,” one of the standout tracks on a live recording of a concert he performed three years ago at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City bearing the simple title of Live at the Blue Door. It was not promoted nationally, but it was an attention-getter for those who heard it (it set sales records at the 2009 Woodyfest, the annual folk festival honoring Woody Guthrie), and Fullbright has continued to promote the album through a heavy touring schedule with his shows steadily gaining him a growing fan base one gig at a time.
The recording project was simple – a one-man show with just a voice, a guitar, and a harmonica, but lest you are thinking (like I was) that this by definition spells ‘boring’, think again. I was surprised at the depth and fullness that is generated by this one-man band and captured in the live recording. Thirteen of its 17 tracks are Fullbright’s own compositions, and he writes surprisingly insightful and mature lyrics that belie his youth (he was a mere 21 years old then, but had already become a favorite at outdoor music festivals before he was out of high school). He is able to create quite a sound all by himself, slapping the guitar strings with such fervor that the lack of a drumset is not even noticed, and gives a unique vocal delivery that makes the listener stand up and take notice.
Read more »
When I wrote a recent review on Kate Campbell’s last album, Two Nights in Texas, I predicted that we would be treated to a new one from her any time. Well, the time is here – the new CD, 1000 Pound Machine, was released April 3, 2012, on Kate’s independent Large River Music label, and it’s a beauty filled with all the Southern folk charm that fans have come to expect in a Kate Campbell album. Her unique stamp is imprinted all over the tracklist, including songs about the American South of Kate’s youth, people of the South (famous and not-so-famous), gospel tinged spirituals, a love song, a Mississippi delta blues piece, and a couple of instrumentals. This time around, though, the arrangements are sparser and the music more subdued. It is a beautifully cohesive album held together by an overall “lay-your-burdens-down” kind of theme offering rest for the weary and peace for the troubled soul. This is comfort food at its most palatable, served up in classy southern soul fashion.
Read more »
When country/folk-roots singer songwriter Kate Campbell opens her mouth to sing, you definitely know she’s from the Deep South – telltale signs ooze from her every syllable. But this southern bred artist from Mississippi is no country bumpkin. Her inherited country twang is tempered by a polished refinement and beautiful expression that adds irresistible charm to her voice, captivating audiences and drawing them into her southern world which is the birthplace of such notable writers as Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor. Kate’s formative years were spent in Sledge, Mississipi during the height of the civil rights movement and much of her music is inspired by her coming-of-age experiences as a young middle-class white girl during those tumultuous times. As the daughter of a Baptist minister, she was exposed to a heavy dose of spiritual singing, having grown up singing hymns out of the Baptist Hymnal that proclaimed a love for God and fellow man at a time and locale where paradoxical community attitudes abounded. She also grew up listening to a melting pot of music on the radio, including country, folk, pop, R&B and southern rock – all played on the same radio station. Her songwriting is a hodge-podge of all these diverse influences. Many of her compositions are autobiographical yet presented in a way that reveals the bigger picture of universal humanity, and her talent for singing her stories is every bit as evident as the talents of the authors previously mentioned whose works she admires and to whom she is often compared. Her CD booklets frequently include some of her favorite quotes from these literary giants and others.
Read more »