The Wilders "Throwdown" (Rural Grit Records)
Goes well with an upright microphone and raw power.
Bluegrass music has come a long way since the early days of Bill Monroe and the original Blue Grass Boys. Such bands as Union Station and Mountain Heart have perfected a slick and virtuosic musical form that, while clearly impressive, lacks the raucousness of early bluegrass.
Enter the Wilders. With their second album, the Midwestern quartet furthers the idea that "rough" is not necessarily bad. Produced by Dirk Powell, the album sounds like a band surrounding a single upright microphone, picking and belting harmonies with full effort no reverb or compression. The band is driven by guitarist Ike Sheldon, whose singing is powerful and satisfyingly imperfect. Sheldon's vocals are backed by the sometimes-scratchy and expressive fiddling of Betse Ellis, bassist Nate Gawron and multi-instrumentalist Phil Wade (as well as Powell playing fiddle on a very driving "Jenny on the Railroad").
If you find the sleek animal that is Nashville bluegrass to be lacking in raw spirit, check out the Wilders they are full of it. ****> Josh Bearman
"Classic Labor Songs" (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
Goes well with Upton Sinclair or Howard Zinn books.
If you appreciate the 40-hour workweek, competitive wages and workers' rights, you have the labor movement of the early 20th century to thank. Without these efforts, you probably wouldn't have the time to be reading this right now you'd be working. The songs here chronicled the labor movement's early struggles and successes, giving voice to a period of great upheaval. This is, to say the least, powerful and moving music.
Woody Guthrie's "1913 Massacre" tells the story of the Western Federation of Miners, who were burned alive (73 children were smothered or trampled to death) on Christmas Eve because they committed the crime of wanting safer working conditions. "Talking Union," performed by the Almanac Singers, is a call to arms for workers to rise up against crooked bosses and companies to fight for what we (shamefully) take for granted today.
Not all of the tunes are successful in translating the issues of the day. Newer renditions of labor standards (painfully evidenced by the lifeless R&B of "We Just Come Here to Work Here" by Anne Feeney) fail to capture the immediacy of the originals. Though it's an uneven release, "Classic Labor Songs" still packs a mighty punch. *** Chris Bopst
Corinne Bailey Rae "Corinne Bailey Rae" (Capitol Records) Goes well with hip coffee shops, refined cocktail parties and Jill Scott.
This Leeds chanteuse is sure to generate a buzz across the pond once her music reaches the masses. Along the lines of Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae's delicate and distinctive voice spans generations and will end up being played at hip coffee shops and refined cocktail parties alike. Her debut disc blends acoustic strums with eased R&B grooves and embraces both a retro Motown sound and the modern trip-hop of Zero 7 and Martina Topley-Bird.
Rae is organic and aching, sassy and 100 percent soul. "Choux Pastry Heart" smolders with sparse arrangements, pure vocals and heartbreak, while "Put Your Records On" revels in bliss with bass bumps, strings and a hint of Hammond organ blues. The up-tempo "Call Me When You Get This" is worthy of cranking the dial with an infectious drum-kick intro and brass blasts that find Rae serving up funk like Jill Scott. At just 26, this singer-songwriter has penned a classic. **** Hilary Langford
Brightblack Morning Light "Brightblack Morning Light" (Matador)
Goes well with a few friends watching the sunset on your balcony.
They have long, greasy hair and beads around their necks, and the songwriting credits say "Written by N.D. Shineywater in a tent, tipi or far off the foot trails of the Point Reyes National Seashore." So, yeah, Brightblack Morning Light is made up of seriously committed back-to-nature hippies. But the music on this second album has nothing to do with the free-form jams we've come to associate with such bands.
Instead, Brightblack opts for slow, spacious grooves focusing on Shineywater's guitar and luscious boy/girl harmonies with R.A. Hughes, who also plays a soulful Fender Rhodes. Gospel and blues mix with the ghostly slow-core of bands like Low to form an album that's about mood more than songs. Variety is beside the point the tracks never rise above a whisper, and chord changes are almost nonexistent but the record as a whole carries a palpable late-evening pastoral vibe. It's disciplined and focused music that'll bring to mind Mazzy Star, Dusty Springfield and Spiritualized at their most narcotic. **** Mark Richardson