Friday, May 20, 2011
grass|roots :: four acoustic acts for your consideration
By Jon Stone | @jwstone - November 29, 2010
grass|roots ep. 7
The year is fading quickly. Soon you will be bombarded with lists a plenty, including several here, declaring the top ArcadeKanyeNationalSufjan records of the year. Before that, however, I wanted to throw down a final four records from 2010 that fit somewhere within the wide net I've been calling grass|roots. Each of these bands/artists put out great records this year that, I would guess, have been largely overlooked in mainstream circles. Ease into the first day back from turkey by getting acquainted with some acoustic music from some very talented smiths of the song.
Chatham County Line - Wildwood
First, I direct your attention to Chatham County Line and their record Wildwood. They are a North Carolina quartet that walk a lovely line between traditional bluegrass and indie folk. The first time I heard them, I could have sworn it was Jim James on lead vocals, but no -- that's lead singer/songwriter Dave Wilson who, uncharacteristicly for a bluegrass band, has a soft reverb on the vocal mic that adds a layer or warmth to the songs on Wildwood. The record has a few other non-traditional elements on it that set it apart/make it awesome. The harmonica on "Crop Comes In" (see above) is super sweet and it crops up in several other songs giving them a rustic, bluesy sound. Also, a drum kit often kicks in and kicks things up a notch or two. Add the multi-voice harmonies and great songwriting to the mix and Wildwood is in the top 3 great bluegrass releases of the year.
If you dig into them and like what you hear, these guys are veterans; they have four other amazing records released over the last 10 years you should check out.
The Giving Tree Band - The Joke, the Threat, and the Obvious
Also great is another just-this-side of traditional group,The Giving Tree Band from Chicago. In addition to their laid back bluegrass/string-band sound, they represent a fascinating example of sustainable musical production. These dudes play instruments made from the wood of fallen trees. Seriously. They record their music in buildings powered by solar and wind energy. Their albums are printed and packaged with 100% recycled materials. They plant trees to offset pollution created by the distrabution of those records. They are the real deal, people. In the midst of such greenery, they've also put out a lovely record that deserves your attention. You may have caught them opening for Frontier Ruckus a few weeks back and they will also be playing the Chicago Bluegrass Festival next weekend in Chicago.
Doug Paisley - Constant Companion
The first thing I notice on Doug Paisley's sophomore release Constant Companion is the keys. It's kind a strange thing to stand out on a mostly acoustic record built around the voice and guitar of a great song writer -- but sometimes it's the nuances on an album that make it shine. The Hammond B3 on the opening track (and others) as well as the amazing piano work throughout centers this record and sweetens in in a way that makes it the perfect afternoon chill music. Doug Paisley has been aptly compared to Bonnie "Prince" Billy. What separates the one from the other, though, is that the latter as a moniker for Will Oldham operates as a kind of smoke screen -- you're never sure, even through the ache, when Oldham is being honest and when he is inventing. With Paisley, there's never a question.
John Shade - All You Love is Need
Finally, early in the year a friend introduced me to the solo artist John Shade and his debut record All You Love is Need. We featured John on a podcast back in April. All You Love is Need was recorded in Bon Iver's cabin in Wisconsin by Justin's brother Nate Vernon late last year and is, simply, a charming record that I've listened to again and again throughout the year. I'm just sorry I haven't given the album a more distinctive shout-out earlier. Pick up his record over at bandcamp for whatever you'd like to pay.