1. Clutching Stems
2. Light on the Narrow Gauge
3. Fallen and Falling
4. Ignore the Bell
5. Oh Cristina
6. Caught Don’t Walk
7. Breaking Up on the Beat
8. Into the Straight
9. Hey Jack I’m on Fire
10. Life Less True
It’s been 14 years since Ladybug Transistor made the move from Park N’ Ride Records (with whom they only released their debut Marlborough Farms) to Chapel Hill-based Merge Records. Throughout that time they have been remarkably consistent in their sound, especially when considering the tumultuous turn-over in band members. Only one original Ladybug Transistor member remains with the band, do-it-all frontman Gary Olson. The newest incarnation of the band still retains Julia Rydholm (of Essex Green fame) and Kyle Forester (Crystal Stilts), but as usual also brings an infusion of new talent, including Mark Dzula of Jukebox Radio and Eric Farber of the Lisps.
Clutching Stems once again remains true to the band’s original multi-influential sound that weaved lo-fi, indie pop, psych-folk, jazz, and baroque pop into one beautiful sonic fabric. From the very beginning of the album, faithful fans of the band know there will once again be no disappointment, despite a slight shift in tone. Immediately, you can tell there is more energy behind Clutching Stems, but not so much that it changes any major aspect in the overall style. The rise in volume, pace, crispness, and color might, to the untrained ear, seem like a clear motion away from lo-fi, but on the contrary it is merely another step in the natural progression in the genre. This is one of the key bands that inspired the lo-fi pop movement that has been in bloom for the last few years, and you can hear the influence they have given to bands like Girls still crystal clear in their newest work. Just because it’s not roughed up by static and distortion does not change its lo-fi status.
The title track and opener is a perfect representation of their mastery of the genre. There is a tightness that permeates the song, a sharpness of execution despite all the movement and the openly free feeling. It is moderate in its speed, but quick enough to be a perfect lead-in to the dreamily delirious pace of “Light on the Narrow Gauge” (our favorite track off Clutching Stems here at theanimalscankillyou). This second track is a beautiful exploration of balance in arrangement, scaling drawn-out backing synthesizers against frenetic guitars and slick percussion. The beautiful harmonies between Olson and Rydholm merely add to the audible loveliness of this song, as they have done for years.
Similarly sweet, the album continues on with “Fallen and Falling”, “Ignore the Bell”, and another of our favorites, “Oh Cristina”. The latter begins with a sort of odd, experimental intro of sampled random chatter and sea sounds over a soft guitar. Just as the samples and guitar fade into silence, Olson’s voice takes charge of the song,
It really gives you away
When your heels begin to spark.
From the end of the line,
From your seaside Soviet bloc.
Oh can’t you see it
Was not me who believed
That love would tear us apart?
You break free,
I’ll meet you at three
Just under the boardwalk clock.”
The song tells a tale of love lost, taking on a ghostly, persistently haunting charm. This is in part due to the heart-snagging lyrics, and also to the vivid and driving violin that shreds through the saccharine acoustic pop guitar. Absolutely lovely song.
The rest of the album is chock full of hidden gems that you won’t hear played on the radio anywhere, but certainly must check out for yourself. The organs on “Into the Straight”, the jazzy trumpets on “Caught Don’t Walk”, the loose guitar and naked lyrics on “Hey Jack I’m on Fire”. There is something endearing about every song, and about Clutching Stems on the whole. The transitions are wonderful, the songs themselves delightful to listen to, the lyrics mature and soul-grasping, the mix and production value both keen and yet not too audacious. We have always liked Ladybug Transistor, but absolutely love this album. It marks their ascendancy from coming-of-age indie journeymen to true masters of lo-fi pop, and is one we’ll be playing on repeat for quite a while. Go get this album, and check them out live while you still can in the prime of their artistry.
1. It’s Beyond Me
2. Worse for Wear
3. Can’t You Tell
4. Hard to Break
5. Fog Emotion
6. Right Away
7. Wonder Why
8. Ride Ride Ride
9. Faint Praise
10. Soft Grass
Alright, all you indie folk lovers out there, we’ve got a cool week ahead for you. We’ll start it off by talking about the new album from Vetiver. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the acoustic folk-rock once-side-project of former Raymond Brake frontman Andy Cabic. If you’re not, you’ve been missing out. Their 2004 self titled LP brought them to the forefront of the independent folk scene; soft-spoken, simple, and straightforward, it was not groundbreaking but was delightful nonetheless. The Errant Charm, as much of their work since 2004, is less of an exploration of pastel music. It is still very chilled out, but with a broader, bolder approach. There are more instruments, more moving parts, a heavier focus on percussion, and less of the finger-picking Elliott Smith-esque guitar style, traded in for a sound more akin to that of several other artists in the same genre recently, most notably Junip and the Dodos.
The album is largely distant and hushed, broken up by a few more piquant tracks. “Hard to Break” for instance, is far more crisp and sweet than the first couple songs. Its guitar line engages the mind, where “It’s Beyond Me” and “Worse for Wear” lull the mind to sleep with their muffled, yawning nature. Unfortunately, “Hard to Break” suffers from its own ailments: namely, pedestrian love song lyrics that are not nearly what you would expect from an artist of this caliber. The track that follows is kind of campy, and altogether oscitant. “Fog Emotion” opens with a cheesy percussion intro, and continues on with idle guitars and vocals, and a backing synth that is unnecessary, distracting, and not particularly well executed. The best thing that can be said of “Fog Emotion” is that it’s followed by the best song on the album.
“Right Away” also is introed by a similarly pointless percussion line, but quickly moves on from that into enthusiastically rolling guitars and easy but ardent vocals. Until this point in the album, The Errant Charm gave the impression of a band both trying too hard and yet not caring enough. “Right Away” and “Wonder Why” walk that delicate line with much more confidence than the previous five songs, and almost seem effortless.
Sure, there is a certain artistry to being able to create something that needs not grab its audience by the neck and drag it into enjoyment, but that can be great background music for nearly any situation. That is what Vetiver, and Cabic specifically, seem to have specialized in for the last several years. But The Errant Charm does not execute that as well as, say, their debut album or even 2009′s Tight Knit did. Perhaps it is more intended for something different, but even if it wants to find the forefront, the spotlight, the big stage, it doesn’t seem to fill that purpose particularly well either. It’s still a good album, with a couple of great songs that will surely be remembered for a long time within the scope of Vetiver’s career. On the whole, however, it is inconsistent and is far from living up to expectations of long-time fans. Borrow this album from a friend before you decide to buy it. You’ll thank me later.
It seems these days that Bon Iver’s new eponymous LP is all the craze among indie bloggers and music fanatics everywhere. This is for good reason, and probably a good sign that society is catching on to some of the more beautiful and artistic wonders out there to be beheld. Certainly, Justin Vernon is one of independent music’s most uberintelligent and arousing artists, and definitely in the league of its most creative. That was evident from the first notes of For Emma, Forever Ago to his collaborative effort as a part of Volcano Choir, and everything in between, and continues with Bon Iver. We here at theanimalscankillyou, however, intend not to fall prey to his all-absorbing charm, at least not entirely; we are taking a look at this new material and holding it to the standards set by his previous work. If we come out on the other side loving it, that will speak to its greatness far more than if we were to simply fawn over it like everyone else has been.
Where many artists seem to devolve as their popularity soars, getting caught up with boxing themselves up to fit into a conforming standard, Bon Iver has done something quite different. He has taken his experiences with (and many of the sounds and shades of) Volcano Choir and painted those into his own personal acoustic canvas, taking his career in an all-new and yet somewhat foreseeable direction. This displays both a willingness to move forwards and a firm grasp on the artist he wants to be, both of which should be commended. Tracks like “Perth”, “Holcene”, and “Calgary” are all great illustrations of this. The lilting and spiraling composition juxtaposed against his celebrated bare acoustic stylings offers quite a magnificent effect, and his heart wrenching falsetto vocals are as always awe-inspiring. Together, they blend to bathe you in the breath they just stole from your lungs, all while being quietly remote. “Towers”, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It begins with the suppressed acoustic guitar being shadowed by backing electric, but both dominated by his commanding voice divulging the unsheathed fervor of his love. This is one of the few times Vernon really turns up the heat.
“From the faun forever gone,
In the towers of your honeycomb,
I’d a tore all your hair out just to climb back darling.
When you’re filling out your only form,
Can you tell that it’s just ceremon’?
Now you’ve added up to what you’re from.”
The rest of the song catches up to his emotional excitement quickly enough, opening up into crisp and rambling drums, ascending guitars, and an accompanying chorus of strings that stream across the song like clouds casually combing the afternoon. And then, as soon as it gets rolling, it drops away and leaves you reeling.
In terms of composition, this album is worthy of every ounce of praise that can be heaped upon it. The free-flowing nature of it, the perfection of each individual song and their placement within the framework of the whole, is uncanny. The sensory landscape created by the moving parts all working towards the common, concentric goal is a thing of beauty, and something we’ve all come to look for from Vernon. Lyrically, the complexity and technical flawlessness is exactly what you might expect from Bon Iver, but with a coolness and an unagitated delivery that gives it a surprising tranquility.
Bon Iver is undoubtedly a great album, but when dealing with all-time great artists, to judge any album on its own merits is only half the battle. You have to compare it in some ways to previous works of that artist, and in doing so I think it is unavoidable to recognize that the new is just a notch short of being as legendary as the old. This isn’t to say it’s any less passionate.; actually, its passion is something to behold. But it’s ardor is in quite a different mold than that of For Emma. It’s less engaging, less intimate, less like you’re in an empty room with Vernon and his piercing warmth and more like sitting alone in the woods by the lonely stream that inspired him. That could perhaps be attributed to his utter genius. It swaps the warm but quiet simplicity of For Emma for bold complexity with a soft voice. And it does so beautifully, but it is inescapable that this is not the same album. It can be thought of as almost on the same level as its predecessor, but for vastly different reasons. Where For Emma was a true classic in every sense of the word, Bon Iver is simply a great work. Breathtakingly artistic, superbly intelligent, and a clear evolution of his sound – it is all of those things, without any question. I just can’t envision listening to this album ten years from now and remembering where I was the first time I heard it. We’re in love with Bon Iver as much as ever, but a little more excited by a few of the other folk/acoustic albums that we’ve come across lately.
Alright, indie fans. Lots of album reviews rolling in this week, but for now let’s take a quick look at live music in the Triangle and run down the shows we’re looking forward to this week. It’s not a huge week for live shows, but one in which you can catch no less than three wonderful artists.
Monday, you’ve got Alela Diane at Kings Barcade. Haven’t seen her before, but can’t imagine getting a bad show there. Not much else happening at Kings that we’re interested in, but check out their website to see if anything else catches your eye.
Local 506 has a bunch of smaller acts that we’re intrigued by, and then one big show at the end of the week. Wednesday, it’s the Elected, and then Thursday they’ve got Heaven (Americans in France and Nightdogs supporting). Then, Saturday David Bazan will be playing with Centro-Matic and Sarah Jaffe opening. Of course, Bazan is worth the price of admission alone, but don’t get there late. Sarah Jaffe is a must-see too.
The only thing of note to check out at Cat’s Cradle this week will be on Friday, when Ben Sollee plays. We love, love, love Ben Sollee here at theanimalscankillyou and can’t wait to check him out live.
Other than that (and that’s plenty), it seems like a quiet week around Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. We’re planning to be at the Bazan, Sollee, and Alela Diane shows, and look forward to seeing all you guys and gals there.
1. Family Tree
2. Modern Art
3. Spidey’s Curse
4. Mad Dog
5. Mr. Driver
6. Bicentennial Man
7. Go Out And Get It
8. Raw Meat
9. Bone Marrow
10. The Lie
12. Dumpster Dive
13. New Direction
15. Don’t Mess Up My Baby
16. You Keep On Running
The Black Lips gave us a new album last week, and one we’ve been looking forward to since seeing them tour with the Vivian Girls a few months ago. Admittedly, we here at theanimalscankillyou were drawn out more by the Vivian Girls for that show, but left equally as impressed with the Black Lips’ performance. This was for many reasons, not the least of which was the apparent and awe-inspiring talent level and craftsmanship of a a group of rock and roll masters in their prime. We were left to wonder only if their newest album would live up to the energy of their live show and the precedent set by a long and storied career (by most standards) in indie rock. By our measure, and that of just about everyone who has listened to it, Arabia Mountain lives up to both the hype and expectations of their fans and the standard they have set for themselves.
The album kicks off with a song they previewed at the show, and one that seems ripe to become a staple of their live set, “Family Tree”. There are dozens of ways to describe this song – riotous, entrancing, raucous, something you can dance to, something you can rock to – but the one common thread is plain to see. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. The simplistic pop melody juxtaposed against the wild screaming and unrestrained guitar creates a distinct sound that the Black Lips have not only made their own, but perfected over the years. Much of the album is in this mold, which is to say it is constantly breaking the molds of current music while clearly sticking to its garage rock roots. The keyboards, guitars, vocals, percussion are all at times completely wild and frenzied.
“Spidey’s Curse” is another track that caught our eye, or more to the point, our ears. It’s a fun tune, incredibly enjoyable to listen to, but a clear shift from the direction of a lot of the album. It doesn’t have that feral, savage, bloodthirsty rock and roll feeling, but takes on the opposite side of the lo fi spectrum. It is far closer to pop than anything else offered up on Arabia Mountain. This could sound like a drawback, or like longtime fans of the Black Lips might not totally enjoy it, but that is ridiculous. It is a brilliant song, both musically and lyrically (as a alternative view of the life of Spiderman’s alter ego).
Some other tracks we’ve really been digging… “Bicentennial Man”, loud and bright in its composition but darkly anti-romantic in its deeper meaning, is a great song. “Time” has the feel of a grungy and loose but well-written 60′s rock song, and is likewise great. “New Direction” similarly takes a lot of inspiration from the early days of rock and roll. Its blues guitar ceaselessly shreds through the crisp percussion, assertive vocals, and twisting bass line, blazing a path through the entire track and guiding the listener to the promised land of utter auditory bliss. This is probably our favorite track out of all 16.
All in all, Arabia Mountain is what you might expect from a band that is as unpredictable as it is teeming with underrated talent. It is all over the board – at different times sweet, twisted, dark, bright, suppressed, raw – and yet somehow it all fits into the massive walls of what you could imagine coming from the Black Lips. Perhaps it’s not as lyrically biting as their previous work, or even as venomous musically (although at times it approaches that much more closely) but it’s still rough, unpolished and virulent and bitter, and altogether beautiful. Just in that dirty sort of way that Black Lips fans love them for. We love this album, and love what we’re seeing from these Georgia boys who continue to explore their roots rather than pander to the music industry. Go ahead, buy it. It has our stamp of approval.
1. In Dreams Part II
2. If I Keep on Loving You
3. In the Suburbs
4. Bad Mammaries
5. Dear John
6. For My Mother
7. I’m So Lazy
8. There’s a Rockstar in My Room
9. I Forgot
10. I Am Useful
11. I Will Not Give In
12. Getting Rest
You may know the band Let’s Wrestle from their singles that were played all over indie rock radio in 2009. Songs like “I Won’t Lie to You” and “It’s Not Going to Happen” were huge hits in that medium, and among music blogs like us. I can’t speak for everybody, but we here at theanimalscankillyou fell in love with the band after being introduced through tracks like those, obsessing over the full-length LP from which they were taken (In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s), finding and subsequently (and repeatedly) blasting their EP and singles, and then seeing them perform live at the Cat’s Cradle last year. Perhaps it’s the vivaciousness of their music, or perhaps the pajamas / bath robes they wear on stage, but something about these guys demanded our attention at the time. Anxiously we’ve waited for new material, and now, it’s here: a brand new, full-length album called Nursing Home that rocks as much as anything they’ve produced to date.
It is pretty clear immediately what you’re in for with Nursing Home – that being a direct continuation of In the Court…, both in sound and spirit. The first track is especially evident of that idea, being a sequel to a track off the last album. “In Dreams Part II” is a colorful and off-the-wall account of several different dreams or dream-like scenarios the singer has found himself lost in, much like it’s predecessor, and is a delightfully surreal opener to what is clearly about to be a great, not good, album.
Surrealism, however, is not the distinctive aspect they are known for. In fact, quite the opposite is true – their most vibrant characteristic is often the realism within their music, the mundane topics they cover with such great artistry. The songs about partying and the nature of friendships and growing up are not a thing of the past with Let’s Wrestle; they retain many of those topics but merely explore them with a far more mature perspective. “Bad Mammaries” is a perfect example of that, as is our favorite track from Nursing Home, “If I Keep On Loving You”.
The album, as a whole, has the feel of Of Montreal’s Cherry Peel, but louder, more developed, and more based in rock-n-roll. It is whimsical and heartfelt, but at times bed-ridden (e.g. “I’m So Lazy”) and drowned out by disillusionment with society or love or people in general. Sure, Let’s Wrestle have matured as people, musicians, and songwriters in the last two years, but amazingly have done so without losing their trademark youthful choler that so endeared them to fans of underground rock. We love this album, start to finish. Every song is cool in its own unique way, and yet perfectly fits in with the rest. Buy it. Immediately.
Alright, boys and girls. After a week-long vacation from posting, we’re jumping right back into things. We left off at the end of our Album Review Blowout week, and we’ll pick up there with some albums we didn’t get around to, starting with the most important: the Reatards’ re-release of Teenage Hate.
the Reatards Teenage Hate
Thirteen years after its initial release, the Reatards give us a new, deluxe edition re-release of their debut album Teenage Hate this week. Everyone in independent music is familiar with the late Jay Reatard, but perhaps not as many are acquainted with his early work – especially the albums released with the Reatards. Full of violence, grunge, and power Teenage Hate and the rest of the early works are more than just a precursor to a great career in punk rock; they are a beast of their own dimension, a thrashing concoction of influences ranging from the oldest of old school punk rock pioneers to the close-to-home Memphis blues. You can hear not only where Jay Reatard would go in the following years, but you can hear the evolution of the entire garage punk genre and the sound of the road being paved for innumerable bands that would come to prominence in a decade that not only accepted the raucous dirtiness of punk rock but celebrated it. Sure, there were bands that helped give rise to the Reatards, but as far as independent punk and garage rock revival are concerned, Teenage Hate can and probably ought to be recognized as the predominant terminus a quo, the origin of it all.
Teenage Hate begins as any great punk album should – a crisp and riveting guitar line that convulses and flails all over, inducing immediate fury and unruliness in any speakers it traverses. The opening track is, as many of the Reatards’ songs are, short, to-the-point, and totally wild. “I’m So Gone” is a brilliant opener not only for those reasons, but because it encapsulates everything the Reatards would be in a 1:25 package and still manages to stand alone as a song of its own genius.
The rest of the album continues at this frenetic pace, like a supercharged bulldozer that crashes through everything it sees. Tracks like “I Love Living”, “You Fucked Up My Dreams”, and “Down In Flames” are all throwbacks to a time before the punk genre had been watered down and sold off to pop music. They are grimy in the most beautiful ways, chock full of screaming vocals and blazing guitar lines. The blues influence is more suppressed here, but shines through unmistakably elsewhere, in songs like “When I Get Mad” or “Not Good Enough For You”.
Every song in this collection is consistently great, and thus you have to say the entire album is phenomenal. It is a reminder of how awesome Jay Reatard’s work, especially early on, truly was, and how instrumental it would become in the foundation of a subgenre. This was the perfect time to re-release it, although I would probably feel that way if it were three years ago, or five years from now. Go get this album. Seriously. You will not regret it.
1. Shark Ridden Waters
2. Honey All Over
3. Sensations in the Dark
4. Vitamin K
5. Take a Sentence
6. Conservation Conversation
7. Christopher Columbus
8. Space Dust #2 (with Sarah Assbring)
9. At The Heart Of Love
10. Patterns Of Power
11. If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)
12. Rubble Rubble
13. Follow the Sunflower Trail (Theme Tune for a National Strike)
Gruff Rhys, the Welsh front man for Super Furry Animals, gives us his third solo album this week and, well, we’re loving it. It is a great mix of acoustic pop and electro-washed noise pop. Most of the songs on his first two albums were initially written for SFA, but either didn’t quite take the direction the band was aiming for or didn’t fit on their albums for one reason or another. Hotel Shampoo, it appears, is quite different in that regard, as though for the first time these tunes were all written with this album specifically in mind.
There are a few tracks like “Sensations in the Dark” that get a little tired by the time they’re done, but for the most part, there is very little to complain about with this album, and any form of criticism seems a bit nit-picky. The first two tracks (especially “Shark Ridden Waters”) are wonderful, innovative, and just odd enough to really grasp our ears and hearts. Tracks four and five are suppressed, soft-spoken, and absolutely golden. The next two are funky and poppy, like more serious Flight of the Conchords songs or more carefree versions of late-era Clientele songs. From there, it tones down briefly, then goes all wacky and rock-driven in “Patterns of Power”, then back to 60′s-style pop for a couple. The final track, “Follow the Sunflower Trail”, is unlike anything else offered up by Rhys throughout the rest of the album. It is like a national anthem, or Revolution-era ballad, filtered through synthesizers and an eclectic mix of backing instruments, such as flutes and violins and horns. Very interesting closer.
Altogether, this is a very odd assemblage of tunes that vary about as much as you could possibly expect from one artist. They’re really good, for the most part, with the exception of “Sensations in the Dark” and “Rubble Rubble”, which were both interesting and good but a little boring. If you haven’t checked out Gruff Rhys, or even Super Furry Animals, this is a great point to jump in and find out what all the hubbub is about. Very cool. Not our favorite of the week or even from Rhys, but undeniably something that should be heard.
3. The Moonlight Butterfly
4. Up on the North Shore
5. Inn Keeping
The Sea and Cake are a band that has been on and off of our radar for years now, putting out great albums like The Fawn and Everybody, and a couple that were big hits but not quite as well-liked by us, like their most recent Car Alarm. They have released a total of eight albums, nine including their new The Moonlight Butterfly. They tend to stay away from releasing a lot of singles and EPs; this 6-track “album” is about as close as they ever come to an EP. To describe their sound is a difficult task, as they’ve incorporated so many different influences into their own unique brand of post-rock. Jazz, concrete, Pinback-style math rock, indie pop, and international music have all inspired the band at times, and all blended together to create a wholly new post-jazz sound that they have really been the innovators and flag bearers of since the mid 90′s. The Moonlight Butterfly isn’t the climax of their career, nor an ultimate culmination of their talent and effort, nor an album you’ll likely even remember as a great one ten years from now when looking back on what they’ve done. But it is a vibrant display of their musical range and a brilliant addition to an already wonderful discography.
The first track “Covers” opens with a quick stride, soft drums, and a flying but nimble guitar line. It seems to be inspired, sonically, by their touring mates from last year, Broken Social Scene. The whole song feels closed off and yet colorful, like a beautiful and pensive girl in the background of an old photograph. Then “Lyrics” turns down the pace, but turns up the percussion. John McEntire (who you may know from his various side projects like Tortoise, or from any number of other musicians for whom he has played percussion) is superb on this track. The use of electronic sounds behind a very typical rock instrumentation, subtle to the point that you will forget they’re even there, is also fantastic. And then they move into the trippy synth-focused concrete title track, which throws electronic subtlety out the window. They then return to the sound of “Covers” with a very typical indie rock sound, met with a healthy dose of beach pop influence and their own unique post-rock twist for the next two tracks, before closing out the album with a cooler, softer acoustic pop song, “Monday”.
If you like the Sea and Cake and have enjoyed their albums for years, then you are sure to dig The Moonlight Butterfly. It isn’t always sugar sweet, but it’s not grimy or grungy. It is, however, consistently artistic and it is everything that they have always been, rolled up into a 6-track mini album. We here at theanimalscankillyou like it, and almost love it – as has been our stance for many of their albums.
1. Kitty Wells Dresses
2. I Don’t Claim to Be an Angel
3. Poison in your Heart
4. One by One
5. I Can’t Tell My Heart
6. It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
7. Making Believe
8. Amigo’s Guitar
9. I Gave My Wedding Dress Away
10. Searching for a Soldier’s Grave
Laura Cantrell is far from another alt country artist looking to make her name. Her name is firmly set in the minds of fans of Americana as a musician you can trust when she takes a leap. Kitty Wells Dresses is a bit of a leap, in that regard, but one that is worthy of a lot of praise and certainly a lot of listens. It is a tribute album to Kitty Wells, the “Queen of Country Music” and an obvious inspiration for Cantrell.
The opening track is actually not a Wells song, but a Cantrell original, and a wonderful one that pays homage to Wells while discussing a favorite topic for Cantrell – old time country music. From there on out, it is all cover songs. Cantrell largely does as Kitty Wells did with the songs, in that she balances raw and whipping emotions with restraint and subtlety. They are almost all on the topic of love (as with most country music). That’s not to say they are all love songs – some are venomous breakup songs, others lustful romantic tunes, and still others questioning the bigger nature of romantic love. In that sense, it’s a little like listening to a countrified Field Mice album. Another thing that is consistent throughout the album is its instrumentation. The violin and slide guitar are prominent features on every track, so if you have an allergy to either, it’s best you turn around now and go find something else. If that’s something you’re into, though, then this album is going to be right up your alley.
Some of the key tracks are “Poison in your Heart”, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”, and “Making Believe”, and of course the one original “Kitty Wells Dresses”. I won’t bore you with the specifics about all of them, but just know that they are all great listens and all very tasteful in regards to their status as tributes to a country legend.
I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t an original album from Laura Cantrell, but I can get behind any great tribute album that pays homage to a person’s artistic inspiration. For instance, one of Wilco’s best albums in their entire career was their collaboration with Billy Bragg on Mermaid Avenue, a tribute to Woody Guthrie. So while I’d much rather have gotten new material, I won’t count it against Cantrell – especially since she did give us one original track. All in all, very cool. Maybe not a necessary addition to your collection, but worth checking out.