By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com) Tomorrowland RYAN BINGHAM Dominated by open guitar tuning simplicity, Tomorrowland brings a gritty singer to his grittiest. Opener “Beg for Broken Legs” sets the heavy, aggressive rock tone with a string arrangement akin to Led Zeppelin III’s “Friends.” The articulated “Flower Bomb” points out the problems in American culture and politics. Bingham’s lyrical composition shines with insightfulness early, giving way to less thoughtful moments in “Guess Who’s Knocking” and “The Road I’m On.” He champions the blue-collar, underprivileged life with attitude, unabashedly exposing the demons, and you believe him with the likes of “Rising of the Ghetto.” Whether acoustic or electric, instrumental tones are roomy and just right. While Bingham’s soulful phrasing and raspy vocal inflections don’t step beyond his standard stylistic boundaries, I’m not sure that they need to – yet. Even after ditching his label and his band, Tomorrowland solidifies Bingham’s alt-country artistry and will certainly be at the top of the genre’s releases in 2012. Be forewarned though, Bingham is pissed, and this is a place for the weary kind.
By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com) Traveling Alone TIFT MERRITT Tift Merritt’s solo performance at JHME’s annual Women of Jackson Concert in 2008 was one of the year’s top local shows. After releasing Buckingham Solo in 2009, and now, Traveling Alone, themes of isolation obviously have crept in. Singing over one chord rarely sounds as inviting as the path that the acoustic guitar-led title track takes, followed by a down tempo piano and pedal steel bedded “Sweet Spot,” which tonally spells Lucinda Williams. Soft subjects of emotional separation (“Drifting Apart”), the search for love on one’s own terms (“Sweet Spot”), and channeling Emmylou Harris (“Feeling of Beauty”) maintains the lyrical theme over gentle country lopes. Merritt’s classic balladry lyrically shuns the idea of “Small Talk Relations” before picking up the beat and the electric guitars on “To Myself.” Traveling Alone certainly sustains an easy-going vibe, leaving only a few non-authoritative moments when it seemed appropriate for Merritt to vocally transition from the fragile and whispery to the grit that the instrumentation suggests. To the end, tenderness reigns.
By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com) We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This TIM O’BRIEN & DARRELL SCOTT This duo of world-class instrumentalists and singer-songwriters truly fill one another’s shoes. Scott and O’Brien trade off on acoustic guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, banjo, claps, and lead/harmony vocals, filling the air with a gospel-bluegrass tinge that is, in an invitingly loose fashion, two friends making incredible music for a great cause. Recorded at two different concerts at The Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C. benefiting the Arthur Morgan School, Scott says in the liner notes, “Some songs we’d played hundreds of times over the years, some we just did on stage on this recording for the first time. We are fearless and we egg each other on towards the edge of crash & burn.” A set favorite is Scott’s “Long Time Gone,” bridged with a fiery improvisational section that climbs, teeters and soars. Barn-burning opener, O’Brien’s “Climbing Up a Mountain,” and Scott’s versatility as a banjo roller on a co-write with his old man, “With a Memory Like Mine,” are also gems.
By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com) Babel MUMFORD & SONS Leaders of the emo-acoustic, stomp-pop movement, Mumford & Sons are very much a-buzz. From the stories on Babel, the dramatic quartet of Brits is obviously keen on waiting on, wishing for, chasing after, building thrones for, and making promises to, the perfect Christian lover. Bleeding hearts protract systematically as the arrangements unfold. The muscular roaring of frontman Marcus Mumford lets up occasionally instrumental climaxes. The performances are very strong, just a field away from the organic-sounding pop and punk-fused songs that drew me to several tracks on the debut, Sigh No More. Instead, the amicable batch is crisp with over-the-top-ness and shimmering production. The vibe of the album’s last two tracks
By Aaron Davis (for JHWeekly.com) Love This Giant DAVID BYRNE & ST. VINCENT In the years since the Talking Heads put out its final album, Naked (1988), David Byrne has contributed to a number of significant collaborations with Brian Eno, Arcade Fire, and Thievery Corporation, authored nine books, and put out nine solo releases (2001’s Look into the Eyeball is phenomenal). Being the creative genius oddball that Byrne is, linking up with St. Vincent – a head-turning composer in a corner of her own – is not surprising, but intriguing. This is not a duet album in the traditional sense, but rather a spliced attack of either artist with a few tracks that momentarily feature them together. The lead vocalist often doubles his or her own (harmony) vocals. And while more of the songs feature Byrne at the mic, I tend to prefer the St. Vincent tunes, especially the hip-hop-horn attack and staccato-voiced “Weekend in the Dust,” and “Optimist.” A dominating element is the aggressive attitude within the thick rhythms – predominantly electronic with a purposeful avoidance of traditional beats laced with nuanced synthesizer and varying horn arrangements. This is art-pop-rock that would stage well with choreographed dancers and theatrics.