CD Shorts

James Keyes

Any record that boasts of being recorded “in the basement of an old brothel& where Babe Ruth used to get his bootleg liquor,” is certainly worth a closer look. Ruminations is the debut solo release from New England songwriter Keyes. However, instead of the Northeast, the record conjures a swampy, dirt road vibe reminiscent of the Deep South or an episode of True Blood. The music is mostly stripped down, bluesy folk with alt-country overtones. Instruments consist mainly of acoustic guitar and the occasional harmonica or piano, though at least one track incorporates audio recordings lifted from old films. Elsewhere, distorted electrics do all the talking on the rocking “SSG.” Vocally, Keyes has been compared to Johnny Cash and Tom Waits, but here his style comes closest to that of Leonard Cohen, especially on the song “Dream Endless.” If gargling whiskey and chain-smoking were the national pastimes, this album would provide our country’s anthem.  —Michael Cimaomo

Lisa Bigwood

Lisa Bigwood’s music is relaxing and acoustic, executed with skilled finger-picking and adorned with smooth instrumental arrangements that feature creamy string passages (with some sort of feedback or overtones that almost achieve the sound of a didgeridoo), pedal-steel glissandos or softly-plucked banjo arpeggios mixed low. Though there’s a bit of the overly preachy, cram-as-many-political-lyrics-into-a-measure-as-you-can aesthetic here, the tonal qualities of Bigwood’s voice wander to a Chrissie Hynde-style “bluesy with a tiny bit of punk attitude” that it’d be nice to hear more of. Sometimes it aspires to Ani Difranco machine-gun delivery, but just as often lays back into something more in the vein of Patsy Cline, James Taylor or even the Valley’s own Barbara Keith. Overall, the musical gestalt is something organic and old-timey, flavored with an old West frontier vibe and radio-ready for something like NPR’s Mountain Stage or A Prairie Home Companion—Tom Sturm

Joy Kills Sorrow
Darkness Sure Becomes This City
(Signature Sounds)

From the first soft finger-picked notes of opening track “Kill My Sorrow” to the playful closer “You Make Me Feel Drunk,” string band ensemble Joy Kills Sorrow displays an astonishing array of skills indicative of the members’ diverse musical backgrounds. There are moments of traditional bluegrass and folk that feature stirring banjo lines and ace guitar work, however, many songs bear closer resemblance to mainstream pop song structures. Elsewhere there are tastes of indie rock and even Celtic influences. Main songwriter and bassist Bridget Kearney shows a knack for crafting melodies, and the harmonious vocals inspire closer inspection. Signs of the band’s many lineup changes are all but undetectable; the record plays like a well-crafted whole designed by a group that’s been together for decades. Like the band sings, “We will have our day/ We will have our day in the sun.”  —Michael Cimaomo

Author: Advocate Staff

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