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Album Reviews


Joy Williams FRONT PORCH. Sensibility Recordings/Thirty Tigers

Joy Williams is a singer-songwriter from Santa Cruz, CA who now lovingly calls Nashville, TN home. Formerly of four-time Grammy Award-winning Folk, Country and Americana duo The Civil Wars, Joy recently recorded her forthcoming solo album, Front Porch, produced by Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids. Following the recent birth of her second child, Joy is steadily performing new music from Front Porch live in advance of the album’s release on May 3rd.

“So much of this is about coming home. Whether to a physical place or to yourself. The lines on my face, I can see them more clearly now. But a lot of them are laugh lines. This record feels like breathing more deeply into who I am. Come what May.” - Joy Williams

This is one beautiful and moving alt-country/folk album. The secret to Williams’ success on this album is emotive and real song-writing, liquid and expressive vocals, and the most judicious acoustic instrumental arrangements. All qualities are vividly displayed on track 1, ‘Canary’. Intimate acoustic guitar notes (by Anthony Da Costa) are joined by one of the finest and most expressive USA folk voices I’ve heard. There’s truckloads of melody and heart-breaking lyrics:  “There’s a shadow hanging heavy/There’s a cold chill in my bones/It’s a steep road, high and weary/It’s a long, long way from home/But I will not shut my eyes/No, I will not fall silent…Canary in the mine/Oh I will, honey I will/I will sing/I will sing.”

Love and loss feature in the next title track ‘Front Porch’: “If never you find what you’re looking for/Come on back to the front porch/Say my name through the screen door/Come on back to the front porch/Whatever you’ve done, it doesn’t matter/’Cause darling we’re all a little splintered and battered.” It’s sung with so much feeling that its sentiments ring true to life. The sensitive instrumental arrangement also adds to the deeply felt emotions. Similarly, ‘When Does A Heart Move On’ echoes bittersweet memories and desires: “When Does A Heart Move On/When does a heart move on?/Do you know the moment that it’s over?/’Cause we could drag this on and on/Tried to be strong but it’s been too long/When does a heart move on?” Williams has the knack of adapting her voice to each song’s vibe and meaning, as she does here. Melody is omnipresent and makes her songs and performances highly accessible and not only to lovers of the genre.

I’ll mention one more song on this masterpiece of an album. ‘Preachers Daughter’ will connect with many listeners through its recollections of a father: “Preacher’s daughter, I love my father/Turned wine from water in my eyes/Bound together, sweet surrender/I forever know that I’m a preacher’s daughter.” There are twelve stunningly beautiful songs, intimately performed and meticulously produced. This is my first 5/5 of 2019 and is therefore essential listening.



Craig Finn I NEED A NEW WAR. Partisan Records

Craig Finn is the frontman of The Hold Steady, however he also an incredible singer-songwriter in his own right. His new solo album is called I NEED A NEW WAR. It is Craig’s third solo record on Partisan (his fourth overall) and it cements him as one of today’s most vital storytellers, among the ranks of Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. It follows 2017’s album WE ALL WANT THE SAME THINGS, which saw him described as a “master story-teller” (The Guardian) and “becoming an elder statesman of rock n’ roll the right way” (The Line Of Best Fit). It received critical acclaim across the board, from Pitchfork (”a remarkable record”), to Q (”desperately moving”), Mojo (”his ability to put you right there is a gift”) and more. ‘I Need A New War’ feels like another confident step forward from Craig. He tells the stories of people on the margins, focusing on characters who are lost and who have been left behind. There is nothing glamorous about their stories, it is a very “daytime” portrait of these characters. These are also the least American-specific songs that Craig has ever written.

The opening track, ‘Blankets’, reveals all you need to know about this wonderful album…Finn’s music is narrative in nature, lyricallt strong and real, melodically and instrumentally compelling, with a voice that is natural, strong and expressive.  The music is highly rhythmic and rocky with a blues edge. Finn mixes dialogue with singing very effectively while lyrics are simple and direct: “I met her at a racetrack/It was right before some concert/On a blanket selling bracelets/She was searching for a sponsor/I moved her to Montana/We hung for several summers/It got druggie and we crumbled/But still I never haven’t loved her…”
The song is just over four minutes of stylish storytelling.

‘Magic Marker’ has a more jagged rhythm punctuated by sharp sax notes and traditional style backing vocals. Another great set of storytelling lyrics underpinned by a solid melody does the trick: “There were times that all that freedom/Had me wasted, wild, and bored/Shootin’ through the ceilin’/Shakin’ off the desert storm/Reachin’ out for somethin’/Trying to let go of war/Hopin’ hard for somethin’”…Art reflecting real life? Another great song. Middway ‘Grant At Galena’ reveals the struggles that often go with art:”They sent me some letters/I did my best to ignore ‘em/I couldn’t make the payments/So they sat there unopened/They cut off the power/But I still got the water/When I lose light for reading/I walk up to the mall…”

Finn reveals much of himself here but does it in a way that instantly connects and occasionally moves. The musical style mixes rock with blues, pop with jazz and with his vry direct vocals, delights.


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