Brooklyn’s Aly Tadros spent the last decade traveling across Egypt, Turkey, Mexico and Europe, adding surprising depth to the jazzy alt-country vocals she brings to sophomore album The Fits. Tadros’ ability to wring each note for all its potential nuance makes songs like “Silence and the Truth” and “Sweet on Me” instantly stand apart from the crowd, putting her in the same realm as Norah Jones or Over the Rhine’s Karin Bergquist. The Fits is one of those rare well-rounded albums which covers so much ground it can’t possibly soak in on just a cursory listen Like Come Away With Me, which Norah Jones turned into a diamond-selling juggernaut, this album delivers the musical goods piece by piece over extended listens, so by the time she’s had her way, these songs will have listeners tied up in knots as they try to grasp the moment when Aly Tadros won them over as fans for life.
Photo Credit: Derek Orbiso Dizon
Nothing puts insomnia in its place better than the discovery of a post-worthy track. Something about the Local Strangers’ “Artificial Love” jumped out at me after their album Left for Better had accidentally slipped to the back-burner. But this Seattle duo brings the Midwestern charm of Over the Rhine to this bare-bones piano and vocal showcase, as Aubrey Zoli channels Karin Bergquist even as she adds her own smoky charm to the recording.
And though this is the album’s sedate closing number, the rest of the album is equally worthy of praise. “Uptown,” featuring Matt Hart on vocals, is a cross between Glassjaw Boxer-era Stephen Kellogg with slight touches of modern Mumford folk, with a hook which won’t quit. And “Daniel” lets Zoli shine yet again, making believers out of all of us as her voice melts over the carefully paced bluegrass melody and harmonies which would make Fleetwood Mac melt in their prime. “Can’t you make it look easy?” Hart sings over a hand-clap march of percussion and banjo, slyly answering their own question as the harmonies soar.
This is a keeper you’ll hopefully still be praising well into the new year.Left for Better is an assured album from a duo ultimately comfortable enough in their own skin to produce a album deftly merging varied tastes into one of the year’s best intimate listening experiences.
Year of the Album — #023
Lawrence & Leigh – “Odyssey Vol. III – Hills and Masts” (2011, Independent)
If you like your music in short, easily inhalable chunks which don’t require much thought in the listening process, Lawrence & Leigh are not for you. On Odyssey Vol. III: Hills and Masts, the third part of their ambitious three-part EP series, the Brooklyn songwriting duo takes chamber folk to expansive new heights. If you’re willing to listen to something that provides its reward to those who are patient and willing to slowly peel these songs like an aural onion, there’s a great deal to savor.
With a sound which melds the pop smarts of Elliott Smith and Over The Rhine’s Karen Bergquist with melodies that twist and turn, taking you on an aural journey. The Smith comparison is heard most on the wonderful “Heeled Shoes,” with a hauntingly simple guitar line that brings immediate comparisons to the slow build of “2:45 a.m.”
Meanwhile, “Glow” builds its way expansively through layers of melodic chamber pop, each part shifting and merging until late in the proceeding we get to hear the real hooks dig in: “down here in the shadows I’m without my mask, and everything you’ve wanted could be in your grasp,” Andrew Kalleen sings, before the song morphs from funky pseudo disco into something Burt Bacharach would love, complete with hauntingly catchy vocals from Kristin Stokes that sound like Manhattan Transfer flew in for a studio sound-check. All this in six minutes of musical bliss.
It’s not an easy album to fall in love with, but give these six ambitious songs enough time to soak in and you’ll understand why this duo is making waves in the world of folk music. It’s a challenging recipe for meaningful music, and given the chance, I’ll take ambition and creativity over ease of consumption any day.
Tom Waits. Photo courtesy of Esquire Magazine.
Don’t wait for Tom, he’s already moved on . . . to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! In honor of Tom Waits’ long-awaited (no pun intended) entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here’s a great Letterman performance, and a wonderous homage by Cincinnati’s Over The Rhine :) Enjoy!
My review of Over the Rhine’s The Long Surrender went up this afternoon at Stereo Subversion! You can read the review here, but here’s a teaser:
Over The Rhine decided to play things a little differently when getting started on what would become the band’s thirteenth studio full-length, The Long Surrender. Karen Bergquist and Linford Detweiler enticed their fans to contribute to the funding of the album, and the duo settled down in Joe Henry’s Garfield House studio to record it.
What results from this collaboration is a tight album of songs which, while some aspects echo The Trumpet Child, tends to hearken back more to the raw Americana of the band’s 2004 double-album Ohio. The band smartly called on Joe Henry and his world-renowned production skills to hone these 13 tracks into a cohesive whole, an album which, like any other Over the Rhine effort, is liable to be a slow-burning favorite before the end of the year.
Enjoy! And feel free to comment here or at Stereo Subversion.