Satirical and Raw Left of Centre Americana? This is the Real McCoy!
The first couple of times I played this album I only got as far as tracks #5 and #6 before I had to switch to something more ‘commercial’; but I also knew that when the mood took me, I would return and devour these songs like a starving wolf in mating season. I have a penchant for husky voiced left of centre, singer-songwriters; probably starting when I discovered Randy Newman back in my teenage years; and since then Kinky Friedman, Malcolm Holcombe, Scott H Biram and a few others have given me great enjoyment in my darker moments.
I can now add Felix Hatfield, from Eugene Oregon to that list. The quirky Jazz-Blues hybrid intro to Seeing Things certainly intrigued me; and when Hatfield’s charmingly grizzly voice crawled out of the speakers, I knew that this was going to be for me. If you get to the end of the song unscathed; and ‘get’ the Leonard Cohen reference; then you are in for a bonafide musical treat thereafter. Perhaps it’s a strange time to make a confession; but actual songwriting has always fascinated me ……. how does an imagination come up with Sick With The Flu, Train To London and Unicorn Woman? Seriously? I’m pretty sure Felix’s Music Teacher at High School would have dismissed these out of hand; but his quirky Jazz-Lite filtered through some New Orleans style arrangements actually combine to create moments of actual wonderment and joy for the listener. It’s actually a bit of a surprise to hear actual ‘love songs’ here; but that’s what That Kiss, Unicorn Woman and I guess the duet with Jolie Holland, Walking Distance are; but not in an obvious way. Stating with that theme; Hatfield appears to have been unlucky in love; but then again haven’t all the best songwriters? The haunting trumpet in Nobody For Me adds extra pathos to Hatfield’s melancholic tale; and you can easily picture him sitting on a back porch picking at his banjo while desperately trying not to cry while softly wailing through Troubled Person. One more song, in this vein is my joint Favourite Song here; and it’s also the finale. Targeting the ‘late night crowd’; of which I count myself a fully paid up member, Lucky To Be a Sad Man ……. and the title says it all really. My other Favourite Song is also the most and possibly only commercial song here; and it’s the title track False God. In the current political climate (and I’m writing this the weekend before the US Election 2020) it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out who the False God Hatfield is singing about …….. and as a razor-sharp observational songwriter he hits many, many nails squarely on the head …… just imagine if Randy Newman had wanted to write a satirical Country Song; well …… I guess it would sound a lot like this. One more thing to show how good this album is; it has twice picked up her book and harrumphed her way into the conservatory when I’ve played it in the living room …… High Praise indeed 😉
A Man Out Of Step Takes a Massive Leap Into The Alt. Past.
Johnny Dowd? It’s not fair to say that you either ‘love him’ or ‘hate him’ as it’s more, ‘you get him’ or ‘you don’t’. Mrs. Magpie gave me ‘that look’ last Saturday night when I played this on the stereo; which puts her in the latter camp; me…… bring it on kidda! Dowd is now 70 and been recording albums for just 30 of those years; but those albums have helped change what we now call Americana Music for the better; as he has probably been an influence with anyone who put’s an Alt. in front of Country or possibly even Blues. I will try to use the word ‘weird’ once; and keep the comparisons to a bare minimum; but right from the get go; opening track, the weirdly Jazzy/Blues instrumental Hoodoo sounds like something Zappa or Beefheart dreamt of creating put sadly failed, leaving it for Johnny Dowd set the new benchmark for Avant Garde Rock Music. Over the years I’ve received quite a few albums by artistes trying to make music this interesting and fascinating; but all save a couple of songs have failed miserably; yet even on this Dowd’s 18th album it’s chock-a-block full of songs that will spin your head; but bring you straight back for more, more, more. There’s so much more to Vicksburg than just being a history lesson; it could be poetry set to an Acid Jazz beat; or is that Alt. Country with a beat box? Who knows? Who cares? Dowd uses Bass-lines so dynamic on the sparkling title track Family Picnic and Back End of Spring they will more than likely to get pinched by with-it Hippity-Hoppity stars; yet on the latter Dowd might even be getting his own Hip-Hop on anyways! While there are surprises around every corner; I was stunned to hear Dowd Go Dub on Let’s Have a Party; or at least the backing track has come straight out of Orange Street but Dowd’s vocals are straight up East Coast Country…… play it LOUD and play it often. With so much going on in his songs, it’s easy to forget what a great songwriter Johnny Dowd has always been; his odes to Conway Twitty and Thomas Dorsey have to be heard to be believed; yet somehow I think both men would raise an eyebrow were they to ever hear these two ‘love songs’. Obviously with an album so left-field and eclectic makes finding a Favourite after only a couple of plays nigh on impossible; but if forced I will have to spin a coin between Stuttering Wind, as if it had been around in the early 80’s I would have danced my ass off to this on a Friday night at Barmston Club; and the other is the nearest to a Country song as I’ve heard from Mr Dowd, Four Gray Walls…….. but don’t expect an invite to the Opry any time soon! If I had a record store I don’t know where I would slot this album in today; as it’s not easy to pigeon hole in 2019 where the public need descriptions like leading a horse to water; but let’s go for Alt. Eclectic or Avant Garde Americana……. or just Damn good and intelligent Rock Music?
Cindy Lee Berryhill
Inspirational Yet Uneasy On The Ear Anti-Love Songs.
As a general rule I no longer review albums that I deem ‘challenging’; yet there was ‘something’ about this album that has kept drawing me back to it, over the last couple of weeks.
Written and recorded over the last 5 years, this is a series of left of centre Alt. Rock meets the Avant Garde songs; inspired by Cindy’s late husband Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy magazine, who died in 2013.
Opening track American Cinematography has a certain mystical/Eastern Beatles flavour to it; although Cindy’s deadpan delivery sounds nothing like Paul McCartney! It’s probably the melody here that has kept me coming back time and time again; peeling away the many layers that Cindy hides her feelings under.
While fundamentally an album of Love Songs to her late husband, they aren’t always easy on the ear; with the darkly beautiful an Affair of the Heart being the nearest to what you would hear on the radio.
But when you invest enough time; songs like Somebody’s Angel and Gravity Falls unravel like 3D Jigsaw and leave you quite breathless.
Others are a bit too Avant-Garde for my tastes; yet I Like Cats/You Like Dogs and Contemplating the Infinite (In a kiss) both left me cold until the night I listened on headphones; and then the parts all fell into place and I’ve grown to like…no, love both.
While not alone, title track The Adventurist uses a crazy collection of instruments, marimba, sheet metal, vibraphone, cello, violin and banjo alongside more traditional devices to create a gorgeous backing that never overwhelms Cindy Lee’s ever so natural voice.
The final track Deep Sea Dishing is an instrumental worthy of being on a film soundtrack and finds Cindy not only playing guitars but also the less well known dishwasher!
As well as the opening song, the other I keep going back to is Gravity Falls; a slightly Baroque slice of atmospheric Alternative Rock; not unlike something Polly Harvey or Tori Amos may record, so it takes the accolade of RM Favourite Track.
So, The Adventurist won’t appeal to everyone and nor was it intended to; but those with a sense of musical adventure will fall in love with this irregular creation.