Robbie Robertson’s scratchy whisper isn’t anybody’s idea of a great voice, so when he found himself in a band with three great singers years ago, it was a stroke of luck. How to Become Clairvoyant reflects on those days in “When the Night Was Young” and a few songs about the problems that broke the Band up, “He Don’t Live Here No More,” and “This Is Where I Get Off.” Eric Clapton, Tom Morello and Robert Randolph make guest appearances here. Robertson served his songwriting apprenticeship under The Bob Himself, so, yeah, this is worth a listen.
Robertson made just a few appearances to support the album, and he chose Dawes as his backing band. Led by Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes sounds mostly like a songwriter’s showcase, with hints of solo Paul Simon and gorgeous harmonies. Goldsmith’s songs on Nothing Is Wrong are a bit wide-eyed and ernest, mid-tempo, and aim at an early 70′s L. A. sound. Like this.
Goldsmith’s side project Middle Brother is even more fun. It’s a supergroup along the lines of Monsters of Folk, including John J. McCauley of Deer Tick and Matt Vasquez from Delta Spirit. McCauley in particular shines here with his once-in-a-generation voice that evokes Sammy Llanas of the Bodeans. The vibe is looser and rocks more than Dawes. Thus.
Speaking of supergroups, Buddy Miller’s Magnificent Silver Strings matches the longtime alt-country godfather with jazz pickers Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot on reworkings of country standards like the gorgeous “Cattle Call,” “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” and a “Dang Me” that’s way more desperate than Roger Miller’s original. Added vocals are by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, Shawn Colvin and Patti Griffin, whose voice is so good, I’d buy a record of her snoring. This much talent should reward repeated listenings.
Emmylou has her own new record, Hard Bargain. She played Hancher on her first three tours, and my wedding vows include an Emmylou escape clause, but I’ve pretty much given up on that. Hard Bargain finds her in a reflective mood. “The Road” looks back on her time with the late, great Gram Parsons, whom she’d written about before, tho not with this kind of perspective. “Darlin’ Kate” is about another lost friend, Kate McGarrigle. “Big Black Dog” lightens the mood a bit, a song that will resonate with dog owners everywhere.
Can’t talk about gorgeous voices without mentioning the Fleet Foxes, just about my favorite young band. Their new Helplessness Blues reminds me, once again, of Crosby, Stills & Nash. If you like one, check out the other. It’s this good.
When I was in school, dinosaurs roamed the earth and Greg Brown was the guy who didn’t charge a cover at the Mill. When, years later, friends from out of state told me how important he’d become, I was taken aback, but it’s true. He’s arguably the most successful Iowa musician ever (Everly Brothers, maybe?), and his new Freak Flag shows why. His songs go as deep as his voice here, and Bo Ramsey’s guitar and production remains as tasteful and self-effacing as ever.
The late, lamented Mike & Amy Finders Band also owned the Mill during their years here. Moved to Fort Collins (like Euforquestra, dammit) Mike (now Finnders) carries on with Finnders and Youngberg. FY5 is another stellar collection of songs, wry, funny, insightful, and well-performed. I miss Amy’s voice, but that’s life.
Remember the incredible set the Derek Trucks Band played on the Pentacrest for the IC Jazz Festival a few years back? Mr Trucks has put together a new band with his wife, blues/soul player Susan Tedeschi (recycled both their old bands, actually), and their new disc Revelator resulted. There’s more of Trucks’s Allman-influenced, jaw-dropping virtuosity, of course, but Tedeschi’s a hotshot guitar slinger in her own right. You could easily mistake her voice for Bonnie Raitt’s here. That’s a good thing.
So. What else should I listen to?