Jacob Blazer, I Am Jacob
Coming off a jam-band pedigree, Jacob Blazer heads in a contrasting, minimalist direction with his new EP. Backed by his band The Good People he’s stripped everything down, “moving on down” as he insists in “Moving.” The music is clear and relatively simple, the lyrics accessible in a way that’s likely to appeal to youthful romantics and cynical adults alike.
This minimalist flavor extends to the song titles (all single words), and finds expression in a good-natured mix of smooth soulful pop, airy reggae, and bemused rap. There’s a leftover flower-child aroma here and there – in the chord progression borrowed from “Lay Lady Lay,” in the slow central number “Simple,” and in the Woodstock-ish harmonies of “Allstar,” in which rapped verses alternate with the vaguely trippy chorus “Sometimes you need an allstar/Sometimes you need a rubber soul.” I think the closer, “Goodbye,” is my favorite track by virtue of its catchiness and the perky attitude that bubbles up through the music in spite of lyrics about the end of a relationship. The whole EP carries a sense of harmonious uplift that really can put a smile on your face.
Charlie Parr, Barnswallow
You can depend on Charlie Parr for traditional-sounding blues and folk with lots of energy, assured musicianship, and minimal artsiness. Amazingly, Barnswallow is his eleventh studio album. It’s got all the authentic rootsiness of Keep Your Hands on the Plow though less of the tasty gospel influence featured on that earlier disc. Maybe for that reason, maybe for some other, there’s less beauty in the songwriting this time around, and a few of the folkier numbers get a bit monotonous. But the keening “Jesus is a Hobo” and the wry “Badger” might be worth the purchase price all by themselves; the plucky “Henry Goes to the Bank” wormed itself into my lizard brain too; and “True Friends” speaks truth: “True friends are hard to find/To get one you got to be one.” True music isn’t that easy to find nowadays either, but there’s plenty of it here.
The Mighty Short Bus (MSB Family Band), The Family Band Record
In a similar vein, this lo-fi, warts-and-all disc has a pleasing acoustic-naturalistic vibe. Last year The Mighty Short Bus, from Madison, WI, reformulated itself, took a bunch of new songs into a barn, and quickly rehearsed and recorded this album, aiming to “capture the magic a song has the first time you play it aloud.” Mission accomplished: bare honesty combined with a good-time feel lights up most of these songs. Even the grim and eccentric “Lawyers and Their Money” thrives as a toe-tapping two-step.
The songs have a loose, traditional Americana sound, and numbers like “On the Run,” “East Coast Elaine,” and the swinging “Keep On Goin’” with its rich vocal harmonies bring to mind the songs of the Byrds/Gram Parsons country-rock revival of the late 1960s. Among the many high-energy tracks like the bouncy “Tonight,” the simple slow song “Movin’ On” might be my favorite.
On some songs the vocals, from primary songwriters Frank Busch and Nic Adamany, may sound a little too raw at times, but that’s all part of the off-the-cuff nature of this project. With solid musicianship and sensitive songwriting throughout, this record was a worthwhile detour for this short bus to take, if detour it was.