Karling, Bound for Nowhere
Karling Abbeygate picks up where she left off, but this time with all original songs. Her new set of 14 pseudo-old-time country numbers are by turns Patsy Cline-style traditional (the excellent “What Another Lovely Day” and “Can’t You See I’ve Fallen”), rockabilly (“Dig Baby Dig!”), loopy “Crazy Mable” (sic), and even touched by disparate styles like Dixieland and carnivalia.
Working with two different studio bands, one with traditional country-western instrumentation and the other featuring Micah Hulscher’s aggressive organ playing, Karling covers a variety of bases with a single steady, one-of-a-kind stride, even if that stride may at times seem to have issued from the Ministry of Silly Walks. Her unusual vocal delivery sometimes feels more Asian than plantation, a kind of kewpie-doll belt that serves some songs better than others but is certainly fearless.
Other highlights include the torchy, tinkling ballad “The Valley,” the bouncy “Right Side,” and the sad and peculiar “Take This Take This.” And some songs, like “Back in My Baby’s Arms,” really sound like they could have been written in the 1920s.
Trevor Alguire, Now Before Us
The Canadian country singer-songwriter is back with a strong follow-up to his fine Thirty Year Run. Many of these songs are very traditional-sounding, but Alguire uses country’s typical sounds and song structures forthrightly, without pretense or self-consciousness, and the songs roll easily into your brain on the magic carpet of his honeyed baritone. “Are You Ready” evokes the cycle of life and announces we’re deep in the roots of where all words and music come from: “Are you ready…for your life to come full circle/And never be the same again?”
There are just enough surprises—like the time change in “Back Roads,” the warm bluegrass two-beat of “Pen a Man Down”, and the hollow Neil Young rawness of the spacious “Ditch by the Road”—to make the almost too-nice arrangements of the most traditional country-western songs welcome. In “Weeping Willow” he shows he can rock; Steve Marriner brightens up the already energetic “Hands Full of Flowers” with his barrelhouse piano tinklings; and a pretty duet with Kelly Prescott closes the proceedings. Not every song is thoroughly memorable, but Now Before Us is a great-sounding all-around good show.
John McVey, Unpredictable
The best of John McVey’s soulful pop suggests the spirit of Joe Cocker and Marc Broussard. Gentle ballads and midtempo country-rockers give way now and then to an acoustic softie like the title track and a bit of gentle Sting-like funk as in “The Con Man’s Easy Chair.” There’s nothing much unpredictable about the easygoing, accessible tracks that make up Unpredictable—with the exception of some unexpectedly literate lyrics.
McVey’s creativity does seem to peter out on the second half of the disc. The a capella closer, “Lay Your Burden Down,” aspires to break out of predictability, but his lead vocals here give way to an occasional tendency to get too careful and lose spirit. Overall, though, all you’ll need are a modest tolerance for the sentimental and a willingness to shed your ironic shell in order to enjoy the best of this spacious, well-crafted music.