Olav Larsen & the Alabama Rodeo Stars, Love's Come to Town
This charming set of Americana-by-way-of-Norway hits all the right notes, so to speak. The band brightens up Larsen's traditional sounding, but occasionally quirky, roots-rock and country songs with homespun energy. The musicians bed the songs in endearingly shambling arrangements that perfectly complement the songwriter's jaunty, somewhat wobbly vocals.
This band of Europeans has thoroughly absorbed, digested and done right by Americana music, while giving it just enough of their own flavor to make it interesting. The songs range from Dylan-esque wistfulness ("May the Sun Always Shine") to bluegrass shenanigans ("Ain't Got Time"); from a splash of dixieland and ragtime ("Atomic Bombs and Wine") to sweet, shimmering rambles ("Love's Come to Town," "Like Daisies"); and from the hillbilly gospel of "The Sweet Saviour's Arms" to the grim, cautionary "Unhappy/Dreamer":
I never thought that you would leave this town behind.
Your unpredicted departure almost destroyed my mind.
You didn't even say goodbye to your friends: unkind.
I guess there's something bigger going on this time.
The slightly off-kilter lyrics - perhaps from English not being Larsen's native language - has a paradoxical effect of making them seem sly and heartfelt at the same time. How could anyone resist this: "When you say jump, I'll jump for you baby. / When you say run, I'll run for you too. / I'll do anything you want me to / And you can call me baby!"
Highly recommended for country-rock and Americana fans. Hear some full tracks at their Myspace page.
Richard X. Heyman, Actual Sighs
One-man rock band Richard X. Heyman's new release is a blast from power-pop's past and a new work at the same time. The CD is packed with twenty songs, the first fourteen of which are new recordings of old compositions - most written in the early 80s - that never got recorded before. The last six are a reworking of the EP Actual Size, which Heyman put out himself, to critical acclaim but with limited distribution, in 1986.
It's hard to imagine any Heyman fan not being over the moon with this collection, or any fan of rock, classic rock and power-pop not finding much to like. No doubt, Heyman's musical vision is a little old-fashioned, but mainly in the sense that it is a powerful, emotional tapestry of male rock without whininess. Heyman fits together big collections of instruments and tracks - all played by him, except for the strings and horns - into ever-evolving, mind-grabbing, crisp but not cluttered arrangements - the rock equivalent of what a great classical or Broadway orchestrator does.