Kree Woods, Talking Underwater
Kree Woods is one of those rare pop singer-songwriters who have all the puzzle pieces: vocal chops, songwriting chops, and the vision to craft an album that sounds great.
Granted, for that sound we have Zodlounge to thank, a production studio in Nashville whose personnel apparently like to hide behind their collective name. To each his own – what matters is the result, and this is a gorgeous-sounding album with good songs all through, songs that don’t have just verses but also real choruses with real melodies. (I know, it’s a shocker.)
Woods has a strong, shimmery pop voice and superb control of it. At one moment she can bring to mind the emotional heights of Tori Amos, at another the youthful chirp of the latest country-crossover singer – which is to say, it’s not a voice with any one unique quality, but a fine instrument in service of the material, most of which Woods wrote by herself, without the muddle of co-writes that makes so much Nashville product sound so generic.
Woods moves effortlessly in and out of a beautiful head voice in “Save Her” and evokes early classic Joni Mitchell with the lilting “Blink.” My favorites include the title track with its unexpected beat, “Green” with its exquisite melody, “Just Go” with its celestial chorus, and the waltzing “Happiest Day.” Creative and assured arrangements turn even the weaker songs – and there are a few, like the vague “Cut My Strings” and the trying-too-hard “Fake (Shake It Up)” – into good listens.
Craig Jackson Band, Sweeter Songs
Craig Jackson and his band have the midtempo heartland rock thing down. The disc opens with the glossy, slightly psychedelic “A Sweeter Song,” which sounds a bit like The Byrds, and it’s hard to go wrong with that. “A Little Love” sounds like Mellencamp in his prime, right down to the distant, wailing guitar solo, while “Much Too Long” unfolds with an acoustic Americana softness, with upright bass and a simple, straight-ahead drumbeat.
“Things Get Lost” doesn’t provide the payoff its Motown ballad beat sets up, and the groovy funk of “Sound of the World,” which sounds great, leads to a chorus that’s a bit limp as well, but the EP ends strongly with the driving beat and layered electric guitars of “Here I Go Again.” “I can’t wrap my head around this one – here I go again,” Jackson sings, and you know he’ll be back to go at it again. The overall sleepy quality of his vocals takes a little of the excitement away from the strong arrangements, but on the other hand adds to the romantic-rock mood set by the lyrics of the best songs, which are mostly upbeat though there’s loss mixed in with the love.
Go Jane Go, Go Jane Go
This intimate acoustic project unites David Francey’s folksy vocals and mild Scottish accent with the sadder tones of the voice of Dead Reckoning’s Kieran Kane. Backed up by Kane’s guitar and banjo, with some help on percussion, electric guitar, and harmony vocals from Lucas Kane, the two songwriters deliver a warm set of tunes with a persistent sound but varied moods, ranging from the bluegrass hop of “Somewhere Beyond the Roses” and the wry nursery-rhyme feel of the title track to the soft lullaby tones of the uncertain love ballad “Wonder” and the stark one-chord keen of “I Live in Fear”: “Empty houses on the street/Where people used to live/Bankers holding paper/On a loan they won’t forgive…Kandahar, Saginaw/Anywhere you live.”
Two covers add a little spice to the mix: a driving bluegrass interpretation of Little Walter’s blues “Tell Me Mama” and the old country-western tune “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” that Flatt and Scruggs used to do. The haunting “Anybody’s Game” combines Kane’s spoken-word Jim Morrison-esque verses with moaning harmonies in the choruses; other top tracks include Francey’s sad “Blue Heart of Texas” and his anxious parable “Pretty Jackals” with its dusky religious imagery.