Paper Bird, Rooms
Here’s an unusual-sounding band that mixes Afro-pop, Andrews Sisters harmonies, unexpected rhythms, and psychedelia (as in their song “Seaside Lullaby”), and everything sounds real, not synthesized, not Auto-tuned. In multipart harmonies the group’s multiple singers sail simple words and phrases to and fro on seas of sound that take them far from their essential meanings.
Some of the lyrics don’t make any sense whatsoever; I recommend not trying. This music is all about rhythm, harmony, and inertia. Individually the voices are modest, even on the weak side; together they build coruscating murals of colorful, un-pin-downable meaning.
The album is called Rooms to suggest that each song is like a different room in a house. It feels to me like one of those houses college kids colonize and transform into theatrical wonderlands of music, color, aroma, and fitful love, one of those places you can love to lose yourself in when you’re in the right youthful frame of mind where everything still seems possible. Listen with an open mind.
Bethesda, The Reunion
I’ve been wondering how long the appeal of the current crop of loud-acoustic (for want of a better term), sort-of-folk bands like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers will last. This oddball sub-genre of music revels in punchy rhythmic elements and un-folk-like dynamic extremes, but if there are drums, they are not the highly processed skins of today’s rock and pop. The popularity of these bands lies, surely, in their fusion of the urgent energy of rock with acoustic-roots authenticity. But will it be a lasting evolution in taste, or a fad? History suggests the latter.
Bethesda is a drum-heavy, semi-electric exemplar of the style. They’re a wordy band, too, but Shanna Delaney’s lead vocals are so tightly threaded into the dense arrangements that on first listen my brain registered no more than a phrase here and there. The music carries a lot of drama, and on further listens I found myself wanting words to match and not hearing them.
Full of joyous shouts, sea-shanty fire, and pleasantly incongruous prettiness courtesy of Delaney’s sunny voice and Christopher Black’s warm fiddle, this energetic collection can’t fail to please fans of that Grammy-winning, en vogue dynamic-folk style.
Jerry Castle, Desperate Parade
I long ago lost what little patience I had for cookie-cutter country music cliché. You know what I mean: songs about trucks, lost love, shopping-mall Jesus. The first few bars of Jerry Castle’s new CD and the title of its last song (“Nashville Nights”) suggested that that glitzy plastic universe might be his, too. But as it turns out, the songs on Desperate Parade have a rough-edged sincerity that doesn’t feel by-the-books at all.
It’s not that there’s surprising originality in the lyrics; it’s that almost the moment Castle starts to sing, you can tell this work wasn’t furiously shined and polished to within an inch of its life. His slightly growly, refreshingly unprocessed voice, which in its lower register can sound a little like Steve Earle but other times has a smoother clarity, convinces, and the songs – some of which he wrote alone, others with a thankfully small coterie of co-writers – resonate with the spirit of actual human feeling, calling upon the listener’s emotions without the blatant manipulation written into typical commercial Nashville product. Even when he’s singing full voice, he sings like he’s talking to you, whether it’s an uptempo rocker like “Precious Time,” a gentle folk-pop number like “Calm” or “Spiral Stairs,” a ballad like “Say Yes,” a mid-tempo rocker like “My Style of Crazy,” or even the tense, vaguely psychedelic “Close to You,” one of my favorites despite its not having much meat on its bones.
You’ve probably picked up from the preceding that stylistically and compositionally this is a far more “normal” project than the others in today’s round-up. That’s not a bad thing, of course. Now and then Castle tries too hard to fit the skin of everything that rootsy country music has done before, as in “So Far From Heaven” and “Nashville Nights.” The anti-jingoistic “Star Spangled Lies” might not please some of today’s Tea Party “patriots.”
But this is a good dose of sustenance for country music fans looking for something more earthy than what typically plays on country radio.