Lowland Hum push themselves to the brink, and return with Glyphonic, a song cycle that challenges the artist and listener alike to resist the gravitational pull of the material world and to choose to live with intent. As with their 2017 release, Thin, the duo of Daniel and Lauren Goans wrestle weighty questions with grace and aplomb. The title of the album is our first clue. Glyphs bring to mind the picture stories of ancient chroniclers. Phonic calls to mind sound, and so we have an album of picture-story songs. The Goans have compiled snapshots of the road they have travelled which offer insights into our own journeys. As usual, they make going deep look easy.
Silverlake 66 self-releases Ragged Heart, reminding us that country music is best when it wears its heart on its sleeve and speaks in the straightforward language of the everyman. The duo of Jeff Overbo and Maria Francis stay the course they set when they released their debut record back in 2016. Ragged Heart is the confident statement of a couple that knows their strengths and how to play to them, and to us.
With Global Griot Eric Bibb pulls on all the threads that run through his storied career to weave a tapestry that offers hope for the human family. For this record Bibb moves beyond the tether of genre into a broader sonic landscape, past blues into something more like world folk.
In doing so he invites his fellow performers to share their gifts with us, creating a musical banquet for the famished soul. Bibb’s extended creative family are all in, from Harrison Kennedy and Habib Koite to Staffan Astner and Michael Jerome Browne. The cast of characters also includes his longtime producer Glen Scott and Bibb’s wife, Ulrika. And while this is definitely an Eric Bibb record, it is also a product of the community Bibb has created for himself, and us.
I think one of the rewarding things about hearing new music is discovering an artist who knows his own voice. An artist that creates their own space and then inhabits it well, with authority and confidence. Mark Currey does this on his fine debut, Tarrant County. Some might say Currey, at 53, is late to start a recording career, but that would be a mistake. By waiting, Currey has allowed his vision and songwriting skills to distill into something deeply personal. It has also given him the confidence to be his own man, and make the record he wanted to make.
Ray Bonneville opens his latest release, At King Electric, with the kind of understated world weary grace and lyrical punch that JJ Cale made his calling card. On his ninth album Bonneville displays the discernment that some artists never attain, namely that he realizes the strength of his songs lies not in what he puts into the recording, but rather, what he leaves out. His songs work the way an emotionally charged conversation does, one in which the person who shows the most restraint has the upper hand. What Bonneville doesn’t say speaks loudest.
Webb Wilder is back doing what he does best; that is, being Webb Wilder. Sixteen previously unreleased tracks and a handful of Beatnecks later you have solid proof that Wilder and company know how to bring the party. And bring it they do. The only question is, why did these tracks stay buried for so long?
Steve Dawson follows up his stellar 2016 release, Solid States & Loose Ends with an all instrumental outing, the excellent Lucky Hand. And the Canadian by way of Nashville keeps everything firmly rooted in Americana while setting the songs against the backdrop of a string quartet, in the process creating a sort of blue collar chamber music that sounds right at home on the porch.
If there was a music industry award for consistency in both effort and quality, it would named after John Mayall. Mayall is the gold standard for dedication to craft. While a younger artist might take five years between albums to figure out what he was going to do next, Mayall would put out five albums worth of sterling material in the same time frame. Mayall can do that because he knows who he is, and what he wants to do. And he knows how to do it pretty damn well.
Eric and Ulrika Bibb celebrate love and relationship with Pray Sing Love
Eric Bibb has been expanding his personal vision for years, even though he is marketed primarily as a blues artist. And while that tag certainly fits him (you’d be hard pressed to find a better steward of pre-war blues) it is too small in scope to contain his prodigious talent. A better term might be troubadour, a word that frees him from the constraints of genre and liberates his skills as a songwriter and story teller.
Daniel and Lauren Goans, the indie darlings also known as Lowland Hum, are back again, one year after their gorgeous release Thin, with gifts for the holiday season. Songs for Christmas Time is one of those rare collections that hits all the right notes, and offers us a path through the hectic days to come. If you are looking for a place of rest and solitude, tucked inside the celebrations, this is a fine place to start.
Christmas albums, as a genre, are a mixed bag. There are the traditional records, with all the classics you know and love, there are the goofy and wonderful kitchen sink releases, unpredictable, yet entertaining, and there are those that are plainly dreadful and commercial.
Some of my fondest memories as a child were of Christmas mornings, with the family. The best gifts were an interesting mix of things you wanted, things you needed, and things you never thought of but grew to love. Songs for Christmas Time is that sort of gifting. There are seasonal songs you know by heart, some traditional tunes that you may be unfamiliar with, and a chestnut or two from Johnny Cash and Vince Guaraldi.
J.M. McSpadden III is a writer and roots music enthusiast who believes every road trip is an opportunity for the full- tilt boogie.