Tag Archives: folk

Whitney reimagines singer-songwriter rarities and popular sing alongs alike on new covers LP, Candid

Photo Courtesy of Secretly Canadian

The one-of-a-kind combination of indie rock and soul that defines Whitney is largely, if not entirely, the result of its two core members, drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek. Following the demise of their former band, Smith Westerns, the Chicago-based musical architects released two excellent albums under their new name and eclipsed their past successes.

Now, for the songwriting duo’s third LP titled Candid, Ehrlich and Kakacek transfer their spotlight toward the band’s touring musicians while reinterpreting ten cherished songs from square one. What initially started last January as an attempt to capture the energy of Whitney’s live performances by recording two or three covers eventually ended up as a full-fledged project, featuring unearthed folk songs from the 70s to modern offerings fewer than ten years old.

Candid establishes the record’s expansive full band sound with Kelela’s tender 2013 track, “Bank Head.” Whitney converts the dreamy R&B number into a sparse soul ballad that strips away its hi hat cymbals and electronic beat in favor of rich piano chords and pulsing physical drums.

Ehrlich’s high-register singing voice, however, perfectly complements the original, though his smooth, soaring vocals shine even more on tracks such as Moondog’s innocent, folksy ballad “High on a Rocky Ledge” and the buoyant melodies SWV’s classic heater, “Rain,” which also touts a luscious bass line fashioned after the original’s Jaco sample.

Although Ehrlich’s singing and Kakacek’s catchy guitar riffs populated most of Whitney’s first two albums, Candid more often yields to an ensemble dynamic with appropriately-placed solo flourishes. Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield makes a remarkable appearance on the second verse of the Appalachian standard, “Take Me Home, Country Road,” giving the rollicking cover a campfire sing along feel, with her gorgeous delivery of the lyrics “painted on the sky” stealing the show.

Whitney also utilizes Will Miller’s sweet, drawn out trumpet playing on songs such as the joyful and declarative cover of Damien Jurado’s “A.M. A.M.” — fans of Wild Wild Country might recognize the original — and especially on the album highlight, “Hammond Song” by The Roches.

Although the original version of “Hammond Song” is full of rich vocal harmonies, Ehrlich’s impassioned singing matches the intensity of several voices alone and Miller’s mid-song trumpet solo provides the ideal melodic release. To an extent, Ehrlich’s vocal inflections on “Hammond Song” sound like he’s posing the questions the song asks inward, which emphasizes the original’s introspective nature. And much like the original, Whitney’s cover is infinitely replayable.

There are a few places throughout Candid’s 33 minute runtime, however, that fail to creatively reinvent its source material. The cover of “Strange Overtones,” written by David Byrne and Brian Eno, never feels too far away from a Talking Heads song. Likewise, while the band might personally enjoy the slide guitar-punctuated instrumental “Something Happen” and the encouraging Labi Siffre tune “Crying, Living, Laughing, Lying,” but they lack the communal energy and experimentation found elsewhere on the record. None of these are bad covers, but to a certain extent, they feel shoehorned into the tracklist with little relation to more thoughtful covers.

At Candid’s best, Whitney uses its full roster to prove that great songwriting transcends genres and, as Kakacek demonstrates with his guitar on the closer, Blaze Foley’s “Rainbows and Ridges,” that it’s possible to speak volumes without singing a single word. But ultimately, Whitney’s third album pays tribute to a handful of beloved songs that also help to decipher the band’s fine-tuned blend of styles.


Orphnē, the intricate third album from Maud the Moth, shares the mystery of a haunted house

Photo Courtesy of Música Máxica, Nooirax Producciones, La Rubia

Listening to Maud the Moth’s new album, Orphnē, is like walking through a haunted house that slowly reveals its secret history to you. Each of the eight tracks making up the record’s 40 minute runtime draws the listener deeper and deeper into the cobwebbed passageways of its dark jazz and folk music.

The band’s sole member, Amaya López-Carromero, a Spanish singer and pianist who now lives in Edinburgh, leads a full band experience on Orphnē consisting of busy drums, weighty guitars and oft menacing strings. But out of all the instruments on the album, López-Carromero’s crystalline piano finds its way to the forefront as she cements the otherworldly mood of tracks such as “Ecdysis” and “The Mirror Door” with her careful note selection.

Vocally, López-Carromero stretches her somber lyrics on Orphnē to fit into her soaring, folk-inspired melodies. Although it’s sometimes difficult to figure out the words, her velvety singing gives the record a main focal point, guiding the listener along. Throughout the album, she offers clues toward figuring out its hidden messages such as on the song, “The Abattoir,” where she tells the story of a girl who “was always changing faces.”

On the fantastic single, “Finisterrae,” which serves as a short detour into the overgrown grounds behind the ghostly estate, López-Carromero’s lyrics turn uplifting as she sings lines such as, “inside you flowers a garden/And inside the font swims a water bird.” Paúl González’s excellent jazz drumming paired with López-Carromero’s soulful piano melodies make “Finisterrae” the most stirring song on the record and a true highlight.

Elsewhere in Orphnē’s lyrics, López-Carromero uses Greek mythology to evoke certain classical figures such as on the lively jazz song “Mormo and the Well” or her mention of Penelope in the lyrics of “As Above So Below.” Even the album’s title is a reference to a nymph from Hades, as well as being a root for the word “orphan.” These allusions give Orphnē an added layer of depth and a sense of timelessness, with the ancient stories mirroring the suffering and anguish of life in the present day.

Produced by Jaime Gómez Arellano, who has worked with brooding bands such as Ulver, Orphnē is a foreboding record that only allows the daylight briefly into its haunted interior. And even then, it’s a grey, overcast kind of light that offers little to no comfort. With its dark themes and unique musical style, Maud the Moth’s latest album will make you feel like you’re walking up a creaky, wooden stairwell dreading to discover what’s behind the door at the top.


The odds and ends Tim Buckley comp, The Dream Belongs To Me, shows an artist never settling for what’s passable

Photo Courtesy of Real Gone Music

Folk singer Tim Buckley often workshopped his material at live performances and in the studio before committing the fully developed forms to wax.

Real Gone Music’s reissue of The Dream Belongs To Me compiles three studio sessions — two at the heights of his fame in 1968 and another during his 1970s funk period — that puts early sketches of his most memorable compositions alongside more obscure songs that never made it to an album.

The first half of the record features songs that Buckley scattered throughout his next four records, which would expand the boundaries of his earlier folk phase. It’s revealing to hear early renditions of “Song to the Siren,” “Sing A Song to You” and “Happy Time” even if they sound more hollow and less energetic than their final versions or recorded live performances around the same time. The song “Danang” is notable here because it shows Tim Buckley as a bandleader. Nearing the song’s end, he instructs his band, “Let’s do it again,” before going into a final verse of tender lyrics.

“Buzzin Fly,” a jazzy song much older than the rest here, is nearly in its final form, complete with a guitar solo and walking bassline. Buckley’s voice adds emotion to the chorus lyrics, “You’re the one I talk about/You’re the one I think about/Everywhere I go,” as if he’d sung them a hundred times before. Given its quality, this recording of “Buzzin Fly” easily might have wound up on Happy/Sad instead of the final version recorded in December 1968. It’s strong close to the first studio session.

On the second half of The Dream, Buckley, working out songs for his 1973 album Sefronia, is supported by a commanding rhythm section along with a funky electric guitar. Although songs such as “Sefronia,” “Stone In Love” and “Quicksand” aren’t as highly regarded as the songs from the comp’s earlier session, Buckley and his band’s fiery performances give fans alternate takes that are much more raw than the album’s polished mixes.

The compilation’s title track, which never made it to a studio album, is a shining moment of the 1973 session with its surreal lyrics and a menacing instrumental that recalls the song “Come Here Woman” from Starsailor. At its base, though, “The Dream Belongs To Me” is a love song, with Buckley singing lyrics such as “Just as long as a pearl in the sea/Your sweet love belongs to me.” “Falling Timber,” another non-album number, also shows remnants of Starsailor with its voice-as-instrument vocals. These two songs, while not the best performances captured during these sessions, are the rarest offerings on this reissue.

Despite being originally released in 2001 by another label, Real Gone Music’s reissue of The Dream Belongs To Me rekindles the mystery of Tim Buckley’s creative process through a collection of high quality studio sessions. Nineteen years later, we can still learn through this reissue about the lengths Buckley went to develop his songs and the discipline it took to render them timeless.


Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out

Photo Courtesy of Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding

It’s rare to hear jazzy instruments like the vibraphone or the double bass accompanied by the smooth swelling of a string quartet.

But on Last Flight Out, the second collaboration between Chicago singer-guitarist Steve Dawson and his backing band Funeral Bonsai Wedding, unconventional musical pairing intertwine to create a uniquely bright and buoyant soundscape. The album’s musicians skillfully adjust their playing for what each jazzy folk tune demands, supporting Dawson’s lyrics that strive toward creating a better tomorrow. Continue reading Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding share a positive outlook for a world in crisis on new collab, Last Flight Out