Leave Me Alone (Leaving Thomas, Leaving Thomas review)

Not every album review can be a winner unfortunately, and while there’s nothing wrong with the old adage of you never know unless you try, I kind of wish I hadn’t given this week’s album a second thought.

 

 

Leaving Thomas – Leaving Thomas

released January 19, 2018
***** 5/10

Leaving Thomas are a Canadian country pop duo from Calgary (a neighbouring city in my province of Alberta). Annika Odegard and Bryton Udy have finally dropped their much anticipated self-titled EP, Leaving Thomas. It’s eight tracks in length make for a pretty hefty EP, but there is enough variety in the song choices that you can sit through it without too much issue. And I can see why their are gaining momentum throughout Canada and the United States, but unfortunately it’s kind of an uneven listen for me, with a lot of filler tracks and not enough chances taken.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see a Canadian country duo getting lots of attention, but if track no. six is any indication, Best Adventure is far from it, and feels a little bit like your average middle of the summer radio jam. Which is probably why it’s one of the the first three singles released.

That said, Blame it On The Neon is where this EP really shines, it a good time for all involved and really showcases Annika’s vocals. You can easily see this song filling a stadium. And If This Is Love is a solid second runner up for best track, with all kinds of emotion, punctuated by the piano, it’s a incredibly deep ballad and something you’d expect from more seasoned performers.

The last of the singles, Waiting Kind of Girl, falls somewhere in the middle, with it’s interesting melodic structure and tempo. But man that chorus is just brutal to listen to. It’s way too on the nose, with rises and falls all over the place. And that percussion just hurts me.

I just wish the album was a bit longer, which would have made it a full-length album, and maybe there would have been some artist driven choices here, rather then the safety net of convention. You can tell this duo has a voice just waiting to break out, but musically they are playing it safe and boring. Unfortunately for us.

Pros: When they are connected, you can tell very clearly that Odegard and Udy are childhood friends that enjoy playing together and to each others strengths, and there is a sweetness to If This Is Love, which absolutely merits it’s inclusion.

Cons: I wish that Udy had a larger role in the vocal work, and that he played off of Odegard more often, because while she is the big sister to his little brother figure, sometimes youth can surprise you with energy and innovation. And I wish that Shame On Me had hit the cutting room floor. Yuck.

Runtime: 28 minutes

Points of Interest: Odegard is two years older then Udy, and they first meet as children during a biblical stage production. They reconnected at the Calgary Stampede 2012 where they were both competitors in a talent search, but it wasn’t until a rained out BBQ that they decided to play 90’s country together and then things clicked.

There is some serious potential with this pop country duo, but it won’t get them into a position of prominence playing it safe. So for now I’ll be leaving Leaving Thomas on the shelf, with hopes that it isn’t nostalgia but success that demands another listen from them.

theories Summarized

I don’t think  you should buy this album or pick up a digital copy, but I do think you should listen to a handful of the tracks and make up your mind to investigate further. Maybe you’ll be more forgiving of the EP that have been, either way Leaving Thomas won’t be leaving the scene anytime soon, and hopefully they take the feedback with a grain of salt.

That said, I am happy to announce another first for timotheories, and an excellent album for you to consider listening to. Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins is well worth a spin, and their democratic brand of music is refreshing. Don’t Believe me? Just watch what Brendon Greene and I have to say about the matter.

I hope you enjoyed our first ever Sound Culture video review, but if you did, can you do us a favour and subscribe, comment and like the video? We appreciate your continued support dear readers.

Tim!

Red Cross, Blue Cross (First Aid Kit, Ruins review)

What is the difference between a red cross and a blue cross, dear readers? One is a humanitarian organization, which receives all resources through donation, and the other is an insurance company that specializes exclusive in the health sector. It’s the little things that make a difference, after all.

Which is why this album is immediately better then their last.

 

 

First Aid Kit – Ruins

released January 19, 2018
******** 8/10

First Aid Kit is a Swedish folk, indie, americana and country based sister duo of Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’ve been officially making music since 2007, and now have four albums under their belt. Their first studio-length album may have been 2010’s The Big Black and the Blue, but their international attention came from a cover they performed of Fleet Foxe’s Tiger Mountain Peasant Song which blew up on the internet.

In addition to their studio albums, First Aid Kit (FAK) have also made a couple of EPs, and some other singles over the past few years. Their early exposure to artists like Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Louvin Brothers, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris all played a big part in forming their musical sound, but the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Are Thou? was especially inspiring and a major catalyst for Johanna.

Their newest album, Ruins, was recorded in the early part of 2017 and they slowly released the singles It’s a Shame, Postcard, and Fireworks over the back half of the year. Thank God for that, as these singles are momentous and a welcome addition to the canon.

Track opener Rebel Heat sets the tone, a deep sadness and finality, telling us not to mess around with First Aid Kit or their hearts. Sure it might seem a bit on the nose, at first, but there is a deep pain hidden within these lyrics.

This is even more smartly said when we do get to the finish line. There is a tired sincerity to Nothing Has to Be True, and in the end nothing really matters, except for the moments and these two women who’ve shared them with us.

Pros: These singles are amazing on their own, but when paired together, they really shine and showcase the range of First Aid Kit. Postcard, Fireworks or It’s A Shame, take your pick, excellent songs to move to.

Cons: The second half of the record isn’t quite as strong as the first, and as a result it feels somewhat tacked on, despite the beautiful vocals and intelligent instrumentation.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of InterestDid you know that the name First Aid Kit came from the duo thumbing randomly through a phone directory?

Their strength has always rested in their shared songwriting and harmonious sound. Ruins continues in that strong tradition of enriching tradition and emphasizing the romance of country music. To Live a Life is an excellent example is an excellent worship song of the art of solitude and exactly the kind of thing their heroes would have done.

Taking the road less travelled and sticking to the truth has always been the name of the game, and Ruins doesn’t deviate from that vein of glorious history being rewritten on their lips.

theories Summarized

This is gorgeous music and whether or not it completely devastates with earnest lyrics or not, theSöderberg sisters know how to make dark clouds seem warm and inviting. I hope it wins some new fans to the First Aid Kit brand, and diehards will enjoy it too, but let’s hope that red cross doesn’t turn blue.

Tim!

Off To The Slaughterhouse (Chase Rice, Lambs & Lions review)

I’ve been humbled once again. I bought a record on a whim, made some initial judgments based on the cover art and what I heard as I listened for the first time to a lean thirty seven minutes of modern country music, except that’s not what this is, at all.

It’s an escape plan marked all over with pencil and featuring focal points that are highlighted atop the map with black felt tip circles.

But is it a success?

 

 

Chase Rice – Lambs & Lions

released November 17, 2017
****** 6/10

Chase Rice is an American singer-songwriter that got his start in country music, and benefited heavily from the party anthems that have permeated this decade. Do you remember Florida Georgia Line’s song Cruise? Rice co-wrote it. Ever listen to the hit album, Ignite The Night? Rice is the artist behind the party anthems about drinking, pickup trucks, and young women. Ever watch Survivor? Rice was the runner-up on the Nicaragua season.

He is something of a relic at this time in music – Ironic, given that we have three more years before the twenties start up. Bro-country is finally on it’s way out, and artists like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen have already felt the pressure of a dismissive public.

This is part of the reason why Rice decided to break from Columbia records and sign with Broken Bow Records for his fourth album, Lambs & Lions. The other reason being, that wanted to make a more emotionally honest and truly authentic record, when authenticity in country music should have meant sticking to the well-worn tracks established.

Lions kicks off the album, and Rice establishes early on that this is his break from his past, it has the same energy as his previous albums, but the tone is shifting towards rock, metal, power pop, and even some R&B. It’s especially evident that this album is stripped of a lot of the production that his previous music had when Unforgettable, Eyes On You, and Saved Me show up.

Three Chords & The Truth is the first single on the record, and trending on the music charts right now, but despite this popularity, it really is an interesting song with some subtle nods to the genre of country music, and funnily enough, while on a soul search, he has managed to connected with many other people looking for answers in country music too.

In the end, this is a collection of songs about someone who is letting go of an identity that they wore for a long time, self-imposed or no, and what shows up underneath is pretty interesting. It’s not my favourite record of the year by any means, but the hope it delivers is more important in some ways.

Pros: You can see throughout Lambs & Lions that Rice is putting more of himself into his music, and a personal favourite of mine is Amen, which is an ode to his father, revealing a lot of Rice’s personal code.

Cons: I wish that there was even more exploration on this album. It still feels a little bit safe reliant on what preceded. It might have been difficult for Chase Rice to break completely from his bro-country roots, but including Jack Daniel’s Showed Up is so unnecessary.

Runtime: 37 minutes

Points of Interest: The album debuted at No. 42 on the Billboard 200, and No. 6 on the Top Country Albums. Rice has said that the album is heavily influenced by rock artist Douglas Docker.

Changing your identity is a challenge, even moreso when there is a perception of you attached to it. Chase Rice has made some excellent strides into a new and exciting direction, with music that features more of his own ideas and less concern with sounding a specific way. And I like it.

theories Summarized

I’m not sure that you absolutely have to pick this up. But if you like your country music with a little rock n’ roll, you are sick of bro-country or you simply like to see progression in your artists, give this album a listen, you might just be inspired to show your fleece, while bearing your teeth. That’s my theory anyway.

Tim!

A Collection of Moments (Chris Stapleton, From A Room: Volume 2 review)

If you could name an up and coming country artist that’s done it all already, who do you think would fit that bill? I’ll give you two guesses for albums that have done that in 2017. But you only need one answer.

 

 

 

Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 2

released December 1, 2017
******** 8/10

Chris Stapleton is an American singer-songwriter, best known for his ability to perform rock, bluegrass, country, and a mixture thereof. He has been active in the music industry for over fifteen years now; he went solo back in 2013, released his debut album The Traveller in 2015, followed by From A Room: Volume 1 in May of 2017. If the velocity of his release schedule seems overwhelming, consider that that this is an artist who has contributed over 150 songs to albums by other popular artists like Adele, Tim McGraw, and Brad Paisley, among others.

Stapleton is a southern boy through and through, raised in Kentucky and active in Nashville since he officially began to focus on music in 2001. His wife Morgane has featured in harmonies on all three of his albums, and he often includes long-time friends in the band he records and travels with, citing the importance of chemistry when crafting a song.

This is incredibly apparent on From A Room: Volume 2. As you listen to the record, it is obvious that these are collection of vignettes, windows into characters that Stapleton has spent a lifetime crafting, and while it goes against my typical expectation for a good album, I appreciate that fact this collection of songs was further proven by the older sister album released not even six months ago – proof that each track can stand on it’s own and that Stapleton is an artist in it for the long haul. I’ll admit that it seemed like a commercial gimmick at first, a way to make cash off of his current success with CMA awards, but these humble albums are both strong, and in my opinion, Volume 2 is even stronger.

Album opener Millionaire is your standard country song about love overcoming financial difficulty, with Hard Livin’ coming shortly after – a song about outlaw living, and an excellent demonstration of Stapleton’s command over his chosen genre.

Scarecrow In The Garden is another notable addition to the queue, choosing to try something new in the form of a narrative about immigrant farmers living in West Virginia. It doesn’t have the typical fairytale ending of most popular country, and this is what separates Stapleton from his contemporaries. A natural evolution of sound.

Comparisons have been made to Tom Petty, and Stapleton even travelled with him on his final tour, but other greats like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson all come to mind. Just listen to the final four songs and you’ll get a better sense for it. A Simple Song has a folk feel, while Midnight Train to Memphis is rockabilly at heart. Drunkard’s Prayer is a somber ballad and album closer Friendship is full of soul and the blues.

 

 

 

Pros: Even though it comes early on in the album, Nobody’s Lonely Tonight is one of the strongest tracks on the record and a personal favourite of mine. An interesting take on overcoming heartbreak. Also, as previously mentioned, the harmonies of Morgane are much stronger on the album overall this time around.

Cons: It has a very short runtime, and while Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind is a thoughtful and catchy track on the ups and downs of drinking, it’s a little bit cliched in it’s structure. But I can’t quite place why this bothers me just yet.

Runtime: 32 minutes

Points of Interest: Millionaire is a cover of Kevin Welch’s and Friendship is a cover of gospel and R7B legend, Pops Staples.

If it hasn’t been made clear yet, this isn’t your garden variety country music, dear readers. It is an excellent mix of both traditional country and soul music that subverts your expectations of what something out of Nashville should sound like. And I like it.

theories Summarized

If I haven’t convinced you to pick up this album yet, I’ll leave you with one more piece of evidence to consider. He is BFF’s with Justin Timberlake and has performed with him at the CMAs once already. Yes, that Justin Timberlake. The one who basically took up the mantle of King of Pop after Michael Jackson died. And his debut album is already a classic. But that’s my theory on the matter.

Tim!

Time Enough To Pass (Joan Shelley, Joan Shelley review)

An age-old problem of music, if it’s a shorter album, we’ll complain that it feels weak, and it comes in over sixty minutes we can’t believe what a slog it is.

Is forty minutes the sweet spot though?

 

Joan Shelley – Joan Shelley

released April 28, 2017
******** 8/10

Joan Shelley is a Kentucky based American singer-songwriter who has been making professional music since at least 2014, as that was when she released her first full-length album Electric Ursa.

Her fourth album is self-titled as Joan Shelley, and that’s usually a sign of intent on the behalf of a recording artist, a demonstrable shift in tone, content and genre(s). This album is no exception to that rule, at all. Joan Shelley is an intimate record, chalk full of dense material and featuring production efforts from Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a more complex album with tons of instrumentation and production value. No, it manages to tells it’s story with considerably less – vocals, guitars, ukulele, piano, organ, bass, and drums. The staples of folk music and this album most definitely has a folk feel to it. Just listen to Wild Indifference over a couple of listens and you’ll be at the heart of it.

Acoustic fingerpicking is a key element opening every track up and spreading the message out either simple and sweet or with a whiskey tinged bitter accommodation. Isn’t That Enough is a great example of that pull, especially since we experience both innocence and finality in it’s notes.

Where we best see the contributions of Jeff Tweedy come through are on I Got What I Wanted, Where I’ll Find You and If The Storms Never Came, but Shelley’s vocals almost come through, demonstrating the wisdom of Mr. Tweedy.

There is a great deal of beauty too to be found in these songs. And that all starts with track number one We’d Be Home, and quickly followed up by Even Though in the space following the second, third and fourth songs on the record. And man does the piano ever bring the attention on Pull Me Up One More Time, thanks be to James Elkington for that.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my favourite song on the album – I Got What I Wanted. It must be the lingering outlaw country flourishes of Willie Nelson, but I cannot stop tapping my toe and feeling remorseful for Shelley.

Pros: The vocals of course. Joan Shelley has all the makings of a great country artist, and The Push and Pull demonstrates this well. And while this is a shorter album, the length suits the ideas perfectly.

Cons: At the great risk of being a contrived self-referential mess, Shelley manages to avoid this for the most part, but sometimes it feels blah. Go Wild I’m looking directly at you.

Runtime: 34 minutes

Points of Interest: This self-titled album began with a fiddle, of all instruments. Though Joan Shelley wasn’t able to articulate herself well with the fiddle, she took the direction of that instrument and applied it to the guitar. And it is indeed self-titled because it features her most assured and complete thoughts so far.

It’s difficult to add something new to folk music, but with some help (or should we say non-help help?) Joan Shelley has managed to craft a well-worn album from the bare minimum of instruments. And her ability to spread ideas across moments in time comes across quite well.

theories Summarized

All that considered, I think that Joan Shelley is a master of her chosen form, and we should be happy to have her work out there on display. It never manages to overstay it’s welcome and it sounds amazing both in your car and at home. At least, that’s my theory.

Tim!