Third Class Gets Real On “Virginia” Double LP


Making a double album is a downright arduous task in modern music today. Lengthy epics from pioneering artists in rock, soul and so many other genres in the decades past have been replaced by one nagging fear:

The attention span of the modern audience. 

In an age where digital is still king while vinyl/physical media churns on in the shadows, the value of an album as a whole has been reduced to singles and sound bites in the modern audience’s ear. And sadly many artists have followed suit, releasing just enough quality for plenty of radio play and iTunes downloads while the material as a complete statement tends to suffer. 

This has worked so well in fact that you’ll often find once overly prolific musicians censoring themselves just to fit into the mold. And while I can understand that in some sense, I think it creates too much overthink and not enough bravery to just create.


Thankfully the lads in Third Class have disregarded this stereotype on their latest LP Virginia’s Playlist. The Ohio-based group has created an unashamedly honest patchwork quilt of subjects on this record, ranging from birth, death, childhood, love (and falling out), simply adorned poetry and the innocence of just experiencing what the world is all about once you move out past your front door. 

Accompanied by spare arrangements of piano, ramshackle electric/acoustic guitar, backing vocals, hand claps and ever-shifting ambiance, lead man Lee Boyle and co. take charge as the musical element in what feels like a many act play. At times on this one Boyle reminds me of Weird Al Yankovic when he appeared on the Ben Folds album Songs For Silverman. Capable of the comedic or what some might expect to immediately be lighthearted, when in fact he’s much much more. 

And much more is what’s needed when you feel so personally embedded into the concept of Virginia. It’s less of an album at times as much as a scrapbook of tapes, aforementioned poetry, personal statements and a woven tapestry of spoken word against song that creates more context than the music alone could ever do by itself. 


It almost feels voyeuristic to the listener in a way without pushing that envelope too far, yet is just as beautiful for all that it reveals. It makes me feel the memories being replayed as though I were there, while almost making me sad that I wasn’t able to truly live them. 

Say what you will about the YouTube/Facebook era of overexposure, I know I would have enjoyed recording on tapes for no other benefit than my own amusement. And there’s something about that type of nostalgia that rings more true than Keyboard Cat any day. 

In short, I give Third Class a lot of praise for this one. They weren’t afraid to make a double album. They weren’t afraid to make their statement regardless of what culture says is the “popular” way of doing it. 


They just made the most true sounding, human mix tape I’ve heard in a long time. That type of humanity could go a long way in a musical world much too hung up on the same dried out process of just earning a buck. 

Do what drives you. And make it as first class as Third Class does here. 

Stream Virginia’s Playlist now over on http://www.thirdclass.net, and make sure to follow the band on social media! 

Calhoun “Takes Me Away” In A Storm of Ethereal Uplift

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Kohli Calhoun is on the cusp of hard-fought creative perseverance. With debut album Take Me Away on the horizon and a single of the same name already born into the world, one might imagine Calhoun as a fresh face ready to artistically blossom. But while those seeds are indeed set and in place, the last eight years have been something more equivalent to a Spartan without the spear for the Brooklyn-based musician.

Initially expected to release her first batch of music in 2008, frustrations with a producer left Calhoun album-less and bounced out of music. Left as a castaway burned by a downward twist of fate, she contemplated never coming back after such a setback. But, like a chapter unfinished and a verse left undone…. the art never truly stops. It merely waits for the writer to recapture their flame once the time is right again.

And so the bug returned for Calhoun (along with a helping hand from the Brooklyn musical community), and by 2014 she had begun writing for what would become the Take Me Away sessions. A journey, at last fulfilled.

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Perhaps it’s the power of Calhoun’s artistic sensibilities as a songwriter or just those past experiences still looming raw, but this initially released single makes the strong emotions of her personal Dark Age seem as fragile as though they were yesterday. The first notes ring with the innocence of an arpeggio-ed lullaby, quickly turning to an effervescent confessional comparative to a more ragged St Vincent or Regina Spektor at her most breathlessly world-weary.

Calhoun can literally bring the motions of this song up to an angelic procession before plunging down to little more than a single vocal right on the cusp of cracking. Right on the fringe of falling apart. Drowning in the gentle drone of a synthesizer. It’s just the right mix of technology and fragility that brings to the mind the indie masterpiece of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. A modernistic art piece that still knows how to breathe on the weight of it’s impassioned human lungs.

And ultimately it’s that level of humanity that makes this track sparkle as much as it does. The notion that yes we may not know the reason why Calhoun sings so starkly of this emotional weight, but we can still understand her need to escape it. Her need to move by the demons biting just outside the periphery.

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Being able to relate to others is one of the most human qualities we have. And when it comes to Calhoun, I’m ready to be taken away to the land this song promises. Let it be a journey we can all gladly take together.

Listen here:

http://www.imposemagazine.com/bytes/new-music/kohli-calhoun-take-me-away

Brent Cobb “Shines On” In LP Debut

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Country music is such a funny thing. Mention it to the average person and odds are they’ll either wrinkle up their nose at you in disgust, or name a favorite artist. The odds also state that favorite artist is probably from the list of Nashville industry regulars who made the first person do all that nose-wrinkling in the first place, which is really quite the interesting phenomenon.

Rarely can I think of a genre that either inspires so much blind love of retread stereotypes, or blind hate of a style that’s way more than meets the eye. For every Toby Keith or Brad Paisley there’s a Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson out there folks, and for every trailer park-loving, beer-swilling, tractor-obsessed milquetoast songwriter…. there’s another out there stabbing at their own heart just so you can listen to it bleed.

Isbell and Simpson are just two examples of that along with many others (The Lone Bellow, Chris Stapleton, and Ryan Adams when he still cared about country music to name a few). But today I’d like to focus on a young Southern artist who much like Stapleton paved his initial way as a songwriter before bringing his quiet, rough-around-the-edges style to his first major label LP.

And while I can’t say if this album is going to turn out as well for him as Traveller did for Stapleton, regardless it’s a pleasure to welcome Brent Cobb and Shine On Rainy Day into the world here in 2016. Cobb is another break of blue light in the cloud bank of business as usual in the industry of country music. He is every bit the soft-spoken, pastorally-minded singer-songwriter who may not dominate a room vocally, but still captivates it in just his debut the way guys like Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson have their whole careers.

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Just listening to Cobb’s songs (led by his accent-heavy minimalist croon) is like taking a step back in time to the beauty of early country and folk music and what made them tick. I mean before there was “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” there was “She Thinks I Still Care” after all. There was “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. There was the real time honest sentiment from both male and female artists that made country music so relatable, because so much of it was just about the strong emotions tying us to our day to day existence.

And when it comes to Cobb, he eagerly joins the club that keeps their eye firmly fixed on that keyhole of a mentality. Take the title track for instance, which incorporates a basic backing arrangement and leaves all the soul-stopping up to just Cobb’s vocals and lyrics alone. The song forces you to take notice, feeling as fresh as today yet as priceless as a 1960’s era masterpiece B-side you find abandoned in a stack of old vinyl.

It’s certainly not alone in that regard. “Solving Problems” is an easygoing toe-tapping strummer that would get along well with the songwriting of Isbell and Josh Ritter, while “Country Bound” has all the sepia-washed innocence of a walk through the woods listening to John Denver songs.  Pair that with the strength of tracks like “South Of Atlanta” and “Diggin Holes”, and you’ve got a record that’s already preparing to blast into the stratosphere of the next generation of country music artists.

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Add the fact Cobb teamed up with country music super producer cousin Dave Cobb on this one, and Shine On Rainy Day has got a little bit of everything your roots loving heart could ask for. A little cheatin’, a little bleedin’, a little done me wrong, with a slice of a heart born as a result of living through the world as garnish on the side.

You know, just a few of the problems of the world. And that’s nothing to wrinkle your nose at.

Ryan’s “Travelers” Shine In Debut Sneak Peek

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Music journalism is a business that has a tendency to be feast or famine. One day you might strike a big success that everybody loves, and the next you might find yourself on an empty oasis doing it just for the pleasure of creation.

Thankfully I’ve never lost that sense of enjoyment. Mostly because it’s always been a passion of mine, but also because of how this blog and these writings have connected with people. It used to happen periodically back in my Youtube days, but I’ll tell you this… Youtube is one of the most singlehandedly lonely experience for a creator trying to find an audience.

I’ve had videos get thousands and thousands of views, but not a single comment or interaction from another person. And I always hated that considering how much I always wanted to interact with people who had the same interests that caused me to make what I did in the first place.

But luckily that wasn’t always the case, thanks in part to people like Ryan Hahn. I first became acquainted with Hahn years ago because he was looking for someone to review the band he was playing drums in at the time called The Difference Engine. That eventually parlayed itself into an email interview with the band, which was big for me at the time considering it was only the second time I’d ever done such a collaboration.

That was a major benchmark moment as you might imagine, and thankfully I’ve been in touch with Hahn in the years since on a variety of projects (including another still to come on this blog). But my favorite in the early going has to be the first batch of songs he recently sent me under the new moniker “Andrew Ryan & The Travelers”.

It’s essentially a solo project despite the band name (Hahn recorded/sang most everything himself with help from ex-Difference Engine guitarist Nick Vanderveldt and vocalist Marie Marotti). And instead of working in the background as a multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter, this effort rebrands Hahn not only in name but as an assertive frontman as well.

This first trio of songs (“Out Of My Head”, “Town & Country”, “Disingenuous”) are confident in their direction and very well-nuanced in both instrumentation as well as songwriting. These are tracks that are just mellow enough to suit Hahn’s well-weathered vocals, yet still bleed their influences all the way from Americana to Alabama Shakes-style moody blues rock.

Listen here: http://www.soundcloud.com/andrewryan-thetravelers

“Out Of My Head” is a slow burning emotional thunder strike following the death of a close friend, “Town & Country” embodies a yearning hometown restlessness amidst sinewy slinking drum lines, while “Disingenuous” is a hook-happy piece of sprightly folk with a darker depth than it initially lets on. These are songs that are very certain in their direction, and show a stylistic range that’s indicative of Hahn’s great skill as both a producer and musician.
I’m always extremely proud of any person that isn’t afraid to make their voice heard. Just being unafraid to sing is impressive enough (no matter how good or bad you sound). But to exist in the background and gradually build yourself up to the point you’re ready to write and shape and create your own music and put yourself in the spotlight is worthy of great praise.

That takes a lot of surety in yourself as well as vision and confidence in what you’re trying to achieve. And I hope for Hahn’s sake he doesn’t let off the throttle in acting on those creative instincts.

He and The Travelers certainly have something special waiting in the offing here. It’s efforts like these that will never put a stop to the faith I have in the music world. Just because it’s not on the radio…. doesn’t mean there aren’t enough gems in the rough to make a diamond blush.

Here are three reasons to prove it.

Loveless Looks For “Real” On Latest LP

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I always appreciate new female voices in the world of country and rock music. Not because they’re a relatively uncommon staple, but more due to the fact music’s modern standard for talent takes something more to really cement to my ears. There are so many voices struggling to be heard and sold in this internet-heavy age, and it takes patience to sift through what the radio and the music press just won’t tell you about.

Luckily, I’ve been extremely fortunate to hear as well as make friends with some tremendously badass ladies in the industry who’ve not only redefined the bar…. they’ve set it high. And the latest to pole vault those expectations has been none other than young country rocker Lydia Loveless and her latest album Real.

Real is the 5th release for Loveless since 2010, which makes her feel like a well-tread veteran singer songwriter at this point in her career while still only being 26 years old. Despite her age though, the “veteran” label feels appropriate as Loveless is one of those talents who sounds a good few decades older just by the way she sings. It’s a rare pleasure to bear witness to, but worth every second as she makes you feel every mile she’s put on her vocal cords and into every lyric she’s written.

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Take the heartbreaking Real track “Out On Love” for instance. It’s a slow burning flame of a song that never gets above low heat in it’s arrangement, but roars with a terrible, wrenching vocal passion until it erupts in one last final cadence of cathartic release. Loveless channels her best Americana’d Gothic Stevie Nicks drawl here in a way the legendary Fleetwood Mac frontwoman could certainly appreciate, as she’s made tracks like “Rhiannon” timeless for much the same natural ability.

Though Loveless (much like Nicks) doesn’t just dwell in the arena of painful balladry. Real opening track “Same To You” is like putting Jewel and Gillian Welch through a country rock blender circa the Ryan Adams Whiskeytown era, mixing in thumping bass with a hearty hook, and hitting juice. While “Midwestern Guys” is a mixture of The Replacements, toe-tapping 90’s alt-rock, and a raw narrative on people from Loveless’s little town who weren’t lucky enough to make it out of a hectically wild youth.

The production style does hit heavier on the slick, pop side of the fence and is certainly more restrained than prior releases like Indestructible Machine. To me, that feels like both a good and bad thing. There are moments I feel like Real should let things fly a bit further, but it also brings a level of measured maturity that Machine didn’t quite possess with it’s Uncle Tupelo-esque country punk flying by the seat of it’s pants.

Regardless, Loveless excels in a big way here that’s certainly got my attention.

Keep an eye on this girl. She may have come a long way already, but something tells me her best is still yet to come.

Grade: B

Standout Tracks: “Out On Love”, “Longer”, “Same To You”, “Real”

Walker Shines Bright On Glitteringly Fun “Gold”

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Following the somber, introspective tinge of Butch Walker’s 2015 statement piece Afraid of Ghosts, the question loomed large…. what would followup Stay Gold entail just a year later? I mean the Georgia-born singer-songwriter had just stripped down and bared the ragged grief of a son losing his father on Ghosts, so it was hard to foresee just where Gold would take Walker creatively going forward.

Could he be as intensely raw once again?

Not exactly. While Stay Gold does possess some moments of darker frailty (“Record Store” and the wonderful Ashley Monroe duet “Descending”), Walker is once again back to turning up his amps and shaking off the dust and demons in the process. Gold is much more dominated by joyful, E Street Band style rockers (“Irish Exit”, “East Coast Girl”, “Wilder In The Heart”) that recall the Gaslight Anthem during a year in which their frontman Brian Fallon ironically leaned away from that sound on his debut solo record Painkillers.

Even more ironic considering that Walker himself produced that album, but that’s a different point for another post.

The stories and lyricisms of drunken nights, hookups gone wrong and lifelong debauchery remain, but with an undertone of greater maturity beneath them. The realization of getting older, having back problems, grey hair, craving a Porsche (to quote “East Coast Girl”)… it’s a common problem rockers face with age, but one that Walker doesn’t happen to shy away from.

He’s not so much Green Day as Prince, who always knew “life is like a party, and parties aren’t meant to last”.

Walker may bring the party with Stay Gold, but he knows how to make the moments last too.

Stay gold, ponyboy.

Grade: B+

Standout Tracks: “East Coast Girl”, “Irish Exit”, “Descending”, “Record Store”

Bon Iver Weaves Intricate Sonic Tapestry On Dynamic “Million”

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When I first got wind of the band Bon Iver and frontman/figurehead Justin Vernon, it was around the time of the Bon Iver, Bon Iver record and the much-acclaimed solo piano take of Vernon’s spin on Bonnie Raitt’s classic “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. It was very much the For Emma, Forever Ago version of Vernon stripped down to the very roots, though I remember being puzzled at the time by this strangely ultra-high falsetto coming out of this… burly Wisconsin woodsman of a guy.

To put a long story short, I really didn’t understand Bon Iver’s rising upswing of appeal amongst the alternatively-minded people in the music community at first. I remember buying Bon Iver, Bon Iver on vinyl while on a vacation because of the rave reviews, the beauty of the cover work done by artist Gregory Euclide, and the need to just want to understand it. And the record did sit unplayed in my collection for a while. I remember looking at the lyric booklet that came with it and enjoying it’s poeticism (once I could understand what Vernon was saying, a problem I still have to this day). But it still hadn’t clicked.

Now I don’t remember the day when all the puzzle pieces finally settled into place, but once they did it was easy to appreciate Vernon’s mystique as well as his ability to say so much behind what was essentially a veil. Puzzling at his falsetto was replaced by the discovery of his early work solo and in DeYarmond Edison, which switched out curiosity for marvel at the vocal range Vernon has employed across his entire time in music. Rarely have I ever heard someone as equally capable of being a baritone as well as an uplifting falsetto.

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But I digress (so much for that long story short thing). I eventually grew to admire Vernon for his sense of that aforementioned veil while still managing to relate. He was an entirely unique character tearing at the heartstrings. Being as brutally broken up as he was on For Emma as he was anthemic with bigger tracks from Bon Iver like “Towers” and opener “Perth”. Whatever he put his touch to just seemed to work.

So when it was announced that Vernon was taking a hiatus from Bon Iver-related projects and was going back into the shadows for a while, I read into it with understanding even if it was a bummer to hear. The more I listen and learn and read into the music business the more I can respect the need to take breaks. As a writer, as much fun as it is to be creative you can never force that process or try to exhaust it for all that it’s worth. That only ends up making a freeing thing that much more like a shackle (which in hearing the backstory for this album seemed to be exactly the problem and stress Vernon was running into personally).

And so that’s where Vernon retreated to for a whole five years. He would appear from time to time with singles or collaborations or an album with side project Volcano Choir, but otherwise no plans seemed on the immediate front.

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Fast forward to this year and the sudden appearance of Bon Iver again along with live sets, new songs, and an album title. 22, A Million. A mysterious album title of mysteriously titled songs that seemed to be buried even deeper beneath…. what exactly? It was hard to say in a release that seemed to be characterized by strange symbols, mythologies, binary and hashtags (yep there’s one in there).

Well, many listens later I can tell you that it all does eventually make sense. This isn’t any season after 3 of the TV show Lost we’re dealing with here (or most any JJ Abrams project after it’s been allowed to spiral out a while). I think taking this extended break of just about five years was one of the finest moves Justin Vernon could have made, along with working at the side of guys like James Blake and Kanye West.

Yes despite the hatred many people have for West, he is regarded the way he is musically for a reason and 22, A Million showcases a lot of influence from that. He and Vernon have been tight for years (right up to JV thanking him in this album’s liner notes), and I don’t think Vernon’s deft sense of sampling, digital orchestration and autotune could have been done quite as well as it is here without that working relationship.

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I know what you’re thinking now that you’ve read the word autotune, and no this isn’t a ridiculous viral Youtube video or pumped out pop song. As much as the use of autotune has been well overcooked since guys like rapper T-Pain emerged with it years ago, it still has a legitimacy when used from the experimental side of the fence.

Tracks like “22 (Over S??N)”, “33 “GOD””, “715 – Creeks” and many more benefit from this, with a blending of digital and organic thoughts that create a deeply gorgeous sense of contrast. At times it feels like songs are on the very verge of slipping away into collapse, or are aging as you listen to their stories. Like an old record being put on that’s just a bit warped and being played a fraction out of tune as the needle slides across it. It’s almost jarring, yet warmly welcoming as untouched banjo, saxophone and piano runs play up against corrosively echoed vocals and the hammer of pulsing bass.

The sampling is brilliant as well, with nods across the record to the likes of Stevie Nicks, Paolo Nutini, Mahalia Jackson, Bill Graham, and my personal favorite Irish folk singer Fionn Regan. To my knowledge it’s a very rare thing to even hear Regan’s name mentioned on this side of the pond despite “The End of History” being one of the most underrated folk albums of all time (seriously, look into it if you haven’t). Yet here’s Vernon sampling a line from Regan’s song “Abacus” on closing track “00000 Million”, and doing it in the most hair-raisingly perfect way to boot.

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The song continuously gives me goosebumps every time I play it.

For some Bon Iver fans (especially those who desire another For Emma) some of these effects might prove a bit too much to bear, but that’s the thing about 22, A Million: it automatically requires patience.  Much like Wilco’s return to form on last year’s Star Wars, this isn’t an album made for digesting on the first try or song by song. It’s a complete composition unto itself, and I hope that Vernon will treat his as Wilco treated theirs and play it front to back onstage. It just doesn’t make as much sense any other way, especially with the knack many of these tracks have for slipping into and out of one another.

And it will still reward most any fans if they stick around long enough. Vernon’s folk-embracing side hasn’t disappeared from his work within Bon Iver; rather it’s become more of a cog in the machine of a greater tapestry of creative energy that’s at work here.

And wouldn’t you prefer that over just trying to pave over the dirt roads you came down in the first place? From the indication of things Vernon was not only frustrated with his sound but also his own image, so it’s a relief to hear him sounding as fresh as the time these five years have given him.

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I could go for paragraphs and paragraphs about what I hear out of this release every time I listen to it, but now you simply need to go listen. You’ll receive no better education than what your ears will tell you, and there’s a lot to learn on 22, A Million. Some may not be able to stick out the ride and that’s okay, but for those who can…. you’ll be in the midst of what may be the year’s best album.

Barham Brings Southern Gothic Americana To Solo Standout “Rockingham”

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The phrase “Southern Gothic Americana” may be the widest set of metaphorical body parts I’ve ever dug up and Frankenstein’d together in attempting to describe one album’s genre of music. It also may be one of the more unusual terms I’ve ever put in print here on OTBEOTB, but I promise it’ll all make sense in just a matter of a few paragraphs.

When I think of a phrase like this and attempt to paint a picture of it…. the first word I think of is stark. Plain grass and backwoods framed houses in towns whose names are just as quickly noted as they are forgotten by travelers passing those familiar green road signs dotting the rustic landscape. Unassuming places to the casual observer, but beneath the surface lingers a thousand stories of tragedy, heartbreak, birth, death, pride and a blue collar struggle that’s run on longer than the roads can ever hope to stretch.

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The closest musical elder to that portrait is Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, an album originally intended for Springsteen and his E Street Band but eventually reimagined as the stripped down lo-fi cast of working class lovers and losers it began as in the demo phase. Nebraska illuminated Springsteen’s still growing songwriting during one of his most prolific periods of musical history by not illuminating him at all. The words and stories remained, but gone were the layers of chunky guitars, Roy Bittan’s airy flow of piano, and most any traces of that trademark Asbury Park anthem-seeking. Instead, the album was a densely knit fog of shattered souls, uncertain futures and depressions laid bare to the world beneath a set of window panes as dingy as the album’s cover.

It’s a dark listen that remains one of Springsteen’s most underrated, yet certainly is one of the heaviest to emotionally journey through.

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I found myself having many of these Nebraska reflections while listening to BJ Barham’s similarly toned upcoming August 19th solo release Rockingham. The Pledgemusic-funded project also finds Barham (like Springsteen) momentarily breaking away from his band American Aquarium in order to release a small set of songs that made the most sense stripped right down to the bones.

The end result is a cross somewhere between Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and Kris Kristofferson. Barham is the essential “pearl snap poet with bad tattoos” (as he once coined himself in the AA song “St. Mary’s”) who’s gruff, ragged around the edges vocals hold inside them one of the more underrated storytellers of this generation.

Barham is very Guthrie-like in the way he can embody the Dust Bowl farmer with no way out on the dirge-like “Water In The Well”, the real life story of his grandfather on “American Tobacco Company”, or the Bonnie & Clyde pushed to the brink in “O’ Lover”. It’s not just that he can tell the story of the common man, he can make you feel every breath of his characters. Whether their stories happen to be real, or just well-crafted fiction.

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Regardless you grasp every straw of that emotion in the desperate sadness of a husband meeting/losing his wife in “Unfortunate Kind”, the father entrusting his every bit of wisdom on an often troubled world to a newly born daughter on “Madeline”, or in the embodiment of simple Southern life on the rootsy title track. Barham expresses a tender respect for his North Carolinian background all across this record actually, but never resorts to the kind of chest-thumping, overcompensating, flag waving, tractor driving stereotypes that modern mainstream country music has bogarted the hell out of in recent years.

Instead, he paints us a bit of that image I attempted to sketch for you earlier. Like every note was carefully built with his own two hands. Not by using the idea of women in tight jeans or Red Solo Cups as a centerpiece (I’ve got my eye on you Toby Keith), but by just relaying to the listener the often harsh or dirt poor realities of life in the small town South. And just like any average life, it’s a rollercoaster. Many of the endings might not be happy, but in the end you might still just come away proud of where you’re from simply by surviving.

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Rockingham shows off an all-too-brief but strongly knit nucleus of songs for Barham. Rarely do they need more than just his voice, spare acoustic guitar strums and fills here and there of instruments like piano, percussion, banjo and harmonica. And while his work can be just as soulfully raw with AA, it’s nice to see Barham step to the side for just a moment to show off how strong his solo skills are as well.

In either formation he proves extremely captivating, and when paired with a novelist’s sense for lyricisms it’s impossible to not be stopped by just the simple need to listen. And while I may throw out plenty of comparisons to other musicians, at the end of the day Barham is an artist unique unto himself.

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For everything Ryan Adams has almost hatefully thrown away about his Southern heritage, BJ Barham has embraced with a full-throated authenticity that few others are so gracefully capable of. And it’s not because they can’t write it.

Barham just sings it with a singular, steely-eyed conviction that makes me believe every word of every note, each and every time I hear it. And Rockingham is yet another perfect echo of all that Southern Gothic Americana sweat and blood.

See? Told you it would make sense.

Pinkwing Brings Shimmering “Honey”, Darker “Salt” On Latest EP

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Mood music. Think about that phrase for a moment, and go to the band or artist in your mind that it first takes you to. Harder to pin down than you’d think right?

Or, I could ask you that phrase on the spot today and that first feeling could change by tonight, tomorrow, or the middle of the next week. Hell, it could change in the next minute for all I know.

Mood music is that thing within us all that is always changing it’s shape and bending to the nature of our will’s whim like silly putty, or that certain way trees have of dancing in the wind. Rarely is it a constant, and the deeper you go into music the less you would ever really want it to be.

At least that’s what I’ve found in my experiences anyway.

But if you were to ask me to think “mood music” right in this moment, in this very second as I write to you amidst one of the nicest, sunniest days of this early glimpse into summer, I would have to settle on the equally warm joyousness of soul found deep within the band Pinkwing’s latest EP Honey & Salt.

11713679_946728495391765_2321963311601934802_oFrom quite literally the first introductory breath, frontwoman Joanna Levine and company start the record on an uplift with the infectiously catchy, almost folk-like tale of “The Reverend Robert Pawlings”. Based on Levine’s real life husband and bandmate of the same name (which you can learn more about here), “Pawlings” is a sweetly horn-accented, tongue in cheek love letter of a song that climaxes within an audience of voices singing spaciously in unison.

As far as initial greetings go, “Pawlings” is the toe-tapping, ear-worming, sing-a-long, hook of an engraved invitation that’s ready to take you on a ride through the rest of the EP.

12027134_994293443968603_2250725989558392233_oNot to be outdone, the next track “Enough” takes down the tempo and has it reside within a swinging, bluesy roadhouse waltz that acts as the perfect vehicle for Levine’s versatilely murmuring vocals. And while “Pawlings” is engaging due to the strength of it’s energy, “Enough” has such an enrapturing cadence to it that it’s nearly impossible not to be drawn into the song’s gradually unfurling, introspective trance and swirling slide guitar solo.

These first two songs make an excellent example of the template for the rest of Honey & Salt for the most part, as it’s an EP that’s sown together with sections that are folky, alt-pop/rock hinting, blues-heavy, contemplatively evocative, and with plenty of grittiness just starting to surface.

That undertow of something sharper and more lo-fi leaning comes out the strongest in “Prettiest Pictures”, which has plenty of sharp electric guitar lines and an angst-filled yearning that hits with the strength of a lonely walk on an uneven sidewalk at 2 AM. Or in the way that initial stream of water hits you from the shower head after a hard day just trying to scratch a little closer to the world you dream of for yourself.

11999619_974146279316653_4846111436610340020_oIn my interview with Levine she had spoken of wanting to take Pinkwing in a direction that was less cleanly folk-oriented and more battered-up blues, and I for one would be eager to listen to the band diving into those rockier edges. Because even with as pretty as songs like closer “All Night” or “Enough” are in their polished state, I sense even more possible depth for this band the more they might choose to explore that worn-thin vulnerability.

Though when it comes to the magnetic quality of Levine’s vocalisms, I could just as easily see her thriving in a stripped down to the acoustic bare bones setting (a la Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska) in the case of some of these tracks.

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But regardless, Honey & Salt is the perfect epitome of today’s mood music. So sit back, get yourself a glass of something ice cold, enjoy the sun, and pair some Pinkwing right along with it.

There are few better ways I can think of to bring in the season properly.

 

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