Roots in May

Stephen Doster – Over the Red Sea

This will be his third solo release in seven
years: “For me the record is kind of a travelogue starting with that boat on the cover by the Horn of Africa to London, from Dublin to Belfast, Virginia to Mississippi, and back home to the Texas Hill Country before the world stopped.” Support comes from Chris Searles (drums/percussion), Sam Pankey (upright and electric bass), Seela (vocals), Rich Brotherton (vocals, cittern, tenor guitar), Andrea Magee (vocals, bodhran, penny whistle), Jon Grossman (vibraphone, electric and acoustic piano, organ), JM Stevens (vocals) Brian Standefer (cello), Sam Jeffrey (flugelhorn) and Doster (vocals and guitars).

Recorded on analogue tape, there is certainly a retro feel. “These were some of the most joyous sessions in my life.” says Doster. And that comes across too. Reflective recollection and quiet grace are the order of the day, with songs that span the spiritual and physical, crossing between the idealistic and the realistic. These are deep vignettes, and with a start, powerful observation as he puts it in “Anything Could Happen:” “Time is in motion, it never stands stillAnything could happen and it probably will.” Timely.

Alice DiMicele – Every Seed we Plant

Alice DiMicele (pronounced DeeMissEllie) is an Americana/folk singer-songwriter based in Southern Oregon. Over a three decade career she’s released 16 albums. Bret Levick, co-produced and arranged the album and co-wrote the opening track, ‘For Granted’. Support comes from Rob Kohler, Damian Erskine and talented players Bret Levick, Skip Edwards, David Jacobs-Strain, Andy Thorn, Barry Phillips, Dean Angermeier, Bob Evoniuk, Mikey Stevens, Matthew Kriemelman, and Christo Pellani.

Her deep acoustic groove, unique vocal style, and heartfelt lyrics create an unmistakable sound that is all her own. Her voice is rangy, sometimes soft and intimate, other times bold and brassy, evoking a distinct mood in every song she sings. ‘Long Dry Winter’ and ‘Alone’, explore the grief, loss, and depression that many people experience. Pop, jazz and rock and roll undercurrents flow beneath folk bedrock on the record. This is a snapshot of modern life – gut-wrenching, hopeful, vulnerable, intense. “I love solid, moving rhythm, and I do a lot of improvising vocally. I feel completely at home on stage. My job as a musician is to communicate emotion and stir that place inside that feels connected to other souls.” Deep.

Paul Tasker – Tierra Quemada

Self taught and performing (mostly) on guitar and clawhammer banjo, Paul Tasker is a guitarist and songwriter based in Glasgow, Scotland and is known for his solo instrumental music and his work with Scottish nu-folk duo The Doghouse Roses and previously with American gothic folk band The Willard Grant Conspiracy. 

This is an all instrumental set, relaxing and contemplative, yet repeat listening reveals complexities, with influences of folk, classical, jazz and world music appearing. The light touches of harp and bass, or use of classical guitar, or viola and trumpet add some colour to the palette. Whether waltz, gently percussive feel, slight flamenco sound or the touch of folk/americana/bluegrass evoked by banjo, this is a pleasant, inspiring listen. Evocative.

Dietrich Strause – You and I must be out of my mind

This is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Dietrich Strause who co-produced the album with engineer Brian Joseph (Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens), Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Lake Street Dive) and Shane Leonard (Anna Tivel). The Boston-based multi-instrumentalist has spent over a decade weaving timeless melodies with heartbreaking narratives using his “virtuosic command of imagery” and “his knack for vivid, almost literary lyricism” (WBUR, Boston NPR)

Each song is a captivating and evocative exploration and discovery of loss, hope, desire and disillusionment through images of love-worn soldiers, scrambled weathervanes, listless sailors and drifting satellites lost in an open heart. The production is experimental and playful, open and warm. Muted pianos, synth trumpets, vibraphone, marimba, analog tape delays, and dream-like vocals make this an adventurous collaborative effort. Exploratory.

Rod Picott – Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows

Fourteen albums. A veteran. The album was produced by noted producer/ videographer Neilson Hubbard (John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Orphan Brigade). “This latest album had time to marinate, to simmer and to chisel in the way I wanted – with the luxury of time. I wrote roughly twenty-five songs in the year and a half the album took shape. Some of those missing songs are among the strongest I’ve written and will be on the next album but I wanted Paper Hearts to feel a certain way and so I killed my darlings as they say.

So what we get is a lean, mean album without filler. A collection of some strong songs Picott, ranging from a heartbreaking narrative of boxer Sonny Liston’s tragic life to a full-throated lustful desire, and a rocking declaration of loyalty. “There are outlaws, villains, vows of loyalty and pleas to the skies to offer small mercies” he says. His voice is raw and life-worn. I’ve said it before. Sparse delivery gives the words a platform in songs of human frailty and all the flaws, hardships, failures, and heartache of life. Picott sings with a world-weary delivery. Still gravelly.

James Combs – Falling Under Spells

Faced with untold lockdown days, I found myself in my studio with a head full of melodies, sounds, and lyric ideas. The songs came fast and furious. Songs about protest marches and true believers and going nowhere fast and wild dance parties in safer times. Songs for my wife and son. Songs for my friends. Songs for my achin’ head.” Combs is joined by John Would (Fiona Apple), guitar virtuoso Paul Lacques (I See Hawks In LA), magic singers April Mann and Kelly Atkins, drum ace Matt Hergert, Wendy Kline (violin) & Joe Hellerstein (trumpet). 

Covering a wide breadth of stylistic territory – from fuzzed out desert rock to gorgeous Laurel-Canyon-world songwriting to vintage soul to synth-driven indie – James’ songs are a clear-eyed snapshot of strange times with a microdose of west coast hippie optimism sprinkled throughout.  He’s been described as “a bit Beck, a bit Beatles, a bit Hunky Dory Bowie“. It’s not a bad analogy as there is a lot to take in with this wide ranging musical adventure. “A desert folk dobro part here, a Chet-Baker trumpet solo there, a distorted bass line here, a rich group choral arrangement there. These speed-written songs, sprung from folk bones but orchestrated with many colors, burst into life piece by piece.” Hypnotic.

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