Pick Six: August 2012

Juli Thanki | September 6th, 2012

Triple-digit temperatures have given way to crisp autumn mornings, the kids are back in school, and pumpkin-flavored baked goods are making their delicious return to coffee shops nationwide, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate some of the summer’s best music. Here are six albums that were in heavy rotation at Engine 145 headquarters this past month.

dustbustersoldman6. The Dust Busters with John Cohen – Old Man Below

The young, Brooklyn-based string band, once more joined by New Lost City Rambler, musicologist and photographer John Cohen (their last collaboration, Prohibition is a Failure, was released in late 2010), serve up infectious, old-timey tunes with energy befitting a trio of 20-somethings. Drawing from source material that includes 78s from Fiddlin’ John Carson, Jimmie Rodgers, and Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters, Cohen The Dust Busters — who are occasionally joined on Old Man Below by Frank Fairfield on mandolin — aren’t only fine musicians delivering enjoyable interpretations of late 19th/early 20th century songs, their love for and knowledge of this music makes reading the liner notes almost as enjoyable as listening to the record.

3 Stars


blackberrysmokewhippoorwill5. Blackberry Smoke – The Whippoorwill

Blackberry Smoke’s first album for Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Records is the band’s effort to date. Frontman Charlie Starr has a delicious swagger when delivering lyrics like “I’m gonna love you six ways to Sunday / I wanna hear my woman speaking in tongues” over guitar-driven Southern rock, but he truly shines on more pensive songs like “One Horse Town” and album closer “Up the Road.” The Whippoorwill is proof of Blackberry Smoke’s considerable growth since the release of their last record, Little Piece of Dixie (2009), which relied heavily on clichéd lyrics and generic arrangements.  If the band keeps progressing at the same rate, they’ve got a bright future ahead of them in country and rock music.

3.5 Stars


kellyjoephelps4. Kelly Joe Phelps — Brother Sinner and the Whale

Blues musician Phelps traded in his lap steel for a bottleneck on this gorgeous concept record, which was largely inspired by the Book of Jonah. The stripped-down sound, featuring just vocals and guitar, is reminiscent of prewar blues 78s, while Phelps’ warm, inviting voice and skilled fingerpicking make Brother Sinner a gospel album that non-gospel fans can enjoy.

3.5 Stars


corblundcabin3. Corb Lund – Cabin Fever

Corb Lund is the modern master of off-kilter country. With Cabin Fever, Lund covers a wide variety of topics from survivalists to Goth girls to boozing with wry humor, a sharp eye for detail, and the occasional yodel. The punkish “Mein Deutsches Motorrad” zooms along like a BMW bike on the Autobahn, while the rootsy, midtempo “September” is a brokenhearted love song in which love, “a thousand acres and the Rocky Mountains” can’t compete with the allure of New York City. Things don’t stay sad for long, though, thanks to the Western Swing tune “Cows Around,” which finds Lund singing the praises of cattle everywhere before descending into a “I’ve Been Everywhere”-ish rapid fire delivery of various cattle breeds. Insidiously catchy and a little weird, it’s Lund’s music epitomized.

4 Stars


flatlandersodessa2. The Flatlanders – The Odessa Tapes

There’s no better way for The Flatlanders to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their debut by releasing The Odessa Tapes, a collection of demos that were recorded four decades ago on reel-to-reel tapes and thought lost, but recently rediscovered in a Lubbock basement (the sound quality is still quite good). The collection is a treat for Flatlanders fans, who get to hear primitive versions of favorites like “Dallas” and a couple new-old gems like “Shadow of the Moon” (written by Butch Hancock) and “Number Sixteen” (written by Jimmie Dale Gilmore) . The album also comes with a DVD that features an interview with Gilmore, Hancock, and Joe Ely.

4 Stars


trishashighwide1. The Trishas – High, Wide and Handsome

I’ve been anticipating this release for a while, and The Trishas didn’t let me down. The foursome’s first full-length record is a keeper, full of soulfully-sung alt-country. Strong lyrics, penned with an impressive roster of co-writers (Jim Lauderdale, Bruce Robison, Kevin Welch–father of band member Savannah–and Natalie Hemby are among the collaborators), a killer backing band that includes Kenny Vaughan, Tammy Rogers, and Viktor Krauss, and The Trishas’ tight, Tres Chicas-esque harmonies make this the best album released in August. If you buy the record, don’t forget to download the lovely bonus track, “A Far Cry from You;” it features Raul Malo, whose vocals blend seamlessly with the band.

4.5 Stars


  1. nm
    September 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    It’s fascinating to hear bands figuring out what they’re going to be. The Golliwog tapes, for instance, before they figured out about how to be Creedence. That Flatlanders recording is fascinating the same way — I don’t like that band in the lost recordings nearly as much as I like what they turned themselves into. Too much of “we have a couple of songwriters and a hot guitarist but are going to be defined by our single, quirky lead singer” and not enough of “we have three songwriters and three singers but each of us sings each other’s songs — try to figure that out.”

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