Brad and Andrew Barr have been my favorite guitarist and drummer, respectively, since their time in New England trio the Slip. Now, with Sarah Page on harp and Andres Vial on keys, the Montreal quartet’s new set as the Barr Brothers, Sleeping Operator, arrives this fall. They’ve long pushed the envelope, unlocking genres from jazz to folk and world music, from psych-rock to at least one notable nod to classic rock. This outfit, though, is more bent on extending the traditional singer-songwriter palette. Case in point, new cut “Half Crazy” is described as an “offspring of the North African desert music of Mali/Morocco with the sweat and electricity of the Chicago and Mississippi Delta blues.” The result is a killer, off-kilter blues jam (dig the instrumental breakdown at 2:05). It’s best settled down by their own “Even the Darkness Has Arms”:
Jeff and Spencer Tweedy’s new record isn’t due for two more months, but nearly half of the “solo album performed by a duo” is here for early spins. It’s called Sukierae, written by the Wilco frontman and conceived “from the very beginning” with his son on drums as the tunes took shape. Each cut so far delivers solid results, from the settled, Sunday afternoon number “Wait For Love” to the very Whole Love-esque “I’ll Sing It.” Their most recent preview, “Diamond Light Pt. 1,” stands out most, though, as a decidedly weirder reminder of the elder Tweedy’s YHF deconstructions. Father-son regardless, they’re a good band, team, duo, or whatever, etc. Hear all four below. The understated “Summer Noon” is a personal favorite.
Will Oldham quietly released a self-titled record last fall under his longtime moniker Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, available only at shows and now directly from his site. Taking a foray from his label, Drag City, and any smidgen of internet hype, Oldham avoided announcements or even putting the LP up on iTunes. But now we have something official to share: “Bad Man,” an exemplary cut from the record, which is spare and left bare in solo-acoustic form. In keeping with the understated release, director Claudia Crobatia made a video that’s simple yet enigmatic. Just Will playing the tune in a bone-diamond frame, cuddling a puppy while a woman walks a dog… in a mask. It’s weird, and I dig it. Watch the clip above.
Following a pair of killer singles — “Slacks” and “Get Good” — Fremantle, Australia’s Olivia Gavranich finally has a St. South EP on the way. There’s a new official clip for the former, too: Director Laura Pennell recruited twins Pauline and Tarlina Fowler for scenes that open up the cut to deeper interpretation while not distracting from its inherent easy charm.
If you haven’t caught St. South yet, above is a fine introduction. The Cadence EP is due later this year.
I’ve seen Bill Callahan play a church and an old movie theater, but it’s rare to catch him at a house party, in France no less. This set went up in April, somewhere along the Dream River tour, yet without the band he brought along for most of it. In his own words, “The lighting is perfect. I can see the spit flying out of my mouth.” Any fan would love this stuff: Bill in a jovial spirit, slightly awkward in the intimate setting, singing solo-electric (not common except for this clip), and taking one request, an off-the-cuff run through “Drover.” He caps the 4-song set off with a cover of the Carter Family’s “Give Me Roses While I Live” above.
Stockholm Strings, a quartet from Sweden who’ve played with Brian Wilson or anyone else seeking an ensemble beyond capable of accompanying fine tunes, just teamed up with hometown folk duo First Aid Kit for a live session. This song, “Cedar Lane,” is off their Mike Mogis-produced Stay Gold, the Söderberg sisters’ follow-up to The Lion’s Roar. The studio album is impressive, but this take pulls at the viola, violin, cello, and heartstrings even better. It’s inspired, filmed beautifully, and lovely — they should make a whole record together. Check it out above.
Bry Webb has garnered more press of late for the Constantines reunion than his new solo record, but make no mistake: Free Will is an excellent singer-songwriter LP in its own right. We featured “AM Blues” — a cut that’s upbeat at first with a brooding, bittersweet twist recalling the National and Wilco — in March. Above, give album opener “Fletcher” a try. This solo-acoustic take shows how well Webb’s Matt Berninger-esque baritone can carve a simple line like “you can’t civilize me” into an affecting alt-country litany worth repeating.
“When Pigs Fly” and a number of producing projects aside, we hadn’t heard much from Ryan Adams in the past year. But now he’s back with the inaugural release from his label’s 7″ series and, perhaps more unexpectedly, a performance at the Re/code tech conference. DRA has a knack for turning genre staples into moving acoustic numbers, so it comes with little surprise the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” works on his Harmony Buck Owens as well. Complete with a crack about bitcoin and the apropos Code Conference song selection, check out the clip above.
Meanwhile, Adams has a more serious offering this summer: “Gimme Something Good,” an original cut to lead off Pax-Am’s 7″ vinyl series. Backed by “Aching For More,” the limited run arrives on July 1st, just ahead of two new tour dates at Newport Folk Fest on July 25th and the Xponential Music Fest in Camden, NJ on the 26th. Pax-Am is taking pre-orders here.
On a side note, 24B (aka myself, Peter) returns after a short time off for health reasons. Thanks for the notes, friends — glad to get back to our own “neutron dance.”
Alice Boman — the Swedish songwriter whose debut Skisser EP was among the most to resonate of last year’s discoveries — returns with more cuts not originally intended for release. We covered the backstory a bit when “Waiting” came out, but suffice to say, there’s a genuine modesty to these recordings you don’t hear often. “I used to be uptight about it—I didn’t want people to hear what I’d written,” she tells Rookie. “But now, I think it’s nice to share it, even though it’s not perfect. I guess nothing ever is.” With its simple drum loop, luminous organ, and Boman’s feather-light voice, “Over” is typically poignant, humble, hopeful and, yes, sounding just about perfect to these ears. Watch the self-directed clip above and pick up the track on EP II, which comes with a copy of Skisser, here.
Timothy Showalter’s 2011 cover of “Ohio” remains a favorite in these pages, and now here’s an original on par or better: “Shut In,” from his new HEAL LP, due in June. This is the kind of long-journeyed, fuck-it-all redemption we dig around here. Acoustic or — in this case — not, Strand of Oaks cuts through with the kind of worried wisdom you can only hope to endure or — in this case — expend on chords strummed from the heart. Hear it above.