Fire Note Says: Breakup masterpiece get’s the deluxe treatment that enhances rather than detracts.
Album Review: It’s early 2000, you are Ryan Adams and your band Whiskeytown is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. You are 27 years old, and you’ve got your whole career ahead of you. You live in an Apartment in Manhattan, 10th and Avenue A with your girlfriend, then she moves out and you have no money and you have to move back to your hometown, your one traffic light town of Jacksonville, NC.
So you’ve been through alot, and you are writing a lot of songs, and you’ve been kicked around a bit, and you think your musical career is over.
What you don’t know is that this record, Heartbreaker, released in September of that same year and knocked out in two weeks will not only save your career but send you right up there to the top of the singer songwriter pantheon.. One of your songs, “Oh my Sweet Carolina” will be covered by Elton John.
Back in 2000, hearing Heartbreaker for the first time was a revelation, for the first time, all the country trappings were filed away and what was left was the stripped down rubbed raw heartbreak of acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a little bit of piano and across 15 tracks you honor that heartbreak.
The album starts out with Gillian Welch collaborator David Rawlings arguing over what album the Morrissey song “Suedehead” appears on. From their they absolutely leap into “To Be Young (Is to be Sad, is to Be High.) With some of the finest harmonies you’ll hear anywhere. “My Winding Wheel” and “Amy” deal directly with the heartbreak, as Amy was the name of the gal who sent you packing from NYC to North Carolina.
And then “Oh my Sweet Carolina”, is the one, the kind of song that appears in Cameron Crowe films, that makes people’s hair stand on end. The song you wrote that stopped everyone who heard it in mid step. You duet with Emmylou Harris. This song will be covered by Elton John, who will later on thank you for restoring his faith in music. Yeah, it’s still that good.
“Come Pick Me up” still surprises after all these years, sounding raw and pissed off, you talk about how even after you’ve been screwed over, you’d still go back and do it all over again.
The rest of the songs on the album are just as sad and needing as anything, and you’ve written one of the greatest breakup albums of all time, right up there with Blood on the Tracks. There’s an economy to this album which you will abandon almost immediately after, recording a new album every few months.
But what’s surprising is how well the rest of the songs and versions of the songs mesh with the tone of the finished record. It’s refreshing to hear just your voice and acoustic guitar on these demos. We also get the previously unreleased songs “Goodbye Honey,” ,“Petal in a Rainstorm”, “War Horse”, “Locked Away”, to hear this whole Heartbreaker experience opened up and expanded, upon makes the whole record even more admirable, to hear you on “Goodbye Honey”, with as a demo, as a song that could make an entire album on its own, even though it’s just your voice and a guitar or harmonica. You didn’t just record your masterpiece out of heartbreak, you did it with grace and panache and at a very young age showed everyone that even back then, you were a heavyweight.
Key Tracks: “Come Pick Me Up” / “Oh My Sweet Carolina” / “In My Time of Need (Demo)”
Artists With Similar Fire: Jason Molina / Josh Rouse / Bob Dylan
Ryan Adams Website
Ryan Adams Facebook
– Reviewed by Adam Strong
Fire Note Says: Aussie country rocker with promise debuts States-side for Bloodshot Records.
Album Review: The second album from Ruby Boots roars out of the gate with “It’s So Cruel,” a cow-punk rocker that recalls the energy of Jason & The Scorchers. But before you get your hopes up, producer Beau Bedford (of The Texas Gentlemen), perhaps eager to display the singer/songwriter’s versatility, offers her up in the big doo-wop wall of sound of “Believe In Heaven,” nostalgic for the early days when Phil Spector was producing girl groups as rock & roll was first finding it’s way into the mainstream. “Don’t Talk About It,” the album’s title track, follows. It’s another ballad with orchestration that draws inspiration from that old school retro-sound.
Ruby Boots (real name, Bex Chilcott) comes from Australia via Nashville and had one previous album on an Aussie imprint before this debut on Bloodshot Records, a journey made by Kasey Chambers and others. Following the first three big production numbers, Boots sounds more at home on “Easy Way Out,” with a chord progression borrowed from the Tom Petty songbook, and the country weeper “Don’t Break My Heart Twice.”
The second half of the album sticks closer to country/rock formulas, with “I’ll Make It Through,” co-written and with harmony vocals by Nikki Lane, “Somebody Else” and “Infatuation,” are set up by punchy rhythms, strong vocal hooks, and solid, rocking guitars and minimal twang. Okay Boots has some twang in her voice on “Infatuation.” On these three, and the closing angry, country kick you to the curb slow burner with bluesy guitar and honky-tonk piano/organ that is “Don’t Give a Damn,” Boots sounds a bit like a young Lucinda Williams as the song heats up like a Rolling Stones’ song.
It’s the nearly a capella, almost hymnic “I Am A Woman,” that exhibits Boots’ voice in all it’s unique purity, in a spiritual song that declares her feminine gifts and her internal strength of being, echoing strength alongside vulnerability. On the whole this is a solid, inviting outing, driven by good songs and equally solid performances. Ruby Boots will be one to watch.
Key Tracks: “It’s So Cruel” / “Easy Way Out” / “Infatution”
Artists With Similar Fire: Nikki Lane / Lone Justice / Lydia Loveless
Ruby Boots Website
Ruby Boots Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb
Fire Note Says: Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world.
Album Review: No one is ever going to call singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee an under-achiever. His latest release, a 10 song full-length effort, Forest Full of Wolves is his 78th album by his own count. Mallonee spent the 1990s fronting the Athens, GA-band Vigilantes of Love, shuffling from one label to the next, driving a van from coast-to-coast playing every alternative rock/Americana friendly venue who would let them. Hometown friend, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) co-produced one of the band’s early more-acoustic albums, the Killing Floor. The band’s 1999 album, released on three different labels of the course of 18 months, Audible Sigh was produced by Nashville’s favorite side-man Buddy Miller, and includes a guest vocal by Emmylou Harris, as well as some of Mallonee’s best loved songs. Paste Magazine has named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.
A rough count, say there were 10 songs per release (usually there were more), puts Mallonee’s songwriting output at nearly 8000, and those are the one’s he’s recorded. Now basic logic would suggest that they can’t all be good, and surely not all of them are memorable, but Mallonee’s work, his actual raison d’’etre, has proven especially consistent over the decades, and in the 2010’s he’s delivered a solid album’s worth of tunes each year, with a noticeable uptick in production values starting with 2011’s The Power & The Glory. Last year’s excellent The Rags of Absence was a case in point, with Mallonee especially attentive to his lead guitar parts.
Forest Full of Wolves continues to chronicle the challenges to working class people and even songwriters, as if Mallonee is creating his own musical version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” for what he calls this “new dark age.” “Greed and fear (have) gained the upper hand,” he sings in “Changing of the Guard,” so he’s “grabbed a guitar & a notebook or two… became a phantom with some conjuring ‘neath the moon.”
Musically, Wolves takes the energy of Rags to the next level, with bigger, noiser guitar tones. Mallonee captures a Neil Young jamming with Crazy Horse in the garage vibe throughout, which is likely a lot harder to pull off since Mallonee’s playing all the instruments. Mid-tempo alternative country rock at it’s most earnest and relevant, and against all odds, Mallonee manages to offer a word of hope. “In the New Dark Age” he sings, borrowing the title from a different song that he recording on 2014’s The Winnowing, “the best thing you can do is fall in love.” Of course, “Love Is Always Risky Currency,” but it’s the best chance any of us have of surviving in this “Forest Full of Wolves.”
Like many artists scrambling to make art in the challenging digital marketplace and survive financially Mallonee has struggled to reach out and connect with Americana fans, break ground with new audiences, even though he’s stayed off the road in recent years. As a fan who first heard the singer songwriter live in the early 90’s, and many times over the years, Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world. It’s artists who wear their passion on their sleeves, who keep pouring out their hearts in songs, that make the music that matters. (One reason to order the hard CD copy of this one, is the cover art produced by another singer songwriter, Chris Taylor, from San Antonio, TX.).
Key Tracks: “In the New Dark Age” / “Voodoo Ink” / “Trimmed & Burning”
Artists With Similar Fire: Neil Young / Bob Dylan / John Prine
Bill Mallonee Website
Bill Mallonee Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb