Album Review – Shovels & Rope’s ‘Little Seeds’

Print

One of the most exciting duos in Americana and folks realms is back with new music. Shovels & Rope is a duo from Charleston, South Carolina, consisting of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. The husband-wife duo absolutely blew me away the last time they released new music. Their third studio album Swimmin’ Time in 2014 was solidly one of the top ten best albums of 2014 in Americana. It’s a great album from start to finish, full of both murder and some catchy tunes in-between. I thought it was criminally under-looked by the general public and critics. Fortunately in anticipation of their new album Little Seeds, a lot more people are taking notice of this duo. I knew it would be difficult for them to top Swimmin’ Time and after listening to their new album Little Seeds, it’s certainly not as good. But it’s still an album with a lot of good moments.

One song I enjoyed from the first listen is “The Last Hawk.” It encapsulates everything I enjoy about this duo: the harmonies, the thoughtful lyrics and instrumentation that compliment it perfectly. The free and easy-going nature of the song will undoubtedly make it a fan favorite. Songs like “Botched Execution” and “Buffalo Nickel” are definitely what we’re used to hearing from the folk duo and picks up where they left off on Swimmin’ Time. It reaffirms what I’ve thought about Shovels & Rope: they’re at their best when singing about death (or in the case of “Botched Execution” it’s escaping death) and other dark subject matters. They just seem to capture that southern gothic, murder ballad feel better than almost anybody else. The instrumentation and production on this album is at it’s absolute best on “Buffalo Nickel,” showing off the duo’s eccentric, creepy folk sound.

As a history buff, it was impossible for me to not enjoy “Missionary Ridge.” Combining Americana and history is quick way to this critic’s heart. It’s about the Battle of Missionary Ridge in the Civil War where the Union defeated the confederacy and seized control of Tennessee. It was an important moment in the war, as it helped set up Sherman’s March to the Sea. As the song says, you shouldn’t be whistling Dixie on Missionary Ridge, as you don’t want to awake the defeated souls that lie. “I Know” is a catchy song with a decidedly more rock-driven approach than what we’re used to hearing from Shovels & Rope. The song itself seems to be driven by a lust for revenge and exposing something for what it is. It’s certainly an ear-catching song in every way. The duo seems to reflect on their career and their time spent on the road over the years on “St. Anne’s Parade.” The instrumentation really shines on this one, especially the mandolin.

The beginning of this album is really strong and I thought it was on pace to be better than Swimmin’ Time. Unfortunately about halfway through the album it starts to hit bumps. Take for example “Johnny Come Outside.” The duo tackles an interesting subject here: It seems to be about different children and how society and parents try to correct their behavior and attitudes through various methods (drugs, therapy, etc.). The duo’s effort to tackle something like this is admirable, but the song ultimately has no conclusion or answer. The same can be said of “BWYR.” Shovels & Rope try to tackle the increased violence against various groups of people over the past couple of years. The problem is this song says nothing. What ultimately hurts the song is it tries to straddle a line of neutrality between various groups and as a result the song goes nowhere. It’s pointless activism that comes off more as window dressing than having something meaningful to say. Then you have the inclusion of “San Andreas Fault Blues” on the album. It kind of puzzles me, as it’s a song about having the homesick blues for California. It just doesn’t fit a band from Charleston, South Carolina to sing about missing California. The song is not necessarily bad, but I just don’t understand why it’s here.

“Eric’s Birthday” sets up the final song on the album, “This Ride.” It’s about the birth of a child, appropriate since the duo just had a child this past year. Just like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and David Nail did on their last albums, the song reflects on this monumental moment in their lives. The song’s message seems to be about how life is a beautiful mess and at the end of the day you have to take the bad moment to get the great too. I wish the duo had spent more time diving into this theme on the album instead of getting off track with activism songs and themes that just don’t seem to fit.

Little Seeds is by no means a bad album, but it’s clearly a step down from the excellent Swimmin’ Time. What this album ultimately lacks is consistency and cohesiveness. While the instrumentation reflects it, the lyrics and themes do not do this throughout the album. One of the traps this album falls into at times too is a sonic appeal that distracts from what the song is saying. They sound good, but say nothing once you peel the song back and really listen to the lyrics. It’s one of the main problems some people have with Americana, but isn’t talked about enough. Still this album has some really good songs and there certainly isn’t a lack of effort on the part of Shovels & Rope. They tried some things and they just didn’t work. It happens to the best of artists.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – For fans of Shovels & Rope, yes

Album Highlights: Botched Execution, The Last Hawk, Buffalo Nickel, Missionary Ridge

Bad Songs: BWYR

Wallpaper: Mourning Song, Invisible Man


Stream The Entire Album Below:

The Hodgepodge: What Song Defines Country Music to You?

willie-merle

It made it’s debut a few weeks back and now it’s back again. That right, this is an Ask The Readers Hodgepodge. It’s quite simple: I pose a question to you the readers and in the comments below we will discuss what our answers would be to the question. Sometimes it will be a yes or no question, but most times it’ll be something a little more detailed. This second Ask The Readers Hodgepodge will be quite subjective and should have a variety of answers.

If you had to choose one song, what song defines country music to you?

Guidelines:

  • This song can be from any era at anytime. Just be prepared of course to defend your choice, as someone will always be naturally curious as to why you chose a song.
  • There are no wrong answers, just like the previous Ask the Hodgepodge.
  • And of course feel free to pick songs for other genres if you feel like it, as we’re all music fans first.

 

As far as my answer for this question, the song I would pick that I feel defines country music is Townes van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty.” There have been many versions of this song, but I would have to pick Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s version as my favorite. The reason I would choose this song is it just has everything that a perfect country song should have. It was written by one of music’s greatest songwriters of all-time and performed by two of the best artists in the genre’s history. The song explores death, sadness and grief with some of the best storytelling you’ll ever hear in music. The instrumentation perfectly conveys the melancholy nature expressed by the lyricism in the song. To my ears it’s the perfect country song, defining the rich tapestry of the genre.

I would also highly recommend Jason Isbell and Elizabeth Cook’s version of the song, which is quite excellent too.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases

  • Tomorrow William Michael Morgan will release his highly anticipated debut album Vinyl.
  • Also tomorrow the legendary John Prine will release his new duets album For Better, or Worse.
  • Aubrie Sellers new album New City Blues will be re-released through Warner Bros. Nashville tomorrow. “Sit Here and Cry” is going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • Strap yourself in for October because it’s going to be a very busy month of releases, starting next Friday when the following albums are released:
    • Shovels & RopeLittle Seeds
    • Mo PitneyBehind This Guitar
    • Brent CobbSolving Problems
    • Matt WoodsHow To Survive 
  • Josh Abbott Band’s new single is “Amnesia” and it’s going for adds at country radio on October 17.
  • The Last Bandoleros released a self-titled, six song EP via digital services last week.

Throwback Thursday Song

Gary Stewart – “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” – I feel like a lot of week’s I’m picking too many well-known acts and songs so this week I wanted to find a deeper cut from the past. Stewart is sort of unsung when discussing the best country artists of the 70s, but he shouldn’t because his music is excellent. This is his biggest hit and one of my personal favorites.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial – So this is an album and group I’ve been hearing a lot about from fellow music fans and critics. It’s received widespread praise and finally I got around to checking it out. Well now I know why it’s getting so much praise. I’m not usually a big fan of emo indie rock, but the songwriting on display on this album is impeccable. Turns out Teens of Denial is the 10th studio album and 13th overall album by Car Seat Headrest and they’ve only been a band for six years. That’s insane! Check these guys out.

Tweet of the Week

The picture he’s referring to is John Prine hugging Isbell after he won Americana Song of the Year for “Something More Than Free” at the Americana Awards last week. I would be pretty damn happy to get a hug from a legend too.

A Spot-on Review of Luke Bryan’s New EP

luke-bryan-rehashed-bullshit

Luke Bryan released a new EP for his annual farm tour and predictably it’s not good. The only difference between it and his usual studio albums is here he thinks he can pander to farmers and the working people of America because I’m sure they see the millionaire artist who now sings about the clubs and dresses like a Nordstrom model as someone they can relate to (wanking motion). This listener above wasn’t fooled though and rightly calls him out.

The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown [December 7]

Josh Ritter Sermon Over The Rocks

This is The Americana Airplay Chart Rundown. Every week I’ll post the top 40 from the Americana Airplay chart, which is obtained from AmericanaRadio.org. From the site: “The Americana Airplay chart represents the reported play of terrestrial radio stations, nationally syndicated radio shows, satellite radio and internet stations who have agreed to submit weekly spin counts. For more information please visit www.americanamusic.org.”

The goal of this feature is to track and monitor the current most popular music in the Americana realm, as I believe it’s starting to take on a bigger importance in the world of music, especially concerning the current state of country music. In addition it will bring some new names to the site that haven’t been covered here before and could lead to more Americana coverage. It’s also a place to discuss anything going on in the Americana genre at this moment. Be sure to weigh in on the chart in the comments below.

  1. Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks [Up 3]
  2. Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Lost Time [Down 1]
  3. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Grade: 10/10) [Down 1]
  4. Joe Ely – Panhandle Rambler [Down 1]
  5. The Black Lillies – Hard To Please (Grade: 9/10)
  6. The Bottle Rockets – South Broadway Athletic Club (Grade: 8.5/10)
  7. Los Lobos – Gates Of Gold 
  8. Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Nightsweats 
  9. Corb Lund – Things That Can’t Be Undone (Grade: 9/10)
  10. Jim Lauderdale – Soul Searching [Up 3]
  11. Patty Griffin – Servant of Love [Down 1]
  12. Chris Isaak – First Comes The Night [Up 2]
  13. Don Henley – Cass County (Grade: 10/10) [Down 1]
  14. The Wood Brothers – Paradise [Down 3]
  15. Ryan Adams – 1989
  16. Tim O’Brien – Pompadour
  17. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – So Familiar
  18. The Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete
  19. Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville (Grade: 9/10) [Up 1]
  20. Various Artists – Cold & Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins [Up 3]
  21. Billy Gibbons – Perfectamundo [Down 2]
  22. Chris Stapleton – Traveller (Grade: 10/10) [Down 1]
  23. Lucero – All A Man Should Do [Down 1]
  24. Jeffrey Foucault – Salt As Wolves
  25. Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble 
  26. Turnpike Troubadours – Turnpike Troubadours (Grade: 10/10) [Up 1]
  27. Cox Family – Gone Like The Cotton [Up 3]
  28. Webb Wilder – Mississippi Moderne [Down 2]
  29. Bart Crow – The Parade [Up 3]
  30. Jason Boland & The Stragglers – Squelch (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 1]
  31. Cody Jinks – Adobe Sessions (Grade: 9/10)
  32. Shinyribs – Okra Candy [Down 4]
  33. Shawn Colvin – Uncovered 
  34. Shawn Mullins – My Stupid Heart [Up 1]
  35. The Damn Quails – Out of The Birdcage (Grade: 8.5/10) [Down 1]
  36. Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material (Grade: 9/10) [Up 2]
  37. Samantha Fish – Wild Heart [Up 2]
  38. Shovels & Rope – Busted Jukebox Volume 1 [New]
  39. Amy Helm – Didn’t It Rain [Down 3]
  40. Shemekia Copeland – Outskirts of Love [Down 3]

The Hodgepodge: Final of the Year, Feature Ideas & Open Thread

The holiday season is getting ready to go into full swing with Thanksgiving next week. Not to mention, Derek and myself are going to start working on our year-end award lists and nominations. So this will be the final Hodgepodge of 2015.

It’s hard to believe how fast a year can go by and how much can happen when you look back at it all. Country Perspective has grown even bigger and has reached more readers than I ever imagined, so I thank you all for your support and kind words. This is what keeps us motivated to continue to write and bring you exciting content. Speaking of that I’ve been contemplating new features to introduce to the blog in 2016. I want to expand the variety on here and I’ve already got a couple of ideas I’m seriously considering. But I would love to hear from you too. What is something you would like to see? I would love some feedback.

By the way a new writer is already set to join us next year. But you’ll have to wait until January to find out…

We plan on reviewing a few more albums and singles in the next couple of weeks. Let us know what you would love to see covered most that we have not yet. No, we will not review the Old Dominion album. Please suggest good music.

You can basically treat this Hodgepodge as an open thread to discuss whatever you want to discuss in country and Americana right now. Also you can throw out some questions for Derek and myself that we will do our best to answer. You guys know how these Q&A Hodgepodges work. Just don’t ask us something impossible or go over five questions (Each reader can ask up to five questions). Again thank you for reading the Hodgepodge in 2015 and we look forward to bringing it back again in 2016.

Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases 

  • The last major album release of the year appears to be the debut album of Cam on December 11. It’s titled Untamed and is highly likely to be the final review of the year.
  • Alan Jackson released a three-CD box set called Genuine: The Alan Jackson Story. It features his biggest hits and a few unreleased songs. It’s exclusively available through Walmart and in my opinion is a great Christmas gift for any country fan.
  • Shovels & Rope just came out with a surprise of their own. Through Dualtone Music, they’re releasing a collaborative project on November 20 titled Busted Jukebox Volume 1. NPR announced it and debuted the music, which you can stream here. It’s covers of some of their favorite songs and they explain in the NPR piece the meaning of each song for them and how they came about. The guest artists who join them are very talented and include the likes of Lucius, Shakey Graves, The Milk Carton Kids and JD McPherson. I definitely suggest giving it a listen.
  • Next Friday is Black Friday and that means there will be some great Record Store Black Friday Day releases. For those that collect vinyl there are some country and Americana releases that will catch your eye. Some of the ones that stood out to me (click on each for more info):

Great Music Currently at Country Radio

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.

Throwback Thursday Song

Keith Whitley – “When You Say Nothing At All” – One of the artists we can thank for bringing back traditional country in the late 80s and someone who died way too young, Keith Whitley is an artist everyone should appreciate. I plan to dig into his catalog more over the holidays.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Eagles of Death Metal – This band has been in the news lately for all of the wrong reasons. They were the band playing on the stage at the Le Bataclan in Paris when terrorists attacked it last week and left hundreds dead and injured. The band was able to escape unharmed, but their merchandise manager and others they knew did not. Right now they are obviously recovering from this traumatic event. I recently checked their music out and they are a very talented group. The origin of how they formed and came together is quite interesting. Obviously it’s not about the music right now with them, but some day again it will. And it should be, as they make great music and I recommend giving it a listen.

Tweet of the Week

Yeah I don’t have anything else to add. This song will be a top contender for our Worst Song of the Year award.

iTunes Review That Rocks

Old Dominion Sucks

This was left under the new Old Dominion album. See why I’m not reviewing this? Those other great artists got reviewed though and you’re much better off listening to their albums than anything Old Dominion has ever touched.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

Album Review – Banditos’ Self-Titled Debut Album Blends Southern Rock & Country Brilliantly

Banditos Album

Man am I glad I came across this band! They’re a fairly new group called Banditos, made up of six-members all in their twenties and originally from Birmingham, Alabama. The group formed back in 2010 and includes Corey Parsons (vocalist/guitarist), Stephen Pierce (vocalist/banjo player), Randy Wade (drums), Mary Beth Richardson (vocals), Jeffrey Salter (guitarist) and Danny Vines (bassist). They’re signed to Bloodshot Records and I have to share with you the story of how the label came to sign them, from the point of view of Bloodshot:

Back in March 2014 we found ourselves at one of those fly-by-night, hole-in-the-wall bars that sprout like skunkweed on Sixth Street in Austin, TX during the height of SXSW crazy. The only other patrons were Bud Light-swilling bros watching a blowout college basketball game; the sound system at this place was a painful mix of all treble and reverb; and the noises oozing out of the PA during another band’s set were not unlike the distorted echoes of the soundtrack to Suspiria (and not in a good way). We wish we were kidding.

Then the six-piece Banditos took the stage, and even though they themselves were a little intimidating – all hair, denim, and stoic determination – the sounds they managed to conjure from two overworked speakers were fresh, raw, and spectacular. We were instantly blown away and immediately started concocting ways to lure them into our fold…

That’s a pretty neat story and it’s always nice to hear stories like this where a label gives a band the shot they deserve. Despite being together since 2010, they just now released their debut album, which is self-titled. Previously they had released multiple EPs. The most simple way to describe their music would be a combination of southern rock and country music. But if you dig deeper you realize there’s a lot of genres influencing their music. You can hear influences from 60s blues, garage rock, bluegrass, soul and even some 50s doo-wop. This all comes together to create an absolutely thrilling album.

The album kicks off with “The Breeze,” which gives you a great taste right away of the fusion of southern rock and country music that the Banditos make. It’s fast-paced, rollicking and pulls you right in. Banditos showcase their bluegrass side with “Waitin’,” as a banjo helps play the song in. Mary Beth Richardson takes the lead on vocals on this song and her voice reminds me a lot of Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst and a touch of Tami Neilson. Richardson’s voice is powerful, yet has a roughness that gives her voice character. You could pretty much throw any note at her and she could nail it. The next song “Golden Grease” is an interesting song about a man struggling with his inner self and wondering why a woman continues to be so cold to him. It certainly paints an interesting image in the listeners’ heads, making you wonder if the man himself or the woman is causing more pain to him. The instrumentation on this song is fantastic.

Remember before when I said Richardson is a talented vocalist? It becomes pretty clear on “No Good,” a song about a woman with a bad reputation that is beautifully written. Richardson’s vocals on this song are absolutely phenomenal and it’s just something you have to hear for yourself. Words cannot do it justice. This is arguably the best song on the album and one of the best performances I’ve heard from a female vocalist this year. “Ain’t It Hard” features more great songwriting and vocals. What impresses me so much about the songwriting not just on this song, but the entire album is how mystique surrounds each line and you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s especially evident on this song, with the instrumentation helping create a mysterious air throughout it.  

One of the most fast-paced songs on the album and really one of the most fun is “Still Sober (After All These Beers).” It’s about a man who wants to quit his lifestyle of getting wasted every night and waking up with a stranger in his bed after a one-night stand. It all started when he was 17 and it has spiraled out of control since then. Despite wanting to get on the path of the straight and narrow, he continues down the path he’s on. This is definitely one of my favorite drinking songs of the year. “Long Gone, Anyway” is a light-hearted tune about death. Yes, I know this is an oxymoron. But it makes sense. The moral of the song is death can come at any time, so it’s important to live life to the fullest and to not be afraid of death. It’s a short song with a simple point that is conveyed well.

Banditos Band

Richardson takes the lead vocals on “Old Ways,” a song about a woman waiting for a man to open his eyes after a night of passion. She’s hoping that he enjoyed the night as much as her and that he says she stayed until morning. By the end of the song, it’s revealed that the man had a trouble past and that this woman is here to wipe that away. It’s a unique love song that shows a lot of love in the lyrics and the vocals. “Can’t Get Away” is about a man on the road coming home to his love at home. He realizes after contemplating calling up some other girls that he’s already got a girl at home that he loves a lot. The instrumentation is quite catchy on this one and makes it easy to get this song stuck in your head. But this is a good thing!

One of the most country songs on the album is “Blue Mosey #2” and again I’m impressed with the songwriting. It’s a song about a man who has watched his friends move on, is alone and doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do next. Everything in this song works together well to create the perfect mood and feeling Banditos are going for on this song. Just like “Long Gone, Anyway,” “Cry Baby Cry” is a short song with a simple theme. It’s about a man helping a woman through a breakup by telling her all of the stuff she’s going to go through now and how tears will fall no matter how hard you try to hold back. It’s a fun song that is easy to get into. The final song on the album is “Preachin’ To The Choir.” And folks it’s another doozy of a song. It’s about a man who has clearly went through pain and he’s not in any mood to take advice from anyone, as by the end of the song he tells everyone they’re just preaching to the choir. He wants to deal with this his way and no one else’s way. It’s a powerful song and closes this excellent album out with a bang.

Banditos’ self-titled debut album is one hell of a way for this group to introduce themselves to everyone. It’s strong throughout, from beginning to end. It can be really easy to get wrapped up in the melting pot of instrumentation that is so great on this album. But then you would miss out on the best part and that is the lyrics. They are so well-written, but like I said if you don’t listen closely you could miss out on them easily. It took me a few listens to grasp them, but once I did I could feel this album. And it feels pretty damn good. I’m not sure what genre you should put them under, but who cares? This is just awesome music that you need to hear. I’m excited about this group, as I think their future is very bright. Banditos is one of my favorite discoveries of 2015 and you definitely need to check them out.

Grade: 10/10