Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Songcraft Takes Center Stage on New Discs

Americana and classic songwriting takes center stage on a number of new releases, including an essential Johnny Cash live disc, two JD Souther reissues and new albums from genre-defying master artist Emitt RhodesAussie country music outlaw Henry Wagons and songstress Skylar Gudasz.

Artist: Johnny Cash
Title: Koncert v Praze (Columbia / Legacy Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Johnny Cash
Tell me more: Koncert v Praze ("In Prague-Live) is more than a great concert recording that captured Johnny Cash on April 11, 1978. Cash was a 46-year-old artist already on his way to legendary status when he accepted an offer to go behind the Iron Curtain and perform four concerts in Czechoslovakia. And as this historic recording proves (finally released as a stand-alone CD in February 2016; for years it was only available via vinyl in Czechoslovakia), this was a fateful encounter allowing a small thaw in U.S.-Czech relations and introducing American music to audiences in the Soviet block via four sold-out shows that played out to approximately 40,000. The recording itself sounds fantastic, with the set including energetic performances of "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line" and other favorites from the groundbreaking Man in Black. Information: LegacyRecordings.com.

Purchase 'Koncert V. Praze' on CD

Artist: Emitt Rhodes
Title: Rainbow Ends (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: JD Souther, James Taylor
Tell me more: It's hard to imagine a more dramatic return than exhibited by Emitt Rhodes on his new album Rainbow Ends. His first new album in 43 years (you read that right; 43 years), an impressive cast of talented musicians including Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Jason Falkner (founding members of Jellyfish and currently members of Beck's band), Aimee Mann, Susanna Hoffs, Jon Brion, Wilco's Nels Cline and members of Brian Wilson's band help elevate the great songwriting displayed across Rainbow Ends. A bona fide cult hero among lovers of power-pop for his 1971 eponymous debut, the 65-year-old Rhodes' voice is a wonder able to sing melodic pop ("This Wall Between Us," "Put Some Rhythm To It") and emotive baroque pop-fused ballads ("Isn't It So," "I Can't Tell My Heart") with graceful authority. Information: omnivorerecordings.com.

Purchase 'Rainbow Ends' here

Artist: Henry Wagons
Title: After What I Did Last Night… (Goldview / MGM)
You might like if you enjoy: Sturgill Simpson, Johnny Cash, the Felice Brothers
Tell me more: Like the late country music great Johnny Cash, Australian singer-songwriter Henry Wagons has a rich baritone voice. As he proves on his first-ever solo effort After What I Did Last Night…," Wagons (a member of the popular Melbourne-based alt-country band Wagons since 1999) is a master of blending Americana soundscapes and original songcraft.    Wagons left Down Under for Nashville to record this album, and the result is a collection of biting songs that blend lyrical wit and real-world insight at every turn. Songs twist and turn in unique ways (just listen to "Santa Fe") that thrill while simultaneously celebrating authentic country western, modern-day rock and Americana with the originality of the Felice Brothers and Sturgill Simpson. Information: wagonsmusic.com.

Get 'After What I Did Last Night' here

Artist: JD Souther
Titles: Black Rose; Home by Dawn (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Glenn Frey, The Eagles, Jackson Browne
Tell me more: Best known for a number of notable songs written for the celebrated likes of the Eagles (including "Best of My Love," "Heartache Tonight" and "New Kid in Town") and Linda Ronstadt ("Faithless Love"), Detroit native JD Souther's own solo works are thankfully now being reintroduced to modern-day listeners via expanded editions from Omnivore Recordings (that each include wonderful illustrated booklets too). His second solo effort, 1976's Black Rose and 1984's Home by Dawn mark the second stage of Souther releases and both are stellar. Black Rose includes plenty of Souther's infectious and artful songwriting, including the spirited "Your Turn Now" and the introspective country-minded ballad "Simple Man, Simple Dream." Among the seven bonus tracks is a beautiful live version of "Faithless Love." Recorded almost a decade after Black Rose, Souther's fourth album Home by Dawn found the artist continuing to refine his song craft. The rollicking title track, propulsive "Say You Will" (a duet with Linda Ronstadt) and gorgeous piano ballad "I'll Take Care of You" are among the many winning cuts on "Home by Dawn." Information: omnivorerecordings.com.

Get 'Home By Dawn' here
Get 'Black Rose' here

Artist: Skylar Gudasz
Title: Oleander (Daniel 13)
You might like if you enjoy: Jenny Lewis, Aimee Mann, Big Star's Third
Tell me more: Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Skylar Gudasz's new full-length debut Oleander hits all the right notes. Like Aimee Mann, the Durham, NC-based artist has a sweet and emotive voice capable of reaching lofty emotional heights amidst a mostly-intimate approach. Highlights on this compelling dozen-song disc include the rollicking alt-country LP opener "Kick Out the Chair," Americana-minded "I'll Be Your Man," the gorgeous piano-anchored "I Want to be With You in the Darkness" and sophisticated "About Great Men." Information: skylargudasz.com.

Purchase 'Oleander' here

Robert Kinsler

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