Monday, August 17, 2020

New Music: Kathleen Edwards, John Fusco and the X-Road Riders, Mary Chapin Carpenter

The challenges of 2020 have created a perfect climate for talented singer-songwriters to create great music. Look no further than a trio of superlative summertime releases available now...

Artist: Kathleen Edwards
Title: Total Freedom (Dualtone)
You might like if you enjoy: Jenny Lewis, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega
Tell me more: A masterwork of palpable power and artful perfection, Kathleen Edwards' eagerly-awaited return Total Freedom is the Canadian songstress' first new album since 2012's Voyageur. Back from her much-publicized six-year hiatus from the music industry (she opened and has been running a successful coffee shop and cafe called Quitters in her hometown of Stittsville, Ottawa), Edwards reflects on the people, places, dreams and challenges of a life renewed in a way that evokes the emotional might of fellow Canadian greats Neil Young and Bruce Cockburn but with a woman's voice. Like those artists' best work, Edwards' songs provide a potent and electrifying experience for discerning listeners. Emotional hurt is at the core of the weighty "Hard On Everyone," the track bolstered by layers of distant backing vocals, a driving rhythm and otherworldly guitar textures. Her renewed approach to creating music and charting her own path is displayed on the tender "Birds on a Feeder," an absorbing acoustic gem where amidst the arrival of spring she mines the album's title during the choruses when she proclaims "I've got total freedom" in recognition of her self-won independence. "Options Open" also tackles her newfound strength and sense of purpose, but from the perspective of turning 39 and knowing 40 looms. The aching "Feelings Fade," sparse "Ashes to Ashes," and swirling "Fools Ride" are emotional master strokes, her beautiful soprano working its magic amidst wondrous arrangements and Grammy Award-winning producer Ian Fitchuk's knockout touch in the studio. The touching "Who Rescued Who" and heart-rending ballad "Take It With You When You Go" close out the outstanding disc. Edwards' sound is a blend of Americana, pop and folk blended into a signature style that is displayed majestically across Total FreedomInformation:

Artist: John Fusco and the X-Road Riders
Title: John the Revelator (Checkerboard Lounge Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Cody Dickinson, Ben Harper, Otis Taylor
Tell me more: The two-disc album John the Revelator is a wonderful immersion into the authentic blues-draped universe crafted by Vermont artist John Fusco and his terrific band the X-Road Riders. Lovers of traditional blues will want get a listen to the 20 tracks on the Cody Dickinson-produced collection which thrives on great songs and outstanding musicianship along with a heavy dose of mystery that adds to the magic of the set (just listen to the potent title track). A celebration of the enduring genre explodes via the glorious Chicago blues-styled "Bone Deep," a track bolstered by Magic Mark Lavoie's blues harp playing. While blues is definitely the defining impression across the album, there are plenty of rich shades explored across John the Revelator. Indeed, the funky horns-rich "It Takes a Man," the New Orleans R&B offering "Ophelia (Oh, I Feel Ya)" and tender ballad "Applejack Brandy" are welcome inclusions on disc one; the wistful "Song for Peter," dramatic "Language of Angels," lovely "Moonstone Lady," alt country rocker "Motel Laws of Arizona" and rousing "The Sun Also Rises" are among the nuggets that grace disc two. Among the illustrious artists who contribute to the power of the ambitious John the Revelator are the aforementioned Dickinson (the North Mississippi Allstars great plays drums, bass, guitars, electric washboard and more on the album), guitar master Samantha Fish, vocalist Risse Norman, Sarah Morrow (former trombonist for the late Ray Charles and a bandleader for Dr. John), along with many other notables. Information:

Artist: Mary Chapin Carpenter
Title: The Dirt And The Stars (Lambent Light Records)
You might like if you enjoy: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash
Tell me more: There is a warmth and reassurance about listening to acclaimed singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter's rewarding return The Dirt And The Stars. The 11-song disc is the five-time Grammy winner's 16th studio album and another crucial addition to her celebrated discography. Written before the pandemic gripped the U.S earlier this year, the album's songs resonate as the New Jersey native brings listeners into the intimacies of her life with some songs, and a greater understanding of the world and our place in it elsewhere. "Farther Along and Further In" is the sumptuous opener, her superb soprano voice delivering revealing literate insights about her heart and spirit as the musical soundscape slowly arcs from a single acoustic guitar to an exquisite mix of piano, and full Americana band dynamics. The title of "It's Okay To Be Sad" says plenty, but the song's melancholy is offset by a joyful drive and bright melodic chorus. The nuanced and sparse "Where The Beauty Is" and "Asking for a Friend," wry rocker "American Stooge," buoyant "Secret Keepers" and sweeping title track are among the standouts on the disc. Every song on the album rings true and Carpenter's powerful delivery adds additional eloquence with each note. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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