A couple of newcomers each of whom released albums late in 2012 are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. While neither is likely to ring familiar, hereâ€™s thinking may be hearing more about them as 2013 unravels. Letâ€™s take a look.
Nashville-based singer/songwriter Andrew Combs released what to these ears was one of the more impressive debuts of 2012 with the 11-song album Worried Man. Combs is one of a collection of young artists on the Americana front, acts like Shovels & Rope, Ronnie Fauss, Lily Hiatt, etc., whose first albums perked plenty of ears last year. A native of Dallas, Combs headed to Nashville with his sights set on being a songwriter and eventually landed himself a publishing deal. Thereâ€™s a 1970s style country sensibility to Worried Man. Itâ€™s no surprise considering Combs cites the 1970s works of the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Guy Clark as being influential. Worried Man soaks itself in part in that era with its middle of the road appeal without dipping way too deep into the hard honky tonk sound. Sample songs such as â€śTake It From Meâ€ť with its pedal steel kickoff, catchy chorus and piano trickles sprinkled throughout, or the equally likeable â€śRunninâ€™ You Out of My Mindâ€ť and â€śToo Stoned to Cry.â€ť Heartbreak, falling in and out of love, and even a murder ballad to kick off the album (â€śDevilâ€™s Got My Womanâ€ť), Combs doesnâ€™t necessarily break any new ground on the songwriting front, but thereâ€™s a scruffiness to his lyrics and voice and a leanness to his sound that sets this album apart from standard country fare. Itâ€™s those qualities that are the calling cards of Worried Man and make it an awfully easy album to warm up to. Recommended. Visit www.andrewcombs.net.
A Killerâ€™s Dream
Some have dubbed Rachel Brooke the queen of underground country. Hailing from Northern Michigan, she gained the moniker thanks in large part to her first album from a few years ago, Down in the Barnyard was a serious dose of lo-fi leaning country music with a dark streak to it. A Killerâ€™s Dream is her first national release and only out since early December, it is winning her raves. On it, she is backed by Florida-based swamp blues outfit Viva le Vox who inject a roughhewn garage blues backbone into much of A Killerâ€™s Dream. For all her Northern roots and upbringing, thereâ€™s a Southern gothic sort of vintage Kodachrome haze hanging over much of this album from the songwriting to the music to Brookeâ€™s voice which moves between sultry and wall rattling. Brooke comes from musical roots what with growing up in a bluegrass/folk family (her parents played in a bluegrass band) and spending her teen years raging out in an all-girl punk band. The latter experience no doubt gives her music and songs a hard edge, not to mention its bewitching quality. A Killerâ€™s Dream is an album as at home on the record shelf sitting next to Bessie Smith as it would be garage blues icon Dexter Romweber and on which Brooke demonstrates an innate ability to give old sounds new life. Visit www.rachelbrookemusic.com.
The Eilen Jewel Band built themselves quite a following in New England over the last five years playing clubs, coffeehouses and festivals. Jewel left the Boston area last summer to return to her native West and with it, the stops in these parts are bound to be less frequent. It makes this weekendâ€™s two-night stand at Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA (16 Anawan Street) a little extra special. Music begins at 8 pm on Friday and Saturday night.
Hankering for a live music backdrop with your Saturday morning coffee? Then make tracks for Java Madness (134 Salt Pond Road, Wakefield) on Saturday morning for a set by Providence-based local singer/songwriter Ian Fitzgerald. Music begins at 11 am.
On Saturday night, the Common Fence Music Series (Common Fence Community Hall, 935 Anthony Road, Portsmouth) presents it 14th annual open-mic tribute to the sea that they dub A Gathering of Fiddlers & Fishermen. Doors and music are at 6:30 pm.
Bay State country rockers Girls, Guns & Glory return to The Knickerbocker CafĂ© (35 Railroad Ave, Westerly) on Saturday night for a show that begins at 8 pm.
Looking for an entertainment alterative to football on a January Sunday afternoon? Well, you have two solid options this weekend. At the Mishnock Barn in West Greenwich (200 Mishnock Road), Dylan Sevey & the Gentlemen deliver the goods starting at 5 pm while the Travis Colby Band does the honors at the Narragansett CafĂ© (25 Narragansett Avenue, Jamestown) starting at 4 pm.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 â€“ 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.)