A few weeks ago, I wrote about the amazing variety of bands I caught playing at Austin's South By Southwest Music Festival. Since then, I've gotten a number of new releases by bands that were just starting their promotional tours at that fest. Here are reviews of a couple of the rootsier ones:
An Australian and British trio that now calls Austin, Texas, home, the Greencards play a fast-picking style of bluegrass that treads both traditional and modern chords. The energy and the evocative vocals of spitfire bassist and frequent frontwoman Carol Young make their live shows an adventure. Their album, Movin' On, will make converts of those who say they "hate that country, twangy stuff."
I'm not alone in being instantly entranced by the Greencards; the band won "Best New Band" at the Austin Music Awards during South By Southwest, and all of the band members have made marks separately, winning various awards, and touring with the likes of Rodney Crowell, Kasey Chambers, Kelly Willis and more.
The album opens with a rollicking, thigh-slapping instrumental, "Jolly Hockeysticks," before Young takes the mike for the easy gallop of "Movin' On." Kym Warner steps to the mike for the more classic bluegrass fiddling sound of the upbeat "The Far Side of the Hill."
The disc's best offering belongs to Young, who provides an uncharacteristically slow love song in the memorable, heart-wrenching "Love's a Word I Never Throw Around."
The rest of the disc is filled with a mix of well-spun instrumentals and hand clap-ready barn-stompers and sing-alongs, including "You Pulled Me Out." The track combines the feel of Celtic folk with an American hoedown as Warner sings of being saved by love. He also dishes out a low-voiced country cover of the traditional hymn "The Man From Galilee."
Movin' On will have wider record store distribution across the country next month, so it will be easier to find. But in the meantime, check out www.thegreencards.com.
Mary Lou Lord
A few years ago, Mary Lou Lord released a nicely spun singer-songwriter album through one of Sony Music's subsidiary labels, Work. That didn't garner her quite the attention labelmates Five for Fighting achieved, and her tour ultimately led to a stint in rehab. These days, she's a mom and runs a vintage clothing store. But she's also back to making music, albeit on a smaller label, but perhaps one more suited to her quietly powerful style.
The songs on Baby Blue are tightly drawn bits of whispery crooning, easy guitar strumming and aching harmonies. There are a couple fast rock tracks (like the punky "Inhibition Twist"), but overall this is a jangly pop-folk album.
The album also stands as a tribute to her longtime collaborator Nick Saloman, who produced and plays guitar on the album, as well as wrote or co-wrote virtually every song, except for the title track (a cover of Badfinger's classic "Baby Blue") and a Pink Floyd track ("Fearless").
The album opens with two of its best songs, a timeless bit of evocative 60s-esque electric folk in "The Wind Blew All Around Me" and a more country-fied piano/guitar/harmonica moment in the "you missed your chance" song "Long Way From Tupelo."
While you might put her waifish, wispy vocal delivery down to calculated coffeehouse sultriness, in actuality, Lord found herself fighting problems from a vocal cord syndrome during the recording of this, her first studio album in six years. But like the street-corner busking trooper she is and has been throughout her career, she found a way to phrase these songs convincingly anyway, despite the control problems her voice was giving her.
Baby Blue is less produced and quieter overall than her last disc, but that's part of its charm. It perfectly captures the complex emotions of being a "Long Way From Tupelo" and the wonder of how "Stars Burn Out." It revels in the pop of "Baby Blue." and cringes at the danger of loose lips in "Someone Always Talks." It's honest and easy and heartfelt and fine.
Lord will play Chicago's Schuba's on June 5. For more information check her Web site at www.maryloulord.com.