Albums Of The Month – May 2023

Our Top Six Releases May 23

Slaid Cleaves – Photo: Yvette Foster Photography

Top Six Releases

May 2023

Our Top Six Releases May 23

By Rob Dickens

Annie Bartholomew

Sisters Of The White Chapel

Independent

16 June 2023

Alaskan folksinger Annie Bartholomew became fascinated by the stories of sex workers during the 19th century after touring a brothel museum in the south east of that State. She wanted to bring attention to the stories of women during Alaska’s mining era and researched music traditions, archival materials and personal stories.

The ambit of the project grew into a successful stage show and now we have Bartholomew’s debut album Sisters of White Chapel, which features the music that accompanied the play. The album was recorded in a log cabin and paints a colourful picture of a Victorian-era Yukon with authentic instrumentation. Tales of gold digging, women managing to survive together, keeping secret their past and impending death a constant possibility.

“There is a legacy of oppression. Every woman has a mother or grandmother or great-grandmother who had to be strong and had to bend to the will of men in their lives, whether they were husbands or boyfriends or judges or children.”

Annie Bartholomew

Sisters of White Chapel is an important and lifelike document, with Bartholomew’s dulcet vocals and the balanced traditional music arrangements standouts.

OFFICIAL SITE

Via Nick Loss-Eaton Media

The Band Of Heathens

Simple Things

BOH Records

17 March 2023

Austin-based The Band Of Heathens are just about the most consistent and successful band without a major record label deal (BOH Records is their own creation), which highlights their fiercely independent streak. The roots rock band’s dual lead vocalists and songwriters Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist have laid a pathway of a highly successful career while fully determining their own musical destiny. There are not many unsigned bands with a record about to be certified Gold (the single “Hurricane”, originally recorded by Levon Helm)

“I see a lot of artists out there screaming, ‘Hey, we’re outlaws, we’re independent!’ and they’re signed to a major label and live completely within that model. We’ve been the ultimate indie band for 17 years, and we like it that way.” 

Gordy Quist

Simple Things is their ninth studio release from this outfit first formed in the early 2000s, and the title refers to their experiences during the pandemic and the forced reflection during an enforced quieter time.

The beautifully-sounding collection was recorded in Austin (at The Finishing School) and has all the graceful rawness and balance that we have come to expect. This is another assured proclamation of one of the great American country rock bands whose lineage goes back to the legendary The Band.

OFFICIAL SITE

Via Big Feat PR

David G Smith

Witness Trees

Independent

2 June 2023

David G Smith is a new name to me. Witness Trees is, however, his eleventh LP and his bio is an imposing one, having collaborated with Mary Gauthier and Keb Mo and his songs have featured on a number of TV networks.

An adroit slide guitarist and skilful vocalist, Smith leaves his blues orbit to a more narrative focus, opining on various injustices:

“I was thinking a lot about the next generation with this one. I was thinking about Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by the Taliban for fighting for girls’ rights to education. I was thinking about Greta Thunberg fighting for climate justice. And… I was thinking about my own granddaughters, and the world I’m leaving for them.”

David G Smith

His weathered voice sometimes reminds me of Rodney Crowell. His slide prowess is to the fore on the opening track “River Gonna Talk” (see clip below) with the arrangements meshing perfectly with the themes of climate change and disenfranchisement of women. “Weight You Carry” is a splendid resonator blues piece with Alicia Michilli’s haunting backing vocals about the difficulty of coming out and being your true self.

The title track “Witness Trees” is a telling showcase asking the question of what trees must have seen that have been here for hundreds of years, observing the extreme behaviours of humanity. The highlight for me is “Give Us Free” which was inspired by the late civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis’ posthumous essay ‘Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation’. The album closer “I Wanna Go Out,” co-written with Smith’s frequent collaborator Tom Favreau, relates to never stopping creating and performing until death claims us, referencing the sudden passing of David Olney and Jimmie Rodgers.

Witness Trees is a classy, thought-provoking work of sublime artistry.

OFFICIAL SITE

Via Baby Robot Media

Neil Murray

The Telling

Island Home Music

31 March 2023

One of Australia’s deepest thinkers and finest songwriters, Neil Murray, gives us his tenth album and it’s another omnibus of musical truths and injustice spotlights, to be ignored at our peril.

The Telling was recorded in Melbourne by Roger Bergodaz and there is potency at every corner. The song titles tell it all – “Broken Land”, “No Justice”, “Tears of Wybalenna” (a devastating and moving account – see clip below) and “Rainbow Serpent and a Mine” which sharply brings attention to mining damage There are positives and hope though. One of Australia’s great rivers “The Murrumbidgee” stands up to environmental threats and “For Evermore” and “The Manager” are touching tributes, while an indigenous town glows in “My Yuendumu Song”.

The Telling features instrumental contributions from Bill Heckenberg (drums), Craig Kelly (bass), Stephen “Stretch” Teakle (keys, accordion, clavietta), Damien Neil (mandolin, guitar), Jack Howard (trumpet), Shane Reilly (pedal steel) with vocal harmonies from Grace Robinson and Damien Neil.

OFFICIAL SITE

Via Dave Laing Publicity

Slaid Cleaves

Together Through The Dark

Candy House Media

3 March 2023

Life is full of puzzles. Outcomes are sometimes bereft of logic. Here’s but one. Slaid Cleaves SHOULD BE MORE FAMOUS. This Austin, Texas-based artist is one the finest songwriters on the planet, with a finely-distinctive vocal style and acute sensibilities.

Together Through The Dark is, I believe, Cleave’s twelfth album since 1990 and there’s hardly a misstep anywhere on that glorious discography, including on this new, memorable addition. It has an ominous beginning – “Dark clouds gather on the western range / This time it feels like more than just another cold, hard rain” and it never lets up, looking for the ‘Next Heartbreak’, the corruption in “Nature’s Darker Ways” and the chilling and compelling “Arthur Nash” (a “good prisoner, bad citizen, terrible family man”).

This is a rivetting collection, one that cements Cleaves’ place in the pantheon of the great storytellers.

OFFICIAL SITE

Stephen Cummings

100 Years From Now

Cheersquad Record & Tapes

5 May 2023

In a weird way, it’s hard to listen to 100 Years From Now. Such is the compassion, the warmth, the wistful sadness, I wonder if there’s just too much honesty and emotion to cradle, that it may burst my heart.

One of the longest-standing and most distinctive vocalists Australia has ever produced, Stephen Cummings in March 2020 suffered a life-changing stroke and the journey from that to this album is wrapped in personal challenges and unrelenting, heart-warming support from the local music community.
 
100 Years From Now is a triumph on so many levels, a celebration of collaboration. Beautifully recorded and mixed by Robert Goodge and Simon Polinksi, the tracks feature co-writes that address Cummings’ post-stroke physical condition unflinchingly and how difficult and brave it was for Cummings vocally is anyone’s guess.

“I was always a natural singer and assumed I could just sing as long as I wanted. After the stroke, I had a lot of rehab to learn to walk and recover fine motor skills on my left side. I couldn’t really play guitar anymore. I did some vocal therapy and found my tone still good but the control and breathing the hard part. I learnt I if I sang more slowly and more quietly it sounded better. I have to focus more and keep to different parameters.”

Stephen Cummings

Contributors to the record are many, a reflection of the regard in which Cummings is held – including longtime guitarist Sam Lemann and bass player Bill McDonald, current band members Maxine Sutcliffe and Michael Davis, Graeme Lee, Clare Moore, Rebecca Barnard and Billy Miller.

On the record, I am sometimes reminded of a trance-like Van Morrison and the imperious Bryan Ferry. His voice may have altered since the stroke, but it has not deteriorated, rather changed to snugly fit his new circumstances.

Who knows who will be enjoying the warm glow of this record 100 years from now??

OFFICIAL SITE

Via Dave Laing Publicity

ADVERTISE WITH LISTENING THROUGH THE LENS

LAST MONTH’S BEST ALBUMS

More Music Adventures Await!

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Our Top Six Releases May 23

Our Top Six Releases May 23

Our Top Six Releases May 23

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Author: Rob Dickens

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