Emily Herring (Turquoise Earring)
Somewhere in the recent past country music lost its soul. Too many personal trainers, cliche-cluttered songs, and pop sensibilities left the music in the People magazine pop culture Dumpster.
Put another way: If Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw strutting around like a couple of male models copping rock star poses while desperately trying to maintain their buff middle-aged man figures is country music, then where does that leave George Jones and Merle Haggard? If Carrie Underwood's pyrotechnics and Taylor Swift's over emphasis on spectacle is country music, then how do Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette fit in the same genre?
These are hypothetical questions, of course, but Emily Herring addresses them in her own iconoclastic way. Herring's the real deal, a singer/songwriter steeped in twang and Texas swing who's far more Asleep at the Wheel than she is Lady Antebellum. Her music has swagger that's emphasized with steel guitars and a honky tonk attitude.
Sassy and smart, Herring delivers a sly sexual orientation message on the title track, crafts a gorgeous midtempo ballad on "Turquoise Earring" with its wonderful image of an umbrella in a truck's gun rack, and country blues on "One Steals the Load."
This is for folks who like their music served with a shot of whiskey, a chicken picked Telecaster solo, and a singer whose not afraid to challenge conventions.
— ROD LOCKWOOD
REMEMBERING LITTLE WALTER
Various Artists (Blind Pig)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Little Walter Jacobs continues to influence legions of blues harpists — but also several rock and roll icons, starting with Keith Richards and Eric Clapton.
Richards calls him "one of the best singers of the blues and a blues harp player par excellence." Five of today's best living blues harpists collaborated on this strong tribute, including the great Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Boy Arnold, both of whom knew and were friends with Little Walter.
Little Walter, who died in 1968, won Musselwhite over because of how he tried to play the harmonica like a saxophone. Best known for his hard-driving performances on the Chicago blues scene in the 1950s and 1960s, Little Walter is seen by some as being as much of a ground-breaker in the blues as Charlie Parker was in bebop and Jimi Hendrix was in electric rock guitar.
— TOM HENRY
TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
The National (4AD)
The first word that comes to mind after listening to The National’s new album is “restrained.”
Six or seven listens later and the nuances on “Trouble Will Find Me” work their way out of the mix, but that first impression of the group’s sixth album still lingers.
The National was anything but restrained as it battled its way to the forefront of the indie rock movement with its last two albums. The quintet distinguished itself from a legion of mope rockers by unleashing two formidable beasts: frontman Matt Berninger and drummer Bryan Devendorf.
Berninger’s majestic baritone and vivid lyrics and Devendorf’s aggressive, time-shifting attack differentiated The National, providing a natural groove so rare among similar bands. With Berninger occasionally exploring new vocal approaches and Devendorf moved back in the mix, that groove is often forced to the side by airy atmospherics and sonic effects that are indeed beautiful, but often insubstantial.
There are several strong entries here regardless of quibbles, including the high-rev “Graceless” and the wistful “Fireproof,” and Berninger remains among the sharpest of emotional interpreters, singing on “Pink Rabbits”: “You said it would be painless/it wasn’t that at all.”
— Associated Press