taking a listen
reviews of local & state music CDs
BARTON CARROLL — Together You And I
Properly enjoying Barton Carroll’s Together You And I can require a bit of commitment; not merely thinking about his words to derive the underlying message, but there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll find yourself rewinding to try and learn the words yourself as you go. The former Crooked Finger sideman and Banner Elk native has created an album that neatly sets him apart from most troubadours with stories to tell, as Together You And I is nearly resolute in its cynicism, rarely offering reprieve from the notion that all things are meant to end poorly. Carroll does throw a curve with the opener “Poor Boy Can’t Dance,” a sympathetic tale made right by the introduction of booze into the equation. “Shadowman” is a soul-crushing account of a man whose childhood resentment toward his brother slowly dissolves with the brother’s cancer diagnosis, the culmination beautifully inscribed in a chorus that ends in a juxtaposition of the original line “I’d love you if I didn’t hate you so much.” Most penetrating of all is “Let’s Get On With the Illusion,” which illustrates the confliction between a world-weary man and his still-doting wife who decide that they should simply put a happy face on their loveless marriage. Despite that narrative that pervades the album, Barton’s clever delivery lends a generally breezy mood amidst all the stark fatalism.
MICHAEL FORD, JR. & THE APACHE RELAY — 1988
It wasn’t long ago that Doug Williams was handed a talented young roots act with a highly emotive collections of songs that needed production, and he came out with arguably the two best albums by the Avett Brothers, Mignonette and Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions. This time around, it’s the debut release by Michael Ford, Jr. & the Apache Relay (www. myspace.com/mfjrandtheapacherelay) that gets his finely honed roots-pop treatment. The band’s debut is entitled 1988, a reference to the year young Ford was born, but the maturity found within reminds of the old adage that age is but a number. At their core, the Belmont University quartet is a progressive bluegrass outfit, but the gentle immediacy of Ford’s voice is inescapable from opener “Sugarcane” on. Equal parts David Gray and Brett Dennen, Ford uses his captivating voice to inspired effect in what is clearly a deeply personal group of songs. “Sweet Louisianne” is Ford’s love letter to all he left behind in his home state, but love and belonging are easily found in practically every song within. Equally striking is the confluence of instrumental sparsity and richness created by his backing trio and contributors such as Joe Kwon and Jessica Lea Mayfield. The stark clarity of each instrument is rendered even more amazing when the fact that the entire album was recorded live is taken into account. The best account of 1988, however, might also be echoing others’ first impressions of the Avetts: you simply must hear these guys.
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