Short Review Series: The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

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The Head and the HeartLet’s Be Still
Subpop Records

RIYL: The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Dawes
Must-Hear Songs: Homecoming Heroes, Shake

Grade: C

The acoustic guitar/piano/three part harmonies sound is one the staple of today’s indie folk scene, and The Head and the Heart did it with great success in their eponymous debut released in 2011. However, the band felt that the new release required some growth sonically. With Let’s Be Still, it seems they tried a little too much on some of the songs, especially songs like “Summertime” and “Fire/Fear.” These two attempt to really change your perspective on their sound, but leave you scratching your head wondering what went wrong. Overall, the record is worth a listen, but it gets a little stale after the lead single “Shake.” As terrific as the debut record was, it looks like they built up the anticipation a bit too much for another stellar release.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2hkZbVsrPY]

Buy it on Amazon or iTunes.

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Album Review: The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

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The Civil WarsThe Civil Wars
Columbia Records
August 6th 2013

Recommended if you like: Ingird Michaelson, Sleeping At Last, The Lumineers

Most people are a little disappointed when a band releases a self-titled album. The title of an album often provides an opportunity for the artist to give some added subtext, what best encapsulates the essence of what the album is really about. On the surface, some may see The Civil Wars’ new release as a self-titled album. At the core of it, however, this album title could not be more appropriate.

No one expected the immense amount of success The Civil Wars received with the release of their debut album Barton Hollow in early 2011. Except for maybe Charlie Peacock, way back in January 2010. Nevertheless, the simplistic music that consists almost exclusively of John Paul White’s guitar, Joy Williams’ piano, and their vocals makes for some of the most heart wrenching music your ears have ever had the luxury of hearing. In a matter of months, the duo exploded; on their first national tour they were playing 500 capacity venues, and in January of 2012 they sold out the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Barton Hollow went on to make countless “Best of 2011” lists as well as winning two Grammy Awards for Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo/Group Performance.

All of this success came at a price, however. In November 2012, the duo announced they would be taking a hiatus due to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” Mourning quickly ensued as droves of fans worried that The Civil Wars were finished forever. Yet despite all the uncertainty of the future of the band, a new single was released and hopes were once again raised that all was well with Williams and White.

In an interview by the Associated Press, we hear from Joy Williams that she and John Paul are not speaking and that producer Charlie Peacock spoke loosely on his behalf for the interview. With all of this in mind, the songs provide a deeper meaning into the songwriting and singing that came together for this new album.

You can feel a sense of regret and hurt in Williams’ voice that sets the tone for the entire record when she opens with the lyrics, “I never meant to get us in this deep, I never meant for this to mean a thing. I wish you were the one, wish you were the one that got away.” The same intensity is felt in the lyrics of “Same Old Same Old” as the duo harmoniously sings, “I wanna miss this, I want a heartache. I wanna run away, but I won’t. ‘Do I love you? Oh, I do. And I’m going to ‘til I’m gone. But if you think that I can stay in this same old, same old, well, I don’t. Oh I don’t wanna fight, but I’ll fight with you, If I have to.”

From a musical standpoint, you will definitely notice the additional instrumentation such as drums, electric guitar, mandolin, and even some sampled beats. In the stand out song “Dust to Dust,” the sampled drums and bass line help to drive the song and seem to bring a new spark to the band’s sound. The electric guitar in “I Had Me A Girl” and “Oh Henry” provide a strong backbone to Williams and Jones’ otherwise bare vocals.

While the album is loaded with strong songs like “The One That Got Away,” “From This Valley,” and “Tell Mama,” the two final songs seem to bring out a different tone. “Sacred Heart” is sung entirely in French, and although it is a gorgeous song, its joyous sound seems to stick out on a record filled with dark and heartbreaking songs. “D’Arline” feels like a bit of an afterthought thrown on last minute with its production feeling a little off and the guitar playing is fairly distracting.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to know whether this album will be given the opportunity to be performed live, or if there will ever be a follow up. Williams sums up her feelings on the state of the duo quite well as she says in her interview, “What I’ve noticed is people may be curious about it, but once they listen to it, they are hooked. … It’s so honest and it’s so rich and, not to toot my own horn, I’m just really proud of what we created together. And we created it together — we just happened to be in a bit of a civil war ourselves.”

You can stream the album for free starting today via iTunes. You can order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Album Review: The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow

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The Lone BellowThe Lone Bellow
Descendant Records
Release Date – January 22, 2012

Recommended if you like: The Civil Wars, The Lumineers, Dawes

Some of you may have heard from prior sources like Billboard and NPR, but The Lone Bellow has the potential to be the next breakout artist in 2013. What you may not heard about is the catastrophic road that lead to lead singer Zach Williams’ singing career. Several years ago, Williams’ wife was in a near-fatal horse riding accident which left her a quadriplegic. In a desperate attempt to cope with the situation, Williams began writing entries in his journal. After sharing his entries with some friends, they encouraged him to put music to these poignant entries and sing them at a local open mic. Shortly thereafter, his wife miraculously recovered and they decided to move New York City so he could try his hand at music. Now joined by mandolin player Kanene Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist, The Lone Bellow are on their way to becoming the new indie darlings of the music world. With the help of legendary producer Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars, Jon Foreman), this is definitely an album that will be on countless “Top Albums of 2013” lists.

From the opening notes of “Green Eyes And A Heart Of Gold,” the three part harmonies hit you in a way most modern music cannot. When the first verse arrives, Williams’ voice breaks into the forefront and belts out the lyrics behind a bed of lap steel guitar, rolling bass notes, and the drum kit pounding like a roaring train. “Two Sides Of Lonely” is a heart wrenching song about betrayal and tragedy. The ebb and flow of the song makes the song so much more powerful, with the soft intro, the heavy middle, and the soft outro.

The first single from the album, “You Never Need Nobody,” is a great selection and arguably the most accessible song on the debut. A song about love and rejection, the chorus sings out “You never need nobody, you never been alone. And I try to get your affection, and all I ever do is wrong.” The song certainly reminds you of the country your grandparents listened to, with a modern spin put on it. The final chorus with the banjo, piano, and guitar ringing out chords while the trio cries out in perfect harmony with a sound that is sure to give you chills. The rest of the album is filled with one tremendous song after another, ranging from the next great country hit “You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To,” to the incredibly catchy “Bleeding Out,” to the rock and roll tune “The One You Should’ve Let Go.”

The story of The Lone Bellow is one that every aspiring independent artists is dying to have written about them, and it’s wonderful to see another great band seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We can only hope that many other great artists like The Lone Bellow will have their day in 2013.

Rating: 9.0/10

You can listen to the entire album streaming on NPR’s website and you can pre-order the album on Amazon and iTunes. You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.