My Kind of Country

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Tag Archives: Teddy Thompson

Album Review: Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer – ‘Not Dark Yet’

In the summer of 2016, under the direction of Richard Thompson’s son Teddy, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer entered a studio in Los Angeles and made good on a promise to one day record a collaborative album. The result, Not Dark Yet, is a ten-track collection of eccentric covers and one original tune.

The songs span genres, from classic country to rock and even grunge. The album, though, has a unifying sound, with Thompson using flourishes of piano and guitar to bring the tracks together. These aren’t by-the-numbers faithful interpretations, but rather the sisters’ take on these songs.

They open Not Dark Yet with “My List,” solely penned by Brandon Flowers and featured on The Killers second album Sam’s Town in 2006. Their version begins sparse, led by Moorer’s naked vulnerability, before unexpectedly kicking into gear halfway.

The title track was written and released by Bob Dylan in 1998, from Time Out Of Mind. Moorer is a revelation once again, with the perfect smoky alto to convey the despair lying at the center of Dylan’s lyric.

As one might expect, the album explores the feelings surrounding the horrific death of the sisters’ mother, at the hands of their father, who then turned the gun on himself. They were teenagers at the time, a period in one’s life where you arguably need your parents the most. They acknowledge their heartbreak with a trifecta of songs, culminating with the album’s sole original tune, which they composed themselves.

They begin with Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms,” the lead single from his 1997 album The Boatman’s Call. The song, which proves the benefit of turning to rock for expert lyricism, is about a man’s devotion to his woman and the push to bring them together. Lynne and Moorer continue with Kurt Cobain’s “Lithium,” from Nirvana’s 1992 masterpiece Nevermind. The dark ballad, which they make approachable, details the story of a man turning to God amidst thoughts of suicide.

The most personal, “Is It Too Much” was started by Lynne and finished by Moorer. The track details the bond they share as sisters, knowing each other’s pain, and wondering – is it too much to carry in your heart? It’s also one of the album’s slowest ballads, heavy on bass. I’m not typically drawn to these types of songs but they manage to bring it alive.

The remaining five tracks have ties to country music and thus fall more within my expertise. “Every Time You Leave” was written by Charlie and Ira Louvin and released in 1963. The backstory is a tragic one – Ira wrote this for his wife, saying that although they would eventually get back together, their separation was inventible. The wife he was married to at the time, his third, would also shoot him five times after a violent argument. It’s no wonder the pair feel a connection to the song, which they brilliantly deliver as a bass and piano-led ballad.

“I’m Looking for Blue Eyes,” written and recorded by Jessi Colter, was a track from Wanted! The Outlaws in 1976. Lynne and Moorer’s version is stunning, even if the pedal steel is just an accent and not a major player throughout.

Two of the album’s songs first appeared in 1969. “Lungs,” written by Townes Van Zandt, was featured on his eponymous album. The pair interpret the song nicely, which has a gently rolling melody. The album’s most famous song, at least to country fans, is Merle Haggard’s classic “Silver Wings,” which first appeared on Okie From Muskogee. Their version is slightly experimental but also lovely.

The final song is arguably the most contemporary. “The Color of a Cloudy Day” was written by Jason Isbell and is a duet between him and his wife Amanda Shires. The song first appeared at the close of the British documentary The Fear of 13 and was given a proper release as part of Amazon’s “Amazon Acoustics” playlist in 2016. Moorer and Lynne give the song a bit more pep, which isn’t hard given the acoustic leanings of Isbell and Shires’ duet.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but Not Dark Yet is considered one of the most anticipated roots releases of the year. It’s a beautiful album, and while it won’t be within everyone’s wheelhouse, it’s difficult not to appreciate just how brilliant Lynne and Moorer are as a pair. They are two of our finest voices and have an exceptional ear for song selection. I don’t usually have trouble grading albums, but Not Dark Yet is hard record for which to assign a grade. It might not be completely my cup of tea, but I can’t ignore how expertly it was crafted.

Grade: A

Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Ghost On The Canvas’

Glen_Campbell_-_Ghost_on_the_CanvasGlen Campbell was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009. He was in the process of recording his sixty-first, and now final, studio album at the time. The California based Serfdog Records released Ghost On The Canvas in late summer 2011. The record was produced by Julian Raymond and Howard Willing and was accompanied by a farewell tour the next year. Ghost On The Canvas was intended as a companion piece to his previous album Meet Glen Campbell.

Campbell and Raymond co-wrote seven of the album’s eighteen tracks. The eerie ballad “A Better Place” is an autobiographical conversation with the lord regarding his failing body. “A Thousand Lifetimes” is a mid-tempo rocker about the many iterations of life.

The pair’s remaining co-writes focus on different emotions regarding Campbell’s wife, Kim. “It’s Your Amazing Grace” is a love song while “Strong” is a declaration of his undying vow to always be there for her. “There’s No Me…With You” concerns the afterlife and his desire not to be alone. Campbell understands the pain he’s causing on “What I Wouldn’t Give,” a deeply reflective heartbreaker about not wanting to see his wife in so much emotional pain.

Roger Joseph Manning, Jr was the album’s other main writer, contributing six solely written haunting instrumentals. “The Billstown Crossroads,” “Second Street North,” “May 21, 1969,” and “Wild and Waste” are all similar in length and sonic structure. “Valley of the Son” is somewhat creepy, with the sounds of children playing in the background. “The Rest is Silence” isn’t any variation on the others, but does have some ‘ooohs’ tucked into the music bed.

Paul Westerberg, lead vocalist for The Replacements, contributed two tracks of his own. The esoteric title track, an ethereal ballad, was the only promotional single from the album. “Any Trouble” is a mid-tempo rocker about a husband’s consideration towards his wife in his final months.

Two famous rock star sons supplied tracks reminiscent of the material Campbell recorded in his 1960s heyday. Richard Thompson’s son Teddy wrote “In My Arms” while Bob Dylan’s son Jakob composed “Nothing But the Whole Wide World.” Both tracks are very, very good.

Robert Pollard wrote “Hold on Hope” and it’s the most lyrically sweeping of the album’s tracks. The lyric keeps the focus on Campbell’s struggles but broadens to say we all ‘hold on to hope’ at one point or another in our lives.

It wouldn’t be a farewell album from Glen Campbell without at least one song written by Jimmy Webb. “Wish You Were Here” is a messy ballad about a man writing letters home to his family while visiting Rome, Paris and London. The lyric is strong, and was originally titled “Postcard From Paris” but was changed for this album.

Ghost On The Canvas is a strange hodgepodge of an album that contains a little bit of everything. I quite enjoyed the actual songs and found Campbell to still be in very strong voice. I could’ve done without the instrumentals.

Grade: B+