The sophomore album from Seattle singer/songwriter Christopher Mansfield, aka Fences, 2014's Lesser Oceans is a rootsy, melodic, and earnest album that straddles the line between moody indie rock, hip-hop, and folk. The album also follows Fences' 2010 self-titled debut. Along with musical backing from longtime Fences member guitarist/keyboardist Benjamin Greenspan, Lesser Oceans features production from a handful of collaborators including Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Of Monsters and Men) and Chris Walla (the Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie). Included on Lesser Oceans is the single "Arrows," featuring guest appearances from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
The son of maverick Texas songwriter Steve Earle (and carrying the middle name of his dad's mentor, Townes Van Zandt), Justin Townes Earle shares just a hint of his father's vocal style in his voice, and like the elder Earle, he writes his own songs, but aside from the fact that both Earles fall to the country side of the Mason-Dixon Line, there are probably far more differences in their musical approaches than there are similarities. The younger Earle grew up in Nashville and took up music early, playing in the bluegrass/ragtime combo the Swindlers and the hard-rocking Distributors; he also toured (playing guitar and keyboards) with his father's road band the Dukes, picking up a few of the elder Earle's old bad habits in the process, but like his father, he eventually kicked his drug habit and put his life in order. Developing his own writing and playing style, a hybrid mixing folk and blues with strong early country leanings, Earle self-released the six-song EP Yuma in 2007. The release attracted the attention of Chicago's Bloodshot Records, who signed Earle and put out a full-length project, The Good Life, produced by R.S. Field and recorded at House of David Studios, in 2008. He followed it with Midnight Movies in 2009 and Harlem River Blues in 2010. Earle toured extensively behind this last album and won nearly universal critical acclaim. He followed it up with Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now in the spring of 2012. That same year, Earle dipped his toes into production, working behind the board on Unfinished Business, an album by pioneering rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson. After Earle's contract with Bloodshot had run its course, he signed a deal with Communion Records, a U.K. label owned in part by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, but the deal soon turned into a war of words between Earle and the label's A&R staff, with Earle frequently posting angry messages on Twitter about his dealing with the company. In 2014, Earle finally re-emerged with a new album, Single Mothers, which was released by the American independent label Vagrant Records.
Presented by the Coen Brothers and T Bone Burnett comes a concert inspired by the Coen Brothers' film, 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' which is set in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk music scene, featuring live performances of the film's music, as well as songs from the early 1960s. Performers include Jack White, Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, the Avett Brothers, Punch Brothers, Dave Rawlings Machine, Gillian Welch, Rhiannon Giddens, Lake Street Dive, Colin Meloy, The Milk Carton Kids, and Willie Watson, as well as the star of the film Oscar Isaac.
At a time when indie-leaning music fans have discovered retro-soul and make records that capture all the sounds and practically none of the feeling of vintage R&B, Curtis Harding is a breath of fresh air: an artist with a real gift for classic soul music stylings but little obvious interest in nostalgia. Harding's solo debut, Soul Power, shows the man is one of the best new R&B singers extant, but even though the sound of these tunes certainly harkens back to vintage soul (mostly of the southern variety), Harding doesn't suggest he's slavishly trying to replicate the past. Instead, this music fuses the sounds of the '60s and early '70s while injecting them with an edgy energy that's solidly contemporary. Harding's phrasing is warm, flexible, and expressive without sinking into the frantic melisma that passes for R&B vocalizing in the 21st century, and on these songs, he sings with the band, not over them; his interplay with the musicians is smart and full of fire, and whether the music suggests the Rolling Stones ("Surf") or the Spinners ("Keep on Shining"), he sounds well-focused and respectful of his accompanists, who perform with a lean, determined authority on these sessions. Soul may be Harding's strong suit, but he's not afraid to rock out on "The Drive" and "I Don't Wanna Go Home" (guitars do dominate these arrangements), and the engineering and production gives these tracks a natural, spacious sound that flatters Harding and the band equally. Having worked with OutKast and Cee Lo Green, Curtis Harding knows something about soul music in the present as well as the past tense, and Soul Power is music that honors the rich traditions of classic R&B while keeping its head and heart in the here and now; some folks say you can't have it both ways, but Curtis Harding is here to show that's a lie.