Music Review: Driftwood Fire – How to Untangle a Heartache

Hey there!

Since college, I’ve been entranced by the chanteuses of modern folk and Americana, especially those who prefer playing acoustic instruments. (Nothing wrong with electric guitars, but I find it harder to actually hear melodies and voices when the volume is cranked.) Among some of my favorites are the Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, and Brandi Carlile. Each of these not only has an amazing voice, but understands the power of strong songwriting, layered harmonies, and how to play the right instrument for the right mood.

I love adding new artists to my list and it’s definitely grown and changed over the years – moving from more rock-n-roll to bluegrass, Americana, and folk as I get older. All it takes is a lick, a verse, or a bit of harmony that leads me to discovering more about a new voice or musician…

But it’s hard to argue when you’re pointed to musicians who went to school at your alma mater and are based in the college town you called home for five years. Lynn Scharf (singer, guitarist) and Charlotte Formichella (multi-instrumentalist) are known as Driftwood Fire and they call Fort Collins, Colorado home. And though it’s been a long road for them from inception to album, How to Untangle a Heartache has a purity about it that makes it a joy to listen to.

There are qualities to Lynn’s voice that reminds me of Brandi Carlile in “Let it all go”. With Charlotte’s opening pick line… “Don’t break my heart / it’ll never mend / we’re starting something / and we don’t know how it ends / just drive me someplace I’ve never seen / so late at night I mistake / you for a dream / and kiss me real slow / and just let it all go…” It’s a song about doing what feels good even if we know better. And sometimes, life is like that. There’s an honesty there that shines through.

“Apalachian Hills” has a haunting quality, sort of like something Sarah Jarosz would sing. It tells a story about a place chased by its past and showing through to the present. Here there’s a simple arrangement that lets the guitar, banjo, piano, and voice easily express the sadness of the place. Between the Civil War, silver miners, and other folks seeking their fortunes – leaving many dead in the fields, forgotten by time. Though not cheerful, again – there’s an honest appreciation for the history of a place without overblowing it with loud electric guitars.

The simple strum and lead guitar at the beginning of “One Thing Left” reminds me a Big Head Todd and the Monsters song… But again, it’s the lyrics that bring it alive. “You wrote a letter / apologizing / for your absence / not realizing / that only hurt me / I read it slowly / shaking like a bird fighting with the wind / shocked I was all alone…” This is almost a country song with the Americana showing through. But that “one thing left” to tell you – is that I’ve moved on. I keep repeating that there’s an honesty in the music and the words, but that’s what it is. A simple message – you hurt me, but I got over it.

Love can definitely hurt – but at least when poets and songwriters survive it, it’s “food for songs” as Del Amitri once said. Thank goodness Lynn and Charlotte have managed to work out their heartache in song so that we can enjoy the fruits of that musical therapy. Definitely check out Driftwood Fire’s How to Untangle a Heartache if you’re looking for something new in the Americana/Folk vein for your collection.

Check out the Driftwood Fire home page for more information about the album or their ongoing tour.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Lee MacDougall – If Walls Could Talk

Hey there…

When the Beatles came to the United States in 1964 to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York, could anybody have predicted the wave of British acts going viral in America? The British Invasion brought us groups as diverse as The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, and Dusty Springfield. Now fast forward nearly 50 years. Since the invasion continues today with acts like Bobby Long coming out of London’s booming acoustic movement, could there be others waiting in the wings?

Of course there are more acts and they’re not waiting long! Lee MacDougall is the latest musician to come out of the London open mic circuit and find an audience outside the U.K. MacDougall’s link to Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson hasn’t hurt his popularity in the States either. His song “Falling in Love for the Last Time” from his self-titled EP (and on his new album) garnered a ton of attention from Twi-hards when word got out it was written for Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. But we’ll get more into that song in a bit…

The eleven-song album is If Walls Could Talk and it was just released to coincide with his U.S. tour dates with his friend Rob Hargreaves on guitar and backing vocals. Every song seems well grounded and written about relationships and life. The best part for me was the innocence and passion in each lyric, which seems very genuine. Hopefully he has better luck with the ladies than these songs suggest, considering that some of the girls in the songs seem to lie, cheat, and lead him on every other verse!

It was when I hit the second song on the album – “She” – that I found myself really engaged. On the surface, it’s about a girl who has self-esteem issues due to an abusive father. “She’s beautiful I know / but she doesn’t know / she can’t shake her heartache / her teenage dream has gone to waste / She’s beautiful I know / but she doesn’t know that’s the case…” He wants to get her out of the house and is willing to put himself in harm’s way to do just that. But the upbeat, almost happy beat and guitar strums neatly obfuscate the tragic story in the words.

A few songs later is “Falling In Love for the Last Time” and I can see why it might have been adopted by the Twilight community as Bella & Edward’s love song. It’s a warped love story about a girl the singer can’t have even though he’s in love with her and she knows it. She uses that little fact to torture him a bit. “I want to tell you a tale about a mess that I’m in / and it all starts with a girl / and she’s breaking up my world / she’s got these big green eyes and they’re as wide as the moon / yeah they can take you to bed without ya leaving the room / I would kill just to be her man / she’s too cool to give a damn…” With a lazy, walking beat on a snare and a few strums on a guitar, you’re drawn into the story.

And before the end of the album, he explores more self-esteem issues in “This is My Story.” “Flatter me and I will be yours forever / get too close and I’ll run…” It’s a classic tale of that person who attracts all the attention but doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. “This is my story who knows how it ends / each page a memory of lovers and friends / always a dreamer my life has no plan / I know I’m not perfect / my mum says that I am…” Hasn’t everyone been here?

The arrangements are straightforward with mixes of guitar, piano, and drums. But it’s the lyrics that really captured my attention. The stories woven into poetry and sung with such conviction. That conviction should make him an instant favorite with anyone who loves a good love song. The ability to convey such an emotional connection with each song will go a long way to win MacDougall more than a few hearts on his current U.S. tour.

For more information about Lee, his music, or his tour, be sure to check out his homepage at LeeMacDougallMusic.com. I look forward to hearing more from MacDougall in the future! The album is currently only available on his tour, but hopefully a few tracks will find their way onto iTunes soon.

(This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.)

–Fitz

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Music Review: Bobby Long – A Winter Tale

Hey there…

When I was 24, I was still trying to figure out my life. How many of us can honestly say we knew what we were doing with the rest of our lives by that point? And yet, in this age of American Idol, we now see kids as young as fifteen entering the limelight without any clue of what’s to come.

So when I heard Bobby Long’s music, I was in shock and awe not only that A Winter Tale was his debut studio album, but that he had that much conviction behind his words at age 24. It turns out he’s one of the few young talented folks who actually had his act together at a young age (17). He started at open-mic nights in London as he went to London Metropolitan University studying music in film and writing a thesis on “The Social Impact of American Folk Music” and has been touring over the last couple of years building his fanbase.

Between his great guitar skills and poetic lyrics, Bobby was a rising star with a bright future. His fans already know that. But with his album about to be released, the rest of the world has no idea what’s coming. From the opening strains of “A Winter Tale” through “A Stranger Song,” he had me enthralled as he told his stories in song.

I was raised in a house where I heard a ton of folk music growing up, but even since then I haven’t heard much that comes close to Bobby’s style and sound. The mix of blues and folk influences that comes closest may be Peter Mulvey, who’s one of my favorites. But there’s more country-blues and rock in Bobby’s guitar arrangements that offers something unique. There’s a sadness to each of these tales sung with an emotional punch and a voice that holds much more experience than someone so young ought to have.

A Winter Tale pairs the young artist’s talents with some amazing folks backing him up. Nona Hendryx (LaBelle) offers background vocals on “Penance Fire Blues” and Icelandic singer Lay Low offers backing vocals on other tracks. Add to that the pedal steel guitar of B.J. Cole (who plays with Elton John and Sting), and others and you end up with a textured release that simply doesn’t sound like a debut album. This might as well have been Bobby’s third or fourth…

But let me get back to the songs themselves…

“Who Have You Been Loving” tells the tale of moving on from someone who’s wronged him with a message loud and clear – “If someone isn’t hurt, then it’s gonna be me / but the tears they taint your heart, you’re so happy that you’re free / if you’re no better now than you’ve ever been / you owe me an apology…” But he’s moving on – “Before the dusk falls to dark, I’ll have you banished from my mind / I just need a moment’s rest to make it mine…” With a steady blues beat in the background and an electric guitar offering a bit of harshness, the song doesn’t beat around the bush…

And then in “Sick Man Blues,” we’re presented with a very different sound. This time the singer speaks fondly of a woman who’s bad news… It’s a dichotomy of happy, upbeat finger picking and sad lyrics often found in folk music. “Your love carries the rhinestone of a plague, so bear in mind the lives that you could save / I’m bound to walk the darkness again…” It’s an old story told with a new voice. “My love it sits untainted to the rigours of your stare / there ain’t anybody like you and the fairness of your hair / it leaves me stranded…” Could he walk away? It’s hard to say.

But my favorite song on the album has to be “Penance Fire Blues,” with its rhythmic strumming and gospel blues feel as it tells tales of a man suffering in a darkness of his own making. This might as well be about world politics as much as love. “You back down a hallway / to flourish the darkness / and you fool yourself / You did it all for her / and him, and her…” The truths we all cling to fade away in the end. What do reasons matter when compared with the deeds themselves?

How can someone so young have such insights into the world? Like all of us, Bobby Long is a product of his times – but damn if he doesn’t have an amazing way of expressing himself. If this is one of the new sounds of modern folk, I’ll be listening until they put me in the ground.

Looking for a fresh voice? Check out Bobby Long’s A Winter Tale today. Check out his website at BobbyLong.info for more about the album and his touring schedule to see if he’s in your neck of the woods!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great albums from Barnes & Noble:

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