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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Book Review: The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Hi all!

It’s been a while since I was motivated by a new author to read an entire book in the space of only a few hours over a couple of days. But it’s always an unexpected joy when it happens. The magic of being transported not only to new places or times, but new ways of thinking, is impossible to ignore.

Let me start at the beginning, but from a different direction than you might expect. Thankfully I was born into a family that not only appreciates music, but likes to play and sing together or apart. My mother played piano before her hands were twisted by rheumatoid arthritis. My father still plays guitar – a twelve-string Fender acoustic – with an ability to pick rich melodies from those taut skinny wires. And my sister and I played saxophones, guitars, and piano (she more than I). Between the occasional rag on piano, jazz or concert band practice, and a million folk songs on guitar, there was live music at my house pretty much every day.

That childhood of music has served me well long into my adult years and I still play my guitar occasionally and sing with my daughters, my wife, and the rest of my family at the occasional gathering. More than that, I’m always listening to music new and old. And over time I’ve gained a perpetual soundtrack running through my head with a mix of tunes from musicals, bluegrass melodies, folks songs, rock bands, a cappella voices, jazz licks, movie soundtracks, and much much more.

Why the long reveal about my musical childhood? The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe shows an appreciation for a life of music I’ve rarely seen in fiction, let alone urban fantasy from a new author. And Bledsoe’s tale weaves the magic of ancient songs and lyrics seamlessly into a world both touched and untouched by modern sensibilities and dangers. Most of those involved in the story are from a group of folks known as “The Tufa” – a secretive group living in the Appalachians. Though the question “Who are the Tufa?” is asked multiple times and eventually answered, how the reader gets to the answer is more important than the destination…

The story is about Private Bronwyn Hyatt, her immediate family, and their extended relatives in Needsville, Tennessee. Bronwyn returns from Iraq after surviving a horrific attack and heroic rescue, but her wounds need healing both outside and in. And as she returns to some sense of normal as muscle and flesh knit in the home she grew up in, she realizes there’s more going on she’s going to have to deal with. Can she figure out what the “haint” (ghost) wants her to do so she can avoid its ill portents of a death in her family? Can she find her song and learn to play her mandolin again so she can learn her mother’s song? Can she rediscover herself in the context of Tufa ways?

And tied into all of this are other characters. Craig Chess, a Methodist preacher, is trying to make inroads into Bronwyn’s community instead finding a solid resistance to outsiders. Dwayne Glitterman, Bronwyn’s former flame and bad-boy on a path to ruin. And newspaper reporter Don Swayback, asked to get an interview with Bronwyn the war hero, who starts to discover deep personal connections to the people of the town of Needsville he never knew existed…

Alex Bledsoe’s rich, nearly poetic prose in The Hum and the Shiver captured me at page one and didn’t let me go to the end. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, this is a book you need to add to your list today. There are secrets ancient and wild waiting for you to discover, and I enjoyed every moment.

The Hum and the Shiver hits shelves September 27, 2011, and I can hardly wait to see what’s next in the series from Bledsoe. For more about Bledsoe, check out his website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org. here.

–Fitz

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Interview: Breaking Laces’ lead singer Willem Hartong

Hi all!

Occasionally I have an opportunity to chat online or over the phone with an entertainer to get some insights into their motivations and processes. This past week I was given a chance to ask Breaking Laces’ lead singer Willem Hartong a few questions. He kindly responded with a few answers!

Q1: First, let me congratulate you and the band on a great album. I really enjoyed When You Find Out. It’s obvious that there are some stories behind the relationship-oriented tracks on the album. Any you’d like to share?

[WH] I tend to strive for plausible and/or entertaining versions of the truth. So some stories might sound odd in relation to the actual song. Suffice it to say, relationships are tricky. I’ve been on all sides of them including being in a lasting loving relationship at the moment which prompted the song “Here to Stay”. That’s a nice feeling. It’s a bit better than having shoes thrown at you, which oddly enough has happened to me twice. Maybe that’s why I wrote “What We Need,” because sometimes it’s “time to leave.”

Q2: Who are your influences? I heard bits that reminded me of Snow Patrol, Better Than Ezra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and others…

[WH] The two on the edges are bands I enjoy. Dulcinea is a terribly good record, especially outside of the radio singles. “Windmills” absolutely slays me, what a beautiful song. I really liked Snow Patrol’s first album but haven’t gotten to the second. As a band we enjoy Radiohead and Built to Spill a lot. A few other formative albums for me are It’s a Shame About Ray, Exile in Guyville, Blue Screen Life and Ruby Vroom. Collectively I’ve probably listened to those about a thousand times.

Q3: What’s your personal songwriting process like? Do you get the idea for the lyrics and music at the same time? Separately?

[WH] No matter how often I do it, I always feel like I’m starting from scatch as to how to go about writing a song. So the methods to the madness are many. I do write in a big sketch pad and I always write by hand. That way I can draw little pictures when I get stuck.

Q4: It’s obvious you, Rob, and Seth have a great rapport going… How collaborative is the process of creating the songs and then tweaking them for audiences and recording?

[WH] It used to be me bringing in a song or idea and we’d go at it together to shape it. Lately Rob and Seth have been there at the beginning which has yielded some great results. It’s largely due to our “New Music Days” which are long rehearsals when we do nothing but work on new material.

Q5: Where did you learn to play guitar? What are some of your favorite covers to play solo or with the band?

[WH] I picked up the guitar at 16 when our rhythmn guitarist quit “In the Attic” my high school band. I was just singing and not really in love with just singing. So i busted apples to get up to speed so I could sing and play with the band. That’s how it happened for me. I love to play Cat Steven’s songs solo. I also think Nirvana, Radiohead and Lemonheads songs are fun to go at alone. With the band I particularly enjoy covering Radiohead and Built to Spill songs as they are challenging and fun to try and get right.

Q6: If there was one thing you wanted to tell your fans that you haven’t been asked yet, what would it be?

[WH] Boxer briefs.

I want to thank Willem for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him and the band the best of luck with their tour. If you haven’t listened to When You Find Out, I’d encourage you to give it a go. Breaking Laces has a great sound and I hope they continue to put out new music to enjoy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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