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: Mariana Bell – Push

Hi all!

For me, all art is about introspection at some level. Whether speaking about a novel, film, or song, the artist is sharing a piece of themselves, whether it’s their view of the world, how they deal with relationships, or how they explore their innermost dreams and desires. Sometimes the art of creation itself is simply a therapy to get it all out in the open. Through every piece, we as the audience gain a piece of the puzzle that makes that creator who they are.

Mariana Bell must have been going through some serious stuff while writing the songs on her latest album – Push. From the title song to the last track, you can tell some of that introspection was going on. As she says in “On It” – “Thank you for making me see myself.” Whether seeking some inner peace or to understand relationships with those around her, she seems to be questing for answers everywhere.

But what I love about this album is that though it’s airy in places, it’s dark in others… Styles flow effortlessly from pop to folk to almost country, rock and blues, with instrumentals combined beautifully with her voice and backing tracks in rich, but not overly complex arrangements. Ten tracks on Push offer a lush landscape of unique sounds, styles, and words evoking emotions throughout. She reminds me quite a bit of Shawn Colvin, with a voice that lends itself well to this kind of cross-genre work.

My favorite song on the album is “Good Enough,” which perfectly suits my relationship with my wife… “As long as you’re good enough, and come back home to me / then we can fall in love again. / I never asked you to be perfect, no… just be good enough…” There’s an honesty there that’s impossible to ignore. Love crests and falls and compromises, but lasts through it all. With a solid drum beat and electric guitars, this song is definitely in the country-rock vein sung by contemporary artists like Lady Antebellum. And though I’m not a huge country guy, the style in this case simply works.

The same holds true for the rockin’ song “California Clay,” which keeps that honesty flowing. Love sometimes drives you to do crazy things for people, so I can identify with these lyrics… “It’s not that I can’t leave I just don’t want to… / Don’t need a leash. I’ll stay easily. I’m putty in your hand…” And the last image is sexy and sultry all at the same time – “Metal sheets and a lead pillow so are we bed magnets…” It’s that attraction between lovers. And the sound is much harder with a rock beat and underlying electric guitar that pulls it all along.

And “Titanic” made me think completely of the film with the song’s opening strings… And through analogy, this song tells the story of a relationship gone wrong. Like the movie, you can see the iceberg in the distance and yet somehow can’t change course. “Of the greatest disaster, that would ever be the greatest disaster – you and me.” Guitars, strings, and reverb help tell the story of the end.

The album may represent a single continuous flow from the fleeting beginnings of love to the bitter end of a relationship, Push shares a journey through song. I hope we hear much more from Mariana Bell and that she once again shares loves and losses with us in the future! For more about Push, her previous albums, and her tour schedule, be sure to check out her website MarianaBell.com.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out Mariana Bell’s music at Amazon below:

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Music Review: David Wilcox – Reverie

Hi there…

Nearly two decades ago I turned on my local PBS television station and happened upon a program featuring David Wilcox, a folk artist with a storytelling style of playing guitar and singing. I was hooked. The next day, I headed to the local music store (this was before Amazon and Apple iTunes) and picked up a copy of the first album from him I could find.

That album turned out to be How Did You Find Me Here?. To this day, it’s still one of the most-played albums on my iPod, with “Eye Of The Hurricane,” “Leave It Like It Is,” and “Jamie’s Secret” the three tracks I can probably sing in my sleep. Beyond the amazing guitar playing, there’s just something about the way he constructs his songs that evokes an emotional response with his voice. That voice has a genuineness about it that expresses the joy or sorrow or simply tells it like it is.

A few years later, I picked up a copy of Big Horizon, which continued Wilcox’s trend for amazing music. The songs “Block Dog,” “Break In The Cup,” and “Strong Chemistry” have ended up in many of my playlists over the years. The stories of the highs and lows of human relationships combined with his music continued to speak directly to my heart at the time.

But somehow I lost track of Wilcox after that in the shuffle of daily life. So recently, when I heard that he had a new album coming out – Reverie – I thought I’d give it a listen. Though his subject matter has changed a bit in the last 10 years, his voice, guitar, and songs are still as great as they ever were.

With the world as messed up as it currently is, I was amused by “End of the World (again)”. “Tell me about the calendar the Mayans figured out / before they all disappeared in mystery / they didn’t have a future but it seems we have no doubt / they know the punchline of our history” says it all… An apocalypse is always just around the corner – and the “sun keeps burnin’ / world keeps turnin’ / we just can’t can’t go on like this…” and if the world’s going to end, we might as well enjoy it with a view of the fireworks. Tomorrow’s probably going to come anyway, right?

“Shark Man” has a groovy rhythm and picked beat as it compares a warped relationship to one person being in a shark cage and the other circling, waiting for an opportunity to strike. This is classic Wilcox for me with lines like “I draw you in with my style / big toothy grin / we haven’t fought for a while / I’m back again…” The analogy of the shark cage for a pair of lovers is not one I ever would have made and yet, it works so well!

Where the album really surprised me was with songs like “Stones of Jerusalem“, which hit me a bit like a Schoolhouse Rock or They Might Be Giants history lesson in Wilcox’ unique style. It details the history of Jerusalem and talks about how today’s Jews are just like the stones used to build the places and empires of Israel. The fact that anyone could work some of these names into verse blew my mind – “Sultan Suleiman restacked the walls again / Malik-al-Muattam had destroyed / Before him was Saladin who captured Jerusalem / From the Crusaders who won it in war”.

And there’s the political songs like “Pieces of Me” and “We Call it Freedom” expressing some of the sentiments running rampant through our country. The universal brotherhood of Christianity is tough to see when Christians can be seen fighting over how to make peace. And focusing on how we tortured people after 9/11 and the people who questioned the methods used were told they were un-American. Folk artists have always had the ability to speak out on tough issues and I have a lot of respect for taking a stand.

Reverie is Wilcox’s 17th album and was recorded in front of a live audience, but doesn’t have the earmarks of a live album. There’s no applause in the background or crowd noise of any kind, so I’m not sure what engineering magic was used to accomplish the feat. But the sound quality is amazing and I love hearing the live qualities of his voice and guitar work. The album is available now online and will be available on CD on November 23.

If you’re a fan of David Wilcox’s music, I’d encourage you to give Reverie a listen. He still has an amazing touch on the guitar and a great voice after 20+ years of playing and singing. I look forward to hearing with the next 20 years have in store. For more information about Wilcox, his music, and his touring schedule, check out his website at DavidWilcox.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up some of David Wilcox albums below from Barnes & Noble or Amazon:

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