Here are some releases by artists who are deep into the classic Americana genre, yet bring their own vision to the style.
On “Earning Her Wings” (angelaeasterling.com), ANGELA EASTERLING take a traditional pop country stance (think Loretta Lynn meets Barbara Mandrell) that is full of fiddles, pedal steel guitar, twang and some heavy emoting. From the fun “Feel Like Drinking” to the somber “Dear Johnny”, Angela invites you to the hoedown. Her voice is airy and fits the style like a sheath. Enjoyable from beginning to end, Angela has her finger (and voice) on the pulse of the style. The final cut is a rollicking cover of “When I Wake Up and Sleep No More”, with more than a hint of gospel handclapping sing-along. Yeah, I liked this one.
Stepping even further into traditional Americana, RACHEL HARRINGTON sets the calendar into prohibition period with “The Bootlegger’s Daughter” (Skinny Dennis, c/o rachelharrington.net). Not only does she capture the feel of the period with mandolins, steel pedal guitars, and banjos, but even her syntax and lyrics has the feel of the period. Stunning stuff, and backed by her beautiful, aerie voice, you can imagine you’re riding along with Bonnie and Clyde, or stepped into the “O Brother, Where Art Thou” soundtrack. Songs tell tales of shamed baseball player Shoeless Joe, revenge against the railroad around the time of the Civil War, and a hint of that ol’ tyme religion. It’s not often one finds this level of sophistication. File with along with Alison Krauss, Nanci Griffin and EmmyLou Harris.
MICHELLE TITIAN comes from one of the more musically underrated cities in Canada: Hamilton, Ontario. But even with me, who knows more of the rock side of the Hammer, there is a lot to learn. Michelle proves that with her eponymous CD (michelletitian.com). Her voice is very rich, as she sings somewhere between country and singer/songwriter, with a twang and pull on the heart. There is definitely a strong WTF air about this, making me wonder why this woman is not played on every country radio, as she has such a strong presence. With all the mediocre material broadcast, they need a fresh sound like this. I mean, she’s got the sound, the looks, and the material. The CD just gets better with each listen, making it difficult to pick a fave, so I’m just going to go down the middle, and pick two exceptionally strong cuts, with the classic sound of “Take My Hand” and the more contemporary twang of “Be Mine”.
JENNIFER BRANTLEY proves to be a watchable crossover country artist with her “On the Other Side” (Blue Room, PO Box 160916, Nashville, TN 37216). What does this mean? Simply, she sings country style, but in a way that it could easily fit into other genres, such as singer-songwriter, and even some pop. This is especially true on her demo of “Breakdown”, which I was luckily enough to hear. Jennifer has a sweet voice, which makes the meaning to some of the deep themes she covers all the more telling, including breakups and near suicide after mother abandonment. But the theme that seems the most consistent is coming through “the storm” to realization of love and home. It may sound simplistic, but through Jennifer’s eyes we see redemption among the questions in a way that is part story and all heart.
DOLORES DAGENAIS sent me her entire catalog of three releases, including her older releases “Mona Lisa’s Secret” (firstname.lastname@example.org) and “The Original Fool” (email@example.com), and her newest, “Songs For the Moon” (Doloresdagenais.com). Of course, I started at the first and worked my way through all of them. Really beautiful music. Dolores sings from the heart, from her opening title cut of “Mona Lisa’s Secret” to her hopeful “A Course in Miracles” off her newest, this is a journey, and not just an RV trip to see James Kellaghan (see her amusing video diary on YouTube). Dolores’s voice is sweet, whether effectively being bluesy or traditional folk. Mostly she sings from the heart with full and emotive knowledge. Whether autobiographical or story form, you know this woman is coming from a place where she has experienced a wide range of both joys and hardships. Some of this shows up in her songs in the form of spirituality (but never preaching), in the likes of “2000 Years Late”, “Prayers” and the aforementioned “Miracles”. You can just feel the hope. Originating in Sudbury, Ontario (showing up in “Sudbury Home”, on “Fool”) she has made her way to Nova Scotia. For someone as prolific as she is (38 songs over 3 CDs), the quality of her writing doesn’t falter, which makes the listening a returned experience.