By Ben Salmon May 23, 2022
April was a great month for country and country music on Bandcamp, with some big names releasing some great records. But there are also hidden gems, like the impressive debut of a new blues artist, sheepish folksongs from a guy who co-wrote with Weezer, and an eerily compelling mishmash of lo-fi experiences. pedal steel. Check them all below.
In his songs, Joshua Hedley called himself “Mr. Jukebox” (on the 2018 album of the same name) and a “country and western singing teacher” (on his brand new album neon blue). However, those nicknames seem insufficient for a guy who looks more like a walking, talking encyclopedia of twang. Or Jukebox explored the sounds of mid-20th century country music, neon blue tackles the early 1990s, when the fiddle and steel guitar of the genre’s past collided with the arena-ready choirs and rock guitars of its present. Hedley is a talented singer, songwriter and performer who handles all of the above with aplomb.
Hard times and a woman
It’s hard to believe that Hard times and a woman is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Richmond, Virginia Justin Dore‘s beginnings, but it is, and it’s proof that some musicians come out fully trained and ready to shine. Throughout the album, Golden’s songs are moving and solidly built around lyrics that distinctly illuminate the black experience in America. At the same time, it never fails to let in a bit of light – poppy guitar tinkle here, radiant background harmonies there. The result is a patchwork of blues, country, soul and rock ‘n’ roll that feels three-dimensional and deeply grounded.
Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway
After multiple albums of exquisite Americana music, NorCal’s Nashville mega-talent Molly Tuttle decided it was time to make a bluegrass record. So she assembled a group of killer pickers and called out a jaw-dropping guest list, including Sierra Hull, Margo Price, Billy stringsDan Tyminsky and Gillian Welch. (Nice Rolodex, Molly!) This team, unsurprisingly, has produced 13 modern, ultra-melodic bluegrass tracks that feel like you’re hurtling down a long, straight stretch of asphalt toward a bright blue horizon. Tuttle fills her songs with social commentary and stories of badass women, which only adds to the feeling that you’re listening to the future of roots music.
For the past few years, Jarrad K has been mostly a behind-the-scenes guy, co-writing songs with Weezer (amongst others), producing numerous records, and collaborating closely with Ruston Kelly on his last two (excellent) albums. On Progress, he’s stepping into the spotlight, sort of. K’s feature debut is a silent, almost sheepish collection of self-recorded indie-folk songs about love, loss, fear, doubt, perseverance and deliverance. Progress is stripped down and dimly lit, but the emotions running through these tracks are raw, real, and relatable.
In the second half of 2020, as many musicians used their newfound free time to write and record, former Hissing golden messenger guitarist Ryan Gustafson put down his instruments and considered quitting the game altogether. After a few months in the wilderness, he found new inspiration, returned to songwriting and recording Dust, a country, blues and rock album that unfolds slowly, like shadows moving on an Appalachian mountain. It’s a collection that’s sometimes bluegrassy, sometimes jammy, and always beautiful, doubling as a great reminder that we should all rest and rejuvenate from time to time.
writing from heaven
Veteran of the New York underground, Zachary Calethe folk rock brand of sits somewhere halfway between Kurt Vile breezy, mystical jams and the quietly simmering intensity of Amen Dunes. And therein lies his magic: Cale is a multidimensional song conjurer, capable of creating songs that float and shimmer on the surface, but contain deeper, darker ideas that reveal themselves on repeated listening. “Kilometers ahead or miles behind”, he sings in a squeaky voice writing from heaven. “It doesn’t pay to think that way, because miles don’t measure your worth, my friend.”
Canadian singer-songwriter Abigail Lapell has a knack for making haunting music with few tools. Songs from his new album Stolen time are simply arranged, with an acoustic guitar or piano as the basis and occasionally a horn, harmonica or accordion for color. The result is a collection of eclectic folk songs that are sparse, pretty and, at times, almost ambient. Nonetheless, the backbone of this work is Lapell’s voice, which is gently haunting and has drawn comparisons to none other than Gillian Welch. Welch’s earthy vocals evoke dusty bygone times; Lapell’s, on the other hand, feels dreamy and modern. Stolen time will transport you to a lush and charming place if you allow it.
Old Crow Medicine Show
paint this town
At one point, “Wagon Wheel” became so ubiquitous among local cover bands that bars across the country banned the song. It’s not the fault of Old Crow Medicine Show, who just wrote a song that everyone wanted to sing, which is not a bad thing! Nearly two decades later, OCMS’ ever-growing cast continues to spread the gospel of the string band, and their new album paint this town sounds like a mid-career revival, thanks to a reinvigorated punk spirit, the addition of permanent drummer Jerry Pentecost, and a thematic shift to heavy issues like drug addiction, divorce, climate change, and racism in America.
first generation american
At a time when the much vaunted melting pot of the United States is under attack, arrives Elliah Heifetz, singer-songwriter who embodies the concept. The son of political refugees from the Soviet Union, Heifetz peppers his debut with cleverly written songs about the immigrant experience in America, mental health issues, and the pressures of music in a world dominated by streaming and social media. Here, Heifetz – who has a thriving career as a songwriter for stage and screen – swings effortlessly between loud country-rock and smooth, pretty, Prince Style folk songs.
I am looking at you
There are plenty of impeccably crafted albums on this list, and then there are Brenden Provostit is I am looking at you, a unique 18-minute track that randomly transitions from song to song. Sometimes songs disappear unexpectedly. Sometimes they stop mid-thought. Sometimes they crash into each other. Either this is a conscious aesthetic choice on Provost’s part, or I am looking at you is a messy demo tape. Either way, it’s packed full of interesting songs, snippets, and musical ideas centered around twangy steel pedal guitar work and giving off pre-soft gold Beck atmosphere.