Margo Cilker / Valley Of Heart’s Delight (Fluff & Gravy Records)
The follow-up to her well-received 2021 debut album Pohorylle finds California-based Cilker refining her simple, but highly effective songwriting style. Musically, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the record, but the band’s loose chemistry is captured nicely by producer/drummer Sera Cahoone who keeps things live and lively, with just the right touch of slapback echo to tie things together. The rough-and-ready performances complement Cilker’s freewheeling storytelling, which after the opening blast of “Lowland Trail” and “I Remember Carolina,” gives the album a travelogue feel overall. That stands to reason, given that Cilker has said she wrote the bulk of the material during a period of reflection in the midst of her travels. She delivers her words in a personable voice marked with a subtle twang, but more specifically it’s the sound of a young woman trying to balance an unencumbered life with the encroaching responsibilities of adulthood. Some artists write what they know their audience wants to hear, but Margo Cilker gives full access to her charming personality, which puts Valley Of Heart’s Delight in a different category than most current country music.
Buffalo Nichols / The Fatalist (Fat Possum Records)
When, in 2020, the venerable Oxford, Mississippi label Fat Possum announced it was making Carl “Buffalo” Nichols the first blues artist signed to the label in nearly 20 years, it certainly caught the attention of fans who assumed Nichols would be picking up the torch from R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. But while Nichols adheres to country blues traditions, with his guitar of choice being a steel-bodied National, his approach is boldly forward thinking. He’s taken a major step on his second album The Fatalist, a short but potent collection that adds some modern, hip-hop production touches to Nichols’s basic set up. However, this is still the blues, and Nichols goes to some dark places on the album’s eight songs, particularly “Turn Another Stone,” which recounts a life marked by endless roads and endless recovery. That darkness is reinforced by Nichols’ vocals, sung in a gruff, hushed tone reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. The choice to put his voice up front in the mix doesn’t always work, but on songs like “The Fatalist Blues,” which incorporates elements of Rev. Gary Davis’s “Samson & Delilah,” Nichols displays a clear vision of where he thinks the blues needs to go in the 21st century.
Willie Nelson / Bluegrass (Legacy Records)
It’s incredible to think that over the course of 100-plus albums, Willie Nelson has never attempted a pure bluegrass record. Of course, his legendary band was never designed to do that, but with time now catching up to Nelson and all those who have been with him for over half a century, switching gears to some more laid back picking appears to make perfect sense. Each of the 12 songs on Bluegrass is a stone Willie classic that adapt well to the bluegrass format, with some of the genre’s biggest stars such as Dan Tyminski, Aubrey Haynie and Rob Ickes providing the instrumental fireworks. It will be up to longtime Willie fans to choose their favourites, from the banjo-driven “Good Hearted Woman” and an unbridled “Bloody Mary Morning,” to the jaunty takes of “Yesterday’s Wine” and “No Love Around.” While some may file Bluegrass away as another of Willie’s light-hearted distractions, the album is further proof that his vast catalogue is firmly woven into all styles of American music.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Logan Ledger / “Some Misty Morning (Live)” (Rounder Records)