Lizzie No / Halfsies (Thirty Tigers/Miss Freedomland)
Since releasing her debut album, Hard Won, in 2017, Lizzie No has held fast to the words of Toni Cade Bambara who said, “the role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible.” She’s backed that up by being a vocal civil rights activist, and recently assuming the position of president of the Abortion Care of Tennessee Board of Directors. It may be easy to judge her songwriting based on that information alone, but on her new album, Halfsies, it is the overall sound that speaks volumes about her commitment to building communities. She writes on a variety of acoustic instruments, including her trademark harp, all of which complement her breathy, almost conversational vocals that have the power to forge an instant rapport with even the most cynical listener. Most of the songs on Halfsies reflect that personal touch as well, with “The Heartbreak Store” being the clearest example of Lizzie’s deep well of empathy toward anyone struggling with life. Elsewhere, the sparse “Mourning Dove Waltz” contains lines like “Been sober a year now,” and “I lost you for good today,” which rival Blue-era Joni Mitchell in terms of emotional vulnerability. Conversely, Lizzie isn’t afraid to turn up the volume, as evidenced on the guitar-heavy “Lagunita,” the touring-inspired “Annie Oakley,” and the jubilant “Getaway Car.” In all, despite its title, Halfsies presents an artist willing to go all the way with whatever direction her music decides to take, and in the process presents us with a well-rounded representation of Americana’s current state.
Brown Horse / Reservoir (Loose Music)
The debut release from this six-piece British alt-country outfit shows a deep love and respect for North American folk and country, but at the same time coloured with an easy-flowing melodicism that seems baked into all British folk-rock dating back to at least classic Van Morrison and Fairport Convention. Brown Horse’s chemistry is probably Reservoir’s best selling point; the album captures the lively spirit of musicians recording in the same room together, and songs like “Shoot Back” and the title track breathe on their own, building in intensity toward satisfying conclusions. There’s an obvious debt to Neil Young as well, but perhaps more accurately to acolytes like Magnolia Electric Co. and Silver Jews, in ragged rockers like “Bloodstain” and “Silver Bullet.” The only main drawback is that singer/guitarist Patrick Turner’s vocals seem overly affected, which unfortunately obscures a lot of the lyrics. Nevertheless, Reservoir presents a band clearly beginning to find itself. One to keep an eye on.
Gurf Morlix / Melt Into You (Rootball Records)
The legendary Texas singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer continues to quietly amass a significant body of work that’s grown into the double digits this new century, with Melt Into You being the latest addition. Those already familiar with Gurf’s uncompromising history should immediately embrace this new collection’s seductively bluesy sound, which a couple decades ago helped make Lucinda Williams a household name. But what’s always set Gurf apart is a brutally honesty and sharply witty worldview. Such a combination basically defines what it means to be a “cult hero,” but most of the songs on Melt Into You are simply packed with too much emotion to be easily dismissed. On “Nothin’ Burns Like The Cold” he sings, “Is this my life, or is this science fiction,” a sentiment most of us can probably relate to, made even more powerful by Gurf’s vocal, sung in half-whisper as a result of decades of wear and tear. Still, nothing’s dampened his production skills, from the Middle Eastern sonic touches on “Sand” and the tightly constructed groove of “In The Name Of Love.” If you haven’t been paying attention to Gurf Morlix in recent years, Melt Into You is great place to start catching up.
SONG OF THE WEEK
The Weber Brothers / “In God We Trust” (Bandcamp)