Lissie - Catching a Tiger

The song 'Everywhere I Go' was my first introduction to Lissie's music, during an episode of the television show Dollhouse. It's a fantastic song, one that's quiet, stripped down to guitar, lyrics and an incredible vocal performance from Lissie: it's a heart aching song, one that soars during the chorus with an impressive range from the singer. Tracking down her EP, 'Why You Runnin'', I was introduced to more of her music, but it didn't really stick with me.

Lissie's first album Catching A Tiger is a work that caught me completely off guard. Initially, I wasn't sure what to think of it: her music still didn't catch me: my introduction of a quiet, thoughtful song initially didn't prepare me for the sheer range of style that Lissie exhibits over the course of the album.

Record Collector, the first track off of the album, is a good example of what the album feels like as a whole. There's an eclectic sound, with an infectious, steady beat that slows to a crawl before an infusion of energy that blasts away: its an extraordinary track, and one that represents the album as a whole.

What impresses me the most, I think, is the range at which Lissie seems to operate: she's sentimental without wallowing in grief (When I'm Alone), pointed but not angry (Bully), nostalgic (Cuckoo), and wistful (In Sleep). Catching A Tiger is an album that has a lot to give to a lot of people: there's something for everyone here, and I'm sure that given any number of periods in my life, I'd see the album in a lot of different ways.

Also impressive is the raw energy that Lissie is able to bring to the table for tracks like In Sleep, Loosen the Knot, Cuckoo, but can turn around for tracks like Oh Mississippi or Everywhere I Go, naturally. She feels like she's right at home rocking out on stage (and it's worth checking out videos of her performances online), or singing solo in front of a crowd. It's something that I've heard other artists attempt, but I'm not sure that I've really heard anyone pull it off as convincingly as she seems to be able to, at least on the record.

Catching A Tiger is a fun, exciting album, one that I've been playing the car: much of the album is perfect for blasting around the highways of Vermont during the middle of summer: vibrant, rich and surprising, all at once.

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs: God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise

Ray LaMontagne is one of the exemplary singer-songwriters of the last decade, with albums such as Trouble, 'Till the Sun Turns Black and Gossip in the Grain, where he's continually stunned me with a number of songs, ones that have shook me to the core, while massive changes between albums has kept the music fresh, interesting and invigorating throughout. Throughout the albums, however, LaMontagne has kept steady feel and with his works, especially when it comes to the lyrics themselves.

God Willin' & The Creek Don't Rise retains a lot of the best sounds of LaMontagne, but he once again stretches into very new territory. Opening with Repo Man, there's a harsh, accusatory sound to this, and it sets off a series of songs that are fairly dark, compared to some of the other songs in their repertoire. There's a real shift, which gives an entirely new dynamic to the sound and feel to LaMontagne. There are some standout songs, such as Beg, Steal and Borrow, which ranks amongst the best songs that the singer has put out with a steady country beat driving the song forward. This Love Is Over is another song that feels different: less moody, but more thoughtful as LaMontagne, accompanied by guitar, sails over the lyrics.

Old Before Your Time is possibly one of the songs that really helps to define this album as a whole. Fused with LaMontagne's great sound, there is a subtle country punk to the entire album, one that feels far more at home in rural country than in the urbanized ones (this image might help, as there's a song title New York City's Killing Me, which talks about the depressing and impersonal nature of the city: I just got to get me somewhere, / Somewhere that I can feel free, /Get me out of New York City, son, / New York City's killin' me.)

Indeed, a lot of the feel of this album seems split between where someone is and where they want to be in life, which is a fairly constant idea throughout life, with people separated from everything. Armed with the Pariah Dogs, LaMontagne sets up with a country and indie-rock feel that at points feels juxtaposed between styles. The result is a fantastic mix-up of sound and style that represents some of LaMontagne's best work to date.

Goodtimes, Goodtimes


In 2008, Franc Cinelli released his first album, Glue, under the moniker Goodtimes Goodtimes, which blended great acoustic and free feel, along with Cinelli's fantastic voice and strong guitar work. The album has remained one of my favorites over the past couple of years, and since then, Goodtimes Goodtimes has been at work on his second album, which has just been released in the U.K.

The self-titled album opens quietly with the song Point One, and straight from the get-go, it's clear that you're about to listen to an evolutionary change. Where Glue really impressed me throughout, Goodtimes Goodtimes absolutely blew me away. Point One is the first indication, as it slowly grows and grows, adding on layers as the song progresses into a gorgeous wall of sound and vocals.

Over the past two years, I've heard various versions of songs as they were worked on and released, and was generally impressed with the styling and sound that came with each one. Let It Begin is the only song that seems to have made it onto the new album from this initial batch of demos, and the demo that bears the same name demonstrates that there were some changes to come: expected changes, from Glue to the next major effort. The album is a perfect example of where a band or singer/songwriter has taken their already notable music and figured out what needed to change. The result is an exceedingly superior effort, and I'd struggle to see what would come next that could be better.

Listening to the new album version of Let It Begin however is an entirely new experience. Frank comes out of the gate at a flat out run, with a blast of guitar, bass and vocals. Turning the volume up, there's an incredible richness to the sound that simply didn't come through before, from the guitar strumming in my right ear, the background vocalist in my left, with a speed and urgency that just didn't exist before.


This continues through the album as a whole. Magic Hour and Love display the a slower tone, but the same level of richness through the vocals and music, and the album's first lead single, Fortune Seller Song, brings the same casual level of energy and depth throughout the song. Burn and Diamonds in the Sky bring back the fast pace of the album, while other songs, such as By Your Side and Sweet England put together a sentimental feeling.

Looking between Glue and Goodtimes Goodtimes, it's astonishing at how much better the latest album is. Listening over tracks such as Temporary Freeze and Kids, the supporting and basic elements that inform tracks such as Magic Hour and Fortune Seller Song. Going from track to track, I'm reminded of a beginning photographer learning to take pictures, but only later learn how to manipulate their results in subtle ways to bring out a better picture by correcting the colors and applying filters as needed. Goodtimes Goodtimes is an incredibly well polished, tight and exciting album that surpasses his prior works by miles, which says a lot, and makes a really good thing even better.

The best element of Goodtimes Goodtimes isn't what has changed, however. The sound is together, polished and bright, but the core element that drew me to the group in the first place, the soul and songwriting has remained exactly where it was. The same, breezy free feel that has kept me listening to Goodtimes Goodtimes is intact and only improved by its actual execution over the course of the album.

The good times are back, but they've never really gone away. They've only gotten better and better.

You can listen to the entire album here.

So Runs The World Away

If I had to pick an artist that was my all time favorite, the choice would be fairly easy: Josh Ritter. I first came across his music when I heard him opening for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the Waterfront in Burlington, Vermont. It was a fantastic concert, and something about his music really stuck with me when I first heard it. His concert was part of a warm-up for his latest (at the time) album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, which had been preceded by Animal Years, two excellent albums, both stellar examples of singer/songwriter folk-rock. I was hooked on his sound, and all of his albums remain on fairly constant rotation in my own music library.

Ritter's latest album, So Runs The World Away, needless to say, has been a highly anticipated album on my part. When I saw him for the second time last year at UVM, he played a number of new songs which have since made it onto the new album, which only made the anticipation grow. Like The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, this album delves heavily into the storytelling roots that Ritter's been known for, combined with a rich background of sound that makes the album stand out from the pack.

What makes the album even more interesting is the macabre and somewhat gothic nature to the lyrics and sound for So Runs The World Away. Songs like The Curse, Rattling Locks, Folk Bloodbath, The Remnant and Long Shadows really give the album a delightfully darker nature. Out of the entire set of songs, the best song (and it's hard to pick just one), is The Curse, a quiet waltz that tells the story of an Egyptian mummy who awakes when an archeologist discovers him, and he falls in love with her as she takes him to New York City. He learns English and speaks to her, and the two fall in love, but as he gets stronger with new life and pulls away from her, she grows older, and dies, while he lives on. It's a touching story of love and destiny, one that is expertly played out by Ritter and his band, and it's certainly going to be one of my favorite songs from the group.

A couple of other songs on the album carry through with some extremely hard hitting stories: Folk Bloodbath, the story of a, well, bloodbath with a haunting gospel sound to it, while Another New World, the story of an explorer, forced to break up his ship for firewood has a very delicate, chilly sound with some fantastic lyrics. Beyond the story-style songs, other songs on the albums deal with slightly less-concrete themes, such as Change in Time, Southern Pacifica, Rattling Locks and Lantern, each with their own distinctive sound and feel. Ritter has excelled at albums that vary so much in their tone and style, and this album is no different: there is an enormous amount of variety and a certain richness to the sound that makes it a wonder to listen to time and time again.

This also isn’t to say that the album is an overly dark one: Lark sees Ritter positively channeling Paul Simon with his voice and guitar work, Southern Pacifica has a nice, easygoing feel to it that recalls an older, nostalgic time in history, Lantern is a bouncy, exciting song that really carries a lot of Ritter’s energy, and Orbital is full of movement that flows nicely towards the end of the album. The darker elements of So Runs The World Away simply tends to be a bit more interesting, with some very cool stories that really mark Ritter as an expert singer/songwriter, who’s only grown stronger with each successive album that’s come out. Musically, this album blew me away. There’s a real diversity to the sound here, from horns to piano, to a bass clarinet at one point, which both makes the song sound a bit different, with more depth, and demonstrates that there’s a bit more thought put into the album and songs, but not enough to be overwhelming or really take the listener out of the experience. Moreover, the album feels different, as The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter felt different from Animal Years. In both instances, there’s certainly a progression in the sound and experience that the band wants to impart, and I’m thrilled that they haven’t gone back to rely on what worked last time: they continued forward and found what worked this time.

What really stands out for me with So Runs the World Away is the storytelling, something that fits nicely with other songs on older albums. Songs like The Temptation of Adam and Lillian, Egypt, among others, hold to the greatest things that a song can do: tell a story, and in that, give something for a listener to relate to and learn from. This particular album is full of science fiction and fantasy like elements, either in the lyrics, themes or song titles, but moreover, the emphasis on songwriting, and exploring beyond a really simple concept, like in most rock & pop songs out there. That’s not to say that those songs don’t have their own place: they do, but what makes Ritter really stand out is that he’s one of the few that really goes beyond that, telling stories of silent film stars, a couple in a nuclear missile silo at the end of the world, a mummy come to life: these are fun concepts, putting these very common concepts into different contexts, which makes someone think a little differently about something that they may have taken for granted: one of the strongest points of the speculative fiction genre.

This collection is easily the best set together that has been released by Josh Ritter and his group – certainly all of the songs on the album hold a lot of appeal with their somewhat geeky nature, but there is a general level of quality and care that a lot of other albums really don’t hit when released. Ritter has hit that mark already, and surpassed my expectations.