folk

Peter Bradley Adams

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No matter the form, when it comes to art, there are a number of different tacks to take. Some artists continually push their work across new horizons. Neil Young, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Joni Mitchell come to mind, in that regard. Others —Claude Monet, Jason Isbell, and Bonnie Raitt, among them —stand a bit more still in order to continually refine the capturing of their vision. Singer/songwriter Peter Bradley Adams falls into the latter category of perfectionists chasing their own perfection. With A Face Like Mine, he may well have caught it.

There's a confidence, a completeness in the song cycle that listeners have gleaned throughout Adams' illustrious career, but A Face Like Mine, his sixth solo effort, brings it all into sharp focus. As Adams sees it, “On the long plod of finding my voice as a singer and a writer, the singing has slowly developed from the sound of a scared guy to someone who believes what he's saying and the writing, I hope, has become less rigid —both in the lyrics and the phrasing.”

Less rigid, indeed. Adams' brand of Americana nestles his often delicate, always heartfelt voice in the warm embrace of gentle guitar, tasteful dobro, subtle banjo, supportive bass, and unhurried percussion. The result is a sonic scape that, in turn, wraps itself around the listener like a soft blanket on a cold day. With A Face Like Mine, Adams further refines the simple musical sophistication that has become his trademark.

Throughout the self-produced set, Adams tells tales of love and loss, homes and hearts. The territory he mines is a deliberate mix of fact and fantasy. “I feel like I'm, firstly, a storyteller, but it's inevitable that my own stuff gets in there deep. And it's funny how, sometimes, I don't realize it until the song is done,” he offers. “At the same time, there are times where I take very directly from an experience or a relationship, but I try to be very careful when that happens. I don't want to ever sound like a journal entry.”

Regardless of the details, there's always a philosophical bent that is often more under than on the surface, firmly grounding Adams' songs even as they stretch outward. By his own admission, Adams is a seeker who spends considerable time wrestling with matters of faith, though he's the first to admit he doesn't have any real answers. “I honestly don't know what the hell I'm doing... nor do I have the language for any of this stuff,” he says with a laugh. “But there is a constant tug on me in that direction and, the older I get, the more present it becomes. Music can often be the most direct way to step into that river.”

That seeker's heart is the tie that so often binds these songs together. Whether the search for place and purpose is of a spiritual or geographical nature, few writers capture the journey as thoughtfully as Adams. An Alabama native, Adams says he feels most comfortable in motion and doesn't have a strong sense of being Southern, even though his music is rooted in that world in so many ways. The first verse of the album's mesmerizing lead track, “Good Man,” exemplifies his plight: “This old house is falling down. Every step I take makes a hollow sound. Should I walk away? Should I push on through? What in the world can a good man do?”

Even as Adams goes on to sing of “laughing eyes with a touch of grey” and walking “a mile across the kitchen floor” in order to set various scenes, he leaves room for the listener to crawl inside his stories and make them their own. Striking that balance is the songwriter's eternal struggle, but one Adams seems to have mastered after years of toiling on his own and collaborating with co-writers like Kim Richey, Caitlin Canty, and Todd Lombardo.

“I don't think I'm very good at co-writing because my process seems so weird and long and tedious to me,” Adams confides. “It's hard to allow someone into that space, but there a few folks where our sensibilities are aligned and we're not just trying to bang out a song in a day. I want to feel as close to the songs I co-write as the ones I write alone. Writers like Kim Richey have such an economy and depth to the ideas that come out of their mouths and hands —there's wisdom there. I want to be more like that.”

In addition to this release, Adams is currently putting his classical composition studies to work on a piece for violin and piano —an aspect of his craft and education that got set aside somewhere along the way to now. “I've wondered a lot why I spent all that time studying music in school and how my composer that fits in with or hinders my songwriting,” he says. “Some of it was definitely useless to me, then and now. But some of it has left its mark on how I listen, and how I think of arranging songs, and how I communicate with players who are playing on them. Also, writing in such an extremely simple and constrained musical language makes all your choices much more delicate, so I spend a lot of time crafting even the simplest melody.”

A Face Like Mine's songs were composed all over the world, from Alabama to India, and they dig into topics are disparate as the desperation of addiction (“Lorraine”), the grappling of self-image (“Who Else Could I Be”), the vitriol of politics (“We Are”), and the genetics of suffering (“A Face Like Mine”). “We Are” and “Who Else Could I Be” were originally written for a dance piece that Gina Patterson choreographed for the San Angelo Civic Ballet. Even so, Adams made sure the songs could stand alone in their own world no matter what else was swirling around them —confidence and completeness in action.

As a work of musical art, A Face Like Mine fulfills the promise of Peter Bradley Adams. And rarely has an artist's standing still sounded so divine.

THE SILENT COMEDY

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For a few years, Joshua Zimmerman couldn’t bring himself to listen to his band’s most recent album. Enemies Multiply – the Silent Comedy LP he and Jeremiah, his brother and longtime bandmate, had written and recorded several years ago – felt too personal, too raw to engage with. Born of a rough patch in the Zimmerman brothers’ personal and professional lives, listening to it felt like rubbing salt in healed wounds. Despite the brothers collectively viewing the album as some of their best work in the decade-plus they’d been a band, the project was shelved.

Then the 2016 election happened.

 “And suddenly, at that moment,” while living in New York City and feeling bewildered and frustrated at the country’s new reality, “I realized the feeling of this moment was what we wrote this music for,” Joshua recalls. A certain pall and desperation had settled over the country in the days and week after the election and, in Joshua’s estimation, the album now had widespread cultural resonance. “At this particular moment in U.S. history I felt like a lot more people could take comfort in the songs than ever before,” Joshua notes of the 11-track LP that at long last is set for release on October 19th. Jeremiah concurred: “For the first time ever I just want people to hear it and have it.”

Recorded in Austin, Texas, Enemies Multiply is sonically a big-boned, bruising affair. The brothers channeled an admittedly confusing time of conflict in their lives — as well as the previous perilous years leading up to it, characterized by what Josh describes as “being jerked around by the music industry” — into their most impassioned, hard-hitting, and thoroughly engaging album of their career. Standing at the center is “Sharks Smell Blood,” all bluesy strut, spooky choirboy harmonies and sing-along hook. Likewise, “Avalanche” is framed around a searing guitar line and squelching church organ. Like the album itself, and the band’s own views on it, “that song evolved over time. I’ve loved it in every incarnation it went through, but when I listen to how it ended up I really feel that’s the pinnacle of all of that work,” Joshua explains. Even “No Saints Forgiven,” which begins as a back porch delta-blues confessional, quickly explodes into a Van Halen-esque sing-along at the chorus.

But it’s the messages in the songs  – namely combating malevolence by banding together with likeminded people – that compelled the Silent Comedy to finally release the album. As children, after traveling the globe with their missionary parents only to return to the United States, meander some more, then settle down in San Diego in a house with literally nothing but an upright piano, the two brothers looked to musical collaboration in their mid-teens as a cathartic outlet. “Jeremiah started writing songs, “Josh recalls. “That was kind of his way of processing everything that we’d been through. That’s really when we started writing together.” It was their traveling that also colored their worldview which, when compared to some of their peers, was decidedly darker. “It skewed our perception to see how much suffering there is in the world and how fortunate we are in the United States by comparison,” Joshua explains. “We have always had a little bit more somber view of things.” Enemies Multiply, he then adds, “is a distillation of that worldview.” Jeremiah admits the album “has a lot of stuff in there about people backstabbing each other” which caused some record labels to initially balk at releasing it. And even now, as he wishes that subject matter weren’t so applicable, “I think people are more sympathetic to that idea,” Jeremiah offers. The album, he adds, “is a journey in context.”

Though, as Joshua explains, it’s the album’s most hopeful track, the closing “Peace of Mind,” that he says now connects with him on an intensely personal level. One of the most collaborative songs he and Jeremiah ever wrote, the harmonica-drenched folk lament, on one hand, “is really about being in a desperate place and a hopeless place, but also about taking comfort in banding together.” It especially spoke to him in the past two years, particularly as the world seemed to slip further into chaos. “It still is a really emotional song to listen to and to sing,” he adds.

“All of what we have been through as a band is wrapped up in this new project,” Joshua notes of the Silent Comedy’s realization that conflicts and challenges often reveal themselves as the best source material for artistic expression. The years spent writing the material that became Enemies Multiply, according to Jeremiah, “were exhausting and it was really taking a toll on us. We were in a legitimate struggle. But all the songs started to take on a new meaning. This entire process was saturated with so much frustration and conflict. So to see something like Enemies Multiply rise out of that is awesome.”

 While not always visible in plain sight, rock music has always formed the foundation of the Silent Comedy. The brothers, who were fanboys for bands like Rage Against The Machine and At The Drive-In during their teenage years, first delved into band life via joint membership in a punk and post-hardcore act. But after forming the Silent Comedy in the mid-2000’s, their early albums, including 2010’s Common Faults,, began to incorporate the folk, Americana and the blues they picked up from listening to a healthy dose of Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel. Still, all throughout, their live show was centered on its rollicking, over-the-top, energy. To that end, the Zimmerman brothers felt their studio efforts needed to better match up with their live persona.

“In a way it was only a matter of time before we fully embraced our rock n’ roll roots,” Josh says.  Adds Jeremiah: “The farther we kept going, we realized the stuff that was more interesting to us was the more energetic and rock-focused material. Our energy has been our biggest asset. We wanted to put that on the record.”

If the journey has felt long and at times painful, the Zimmerman brothers feel that with Enemies Multiply now set for release the ends truly do justify the means. “There’s a certain freedom to whatever happens now,” Jeremiah says. “After a while in life you start to look at the bigger picture.”

 

 

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NELS ANDREWS

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Although he was born by the sea, it wasn’t until he moved to the desert that Nels  Andrews began writing songs. He sang them alone in a house constructed of mud and tires on the sage-brushed mesas of Taos, New Mexico where he spent his 20’s, airing them occasionally around campfires. It wasn't until a move 90 miles south to the dusty yet curiously eccentric city of Albuquerque that he began to play them in front of strangers, and from there, to start collaborating. Andrews enlisted the talents of some inventive indie musicians he met at the Red Door, a creaky second-floor respite and practice space (and former railroad brothel) on historic Route 66 in the center of downtown. That initial collaboration began to shape his desert-infused folk/rock sound, pairing literary narratives of curious high desert outsiders with the psych-rock palate and electro-fuzz of his then band, The El Paso Eyepatch, and resulted in his debut album Sunday Shoes.

After his band dissolved, Andrews and his new wife moved back to her native east coast to set up a home in the freshly-blossoming bohemian enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There he crossed paths with bass virtuoso/composer Todd Sickafoose (Andrew Bird, Ani DiFranco, Anaïs Mitchell) who offered to produce Andrews’ sophomore record, Off Track Betting (Reveal Records UK/Lucky dice NL). Sickafoose brought with him a whole new palette of musicians from NYC’s downtown experimental/new music scene, which lent new textures and shapes to Andrews’ increasingly impressionistic story songs. Third album Scrimshaw was gleaned from his time working as a chauffeur in Manhattan; he followed his literary heroes Melville and Yeats, as the songs drew on an earthy mysticism and a romantic look to the past.

Now, happily stationed near the sea again in Santa Cruz, Andrews has gracefully woven the morning fog, redwoods, and oceanside into his forthcoming record Pigeon and The Crow, produced by traditional Irish flutist Nuala Kennedy (Gerry O’Conner, Will

Oldham). A songwriter’s record in the spirit of Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece with a breath of the texture, rhythm, and longing of Milton Nascimento’s Club De Esquina 1Pigeon and The Crow brims with literary wordplay, mixed with some sway, some shimmer, and some sand between your toes.

The bones of this soon-to-be-released fourth studio record was tracked live over three days at Whispering Pines Studio in Los Angeles.The studio was originally built for Sam Cooke in the 60s, turned into a funk/soul palace in the 70s, abandoned when the owner found religion in the 80s, and later rehabilitated by Indie rock outfit Lord Huron.

While recording, Andrews slept on the tracking room floor every night and dreamt in technicolor born of the vibes steeped into that well-worn musical space. Andrews, along with Kennedy, Sebastian Steinberg (Iron and Wine, Fiona Apple , Soul Coughing) on bass, and Quinn on drums/percussion (T-Bone Burnett, Eastmountainsouth), breathed life into the songs together in that one room—and then the international collaboration began. Producer Kennedy headed back to Ireland with the tracks in tow, and beamed them across the globe to the rest of the players—from the UK to the Azores. The album boasts a mix of traditional players from Kennedy’s past to some of Andrews’ newest old friends like Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers, as well as some older old friends and collaborators from New York, including guest appearances by fellow songsmiths Anaïs Mitchell, AJ Roach, and Anthony Da Costa.

The result is 10 ethereal yet substantial tracks that assess life “mid-game,” a time that is less straightforward than youth imagined, where our strategies and gambits are yet unresolved—stories from a place past innocence but perhaps still before wisdom. These are songs written about that place: an actress in her sunset, a husband folding now-soft wedding sheets, a father meditating on love and selfishness, and the ghosts of former relationships. Pigeon and The Crow contains wistful resolve, a steady backbone, and a late afternoon light reflected off the sea.

Pigeon and The Crow is set to be released August 9, 2019.

PHOTO OPS

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Los Angeles singer/songwriter Terry Price creates achingly beautiful, folk-tinged dream pop under the name PhotoOps. His voice is unmistakable - resonant and clear with an edge of suffering. The songs are compact and upbeat, richly textured, and full of lyrical insights about beauty, pain, and the connections between people.

Photo Ops began as a way for Price to find meaning in an onslaught of traumatic life events. A sudden medical condition, the death of his father, and the breakup of his long-time band, Oblio, inspired Photo Ops’ 2013 debut, How to Say Goodbye.

The follow-up, Vacation (2016, Bad Friend Records), solidified Photo Ops’ reputation for combining ethereal soundscape with raw emotionality. Price paired up with producer Patrick Damphier (Jessica Lea Mayfield, Mynabirds, Fences, Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Arcs) again to record an album that earned critical praise and attracted millions of plays on Spotify. Several songs were licensed for film and TV, including in the trailer of “People, Places, Things” with Jemaine Clement, and episodes of ABC’s Blood & Oil and CW’s Valor. Later that year he signed a publishing deal with Secretly Canadian.

Like many people, Price found himself shaken by the events of November 2016. He ceased touring on Vacation, went dark on social media, and left Nashville, where he’d lived for 15 years, for Los Angeles. “I needed to shed my skin,” he says. The change of scenery answers what became a sudden need for Price: “I needed to look outside myself for inspiration. It’s a matter of survival to know that there is beauty in the world. So that’s my mission now: to show that there is still beauty in the world. I honestly don’t know how else to write right now,” Price says.

In February 2019, new songs began to emerge that are among the best of his career. They do what great Photo Opsmusic does – taking deeply personal experiences and finding their meaning through music.

“July” channels Tom Petty, with a lyric that makes peace with being misunderstood. Price sings with a  mix of detachment and compassion, “I did you right. / You just won’t know it for a while.”

“Palm Trees” follows a wandering train of thought on a beach. As if meditating, Price acknowledges a succession of thoughts and emotions without judgment. “Sailboats on the horizon / they don’t mean a thing.”

One of the biggest changes in these new songs is in Price’s voice. There is a clarity to the upper register, as Price relaxes into high notes in a way that calls to mind the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson. It’s partly an accident of location, Price says. “In Nashville, I had a garage. I could go out and make as much noise as I wanted. In LA, you have to be thoughtful about your neighbors.” The need to sing quietly has opened up a whole new vocal palette for Price, allowing him to experiment with space and restraint.

There is also a new immediacy to the production, stemming in part from Price’s time spent studying Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. As he made his way through the southwest during his move, Price listened to Dylan’s Sirius XM show on repeat. “They were mostly old songs. What struck me was the spirit that was behind them. They’re just people in a room with a microphone, so they would have to self-correct and really conjure a spirit in the moment. Something about that felt so vital to me. It sounds like a time and place,” Price says. 

The new Photo Ops material features that same sense of immediacy, using an intentionally limited set of instruments: one acoustic guitar, one electric guitar, a Ludwig drum kit from the 60s, a stand-up piano, a Hofner bass, and a small Casiotone keyboard. Price is working remotely with Damphier, who is in Nashville, as producer. Songs are recorded as soon as they’re written.

A third Photo Ops album, Pure at Heart, is fully recorded and is expected to be released this year.