Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rod Picott - Fortune

Four or five years ago, I went to Nashville's 3rd and Lindsley to hear DADDY, the collaboration between Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. I didn't know if an opener was also scheduled but arrived in plenty of time just in case. I didn't catch the singer's name as it was announced, and none of the songs were familiar to me - though I dug what he was playing.

He then caught my ear with his performance of a song I did recognize: Slaid Cleaves' Broke Down. Following his set, I had a couple of moments to chat with him as DADDY was setting up.

I introduced myself to the songwriter I then learned was Rod Picott (web | Twitter) and complimented him on his cover of Slaid's song. He politely but directly replied he had written the song and was good friends with Slaid. DOH! A bit of an awkward opening. I pleaded my ignorance, and we concluded all was good. Another "all good" thing I learned over time was a bit more of Picott's music.

Rod has released about a half-dozen albums over the past 15 years. Most of his songs have been about telling stories, making observations, reflecting on the lives of others, etc.

Hard to believe, but 2015 has now edged solidly into fall with winter at the end of the driveway. Darkness arrives a bit earlier and stays later, and daylight is often experienced as gray light. That seasonal change seems to reflect the mood of Picott's recent new release, Fortune.

Rather than another album's worth of songs about others, Fortune reflects much more of an introspective look by the songwriter. About half the album's twelve songs were recorded in one day, and the remaining ones were wrapped-up over the following two weeks.

Picott recorded his songs in an open room along with guitarist Will Kimbrough, bassist Lex Price, and drummer Neilson Hubbard (who also produced the album). The purpose for the recording location and the expediency of tracking the songs was to provide an album somewhat akin to what one gets from a live Rod Picott show.

You aren't getting party music with Fortune. The songs likely will not lead you to sing them in the shower or practice your steering wheel drumming skills. But from start to finish, the album commands deliberate, intentional listening and repeated plays. A few highlights from the album include...

Elbow Grease, the album's second track. Picott includes themes about his life - that introspective look he wanted to capture on the album - with references to his father, his struggles as a songwriter, the tenacity to stay in The Business, and the luck needed to make all of the pieces come together.

Lord, help me find where I belong
I broke my back trying to find that song
Threw a straight right just to keep some pride
I gave the middle finger to the hurt inside

We all have that nutjob relative within our family tree. Or maybe not a crazy one but one that's a bit off or dysfunctional when it comes to relationships (mine is named Luther or maybe it's ME). Uncle John may well be one of Picott's uncles. Perhaps he is a composite of folks distilled into one individual for the benefit of a song. Either way, life seems to be all about family relationships - some strong, frayed, elastic, dysfunctional, transparent, sequestered, etc.

Though many of the album's songs may be considered contemplative or even somber lyrically, Uncle John brings out a good laugh - as do many of Rod's stories during his live performances.

Drinks beer from a can 'cause bottles break
Nine fingers and one mistake
Plaid shirt, Carhartt pants
He ain't never been to a singles' dance

Jeremiah is sung from the perspective of the wife or girlfriend of a soldier who never made it home. The band sits this one out. It's simply Picott, his guitar, and his haunting narrative.

They say you died out in the desert
With a name I can't pronounce
I can't remember if I said I Love You
That don't matter now

Sisters cry and dads can't speak
Girls like me sleep alone
A mother's work is never done
Soldiers don't come home

Fortune can be purchased at Picott's website or others including iTunes and Amazon. Also, Picott is a touring machine. Those out west may be able to catch one of his shows in November. In December, he piles into a van with Decembersongs, a loose knit East Nashville foursome of Amy Speace, Doug and Telisha Williams from Wild Ponies, and Picott. The four of them tell stories, play several non-Christmas songs, and then share a few holiday favorites. It's a show not to be missed if you have the good Fortune of them visiting your town.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Magnolia Collective - An Old Darkness Falls

MagCo isn't a turbo engine, a flashlight or a venture capitalist-launched company. MagCo is short for Magnolia Collective (web | Twitter). The Carrboro / Chapel Hill, North Carolina band has been a perennial performer at Couch By Couchwest each March.

The band wrote several songs over the past few years, tweaked them a bit here and there, played many a gig, and made efforts to raise a bit of bank. The culmination of those efforts has been distilled in the band's first full-length album, An Old Darkness Falls, to be released on October 24th.

Musically, Old Darkness experiments with varied Americana elements on its 10 songs such as captivating but not overused steel and slide, alternating electric and acoustic guitar emphasis, full-on drums on songs such as Gran Torino and Sweetness, and  to greater use of toms with mallets but little snare with brushes on Coldest Winter.

Lyrically, the album's title is no play on words. Like thematic darkness? Well, you'll get it with this release. The dark themes, however, match exceptionally well with the musical varieties offered.

The album's opener, The Devil Is Real, is hypnotically enchanting. The underlying meter of the song reminds me a bit of Todd Snider's This Land Is Our Land going back to his Daily Planet debut. But Devil has complex musical layers, distant vocals, and alluring harmonies - all attributes that cause me to pause and acknowledge that yes, the devil is real.

Outside, tonight
Your street lights / Are foaming at the mouth
There's an old darkness falling / On your new south

The second track, Coldest Winter, was the band's submission to Couch By in 2014. The buzzkilling but captivating lyrics speak of a dark and haunting story kept secret over two decades. Listening to it intently, feelings of grief ... of pain ... of regret ... of hurt ... of fear ... of despair ... and perhaps shame are present. A favor is requested of another with an accompanying promise that nothing more will be asked or spoken about the request - ever. looked me in the eyes and said
"Do me this one favor, one favor please"
Pulled out a wooden box and said
"Bury this for me..."

Then "what's in the box?" I said
You shuddered shyly as a newborn as you turned from me
And you said "No matter what happens next
Whether it be rapture or a shipwreck
Promise me you'll never open what I give to thee"

Doldrums was submitted to Couch By back in 2013. To be honest, I didn't get it then - but admittedly I didn't spend a lot of time overthinking this one. I just listened to it and became consumed with absorbing the visual of all their props. Wait, those are props, right?

MagCo submitted Girl From Guadalajara to CXCW over 3-1/2 years ago in 2012. The song is a fun listen. To this day, I really want to enjoy ceviche and a cerveza ... and a nap ... on that couch.

California and Julianne represent a notable change musically from many of the other songs on the album. Both are closer in style to Doldrums than they are to the two opening and closing songs. With a solid backbeat, steel, and some jangle and twang, the two tracks hold true to what many think of as an Americana sound.

Because you
Ya say you're going to California
And you're gonna be a star
And you'll find everything that you have ever wanted
Oh just don't you forget who you are

Now bury your secrets in the backyard
Right next to your mother's bones
Deep down, dark and lovely
Where nobody else will know

Mimi McLaughlin's prominent harmonies on the album's seventh song, Sweetness (as well as on several of the other tracks) are pleasing - yet they add an eerie element. Going back several years, I'm reminded a bit of the harmonies that accompanied Moe Berg on The Pursuit of Happiness songs such as Hard to Laugh or Beautiful White. (If you aren't familiar with TPOH, they were a fantastic, rocking band out of Toronto.)

Unlike the album's title, Sweetness as a song title is the antithesis of its lyrical contents. And the song is perhaps the most rocking one on the album.

Like the time I crawled back home at dawn
from your house in the hills in the burning sun
and how the humid air was thick 
with the bones and teeth and fingerprints
and I think I need your sweetness

Tie Me To The Mast ranks among my favorite songs of the album along with Devil, Winter and Sweetness. The middle of the album includes the tracks with alt-country leanings. But as the album nears its end, Mast returns the band to a more complex song instrumentally and with a series of tempo and intensity changes. And once again, Mimi's wonderful harmonies complement the song as a contrast to her low-end bass playing.

Old Darkness closes with the uplifting (tongue firmly in cheek) A Reminder. The song includes a simple request to have someone play them a song to keep their memory sharp and spirits raised as they grow older, go through illness, ponder life, become frail, and face their inevitable end. Despite the challenging subject, the song's lyrics are indeed poignant.

Now let this be a reminder
For when we're old and slow and filled with cancer
There was a time when moments lasted hours
So don't forget these words that I recorded 

And if I get crazy and mean
Turn to me, turn to me
And look me in the eye again
And say the same damn thing
Or sing me this song all the way to the end
Until I remember it
Until I remember it again

Seek ye this fine record this fall.