Elsewhere by Graham Reid

music - travel - arts

Wide angle reviews, interviews and opinion by writer Graham Reid

richmond fontaine

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Jim White: Transnormal Skiperoo (Luaka Bop/Shock) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

Jim White: Transnormal Skiperoo (Luaka Bop/Shock) BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2007

White came into something close to mainstream attention with his droll film Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, a poke around the backroads and backwoods of the American South and the music and characters that make it so distinctive. It was at times uncomfortable viewing, but also an essential documentary if you want to get a handle on...

Jeffrey Foucault: Ghost Repeater (Signature)

Jeffrey Foucault: Ghost Repeater (Signature)

Not sure where this album has been -- it was recorded in 2005 and released in the rest of the world the following year - but it has just turned up in my letterbox. Produced by Bo Ramsey (a hallmark of quality) these are troubadour country songs grounded in a dark America of lonesome travellers, the search for a place, ghosts of the past and...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod/Elite)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008: James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod/Elite)

The murky photo of a small, barroom audience on the inner sleeve of this brittle and typically dark album by singer-poet McMurtry might have included me. It looks like it was taken in the Continental Club in Austin where I caught him and his band the Heartless Bastards a couple of years ago playing their regular gig. Since his remarkable...

Colin Meloy: Sings Live! (Rough Trade)

Colin Meloy: Sings Live! (Rough Trade)

Something about a couple of these solo songs sounded oddly familiar and I suspect I may have seen this Portland-based singer-songwriter and mainman in the Decemberists at a songwriter night in the famous White Eagle Hotel in his hometome. Or maybe it's just that these memorable, lyrically dense and chorus-fuelled songs were recorded live on a...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008 Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: Rattlin' Bones (Liberation)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2008 Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson: Rattlin' Bones (Liberation)

Chambers -- daughter of the very great singer-songwriter Bill -- is one of Australia's finest alt.country/roots artists and here she teams up with her husband Nicholson for their first album together. Oddly enough although they play together in their casual side-project The Lost Dogs covers band they hadn't previously written together -- yet...

The National: A Skin, A Night/The Virginia EP (Beggars Banquet)

The National: A Skin, A Night/The Virginia EP (Beggars Banquet)

Don't be put off by the under-selling title here, this is much more than an EP (which I consider to be what, four, maybe five songs?) This "EP" is a 12 track collection which features this group of New Yorkers on some new material, some rather smart demo tracks and three live songs (including a fine, scraped-cello version of...

Jakob Dylan: Seeing Things (Sony/BMG)

Jakob Dylan: Seeing Things (Sony/BMG)

This son of Bob will be 40 next year and has a substantial career behind him with the Wallflowers (five albums) plus some high-profile guest spots. But with this debut under his own name you have to ask, "Aren't you a bit young for this?"That's because the album is a stripped-back (mostly) solo affair produced by Rick Rubin who is...

THE MOTEL LIFE, a novel by WILLY VLAUTIN

THE MOTEL LIFE, a novel by WILLY VLAUTIN

This dark and depressing novel is an impressive debut by Vlautin, the frontman and songwriter for the American alt.country band Richmond Fontaine whose music is, unfortunately, little known here. The band’s melancholy album The Fitzgerald was a result of Vlautin living in the rundown Reno casino of that name and is peopled by marginal,...

Shane Nicholson: Familiar Ghosts (Liberation)

Shane Nicholson: Familiar Ghosts (Liberation)

Anyone who heard the exceptional alt.country Rattlin' Bones album by Australians Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson of last year (one of the Best of Elsewhere 2008 albums) -- or better still caught them in concert -- will need no second invitation to this, Nicholson's third solo album. A number of these often brooding and always literate...

Richmond Fontaine: The Fitzgerald (Southbound)

Richmond Fontaine: The Fitzgerald (Southbound)

Richmond Fontaine come with big advance notices: the indie Americana band from Portland broke big with their rowdy Post to Wire album two years ago, which drew favourable comparisons with the Replacements, but for their follow-up, The Fitzgerald, they have turned the volume way down. Written by guitarist Willy Vlautin while living at...

Richmond Fontaine: "We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like A River" (Southbound)

Richmond Fontaine: "We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like A River" (Southbound)

This exceptional, and exceptionally consistent, group out of Portland with songwriter and novelist Willy Vlautin at its core has appeared at Elsewhere previously. Way back in 2005 with the penetrating album The Fitzgerald, and later for Vlautin's stark novel The Motel Life which invites favourable comparisons with writers such as Larry...

Tami Neilson: The Kitchen Table Sessions Vol 1 (Ode)

Tami Neilson: The Kitchen Table Sessions Vol 1 (Ode)

It's a curious thing that in New Zealand where country and alt.country of various persuasions has become increasingly popular that an album like this slips past most people. It slipped past me until very recently, although I'm pleased to note her previous one Red Dirt Angel, didn't go around the judges at the 2009 music awards who picked it as...

Tom Russell: Blood and Candle Smoke (Proper/Southbound)

Tom Russell: Blood and Candle Smoke (Proper/Southbound)

Tom Russell is a cinematic singer-songwriter whose storytelling is compelling, and whose whisky’n’grit vocals can take you to the heart of Tex-Mex territory. The poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti said he was “Johnny Cash, [poet and novelist] Jim Harrison and [barfly writer] Charles Bukowski rolled into one“. Born and...

The Pines: Tremolo (Red House/Ode)

The Pines: Tremolo (Red House/Ode)

Quite why the Pines -- who are Branson, the son of the legendary singer-songwriter Bo Ramsey, and David Huckfelt -- didn't get more alt.country/indie.rock traction with their excellent Sparrows in the Bell album was a mystery to me. Maybe the father association put people off in that Lennon-kids way?  To me they sounded like a bridge...

Warren Zevon, The Wind

Warren Zevon, The Wind

The late Warren Zevon was a self-destructive guy - throwing himself down stairs while in the grip of the demon drink was one of his things - but this Jekyll and Hyde of sunny California in the 80s, who wrote the lovely Hasten Down the Wind, could also pen, "He took little Susie to the Junior Prom, and he raped her and killed her, then he...

Various Artists: Introducing Townes Van Zandt via the Great Unknown (For the Sake of the Song)

Various Artists: Introducing Townes Van Zandt via the Great Unknown (For the Sake of the Song)

The late Van Zandt is hardly the little-known cult artist he once was: there are many tribute albums (Steve Earle most recently) and his estate must coin it in from all the covers alt.country artists do. Most of Van Zandt’s originals were spare, lowkey and acoustic -- so the surprise here is what an embellishing or reconfiguring...

THE BARGAIN BUY: Warren Zevon; The Original Album Series (Rhino)

THE BARGAIN BUY: Warren Zevon; The Original Album Series (Rhino)

Singer songwriter Warren Zevon (1947- 2003) was a different one alright. When he emerged in LA in the mid Seventies he was like the anti-Jackson Browne: he was the anthesis of those mellow singer-songwriters from Laurel Canyon. His sardonic wit and sometimes weird songs caught the ears and the imaginations of critics and fellow artists, although...

CHRIS WHITLEY INTERVIEWED (1991): The Law man living with the lore

CHRIS WHITLEY INTERVIEWED (1991): The Law man living with the lore

Sometimes you can just get too much too soon - and the wrong kind of attention. Take American singer Chris Whitley, whose debut album Living with the Law has been picking up praise by the bucketload. Sure it’s a great album; Rolling Stone called it “riveting and original” before acclaiming Whitley as “a visionary...

Greg Trooper: The Williamsburg Affair (52 Shakes)

Greg Trooper: The Williamsburg Affair (52 Shakes)

According to his website, country-rocker Trooper recorded these songs with his touring band 15 years ago in a Brooklyn studio in just four days, then he moved back to Nashville and the tapes were left to languish. Now mixed and mastered these 11 songs (10 originals and a strong treatment of Neil Young's Wrecking Ball) appear for the first...

The National: High Violet (4AD)

The National: High Violet (4AD)

Frankly, I want to like the National more, but their almost willfully/arty obscurantism is often off-putting. The DVD which came with their extended EP A Skin/A Night, The Virginia EP seemed like an attempt at creating depth in something which was inherently ordinary. And I feel a little the same about this album: the all-in production...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2010 Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses: Junky Star (Lost Highway)

The name "Ryan Bingham" has been getting a lot of eartime recently -- it was the name of George Clooney's character in the movie Up in the Air. But more importantly in the real world it belongs to one of the most interesting Americana singer-songwriters of the past deacde -- the man who picked up an Oscar for his song The Weary...

Lee Clayton: Industry (live, 1989)

Lee Clayton: Industry (live, 1989)

Rocking country singer Lee Clayton out of Alabama and Tennessee almost made the big time at the end of the Seventies with two exceptional albums, Border Affair and Naked Child. In some ways he was ahead of his time and if they had arrrived around the same time as James McMurtry, Chris Whitley and a few others a decade later he might have...

JAMES McMURTRY INTERVIEWED (1990): In from the wasteland

JAMES McMURTRY INTERVIEWED (1990): In from the wasteland

The literary landscape of the American south sets it apart from that of the rest of the country. The hard indifference of William Faulkner’s world is reflected in his lean poetic writing; the inhospitable, suspicious small towns and brooding menace stand stark in Eudora Welty’s stories, and crippling heat brings sweat and...

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot/Southbound)

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot/Southbound)

Over three previous albums this son of Steve (and named for Townes Van Zandt) has cut an increasingly confident path with originals which are nominally country-Americana but refer to alt.rock, bluegrass, honky-tonk, ragtime and Hank Williams-styled truck-stop rock. His shows here have been popular and on this album he slips in the...

Mark Eitzel, Klamath (101/Southbound)

Mark Eitzel, Klamath (101/Southbound)

Eitzel was the former frontman for the very wonderful but poorly named American Music Club (probably still is, I think they have reformed) but this solo album dates from a retreat to a cabin (around Klamath Falls in central Oregon I guess) a year or so ago. As befits it origins this is very intimate music -- although far from the...

Barry Saunders: Far As The Eye Can See (Ode)

Barry Saunders: Far As The Eye Can See (Ode)

More than just a compilation of tracks from his various albums and radio sessions (including some from his excellent Zodiac album), this collection of songs by country-inflected singer-songwriter Saunders was a prompt for various painters and visual artists. Wellington curator Ron Epskamp of Exhibitions Gallery (here) invited 14 artists to...

Moondoggies: Tidelands (Hardly Art)

Moondoggies: Tidelands (Hardly Art)

Their name might not inspire much confidence -- the sort of band name 12-year olds think up -- but this rootsy, alt.country and indie-rock outfit from Seattle on a SubPop imprint label have a mainline connection to the same core of music (Neil Young, the Band) as informs the Felice Brothers, early Wilco and Richmond Fontaine. They certainly...

Andrew McKenzie: The Edge of the World (Arch Hill)

Andrew McKenzie: The Edge of the World (Arch Hill)

Andrew McKenzie is the singer-guitarist in the New Zealand band Grand Prix which has long delivered a very pointed kind of slightly snarling alt.country with a rock'n'roll heartbeat and a dark, unsettling edge. For this album under his own name McKenzie (who plays almost everything from drums and bass to harmonica and sitar) mines some of...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Micah P. Hinson and the Pioneer Saboteurs: Micah P. Hinson and the Pioneer Saboteurs (Full Time Hobby)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Micah P. Hinson and the Pioneer Saboteurs: Micah P. Hinson and the Pioneer Saboteurs (Full Time Hobby)

Recorded over a two year period and soaked in strings, this folksy rumination on the state of his nation takes its inspiration from Walt Whitman's poem Pioneers! O Pioneers!, a kind of literal and metaphorical reverse-mirror Times They Are A' Changin' of its day when the young America was flexing its muscles across the continent. Hinson uses...

Matt Langley: Featherbones (Hometown)

Matt Langley: Featherbones (Hometown)

Langley's rootsy folk-cum-alt.country EP Lost Companions of 2007 – recorded in Wellington – announced a mature lyricist and a singer with a delivery like the best Americana artists (James McMurtry particularly) with a little Dylanesque drawl. It went past most, and this debut album is doing the same with few mainstream media...

The Low Anthem: Smart Flesh (Nonesuch)

The Low Anthem: Smart Flesh (Nonesuch)

Sin and death and guilt; archaisms like "apothecary", "Gatling gun" and "player piano"; harmonica, pump organ, violin, saw and cello; whiskey and gin; recorded in a freezing cold room in winter . . . all the right elements would seem to be in place for more rustic music grounded in an older America from educated...

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Matt Langley

THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE QUESTIONNAIRE: Matt Langley

Matt Langley from Dunedin, New Zealand is one of the smaller but brightest lights on the musical landscape. His debut EP Lost Companions was critically well received but his album Featherbones showed the full measure of his talents which touch on folk, blues and alt.country. He does things the old fashioned way which others are now...

The Thomas Oliver Band: Baby, I'll Play (Rhythmethod)

The Thomas Oliver Band: Baby, I'll Play (Rhythmethod)

As with his fellow Wellingtonian Darren Watson, Thomas Oliver is a finalist in the blues category of the International Song Writing Competition to be judged in April 2011. The song is Goin' Home - which kicks off this rootsy, bluesy and alt.country-tinged album -- and the video of it released a year ago was named among the top 30...

Bill Callahan: Apocalypse (Drag City)

Bill Callahan: Apocalypse (Drag City)

After his last exceptional album Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (a Best of Elsewhere 2009 album) it was hard to imagine how this Americana singer-songwriter -- who previously recorded as Smog -- could remain on the margins of mainstream acceptance. That the album demanded, but also commanded, attention might just have put him once more...

The Mountain Goats: The Eternal's Deck (Merge)

The Mountain Goats: The Eternal's Deck (Merge)

The dramatic, almost declamatory, voice of John Darnielle (aka The Mountain Goats) is as distinctive as it is well enunciated. You get every word he sings, which means you are dragged from one poetic line to another where images tumble over one another (think Dylan '65-'66) and if there is a story it comes from an accumulation of ideas and...

Tom Russell: Mesabi (Proper)

Tom Russell: Mesabi (Proper)

Although American singer-songwriter Tom Russell's name isn't as widely known as that of Joe Ely, Townes Van Zandt and others, his songs have been covered by Johnny Cash, Peter Case, Iris DeMent and many more, and his story-telling tied to a backbeat has consistently drawn praise from critics and peers. Jerry Jeff Walker, poet Lawrence...

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Ryan Adams: Ashes and Fire (Sony)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Ryan Adams: Ashes and Fire (Sony)

Those with a passing interest in Ryan Adams' highly productive career -- which most recently stretched to published books of poetry -- will be understandably bewildered that there is a new album, given he announced his retirement in '09 . . . and subsequently kept releasing albums from his not inconsiderable song vaults. This solo album...

Greg Graffin: Cold As The Clay (Anti/Shock)

Greg Graffin: Cold As The Clay (Anti/Shock)

Okay, I'll admit it, I've never heard a note by Bad Religion, the band Graffin usually fronts (and which is regularly described as "punk" and had an album entitled Recipe For Hate). But this stripped back album -- and the fact I've learned that Graffin holds a degree in geology, a PhD in zoology, and taught evolutionary history at...

The Haints of Dean Hall: The Haints of Dean Hall (Arch Hill)

The Haints of Dean Hall: The Haints of Dean Hall (Arch Hill)

This off-kilter and eerily dreamy slice of Americana from a conjured up "South" comes from an unexpected source: the Haints of Dean Hall are in fact Stephen Reay and singer/photographer Kathryn McCool, the former from the rowdy Flying Nun band the Subliminals and the latter who now lives near Melbourne. A haint is an imagined ghost...

Greg Brown: The Evening Call (Red House/Elite)

Greg Brown: The Evening Call (Red House/Elite)

Iowa-born singer-songwriter Brown is one of those singer-songwriters that other artists line up to pay tribute to: in fact Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco, Gillian Welch and others appeared on a tribute to him a few years back. He's a poet (he recorded an album of William Blake poems) and is very much in the boho-Beat Generation lineage whose...

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