IN BRIEF: A quick overview of some recent international releases

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IN BRIEF: A quick overview of some recent international releases

With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column which scoops up releases by international artists, in much the same way as our SHORT CUTS column picks up New Zealand artists.

Comments will be brief.

Gillian Welch; Boots No 1, The Official Revival Bootleg (Acony/Southbound)

The numerical nature of this double CDs title whets the appetite for those who have followed the intense and interesting career of this Americana artist (and her musical partner Dave Rawlings). It has been 20 years since her breakthrough debut album Revival which brought together folk roots, that ol' time religion, elements of bluegrass and Appalachian country. It was a persuasive album of old America from someone who was a university graduate from California and had played in surf-rock band.

Like many who have an epiphany – hers came with hearing bluegrass – she abandoned her past influences and immersed herself in this new-found world . . . and brought a heart and soul to her songs which tapped something distant and almost of the subconscious or collective memory of a different America.

Since then she has explored the wide genre even more deeply and her name is writ large in country, folk and roots music.

This double disc includes alternate versions of many Revival songs (Pass You By is a ragged but blues swinger), outtakes from the sessions, demos . . . and that means eight previously unreleased songs. Georgia Road was apparently only performed live once.

Perhaps one for loyalists, but Welch/Rawlings do command a very loyal following and this really does hit the spot for its confidence as this music was being discovered and written.


Mandolin Orange; Blindfaller (Yep Roc/Southbound)

The duo of Emily Frantz (vocals, violin) and Andrew Marlin (vocals, guitar, banjo) may often sing downtempo originals on that cusp of folk, bluegrass and Americana but – with a small band – they also live in the present (Wildfire and Gospel Shoes here have political and economic subtexts) and behind the veil of melancholy there is always a sense of optimism still within reach which makes them worth careful attention. And here when the band kicks in for the full-flight Hard Travelin' they make a damn fine barroom rockers to get those boot heels stomping. But mostly the titles tell you what you are in for: Lonesome Whistle, Echo, Cold Lover's Waltz, My Blinded Heart (channelling the spirit of Hank Williams) . . .

Always a band worth hearing and this counts as one of the best in, their admittedly small, catalogue.


Jefferson Street Parade Band; Viral (Jefferson)

If the above two albums put you in the mood for something more upbeat and celebratory, then this ensemble which plays parties, the New Orleans Mardi Gras, rock festivals and shopping malls is probably what you are looking for. Funky, percussive (six player listed), horny (four trumpeters, five saxists) and somewhat quirky (as on Most Annoying Song Ever, Gone Viral which is in fact neither). They also offer a bit of funk-dub (King Tubby's Easy Dub and a Mexican piece El Cascabel.

Unfortunately nothing really comes with firepower you'd think such a large ensemble might be able to amass, so they are doubtless best enjoyed live one of those festivals when you are trying to dance without spilling your third beer.


Hiss Golden Messenger; Heart Like a Levee (Merge/Southbound)

Great title on this seventh studio album by the folk-rocker MC Taylor, his small band and guests like Tift Merritt. Taylor might engage in some age-old self-doubt, spiritual questioning and such, but he also isn't afraid to get the backbeat going and marry his thoughtful lyrics to strong tunes which mostly eschew the wistfulness of his peers. We've previously essayed an earlier album with its own backstory but this might be exactly the right point to discover him/them because his blend of country, conscience, folk-rock, smart lyrics (gotta love a song with the title Like A Mirror Loves A Hammer) and some angular pop-rock just keeps inviting you back for more.

As with his previous albums this feels intensely personal but also connecting with universal themes of love, absence, emotional need and faith of various kinds being tested.

Of all these albums, this is the most recommended.

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