Initial Reactions (2011): Joe Henry, Frank Turner, Middle Brother

Joe Henry – Reverie – (ind): I don’t get it. It’s all very artistic sounding, excellent in appearance, jazzy, smoky, sultry, deeper than you’ll ever hope to be, but it’s so slick and smooth on the surface that I can’t find a foothold. I have this gut-level feeling that Joe is thinking to himself "Behold my musicianship – let me cast my spell over you." Maybe the guy could lighten up? Look, if you dig this, then fantastic. I just find it dense and forgettable. ("Odetta")

Frank Turner – England Keep My Bones – (++): Pleasantly surprised by this one. Billy Bragg’s younger, spoon-fed brother. Big, catchy rock tunes likened to rowdy pub sing-alongs, and he’s definitely a gifted lyricist, although I will say that he leans towards a heavy moralism that I find disappointing. Gotta mention that "There is no God" song – I was thinking that it might be a response to this. FT is the same guy who wrote these lyrics. Puzzling…

Middle Brother – Middle Brother – (++): Well, I loved Dawes’ latest, so more Taylor Goldsmith is OK by me. All in all, strong songwriting, though I’m not as crazy about the dude with the gravely voice. It does have a nice sort of oldies radio feel at times, but it’s not particularly earth-shattering otherwise. What you get: big tunes, big melodies, big voices. All in all, a worthwhile listen. ("Thanks for Nothing", "Me Me Me")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Quick Review (LP): The Long Surrender by Over The Rhine

over the rhine the long surrender Over The Rhine
The Long Surrender
Great Speckled Dog; 2011

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “The Laugh of Recognition”, “Infamous Love Song”, “Oh Yeah By The Way”, “Days Like This”, “Rave On”

Let me be honest: it’s been a struggle to get my bearings with this record. The band scored a couple of no-doubt triumphs mid-decade with Ohio and Drunkard’s Prayer, but their last one, The Trumpet Child, never quite grabbed me in the same way. The Long Surrender has, so far, left me with the same feeling. By my own reckoning, the best I could do was to see this as a hybrid of DP‘s intimate chamber folk and The Trumpet Child‘s hope-against-hope spirituals. I didn’t think that was enough, so I decided to read the liner notes. The album’s producer, Joe Henry, mentioned two of his own takeaways that stuck with me. The first came from the tattoo on Karin Bergquist‘s arm: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The second came from the memory of Linford Detwiler: “Leave the edges wild.” Sage words, I’d say. There’s some deep magic about this duo that urges you to stay the course. There aren’t any “wow!” moments here in the way of “Spark” or “Jesus In New Orleans”, but I think I know what Karin would have to say about comparing past efforts with those of today. The “fuzzy wuzzy” moment may seem a bit cringeworthy on “Only God Can Save Us Now”, but I’ll keep Linford’s admonishment in mind. Gratitude should always come first, even for a music snob, and I’m thankful that a band like Over The Rhine even exists, and that they allowed us in on great tunes like “The Laugh of Recognition” and “Oh Yeah By The Way.” Still, I’d have to say the record’s defining moment is the Kim Taylor-penned “Days Like This.” The no frills chorus – “All I want to do is live my life honestly” – drives right to the heart of what it seems to me Over The Rhine is all about. When all is said and done, it might just be that what Bergquist and Detwiler have given us is their most honest record yet, one that revels in the teensy, quiet victories that keep us all afloat.

Stereo Subversion review
My review of Good Dog Bad Dog

Listening Log: “The Long Surrender” by Over the Rhine

4a2c0178-f941-4a20-b098-080ac0f75172[4]Just finished listening to the latest (as yet unreleased) long player from Over the Rhine, wonderfully titled The Long Surrender. It’s pretty great, but in the interest of not spoiling it for anyone, I’ll just offer a few brief reactions:

  • Strikes me as a cross between Drunkard’s Prayer (instrumentally) and Good Dog, Bad Dog (thematically). No disrespect to The Trumpet Child, but this is the record I was hoping they’d follow up Drunkard’s Prayer with!
  • Joe Henry did a fantastic job with the production. These tracks are as dense and mysterious as a dark forest. This is a total “headphones” album!
  • That’s a gorgeous album cover.
  • Was that Lucinda Williams on track 5?

All in all, I think the L&K Express has gone and made one of the best records of their career.  Can’t wait to get my hands on it come January 11th.

UPDATE: Read my actual review here.