This page is part of an opinionated overview of "alt.country" music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... Naturally, it's a work in progress, and quite incomplete, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the first page covering the letter "F"
This is the first "solo" album by this founding ex-member of the bands Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt... He gets his country licks in on here, but mostly by inference, rather than outright twang... For the most part this is an indie rock disc, of the treble-heavy, whiny/wandering, spaced out variety. It's mostly pretty nice -- lofty, elegaic, irritating in only a few places ("Damaged Son," for example...) Certainly worth checking out; just don't expect much hick action from Farrar on this one...
Jay Farrar "ThirdShiftGrottoSlack" (Artemis, 2002)
The alt.country soundtrack to a football art film. This is actually as much a compilation album as anything... Farrar provides the incidental music interludes, while tracks taken from albums by several indiebilly cohorts fill in the rest of the disc. The pacing and tone is quite nice from tune to tune -- this is an album that's really nice to have on in the background, with the only real rough spot coming from the harsh harmonies Freakwater throw on for the old Louvin Brother's weeper, "When I Stop Dreaming." Otherwise, this is quite nice, stringing together tunes by Farrar, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, Neko Case, the Blood Oranges and others in a nice, long, dreamy, languid set. Recommended!
This disc sounds an awful lot like Richard Buckner's latest album, with a couple of important distinctions: musically, Farrar is more complex, and his vocals more fluid and varied. Lyrically, though, he tends towards semi-leaden semi-profundity, with a mild clunker or two here and there. Not whole songs, mind you, just little lines or turns of phrase. This is a very enjoyable, very listenable album -- again, much like Buckner's Impasse, with a nearly identical mumbling baritone, and plenty of inscrutable lyrics. Recommended!
A passionate, animated, and somewhat loud live set that acts as concert album and career retrospective in one. Backed by the old-school country-rockish band called Canyon, Ferrar bares his soul and earnestly presents his ouvre... I personally find it a little grating at times -- it's just not something an old fart like me would want to have on as at-home music -- still, I recognize the intensity and sincere intentions; you just can't miss 'em! An excellent presentation of Ferrar's art that's sure to make fan's happy.
There are several swell, catchy songs that start this album off, with Austin scenester Amy Farris riding a fine line between indie and Americana tendencies. The country-ish stuff is the best, and while some of the more rock-oriented songs reveal some of her vocal limitations, on the whole this is a nice little record, with a cute DIY feel built around her off-kilter, mousy vocals, which bring Victoria Williams to mind, albeit with a more focussed musical vision. I've enjoyed hearing Farris in the background of many Kelly Willis records; it's a treat to hear her taking center stage at last. Sometimes producer Dave Alvin's guitar-heavy approach threatens to leave her high and dry, but for the most part this is quite nice. Definitely worth checking out.
The Fellow Travellers "No Easy Way: Local Hits In A Brand New Country Style" (Okra, 1990)
An odd addition to the Okra Records canon... At hte start of his career, Jeb Loy Nichols gets mighty irie, with about half the tunes on here taking a dubbish reggae detour, although the acoustic/twangy roots remains close at hand. Hey, at least he tried something new! It's not an unpleasant record, although I'm not sure how often I'll return to it... It just doesn't really grab me, even though I appreciate the just-plain-folks DIY vibe. Nichols splits the vocals with Londoner Lorraine Morley (later to become a humanities scholar at a London college...) The best thing about this disc is Nichols' voice -- there's something about his old-man drawl that I really dig. Well, anyway...
The Fellow Travellers "Just A Visitor" (Okra, 1992)
The Fellow Travellers "Things In Time" (Okra, 1993)
Rock music, mostly, but since this California band sounds so much like Son Volt, et al., I suppose they merit inclusion here. Drony vocals and guitar, plenty of would-be profundity and obliqueness in the lyrics... Again, if you like Son Volt, you might really dig this....
To tell you the honest truth, I have never really cared all that much for this outfit, though there are those who praise them to the stars. Joe Ely, I agree, was a stellar talent, and I have a soft spot for Jimmie Dale Gilmore, too, although much, much less so with Butch Hancock. Nevertheless, here they all are, way back in their youth, as a pioneering Texas alt-country ensemble whose early-1970s recordings preceeded the entire Austin-outlaw scene by a good several years. Some of the songs on here turned up later on various solo albums. This album ain't bad, but it never made my boat float of my toes curl.
This is much better than their old stuff. I'm a big fan of the old Joe Ely albums, but the original Flatlanders album has always struck me as a bit dull and monotonous. Sure, it's legendary and all that, but the songs that Gilmore wrote really came to life later... when Ely recorded them on his classic MCA albums. As for this new record, it's much more playful and melodically rich, and is packed with plenty of catchy songs, with memorable choruses and well-crafted melodic hooks. Even I -- someone who has long been singularly unimpressed by this band -- can groove along to it, and be taken in by the relaxed, masterful confidence these guys bring out in each other. Besides, it's better than anything these three have done solo for the last few years. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to find out what the fuss was about this alt.country supergroup.
Some songs old, others new... The second album from the revitalized Flatlanders trio has less of a dynamic, organic feel to it, seeming more a series of songs than an exploration of a newly-renewed creative partnership. Ely, Gilmore and Hancock still bring a wealth of roots music road warrior experience to bear, but the songs seem disconnected from each other, and too tightly crafted in parts, more of a carefully crafted studio creation than a joyful old-timer jam. I really liked the last record, and while this one may grow on me, for the moment I'm a little nonplussed.
What an amazing document of this band, live in action during its faint, glimmering, short-lived first incarnation. These recordings were apparently made in front of an audience of less than a dozen people, the sum total of the patrons of a teensy Texas watering hole known as the Knite... You'd never know it was a near-empty room, though, from the intensity with which the threesome tackled each and every song. They were clearly a powerful, powerfully earnest band, covering oldies and adding new tunes to the hard country canon... These soundcheck recordings are remarkable for a variety of reasons... First off, songwriter Butch Hancock doesn't sing at all, while Jimmie Dale Gilmore was the main vocalist, surprising in itself, but made even more remarkable when you hear Joe Ely's vocals cut through on a couple of tunes -- Ely, the growling, grizzled road-warrior-to-be, singing with a high, youthful, almost nervous voice, singing beautifully, with a sincerity that matched the music. Although the studio album that came out of this group's first year was a bit on the reserved side, these live recordings are passionate and compelling: this is what a real 'billy band sounded like, back in the earliest days of the "outlaw" era. And it was mighty fine. Highly recommended!
A nice, understated swing'n'shuffle set by Texas sessionman Bobby Flores, who's been picking behind countless artists, including Ray Price, Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm, for the better part of three decades. Here, through the magic of the studio, he doubles up on fiddle and guitar, occasionally takes over on the pedal steel, and sings on all the vocal tracks. Justin Trevino and Jake Hooker add guest vocals on a track or two, and Ray Price nods his hat in Flores' direction, contributing liner notes that pay tribute to Flores' musicianship. The Ray Price connection is borne out on the album as well, with Flores crooning away in a very Pricelike fashion... Overall the disc is a bit sluggish, but it is drenched in true-country Texican authenticity -- the instrumental number, "Spicher Waltz," is particularly sweet, as is "Be A Good Girl," a fine duet with James Hooker. Worth checking out! (This disc can also be found through Flores' home page, at: http://www.bobbyflores.com.)
After kicking around LA's nascent alt.country, neo-traditionalist hick scene for several years, Rosie Flores got her big break on this major-label album, which has a several excellent tunes on it. Produced by Dwight Yoakam's right-hand man, guitarist Pete Anderson, this has all the sharp clarity of Anderson's production style, along with typically punchy hard country arrangements... "God May Forgive You (But I Won't)" is one of my favorite Flores tunes; other strong performances include "Crying Over You" and "I Gotta Know..." You have to admit, Flores has never had the world's greatest voice, but she sings with feeling, and has a lot of rough-edged charm. (Note: Rounder Records re-released this album on CD -- with several extra tracks! -- as Honky Tonk Reprise...) Worth checking out!
Rosie Flores "After The Farm" (HighTone, 1992)
Rosie Flores "Once More With Feeling" (HighTone, 1993)
Rosie Flores "Rockabilly Filly" (HighTone, 1995)
Although the album art shows Rosie striking a classic rockabilly pose, this is actually one of her more introspective and personal albums, less rooted in classic country or 'billy stylings, and more of a contemplative, folkie album. Maybe not what her rockabilly-inclined fans might have expected, but it does have some gems. "Who's Gonna Fix It Now," an ode to a father who's passed on, is a highlight... The second half of the album gets a bit bluesier and more uptempo, but the songwriting is still relatively dense... Nice record, though!
Alternating pretty evenly between upbeat, rockabilly-ish numbers and softer torch songs, this is one of Flores' most consistent, most confident albums. Flores has long been an Americana indie darling in part -- let's face it -- because her vocal talents have always been a bit modest. She doesn't have a great range, and her phrasing can be stiff, but she's never let that slow her down, and I think that accounts for much of her charm. It's kind of like hearing your neighbor or roommate at open mic night, except that Flores has made a successful career of it... Her albums have been uneven, though, and this disc marks a bit of a turning point in that, for once, she sounds more... relaxed, as if she's not worrying about the production or whether she's coming across strongly enough. She sounds more masterful... more professional, if you will. Instead of a rugged sprinkling of gems in an unevenly paced setting (like many of her other albums), this is an evenly satisfying set -- nice from beginning to end. Over the years, I've been a quiet skeptic as far as Flores has has been concerned, but I'm pretty taken with this record. Check it out!
For any late comers, this disc is a swell selection of tunes taken from Flores' three HighTone albums -- After The Farm, Once More With Feeling, and Rockabilly Filly -- and it's as compact a reading of her early '90s ouvre as you're likely to find... Fun stuff!
Fans will be delighted by this stripped-down live set which features Rosie at her most buoyant and upbeat...She doesn't have the most perfect voice, or always stay in tune, but she sure knows how to have fun and the gal sings and writes a lot of great songs, including several here that she's never recorded before. She starts out with an off-the-cuff recollection of when she broke into the maverick LA alt-country scene of the 1980s ("Palamino Days") and delves even deeper into her past with a particularly nice version of "Bandera Highway," which she dedicates to her father; in between is a brace of other fine songs and lively interaction between Flores and her audience. It's a really nice portrait of one of indiebilly's stalwart performers at her most charming. Worth checking out!
Alt.Country Albums - More Letter "F"
Hick Music Index