About Music: Spring 2019
All CD Reviews by Mariss Mctucker
Hawthorne Roots: On Second Thought
Here’s a band to reckon with. Fronted by sisters Madeline and Emma Kelly, Bozeman’s Hawthorne Roots deliver a knockout punch on their debut EP. They feature stellar pickers Lucas Mace, lead guitar, Dustin Crowson, bass, and Michael DeJaynes, drums and percussion. Kevin McHugh sits in on keys, as does a monster horn section, with Jon Gauer on trombone, Tanner Fruit, saxophone, and Nathan Crawford, trumpet.
Besides sporting awesome vocal cords, along with her sister, Madeline Kelly plays rhythm guitar; Mace and DeJaynes contribute vocals, too. Madeline wrote and arranged the songs.
The songbirds grew up in a musical family and Madeline began to pen songs at 16. She moved to Bozeman in 2008 to attend school, and older sis Emma followed five years later. Soon, the Hawthorne Roots were born.
The band calls their music “revved-up soul.” That’s evident in the killer chops both Emma and Madeline Kelly possess. The gals’ sisterly harmonies are perfectly in sync, the timbre of Emma’s lusty alto complementing Madeline’s sweet, high register.
“Fine Line,” co-arranged by Mace, is a bluesy, slow hip-shaker with a nifty chord progression. As on most songs here, the younger Kelly sings lead. Emma shares the lead at times, and matches Madeline’s inflections on the harmonies. Both singers bend and slide notes and mesh phrasing, showing their terrific vocal control. This scintillating sonic blend is accompanied by stinging guitar breaks, punchy horns, and bass and drums that percolate around the vocals.
“Glasses,” with DeJaynes singing lead, has a rockin’ Muscle Shoals flair, and on “Ray,” Madeline seems to channel Amy Winehouse, with a slight Stevie Nicks trill thrown in.
To hear vocal pyrotechnics and crackerjack musicianship, don’t miss this band.
Hemispheres: The Corners of Mountains
Helena’s Kate Plummer, guitar, and Maren Haynes Marchesini, cello, have released their first album together. Plummer, from Sydney, Australia, and Marchesini, from Bozeman, each traveled the world, touring with oodles of prestigious musicians before crossing paths in the Capital City.
Plummer, who has solo albums to her credit, steeped herself in Sydney’s eclectic music scene, playing blues, rock and jazz, and later honed her chops on country and blues. Marchesini has a doctorate in ethnomusicology and studied with pros around the globe. She played in indie rock bands to boot, and currently teaches.
When Plummer was considering a home-cooked album of instrumental music, she asked Marchesini to play on one of the pieces, and they clicked. The band name represents their diverse backgrounds.
Plummer wrote all the songs, drawing on her travels and experiences, and love of Montana. But they collaborated on the cello parts, and also nabbed two accomplished Helena musicians to help on the project: David Casey, bouzouki, and Josh Loveland, percussion. The musicians weave the various genres of acoustic, instrumental, indie and folk into a gorgeous whole.
“Mountains Over Flathead” starts with succinct guitar phrasing underpinned by drony, rich cello bowing. It morphs into a complex round, the cello echoing the fluid guitar flourishes. Pretty!
In “Jonah’s Song,” wistful cello lines sway alongside finger-style guitar, then seems to float overtop, like film-score music. The western, folky “Colorado, By the River” sports some silky guitar finger-pickin’ as the bouzouki and cello trade off unison leads and harmonies. Cool!
“Waking Up to Snow” has stops and starts, the spooky ping of harmonics and growling, sandpapery cello work. The tempo slows as a new theme is introduced, bell-like. Wow! This album is layered and polished, with sterling production values.
June West: Road of Love and Life
Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist June West calls both Missoula and Tucson home. She grew up in the Garden City, helped start the country-rock band the Best Westerns, and played with Death Moth, a country-folk outfit.
West calls her music “soul for the soul,” and cites influences like Natalie Prass, Angel Olsen, Ricki Lee Jones, and Joni Mitchell. But I also hear the silky tones of Sade, who displays the same hypnotic sensibility.
Her collaborators are Tucsonans: Connor “Catfish” Gallagher, lead guitar and pedal steel; Grant Beyschau, bass and saxophone; Jarvis Taveniere, bass and percussion; Adan Martinez-Kee, drums; and Julian Neel, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, and organ. West plays rhythm guitar, Wurlitzer, piano, and percussion; Lori LeChien sings back-up vocals.
West’s opulent, alluring melodies derive from a luscious stew of soul, country, and folk nuances, fused with pop. The 10 tracks meld all of these genres and provide an exotic feel that complements her expressive voice.
The tropical, tranquil bent to “Island of Women” counters its not-so-subtle message. It’s an upside-down take, if you will, on the Sirens myth. West bemoans the reality that men take advantage of women.
The bluesy “No Words to Say” has an inventive chord progression, and West adds a Ricki Lee Jones lilt to her voice in the slow country-blues number, “What I Am.”
In the slow-rockin’ “The Comedown,” with its ’60s R&B feel and an infectious hook, West sings, “I’m puttin’ your letters back on the shelf.” There’s a reverby sax interlude, too. Cool!
And on “Game to Claim,” West utters in glossy velvet tones, “You’ve got me driftin’ in tangles of your kisses.” Good line!
West funded this self-titled first effort through a Kickstarter campaign, and there’s a lot more here to wrap your ears around. I’d do it.
Letter B: Catch Me When I Fall
Missoula’s Letter B band calls themselves an “indie-hip-pop” group. On their second release after Moving Forward, I hear nuances of hip-hop, yes, but hey! – there are cool melodies and infectious hooks, thoughtful lyrics and excellent musicianship. How refreshing! So yes, “indie-hip-pop” nails it.
Letter B began with brother-sister duo Jordan Lane and Katie C in 2014. Jordan had performed and sung around Missoula for several years; Katie joined him after writing a poem called Letter B. It got her writing and performing with her brother.
The siblings are joined by Dillon Johns, bass, Lhanna Writesel, saxophone, Josh Hungate, trombone, and Brandon Zimmer, drums. Lane adds guitar, keys, and lead vocals, and Katie C, vocals.
Lane wrote the five songs here, but the musicians wrote their own parts. The roots-rock band plays tight, intricate phrases, while Lane’s robust baritone voice sails smoothly over cascading lyrics à la Dave Matthews.
“Wake Up” features Lane singing about living through the pain of his parents’ divorce. “You try to stand tough, you need to wake up,” he sings, voice full of emotion. The song builds with a pulsating riff from sax and guitar, punctuated at times by the gunshot rat-a-tat of a perfectly placed snare drum. “The Wolves” has an exotic beat and a bluesy ambience, along with stutter-step drum work and a wailin’ sax break. Lane sings about going your own way, making a break from the pack.
“MUYM” (“Made Up Your Mind”) opens onto the voice of Barbara Jordan, who gave the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. There’s knockout bass playing, and Katie C shares vocals with Lane in places, their voices perfectly meshed.
There’s a lot packed into this EP. This band is going places!
Martha Scanlan: The River and the Light
Songbird Martha Scanlan, who resides near Missoula, has her fourth album out in 11 years. The reclusive singer/songwriter, a guitar player and former member of the old-time string band the Reeltime Travelers, has appeared on NPR and shared the stage with celebrated roots artists. Back when, she soaked up the music of eastern Tennessee, and was heavily influenced by that personal connection between people and their natural surroundings that infuses traditional music.
She moved west to a Montana ranch and wedded her compositions to the Treasure State’s rivers and wide-open spaces. Her songs are quiet and sparse; they’re simple, yet ring with vivid, intimate descriptions underpinned by drony guitar chords that ride beneath Scanlan’s delicate soprano. Such alchemy defines her music.
She’s accompanied on this effort by long-time collaborator Jon Neufeld, who plays a slew of instruments, including all kinds of guitars, mandolin, dulcimer, omnichord, and an mbira (think thumb piano). He also contributes vocals. Acclaimed roots musician Dirk Powell, fiddle and accordion, and Black Prairie’s Annalisa Tornfelt, fiddle and vocals, flesh out the album.
“Brother Was Dying,” with its fuzzed-up guitar, is bluesy and shuffly, belying its bittersweet title. Scanlan sings, “remember the time when you rode with me, chasing light chasing time, you were young and you were with me.”
“West Virginia Rain” has a folky country beat and a soaring fiddle interlude, and “Buttermilk Road” is a whimsical, idyllic paean to a loved one. “Only a River/True-Eyed Angel” opens as an instrumental tune, slow and strangely eerie, before it segues to Scanlan’s vocals: “I’ll swing you in circles in the arms of an eddy in the sweet flowing river.”
Scanlan continues to adorn her albums with pretty melodies and eloquent lyrics.
The Road Agents: Dreams of Stingrays, Roadrunners, and Hangovers
The duo of Jeff Peterson, Bozeman, and Justin Ringsak, Helena, play “Southwest Montana acoustic rock and roll.” Peterson, guitar and vocals, wrote all the songs here, and Ringsak, mandolin and backing vocals, contributed his instrumental parts.
The fellas have professional careers, so music is a fun sideline. They both left Montana for a while, and love being back, playing in small towns and breweries.
Travel is in their blood, and the songs highlight the lure of the highway. The music is clean and uncluttered. Infectious rhythms, long sustained intros and interludes of guitar chording, coupled with mando riffs, set up that feeling of constant motion. But there’s a desire to return home, too, as detailed in “Highway 191.”
“All Alone” is a nice country loper, and “Fire” reminds us to relax, don’t stress the small things.
Peterson spent a lot of time in the desert, and those experiences color his writing. His scratchy baritone trembles with emotion; it’s rough-hewn and authentic.
In the exotic “Border Story,” he growls lyrics, pouring out a litany of cities he’s visited, and describes the lay of the land, conveying a vivid visual feel. Writing about true-life events makes the songs believable, Peterson says.
“Fossil Creek” is about taking risks, seeking new experiences, to make us feel alive. The song is in a spooky minor key, imparting a feeling of foreboding. Peterson hikes out of a canyon in a blizzard at night in one verse, then shares his fear while lost in a desert cave in another. His party gets out alive only after discovering a bottle of malt liquor left next to a hidden shaft showing the way out. That’s definitely worth singing about!