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AMERICAN KID; Patty Griffin

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Austin native Patty Griffin has had me as a fan for quite a few years now; her 2002 album, 1000 Kisses, will always rank among my all-time favorites. Her songs are straightforward: simple, lovely folk ballads, understated and a little sad. American Kid follows suit admirably, sticking to the stripped-down, beguiling melodies that make Griffin’s songwriting so moving. Her voice, the centerpiece of the album, is haunting as hell, whether barely there, like on the opening track, or on “That Kind of Lonely,” where she belts out notes impossibly strong for such a petite person.

With these songs, Griffin carries the banner of former eras passed down to her from the likes of Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris. And with each sweet, soulful chord on American Kid, my tarnished hope for modern music is restored.

Play of the Day:

"Fire of Time" - David Ramirez, The Rooster EP

You remind me.

Play of the Day:

"Olivia" - Rayland Baxter, Feathers & Fishhooks

If any of y’all out there are, like me, forever in the process of constructing and refining quality season-based playlists, this song deserves a spot for sure on your spring mix.

Play of the Day:

"I Feel It All" - Feist, The Reminder

Guys. Guys. Guys. Feist is awesome.

SYMPATHY; Scattered Trees

Sympathy is the perfect album for sinking into a forlorn evening of despondence by yourself. In the best way, of course! Nothing too fancy here, just synth-sprinkled, plaintive-voiced fodder for melancholy (my cup of tea). I almost get sort of mesmerized when I’m listening to this album; once I start listening to it, it feels so warm and sad and homey that I don’t want to turn it off. There’s also an element of lo-fi integrity to Sympathy, peeking through in discreetly fuzzy guitar chords and plodding cymbal crashes. Scattered Trees warmly and honestly offer what their album’s title suggests for those who (at the risk of sounding emo) resonate with their heartfelt angst.

THE LONE BELLOW; The Lone Bellow

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I’m sure these guys barely had time to catch their breath before their metaphorical snowball of a debut album started rolling downhill. In fact, over the last two months their self-branded “Brooklyn country” sound has really become quite the snowball-y force to be reckoned with. I happened to catch them at SXSW (one of two shows I went to), and what they lacked in performance finesse (which I attribute to their newcomer status to touring, and to the fact that it was one of the last in a hard-and-fast string of shows that week), they more than made up for in vocal prowess.

Indeed, The Lone Bellow’s strength lies in their powerful three-part harmonies, effortlessly framed by blues and, yes, even country songwriting. But hey, country haters, don’t let the label scare you off: I honestly think anyone who likes folk of any kind should give this album a try. From the warm strumming of their guitars, to the haunting voices, to the thoughtful progression of the songs on the record (tracks 3-5 are some of the best back-to-back I have listened to in recent memory), this album is a beguiling contender for best of the year in my book.

Also, this music video is stunning.

Play of the Day:

"Ramblin’ (Wo)man" - Cat Power, Jukebox

You gotta understand, that when the Lord made me, he made a ramblin’ woman.

Play of the Day:

"Oh God" - Citizens, Citizens

I am the pickiest of pickies when it comes to Christian music. That being said, I rarely recommend it, but when I do, I do so wholeheartedly. This song, the last on the album, sounds like it could be a missing track off a Manchester Orchestra record. (You know I dig it when I pull out the Manch Orch comparison.)

Play of the Day:

"Lightning Bolt" - Jake Bugg

I have many, many other exciting musical things in the works to write about soon, but for now I’ll leave you ladies and gents with a little gem I stumbled upon today: live from the KCRW studio, this NPR-proclaimed “19-year-old British boy wonder” channels some wicked Buddy Holly vibes, throwing it back 6 decades or so in fits of Telecaster glory. England gets this, and we get Justin Bieber… It just doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Best of ‘12, #7: TEN STORIES; mewithoutYou

This band has always been a ballast of reverence and eloquence in the punk rock scene, and their long-anticipated newest album upholds this standard magnificently. Ten Stories overflows with vivid fables, fervent confessions, and peculiar tall tales, all set to feverishly crashing guitars and vocals shredded with emotion. Not for the faint of heart, but a gem for those willing to immerse themselves in its restless, honest spirituality.

Best of ‘12, #6: A THING CALLED DIVINE FITS; Divine Fits

Speaking of side projects, Divine Fits is the new band of Britt Daniels (of Spoon fame), but don’t call it a side project. With Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade in on the deal, this album shimmers with small-time supergroup glory. Sharp, clappy beats keep edgy guitar chords in line for good clean indie rock fun.

Best of ‘12, #5: II, Bad Books

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The shared side project of Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, Bad Books channels the best of both acts. In the best sense, II could stand as an extension of either artist’s work, full of melancholy anthems, mostly laid back and guitar-based, but with a few upbeat numbers toward the front end of the record. “It Never Stops” (which I have posted previously) is one of my personal favorite songs of the year.

Best of ‘12, #4: RHYTHM AND REPOSE; Glen Hansard

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Fans of his hallmark presence on the Oscar-winning soundtrack of Once will not be disappointed in Hansard’s solo work. Forlorn and raw, his voice wails over deliberate, orchestral songwriting that demands your full attention and emotion. Though necessity may impose a genre on this album, the trite label of “folk” pales next to the stark, dramatic sentiment of Rhythm and Repose