Technically the Neilson release came in March last year, but I only found it earlier this month and it’s getting a limited vinyl run in a couple weeks, so fuck it, it’s a 2015 release. Thought I’d be wrapping up more 2014 stuff before moving on, and I’m sure I still will (which is what I’ve said for the last two years and still haven’t done), but one of this records was so good I couldn’t stand keeping it to myself any longer.
JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE – Absent Fathers (Vagrant): Sometimes I wonder what became of the JTE that penned “Harlem River Blues.” While last year’s Single Mothers was one of his more (maybe most) impressive album to date—because it had strong melodies to lift up his illustrations of lives-without-dads—Absent Fathers sinks back into the slow malaise of Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now. More tunes about fallen families finely played and convincingly moaned, but no matter how smart his lyrics get he won’t keep my attention ‘til he figures out how to differentiate the sound and delivery of what is essentially one long song. B PLUS (*)
TAMI NEILSON – Dynamite! (Bandcamp download): In which New Zealand’s Tami Neilson serves as conduit for American honky-tonk and rockabilly spirits of yesteryear with songs you’d swear were covers if only you could remember from where. So chameleonic it could pose as a long-lost gem only recently recovered, this album isn’t merely about sounding like Patsy Cline or Roy Orbison (the way frauds like Nick Waterhouse attempt to simulate swing) so much as it is about reinvigorating seemingly tired tropes by breathing life into old traditions: falsely enumerating in every other line in a mock-list hinting at an affair (“Cry Over You”), coloring a character portrait of an early-60s, B-level caper flick anti-heroine a la “Secret Agent Man” (“Dynamite”), or anthropomorphizing seeming innocuities like a bumblebee to equate sexual favors (“Honey Girl”). Period-era artist, sure. But the parameters she sets are deliberate, not debilitating—freedom to explore rather than self-imposed prison. Can’t have enough fun with this honey girl. A MINUS