Brooklyn songwriter and banjo master Matt Bauer mines traditional American folk music, especially mountain music and old-time ballads, as the framework for his impressionistic, sometimes hallucinatory, songs. His new album, The Island Moved in the Storm, loosely based on the true story of an unidentified woman whose body was found in Kentucky in 1968, will be released on Sept. 2.
Mariee Sioux, Faces in the Rocks (Grass Roots Record Co., 2007)
When you tour with someone and hear their songs every night for, say, six or seven weeks, you find out how much you actually like their music. After hearing “Flowers and Blood” and “Buried in Teeth” and “Friendboats” for about 30 nights in a row, I still wanted to hear Mariee sing them again. Her voice and melodies slay me, and every night I’d hear some new phrase or image in the lyrics that I’d missed before and it would blow me away.
Jolie Holland, The Living and the Dead (Anti-, 2008)
Jolie makes me think of Bill Monroe in a funny way. Like him, she’s just so good on every front—a great vocalist, writer, fiddle player, arranger, every aspect. Plus she just goes for it, artistically and emotionally. Putting yourself out there like that takes real guts and generosity. “Mexico City” is amazing. “The Future” is another song that just kills me. The sentiment and emotional insight are totally unique.
Frank Black and the Catholics, Frank Black and the Catholics (SpinART, 1998)
I rediscovered this record recently while trying to figure out something to keep me awake on a drive from Montreal to Toronto on about two-and-a-half hours of sleep. It’s so good! My friend Jack says Frank Black is like the Philip K. Dick of punk or indie rock or whatever it is he does. And it’s true. How on earth can someone sing about time travel and angels and the Roman Empire and living to be several hundred years old and not only not sound stupid, but create this world that’s funny and fantastic and actually heart-wrenching and deep all at once?
Last of the Blacksmiths, Young Family Song (Vanguard Squad, 2008)
One of my very favorite bands recorded by one of my favorite producers, Desmond Shea. Lots of space, beautiful songs, intricate arrangements, great harmonies. Pretty much everything I like.
Human Bell, Human Bell (Thrill Jockey, 2008)
Three-piece instrumental band from Baltimore with members of Lungfish and Arbouretum. Hypnotic and intricate but not at all fussy. Guitar harmony, but not proggy. A really satisfying mix of thoughtful and brutal.
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Music from the Motion Picture The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Mute, 2007)
I was skeptical when someone recommended this because I’ve never really been into Nick Cave. Mostly I don’t get his lyrics and vocal delivery—I guess I can’t tell if he’s joking or not. I think maybe not, but it might be better if he were! Anyway, these are all instrumentals and they are really stunning. For me, this is one of those records, like Jesse Sykes’ Oh, My Girl or Death Vessel’s Stay Close, that I can listen to three or four or five times in a row and just enjoy every second.
George Jones, Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years (Polygram, 1994)
Some of his earliest recordings. Kind of raw and crazy and really amazing. These days so many country singers think of George Jones as sort of the gold standard of what a country singer should sound like. So it’s interesting to hear him so young, trying different styles, often sounding a heck of a lot like Hank Williams in his phrasing and delivery.