Dig These Discs: The Sadies, Thievery Corporation, Ryan Adams, Tim Darcy, Tift Merritt
Ryan Adams releases his first full-length album since 2014, written during a very public and acrimonious divorce from Mandy Moore. Washington, D.C.-based recording artist and DC Collective Thievery Corporation, aka Rob Garza, Eric Hilton and their supporting artists, release their 10th studio album, a collection of 15 far-flying cuts. The Sadies, a Canadian rock/country quartet formed in 1994, are back with yet another album, this one produced in the band member's parent's basement. Singer Tim Darcy says au revoir to his Montreal bandmates in Ought, and strikes out on his own, releasing his debut solo album, "Saturday Night." Big thanks to our Canadian neighbors for being all "aboot" the music in this edition of Dig These Discs.
"Prisoner" (Ryan Adams)
Ryan Adams gets epic for a second, releasing "Prisoner," the follow-up to "1989," his song-for-song remake of Taylor Swift's album of the same name. It's his first full-length album since 2014, and he wrote it while going through a very public and acrimonious divorce from Mandy Moore. He said it was also inspired by Bruce Hornsby's work from the '80s. It's a dozen streamlined cuts that show Adams dealing with the post-"Heartbreaker" detritus of a life torn apart by heartbreak. His lead single "Do You Still Love Me?" features a funereal opening that cedes to an '80s electric guitar power chord sound. The bulk of the song is him just asking the title question over and over, but that doesn't lessen its power. The title track posits Adams as his own jailor, in a house full of haunted memories, which he revisits later in "Haunted House." Harmonica gives a real Americana feel to the mid-tempo cut "Doomsday," as Adams asks, "My love, how can you complicate a kiss?" He's done with the ghosts, as he sings, "I don't want to live in this 'Haunted House' anymore." He's missing her hard in the guitar track "Shiver and Shake," losing sleep, "close my eyes, I see you with some guy/ Laughing like you never even knew I was alive." The sentiment bleeds over into the next folksy track "To Be Without You." He released this second single during the holiday season, and it's an excellent guitar cut about the hole in his heart, with lyrics like, "nothing left to say or really even wonder/ we are like a book and every page is so torn." The heartache is palpable, and you just have to thank Adams for being brave enough to share it. He's only got lies to tell in "Anything I Say To You Now," and battles for his wits in the track "Breakdown." Adams gets the freight train sound via strumming in "Outbound Train," and goes the sour grapes route in the catchy cut, "Broken Anyway." His rootsy "Tightrope" incorporates horns to great effect, and Adams finishes the album with the slow jam, "We Disappear," warning that he "ain't got nothing for you but a bag of tricks and a broken noose/ Nobody hangs around that's got something to lose." Record-heads take note: limited box set purchases get a special straight-to-vinyl version of the single, "Do You Still Love Me?" "Prisoner" is a brutally honest and refreshingly spare illustration of a heartache and its eventual repair.
(Pax Am/Blue Note)
"The Temple of I and I" (Thievery Corporation)
Washington, D.C.-based recording artist and DC Collective Thievery Corporation -- aka Rob Garza, Eric Hilton and their supporting artists -- release their 10th studio album, a collection of 15 far-flying tracks. The musical style of this longtime gay favorite includes elements of reggae, hip-hop, dub, acid jazz, bossa nova, Indian Classical and Brazilian. As the title indicates, this album is inspired by and recorded in Jamaica. It still features their trademark lo-fi ambient sound, but it's got a real reggae influence, with lots of live instrumentation and guest vocalists. The echo effect slows things down in the first track, "Thief Rockers," and electro keyboard nicely compliments the lightning-fast female rap vocals in "Letter to the Editor." You'll bob your head along to the infectious beat of "Strike the Root" and their single "Ghetto Matrix," with the refrain, "It's on you, it's your mind, it's a complex plan that keeps us confined." Traditional reggae patter moves "True Sons of Zion" along, and the largely instrumental title track takes the listener on an audible journey. The female, French-language vocals of "Time and Space" harken back to their last album, the wildly successful "Suadade." And they warn that "love can change so quickly" in the louche hit, "Love Has No Heart." The repetition of "Lose to Find" will lull you into a trance; you'll get that groove back with the mesmerizing trip-hop cut, "Let the Chalice Blaze." The reggae vibe shuffles into "Weapons of Distraction" and "Road Block." Thievery Corp is back to hip-hop with the defiant "Fight to Survive." They end the album with the reggae tracks, "Babylon Falling" and "Drop Your Guns." The band takes off on their European tour on February 15, playing dates in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the UK, the Chez Republic and more.
"Northern Passages" (The Sadies)
The Sadies, a Canadian rock/country band formed in 1994, are back with yet another album, this one produced in the band members' parent's basement. Sporting the cover image of the aurora borealis taken by David Kilabuk in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, the album features 11 tight, short songs. The four-piece act, comprised of singer/guitarists Dallas and Travis Good, bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky, add psych-rock flourishes to their first track, "Riverview Fog," giving it the easygoing vibe of a Grateful Dead cover. The frantic-paced rockabilly cut, "Another Season Again" finds them yearning for the winter, praying for "the coldest night/Forever Arctic white, So dark and yet so bright/Hail the Northern Lights." Regrets mark "There Are No Words," and the slightly hippy-dippy "The Elements Song" cautions, "Drastic times bring drastic measures" as it warns: "If you want to be released from the shackles of regret, you must forgive and not forget." Kurt Vile took time out of his busy schedule to record the vocals on "It's Easy (Like Walking)," and completely dominates it. He reportedly became a Sadies convert years ago, after touring in support of the band. The snare drum gets a workout here, as it peppers vocals like, "My left hand's got a permanent air guitar tick/ but don't confuse it with a crutch 'cause I like it a lot/ You could say my hands got fancy footwork/ dancing up and down my fret neck." The fast-moving fiddles turn "Through Strange Eyes" into a rockabilly anthem, as The Sadies sing about seeing themselves through someone else's eyes, and walking in the devil's shoes. This formerly "alt-country" band adds a countrified cut, "God Bless the Infidels," but here, it's a scathing takedown of religious hypocrisy. Brush strokes over drums add a nice drag to the regret-laden track, "The Good Years," with unsettling lyrics like, "he haunted her before he was dead." Complicated fretwork makes "As Above, So Below" an interesting listen, and a luckless loser looks at his life in "Questions I've Never Asked." The Sadies end a bittersweet album with the largely instrumental cut, "The Noise Museum." They head back to Canada this month, with tour dates throughout Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and more.
(Yep Roc Records)
"Stitch of the World" (Tift Merritt)
Singer/songwriter releases her seventh studio album, ten folksy, country-tinged cuts. She gets things moving with "Dusty Old Man," and adds a pleading note to her fine voice in "Heartache Is an Uphill Climb," giving a Bonnie Raitt edge to it. Acoustic guitar tools around in "My Boat," a tune about the boat she's having custom-made to order, and all the folks she'll welcome aboard for great times to be had. It's a bit hokey, but somehow still sticks in your mind. Merritt puts her soprano chops to good use in "Love Soldiers On," an ode to the indestructible nature of true love. Her "Stitch of the World" has a world music sound in its howling chords. She takes things slowly and carefully in the spare track "Icarus," about that doomed boy who flew too close to the sun. She follows this enigmatic piece with the upbeat country strummer "Proclamation Bones." Sam Beam lends help on the album's final three cuts. Merritt lets her feelings be known in "Something Came Over Me," but proceeds more cautiously in "Eastern Light," with its pleasing acoustic stylings. She finishes the album with the delicate, upbeat track "Wait for Me." For folksy country stylings, you can't beat Merritt's soft touch.
(Yep Roc Records)
"Saturday Night" (Tim Darcy)
Singer Tim Darcy says 'au revoir' to his Montreal bandmates in Ought, and strikes out on his own, releasing his debut solo album, "Saturday Night." His sound is a lot like DTD column-mate Ryan Adams: all folksy Americana. Undeniably the album's strongest song, "Tall Glass of Water" is a rollicking track in the style of The Strokes. The video shows multiple iterations of Darcy passing himself as he confidently strides through L.A. asking, "Would you chance it all again?" He strums up a cacophony that eventually settles into itself in the enigmatic "Joan, Pt. 1, 2." It merges into "You Felt Comfort," an electric guitar power play. Darcy tones the noise down with the sing-song patter of "Still Waking Up," which humorously begins, "Release the hounds/ you're saying while you're sleeping next to me." "First Final Days" is an instrumental cut, and the title track "Saturday Night" blends drums, spoken word, strings, and ambient sound in bewildering, ear-splitting layers. If this is how he spends his weekend, count me out. The off-kilter, lo-fi sound of "Found My Limit" puts the listener in an uncomfortable spot. "St Germain" is muddy with a lot of bass, and his heavy piano dirge gets you down in "What'd You Release?" It seamlessly merges into "Beyond Me" with its scraping string composition. The album ends quietly, with the sounds of nature in the short track, "Joan, Pt. 3" merging halfway through into Darcy's rallying cry. The album is a solid 11 tracks of folksy music, but the unnecessarily showy instrumentation often obscures Darcy's thoughtful lyrics. Some constructive criticism: ramp down the speakers, but not the enthusiasm.