When Sara Softich was 10 years old her mother spent her last $600 to buy her a piano. As it relates to Softich’s 2004 debut, Rusted & Bent, this is a worthless tidbit of knowledge—that effort showcased her flare for boot-kicking bluegrass, such as the opening romp “Old Man Winter”; she breaks out the piano on only one song.
But the Duluth, Minn., native changes her tune with her recently released Pipe Dream, an album she dedicates to her mother. Here, Softich tickles the ivories, turns the lights down and eases listeners deep into the cushions of a plush sofa; if Rusted & Bent was made for drinking whiskey, Pipe Dream requires a neat martini, with just a speck of sawdust floating near the surface.
Softich’s sudden switch—and her ability to actually pull it off with two different, but equally enjoyable albums—is a testament to her casually gorgeous vocals. She has a delivery similar to that of fellow alt-country crooner Kasey Chambers—never straining, never preening. At times, she sounds like Emmylou Harris singing in the shower. The title track and the poppy carnival ballad “Down in the Cellar” are the best examples on Pipe Dream.
While the new album isn’t nearly as raucous as Rusted & Bent, it’s still a delicate and sweetly crafted collection of songs. Mom’s $600 was well spent. (Skylar Browning,)
Sara Softich plays the Crystal Theatre Thursday, Jan. 19, at 8 PM. $8 in advance, $10 at the door, $2 off for Missoula Folklore Society members.
Until the End of the World
When you first glance at the cover of Empire, the debut album from local artist Digiacide (aka Guy Young), the upside-down American flag sends the message that this’ll be just another album by another angry band lambasting the Bush administration. But you can’t always find truth in an album cover. What you will find on Empire is a political diatribe, but it’s also a well-produced and professional-sounding album of instrumental hip-hop, carefully crafted from a variety of sample sources including string and brass instruments, piano, political speeches and drum kits.
The overall feel of Empire is reminiscent of work by instrumental hip-hop pioneer DJ Shadow, as well as the jazz-influenced trip-hop of Amon Tobin.
And yes, the album is political, but not in the usual sense of mindlessly spewed reasons to despise Bush. It’s more thoughtful than the usual rant. While Digiacide does have two politically-oriented lyrical tracks from local MC Linkletter (on “Slavery Inc.” and “Occupation=Resistance”), the majority of the album conveys Young’s own political musings through multiple speech samples—for instance, on the title track he ends with a line from former presidential candidate Wesley Clark, “In a democracy, if you love your country…then you have to fight for it…You need to use your mind, and your voice, and your ideas.”
Empire is a worthy listen for fans of instrumental hip-hop, and it’s an excellent expression of Young’s frustration and sadness at our blemished political climate. (Ira Sather-Olson)
Empire is available locally at Ear Candy Music.
Jeni Fleming Trio
On the recently released album from this popular Bozeman jazz-influenced trio, one song stands out as different from any other. In one of their many covers, Jeni applies her striking voice to Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” and the version seems to scuff up some of the trio’s crystal smooth surface, roughening their edges and peeling back a layer of Vegas showmanship to spring a rare leak of raw emotion. When Jeni hits the low notes of the chorus, and repeats the title line against her husband Jake’s muted saxophone and the slide of an electric guitar, there’s a genuine, bone-deep resolve that comes through the headphones. It’s a memorable and affecting version of a song you’d expect to be too tired to carry such lasting influence.
The only problem is that the feeling resonating from this one cover is never duplicated on Someday, Sometime. The rest of the tracks—including more mainstream covers, such as Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Somewhere,” as well as originals penned by Jake and Jeni—are meticulously and expertly arranged to the verge of lifelessness. Chad Langford sounds perfect on the upright bass, Jake’s guitar work is flawless and Jeni’s voice is, as always, a worthy centerpiece, but the package comes across like plastic flowers—beautiful, but without heart.
Someday, Sometime would be a better listen if the trio got just a little more crazy, just a little more often. (Skylar Browning)
Hell Can Wait
Hell Can Wai
t Hell Can Wait, the newest album by Carlos Guitarlos, exudes authenticity even if you’re unfamiliar with the San Francisco street musician’s strange and harrowing life of illness, poverty and (finally) recognition. The album is a revolving door of R&B, country, soul and rockabilly all centered on Guitarlos and his gravelly voice—pipes in the same vein as Waylon or Willie, and rich as deep southern blues.
It’s a measure of his talent that even though Guitarlos never really changes his vocal style, the songs—whether blues with a rumba swing, zydeco zeal or down-home twang—become transformative backgrounds to his voice as if in each instance he was born to sing that particular style.
Hell Can Wait has its standard blues ditties, and they’re adequate, but Guitarlos is far more stunning when he shoots for the country boot-stomping of “My Old Dead Body” or the fingerpickin’ madness of “Love Me From the Start,” which features playful slide guitar and cheeky lyrics.
Hell Can Wait is an appropriate title for heavy themes of troubled love, liquor and poverty that permeate Guitarlos’ life. But the album’s spirited tone, shepherded by a man who has truly lived hard, makes the title seem almost defiantly optimistic. (Erika Fredrickson)