Anna Coogan and North 19
What do Led Zeppelin and North 19 have in common? Both bands’ lead singers have recently gone country. Four years ago Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant was a rock star and North 19 chanteuse Anna Coogan was an opera singer. Now they’re both crooning alongside acoustic roots musicians—Plant is currently recording a duets album with leading bluegrass lady Alison Krauss and Coogan is boom-chucking her way through country-laced originals backed by banjo, dobro and pedal steel accompaniments on Glory.
This second release from Coogan and her Seattle-based band has the quiet, rainy-day feeling of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, but without the moody, brooding, upper-nose-pinched-between-the-forefinger-and-thumb dejection of Adams’ opus. Coogan’s songs deal eloquently with the wonderings and soggy wanderings that come with a young adulthood spent in the Pacific Northwest, but rather than dwelling in dreariness, Coogan embraces the silver linings offered by all those clouds, ultimately making for hopeful songs. And as for delivery, the instrumentalists keep it clean and appropriate, granting Coogan’s voice plenty of space to narrate without straining. Whether that’s the case with the upcoming Plant/Krauss collaboration is yet to be heard, but this new-to-country singer fills the void until then. (Caroline Keys)
Anna Coogan and North 19 play Break Espresso Saturday, Nov. 18, at 8 PM. Tom Catmull opens. $8.
The Amber Gatherers
The Amber Gatherers is one of those melodramatic albums that wavers on the edge of unintentional comedy. After all, song titles like “I Had a Kiss of the King’s Hand,” “Let Me Lie and Bleed Awhile” and “The Calfless Cow” are so antiquated and formal, it’s hard not to chuckle a little.
In the end, though, for those of us prone to fantasy-land nerdiness, it’s hard not to get caught up in Alasdair Roberts’ Middle Earth-like world, which maintains its credibility through rich imagery and ever-pressing earnestness. Roberts and his back-up musicians play everything from the basic trinity of electric guitar, bass and drums to the more exotic psaltery, dulcimer and accordion. Despite the various instruments, The Amber Gatherers feels like a simple Scottish folk album with its themes of nature’s beauty and death’s grim inevitability. “Waxwing,” the most memorable song, begins in celebration and shifts into darker tones when Roberts sings: “I’ll die in a canyon of echoes, you’ll still hear me sing…” Still, it’s unclear if Roberts is being entirely straightforward, and sometimes his lyrics seem just sly enough to imply a songwriter’s wink to anyone listening closely, giving this anachronistic album a hint of mystery. (Erika Fredrickson)
Alasdair Roberts opens for The Decemberists Thursday, Nov. 16, at 9 PM at the Wilma Theatre. The show is sold out.
The Snake Trap
At Home in a Hostile World
Australian Cattle God Records
This Austin-based instrumental trio, which records on the same label as locals The International Playboys, provides a veritable catchall rock soundtrack on At Home in a Hostile World. Time signatures switch in and out like musical influences throughout the 11-song effort—part punk, part metal, part math, part emo, with just a hint of heady space rock. Think Oxes with wires and less posing.
Guitarist Lee Brooks, bassist Taj Mihelich and drummer Bryan Nelson joined together two years ago and have stayed mostly tied to their native Texas. But with this debut, The Snake Trap is primed for a wider introduction. The opening “Redheaded Manual Festival” is a gentle start, with Brooks making quick, melodic work of the small gaps in Mihelich’s burbling bassline; it’s one of the few tracks that goes, for the most part, easy on the listener, like that free piece of candy that lures the kid into the kidnapper’s car. Not so gentle are the blitzes of “28 & 7/8” and “Red Bug.”
The band’s coup de grace, though, is a three-part epic, “Four Sores & Seven Beers Ago,” which, for more than 30 minutes, jerks in and out of melodic fuzz-filled riffs and power-chord fusion, scale-jumping basslines and stick-shattering drumming, with no regard for nothing. It’s a steamrolling jumble of sound, gorgeous and sweaty, skillful and reckless. Turn it up loud. (Skylar Browning)
The Pnuma Trio
Live From Out There
There are moments on their debut album when The Pnuma Trio digs their electronic jam band claws into something classy: measured rhythms that just scream for a dark lounge full of slicked-back hair and clinking cocktails. And since this is a live album, the blanket of chatter and peppered yells of “woo hoo!” from the crowd make it feel even more like a social event. Unfortunately, loungey interludes and crowd murmurings become the most entertaining aspects of this album. That’s not because The Pnuma Trio isn’t talented, but because they can’t quite pull off the sensation of a live show on this recording. Songs like “Air” and “Robot” are rare exceptions—the space-jam mood of both is almost enticing when entwined with cacophonous chords and succinct, jazz-driven drum beats. However, most of these songs merely catapult into hurried, barely danceable beats, mundane funk riffs and echoing keyboard progressions that stumble over each other with overeager sloppiness.
Clearly The Pnuma Trio has the wherewithal to design more intricate instrumentation with exacting force, so when they fail to do it on this album, it just feels lazy. (Erika Fredrickson)