Greensky Bluegrass is easily recognizable treasure to any music lover. You may have heard their unique cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” and “Breathe.”All For Money, their seventh studio album, is rich in quality and keeps the bar high.
The first impression is set by pleasing elements of bluegrass music generally absent from popular music. Savor the steady wit of fingerpicked banjo and lightning mandolin sweetly coursing by like a hummingbird. There’s a snappiness to the instrumentation that gets your toes tapping despite there being no drummer in the lineup. The five piece is more or less lead by the vocals and songwriting of mandolinist Paul Hoffman. The group also features, banjo, upright bass, guitar and dobro. After a couple verses, several songs including “What You Need” drift into some more ambient jams and solos adorned with modern effects.
The vocals are strong, humble and fitting. Across the album can be found traces of yelp and drawl. The lyrics are a major strength. At times more poetic than direct, several songs including “What You Need,” “Courage for the Road,” and “Collateral Damage,” bring different attitudes to the dilemma of relationship under strain, feeling the fear of each potential move forward. The sober content is set in relatively upbeat music, individual anguish in the midst of a playful and inspiring world outside.
“The moment lies like a kiss It leaves me faulted and under-prepared To deal with what comes next, the shame and emptiness Knowing better but choosing to fail
But this way we go leads nowhere This time is different, that’s what you always swear All these faults, these mistakes are mine to bear Without you around maybe I can change And if my mind felt clear, maybe I’d be saved Or empty and missed, unloved and unkissed Too broken from this and unable to dismiss I need a little courage for the road”
Months into living at home, being so close to our families for extended lengths of time, it’s easier than ever to nourish negative feelings and observations about those we love most. If you find yourself fanning these counterproductive flames, we have a most inspirational song writer to help us self-administer the requisite attitude adjustment. A couple tablespoons of his gratitude and tenderness might help to turn the brackish tide within ourselves.
Gregory Porter, the orchestral jazz phenomenon whose vocal prowess is exceeded only by his humility, recently released two short compilations Love Songs and Spiritual Songs.
A favorite is the opening track of the former, “If Love is Overrated.” The soft piano, swishing brushes, gently surging mallets and sparse bright conga hits transport to those acoustically specialized jazz venues. Porter’s vocals are as subtle, strong, expressive and restrained as any. The second verse begins “If love is overrated/ Why is it the only thing I serve? / If love is overrated / Why is the one I’m in the one that I deserve?” The purity of his message is disarming and nourishes the psyche. With any luck, it will inspire us to be better to those around us, who after all are the ones that lift us up in turn.
The new Forrest Day release begins beastly and energizing, with adrenaline bass thumps counted out with crisp high hats. A faint unique cavitation briefly lends tribal vibe. A short montage of leadership figures projects their absurd take on the pandemic and what to do about violators. It culminates in Philippine president Duterte saying “shoot them dead” right on the beat. Those words are held in an echo and the song transitions into a more playful dance piece with a sinister prowling bass line.
In a developing country barber shop, Forrest gets up mid haircut and plays the modulated main riff on his saxophone, still donning the gown. Additional excerpts from speeches and the trancelike refrain “quarantine dream” cycle in and out amid other playful noises, like silly groans and chopped up screams.
The video mostly alternates between two dance visuals, both captivating. The first is an impressive normcore clad performance cut across settings, including a street food lot with wild chickens, a crumbling hilltop basketball court and a brightly painted residential building. The other is a highly tattooed solo dancer in and out of the water on a tropical beach, decidedly gritty and erotic. Choreography is attributed to Gino Hate, Glenda Alday and Monica Herrera. Directed by Forrest Day, the video is well produced across the board, from sense of place to lighting, timing of cuts and pause-to-the-beat effects.
One of the great things about Forrest Day is that no two tracks sound the same. Their sound is distinct and they boast a wide range of elements done well: great singing and rap, relatable lyrics, soul, funkiness, jazziness, intense rock, and somehow they’re even better live. Check out the videos on their site and you’ll get it. They don’t seem to have hit the big time yet, so purch the merch if you can.
Made for a movie of the same name, the Dead Don’t Die couldn’t have played its part any better. It’s the opening credit background music as two officers roll through a foggy rural setting in a patrol car. This song is all classic country vibe, beginning with lap steel, stripped down click like the pendulum clock, and fiddle accents. Simpson nails the part with archetypal country vocal styling. The track is made for AM radio or a jukebox. The performance is understated, old school without any missteps to over accentuate the feeling. Lyrically the song seems a bit confined in its exploration of afterlife and may have taken on more dimension were it not created to set theme of a film.
The first original Stones release in eight years, “Living in a Ghost Town” is a relevant treat that will outlast this era. Putting into words the feelings and lackluster home life of quarantine, it laments the sudden lack of parties and live music sessions now replaced by screen time and longing. Mick Jagger’s vocals are in top form, as are the tasty guitar tones and tight rhythm section. Fans of their 1978 song “Miss You,” will enjoy the sonic breathing room, understated groove and shouty chorus hook.
Some say the song has a reggae feel to it, which is understandable given the backbeat organ accents and long (although faint) echo trails. Those trace elements seem practically unavoidable however when a R&B influenced rock band performs a song about ghosts.
In contrast to other covid period pieces, this track doesn’t feel cliché. It spares us the word “quarantine” and scarcely makes a direct reference, thereby relating to our feelings without an electric arc into the circuit of bad news. It could potentially resonate as well under different circumstances. This song should stand on its own even after society has moved onto whatever awaits us.