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Folk/Country





I Am A Working Woman, Hear Me Roar

 There are record albums and songs that resonate to an unexpectedly great extent, not only because these songs are musically excellent but also because they clearly possess timeliness in regard to social change. In 1972, when Title IX’s educational protections for young women became the law of the land, Helen Ready roared out with her ubiquitous hit song, “I Am Woman”. 


In 1980 and 1984 respectively, as more women took careers seriously wearing dress-for-success suit outfits to work and more women were the sole breadwinner, two very popular tunes were “9 to 5” and “Manic Monday”. 

 

Austin singer-songwriter Grace Pettis just may hit similar musical gold this year with a timely societal  message. 

 

The title track of her latest album called “Working Woman”, released two days before Mother’s Day but which was written and produced last summer, addresses the pandemic re-realization that women’s work for corporations and for their own families not only remains undervalued but disproportionate to the amount shouldered by many men. Last year, homeschooling while working remotely often fell to the moms! So did covid safety, for example negotiating adult friendship “pods” and the children’s playdates, revealing lingering stereotypes that mothers should and do possess more social skills and more responsibility for familial caution than dad. 

 

With a rocking beat that sounds like an army of one almost ominously march-marching to speak up at the office about her work load on Monday morning, the title track “Working Woman” sets the tone for an album that motivates and entertains. 

 

In the vein of “9 to 5” and “Manic Monday”, Pettis’s empathic, mischievous and even rueful humor delightfully sustains the tradition here of consciousness-raising through self-recognition lightened by gentle sarcasm. 

 

“I Ain’t Your Mother” is the most all-out example of Pettis’ funny sense of humor that stings its target, in this case a spouse thinking every domestic responsibility belongs to his wife. 

 

Grace Pettis’ voice, an exquisitely soulful voice that brings to mind Mickey Guyton, Ann Wilson, Pat Benatar (and on “Tin Can”, Sia’s Chandelier”!) rather than a typical folk or country singer’s voice, makes the listener sit up and take notice. 

 

The warmth and strength of her pipes conceivably could make sympathetic listeners feel less isolated as they struggle with injustice. Male allies will feel good about Pettis’ music too. 

 

Her ample use of background vocals and esteemed folk colleagues including The Indigo Girls,  creates a sense of community. There are just so many great, appealing voices here. Women (and allies), you are not alone.

 

That a new phase of the woman’s movement has been taking place since March 2020 seems to resonate throughout this album. 

 

With only 2% of music producers being female, her non-binary band and team speaks volumes for Pettis’ commitment to feminist needs in the wake of this new phase of activism. Her band consists of: Ellen Angelico – Electric Guitar + Pedal Steel

, Megan Coleman – Drums, Ryan Madora – Bass Guitar, Kira Small – Organ + BGVs, 

Mary Bragg – BGVs and producer, and Rachael Moore, engineer.


-- Jill Blardinelli

 

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FRESH CUTS: “Do I Have To Feel Everything” Finds Sara Noelle In Full Bloom

Photo Credit: Erik Hayden

L.A. based singer-songwriter Sara Noelle is a self-described “ambient-folk” artist and she’s released the first single for her upcoming album (title and release date TBD). Entitled Do I Have To Feel Everything, it’s her first release since her late 2020 single Christmas at Sea.

Produced by Dan Duszynski, the new track begins with insistent harmony synths, before a lush, lightly vocoder-tinged chorus of Saras fills the listener’s ears. Throughout, liquid synth pads tastefully bathe the arrangement, like layers of crystal blue seawater. A simple but weighty bass drum heartbeat holds down the rhythm while toms occasionally tumble through. The song gently crescendos with a full complement of electronic drums and angelic, wordless vocals. Melodically, there are (not unwelcome) similarities to Fleetwood Mac and Death Cab For Cutie, but overall the track gives the impression of being both propulsive yet meditative. It’s a difficult balancing act but one that Noelle and Duszynski pull off with grace, as nothing seems out of place, although many things are happening at once.

Lyrically, the mention of the “silent year/like time stopped,” instantly brings to mind our collective Covid year. And while the vibe of the music is a positive one, lines like “I don’t know where and I don’t know where I am/The closer I get, the farther I am” hint at a persistent sense of limbo and uncertainty about the future that many of of are likely feeling. Although it’s especially resonant at this time in history, Sara Noelle’s track carries a certain timelessness in its lyrical feelings of alienation. Gabe Hernandez





Texas Textbooks Pay Tribute to the I-35 Corridor With "Birds"

Texas Textbooks’ “Birds” is a warm, twangy, surprisingly smart album just right for summer 2021. The band’s staunch localism, which might have been off putting in a less welcoming package, instead provides a solid roadmap for songs to please listeners in and out of Bat City.

To be sure, this is an Austin album almost to excess -- Texas Textbooks’ love of their hometown is explicit. Seriously, there’s a whole song just called “Grackle,” ending with a Floydian cacophony familiar to anyone who’s ever put away groceries under a treefull of those loud bird bastards. It’s baked into the music, too. Influence from Spoon, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead and even Fastball is clear in the musical choices made. It’s never dull or samey, however. Textbooks’ composition is pleasantly dense, jangly countrified pop (they say “twangcore” but we’re not absolutely persuaded that’s a thing) with bracing shots of samples and shimmery slide guitar.

Texas Textbooks also stand out from the twangy Texas indie crowd on literary merit. Lyrics are both fun and pleasantly poetic, with a few flourishes of real beauty. Themes range from prosaic (a trip to the HEB with extensive involvement from the aforementioned birds) to enjoyably preposterous (Janis Joplin and Jorge Luis Borges just missing one another -– in fairness, both were at UT in 1961 –- at a diner off Guadalupe), but always catch the attention. Texas Textbooks avoids putting out boring, over misty-eyed meditations on failed relationships and/or the American dream, instead throwing their net wide, snagging everything from the challenges of adult friendship to a fantasia on San Antonio’s 1968 Hemisfair global exhibition. That ambition serves them well and shows a quantum leap beyond their solid debut effort “Pecos & Matamoros.”

All in all, Texas Textbooks is a must-listen for anyone invested in indie pop or the culture of the I-35 corridor. “Birds” is available now through the Texas Textbooks Bandcamp. Check ‘em out.


-- Matt Salter

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Bad Psychic "Walking Around"

Bad Psychic has released a second single, "Walking Around", from her forthcoming album, Seeing Things, which is due out on June 18th.

This is the stripped down Psych Folk of multi-media artist Liv Mershon, and Seeing Things is the first new music from her since 2015. Earlier this month she released the album's lead single, "Moving Slow", and both tracks can be heard below.

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Elizabeth Wyld breaks silence on Quiet Year

Bobbie Gentry pops into my head occasoinally (and she's always welcome there) while listening to Elizabeth Wyld’s Quiet Year, the seven-song debut album she released earlier this month, whether in terms of vocal cadence or country twang or plain-spoken storytelling. Except on this record instead of stories about living a hardscrabble life in Chickasaw County, Mississippi and bridge jumpers and familial indifference, you get songs about leaving behind rural Virginia for the big city and dealing with vocal paralysis and romantic infatuation. But still if any marketing person wants to use “Elizabeth Wyld is the indie Bobbie Gentry this world needs” as a pull quote I’m not going to stop them.

Falling under the general rubric of indie-folk and alt-Americana closely associated with artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Angel Olson, and Kacey Musgraves, Quiet Year spans the stylistic gamut from its open-hearted, full-throated opener “I Still Believe In Ghosts" which depicts a road trip in terms equally brash and vulnerable (“pull over I’m taking it in / how’d I get here and where have I been?”) to the closer “Hudson” that moves with a slow, steady flow like its namesake river in tandem with lyrics about lovelorn enervation and resignation to the extent that it could lead one to spurn the advances of a foxy artistic type at a Brooklyn apartment party for no other reason than to go back home and wait on one’s errant, absentee lover.

Bigger picture-wise this appears to be an album about losing and re-locating (and remaking) one’s own voice in various metaphorical and literal senses—whether by speaking up for sexual self-determination via a set of Sapphic-themed Southern Gothic-tinged love songs, or seeking one’s voice by moving from the country to New York City, or recovering and retraining the literal voice after a year long struggle with a rare vocal cord condition.

Soon after completing a six-month engagement in Europe with a touring company of the Broadway revival of Hair, Elizabeth Wyld lost the ability to speak above a whisper and was diagnosed with unilateral vocal fold paralysis. No longer able to sing in any capacity much less to belt out tunes on stage, the self-described theater kid refocused her energy onto writing poetry and playing guitar which culminated in the songs heard on this record--a solitary creation made public after vocal cord surgery and rehabilitation, and turned into a record at Greenpoint's Studio G with the audio production/multi-instrumentalist assistance of Brooklyn-based Oscar Albis Rodriguez and Zach Jones who between them brought a range of experience reaching from extreme and nü-metal production to playing guitar in the pit band for the Spongebob Squarepants stage musical. So maybe change that pull quote to "Elizabeth Wyld is the new indie Squidward-meets-Degrader sonstress that this world needs". (Jason Lee)

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