CD Reviews: Jeffrey Foucault, “Horse Latitudes”; Amy Black, “One Time”; Dawes, “Nothing Is Wrong”

Jeff Foucault, “Horse Latitudes” (out now)

How can such contemporary tunes sound so timeless?

At times, Jeffrey Foucault’s latest, “Horse Latitudes,” sounds like it came straight from the dusty plains of the Old West, sometimes it seems to capture the spark and spirit of ‘70s electric Neil Young. The Western Mass.-by-way-of Wisconsin native’s 10 tunes criss-cross the boundaries of folk and rock offering his take on love, life and redemption.

The title cut, which opens the album with spare drum and bass and the ring of a pedal steel guitar, immediately sets the tone – as Foucault hauntingly sings imagery of time and place: “Drifting into horse latitudes/The Language of thirst/A false communion/The iron taste of blood/In your mouth/The wild blue.”

Many of the songs rise and fall in intensity on a full band of some top-notch players including Eric Heywood on pedal steel, Billy Conway on drums, Jennifer Condos on bass and Van Dyke Parks on keys. “Last Night I Dreamed of Television” opens quietly and builds to some scorched electric guitar lines.

And while some tunes rock, others, such as “Starlight and Static” and “Goners Most,” are more intimate affairs of acoustic guitar and Foucault’s husky, yet near whisper of a voice, echoed by the sweet harmonies of his singer-songwriter wife, Kris Delmhorst.

The album reaches its apex with “Everybody’s Famous,” a searing rocker with a great electric organ run that seems to condemn a society overrun by social media and reality TV: “Everybody knows you/They saw your billboard in the rain/They heard your Mama crying/When you forgot your own real name/And she voted for your heartbreak/And she smiled at your shame/Everybody’s famous/Everyone’s the same.”

The album closes with the very simple guitar and voice “Tea and Tobacco.” Sounds like a perfect way to end a day whether on the prairie or after a hard day at the office.

Amy Black, “One Time” (out now)

I received my copy of Amy Black’s new album, “One Time,” the same day one of my friends gushed to me in an email about seeing her perform recently at a local music festival. Is this karma? I think so.

Another talented New England artist, Amy Black’s new release is an ear-opener, as she confidently straddles the line between country and folk. Her passion and energy are immediately apparent in the foot-stomping bluegrassy opener “Run Johnny,” as she exhorts the murderous Johnny to get out before the lawmen come.

Black, who’s parents are from Alabama, certainly shows her roots on a pair of covers, Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and the gospel standard “Ain’t No Grave.” She offers a third cover, of Kris Delmhorst’s “Words Fail You.’’

But as the title track , “One Time,” proves, her own material holds up nicely to others’ tunes. It reminds me of early Michelle Shocked with defiant Loretta Lynn-esque lyrics: “You got to stand right up/look him in the eye/Say, ‘Baby, baby, this bird’s gotta fly’.”

Black enlists a stellar group of local musicians — including Mark Erelli, Lyle Brewer and Tim Gearan — as her backing band while getting some tasty fiddle and mandolin help from Nashville legend Stuart Duncan.

Erelli’s mandolin and dobro by Roger Williams elegantly paint the background for “Molly,” as Black imagines the life of a woman who lived in the building before her. “Meet Me on the Dance Floor” sounds like it would be right at home on an Eilen Jewell album.

Produced by longtime Lori McKenna collaborator Lorne Entress, the album is at its best when it swings either playfully, seductively or scoldingly as on songs such as “Stay” and “All My Love.”

Dawes, “Nothing Is Wrong” (out now)

I first wrote about Dawes when I named them one of Modern Acoustic’s “6 Artists to Watch” in the March 2010 issue (No. 28, click HERE). At the time, few knew about the California quartet or had heard its now critically acclaimed debut, “North Hills” (released in June 2009). Now, in just little over a year, this band has exploded, gathering rave reviews, providing backing for the Band legend Robbie Robertson on tour, and in the case of frontman Taylor Goldsmith, finding yet more fame and success in the splinter supergroup Middle Brother.

Dawes’ claim to fame is the rejuvenation of the Laurel Canyon sound made famous in the ‘70s by the likes of Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and CSN. You can clearly hear it in their sound.

On their new album, “Nothing Is Wrong,” Dawes continues its musical ride through the LA hills. Goldsmith, who shares the vocal chores with real brother and drummer Griffin, has written a new batch of songs that seem wise beyond his years. On “If I Wanted Someone,” he sings, “I took everything I thought from what it means to be a man/ we need words to be put to what we do not understand/ while you lean into the echoes and you do not raise a hand/ oh woman, help me see it like it is.”

In songs like “Time Spent in Los Angeles” and “My Way Back Home” there’s a feeling of wandering to and from home — perhaps influenced by the band’s nonstop touring — trying to make sense of life’s trials and tribulations.

My original attraction to Dawes — what I referred to in that 2010 article as a “California version of the Avett Brothers; dreamy harmonies over lush acoustic-leaning instrumentation” – is still intact. Though quite few tunes have a sharper, more electric feel to them. “Coming Back to a Man” gets a kick from some up-front drumming and harmonica blowing and “Fire Away” gets some added crackle from a guitar solo and the added firepower of Jackson Browne on vocals and Benmont Tench on keys.

In the end, there is little embellishment needed to make the songs on “Nothing Is Wrong” feel meaningful. They just feel right.

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