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Home Is Where the Hearts Are

The Kamikaze Hearts
The Kamikaze Hearts • (KH003)

The Kamikaze Hearts’ third CD offers eight sterling songs recorded home-fi style by producer Brent Gordon . . . in his kitchen. Which is perfect, actually, for all the same reasons that the best parts of a house party always take place betwixt refrigerator, sink and stove, late at night after the rabble have headed home. There’s a certain intimacy, a comfort (food) zone, a shoeless familiarity, and a huggable honesty that can easily take place in a kitchen—but rarely takes place in a studio or a concert hall.

The Kamikaze Hearts is simply fraught with such feelings of hominess and comfort, the aural equivalent of sitting on the kitchen counter with your best pals, telling stories and lies, sharing milk and memories, knowing you really need to be getting to bed . . . but staying stuck where you are anyway, caught in the buzz of a moment you don’t want to extinguish, not yet. And that makes The Kamikaze Hearts an album to treasure, a collection of songs so well written and so perfectly arranged and performed that you can’t help but put it in the “classics” section of your record collection.

Guitarist Troy Pohl, bassist Bob Buckley, drummer Gaven Richard and multi- instrumentalist Matthew Loiacono each shine throughout this record’s run, together creating a rugged, modern American folk- instrumental bed atop which they pile ragged, honest four-part vocal harmonies, calling to mind some haunting combination of Civil War campfire dirges and the best moments of the Grateful Dead’s landmark American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead records.

The album’s best songs—“Weekend in Western New York,” “Secret Handshake,” “War Horse” and (most especially) “Beverly Hills”—provide some deeply pleasurable and memorable auditory moments, with each of those songs also graced with thoughtful and thought-provoking lyrics, displaying a rich level of maturity (and sometimes world-weariness) that one rarely encounters from such relatively young songwriters and performers. The Kamikaze Hearts have it in ’em to be big like Jesus, but here’s hoping that they’ll never, ever outgrow their willingness to make kitchen music for kitchen people, the kinds of recordings that we need so very desperately in these pasteurized and pro-tooled days of our collective discontent.

—J. Eric Smith

Jimmy Scott
Falling in Love Is Wonderful • (Rhino)

Now in his late 70s, Jimmy Scott has lived a life fraught with one quietly dramatic disappointment after another. He learned at age 13 that he was born with a rare genetic deficiency in which he would bypass the hormonal changes of puberty. Scott found release and glorious expression in singing, and by the end of the ’40s he’d become something of a sensation with Lionel Hampton’s band (who dubbed him Little Jimmy Scott, because of his diminutive size and high voice). But as the ’50s rolled along, various circumstances hobbled his career at every step.

One such circumstance befell what should’ve been a breakthrough album. Produced by Ray Charles for his own Tangerine label, Falling in Love Is Wonderful was released 40 years ago, but pulled from circulation when Savoy Records’ Herman Lubinsky waved yet again Scott’s irredeemably lopsided contract, and grudge trumped art.

Finally available, the album’s 10 songs are as perfect as jazz singing gets. Scott rolls across the lush orchestral subtleties like a gazelle in a sun-dappled field. There are now numerous recent recordings by Scott, whose comeback over the past 10 years has been sweetly savored by a man who seems to bear no grudges, handling his decades as a nurse’s aide and shipping clerk with unwavering pride. This long-lost album is a timeless and essential chapter in Scott’s life and music.

—David Greenberger

Hayseed
In Other Words • (Artist Friendly)

Hayseed, who recently moved to the Capital Region, honed his pipes in the Pentecostal church in his native western Kentucky, where as a kid he was encouraged to belt to his heart’s content and let the echoes rumble around in the rafters. And all of that uninhibited vocal training and plain natural talent contributed to one burly, resonant instrument. He released his debut, Melic, in 1998 and even though it was essentially a set of tweaked demos, accolades rained down from people such as Lucinda Williams, who guested on the album. Williams, who is not prone to hyperbole, told No Depression magazine that the time-transcendent quality of Hayseed’s muse was on a par with the work of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison. In a story all too familiar, Watermelon Records tanked and Melic didn’t reach a mass audience (although Hayseed was able to retrieve ownership of his album).

Melic was remarkable not only for Hayseed’s vocals but also for his songwriting. The album seemed to have one foot in old-timey and gospel traditions and one foot firmly in the concerns of contemporary culture, with a bright literary streak running through the proceedings.

It may seem an odd choice then that, for his sophomore outing, In Other Words, Hayseed chose to do an album of covers; however, the results are uplifting. He cherry-picked a bunch of tunes by artists working the fringes of country (Americana, alt-country, whatever you want to call it), including Tommy Womack, Duane Jarvis and Tim Carroll. He also tackled the traditional gospel tune “Farther Along” as a duet with Emmylou Harris. Helping Hayseed (who doesn’t play an instrument) bring these songs to life are longtime collaborator Richard “Hombre” Price and a bunch of fine players. Upon listening to the primarily acoustic and wonderfully organic effort (which is dedicated to Hayseed’s father, the late Rev. Dwight Wyant), it doesn’t seem like such a strange move after all, but a perfect follow-up to Melic. And given Hayseed’s penchant for bucking expectations, it’s fitting that he included a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in the liner notes—for it was Emerson who suggested that the best artists adopt no models, but forge their own paths. And that seems to be exactly what Hayseed is doing with his new-millennium country-gospel.

—Erik Hage

Cary Hudson
The Phoenix • (Black Dog)

Cary Hudson could have contin-ued using the Blue Mountain moniker, but out of respect for his fallen alliance with ex-wife Laurie Stirrat (twin sister of the only non-fireable Wilco member, John Stirrat), he presents himself as a solo act on The Phoenix. The intention remains the same, however, as does Hudson’s affinity for the rock-trio format. Fans of Blue Mountain’s roots intentions (particularly their more rocked-out live sound) won’t find themselves out of sorts on this solid effort.

The disc opens with the sprung funky blues of “High Heel Sneakers,” which is smothered in some gleefully sleazy slide guitar and comes off like the Band channeling Exile on Main Street via “Cripple Creek.” “By Your Side,” “Lovin’ Touch” and the title track find Hudson (who sounds like he’s at one of those older-guy life junctures) adopting a more reflective and ruminative stance. He doesn’t get too mired in the navel gazing, however: “Bend With the Wind” is a rousing dose of countrified rock & roll, while “Mad, Bad & Dangerous” is a defiantly cathartic barroom blues rocker.

Hudson even emerges unscathed on a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Don’t Never Change,” the sole cover here—though I remain of the opinion that it’s best to leave the otherworldly soul-shaking tunes of Blind Willie to their procreator. Nevertheless, Hudson has some fun with the track, trading down the knee-tremblings of the original for a Stonesy barroom brawl that once again features his smoldering slide. The acoustic country blues of “August Afternoon” finishes off the disc in fine fashion, leaving one with the impression that, Blue Mountain aside, Hudson’s got a lot of vital music left in him.

—E.H.


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