Another gathering of releases by independent artists that deserve wide recognition.
Digging Up the Scars
Neilson Hubbard may be best known as a producer, arranger, and musical craftsman who leaves a definitive mark on every project he’s involved in. His recent oversight of Amy Speace’s latest album, There Used To Be Horses Here, offers just one example. Still, that’s not to negate his solo outings, the latest of which, Digging Up the Scars, reflects the depth of Hubbard’s astonishing creativity. With hushed yet emotive vocals and consistently expansive arrangements, he crafts luminous melodies that literally seem to shimmer and shine. With the help of his go-to ensemble The Orphan Brigade and guest luminaries like singer Garrison Starr and guitarist Will Kimbrough, he turns songs such as “Where You Been?” “The End of the Road,” “Slipping Away,” “Fall Into My Arms,” and the soaring title track into works of quintessential beauty. Simply stated, this album is absolutely enticing.
Journey to the Sun
A journeyman singer/songwriter from the U.K., Peter Bruntnell’s ongoing series of exceptional albums belie the fact that he remains largely unknown here in the States. He doesn’t confine himself to any particular MO, but instead, simply focuses on songs that ring with anthemic intent. With his latest entry, Journey to the Sun, Bruntnell purveys a mix of folk, supple psychedelia, and introspective insight, remarkably hitting the target every time. Showing his skills on a varied array of instrumentation— guitars, bouzouki, bass, synths, keyboards, lap steel, and banjo— he and erstwhile keyboardist and collaborator Peter Linnane make music that’s as articulate as it is engaging. “Mutha,” “Dharma Liar,” “Runaway Car,” and the gorgeous traditional ballad “Wild Mountain Thyme” stir melody and mystique in equal measure, and create a beguiling brew in the process. Ultimately, Journey to the Sun evolves as a radiant journey that’s well worth experiencing.
The Desert Trilogy EPs — Ghosts, The Burning Heart, Sand and Blood
Scotland’s Dean Owens seems unstoppable. Following his career compilation, The Man From Leith, and the album that preceded it, Southern Wind— the latter having been well received at the 2019 U.K. Americana Awards— Owens recently embarked on a series of four-song EPs meant to preview his next album, Sinner’s Shrine, recorded in Tucson pre-pandemic alongside the band Calexico. Due to release early next year, its set-up is assured by the current EPs. Of the dozen tracks, four are from the upcoming effort, four were culled from the album sessions, and another four were written and recorded long-distance during the lockdown. All share Owens’ fascination for the American Southwest, and while each claims a specific origin, they all convey Owens’ idyllic intent. “Here Comes Paul Newman” and “Riverline” sound like samples of a soundtrack intended for a Sergio Leone film. “Land of the Hummingbird” and “Dolina” boast a supple sway, while “Mother Road” and “The End” are intriguing, yet expressive—part of an aural soundscape that’s varied, vibrant, and thoroughly fascinating.
Life in the Pond
Roger Chapman is legendary, but the fame he achieved in the U.K. in the ’60s and ’70s never truly translated to the U.S. Those who are familiar with him likely know him best as the frontman for the band Family, a prog-leaning, semi-psychedelic outfit that lured Dave Mason to produce their debut album and later spawned Rick Grech, the bassist who went on to play with Blind Faith. Chapman’s guttural goat-like wail ensured the fact he stood out from the fray, and his efforts with the band Streetwalkers and later, on his own, helped bolster his reputation among his devotees. Despite dozens of albums to his credit, his first effort in 12 years, Life in the Pond, makes for an auspicious entry, not only because it finds “Chappo” returning to his roots in early R&B, but also because it reunites him with Poli Palmer, a key collaborator in Family. Songs such as “The Playtime Is Over,” “After the Rain,” and “Nightmare #5” take a harsh view of recent worldwide circumstances, but happily, Chapman’s presence remains as potent as ever.
Been Here Before
Kevin Daniel’s assured style and diligent delivery create a rugged first impression, but it’s that authenticity and authority that makes Daniel’s sound so viable. The twelve songs that make up his new album ring with a resilience that leaves no doubt as to his commitment to cause. Specific selections such as “Single in the Center” and “Don’t See the Light” convey the kind of conviction that every singer/songwriter aims for, and in Daniel’s case, it’s clear he’s achieved it. Likewise, a track titled “A Sorrow Laden Song” (Don’t read the lyrics, I am fine) seems intent on upending an otherwise downcast impression, but here again, Daniel eschews any attempt at posturing or pretense. Supple touches—Peter Okonski’s shimmering keyboard fill on “Me, No Myself & I,” the seamless harmonies on “Lovemares,” Ashlee Joy Hardee’s shared vocal on “My Oh My”— enhance the proceedings while adding a prerequisite edge and enticement. Indeed, Been Here Before is an apt title, one that reflects the fact that Daniel effectively absorbed whatever lessons he learned early on.