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Liner Notes

Releases from Ruston Kelly, India Ramey, Sheryl Crow and Robert Plant and Patty Griffin

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Alexa King
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Ruston Kelly

This week we are celebrating the release of new albums from Ruston Kelly and India Ramey, a new duet with Robert Plant and Patty Griffin, and a blistering protest song from Sheryl Crow.

Singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly just released his new album Shape & Destroy, an album filled to the brim with heart on his sleeve confessionalsKelly comes by it naturally, because of his love of emo music. Often maligned and overlooked the emo subgenera values authenticity over talent. Breeding a fervent fanbase that connects to artists on an emotional level rather than something sonically pleasing. Kelly has been wearing his emo badge proudly from the very beginning. Kelly has collaborated with some of the most foundational people in the subgenera. Working with Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis for Kelly’s first album 2017’s Halloween. Since then Kelly has teamed up with Weezer conspirator Jarrad K for Kelly’s two most recent albums, Dying Star released in 2018, and Shape & Destroy

Over three albums Ruston Kelly is incrementally smoothing out the rough edges of his early work. It’s not exactly Dylan going electric, but it is a delicate balance for someone with his emo bona fides. Luckily, for fans and his expanding audience, Kelly never betrays lyrical vulnerability for a catchy melody. On Shape & Destroy Kelly’s voice soars to places it has never been and he continues to fill out the richness of the music.

Podcaster, mythological figure Robert Plant and storied Americana artist Patty Griffin, rock n roll through Charlie Feathers' “Too Much Alike.”  The rockabilly classic is transformed into a playful Western swing duet. Plant and Griffin strip the song of its herky-jerky tempo, yelping background singers, and Feathers’ vocal warble. There is an undeniable love and warmth in the pairs back and forth. Even though the song is ostensibly about a couple that has broken up, the duet feels like we are eavesdropping on the affectionate banter of a longterm relationship filled with love and laughter. Each line is delivered in an aching sentimentality calling upon the couple's shared history. Hopefully, the couple can stay together and we can get more duets with Robert Plant and Patty Griffin. 

Sheryl Crow unleashes “In The End,” an unapologetic barnburner pointed straight at Donald Trump, his enablers, and his followers. Crow comes out swinging with a crunching guitar riff, grunting over a bloody knuckled drumbeat and a throbbing bass line serves as the foundation for her acid-tongued lyrics. Crow sings, “There's a fly on the wall in the house on the hill/ Where the king of the world watches TV/ And the people await for his latest mandate/ To a nation of angry believers/ His words are a trap,” depicting President Trump. She continues with, “His words are a trap while his loyal band of thugs/ Cover up all his many transgressions/ The fly lands on his ear and whispers, "What's there to fear/ As long as you're still the obsession?,” calling out the mob-like crimes and coverups by the administration. 

Crow’s most biting critique was saved for Christian Trump supporters. Pointing out the oppression done in the name Jesus Christ, “There’s a man on the cross with His arms open wide/ And a fear that they'll quench the world's fires/ But His name is a shield to the ones who would fear/ Their own power and greed, and desire.” Like a prophetic voice from the Bible, Crow warns and rebukes the followers of Jesus. Using the rhetorical style and themes of Jesus she gives the deceived and the vile an off-ramp into the values hypocritically proclaim. Singing, “Is it too late to turn back now?/Too late to turn around?/ You’ll get one chance in this life/ You can turn around things or you can close your eyes/ In the end, did you feed them?/ How’d you treat them?/ Is it so hard to love?/ In the end, like you mean it, like you've seen it/ You get back what you give. Everyone needs to hear Sheryl Crow’s “In The End” and heed her call for actions of love. 

India Ramey has battled monsters her entire life and she continues the fight on her new album Shallow Grave available September 4. Growing up in a home with an abusive father and then protecting victims of domestic violence as Deputy District Attorney in Montgomery, Alabama. Ramey continues to take down monsters as a musician. On her first nationwide release Snake Handler Ramey interrogated and exorcized the demons of the gothic south.

Shallow Grave is a horror-tinged Americana album with dashes of honky-tonk tempos, lamenting peddle steel, and East Nashville revelry. Ramey is the perfect mixture of Loretta Lynn, Neko Case, and a steady diet of horror movies. She bursts with a dark strength and an independent streak. The two best examples of the energy she exudes are “Up To No Good” and “King Of the Ashes.”  

On “Up To No Good” Ramey performs a supercharged honkey-tonk banger, reminiscent of Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City.” Ramey doesn’t know the word timid as she belts, “Well I’ve been down so bad lately I don’t know what to do / Can’t seem to get away from all the gloom and doom / Every time I read the news, it’s clear we’re all screwed / I’ve been down so bad so tonight I’m up to no good.” With raucous glee, Ramey celebrates a night of debauchery and gives the middle finger to “Mr. Pick Up Dude,” because she’s not his “party favor.”

“King Of the Ashes” is Ramey's warning and encouraging anyone that will listen to stop the Trump administration. Ramey warns everyone about “a wolf in the cloak of the sheep” who “preys on the fearful and the weak.” In Ramey’s warning, she tells listeners to rise up and stop the train before it crashes, because the monster will “burn it down just to be king of the ashes.”  She encourages us to “never shut up, because hate is gasoline and silence is the matches.” The song rambles, slithers, and trembles in a dark simplicity. Remey’s voice feels like a coiled rattlesnake reared and ready to strike the monster intruding her community. When Remey rattles she is not warning the monster to back off, but a warning, a calling to all the rattlesnakes to rise up, “Now pay attention, children, and be brave/ It's in your hands to make this darkness go away/ Turn away from childish things/ And all the suffering they bring/ Stand up to the bigots and the wicked/ Or be their slave.”

You can stream her album release concert live at The 5 Spot for free on September 4, starting at 7 pm.

Cory Martin is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., writing about movies, music and pop culture.