New Releases: Brandy Clark & Brandi Carlile, Billy Pilgram, Low Cut Connie and Joachim Cooder
Brandy Clark and Brandi Carlile team up to reveal the commonality of pain, on the new song “Same Devil.” The double-barreled powerhouse of Clark and Carlile is stunning. With a morose tinge, the duo invites us to feel the pain of other people, particularly those who we are ideologically opposed. “Same Devil” is a song for right now and does something very different than most political songs. Clark and Carlile want us to see the other side and how we all struggle.
“Same Devil” opens with minor-key acoustic guitar plucks, sounding like a gothic version of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark.” Hollow notes ring, feeling at a distance Clark’s chord progression provokes a profound emptiness and sadness. Because the chords sound so interesting we are pulled in contemplating the feelings squeezed from our soul. As we lean in Clark begins painting vignettes that would give Norman Rockwell nightmares. We are introduced to a girl willing to sell her soul for drugs and a mother fearful every time the phone rings because she’s an overdose away from burying a child. Then we meet a boy terrified of bullies at school and the eternal damnation his father preaches because he is inflicted with the “sin” of being gay.
In the chorus, Clark and Carlile divulge they are trying to show us the suffering of others. Calling for empathy and the ability to see ourselves and our loved ones in the downtrodden characters.
The second verse Clark turns the song squarely on politicians singing, “There's a suit wearin' snake with a million-dollar smile/ Shakin' hands with a rat just across the aisle/ You voted for the snake and I voted for the rat/ They’re rolln' in the dough we’re fightin' for scraps.” We’ve been duped and have misaligned the focus of our anger towards those also suffering in the world. Clark and Carlile are pointing at the people getting rich and gaining power while pitting us against each other. Clark and Carlile are telling us we are all wrestling with our own demons, but together we can turn our attention to the devil in command and upend our hell on Earth.
Some careers go up in flames, but it is typically a figure of speech. In the year 2000 Billy Pilgrim lost their final album in a studio fire and they never recovered. The band had been ascending on the back of their first two albums and were featured on Melrose Place and My So-Called Life. The band spent close to five years working on their third album In The Time Machine, but as they were putting the final touches on the album a fire consumed the master tapes. Billy Pilgrim shortly after split up and the duo moved on to other projects. Kristian Bush teamed up with Jennifer Nettles and started the group Sugarland, and Andrew Hyra went on to perform with Smokin’ Novas.
A fire may have squashed the band's momentum, but a pandemic caused a discovery. Bush was organizing during quarantine and found a CD containing all of the music previously believed to have been lost 20 years earlier. A shocking find, Bush reconnected with Hyra and plotted to release In The Time Machine. Billy Pilgrim officially reunited and worked on remastering the album from the CD.
Overall production of the album is distinctly 90’s with dead snare drums, jam band influenced bass lines, and open guitar strumming. In the Time Machine’s first track “Open All Night” jangles like a Matthew Sweet classic. The lead single “Tumblelane” sounds like Toad the Wet Sprocket with a noodling bass line. U2’s “One” is invoked on “Billy in the Time Machine.” “Hard Rain” is in the vein of a mid-tempo Wallflowers song. Billy Pilgrim’s In The Time Machine feels like you are stepping into a time machine sending you to 90’s post alternative rock.
Low Cut Connie is known for keeping the raucous sleaze in rock n’ roll, but the uplifting soul single “Help Me” catches them doing a good deed when no one is watching. “Help Me’ bubbles with joy while the world is a wet blanket, bringing to mind Fitz and the Tantrums “Moneygrabber.” Don’t let the comparison throw you off, Low Cut Connie still has the rough around the edges vibe. On “What Has Happened to Me” a sludgy Rolling Stones by way of The Velvet Underground churns in a seedy dive bar. You can hear broken ivory as fingers bang on piano keys, you can smell the sweat of the drummer pounding trash can cymbals, and see blood smeared fretboards as cut fingers bend strings beyond ear ringing, this is rock n’ roll. Look for Low Cut Connie’s full-length Private Lives, out October 13.
Joachim Cooder had completely forgotten about the songs his father Ry Cooder, would perform around the house when he was a little boy. Not until he brought his daughter to see her grandfather was he reintroduced to the music of Uncle Dave Macon. Joachim witnessed the magnetism of Uncle Dave Macon as his daughter fell in love with the songs. Joachim started playing the electric mbira along with his father. They slowed the songs down just a bit and was struck by the otherworldly sound the altered tempo and mbira had on the music. Inspired by the mix of an African thumb piano and old songs, Joachim made an album of the songs spread by Uncle Dave Macon.
Joachim’s interpretations maintain the musicality of Uncle Dave Macon’s songs, but he completely removed the hummingbird thrust of the music. The transformed songs sound sweet, delicate, with a lullaby quality. Joachim’s innovative approach and instrumentation may have created a new subgenera of bluegrass, tweegrass.
Cory Martin is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., writing about movies, music and pop culture.