Jon Dee Graham is as solid as moonrock no dust on him. He's hurtled like a comet through the Austin music scene with the True Believers, backed great individual artists - Kelly Willis, John Doe, Michelle Shocked and still found time as he mellowed slightly to bring out three solo discs. Last of these Summerland was marked by some great songs played with a softer touch. Had the hard rock heart gone out of him. Was a life buried in Texas middle age dust beckoning. Well despite the mellow father image and his middle-age the good news is he ain't. First track, produced in LA as opposed to Austin, is a firecracker. So the comet returns. Maybe not quite burning with the True Believers intensity but with some solid songs in his wake. The tracks have great titles The Restraining Order Song for instance or The Huisache Tree. There's a knocked off quality and modesty to them that belies the honest craftsmanship at work. At first the rockier production and sheen was off-putting but repeated listening revealed a wealth of subtlety as in the finger-picked intro to I Go Too that wouldn't disgrace a Dave Alvin album.
There's also an acknowledgment of his Mexican influences on Volver that includes Tejano artist Little Joe. No fake roots show this it is a part of the man.
There are obvious influences. Listen to his rendition of the Waits gem Way Down In The Hole and it's obvious he permeates a lot of Graham's approach beyond the gravel bottom voice. Laredo (small dark something) could have come from one of Waits's nightmares. All in all a pretty solid set of songs and another step up for the kid from Quemado,Texas where a bright moon on a dark desert night was a welcome sight. Hooray for the moon indeed chico.

New West NW6036
Into the pond of millennium year two recordings fell with such force that they're still leaving ripples on the bank. The first was Migala's journey into the heart of darkness 'Arde' and the second came with a spilled pomegranate on the cover and stains throughout. Diana Darby's debut is as good as I've ever heard. Forget Gillian Welch / Lucinda Williams when it comes to poetry as song this young woman out of Houston is tapping into the duende. A surface shimmer of punk/pop and brooding English folk laps at the feet of the ghost of Sandy Denny as she skirts the lake of the blues. The subject matter skims across abuse and sorrow with a voice that literally feels as if the sky is crying. The hands rowing the boat are experienced. Will Rigby of the DB's, Mark Spencer of the Blood Oranges, Mark Bosquist etc. The backings are as precise and evocative as copper etchings behind the fragile figure in a print dress. Like listening to trees fade and wither. The overall feel is mid seventies in a way and I kept thinking of Planet Waves. Standout tracks are the Appalachian ballad 'Malcolm's Song', 'Sarah' and the almost Blondie meets Patti Smith 'She won't be quiet no more' but really it's a near faultless first recording. Diana Darby is now resident in Nashville and is teaching poetry. Looks like the worlds of literature and song may be the richer for that. A black dog turned up on her doorstep and never left….'Blackdog' pays tribute in a mellow country form to both Nick Drake and Jesse Winchester's songs of that title but leaves us with the sound of pure Darby. Closer 'Amelia' is a Leonard Cohen tune made completely her own…and there are stains on the carpet in her house of the setting sun.
Delmore Recording Company 2001
The cover is fragile, pastel colours - feathers and leaves. A bit like the music inside. Lyrics are sparse, intimate, off kilter musings on relationships, failure, intimate distances. Phelan has scratched these surfaces before in previous group South and more recently with fellow Jagjaguwar label bands Drunk and Spokane. His antecedents are plain but somehow there's more than the obvious bossa-nova hints, the fake-jazz flourishes. Basically the reason he gets away with such preciousness is because a) it's so well recorded and b) he can write a tune and c) he has a beautifully understated folky voice. There are a lot of wonderful moments on this record and it really repays close listening. There is even a lovely ambient instrumental track that somehow hints at a west coast vibe. That's what separates this disc from the more run of the mill 'abstract' records around. Whilst treading on the thin ice of the new age lake it remains tightly focussed and balanced because of the breadth of references. Think Calexico if they'd spent the winter in the far north snowed in with Glass and Cage, Eno and a set of minimalist paintings for company. The lyrical are sparse but reveal hidden depths. Jagjaguwar have also released a CD of poet Robert Creeley recorded by a member of one of their bands. All in all there's a hell of a lot going on at that label. Maybe a new Black Mountain is rising up above the indie mists. Meanwhile this is a record to immerse in and try and catch the echoes of "the snow beneath/ these icy leaves".
Jagjaguwar JAG 30
In the darkness let there be light and as the storm clouds gather U.S.A. songster/preacher Bill Mallonee and a cut down VOL threesome, along with various other musical apostles, deliver their most focussed and brightest work yet. Years of touring and seven or more albums in and he is still fired by a democratic Christian intensity. The cover itself is resplendent with a vivid red flower and the whole production and ambition shown here suggests that VOL are picking up the early REM crown from the dusty highway and driving onward. The lyrics are as lyrical as ever - moonlight, starlight, dreams…Bill has never been one content with the dirt when he has stars to aim for. The title track is beautifully crafted, dripping in harmony and that REM-like jangle careering on like the first Byrds track of the 21st century. Mallonee is also a consummate solo acoustic performer and the Beatlesque slowdown of Galaxy[gonna be alright] survives it's dreamy backing long enough to hurtle itself at the stars. There is personal balladry too but again set off by shimmering backing tracks. Then a hint of the brothers Davies in Stand Beside me before the surrealistic lyrics of S.O.S.[The Crush of Velvet Glove Starlight] and I guess only Bill knows what that is about but the backing is superb. Then the prophetic Putting Out Fires With Gasoline a punky take on the spirit of Five Miles High..'..back in the U.K. , "still I can't come down".."it's a disney world trailer park from here to kingdom come" well if it wasn't already it might soon be and you can be sure that like Wesley on his horse Bill will be there shining a torch into the darkness trying to glimpse salvation. The strings and acoustic guitars of Green Summer Lawn evoke the Kinks and Beatles again before the album heads into the sunset with another typically REM-strum-along and final act Sailors[The Reddest Room] which is more like a John Stewart ballad and magical.. a word that sums up this chapter in the VOL fairytale.
Compass Records 743202

Third album and the Spanish combo known as Migala spread their collective angel wings. Perhaps it is the increasing recognition overseas ( Subpop singles end of 2000) or the increasing sophistication of the avant-indie end of things in general as in Godspeed, Oldham, Calexico etc that has brought this gumbo to the boil. Second instrumental track 'El caballo del malo' outshines the Tuscon twosome with the swirling radio-dial electronica meshing with the sons of Morricone soundtrack. Then with a savage edit it sounds like we're in a late night Spanish bar or a desert trailer watching tv, mumbled voices, fingerpicked guitar. Piano surfaces and a voice so deep and sad it makes Tindersticks look positively jaunty. 'we thought the wind was howling for us' -millennium despair? Not a party record that's for sure. The black notes of previous efforts 'Diciembre 3 a.m.' and 'Asi duele un verano' are here made to look grey -wiped out in a total eclipse of sadness. 'Our times of disaster' mixes more angst with a soundtrack of carcrashes? By now you'll guess this isn't an easy listening disc. Maybe one of the lyricists had recently suffered a break up. I'm not sure but the mood is bleak. Spanish tv fades in and out. Listening to this disc is like dreaming your way through Madrid at with your heart ripped out. It's their finest work to date and invents a new euro-music. Half American despair, half chanson, half cantautore blues. It sounds like the record The Walkabouts were thinking about but never managed to pull off or the record Tindersticks would have made if their hearts ran with Spanish blood instead of pale ale. Black, very black. The genius pours out on the first Spanish language track 'la Noche/The night'. It's so dark it's scary. The mood is sustained, accordions slip in and out, guitars are plucked, electronica buzzes and spits. 'Suburban empty movie theatre' gear-shifts from sadness to a crazy waltz. It's the sound of suburban Spanish youth clutching at American straws, the impossibility of climbing those white lights into the American dream. Strings and guitar and a Spanish monologue dissolves like a tracking shot into a crackling organ and 'sand falling fast in a glass bell'. Premonitions of death? It builds like Cave or Brel. If there's a finer record released in the European theatre of song or is that territory this year it will have to be miraculous. This is art of a high degree. Knowing, fractured, sad and very very blue. Don't file it with pop music -put it alongside Gainsbourg, Tarkovsky, Bunuel. It's ART. Great art. 'Each day you exist you have more crowns to clean'. 'Should I be doing something else, in these times' they say at the end? No you are doing more than fine. 'Arde' translates as 'it burns' and indeed it does. Hearts on fire.
Bucketfull of Brains #58 2001
acuarela (Spain) nois 1017 Available through Cargo(UK), Darla (USA) or from
First released on Jad Fair's 50 Skidillion Watts Records back in 1989 as It's Spooky in Europe/Daniel Johnston & Jad Fair in the U.S. and now re-released by the kind folks at Jagjaguwar this CD contains not only the original album but an added video. It is an astonishing film of Johnston singing his own 'Don't Play Cards With The Devil' - a brilliant song. The performance is riveting and at a time when much pseudo-gothic melodrama is served up as Americana genuinely disquieting and passionate. As for the 31 tracks on the disc well there's every shade of emotion and genre on there and a good few covers including a brilliant take of Phil Ochs / Chords Of Fame. There's also the quirky I met Rocky Erickson or Frankenstein Versus The World and affecting hymnal of Nothing Left. Overall it's the fantastic melodic invention of Johnston that seems to shine through but both these artists collaborated to create a classic. Standout tracks in the additions include the rocking Come Back [shades of Beat Happening] and Get Yourself Together which sounds like a Harry Smith out-take reprocessed by being boiled in a teapot at Rocky Erickson's house before it turns into Row Your Boat! Then to follow that you get an astonishing What The World Needs Now…..which talks of Devil Worshippers then of the wars that fill up the graveyards and how the world doesn't need atomic bombs. The disc doesn't end with a bang but the Butthole Surfers' Sweet Loafed - Satan, Satan, Satan……the God of Rock and Roll. Easily one of the greatest and most disturbed silver platters you'll ever find and for that video of Johnston alone worth the price of admission to its spooky cinema where the Devil may be carrying the torch and every heart is bleeding. Jad Fair's artwork decorates the cover - more can be found at [recommended].
Jagjaguwar JAG33
Freshly minted this disc comes complete with well designed packaging and a matching professional website that informs us Mr. Everhardt is in the tradition of Guthrie, Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and William Faulkner!!!!!UUUHHMMM. How do the contents match up to that introduction? Well not that well actually. The guitar picking is accomplished throughout and there's a lot of guitar-picking happening here. The sound is very New York 1962 replete with folk boom sounding songs with titles like 'Travel down the railway line' and 'Susannah eyes of fire'. It's not so much Van Zandt and Faulkner that come to mind ( anybody claiming the narrative skills of Faulkner for their folk record is riding for a fall) as Tom Rush, Dave van Ronk and Spider John Koerner. In fact this is the perfect 'New Dylan' before Dylan came along. Halfway through track three about that ol' railway line my attention was wandering and never really got back on track. Polite coffee house blues with political small 'p'. The insert to the cd doesn't have the lyrics. A good move going by the ones on the website as lines such as 'And do your trees grow high? They're holding up the ceiling of the sky' didn't exactly convince me this was the new Townes van Zandt. Quite honestly a bit of professionalism in the presentation of a disc can go a long way but to what end if the contents aren't that original? 'Billy Faulkner' is yup about that ol' writer man so that's why he was mentioned in the blurb. Times up young fella come back when you have something to say. Better still play every Townes song in a row before making the next record.
Airliner 2001