Open Air Currents: Calexico, Molly Tuttle, Christian Lee Hutson, Father John Misty & Paul Cauthen
Each week we review hundreds of releases from a wide variety of musicians. Here are a few of the new albums you'll hear on Open Air this week.
Not unlike their previous albums, the latest release from Calexico, a band from Arizona who took their name from a city on the California Mexico border, is hard to categorize. You could call them a rock band. You may also describe them as Tex-Mex. To me, their sound would be at home in a Spaghetti Western. On El Mirador, you’ll also hear cumbias and mariachi music. You might even detect some psychedelia. It’s smooth with just enough tension. And, some tunes may inspire you to to dance. It's an adventurous album. True to their background, it's sung in a mix of Spanish and English. Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno and Iron and Wines’ Sam Beam (with whom they’ve collaborated before) join the band on backing vocals and singer/songwriter Pieta Brown penned two of the tunes.
Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway—Crooked Tree
Molly Tuttle won the International Bluegrass Music Association prize for bluegrass guitar player of the year in 2017 and 2018. In addition to her outstanding guitar work on the new album, we also get more insight into the mind of the artist. Tuttle has been dealing with alopecia, a condition that results in hair loss, since long before it became a household word at this year's Oscars. The title cut Crooked Tree speaks of trees that won’t fit in the mill so are left to grow wild and free. She concludes the chorus with “I’d rather be a crooked tree.” It's a fitting statement given Tuttle's personal journey and unique approach to making music. She’s a singer-songwriter who shreds bluegrass style on guitar, and pulls at your heart strings with poignant lyrics. Special guests include fellow guitar virtuoso Billy Strings, Margo Price, Gillian Welch, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Christian Lee Hutson—Quitters
For his latest release, Quitters, Christian Lee Hutson enlisted the production help of Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers who also appear on some of the tracks. People familiar with the Oberst/Bridgers collaboration Better Oblivion Community Center, may hear some of their Replacements inspired, almost punkish tones paired with the more understated sounds of Hutson. He cites Elliott Smith as one of his heroes. You can hear some of Smith in the whispery vocals and acoustic guitar style of Quitters. Taking a storyteller's approach to his lyrics, Hutson gives us a front row seat into the lives of his characters. His writing is convincing enough that it leaves you wondering how much is him and how much is fiction.
Father John Misty—Chloe and the Next 20th Century
It’s sometimes hard to tell if Josh Tillman, known by his stage name, Father John Misty is laughing at us, himself, the world, or some strange combination of the three despite always performing in earnest. The new songs are vignettes about love and tragedy set to a dramatic backdrop of strings and wind instruments that sound like mid-20th century movie scores. You’ve likely heard the breakout track Goodbye Mr. Blue. In a melody that sounds a little like Gentle On My Mind he laments that “the last time comes too soon” as he says goodbye to a romantic interest and a beloved cat. The more I listen to Tillman's work, the more I tend to appreciate its complexities. If Chloe turns out anything like his past releases, I predict that I’ll be listening to it regularly well into next year.
Paul Cauthen—Country Going Down
We won’t be playing the big hit from Paul Cauthen’s latest because its non-radio-friendly language would get us in trouble with the FCC and editing it would simply ruin the song. Country As Fu** is a brash, fun tune that sets the stage for the rest of the recording, a bit of an indictment of the state of popular country music (and maybe the country as a whole) even as he leans heavily into a Nashville style. It’s bold. It’s loud. It has a heavy back beat, and his bellowing baritone voice is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings. Somehow, though, Cauthen can sing about girls, beer, trucks, and country music without sounding cliché.
Next week, be on the lookout for the new full-length album by Pacific Northwest singer-songwriter John Craigie.
Open Air is curated and hosted by Noah Bran-Linsday, Danielle Kelly and Dave Jackson. It airs weekdays 9am-3pm on JPR's Rhythm and News Service.