Open Air Currents: Mapache, Sharon Van Etten, Seth Walker, Tedeschi Trucks Band
There's been an avalanche of great new music to sort through these last few weeks. Time to play a little catch-up here on ‘Currents’ including a special introduction to the new release from the Tedeschi Trucks Band, which, forgive me, is a total monster.
Mapache – Roscoe’s Dream
I’m a huge fan of the 1960s music scene from the Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. It's the place that brought us great bands like The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The distinctive sounds of these bands still influence the music I enjoy today. When I first heard the California harmonies of the SoCal duo, Mapache, it made me think they'd fit right in on Lookout Mountain. Mapache is Clay Finch and Sam Blasucci, two friends who have collaborated on numerous projects. Their latest Mapache release, Roscoe’s Dream, is a tribute to Blasucci’s Boston Terrier, and the lead-off track I Love My Dog is about Roscoe. The acoustic grooves, tight harmonies, and even a little Bakersfield twang are homage to 1960s west coast folk rock. To my ears, their sound also makes reference to The Grateful Dead albums, Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty, both released in 1970. This comes naturally to the duo, because they are also both members of Grateful Shred, a touring Grateful Dead tribute band. The personal bonds and musical crosspollination that connected the LA and San Francisco music scenes through the '60s (especially CSNY and The Grateful Dead) provide a lot of rich material from which to borrow. But rather than lazy attempts at recreating these sounds, Mapache has infused diverse influences into their sonic pallet and developed their own fresh voice in the genre.
Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
“Epic” happens to be the title of a 2010 album by singer/songwriter/actor Sharon Van Etten. Twelve years later, it's the adjective I'm tempted to overuse to describe some of the songs on her new release We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong. In this post-lockdown era, there have been a lot of new releases from artists that were faced with long hours of downtime, forced isolation, and inescapable self-reflection. Van Etten confronts it all. We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, was recorded in her home studio in LA. There were no advance singles, and very little fanfare by design. She says it’s an album meant to be listened to as a whole rather than in bites. Though we are playing individual tracks on Open Air, and there are some fine standalone singles, I would recommend a full listen. Van Etten is upfront and unapologetic, calling this a “pandemic album” and embracing its sadness. It's the dynamic throughout the album that really intrigues me. Darkness Fades, the opening track, begins with a sparse acoustic guitar and Van Etten’s solo voice. As it continues, other instruments subtly layer in creating a swirling wall of sound. There was a similar approach to my favorite tune so far, the second track, Home To Me, which imagines how a mother’s decisions eventually affect her connection with her child. From there the songs have a more indie rock feel but maintain shifting and swelling tides that give shape to songs that are beautiful, painful, compelling, and bleak.
Seth Walker – I Hope I Know
To manage the stresses of pandemic life, which for him included a breakup and relocation, Seth Walker wrote a book, Your Van Is On Fire, which he calls “the miscellaneous meanderings of a musician.” He also made a record. The new release is I Hope I Know, with three songs co-written by Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers and production by his Wood Brothers bandmate, Jano Rix. The new songs are a little quieter than some of Walker’s other releases but they don't lack his signature soul and swagger. Walker embraces a broad spectrum of sounds from the American south and the gulf coast. True to his form, there are shades of jazz, soul, lots of blues, a little country, and just a light sprinkle of New Orleans funk on this record. Satisfy My Mind has a bit of a JJ Cale feel, with soulful vocals and lead instruments dancing over a mellow boogie. His cover of the Bobby Charles song Tennessee Blues has a minimalist feel with just Walker’s guitar and vocal for most of the track. He also covers Van Morrison’s Warm Love and changes the tempo on the Dylan classic Buckets of Rain, adding an almost lyrical guitar solo between each verse to make it his own. For fans of Americana, this album checks all the boxes.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon: Crescent
Brace yourselves; there will be a lot of Tedeschi Trucks Band this summer on Open Air. New this week is the first of their four EPs, each accompanied by a film, being released over the course of the next couple months. The project, I Am The Moon, was conceived by Mike Mattison, one of the vocalists in TTB. It’s based on the 12th century poem by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi – Layla and Majnun, about an Arabian poet obsessed to the point of self-destruction (Majnun roughly translates to ‘mad’) for the unrequited, forbidden love of Layla. It was also the theme for the Derek and the Dominoes (Eric Clapton) album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs that has played a major role in the lives and careers of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. The idea for I Am The Moon, according to Mattison, was to take the focus off of Majnun’s desperation, which was more like the Clapton interpretation, and consider the story from Layla’s point of view. I Am The Moon: Crescent is part one of the series. Some of the magic of Tedeschi Trucks Band is its collaborative spirit. Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks were successful musicians before they married and founded the band. While they are the namesakes, the rest of the band shares in the creative process and spotlight. Mattison wrote and sings lead on a track; Singer/songwriter/keyboardist Gabe Dixon, who joined the band in 2019 after the passing of Kofi Burbridge, wrote the title track I Am The Moon and trades lead vocals with Susan Tedeschi. The reliance on every part of a 12-piece band in the creative process seems like an impossible task. But it’s a successful formula for TTB. I’m especially enjoying Circles ‘Round The Sun — a train ride of a song starting with a laidback shuffle, subtle slide guitar and subdued lines from the horn section. Tedeschi’s vocals come in like another instrument singing “Point the light away, wrap a circle ‘round the sun...” The latter half chugs along with a slick vocal arrangement and the horn section trading riffs with Trucks’ guitar to round things out and bring it to rest at the next station. With time away from touring to really dive into a big musical project with accompanying films (I Am The Moon: Crescent is available on YouTube), this family may have reached a new artistic high point within a body of work that continues to be harder and harder to top.