John Statz: Old Fashioned
As with many of my musician friends, it has been a rewarding experience to hear John’s music grow through each album. With “Old Fashioned”, John achieves the perfect blend of minimalist folk and melodic pop sensibility. His blend of personal, social, and historical commentary balances beautifully with the production work of Bo Ramsey, and the talent of the album’s performers (notably Jeremiah Nelson’s nuanced guitar work and Pieta Brown’s airy harmonies) perfectly supports John’s message, like having an introspective late-night conversation.
Lyric of choice: “When the nights have all grown too long / and the notes have drifted away / well you’ve got me stuck like a fork in a socket / holding on ’cause I can’t let go if I wanted.”
Paul Otteson: Robin Red
Admittedly, I’m especially biased toward this album from having the opportunity to mix it. That being said, it was a joy to help bring the songs to life. Paul’s gentle tone brings an instant warmth to each verse, and guitarist Jeremiah Nelson again proves (as on John’s album) that his subtle presence can elevate the sound of any record. Lyrically, Paul beautifully wraps his message within his slightly obscured poetry, leaving a clear sense of emotional pull yet challenging the listener to decipher the deeper significance of the message. It’s a friendly, inviting, thought-provoking effort.
Lyric of choice: “Oh Destiny, I know we’re short on time / But would you sing for me / A song to make it feel like you’re mine / A song to make this less of a lie”
Tony Memmel: Clenched Hands Brave Demands / Yours and Mine
I’m going to cheat and combine Tony’s two most recent EP releases. Even from the first few seconds of these albums, it’s clear that Tony’s finding a new sound from his previous, pop-friendly melodic folk-rock releases. These recordings trade the driving rhythms for more ambient space, stretched-out textures, and a dark, rich mood. Whether it’s Tony’s own falsetto, or his wife Lesleigh’s soaring harmonies (and equally effective keyboard work), these tracks take us to a darker place, like warming by a fire with the cold Wisconsin winter waiting just beyond the walls.
Lyric of choice: “When we are young, we remain there, ageless / My soul is old, and it is contagious / I’ve spent my life holding out for you / And have you been hanging on for me, too?”
“At the very beginning of all this I thought I was going to be a folk singer, turns out it came out country.” Adam Nero told me during our podcast interview on Here in the Middle. And, I’m glad it did. The rootsy, Americana flavor of Expatriate’s debut album feels like a modern take on a genre that strives to find simple answers in a complicated world. Guest musician Cindy Cashdollar’s skillful work on steel guitar punctuates the country flavor that so flawlessly compliments Adam’s bright tenor voice. It’s a breezy record that feels as fresh as it does vintage.
Lyric of choice: “My old man does everything he can / but I can see him fold his hand a thousand times / but there’s something to be said for going to sleep fed / and wakin’ up in the morning with regrets”
Count This Penny: Pitchman
It seems unfair how effortlessly Amanda and Allen Rigell blend their gorgeous harmonies. As the final album to be recorded and released from Madison’s legendary Smart studios, the bittersweet honor is fitting for an album that benefits so greatly from it’s clean and meticulous production. There’s something strikingly honest in the lyrics of Count This Penny, as if each song is another confession that’s been building in their minds for months. The melancholy tone is enhanced by their deliberate, muted acoustic strumming, and evocation of nature throughout. It’s an uplifting sort of sadness. (Hear our podcast interview on Here in the Middle)
“On the day we met, here’s what you said / life is a non-stop carnival ride / your silver tongue could cut your own throat / and leave me a freak show on the other side”