With the Decemberists’ new album – The King is Dead – adopting a clearcut country-folk-blues direction (review to come) and the UK music scene spawning it’s own dedicated 70s retro-country-folk scene (Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Noah & the Whale, Bombay Bicycle Club et al), it’s almost tempting fate to suggest that there is a neo-country wave coming in 2011. There’s nothing particularly new of course about all this, as we’ve had country-rock bands since Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and convinced to play the Grand Ole Opry and the Band got out from behind Dylan and began making its own brand of wild alchemy at the Big Pink but… I for one will be over the moon if this all comes to pass. In the meantime, here’s a few country-folk-blues gems you may have missed in 2010.
JOSH RITTER So Runs the World Away (Pytheas)
Ritter’s sixth full-length album is a brilliant example of how gorgeous country music can be when you blend in the right elements of pop-rock to give it the necessary melodic/harmonic edge. Ritter examines diverse aspects of country, from traditional to alternative, from Dylan/the Band to the Uncle Tupelo/Wilco/Son Volt axis. Several nods to Paul Simon also evident, both in sonic and literary approach. It’s all very good. Official Site.
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FRIGHTENED RABBIT The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Fat Cat)
A little bit more indie folk in emphasis than alt-country, Scottish band Frightened Rabbit translates much of its rustic songwriting through the veneer of post-punk guitar approaches. Singer Scott Hutchinson even reminds me of XTC’s Andy Partridge! But these wonderfully edgy alt-rockers songs are true folkies at heart. On third album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Frightened Rabbit takes a leaf out of the widescreen rock of Mercury Rev’s Deserter Songs to produce a slow burning modern classic. Elegant chaos. Myspace
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STORNOWAY Beachcombers Windsill (4AD)
Another Scottish outfit, but this time a more straightforward folk-rock band. Therefore, greater utilization of acoustic guitars but blended with modern production choices. Key factor here is the band’s penchant for good old fashioned folk tunes. Sweetly retro, you might say, but enough tangents into raucous Britpop territory keep things interesting. If you love great melodies, you’ll love Stornoway. Official Site
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…still there’s more…