Friday, October 01, 2004


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Oct. 1, 2004

Here’s a round-up of some recent CDs by New Mexico artists, including a couple of famous guys with connections to Santa Fe.

Sunday Shoes by Nels Andrews. The dark, brooding songwriter archetype is a tough one to pull off. The dustbin of recording history is cluttered with third-rate Leonard Cohens, Nick Caves, Mark Eitzels, Mark Lannegans, etc.

But when it’s done right, that is when the singer sounds authentic, when his woeful tales are intriguing and when the music packs a punch, the dark, brooding songwriter is a powerful figure.

Albuquerque’s Nels Andrews pulls it off with his debut album. He’s not in the same league with Cohen, Cave, etc., at least not yet. But Sunday Shoes is a good start.

Andrews is starting to get recognized. He won the "New Folk" prize at t the 2002 Kerrville Folk Festival, an honor whose past winners include Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett. Sunday Shoes, originally self released early this year, was picked up by a hip little Nashville label, Catamount.

He sings songs of forgotten people struggling against terrible odds winning quiet victories and humiliating defeats, of drifters roaming the backroads and back alleys of America, of ambiguous loves and doomed relationships.

The songs are full of Albuquerque references. The first track is “Central Avenue Romance.” The namesake of “Lilli Marlene” is from Martineztown

My favorite tune is “Jesse’s Mom,“ which actually is more about Jesse himself. He’s a child of illicit miscegenation, who grows up rejected in two worlds and continuously pulling up stakes, leaving those he loves to search for a place with “no more hard times,” proving that he’s possessed by the “gypsy in his blood” that his mother thought she had.

Andrews is served well by a crafty little roadhouse band called The El Paso Eyepatch, featuring ex-Hazeldine member Jeffrey Richards on guitar and banjo and Michelle Collins on harmony vocals. Another major contributor is guest mandolinist/lap steel player Jason Daniello. Brett Sparks of The Handsome Family plays accordion on “Jesse‘s Mom.”

The CD release party for Sunday Shoes is tonight at The Launchpad in Albuquerque. Guest bands include Jason and the Argonauts, Shine Cherries and The Darlington Horns. $5 cover.

*Lo Fi-Highs/Hi-Fi Lows by The Hollis Wake. I just recently figured out who this Santa Fe band reminds me of: The New Ponographers, a critic’s-darling Vancouver band that, like the Wake, plays high-charged guitar power-pop with melodic hooks that steal your heart away.

The main difference is that the New Pornographers don’t let Neko Case sing nearly enough while The genderly-intergrated Hollis Wake gives plenty of spotlight to its female singers Krysty Bosse and Sarah Meadows.

In fact the best songs on Lo-Fi Highs are from the female perspective. Take the song “This Time,” which concerns circles and cycles, if you get my drift: “It doesn’t seem the slightest bit fair/My body has to suffer this wear and tear/ especially when it’s two weeks late/ and I don’t want to procreate …”

Initially my only complaint about the album is that it uses four songs that also appear on The Hollis Wake’s first album Suburban Crime Spree. However, there’s apparently a good reason for doing so -- the new versions are better.

This especially is true for the song “Becky,” a tune about a Santa Fe barmaid who is so desperate to leave the City Different she turns to crime. The vocals on the new version is 10 times more passionate, especially on the kicker line in the chorus; “Get me out of this retarded town!”

I don’t care how much you might love Santa Fe, I think most of us have felt this sentiment before.

* After Hours by Big Al Anderson. I just found out a couple of months ago that Anderson, a 22-year member of NRBQ, is a Santa Fe resident, at least part time. (He also has a place in Nashville.)

Billing himself as “300 Pounds Of Twangin' Steel & Sex Appeal,” Anderson is a musician’s musician. His work might remind listeners of the late Charlie Rich -- especially those slow, jazzy, devastatingly lovely ballads like “Love Make a Fool of Me” and “Better Word For Love.”

And there’s a little Dan Penn -- one of Stax Records’ greatest songwriters -- in Anderson too. You hear that in tunes like “Just Another Place I Don’t Belong,” which could only be described as country soul.

Big Al plays some straight ahead country with “It’s Only Natural,” and the Hank Snow influenced “Blues About You Baby,” which was co written by Delbert McClinton.

After Hours is available only on the internet. CLICK HERE

*Down Home Chrome by Junior Brown. When I first heard that Junior was recording for Telarc, a label best .known for its blues artists, I was afraid that he might be making a sharp turn toward electric guitar blues, a style he loves at least as much as the hard-core country for which he’s known and loved.

Indeed the new album ends with a 10-minute blues workout called “Monkey Wrench Blues.” And there’s a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Foxy Lady,” which I’m pretty sure I first heard the artist formerly known as Jamie Brown do in 1968 when we were both at Santa Fe Mid High and he was in a local psychedelic group called Humble Harvey.

But country fans don’t worry. Down Home Chrome is full of Brown’s trademark country cut-up songs, in which he plays the steel part of his guit-steel as much as the guit part.

But my favorite cut here “Hill Country Hot Rod Man,” in which Brown uses a horn section to create a fresh country neo-swing fusion.

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