Release Date: Jul 4, 2011
Record label: Archer Records
Don’t cross Amy LaVere. The Memphis singer-songwriter-bassist-actress can add badass to that long string of hyphens, as she writes about the sorts of things that would land most women in jail. On her previous album, 2007’s Anchors & Anvils, she sang about murdering the object of her conflicted affection, but discovered, in a sickening twist, that “killing him didn’t make the love go away.” Four years later, on her long-awaited follow-up, Stranger Me, LaVere describes disposing of the body in “Red Banks,” a twist on “Knoxville Girl” that waxes poetic about how his corpse splits the waves and how the river swallows him up.
Turmoil, particularly of the romantic sort, often creates great art. That's especially true in music, where breakups have produced classics such as Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. It has also proved a spark for Americana singer/songwriter/standup bassist Amy LaVere. Dark topics of love gone awry have always been part of her repertoire, but on her third and most introspective album, the dissolution of a long personal relationship with drummer Paul Taylor (who contributes to every track even though the album was recorded after their split), and the death of her mentor/producer Jim Dickinson, give her music a dusky, often unsettling edge that marks this as LaVere's most compelling and challenging set yet.
Be wary of short people. The little among us are the kind to pick a fight and then consider it fair to play dirty because they are at a height disadvantage. The diminutive folk have a deep, nasty streak that they try to keep hidden, but then the shorties gleefully let it out without provocation at the drop of a hat. I should know.
Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter Psychedelia as communal creation, psychedelia as mystical quest, psychedelia as a roiling tangle and psychedelia as a euphoric, entranced sprawl are all encompassed in the music of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, whose 21st-century album release dates always seem suspect — they should all be copyrighted 1968. Ms. Sykes has a scratchy, haunted wise-woman voice, and on “Marble Son” (Station Grey/Thirty Tigers), she ponders life, death and faith with lyrics like “Every day I wade through muddy waters deep/Without this wanting will I soon be free?” From the reverbed handclaps and feedback-laced minor chord that open the first song, the music points directly to the San Francisco trinity of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service.