Cinder Well‘s No Summer is one of those albums which come along every year that I label as “dangerous”. Something about them unravels me and to listen to them is to open up all the wounds of my heart and let them bleed out freely. With Cinder Well, this might well be down to Amelia Baker’s vocals and lyrics. They have this way to dig deeply in their simplicity, bringing forth an array of difficult and overwhelming emotions: melancholy, nostalgia, lonesomeness, and a faint hope that makes everything sadder with its solemn sweetness.

More than anything however, No Summer is an exceptionally deep exploration of the potentials which the hodge-podge of the genre called “Americana” still holds. Baker taps into the traditions of English, Irish, and Southern folk repertoires for her inspiration, while also channeling the scenes of the small town American town, the destitution of American institutions, and the haunting sadness that characterizes much of modern life. This combination proves to be potent, evoking the same sort of emotions and moods that someone like legendary artist Townes van Zandt did or Baker’s contemporaries like Steve von Till or Scott Kelly.

I was beyond thrilled then to have Baker’s guest list on the blog. It’s a rare peek into a whole genre of music that I am not that familiar with, containing hip-hop, experimental music, alternative, “folk” (a label so wide in this list that it loses meaning, shining a light on the specific traditions used instead of the pastiche simplification we normally use), indie and more. Suffice it to say that I’ve saved every single album on this list because I was familiar with none of them (I didn’t even know that Bob Dylan had a new release out). And if that’s not the mark of a great guest list, then I don’t know what is.

If you happen upon a rainy afternoon and you feel a certain ache in your soul, I recommend you sit down with No Summer and give that ache its space. It’s trying to tell you something important and Cinder Well might help you articulate just what that may be.

Adrienne Lenker – songs

In addition to her solo project, Adrienne Lenker is known for her work as guitarist and lead singer in Big Thief. Her most recent album songs pulled at my heartstrings on the first listen and I have found it to be pretty addicting to listen to. songs was recorded in a cabin during the beginning of COVID-ere and most of the songs were written during the process. No wonder it feels so fresh and timely. I find Lenker’s songwriting to be sparkling, natural and compelling. On the surface the music is sweet and light, and even more pop than most music I listen to, but there’s so much depth and feeling. I love how it makes me feel like when I was a teenager discovering bands I liked for the first time. Honestly it has been a long time since I immediately fell in love with an album like I have with this. Favorite track: “forwards, beckon, rebound”.

Johanna Warren – Chaotic Good

Johanna Warren is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s released several albums and toured with Iron and Wine, Marissa Nadler, and Xasthur, among others. Chaotic Good is bolder than Warren’s previous works – she is laying it all out there, even less encumbered than before. Warren continues to inspire with her ability to express herself. Its hard to describe Johanna Warren’s music – she’s truly unique – but in an attempt to try, I’d say its like a modern Elliott Smith who has harnessed her power. My favorite part of the album is on “Twisted” when her silky voice gets higher and higher until it breaks into a carnal scream. The videos from this release have been amazing, the most recent being a collaboration between Johanna and partner Ricky Beckett, which explores this theme of two parts of oneself (in this case, a 90’s Kurt Cobain grunge figure and a high school cheerleader) fighting and merging together. 

Stick in the Wheel – Hold Fast

Stick in the Wheel is a un-traditional folk band from East London. Nicola Kearney’s vocals are strong and emotive, and Ian Carter brings a hip-hop and experimental music background, in addition to fingerpicking guitar to the mix. Their music is dark and broody but also rhythmic and would get you moving at a festival. The traditional material they choose to work with focuses on the working class experience in England. Hold Fast is dynamic, each track a little story and tiny work of art, and the production is excellent. Favorite track is “Possible Reasons for Admission to the Asylum” which has Nicola’s mournful vocals over a hypnotic synthy track. The source is an actual list from 1864-1889 of reasons one could be committed to asylum, including “time of life” and “women trouble”.

Adam Hurt – Back to the Earth

Adam Hurt is a banjo player from Minnesota. He fuses several styles of traditional music including Irish and Old-time and plays them on the banjo. Sometimes when this approach is taken the tunes can feel overly embellished and miss getting at the core of the music, but not in Adam Hurt’s case. He plays old and new traditional tunes tunes beautifully, and the mix of styles feels seamless and grounded, most exemplified in the set of tunes titled “Horses in the Canebrake/ The Morning Star”. There is sparse and tasteful accompaniment by other popular players of traditional music including Brittany Haas and Ricky Scaggs. You don’t have to be a total traditional music nerd like me or recognize any of this jargon to enjoy this album – it’s just really beautiful and groovy music. 

Gwenifer Raymond – Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain

Gwenifer Raymond is epic – has a PhD in Astrophysics, is a video game designer… and a fingerpicking guitarist and banjoist. She’s from Wales and living in Brighton, UK. Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain is her second release as this project but she also plays in punk bands around Brighton. I discovered her and her music because my bandmate Marit was looking for someone to set up a show for us in Brighton. Marit literally typed in “Brighton” on Bandcamp and found Gwenifer – it was like a 2018 version of booking tours using Myspace. Gwenifer ended up setting up a show for us which she played as well and putting us up for a few nights. She’s hailed for drawing on American Primitive guitar styles like John Fahey, but honestly I hear more punk and metal influences in her playing. Check out this horror-y video for “Hell For Certain”. 

Katsy Pline – In this Time of Dying 

Katsy Pline is from the Bay area and this is their first album. It was released smack dab at the beginning of pandemic reality starting, I think this album is a little-known gem. In this Time of Dying is only available on Bandcamp, where it is described as “a collection of lilting, gently psychedelic apocalypse love songs, inspired by the countrypolitan sounds of Skeeter Davis and the alien experimentation of West Coast synthesizer music.” The songs have the structure and feel of classic country songs but mixed with a Bay area synth texture, with super relevant and 2020 sounding lyrics. All that is done with a humbleness that results in it sounding mega vintage and searingly internet modern at the same time. It brings to mind driving down the 101 in the Bay area, where you swerve back and forth between sparkling coastline to industrial monstrosities and back again

Jake Blount – Spider Tales

In Spider Tales Jake Blount centers the experience and contribution of Black and Indigenous people to American old-time music.  American old time music and country music is often imagined and portrayed as white folks playing banjos, overlooking the fact that the banjo was brought by African people to America, a place where Native Americans lived in addition to people of European descent. All of these cultures shaped what we know today as American music, but where are the stories of the people who are less represented in this tradition? Black and Indigenous peoples’ stories? Jake Blount brings them to the center of the picture again. Jake also puts queer narratives at the forefront, most notably in his re-envisioning of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” where he replaces female pronouns with male ones. Topically, the album has lots of meditative banjo lines and groovy fiddle tunes. My favorite track is the melancholy “Beyond this Wall” a tune written by Judy Hymen influenced by a photo of a concentration camp entrance, which features Tatiana Hargreaves on fiddle.

Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

I was raised on music from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc, and I usually look the other way when new releases come out, as if somehow it will break the spell to hear these legends older and not in their prime. But from the first few lines of “I Contain Multitudes” it’s clear to me that Bob Dylan has embraced his age, wisdom, and where he is right now.  There are so many profound lines in this song, including “I sing the songs of experience, like William Blake, I have no apologies to make. everything’s flowing all at the same time”. This album isn’t afraid of 2020, of now, or of the future. Its acceptance of the way life weathers all of us, even Bob Dylan. He makes it look and feel not too bad. 

Denise Chaila – GO Bravely

Denise Chaila is a Zambian-Irish rapper from Limerick.  She blends spoken word, hip-hop, rap, and Irish and Zambian culture and mythology in her tracks. Recently she has done several performances for Irish national TV, and she is an absolutely phenomenal performer. My favorite track currently is this single mix of “Anseo” ft. Jafaris. “Anseo” in Irish-Gaelic means “here”. The chorus mixes these kind of mundane references to Ireland like “spice box” and “Centra” with mythological language like “queen and Pharoah.” She makes a powerful statement that mixed heritage, immigrants, and really any of us with complicated backgrounds or unruly parts of ourself can fuse those elements and be “anseo” – here. 

Pallbearer – Forgotten Days

Pallbearer is a doom-metal band from Little Rock, Arkansas. Their first album Foundations of Burden was a big record for me when I first started to get into heavier music. I’m excited about this new release from them as being hailed as a kind of return to their roots. I don’t know where my head was at when Forgotten Days came out (…oh yeah, 2020) so I’m just getting a chance to spend time with this album these days, but I’m looking forward to it getting a more prominent spot on the rotation. There’s something I’ve always found to be unassuming and real about Pallbearer, and I hear that in this new record as well.

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