Album Review: Sharon Van Etten – epic Ten

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Sharon Van Etten
Sharon Van Etten at SXSW 2011

Sharon Etten’s epic was released back in September of 2010 and while it was her second release, it was my first introduction to the New Jersey singer-songwriter. After seeing Van Etten open for Junip at Lee’s Palace in November of that year, I was immediately hooked and saw her no less than three times during the promo cycle for that album and several more times in the ensuing years, most recently at Roskilde 2019 … you know, back when live music was still a thing.

Sharon Van Etten is easily one of the best songwriters of the past decade or so and while everything she’s released since then has also been great, I must admit that none of it has resonated with me in quite the same way that that epic has, so I was happy to see that Van Etten is celebrating ten years of epic with a deluxe reissue. Sure it’s a little late, but time doesn’t really have much meaning these days anyways and I’ll take any excuse to revisit a favourite album, especially when it’s loaded up with extra goodies.

The “goodies” in question are, of course, covers of each of the album’s tracks by a broad selection of performers including Shamir, IDLES, and Lucinda Williams, which help to make this re-release of epic just a bit more, well, epic than the original release. Of the new versions, the standouts are Shamir’s stunning version of “DsharpG” and Courtney Barnett and Vagabon’s grungy, Neil Young-esque take on “Don’t Do It.” The biggest surprise of the bunch though comes from the previously unknown to me St. Panther, who transforms Van Etten’s “One Day” into a full on pop song.

But what of the original versions of these songs? Do they hold up all these years later. Yes they do. Very much so. From the opening strums of “A Crime” to the meditative beauty of closer “Love More”, I was taken right back to the first time I heard these songs and reminded that as much as Van Etten has progressed and grown as a songwriter, she was already so good back then.

I always look forward to seeing what Sharon Van Etten’s going to do next, but it’s nice to look back every now and then too. And epic is definitely an album worth revisiting.

Sharon Van Etten’s epic Ten is out now on Ba Da Bing Records.

Album Review: AC/DC – Power Up (2020, Columbia Records)

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ACDC powerup

On a whim, I recently decided to take a deep dive into Power Up, the latest album from Australian rockers AC/DC and their seventeenth overall. Not sure why – maybe I just felt like I needed some more classic rock in my life. And my initial assessment upon listening? It sounds like an AC/DC album, in the same way that every other AC/DC album before it has sounded like an AC/DC album. AC/DC are nothing if not consistent.

Yes, an AC/DC album sounding on brand is nothing surprising, but that sonic consistency is actually one of the band’s biggest assets. After all, you don’t go to AC/DC expecting flirtations with EDM or a Spinal Tap Mark II jazz odyssey. No, you go to them for those big riffs, Brian Johnson’s distinctive vocals and to think, “Wow, that 65 year old man is really still committed to wearing a schoolboy’s outfit, eh? Good for him, I guess.”

In a way, listening to a new AC/DC album is a bit like going to a chain restaurant – you know what to expect, you know it’ll be more or less the same every time, and even when there’s something new on the menu, it still has the same signature style. But often, that’s exactly what you’re in the mood for. And this new chapter in AC/DC’s story certainly holds up to the band’s legacy.

I could go into greater detail and describe the specifics of each song, but honestly, do I really need to? If I say that it sounds like AC/DC, pretty much everyone will know what I mean, unless they’re been hiding in a cave for the past 50 years or so. That said, it’s a pretty good effort with a few memorable tunes, and considering all that the band has been through in recent years (Brian Johnson’s hearing issues, Phil Rudd’s legal troubles, the 2017 death of Malcolm Young) the fact that the band even put out another album is pretty impressive.

Anyways, here’s Wonderwall “Realize.”

Album Review: Molly Tuttle – … but i’d rather be with you (2020, Compass Records)

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One could argue that (among other things) the mark of a great performer is what they bring to the table when interpreting someone else’s work, and to my mind, Molly Tuttle‘s recent covers collection, … but i’d rather be with you, is a perfect example of a great cover album.

Recorded during quarantine in collaboration with producer Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Andrew Bird), the album features Tuttle’s takes on songs by such unlikely bedfellows as The Rolling Stones, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen Dalton, and Harry Styles, but the songs all flow together perfectly, to the extent that it’s not at all jarring to hear her transition straight from the beautiful balladry of FKA Twigs’ “Mirrored Heart” into the much more rollicking sound of Rancid’s “Olympia, WA” over the course of the album.

Tuttle made her name as a virtuosic bluegrass guitarist (she’s been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year in both 2017 and 2018), and her instrumental prowess is most definitely on display throughout this album. And yes, Molly Tuttle is an impressive guitarist, but just as important is her voice, with particularly strong and memorable performances coming through on her versions of Arthur Russell’s “A Little Lost” and the aforementioned “Mirrored Heart”.

In her song selection on this release, Molly Tuttle branches out and shows the breadth of her influences, covering artists across various genres and putting her own distinctive mark on each song while also showing her range as a performer – Bob Dylan’s not the only one out there who contains multitudes, you know.

Album Review: Jason Molina – Eight Gates (2020, Secretly Canadian)

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“The perfect take is just as long as the person singing is still alive. That’s really it.”

Those words, spoken by Jason Molina at the beginning of “She Says” were certainly meant to be a joke aimed at those with perfectionist tendencies, but they take on another, darker meaning when you remember that the person speaking them (and singing these songs) has not been alive for several years now.

Eight Gates is the last collection of solo studio recordings Jason Molina made before his tragic death in 2013 and while the above quote might suggest that this album is simply a collection of unfinished sketches, the reality is that they’re much more than just that. While the arrangements on many of the tracks are relatively sparse and straightforward, with most of them coming in under the three minute mark, there’s still a fair bit to unpack behind the seeming simplicity.

Though brief, the songs unfold at a languid pace and draw the listener in with evocative lyrics such as “I feel the dread as you re-read my palms” and “Whose wilderness has my heartbreak wandered through?” And at the centre of it all is Molina’s beautiful, haunting voice.

Jason Molina may have left us too soon, but his music lives on, and with Eight Gates, we thankfully have nine more of his songs to appreciate.

Eight Gates is out on August 7 via Secretly Canadian.