Americana stalwart Jason Isbell is back with a terrific new record, while The Japanese House continues to deepen her craft on her sophomore release. Read on for details!
Jason Isbell first emerged as a songwriter in the Drive-By Truckers, writing beloved songs like ‘Outfit’ and ‘Decoration Days’. His solo career started a little uncertainly – it wasn’t until he became sober in 2012, and married fellow Americana artist Amanda Shires, that his solo output matched his potential. Southeastern and Something More Than Free were both excellent – the former exorcising his personal demons, and the latter featured Springsteen-like portraits of blue-collar America. His next two records were worthy but less convincing. Isbell reunited with his band, the 400 Unit, and explored more rock-oriented sounds.
Weathervanes hits a nice middle point between these two poles – he feels more like a singer-songwriter here, with more personal lyrics, but there’s also a tough rock sound in places. It’s excellent, easily among the top echelon of his solo work. Isbell wrote these tracks while also appearing in the Martin Scorsese film, Killers of the Flower Moon. Songs like ‘King of Oklahoma’ demonstrate Isbell’s ability to straddle intimate songwriting with guitar muscle. Isbell’s also able to cut loose on the taut riff rocker ‘This Ain’t It’. Here’s a live version of ‘King of Oklahoma’, with extended guitar soloing.
The more acoustic-oriented songs are also excellent – ‘White Beretta’ is a great set of lyrics that works printed on the page, while ‘Strawberry Women’ features pretty acoustic picking.
We were running through the red lights
In a hurry to get to nowhere
In a white Beretta
Weathervanes is impressive – it keeps its momentum for an hour, packed with strong material.
The Japanese House
In The End It Always Does
Amber Bain’s big break came in 2012 when she was introduced to The 1975’s Matt Healy. Still a teenager, she was signed to their label, Dirty Hits, and attracted attention with her mysterious first releases. Bain’s voice is androgynous and the name The Japanese House gave few clues to her identity; Healy described her as “some weird post-apocalyptic Alison Moyet”
Her debut album, Good at Falling, was strong, but her second album shows growth, a collection of well-written tunes. She discusses her sexuality – lead single ‘Boyhood’ is described as being about “growing up queer”, and integrates more acoustic instruments into her songs. If there’s a weakness, it’s the preponderance of mellow tunes – ‘Sunshine Baby’ seems like an obvious single, with an upbeat pop tune and backing vocals from Matt Healy.
There are other upbeat tracks, like ‘Friends’ and ‘Boyhood’, but it’s the stripped-back and contemplative tunes that set the tone; the waltz time of ‘Spot Dog’ and the sparse piano of ‘One For Sorrow, Two For Joni Jones’ are excellent bookends.
Amber Bain’s deepened her artistry with her second record, writing well-crafted and emotionally nuanced songs.