Kyle Adem. Armour (Ghost Motel Records). He’s got a natural knack for words that’s hard to come by. Beyond that, he’s got a brutally convincing voice and guitar that matches his lyrics in just the way a singer-songwriter can make it. Every inch of every song is crafted to Adem’s specifications and it works out beautifully.
A sparse opening to the album sets the scene. It’s going to be a hot day on this front porch, sitting here with Adem and his guitar. The foot-stomp beat of “Brother Follow” determines the pulse of the tune. Fingers pluck strings, found sounds break in the background and Adem’s voice wavers vulnerably before taking a steady hold and eventually bursting into a gritty yell covered in layers of voices and instruments.
The strongest cut of the album, “Sunlight & The Sea” stands out with fierce lyrics, “Heading home from Lexington/ drinking whiskey from a loaded gun/ I had a pint/ Jesus Christ/ near Chesapeake Bay/ He didn’t talk on sin or gravity instead/ he said that love has no conditions and you can’t earn grace.” The tale of desperation for answers bounces along and builds tremendously with Adem’s voice fueling the fire when it burns: “I am baptized in the downpour/ Blood is mingled in the rain/ I hear victory and Jesus/ but I’ve got my reservations all the same.” For his 23 years, he entwines thoughtful words beyond his peers and even many of his elders.
“If I Were a King” daydreams away while the repetitive “I’ll Get Back to You” continues prodding for answers and pushing those asking for them away as Adem sings, “I’ll get back to you / when I know/ the answers”. The pushing gives way to the album’s conclusion, a bare song of piano and fully revealed vocals on “Brothers We Grow”. The similarities to Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes hold on until the end of the album, but ultimately Adem proves he can stand strong without leaning on comparisons.
Adem, originally from Syracuse, has released six studio albums to date, some under his old moniker, 4:thirtyseven. Armour is now available on iTunes, CDbaby.com, Amazon.com and Spotify.
East of Earth. (independent). Sarah Anderson’s wavering vocals wander lightly over grinding guitars on the opening track, “Ponderous,” and her flute does the same on the following cut, “Choose”. East of Earth has an appropriate name that reflects on their earthy, flowing sound, with Emmet Simpson also on vocals, acoustic guitar and congas and Jim Wade providing an electric edge with his guitars and bass. The group’s sound isn’t tied to strict song structure, instead bouncing along without many boundaries to reel it in. Songs float and ramble gently throughout the 14-track album with only a few louder moments of crescendo in “Ill at Ease” and “Harm”. It’s free, light and airy, with a dark side that creeps from the amplifiers and adds depth to the trio’s all-organic feel. It’s an album made of roaming lines for roaming ears. EoE has several shows coming up: Friday, Aug. 24, 9 p.m., at Fusion, 3705 Brewerton Road, North Syracuse (455-1270), and Friday, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., at Sparky Town, 324 Burnet Ave. (422-8401).
Jennie Lowe Stearns and the Fire Choir. Blurry Edges (Bellcove Records). “Nothing lasts forever / bedrock begs to differ.” An eerie start to a mellow record unfolds with ambient tones over soft snare drum pitter-patters on Stearns’ fourth release. Gently swirling tunes contemplate “lovers holding hands” in “Grasp” and the sadness of missing someone on “In from the Cold.” Stearns holds tight with a melancholy style perfect for a rainy Monday drive through a somber, quiet town.
Despite the solemn overtones, Stearns delivers her thoughtful tunes with a voice that wavers when it brightens, demonstrating a taste of innocence and vulnerability that adds a glimmer of a rainbow to otherwise gray songs. There’s beauty in the gloom, however, delicate and touched with sounds from guitar, piano, Rhodes, Europa (piano), drums, bass and slide guitar. Stearns’ Fire Choir, including Michael Stark, Matt Saccuccimorano, Brian Dozoretz, Emily Arin and Joe Novelli, make their way through careful, subdued tracks that ebb with the vocals, allowing the edges to blur around them, as the title would suggest.
The piano on “Frida” sounds like it could come from Norah Jones, but with an even softer touch. “Light of Day” chugs along, firm and resolute, highlighted by a whimpering slide guitar and “Silver Lining” skirts similarities to a tame version of P.J. Harvey. Still, it’s Stearns, not Harvey, coming through the speakers when she intimately sings about her life in Central New York. The Ithaca-based artist, who recorded at Pyramid Studios, just down the street from her own home, brings some of that often-cloudy vibe to the notes of the songs. Blurry Edges is a moody record that could have you dozing off if you’re not prepared. But if you’re in the right state of mind, it’s satisfying and uniquely beautiful—just like a rainy day.
Austin Jimmy Murphy. A History of Blues (BLBM Records). The man who built the New York State Blues Festival offers a four-disc album that stays true to its title. Most tunes are composed by Murphy (and date back as far as 1977) and are performed by various local powerhouse players including Tom Townsley, Garnett Grimm, Mark Tiffault, George Rossi, Pat DeSalvo and others. Pieces not composed by Murphy span a healthy range of bluesmen including Robert Johnson and Albert Collins, but Murphy’s own works hang in with the best and his guitar playing and vocal contributions make the songs sail along.
“Shake Your Boogie,” composed by Big Joe Williams and helped by the steaming harmonica of Townsley and agile keys work of Rossi, is an upbeat party piece, while “I Don’t Know” introduces dark themes of pulsing, pensive vocals, keys and cello. Listeners are taken through boogies, romps, stomps and jams that hit Delta and Chicago Blues and chronicle Murphy’s travels from New York to Pennsylvania to Illinois to Texas and beyond, although he’ll always hit a sweet spot here in Central New York as Blues Fest founder back in 1992.
Whether you want to dip into some slide guitar or dive into a raunchy blues jam, Murphy has it covered in this comprehensive multi-CD work brought to you all the way from the bluesman’s current home in El Paso, Texas. Come catch him while he’s back in town during free shows at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 246 W. Willow St., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 9 p.m. (476-4937),and Shifty’s, 1401 Burnet Ave., on Friday, Aug. 24, 10 p.m.
Dusty Pas’cal. Human Heart (independent). Singer-songwriter albums are excellent for trips into the human psyche—not just of the artist, but also of ourselves. Dusty Pas’cal’s sincere, warm and honest masterpiece, Human Heart, communicates effectively through brutal, yet beautifully transparent lyrics and instrumentation that varies from stark guitar to layers of bass, drums, fiddle, piano, pedal steel, additional vocals and more. It’s crafted to take listeners through jaunty tales of a crazy girl from Kansas City (“The Premonition”) and a man born in Bowling Green, Ky. (“Sammy the Sucker”) or sad, but true circumstances (“Two to Fall”).
Pas’cal is a faithful student of the greats he covers on the album, Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan. His wisdom, perhaps partially gained as the father of five, is apparent in songs like “Hot Air Balloons,” which he links to his own father: “I thought of the way he looks at the world and how he overcame every obstacle in his life in order to protect and raise his family,” Pas’cal writes in the liner notes. The lyrics communicate the idea with openness that allows interpretation: “Most people won’t climb high up on rooftops / It’s safer to stay on the ground/ And most eyes they can’t see/ That to climb is to freedom/ As searching is to be found.”
Pas’cal lined up some of the area’s best musicians for this album, including Nick Piccininni, Loren Barrigar, John Dancks, Greg Hoover and John Hannis, and also notes Subcat Studios engineer Jeremy Johnston’s important contributions. Yet Pas’cal is the glue that helped make this perfect project come together. Each song is a gem, from the ear-perking poetic lyrics of “Sundried Heart” to the powerful climax of “40 Mile”. Hang on through the whole album: It’s a trip you want to take.
Pas’cal will have a CD release party at the Auburn Public Theater, 8 Exchange St., Auburn, on Saturday, Aug. 25, with the pre-show starting at 6 p.m., opener Amanda Rogers at 7:30 p.m. and Pas’cal at 8:15 p.m.. Tickets for the party and show are $25, show only are $17. For more information, call 253.6669.