The year 2012 is barely three months old and already it looks to be a banner one for musical releases by female artists.
So far this year, we’ve seen the release of excellently reviewed new albums by female-led bands and solo acts, such as Cowboy Junkies, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Sinead O’Connor.
That trend should continue throughout this spring with much anticipated albums by Norah Jones, Bonnie Raitt, Dar Williams and the Alabama Shakes coming down the pike.
Here’s a look at three of the more unusual recording projects by female artists that might be passing under your radar this spring:
For three years and two albums, Austin, Texas, native Phoebe Hunt served as the violin/fiddle player and occasional lead vocalist of the young group, The Belleville Outfit.
After the Belleville Outfit split last year, she and pianist Connor Forsyth began to work on The Phoebe Hunt Project, with guitarist Reed Turner and drummer Robbie Kidd.
“The new group has been playing together for about six months, but Connor and I have been playing together for four years, since the Belleville days,” Hunt said. “We have about 20 new songs that we have written.”
Of those songs, five stellar tracks have made their way onto Hunt’s new EP, available online through her website, http://www.phoebehuntproject.com.
The new EP is an incredibly balanced affair with three scrumptious ballads interspersed with more upbeat songs. It opens with the piano and strings-driven love song, “Things I’ll Never Do.” Hunt’s voice perfectly conveys a sweet Southern sadness on this song, and the arrangement reminds the listener of some of the ballads on Randy Newman’s “Good Old Boys.”
Going from sad to sassy, Hunt and her band-mates swing into the dance-floor stomper, “Sugar.” The tune also allows her a chance to show off her skills on the violin as she duels it out with guitarist Turner.
The new EP closes with the heartbreaking yet inspiring break-up song, “Walk Away.” As with all of the tunes on the new album, Hunt sings it with conviction and raw emotion.
While The Belleville Outfit allowed Hunt a chance to showcase her talents on violin and vocals, The Phoebe Hunt Project gives her the opportunity to shine as a fully formed musician on the cusp of an exciting career. More, please.
An Evening with Dolly
Most people know that Cracker Barrel is famous for its Southern-style meals and country store atmosphere. Fewer are aware of the fact that it maintains its own music label, with an all-star roster of established country, pop and even R&B performers.
The latest release on the Cracker Barrel label is Dolly Parton’s “An Evening With…Dolly,” a live album recorded in London. It includes a CD and DVD compiled from performances at the 02 Arena during Parton’s 2008 tour.
With Parton backed by a cracker-jack 11-piece band, the concerts are intimate yet huge, with all the flash of a Las Vegas show.
Fans of Parton’s career will be pleased with the selection of tunes performed in the live sets, including the hits “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” “Little Sparrow,” “Islands in the Stream,” “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You.”
The DVD also contains a bonus CD with two additional live tracks: “Shattered Image” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home.”
“I think my fans and Cracker Barrel guests have a great deal in common, even when I’m performing in Europe,” Parton said. “I’m just an old-fashioned Tennessee girl, so no matter where I am, that part of me reaches straight into the audience, and we have a grand old time together. I’m happy to be able to bring this London concert back home to share with Cracker Barrel’s guests.”
Despite the “big band” aspect of the live show, Dolly manages to keep it personal and intimate. The middle of the show features “Only Dreamin’,” “Little Sparrow” and “The Grass is Blue,” three straight songs written by Parton after she returned to a more roots-flavored music late in her career.
The fact that Parton wrote all but three of the tunes included on the CD and DVD makes her unique among country superstars. And “Only Dreamin’,” written in 2007, is evidence that her songwriting skills have only improved with age.
“An Evening With…Dolly” is available at Cracker Barrel restaurants and at http://www.crackerbarrel.com.
Lady and the Krunk
Musical fads come and go, but it looks like the blues is here to stay.
A century after the first blues artists laid down their boogie-woogie riffs on guitars and pianos, musicians and music lovers are still falling in love with the genre.
One local band that has taken the blues to heart is called Lady and the Krunk. Led by the scorching vocals of Kat Chaffin, the band features Alex Golden on guitar and vocals, Mike Runyon on keyboards, Ryan Van Fleet on drums and Troy Harris on upright acoustic and electric bass.
The band recently recorded a number of tracks produced by Joshua Rutherford. One-take affairs with a scarcity of overdubs, the tracks honestly reflect the band’s live shows.
Tracks like “Blue Ribbon Daddy” show off both Chaffin’s bluesy vocals and the band members’ abilities to improvise or “take the lead.”
“Murphy’s Stride” is a slow-burn of song with Chaffin bringing her timeless delivery to the vocals and Golden adding nifty fuzz guitar licks.
The band gets into a slow smooth groove for “Queen of Spades,” a song that would be right at home in that night club where animated chanteuse Jessica Rabbit sang in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”
Harris introduces the shuffle-esque “Can’t Get Enough” with a bouncy upright bass line before Golden kicks in with the wah-wah pedal. It’s the perfect title for the last song on the four-track CD that the band is utilizing to introduce club owners and reviewers to their sound. It leaves the listener wanting more.
“Those four tracks were recorded at the studio at ASU’s School of Music last November,” Chaffin said. “Eventually, we are going to release a full album with those tracks and others that we plan to record at Scott Haynes’ home studio.”
According to Chaffin, all of the band members were involved with other musical projects around Boone, such as Bafoodus and BPL, when they started playing blues together.
“We knew we wanted to name the band Lady and the ‘something,’” said Chaffin. “We liked how that sounded like a name from the past. Ryan and Harris came up with the krunk…and it just sort of stuck.”
Chaffin added that the four tracks on the band’s sampler CD were written by Runyon and herself, but that others in the band’s set list have been contributed by Golden.
Lady and the Krunk will be bringing its unique down-and-dirty take on the electric blues to the Boone Saloon on June 14.