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Wreck & Ruin

Four new songwriterly discs worth catching up to

By Jim Caligiuri, 9:07AM, Thu. Nov. 8, 2012

Wreck & Ruin

It's odd so many of my favorite artists are releasing new discs this fall. Every season should bring this kind of windfall. New CDs from Jim Lauderdale, Wanda Jackson, Tift Merritt, and Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson are just the start, with Iris Dement, Paul Kelly, Jason Isbell and too many more to mention coming soon or already on shelves.

Originally from North Carolina but currently a New Yorker, Tift Merritt returns with her fifth album, Traveling Alone, which makes me nostalgic for the days when alt.country was new. While not solely a meditation on the pleasures of solitude, her songs remain literate and the melodies pure.

Aided by A-list players Marc Ribot, John Convertino, and Eric Heywood, Merritt’s edgy country ranges from the broken heart of “Drifted Apart” to the defiant “To Myself.” She continues demonstrating a gutsy intelligence that puts her closer to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris than anyone among today’s batch of over indulgent singer-songwriters.

Carolina Moon, Jim Lauderdale’s fifth collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, finds the pair again working in the bluegrass vein. It’s a genre they’ve apparently decided works best for what they do, especially after last year’s Rhyme and Reason earned a Grammy nomination.

Both Deadheads and bluegrass fans will likely agree as tunes like “Iodine,” “Wild and Free,” and “The Night the Moon Fell Down” are performed with strength and soul. Hunter’s lyrics, meanwhile, remain unfettered and inventive.

To follow up last year’s Jack White-produced The Party Ain’t Over, Wanda Jackson turned to Justin Townes Earle to help her make Unfinished Business. It’s surprising for the many different styles Jackson tackles as much as the songs she and Earle choose to record, including Townes Van Zandt’s “Two Hands,” Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” and the Jeff Tweedy/Woody Guthrie composition “California Stars.”

At 75, Jackson’s vocals aren’t as strong as they once were, but the rockabilly queen still possesses an undeniable sassy attitude, here on full display.

We shouldn’t be surprised that one of the best country platters of the year comes from Australia. After all, marrieds Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson showed that kind of talent in the past. Their second disc as a duo, Wreck & Ruin, finds them trading lines, harmonizing, and composing 13 songs that explore the relationship between men and women with uncanny joy.

“Adam and Eve,” “Familiar Strangers,” and “Rusted Shoes” are among the highlights on an album filled with them. It's a delightful examination of both sides of the coin known as marital bliss.

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