Gypsy Tailwind: Grace

Better days

Gypsy Tailwind show power and Grace

Gypsy Tailwind have been a slow build. Though Halo Sessions was one of the best local albums of 2008, it seems no one really heard it until 2009, thanks largely to the radio success of “So Lonely,” a single whose melancholy bounce was heartbreakingly honest: “I’ll tell you a secret: I drank myself to sleep last night.” Their shows, too, have been measured out to increase anticipation and capitalize on opportunity. No one who wound a way down Market Street to the Big Easy after Ray LaMontagne’s Merrill Auditorium show [in June of 2009] was disappointed with Gypsy’s similar combination of roots and soul.

And they’re just getting started, really. Halo Sessions’ spare and measured arrangements weren’t necessarily by design. They were in some ways simply sketches by two vocalists, Dan Connor and Anna Lombard, who were trying to figure out just what kind of art they could make together. Over the past year they’ve decided they sound pretty great together, thanks, and they’ve collected themselves a band to fill things out: Max Cantlin (This Way) on guitar, Tyler Stanley (Sly-Chi) on keys, Colin Winsor (Jaye Drew and a Moving Train, Jason Spooner) on bass, Chris Dow (Band Beyond Description) on drums.

That done, Gypsy Tailwind re-entered the studio with Jonathan Wyman and produced Grace, released last week and celebrated with a show this Saturday at the Port City Music Hall. It is bigger and bolder and more true to the stage presence the band now evince, something akin to a modern-day Fleetwood Mac, if they’d been formed in Nashville instead of London, raised on Dylan and Emmylou Harris instead of John Spencer and Howlin’ Wolf.

If you’ve spent 100 listens with Halo, Grace will necessitate something of a recalibration, however. From the get-go, “Way to Here” opens with soaring minor-key strings (a four-piece section of Anna Maria Amoroso, Heather Kahill, Julie Anderson, and Tim Garrett), and though Connor’s voice is as velvet smooth as ever, when the full band enters it does so with a confidence of belonging. In fact, while Connor and Lombard trade verses, creating a narrative dynamic like you’re peeking in on an intimate conversation (“I’m going to grab the things I own and move away”; “With all my love I wish you were still here”), there are times where they aren’t the most important thing happening, and the finish is a 30-second play out of active cello and trilling strings that is wholly ignorant of them.

Remember Ray Lamontagne’s maturation with producer Ethan Johns? The difference between Old Crow Medicine Show before and after Don Was? This progression with the band is similar. It is more, but it’s also different from whatever that first blush was.

And it’s almost like they’re getting it out of the way in a hurry. The new album’s second track, “The Letter,” opens with a horn section (Rustic’s Ryan Zoidis and Dave Noyes, naturally, along with Mark Tipton, Joe Parra, and John Maclaine), for criminy’s sake, for a song that’s all lonesome-heart Lombard: “So here’s your letter/ I’m gonna sing it cuz it’s my way.” She’s definitely more aggressive throughout the album, at times projecting some major volume. She goes toe to toe with Cantlin’s throaty electric guitar in “Silver and Gold” without a petal wilted (and listen there for Bob Hamilton’s banjo — a great melancholy foil).

For the album’s heart, though, Lombard and Connor settle into comfortable territory. “Better Days” is a great complement to the first album’s “Long Drive Home from Baltimore,” with Connor getting out of the gate alongside slide guitar by trying to get out of San Francisco, and “the next flight out is Tuesday night/ I get my things and be polite … didn’t want to follow you.” Under three minutes, it’s a postcard of cautious optimism. Lombard, accompanied by an alternating organ, believes there will be better days, but Connor is “so scared of what my dreams say.”

“Barrel” is further stripped, a simple ballad that gets downright Jim James (a la his “Going to Acapulco” cover on the I’m Not There Soundtrack) in the finish as Lombard and Connor are personified by a trumpet and violin that wander off into a setting sun and fade to black. The lyrics are among the album’s best here, working to acknowledge the listener’s desire for the two voices to make like a short film: “We laughed about all the of the inside things/ We talked all night, till someone would drift to sleep/ Are you awake my dear?” At 3:40, it’s too short.

As is the album, I guess. The eight songs here make for a crisp package, but with the arrangements and production lending such a different feel to the band, I’d have liked to hear a couple new takes on the first set of songs, especially “Two and One.” Maybe as a bonus hidden track or something.

But it’s good to be kept wanting, and there certainly aren’t any throwaways here. “Madeline” is Connor’s best vocal turn, rising up in the register as his emotion carries him, and the trumpet-guitar handoff of the melody in the bridge is terrific. The Aimee Mann cover “Coming up Close” has Lombard more reserved, dispelling any worry she might be becoming a bit of a yeller: “We thought for once we really knew what was important.” And “The Last Song” has her doing pure pretty, crisp like Christine McVie doing “Over My Head.”

There’s talk of dueling solo albums and Connor is known as a prodigious songwriter, so don’t think this will have to tide you over for too long. If anything, this is just a taste of things to come.

Ghost of Paul Revere: Believe

The Ghosts are coming

Get ready to Believe in Paul Revere

Ghost of Paul Revere don’t waste any time on Believe, their debut full-length. From the very first vocal notes on the opening “After Many Miles,” they announce that this is the best collection of harmonies since Tumbling Bones’ Schemes in the summer of 2012 [this published in 2014]. They are tasteful, measured, precise, and sometimes thrilling.

This opener serves as both introduction and a flag in the ground, as they rotate through each of the three main vocalists – Griffin Sherry, Max Davis, and Sean McCarthy – with a solo a capella verse (well, there’s a stomp-clap rhythm by way of accompaniment) and then come together for harmonied chorus: “Oh, lover, I’ll see you there/ Waiting in the willows with your auburn hair.” If that doesn’t catch you attention, don’t bother with the rest of the disc. This is what they do and who they are and they’re all in.

Because they’ve got a banjo player (Davis), Paul Revere have maybe been pegged as bluegrassy, or at least tied in with the stringband locals, like the Tricky Britches and North of Nashville they played with on New Year’s, but they’re often much more in line with bands like Head and the Heart, or Typhoon, which put a lot more emphasis on vocals, have less traditional song structures, and are often more rooted in the rock tradition.

“San Antone” starts slow with a repeating guitar run that stays low and then arcs up for the harmonics behind a chanted, “I lost my love in the heat of San Antone/ I found my love in the cold of the great white north.” Right. Pretty trad. But then the tune ramps right up at the 1:20 mark into what you think is the chorus on the first listen, but never actually slows down, like quick indie rock without plugging in.

This is also our first introduction to Matt Young’s harmonica, which here is really bassy and low down for a mouth harp. The repeating “whooah-whoah” vocal bit it introduces will have those who’ve tired of Of Monsters and Men and what some see as the shambolic trend in dirty-hippy bands to cringe, but it suits me just fine, and when they ratchet the pace up yet again, it’s pretty damn hot:

“I watched my lover roll me over like a riverstone … You’ve got pain in your bones/ You know you are not alone.”

They shake things up a bit later in the 11-song album, though. “The Storm” would fit nicely on a Mallett Brothers record, opening with an isolated banjo and dressed-up vocals, but then settling into a guitar strum and transitioning to a song with a piece of grass in its teeth.

Sure, they walk an anachronistic line like a lot of other stringbands, but when they sing “my father died in his house/ It’s all he left to me,” you really do imagine a house bleached out on the great plains, with waves of auburn grass and rolling hills and just maybe a solitary tree next to it with an old tire swing, and a fading white picket fence around the whole thing.

It’s most obvious here, too, how the harmonica is often playing the shuffling role usually taken up by the fiddle in this kind of band. But Paul Revere seem to revel in throwing curveballs, like the up-stroke rhythm they introduce late in this song, reggae-bluegrass for a few measures.

And “Fire in the Sky”? It’s basically a Sabbath tune played with acoustic instruments, fueled by Southern rock and stuff about how when the flood comes he’s going to make it out alive and that the devil can come and take him and whatnot. There just aren’t any big stacks of amps and the a capella finish might be outside Ozzie’s wheelhouse, but that harmonica brings the whole thing back to metal’s bluesy origins.

If there’s a misstep here, it’s “Hey Girl,” probably the closest thing to contemporary country at least in its material (every top-40 country tune seems to have the phrase “hey girl” in it) and very similar to early Old Crow Medicine Show, with Young playing the role of Ketch Secor’s fiddle mania. The repeated three-part build of “hey” could use some subtlety and the fever they work up falls a little flat.

But they certainly have the feel of “Funeral,” with a particularly melancholy tone in the banjo and pretty falsetto in the finish of the open. At times, the vocal arrangements are as delicate as any string parts Dave Noyes is writing for Rustic Overtones. And while the electric bass doesn’t quite work perfectly for “Woodman’s Stead,” it’s still a great change-up for the album, a quick waltz with Celtic undertones and a staunch determination: “I’m going to tear down your walls, until I have you all.”

The cowboy giddy-up of “Andra” makes for a wonderfully sad loner tune, pulling off the difficult task of being simple and working class without being condescending, and it’s mirrored by the appropriately closing “This Is the End,” which has some shades of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with Avett Brothers flavor.

Without question, this is an early contender for album of the year locally and if there’s any justice people will come to know this record far and wide.