Brother Brothers, 3 Pairs of Boots, John McCutcheon and Ethan Daniel Davidson

Our spotlight on roots music listens to new releases from the Brother Brothers, 3 Pairs of Boots, John McCutcheon and Ethan Daniel Davidson.

The Brother Brothers - Cover to Cover

The fact that the Brother Brothers, the folk duo consisting of brothers Adam and David Moss, harmonize together so nicely should come as no surprise; after all the siblings are twins. Besides singing Adam plays fiddle and Wurlitzer and David augments his voice with cello and guitars; five other players round out the backing band with Matty Meyer on drums being the only one of those that plays on every cut. Additionally there are four female harmony vocalists appearing here and there, most notably among them is Sarah Jarosz. As the album title hints at this is a collection of covers, a set of eclectic songs that each have special meaning to one or both of the brothers. And it's an interesting set that begins with Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis," an Everly Brothers-like reading of a tale about trying to track down a lover in the Tennessee city. Jackson Browne's "These Days" sounds good with the brothers harmonizing each line; a similar treatment is given to James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes" which features haunting electric guitar parts from Ryan Scott and harmony vocals from Jarosz. Much of the album is understated but the duo rock up "If You Ain't Got Love" pretty good; the Chas Justus cut also provides a chance for Scott to set his guitar to "twang." Among the other artists the Brother Brothers also cover here are Tom Waits, Robert Earl Keen, Jr., Richard Thompson and even Hoagy Carmichael.

Ethan Daniel Davidson - Stranger

Davidson has half a dozen players backing him up here but he plays most of the instruments himself, including electric, acoustic and National steel guitars, Moog, Hammond organ, cat-gut banjo and harmonium. "Oh I" seems to take a few cues from the sublime side of the Kinks and understatement is the order of the day here even though "Even Bad Seeds" opens with feedback and an avant-garde feeling before finding its folky Americana groove. Some may find the slow tempo of this set depressing but to the contrary album highlight "Let There Be More Light" is uplifting while also being laconic and has a chorus meant for a sing-along, ensuring that the message gets through. Davidson offers up a nice take on the folk standard "Dink's Farewell," otherwise everything here is self-penned and intriguing in the same way that a lot of Neil Young albums are.

3 Pairs of Boots - Mighty Love

Andrew Stern (guitar and other stringed instruments) and Laura Arias (vocals) are the husband and wife duo known as 3 Pairs of Boots. Mighty Love is their third album and they continue to be inventive with their rocked-up brand of Americana. Opening cut "Leap of Faith" is a catchy and boisterous song that sounds not unlike a Christine McVie Fleetwood Mac tune while title cut "Mighty Love" leans more toward modern country. Arias sounds especially, well, sweet on "Sweet Spot" where her voice also conveys a vulnerability belied by the song's bouncy, upbeat rhythm. A highlight is a cover of Tom Petty's "The Waiting," slowed down and countrified and perhaps the best example of the vocal abilities of Arias. Arias' voice is the star throughout but Mighty Love also features excellent instrumentation and relatable songs that tell interesting stories.

John McCutcheon - Leap!

Opening track "The Ride" is actually the album's title track, referring to taking the "great leap" in life, in other words not being afraid to go for what you want. The joyous cut is punctuated with western-style "woo-hoos" and harmony vocals from Kathy Mattea and has the overall effect of saying "you won't be sorry!" The same sentiment applies to fans who purchase this new effort from the prolific McCutcheon. The folk star has now released more than 40 albums and Leap!, at a generous 18 cuts, could have been two albums instead of one. McCutcheon addresses the on-and-off violence in Northern Ireland in "The Troubles," with the sad lyrics "neighbors kill neighbors," and while "Third Way" is also sad, being about a Hispanic man who during segregation has to choose between using a "whites only" or "coloreds only" restroom, is also amusing when he chooses the "third way" and as McCutcheon puts it, decides to "piss out in the woods." McCutcheon is adept at making points in a very charming way and that is part of his appeal. McCutcheon plays gentle acoustic guitar throughout while others add fiddle, mandolin, piano, bass and organ to the mix; these songs mostly do not require a drummer but on a few cuts Robert "Jos" Jospe adds percussion. Whether McCutcheon is singing about injustice, death or a Fuller Brush man (!) his words always ring true.

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