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Album Reviews Organ swoons and a laid-back magnum opus

IAN SINCLAIR reviews albums by Kurt Vile, Amy Helm, and Nathan Bowles

Kurt Vile
Bottle It In
(Matador)
★★★★

THE SEVENTH solo album from US indie-rock musician Kurt Vile is a 76-minute magnum opus.

Full of his trademark laid-back guitar-based compositions, Vile wrote and recorded the songs over a two-year period of intensive touring, travel and spending time with his family.

With three tracks coming in over nine minutes, the obvious comparison is War On Drugs, the critically acclaimed Philadelphia band Vile co-founded before heading off on his own musical journey.

And like his old outfit the songs may be long and meandering, but they are also deeply engrossing, from the off-kilter stoner rock of Bassackwards (“I was on the ground circa Planet Earth but out of sorts”) to the catchy-as-hell Yeah Bones and the effortless-sounding cover of Charlie Rich’s Rollin' With The Flow.

A career high from an artist who keeps getting better and better.

Amy Helm
This Too Shall Light
(Yep Roc Records)
★★★

THE DAUGHTER of The Band’s legendary drummer Levon Helm and singer-songwriter Libby Titus, Amy Helm left her Woodstock home and recorded her second solo record in Los Angeles over four short days.

Directed not to overthink the songs, the musicians have created a stirring mix of US musical styles, including country, soul, blues and folk. Gospel is another key touchstone, with several of the tracks exhortations to God or employing Christian imagery — check out the marvellous The Stones I Throw, written by her father in 1965.

There are also impressive renditions of Rod Stewart’s Mandolin Wind and Michigan by Milk Carton Kids, the latter abetted by some impressive organ swoons, while Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor co-wrote the title track.

With Helm seeking what she calls a “circular sound” the album is a welcome exploration of her Americana musical heritage.

Nathan Bowles
Plainly Mistaken
(Paradise of Bachelors)
★★★★

MASTER banjo player and multi-instrumentalist Nathan Bowles has struck gold with this, his fourth solo album.

The first time the North Carolina native has recorded with a band, the set is a hugely enjoyable blast of largely instrumental punkish bluegrass, folk and country, which sounds shockingly new too.

First off is one of two vocal tracks, a cover of the child-composed lullaby Now If You Remember, rendered here as a hushed, delicate tune reminiscent of quietist singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Then the extraordinary The Road Reversed kicks in — a growling, droning 10-minute instrumental banjo rock'n'roll epic. Imagine Bert Jansch’s folkie Waggoner’s Lad recorded by The Rolling Stones.

The rocking Ruby/In Kind I is a riot, on which Umbra Bowles’s banjo sounds like a sitar and his cover of Ernie Carpenter’s Elk River Blues is gloriously triumphant.

Astonishing.

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