Caroline Doctorow's penchant for crafting descriptive narratives comes naturally. The daughter of author E.l. Doctorow, she has released six albums that spotlight her ability to meld astute observations and genuine folk finesse. It's fitting, then, that this latest offering should find her paying tribute to the dean and queen of American folk music, Richard and Mimi Farina. With a stirring vocal that recalls Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell, and Judy Collins, she takes the Farinas' timeless tunes and delivers them with a grace and eloquence that's pure and profound. Nanci Griffith, John Sebastian, Eric Weisberg, and the Kennedys are among the hired hands, but ultimately Doctorow deserves the credit for a knowing concept and ideal execution.
Clip-On Nose Ring
Jeff Heiskell has had his taste of the big leagues. As leader of the well-regarded Judybats, he scored critical kudos via an extended tenure with Warner Bros. Records. With this, his sophomore set, Heiskell puts emotions first and lets the commercial chips fall where they will, deliberately outing himself via songs that speak freely about sexual orientation. Co-producer Tim Lee (Windbreakers, Tim Lee 3) helps maintain a rock 'n' roll regimen, but Heiskell's melodic instincts also ensure accessibility and boost the fascination factor. Leadoff track "I Want the World to Change" sets the tone, while a Lennon-esque twist and a droll "Jolene" help add to the intrigue.
Richard X. Heyman
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Intakes? Well, outtakes really, specifically material written by this accomplished pop pundit between 1969 and 1983 and recently rerecorded with six bonus tunes that never saw the light of day. But here's the kicker — Heyman writes such instantly infectious melodies, even his second string puts most artists' finished products to shame. The usual disparity between quality and quantity doesn't apply here; fact is, Heyman's yet to offer a bum note, and he's been at this for practically four decades. Obvious references include classic British rock 'n' roll, circa the '60s invasion era, with the Kinks, the Who, and the Hollies at the fore. Ultimately, he may be the best artist you've yet to hear of.
Broken Strings & Beer Specials (An Acoustic Retrospective) www.myspace.com/therealmattwoods
You can dress a song up, but there's no use taking it anywhere if the hooks and melody aren't there to start with. Matt Woods proves that point adroitly with this solo take on tunes he wrote and recorded with Magpie Suite and Plan A, two of the better bands to emerge from Knoxville, a town with no shortage of adept ensembles. Woods' knack for conveying a heartfelt homage to traveling troubadours, hard-luck heroes, and the blue-collar Everyman is manifest in songs such as "A Company Town," "Johnny Ray Dupree," and "Breaking Knoxville," but every track here rings with passion and conviction. Consider these as welcome returns.