Tag Archive | "Abby Holmes"

Tags: , , , ,

Album Review: Light in August – “Sweater Weather”

Posted on 14 January 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

By Abby Holmes

Sweater weather is one thing you can count on to come around year-round.  It’d be unheard of to wear a down puffy jacket in the depths of summer, and donning a halter top in the below-zero temperatures of winter might get you tossed in a straightjacket. But no matter what the season, there will always be a time for sweaters.

That’s why Light in August’s Sweater Weather is so aptly titled. From start to finish, the nine-track album is breezy enough for spring, warm enough for summer, tranquil enough for autumn and stark enough for winter. Any time of year, the music fits your ear.

Lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Alex Wand put his work in good hands with Jim Roll, a veritable Midwest superstar when it comes to producing, mixing, mastering and playing music. Roll has worked on such fine albums as Frontier Ruckus’ The Orion Songbook and Deadmalls & Nightfalls, as well as Chris Bathgate’s Cork Tale Wake and Grey Buried by Drunken Barn Dance. He is also working with Gun Lake on their debut album, now scheduled for release in February.

Gun Lake singer/guitarist Mark Fain provides backing vocals on two songs from Sweater Weather. “Seraphim” is a bright serenade to a long-distance love, and “Winter Clothes” a somewhat more melancholy declaration of the same, insisting “I would fit you into my life, but it’s best that you stay gone.” Something tells me Wand carries a torch for some girl who’s gone East. Just a guess.


Whatever the reality, Wand’s got one generous muse to which he alludes on the opening and closing tracks, “Muse (Part I)” and “Muse (Part II),” resembling a fusion of Indian and Chinese folk styles with sitar, flute and a timpani drum sound. An Andrew Bird sensibility enters on “The First Days of May,” and sticks around throughout the album. “Water” flows in with the pitter-pat of drums and a brief tinkle of keys, just like a soothing rainfall, and “Weather Reports” is an amicable dueling of the flutes, blowing lightly along with cheery guitar, drum thumps and Wand’s floral voice.

Like a gray day when the greenery is in full bloom, Sweater Weather placates while it elevates, a nice companion to springtime gloom. Any day you think you may need to wear a sweater, you may think to pop in Sweater Weather, because it’ll complement the mood just right.

YouTube Preview Image

Comments (1)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Album Review: Ben Weaver – “Mirepoix and Smoke”

Posted on 21 December 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

by Amber Valentine

It’s diffcult to review an album that has already been reviewed perfectly by a friend and colleague only a few weeks earlier. You see, if it weren’t for Abby Holmes, I wouldn’t be saying this. If it weren’t for Abby Holmes being such a talented wordsmith and solid reviewer, I would never have begged her to write for my site, Radio Free Chicago. I would have never come around to the multi-layered pop wonders of John Vanderslice or taken a shine to The Moondoggies. Sure, I introduced Abby to some local favorites of mine like Lightning Love and Chris Bathgate but it’s Abby that undoubtedly wins this round of recommending great music with Ben Weaver. If it weren’t for Abby, I’d be completely unaware of the subdued beauty Weaver has to offer, blissfully ignorant to the lilting melodies and softly sung romanticism Weaver brings forth on Mirepoix And Smoke and for that, I would be that much less content.

From the opening notes of “Grass Doe”, it’s hard not be taken by Ben Weaver’s music. He sounds at times like a more darkly upbeat version of Iron & Wine, a more accessible Bonnie “Prince” Billy, maybe even a hushed, less obviously county take on Justin Townes Earle, with whom Weaver shares a label in Chicago’s Bloodshot Records. Weaver displays his artful ability to weave an unforgettable story immediately in “Grass Doe”, telling the tale of love gone by the wayside in such masterfully poetic lines as “Their legs were twisted up in each other as the rain came down like watermelon seeds” and, later on in the tune, “There’s never gonna be another one like her and now you see her everywhere you go, like a tag under an overpass”. Near everyone’s loved and the vast majority of those people have lost as well. I know I certainly have. And it’s that fact that Weaver capitalizes upon, taking his own heartache, stated so poetically again and again and set to the simple backdrop of a fingerpicked guitar, a slight riff plucked on a banjo. By the time Mirepoix And Smoke closes, on the gentle notes of “The Rooster’s Wife”, you feel as if, to quote Abby Holmes, you’ve just listened to a “button-up flannel set to music”. Despite the fact that I’d never heard Weaver before listening to Mirepoix And Smoke, something about him made me feel immediately at ease, as though I were listening to the recordings of an old friend who’s reappearance in my life filled a very obvious void.


I remember when Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago came out and I remember the subsequent nights I spent with that record. Never was I more at peace with my life than when I was driving alone, sometime around three or four a.m., with nothing but Justin Vernon’s impeccable falsetto harmonies at my side. Musically, Weaver’s Mirepoix And Smoke only has the rudimentary in common with Bon Iver’s release but to me, the records share a vast amount in common in reference to how they make me feel. Mirepoix And Smoke affects me in a way that only comes across a handful of times every few years. It’s the kind of record that lulls you into a false sense of security with it’s lack of obvious hooks but in the restraint that Weaver repeatedly exhibits, there is a seductive element, reminiscent of the first time you catch a glimpse of a beautiful boy from across a crowded room or a dingy bar, knowing with a foresight you probably don’t possess that this is the boy who will one day come to be your greatest triumph in love before he deftly destroys your heart with a grace that prevents you from harboring feelings of bitterness. There’s beauty in that moment, the discovery of great beauty and even greater potential, and even though you know it might break your heart (because doesn’t it always?), you know that it’s worth the risk, if only for the experience.

YouTube Preview Image

Weaver sings songs that makes girls want to be the kind of woman he writes about and makes men want to find the kind of lady Weaver tells you of in such deftly written tracks like “City Girl” and “Grass Doe”. Nearly every track on Mirepoix And Smoke is an ode to a long lost dream girl, be her fiction or reality, and half of the beauty of the album lies in that amorous fact. “East Jefferson” features lyrics so strong that you’ll be hard pressed to not envision Weaver’s heroine sitting on the stoop alone, smoking her last cigarette as Weaver narrates the situation: “Cold wind blew through the swings in the park; by dinner time, it was already dark; the rain had turned to snow, everything whiter than a hundred ghosts at the end of the night.” That cinematic quality is one that Weaver exhibits over and over again, and by the time album stand out “Split Ends” rolls around, chances are you’ll want Weaver’s record narrating your life’s most poignant moments of heartache.


Building on the folk of yesteryear, occasionally bordering on the subdued country of like-minded fellas like Jacob Jones (only more beautifully subdued) and Jonny Corndawg (only much less raunchy), Weaver takes cues from the gentler moments of Bob Dylan and the more callous moments of Simon & Garfunkle, piecing together a veritable quilt of lullabies and longing with nothing but Erica Froman, his female harmonizer, and an acoustic guitar at his side. Weaver makes music for people who have been put through the ringer by love and, despite the fact that they’re left emotionally raw and slightly bruised, they’re still willing to put themselves on the line for the potential of more and there’s beauty in that willfulness. It’s like Weaver sings on “Drag The Hills”, “I’d rather have scars from the life I lived than have none from the one I missed.”

Comments Off

Tags: , , , ,

Album Review: “November Birthday” by Lightning Love

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Mylynda Guthrie

by Abby Holmes

You’d be hard-pressed to find a trio more adorable than Lightning Love, and that’s majorly due to vocalist/keyboardist Leah Diehl’s cartoony voice and indie-cute fashion sense (not to mention that darling smile that probably helps her “Friends” forgive her after an embarrassing night of drinking).

Anyone who’s ever been 22 can probably relate to Lightning Love’s lyrics, which include the aforementioned chain of alcohol-induced events from “Friends”: “Well, they all had a laugh when I climbed up the shaft/ and I pissed in the elevator in that old parking garage/ but I really wish they hadn’t watched/ And they thought it was cute ’til I kicked off my shoes/ and I started to puke/ and my friends, well, they all walked away/ I thought real friends would have stayed.” Take note: The college/post-college experience that lacks a similar anecdote is truly only a partial experience.

Guitarist Ben Collins and drummer Aaron Diehl round out the lineup of sandy-haired youngsters from Michigan. The group’s debut LP, November Birthday, went on sale last year. A dozen electro-pop tunes splay drops of sunshine across these dreary months, like a musical scarf to warm up your wintertime.

Diehl’s self-deprecating lyrics are present throughout the record, lamenting professional obligation, a life without ambition, relationship disasters, cold weather, dealing with grown-ups, and becoming a grown-up. But she’s good about reminding herself that it’s all a part of life, so even while it’s getting her down, she doesn’t let it bury her. “I fail at everything/ And every day’s the same/ I’m human, that’s what happens/ and there’s no one else to blame,” Diehl sings on “Girls Are Always Wrong.”

The way the child-like musicality conflicts with the mature subject matter in the lyrics is almost in itself the starring point of November Birthday. It’s like Diehl’s way of negotiating a life she’s not ready to leave behind with a life she has to grow into, standing her ground somewhere at the cusp of those two phases. Old enough to drink and smoke and sleep around, but still too young to be expected to know better, consequences be damned. On “Good Time,” the keyboard melody begins forebodingly to illustrate the shame she doesn’t feel about transgressions she doesn’t regret only to cheerily climax with the declaration, “I can’t help having a good time.” And why should she? If there’s any time to be making mistakes, it’s in your early 20s, when you can still sort of get away with it.

Wait, Wait

Diehl puts her heart on her sleeve for “Wait, Wait,” revealing a moment of vulnerability that forces her to evaluate her priorities. Perhaps after the passage of a few more birthdays, Lightning Love will have a new sound to match its growth — but one can secretly hope the trio continues to sound just like it does already, because what Lightning Love has now is pure perfection.

Comments (2)

Follow Us On Twitter, Like These Fine Folks!