New releases from a couple of gal singers, each of whom had been on hiatus from recording, are in the Ear Bliss spotlight. For Kelly Hogan, itâs been some 11 years since her last solo release. Not that Hogan hasnât been recording and performing during that time. Sheâs actually been quite active in her sidekick role as a vocal accompanist to Neko Case (if youâve seen Ms. Case perform in recent years, Kelly Hogan does nearly all the harmony singing, not to mention being her foil for on-stage banter). For Memphis native Megan Reilly whose last solo album came in 2006, itâs been more a case of motherhood (she has a four year old daughter) and domesticity intervening. Each woman has an excellent new recording just out highly worthy of ears. Letâs take a look.
I Like to Keep Myself in Pain
Go back to 2001 and singer Kelly Hogan was putting the wraps on a string of two solo albums in a two-year span for indie Bloodshot Records. Prior to that, it was membership in â90s indie rock bands The Jody Grind and Rock-A-Teens. As for the solo stuff for Bloodshot, each was a fine record but for the most part fell under the radar and was little heard outside hardcore fans. Hoganâs work as backup singer and sidekick to Neko Case since the mid-aughts, not to mention the likes of Mavis Staples on occasion, has raised her profile considerably. With her first solo album in 11 years titled I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, it will hopefully enable her to reach a larger audience. She is worthy and a recent NPR feature on the new album is a testament to that. Hogan has always been an incredibly expressive singer and you get glimpses of that from her work with Ms. Case. Whereas sheâs done a bit of songwriting, her hallmark has always been an uncanny knack for picking great songs from a broad range of tunesmiths, many of them friends, and twisting them in ways form fit to her voice and style. Call the Georgia native a Southern soul, but more on the order of singers like Bobbie Gentry, Dusty Springfield and Sammi Smith. On I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, she cherry picks an ace group of instrumentalists completely in step with her approach. Her âAce in the soulâ band includes Booker T. Jones of Booker T & the MGs fame, Gabriel Roth (Sharon Jonesâ Dap Kings band), legendary R&B drummer James Gadson, and longtime multi-instrumentalist cohort Scott Ligon (NRBQ). The songs, nearly all burning embers of soul in the hands of Hogan and her talented band, are also cherry picked and come from songwriters ranging from Robyn Hitchcock, Catherine Irwin (Freakwater) and Jon Langford to Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields), Robbie Fulks, the late Vic Chesnutt, and Margaret Ann Rich who was both the wife and principal songwriter for the late Charlie Rich. Itâs Hoganâs ability to get in bed with a song that drives this 13-track affair into extraordinary territory. Surprisingly, with such great material it is the lone Hogan original on the album, the song âGoldenâ written for her friend Case during some tough early days, that is the centerpiece, or shall we say icing on the cake. High recommended.
Carrot Top Records
Memphis-by-way-of-New Jersey songstress Megan Reilly returns with a haunting and evocative 9-song affair titled The Well. As mentioned, Reilly took time off after her 2006 release Let Your Ghost Go to have a child and domesticate herself a bit. With life at a comfortable point, she felt it time to return to music and The Well is a beauty. Backed by her crack band featuring James Mastro (The Bongos, Health & Happiness Show, Ian Hunter) on guitar, Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) on bass, and Steve Goulding (Mekons, Waco Brothers) on drums, The Well is one of those grab-you-in-the-gut records with Reillyâs dark songs and torchy voice at its center and the guitar work of Mastro near narcotic.
Java Madness (134 Salt Pond Road, Wakefield) continues its Friday evening music series with local singer/songwriter Dylan Sevey holding court beginning at 6 pm.
Itâs a big, full weekend of music at The Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck) stalwart acts invading the Oceanside joint. It all begins Friday evening with an appearance by Max Creek who havenât been on the Mist stage in what seems like ages. The fun continues on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 with all-star band The Ocean Mistics and later in the evening John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band. The weekend closes out with a Sunday afternoon show with Steve Smith & the Nakeds starting at 3.
Saturday night brings Johnny & the East Coast Rockers to The Knickerbocker CafĂ© (35 Railroad Avenue, Westerly) starting at 9 pm.
Tall Richard & the East Coast Killers churn up the blues at The Narragansett CafĂ© (25 Narragansett Avenue, Jamestown) on Sunday afternoon from 4â7 pm.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 â 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.)