This Week’s Finds: Sept. 4-10 (Barry Thomas Goldberg, Band of Horses, Annie Hayden)

“Remember New Orleans” – Barry Thomas Goldberg

Not even the world-weary Goldberg, who already sounded like he’d seen it all before, has seen anything like what happened here in the U.S. last week. To my ears, he hits an appropriate combination of sobriety and passion on this simple, ragged, emotional tribute to a devastated city. It’s mostly a subdued acoustic guitar and Goldberg’s effective Waits-via-Springsteen voice, but there are some subtle instrumental homages added along the way–a quietly menacing piano below (can’t have New Orleans music without piano), sad strings above (striking me as a conscious nod to Randy Newman), and even a slowed-down “City of New Orleans”-ish harmonica flourish. The song is available via Goldberg’s web site. The veteran singer/songwriter has furthermore decided to contribute the profits from his three CDs to the American Red Cross, to assist the massive relief effort. Thanks again to visitor Paul for the head’s up.

“Funeral” – Band of Horses

Geez maybe I’m working thematically this week. In any case, Band of Horses is a Seattle-based outfit with a firm grip on an emerging ’00s sound that I think of as Neil Young meets Radiohead (so, okay, we need a better name for this): a ghostly, left-of-mainstream blend of ache and atmosphere, part acoustic and part electric, featuring keen melodies and a slightly wobbly high-pitched tenor. Songs that start out too quietly usually make me antsy, but “Funeral” redeems itself the minute vocalist Ben Bridwell opens his mouth, less for the quality of his voice (which I do like) than for the arresting melody–a melancholy line that descends with one half-step ascent before the end, a line in fact so melancholy it needs only one, final minor chord to create a suffusing minor-key aura. When the fuller band kicks in, crisply, at 1:23, supporting the same ongoing melody, the piece acquires a history-laced depth, like something from the Band’s catalog (a feeling reinforced by the Rick Danko-like “oo-oos” falsetto-ing in the background). Signed to mighty Sub Pop Records, Band of Horses has yet to release a CD, but four demos (including “Funeral”) are available via the band’s site. Thanks to the good folks at 3hive for the lead.

“Weather” – Annie Hayden

At least a happier-sounding song, even as the theme remains. And the happier sound is largely due to the karmic lift afforded by Annie Hayden’s cheerfully crystal-clear voice (the lyrics, however, are not particularly upbeat, from what I can tell). “Weather” begins with a coy Hayden singing off the beat established by the piano, then moves briskly into a tune at once sweet and driving, steel guitar accents and sustained harmonies adding a rolling-field openness to the proceedings. Hayden’s background is as indie as it gets (she spent the mid-’90s in a New Jersey-based band called Spent), but I applaud the polish she brings to the song; to my ears there’s a lot to be said for musical prowess, at both the instrumental and production level. (Listen for instance to the masterful subtlety with which the plucked notes are articulated during the guitar break in the middle of the song.) Not that “Weather” doesn’t have a fetching quirk or two–such as the charming way the song hesitates just past the minute mark, how that short burst of drumbeat drops us briefly into near-nothingness before she catches us and brings us back to the steady, yearning groove. “Weather” is a song from Hayden’s long-awaited second solo CD, to be released next week on Merge Records. MP3 via BetterPropaganda.

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