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Sequels Shine Over Side Project’s Debut

December 19, 2018 GMT

Great Lake Swimmers — ‘The Waves, The Wake’

THE GOOD: Canadian folk-rock outfit Great Lake Swimmers continues to charm us with its seventh.

THE BAD: The formula never changes much. Does it need to?

THE NITTY GRITTY: The band’s lineup shuffles constantly, but as long as singer/songwriter Tony Dekker remains, those changes are barely noticeable. On “The Waves,” Dekker adds more flavors to the mix, slipping in organ, harp, flute and other new sounds in addition to the usual acoustic strumming. Drums are kept to a minimum, making this a much more intimate affair than usual.


And the band really shines during the quieter moments, with songs such as low-burning opener “The Talking Wind” and the atmospheric, mostly a capella “Visions of a Different World.” The group still shows off its folk-pop skills during full-on band bits including “Alone but Not Alone” and “Root Systems.” “The Waves” ends up a balanced set, never too soft and only forceful when necessary. It’s what I call a “snowy Sunday morning” record. Hey — ’tis the season.

BUY IT?: Surely.


Big Red Machine — ‘Big Red Machine’

THE GOOD: Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame and the National’s Aaron Dessner get together for a unique collaboration and side project.

THE BAD: “Big Red Machine” is part of something much bigger. So how well does it work as a traditional album?

THE NITTY GRITTY: People is a large artistic community formed to take the creative process outside of traditional music marketing and publishing. Vernon and Dessner are two of its members, with the “Machine” album featuring other People folks as well. Whether this lasts or not has yet to be seen, but the collective is off to a credible start.

“Machine” is a loose combination of modern folk, indie rock and electronic, not far removed from Bon Iver’s 2016 landmark record “22, A Million.” Game changer? Hardly, but it is an unpredictable listening experience. We bounce from the electric buzz permeating “Air Stryp” to the warm gospel soaking “Hymnostic” to the tumbling electro carrying “Forest Green.” Many flavors indeed.

BUY IT?: Give it a go.


Cat Power — ‘Wanderer’

THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter Chan Marshall (stage name Cat Power) comes back with her 10th album and first in six years.

THE BAD: “Wanderer” is sparse and chilling. It’s not bad, but it’s a far cry from the synth-heavy pop experiments on 2012’s “Sun.”

THE NITTY GRITTY: Long-time fans shouldn’t be surprised at yet another musical shift, though. Marshall never makes the same album twice, and “Wanderer” is easily her most personal collection since 2006’s “The Greatest.” Her old label, Matador, rejected the record, feeling it was undercooked and not commercial enough. That’s probably its greatest strength.


There’s a stark intimacy running through the center. Marshall bears her soul over threadbare backdrops on pieces such as “Horizon” and “Woman.” While she takes in a full band and some light string arrangements here and there, much of “Wanderer” features the singer with just an acoustic guitar or piano. That’s all these compositions require. Marshall even strips Rihanna’s “Stay,” the album’s sole cover tune, to its bare essence, making the song all her own.

BUY IT?: Surely.

Contact the writer: mevans@shamrocknepa.com