Adele H (feat. Buck Curran): Dogmas
Buck Curran: Standing Rock Plain
The Rushings (feat. Buck Curran): Nashville West Sessions
Buck Curran's newly hatched Obsolete imprint left a strong mark on 2016 with the release of his solo debut album Immortal Light and the compilation Basket Full of Dragons: a tribute to Robbie Basho Vol 2. Now, three new releases reveal that the label also issues EPs, the first two of which feature Curran on electric guitar and the third a release by the man himself. In all cases, two originals are supplemented by alternate versions that are essentially bonus tracks, which means all could have been issued as two-song singles in a more concise format (of course, the fact that they're all digital releases grants the user the option of acquiring the full EP or individual tracks).
The most immediately engaging of the three is Nashville West Sessions, which The Rushings recorded last June in Charlotte, Tennessee. Performed by Stacey (lead vocals and acoustic guitar) and Laws Rushing (harmony vocals), the release also features Curran's electric guitar on one song. First up is “Lovesick Mess,” an instant classic, one of those barroom country ballads that digs its hooks into you the first time you hear it. Buoyed by gentle acoustic strums, Stacey sings with all the ache and longing its hurtin' words deserve (“Then you walk into the room / Looking like you usually do / Suddenly my head starts spinning / I can feel it through my chest / I just lost my confidence / I'm a secret lovesick mess”), and with Curran drenching the material with electric atmosphere and Laws amplifying the lead with harmonies the haunting song brands itself on the psyche. As much as electric guitar enhances the song, it also holds up powerfully as an acoustic version, which focuses the attention even more on the vocal execution and the song's melodies. With Curran sitting out, the EP's second ballad, “My World,” presents The Rushings in all their stripped-down glory, a move that allows the natural appeal of Stacey's singing to be heard with maximum clarity. As smooth as her delivery is, there's also a raw and rough-hewn quality about it that suggests she's probably seen a few hundred miles of rough road in her life. As mentioned, bonus versions of both songs are included, but “My World” and the two versions of “Lovesick Mess” are all you really need.
A blend of experimental and psychedelic songcraft, Dogmas by Adele H (Italian singer-songwriter Adele Pappalardo) feels worlds removed from the country-tinged twang of The Rushings, even if it shares with that release a raw, even primordial character. On this release, Adele H's songs augment her vocals and percussion with Dave Gagne on bongos and, once again, Curran on electric guitar. Ostensibly issued to help raise funds for the vinyl version of Civilization, her upcoming debut album, the EP's songs won't appear on the full-length, scheduled to be issued jointly by Obsolete Recordings and Psychic Sounds. “Dogmas” and “Primordial Sound,” the EP's two originals, do, however, provide a clear impression of what to expect, given that they also put her voice and loop-generated percussion treatments at the forefront. With primal rhythm patterns animating her multi-layered vocals, “Dogmas” exudes a feverish quality verging on delirious, as if she's mining some deep, instinctive well of feeling (sample lyrics: “I will melt into your hair, into your nails / Until you will be born again”). Driven by undulating vocal melodies and raw guitar textures, the song makes for an entrancing, five-minute ride; an accompanying live take of the song doesn't depart dramatically from the studio version, though it does boast a vocal that feels even more possessed. Also recorded live, “Primordial Sound” might be even more primal than “Dogmas,” its focus on intertwining vocal melodies generated using a loop machine. On this track especially, Pappalardo's delivery reaches a level of passion that invites comparison to that of her Icelandic counterpart Bjork.Recorded a month ago in Bergamo, Italy, Curran's own release, Standing Rock Plain, pairs multiple versions of the title song with a finger-style guitar instrumental. Presented in a bare-bones vocal-and-acoustic guitar arrangement, “Standing Rock Plain” is a protest song, full stop, that leaves little doubt as to where Curran's sympathies lie. Dedicated to “all the brave women, men, and children peacefully protesting and enduring atrocity at Standing Rock and everywhere around the world,” the song condemns those guilty of disregarding the rights of Native Americans (in simplest terms, the plan to run the Dakota Access Pipeline is regarded by members of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and others as a threat to the region's land, clean water, and sacred burial grounds). To tell his story, Curran adopts the persona of a protester traveling to the site on horseback to join the cause and stand up to the damage current and future generations will suffer if the pipeline project continues (“I'm taking my horse to Standing Rock Plain / Where the sisters and brothers all sing in refrain / Let the waters run clear on our ancestral land / Don't want no black oil, nor the pain that it brings”). Though the performance is delivered by Curran with measured calm, anger and frustration ooze from the song over the disrespect shown to not only Native Americans and their rights but to anyone with an informed environmental awareness. As should be patently obvious, “Standing Rock Plain” falls squarely within the grand tradition of protest singer-songwriting one associates with figures like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Bob Dylan. Sunnier by comparison, “Zitkala-Sa” rounds out the release with three minutes of electric guitar playing whose soothing melodies lend the material the innocent feel of a lullaby—how smart of Curran to offset the bitter tone of the title track with a sweet little reverie.