Album Cuts

Flyin’ A’s
No Holds Barred
Flyin’ A’s Records

Flying off their third album, the husband-and-wife duo’s No Holds Barred strings folk, country, and Americana with rock elements, produced by multi-instrumentalist Chris Cage, a frequent collaborator with veteran Jerry Jeff Walker (author of the evergreen “Mr. Bojangles”). While lap steel, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, and acoustic guitars accentuate the tracks, there are surprises, such as percussion with the Irish bodhran and electrical instrumentation (electric baritone guitar, electric bass) as found commonplace in rock music. A theme of love, family, and hardship unifies the album and touches on basic human roots as its humbling core.

The initial track, “Going Crazy,” exemplifies a no-holds-bar approach to having a raucous time with a loved one and purveys the couples’ harmonies. “Rhyme or Reason” is a tale of a female who stands strong and proud until an instantaneous crush clouds her judgment. “She Feels Like Home” pulls the listener back into a homely and heartfelt setting, enveloped in intimacy and inspiration, before “Heart Breaks” compares love with a honky-tonkin’ journey on the road. Ballads and uptempo numbers appear to be in balance on this outing.

Even as independent artists, the team perform The Kingston Trio’s “Coal Tattoo” (a folk tune penned by Billy Edd Wheeler), the Roger Miller/George Jones-penned “Nothing Can Stop My Loving You,” the Townes Van Zandt 1969 staple “Lungs,” and “What’s Wrong with You for Loving Me,” written by Al Staehely (formerly of the psychedelic rock band Spirit) in 1995. But the last track – “Letting Go” - ends on an original farewell note, sung alone by Hilary but still with her husband Stuart’s presence. No Holds Barred demonstrates growth and determination and may be the couple’s most ambitious effort yet.

by Jeff Boyce

Emma Hill
How Could I Have Been So Wrong?
Kuskokwim Records

Hailing from Alaska, songwriter Emma Hill’s latest endeavor is a three-song EP that imbues Americana-folk, heart, and the pedal steel working of long-term musical companion Bryan Daste. Insightful and hopeful, each tune encapsulates Hill’s mantra to provide compassion in a world of discord. “The world’s on fire,” she sings. “The devil’s at the table. Give us grace to go down lovingly.”

“How Could I Have Been So Wrong” echoes a Neil Young folk context melded to a vocal reminiscent of Natalie Merchant and deals with common humankind themes of reflection and excesses. The more upbeat “Early to Bed” describes a forlorn nature, where “lonely is a special kind of sad,” and deals with mental anguish; but its message awakens the listener and urges a fight in the battle that is life. These pieces lead to the finale: the focus track “The World is on Fire,” which creates political poetry set to a banjo backdrop but calls for love and acceptance in even bleak times. Some of the images are potent: “drones dropping bombs,” “border babies stuck in cages,” “stripping reproductive rights,” and, as she concludes, “we’re still calling it a democracy.”

Mixing personal experience with song brings out the best in singers, and Hill effectively employs high emotion set to a bare bones background. Her mellifluous vocals underpin frank calls for hope and peace, continuing the tradition of her folk brethren. While simplistic and catchy musically, the contrast of her lyrics and vocal sincerity run deep like the wilderness that the world seems to be in.

by Jeff Boyce