Americana mashup

Americana mashup
Image Blood on the Harp’s songs about death
!!Gothic country outfit revels in heartbreak and dark confessionals

“We’re all going to hell in the end,” Miguel Olascuaga sings in “They’ll Never Find Me,” the opening number from Blood on the Harp’s Ghost(s) Vol. 1 EP. But with old-timey fiddle, poetic lyrics, and Olascuaga’s Hank Williams-esque moan, the journey at hand is almost comforting.

This macabre musical outfit creates a sound that harkens to an antique era of American music, with lush string arrangements that drift into rich gothic terrain. Understated male-female harmonies between Olascuaga, who also plays guitar, and fellow vocalist Keena Graham give life to the group’s self-proclaimed “songs about death.”

The lineup also includes Russell Blair (upright bass), Chris Johnson (guitar), and Christopher Salmon (fiddle, banjo) — singing saw player Matt Welch recently moved to New Orleans. Each member of the group takes the stage dressed in black, as whiskey-soaked loneliness, heartbreak, and dark confessionals weigh heavily with each number they sing. Every musical measure embraces traditional mountain music’s rustic sounds, steeped in cautionary tales of murder, deceit, and the devil himself. A sense of melancholy, depression, and the supernatural guides songs such as “Ornaments in Translation” and “The Last Laugh,” in which Olascuaga sings: “Start screaming, start begging, start praying like you’re going to die/No you’ll never see me shed a tear when your hearse rolls by.”

Each song is crammed with the tales of a doomed man. Blood on the Harp turns the ambiance of rural music into a bleak soundtrack as Olascuaga’s characters stand trial for their souls.

— Dacey Orr

Image Cold Heart Canyon’s country procession
!!The rollicking trio struts with a devil-may-care stomp

The pop-tinged country and bluegrass sounds of Cold Heart Canyon occupy familiar musical terrain. The procession of Jenna Mobley’s fiddle and Robert Greene’s chain gang percussion follow singer, guitarist, banjo and harmonica player Rachael Petit’s lead, sometimes swinging from sweet to salty in one musical motion. Songs with titles such as “13 Types of Whiskey” and “Pentagram Smile” embody classic Dixie tropes: A woman in the throes of too much brown liquor, a devil-may-care Southern spirit on the rebound. But it’s “Frankly My Dear” that slows things down, calling on Rhett Butler’s rakish ennui to reveal the melancholy lying beneath the song’s toe-tapping melody. Petit and Greene harmonize on the song’s lyrics: “Social situations and a lack of regret and you light me up like a cigarette/The ashes falling down turn to teardrops on my tongue.”

Each song builds on a beat that’s catchy enough to flip anyone’s notions of what modern Americana music is, and what it can be.

The trio stays true to the roots of its sound, but delivers with an abandon that makes the music fresh and vibrant. These three are also liable to swap instruments mid-set, adding whimsy to the cautionary chorus of “No, no, no, no” in “Cryin’ Shame.”

If the group’s name rings a bell it’s because Cold Heart Canyon appears on bills all over the city, from the Clermont Lounge on New Year’s Eve to the Star Bar on a school night. The group recently wrapped up recording its debut studio album, Wolves, Demons, & Drunks, with a release date set for Aug. 4.

— Dacey Orr

Image Brother Hawk’s psychedelic heartbreak
!!J.B. Brisendine crafts Southern blues for sentimental city dwellers

Brother Hawk’s sophomore album, Big Medicine, is a rock-oriented opus steeped in breakneck Southern blues for sentimental city dwellers. Wailing guitar solos and distorted crunch underscore the grandeur of songs such as the organ-driven “Half Empty,” or the graceful piano and harmonica lining “Midnight in Tifton’s” tale of a love that got away. As far as singer/songwriter and guitarist J.B. Brisendine is concerned, the songs he crafts with the group are “emotionally charged to the highest degree.”

It’s an apt description for the lilting and ornate songs that define Big Medicine (released May 28). Songs such as “L5P” and “Ghosts” blend into each other as Brisendine’s soaring voice and guitar unfold with labyrinthine heartbreak. An enormous sense of pathos is on full display in “Scarlett” when he sings, “You crawled across my bed, up my neck, and into my head. I just laid back, let you spin your web.”

Brisendine corralled a handful of high school friends, including bassist James Fedigan and keyboardist Nick Johns, to round out these valorous and ornate alt country tunes that embrace heartfelt sincerity in the lyrics and psychedelic instrumental flourishes. Drummer JC Bartlebaugh plays on the record, but has since parted ways with the group. New drummer Allan Carson rounds out the band’s current lineup.

In the fall, Brother Hawk will head to Europe for a month of headlining dates. Until then, Big Medicine provides a sustained mood that captures the full expressiveness of Brisendine’ rich and sonorous voice while transmitting classic Southern melancholy that suits the band and the songs with equal parts dignity and loneliness.

— Chad Radford and Mathis Hunter

Image City Mouse in love and loneliness
!!Country-bluegrass duo plays from the heart

There’s a playful onstage chemistry between City Mouse singer, guitarist, and banjo player Brian Revels and standup bassist and fiddle player Jenna Mobley. The principal players behind the country-bluegrass duo follow each other’s musical cues with quiet focus. The lyrics and acoustic songwriting revel in time-honored country music themes.

In the song “Mary,” Revels sings, “I’ll write a simple song for a simple reason, I’m alone and I’ve been drinking. Don’t know where I went wrong, but she’s gone.”

The earnestness in his voice transcends the cliches of a city slicker singing about country life. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if and when it’s coming from the subconscious or elsewhere, but ‘Mary’ came honest,” Revels says.

City Mouse’s small but growing body of songs evokes memories of sleepy, moonlit nights. It’s the “joy of life passing by,” they sing together in the title track for the Joy of Life EP. Themes of lovin’ and drinkin’ turn to bowing out of the picture gracefully when both have gone awry. Revels makes the most out of simple melodies, delivering rhythmic banjo picking to Mobley’s bass slapping.

“I’m Done” offers comfort to the weary and a melody for the couple on the dance floor. “If you’ll be my ladder, I’ll climb as high as I can, but I have reservations you must understand,” Revels sings in “Joy of Life.”

On stage, City Mouse’s songs hold the power to transform a room filled with soft-spoken strangers into foot-stomping friends and family. Mobley and Revels’ stage presence has generated buzz for Atlanta as a must-stop destination for like-minded touring bands — a truly communal contribution to a city that’s teeming with music, heart, and imagination.

— Billy Mitchell and Chad Radford


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