The Holmes Brothers
Feed My Soul (Alligator)
This blues trio has quite an impressive resumé, working with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Willie Nelson and recording 11 acclaimed albums of its own. Guitarist/singer Wendell Holmes, who’s lived in Baltimore since the early 1990s, wrote half of this disc’s 14 songs, and his contribution makes Feed My Soul the best Holmes Brothers effort to date. As the title implies, the group’s take on the blues is more heavenly and spiritual than lowdown and gritty. Although many of these songs tackle hard times straight on, thanks to a heavy dose of gospel harmonies, sanctified organ, and righteous lyrics, they’re uplifting, defiant, and, ultimately, triumphant. As a result, The Holmes Brothers sound more relevant, and necessary, than ever.
Exact Change (OBUS Music)
A few years after graduating from Berklee College of Music, Vox traded her guitar for a ukulele and hasn’t looked back. Originally from Green Bay, she settled in Baltimore, though “settled” isn’t exactly what you’d call someone who plays upwards of 100 gigs a year. Here, Vox strums and charms her way through 12 tunes that alternately swing back to the Jazz Age and push forward into indie-rock territory. Unlike, say, Andrew Bird—who uses the uke like some precious and delicate relative of the violin (not the fiddle)—Vox explores the instrument’s propulsive potential on tunes such as “Oh I Wonder” and “La Musique” and coaxes evocative melodies from it on “French Café” and “Beautiful Home.” The latter tune is a gently swinging homage to her hometown, with references to her beautiful home “off North Avenue.” It’s “dusty and damp” and “the windows are shattered,” but Vox sings, “It’ll do, when I’m with you.” And Vox gets extra credit for elaborate, limited edition packaging that shows her in front of a laundromat washing machine, with real water and a plastic fish inside. I’ve never heard, or seen, anything quite like Exact Change.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang
The Wonder Show of the World (Drag City)
Bonnie “Prince” Billy is one of the monikers used by songwriter Will Oldham, who lived in Baltimore a few years back. An enigmatic presence on the indie scene, he’s known for penning austere songs with literary aspirations and rustic finishes. On Wonder Show, Oldham—with guitarist/collaborator Emmett Kelly in tow—crafts some of his most mysterious and idiosyncratic tunes yet. The CD opens with “Troublesome Houses” and the lines, “I once loved a girl, but she couldn’t take that I visited troublesome houses.” Curious and peculiar, it makes you want to follow Oldham’s lead, as troublesome as it might be.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy plays Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on August 22.