Roots Round-Up (Abigail Lapell, Scott H Biram, Reyna Tropical and more) | Songlines
Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Roots Round-Up (Abigail Lapell, Scott H Biram, Reyna Tropical and more)

By Devon Leger

A selection of essential releases from the US and Canada including new albums from Creekbed Carter Hogan, Abigail Lapell and Reyna Tropical

Abigaillapell2023 Jensquires 177C (1)

Abigail Lapell © Jen Squires

With songs that speak of apiaries and medieval religious parables, and powerful fingerstyle guitar reminiscent of Nick Drake, folk songwriter Creekbed Carter Hogan pulls from an eclectic bag of influences on his album Creekbed Carter (Gar Hole Records ★★★★). Some influences come from Carter’s Catholic upbringing, perhaps now a point of contention as they are a queer, trans artist living in an increasingly frustrating and dangerous country. With ‘If I Was’, Carter complains bitterly about how Americans care more for guns than people. Carter’s literate songwriting also traces back to their background as a fiction writer and teacher. Still, there’s no fiction as strange as America’s current Dantean hellscape and Carter’s the kind of artist to help us navigate it.

Canadian singer-songwriter Abigail Lapell seems incapable of writing a bad song. Her new album, Anniversary (Outside Music ★★★★), once again shows why she’s one of the best folk songwriters in the country. She’s said that the new album is about exploring the contradictory nature of pop culture’s idea of love. She’s subverting songwriting tropes, trying to hunt for the deeper emotions beneath the lipstick gloss. ‘Diamonds are a dime-a-dozen,’ she sings on the opening track, ‘take my hand and don’t stop runnin’.’ Lapell’s songs on Anniversary touch on grief as well, and religious iconography. She’s tackling huge topics with a deft subtlety that’s rare. Lapell recorded the album in an old church in Ontario, inviting Canadian indie band Great Lake Swimmers to join her on some glorious duets (that band’s frontman Tony Dekker co-produced the album with her). Lapell’s songs just get better and better over the years.

Banjo player and singer Kendl Winter’s music has always sounded like the rainy Pacific Northwest landscapes where she grew up. She’s known for her work as a duo in The Lowest Pair and was signed to venerable indie grunge label K Records, so her new turn as a solo banjo meditationalist for the album Banjo Mantras (Delicata Records ★★★★) comes as a bit of a surprise. A lo-fi album of clawhammer banjo instrumentals, Winter developed these mantras as daily experiments to share on social media, bringing a little calm and reflection into the world. Winter’s deft melodies and creative calm are a real balm on this album.

The debut full-length, Malegría (Psychic Hotline ★★★★), from guitarist and songwriter Fabi Reyna aka Reyna Tropical is a dizzying kaleidoscope of Latin American roots music. Reyna’s also the editor of She Shreds, the first magazine for women and non-binary guitarists, so she’s got a discerning ear for music. The songs on Malegría touch on indie-rock at times more than folk, but the underpinning rhythms and ideas come from Reyna’s many travels in Latin America, especially drawing on sounds from Colombia, Mexico and Puerto Rico. There’s no small amount of Manu Chao influence here either, the album title itself coming from a Chao song. It’s a diasporic album, defined by a search for home and belonging, and built around a queer, anti-colonialist perspective.

Checking out the new album, The One & Only Scott H Biram (Bloodshot Records ★★★★) from blues shouter Scott H Biram is like travelling back in time to the early 2000s. Even the album art is a throwback. Way back then, Biram was building his name with roughneck vocals sung out through a bunch of scratchy vintage mics, stomping along onstage. He helped form an army of white blues dudes copying this style, but nobody ever got close to the way he could blend country blues, fire-and-brimstone gospel, rowdy honky-tonk and introspective songwriting so effortlessly. There’s only ever been one Scott H Biram and this album on the newly returned Bloodshot Records shows that even if he’s feeling a bit rough around the edges, he still hasn’t lost his trademark ferocity.

This column originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Songlines. Never miss an issue – subscribe to Songlines today

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