Saturday at Vega, Wendy Jane Bantam is holding the release show for her EP “Summer Devil.” Among the openers for "The Big Holiday Show" will be Lloyd McCarter and the Honky Tonk Revival, who, earlier this year, released the album “Immortal For Now.”
Here’s a look at two of the best local recordings of 2017:
Wendy Jane Bantam, 'Summer Devil'
Bantam, a long established Lincoln painter who travels and sells work around the country and across the Atlantic, is, over the last seven years, becoming similarly set up on the local music scene, and has performed regularly in England as well as in Turkey.
It’s hard to precisely pigeonhole Bantam’s music, but let’s call it roots pop. That designation fits well for the charming opener “A Robin’s Heart,” a romantic number that turns observations of nature into the matters of the heart -- sweetly sung by Bantam, whose vocals can move from wispy to soulful to driving, as on “Rattlesnake Kate.”
That’s a story song about the title character that, with its distinctly western feel, is a tune that contrasts stylistically with the bluesy lope of the title cut. Then there’s the dark, echoey vibe of walking through the cemetery on the drifting, breathily sung “Waiting for Starkweather” and the lush ballad “Afraid."
Bantam, who’s a finely detailed songwriter, goes full literary on “Beauty & the Beast,” an informative look at the history of the fairy tale that’s leavened by Joshua Rector’s violin.
The seven songs on the beautifully mixed “Summer Devil” are rooted in Bantam’s acoustic guitar with the fleet-fingered Benjamin Kushner of the Mezcal Brothers and Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal, adding some of his best lead guitar work ever on cuts like “Summer's Devil” and “Rattlesnake Kate” and “Afraid.”
And it’s anchored by the perfect, sympathetic drumming of Lincoln’s top drummer, Justin G. Jones.
Bantam’s working on a second EP that will be a companion piece to “Summer Devil.” She’s set a high bar for herself with this fine recording. Grade: A
Lloyd McCarter and the Honky Tonk Revival, 'Immortal for Now'
With “Immortal for Now,” McCarter has made himself a straight up hardcore country album that lives up to the name of his band.
Covering all the lyrical themes with pure country sounds, engineered and mixed by Charlie Johnson at Fuse Recording to sound classic and take full advantage of McCarter’s deep voice, “Immortal for Now” pushes all the right buttons stylistically and lyrically.
There’s truck drivin’ on “13 Gears,” that’s carried by Mike McCracken’s twangulating baritone guitar, and a cheatin’ wife murder story, “Smoking Gun,” with a chugging rhythm of near-spoken vocals and instrumental quotation of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
Add in tales of hitting the bar and bottle on the shuffles “Again Again” and the rollicking “honky tonk, whiskey drinking, pretty girls, guitar pickin’” title cut that’s punctuated by some fine work by McCracken on electric guitar.
Then McCarter looks at the life of a “Washed Up Country Singer,” a funny, fast-talking number, and combines singing and whiskey on “Hard Life of Drinking” and “Drink a Little.”
There are, of course, a couple of love songs on “Immortal for Now.” One swings across the dance floor with fiddle and steel, but it’s not about a person, it’s, you got it, “I Love You Whiskey.” The other is a lovely little number, “Beauty of You,” a touching song to his wife Lashan.
Completing the package is a gentle take on “Sweet Bye and Bye” (every good country album has to have a gospel song) and “Dying Gets Closer Every Day,” a song about his dad, that’s got McCarter at his most personal with heartfelt lyrics. It's the best thing on a very good, pure country album. Grade: A