"Who's Gonna Teach You How To Live?," Jordan Hull (Rope A Dope)
Jordan Hull began sending me music that he was recording in his bedroom when he was 16 years old. Jordan had been grounded and was a bored kid in Dayton, Ohio. He was finding friends on MySpace (remember that?) and ran across a guy who had a radio show in Knoxville and played a lot of the music Jodan liked.
That guy happened to be me. While I didn't always listen to artists who made pitches on MySpace, I looked at Hull's profile that listed Bob Dylan and Mississippi John Hurt as influences. I didn't even know another 16-year-old who knew who Mississippi John Hurt was.
When I listened to Hull's music I was amazed. The first thing I played was a song called "Home." It had all the heartbreak and sweetness of a kid in love for the first time and was delivered with the voice and musical chops of what almost sounded like an old man.
It was one of the most honest and accomplished things I'd heard in years and came from a kid who was sending out MP3s to strangers because his parents put him under house arrest.
I began playing "Home" and other songs by Hull on my show "All Over the Road" and the response from friends and listeners was pretty universal. Everybody loved him.Years later, when he moved to Nashville, he made a few trips to appear live on "All Over the Road."
Hull, who is now 22, has finally released his first full album, "Who's Gonna Teach You How to Live?" and it lives up to the promise that was so obvious in that first song.
Throughout the new album, Hull references different genres and styles. There's a touch of early rock 'n' roll, a little folk and acoustic blues and 1960s singer-songwriter balladeering. But Hull is one of those rare performers who is like a sponge for quality music and when he squeezes his influences back out the result is something that sounds fresh and different. That nasty saxophone, that harmonica, that guitar style or the background singers all evoke certain eras and images, but the sound is reverant rather then being an imitation. And the players and production are first rate.
First and foremost, though, on "Who's Gonna Teach You How to Live?" Jordan proves that he's a first-rate mature songwriter.
Hull is embroiled in the classic songwriter subjects — love, heartbreak, fate and sex.
On "Birthday Suit" he follows up on that early innocence of "Home" with equal wonder when relating something more carnal. Like Leonard Cohen, Jordan knows that lust can sometimes be as much a virtue as it is a vice.
On "King of Swing," which almost sounds like it could've come from 1958, the singer is punch drunk from the blows of unrequited love. And on "Bitterness Wins," which swings from humble folk to dramatic ballad, Hull's heartbreak is palpable.
Hull can sound populist. His music is easy to love, but it isn't pandering. His sound is classic and might lead you back to discover a few artists you should have already been familiar with.
It's great to hear that music generated from that kid grounded in his bedroom wasn't some fluke.
Give "Who's Gonna Teach You How to Live?" a listen and hear for yourself.
"The Dreamer," Rhett Miller (Maximum Sunshine)
Rhett Miller, co-founder and co-lead singer-songwriter of the great Texas group and alt-country pioneers the Old 97's, has generally used his solo albums to release music that might be a little too poppy for his Old 97's bandmates.
But on "The Dreamer," Miller's third solo studio album, the lines have begun to blur. The disc is awash with steel guitars and countryish guitar licks that make you wonder why the songs weren't part of the Old 97's repertoire.
No matter, as long as the songs on the "The Dreamer" found their way to listeners some way, it's all good.
Miller is one of modern music's most dependable craftsmen and "The Dreamer" doesn't disappoint. The disc is full of sweet melodies, nice hooks and clever lines.
And, it's unabashedly pretty. The jangly guitars and sweet steel playing can be gorgeous. And Miller enlists Rosanne Cash, Rachael Yamagata and Heather Robb to lend their pipes to the vocals.
The only complaint about "The Dreamer" is that the songs are sometimes so deftly crafted and smoothly delivered that you occasionally wish for a little more rawness or passion.
Still, it's hard to complain too much about an album that feels so good and is over almost before you know it.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!