CD Reviews for 01/06/06 – Dave Knudsen, Edith Frost, Calexico & Iron&WIne

Compact Capsules for 01/06/06
by Dan Ferguson

We begin 2006 by catching up on some 2005 releases which for one reason or another we just never got to. Typically being one of the slowest months of the year when it comes to new stuff, January is always a good time to play catch-up and that’s likely to be the Compact Capsules modus operandi for the next few weeks. We begin with three releases which arrived between Thanksgiving and Christmas and each of which struck a chord with this writer. Let’s get to it.

Dave Knudsen
The Weeping City
Boronda Records BR0002

In an under the radar sort of way, Southern California over the last three or four years has had a resurgence of country music. Most, if not all of it, is going down in relative obscurity from the no frills watering holes where many of the artists perform to the independent album releases a number of the players on the scene have managed to get into some sort of circulation. Three years ago it was a release called Jack Of All Heartache (Big Ol’ Records) from a little-known rock drummer-turned-front man for an album by the name of Mike Stinson. Not much for a singer, there was something about Stinson’s delivery and the ache he injected into his hardcore country songs. Label them the kind of tunes that could secure themselves a comfy spot in a jukebox with neighbors like Jones and Paycheck and make those longnecks wash down all too easy. Also toiling in obscurity, Dave Knudsen comes from that same scene and his recently released debut called The Weeping City strikes the same sort of nerve. While not nearly as hard country in a sound sense as Stinson’s Jack Of All Heartache, The Weeping City bellies up to the bar in equally fine fashion. Like Stinson, Knudsen is not any kind of a polished singer. One piece I read said his voice was remindful of Loudin Wainwright III. I’ll buy that in part, but a scruffier-voiced Wainwright with a touch of Neil Young is more like it to these ears. Still, when you have a collection of songs like those that occupy The Weeping City, the warts and blemishes of a low-key production to go with the tattered singing voice of Knudsen give the record a relaxed, homespun kind of appeal. On the surface, Knudsen’s songs are simple, but with an uncanny knack for dangling a hook out there which anyone with an ear for an honest song is bound to take. Knudsen, along with his producer Charlie McGovern, opt for a spare and soulful brand of creaky twang to go with his bluesy heartsongs of the ups and downs of love and life. That spareness gives The Weeping City an intimacy as if the guy’s just hanging in your kitchen serenading with his songs. It’s a lethal combination that adds up to a record that sticks in the craw and grows with each listen. Recommended. (For information on Dave Knudsen and The Weeping City, check out either the Boronda Records web site at or Dave’s own site at

Edith Frost
It’s A Game
Drag City DC301CD

It’s been four years since the last album from Chicago-based Texan Edith Frost. That record was Wonder Wonder, a collection of pop leaning originals from the singer/songwriter. Whereas many were beginning to wonder if Frost was going to ever make another record, those concerns are over with the release of her fourth album called It’s A Game. If the songs of It’s A Game are any indication of Frost’s love life since her last longplayer, it has been a rocky road. Singing in a conversational style, Frost’s songs deal almost entirely with the lows of love and relationship-making taking the listener from the jilted strands of numbers like “Emergency” (“You’ve got so much time for…that other woman”) and “What’s the Use” (“I fall in love and end up blue”) to the illusions of love ala the buoyant “It’s a Game” and “Mirage” (“He said our love was just an illusion / A temporary figment of my mind”). Even with her unruffled, plain-spoken delivery to go with the spare accompaniment, there’s an oddly appealing way to it all as if Frost is letting us in on her inner secrets. The real secret is her ability to create songs that are deceptive in their simplicity, but at the same time have this alluring quality that make it hard not to get pulled into her lonely web of doomed romance. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been in these kind of situations ourselves. Take “If It Weren’t For the Words”. On it she sings, “I’d be writing all day if it weren’t for the words / I’d find something to say if it weren’t for the words / It’s the words that give me trouble / I’d be alright if it weren’t for the words”. A song so uncomplicated on the surface, but at the same time strikes so close to home to those whose biggest problem is expressing themselves. Gems like this are all over It’s A Game, an album where the songs of Ms. Frost are the real heart of the matter. (Drag City Records, P.O. Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647, or

Calexico & Iron and Wine
In the Reins
Overcoat Recordings OC28

The recently released EP In the Reins brings together two relatively hot properties of the indie music set, Tucson-based band Calexico and Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. Whereas the collaboration between the two parties happened just over a year at a studio in Tucson, the seed was planted back in 2001 when looking for a band to back him in the studio for the recording of his debut album, Beam settled on the core of Calexico, that being Joey Burns and John Convertino. For whatever reason, the collaboration never happened. Not that it seemed to affect either group as each came into their own in the ensuing period. Last December saw them finally have time to join forces to record the tracks that have become In the Reins. While some may have questioned the on-paper combination of the Southwestern noir-ish sounds of Calexico with the more hushed approach favored by Beam on his songs, as In the Reins demonstrates it is a more than complimentary combination; horns here, pedal steel there, the plunk of a banjo, the tremolo of guitar and plenty of fine percussion work to go with Beam’s tranquil vocals. The album is also not without its surprises, first and foremost the guest spot by baritone singer Salvador Duran. Duran, who is a mainstay on the Tucson Flamenco scene, embellishes the opening number, which doubles as the title track, with his Latino bravado. As the story goes, Beam saw Duran perform at a local hotel after the first evening of recording and signed him on the spot. From there the sounds vary from alt country stylings to the bluesy overtones of “Red Dust” chock full of harp to the cool, jazzy stylings of “Burn That Broken Bed” to the after-hours meandering of “Dead Man’s Will” which closes things out on a soulful note. About the only problem with In the Reins is that at just seven songs, it’s over all too fast. Here’s hoping this isn’t the one and only time these two join forces. (Overcoat Recordings, 3831 N. Christiana, Chicago, IL 60618, or

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)