Compact Capsules by Dan Ferguson
Ha Ha Tonka
Death of a Decade
Hailing from Ozarks country in Missouri, thanks to loads of touring the foursome Ha Ha Tonka has steadily been building its fan base since its 2007 debut for Chicago-based indie Bloodshot Records. The past year saw that popularity take a giant leap what with the combination of the well received third recording from the band called Death of a Decade along with a featured appearance on Anthony Bourdain's highly popular No Reservations food/travelogue television program as part of an episode focusing on the Ozarks. It was well deserved for the roots band who on Death of a Decade deliver tight, high energy songs in the Southern tradition bolstered by soldering harmonies and a driving mix of electric and acoustic instrumentation. Of its now three albums, the Death of a Decade sessions found Ha Ha Tonka recording in a barn in upstate New York. No wonder it's the band's most stripped down release to date effectively walking that plank between modernity and tradition.
Walk of Shame
On the cover of her new record Walk of Shame, Nashville-based relative newcomer Nikki Lane looks plenty fetching in tight red dress and high heals with long brunette locks hanging down to her shoulder blades. The eye candy angle had "bad girl" written all over it when this CD showed up in the mail and made me pretty dubious having seen this approach many times before with the end product usually little nothing more than Nashville schlock. Happy to report that such is not the case with Walk of Shame which to these ears was one of the best debut recordings by an artist on the twangy side of the tracks that Ear Bliss heard in 2011. The flavor is decidedly country, but Lane mixes an old school approach with a tough girl attitude to create an album in the classic style with modern flashings. Think Loretta Lynn meets Wanda Jackson with a side of Neko Case on a record on which Lane's songs find that sweet balance between tongue-in-chic frankness and heart. Recommended. Visit www.missnikkilane.com.
(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.)