No matter how long I live in Maine, I continue to hit the winter wall in February and nearly go stir-crazy. I get antsy and have daydreams of reckless road trips to some place where the weather is hot and the food is hotter.
But MLB spring training reports warm me and spicy new music releases, like self-titled “Audra Mae and The Almighty Sound,” jump-start me. With a new band, Audra Mae breaks free from the gloomy folk singer-songwriter niche and puts some punk and sass into her country girl roots.
“Audra Mae and The Almighty Sound” came out on punk label SideOneDummy Records this month with 11 tracks that will either light a fire under your feet or melt your heart. In striking contrast to her stark almost morose solo album, “The Happiest Lamb,” released in 2010 also on SideOneDummy weirdly enough, this latest work exudes energy that defies constraints.
Audra Mae belts out a bluesy luring tease with opening track “The Real Thing” and later cranks out a jaunty taunt to would-be suitors in “Little Red Wagon,” a track that lets glimmers of Frankie Pedano’s stride jazz piano rifts sift through.
Percussive acoustic and clanging electric guitars ignite Audra Mae’s already powerful voice with a charge of swagger in “Smokin’ the Boys.” Then there’s the hard-stomping dare of “Jebediah Moonshine’s Friday Night Shack Party.” The song comes complete with a full backup chorus and a twist on the call-response camp song “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Correction — the band is going on a “party” hunt and they seemed to have found it.
Despite finding her band and fame in Los Angeles, Audra Mae is a girl from Oklahoma. Her country western plaint still burns through her music, particularly in “I’m a Diamond,” which she co-wrote with Jes Hudak. On this track, you can clearly hear one of the best additions to Audra Mae’s music — upright bass player and fellow songwriter Joe Ginsberg.
And just in case you start to lose Audra Mae’s songwriting and vocal talent in the fast-tempo glare, she strips her music down in “Ne’er Do Wells,” a song she wrote with the band’s guitar player, Jarrad Kritzstein, in the American roots tradition musically and lyrically.
Audra Mae finally melts you with the last track, “Two Melodies,” a gentle acoustic caress that lets you bask in a glow of sincerity. She wishes for “papa’s silver spoon,” but has only “a melody or two.” Audra Mae offers to “sing them both for you.”
Yes, this is the same Audra Mae who wrote “Who I was Born to Be” for Susan Boyle on her top-selling “I Dreamed a Dream” album and who descends from the legendary Judy Garland lineage as a great-great niece. The same Audra Mae who sang Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” on the F/X television series “Sons of Anarchy.” The same Audra Mae and band who opened last month for Matt Nathanson at the State Theater in Portland.
Just goes to show that some hot new music can go a long way toward thawing the winter blahs, even in Maine.
Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot. Her e-mail address is [email protected]