Nick Drake
Made to Love Magic

This is supposed to be the posthumous Nick Drake release, when in reality it’s a slighter version of Drake’s other posthumous (1985) release, Time of No Reply, included with the Fruit Tree boxed set. Made to Love Magic is compiled from unreleased and alternate versions of Drake’s songbook from 1968 to his last recordings before his death in 1974. Remixes of some of his greatest tunes (“Joey,” “Clothes of Sand”) make appearances here, along with quivering home recordings of “River Man” and “Mayfair.” There’s also a different version of “Voice from the Mountain” (re-titled “Voices”) and an awesome alternate take on “Three Hours.” But the clincher is Drake’s recently unearthed final song, “Toe The Line.”

When you’re a fan of those now passed on, hearing anything “new” is like recapturing those first-love feelings. Drake epitomized true downer folk music in his brilliant career, his captivating vocals capable of bleakness, but not without a slight scent of humor. You can start anywhere in his few releases, and there’s a worthy Best of album available. Made To Love Magic is another great addition to the Drake canon, and an incredible listen, but Time of No Reply remains the preferred portal to Drake-world. (Bryan Ramirez)

The Horns of Happiness
A Sea As a Shore
Secretly Canadian

Vocals: Lately they’re getting between me and a lot of good music.

The Horns of Happiness is Aaron Deer, and his voice is so resoundingly unresounding, so flat and dull and nasal, it’s no wonder you can barely find a patch on A Sea As a Shore where it isn’t multi-tracked with two or more strata of the same monotonous drone laid on top of one another. Deer should have quit while he was ahead, which is to say before he started. You’re not a great cook just because you slather on a lot of sauces.

Otherwise, A Sea As a Shore is an intriguing tease—like a painting that’s a little too self-consciously impressionistic, or a dream that sounds a little too perfect in its symbolism when someone tells you about it, but that you wish you’d had anyway. Deer’s sonic palette includes some splendidly arcane pigments, in particular an old dancehall piano that drifts in and out of the hazy reverie like a score in search of a silent movie. A Sea As a Shore is an album in search of a decade with an annoying kid riding sidecar. (Andy Smetanka)

Brother Danielson
Brother is to Son
Secretly Canadian

Daniel Smith achieved the improbable in the mid ’90s by assembling a faith-based band with his family members and winning over the underground scene with joyously bent folksy noise. This latest offering does include “Famile” members and friends, but it is a solo jaunt in search of a more intimate sound. It’s folk music from day one for Smith, his questions about life and God crafted in a non-threatening, progressive way.

Smith’s acoustic guitar leads the way in this more reflective flower-power style, not far from that late ’60s/early ’70s Soft Sounds for Gentle People vibe when many in the counter-culture were finding inner peace, and record labels like Elektra, Asylum & ESP were cagily trying to market its essence. Smith pulls out some real epics, like “Cookin’ Mid-County,” or the drop-dead beautiful “Perennial Wine” with female members of the Smith family tweeting out a lovely Crosby, Stills and Nash-styled backing vocal and Daniel’s high-pitched Neil Young braying in the lead. (Bryan Ramirez)

Tres Chicas
Yep Roc

Lord it must have been a fine decade to be alive and listening in North Carolina, ground zero for indie-country of a contemporary age. Chris Stamey helped lay the foundation, Whiskeytown helped raise the flag, talents from Six String Drag to Thad Cockrell saluted, and now, well into its maturity, the scene is starting to distill some of its finest spirits. Whiskeytown fiddler and accomplished soloist Caitlin Cary is one such, and on this debut she’s an equal third of Tres Chicas, along with Lynn Blakey of Let’s Active and Hazeldine’s Tonya Lamm.

Supergroups—and the term has been invoked—are notoriously fickle beasts, rarely built to last, and often burdened with ego. Genuinely empathetic vocal harmonists, likewise, are so rare as to be sideshows, saddled with Crosby Stills and Nash comparisons for lack of option.

Forget all that. Tres Chicas is its own beautiful animal, laying down a bar-raising gauntlet of George Jones, Loretta Lynn and Lucinda Williams covers, and rising to the occasion with seven impeccably lovely originals: quiet, waltzing, windswept. The egalitarianism on display, and the songwriting, and most of all the brushed cotton bedspread of knitted voices, makes Sweetwater about the prettiest thing you’re likely to hear this year. (Brad Tyer)

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