New Noise SB Presents: Y la Bamba

Y La Bamba

It’s easy to talk about an artist’s growth as a series of musical decisions: an expanding sonic palette, a
change in mood or tempo, an escape from the trappings of genre. It’s harder to talk about an artist’s
personal—or even spiritual—growth, because that kind of progress is hard to track. Until, that is, an album
like Y La Bamba’s Ojos Del Sol comes along and screams of radical transformation on every level. The
Portland act’s fourth offering is a sweeping, playful and vulnerable collection that’s ripe with both musical
and personal discovery. From the intimate, contemplative verses of the Spanish­language title track to the
revelations delivered over the loping beats of “Ostrich,” this is an album that’s painstakingly produced while
remaining emotionally raw.
Throughout the collection, Y La Bamba frontwoman Luz Elena Mendoza returns to themes of searching and
metamorphosis. On one level, this is born from the Y La Bamba frontwoman’s continuing exploration of her
identity as Mexican woman. Both of Mendoza’s parents grew up in Mexico—Luz was born in San Francisco,
then brought up in a strict Catholic household in Southern Oregon. She spent her childhood summers
playing in the orchards of California's San Joaquin Valley with her cousins, and it was there that she soaked
up the melodies and stories that were being told through traditional folk songs with three­part harmonies.
These are sounds that remain a vital building block of the songs on Ojos Del Sol, an album which she says
represents “a celebration of family and community.”
But on another level, Ojos Del Sol is about Luz’s search for shared humanity outside of her own community,
and for a faith that is greater than just religion. These are themes that run throughout Y La Bamba’s body of
work work—with roots in a 2003 journey to India, which found Mendoza falling ill and trading her Christianity
for something broader—but there’s a maturity to Ojos Del Sol that speaks to true, lasting transformation. You
can hear this on the lush “Kali,” where she sings—with wonderment rather than fear—that “to know yourself
is to lose everything.” And you can hear it on the album’s epic closer, “Ulysses,” where Mendoza sings that
her life is “written in sand and ash and stone.”
These are songs built to soundtrack coming to grips not just with one’s own mortality, but with the fragility of
the world. This is heady, emotional fare, and “this record is about being a mother to these emotions,”
Mendoza says.
Her clarity of voice is intimately tied to a renewed musical approach, which Luz attributes to a greater
self­awareness that developed through recent collaborations with singer­songwriters Edna Vazquez and Lila
Downs, as well as an exploration of mariachi, cumbia, and Latin pop with Calexico’s Sergio Mendoza—no
relation—on a collaborative 2015 album released under the name Los Hijos De La Montaña.
Those collaborations helped Mendoza find her own voice as a more confident producer and songwriter on
an album that is often a stripped­down affair. Mendoza plays guitar throughout Ojos Del Sol, and worked
actively with composer Richie Greene to create a new sonic voice. Percussion from another regular
Mendoza collaborator, Nick Delffs (Shaky Hands, Death Songs), is a welcome near­constant that adds
depth and soul to the album. To that same end, Mendoza hand­cut stencil art pieces, which appear in Ojos
Del Sol’s liner notes, to pair with each new song. All of this is presented as a cohesive offering, an entry in Y
La Bamba’s ongoing musical conversation about community, about the self, and about survival.
“I am thankful for all of my hardships,” Mendoza says in the album’s liner notes. “They have guided me to
find rest in my soul, time after time. Over and over again.

The Easy Leaves

Old Standards, New Directions is a mighty fine slogan for the The Easy Leaves - Or New American Music from the Western Edge. Full-Spectrum Americana also does the trick. And as elated as they certainly would be by these turns of a carnival barker, this fine tuned yet loose, crafty yet tender, down-home racket of The Easy Leaves travels endless country miles past tweety length, out catching any catch phrase. So if you're interested in getting properly acquainted with The Easy Leaves, a good-listen to the music itself is the only way.

Their new record, American Times (Omega Records), spans the breadth of American roots music from grassland stomps, minor swings and Honky Tonk grinds, to personal spirituals, and Rhythm and Blues. One example of the latter mentioned influence, the track Fool on a String, holds its own with ease, a worthy reciprocal to The Rolling Stones' Under My Thumb.

The album also has an anthem, Keep It Country. The cruising dreamscape Honky Tonk Magic flirts with Doo-Wop melody and speaks to a purer time, and the empyrean feeling of a love lost. The (almost) title track, The American, extra handsome and honest, is about acceptance of self, and of something bigger. Heathen is about a relationship with organized religion, and it "goes there" with matchless finesse. And if this record were a religion the central belief might just be that the spirit of a rowdy drunken celebration and that of an old-time revival salvation are not separate. But , American Times as religion also wouldn't try and force you to believe anything (maybe everything though? Maybe too it'd pull a shiny nickel from your ear, unscrew the top to the salt shaker, and help Grandma cross the street).

The Easy Leaves, songwriters Kevin Carducci and Sage Fifield, formed north of the Golden Gate in 2008 immersed in a diverse set of flailing rockers, gospel skeptics, and country outlaws. Their initial intent was to establish an old-time string band. However, this did not happen (at all). In love with just too many different musics, artists as disparate as Bob Wills and Smokey Robinson slinking into their songwriting, Kevin and Sage gave up their banjo habits cold-turkey. The Easy Leaves'sound was born- A modern acoustic sound, its roots kept close to the chest while tirelessly sprawling out in new directions that stretch the borders of the Americana genre in exciting ways.

"Our sound is a personal distillation of American music, based on the styles we like and all the songs and sounds we've been saturated with." The finest filters on this still are songs written with painstaking attention to detail and dynamic intricate vocal harmonies. They're melodic, lyric-driven (catchy-as-all-hell) compositions pinned with the syncopated rhythm of two acoustic instruments, guitar and upright bass. A trap kit, and pedal steel – The whipped cream and cherry.

Live, The Easy Leaves beguile any kind of audience.

Now here, with the explanation wrapped up, you might have concluded, might say, These The Easy Leaves are bringing in from most any musical column – We've heard of these turn left then right types. You're probably correct. From that you might then conclude, might say, A record that does that must not be focused – Why these The Easy Leaves can't keep their hands out of the Johnson's trick or treat candy. But then see, with all due respect, you are not correct. To the contrary it doesn't get more honed-in than The Easy Leaves, than American Times. And to know this for sure, know what's being talked about, give that good-listen a go.

The Kinds

Members: khasy modisette, nathan modisette, anders bergstrom, erich rieldl



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