On his 20th album, Ancestral Swamp (Gnomonsong Records), sixtysomething itinerant folkie (and cartoonist) MICHAEL HURLEY, who makes his home in Astoria, has a few prominent locals backing him up. Mixed by Jim Brunberg at Mississippi Studios, with singer Tara Jane ONeil, guitarist Lewi Longmire and longtime bass-playing buddy Dave Reisch making some timely contributions, Hurley spins his laidback hobo tunes with a minimum of ornamentation—his voice weathered, but mightily spry. On “Knockando” and “Dying Crapshooter’s Blues” it’s easy to picture Hurley jauntily plucking his guitar while resting his aching feet in a creek, the last few swallows in a bottle of beer close at hand.
Seattle’s John Ramberg is another not-quite-local artist with a strong Rose City connection. He’s usually found playing alongside Portlander Scott McCaughey in the brainy pop band the Minus 5. The debut album by his other group, THE TRIPWIRES (Paisley Pop), Makes You Look Around is a contagious mix of British Invasion pop, rollicking country and charming larks with deft songwriting throughout.
Atmospheric Portland trio CHARMPARTICLES maintains its knack for lushly layered sorrow on Alive in the Hot Spell (Terrestrial Records). Bassist and singer Pamela Rooney is afforded ample room to test the depths of her soul, which she does to haunting effect on the drowsily sexy “Black Braid.” But on “Relapse,” Rooney sounds focused, emphatic and even a little pissed off; a welcome mood swing that brings the band back to earth after an extended sojourn in space.
This article appeared in the January 2008 issue of Portland Monthly.