Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 in Mini-Review

End of the year.... I guess this is where I rank all the music I've heard, and provide mini-reviews on each.  I'll go from worst to best just for dramatic influence.

The Bad
Brandon Flowers - Flamingo
Nothing really interesting here.  Very forgettable.  Only a few decent tracks.  Check out my full review from September.

Kayo Dot - Coyote
I bought one of their albums, Dowsing Anemone In Copper Tongue, several years ago...and didn't like it.  I don't know why I picked this one up; I guess because I like how experimental they are, and it was just $5... Unfortunately, just like Anemone, there is about 15 minutes worth of music that really works spread throughout the whole album.

Dierks Bentley - Up On The Ridge
Another one of those $5 albums... I figured since he's local, and this is allegedly a "bluegrass-like" album, I'd check it out... Unfortunately, it's still pop-country.  Lame.  The songs with Punch Brothers, however, are great, and there are a few listenable tracks.  The U2 cover isn't bad, and besides Punch Brothers, there is a Kris Kristofferson appearance.

The "Meh"
Jimmy Eat World - Invented
I seriously don't see what everybody sees in these guys.  Yeah, they're local... But they don't have the local flavor.  Just another manufactured, watered-down punk-lite group.  I wanted to like it, but it's just more of the same.

Black Country Communion - Black Country
Supergroup with some talented musicians and a cool throwback 70s sound.  Unfortunately, it comes across as a bit uninspired.  There are a few great tracks, but for the most part, it drags, and creativity is lacking.

Ray LaMontagne - God Willin' And The Creek Don't Rise
I suppose this guy is just too mellow for me.  Or maybe it's because his voice doesn't really fit his look.  At any rate, his overall sound isn't too bad, and I like some of the music, but it's hard for me to get excited about this.

Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues
This is an album that I have a hard time listening to straight through, but the songs work well when thrown into a mix.  Just good enough to get me to buy his other albums at a discount.

Black Mountain - Wilderness Heart
This is one I really want to like.  And there is some great music on this one.  It just didn't really pull me in.  These guys have potential, though, and this is definitely an album I'll listen to again.

The Decent
Spock's Beard - X
I don't know what it is... I really loved their self title album.  I might be one of the few who likes them more post-Neal.  Their songwriting is great as ever, and there are some truly amazing passages that rivals anything they've ever done.  I guess I'm just looking for a major change of direction after a couple albums that seem to be getting more well-written, but not more creative.

Keller and the Keels - Thief
This is probably the most fun album I've heard in awhile.  Nothing more fun than bluegrass covers of songs that are not by any means bluegrass (Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," Butthole Surfers' "Pepper," Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy," to name a few). It's hard to take this album too seriously, but you can't fault a guy who writes a song called "You Can't Sh*t On The Kings" (written about the time a Kings of Leon concert got canceled due to defecating birds).

Cadillac Sky - Letters In The Deep
Some great cuts on here.  I really like what these guys are trying to do, especially when you consider how traditional their previous work is.  I admire them for the same reason I admire Punch Brothers, but they just don't seem to have quite the same level of talent.  Still solid, though.

The Walkmen - Lisbon
This is one I had a lot lower on the first listen, but after giving it another chance, I had to move it up.  It's solid, but not spectacular.  If you like alternative rock, this might be your cup of tea, but it's just not creative enough for me to get excited about it.

Elizabeth & The Catapult - The Other Side Of Zero
This is another one of those Amazon $4 downloads.  And it's pleasantly surprising.  Some of it is a little too poppy for my tastes, but she has an incredible voice, and she's an intelligent songwriter.  Solid album.

Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig
I saw this trio at Telluride Bluegrass, and thoroughly enjoyed their show.  Unfortunately, it's not quite as fun in the studio.  There are some quality tracks here, though.  Featured is one of the best kazoo solos I've heard.

The Roots - How I Got Over
This is solid.  I'm not a huge rap listener, but as far as rap goes, these guys are great.  My biggest complaint is that it's too short.  Other than a few tracks, everything here is pretty solid.

The Gracious Few - self titled
Solid rock music from part of Live and part of Candlebox.  It's not groundbreaking, but everything here is listenable, and it sounds fresh.

The Good
Gogol Bordello - Transcontinental Shuffle
It might just be the novelty Gypsy factor taking control, but this is fun.  There are some great songs here, and I can't understand hardly any of the lyrics.  Definitely one of the most interesting artists I've heard in awhile.

La Strada - New Home
This has a sort of Death Cab-on-steroids sound to it.  It's a little cheesier than most of what I listen to, but I couldn't help but enjoy this.  They recently disbanded, however, so this might be their first and last full length album.

Blue Giant - self titled
This country-rock collaboration between someone from The Decemberists and a couple from another band I cannot think of off the top of my head (and probably someone else) is not half bad.  Great sound, and quality writing.

The Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
This is one that is nearly unanimously considered one of the best of the year, and for good reason.  I hate to admit it, but I like The Arcade Fire.  These Quebecois write interesting music, with a wide instrumental range, and the perfect level of artsy-fartsiness.

Johnny Flynn - Been Listening
Not as fun as A Larum, but a great album nonetheless.  More mature songwriting from Mr. Flynn gives hope for even better music to come from this heavily-accented Brit.

Buddy Guy - Living Proof
This guy has been around forever, redefining blues wherever he goes.  This was Amazon's deal-of-the-day, and $3.99 was a great investment for this.  Makes me want to go expand my blues collection.

Robert Plant - Band of Joy
If you don't like Robert Plant's newfound love of folk music, you might not care for this.  If you do, as I do, you'll probably agree that this is very good.  I think I like the new Robert Plant better than the Led Zeppelin Robert Plant, which may be sacrilegious to some.

Oceansize - Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up
This is about what I expected from these guys.  It starts out heavy, but there's plenty of mellow music to make this nicely balanced.  If you like loosely structured British prog metal, check this out.

Railroad Earth - self titled
Listening to this right now... I like these guys.  Very solid jamgrass, and excellent melodies all around.  Includes an 11 minute instrumental jam that brilliantly captures what makes seeing a jam band in concert a great experience.  

The Excellent
Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away
This rivals anything Josh has ever done, and that's not exactly an easy mark to hit.  See my full review for more info.

The Black Crowes - Croweology
It's a greatest hits album...but it's not.  It's an unplugged album...but it's not.  It's actually two discs worth of their most popular songs, reworked to use acoustic instruments (not that cheesy unplugged-but-still-the-same-parts crap).  Good introduction to the Crowes for those who don't care for hard rock.  A good indicator of a quality song is that it is a good song no matter what the genre.

Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
Yeah, technically this came out in 2009 in the UK, but I'll include it anyways.  Quality arena folk from these London chaps.  They're taking the world by storm, which is fine by me.  Because they have a banjo.

Pain of Salvation - Road Salt One
Just when you thought they ran out of ideas... Just when you started to get the idea that they'll never write a better prog metal album than Remedy Lane... They go and write an album that isn't even prog metal.  This is what I imagine what would happen if a band in the 70s had access to all the new ideas that would arise in the next 30 years, but were stuck with their 70s technology.

Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic
I know I push these guys way too much, but this is the most interesting thing I've heard in a very long time.  It remains my favorite album of the year, and not just because I have a deluxe edition with all of their signatures on the front cover.    

Monday, December 13, 2010

New Release: Dharohar Project, Laura Marling, and Mumford & Sons

Release Date (US): December 7, 2010
Release Date (UK): July 5, 2010
Label: Glassnote

Here is an interesting little collection I just stumbled across on Amazon while looking at the <$5 mp3 downloads. Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably at least of heard of Mumford & Sons by now.  If not, they're an arena folk band from London, and it's really hard not to like them.  Laura Marling is a folk singer from that same London scene, and in fact, Mumford & Sons were her backing band at some of her live performances.  I am totally unfamiliar with Dharohar Project, but they're from India.

Apparently this EP was recorded in India, which is well reflected in the music.  I would call this a mix between the type of folk music you would expect from Laura Marling, with a heavy dose of traditional Indian music thrown in... Then replace the sitar with a banjo, and this is what you get.  It's definitely mellow, so don't expect the intensity of Mumford & Sons.

The vocal duties are more or less split.  I believe two of the songs feature Marcus Mumford, and two feature Laura Marling; and all four feature traditional Indian singing from Dharohar Project.

I'd recommend picking this up for a few bucks if you're interested in something different.  If Indian music annoys you, however, this might not be your cup of tea.

1Devil's Spoke/Sneh Ko Marg6:30
2To Darkness/Kripa4:23
3Anmol Rishtey3:55
4Mehendi Rachi4:57


Friday, December 3, 2010

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit - Been Listening

Release Date (UK): June 7, 2010
Release Date (US): October 25, 2010
Label: Transgressive Records

This is one I've been wanting to review for awhile. I've had it since it was released in the US, about five weeks ago. The reason I hadn't gotten to it yet is that I wanted to give it a few listens before forming an opinion on it.

Since I already reviewed their previous album, I'll spare the background information and get right to this album.

Obviously, since I liked A Larum so much, I had been looking forward to this for awhile.  I listened to it right when I got it, and as it turns didn't really grab me.  I couldn't say then and there that this is a solid album, and that you should go out and buy it.

 The album starts off well.  The first track, Kentucky Pill, is a thoughtful, mature folk tune, with a great sound.  Lost and Found is another thoughtful, mature folk tune, with a great tune.  Churlish May, like the first two tunes, has a moderate tempo, but some horns are added to the mix.

Right away, I noticed that this album features a more mature, well-developed sound than its predecessor (which I just pronounced "PREE de sess or" in my head, due to Johnny's English accent).  The songs are very tight, flow very well, and seem to reflect a more poetic and mellowed out Flynn.

The title track is a slow, peaceful folk ballad featuring a very slightly overdriven lead guitar, and vocals that seem to want to be reduced to only a whisper.  It is slow and plodding, but does not drag the way the only plodding song on their previous album, Brown Trout Blues, does.  Flynn has figured out how to write a good slow song.

Barnacled Warship, one of the highlights of the album for me, starts out with what sounds to my untrained ears like a cello (or maybe it's the bottom of a violin's range...who knows), and teases us with some of the awesome harmonies which made A Larum so great, and had more or less eluded us up to this point.  This is a good medium-paced song, but by now it feels someone lively.

Sweet William (Part 2) is another good track.  Livelier yet than the previous track, The Sussex Wit treat us to a cool banjo part, with some strings and horns in the mix.

At this point, they slow it down again, and we get a slow duet with Flynn and fellow London folk musician Laura Marling, called The Water.  Musically, this one is a little drab, albeit beautiful.  It's definitely new territory for Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit.

Howl is a slightly bluesy piece with a bit of angst in the chorus.  I'm torn on this one; in some ways, this is to this album what Brown Trout Blues was on the last, although this is a significantly better song, and a more dynamic one than we're used to from this band.  I think it may have worked better had it followed a more lively song.

The next track, Agnes, is lively, but unlike the lively tracks from the previous album, this actually sounds like a happy song.  While there is nothing wrong with optimistic lyrics, I do kind of miss the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with upbeat music.  Happy lyrics with upbeat music just isn't as cool.

Amazon Love is the slowest song on the whole album, with just a piano carrying most of the instrumental load.  It's an incredibly mellow track; possibly the most mellow on either album.  The Prizefighter And The Heiress also starts out relatively slow, but picks up halfway through, finishing the album on a strong note.

1Kentucky Pill3:52
2Lost and Found3:41
3Churlish May4:02
4Been Listening5:16
5Barnacled Warship5:12
6Sweet William, Pt. 25:00
7The Water4:12
10Amazon Love5:39
11The Prizefighter and the Heiress5:06

It should be said that every track here is good.  This album's flaw is not in what it contains, but rather, what it is missing.  Gone is the lighthearted attitude that A Larum seemed to carry.  This is a serious album, rather than a fun one.  The strength of their first album lay in its being a toe-tappingly fun folk record, and this is (with the possible exception of the first track) almost entirely devoid of that element.  This at once leaves me a little disappointed, as I didn't get what I expected to get out of it, but also fairly confident that Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit are more than capable of growing musically, rather than releasing album after album of the same material.

Addendum: The US version comes with the Sweet William EP appended to the end of the album, consisting of these tracks:
  1. The Mountain Is Burning
  2. Trains
  3. Sweet William
  4. Drum
I'm not going to review them here; suffice it to say, they lean toward the mellow side.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Black Crowes - Before The Frost...Until The Freeze

Release Date: August 31, 2009
Label: Silver Arrow

Lately, I've been on a huge Black Crowes kick.   I have been a casual Crowes fan since about when Lions (2001) came out, and that, Shake Your Money Maker, and The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion have been hanging out in my collection for years.  If you don't know the Crowes, they're known for their fairly straightforward blues rock, with a bit of a southern flavor.  Early in their career, they had considerable success, and even toured with Jimmy Page in the late 90s.

The Crowes seem to have always been interested in some degree of experimentation, but it seemed their record company (American) didn't enjoy it quite so much.  When Amorica and Three Snakes And A Charm started to stray a bit, they were reigned in, and we got By Your Side.  They then reversed course, and Lions was a little weird, followed by a hiatus.  When they reunited and recorded Warpaint, they used very few takes, little to no overdubs, and even recorded one song outdoors.  This brings us to their latest non-compilation "studio" album, 2009's Before The Frost...Until The Freeze.

BTF...UTF was recorded live, in front of an audience of a couple hundred fans, in a converted barn in Woodstock, NY.  I'm not familiar with the details of the recording process (e.g., whether they used any overdubs to correct mistakes), but this certainly does give it a bit of a live atmosphere, although you might not know it if they hadn't left in the applause between tracks.

levon helm's barn
Levon Helm's studio, where the recording took place
This recording is technically two albums.  When you pick up the physical product at the store, you get Before The Frost... in the cardboard sleeve, which comes with a card that allows you to download ...Until The Freeze from The Black Crowes' website.  Before The Frost... gives us a fairly typical Black Crowes, with their signature style of blues rock.  It is a bit more experimental than we're used to: I Ain't Hiding has a disco feel to it, and there is some folk influence in there as well.

...Until The Freeze, in contrast, has almost no rock, and is essentially a folk album, with a slight bluegrass influence.  Contrary to what some perhaps less adventurous Crowes fans might say, it is my opinion that this disc is what makes Before The Frost...Until The Freeze the penultimate album of the Crowes' career.  This is what truly demonstrates their creative ability, and their aptitude for writing timeless tunes that don't adhere to a worn out formula.  Repetition is something they may have been guilty of in the past, but there is none of that here.

The Crowes' have supplemented this newfound folk sound with a complete acoustic reworking of all their hits in 2010's Croweology, but that's a subject for another review.

Track List:
Before The Frost...

1Good Morning Captain3:24
2Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love)7:47
4A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound4:23
5I Aint Hiding5:57
6Kept My Soul5:23
7What Is Home?5:13
8Houston Don't Dream About Me5:05
9Make Glad4:18
10And the Band Played on...4:12
11The Last Place That Love Lives4:57

...Until The Freeze
1Aimless Peacock6:40
2The Shady Grove4:42
3The Garden Gate4:21
5Shine Along4:47
6Roll Old Jeremiah4:40
7Lady of Ave. A5:20
8So Many Times4:53
9Fork in the River4:11

The vinyl edition came with the tracks in an alternate order; this is said to be the real intended order of the tracks.  I recommend listening to the album in this order.  In this presentation, there are not two separate albums:
1. Aimless Peacock
2. Good Morning Captain
3. Been A Long Time (Waiting on Love)
4. Greenhorn
5. Appaloosa
6. The Shady Grove
7. The Garden Gate
8. Shine Along
9. Roll Old Jeremiah
10. Houston Don't Dream About Me
11. I Ain't Hiding
12. Kept My Soul
13. Lady of Ave. A
14. Make Glad
15. And The Band Played On...
16. What Is Home?
17. So Many Times
18. A Train Still Makes a Lonely Sound
19. Fork in the River
20. The Last Place That Love Lives

These videos are from the "Cabin Fever" DVD, which I believe is official material, so don't be surprised if they disappear from Youtube:

Here are a couple that didn't make it on the album:


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Neil Young - On The Beach

Release Date: July 16, 1974
Label: Reprise

Every once in awhile, you dig up an old album and think, "Why did I not hear this earlier?"  This recently happened to me, so I decided to write about what is quickly becoming my favorite Neil Young album.

I first started listening to Neil Young as a Freshman in college, back in 2001.  The first album of his that I picked up was Harvest, and within a relatively short period of time, my collection had Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Zuma, and Harvest Moon.  Each of these albums is completely different, which is what makes Young great.  His music covers the entire spectrum, covering everything from rock to blues to country to folk.  He has even dabbled in electronic music, and was highly influential in the "grunge" movement.  Neil Young will surely go down as one of the greatest musicians of our time.

After the success of Harvest in 1972, pressure mounted to write a successful follow-up, and during this time, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten died of a drug overdose after having been kicked out of the band.  This led to a stretch of albums known as "The Ditch Trilogy."  The first was a live album, Time Fades Away, which Neil considers a disaster, and remains the only Neil Young album not available on CD.  The second album he recorded, Tonight's The Night, was Neil's most pessimistic album, and would not be released until after On The Beach.

On The Beach was unavailable on CD until 2003, which may be part of why I personally never heard it while "discovering" Neil Young.  It was not commercially successful, but it is now widely considered to be one of Young's best albums.

It opens with a lively, straightforward rock song called Walk On.  This gives way to a remake of a song he did earlier, called See The Sky About To Rain.  The third song, Revolution Blues, is a classic Neil rocker, along the lines of Southern Man and Cowgirl In The Sand.  The fourth track is a weird little piece, For The Turnstiles, featuring Neil's banjo.  Rounding out the front side is Vampire Blues, a bluesy song about the blood sucking tendencies of the oil industry.

The back side is where it starts getting weird.  Neil and co. recorded these tracks while under the influence of a homemade marijuana concoction, leading to a much mellower feel for all three tracks.  Those tracks, On The Beach, Motion Pictures (For Carrie), and Ambulance Blues, all take on a looser, more free-form structure.  They are not as immediately grabbing, but after several listens, they start to grow on you.

1Walk On2:41
2See the Sky5:02
3Revolution Blues4:03
4For the Turnstiles3:15
5Vampire Blues4:11
6On the Beach6:59
7Motion Pictures (For Carrie)4:23
8Ambulance Blues8:56

This album is solid.  And considering he followed it up with Tonight's The Night and Zuma, this has to be considered one of his best stretches.  It seems Neil Young went through some of his hardest times in the mid 70s, but it led to some of his best work.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away

Release Date: May 4, 2010
Label: Pytheas Recordings

I figure it's about time to review a Josh Ritter album... Why not start with his latest?  I've been listening to Ritter for about a year, and by this point, I think I'd say he's my favorite folk musician, and my favorite lyricist.

Ritter, raised in Moscow, Idaho, got his start in the late nineties, when he recorded his self-titled debut while attending school.  He's never had a huge mainstream following, but he has received plenty of critical acclaim.  The reissued versions of his earlier albums have celebrity forewords, and Stephen King called his fourth album, The Animal Years, his favorite album of 2006.  His fifth album, The Historical Conquest of Josh Ritter, sees the addition of electric guitars (and a rougher sound in general), which was quite a departure from his earlier work.

I purchased So Runs The World Away shortly after its release, making it the first Josh Ritter album I purchased at the time of its original release.

So Runs The World Away is a little more textured than his previous album.  It starts out with a short musical intro, which leads to a mildly bombastic folk anthem, Change of Time.  Following that is a dreamy acoustic guitar-heavy folk tune called The Curse.  This beautifully written tune, about a mummy coming to life in NYC, perfectly highlights Josh's lyrical ability, with its elaborate imagery:

She carries him home in a beautiful boat
He watches the sea from a porthole in stowage
He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed
And one day his lips answer her in her own language
The days quickly pass he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it’s her hair that he touches
She asks, “Are you cursed?” he says, “I think that I’m cured”
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bulrushes
The next track, Southern Pacifica, is one of my favorites, and probably the most immediately grabbing.  With a nice smooth feel and a catchy chorus, this one could become a hit if given the right exposure.  This is followed up by Rattling Locks, a rougher tune with semi-spoken vocals and lyrics about giving up on a love interest:

I had a dream that I was dying
But it wasn’t a nightmare I was real peaceful as I fell
And if I was falling into heaven
Heaven must be hotter than the Bible tells
I woke up sorry I was living
Rather than rattling your locks I rather spend another night in Hell
 Folk Bloodbath is a great example of Ritter's storytelling ability.  Borrowing the refrain from Mississippi John Hurt, it is a slow, sad ballad in which several characters die.  The next track, Lark, another one of my favorites, is an up-tempo, acoustic guitar-based folk song with beautifully textured instrumental depth during the chorus, and perfectly placed vocal harmonies.  This one is a happy song:

What is it drives the driven snow?
Upon whose temples will I rest my weary hopes now?
The rain distills down steeples fills the ears of lonely church mice with the
Heartbeat of a lark or the lark in my heartbeat

I am assured yes I am assured yes
I am assured peace will come to me
A peace that can yes surpass the speed yes
Of my understanding and my need
This is followed by another anthem, Lantern, with a guitar part only slightly reminiscent of U2, and an infectious melody.  This one is sure to be a crowd favorite.

Tell me what’s the point of light
That you have to strike a match to find?
The next track, The Remnant, is dominated by a staccato piano and drum beat.  Not a terrible track, but for me, it's easily one of the weaker cuts on this album.  This is followed by See How Man Was Made, a soft, peaceful interlude leading into what may be considered the album's centerpiece, Another New World.  This lengthy, brooding track is a fantastical account of an attempted exploration of the North Pole, and the soft texture of his voice and the music perfectly captures the dreariness of the lyrics.  Musically, it's not particularly interesting, but this song is a veritable study in tone.

Following this is another anthemic piece, Orbital.  This is another easy to listen to track, and lyrically it's one of my favorites:

The hawk around the field mouse
The love around a lover’s mouth
I find my mind is settling down
In circuits round you
The angels round their crowded pins
The amber-waved electrons spin
In planetary transits
Round the ones they’re bound to
 The final track, Long Shadows, finally brings it back to more traditional folk, and excellent way to wrap up the album.

This album's greatest accomplishment is it's coherence.  Everything flows well, and you get the sense that it's arranged how it needs to be arranged.  It's one of Ritter's best.  Only his third album, Hello Starling surpasses it.   At this point, I'd rate it as my third favorite of the year.  This album has staying power, and I enjoy it as much now, seven months after its release, as I did when I bought it.

2Change of Time4:07
3The Curse5:00
4Southern Pacifica4:22
5Rattling Locks4:28
6Folk Bloodbath5:19
9The Remnant4:02
10See How Man Was Made3:27
11Another New World7:39
13Long Shadows2:24


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

La Strada - New Home

Release Date: April 20, 2010
Label: Ernest Jenning

Here's one that you might not have heard of.  La Strada is a relatively unknown Brooklyn band formed in 2007.  I'm not sure how I found these guys, but I heard a few tracks, and decided to purchase their album (their catalog consists of New Home, and their self-titled 2009 EP).  Considering the Wikipedia page for "La Strada (band)" points to some defunct Yugoslav band, this must be fairly obscure.

If I had to describe their sound in one phrase, it would be "a more upbeat Death Cab For Cutie."  It would probably be best categorized as Indie Pop/Rock, with a easy-on-the-ears sound, lots of melody, and a good instrumental depth.  One can get a sense of that by investigating the band's lineup:

James Craft - Accordian, Guitar, Lead Vocals
Devon Press - Bass, Guitar, Accordian and Vocals
Ted Lattis - Guitar, Vocals
Brady Miller - Drums, Vocals
Daniel Baer - Violin, Vocals

I have to say, I am actually fairly impressed with this album.  The whole thing was assembled very well, with a great flow that keeps you interested, some well-designed transitions between tracks, and sleek production.  It doesn't give you the feeling that they just threw whatever songs they had written into a box and shook it up (maybe that's what they did, but it doesn't sound that way).   Often times when I listen to what is termed "indie" music, it is too electronic or too lo-fi.  These guys are just a straightforward band who know what they are good at, and make good sounding, straightforward music.

There's really not a bad track on the album.  Most are upbeat, and all of them fully utilize their entire instrumental spectrum, with the strings featuring prominently, and a very clear guitar sound.

Here is the track list:
1Go Forward2:58
3The Traveler4:28
4Wash on By3:46
6My New Home4:55
7Where You Want to Go2:17
8There's Only Love4:14
9the Mountain Song5:41
10the Wedding Song2:55
11Shapes in the Sky3:57
12Mean That Much4:04
13Old Hill3:32

Alas, this might be their last album.  A couple weeks ago, they announced they are breaking up in December.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit - A Larum

Release Date: July 29, 2008
Label: Lost Highway

 There's nothing like a thick British accent.  And nobody has a thicker British accent than Johnny Flynn.

Johnny Flynn (who is credited in acting roles as "Joe Flynn"... I don't know which, if either, is his real name) is relatively new on the scene, arising from the same English folk scene as Noah and the Whale and Mumford & Sons. His first album, A Larum, is title after the Middle English word for "Alarm."  I'm not sure if there is any significance to using a Middle English word for the title, but this album does have a sound that seems to hearken back to times past.  Certain passages have a bit of a Renaissance feel to them.

The album says "Johnny Flynn" on it, but the band is actually "Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit."  I don't know why they don't put the full band name; perhaps the label thought it would sell better if it's a "solo" record?  Personally, I think The Sussex Wit sounds cool.

Here is the track list:
1The Box3:36
2The Wrote & The Writ4:07
3Tickle Me Pink3:11
4Brown Trout Blues5:02
5Eyeless in Holloway4:05
6Shore to Shore4:23
7Cold Bread3:29
8Wayne Rooney4:18
11Hong Kong Cemetery4:51
13All the Dogs are Lying Down4:13
14Shore to Shore (Reprise)1:27

This is catchy, straightforward English folk rock with catchy tunes and excellent harmonies.  I especially like the use of the banjo in songs like "Eyeless in Holloway."  The lyrics do have a bit of a dark tone, which contrasts nicely with the upbeat melodies:
There's a man at hand, there's a way between
The sinking sand and a crooked dream
And collared off at the modern age of nine
Summoned off for walking down the line.

They lost eyes in old city streets
Where the funeral pyres burned the last of the meek.
Monsters in the valley, and shootings in the alley
And people fall flat at every turn.
There is no straight and narrow, offload your wheelbarrow
And pick up your sticks and twigs to burn.
I can honestly say the only dud here is "Brown Trout Blues."  It drags a little bit.  But the rest of the songs are great.  Definitely check out this one if you like English folk rock.


Monday, September 27, 2010

New Release: Black Country Communion - Black Country

Release Date: September 20, 2010
Label: J&R Adventures

I discovered this album last week while perusing the new releases for the week.  I had no clue this supergroup existed, but based on the participating musicians, it sounded interesting.

Black Country Communion consists of the following personnel:
Glenn Hughes (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple) - vocals, bass
Joe Bonamassa - guitars, vocals
Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham) - drums
Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X) - keyboards

If I had to describe this band in one short phrase, it would be "updated 70s metal."  Think Black Sabbath with cleaner production.  The guitar sound is heavy, the bass is in your face, and the drums are awesome.  One of my biggest criticisms is that the keyboards seem to get lost in the mix; poor Derek must feel pretty useless.  It's not a bad sound...for a few tracks.  This album is definitely loud; it feels to me like it could use a lot more texture.

Here is the track list:
1Black Country3:15
2One Last Soul3:52
3The Great Divide4:45
4Down Again5:45
6Song of Yesterday8:33
7No Time4:18
9The Revolution In Me4:59
10Stand (At the Burning Tree)7:01
11Sista Jane6:54
12Too Late For the Sun11:21

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this band.  There are musical passages that are brilliant (it seems those passages are mostly the slower ones).   There are also long stretches that feel like rehashed 70s metal that was dead and buried 30 years ago.  At any rate, it might be worth a listen, if you're into heavy, more technical music.  It's obvious these guys can play; there are some excellent guitar solos, and sick drum fills (although I am by no means an expert on drum fill quality).

The album does end on a very good note; "Too Late For The Sun" is an excellent track, and probably the best of the album.  At some points in the album, I wanted it to end, but at the end, I wanted to hear more.

This probably could've made an excellent EP.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Punch Brothers - Antifogmatic

Release Date: June 15, 2010
Label: Nonesuch

On Sunday, June 20, 2010, I was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  The third or fourth act of the day was someone I had never heard of, called Punch Brothers.  I heard they were good, but I didn't really know what they were all about.  30 minutes into their set, right after the song "Next To The Trash", I walked down to the merch tent and shelled out $25 for the deluxe edition of Antifogmatic.

Chris Thile (pronounced "THEE lee"), who started this band, cut his teeth in the popular bluegrass band Nickel Creek.  That ended, he released a solo album or two, became renowned for his mandolin playing, and he started Punch Brothers.  The first two Punch Brothers albums were not really band efforts.  The debut, How To Grow A Woman From The Ground, has Chris Thile's name on the front, not Punch Brothers.  The second, Punch, had several shorter songs written by the band, but the meat of it is a 40 minute long four part suite Thile wrote about his divorce.  Antifogmatic is really their first full band effort, and it works.

Here is the track list (deluxe edition):
  1. You Are
  2. Don't Need No
  3. Alex
  4. Rye Whiskey
  5. Me And Us
  6. Missy
  7. The Woman and The Bell
  8. Next To The Trash
  9. Welcome Home
  10. This Is The Song (Good Luck)
All Of This Is True bonus EP:
  1. Friend or No More?
  2. When In Doubt
  3. Two Hearted
  4. Curtigh
Live from the Lower East Side: It's p-Bingo Night! bonus DVD:
  1. On the Bound (originally by Fiona Apple) 
  2. Ride The Wild Turkey (originally by Jerry Douglas)
  3. This Is The Song (Good Luck)
  4. Red Handed
  5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, III. Allegro (J.S. Bach)
  6. Manchicken (author unknown)
  7. 99 Years (author unknown)
 First of all, every song I've heard from Punch Brothers is great.  If you have to pigeonhole them in a genre, it would be progressive bluegrass, but their proclivity to perform Radiohead covers should tell you how strictly they adhere to the traditional boundaries of bluegrass music.  This is truly something new; it's not just a flimsy derivative of something somebody else did before.

Antifogmatic is a somewhat delicate album; there is no percussion, and some of the tracks are slow and textured.  Tracks like "You Are" and "Next To The Trash" show how dynamic these guys can be.  Rye Whiskey is probably the closest to being a traditional bluegrass track, and its lyrics seem to be about the beer goggle effect:
Rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter. 
The bonus DVD is also excellent; it consists of a selection of tracks they did at regular appearances in NYC called "p-Bingo night."  This consists of an interesting mix of instrumentals, original songs, and covers.  Check out this playlist on Youtube.

I listen to Punch Brothers for the same reasons I listen to Porcupine Tree.  In some reason, Chris Thile seems to be to bluegrass what Steven Wilson is to rock/metal.  They extract influence from wherever they can, without regard to its acceptance in their chosen genres.  Antifogmatic is my favorite album this year, and I don't expect that to change.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pain of Salvation - Remedy Lane

Release Date: January 15, 2002
Label: Inside Out Music

Anybody who has discussed music with me in any reasonable portion knows that one of my favorite bands is Pain of Salvation.  Pain of Salvation, led by Daniel Gildenlow, together with Johan Hallgren, Fredrik Hermansson, and, at the time of this release, Kristoffer Gildenlow and Johan Langell, are a progressive metal outfit from Eskiltuna, Sweden.  They have a history of melodramatic vocals, syncopated rhythms, dynamics, and concept albums.

 Remedy Lane is Pain of Salvation's fourth, and greatest, album.  It is about a man's journey to discover himself, and is considered to be Gildenlow's most personal work.  Many of the songs are written from his own personal experience, rather than being mere observations of the world at large.

Lyrically, Remedy Lane contains some of Gildenlow's best work.  "A Trace of Blood" is about the time his wife miscarried their first child, and is one of the most heartfelt heavy metal tracks I've heard.  "This Heart Of Mine" was a love song he wrote for his wife.  "Rope Ends," which has a little bit of dark humor in its use of "Winnie the Pooh" characters in the imagery, was apparently inspired by his wife's friend's suicide attempt.

1Of Two Beginnings2:23
Chapter I
2Ending Theme4:59
4A Trace of Blood8:17
5This Heart of Mine (I Pledge)4:00
Chapter II
7Rope Ends7:02
8Chain Sling3:58
9Dryad of the Woods4:56
Chapter III
10Remedy Lane2:15
11Waking Every God5:19
12Second Love4:21
13Beyond the Pale9:56 

Musically, Remedy Lane is about as good as progressive metal can get.  It is technical, but not over the top.  It has two ballads, in "This Heart Of Mine" and "Second Love."  It has beautiful harmonies in the choruses.  One of my favorite tracks, "Rope Ends,"  starts off with a heavy, choppy power chord rhythm, flows into a smoother, faster bridge, and a slower chorus; the instrumental section breaks down into a syncopated guitar-and-keyboard part, feeds into an interesting section in 7/8 time, and a pretty good guitar solo.

If you're not familiar with progressive metal, this is a great place to start.  If you are, and you haven't heard this... What is wrong with you?


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sam Bush - Laps In Seven

Release Date: June 13, 2006
Label: Sugar Hill

If you haven't heard of Sam Bush, you probably don't listen to bluegrass music.  Singer, songwriter, and mandolin expert Bush has been redefining bluegrass for decades.  He got his start in the 60s, founded New Grass Revival, and released, to date, eight solo albums, of which Laps In Seven is the seventh.

Sam is also known as the "King of Telluride," because of his streak of 36 straight appearances at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (out of a possible 37).

The title Laps In Seven came about after Sam noticed that his dog, Ozzie, was seemingly drinking his water in a seven beat pattern.  He made up a tune to go with it, which became the title track, which has a 7/4 time signature (which is rare for bluegrass).

The first album I ever heard which involved Sam Bush was New Grass Revival's 1984 (or was it 1986?) self-titled album.  It became a favorite of mine.  I have also heard the experimental supergroup Strength In Numbers' record, as well as Sam's most recent album, Circles Around You. All were great.

Laps does not have a bad song in the bunch.  It is an eclectic mix of modernized bluegrass covers and his own newgrass.  It starts out pretty subdued, as far as experimenting is concerned, but by the end, we hear electric guitar solos on overdrive ("River Take Me"), saxophones and organs ("White Bird"), and unusual time signatures ("Laps In Seven").

1The River's Gonna Run (written by Julie Miller, featuring Emmylou Harris)4:01
2Bringing in the Georgia Mail (Fred Rose)3:57
3The Dolphin Dance3:14
4On the Road (John Hartford)5:00
5Ridin' That Bluegrass Train (written by Bush, John Pennell, featuring Tim O'Brien)3:46
6I Wanna Do Right (written by Bush, Jeff Black, featuring Shaun Murphy)4:34
7Where There's a Road (Robbie Fulks)3:53
8New Country(Jean Luc Ponty)4:09
9Ballad for a Soldier (Leon Russell)4:35
10River Take Me (Darrell Scott)7:11
11White Bird (David and Linda LaFlamme, featuring Andrea Zonn)6:00
12Laps in Seven (Bush, Byron House, Scott Vestal)5:00

It's very difficult to pick favorites in this bunch.  I do think the album peaks near the end, which is a fresh change from many albums, which start off well and go downhill.  Sam Bush has cemented himself as one of the greatest in the genre, and maybe even all of music.  The only thing better than listening to a Sam Bush album is watching the Sam Bush Band play a 15 minute rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame."


Friday, September 17, 2010

New Release: Justin Townes Earle - Harlem River Blues

Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Bloodshot

This is one I hadn't heard of until it was on sale at Amazon as a $2.99 MP3 download.  I previewed a few tracks, and thought it sounded promising.

Justin Townes Earle is the son of country/rock singer Steve Earle, and like his father, who was often on the road, he became addicted to drugs at an early age.  He spent most of the 90s letting drugs wreck his life, but eventually sobered up, after what was evidently his fifth major drug overdose.  After sobering up, he began his music career. [1]

Harlem River Blues is Justin's fourth album in as many years, and can best be described as country folk.  I would place this more on the mellow end of the spectrum, with only one or two upbeat tracks to be found.

Track list:
1Harlem River Blues2:48
2One More Night in Brooklyn3:04
3Move Over Mama2:00
4Workin' for the MTA3:48
6Slippin' and Slidin'2:58
7Christchurch Woman4:11
8Learning to Cry2:41
9Ain't Waitin'2:16
10Rogers Park4:27
11Harlem River Blues Reprise:31

This album starts out very promising.  Earle doesn't have a bad style; it's not country pop, it's country folk.  Earle has a relatively twang-free baritone voice, and really, his singing is not too bad, although his range seems limited.

The lyrics give this album an interesting touch, with several of the songs alluding to New York City.  My favorite is Workin' For The MTA:
I run the six line train,
Clear from Brooklyn Bridge to Pelham Bay
About half way through the album, he starts to slip.  It's not that the quality goes down, per se.  It's more that he seems to run out of ideas, and the music starts getting repetitive.  Most of the punches are pulled during the first half of the album, and it just kind of coasts to the end.

Which brings up my final complaint: the end comes just 31 minutes from the start.  Half the tracks are under three minutes, leaving you with the feeling that he really left lots of territory unexplored.  I felt like some of the tracks (Move Over Mama, for one) were great ideas that were cut short; there was more they could have offered had Earle taken them to their logical conclusions.

The whole album gives me the feeling that Earle could be a much better artist if, instead of cranking out a new album every year, he would spend more time developing the material he comes up with.  Harlem River Blues is perhaps the foundation of a great album, but falls way short.

Addendum: Looks like J.T.E. may still have some sobering up to do.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Release: The Gracious Few

 Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Questionable Entertainment

 Anybody remember that old band, Live, from way back in the 90s?  With numerous radio hits (Selling the Drama, I Alone, All Over You, Lightning Crashes, Lakini's Juice, Turn My Head, The Dolphins Cry, just to name a few) spanning three or four solid albums, Live was a 90s mainstay.  What happened to them after The Distance To Here?  I don't know.  I never listened to anything from V on.  I think I heard V on a road trip way back in the day, and thinking it was pedestrian.

Well, apparently what happened, and don't quote me on this (quote Wikipedia instead), is that everybody in the band got sick of the lead singer, Ed.  They said he signed something unilaterally or something, and long story short, they can no longer be on the same stage with him.  So Chad Taylor, Chad Gracey, and Patrick Dahlheimer from Live got together with Kevin Martin and Sean Hennesy from Candlebox, and there you have it.  The Gracious Few.

This supergroup entered the scene with very little fanfare (either that, or I just haven't been paying attention to the correct media outlets).  Linkin Park, Robert Plant, Brandon Flowers, and Weezer all released albums the same day, so it is of little surprise that this one slipped under the radar.  Anyhow, here is the track list (favorites bolded):

2Honest Man4:13
3Guilty Fever3:07
4The Few3:55
5The Rest of You4:02
6Crying Time5:29
7Silly Thing4:29
9What's Wrong4:37
11Nothing But Love5:28
13All I Hear4:32

My initial impression is that this CD rocks.  It has energy, it has rhythm, it is dynamic.  It is not overly technical, with the guys preferring a good jam over a lightning fast guitar solos.  One should think that, because the band consists of the remnants of Live, that it would be a fairly subdued album, with a few heavy tracks scattered here and there, but mostly mellow.  It is not like that at all... This is bona fide hard rock.  Indeed, this might be the best straight up rock album I've heard this year.  This is the album that demonstrates how good music can be without breaking any new ground.

So, what does this album mean for the future?  I don't know what the Candlebox situation is.  To be honest, I've never really followed that band.  As far as Live is concerned, with The Gracious Few on the job, will anybody be missing Ed and Live?  Ed who?

Here is a video for your fun and enjoyment:


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Release: Brandon Flowers - Flamingo

Release Date: September 14, 2010
Label: Island Def Jam Music Group 
For some reason, I decided to start this blog with the album I just listened to today, Brandon Flowers' new album, Flamingo.  It may not be the best choice, owing to the fact that I have never been a fan of The Killers—actually, I hate The Killers.  The whole throwback 80s U2 bombast thing never really appealed to me.  Every song sounded the same to me.  However, I decided to give it a chance, thinking that perhaps Brandon Flowers branching out on his own would free him.  Maybe it was The Rest of The Killers who were responsible for a style which I did not particularly care for.  With that in mind, I may not be the most objective reviewer for Flowers' new album, but I think I can honestly say that I gave it a fair chance.  I wanted to like it.

Here is the track list:
1Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas4:49
2Only the Young4:19
3Hard Enough4:06
4Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts4:43
5Playing with Fire5:49
6Was It Something I Said?3:21
9On the Floor3:25
10Swallow It2:56

I do have to say, standing alone, each track is probably OK.  No track stood out as being particularly terrible.  Crossfire, the first single, sounds pretty much just like a Killers song.  Playing with Fire was a pretty enjoyable track, and Jilted Lovers & Broken Hearts was, dare I say, good.  The problem lies in the fact that the album has texture, but no dynamics or rhythm.  After six or seven songs that sound more or less the same, I went from wanting to hear something I haven't heard before—a new contribution, if you will—to just wanting this thing to end.  I gave up half way through on anything groundbreaking happening.

If an album is not groundbreaking, it might still be decent.  It can be a three star record.  But if it's not groundbreaking, and it is also boring and repetitive, it's a recipe for failure.  You can only take so much pomp before you say, "I just want some peace and quiet!"

My recommendation is that you listen to each track individually, and pick and choose the ones you might not mind stumbling across when you press "Shuffle."  The three bolded tracks above are my recommendations.  Because it is not a total loss, it still earns one star.