Apr 222014
 

passerine

“I will not destroy myself/ ’cause that just doesn’t seem worthwhile”

 

New Hampshire cabin outlet Passerine crafts a stark, meditative mini-album out of a rough-textured guitar and wafty vocals. The accomplishment of “Blow Wind Blow” is worth the whole bundle, not that there’s a short stick here. On that song, Passerine (alias of Eric Gagne from bands like Death to Tyrants and Redwing Blackbird) blends some prickly fingerpicking with distressed downstroaking and emerges with a cool kind of lo-fi bluegrass–something like shade-of-faded-blue-grass, blueyondergrass. For fans of that articulate forresty madness you’ll get out of Digger Barnes, Lou Barlow, Katie Crutchfield, Franz Nicolay, Cassette.

Destroy Myself
Blow Wind Blow
Beech Trees

Grab the cassette from Sophomore Lounge Records (State Champion, Animal City, Spider Bags, Only Sons) and the digital from Passerine’s bandcamp.

Apr 212014
 
hardwork3-578x471
Sometime in the fall of 1994 I was sixteen years old with a job at McDonald’s, a hand-me-down 1981 Honda Accord and a healthy addiction to music. There was a fairly new radio station out of Atlanta, the early wave of X stations, that started playing an acoustic  song. It reminded me of Tom Petty but this song was funny. It took a couple of times on the radio for me o learn it was a guy named Todd Snider and the song was called “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues.” Needless to say, this song spoke to me and I wanted to spend some of my McDonald’s money on that album.
We had a Blockbuster Music in Athens in those days and they had recently added the listening station to the store. This was revolutionary. You could walk into the store, pick out a CD and they would open it up and let you listen to it. I’m certain I annoyed more than my fair share of Blockbuster Music employees. (But look at me now)
 For reasons I can’t explain, I remember walking into BBM to find the Todd Snider CD. The employee was a short, skinny guy with thin black hair and glasses, I’m pretty sure he had helped me before. I found the CD but didn’t recognize the song title on the back. I asked the guy if I could listen to it. I sat there on the blue, vinyl-lined barstool and skimmed each song on Songs From The Daily Planet. Nothing. I told the guy I had heard a song by that guy on the radio but it wasn’t on the CD. I might not have known the title at this point. He didn’t know what I was talking about and he looked up on his pre-internet computer and saw that Todd Snider had no previous CDs. It was a mystery and I left the store unsatisfied.
Later, I was listening to the same X station and the DJ played the song and mentioned it was a hidden track on Songs From The Daily Planet. Of course. I took some of my McDonald’s money back to Blockbuster Music and bought the CD from the same employee. I don’t know if he remembered me and asked or if I volunteered that I had been in before. I told him that the song was a hidden track. We both agreed that kind of thing was a pain in the ass.
But I promised you Todd Snider was a prophet and so far all I’ve talked about is my childhood. On the song “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues” Todd talks about being an alternative band to the steady stream of alternative bands. He claimed to be in the only band that never played a note. They didn’t receive much commercial success until they told record labels that they were from Seattle. Suddenly the band was a hit and got asked to play MTV Unplugged. Haha, the 90′s were fun.
Then, a few weeks ago I was listening to NPR (see the trend) and they talked to a band that recorded an album of silence and put it on Spotify. The band is called Vulfpeck and the album is called Sleepify. They recorded thirty second clips of silence and asked their fans to stream it on Spotify on repeat over and over again. Their idea was to generate enough funds to go on tour and play shows for free. Now, this seems like a great and noble idea, when I read this interview in Rolling Stone it seems that the band isn’t that bright about the realities of touring. Apparently, they have generated about five grand but asked their agent if that was enough to get a bus, or something like that.
I’m not sure if that’s what Todd Snider was talking about 20 years ago (Jesus, has it been that long) but if Todd suggests marching to the end of the earth I’m going to consider his directive very carefully.
Apr 182014
 

waterliars

I immediately like Water Liars because their band name reminds me of thunderous titles of indie rock past–Pavement’s Watery, Domestic EP and Built to Spill’s Water Sleepers 7-inch. This Mississippi duo can certainly fuzzrock-out like those bands (often landing close to Pavement’s best Watery track, “Frontwards”), but they’re never as loose, so it’s more likely we’ll recognize in Water Liars the subdued yet sweaty stuff we like in The White Buffalo or Adam Faucett. In reality, their name comes from a Barry Hannah story.

I imagine this would be a great middle of the night on the highway album, but, I got to listen to Water Liars on an airplane flying over the Atlantic ocean in broad daylight–and it holds up to that real well. In their tonal shifts, Water Liars reflect the water below and the water above. The electric and the acoustic on this album, oscillating you between planes, leading you through cirrus and nimbus.

It would be great if bands had the time and resources to test drive their albums on different magnitudes of transportation–instead of just How does it sound in a car stereo?, How does it sound from laptop speakers?, Headphones in general?, they could experience how it sounds flying over the ocean or from a rear-facing seat on a cross-country Amtrak.

Water Liars would ace most traveling soundtracking tests because they shift tones seamlessly but with hard impact. Their acoustic songs balance between bedroom and front porch, but when they dawn the electric gear it’s like they’re armoring up for bar-band battle–which makes sense of a song titles like “War Paint” and “I Want Blood.” A lonesome and roamsome album; highly recommended.

It would be great if bands had the time and resources to test drive their albums on different magnitudes of transportation–instead of just How does it sound in a car stereo?, How does it sound from laptop speakers?, Headphones in general?, they could experience how it sounds flying over the ocean or from a rear-facing seat on a cross-country Amtrak.

Water Liars would ace most traveling soundtracking tests because they shift tones seamlessly but with hard impact. Their acoustic songs balance between bedroom and front porch, but when they dawn the electric gear it’s like they’re armoring up for bar-band battle–which makes sense of a song titles like “War Paint” and “I Want

War Paint
I Want Blood
Swannanoa

Find Water Liars on CD, vinyl, and digital at Fat Possum Records.

Apr 172014
 

RobertEllis-TheLightsFromTheChemicalPlant-CoverADA

I’m a sucker for ’70′s soft rock. In my vehicle, I’m as likely to have Sirius satellite radio tuned to “The Bridge” as any other station. Elton John? Carole King? Steely Dan? Yes, please. Maybe that is why I’m so captivated by “The Lights from the Chemical Plant” by Houston’s own Robert Ellis. Stunningly original and hard to categorize, Robert Ellis is a boot wearing, Texan troubadour raised on Paul Simon and James Taylor along with Hank, Waylon, and Cash.

“Chemical Plant” kicks off with “TV Show”, a deceptively joyous song about losing yourself in you favorite TV shows while ignoring your wife sitting next to you on the couch and wishing she wasn’t quite so much like Betty Draper. Next is the title track and one of my favorites on the album. “The Lights from the Chemical Plant” laments the impermanence of permanence; the chemical plant is the stoic backdrop in the lives of two lovers. As one of the lovers dies, the lights from the chemical plant that had always shone bright, go dark. This album isn’t exactly a heartwarming Disney movie.

“Bottle of Wine” is a powerful, beautiful, breakup ballad. Accompanied by only a piano and soulful saxophone solo, Ellis’s voice hits all of the right notes on a song that you don’t want to tackle next time you are at the Karaoke bar. It’s a tremendously strong song that sounds like a lost Dan Folgelberg track from 1977. “Bottle of Wine” is, perhaps, my favorite track on the record.

Two of the songs, “Pride” and “Houston” bust into unexpected free jazz jams in the middle of the songs because, well, why the hell not? I know, it sounds like it shouldn’t work but it does. The changes in direction and tempo do nothing to detract from the tunes, it only enhances the songs. “Houston” is Ellis’s love letter/break up song to his hometown. So long Houston, hello Nashville. Anyone that has had to escape their hometown because of the ghosts on every corner can relate.

The album closer, “Tour Song” is honest songwriting at its finest. I’ve never been a touring, semi-known singer of songs but I can’t imagine the life could be better documented than in “Tour Song”. “It’s the choice I made, it’s the price I’ll pay, just to hang out in some shitty bar, then spend ten hours in a car”, sings Ellis. And later in the song, “I know that she loves me and I know her love is true, but when she needs some company what else is she gonna do? She’ll have some tough decisions that may try her achin’ heart, but everything feels different from a million miles apart”.

We all love music. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be reading this. But, occasionally, once in a great while, a record will come out that you want to share with everyone you know. You want to shout about it from a street corner. You want to share it with the world. John Moreland’s “Into the Throes” was that way. I feel the same about “The Lights from the Chemical Plant”. The musicianship and songwriting are superb. Ellis paints from a different musical palette than most of his peers. Seamlessly blending country, folk, jazz, and rock, the result is simply brilliant and sublime. “The Lights from the Chemical Plant” is a treasure and is, most definitely, Essential Listening.

Apr 162014
 

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Lenny Lashley’s Gang Of One “US Mail” from Illuminator

Aretha Franklin “Son Of A Preacher Man” from This Girl’s In Love With You

Black Joe Lewis “Skull Diggin’” from Electric Slave

Waylon Jennings “Low Down Freedom” from Honky Tonk Heroes

Sturgill Simpson “Life Of Sin” from Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sixteen Horsepower “Brimstone Rock” from Low Estate

Rick Danko “Java Blues”

Arliss Nancy “Directions Never Hold” from Wild American Runners

I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House “From Bad To Worse” from Mayberry

The Box Tops “Everything I Am”

Kevn Kinney “Not Afraid To Die” from McDougal Blues

Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs “How Do You Catch A Girl”

Valerie June “Somebody To Love” from Pushin’ Against a Stone

Langhorne Slim “Back To The Wild” from Be Set Free

Eddie Hinton “I Want It All” from Very Extremely Dangerous

Otis Rush “You Reap What You Sow” from Duane Allman Anthology Vol. II

Uncle Tupelo “Watch Me Fall” from Still Feel Gone

Six String Drag “Bottle Of Blues”