Charlie Parr – Stumpjumper – 2015

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I need guidance in life. There are difficult decisions every week and I usually make them alone. But I don’t make them alone, decisions are made based on experiences, based on histories and based on lessons learned along the way. I grew up going to church but as an adult I find spiritual guidance in art. Words from Kristofferson and Shaver shape the way I think. I have learned perspective, empathy and acceptance of faults from songwriters. I call a handful of them my spiritual advisers. Knowing that many of my spiritual advisers are aging or have passed, I am always on the lookout for wise sages to gleam lessons from.

Enter the music of Charlie Parr. There is a connection within his songs, something that can not be quantified within the eleven songs on Stumpjumper. One of the things that makes Parr unique in my collection of lessons is that he uses his voice to convey as much empathy and understanding as his words do. Allow yourself to be hypnotized by the combination of his playing and vocal delivery and your understanding of emotion will be heightened. It’s powerful. And captivating. And real.

I realize that I have yet to tell you what Stumperjumper sounds like but that’s what we have mp3s for. What matters to me is how the music changes the way I think about myself and others. “Remember Me If I Forget” repeats the song title in the chorus so often that it becomes a part of my life, a mantra for late nights or lonely mornings. It’s a song to play for those in your life that truly matter, a reminder that even in our most self-centered moments there are others thinking of us and about us. They will remember our actions and remind us of our purpose. It serves as a rallying cry that we are not alone, that we are responsible to others and to ourselves. On the right day the words and music can bring me to tears.

There is celebration of life and nature in “Over The Red Cedar.” Longevity in things around us can create comfort, a reminder that our struggles don’t define us. With the line “the red cedar grows/and long after your gone/it’s outlasting you” what I hear is about struggles. It might feel daunting to think that our struggles will outlast us but I find comfort in the line. Struggle will always be there and there is nothing we can do to eliminate them. I don’t know what you hear but what I hear is comfort, comfort in knowing that what feels big and overwhelming today is inconsequential in the grand scheme.

I’m as guilty as anyone about dwelling on the present, the past and the enormity of the moment but Parr’s frantic finger picking provides a calmness. I know that thought probably sounds like a contradiction but turn the music up louder and listen to your heart. Parr’s fingers work with a fury over the strings and it works to circle the troubles in my mind with a soft blanket or a gentle hug. If you don’t believe me just come over to my living room just after sunset on a bad day. We’ll listen to Stumpjumper or Mingus and I promise you’ll find balance and resolution in the ebb and flow of frantic notes and the eventual calming of the melody.

I can not recommend Stumpjumper enough. I’ve played for all kinds of music fans and they all gravitate toward the songs and the sounds. Maybe that says something about the blues, maybe it says something about Charlie Parr as an artist, maybe it says something about us listeners. Most likely it’s a combination of all of that. Listen to Stumpjumper, listen to it loud, listen to it over and over. Let me know what you take away from this spectacular record. Essential Listening.

Remember Me If I Forget

Over the Red Cedar

Empty Out Your Pockets

Ajax Diner Book Club 5/18/15 KRFC Ft. Collins CO

Kris Kristofferson “I Won’t Back Down” from Texas Rising

William Elliott Whitmore “Who Stole The Soul” from Animals In the Dark

Gillian Welch “Caleb meyer” from Hell Among the Yearlings

Mississippi John Hurt “monday Morning Blues” from Mississippi John Hurt Rediscovered

Lucero “San Francisco” from Rebels Rogues & Sworn Brothers

Jawbreaker “Fireman” from Dear You

John Moreland “Tired Of The World” from Endless Oklahoma Sky

Clash “Jail Guitar Doors” from clash

Jason Isbell “The Life You Chose” from Something More Than Free

4H Royalty “Rock & Roll Blowout” from Colossalalia

Vince Matthews & Jim Casey “Mr. Soul” from Kingston Springs Suite

J Roddy Walston & the Business “Brave Man’s Death” from J Roddy Walston & the Business

Cave Singers “No Prosecution If We Bail” from No Witch

Matt Woods “Deadman’s Blues” from With Love From Brushy Mountain

Staples Singers “Help Me Jesus” from I Had A Dream

Shane Sweeney “Legion” from The Finding Time

Neil Young “Southern Man” from After the Gold Rush

Drivin’ And Cryin” “Stand Up And Fight For It” from Scarred But Smarter

Firehose “sometimes” from If ‘n’

Carolyn Mark “last to Know” from While No One Was Looking

Hard Working Americans “Welfare Music” from Hard Working Americans

Hurray for the Riff Raff “Blue Ridge Mountain” from Small Town Heroes

Joey Kneiser “Bruised Ribs” from Moonlight For the Graveyard Heart

Arliss Nancy “Hold It Together” from Wild American Runners

Austin Lucas “sit down” from New Home in the Old World

Paul Westerberg “Let’s Not Belong Together” from Mono

District Attorneys “Madison Row” from Slowburner

The Fox Hunt “Lord We Get High” from Nowhere Bound

Alabama Shakes “The Greatest” from Sound & Color

James McMurtry “These Things I’ve Come to Know” from Complicated Game

Pokey LaFarge “Wanna Be Your man” from Something In the Water

Ajax Diner Book Club 4/27/15 KRFC Ft. Collins CO

Jon Dee Graham “Beautifully Broken” from Not As Bad As It Looks

J. Roddy Walston & The Business “Marigold” from Essential Tremors

Blue Blood “This Is The Life” from This Is The Life

Cafeteria “Gorgeous Friend” from Knee Deep

James McMurtry “These Things I’ve Come to Know” from Complicated Game

Spirit Family Reunion “All the Way Back Home” from Hands Together

Slim Cessna’s Auto Club “No doubt about it” from Unentitled

Low Anthem “Cage The Songbird” from Oh My God Charlie Darwin

Mississippi John Hurt “I Shall Not Moved” from Best of Mississippi John Hurt

John Moreland “Cherokee” from High On Tulsa Heat

Kris Kristofferson “Me And Bobbie McGhee” from Live From Austin TX

Scott H. Biram “I’m Troubled” from Nothin’ But Blood

Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound “Just Like The Rest” from Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound

Townes Van Zandt “No Place To Fall” from Be Here To Love Me

Drag the River “Here’s to the Losers” from Drag The River

Big Mama Thornton “Cotton Picking Blues”

Supremes “Having A Party” from Sings Sam Cooke

Howlin’ Wolf “spoonful” from His Best

Patti Smith “break It Up” from Horses

Courtney Barnett “An Illustration Of Loneliness” from Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Sour Boy Bitter Girl “Flowers” from The Days After The Fire

Meat Puppets “Good Golly Miss Molly” from Out My Way

Brown Bird “Sackcloth and Ash” from Axis Mundi

Elmore James “Ice Cream Man” from Blues Masters: The Best of Elmore James

Two Cow Garage “Soundtrack to My Summer” from Sweet Saint Me

Replacements “Shooting Dirty Pool” from Pleased to Meet Me

 

Blue Blood – This Is The Life – 2015

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Several years before I was born my father was working in his bank office in downtown Atlanta when he got a phone call from a bank friend in Athens. The man asked my father to be on the lookout for someone in Atlanta that might want to take a job at the bank in Athens. The job wasn’t in my father’s department so the friend was surprised when my father responded, “well what do you think about me?” There may not be a more significant question asked in the formation of the man I’ve become.

My parents were planning to start a family and didn’t want to raise children in the hustle and bustle of the big city. My father took the job, which was pretty much a demotion, and a few years later I was born. A couple of years after I was born Micheal Stipe met Peter Buck at Wuxtry Records on Clayton Street. Being born and raised in Athens GA has shaped every aspect of my appreciation of music. Everyone knows the big names from Athens, REM, Drive-By Truckers and Widespread Panic and all three have influenced me a great deal. But my curiosity about the bands playing in bars lead me to wandering Clayton and Washington Streets looking for clubs that would let an 18-year-old inside to check out some music.  There are also the highly influential bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Flat Duo Jets and Drivin’N’Cryin that probably aren’t technically Athens bands but are Athens by association. Because I grew up in Athens my musical identity evolves from that genesis.

I don’t know if this idea about Athens music is something I made up or something I read that one of the town’s noteworthy figures said, but the great thing about Athens is that there is always some kid in a dorm room or in a shitty rental house that’s working on music that will make even the most jaded music fan sit up and listen. Whether the music will change the world or just change your world doesn’t matter, what matters is that there is always a kid in that town that does it.

That feeling of sitting up, being surprised and overjoyed is exactly what happened the moment I dropped the needle on Blue Blood’s debut album This Is The Life. Blue Blood isn’t reinventing the indie-rock wheel but they are without a doubt a crucial spoke in the evolution of Athens music. To make a name for yourself in Athens, to get people to come to your shows, you have to be really good. You have to invest in the art of your music but you also can’t try too hard. Trying too hard is what happens in Atlanta. Everything great about well-crafted, nonchalant rock music jumps out of the speakers throughout This Is The Life but especially during “The Kids Are The City.” If you want you can sit and listen to crunchy guitar leads and well-delivered, townie-life lyrics or you can just nod and sway. But what makes “The Kids Are The City” so quintessential is that if you’re really willing to let go of yourself, shake off the inhibitions and live a little, you can dance your heart out. It’s not a dance song, not by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re looking for a reason to dance the beat will find you.

“Money To Lose” begins as an easy sing-a-long with melodies like comfort food from Wilson’s Soul Food restaurant.  Yet the song ends in an out-of-nowhere and glorious guitar solo that’s reminiscent of Wilco’s “Impossible Germany” or The Glands’ “Straight Down.” But unlike those two noteworthy guitar solos, Blue Blood cuts this one shorter than they could have, possibly because compelling guitar work also highlights the following song “Birth Right.” But within “Birth Right”  as in each of the selections on This Is The Life, everything serves the songs. Each of the 11 songs are instantly memorable yet interesting upon repeated listens.

The drums on “The Buyout”, the next to last song, song like they’re ready to take off into full-on rock mode but the rest of the band isn’t ready to go there just yet. The musical tension between the drums and the rest of the band builds slightly throughout the song but the band wins. With the line “the walls are falling down” being repeated multiple times it completely sets the stage for the album closer.

“Black”, delivers the line “we had the time of our lives/don’t let it go to your head” enough times that you feel like, not only is the album over but so is the life within This Is The Life. The album doesn’t end with a bang or an outburst of drama but it feels conclusive and complete. It ends with the kid still in his room, trying but not trying to hard. Wanting to makes sense of life or the weekend and not always finding it. 

This Is The Life

The Kids Are The City

Birthright

Official Site, On Facebook, Buy This Is The Life

John Moreland – High On Tulsa Heat – 2015

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Inside John Moreland’s High On Tulsa Heat he writes “This is a record about home. Whatever that is.” and if he had written a similar inscription for 2013’s In The Throes I believe it would have said “This is a record about faith. Whatever that is.” and that is the only comparison I plan to make of those two records in this review. Gone are most of the biblical and religious references and undertones, here they are replaced with elements from the natural world and of people. The ache is there, hung both in Moreland’s voice and in his subtle guitar playing, but so is the beauty.

I’ve been accused of writing too intellectually about music on several occasions and I understand where that criticism comes from. I believe that Moreland’s songwriting belongs in the conversations about the highest examples of the art form and that his craftsmanship and selection of detail have his work on the way to being regarded with masters with names like Van Zandt and Kristofferson. Work like he’s creating is worthy of being written about in intellectual terms and I hope I’m the person to write that story when the time comes. But today I just want to talk about why these songs matter.

I’ve known sadness in the past and know I’ll be visited by it again someday. Chances are that if you’ve latched on to Moreland’s music in the last few years that sadness has also been a companion in your life. The beauty that Moreland is able to express through his saddest songs is the idea that we aren’t alone in these moments. The songs, Moreland’s and the other greats, are there even when we don’t need them just to remind us that they will be when our midnights are too dark to handle.

The longing jumps out of the speakers in the opening “Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars” and it’s clear that Moreland has truly found his voice as a writer. He gets to the point quickly with the line “My heart is growing heavy from the ever endless hurt” and later “make you homesick for a home you never had/ burning out the good with all the bad.” But an important shift happens when it becomes clear that the song is really about being there for someone else in their trying time not about dwelling on yourself. There are many lines in the second half of the song that talk about being there, being there for that one other person that matters most. I don’t understand every lyric but I want to keep listening while I hope the meaning presents itself. There’s hope in “Hang Me In The Tulsa County Stars,” you have to listen for it but when you hear it you can feel what I like to call Moreland Beauty.

Following on the heels of such a weighty opener, Moreland eases up a bit with “Heart’s Too Heavy.” A full band song that’s catchy as hell, “Heart’s Too Heavy” proves that Moreland isn’t stuck making a follow up and is willing to balance the power his songs wield on both electric and acoustic guitars.

As with any Moreland album there’s line after line in song after song that warrants a mention in a review but there are just too many here and I’m trying my best to not be an intellectual. Instead, I think it’s important to mention the vulnerability expressed in these ten songs. Though probably frightening and nerve-racking to write and perform, the vulnerability most likely leads to a sense of power for Moreland and gives us listeners a sense of calm. Along with the craftsmanship, the vulnerability is what draws people so intensely to Moreland’s songs. You don’t have to try to explain things to yourself when Moreland has already expressed it for you.

By the time the album reaches the landmark “You Don’t Care For Me Enough To Cry,” the balance of band and solo songs on High On Tulsa Heat allows for casual and intense listening. But “You Don’t Care For Me Enough To Cry” is the type of song that demands full attention. Every element of High On Tulsa Heat and John Moreland as a songwriter is wrapped up in four minutes and fourteen seconds. There’s the natural world, longing for home and someone else. There’s the admission of mistakes made and a willingness to try to be better for the sake of someone else. There’s hope and despair in the same breath with equal parts self-loathing and frankness about limitations. Even if this was the only song on High On Tulsa Heat the album would be ESSENTIAL LISTENING but there truly are ten exceptional songs here.

As I was listening and thinking about writing this review a quote from one of my favorite fiction writers got stuck in my mind. Harry Crews writes some of the most brutal fiction I’ve ever read. He puts his character’s vulnerability on full display and at the same time shows us our own. It’s a quote that I carried in my wallet for years and I think it helps explain what it’s like to be a writer and why people respond so passionately to Moreland’s music. He seems to do it to himself in song so we don’t have to.

You continually pick at yourself, the little sores that you have. They scab over and you pick them open again. Other people not only let them scab over, they let them scar over. They leave it alone. Writers don’t do that. They can’t keep their fingers out of the sore. They’ve got to keep it bleeding. And it’s off that blood that they make their stuff.”

Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars

Heart’s Too Heavy

You Don’t Care For Me Enough to Cry

Official Site, On Facebook, Buy High On Tulsa Heat

Ajax Diner Book Club – 4/13/15 KRFC Ft. Collins CO

Kierston White “big star” from Don’t Write Love Songs

Micah Schnabel “Not The Boy You Used To Be” from Not The Boy You Used To Be

John Moreland “You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry” from High On Tulsa Heat

Ty Segall “The singer” from Manipulator

Blue Blood “The Kids Are The City” from This Is The Life

The Glands “Straight down” from The Glands

REM “Turn You Inside Out” from Green 

Blue Blood “Birth Right” from This Is The Life

Cafeteria “Drunk” from Knee Deep

Austin Lucas “Alone In Memphis” from Stay Reckless

JD McPherson “head over heels” from Let the Good Times Roll

Tom Petty “The Apartment Song” from Full Moon Fever

Adam Faucett “Benton” from Blind Water Finds Blind Water

Aimee Mann “Driving Sideways” from Bachelor No 2

Sam & Dave “Can’t You Find Another Way” from The Best Of Sam & Dave

Possessed By Paul James “Songs We Used to Sing” from There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely

Hayes Carll “Down the Road Tonight” from Little Rock

4H Royalty “Rubber City Girl” from Colossalalia

Sam Cooke “You send me” from The Best of Sam Cooke

American Aquarium “Katherine Belle” from Dances For The Lonely

McDougall “On the Mend” from McDougall

Ike and Tina Turner “Get You When I Want You” from Workin’ Together

Todd Snider “Lookin’ for a Job” from The Devil You Know

Glossary “Save Your Money for the Weekend” from Feral Fire

Booker T. Jones “The Bronx” from Road From Memphis

Otis Gibbs “Damn Me” from Grandpa Walked a Picketline

Lucero “The Last Song” from Tennessee

Charlie Parr “Empty Out Your Pockets” from Stumpjumper

Ajax Diner Book Club – 3/30/15 KRFC Ft. Collins CO

4H Royalty “The Black Hornet Rides Again” from Where UFOs Go To Die

William Elliott Whitmore “Ain’t Gone Yet” from Radium Death

Brown Bird “Pale And Paralyzed” from Axis Mundi

Arc Iris “Sing So Sweetly” from Arc Iris

Cave Singers “shine” from Naomi

Ben Weaver “Ramblin’ Bones” from I Would Rather Be a Buffalo

Courtney Barnett “Debbie Downer” from Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Blue Blood “All The Lies” from This Is The Life

Otis Redding “Down in the valley” from Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside “Poison Milk” from Dirty Radio

Dayna Kurtz “Raise the Last Glass” from Rise and Fall

Charlie Parr “Empty Out Your Pockets” from Stumpjumper

Michael Dean Damron “Monkey With A Brain” from When The Darkness Come

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

Ajax Diner Book Club – 3/16/15 KRFC Ft. Collins CO

 

Maggie Bjorklund “Dark Side of the Heart” from Shaken

Bob Frank “Wino” from Bob Frank

Charlie Parr “Cheap Wine” from Rooster

Kris Kristofferson “Sunday Mornin Coming Down” from Essential Kris Kristofferson

Matt Woods “Deadman’s Blues” from With Love From Brushy Mountain

Lucero “She’s Just That Kind Of Girl” from Rebels Rogues & Sworn Brothers

Otis Redding “I’ve been loving you too long” from History Of Otis Redding

Drag the River “Death of the Life of the Party” from You Can’t Live This Way

Aretha Franklin “Good To Me As I Am To You” from Lady Soul

Chuck Berry “Let’s Boogie” from The London Chuck Berry Sessions 

JD McPherson “head over heels” from Let the Good Times Roll

Curtis Harding “surf” from Soul Power

Tyler Keith  “No More Trains” from Alias Kid Twist

Tyler Keith – Alias Kid Twist

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Perhaps you remember the name Tyler Keith from my review two years ago of Black Highway by Tyler Keith and The Apostles, perhaps you remember the late-90’s garage rock band The Neckbones. On his latest release Alias Kid Twist, Tyler records solo and strips his classic surliness down to just his guitar, piano and voice. Folks around Mississippi have known for years of Keith’s talent with just a guitar but with the release of Alias Kid Twist a wider audience has a chance to hear the words that have been bellowing underneath the crunchy and jagged guitars for over a decade.

Teetering somewhere around a humorous Tom Waits, a surly Bob Dylan and the talented open mike singer who’s had a few too many drinks, the songs on Alias Kid Twist tap into feelings of desperation, vengeance and despair. A pop sensibility slips into “No More Trains,” a classic song about being stuck. Yet it is Keith’s voice, loaded with nasally distortion that carries these melodies out of the speakers and into the echoes inside our own heads.

If you have not read the book or seen the movie The Outsiders I pity you as a human. Clearly Keith has an affinity for the story of kids from the wrong side of the tracks banding together because “Do It For Johnny” chronicles the adventures of Dallas, Pony Boy and the others. Songs about books often leave something to be desired but “Do It For Johnny” captures the attitude, love and respect of these famous greasers.

There are a number of piano songs on Alias Kid Twist, including “Be Sure Your Sins” and “When The Holy Spirit Moves”, and these songs add much-needed depth and character to this collection.

Like the best of Tim Barry, Alias Kid Twist allows the listener to live inside their own despair and work through their disgust at the world one song at a time.

Do It for Johnny

Kid Twist

Be Sure Your Sins

Official Site, On Facebook, Buy Alias Kid Twist

Ajax Diner Book Club 3/9/15 KRFC Ft. Collins CO

The Drams “You and Me, MF” from Jubilee Dive

Steve Earle “The Tennesse Kid” from Terraplane

James McMurtry “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” from Complicated Game

Tyler Keith  “Do It For Johnny” from Alias Kid Twist

Glossary “Everything Comes Back” from Long Live All Of Us

Maggie Bjorklund “Bottom of the Well” from Shaken

Kierston White “Big Star” from Don’t Write Love Songs

Lonesome Heroes “Long Time Coming” from Can’t Stand Still

Descendents “Bikeage” from Two Things At Once

Dwayne “Can’t Keep Up With You” from Dwayne

Guided by Voices “I Am Columbus” from Motivational Jumpsuit

Land Lines “Limb from Limb” from Natural World

JD McPherson “You Must Have Met Little Caroline” from Let the Good Times Roll

J Roddy Walston & the Business “Caroline” from J Roddy Walston & the Business

Langhorne Slim “Rebel Side of Heaven” from Langhorne Slim