Spring Fest 2016 Huntsville, Alabama

12722532_10209049112653785_1286805901_o

First time I heard Lynyrd Skynyrd I was 10 years old, sitting in the passenger’s seat of a 1974 Ford F-150 while my biological father sat in the driver’s, drinking a beer and eating a chili dog. Or maybe it was when my cousin in North Carolina got high as hell after rolling his joints on the Second Helping vinyl. He’s since found Jesus and is saved. Skynyrd taught me about “Sweet Home Alabama” and Drive By-Truckers later taught me there are “Three Alabama Icons” and about the Duality of the Southern Thing. My best friend seems to say “Roll Tide” a lot when the Crimson Tide are, routinely, beating my LSU Tigers. I’ve never been to Alabama. But if I WAS to go…

The Whigs opened for The Black Keys at the House of Blues in New Orleans the first time I saw them. The lead singer’s rock and roll guitar, stuttering leg kick, and the drummer’s thunderous beats let us know we were in for a throwback kind of a rock and roll show. If it was the 70’s, The Whigs are Grand Funk Railroad and those other sensitive, pussy boys are Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. The Whigs went in the back alley, shit all over that goddamn synthesizer, while smoking Marlboro’s and drinking whiskey. Hell yeah, they’re an American Band.

In full disclosure, Caleb Caudle is a friend of mine so I’m biased. Having said that…”Carolina Ghost” is his latest, fantastic, album full of heartfelt songs about home, faith, and change. If you’ve been in the South and drank sweet tea while watching lightning bugs as the kids play in the yard, “Carolina Ghost” is what you want playing as the sun sets over the tobacco fields.

I’m going to guess that Aaron Lee Tasjan is the best guitarist and the funniest guy of the bunch. He has the ability to bring you in with his humor and charm right before he breaks your heart with his words. All of this and The Burning Peppermint’s and Bama Gamblers! I’ve never been to Alabama, but I hear the stars shine brightly. Spring Fest 2016, April 16, Huntsville! Let’s do this, Alabama!

Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters – Midwest Heart/Southern Blues

W119

Nick Dittmeier and The Sawdusters Midwest Heart, Southern Blues is good time, Saturday night, Honky Tonk music that keeps the dance floor packed and the Preacher’s Sunday sermon at least one last call away. Like his Indiana contemporary, Austin Lucas, Dittmeier writes songs that are upbeat in the classic Southern Rock tradition but with thoughtful lyrics about people barely getting by and people slipping through the cracks of the dying American Dream.

“My True Love” is the opening track and sets the tone with a raucous good time foot stomper, highlighted by sizzling guitar work and tight vocal harmonies. This album is a true band effort. The Sawdusters are integral to the overall sound of Nick Dittmeier and The Sawdusters and each musician adds to the cohesiveness and focus of the music. This is music that demands to be be played loud and heard live.

“Just My Job”, one of my favorite tracks on the record, explores how we all sell a little piece of our souls just to get by and pay the bills when life’s deck of cards are increasingly stacked against us. Sticking to your guns and not “selling out” gets hard when there is no food on the table and rent is due. “Just My Job”, along with “Pills, Jesus, and War” do a terrific job of exploring these universal themes of virtue versus pragmatism. In fact, many of the songs on the record explore these themes. I can’t help but thinking if Midwest Heart, Southern Blues were a novel it would be written by Elmore Leonard featuring Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder. Don’t be surprised if some of these songs end up on a gritty TV show like so many other 9B favorites have before them. The songs just have that cinematic quality to them.

After American Aquarium did extensive touring opening for Red Dirt and Texas favorites Turnpike Troubadours, I watched American Aquarium “blow up” in Texas. I’m convinced Nick Dittmeier and The Sawdusters have the same ability and opportunity. Midwest Heart, Southern Blues sounds like a Red Dirt, Texas Music album. I certainly don’t mean that to dismiss Louisville or Indiana, I’m very aware of the great music that comes from both areas, it’s just that this is a record that I know could be huge in Oklahoma and Texas given the right support and exposure. The band is on a short tour now with stops in Houston, Tulsa, and Indianapolis. I encourage everyone to check them out live when they come to your town. Because, undoubtedly, Midwest Heart, Southern Blues by Nick Dittmeier and The Sawdusters is Essential Listening and sure to be one of my favorites of 2016.

American Aquarium – Two Nights in Texas

AA House of Rock

Corpus Christi on a Monday night ain’t easy. American Aquarium were rolling in after a nearly sold out Friday night, raucous, Houston show, a damn respectable Father’s Day show in San Antonio and Corpus Christi would certainly be a bust…Or would it?

American Aquarium tour parts of Texas that Willie hasn’t heard of. And this isn’t a Texas geography lesson but trust me when I say they drive the state in circles when they come here. Their commitment to Texas is deep and Texas has responded. I don’t know BJ better than I know my child, but I’m pretty sure I see him more than I do her.

Friday Night at the Firehouse Saloon in Houston was packed. It’s the kind of bar people think of when they think of a Texas country bar. Patrick Swayze works the door, Lone Star flows, and people two step to authentic Honky Tonk tunes. It’s THE goddamn country bar in Houston, Texas.

Corpus Christi is a city where the political elite plot to keep the status quo and the locals talk about where they’d rather be. House of Rock is downtown and the kind of authentic Rock club with edgy attitude and excellent pizza that every city needs. House of Rock is, hands down, my favorite place in Corpus Christi.

“Nights Like These That the Drugs Don’t Work!”…We decided to go front row in Houston. They played “Burn.Flicker.Die.” And bunch of other great shit. I’m sure it was epic as we were up front. I don’t remember it because I was a bit messed up. I bought a bunch of Merch so I’m pretty sure I was there. They tell me it was great. Let’s move on and talk about Corpus…

I texted my wife before the show at House of Rock, “If this dude behind me keeps talking like he has through the first two acts, BJ is going to destroy him from the stage. BJ won’t put up with that shit.”. He was the loudest person I’ve ever heard in an intimate venue. Like annoying “I hate this guy” kind of loud. American Aquarium take the stage.

AA SetlistEver heard someone whistle so loud in your ear you want to stab them with a kitchen utensil? Ever heard that in a small room made of stone with excellent echo and acoustics? Imagine that, but louder, and that was this guy. I have no idea how BJ didn’t tell him to shut up but he didn’t. The band started to find it pretty humorous. When they did “Betting Man” loud guy kept singing at the top of his lungs, “SteamBOOOAT!”. BJ said something to the guy to the effect, “One of our saddest songs and you are singing along like it’s Freebird or something”. The band just laughed about it. All in all, a pretty successful Monday night in Corpus Christi.

After that Corpus Christi show I am sure I’ve seen American Aquarium more times than I’ve seen any other band. They truly are the hardest working band out there and are one of my very favorite bands. Of course, they are well known around 9B and to 9B readers but if you haven’t had an opportunity to see them live you may want to remedy that. They are on tour now and will most likely be in your city soon. Our tickets are already purchased for when they return to Houston in October. They will always be a must see band for my wife and I.

(Writers note: I apologize not posting this a couple months back. Life and stuff. I will get back to writing for 9B on a more regular basis. Thanks to the 9B team for letting me take a hiatus these last couple months.)

LILLY HIATT – ROYAL BLUE

lillyhiatt-royalblue-300dpi-e1425313495760

People remember the ’90’s as grungy, and druggy; self-loathing, and insecure. We all wore flannel and did heroin while listening to Soundgarden. It was pretty great, except for the having to listen to Soundgarden part. There was another side to the ’90’s. Unequaled prosperity, homegrown terrorism, and the worst thing our President did was get blow jobs in the Oval Office.

There was also Lillith Fair. A female artist led traveling festival created in response to the male dominated Lollapalloza. Names like Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, The Breeders, PJ Harvey, and Liz Phair may not have been as well known as Pearl Jam or Nirvana, but they were damn sure as well known at the time as Alice In Chains or Mudhoney. Musical artistry wasn’t gender specific and women didn’t feel the need to degrade (empower?) themselves to succeed. The music was all that mattered. It was a different time.

If we had Lilith Fair today there is no doubt Lilly Hiatt and her ridiculously good band would be invited to perform. Hiatt’s exceptional second album Royal Blue is not a Country Music album. Hiatt blends influences uncommon in the typical folk/punk/country roots of so much Americana music we know and love. She creates something amazingly fresh and new. Royal Blue sounds like a lost ’90’s alternative rock treasure brimming with confidence, sultriness, and focused sense of purpose.

It may be Lilly Hiatt’s name on Royal Blue but it is very much a “band album”. The band’s sense of space and understated urgency forms the perfect backdrop for Hiatt’s subtle melodies and piercing lyrics. Seeing her live, my friend in the gorilla mask who had never heard them before said, “I love that drummer and his surfer beat!” Drunk gorilla was right. Hiatt and her band were tight. As tight as Houston and humidity.

Embracing influences from Lucinda Williams, Tom Petty, Pixies, and The Cure; Lilly blossoms into her own as an artist with no rules. I was fortunate enough to meet her and she’s a sweet Lady. But I can’t help but think she would say if she had the chance, “Hey, I’m an artist and I love you and I appreciate you if you are willing to follow me on my artistic journey, but if you want to pigeon hole me into something you THINK I should be…well…Fuck you”…We are with you Lilly. See you next time. You bring the songs and fun, we’ll bring the gorilla and patchouli. Essential Listening.
Lilly Hiatt is Rock/Country/Alt/Indie

Royal Blue by Lilly Hiatt is Essential Listening.

 

Heart Attack

I Don’t Do Those Things Anymore

 

You can pick up this stupendousness on Amazon and iTunes. Check her out  on FB.

 

FAITH EVANS RUCH – AFTER IT'S SAID AND DONE

Faith Evans Ruch

In my early twenties I was living in Salt Lake City and there was this band by the name of MaryMonique & The Trip I’d check out live every time I got the chance. I drove my friends crazy because I wanted to see them every weekend they played. They were fronted by Mary Tebbs and Mary wrote earnest, catchy songs that spoke to me many years ago. A few years back I found a cassette tape from MaryMonique & The Trip that I’d picked up at a show twenty plus years ago (long before cassette tapes became ironically hip). I popped the cassette into a prehistoric cassette player I had at the house. I vaguely remembered a few songs and I suppose they’ve held up well. But I noticed I no longer felt a connection to the music. I’ve changed so much since my twenties that the songs no longer spoke to me, in fact, they brought back mostly difficult and embarrassing memories and reminded me of a me that no longer exists.

This brings me to After It’s Said and Done the latest EP from Faith Evans Ruch the Memphis based former registered nurse turned full time musician. Unlike her debut album 1852 Madison which had a full band, her latest is a sparse, largely acoustic affair, featuring Ruch’s voice, acoustic guitar, and slide guitar. The six songs on the EP are simple and inviting, dealing with tied and true themes of lost love and heartache. I could imagine hearing these songs strummed by Ruch on the small stage in a San Antonio dive bar singing to the hardcore lost souls gathered on a Tuesday night. Despite her Memphis roots these songs sound more Texas heartache than Memphis Soul.

There is an accessibility to After It’s Said and Done. It’s an EP and artist that deserves a larger audience. I would think the record could appeal to some fans of both traditional country and popular country music. And it may have appealed to a younger version of me. The sincerity and simplicity of the songs will appeal to many listeners, particularly younger listeners. I can imagine many young ladies listening to these songs as they prepare to go out for a night on the town. Yet, Ruch’s voice is too controlled and reserved for me; like a young Anne Murray. I prefer vocals with more grit and heartfelt vulnerability. Lyrically, there is an overuse of cliches for my tastes. But just because this EP doesn’t appeal to a jaded, forty something blogger doesn’t mean it won’t have appeal for others. Give her official video to “Rock Me Slow” a viewing. If you enjoy it, by all means check out the entire EP.

After It’s Said and Done is on Spotify and available at iTunes. Faith Evans Ruch can also be found on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Fuchs' Top 14 of 2014

kierstonwhite

It was truly an incredible year for new music. Creating a list this year was a challenge and I’ve probably missed a few but here are my Top 14 Albums of 2014:

14. The Afghan Whigs, Do To the Beast – Not for the uninitiated, but so very welcome after a 16 year wait for the faithful.

13. The Hold Steady, Teeth Dreams – A forceful return to form and a handful of tracks they will be playing live for years to come.

12. Sylvia Rose Novak, Chasing Ghosts – Fans of Amanda Shires or classic ’70’s era Country Music should check this one out. Murder, deceit, and obsession can sound so very sweet.

11. Josh Nolan, Fair City Lights – This one hooks you from beginning to end with excellent rock and roll songs that sound more Asbury Park, NJ than Lexington, KY, but undeniably, American.

10. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – I have nothing to add that hasn’t been said before. You know the deal about this one.

9. Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues – A creative and commercial success that stands up with with the very best of their deep catalog.

8. Scott H. Biram, Nothin’ But Blood – Blues, Gospel, Country, Metal, this one has it all. Ranks up there with my favorite Biram albums. You should see him live because he’s amazing but you may want to refrain from requesting songs. You’ve been warned.

7. Adam Faucett, Blind Water Finds Blind Water – Shame on me but I didn’t know who Adam Faucett was until this year. After hearing this album I was blown away. Mesmerizing, haunting, and compelling; pour a glass of whiskey, listen, and prepare to go on a musical and damn near spiritual journey.

6. Matt Woods, With Love From Brushy Mountain – Deserves the praise that Sturgill’s has rightfully receive. They don’t make Country Music like the old days? F*ck you. Listen to this. Matt Woods is a badass.

5. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else – Loveless is a boss. This is her best album and you should listen to it as you do bad things.

4. Those Crosstown Rivals, Hell and Back – This record melted my face in 2014. The best, pure, rock album of the year. I’ve probably drank more beer while listening to this record than any other in the past 12 months.

3. Robert Ellis, The Lights From the Chemical Plant – I wrote the review of this on 9B. I wrote “seamlessly blending country, folk, jazz, and rock”. I will stand by that. I will also add that it is an incredibly rich and rewarding journey. Splendid.

2. Caleb Caudle, Paint Another Layer On My Heart – No album has been played more in my house in 2014 than Caleb’s. As comfortable as the pajama jeans you got for Christmas but with none of the stigma, this album stole all of our hearts in the last 12 months. My wife’s favorite record of the year.

1. Kierston White, Don’t Write Love Songs – Somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Neil Young lies Kierston White. My favorite song of the year is “Ride On” from Kierston’s stellar debut and this is, undoubtedly, my most loved record of the year. Her voice is simultaneously vulnerable and strong, inviting and defiant, bittersweet and beautiful. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Stunning.

NEW ORLEANS, THE AFGHAN WHIGS, and INVINCIBILITY

57-elg-2

 

“Here me now, and don’t forget, I’m not the man my actions would suggest.” – The Afghan Whigs

 

In 1994 when my friends were listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, I was listening to The Afghan Whigs and Pulp. Pearl Jam played for the masses and Eddie Vedder swung from the rafters. Nirvana had written “Smells Like Teen Spirit” years before and nothing would be the same. Grunge had already peaked and, embarrassingly, Korn and Limp Bizkit would soon rule the alternative airwaves. The whole thing was cool for about two minutes and then it was gone.

My first time in New Orleans was summer of 1992. I’d been out of the Marine Corps for about a year. I was there with an ex-girlfriend who we shall call “Shelly” (totally not real name) and my parents. Being in New Orleans with your parents is kind of like watching porn with your parents, let’s just say it’s ill-advised. Lollapalooza was in town. Shelly and I saw Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers drinking coffee at Cafe Du Monde. Hey look! There goes Matt Cameron and Kim Thayil of Soundgarden walking out of some shitty Bourbon Street bar. We walked on an elevator and holy shit! That’s Cypress Hill! Hell, I even got propositioned by some Drag Queens right in front of Shelly. Yeah, I pretty much fell in love with New Orleans.

“What Should I Tell Her? She’s Going to Ask…” are the first lines you will hear from Gentlemen by The Afghan Whigs. Released late ’93, Gentlemen is a masterpiece of self-loathing, narcissism, and more than a hint of misogyny. Greg Dulli, frontman and songwriter of The Afghan Whigs, wrote lyrics that spoke to the broken, insecure, psyche of a rudderless twenty-something. The music contains elements of grunge that was fashionable at the time but added an element of old school R&B that none of their contemporaries were doing. Quite simply, Gentlemen became one of my all time favorite albums and remains so to this day.

If memory serves, I first saw The Afghan Whigs in 1996 touring on the follow up to Gentlemen, the Black Love album. I saw them in a small venue in Salt Lake City that no longer exists called Club DV8. Though details of the concert are fuzzy I do remember it being beautifully raw and perfectly sloppy. When performing live it isn’t uncommon for an Afghan Whigs song to morph into a cover of a Motown classic or a modern R&B pop song. That night they covered portions of “I Hear a Symphony” by The Supremes and “Holiday” by Madonna. The show was perfect.

I wouldn’t return to New Orleans until 2004. My life was remarkably different by that time but New Orleans had changed little. This is one of the charms of New Orleans. While Main Street, USA is abandoned as shoppers flock to the newest Walmart across town, New Orleans remains defiantly, proudly, the same, for better or for worse. It’s been my experience you either love or hate New Orleans, few people are on the fence. I am, decidedly, in the “love” camp. In fact, I always say I fell in love with my wife as I took her hand as we were walking in the crosswalk across Canal Street into the French Quarter on a typical hot, humid, New Orleans day. It was meant to be.

The Afghan Whigs broke up in 1999 or so after failing to gain any traction with their incredible 1998 release, 1965. I was happy to have had an opportunity to see them one time and continued to listen to their albums for all those years. Then, unexpectedly, they announced they were going to release their first album in 16 years called “Do To the Beast”. A full tour was announced. As many bands routinely do they decided they were going to skip Houston, the 4th largest city in America. But of course they were going to play New Orleans where Greg Dulli owns both a home and a bar. Tickets were secured, road trip planned, this was some kind of cosmic fate. Let’s do this, New Orleans.

The Civic Theater in New Orleans is a beautiful, ornate, theater which looks as if it would be equally comfortable hosting a rock and roll concert or an opera. Arriving early, we were able to get pretty damn close to the stage. I couldn’t quite believe I was going to see The Afghan Whigs again after all these years, and seeing them in New Orleans (?!); it was all just kind of surreal. After the forgettable opening act left the stage, The Afghan Whigs arrived fashionably late but after waiting 18 years to see them again, I wasn’t going to complain. I’d like to think of some witty metaphor to describe what I was feeling but let me put it this way: I was fucking losing my mind as they hit the stage.

As expected, “Parked Outside” from “Do To The Beast” started the show because it’s the first track off their latest, and first album in 16 years, and that’s what you do if you aren’t a bullshit nostalgia act like Motley Crüe. The band was tight and nearly flawless. Perhaps we all are a bit more sober than we had been in our earlier years. Maybe we just learned how to handle the alcohol and drugs better. Regardless, that show, that MOMENT, that night, was the greatest evening of live music I’ve ever had, and I’ve been to a shitload of shows. Pure, unadulterated, adrenaline and joy. They ended the evening by covering one of my all time favorite songs, “Across 110th Street”. I don’t believe in heaven because I don’t believe in fairy tales, but if there is a heaven, I’m pretty sure it involves The Afghan Whigs covering Bobby Womack.

R. Kelly has taught me (amongst other things) that there is always an after party. It’s not common knowledge where Greg Dulli’s bar is in New Orleans but it’s not exactly a secret either. So after dropping my sleepy wife off at the hotel I took a cab to Dulli’s bar. I figured if they were going to show up anywhere it would be there. Walking in, it was crowded and I was the oldest and least hip person in the place. Screw it. I took a seat at the bar and listened to what has to be the greatest jukebox in New Orleans.

After about 20 minutes Greg Dulli walked behind the bar and, entirely without ego, looked like he was about to be the replacement bartender. He talked to a few patrons, joked with a few employees, and then I talked to him. We had a brief conversation. I told him how much the show that night and his music over the years meant to me. I told him that when I heard “Fountain and Fairfax”‘ from Gentlemen at the concert that night it was the single most joyous and greatest moment I’d ever had at a rock and roll show. I told him it transported me back to my youth, “OUR youth”. Mr. Greg “Fucking” Dulli looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hey Man, we’re still young, age is just a number in your head”. Then he graciously thanked me, shook my hand, and walked away like the Lone Ranger or Matthew McConaughey or some shit. It was beautiful.

A couple beers later it had to be near 3AM. No cab needed. I didn’t know where I was but I was within a couple miles from the hotel. I walked back. This is not something I would recommend doing in New Orleans (seriously, don’t do it) but that night, I just didn’t care. It turns out that evening would haunt me for a couple months. I felt invincible and the feeling didn’t subside for awhile. I’m not sure it has yet. You see, The Afghan Whigs are kind of like the opposite of The Hold Steady for me. I love them both but The Hold Steady appeals to the best parts of my personality; the joy and the happiness, The Afghan Whigs appeal to the very worst and darkest parts of my personality. I won’t elaborate on the darkness but I’ve seen Star Wars and the Dark Side is a powerful thing.

Despite my fading invincibility, I hope to see you again at Christmas, New Orleans. Through the good and the bad, dark and the light, wives and children, addictions and pain, you are my greatest muse. You bounced back from Katrina and you are “Same As It Ever Was”, you gorgeous, regal, whore. You will always be my favorite city and for better or worse The Afghan Whigs will always be one of my very favorite bands. Somehow, the three of us belong together. Let’s have a drink, shall we? Will it be Sazerac or Absinthe? Regardless, I will be waiting for you on Fountain and Fairfax, or Royal and Dauphine.

 

Fountain And Fairfax

Somethin’ Hot (Album Version)

SYLVIA ROSE NOVAK – CHASING GHOSTS

sylviarosenovak

We are fortunate here at ninebullets that we have many artists submit their music to us for review. Often the submittals are accompanied by a brief bio about the artist. When I read the bio for Novak that she was a petite spitfire that happened to be a former boxer, well I was intrigued. A bio is designed to separate an artist from the pack and get the album listened to, not unlike a cover letter on a resume getting a candidate an interview. In this case it worked and after listening to the first few songs on Chasing Ghosts I knew it was a record I wanted to review and, hopefully, expose to a few more people.

Novak lives in Birmingham, Alabama and plays fiddle, usually, backing up other musicians. On Chasing Ghosts, Novak steps into the spotlight with her first album as a solo artist. With songs about murder, love, regret, and the kind of obsession that would impress the NASA diaper lady, Novak strikes all the right notes on her exciting debut. Reminiscent of 70’s era Dolly Parton or contemporary Amanda Shires, Chasing Ghosts is the kind of Country Music album that needs to be listened to by people that complain real Country Music died sometime between 1979 and Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines record.

“Highway Song” is the moody, excellent, first track and, possibly, the best song on the album. It’s a song about twisted roads, roadside white crosses, and Goddamn Birmingham; with tension as thick as Alabama humidity and as unforgiving as that mean ol’ highway Cooley sings about. This song fits comfortably with the darker, grittier, side of ninebullets music and has been played on Autopsy’s ninebullets radio show. “Wanted” is kind of song that Townes Van Zandt wrote and Johnny Cash would sing, about a lawman being on your trail and he won’t stop until you are six feet underground. “Wanted” references Robert Frost’s famous poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” but I prefer to think of it as referencing The Outsiders. Stay gold, Ponyboy. Chasing Ghosts ends with the one-two punch (see what I did there?) of “Burn it Down” and “Wild Horse”, songs about loving the wrong ramblin’ man and the sadness that love can bring.

I’m drawn to Chasing Ghosts because several of the songs remind me of the type of Country Music I’d hear my relatives play when I was a little kid. Minor keys, heart tugging lyrics, mournful slide guitar, haunting fiddle, sorrowful vocals, murder, deceit, damn wayward men and strong defiant women, all adds up to one hell on an album for sad bastards like me. Ms. Novak shines on her debut album and is more than ready for the spotlight. I look forward to hearing what she comes up with next. Chasing Ghosts is essential listening

Burn It Down
Highway Song

Chasing Ghosts is available on Amazon and iTunes.

KIERSTON WHITE – DON'T WRITE LOVE SONGS

kierstonwhite

Don’t Write Love Songs, the debut album by Oklahoma based artist Kierston White, is a stunning, fully realized, remarkably confident, tour de force. White’s masterful interpretation of American Roots music transcends the genre and becomes something wholly unique and exquisite. I’ve had this record on constant rotation since it’s release and I can affirm to one and all that Don’t Write Love Songs is, most assuredly, Essential Listening.

The album’s centerpiece is White’s gorgeous, inviting, vocals. Rarely, have I heard a singer with a voice that simultaneously channels such vulnerability and resolve, strength and catharsis. My friend who listened to the album told me White’s voice reminds her of a fine scotch, smooth and rich but with edge and a bit of bite. I fully agree (and wish I had thought of the analogy). White uses her voice to great effect by singing her songs just a bit behind the beat, creating a heightened sense of urgency and intimacy. Ms. White is a young lady but she sings with an authority and maturity well beyond her years.

“Alcohol” is the excellent first track on the album and lead single. It’s a song about the questionable decisions we make and will continue to make; as long as there is a friendly face behind the bar willing to serve us another round. Big Star” is a terrific, upbeat, vaguely Irish sounding tune, with band member Elizabeth Forsythe playing some of the finest fiddle I’ve heard. “Big Star” is reminiscent of the acoustic, joyful, songs that Chuck Ragan does so well. Mid-tempo,country-song “Warren” has one of my favorite lyrics on the record:

I do consider myself a good person even in your bad situations/ And I do love you with the strength of a curse through my best and your worst intentions.

My favorite track “Ride On” is a mournful ballad of loss and struggle with a haunting chorus. It’s the only track on the album where White loses the defiance and resolve and instead sings with resignation and anguished weariness for most of the song. Yet when White hits that last chorus she sings with such conviction, such yearning, as if she is trying to undo the mistakes of the past with the very power and resoluteness of her voice. I wouldn’t be surprised if she succeeded. “Ride On” is a chilling and brilliant song.

The production by Samantha Crain on Don’t Write Love Songs is flawless, creating the feeling of White and her band mates performing live in your living room for your very own private house show. Whether conjuring a sense of sitting by a fireplace in a mountain cabin as the snow piles up outside, or strolling the French Quarter after a summer rain, there is a sense of warmth and bittersweet intimacy that permeates and radiates from Don’t Write Love Songs. The subtle melodies of the songs reward repeated listens but White’s voice captivates immediately. I highly recommend Ms. White’s excellent debut. Don’t Write Love Songs may very well be my favorite album of 2014 and is Essential Listening.

Alcohol
Warren
Ride On

Don’t Write Love Songs can be purchased on Amazon or iTunes. You can stream on Spotify. Kierston White’s website can be found here.

THE HOLD STEADY – TEETH DREAMS

The-Hold-Steady-Teeth-Dreams
In full disclosure, I am a huge fan of The Hold Steady, complete with a Hold Steady tattoo on my shoulder to prove it. I discovered them after Boys and Girls in America was released back in 2006. I was immediately captivated by their raw, loose, rock and roll songs about drug dealers, party girls, and sketchy guys. Craig Finn, their animated lyricist and front man, looks like a high school science teacher and mostly talks, kind of sings, all the songs. His vocal style is a deal breaker for many, but loved and embraced by their many fans. No one is on the fence with The Hold Steady, you are either a complete fan or just can’t see what the fuss is about. To me? The Hold Steady and Lucero are the two best bar bands in the world and I mean that as the very highest of compliments.

After three near perfect albums in a row starting with Separation Sunday in 2005, Boys and Girls in America in 2006, and Stay Positive in 2008, their charismatic keyboard player, Franz Nicolay, left the band and wasn’t replaced. The band downplayed the loss of Nicolay but their next album without Nicolay, 2010’s Heaven is Whenever was an overproduced lackluster effort and the first disappointing album of their career. All of this brings us to the recently released Teeth Dreams, an important album for the band to regain the momentum and vitality of their earlier work and appease The Unified Scene (as hardcore Hold Steady fans are known) and also appeal to new fans. So did they pull it off? Almost.

The good news is Teeth Dreams is a far better album than Heaven is Whenever and when it’s good, it’s very good. The first three tracks on the record are classic Hold Steady and sure to be concert staples for years to come. The first single “Spinners” is a joyful song about a girl “two years off some prairie town” filled with anticipation for a night in the big city:
“Once you’re out there everything’s possible/There might be a fight. There might be a miracle./Loosen your grip, it feels so incredible/Let the city live your life for you tonight.
On my favorite track on the album, the decidedly less optimistic “On With The Business”, Craig Finn set his sites on rampant consumerism and the endangered American Dream:
“Now all our friends are acting sketchy and lifeless./Waking up with that American Sadness./Dead receptors. Body limitations./Weak handshakes and great expectations./ Chemistry, currency, plastic, and magic./Come on everybody, let’s get on with the business./ I said a couple of things that probably weren’t technically true.

Finn’s conversational lyrics create an immediacy with the listener that is palpable yet there is enough depth to the lyrics that new rewards are unveiled upon multiple listens. Make no mistake, Craig Finn is one of the finest lyricists in music today. It is his lyrical poetry, and it IS poetry, that creates so many rabid fans of the band. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a Hold Steady lyric in my Facebook feed. If you don’t ever see Hold Steady lyrics in your Facebook feed, you need to get cooler friends.

Yet efforts to broaden their range have not always had a positive effect for the band. Finn has made more of an effort to sing on the last two albums and by slowing down the pace of the fast, talky, lyrics it has lessened the charm of earlier works. Craig isn’t really a singer and in my mind he isn’t meant to sing. He’s supposed to excitedly spout  barroom poetry over sloppy riffs and big drums. To sing a Journey type melody you need a Steve Perry type voice.  Craig Finn just doesn’t have those type of pipes.

The Hold Steady don’t always play to their strengths on Teeth Dreams. I don’t begrudge a band evolving and challenging themselves and their listeners but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Maybe there is a reason AC/DC’s formula has changed little over the years, they know what they are and they’ve mastered their formula. AC/DC don’t do power ballads.  The Hold Steady’s efforts to branch out and be something that maybe they aren’t isn’t always met with success.

Having said all of that, I still love The Hold Steady. I will alway be a fan and you can bet the next time they come to Houston I will be there front and center. If you are new to the band I’d start with Boys and Girls in America, then Stay Positive, then Separation Sunday. If you already consider yourself a member of the Unified Scene you already own Teeth Dreams. If you aren’t already a fan, I’m hesitant to recommend Teeth Dreams as the place to start. It is doubtful Teeth Dreams will be influencing anyone to run out and get a Hold Steady tattoo any time soon but you can bet those older albums just might.

Spinners
On With The Business

Teeth Dreams can me purchased on Amazon or iTunes.