Nick Dittmeier and the Sawdusters – Midwest Heart/Southern Blues

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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.

Austin Lucas – Between The Moon And The Midwest – 2016

Welcome to my first piece for Ninebullets. Romeo Sid Vicious has been wanting to get me on the staff here and its an honour to be onboard. Yes, he reviewed the demo EP I put out recently but that was RSV’s own doing and his love of my music

Without a doubt, Austin Lucas is one of my favourite artists and one I definitely don’t get to see enough (the list of which is exhaustive) and is one I’ve enjoyed growing up with from seeing in my first year at the White Water Tavern For Two Cow Garage 10th Anniversary to only last week in Sheffield.

The birth of Between The Moon And The Midwest has not been easy but thankfully it is finally available to the world. It is closer in sound to the straight ahead Stay Reckless but certainly isn’t going backwards. “The Flame” is rammed full of honky tonk piano, horns and flanged drums which show off Austin’s intention for the album. With Glossary’s Joey Kneiser, at the helm, there’s an organic feel to the album with swells of pedal steel and vocal harmonies. While the guitar playing on Austin’s albums have never been overly flashy, more complimentary, the guitar and steel work of Ricky White (who is time served through Edinburgh punks Oi Polloi) is allowed to sit beside the vocals and be equally melodic in its own right. Elsewhere, the dynamics shift up a notch with Lydia Loveless providing a counter-point to the narrator of “Wrong Side Of A Dream”.

This is Austin’s strongest work to date, and one that I’ve fallen in love with off the bat. I can’t recommend this album enough. Here at 9B, we are all about the songs even when the Nashville machine doesn’t. When this finally drops in the USA, you best make sure you pick it up! It earns its place in the Essential Listening here at 9B towers.

 

 

You can pre-order the vinyl or, if like me, you live in the EU you can order the CD.

 

Passing Parade – We Own Fun – 2016

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If you’re involved in the music scene in Jackson, MS then you probably know Cody Cox. He runs the Elegant Trainwreck label and plays in more bands then I’m even able to count. I first found out about him when he was playing with Goodman County and AIV and I were still posting on what I think was the second incarnation of the Lucero message board. I’ve sort of almost been able to keep up with projects over the years but thanks to Facebook that’s a lot easier these days. Cody is a prolific artist and the We Own Fun is the latest full length from one his projects called Passing Parade and it’s more than worth your time.I would have never considered myself a fan of Garage but between Passing Parade and Unions I am going to have to rethink some things.

We Own Fun is an album that, frankly, demands to be played altogether too loud. It would be a great backdrop for a late night party where there are just a few too many things going on that shouldn’t be and everybody is perfectly dressed for the occasion. There’s just something about the fuzzy guitars, the beat, and the vocal style that just grabs me in all the right ways. This album doesn’t ramp up, you’re slammed in to the music immediately with “The Chemicals” and the assault doesn’t let up until “Bad Christians” four more songs in. The pacing on this album is hard to ignore, even when it calms down just a little bit the overall feel doesn’t change. The pressure this album creates with its feeling urgency is almost palpable.

I have listened over and over since Cody sent me the link and I’m not stopping any time soon. As far as I am concerned this is easily Essential Listening even tEssential Listeninghough it’s one of those albums that pulls me completely out of my wheelhouse. You can grab it for 5 bucks, or more if you’re feeling generous, on the Passing Parade Bandcamp page. Were I you, I would also make sure to follow Cody because he’s someone that you’ll never know what he’s going to do, musically, but you probably want to be around for it.

Billy Pettinger – I Have to Do This – 2016

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What did I used to have before I had nothing?” ~ Fucked Up, “Glass Boys”

Billy Pettinger gives insight into the (un)making of this album: after Frank Turner produced her last album (Billy the Kid’s Horseshoes & Hand Grenades for biggie-indie label Xtra-Mile), Laura Jane Grace and Ryan Adams blipped in and, disappointingly, out of the picture as potential producers on this one; Xtra-Mile passed, as well. With a batch of songs that deserves the wider distribution and the notoriety of those producers, Pettinger committed them to record herself. That is the limit of this tragedy–that the songs are handicapped in distribution when they should be pandemic. The tragedy does not extend to the actual product, which Pettinger hoped to be demos on their way to full production, but which turned out as surely one of the best albums of the year.

There’s no lonelier sound than a sole electric guitar and a drum machine*. Knowing the backstory going into the album (a story Pettinger shares openly on the Bandcamp where you can buy this), that loneliness amplifies. But like all Pettinger’s work, there is such gratitude and insistence and, somehow, faith, that the loneliness candies into head-rushing, sternum-crushing pop. There’s 15 songs here, all of them well lyric’d. For instance,

the bridge of “Architects”:

We’re always making plans, not redesigning
Something that was likely never even supposed to last
But I would pick up the pieces again, if you asked,

 

and the pre-chorus of “I Ain’t Dead”:

It only makes it feel like they were all fucking with us when we were kids
The only reason I’m alive right now is because I didn’t have the same dealer that she did,

but the album succeeds as a perfect blend of tones. That stranded guitar. That receding, far-away drum sound. Those fugal lyrics. That voice that worries nobody wants to hear it. I’m so happy I heard Billy Pettinger opening for Tim Barry four years ago. Whatever should’ve happened between now and then, I Have to Do This is exactly what I have to hear. Essential Listening.

*Pettinger has drummed in bands before, so she very likely played live drums here. Either way, they serve the songs so well.

FFO: Cyndi Lauper, Ryan Adams, Stevie Nicks, Tim Barry, Kendl Winter. Steam and buy from Pettinger’s Bandcamp. Follow her on Facebook.

The Albert Square – I (Assume I) Know What I’m Doing – 2015

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One of my favorite writers, Italo Calvino, gave a lecture in the late 80’s looking back on his body of work. He saw a theme of “lightness,” which he tried to define as something not quite like levity or flippancy, but like getting the same impact out of removing things as you do by adding things. Jazz is about the notes you don’t play, you’ve probably heard some jerk say. But it’s true. Calvino says it this way: “I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

Toward the end of The Albert Square’s I (Assume I) Know What I’m Doing, the band seems to be shedding weight by second. Even the title of the album wants to ascend, escape from the qualifying parenthetical.

But before we get to the end, there’s the life of the album–9 straight rounds of loveless rock and roll blows. They rail against midwestern injustice. They distrust cities. They “gnash and bite and champ at the bit, without a sense or an intuition of the pain that comes because of it.” They would comprise a different album if there was nothing to follow these haymakers. It would be an album that reaches it’s midlife crises

I’m afraid to try because i might die
you are a sweet, sweet man
and you are a wonderful father
and you’ll remain that way
your intent it has the weight to guide the rest of us.

but dies before act two. It would be an album that appears heroic for opting out, assuming act two would only pile on more weight. But isn’t it tragic to miss the lightening that comes with age? Every. Thing. Leaves. And an album that sticks around to say goodbye is an Essential one indeed.

After the title track, the record begins to age suddenly and splendidly, worn down to an acoustic guitar on the beautiful “Sum of Our Parts:”

insignificant in this canyon where we disappear together
as you sleep with uncovered feet
right now this is our time in this freezing winter weather
here’s me at my best i can never compromise
i can never find a balance no matter how hard i try
and i wish i had a job and i wish i had a home
and i wish i had a place away from this communal space
but if i had a job and if i had a home
i’d be swallowing that status quo you never would have made your mark
and i would never know

some of our parts break like waves
these parts weigh heavy these days

The there’s a death rattle in “Get Back Here,” and the album seems like it can live another twenty years. But the delusion is tempered immediately with the next track, removing the weight of vocals and every other rock instrument, and leaving only a strange, angel-invoking keyboard and thermion-shaded instrumental. At last comes the end that refuses itself, “I’m Not a Closer,” which concludes with: “i’m alive / for the very first time / leaving all that weight / behind and i’m so high / we’ll never get it right but still we try.

The album came out, fittingly, when there was barely anything left of 2015. Don’t go through 2016 without it.

FFO: Chamberlain, Shinobu, Adam Faucett, Lilly Hiatt, Richmond Fontaine, Fake Problems. Buy the vinyl from Shinobu’s label Phat n’ Phunky, buy the digital from the Albert Square bandcamp, or download from the much-loved donation-based label Quote Unquote Records.

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost – 2016

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I think that a lot of music is hard to review. I know, I’ve been doing to for years, but that hasn’t made it any easier. Writing a review isn’t like talking a friend about about an album or chatting with your buddy who just dropped his new record on you. There’s something permanent about putting words on the web because the internet never forgets. I guess for some of us that doesn’t matter and there was a time where it didn’t matter to me and I’m striving to get back to that place, a place where I can talk about how music makes me feel, where it takes me, and really what it means to me. For me music never has to be perfect, vocals never have to be on key, but it does have to make me feel and the more it makes me feel the better I like it. So when Caleb dropped Carolina Ghost on me and we talked about it a little later, I already knew what I was going to say here.

The first thing I realized about Carolina Ghost was that it’s a record my dad and I could have listened to together and both enjoyed a lot. I realized this before he passed but I never did sit down and play it for him and I really wish I had. It was a rare thing when our music tastes crossed paths and this was just about the perfect album for it. So while I didn’t play it for him it brings him to mind and makes me smile. Of course I don’t think the rest of you will have that sort of emotional reaction but it’s still pretty damn cool to me and I absolutely had to share it with you. There was really no way I could keep that to myself.

Carolina Ghost isn’t an imperfect album that draws emotion out you through it’s flaws. In fact it may possibly be a little too polished for some but I think that’s usually a cop out complaint. What we have here is an album that really brings back everything that was good about country music when I was growing up and manages to leave out the slow descent in to what has become country radio these days. In fact, I’d venture to say that there isn’t a track on here that you couldn’t swing your significant other around a sawdust covered floor to. This is pure and honest country album with no aspirations to be anything but just that.

Now when you set out to make a record like this, there’s always the chance that you’ll end up looking pretentious but Mr. Caudle manages to avoid that and still walk the line. From the perfectly place steel guitar to the natural twang in the vocals each song gives the appearance of being effortless. There aren’t any barn burners on this one and I think I might have liked one but at the same time that may have taken away from mellow place these paint in your head. If I had to pick a best time and place to give this one a listen it would near the end of a road trip, the last freeway before home in your sights, with the windows down on a spring evening. It’s just that sort of feeling, at least for me, and maybe that’s partly because it feels like Caleb found his home in these songs.

Without any reservation I can say that Carolina Ghost is Essential Listening. The pure country ethos will be hard for anyone to match this year. If you’re already a fan then you’ll love this record, if you’re not familiar with Caleb just yet then this is a great place to jump in. So go on over to his Bandcamp page and jump in on the pre-order happen. Make sure you follow him on Facebook or stalk his pictures on Instagram.

The Harvest Thieves – Rival – 2016

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These guys were a completely accidental discovery on Spotify and I couldn’t be happier about it. Usually the, so called, discovery feature on Spotify is fairly worthless, containing mostly stuff I’ve already heard and listen to on Spotify or stuff so old I can’t write about it. To be honest I rarely use it since so many of my friends are huge music fans and talk about it all the time. It’s pretty hard to find stuff I haven’t at least heard once or twice. However, The Harvest Thieves are a band that I knew nothing about. Once I clicked play I knew that I’d be writing about these kids so that the rest of you can give them a listen as well.

My first go ’round with Rival caught my attention in a way that really hasn’t happened in the last little while. There’s something about the sound on this one that hearkens back the everything that was good about the scene in the 80s and 90s and the bands that defined the alt country genre. That doesn’t mean I’m longing for the good old days, far from it in fact. What I like about these kids is that it’s an old school sound but clearly not trying to live in the past. Rival is pretty much a straight up alt country record and the reason that’s important is that it’s hard to find one of those these days. Yeah, there’s a lot of music with twang or a fiddle but there’s something, and I can’t put my finger on it, that makes that alt country sound. I can’t describe but I know it when I hear it and I’ll be damned if The Harvest Thieves don’t have it.

As far as the band goes, it was actually a side project with two of the guys from Guns of Navarone, out of Austin, Texas, and their tour manager. They put out an EP in 2013 and at some point in between now and then decided to go full time with The Harvest Thieves and added two more members to get what we have here today. I had heard about GoN before hearing this album but honestly can’t remember ever checking them out, which I intend to remedy, and if they’re anywhere near as good as this record, well I’ll have another new (to me) band to listen to.

I think this was a great record for my first review in 2016, aside from being from a band I’d never heard of, I get to come right of the gate and give you some Essential Listening. That’s right, this is that good of a record. So go grab it at their Bandcamp, check out Guns of Navarone, and stalk The Harvest Thieves on Facebook.

Hamilton – Original Broadway Cast Recording – 2015

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Buckle in, folks, because it’s about to get different up in here. In addition to my sometimes fanatical devotion to our mutt genre, I have a few other musical passions; namely, rap and musical theatre. Hamilton: An American Musical combines those passions with my healthy love of American history. Deep down, this makes a lot of sense.

Needing some vacation reading, Lin-Manuel Miranda picked up Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Treasury Secretary. The story of Hamilton’s difficult childhood hooked Miranda, and for good reason; look at his summary in verse:

How does a bastard, orphan

Son of a whore and a Scotsman

Dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean,

By providence impoverished in squalor,

Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Miranda was already an accomplished playwright, composer, and actor, haven taken his grad school project In The Heights to Broadway and starring in it. He started working on a a few songs about Hamilton, a “mixtape” he considered a side project. He performed a song, from the point of view of Aaron Burr, for the White House Poetry Jam, and it received rave reviews. Miranda was persuaded to turn the project into a full fledged musical which recently opened on Broadway to rave reviews. It’s innovative in many ways beyond its music, including the casting: most characters (and all of the Founding Fathers) are portrayed by people of color. The project is ambitious and perhaps difficult to imagine; this album is the first chance at listening for those of us unable to get to New York.

It is Essential Listening.

First: rap and the Founding Fathers. Unlike today’s politicians, our Founders did their own speech-writing, legislation, etc. The men (and notable women) who built our country were well-versed in the written and spoken word out of necessity. When they argued, they did so in public; pamphlets and newspaper editorials were launched like slings and arrows…or like diss tracks. When Treasury Secretary Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson argued back and forth in front of President George Washington, it was much more like a protean rap battle than a modern day televised debate.

These men were also incredibly prideful: it’s difficult to find any two Founders who have not been at odds over one issue or another, sometimes with incredible vitriol. Hamilton died in a duel with Aaron Burr, who was the sitting Vice President. These men took their honor and reputations seriously, and it’s hard not to draw the parallel to Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, two other friends turned bitter (and deadly) rivals.

Miranda merges the form of musical theatre (sung dialogue, ballads, pointed music) with the wordplay, dance-worthy beats, and accessibility of hip-hop. This production is a love letter to the theatre, American history, and rap music all at the same time. You won’t be able to stop finding Easter eggs: Jefferson gloating like Grandmaster Flash in “The Message”, George Washington longing for his “vine and fig tree”, and references to musicals from Pirates of Penzance through The Last Five Years. It would be a remarkable feat of writing even if it wasn’t accompanied by such incredible music.

Miranda himself plays Hamilton, though he isn’t our only protagonist. Much of the story is told from the point of view of Aaron Burr, another brilliant orphan who ended up repeatedly running into Hamilton in New York City. The two men couldn’t be more different other than that: Hamilton is incapable of keeping his mouth shut and voicing his opinion, while Burr lives by the creed “Talk less/Smile more”. Burr, a man both exceedingly careful and incredibly ambitious, is played soulfully by Leslie Odom Jr.; it would be easy to portray Burr as a cartoonish villain, desperate for power and consumed by his vices, but Miranda doesn’t go the easy route. Burr has several songs that dig into his psyche: in “Wait For It” he describes how paralyzed he is by the prospect of failure, and his envy of Hamilton begins to take shape. Hamilton, after all, has nothing to lose.

Though the politics of early American history were dominated by men, women played an important role. Much of what we know about John Adams we know from correspondence with his wife, who was a brilliant and savvy politico herself. Hamilton’s wife Eliza Schuyler and sister-in-law Angelica (played by Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry respectively) were important figures in American history, even if their names aren’t widely known. Eliza gave us Hamilton; after her husband was killed in a duel she dedicated the next fifty years of her life to preserving his legacy, with one notable exception…she burned all of her personal papers, and most of her correspondence with her husband. Angelica was a social butterfly who had a way with men: she exchanged letters with most important figures in American politics. It was likely Angelica Schuyler who let Hamilton know about Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemmings, and Jefferson’s close relationship with her.

Both women were in love with Hamilton, and both were hurt by him. Angelica could never get the affection from Hamilton that she desired, due to his marriage to her sister. Hamilton likely broke Eliza’s heart when he admitted to what became America’s first sex scandal. The Scuyler sisters are introduced with Destiny’s Child-style harmonies, vivaciously and lovingly singing about New York. Angelica’s ballad “Satisfied”, about the night she introduced Hamilton to her sister, could be a stand-alone hearbreaking R&B song.

I’m a girl in a world in which my only job is to marry rich

My father has no son, so I’m the one that has to social climb for one

I’m the oldest and the wittiest

And the gossip in New York City is insidious

Miranda takes the voices of women who are usually marginalized if they’re referenced at all, and thoroughly explores their characters. It’s Eliza who closes the show, explaining to Hamilton how she spent her time after he died. My favorite piece of trivia about Eliza Hamilton (not featured in the show): when she was in her 80s President James Monroe came to make peace with the old woman, after he spent years trying to ruin her husband and his memory. She wouldn’t let him sit down or shake his hand, and when it was clear that he wouldn’t apologize outright she sent him out of her house.

Hamilton is full of conflicting ideologies without anyone truly being a villain (there is one exception I’ll get to later). From our standpoint over 200 years later it’s easy to forget how touch and go everything was: there were countless crossroads in America’s youth, and any wrong turn could lead to destruction. Jefferson truly believed that Hamilton’s vision of a strong central government with a national bank and funded debt would bleed the states dry, and Hamilton believed that if the states were left to function on their own the union would be irreparably shattered before long. For both men, the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. Since these arguments carry on well into the present it’s clear that there’s no unequivocal right or wrong- and through their unending battle we’ve ended up with a country that has withstood the test of time. No character is shortchanged, no ideology disparaged.

The dialogue in Hamilton is a mixture of actual quotes from those involved, heightened period language, and modern syntax. It flows so smoothly that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins as in “One Last Time”, the Hamilton/Washington duet about Washington’s revolutionary decision to step down after two terms as President (most people expected he would serve for life). Miranda uses actual text from Washington’s farewell address (which Hamilton penned) to powerful effect. The rules for dueling in Revolutionary America are laid out in “The 10 Duel Commandments”, with Biggie Smalls inspired candor.

The music is just as skillful a blend. Miranda and Musical Director Alex Lacamoire have woven the disparate threads of musical theatre and hip-hop together without a seam. Drum machines and record scratches merge with a full orchestra and chorus, elements coming and going with the tone and tenor of the song. It’s almost not surprising to hear a banjo as part of the beat in “The Room Where It Happens”, a jazzy number about backroom political dealing. The album was produced by Questlove of The Roots, and the quality is understandably flawless. The interplay of the score itself is just as impressive: note the distinct signature “Alexander Hamilton” notes and when they play, note that Hamilton’s son’s music lesson is also the prelude to the duel that kills him, note the record scratch that foreshadows Angelica’s woe.

When we think of the Founding Fathers, it’s easy to distance ourselves from who they were as flesh and blood men. They’re on monuments after all, mountains, and our money. But they were as human as the rest of us: flawed, vulnerable, prideful. We may understand that in theory, and witness it in pretentious cable mini-series, but hearing their words in as modern a mode as hip-hop it’s easier to internalize their natures. The musical is incredibly accurate; yes, Miranda had to move some things around for artistic reasons, but overall the verisimilitude is brilliant. Having worked my own way through the ridiculous length of Chernow’s Hamilton, I can speak to that: the Founders spoke for themselves, sometimes too candidly in letters they never thought would go public.

Alexander Hamilton was a genius: a self-made immigrant with no formal schooling before coming to America who created our financial system out of whole cloth. When a group of revolutionaries was about to tear the head of his college apart, Hamilton delayed the mob though he hated his teacher’s politics. The study-book he made himself to prepare for the bar was printed and passed around by law students for decades. He was essentially Washington’s Chief of Staff in both the Revolutionary War and his presidency. Hamilton alone among the Founders saw the bloody path the French Revolution was on, and worked hard to keep America out of that war. He worked constantly against slavery, and was the only Founder to never own another human being.

He was also vain, occasionally praising himself in anonymous letters to newspapers. Once his mind was made up he didn’t change it no matter how wrong he might be; Hamilton insisted war was the only way to keep the French off of American soil even after Adams had found a diplomatic solution. He cheated on his wife, and publicized the scandal to try to save his political future (which backfired tremendously). Most tragically, he was prideful, and that pride lead to his death. Washington was Hamilton’s greatest ally, and he died before his protege. After Hamilton’s murder at Burr’s hands, his foes attempted to muddy his name and discount his contribution to America. They may perhaps have succeeded if it wasn’t for Eliza.

Whether you find yourself constantly waiting for the right moment like Burr, or can’t control your impulses like Hamilton, there’s something to relate to here. Hamilton’s story is a human one, an unbelievable one, a heart wrenching one. This album, 46 tracks of theatrical brilliance, would be worth it if only to understand a man who is so rarely remembered. There’s so much more: a rich score, sick lyrics, and a breadth of American historical knowledge. Have you heard of John Laurens, another aide of Washington’s? He was a statesman from South Carolina who went against the grain of politics to fight for abolition, begging the state to free slaves and give them to him as soldiers. Laurens shines in Hamilton, alongside so many other lesser-known figures: Burr, Angelica Schuyler, Hercules Mulligan. If you like captivating stories, cutting edge music, or learning about America, you owe it to yourself to pick up Hamilton. As I may have mentioned: it is Essential Listening.

I’ve saved the best for last- a special treat for those of you who made your way through this behemoth of a review. Jonathan Groff is riotous in his portrayal of the foppish King George III. The King treats America like a lover who has scorned him, and he sings ballads with hilariously clear inspiration from Billy Joel to try and persuade (or threaten) her into coming back to him. If the piece has a villain it must be George, but he’s almost too pathetic to hate. His songs were the first to stick in my head, and some of the most fun in the show.

When you’re gone, I’ll go mad

So don’t throw away this thing we had

‘Cause when push comes to shove,

I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love

You can pick Hamilton up on iTunes or Amazon. Seeing the show will set you few back a few hundred bucks, and since it’s sold out through 2016…you should cozy right on up to your speakers. Check it out on Spotify if you have to.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self Titled – 2015

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My introduction to Nathaniel Rateliff was the 2012 Revival Tour; I’d gone to see Cory Branan and Chuck Ragan, but the rest of the audience was there to see Laura Jane Grace (then Tom Gabel) and an impromptu Alkaline Trio reunion. I hadn’t expected Rateliff. Instead of a shouting folk set or a swaggering punk one, he was muted and measured. Rateliff’s restraint was palpable, only letting us in on his true voice during the stellar “Whimper And Wail”. The rest of the crowd seemed restless, but I was hooked. The only record he had for sale was his first, 2007’s Desire & Dissolving Men, and it’s been an early morning/late night stalwart for me ever since. Just as with his live performance it seemed like Rateliff was baring his soul, but carefully, excruciatingly. He was more likely to whisper as to yell, and his sound was equally restrained.

All of that went right straight to hell and back when he wrote the songs on Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. The record opens with the energetic “I Need Never Get Old” and the toetappers don’t stop until the last notes of the supremely appropriately titled closing track, “Mellow Out”. Rateliff is now signed to Stax records, and took up the mantle of that label with gusto. His band features an organ, a horn section, and a bass line powerful enough to move your hips of its own accord. Every one of these songs is undeniably soul and undeniably Rateliff. His pace hasn’t changed, his overlayed vocals haven’t changed, the emotional intensity of his lyrics haven’t changed…he just has a bigger band and a hell of a lot more fun.

In the second track, “Howling At Nothing”, a pleading shuffle featuring an errant guitar, Rateliff pleads:  “So let me in, or let me down!” Many songs on the record are similar entreaties to a lover, past or present. It overflows with eloquent phrasing, some of which is deeply gut-wrenching, and it does so over an eminently dance-able beat. This record is what happens when heartbreak grows sick of navel gazing and decides to cry out to the heavens while shaking its hips. “Mean what you said, and mean it to me,” he says

The centerpiece and standout track of the record is undoubtedly “S.O.B.”, which Rateliff and his band played recently on The Late Show to critical acclaim. It bears the hallmarks of modern Americana popularity: call and response, clapping, and swearing. Keeping the song in the real world, in addition to the undeniably catchy tune, is Rateliff’s lyrical ability. Unlike other anthems of debauchery, “S.O.B.” is about begging someone to help you get clean…and about how hard sobriety is to find and keep. Unlike other stars playing world-weary songs of sin on late night TV, you get the impression that Ratelliff has seen some shit.

I’ve got to admit that the Late Show appearance is hard for me to swallow. I think we’ve hit peak beard-hat-denim in American pop culture, and if I had seen Rateliff play without knowing his work I might have written him off as another manufactured cash grab. Success shouldn’t be held against the successful, however, and Rateliff is the real deal. This self-titled record is fun to listen to, it sounds like Rateliff is having fun playing it, and I’ll take tortured joy over tortured agony any day.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats is Essential Listening.

You can buy the record from their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Brent Best – Your Dog, Champ – 2015

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Brent Best isn’t known for happy songs and Your Dog, Champ doesn’t break with that tradition. There are quite a few tracks on here that are downright dark and shouldn’t be listened in the depths of drinking alone at night. Honestly “Good Man Now” is pretty disturbing but it’s a testament to the strength of Best’s songwriting in that it’s deeply dark, a song about patricide by a child, and still a great song that demands your attention and keeps you riveted while you squirm a little because of the content. Not satisfied with sticking to the darker side of the coin Brent treats us to the lighter side of things as well with tracks like “You Shouldn’t Worry” and “Queen Bee” and even tosses in the love song, “It Is You”, for good measure.

Blood on my mind and anger in my eyes
I’m goin’ to shoot the man I was brought up to despise
And though I kinda liked him, Mamma told he was bad
And I keep Mamma happy even though it makes me sad – Good Man Now

What does remain constant is Brent’s ability to write and he is really in top form here. I am a huge Slobberbone fan but this is his best writing to date. Whether he’s singing about someone slowly dying in the back of a car on “Aunt Ramona”, skipping lightly through memories on “Queen Bee”, or describing yet another dysfunctional family in “Daddy Was a Liar” there’s a poetry to all of it that puts far and above most other people writing songs today. It takes balls to write some of the songs Brent has penned over the years but it takes skill to make them something that you want to listen to. There’s plenty of songs out there written to shock or disgust that deal with the topics that are taken on here and those elements just aren’t present in the writing on Your Dog, Champ. There’s something about the way Brent presents things in such honest terms that almost makes it seem like these scenes are viewed through the innocence of a child while at the same time giving you the sense that he truly understands the dark places in all of our hearts.

When I come stinkin’ of cigarettes and beer
It ain’t from drinkin’ but you know that dear
I’m out late workin’ in a shitty little bar
I won’t make much or get that far – You Shouldn’t Worry

I’m not sure what I expected from the music on this album but whatever that expectation was went right out the window when I queued it up. This isn’t a Slobberbone record nor is it a stripped down acoustic sound. The instrumentation is a full band with just the right amount of twang to suit the slight drawl in Brent’s singing. It also seems that the tempo and style are perfectly fitted to each song and “Tangled” is the perfect example of this. The rhythm drags while a fiddle cries in the background as Brent regales us with poetry as confessional. Between the music and the lyrics there are definitely some ghosts being exorcised in these songs and we get to be privy to it via our speakers.

Coltine, I’ve never know a woman as mean
As the one who who brung me and my sister in to this world
And I have struggled my whole life with the notion of a wife
Who would not seem inextricable
And it may sound inexplicable
Please don’t think me despicable, Clotine

Overall this record is so well put together that it currently tops my list for 2015. It is, without question, Essential Listening! This record was certainly worth the wait although it should come with a warning label that reads: CAUTION: Do not take alone with whiskey in the dead of night. If you don’t already, be sure to follow Brent Best on Facebook as well as Last Chance Records. You can grab Your Dog, Champ at the Last Chance Records online store if you haven’t already picked it up.