Shane Sweeney – Come On, All You Fascists

Two Cow Garage’s Shane Sweeney chose today to release a new track that might be exactly what a lot of us need right about now. Folk singers write protest songs, Shane is absolutely a folk singer even when he is screaming over the righteous fury of TCG so it should come as no surprise that he is rising to the occasion here.

The track is free but Shane asks that donations be made to the ACLU  action.aclu.org/secure/donate-to-aclu
I expect we will be seeing more of this. The number one thing that connects me to the music I love is the ability of the artists to express their passion,their beliefs and their truths through their art. The artists we love have something to say, let’s give it a listen.

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A few we missed in 2016

2016 is finally behind us. Despite the fact that I still hear people saying silly things like “There is no new music that is any good” 2016 brought us some truly fantastic albums by people like Two Cow Garage, Matt Woods, the Dexateens, Beach Slang and many many more. For every one of those albums we review here there are at least three or four that slip through the cracks that really deserve to be mentioned. So here are a few things I heard this past year that I wanted you to know about.

Turkey Buzzards – Live

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When RSV first invited me to write for 9b it was partially to bring some attention to bands from the West Coast, so here is one of the best we have to offer from out here. The Turkey Buzzards have been hitting the stage all across California and North Carolina (home state of guitarist Dylan Nicholson) pretty much non-stop since they formed so it’s fitting that their second release is a live one. This record does a great job of capturing the sound that this guitar and upright bass duo is becoming increasingly known for. They are just as at home playing with folk bands or loud rock groups. I’m gonna go ahead and suggest that these guys will be more widely known in the very near future. They are currently wrapping up work on their next studio album. Get on board now.

 

Derek Senn – Avuncular

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I first encountered Derek in his husband and wife duo “The Wedding Industrial Complex”. They played simple but somehow sophisticated pop rock with tremendously catchy hooks and lyrics from a unique perspective (I may be misremembering but I believe the song “The Drinky Drink” comes from this era). Since then Derek has upped his game and recorded a very well received folk pop record, TheTechnological Breakthrough, with producer/musician John Vanderslice. Two years after that record comes his latest, Avuncular, and it is a deeper dive the territory he explored previously. Derek’s songwriting voice is quirky in all the right ways. By putting oddball spins on otherwise mundane slice of life stories Derek manages to make very specific situations universal. His voice is calming and assured, I often hear a similarity to Grant Lee Phillips. The music is polished without being cookie cutter. Give it a spin on a rainy day and see what you think.

 

Brad Armstrong – Empire

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Speaking of somewhat quirky folk pop we find ourselves at Brad Armstrong’s “Empire”. I knew of Brad as a member of the Dexateens, his guitaring and singing brought much to the band. Much like that band’s album from this year Brad’s solo record rewards multiple listens. On first pass it sounded like a very competent record with strong songs ( No Vain Apology and Cherokee Nose Job top that list), however when I listened to it on headphones I began to realize that it was far more complex than I initially thought. There is something “off” on almost every track. Some sound, some instrument, some left turn in the arrangement that keeps me coming back to this album. The album stomps around and rocks out in some spots and is gentle and soothing in others, maintaing a natural flow throughout. If this entire record was just Brad’s voice and guitar it could easily survive on those elements and the strength of the songs but the added sonic treats make for a very pleasurable and rewarding album.

 

Creston Line – Great Depression

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American Dirt guitarist (and occasional singer) Jon Bartel is fronting a new band called Creston Line that mines similar territory to American Dirt with a bit more emphasis on the alt.country side of things. This is facilitated greatly by Pedal Steel player Brenneth Stevens who shines on this EP.  Creston Line has already enjoyed some success with the title track but for me the real killer is the third track,  “Oildale”. Easily the strongest track Bartel has written the song feels immediately familiar but reveals hidden depths upon repeated listens. Creston Line is currently working on a full length follow up.

 

Echolocation – Dreams of the Wealthy

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We get a lot of submissions from bands unknown to us here at Nine Bullets. We try to check out every submission but it’s very hard to give every release attention due to the sheer volume of submissions. Echolocation got my attention though. Their three song EP is rough around the edges (some of my favorite recordings are ) but the songwriting is solid and the energy is ferocious. History has proven that taking a chance on a young band from Ohio can yield positive results, give these guys a listen if you like your rockin’ on the grungey side.

Tom Brosseau – North Dakota Impressions (2016) By Morgan Enos

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of pieces written for Nine Bullets by special guest artists, creators and other friends of the site. Morgan Enos fronts the bands Other Houses, Enos and Hollow Sunshine.

At his best, Los Angeles, California’s, Tom Brosseau is a songwriter with one foot planted in the future and another in the distant past. This became clear to me in March of 2016, when my friend/fellow songwriter Randall Sena and I had the opportunity to share a stage with Brosseau at Stone Pine Hall, a local community center in Lompoc, California.

Dressed to the nines in vintage wear and harmonica-racked, the man looked and sounded more like a turn-of-the-century folk troubadour than someone of our time and context. Brosseau leaned moreso on tunes by Blind Blake and The Carter Family than his own formidable songbook, as if he was more interested in channeling his forebearers than promoting his latest album at the time, Perfect Abandon (2015).

Perfect Abandon hit a sweet spot for his idiosyncratic, time-and-space-shifting lyrical style. The opener from that record, “Hard Luck Boy,” was a jaw-dropper, in which Brosseau casually told the story of his mother abandoning him in a department store. And the whole record was backed by a simple trio arrangement that could have been featured on a Buddy Holly record in 1957. This is the axis that Brosseau balances on a songwriter, between sleek modernity and a museum curio, a tribute to folk music’s past.

North Dakota Impressions is billed in its Crossbill Records press release as the last in a trilogy of Brosseau albums through the lens of the past. Grass Punks (2014) and Perfect Abandon precede the record. This concept is mined once more on Impressions, a set of tunes about Brosseau’s Midwestern upbringing. However, the mood is breezier than that of Punks and Abandon; it more closely matches Brosseau’s current life while simultaneously touching on his past. Today, he’s a celebrated performer at ease in his new Los Angeles digs. The album may be a collection of musical tales of cornfields, rurality and the nature of home, but the pristine production values and sense of sophisticated sheen mostly make me want to cruise through the Hollywood Hills, alone, in a convertible.

Most major songwriters reach a point where they look toward the past, finding inspiration from their upbringings. So, what separates Impressions from the rest of the pack? Recent indie albums billed as nostalgic — Okkervil River’s The Silver Gymnasium (2013) and Sun Kil Moon’s Benji (2014) — plumbed the depths of familial tragedy and the unreliability of memory. Brosseau’s childhood reflections on North Dakota Impressions, on the other hand, are unspecific and easy-going in a way that can border on anodyne.

“Folks around here are hard-working and good,” he plainly sings in “A Trip To Emerado.” “There’s a general esteem for one another,” he adds. “The Horses Will Not Ride, The Gospel Will Not Be Spoken” is about a burned-down church in Brosseau’s native state, but the facts about the event are merely reported on, with only one aside of self-awareness: “I’m guilty now, and I don’t know why/My heart is kinda broken.”

Impressions is performed and recorded pristinely (courtesy of producer Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek) and a wonderfully calming listen. More than any recent Brosseau release, it resembles its warm, effusive maker’s personality, which I observed in Brosseau’s demeanor and onstage patter at the Lompoc show. One might wish for Brosseau to delve deeper into those feelings of guilt, nostalgia and lost identity that he touches on. But even if they might breeze by the listener before they’re meaningfully mapped onto his or her own beginnings, these songs feel refreshing and pure.

– Morgan Enos
Keep up with Morgan on his
website 

Happy Holidays and American Thread’s “Elf on the Shelf”

Hey folks,

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. We have a ton of content coming in the next few weeks, reviews, end of year lists, a podcast and other various bits and pieces. Trying to finish the year strong y’know?

This track right here is the only Elf on the Shelf Christmas song I’ve heard so far and it comes from American Thread, seemed like it’d be worth sharing. Check it out…

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Two Cow Garage – Brand New Flag

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I’ve been wanting to talk about this record since before it came out but something about it has eluded being put in to words. Being as that it’s Two Cow Garage you should be able to guess or already know that it’s an amazing album so just talking about how great it is didn’t seem like it would do justice to the ideas that are being expressed here. So I’ve sort of been marinating in the songs, letting them sink in and become part of me, and while I was doing that everything got turned upside down. We elected an orange nutjob as POTUS and all of a sudden Brand New Flag started taking on a whole different meaning for me, and I suspect for a lot of others. When the world goes off it’s always music that centers me and brings me back and I think that this is now a much more important record than it would have been. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s been important to me since the first time I played it.

So fuck being clever,we’ve got to be kind
An iPhone for an iPhone has left us all blind
Sarcastic critics of each other’s hearts and minds
And that’s just no way to live
And we, we have to stop comparing ourselves
We have to have to our lives to everyone else
– Shakespeare and Walt Disney

The difference between now and when I first heard it and now is that I used to feel like we were going down the right path and these songs were about the things we needed to do in order to keep going down the right path. I didn’t think we were close to the end and now I realize how naive I was to think that we were anywhere near the right path. These songs are now so much more important because we’re moving backwards and it’s people who care that will make things safe for those who don’t fit the mold that Trump’s supporters want for America. It’s songs like “Let The Boys Be Girls” that will give hope to people like my daughter as we watch a homophobe vice president be sworn in to the White House. It’s people like Shane, Micah, Todd, and Murph that will be making the uncomfortable feel a safe for a few minutes at a time and right now that’s what we desperately need.

No matter what they say
I will always find a way
I promise I will never give up
Yeah, I promise I will never give up
– I promise

I was once of those people would have voted for Trump, it’s a past that’s part of me whether I like it or not, and I know the fear of changing, I know the fear of what you think your way of life being threatened is, I know the fear of admitting that you’re wrong about pretty much everything but I also know the freedom and liberty in realizing that you’ve been lied to and that you can change, that your way of life is a microcosm of the greater human experience and that nothing is really threatening you, your way of life, or your family. Well at least not by making sure that people have the same exact rights as you do, what’s happening now is a completely different story and people are rightfully scared, the fear is a reasonable response to an unreasonable situation. Even if it turns out that nothing happens and none of our freedoms get rolled back and the status quo remains the same the fact is that a lack of progress is regress at this point.

They called me a faggot and freak
As I sat there on my knees
And I was too scared to speak
But I’m not scared anymore
And I’d rather die in that parking lot than ever feel that helpless again
– This Little Light

I wanted to explore the difference between the political and personal in TCG’s songs. What I realized is that the political is personal in most aspects. The fear that is present is not a disassociated political tremble somewhere in the back of our minds. We’ve already seen hate based attacks on the rise, even if some of them have been proven to be hoaxes there are even more that are not. There are personal stories and videos all over social media. Even if the incoming administration really isn’t full of bigots (hint: it is) it has emboldened more bigots to be open with their hatred. Make no mistake, there is a valid reason for the fear that we’re seeing and this record, these songs, the people that wrote, sing, and perform them aren’t the only ones thinking there’s a problem. Seeing these songs played at Holiday Hangout and knowing how real all of this is to all of us was a very moving experience.

And every single song on your radio, playing soft low
Says “baby don’t you worry the things you can’t control”
But I am fuckin’ worried
‘Cause we were all left in control
And we are all that is in control
– History Now!

There were some buttons floating around HHO and I didn’t end up with one, but they said “I will do my best to fuck up any bigot that fucks with you”. That pretty much sums up where we are. We all need to be the safe space people need. I know this seems to be a little rambling and overtly political but that’s pretty much all I can think about when I listen to Brand New Flag and it’s important right now. This record is a safe space, it is a large part of what we need right now. It is Essential Listening for that and so many more reasons. It’s personal, it’s political, and it’s sometimes hard to listen to because of the sheer honesty involved. It is one of the best albums released this year and currently my favorite Two Cow Garage album, bar none and it should be one of yours as well.

End of Year

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Okay while some of us here at 9b are shaking off the Holiday Hangout Hangover ™ I’m looking towards the end of what has been a pretty fantastic year for new music and I’m wondering what I missed.

So what records/bands/etc did we not pay enough attention to this year? What slipped by us that you think should have gotten a little bit more attention?

Big Star “Complete Third” by Morgan Enos

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of pieces written for Nine Bullets by special guest artists, creators and other friends of the site. Morgan Enos fronts the bands Other Houses and Hollow Sunshine.

Big Star began as a Beatlesque power-pop outfit from Memphis, TN, in 1971. By 1974, they had flamed out just as quickly as they began. Their odd, rather undefinable 1974 final sessions, initially released as Third in 1978, have gained a mystique throughout the decades as a document of the disintegration of the band’s mercurial leader, Alex Chilton.

Since then, Third has been brought up as a “chaotic album,” one that purports to display its author’s mental unraveling as he succumbed to Big Star’s commercial failure and personal troubles. Although its experimental tendencies have proved an inspiration to later generations of bands like Wilco, R.E.M., and The Replacements, this narrative has always felt a bit overstated. Now, with a comprehensive boxed set of the sessions, Complete Third, a fresher perspective of the album can be understood by Big Star’s cult fanbase and newcomers alike.

Everything about Third, from its conception to release, was shrouded in a strange energy, like it didn’t want to congeal into a whole. With co-founder/guitarist Chris Bell and bassist Andy Hummel having quit the band, the late 1974 sessions at Ardent Studios in Memphis turned a holistic collaboration into leader Alex Chilton’s strange vanity project. The resulting songs collide bizarrely, from bursts of joy (“Stroke It Noel”) to harrowing depths (“Holocaust”). The sessions – over ten reissues later – remain impossible to categorize under a proper album name, or even as a Big Star project. Said Chilton before his passing, “We never saw it as a Big Star record. That was a marketing decision when the record was sold in whatever year that was sold. And they didn’t ask me anything about it and they never have asked me anything about it.”

After the tragic deaths of Bell (in 1978), Chilton (in 2010,) and finally, Hummel (in 2010,) it’s ever the more tempting to frame Third as a record borne of madness and turmoil, due to its chaotic birth and tortured mix of moods. To wit – Chilton was in the midst of relationship turmoil with his girlfriend, Lesa Aldridge, and drummer Stephens had no opportunity to rehearse his parts, resulting in cyclonic, improvised drum performances throughout every song. While this is intriguing and one hell of a story, the most important aspect remains, that Third contains some of the most gorgeous, jewel-like tunes in American song.


One need not go further than the first ten tracks on Complete Third, where the lion’s share of the songs are demoed alone by Alex Chilton on twelve-string guitar and piano before the album’s recording. Hardcore fans might recognize these renditions from the excellent Rhino boxed set from 2009, Keep An Eye On The Sky. Chilton’s version of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” found here, is the song’s definitive version, almost blinding with its loveliness. The rest of Third’s song-cycle – “Lovely Day,” “Blue Moon,” “Kanga Roo,” etc – appears fully formed, sober and sparkling. An improvised, shambling mess, as critics have tended to posit? Hardly.


After these 10 demos, the mood becomes a bit wobbly. Aldridge, Chilton’s girlfriend at the time of the record, and the muse toward whom many of Third’s songs are directed, appears on a faded, strange cover of John Lennon’s “I’m So Tired.” Rehearsals with the studio band begin – mostly a motley crew of Ardent Studios session musicians in the mid-’70s, tightly-wound backing singers, and a hired string orchestra. As curdled and odd as these takes are, Chilton appears on these sessions as a great songwriter being freed up to make music in his own personal sandbox. Do you think it’s possible that Chilton might have been having fun? He tries everything here – boogie-woogie piano, moonlit ballads, spirited covers of The Kinks, Nat King Cole, and T. Rex. The loopy “Downs,” presented in a rough mix, bounces off the studio walls in a cacophony of steel drums.

This is not to deny that Third’s centerpieces “Kanga Roo” and “Holocaust” remain heart-stopping, the bleakest songs in their entire oeuvre. The former takes an unremarkable scene of noticing someone at a party and shatters itself over and over in waves of desperate noise. “Holocaust,” especially in this cello-heavy take, remains a molasses-paced trip down the Lethes, containing Chilton’s greatest line: “Everybody goes, leaving those who fall behind.”

After Complete Third rattles on through its second and third discs, through its various mixes and permutations, we arrive at the final masters on disc three. Depending on what version of the original Third one may buy (many reissues have been released by Ardent, Rykodisc, Aura Records, etc), they might be treated to a wildly different tracklisting, or several key songs omitted altogether.


But, it’s all here, and this new sequence is the whole, definitive way to experience the Third song-cycle. It’s the finest way to put this puzzle together – the joyous “Stroke It Noel,” a paean to one of the session’s orchestral players, Noel Gilbert, leads us off, and then we’re treated to the deeply weird “Downs.” From there, Third reveals its true form – not as an improvised downfall, but of an eclectic mess, a haunted house. A cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” rubbing elbows with the psychedelic “Kanga Roo”? Check. The fatalistic, bitter “You Can’t Have Me” next to an enthusiastic rendition of The Kinks’ “Till The End Of The Day”? Yep. That’s what Third is. A “Holocaust” meeting a “Lovely Day.” An incredible songwriter with a few screws loose, but finally, free again.

– Morgan Enos
Keep up with Morgan on his
website 

Dexateens – Teenage Hallelujah

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Far and away the Dexateens are the most criminally underrated rock’n’roll band in America. I can’t think of another band that has been cranking out album after album of intense killer songs with so little notice being paid. I’m not sure what the explanation is for that. I’ve been onboard since I first heard them and everyone I’ve played them for turns into a fan in short order. Fortunately for us these guys clearly aren’t familiar with the concept of quitting, they’ve gone on a hiatus or two but it never sticks.

After one of those breaks they returned roaring with the 2013 EP (though at 8 songs I’m calling it an album) Sunsphere. It was a welcome return but shortly after it came out I started hearing about another album that they already had in the making. That album turned out to be Teenage Hallelujah. The wait seemed like forever but as soon as I heard the album I was enthralled.

Kicking off with a drum and bass groove giving away to a suitably nasty guitar “Old Rebel” is exactly the kind of song that every album should open with. It serves as a mission statement for the rest of the album in both lyrically and sonically. Elliott McPherson sings songs that are filled with “the southern thing” in a way that feels more authentic to me than just about anyone else. Granted I am sure as a California boy I miss the significance of some lines and I know for sure a few references are over my head. The honesty and lack of pretension shines through even to someone with my limited understanding.

With a solidified lineup of returning guitarist Brad Armstrong (who put an excellent album, “Empire” this year), drummer Brian Gosdin, new addition Taylor Hollingsworth on guitar along side founders Matt Patton on bass and guitarist singer McPherson the Dexateens travel the map on this record in a beautiful way. From the ragers that harken back to their “Teenager” years like “Eat Cornbread. Raise Hell” through the Replacements-esque “Boys With Knives”, the beautiful folky pop of “Treat Me Right”, the slinky “Jimmy Johns” and the near perfect “Curtain Call Candice” they turn over every stone on the rock’n’roll path. Many bands can do one of those types of songs well but few can excel at all of those styles  the way the Dexateens can. Co-produced by the band and Bronson Tew and recorded largely at Dial Back Sound in Mississippi, Teenage Hallelujah sounded like a straight up rock album to me at first pass but the closer I listened to it the more I noticed how incredibly weird it is. The sounds they captured are the musical equivalent of a fun and funky hole in the wall bar in a sea of sanitized corporate drinking establishments.

The crown jewel of the album is “Down in the Valley” kicking off with guitars smearing across each other as the bass and drums bounce along. The song never relents through a anthem chorus and a very classic rock (in the best possible way) musical outro that fades into a group chant of the mantra “Can I get a new, creation”. That line has been chasing me since the album came out. It reverberated in my head. It creeps in when I’m trying to write. It reminds me of a girl I dated shortly after high school. In a more perfect world this song would be a radio staple.

This album easily falls into the Essential Listening category. I can’t encourage you more to pick this one up. My vinyl came with a church fan which has got to be the best bonus included with an album of all time.  I don’t know if rock’n’roll really needs to, or even deserves to, be saved but if anyone can do it my bet is on the motherfucking Dexateens. It’s safe to say this machine kills americana.

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Micah Schnabel – Marching Band (These Divided States)

The world is pretty goddamned ugly right now. One big upside is the amount of art that is being created as a direct result. Micah has long been a political songwriter, in fact I’d argue that from the moment he found his own artistic voice just about everything he has written was political in nature. So it feels right that a few days before the election here Micah releases a new track.

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Mickey Rickshaw- Behind The 8 Ball

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Several years ago my band American Thread was playing out in the Boston area pretty regularly and we played a bunch of shows at John Harvard’s Brewery.  A friend of ours had a Trad Irish three piece called Paint The Corner and they would play with us most shows.  They looked like punks but played some of the best Trad around for my money and we were lucky enough to have them sit in with us when we dipped into our Irish tunes.

Anyways, fast forward to now and Paint The Corner is only a memory as they broke up pretty soon after our third show together.  Their Bagpiper/Bohdran/Whistle player Shane Welch joined up with a great crew and started Mickey Rickshaw which I like to describe as “everything I want the Dropkick Murphy’s to be”.

Romeo SidVicious reviewed their first album “No Heaven For Heroes” on the site last year and it’s my pleasure to spread the word on their second full length “Behind the 8 Ball”.

The album starts out with the ripping punked up “Rats In Allston” and delivers on all levels.   This is an anthem for anyone who’s been in the scene in Boston but will speak to everyone.  Distorted guitars churn while the boys chant behind Lead Singer Mike Rivkee’s drum like cadence only to end in a blazing Tin Whistle/Banjo blaze.

The third track “Destitution Road” is an excellent cover of the great Roaring Jack tune.  The boys do it justice in spades.

There’s for sure an anti-establishment theme here for sure.  At heart I’m a folk guy and the thing I LOVE about this band is the depth of writing.  Mike Rivkees has the writing chops to pull off a solo folk album if he wanted but I’m glad he’s being backed by a group of killer celtic/punk players.

My favorite track is “Nonprofit Warfare”.  Coming in at 3:29 in length there is lot of meat on the bone here for sure but I find myself singing this one in my head daily,

“Can you smell the gasoline, Aleppo City’s Burning,

And nobody’s learning from a bloody history,
Can you hear the screams of a fleeting generation?
Across a bleeding nation two hundred thousand sleep.”

I’m glad to say that the Mickey Rickshaw boys are getting some great recognition for their music having played The Flogging Molly cruise last year and being invited to go again this year.  I’m confident everyone who digs on the Celtic Punk genre will be talking about these boys in years to come.

It’s been awhile since I posted a review and now as usual I need to choose a tobacco and alcohol pairing for this album.  It’s for sure feeling like a 4 pack of Murphy’s Stout cans with a Jameson chaser and pack of Marlboro reds.  You’ll probably need a backup 12 pack of cheap beer to go with as well.

Bandcamp here
Facebook here

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