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.

 

Robert Chaney – Cracked Picture Frames – 2015

robert-chaney-cpf-front

Cracked Picture Frames by Robert Chaney is a debut record with the heft of a seasoned volume. There are no singles: these are all deep cuts. It may be easy to miss the trees for the forest, with the “one man and a guitar” composition of the album. The melodies are alternately sweet, bitter, and haunting, and Chaney wields his guitar and breathy voice with equal precision, but the world has not yet begun to run short of talented guitar players or  folks with interesting voices. The wordsmiths, the songwriters, the ones with voices and not just vocal chords…those are far more rare.

Chaney is from Florida but now resides in London, and while there are musical arrangements that seem decidedly European this is unquestionably an American folk record. There’s some Townes here, and some Dylan; in our corner of the musical world, unquestionably Chaney’s lyrical contemporaries are Isbell, Moreland, and Kneiser. These are songs that need to be inhaled and exhaled, taken in. I listened to it repeatedly before I stopped rushing through it, before I allowed my mind to take the time that these songs deserve.

A large component of my dawning appreciation was studying the lyrics as I listened to the song, pouring over the words as the sound washed over me in turn. I could quote them at you incessantly, as each track has plenty of captivating turns of phrase: the heartbreaking inevitability of domestic violence as told by the abuser as he watches his life slip away in “Black Eyed Susan”, the masochistic melancholy of “The Morning After”, the tragedy of all-too-common Costa Rican auto fatalities in “Corazones Amarillos”…these are ten well-chosen stories, well-told.

While it’s not clear how many of these stories are true to life, either in Chaney’s experience or that of another, he’s proven he can take the grist of life and turn it into something palatable, even nourishing. Closing track “The Ballad of Edward and Lisa” is ripped from horrific ‘only in Florida’ headlines, about a woman who attempted to blind her nephew in order to save him from the Devil, and how the boy’s aunt and grandmother both left him to bleed overnight. The song is careful and delicate, somehow both factual and compassionate. Chaney’s guitar dances around his singing the same way his lyrics dance around the subjects of his songs. These are flawed people trying to explain themselves best they can; nothing is excused, nothing explained away. There is love here, and loss, despair and freedom, and all of it is viewed evenly and with open eyes.

Cracked Picture Frames by Robert Chaney is Essential Listening. This is a powerhouse of potent songs, all the more impressive because it is the artist’s first record. The Ninebullets crowd is the perfect audience for the twin beauty and sadness that Chaney writes, and I’m unbelievably excited to share this record with you.

Buy Cracked Picture Frames over on Bandcamp, and check out Chaney’s Twitter, Facebook, and Webpage.

 



McDougall – Self Titled

mcd

News of a new McDougall record is big news around these parts. We’ve written about him multiple times (here and here) and he’s been played on both radio shows. A one-man band that alternates between guitar and six-string banjo with heavy doses of bass drum and hi-hat mixed in, McDougall’s true talent doesn’t come from the instruments he plays but from the sensation his music releases. He tells stories, stories of travel and exploration but even though the adventures seem just out of reach, we are still compelled to seek them out.

“Another Kind,” the first song on this self-titled album has the line “I’m on the corner, ready to go” and that sense fills the entire album. It’s a great first song because it pulls the listener into the world of the record and propels them into the following 11 songs. By the time the cymbals kick in halfway through “Flying in Circles,” I’m on the locomotive or whatever McDougall is driving and eager for the adventure.

There are a multitude of one-man bands in our scene and very few of them deliver the quality of music found on this album. The uniqueness of playing all the instruments doesn’t overshadow the quality of the songwriting. The third song, “On The Mend,” is a contemplative number about trying to live life another way. All the instrumental flair that McDougall is known for is stripped down and we’re left with a beautiful song.

I’ve been enjoying rock instrumentals a good bit lately so I was pleased to find a couple of them here. One of the things McDougall is able to capture in his instrumentals is an emotional arch and narrative that he also has in his vocals. The four instrumentals are well-placed and perpetuate the forward momentum of the album that “Another Kind” starts. The next to last song “Something To Take With You” builds all of the momentum of the album and takes it to an ecstatic climax while the quiet and listlessness of the final “Conversation With The Setting Sun” closes the album perfectly.

McDougall’s self-titled album is complete, adventuresome and ESSENTAIL LISTENING. I spoke briefly to McDougall about his new album I asked if he was going to make vinyl. He said he’d been thinking about it but didn’t know if it was financially plausible. I told him I would by a vinyl copy and if you feel the same way let him know in the comments and we’ll see if we can get that ball rolling.

 

Another Kind

Restless Friend

 

Official Site, On Facebook, Buy Album

AMERICAN THREAD – SONGS IN THE WAR

americanthread

American Thread is one of those bands that can capture the soul of Middle America in a record. They did it with Killing Days and they’ve done it again with Songs In The War. Now there’s a lot of music out there that speaks to the plight of the working man but these kids are a cut above the rest. There’s a pride that runs through their music that’s almost palpable and a wisdom in the lyrics that comes from having lived the songs.

Told me all about your dreams/That you’d burned and thrown away/A barroom beauty queen/With a nose for cocaine/The warmth of your chest/The smell of wine on your breath…

40

I have been waiting for Songs In The War since Brendan first told me has working on it and it was well worth the wait. Like many artists these days this is a self produced album. It was recorded over three days in a cabin out in the Berkshires with frequent trips to the town bar and what they captured out there, the soul of the album, wasn’t lost in the mastering. The heartfelt vocals that made me fall in love with their first album are still there and if anything have become more expresive There’s also something to be said about the addition of Michael Taggart and Kevin Maher, both on guitar, that adds a dimension to music that makes it feel really complete.

Remember that night when I shot out the lights in the bar/I drove off in a mess and I wrecked up my old man’s car/You said don’t come around here, stinking like whiskey/Guess I don’t listen so well girl, it’s probably the Irish in me…

The Irish In Me

Killing Days was more social commentary; Songs In The War is more about how getting older in today’s society isn’t what any of us thought it would be. There’s still the social commentary aspect to it, I don’t think Brendan can write an album without that being there somewhere, but it’s much more understated. The last time I wrote about these kids I said they are what Americans should sound like and I can still stand by that statement. This is music for Middle America that they’ll never hear. Maybe it’s too honest in some places to make it comfortable, maybe it’s a little too Boston for country radio, maybe it’s a lot of things but one thing’s for sure, it’s Essential listening.

It’s really something to be listening to folks, in your age group, writing songs about things that you can relate to. It’s one of the reasons I love what we do here. If I was stuck with the radio I think my life would be a lot more dull and I wouldn’t be nearly as inspired. American Thread is one of the inspirations that makes me happy to do what we do here. Head over their Bandcamp page and pick this one up, you’ll be glad you did.

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.

CORY BRANAN – NO-HIT WONDER

Cory_Branan_-_cover

Cory Branan needs no introduction in even the least educated of Americana music circles. The kid has been touring the country playing his heart out for the better part of a decade. Those who have seen his live show know how just close to literal the term “pouring his heart out” actually is. We’ve all been there, we’ve sang along with him and we all high-fived one another a couple of years ago when Bloodshot Records signed him because, god damnit, one of the good guys finally won, and in an ever small way, it felt like we did too.

Now I am gonna let you in on a little secret. I don’t like Cory Branan’s records. Would not ever miss a show. Own zero copies of his cds or mp3’s. I told him as much one night. I felt like his first two albums, To Hell You Say and 12 Songs, he tried to hard to capture his live show on cd and it felt forced. His Bloodshot debut, Mutt, got away from that but went so far away it could never resonate with me. In the 2 years since Mutt and No-Hit Wonder Cory got married and had a couple of kids resulting in a little less road time and a little more husband/dad time. Pretty dramatic changes in 2 years, the type of changes that alter outlooks, opinions and writers. Some writers come through worse, some come through better but none come out the same.

In this writer’s opinion, Cory came out the other end far improved. No-Hit Wonder, like Mutt before it, makes no effort to emulate Cory’s live persona and is pretty heavily produced. It has tight melodies, Cory’s signature lyrical craftsmanship, and a heavily dose of optimism in it. I am a really big fan of the music on this cd and I am as surprised as anyone else to be saying it.

I guess my point is, even if you haven’t been a Branan album fan before, No-Hit Wonder is worth a little ear time. It converted me. I love it, I’m not ashamed to admit it, and can prove it by deeming it Essential Listening.

Sour Mash
All I Got And Gone
All The Rivers In Colorado

Cory Branan’s Official Site, Cory Branan on Facebook, Cory Branan on Spotify, Buy No-Hit Wonder

BENJAMIN BOOKER – BENJAMIN BOOKER

20140815_bejamin-booker-selftitled-debut-full-length_91

Benjamin Booker, it is important to say, is from Florida. Last year he played the Ninebullets Anniversary party on the same day he found out he got signed to a little label named ATO. Around the same time he picked up and moved the band to New Orleans, where he currently resides. This record, self-titled, is the first for the 25-year-old rock and roller. The core of the band is Booker on guitar and vocals, Max Norton on drums, and Jem Cohen on bass. Those are the objective truths of this record.

Here’s the subjective truths that I’m going to try to convince you of about this record: we’re watching a talent with the potential to be one of the greats grow in front of our very eyes. Booker’s violent guitar playing and almost spasming song structure lead to toe-tapping and shoulder-shimmying, almost as soon as the music starts. The instruments travel on the same journey as the lyrics, and more often than not Booker wants his last word to be delivered by his guitar. The wildly catchy single “Violent Shiver” sounds like a hidden Chuck Berry demo polished to a brilliance that you just don’t want to stop. “Spoon Out My Eyeballs”, a love song to either music itself or the object of Booker’s admiration, features a thematic shift two minutes in that feels so natural and joyful as to immediately inspire dancing every time it happens.

Booker is more than just a deft hand with a guitar, however: he has the voice that John Mayer has always wanted. This is more evident nowhere than the ponderous “Slow Coming”. The song, a lamentation of the contrast between how far the world has come and how far it still has to go, sounds like the melancholy sequel to “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

Honestly, how could I be proud right now
To tell you the truth, I ain’t been sleeping too well

Each of the songs on this record have the same driving force, however carefully or barely restrained. There’s a desire here to tell a story as much through sound as through lyrics. To me there’s a distinction between someone wanting to play cool music and someone wanting to paint a picture using the brute force power of an electric guitar. Booker definitely subscribes to the latter school of thought. In trying to figure this record out I consulted our friendly neighborhood Autopsy IV and asked him what he thought of the band. He urged me not to overlook Norton’s drums, and the harder I listened to them the more impressed I became. It’s easy to pay attention to the flash of the electric guitar, but half of the wild energy that permeates the record comes from Norton’s drum kit. This is a band that enjoys making noise.

I got the chance to see Booker play live here in Los Angeles, and I have to say that he lived up to my expectations. There is a kind of cavalier showmanship, a supreme musical confidence, that some artists only come close to achieving in sound stages with cameras running. Every song sounded just as good or better than on the record, and Booker demonstrated both that he is the master of both demure crooning and passionate harmonic screams.

Benjamin Booker by Benjamin Booker is Essential Listening. It’s a rock and roll record about searching for something, about facing the hard truths of life and deciding whether to stand or to run. I wish I could go into greater detail about the lyrics, but I can’t: Booker made the decision to not release lyrics with the record. It makes me wonder how much of it is personal, so much so that he’s more comfortable sharing the songs than the words that make them up. Having seen him play I think that’s a safe assumption to make. I’ll leave you with my favorite lyric from the record, a line from the second single “Have You Seen My Son”:

God must love everyone,
Even the ones He just loves the least

Violent Shiver
Spoon Out My Eyeballs
Have You Seen My Son?

Buy Benjamin Booker by Benjamin Booker on iTunes and Amazon, and follow him on Twitter.

NIKKI LANE – ALL OR NOTHIN'

NikkiLane-AllOrNothin

Sassy, spunky, defiant and spirited are words commonly associated with Nikki Lane’s new album, All or Nothin’ while spitfire, sultry and firecracker are words more commonly used to describe Nikki herself. I will refrain from using any of them. To this writer they feel, at best, dismissive while, at worst, sexist. Instead, I’ll just open up and say that Nikki has not only avoided the sophomore slump with All Or Nothin’, she dropped a complete beast on our heads. But, seeing as how the album has spent the last 4 week’s at #1 on the Americana Music charts, I don’t think you needed me to tell you that.

It’s been a long time since I got too excited about anything involving The Black Keys so seeing that Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach was producing the album didn’t exactly fill me with hope. That said, back in the day, before The Keys found pop and forgot sludge Auerbach produced a lot of albums that I like a whole lot by artists I respect a great deal such as; The Black Diamond Heavies, Radio Moscow, Patrick Sweeny, Jessica Lea Mayfield, Valerie June and Dr. John. So, it’s not like Auerbach was a poison pill either. It just depended on what he did with it and I went into the album with an open mind.

The album opens with one of it’s strongest tracks (a smart move in my opinion), “Right Time,” and Auerbach’s influence on Nikki’s sound is immediately obvious. He kind of softens her sound a little and adds some pop sensibility to it but stays out of the way otherwise, letting Nikki and Co’s talent drive the album instead of gimmicks. The result is an incredibly catchy album with little metaphor and plenty of confidence.

After hearing me play All Or Nothin’ for the 50 or 60th time at work recently my co-worker was trying to describe Nikki to his wife and asked me what I’d say if I had a single sentence and I said, “a modern version of Loretta.” I’d just tell y’all the All or Nothin’ is Essential Listening.

Right Time
Wild One
Sleep With A Stranger

Nikki Lane’s Official Site, Nikki Lane on Facebook, Nikki Lane on Spotify, Buy All Or Nothin’

CALEB CAUDLE – PAINT ANOTHER LAYER ON MY HEART

calebcover
Caleb has been a favorite of mine since I met him when John Moreland played my local. I wish I had given his previous albums, like Tobacco Town, some attention when they came out but the truth is I had never heard of him until he toured with Moreland. This kid is amazing live and I was posting his amazing lyrics to Facebook during his set because I was that impressed. Honestly he is someone who slipped through the cracks here at 9B and I am kind of embarrassed about that but I also aim to remedy the problem right now!

Today marks the release of his second solo album Paint Another Layer On My Heart and it’s Essential Listening. Now I know it’s almost traditional to wait until the end of the review to say that but I think it’s worth getting out of the way right now. When you listen to this record straight through you’ll see the painstaking care put in to every aspect of it all the way down to the track order. Yes, boys and girls, this is a real album in the sense that it all fits together and has a flow. From the opening line, “There’s a place no light creeps in…”, to the final strains of the slow burning “Come On October” every track transitions in to the next with seemingly effortless ease. I imagine that laying out the tracks for an album and getting it perfect requires a level of sheer bloody-mindedness that I don’t have but whose product I truly enjoy.

This is the first record since Caleb decided to tour full time and all that goes with that decision is evident on tracks like “Trade All The Lights” and “Missing Holidays”. The lyrics tug at your heart and if you’ve ever been on the road, away from the ones you love, be forewarned that they’re written well enough to bring back that feeling of lying in a Motel 6 bed, alone, and trying to force yourself to sleep. The real beauty here is in the carefully crafted lyrics and the scenes they paint and nothing less than a window in to a life being lived.

If you’ve read my reviews on artists that tour solo and record with a band you know that most of the time I prefer the stripped down stuff, and am not shy about being honest about it, but this may prove an exception to that rule. The musicians that provided backing are undeniably stellar. Roseland provided most of the backing, Whit Wright from American Aquarium held down the pedal steel, Greg Herndon played keys, and of course Caleb himself on the guitar. Now I won’t go so far as to say I prefer the album versions to the live versions of the ones I’ve heard but I will freely admit that I think they’re just as good. If you haven’t read a lot of my reviews let’s just say that, coming from me, that’s a pretty big deal.

Seriously folks Paint Another Layer On My Heart will be in the running for my personal favorite album of the year. Not that the competition won’t be pretty intense, at least in my head, but it definitely has a dog in the fight. If you’re a regular reader of 9 Bullets then there’s quite frankly no excuse for not having this record in your collection. I know that there are a lot good records out there right now and a lot more coming down the pipe but I have feeling this one will age well and be as good five or ten years down the road as it is today. I’ll leave you with the opening verse of my favorite track, “Come On October”…

Come on October make me a believer
Prove me wrong take away my fear
Take me out back and throw me in the gravel
Ask me how did I end up here
I wish more friends called to check in
I wish I checked in on more friends
We get lost in where we’re goin’
I can’t recall all of the places we’ve been

How’d You Learn
Drag
Bottles & Cans

Buy Paint Another Layer On My Heart, visit his little corner of the web for tour dates and stuff, and don’t forget to stalk him on Facebook.

CHEAP GIRLS – FAMOUS GRAVES

cheapgirls

When I sat down to right this review I wasn’t sure I was a Cheap Girls fan and to be honest I’m still not sure. Famous Graves is a power pop album extraordinaire and that should be right up my alley. The musical nods to the music I was listening to in the nineties is really appealing and makes for a really great listen but the question I have to answer now is if that’s really necessary? If it was derivative I could write the whole thing off but it’s not at all. What it is is an amalgamation of all the things that were right with the power pop scene in the mid-nineties along with a worldview that’s copasetic with that same ethos and at the same time it’s an original take on the whole scene.

Now maybe I’m wrong, maybe these kids didn’t come up in the power pop scene, maybe they don’t idolize Westerberg, but I doubt I’m wrong. When you’re listening to the album it’s easy to catch yourself recognizing little bits and pieces that, I think, are nods to some of the inspirations for the album. I won’t list them out because I don’t want this to become a diatribe on the genre. But I do have to say I’m pretty convinced someone in the band is a fan of Soul Asylum. I think that a band that’s able to give solid nods to its inspiration and still sound like themselves is a sign of greatness so these guys have that going for them for sure.

This the fourth album from these guys and they obviously still have something to give us. Overall the music well composed and still manages to convey a sense of urgency but maybe not quite enough. I think one of the things that keeps on the fence about this one is that they seem a little too happy to be singing lines like:

Kick me in the kidneys really hard
I’m gonna write my name in blood in the backyard

which is a fucking stellar line but to me it just sounds too, well, upbeat. Maybe that’s alright though and damnit I wish I could decide.

Lyrically I think this is a great record. It’s got everything I expect from a band doing what I have described here. I think my only complaint is that it’s just too upbeat but that seems pretty petty as I type it out. There’s lots of bands who sound upbeat while singing about some pretty angsty stuff. I think I like this album more than I did when I started writing this review days ago. If I think about whether I go see them live then I certainly think this album is good enough to make leave the house. It’s not drinking alone music but it sure could increase the amount of alcohol being ordered if someone played it on a jukebox.

Honestly this is an album that took time to grow on me. I liked it more and more with each listen and I’m glad I gave it that chance. In the end I’m on the fence about whether this is Essential Listening. If you’re a power pop fan then it’s something you shouldn’t miss but if you’re not then this isn’t the album that’s going to change your mind but you still might find it a good listen in the right situation. This is really one where you’re going to have decide for yourself. As far as I’m concerned it’ll be in my rotation for the foreseeable future. To sum up, this is Essential Listening but it took me a while to realize it.

Knock Me Over
Pure Hate
Splintered

Visit Cheap Girls at their official site or stalk them on Facebook

I know this review seems a little disjointed, it was written almost as a stream of thought over the course of three days. I wanted to try and show my process on this one because I wasn’t sure about it. I hope that exposing the thought process works out and isn’t too confusing.