JAMESTOWN REVIVAL – UTAH

Jamestown Revival

In Hollywood it’s very easy to assume the worst of folk bands: once you’ve seen one group of long haired, hat wearing, fitted vest adorned troubadours you feel like you’ve seen them all. Charming stage banter, tight vocal harmonies, polished album production…all of these can easily feel stilted, staged, and engineered. Once in a while, though, something unexpected comes along.

Jamestown Revival is a band from Texas that moved to California and then recorded an album in another western state’s mountains. That eponymously named album, Utah, is Essential Listening.

They seem too good to be true. Too pretty, too talented, too young, too appreciated to live up to any hype. Well fuck that. Don’t let this train pass you by. Whether it’s a barn burner like “Revival” or a slow ballad of a song like “Heavy Heart”, Utah is full of tracks whose melodies and harmonies will be lodged in you long after they’ve stopped playing. Of special note is “Golden Age”, a swan song for an era of country music long gone:

“Good times are over, didn’t you know?

Well I heard it on the radio”

The core of the band is Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, and these two friends work together exceptionally well. They share singing and songwriting duties, with Jon on guitar and Zach on keys. Live, Jamestown Revival is electric. They play for the joy of playing, not for the audience, and they sweat and swear and take shots with the best of them.

Too often in niche music, success is equated with falsehood and disingenuousness. Give Jamestown Revival a chance, catch them while they tour through your town. These are eleven solid tracks, and if you can honestly say there isn’t a single one on this album you love I’ll Paypal you a dollar**.

You can buy Utah by Jamestown revival on iTunes, from their Bandcamp, or grab a physical copy from Amazon.

Golden Age
Revival
California (Cast Iron Soul)
**yeah I said it, chumps

JEREMY STEDING – MY OWN AMERICAN DREAM

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You may have seen me cover Jeremy Steding a couple of times in the past. Well he just released a new album and not a lot has changed. What I mean is that he’s remained true to the sound that drew me to him in the first place. That means that My Own American Dream is an album that’s pure country and western without being apologetic about it. While I love his lyrics, I think his real strength is that he loves the music he’s making. He doesn’t waver from that traditional old school, honky tonk sound. Whether it’s a song like “Stay” making you want to put your arms around your girl and watch the sun come up or a track like “Lyin'” making you want to knock back a whiskey in effigy to a certain ex it’s all country from start to finish.

Jeremy is really proud of this album and it’s easy to see why. The lyrics and vocals are outstanding. There’s something about the lilt to his voice along with the twang in the music that brings them together to be more than the sum of their parts. Just listening to this album you can tell that he loves what he’s doing and that’s even more obvious when you see him play live. In person Jeremy has a fresh faced optimism that belies having spent more than five years trying to make it in the music industry. His smile is disarming and the twinkle in his eye when sings will get the most cynical music fan to sit up and listen.

One of the reasons I love Jeremy’s music is because it reminds of the music I grew up on. Most of the new music I listen to is pretty raw these days and leans towards a different side of life but albums like My Own American Dream serve to remind me, and I hope you as well, that good clean country still exists and that it’s still a damn good ride and sometimes, like this one, even Essential Listening.

Four Hour Gig
Stay
Oh Darlin’

Visit Jeremy’s official site, keep up with him on Facebook, buy My Own American Dream and the rest of his albums on iTunes

THE FAR WEST – ANY DAY NOW

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That feeling when you discover a new band for the first time, falls in love with their sound and songs, and actually spend time fearing the fact that they’ll go their separate ways before they fulfil their obvious potential. That feeling is a huge part of the reason why we spend our free time listening to crappy music sent our way, in search for those rare gems that we hope others will appreciate just as much.

The Far West fell into my lap sometime in 2011, and I fell hard for their debut album The Far West, with their mix of traditional country and real alt.country the way Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown did it way back when. The band started out as a obscure craigslist-ad, only consisting of a link to a Waylon Jennings-video. The newly assembled five-piece recorded their first album at a American Legion Hall, while the bar was open, and it sounds so fresh and still so vintage.
Since then, the band has changed line-up, replacing pedal-steel maestro Erik Kristiansen who was vital to the sound on the first album, and instead keyboard-virtuoso James Williamson become a vital part of their new sound.

Where they earlier sounded like Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings mixed with the countrier side of early Son Volt, they now sound more like Waylon Jennings crossed with the more rocking side of Son Volt, with a touch of Uncle Tupelo, Bottle Rockets and generous amounts of The Backsliders.

And they have somehow managed to sound even BETTER then before.

Williamson really shines on this album, where his contibutions on the electric piano and the organ are some of my favourite parts. But the band sounds really great. So tight and together, like a BAND. But as good as they are, without Lee Briantes vocals they would have been just another band. With his exceptional voice, he lifts this band beyond that of  being “just another band”, and his voice really suits their music.

The songs are written by Briante and bassplayer Robert Black, the two original founders of The Far West. And where other bands with two songwriters tend to get distinctively different types of songs, their songs seem to merge together, without losing their style in the process.

“Any Day Now” opens with Briantes song “On The Road”, where he takes a look at L.A. and Hollywood, seen from an outsiders perspective. After forming the band, Briante moved from Hudson Valley to L.A, where the band now recides.

Everyone’s chasing a ghost
Everyone’s chasing a dream
Everyone’s the next Monroe
Everyone’s the next James Dean
It’s a long, long, long dusty road
And we all are travelling alone

He writes about Hudson Valley in the song “Hudson Valley, and talks about his old homeplace with longing in his voice, while Williamsons saloon-sounding piano sets the mood.

I was standing at the station
watching trains leave all day long

Black also talks about places from his youth, when he in “Wichita” talks about a place and a time that meant a lot to him, while the band as a whole channels The Jayhawks with steady perfection.

Old 97’s and The Backsliders are obvious inspirations to the kick-ass “The Bright Side”, where Black basically just tells the world to fuck off, while Bakkers guitarsolo is as delicious as they come.

There’s a couple of beautiful ballads here too, especially the “could-have-been-plucked-from-Claptons-Slowhand”-ish “These Arms Will be Empty”, and “She’s Gonna Leave Him Too”, which is heartbreaking it’s own brilliance. And let’s not forget the closing song “Across The Bend”, which is just the kind of song that I recommend hearing while sitting down, as it will make your knees weak in it’s beauty.

Looking at this from the outside of the US, this just feels like a dusty trip through the US, meeting people along the way, everyone with a story to tell – sad or happy. And The Far West just draws from a rich history of music, where their sound which is so solidly anchored in genuine and original alt.country, still sounds like what you would guess Americana should sound like – if you just heard the name of the genre.

Fuck, I LOVE this album! I’m calling it Essential Listening.

Get it from The Far West (they also have vinyl). Check out their Facebookpage.

Hudson Valley
Wichita

FAILURES' UNION – TETHERING

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Failures’ Union is one of my favorite bands. They’re folks from Buffalo with good band-name punctuation and great songs that seamlessly blend classic power-pop and 90s rock. If you’ve been into the Bedford Falls, Cheap Girls, or Tin Armor albums we’ve reviewed here–you’ll be into Failures’ Union, too. Their new album Tethering is that perfect, self-contained orb of gem-colored sad guitar tones and bittersweet vocals and pursuant drums that keeps all those great pop albums suspended in time.

But you’re keenly aware of time when F/U songwriter Tony Flaminio sings about landlines going down in a blackout, or using credit cards to shop from catalogues. It’s a rare thing for a semi-active band with a 90s aesthetic to take an approach to any kind of present tense. It wasn’t a even a gimme for the 90s bands in the 90s–for every piercing lyric of David Berman’s, there’s some awesome blurred lightness from Malkmus. But currently, there’s a lot of bands making music with “nostalgic” aesthetics, there’s a lot of vacuousness to sift through to get to songs as engaging and engulfing as Failures’ Union’s. The personal and domestic streaks that run through their lyrics are specific enough to establish place and time but they’re not so aggressive as to shoot that King Kong Guitar Rock off your head where it rightly belongs for 3 minutes, roaring and making fists around nothing.

In real time, though, this album has been about five years coming and it’s so great to be able to hear it at all. The proper response isn’t analysis, but gratitude. I asked a few peers of Failures’ Union to blurb about the long-awaited new addition, and I thank them kindly for responding:

Ben from Cheap Girls:

This CD is in my player as we speak. It’s awesome.

Tom from Bedford Falls:

I can tell you that Failures’ Union are my favourite band on the planet both musically and as people and that some of the best times I have ever had have been spent in their company and watching them play. Tethering is damn near perfect. I think it’s their strongest batch of songs yet and the addition of Blake’s powerhouse drumming and Eric’s driving, yet tasteful, lead guitar to Tony’s plaintive song writing and gorgeous vocals and Jay’s muscular but musical bass playing makes an already incredible band almost unbeatable. It’s a classic. I hope it doesn’t become a lost one.

The danger of Tethering becoming a lost classic has to do with label troubles that impeded the album’s release in the back half of 2013. The band pressed the album themselves on CD and cassette to take on a fall tour, but left the digital and vinyl release to Paper + Plastick, who had released their last full-length, In What Way, in 2009 (on beautiful gate-fold packaging, btw. It’s such a great album.). When it became clear that P+P couldn’t give this album its due, the band got it in the hands of the folks at Dead Broke Rekerds, who got the digital version of the album up this month. Vinyl will follow in a couple months.

Now that it’s finally widely available, I got in touch with the band and asked them a few questions about how the album came together and what it means that it’s out–again, I thank them kindly for their responses.

9B: What surprised you most during the making of this album?

Jason Draper (bass): How long it took. Some of the songs were written as far back as ’08, but we really started putting together the record in early 2010. We did the first recording session in September of that year. We knew it would take longer than normal because Eric [Elmman, guitar]  moved to Rhode Island for two years and we recorded songs in batches, but it ended up taking us about three years to get a final version that we were happy with.

9B: There’s been a couple projects between In What Way and Tethering–what was the feeling of recording with each other while that other stuff was going on, was it harder to get organized? Am I wrong or is there also a new member who hasn’t been on a record before Tethering?

JD: We didn’t really take an extended break from recording with each other. As I said we started recording in 2010 and did batches every six months or so. Even during the hiatus from shows we were still practicing on a semi-regular basis. It is a fairly painless experience to record with each other though. We’ve been playing/recording together for so long, that we know exactly what the others are going to do, and that makes laying down the tracks run smoothly.

We all did work on other projects during that time. I did a one off called Young Skin with some friends in New Jersey (Night Birds, The Ergs, Black Wine). I also started a dark post-punk band called Orations. Tony started Returners, joined Mallwalkers, and played and sang on Lemuria’s The Distance is So Big. Eric started a band in Rhode Island called Red Delicious that he then continued in Buffalo when he moved back. He also drums in a hardcore band called Human Touch.

For the new record (actually before the Bedford Falls split) Eric moved to guitar and his brother Blake took over on drums. He also plays in a “deep cuts” cover band called the Stamplickers. Since the completion of Tethering, Blake has left the band for family and work. Our friend Josh Gruder drums for us now.

9B: Who plays sax on “Vs. The Tide”?

JD: That’s Tony. He used to play in highschool and he actually played Kenny G’s “Songbird” at his sister’s wedding. There’s apparently a tape of it somewhere that the rest of us have been trying to get our hands on.

Tony Flaminio (vocals, guitar): I started playing alto sax again after twelve years to be in my second favorite Buffalo band, Mallwalkers. I got a little excited and wanted to play it everywhere. That wedding recording was destroyed years ago, but they keep scouring thrift stores for unmarked VHS tapes.

9B: Have you noticed a change in Buffalo’s scene/attitude since the Mohawk closed? Or has it been consistent/resilient? How has that loss been felt?

JD: Buffalo has been a bit of a mess for the past year. Not only did Mohawk Place close, but so did Sugar City, The Funeral Home, and The Vault, which were all DIY spaces. There is nowhere in Buffalo that feels like home anymore. Sure there are a couple of bars that do shows, but they tend to be fairly uncomfortable to play. There are also a handful of house venues and a couple record stores, Spiral Scratch and Black Dots, but they don’t have shows on the regular. It doesn’t feel like a tight knit community anymore. It could also be that I’m getting older and very little feels new and exciting to me anymore. Hopefully somewhere new will open up soon. There are a couple things in the works, or so we hear.

9B: I’m interested in how artists spend their time–how people balance routine stuff and their creative stuff, in what ways it’s useful to merge those worlds and in what ways they can overpower each other.

JD: I know for the others it’s harder as they get older and start worrying about other things in life besides just playing music. We used to all be in situations where we were willing to quit our jobs if we couldn’t get the time off, but as you get older you get better paying jobs and you end up working with your employers to get the time off instead of just leaving at the drop of a hat.

9B: If you don’t mind me asking, what are your day jobs?

JD: I own/operate my own screen printing shop. Eric actually works at another shop in town. It’s a great job for people like us, because it’s easy to get time off and we can have fun printing our own stuff. Tony is a stationary engineer at three office buildings downtown. Josh works in collections.

9B: How do you guys position the band (and other bands you play in) in relation to the other parts of your lives? Is there even a delineation there?

JD: I don’t want to answer for the other guys, but I would still drop nearly everything in my life to tour and make music.

9B: Would you guys describe your band as either full-time or part-time? Do you find it useful to think of your own band in that way?

JD: We’re definitely a part time band. For a band at our level it’s become too expensive to tour all the time and still live comfortably at home. We’re all lived in “punk” houses with a bunch of roommates in order to keep all of our bills down so we could afford to tour all the time, but you get to a point where you’re in your mid-30’s and you say to yourself, “Why am I living with all of these people when I could be living alone with my girlfriend and our cats.” In the end you move out, and have a more comfortable life, but you have higher bills and you need to make sure you have the money to pay them. There are so many bands on the road now. More bands means more shows, which leads to lower attendance. It’s actually out of the ordinary to play a show out of town that doesn’t have another touring band on it. It all ends in bands not getting paid as much from the door, and not making as much on a tour. I know things are different for bigger/more popular bands, but that’s how it’s been for us, especially with the touring hiatus we took.

9B: Tony, you write and record under a few names (your own name, San Anton, F/U)–how does material flow from those solo projects to FU or vice-versa? What is the impulse behind keeping those monikers separate, to the extent they even are separate?

TF: I wouldn’t consider them separate. I have one tape under my own name, called Grim Repair, and a bunch of those songs ended up on the Failures’ Union album Sinker and another F/U 7″. There hasn’t been an official San Antōn release yet (just a few songs on Soundcloud) but I’ve been writing material for a while. I hope to finish it and play some solo shows at some point. I usually play all of this stuff for the rest of the band first and they decide if it would make a good F/U song. A lot of times it won’t. I also have no issue with there being several different versions of the same song available across a bands’ discography…I just remember as a kid being excited to see “alternate/acoustic/demo version” on a single or in a collection.

9B: It’s now been about 10 years since the first F/U releases–how has the band changed in those years? If you were to look back at your songwriting and guitar playing back then, where would you say the growth has been?

TF: I would say that for me personally it’s the songwriting that’s improved…or the lyrics or my voice in general. I’ve never been a good guitar player. If anything I think I’ve somehow gotten worse at guitar over the past ten years. Luckily I surround myself with professionals. As a band, since he switched to guitar, Eric has been writing more and more of the music for F/U (starting back with “The Fall Man”) and I think it really is seamless. Tethering is the first time Eric and I collaborated on lyrics and I think it helped tie things up nicely in a lot of ways.

Landlines
The Arrow
Hard To Sea

Tethering would make it near the top on my favorite albums of either 2013 and 2014.

Stream and buy Tethering digitally from Dead Broke Rekerds. Buy the CD or cassette from the band’s store. Find their previous LPs and some great split EPs with Bedford Falls and Cheap Girls over at their bandcamp. Follow Failures’ Union on Facebook to keep abreast of tour dates, music videos, and the vinyl release.

THE DEVIL'S CUT – NO SALVATION

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It’s no secret that I like the punkier side of our little scene. It tends to be more urban working man and a little less rural. In all honesty, while I like the idea of some land far away from anyone, a house with a nice porch, and my own still I would be miserable outside of the city for any real length of time. The pretty countryside is pretty for a while but a city boy like me needs his concrete, a good selection of watering holes, and access to things like fast internet and twenty-four hour grocery stores. While the themes are much the same I tend to relate to the lyrics a little more. There are obvious exceptions but given my druthers any given playlist will have more punk influence than not.

The brings me to The Devil’s Cut out of Lansing, MI. I heard about these boys thanks to The Tosspints’ record label East Grand Record Co. Being from the rust belt shows through in the music these guys are making. While the British may have had “Keep calm and carry on” there’s no poster for the middle class in America watching their lives altered by closing factories. There’s no bumper sticker wisdom for the way those affected by this hold up their heads and keep going, trying to make things better. Instead there’s music. While No Salvation isn’t social commentary these hardships and truths are woven through the fabric of the album as a whole.

There’s really no way to describe No Salvation other than Americana. I know that’s a dirty word to some of the folks in “the scene”, but let’s face it, some albums with certain themes paint a picture of middle America better than others and this one of them. This is music for anyone who has sat on a porch with a beer and watched equipment moved out of a factory after production was outsourced, who has seen the pool hall they grew up turned in to a convenience store, who has paid their bar tab with a disability check after being hurt on the job. In other words No Salvation is an album for every one of you out there and it’s Essential Listening.

Highwater Chevy
Violent City

ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES – HALF THE CITY

File under: fucking music

I know the bulk of the Northeast and large swaths of the Southeast would have a hard time believing this right now but, spring is just around the corner. Warmer temperatures. Less clothing. Spring breaks. Summer flings. Broken hearts. Unplanned pregnancies and new loves are all on the horizon. All of this, obviously, needs a sexy ass soundtrack and St. Paul & The Broken Bones are the first band of 2014 to drop the sex on our earholes and that did it with such a ferocity that I am not sure anyone else should even bother. Babies will be made to Half The City, of that, I have zero doubt.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones are yet another band coming out of Alabama with a retro sound that never feels dated, stale or derivative. Lead singer, Paul Janeway’s voice sounds like it should be heard via the crackle of a 1960’s soul album and he looks like he could have been a supporting cast member in Office Space. That said, Paul’s voice (the real star in this band) pairs so perfectly with Allen Branstetter and Ben Griner’s understated but inignorable horn section that you pretty much have to be an asshole not to fall in love with this band inside of 3 songs. They’ve pretty much taken what the Alabama Shakes are trying to do and perfected it. Perfected. I did not misuse that word and it’s everything I envision Essential Listening to be.

Now. Stop reading this review. Buy this album and get laid to it a few times this spring/summer…



St. Paul & The Broken Bones Official Site, St. Paul & The Broken Bones on Facebook, St. Paul & The Broken Bones on Bandcamp, Buy Half The City

PRETTY BOY THORSON & THE FALLING ANGELS—AN UNEASY PEACE

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The main things you glean from Jesse Thorson’s songwriting over the years–he hates himself and he likes drinking but he’s never dull, dumb, or numb. If ever there was an band I thought I could rally the Ninebullets readership behind, it was Pretty Boy Thorson and the F’n A’s. Unfortunately their last full-length came out in 2009 and they’ve only released a trickle of 7″s and splits since. CUT TO 2013 and Thorson’s new band The Slow Death releases a new album and I hope it’ll be the right time to write up how much he rocks (alas I’m not super stoked on it), but with much less fanfare he also releases a brand fucking new Falling Angels record. So 2013 gave us records from both Bottomless Pit and Joel RL Phelps, both Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson, from Radioactivity and Mindspiders and Low Culture (all out of the ashes of late Denton greats The Marked Men), and a bunch or other artists who we had no right to expect to hear again, let alone in such combinations–and to that list, we add this record.

The album starts off with the atmospheric, prostrate “I Don’t Think I’m Gonna Make It”–a track so measured and out of character for the free-Falling Angels that I wasn’t sure I was playing the right album. But the Skynyrdian snakeskin boots they’re wearing here fit perfect. There’s a little guitar hook in there that’s so awesome but only used at a couple of restrained moments. Restraint, far from being something that could undo what’s great about the F’n A’s, may actually be what elevates this album above other open-chord bar bands and nearer Slobberbone or Bottle Rockets.

The second track begins flatly with “Oh lord, I’m tired/ tired of living this a-way,” and I wonder if the band is going to be able to rekindle the intensity that carried even their most basic lyrics in the past–they could once deliver “Take me home / and put me to bed / if I wake up tomorrow / with the same old pain and sorrow / I’ve still got whiskey and gin” as convincingly and wonderfully as a perfect “Moonshiner” cover. But this is an older band and they’re now  a side project to The Slow Death–I don’t expect, and wouldn’t be turned on by, a 20-year-old perspective on drinking and partying–as long as what Thorson has to give isn’t dulled or dumbed by numbness.

At track five, “Blameless,” this thing really takes off, and for the next 27 minutes I get everything I want all at once. I keep saying, man the middle of this album is so strong, but it never comes down–eight absolutely indispensable songs to finish an album. And it wasn’t even that slow of a start–a fitting warm-up for a band taking the long player for a ride for the first time since 2009. Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues doesn’t get on a real roll until track six, either. Back to what PBT is doing here: stuff so naturally paced with the whirlpools of shit in your stomach that you get caught up in it like this album had been playing for the last forty years. “Blameless in a black dress / I guess I looked like a train wreck.” “The pills I take / my heart would break / I must’ve walked the whole length of Shasta Lake.” There are nods to Thorson’s Minneapolis roots and rockabilly past on “New #3” (an homage to Avail in that title?), a Henneman-esque turn on “I Guess You’re Not the One,” and each song has a chorus or melody sharp enough to dig a new fissure in your brain. The finale is a short and sweet, banjo-backed and rowdy chorale of “I love you even more / than I hate myself“–the heart-ascending heraldry of the best of the Falling Angels.

For any Skynyrd, Slobberbone, Bottle Rockets, Takers, TCG, DTR, DBT, Nato Coles, Spider Bags, Replacements fans–for anybody reading Ninebullets–An Uneasy Peace is Essential Listening.

Blameless
Shasta Lake
Get Along

Stream and buy An Uneasy Peace from Tampa’s Kiss of Death Records bandcamp–and buy the vinyl (and I’m pretty sure they’re offering the mp3s for FREE) from their Limited Run Store. Stream and buy the F’n A’s previous LPs Ain’t it Funny and Take it Easy from Tampa’s A.D.D. Records bandcamp. Check out the more straight-ahead punk of The Slow Death’s albums No Heaven and Born Ugly, Got Worse.

CROW'S SHARE – CROW'S SHARE

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Truth be told, I had no plans of writing shit tonight. I was planning on coming home, cleaning the apartment and settling in for an awesome night of watching the Olympics. Then, NBC decided to show me ice dancing. Ice. Fucking. Dancing. So. Here I am. Ice dancing on mute and writing. I knew I didn’t wanna listen to people try to make ice dancing sound compelling so I decided to write a piece about a record. And once I knew I was gonna write, the decision of what record I wanted to write about was easy.

I have been listening to Crow’s Nest debut slash self-titled album a minimum of once a week for months now and it’s high fucking time I tell you kids about it…

Crow’s Share is the brain child of Missoula, Montana’s own, Ryan Bundy. It’s a sonically minimalist project and since I don’t wanna disgrace it with too many words I’ll just say that it’s a decidedly interesting amalgam of roots/folk instruments and electronica. While this is not the first time I’ve see this union attempted; this might be the best effort I’ve seen to date. It’s sparse. It’s brooding. It’s a banjo fan’s wet dream and it’s Essential Listening for every single fan of Doc Feldman, J Kutchma or The Heavy Horses.

Might Stitch
Hyperbole
Sweet Baby Jane

Crow’s Share’s Official Site, Crow’s Share on Facebook, Crow’s Share on Bandcamp

AGAINST ME! – TRANSGENDER DYSPHORIA BLUES

 

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Merriam-Webster defines ‘punk rock’ as follows: “rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent”.

It’s hard to get any more punk rock than Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Whether you know the story of Laura Jane Grace or not (you can learn more about it here), the circumstances that brought about the album could only make it interesting; it takes something else entirely to make the album good. I’m going to spoil it for you now: this album is Essential Listening.

The album starts off hard and fast with the title track. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is awash in lyrics that are gutwrenching because they come from a perspective you are not used to hearing.

“Your tells are so obvious, shoulders too broad for a girl”

“You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see every other girl” 

And what may be my favorite line of the whole album for its blatant nature and unapologetic confrontation:

“You’ve got no cunt in your strut/You’ve got no ass to shake”

I could go through track by track and line by line, breaking down to you the voice that Grace has finally found. Although it may sound sonically similar to Against Me!’s vast catalog, there is something new and beautiful and painful about the point of view being shared. It’s almost a guarantee that no matter how alienated or put-upon you’ve felt, it’s never been as bad as being a woman trapped in a man’s body in a very masculine and male-dominated industry (and sub-genre of that industry). “True Trans Soul Rebel”, the second track, seems stitched together between her own story and others she’s witnessed. “Paralytic States” feels the same, songs about different methods of trying to escape the past that never seem to work out.

The songs are short and mostly melodic; by the first few seconds of each I am ready to start singing along to the chorus. The sound is a natural evolution for Against Me!; this is a band that sounds better with every album. Some of the louder tracks (“Drinking with the Jocks”, “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”) aren’t my particular cup of tea, but I’m sure there are plenty of fans who will welcome the raucous guitars and screamed vocals.

The last track of the album is undoubtedly my favorite. I was lucky enough to see Laura Jane Grace on the Revival Tour, about two weeks before she came out and told us she no longer wanted to be referred to as Tom Gabel. When she played “Black Me Out” I was floored at the passion and venom present in the song and the performance. This indictment of the music industry and the petty despots who clutch at power is easily translatable to whatever petty despots we find present in our own lives: “As if you were a kingmaker/As if, as if, as if”.

That sentiment sums up “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” for me. The emotions, the pain, the longing, the self-consciousness, the self-confidence, and the love are all things that I understand and identify with immediately, even if I haven’t gone through the same things that Grace has.

If you find yourself uncomfortable with the subject matter don’t be ashamed. Only be ashamed if you aren’t human enough to listen to this album and give it, and Laura Jane Grace, a chance.

You can get a copy of Transgender Dysphoria Blues on vinyl and CD here, or digitally via iTunes and Amazon.



POSSESSED BY PAUL JAMES – THERE WILL BE NIGHTS WHEN I'M LONELY

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There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely is my first significant foray into Possessed By Paul James’ music. I asked around to more veteran ears to see how they thought it compared to his earlier work and the consensus seemed to be that this album was his most accessible, not necessarily the most polished, though maybe, but the one that was most easiest to latch on to. So if you’ve only listened to PPJ in passing it’s time to give the music some serious attention. There Will Be Nights… is Essential Listening.

The opening five seconds of “Hurricane,” the lead-off song, could be described as abrasive fiddle yet very quickly the fiddle reaches a beautiful wailing before sliding effortlessly into a crescendo of enthusiastic ecstasy that lasts, despite the often lyrical lapses into the grave elements of life, throughout the entirety of the album. Musically there is a joy that perpetuates throughout sad times and happy days within these eleven songs. I’m a huge fan of The Staples Singers and find the desperation with which they sing their gospel songs to be riveting and life-affirming. There Will Be Nights... feels like a white-folks revival album, the kind of revival that could turn me from a sinner to a man living on the righteous path. “Songs We Used To Sing” most exemplifies The Staples Singers influence and I would pay good money to hear PPJ and Mavis Staple work up a version of this song.

One of the most impressive elements of this album is that it is entirely possible to listen passively and soak up the message of the music. Musically each song reinforces a belief in a higher power, while lyrically even the hardest moments of life are appreciated. This idea is most apparent in the chorus of “Heavy.” “This life can get heavy/oh so heavy/sometimes” is sung in a way that I visualize PPJ pulling away from the mic as he sings and the effect is the words almost feel like a blessing or thanksgiving for the hard times.

If you’ve read anything about this record you’ve probably heard that PPJ plays the fiddle, banjo, guitar and viola throughout the record, an impressive feat. Yet his vocal delivery is as important in capturing the emotion in the music as any instrument. Lyrically there are no stoic lines, yet there is not a single trite phrase. Gospel music, and I do consider this gospel, relies on accessible language and PPJ follows suit without falling into greeting-card phrases or sentiments. What this album is about and what I’m trying to say can all be found in “Sweet But Bitter Life.” It’s one of my favorite songs from the past year and causes chills and raised fists almost every time I hear it.

Essential Listening. No doubt.

Official Site, On Facebook, Buy There Will Be Nights…

Heavy
There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely
Life