GIRLS, GUNS, AND GLORY – GOOD LUCK

GGG - Good Luck

It’s always tricky following up a career-defining album.

An artist or band has to stoke anticipation, temper expectations and,ultimately, release a new batch of songs out into the world without the ability to explain, defend and/or protect them any longer.

I can’t imagine the anxiety an artist feels not knowing how they will be received.

It’s no secret that I love Girls, Guns and Glory, the Boston-based band whose 2011 disc Sweet Nothings topped my Best Of list that year. Every track blended seamlessly to form a singular work that struck me and stuck with me in a way that few albums since have been able to do.

Well, Ward Hayden and the boys are back three years later with Good Luck, an album that is just as confident but completely different in all the best ways. Good Luck doesn’t reach into your chest immediately and grab your heart, not the way Sweet Nothings did, except on three of the new tracks – “UUU,” “C’Mon Honey” and  “Rockin’ Chair Money.”

The biggest difference between the two albums is the experimental air that permeates Good Luck. It doesn’t have that same instant connection, but the rewards are greater once you spend a little more time with some of the songs.  Two good examples, “Shake Like Jello,” a scorching rave-up that owes a debt to the great Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Built For Speed.” The former, I didn’t fully appreciate until the third or fourth listen. Now it’s on my list of must-hear songs if ever I see Girls, Guns and Glory in concert.

What is consistent, though, is Hayden’s signature, mournful emotion that rings true on the slower “It’s Your Choice” and “One of These Days.”  You feel the sincerity in his voice, and the rest of the band backs him up in perfect step. Nowhere is this more true than on the lead single, and album opener, “All the Way Up to Heaven.”

Girls, Guns and Glory is a true original. They don’t have to mimic any other artist. They have a sound that’s all their own. But there are similarities to other bands that genre fans will appreciate. The up-tempo “Be Your Man” sounds like the best track The V-Roys never recorded. And “UUU,” my favorite song on the disc, is vintage The Refreshments.

It’s still early in 2014, and I have no idea if the boys will once again top my Best Of list this year, but I’m pretty confident that if not, Good Luck will definitely be near the top of my favorite works released this year, and I’m certain this disc will remain in my most-played queue for months to come. That’s why, to me, this is definitely Essential Listening.

UUU
C’Mon Honey
Rockin Chair Money

ONE LAST LOOK BACK: THE TOP 10 LIST OF JOHN W. ALLMAN

Not so much a Top 10 list, as there is plenty of music I haven’t heard this year, but these 10 albums represent the discs that rarely made it out of rotation on my iPod or Spotify account. These are the albums that I turned to when I was happy, when I was caught in a blinding moment of despair, when I needed someone else’s words to articulate the emotions swirling in my head, if only to allow me the chance to breathe in, breathe out, and steady the ship.

Music has that power – to soothe, to agitate, to kickstart into action and give voice and purpose to one’s life. And these here are some pretty powerful artists, in that regard, whose songs helped define the past year of my life.

  1. Girls Guns and Glory: Sweet Nothings – This one has it all, from mournful ballads to shit-kicking rev-ups, and there’s not a damn bit of filler to be found. Best song, “Baby’s Got A Dream,” which instantly vaulted into my favorite songs of all time.
  2. Imelda May: Mayhem – Imelda May is the total package. She’s a latex-wearing, Vargas pinup with an undeniable ear for the heart of rockabilly swing. Best song, “Proud and Humble” or “Psycho.”
  3. The Horrible Crowes: Elsie – It’s no secret, I love The Gaslight Anthem, and this side project was a gift for longtime fans waiting for their follow-up to “American Slang.” Best song, “I Witnessed A Crime.”
  4. Jonathan Keevil: Bellflower (Original Motion PictureSoundtrack) – If you haven’t seen “Bellflower,” you are missing out on the best film to come out since “Fight Club.” It’s an apocalyptic love story with flamethrowers and badass Mad Max-inspired muscle cars that perfectly captures love’s intensity, from the intoxicating thrill of the first kiss to the heart-smacked gut punch of the worst breakup ever. Jonathan Keevil’s haunting soundtrack does for Evan Glodell’s film what Elliott Smith did for “Good Will Hunting.” It is simply remarkable. Best song, “Blind, Deaf Too,” “Enough” or “Babyfin.”
  5. Lydia Loveless: Indestructible Machine – Much has been made of Loveless’s destructive bent, her penchant for honestly exploring her issues with drugs and drink, and the fact that she’s barely legal and likely a candidate for the doomed 27-year-old musician’s curse. But there is no denying how amazingly talented she is, or that Loveless is as close as we’ll likely come to a 21st-century Patsy Cline. Best song, “Learn to Say No.”
  6. American Anodyne: So You Want to Be A Bullfighter – Good old outlaw country that would make Waylon proud. American Anodyne announced themselves as a force to be reckoned with on their debut, perfectly balancing a handful of rousing juke joint rockers with the social commentary of a modern-day Woody Guthrie. Best song, “Call My Brother” or “El Dorado, Dark Blue.”
  7. Kasey Anderson and the Honkies: Heart of a Dog – Singer-songwriter Kasey Anderson hooked up with the Honkies and delivered a wonderful slice of countrified rock, the perfect album for driving fast down an empty interstate, destination unknown. Best song, “Kasey Anderson’s Dream.”
  8. Jessica Lea Mayfield: Tell Me – Another younger-than-her-years songstress, Jessica Lea Mayfield can break your heart with her big, beautiful eyes or just cut it out with her incredibly sharp ruminations on the damage love can do. Best song, “I’ll Be the One You Want Someday.”
  9. The Breedings: Laughing at Luck – This brother/sister act out of Nashville, TN are the real deal, and I think they are poised to break big in 2012. Erin and Willie Breeding compliment each other perfectly on their debut, but it’s Erin’s voice that will grab you tight and not let go. Best song, “When It All Comes Down.”
  10. Jo Wymer: Living with Scars – I love Jo Wymer. This New Jersey-based mother/wife/teacher lives and rocks by a simple motto: Play it loud. And on her self-financed, independently released debut, she does just that, reaching for a brass ring that few artists are lucky to ever touch in their entire career and refusing to let go. I compared her to Pat Benatar in my review, but honestly, she’s better. Few albums in 2011 made me smile as much in 2011, and I can honestly say I never once was tempted to turn the volume down. Best song, “Dirty Secrets.”

GIRLS GUNS & GLORY – SWEET NOTHINGS

The first mournful strains of “Baby’s Got A Dream,” the opening cut from Sweet Nothings, the fourth album by Girls Guns and Glory, set the tone.

Ward Hayden croons like a lovelorn Chris Issak, drunk from defeat, his heart broken and bleeding in his hand.

The window is open, your hand is out
Searching for something, you want it now
There’s only so much to go around
And while I’m treading water, the ship is going down

Then at the 1:27 mark, the gates open, and the entire band kicks in, pressing the throttle down, like a flaming machine driving straight into the storm, jangly guitars and thundering kickdrum propelling this dark voyage into the unknown.

She loves me not, pick the petals and watch them drop
‘Til the last one remains
Pick them back up, needle and thread and all stitched up
Play the game again
Don’t worry now, things will never be the same

Over the next 10 cuts, the Boston, MA-based band kicks up dirt, spits whiskey in the eye and plants a flag firmly in the ass of tired, cliched country.

But make no mistake, there ain’t no happy ending to be found here.

By the time you reach “Universe Began,” the closing track, Hayden and Co. (Paul Dilley on electric and upright bass,
Michael Calabrese on drums and Chris Hersch sharing vocals plus electric guitar and banjo) have come full circle and back face to face with unrequited, unreturned love.

In one of the saddest refrains ever written, Hayden whispers on “Universe Began”:

The universe began and someday it’s going to end
I’ll love you til my heart gives out
You keep on telling me we’d be better off as friends
I’ll love you til my heart gives out

In between, though, there’s a few serious drinking songs, a whole lot of heartbreak and some of the finest damn music to come out yet this year.

Do yourself and your stereo a favor, go find this album. Buy it, download it, borrow it from your friend (but be prepared not to give it back).  Sweet Nothings is not only Essential Listening, it’s an early candidate for Album of the Year.

Girls Guns and Glory – Baby’s Got a Dream
Girls Guns and Glory – Sweet Nothings
Girls Guns and Glory – Universe Began

Girls Guns and Glory’s Official Site, Girls Guns and Glory on Facebook, Girls Guns and Glory on Spotify, Buy Sweet Nothings