Micah Schnabel – Your New Norman Rockwell

 

It started with “the Great Gravitron Massacre”. I think. Maybe it was “Come Back to Shelby”. Either way, it was on a Suburban Home Records sampler CD. The old ones with the shitty little sticker with the title of the comp but no other data. I wasn’t sure who it was but the song stuck with me every time I listened to the disc.

So I sorted out who it was and picked up  “III” by Two Cow Garage and quickly got to know and love the songs of Micah Schnabel and Shane Sweeney. If those guys just kept making “III” I probably would have still dug them a bit. That wasn’t the plan though. Every new record has broadened out the scope and nature of their songs. Micah’s new solo outing, “Your New Norman Rockwell”, is a new frontier that is both a surprising change and a beautiful fusion of every other stop on the journey so far.

Micah has always been a great wordsmith. Complex and heartfelt are not two concepts that always ride together comfortably but Micah keeps finding new ways to express the nuance of the broad topics of love, family, self worth, music and the terror and joy of daily life. On “Your New Norman Rockwell” his relationship with words and language seem to be turned to 11. The more personal a story Micah tells the more universal it feels. The closer he pulls in the wider his reach.

The tone throughout is confrontational but not angry. Confident without swagger, more self assured than pushy.  The nervous energy that skips across the album (and comes to an early, if brief, release at 2:22 of JAZZ AND CINNAMON TOAST CRUNCH) adds to the desperate and pleading urgency in the lyrics. The melodies are insistent but not obnoxious and the album pushes and pulls with sections featuring acoustic guitar and voice nestled next to full band arrangements. “Hello, My Name Is Henry” could be Soul Asylum circa “Hang Time”. The beating of the heart is that of a troubadours no matter the dressing though. Acoustic and some hard truths, directed inward and outward, are tucked away in almost every track.

I don’t know why exactly but I can already say this is an album that I will be listening to a lot while traveling. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s the unsettled nature of the album, maybe it’s the way “The Interview” sounds like slowly driving out of town for the first minute or so then laying into it once you hit the freeway.

I think Micah managed to find a pretty great mission statement for himself and the rest of us too

“oh what bummer it is to be a human being, oh how amazing it can be to be a human being” – Oh, What a Bummer

Words to live by, friends. It’s an ugly world out there, but we don’t have to be ugly about it. Take one listen to “Your New Norman Rockwell” and tell me you don’t want to do better. Essential listening of course. And with a gorgeous cover by Vanessa Jean Speckman it’s worth getting the CD not just the download. Micah Schnabel – “Your New Norman Rockwell” is out today, June 9th, on Last Chance Records. Go get it, support art you love. Get out and go see Micah play too, it’s good for you. Builds character.

 

 

Only Two and a Half Days Until Monday

hoboes_wiki_hotel_de_gink_barber

I figured I’d share a little with you today. I don’t have any great words of wisdom, hell I’m barely treading water at this point, but I’ve been mulling over a playlist for a while and I put it together when I was supposed to be working this morning. So here’s a little something to help get you through today, or maybe not…

Morning Drawings

shane-morning

In a fit of total failure I noticed that we’ve never mentioned Shane Sweeney’s project: Morning Drawings. Shane, who you should know from Two Cow Garage and his solo albums, draws song lyrics. He draws stuff that inspires him as well as commissions. The image above is one I commissioned for my wife because our song is “You’re Not The Boss Of Me” (It’s a long story) and here’s one that he did for Cory Branan’s “Miss Ferguson”:

shane-cory

Shane is an awesome dude and his drawings should be on the wall somewhere in your abode. So get off your ass and make that happen. Yeah, I figure most of you already know about this but there’s a chance someone didn’t and that’s more than enough reason to post about it! I could post a ton of my favorites that he’s done but it’s much more fun to scroll through the site and look at all of them. If nothing else I just gave you something that’ll kill the time between now and lunch.

Two Cow Garage, Benchmarks, Heathen Sons

I hit the road again for another fun filled night of great music and fantastic friends this time ending up in Nashville at The High Watt. This wasn’t a normal night at a random show as there were some of my best friends from St Louis and all over TN there for the evening which means i’m sorry for anyone around us be we were singing loudly and enthusiastically.
Starting off the night were the Heathen Sons who’ve been written up here before by our own Wolf and to say they didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. I’d given a few listens to their EP and while I liked it it hadn’t stuck out for me yet. This happens more than I’d like to admit and is one of the many reasons why I try not to miss an opener to any show if possible. You’ll never know the music that grabs you until you hear it live. This band is one of those for me while I enjoyed the record the live performance was just full of very different energy that myself and seemingly the rest of the crowd enjoyed. It’s slightly indie while still definitely southern and past that i’d just call it good. Basically check these guys out if they’re close to your town.IMG_3137

Just over two years ago Lucero played two nights in Nashville and on the first night I elbowed a kid in the head that turned out to be Todd Farrell Jr. which was the beginning of a helluva night. When I sobered up I remembered to check out Todd’s band and was very happy that I did as the then current release of Where Fake Cowboys Go to Drink has some great songs on it. After that background up next was Benchmarks formerly known as Todd Farrell Jr and the Dirty Birds which while not a bad name did not accurately represent what the band is doing today so they changed it. In the best way possible there’s no easy way to categorize this band as they’re at their core a great rock band who also pull in some country and punk sensibility while never committing fully to either of the typical interpretations of those genres. So I’ve seen Todd Farrell and the Dirty Birds before at their last CD release and that gave me high hopes for what i’d see this night. I was not disappointed as the band ripped through the most recent American Nights EP as well as some tracks from the previous two release and requests. By their own admission the band hadn’t played together in some time as Todd had been out on the road with Two Cow Garage and everyone else had other obligations but couldn’t hear that from the audience. The set closed with Pawnshops when even Todd had to acknowledge our awful but very enthusiastic singing. I’m not sure when or where you’ll be able to see this band but if/when Benchmarks or Todd solo comes close to your town it is a show not to miss and in the meantime pickup the EP and the previous releases.

I'm terrible at photos but this feature Micah guesting with Benchmarks on American Night
I’m terrible at photos but this feature Micah guesting with Benchmarks on American Night

Next up is Two Cow Garage who I first discovered when Please Turn the Gas Back On was reviewed on this very site and from then on has been one of if not my favorite band. I’ve seen them countless times over the years at shows that have evolved from me and the band to 20ish diehard fans to today when they’re able to draw sustainable crowds. It’s always hard to talk about  Two Cow and Charles Hale did a better job than I ever could breaking down their style, progression and songwriting here so read that if you want some deeper insight into the band. I will say that I think we’ll need to add a new volume to that talking about what Todd is bringing to the band today. On this night the crowd was mixed with people who were obviously there for the first two bands but still curious about Two Cow and then a section of long term fans myself included who were somewhat vocal. Two Cow ran through highlights from most of their catalog not really leaning to one record or another but including the current single Let the Boys Be the Girls and the upcoming Continental Distance. To the folks that have not see Two Cow recently or at all the band is elevated with the addition of Todd Farrell Jr. who to my seasoned but uneducated ears fills out the songs in general and replaces some of the keyboards from the records. I never write setlists or take notes but on this night I took three notes which consisted of this: the 4 way harmonies are amazing and really add something to multiple songs then the unbelievably quiet crowd during Shoulda California and Swingset Assassin which is worth noting as it demonstrates how much people were enthralled by this performance. I always say that i’ll never see a better Two Cow show than what I see in Little Rock at The White Water Tavern but this show has me starting to think that may not be the case. It’s hard to beat a night with great friends and fantastic music so this was obviously a good one for all involved. It’s hard to come up with a better live band than Two Cow Garage so if you have a chance to see it and miss them i’m sorry for you.

My favorite Two Cow Garage photos are always about interaction. I'm terrible at capturing it but there's this.
My favorite Two Cow Garage photos are always about interaction. I’m terrible at capturing it but there’s this.

Former And Current 9B Editors on the Radio

Our very own Wolf was on the radio with former 9B writer and editor Charles Hale this week and this is what it sounded like:

Benchmarks – “American Night” – American Night
Two Cow Garage – “Continental Distance” – Continental Distance
Benjamin Booker – “Have You Seen My Son?” – Benjamin Booker
Adam Faucett – “Rock Ain’t Gold” – Blind Water Finds Blind Water
Gaslight Anthem – “Lonesome Sound” – The ’59 Sound
Kill County – “Straight Six Ford” – The Year Of Getting By
Michael Dean Damron – “Dancing In The Moonlight” – Father’s Day
Shane Sweeney – “Motel Blues” – The Finding Time
Robert Chaney – “The Morning After” – Cracked Picture Frames
Tim Barry – “No News From the North” – Lost & Rootless
Jason Isbell – “Something More Than Free” – Something More Than Free
Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil – “Waiting On You” – Catch the Presidents
Tyler Childers – “Charleston Girl” – Live At The Red Barn Vol. 1
Aaron Lee Tasjan – “Santa Monica & Vine” – The Thinking Man’s Filth
Arliss Nancy – “Front Seat” – Simple Machines
Langhorne Slim & The Law – “Past lives” – The Way We Move
Lilly Hiatt – “Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick the Restaurant” – Royal Blue
The Killers – “Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf” – Sawdust
Against Me! – “F*** My Life 666” – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Austin Lucas – “Alone in Memphis” – Stay Reckless
John Moreland – “Sad Baptist Rain” – High On Tulsa Heat
Barton Carroll – “Every Little Bit Hurts” – Avery County, I’m Bound To You
Jamestown Revival – “revival” – Utah
Matt Woods – “Beating Down My Door” – Matt Woods Manifesto
Cory Branan – “No Hit Wonder” – No Hit Wonder
Glossary – “At midnight” – How We Handle Our Midnights
Lucero – “Hearts On Fire” – Live DVD
Drive By Truckers – “Daddy’s Cup” – The Dirty South
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires – “Dirt Track” – A Live Show

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this was an excuse to post Charles’ podcast because it completely rocks and he’s pretty damn awesome. I know I miss his voice in the background of things around here. I’ve added his podcast to “Sites We Read” and hopefully you’ll all subscribe to it. There’s a lot worse things you could do with your time.

Shane Sweeney – Complex Ecosystems – 2015

Complex Ecosystems

Shane Sweeney‘s new EP, Complex Ecosystems came out late last week and I have been listening to it almost non-stop since I got my hands on it. You may be thinking “it’s only five songs, how many times can you listen to it?” My response would have to be “I don’t know, I haven’t managed to listen to it enough yet.” There’s something about Shane’s writing on this one that keeps pulling me back in and I honestly can’t pinpoint what it is that he’s managed to pull off that has me so entranced.

While not the same stripped down, lo-fi sound as The Finding Time this is still an acoustic album. While I really enjoyed Shane’s first solo album, the production quality and addition of some backing instrumentation really take the musical side of the record to the next level. The sparse sound plays very well with the themes of the songs and I have to say that even as EP it is one of the most acoustically complete records I’ve heard in a long time.

There’s a sort of acceptance going on here, not an acceptance based on resignation but rather an acceptance of self. I think the depth of Shane’s self-awareness is what is fueling the writing here and that awareness allows a stand to be made. It’s most apparent in “95 Theses” and laid out bare in the lyrics to “Complex Ecosystems”:

We’re all looking for the truth
and the world does have a use
and we’re all broken and abused
but we have nothing to prove
unless it’s to ourselves

Those words seem to be the point on which everything else hangs. This idea is something that we should all strive for, at least in my opinion. What point is there in trying to make everyone else happy if we lose ourselves in doing so?

Shane and I have had some amazing conversations over the years; he has a way of making you feel like the only person in the room where you’re talking and somehow that reflects in art. There are points on every album where it feels like he’s singing directly to you. At Holiday Hangout last year Shane told me “We’re all in this together” and I knew that he meant it. Our political differences don’t really matter, the difference in our belief systems doesn’t really matter, and so little else does because we’re all trying to just get through whatever this is. That idea makes an appearance here as well:

Nobody asked to be born
to wander the dark wondering what you’re here for
Nobody asked to be born
Nobody asked to be born

Shane has said so much in these five songs that I feel ill-equipped to even write about them. That I can call him “friend” is a humbling thing but even if I had never met him his art would still challenge me and I hope it does you as well.

I feel like both Shane’s and Micah’s EPs this year are, at the same time, a continuation of the ideas formulated on Death of the Self Preservation Society and a prelude to the next set of ideas. I haven’t sat and talked with them about this but there really seems to be something more here than just releasing great records. I sincerely hope that I’m right, that I’m not reading too much in to things, and this common thread does exist. Of course I could be batshit crazy and what I’m seeing is all just an illusion. Regardless of whether I’m right about this common thread or not this is an EP that you damn well should own. Meanwhile I’m going to leave this on repeat on the headphones, at least once more, today. I shouldn’t have to say this but just in case you couldn’t figure it out, this is Essential Listening.

You can grab it digitally on Shane’s Bandcamp, order a CD from Last Chance Records and if you don’t already stalk Shane on FB then you should start now.

95 Theses
Nobody Asked To Be Born

TWO COW GARAGE ANNOUNCES FUTURE PLANS

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Ninebullets’ own rock darlings, Two Cow Garage, have let folks in on their path forward:

“Today we release the first in a series of singles that will, ultimately, lead to our next record. The plan is to release two (or so) singles, then an EP, rinse, repeat, until we release a collective record (also with new material).”

First of these singles was “Let The Boys Be Girls”, available over on their bandcamp for the very reasonable fee of a single dollar bill.

The emerging social media culture makes it difficult for bands to continue to embrace the traditional record release structure, and Two Cow are trying something different to keep their audience engaged and themselves on the road: a worthy endeavor if there ever was one. This tour they’re also bringing along Todd Farrell (of Todd Farrell Jr. & The Dirty Birds) on guitar, and I can’t wait to hear where the band is musically by the time they get around to my neck of the woods.

There’s a lot to say about this song that I’m going to save for another post, but I’m unbelievably happy that it was written; especially that it was written by one of my favorite bands. At this year’s Holiday Hangout, the entire crowd was singing along a month and a half before the track was released. That’s power.

So, buy the single, check the band out on Facebook and Twitter, and then go ahead and let the boys be girls because who the fuck do you think you are anyways.

Podcast – Ajax Diner Book Club 9/29/14 – Podcast Only

This week on the radio show I participated in KRFC’s pledge drive. It was way too much of me asking for money and trying to create witty banter with someone else. I prefer to do my radio alone. So instead of subjecting you to that I put together a totally different patch of songs with less talking. I was in my living room with a beer, a dog and a shitty microphone. But the songs are good.

John R. Miller – Parking Lots, Service Engine
Slobberbone – Some New Town, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today
The White Buffalo – When I’m Gone, Shadows, Greys & Evil Ways
Steve Earle – City of Immigrants, Washington Street Serenade
Drive-By Truckers – Goddamn Lonely Love, The Dirty South
The Old 97’s – Most Messed Up, Most Messed Up
Levon Helm – Poor Old Dirt Farmer, Dirt Farmer
Drag The River – Mr. Crews, It’s Crazy
Arlis Nancy – Nothing To Show, Wild American Runners
Shane Sweeney – When I Am Empty, The Finding Time
American Aquarium – Abe Lincoln, Burn.Flicker.Die.
Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound – I Don’t Need To Know, Self Titled

[Playlist] Ajax Diner Book Club – 9/8/14 – KRFC Ft. Collins CO

R.L. Burnside “Going Down South” from A Ass Pocket of Whiskey

Black Keys “Brooklyn Bound” from The Big Come Up

Frank Black and the Catholics “Nadine” from Nadine

Shane Sweeney “Legion” from The Finding Time

Jenny Owen Youngs “Last Person” from An Unwavering Band of Light

Billy Joe Shaver “The Git Go” from Long In the Tooth

Lucero “The Last Song” from Live From Atlanta

Devil Makes Three “Old Number Seven” from Devil Makes Three

Kierston White “Happy Noon Beers” from Don’t Write Love Songs

John Moreland “Nobody Gives A Damn About Songs Anymore” from In The Throes

Deer Tick “Unwed Fathers” from Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows