Essential Listening

This page keeps a list of the cream of the crop of music we have heard in 2011. It is not exclusive to albums released in 2011, it is for music that we heard for the first time in 2011. Also, it is not in any order of preference. As albums are added to the list they will be added to the bottom and will link back to the article on ninebullets which will feature links to the band’s web sites and cd buy links. I hope y’all find some stuff on here that appeals to you as much as it has to me.

Apr 172014


I’m a sucker for ’70′s soft rock. In my vehicle, I’m as likely to have Sirius satellite radio tuned to “The Bridge” as any other station. Elton John? Carole King? Steely Dan? Yes, please. Maybe that is why I’m so captivated by “The Lights from the Chemical Plant” by Houston’s own Robert Ellis. Stunningly original and hard to categorize, Robert Ellis is a boot wearing, Texan troubadour raised on Paul Simon and James Taylor along with Hank, Waylon, and Cash.

“Chemical Plant” kicks off with “TV Show”, a deceptively joyous song about losing yourself in you favorite TV shows while ignoring your wife sitting next to you on the couch and wishing she wasn’t quite so much like Betty Draper. Next is the title track and one of my favorites on the album. “The Lights from the Chemical Plant” laments the impermanence of permanence; the chemical plant is the stoic backdrop in the lives of two lovers. As one of the lovers dies, the lights from the chemical plant that had always shone bright, go dark. This album isn’t exactly a heartwarming Disney movie.

“Bottle of Wine” is a powerful, beautiful, breakup ballad. Accompanied by only a piano and soulful saxophone solo, Ellis’s voice hits all of the right notes on a song that you don’t want to tackle next time you are at the Karaoke bar. It’s a tremendously strong song that sounds like a lost Dan Folgelberg track from 1977. “Bottle of Wine” is, perhaps, my favorite track on the record.

Two of the songs, “Pride” and “Houston” bust into unexpected free jazz jams in the middle of the songs because, well, why the hell not? I know, it sounds like it shouldn’t work but it does. The changes in direction and tempo do nothing to detract from the tunes, it only enhances the songs. “Houston” is Ellis’s love letter/break up song to his hometown. So long Houston, hello Nashville. Anyone that has had to escape their hometown because of the ghosts on every corner can relate.

The album closer, “Tour Song” is honest songwriting at its finest. I’ve never been a touring, semi-known singer of songs but I can’t imagine the life could be better documented than in “Tour Song”. “It’s the choice I made, it’s the price I’ll pay, just to hang out in some shitty bar, then spend ten hours in a car”, sings Ellis. And later in the song, “I know that she loves me and I know her love is true, but when she needs some company what else is she gonna do? She’ll have some tough decisions that may try her achin’ heart, but everything feels different from a million miles apart”.

We all love music. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be reading this. But, occasionally, once in a great while, a record will come out that you want to share with everyone you know. You want to shout about it from a street corner. You want to share it with the world. John Moreland’s “Into the Throes” was that way. I feel the same about “The Lights from the Chemical Plant”. The musicianship and songwriting are superb. Ellis paints from a different musical palette than most of his peers. Seamlessly blending country, folk, jazz, and rock, the result is simply brilliant and sublime. “The Lights from the Chemical Plant” is a treasure and is, most definitely, Essential Listening.

Apr 082014


In early 1980 Peter Buck was working at Wuxtry Records when he met Michael Stipe. Chances are good that you know the rest of that story. But this record review is about a different story, the story of Peter Buck’s second solo record, I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again, a grandiose title for a humble record. If you haven’t heard Buck’s first solo record from a couple years back then you are no doubt curious about what a Peter Buck solo record sounds like.

For starters, Buck sings. His voice is gruffy, confident and filled with snarls. But what does the music sound like? To me the record sounds like the music Buck would have made in 1980 if Stipe hadn’t started coming into the record store all the time. I Am Back… is filled with crunchy guitar driven garage rock with the kind of hooks that would make Joey Ramone proud.

I don’t exactly know why I say this, but it’s hard to believe that a guy that’s sold millions of records could make an album like this. There are no hints of pretense or success. However, there is urgency and debauchery mixed with an understanding of how to play loose and fast while crafting excellent garage rock songs.

Joining Peter Buck is longtime collaborator Scott McCaughey as well as Kurt Bloch and Bill Rieflin. Corin Tucker from Sleater Kinney sings lead on one song and Patterson Hood does one of his spoken word things about the fall of the south on a song. But throughout the record what is most prevalent is the bizarre and oddball joy that exude the grooves and must have been present in the recording sessions.

Normally this is where I would stick in a couple of songs for you to check out but since Peter Buck decided to only release I Am Back... on vinyl I can’t do that. But this website has some minute long samples you can check out.

Not only is I Am Back To Blow Your Mind Once Again Essential Listening, it is one of my favorite records of 2014 so far.

Buy I Am Back… Official word from Peter about the record

Mar 312014

When I sat down to write this review I wasn’t aware that Kevin Seconds’ had released a ton of solo albums. That goes to show how much I don’t keep up with punk frontmen and their solo releases. I find these things are hit and miss with a decent amount of miss going on but then there are guys like Tim Barry and Chuck Ragan totally killing it so you really never know what you’re going to get. Off Stockton is in the vein we’ve come to expect from this subset of singer/songwriters in that it’s acoustic, stripped down, and almost twangy. However it doesn’t sound like Kevin took punk songs and tried to make acoustic numbers out of them. While that’s cool sometimes it gets old pretty quick. You can tell that these songs were written to be played like he’s playing them on this album and that’s what makes it as good as it is.

The tracks average just over two minutes in length with only two songs breaking the three minute mark but that doesn’t take anything away from their intensity, in fact, that’s part of its charm. While I said it doesn’t sound like an acoustic punk album that mentality is very visible in the writing and song length. It’s also a very personal album in that he’s telling us his story with his wife, Allyson Seconds, providing back up vocals and harmony. Shake all this together with the studio fuck-ups Kevin leaves on his work and you have an album that’s actually pretty touching in some places. While the struggles are there this isn’t a downer of an album at all. This is an album full of short and intense slices of life from Kevin’s perspective and overall he’s a pretty optimistic guy and occasionally that’s just what you need from your music.

I’ve spent a bit of time today listening to his other releases for some perspective and they are darker and moodier than Off Stockton. I am not sure what happened in between releases but it seems like this was written from a better personal place than the others. For me to consider an album without a single song about drinking Essential Listening feels a little strange but this really is just that. It’s not an alone-in-the-dark-drinking-bad-whiskey album but rather a sitting-on-the-porch-in-the-rain-with-your-best-girl album. It’s not one that’ll get you laid because it’s so sexy but it’d sure make good background music for a porch swing in the fall as the weather is getting a little chilly.

Love Or Hate
If I’m Honest
The Broken & The Bent

You can visit Kevin’s official web site, stalk him on Facebook, buy Off Stockton on Amazon

Mar 282014


Light In The Attic Records recently rereleased Bobby Charles’ self titled record originally released in January of 1972. Bobby Charles may not be a household name but some of the players on this record probably all. Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Dr. John all make appearances but the strength of the album is Charles’s voice and songs. This is without a doubt, Essential Listening.

If you listen to my radio show at all you are most likely aware that I listen to as much old music as new music, moving in both directions constantly. One of the strongest differences I notice in records from different eras is the venue the songs and recordings were crafted for. This record is designed to be listened to at home. The songs are living room songs, songs with spaces in them, grooves that move subtly instead of in your face. Check out the bass work in the side A closer “All The Money” and the space between the notes in “I Must Be In A Good Place Now.”

So much of the music made today and written about here is created to be played live in a crowded bar. There is an onslaught and an immediacy to it, which I like as much as the next guy. But there is also the time for listening music and the self titled album from Bobby Charles has all the elements of an exceptional listening record. It’s low-down and grimy but with a tenderness that parallels your favorite sweet drunk. Now, all artists make their living from working the road and it’s natural that the art they create reflects that environment but it’s also nice to step away from that and listen to a record who’s songs shuffle along and into each other without the pretense of easy excitement.

Gabe (who I refuse to refer to as Wolf) once called me “the old guy at the back of all the good shows” and this review and album are clearly in that tradition. If your listening habits seem to be stuck in a bit of a rut look for something old instead of something new.

There are ten songs on this album and all ten are winners.

Buy This Record

Mar 272014


Not entirely how this album ended up on my hard drive but I am sure glad it did. Psalmships is Joshua Britton out of Pennsylvania and he is writing a brand of music he self-describes as “ghost folk.” It’s a fair assessment I’d say since Songs For A Red Bird seemed to materialize out of no where in my life and became a near obsession after listening to it once.

You miss Jason Molina?
You love the Sad Bastards Song Club music?
You a fan of Doc Feldman and the LD50?

Meet Psalmships:

Red Bird
Buffalo Jane

Psalmships’ Official Site, Psalmships on Facebook, Psalmships on Bacncamp/Buy Songs For A Red Bird