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.

Mar 252014
 

TCR_-_cover

Once upon a time, I coined the term “Heavy Metal Americana” and a little known band out of Kentucky adopted the term and put it on a tshirt. That band, was Those Crosstown Rivals. A band that, at the time, had not gotten too much run here on ninebullets or the the radio show.

Those Crosstown Rivals first landed on my radar after the release of their debut album, Kentucky Gentlemen. An album that, to be honest, I was not too keen on. Now, many months (year?) later I went back to it to see if I was just being overly judgmental the initial times I checked out the album I’ve decided that No….I was not. In the time between Kentucky Gentlemen and Hell and Back the bands sound has matured and grown a lot more polished. In hindsight, we should have seen this coming with the song “Kentucky Woman” they had on the split 7” with Arliss Nancy. A track, mind you, that I damned near wore out on Ninebullets Radio.

If the band can prove to be consistent from album to album Hell And Back is Those Crosstown Rivals announcement that they belong to be mentioned in the same breath as Arliss Nancy and other bands of that ilk.

Hell And Back is exactly what I want from a modern southern rock record; guitars, power, cuss words, dead people and drunken nights. Not only is it Essential Listening in my opinion, it’s top 10 of the year material.

Those Crosstown Rivals – Blood, Sweat and Tears
Those Crosstown Rivals – Six Strings
Those Crosstown Rivals – Hell and Back

Those Crosstown Rivals’ Official Website, Those Crosstown Rivals on Facebook, Those Crosstown Rivals on Bandcamp, Buy Hell and Back

Mar 242014
 

 2blind

If I compared the music on Adam Faucett’s new record, Blind Water Finds Blind Water, to the novels of Daniel Woodrell would anyone understand what I meant? Would anyone agree or care?

 Woodrell lives and writes about the Missouri Ozark mountains, a town called West Plains, Faucett spent his childhood about 200 miles south in Arkansas. Not exactly neighbors but in the same neighborhood. But that is merely a surface level similarity. Both men produce art that is spooky, haunted and seductive. Throughout Blind Water.. you feel as if you are succumbing to an enormous hole but the ride down is so smooth and beautiful you don’t realize that the razor’s edge is slicing you as you go.

 Faucett’s voice is as compelling and gothic as they come. If he’s using vocal effects they’re at a minimum and it seems as if somewhere deep inside he possesses a natural reverb pedal that’s heartbreaking and terrifying. Listen to “Sparkman” and hear the control he has with his voice. He shifts delivery styles at a moment’s notice and if I hadn’t seen him do it in a youtube video I would think he couldn’t pull it off live.

 In an interview I heard Faucett describe his music as genre-less, slow, beautiful music and that rings true. Like the music of Will Johnson but cutting deeper and rubbing more dirt in the wound.

 This review has been terribly difficult to write. Blind Water Finds Blind Water shifts effortlessly from a few rockers to elegant and unique folkish songs. It is without a doubt Essential Listening but I still feel like I have not done it justice. I mentioned my trouble writing the review on facebook along with this sentence, “Adam Faucett’s new record comes out next week and I can’t wait for y’all to hear it. It scares the shit out of my and makes me question my existence and it comes close to making me cry. Also, I’m trying to figure out how to write a review of it. It’s a hard one.” To which a friend of mine replied, “I think you just did.” So I’ll leave it at that.



Official Site, On Facebook, Buy Blind Water Finds Blind Water

Mar 182014
 

DBTEnglishOceans

“That [southern, middle-class, black] voter, in my judgment, will be more likely to vote his economic interests than he will anything else. And that is the voter that I think through a fairly slow but very steady process, will go Republican.” ~ Lee Atwater, Republican Party strategist, 1981

I would not call myself, especially in the company of Ninebullets writers, a DBT expert or superfan. I resisted them for a while because the way a lot of people talked about them, I figured they would sound cliche. By the time I finally started listening to the songs instead of the people, a lot of those folks had already been turned off by new vocalists or more straightforward rock songs. It felt like I got to enjoy their back catalogue all to myself. I thought it was all impressive, but I was still partial to scattered songs more than any of their albums in full. This will probably change, because in the close listening I tried to do for this review, I’ve been so astonished by the details of this album that I need to go back and listen to everything again.

I hope I won’t sound like reviewers who’ve made a cliche of the southern rock band or the southern man. I hope I can emphasize how rare it is to have a sort-of major band that is always on the side of the working class. Who has that?  We’re lucky to have a small handful of those at any given time. Bands so lyrically, musically, and ethically awesome that they can help balance the backwards narratives strategically fed to us. Russia has that and it’s Pussy Riot and they get sentenced for it and they’re in a situation where their music isn’t even the main point of their actions. I hope all the other bands in America that strive for that kind of awesomeness can get a degree of the exposure that DBT gets in the mainstream media. And we complain that they had a fucking female voice in their band for a few records? Fuck that!

So here we have their long-awaited stripped down record. Their return to the core of Hood and Cooley. It’s Essential Listening not because it finally gets back to two dudes, not merely because it’s a DBT album, but because these two dudes in particular have such a heft of integrity and respect for their listeners that they’ll keep helping us untangle The Swindle whether or not the media says they “plateaued” in 2006. There’s no plateau in the storytelling DBT is getting at–it’s all uphill, it can all be taken away by “fairly slow but very steady processes.” Hail DBT and the tethers they guard that keep the real tied to the abstract.

The lyrics to Mike Cooley’s “Made-Up English Oceans” sprint out of his mouth so fast it’s hard to catch them. That might be the idea, though, because it’s written from the point-of-view of Lee Atwater, long-drawling and vote-scheming advisor to Reagan and Bush I. Though Atwater spoke slowly, he deftly attempted to steer the Southern political conversation away from race and toward class. Race had become too concrete an issue, so Atwater led his party to the calmer and more abstract shores of economic interests. Of course that’s an impossible transition. Race and class are intertwined and at once very real and ridiculously abstract–but one is sure good at obscuring the other. It’s that failed transition, that fumbled conversation, that underlies the south that bore the Drive-By Truckers–a couple writers who deal with this shit through rock and roll. A lot of people don’t have rock and roll to help them answer questions like, How are you going to tell your neighbor you’re not racist while your truck boasts a “Nobama” bumper sticker? How are you going to explain your hard time getting work without thinking about all this new ethnically complex competition in the hiring pool? A lot of people are told that they can have the Bible, politicians, or Clearwater country music to answer those questions. But we all have more options. Give us a verse of Mike Cooley’s, describing Atwater’s southern strategy, to nail some real imagery to abstract manipulations:

once you grab them by their pride, their hearts are bound to follow / their natural fear of anything less manly or less natural / like gunless sheriffs caught on lonesome roads and live to tell it / how hard it is for meaner men without the lead to sell it

“Made-Up English Oceans” dovetails perfectly with Patterson Hood’s “The Part of Him,” which deals with integrity and relatability in elections:

his positions were preordained / to help conceal his vast distain / for anything lessened his appeal

But DBT’s never been a band to succumb to much cynicism, even while they’re singing about the most cynical bastards on the planet. This is a gorgeous album. On the first half of the album, their guitars are as sharp as The Stones on Sticky Fingers. On the back half, they’re as wistfully toned as if they were backing Neko Case. Their stories as character-driven and sensory as they’ve always been. This is a goddamned family band, after all. Their best songs flesh out those fluxing images of working class families and what they find themselves able and unable to do economically, romantically, parentally, mortally.

Made Up English Oceans

The Part of Him

First Air of Autumn

Get English Oceans on CD and LP from the DBT store. Find it digitally on iTunes and Amazon.

Mar 142014
 

SmallTownHeroesSleeveThere’s a casual effortlessness to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s new record Small Town Heroes. Throughout these twelve songs it genuinely feels like the band is sitting on your back porch with you and running through standards that you’ve heard a hundred times and they’ve played a hundred times. Everything from instrumentation to vocals to lyrics are understated and seductive.

Hurray… incorporates fiddle, banjo, piano, guitar and gentle, but well-placed drums and percussion. They are a folk band completely aware and engulfed in the tradition. Yet, they make no effort to convince the listener that they are the genuine article, either in image or in music. They just are.

Unfortunately, the strength of Small Town Heroes is also its weakness. The combination of understated and seductive instrumentation and vocal delivery lulls me away from the messages within several of the finest songs here. “The Body Electric” deals with the acceptance of domestic violence through the lens of the popularity of murder ballads. “Delia’s Gone,” made famous by Johnny Cash, is name-checked but because the story is told so subtly and the tone is so similar to “Blue Ridge Mountain” (a good song but not one dealing with such a serious issue) it really requires a careful listen to catch the message in the song.

I don’t want you to think I don’t love this record, I do. It’s Essential Listening, but I feel that the punches could be a little harder and the moods more exaggerated. I feel the same way about Gillian Welch records and I also think the stories that introduce some of these songs in a live setting would be more interesting and insightful than the songs themselves. (Think Todd Snider and “18 Wheels of Love”) But despite my criticisms, Small Town Heroes is an amazing record by a band that is in control of their art.



Official Site, On Facebook, Buy Small Town Heroes

Mar 132014
 

cover

The celt-punk scene is one I dabble in more than the rest of the crew here. I’ve often thought I should write more about the music and started to with The Tosspints late last year. You’ve probably read my mini-rants on hating the idea of genres but let’s face it, human beings like to categorize things. So while celt-punk might not fit in to the pigeonhole that I imagine 9B fits in for most you out there, the fact is I like the celt-punk genre and so I’m going to write about it more (which doesn’t mean anyone else on staff will). I mean what’s not to like about music about drinking, fighting, and rebelling? Hell they even have fiddles and banjos. Now with that rant out of the way I’d like to introduce you to The Ramshackle Army…

Celt-punk, in my less than humble opinion, should accomplish three things: first and foremost it ought to inspire one to sing along and secondly it should actually have a punk feel to it, and lastly it ought to make me want to leave work and head down to the pub for drink before noon. Letters From The Road Less Traveled fulfills all of these these conditions quite nicely. As I sit here, typing this instead of working, with these kids blasting in my headphones, I really wish I had a nice Irish whiskey to throw back. While the genre is pretty crowded at the moment, RSA quickly rises to the top when you start comparing what’s out there right now, due to a combination of great song writing (the ability to make people want to sing along) and a strong approach to keeping the Irish inspiration and layering the punk very nicely on top.

Another thing that sets RSA apart is that, for the most part, they aren’t singing Irish rebel songs. While the music is celt-punk the themes in the songs are from a distinctly Aussie view. To me this makes them even more interesting. Any band can invoke images of Athenry or Oulart Hill and try to bring a tear to the eye but it takes something extra to play the music and put your own experiences in to the lyrics. So while Letters From A Road Less Traveled is decidedly celt-punk it’s also something more. Of course there’s also the songs about drinking which we all know I love so it’s got that going for it. At the risk of upsetting the 9B purists out there (yes they exist) I declare this Essential Listening. Now while you listen to the tracks below I’m going to try and figure out the quickest way to get a drink in me today, sláinte!

I might be a fool
But at least I’m self aware
I might be a tool
But at least I’m useful

Anchors Aweigh
Drink it Dry
Signs of Rain

No go follow these kids on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram then buy their record on iTunes