Reviews

Apr 182014
 

waterliars

I immediately like Water Liars because their band name reminds me of thunderous titles of indie rock past–Pavement’s Watery, Domestic EP and Built to Spill’s Water Sleepers 7-inch. This Mississippi duo can certainly fuzzrock-out like those bands (often landing close to Pavement’s best Watery track, “Frontwards”), but they’re never as loose, so it’s more likely we’ll recognize in Water Liars the subdued yet sweaty stuff we like in The White Buffalo or Adam Faucett. In reality, their name comes from a Barry Hannah story.

I imagine this would be a great middle of the night on the highway album, but, I got to listen to Water Liars on an airplane flying over the Atlantic ocean in broad daylight–and it holds up to that real well. In their tonal shifts, Water Liars reflect the water below and the water above. The electric and the acoustic on this album, oscillating you between planes, leading you through cirrus and nimbus.

It would be great if bands had the time and resources to test drive their albums on different magnitudes of transportation–instead of just How does it sound in a car stereo?, How does it sound from laptop speakers?, Headphones in general?, they could experience how it sounds flying over the ocean or from a rear-facing seat on a cross-country Amtrak.

Water Liars would ace most traveling soundtracking tests because they shift tones seamlessly but with hard impact. Their acoustic songs balance between bedroom and front porch, but when they dawn the electric gear it’s like they’re armoring up for bar-band battle–which makes sense of a song titles like “War Paint” and “I Want Blood.” A lonesome and roamsome album; highly recommended.

It would be great if bands had the time and resources to test drive their albums on different magnitudes of transportation–instead of just How does it sound in a car stereo?, How does it sound from laptop speakers?, Headphones in general?, they could experience how it sounds flying over the ocean or from a rear-facing seat on a cross-country Amtrak.

Water Liars would ace most traveling soundtracking tests because they shift tones seamlessly but with hard impact. Their acoustic songs balance between bedroom and front porch, but when they dawn the electric gear it’s like they’re armoring up for bar-band battle–which makes sense of a song titles like “War Paint” and “I Want

War Paint
I Want Blood
Swannanoa

Find Water Liars on CD, vinyl, and digital at Fat Possum Records.

Apr 172014
 

RobertEllis-TheLightsFromTheChemicalPlant-CoverADA

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 142014
 

rachelries

Chicago artist Rachel Ries first reached a wider audience on a collaborative 2008 EP with Anais Mitchell called Country EP. However, her solo work doesn’t ring with as much twang as that title would suggest. Over the course of her career she’s shed more and more standard country forms, stretched out her storytelling into impressionist verse, gained confidence as a piano composer, but she’s smartly kept the focus on her spectacular voice. Her newest full-length, Ghost of a Gardner, supports that voice with a range of impressive instrumentation–from lush chamber arrangements to sparse guitar-percussion to this album’s version of a rocker, “Mercy.” A voice like Ries’ could send most pop songs back down their singer’s throat with shame, but though the voice is the center of this album, the arrangements are allowed to be weird and assertive, and you can feel a lot of smart voices at work. Several of the songs here appeared in sparer forms on her 2012 EP Laurel Lake, and to me the expansion wins in all cases. But if this album is a little busy for you, I would still highly recommend her (freely available) earlier albums. Ries’ kind of pop music looks to the likes Regina Spektor, Patty Griffin, Patsy Cline, Dennis Wilson, Harry Nilsson and does great by them. A theatrical album that satisfies as deeply and reliably as a folk one.

Time

Mercy

Willow

Find all of Ries’ music at her bandcamp. Track her touring at her website and her Facebook.

Apr 102014
 

cover

I loved Blood Or Whiskey’s self titled first release in ’96. It was a good punk record that happened to use some traditional Irish instruments. It was more of a punk sound than the Pogues and it was fun to put on. While Cashed Out On Culture is generally thought to be their most punk album and while that may be true musically, I still prefer that first album. I can take or leave No Time To Explain, it just seems kind of generic. So I didn’t really know what to expect from them after all these years. Of course I was excited about a new album but at the same time a little worried it wouldn’t be as good as I hoped it would. And then on March 14th they dropped Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil and all expectations were exceeded.

To me this album is sort of a return to the feel of their first two albums with a little ska sound added to the mix. Mind you they didn’t all of a sudden become a ska band, far from it, but you can hear the influence through the album and it’s a nice subtle change. I like bands that can grow and still keep their own sound and this most assuredly a Blood Or Whiskey album. The topics run the gamut from war to bad health and other struggles and yet it still feels energetic and is a fun listen. As an aside I think that’s why I like this genre so much. The whole genre is rife with songs about struggle, death, rebellion, and so on but somehow manages to feel upbeat, for the most part, and make one’s feet wont to tap along.

If you’re a fan of the genre then this is Essential Listening but if you’re not already a Celt-punk fan then it’s probably not going to find a place in your collection. The Celt side of the equation is stronger in the lyrics than in a lot of the genre and that’s alright with me. These guys were one of the first bands that I heard that could be called Celt-punk and I still enjoy the genre to this day. Let’s face it, the Americana we review here has deep roots in traditional Irish music as well as in punk rock so one of us liking Celt-punk was inevitable.

Emigrant
Montpelier Hill
Seanie O’keeffe

Stalk Blood Or Whiskey on Facebook, drop by their official site, buy Tell The Truth And Shame The Devil

Apr 082014
 

Peter-Buck

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