Category Archives: CD

STRAY OWLS – A Series of Circles

Album: A Series of Circles

Artist: Stray Owls

Label: Potluck Foundation

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://www.potluckfoundation.com/

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The Upshot: Dandy duo from North Carolina conjures sonic imagery both past and present via an eclectic, melodic, adventurous collection of memorable tunes.

BY FRED MILLS

Though still relatively young as a band, with two EPs released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, Mebane, NC (near Chapel Hill), duo Stray Owls seem old at heart, with an expansive, inclusive sound that dips back years, if not entire eras. That the Chapel Hill/Durham PotLuck Foundation label they are releasing their debut longplayer on bill itself as a label for “music nerds” doesn’t seem entirely coincidental. The fact that A Series of Circles was produced by veteran Tarheel studio maven Jerry Kee (Superchunk, Polvo) doesn’t seem to be random, either.

As the album unfolds, sonic ghosts of everyone from Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, and Elliott Smith seem to hover benevolently in the ether, as layered acoustic guitars and close-mic’d vocals conjure a profound intimacy, one which is also tinged with sufficient amounts of sonic looniness to prevent the listener being lulled into complacency. For example, the sing-songy folk that is “Franklin Borough” bears the tap-tap of a typewriter at one point; “Ok, Ok” incorporates some creamy mellotron lines and a momentary xylophone melody; and “Cut & Paste Time Machine” lives up to its title via a succession of tempo and tonal shifts that include, variously, fuzzed-out guitars, trilling, Andean-style flutes, choirlike harmony vocals, and a synth-strafed sonic collage.

One also imagines that contemporary avatars such as the Flaming Lips and the sheer bloody-mindedness that informs Neil Young have also informed the Stray Owls’ aesthetic. The brilliant, nearly six minutes-long “Ruin is Formal” seems to be a culmination of sorts, at once wispily anthemic yet strummily unhurried, with producer Kee’s drumming providing a jumping off point from which Scott Griffiths and Matt French can aim for the kosmiche horizon. It’s psychedelic as hell, but richly folkish, at once expansive yet ruminative, and followed as it is by the stomping, distorted, whacked-out closing track “Red Flags” (also close to six minutes), you ultimately are not just observers of the pair’s journey, but part of it.

Add to that “old at heart” notation listed above—wise beyond the years. If these owls are strays, you’ll no doubt be eager to take them in and offer shelter and sustenance.

DOWNLOAD: “Ruin Is Formal,” Ok, Ok,” “Red Flags”

STRAND OF OAKS – Hard Love

Album: Hard Love

Artist: Strand of Oaks

Label: Dead Oceans

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://deadoceans.com

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The Upshot: Probing songs that, while noisy and raucous, don’t sacrifice intimacy and tunefulness.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Sensitive folkie by day, wild-eyed rock & roller at night, Tim Showalter has led a double life in his guise as Strand of Oaks. The Philadelphia act’s records tended to lean harder on melodic introspection, while the tour for 2014’s acclaimed Heal reveled in ear-punishing volume and the joy of rock abandon. Hard Love, the Oaks’ fifth album, unabashedly fuel-injects the latter aspect of Showalter’s personality into his probing songs without sacrificing their intimacy and tunefulness.

In “Salt Brothers,” Showalter takes what could have been a simple folk rocker and slathers it in ribcage-rattling grunge and decaying feedback. “On the Hill” and “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” add burly muscle to dreamy melodies, the overloaded acid rock apt for tales of psychedelic awakening. “Radio Kids” throws the lighters in the air and the power chords into the sky for an irresistible tribute to that one song that gets your blood singing, no matter what else happens. “At least I had that song on the radio,” Showalter sings with desperate passion, blissfully free of self-consciousness. “Rest of It” simply bashes out a basic rock & roll melody like the bar band of your dreams. Only “Cry” refrains from sonic overload, its plaintive arrangement in line with its introspective melancholy.

All this noise stays in service of the songs, which remain as self-reflective and personal as ever. Showalter isn’t using the volume to hide the emotions spilling out of “Everything” or the title track, but rather to amplify them. That he does so without entering into U2-esque excess is a tribute to both his conviction and his taste. “Make it good/make it real/make it true,” Showalter implores in “Salt Brothers,” and he spends Hard Love proving true to that promise.

DOWNLOAD: “Radio Kids,” “Salt Brothers,” “On the Hill”

 

WAITING FOR HENRY – Town Called Patience

Album: Town Called Patience

Artist: Waiting For Henry

Label: Mighty Hudson Music

Release Date: August 26, 2016

www.waitingforhenry.com

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The Upshot: Jersey band produced by Mitch Easter, offering independent rock with purpose, stressing intelligent songwriting and solid musicianship, and raising goose bumps in just the right measure. The band’s second release, this guitar and voice-focused home-run incorporates all that makes independent music gloriously free of tags and categorization – because it’s only goal is to take you prisoner. Nothing matters more.

BY ERIC THOM

For those who prefer real meat on the bones of their power pop, look no further than this second release by under-the-radar, Jersey-based band, Waiting For Henry. Real meat, cured, seasoned and prepared with love by no less than Mitch Easter, fans of whom know exactly how much he can lend to anything he touches.

Yet, as even Mitch would say, any producer can only polish talent that already exists and Waiting for Henry has it in spades. Spades. Each of the 12 tracks on Town Called Patience stirs the listener in record time with serious hooks, harmonies and enough tough and/or melodic guitar sounds to stir your inner rock star. Influences abound. Early Matthew Sweet, R.E.M. and Replacements come to mind – yet these solid-rocking mini masterpieces have little else to do with anything beyond the musical vision shared by lead vocalists/guitarists Dave Slomin and David Ashdown, bassist Mike Chun and drummer Rob Draghi (give or take Easter’s touches). Rich vocals distinguish each track and the band offers somewhat of a dual personality through its two main singers. Slomin and Ashdown champion their own compositions from two slightly different perspectives, lending the band a wider personality.

Compare Slomin’s tough, yet melodic paean to witnessing a Steve Wynn/Gutterball show in Copenhagen. Fast and furious guitar work, replete with rich harmonies, the song is further charged by Slomin’s smooth, comparably commercial-friendly voice that fits the track perfectly. Contrast this with Ashdown’s “Hangnail” – a raspy-sounding recollection of a spent relationship, the singer sounding somewhat hung-over, softened and sweetened by the song’s waltz-like pace and full-on Eagles-esque harmonies, painted against a grey backdrop of pain-gone-by. These are not competing influences to the band’s sound. Indeed, the two mesh perfectly across each carefully-crafted original making it a challenge to identify who’s doing what – the ultimate in band statements. Slomin’s delicious “Matter Of Time” might be the disc’s high point based on its unerring ability to burrow into your brain and play back for weeks to come. Or Ashdown’s rough ’n’ ready “Palms”, its battered, Westerberg-edged acoustic intro giving way to a chorus that turns a negative thought into a celebratory anthem,­ complete with vibes. The vibrant “Parsippany” gallops forward with a pop-like sense of urgency that transforms the name of a forgettable New Jersey town into an epic recollection of something more special, buttressed against a ringing, stinging wall of aggressive guitars and bank of harmonies. Likewise, “Could It Be” sits Ashdown’s raggedy vocal atop smooth guitars, Chun’s plucky bass and those hard-selling backup vocals. Like “Flipcock” before it, the title track’s upbeat attack recalls both Tommy Keene, if not the Bodeans, for each song’s ability to generate a more reflective, less aggressive perspective as vocals become lead instruments. Ashdown’s “Angel On The Run” is pure rock, an impassioned tribute to a fallen friend that brings out the animal in the band. “Wrong” is simply a hard-working rock track built around distant B3 and still-fiery, glistening guitars, Slomin’s addictive voice and a cascading chorus making the most of the band’s stand-out harmonic powers. Closing with the gentler, kinder approach of “In The End”, there’s little left to say and do – except marvel at Waiting For Henry’s ability to mine all the tenets of a category of music that, quite simply, remains timeless in its appeal.

Funny how Waiting for Henry has been categorized as alt-country, Americana roots-rock – even twangy country-rock. I simply don’t hear it. These are 12 spirited, power-pop masterstrokes conjuring a dark edge, yet tempered by a world-weary maturity to keep things hopeful and upbeat. Propelled by the raw energy of chiming and/or crunching guitars, a taut rhythm section, near-perfect vocals and sky-high harmonies, Waiting For Henry seems more than capable at holding forth the age-old promise and potential of Saturday nights, broken hearts and – in this case – making the most of life.

DOWNLOAD: “Musconetong,” “Matter of Time”

 

 

THE STANDELLS – Dirty Water + Why Pick on Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White + Try It

Album: Dirty Water + Why Pick on Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White + Try It

Artist: Standells

Label: Sundazed

Release Date: February 17, 2017

www.sundazed.com

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BY BILL KOPP

From one point of view, The Standells were opportunists. As that story goes, they got their start as a smiling, suited pop group, only changing their sound and collective demeanor once they took a new reading as to which way the pop culture winds were blowing. Moreover, that argument goes, they weren’t even from Boston, so how possibly could the city of “Dirty Water” be their home?

But all that misses the point. Listening to their debut 1964 LP, In Person at P.J.’s (revised and reissued two years later as Live and Out of Sight), it’s clear that from the group’s start, they were a garage-rocking combo, albeit one with better than average vocal and instrumental proficiency. Sure, they were a cover band in those days, but so was pretty much everyone. That only began to change after February 1964 when the Beatles wiped the slate clean.

Still, it’s true that when The Standells made their celebrated television appearance on The Munsters, they came off closer to Marilyn than Eddie. But they soon simultaneously sharpened and roughed-up their image, and in the two dozen months between the start of 1966 and the end of ’67, made three very good albums.

I know what the three or four Standells scholars reading this are thinking: “Aha! But they made four albums in that period!” You’re correct. I said they made three very good ones. The outlier is The Hot Ones!, a collection of covers that – while arguably of a piece with In Person at P.J.’s – isn’t especially durable or relevant. It’s interesting for completists, but the rest of us – a group that should include the most ardent garage-rock fetishists – can and should be satisfied with the other three.

Those three records – Dirty Water from ’66, Why Pick On Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (also ’66) and 1967’s Try It – have all worn quite well in the half century since their original release. Now (and thanks to Sundazed) on CD with bonus tracks and in glorious back-to-monaural sound, they’re well worth re-investigating.

The distorted, feedback-laden minor guitar chord that opens “Medication” lays out a vaguely dangerous, slightly sinister vibe for Dirty Water. Heck, they’re clearly singing about drugs, kids! All the sonic elements that made The Standells special are right there in the record’s first two minutes: study, propulsive bass lines, sneering vocals and close backing harmonies, vaguely proto-psychedelic fuzztone lead guitar, insistent drumming, and keening combo organ.

Sure, the bass line that serves as the foundation of “Little Sally Tease” is a nick from The Strangeloves’ “Night Time,” but who cares? The rest of the tune stands on its own. Fun fact: the tune is a remake of Don & the Goodtimes’ original, penned by Jim Valley, a fine guitarist who was for a time known as “Harpo,” Drake Levin’s replacement in Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The covers are well chosen, the group originals are strong, and there really isn’t a weak track on Dirty Water. A slightly pilled-up (well, at least sped-up) take on the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” doesn’t add much to the original, but it’s fun and well done. (Presumably it wasn’t in the band’s live set on the tour in support of the album, seeing as they were opening most nights for the Stones.) The CD’s bonus cuts are of varying quality. The Batman theme is fun in a cheesy go-go kind of way.

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On the heels of the success of the “Dirty Water” single, another album was put together, and that clumsily-titled album was built around a song that had already appeared on Dirty Water. “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” is perhaps the Standells’ most perfectly realized track; it has the feel of an anthem, and it rocks. A subtle dig at drug culture is woven into the song’s lyric. Elsewhere listeners will find suitably inventive covers of the Stones (“Paint It Black”) and Love (“My Little Red Book”). Overall the audio quality is an improvement over Dirty Water, and the organ flourishes on the otherwise punky “Why Pick On Me” are positively exotic. A group original, “The Girl and the Moon” straddles garage rock and Phil Spector arrangement aesthetic. The gritty “Mr. Nobody” is the best deep album cut.

The group would capitalize on the banning of the admitted sexual come-on of “Try It.” A Texas radio programmer found it suitably naughty to drop it from playlists. Overall, the Try It album boasts yet another improvement in sound quality, and the performances warrant the extra care. Everything about “Can’t Help But Love You” suggests a leap forward in professionalism.

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Even a cover of the well-worn “Ninety-nine and a Half” shines here, as does a much older tune, “St. James Infirmary.” The garage aesthetic is dialed back in favor of something a bit more upscale, and horn charts are sprinkled atop several of the tunes. Piano and strings on “Trip to Paradise” take things even farther afield. All those studio decorations did, however, have the effect of blunting The Standells’ garage-rock cred.

Happily, the second side of Try It focuses on the group’s grittier side. The faux-eastern vibe of “Did You Ever Have that Feeling” lifts it above its derivative chord progression. “All Fall Down” is as close as The Standells came to psychedelia. Not very close at all, but fascinating nonetheless. And the classic film theme “Riot on Sunset Strip” makes purchase of the album mandatory.

By 1968, The Standells were all but over. Though of course various lineups would re-form in later years, these three albums would form the core of the band’s essential output. Also of interest is Live on Tour 1966!, an archival Standells release reviewed in these pages in 2015 (along with Shadows of Knight; included are some audio and video tracks) as part of BLURT’s “Garage Chronicles” series.

THEO BLECKMANN – Elegy

Album: Elegy

Artist: Theo Bleckmann

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://ecmrecords.com

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The Upshot: Jazz vocalist takes the concept of the human voice as instrument to new and shimmering places. 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Theo Bleckmann has garnered a solid reputation for his distinctive interpretation of jazz singing. He’s not a belter or crooner, but a sort of ambient dreamweaver. So it’s no surprise to find that Elegy, his latest solo album and first for natural home ECM, is definitely not a set of genuine and faux standards. Working with equally forward-thinking guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Shai Maestro and a rhythm section, the German native and NYC resident mostly uses his voice as an instrument, avoiding actual words in favor of syllables. Sung in the same timbre as the bowing of a violin, Bleckmann bobs, weaves and soars over the backgrounds Monder et al provide him, imbuing songs like “The Mission,” “Wither” and “Cortegé” with an almost spiritual urgency –  without saying a word. Monder often matches him with impressionistic waves of ringing single lines or feedback-ridden swells – the title track finds the pair of artistic soulmates in ecstatic harmony.

Bleckmann does do some songs with words, of course. “To Be Shown To Monks in a Certain Temple,” with lyrics taken from The Poetry of Zen, becomes a tone poem in this company’s atmospheric hands, while “Take My Life” slyly leavens its pop tones with rambunctious rhythms and a burning Monder solo. “Fields” hews closer to traditional jazz singing, but in an elongated form that allows Bleckmann to alter his phrasing as he sees fit. The most recognizable song here is undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” from the musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, but even it gets filtered through Bleckmann’s unique sensibility, given a new vocal melody and slowed waaaaay down, yet with a lightness that keeps it from being a dirge. Though fettered by libretto, Bleckmann shows as much imagination with these songs as he does with the others.

A lot of jazz records with wordless vocals can be too sweet for their own good – cf. the Pat Metheny Group’s late 80s work. Though he avoids dissonance for its own sake, Bleckmann amazingly never descends into treacle, nor does he indulge in the usual nonsense syllables of typical scat singing. Instead he forges his own distinctive path on Elegy, taking the concept of the human voice as instrument to new and shimmering places.

DOWNLOAD: “Elegy,” “The Mission,” “Comedy Tonight”

 

ERIC AMBEL – Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1)

Album: Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1)

Artist: Eric Ambel

Label: Lakeside Lounge

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.ericambel.com

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The Upshot: Rousing, rowdy, rockin’ concert disc from last summer that finds the guitarist showcasing his Lakeside album, plus surprises.

BY FRED MILLS

Let’s state this up front: Any artist who opts for a Swamp Dogg cover as a set-closer has a seriously big set of huevos, and better be prepared to deliver the musical goods.

I have it on good authority that erstwhile Del-Lords/Steve Earle & the Dukes guitarist Eric Ambel has long been in possession of the aforementioned danglers—this is based on interviews I’ve conducted with his peers, reviews I’ve read that my own peers have authored, and a few random one-on-one encounters I’ve had with the dude. As to the latter, well… the guitarist, songwriter, producer, and cyclist known to most of us as just Roscoe wraps up his August 27, 2016, set at Livestock with nothing less than a positively torching version of tha Dogg’s already-incendiary “Total Destruction to Your Mind”—as in, he’s gonna apply his sonic-psychic wrecking ball—and between him, fellow axeman Mo Goldner, bassist Keith Christopher, and drummer Phil Cimino, there’s not a riff left unriffed, a beat left unthumped, a vocal note of exuberance left, um, unexuberated.

This is rock ‘n’ roll unbridled, folks. Small wonder that Ambel’s “Roscoe” logo that people may be familiar with from his website or production work is a silhouette of a Stetson-waving cowboy astride a bucking bronc.

Ambel, then, here ushers in what promises to be an ongoing series of live releases, with this 2016 performance spotlighting material from his most excellent album from spring of that same year, Lakeside (reviewed HERE, incidentally), which was produced by his friend Jimbo Mathus. Among the standouts: twangy, swingin’ honky-tonker “Here Come My Love,” penned by another Ambel pal, Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner; the brooding, psychedelic “Don’t Make Me Break You Down,” which features some ungodly, nasty, lead fretwork that would earn a salute from Neil Young; and beautiful choogler “Have Mercy,” intro’d by Ambel as his “disco song,” but to these ears is midtempo power-pop-meets-John-Fogerty.

And let us not overlook Ambel’s adroitness at plucking choice covers from the musical astral plane. Here, the brilliant Gillian Welch/David Rawlings-penned “Look At Miss Ohio,” a standout on Lakeside, gains gravitas in its transition from studio to stage (wait’ll you hear the guitar duel); and of course there’s that Swamp Dogg number lurking in the wings to wrap things up.

As the “Vol. 1” designation simply affords we fans a comfortable “to be continued…” alert, I’ll leave my commentary until the next installment. After all, this Roscoe dude, he ain’t selling out—he’s buying in!

DOWNLOAD: “”Have Mercy,” “Look at Miss Ohio,” “Total Destruction to Your Mind”

 

PERFECT ENGLISH WEATHER – Isobar Blues

Album: Isobar Blues

Artist: Perfect English Weather

Label: Matinee

Release Date: November 25, 2016

www.matineerecordings.com

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The Upshot: Popguns members serve up an electric pop album that’s very cool.

BY TIM HINELY

It had been a while since there were any Matinee releases, and I was getting worried. This indie pop label, based out of Santa Barbara for the past decade or so, had offered up some of the best jangle pop releases of any label anywhere. This band is the duo of Simon and Wendy Pickles, both of the band The Popguns and hailing from Brighton (if Pickles is their real last name, well, I’m jealous). Apparently they were just planning on having these songs be much more minimal and striped down affair, maybe just acoustic guitars, but one thing led to another and you’ve got an electric pop album—still lots of acoustic guitars, though.

The opening cut “The Sweetest Feeling” was just okay; a bit Motown-ish, and I love Motown but didn’t love this cut. But track number two, “Hit Town A.T.H.E.N.S.”, is much more upbeat—it has Wendy singing the line “Tell me when you get kicked in the balls”)—and then “Try a Little Harder” is a real low-key, pop groove that’s real easy to swallow. Later on down the line the band offers up the gorgeous acoustic tune “English Weather’ (love Wendy’s vocals on this one), while “Spirited Away” kicks the tempo up a notch and has some cool organ.

Not sure what The Popguns are doing these days but hey, we get a bonus here as side projects can be a really good thing. It is this time.

DOWNLOAD:  “Hit Town A.T.H.E.N.S,”  “Try a Little Harder,” “English Weather”

MARK EITZEL – Hey Mr Ferryman

Album: Hey Mr [sic] Ferryman

Artist: Mark Eitzel

Label: Merge Records

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://mergerecords.com

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The Upshot: Not to be confused with ‘80s Chris de Burgh’s ‘80s hit “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” it’s a remarkable sonic collaboration, with erstwhile Suede guitarist Bernard Butler helping craft some of the erstwhile American Music Club frontman’s best music in ages. Released via the equally remarkable Tarheel—support the home team, everyone—label, Merge.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Back in the mid-‘90s, erstwhile American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel made an album in collaboration with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, who co-wrote all the tunes and provided instrumentation. Now, a couple of decades later, Eitzel re-enters collaborative mode, this time with producer and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler as his co-pilot.

Eitzel’s work has often veered from experimentally atmospheric to pop accessible, often within the same album, but with Butler in tow, he leans forcefully to the latter. Together, the pair ranges from vibrant rock (“The Last Ten Years,” “Let Me Go”), psychedelic pop (“La Llorna”) and even bossa nova (“Just Because,” “An Angel’s Wing Brushed the Penny Slots”). Of course, the heart of any Eitzel record is the ballads, and he’s in rare form here – “The Road,” “Mr. Humphries” and the alternately sardonic and poignant (Eitzel’s sweet spot) “In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham” may be some of his best work in his long, fruitful career. Butler gives him lush backdrops that perfectly complement his ruminations on love, death, self-worth and gay icons, and Eitzel responds to the arrangements with singing that’s a model of controlled emotion.

Eitzel and Butler work so well together one hopes that this collaboration doesn’t end with the remarkable Hey Mr [sic] Ferryman.

DOWNLOAD: “The Road,” “The Last Ten Years,” “In My Role as Professional Singer and Ham”

 

OCCURRENCE – The Past Will Last Forever

Album: The Past Will Last Forever

Artist: Occurrence

Label: self-released

Release Date: October 07, 2016

www.occurrencemusic.com

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The Upshot: Back to the electro-Eighties!

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It seems those years of listening to Depeche Mode and New Order records have left an impression on Ken Urban and Cat Hollyer. On their latest LP, The Past Will Live Forever, the duo Occurrence pay homage to some of the best electronic music from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The record, their seventh in just as many years if you’re counting EPs, is crammed with sometimes sterile, but nonetheless solidly creative synth and beat-heavy tracks. Evoking an eerie, cold vibe, it’s hard at times to make out everything they’re saying, but the music is still hypnotically addictive. The band drones on a bit on tracks like “A Bruised Ivy Grad,” especially when they rely too much on layered effects and don’t allow for Hollyer or Urban’s natural vocals to be heard, but they manage to make up for it on a song like “Ghost Free Home” or “Skin For the Win,” (ironically, Hollyer sounds less manipulated on a track that opens with her speak/singing the line “Though I’m robot through and through…”)

Put on all black, slather on some thick eyeliner and I dare you not to dance to this one.

DOWNLOAD: “The Things I’ve Always Like I Know Hate,” “Pablo the Stalker”

 

THE GODFATHERS – A Big Bad Beautiful Noise

Album: A Big Bad Beautiful Noise

Artist: Godfathers

Label: Metropolis

Release Date: February 10, 2017

http://metropolis-records.com

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The Upshot: The album rocks hard, lives smart and re-establishes the Godfathers as a vital force in rock & roll.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

The Godfathers have kept uncharacteristically quiet since their 2008 reformation, undergoing lineup changes that have left singer Peter Coyne as the only original member. As its title might indicate, A Big Bad Beautiful Noise loudly announces the relaunch. It’s also a reiteration of the band’s primary purpose – this isn’t a group that’s “matured” into playing middle-of-the-road adult pop music. Though its sociopolitical anger has cooled somewhat, the quintet is still full of spit and vinegar- “You Don’t Love Me” may address matters of the heart, but does so with the seething fury of the Godfathers’ best work. Coyne still has more than love on his mind, though. The bitterly folk rocking “Miss America” puts a pointed question to the land of the free – “Where do you go from here?” – while “Let’s Get Higher” sneers at junkies and “Poor Boy’s Son” looks at hard times and the ability to rise above them. “Feedbacking” and “Defibrillator” go more generalist in their anger, all dirty guitars and venomous vocal delivery. The title track simply announces the Godfathers’ intentions as loudly as possible – as clear a statement of purpose as any in rock. “You and Me Against the World” ends the record with a mixture of defiance and tenderness, a power ballad whose sentiment feels earned instead of entitled. Coyne sounds weathered, even weary, at times, but it’s not a detriment – this is a veteran who’s seen it all and still stands tall. A Big Bad Beautiful Noise rocks hard, lives smart and re-establishes the Godfathers as a vital force in rock & roll.

DOWNLOAD: “A Big Bad Beautiful Noise,” “Miss America,” “You Don’t Love Me”