Category Archives: CD

MARK LANEGAN & DUKE GARWOOD—With Animals

Album: With Animals

Artist: Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood

Label: Heavenly

Release Date: August 24, 2018

http://heavenlyrecordings.com

The Upshot: It’s hard to tell where Lanegan leaves off and Garwood steps in, but that’s because the gravelly-voiced singers are so well matched and equally focused on a singular, spooky vibe.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood make a lot of sense together. They’re both gravelly-voiced singers with a ruminative air, both adept at the hallucinatory bends and slides and repetitions of blues guitar, both willing to look into the abyss, and, indeed, hardly able to tear themselves away from it. Both work, at least part of the time, in a smouldering, spectral mode, volume pitched at a murmur, but intensity nevertheless rather high. They have a history together, too. This is their second album as a duo, following 2013’s Black Pudding, and Garwood has played supporting roles on Lanegan’s Blues Funeral as well as last year’s Gargoyle.

With Animals, then, is a bare-bones incantation, recorded both together and separately with a minimal palette of voice (entirely Lanegan’s as far as I can tell), guitar, a few keyboards and programmed drums. The title refers to the fact that Lanegan keeps five pets at home where he recorded, and sharper ears than mine can, reportedly, pick up the occasional bark or meow. The album has a muted, tamped down air, at least compared to the last couple of Lanegan records. Songs run slow and hollowed out and mournfully contemplative; there are no extended instrumental solos, no rock excess, but rather a haunted, phosphorescent atmosphere, where melodies float among rings of smoke and fog. “C’mon now midnight children, sing a dark harmony,” Lanegan urges in the single, “Save Me,” which is as good a summation of With Animals’ nocturnal energies as any.

None of these tracks are overstuffed, but a few have been pared to eerie essence. The sparest, most ghostly cut, “Lonesome Infidel” does away with guitars altogether, running only an oscillating line of keyboard tone under it, notes that blink on and off like landing lights to bring its elliptical verses home. Finally even the words fade away into the murk and a whistler carries the melody, a small point of light moving through the darkest sort of cavern. “Scarlett,” with its thudding kick drum, its wavering tones of slide guitar, is similarly skeletal but lovely, its vocals distilled to basics: longing, sex and memory. Other cuts let the light in, just a little. “Upon Doing Something Wrong” proves again that something interesting happens when Lanegan’s ravaged voice is added to pristine, sun-dappled folk picking, while “Spaceman” moves further into twilight on shuffling, shaken percussion and slanting, note-shifting guitar.

With Animals reminds me of Lanegan’s work with Isobel Campbell, more acoustic, less bombastic, less ready to take you by the throat than his solo albums, but nonetheless quietly revelatory. It’s hard to tell, really, where he leaves off and Garwood steps in, but that’s because they’re so well matched and equally focused on a singular, spooky vibe.

DOWNLOAD: “Save Me” “Scarlett” “Upon Doing Something Wrong”

 

 

WALTER SALAS-HUMARA – Walterio

Album: Walterio

Artist: Walter Salas-Humara

Label: Rhyme and Reason Records

Release Date: August 10, 2018

www.Rhyme-Reason.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Walter Salas-Humara has never been one to dismiss his past, especially as it applies to his Hispanic heritage. The erstwhile leader of the seminal Americana outfit The Silos even opted to name his new album after the nickname given him by his family, and then went several steps further by singing two of its songs in Spanish — the rousing opening track “El Camino De Oro” and the perky yet persistent “Hecho En Galicia.” Granted, that’s not as bold a move as it might once have been in a more Anglo-fied era, but even in today’s multicultural environment, it still shows a certain propensity for expanding his embrace.

After The Silos went on hiatus 20 or so years ago (the band’s history is complicated, to say the least; in 2011 a revamped lineup headed up by Salas-Humara released an album, also touring behind it, and occasional rumblings continue to be heard about the group), Salas-Humara undertook a solo sojourn that has gained him international recognition all on his own. Indeed, his knack for plying rock steady rhythms with a decidedly personal perspective has helped him carve a niche in today’s roots rock firmament. In that regard, Walterio is one of his most personable and pointedly engaging efforts yet, whether it’s the vulnerable plea of “Should I Wait for Tomorrow” to the rockier resolve of “Out of the Band,” a humorous diatribe about the conflict that often erupts out of the usual group dynamic.

With Silos drummer Konrad Meissner in tow, Salas-Humara frequently summons an unabashed rock ‘n’ roll revelry, and the brash swagger powering songs such as “Here We Go” and the steady, seductive “She’s a Caveman” attest to his ability to follow the form. Consider him a populist rocker of sorts, a musician whose live performances frequently find him freely mingling with his audiences while serving up his songs. “I want to be with you,” he declares, in the ebullient song of the same name, and while it may be a romantic entreaty in theory, it also attests to his populist precepts. Even a cursory listen ensures the feeling will remain mutual.

DOWNLOAD: “Should I Wait for Tomorrow,” “Out of the Band,” “Here We Go”

TIM RUTILI & CRAIG ROSS – 10 Seconds to Collapse

Album: 10 Seconds to Collapse

Artist: Tim Rutili & Craig Ross

Label: Jealous Butcher

Release Date: June 22, 2018

https://www.jealousbutcher.com/

The Upshot: There be beautiful monsters here, and the Rutili-Ross team serve up new and unfamiliar sonic mutations to charm and awe us. Watch video, below, and also check the links for additional videos.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Like the pop art cover collage by artist Shane Swank, the songs on 10 Seconds to Collapse portray all manner of beautiful monsters. For creators Tim Rutili (Califone, Red Red Meat) and Craig Ross (Shearwater, Spoon, Robert Plant), these surreal folk, desert-baked blues and deconstructed pop hybrids bloom brightest where the digital — feedback, tape loops, etc. — and analog worlds collide, and where new and unfamiliar sonic mutations emerge to charm and awe us.

On 2016’s Guitars Tuned to Air Conditioners, the pair vamped off the electricity of the universe in two 16-minute-plus sides of modulated drone airbrushed with guitar parts. On 10 Seconds, that adventurism anchors what are more traditional song structures in the same reference frame; the vocals are really the only hint at authorship. Rutili sings five of the seven tracks, and what emerges here is pretty characteristic of the Califone catalog: streaks of angular feedback, cottony whorls of synths, looped noise and chopped-up percussion melting into — and emerging from — transcendent melodies and harmonies. (Fellow traveler Brian Deck had additional recording/mixing duties.)

The phrase “Ten seconds to collapse” is the warning heard just after an underground nuclear detonation, and here it’s delivered in chilling, military official-monotone to kick things off with a suitably apocalyptic portend to open Ross’ “Like a Rifle.” An explosion of chopped-and-screwed guitars and beats follows, before serrated guitar lines burst through a fuzzy haze of effects and into a loping tempo that’s fitting for a song that passes — lyrically, anyway — through Tucumcari.

The current political nightmare may color song interpretations — particularly given the duo’s penchant for elliptical lyrics — but the atom-splitting here also occurs face-to-face in addition to musically. On the elegiac “The Day Before the Peaches Rot,” Rutili builds around his familiar languid acoustic slide, keyboard drifts and EBow scrawls. The song’s “Sunday table drunks, bellowing too late, too late in the game,” may be bitching about politics or mistakes made or their former glory days (or all three), but “The terror in your smile/in every wedding picture” image that follows suggests dark clouds and future fear as well.

On “Back to the Plow,” Ross’ lyrics work equally well as Luddite warning or future prophecy, as the song alternates between sections of brutal guitar riffs and clouds of Lennon-like mellotron.

It’s not all gloomy cataclysm, though. “Choke” — probably Rutili’s most pop-friendly take since Quicksand/Cradlesnakes’ “Vampiring Again” — is a wizened love song that choogles along behind prominent bass-fuzz while the duo subverts the AM Gold-friendly format, using EBow and feedback to blow up the chorus and elliptical imagery to create a more Burroughsian narrative. Another radio-friendly cut, the Stones-y ballad “Coma Tapes,” has a heart-beat tempo and blissful harmonies from indie film actress Angela Bettis, who whispers in our ears to remind us that “there’s starlight that made you.”

The LP closes with “Little Carnivores,” which laments our habit of self-sabotage and species murder by asking, “Shall we kill something beautiful tonight?” in the slinky choruses. The song is cousin to “Tayzee Nub” from 2000’s Roomsound, including Califone co-founder Ben Massarella’s distinctive percussion touches. The last half of the nine-minute track features a looped piano chord overlaid with synth and guitar squiggles that drift in and out of the frame like microscopic organisms on a slide. “Birds are crashing into picture windows/God’s a hundred-dollar head rush coming down,” Rutili wearily intones as our place in the natural order, well, collapses it.

These days, it’s easy to conflate apocalyptic fare with its most obvious source — the racist trashcan fire atop our political system. But aiming all our disappointment there cheapens us and absolves us of the roles we play in our own personal Armageddons. These sonic explorations of Rutili and Ross may just be a pleasant way to bide time until the inevitable collapse, but you won’t find many lovelier monsters to play the string out with.

DOWNLOAD:Greasing Up the Third Eye,” “Choke,” “Like a Rifle,” “Coma Tapes.”

DRIFT MOUTH – Little Patch of Sky

Album: Little Patch of Sky

Artist: Drift Mouth

Label: Wild Frontier Recording Company

Release Date: August 03, 2018

https://www.facebook.com/wildfrontiermusic/

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The son of a third generation West Virginia coal miner, Lou Poster’s latest group, Drift Mouth, comes about their Americana sound naturally. After years of playing in the punk country outfit, Grafton, Poster has jettisoned off the punk influences for Drift Mouth and relies solely on classic country and Americana influences for Little Patch of Sky.

The result is a pretty satisfying collection of often melancholy character sketches. Poster’s deep vocals are foreboding, so when it’s just him and an acoustic guitar, the songs tend to blend into each other, the one exception being the powerful, closing track, “This Part of Town,” a deep nod to Springsteen. Elsewhere the band is at its finest when it mixes in more electric and slide guitar (especially on songs like “West Virginia Hitchhiker” and “Franklin County Nights”).

The genesis of Drift Mouth dates back more than a decade ago when Posner brought in drummer Brad Swiniarski to help him record a song for his father, who was retiring from his job at the coal mine. Over the years, he’s added in players – Drift Mouth now a six-piece – and refined their sound, but the band has managed to keep their authenticity intact.

DOWNLOAD: “Angelene,” “Franklin County Nights” and “West Virginia Hitchhiker”

 

PRIMO!—Amici

Album: Amici

Artist: Primo!

Label: Upset the Rhythm

Release Date: July 20, 2018

http://www.upsettherhythm.co.uk/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Primo!, out of Melbourne, makes a jittery sweet jangle of post-punk aligned with early 1980s touchstones like Kleenex/Liliput and the Au Pairs though with slightly softer edges. The three women in the band—guitarists Xanthe Waite and Violetta DelConte Race and drummer Suzanne Walker — play at cross-angles, lobbing rubbery stabs of rhythmic anarchy at one another and answering in kind. Yet they also join in unity, mostly in the singing, putting the sweet buzz of harmonized thirds into tossed off lyrics about the modern rush and hassle.

“You’ve Got a Million” tangles silly string spurts of off-kilter guitar around scrambling drum rattles, pushing the pace because that’s how life runs these days. “You’ve got a million things to do, racing all over the town, flights of stairs can’t slow you down, you might as well be flying round,” they sing, and indeed, the song itself palpitates with adrenaline. “Mirage,” the single,  flirts with trance and drone and might sound a little like Wooden Shjips if it were paced at a trudge, rather than an antic trot. There’s a boinging, zinging, rebounding guitar lick that zips through the circular riff, as if just to wake it up periodically. “Closed,” regarding the heartbreak of frustrated consumerism, tends lighter, sweeter, nearly girl group-ish, with glints of shiny keyboard gleaming from its fractious guitar mesh.

Perhaps because there’s no bass (Primo! has added Amy Hill on bass since Amici), Primo!’s sound lacks a certain grind and tumult – it’s more Grass Widow than Good Throb — but it’s sharp and fresh and a lot of fun. Primo! hammers, yammers and judders with post-punk agitation but isn’t afraid of an ingratiating tune.

DOWNLOAD: “Mirage” “You’ve Got a Million”

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AMANDA SHIRES – To The Sunset

Album: To The Sunset

Artist: Amanda Shires

Label: Silver Knife Records

Release Date: August 03, 2018

www.amandashiresmusic.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

You have to give Amanda Shires credit. Raising a child, playing with husband Jason Isbell’s band The 400 Unit, and still maintaining a solo career is no easy task. Simply keeping the family bond when both partners are forced to go their separate ways on their respective solo tours is hard enough, but for Shires, who has successfully pried herself out from under the shadow of her famous husband, it was likely even harder still.

Nevertheless, Shires has reaped her rewards on her own terms. Accorded kudos as Emerging Artist of the Year at last year’s Americana Awards, she’s clearly come into her own. An early succession of solo outings proved that she’s more than capable of seizing the spotlight, and so it ought to come as little surprise that To The Sunset fully confirms her prolific prowess. An album that finds her revelling in a series of tangled emotions, it demonstrates not only her versatility, but also a confidence and creativity that takes her to new heights. Its eerie opening track, “Parking Lot Pirouette” sets the scene, but it’s the kinetic “Leave It Alone,” the rowdy pair “Eve’s Daughter” and “Take on the Dark,” and the rousing revelry that enlivens “Break out the Champagne” that offer exacting evidence on Shires’ tone and temperament. She’s clearly unafraid to let her passion show, and indeed, if there’s any lingering doubt about that notion, the determined drive of “White Feather” ought to dispel it entirely.

Ultimately, To The Sunset becomes a new plateau in a career that’s grown steadily and assuredly since the start. Indeed, its importance ought to grow over time given its unabashed enthusiasm and its unabashedly seductive set-up. Her (undoubtedly proud) hubby had better heed this warning; His freewheeling fiddle player may not remain available as a touring bandmember for very long.

DOWNLOAD: “Leave It Alone,” “Eve’s Daughter,” “Take on the Dark”

 

DAN MELCHIOR—The Folksinger

Album: The Folksinger

Artist: Dan Melchior

Label: Swashbuckling Hobos

Release Date: April 27, 2018

http://www.swashbucklinghoborecords.bandcamp.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Dan Melchior has certainly played the blues before, both straight and refracted through his own peculiar aesthetic, but he’s rarely attacked them in so direct and sustained a matter as on #The Folksinger#. Over 11 tracks, Melchior plays a stripped-down electric blues wrapped in deathly echo. There are no frills, no instruments beyond guitar and voice and absolutely no irony.

There is, in fact, not much of Melchior, either. He plays these very traditional songs just about exactly the way that Howlin’ Wolf or Son House might approach them, though of course, he is not Howlin’ Wolf or Son House (it is a little disconcerting to hear him, a white British guy, wail, “Wa-aa-aal, I wish to the lord…” in the opening track). Yet the fact remains that Melchior is good at playing this sort of music. His guitar howls and drones and rattles like a locomotive. His hollowed-out voice navigates the spooky, overtone-haunted crevices of the music and tugs the ghosts out from “The Cuckoo” and, especially, late album highlight “Pretty Polly.”

Yet this feels like an album that takes no risks and makes no changes. It goes on, song to song, without much variation, until it ends. There’s none of the restless intelligence, the impatience with easy answers, the experimentation with tone and song structure and sound that distinguish Melchior’s most idiosyncratic and compelling work. If you like electric blues, here it is unadulterated, but that’s all.

DOWNLOAD: “The Cuckoo,” “Pretty Polly”

THE MAGIC NUMBERS – Outsiders

Album: Outsiders

Artist: Magic Numbers

Label: Park the Van

Release Date: May 11, 2018

http://www.parkthevan.com/

The Upshot: While there are some great intimate moments, the lack of a more consistent balance between upbeat and slow tempo drags the album down a bit.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

English foursome The Magic Numbers play a decidedly classic rock/pop brand of music that boasts a variety of influences from Thin Lizzy and The Kinks to Nick Drake and Neil Young and remarkably few traces that their listening habits stretch past the late 1970s. And that’s both impressive and refreshing when it seems most bands coming out of the 2000’s appears to listen to little of anything further back than Blink 182 or Radiohead.

The band comprisea two brother/sister combos, have managed to forge their own musical path, ignoring musical trends over the past decade. Impressively, they were shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize shortly after their 2005 debut.

The Magic Numbers continue their nostalgia streak on The Outsiders, their fifth LP and mellowest one to date. That’s not to say, the band doesn’t have its glam-inspired boogies spread throughout the record, like the opener “Shotgun Wedding” or the Sweet-worthy track, “The Keeper,” but the bulk of the songs here lean more toward slow burners. And while there are some great intimate moments (especially the beautiful “Wayward”), ultimately that lack of a more consistent balance between upbeat and slow tempo drags the album down a bit.

DOWNLOAD: “Wayward,” “The Keeper” and “Shotgun Wedding”

 

THE BLACK WATCH – Witches!

Album: Witches!

Artist: The Black Watch

Label: ATOM

Release Date: July 27, 2018

http://www.atomrecords.com

The Upshot: There’s a folkier air to this record than in the past, which might appeal to Americana fans, and if you like catchy tunes, smart lyrics and commitment to vision, all in a shamelessly (but not obsequiously) Anglophilic style, you cannot go wrong.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

OK, folks, here’s the damn deal. For years many of us have been talking about L.A.’s guitar pop janglers The Black Watch, and you’re still not paying enough attention. No matter that John Andrew Frederick writes songs the way you wish every college professor wrote ‘em: with careful attention to language but little patience for strained metaphors and thirty-dollar words, wrapped up in timeless guitar-based melodies. Never mind that the various versions of the band always treat Fredericks’ tunes with just the right amount of respect, keeping those hooks at the forefront while not being afraid to rough things up once in a while. Forget that there are few musical artists at any level who are as consistent as this one – over the course of three decades and fifteen albums, plus a bunch of EPs and a couple of compilations, there are, maybe, two mediocrities, and that has more to do with comparison to the rest of the catalog than it does the lack of quality on the releases themselves. Y’all really should wake up.

But fear not: you have another chance. TBW has just released Witches!, its sixteenth LP, on the thirtieth anniversary of its first full-length album St. Valentine. And unsurprisingly, it’s a doozy. There’s a folkier air to this record, which might appeal to you Americana types – more acoustic guitars, more of a rustic feel. Though Americana as a concept ain’t in the cards – there are more references to British locations, art and literature here than maybe any other record in Anglophile Frederick’s repertoire. “The Weird Sisters,” “From Hampstead Heath” and “Graymalkin Comes” directly invoke various U.K. icons; “Dances For Sad Footsteps Slow” doesn’t, but it adds a British prog feel to the band’s usual jangle pop and the title sounds like Romantic poetry. In other words, there’s nothing here that sounds like the Lumineers or whatever pop band parades across the charts in Americana drag these days. Plus there’s still plenty of electric guitar and fuzzy psych pop – “When We First Met” and the banging “Georgette, Georgette” have you covered if you want to play air guitar while you sing along.

Really, if you like catchy tunes, smart lyrics and commitment to vision, all in a shamelessly (but not obsequiously) Anglophilic style, you cannot go wrong with Witches! You just can’t. If you’re a browser of Trouser Press Record Guides, peruser of 120 Minutes, old school fan of Rodney on the ROQ or just someone who wonders if anyone’s continued the legacy set by the Beatles, the Kinks and the Move, The Black Watch is your meat. There’s no goddamn reason in the world you’re not chewing. So get to it, folks. No excuses.

DOWNLOAD: “Graymalkin Comes,” “Georgette, Georgette,” “Dances For Sad Footsteps Slow”

 

MATT DORRIEN – The Key of Grey

Album: The Key of Grey

Artist: Matt Dorrien

Label: Mama Bird Recording Co.

Release Date: April 27, 2018

http://www.mamabirdrecordingco.com/

The Upshot: A remarkable, enjoyable album from start to finish by a very Nilssonesque singer songwriter.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The comparisons between Portland-based musician Matt Dorrien and Harry Nilsson are nearly impossible to avoid, but that’s certainly not a negative thing. From the opening piano chords of his debut, In the Key of Grey, you can’t help but think of Nilsson at his peak, heartbreakingly maudlin at times. And elsewhere, like on the song “Pretty Little Thing” you hear snatches of Randy Newman at his most sardonic.

The album is a pretty big departure from his previous work in the folk-focused, guitar band Snowblind Traveler. Along with the Nilsson and Newman influences, Dorrien also tosses in some Tin Pan Alley touches, including a little clarinet and saxophone mixed throughout the 10 songs here, adding to a feeling of timelessness.

Maybe the fact that it’s just so rare in 2018 to hear a piano-led album that those influences instantly come to mind, but it’s just as likely that Dorrien’s knack for story-telling and lyrical deftness is what’s leading to the comparisons. Regardless, The Key of Grey is a remarkable, enjoyable album from start to finish.

DOWNLOAD: “Baby I’m Lost,” “I Can’t Remember” and “Maybe This Time”