Just a few tracks into The Black Lillies latest, Stranger to Me, you’d swear this was a 1980s-something release, sandwiched somewhere on the charts between Eddie Rabbit, Alabama and 38 Special. The blend of country with Southern rock is remarkably strong and distinctly charming. At a time when every other band out there not adding in synths and samples, is looking to include a banjo or mandolin player to adapt to the Americana sound, Knoxville-based The Black Lillies bring an authenticity to their music that can’t be faked.
Stranger to Me, their fifth release, continues down the same path they set off on with their 2009 debut and have followed with ever since. There is the risk here of sounding a little too familiar – some of the songs manage to almost bleed into one another– but elsewhere on the record, when they do step out of their comfort zone, they hint at moments of greatness. “No Other Way,” for example, with big rock guitars or the much quieter “Earthquake,” with its sublime harmonies, are some of the best songs the band has written to date.
Despite some ebbs and flows, overall Stranger to Me is more of what The Black Lillies are great at, flawlessly mixing country and rock, without sacrificing the appeal of either.
The Upshot: Indie outfit gets a chance to revisit its alt-rock heyday and update it for the modern era—but without sacrificing the freshness and energy that must have originally marked them.
BY FRED MILLS
Everybody loves a beat-the-odds, coulda-been-a-contender comeback story, and this one’s as sweet as they come. Hailing from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s NYC alt-rock scene, the Hasbros were briefly positioned for greatness, notching a few high-profile compilation appearances and attracting both label interest and college radio airplay, but, as cofounder Bob Hanophy drily notes in his liners to this much-belated LP, “it just wasn’t meant to be,” and the band split before releasing a full-length. Old story, right?
The members went on to various endeavors—the collective C.V. includes outfits like King Missile, Red Hare, Retisonic, and Garden Variety, as well as numerous solo recordings—and then, in a combined fit of restlessness and celebrating a birthday, Hanophy put out the call for a one-off reunion gig. “Everyone agreed to play and we had a blast,” he writes. “Amazingly, it sounded better than ever before and we decided to finally record the LP that we had always wanted to.”
Ergo, Cart Before the Horse, subtitled “the difficult first record” and issued by the band’s tellingly-named label Hasbin (get it?) Music. Hanophy (guitar/vocals), along with Ken O’Connor (guitar/bass), and Joe Gorelick (drums/vocals) have clearly recaptured their sound, and I say that without even knowing what their “sound” was. One detects vestigial traces of classic ‘80s janglepop in midtempo rocker “Later On” and the somewhat R.E.M.ish opening track “For the Best,” which has a careening, soaring quality that would’ve undoubtedly made the band a college radio darling. Husker Du was also an obvious influence upon the musicians, what with the blazing, yet richly melodic “Kenny” and the equally powerhouse punk anthemism of “Nothing At All” (which is also reprised among the bonus tracks as a low-fi-but-equally-blazing live cut from 1988). It would be easy to play spot-the-influence on numerous tracks here, but the larger point is that these guys internalized the lessons of their era and had the songwriting talent to craft material that, while reverential at times, was still wonderfully unique and deeply emotional. Listening to Cart… is like rediscovering a favorite album from back in the day and realizing that you’d also stashed a tape of unreleased material from the same sessions, tunes that are every bit as strong as the ones you remembered and cherished.
The vinyl LP is lovingly assembled with a full-color insert crammed with vintage photos, including a rather affecting pair of b&w shots that show the three musicians as they were in 1989 (see image at left), and then again in the current era, the former image all fresh-faced indie enthusiasm, the latter suggesting a satisfied “mission finally accomplished” attitude. (The download card contains four bonus tracks as well—nice touch, that.) Indeed, this is how a good rock ‘n’ roll story is supposed to turn out: not with recriminations and missed-opportunities-lamented; and not with lawsuits, overdoses, and the proverbial one-breakout-star-success; but with old friends remembering the magic they once made and can somehow still make, and determined to be the ultimate authors of the story rather than some music critic looking for some good-ol’-days/where-are-they-now nostalgia piece.
Here’s hoping the Hasbros have more chapters they intend to write.
DOWNLOAD: “For the Best,” “Kenny,” “That I Know,” “Nothing At All (live 1988)”
The Upshot: Americana-tilting indie rock awash in glorious harmonies and melodies that’ll leave you humming them throughout the day. Available on both CD and sweet vinyl, incidentally. Check out some audio and video from the album, below.
BY FRED MILLS
Erstwhile North Carolina resident Johnny Irion—we here in the Tar Heel state are still proud to call him one of ours—has been blessed not once, but twice: First, he was born with one of the richest, sweetest singing voices on the planet, something that was evident even back in the ‘90s as frontman for Queen Sarah Saturday and, later, a member of Dillon Fence; and secondly, he married one of the richest, sweetest singing vocal foils on the planet, Sarah Lee Guthrie, of the not-too-shabby Guthrie family, and with whom he has released several must-own albums that have made the duo beloved by Americana fans. When Irion sings, he soars, period, and when the duo swap verses and harmonize, they’re not merely the latest living example of what Gram ‘n’ Emmylou taught us all those years ago—they brush the gates of heaven.
For Irion’s latest solo album, he doesn’t merely uphold the high musical and literary (did I mention that his family tree includes a granduncle named John Steinbeck?) standards he’s evidenced to date—he stakes out a permanent piece of sonic serendipity that any singer-songwriter would die to lay claim to.
This is evident on Driving Friend from the get-go, on the gently waltzing “Emily’s” where Irion, switching effortlessly between tenor tones and an upper-register, almost-falsetto, “whoo-ooo-woo…” croon, sketches indelible images of a changing South Carolina coastline that will ring true to anyone from or familiar with the region:
“Sun going down on the Intracoastal Waterway
We were Fripp Island bound
Sentry at the guard post said we had to go away
It’s a private community now
So we beat it down the road for peanuts and some cokes
Looking for a sunset for free
Came across an old boardwalk
Surrounded by the marsh
Seagulls wheeling over you and me
That old shuttered church
Sure been burned down
Spanish moss hanging all around…
Much later, in the penultimate, title, track, Irion sets in motion a gospellish reverie amid a piano/strings arrangement which, buoyed by angelic backing vocals, lends an uncommon intimacy to his lyrics:
“There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here this morn
Your arms surround me like branches sprouting from our soul
I’ve been close before, but nothing like this
Only tears produced from my eyelids
But you’ve got everything I need and more.”
In between, you’re treated to sundry gems, from the Laurel Canyon folk-pop (think: CSN meets Brian Wilson) of “Salvage the Day” and irresistible pedal steel-and-twang-powered country rocker “Once in a While,” to the stoned, Muscle Shoals-styled swamp-funk of “Cabin Fever” (here, the backing vocals once again perfectly complement the material) and a luminous ballad bearing the wholly apropos title “Angels Sing,” another tune marked by some wonderful piano-and-strings playing (it brings to mind Wildflowers-era Tom Petty). Throughout, Irion and band maintain a consistent, reassuring low-key vibe that serves as a contrasting force to underscore the cinematic richness of the lyrics. Pitching in musically are members of Dawes, Wilco and the Mother Hips, so the sonics are stamped firmly with the trademark of quality.
That twinned quality, wedded to the aforementioned Irion pipes—which at times stroke the ear canal like pure sonic velvet, nary a note out of place—create the type of musical magic so often missing from today’s indie rock and Americana artists, many of whom mistake angst for passion, or substitute lazy “got up this morning/wrote you a song” lyrics for true storytelling. Ultimately, Driving Friend simply wants to be your friend, a musical handshake and a hug from one of our most gifted songwriters. Don’t be shy, folks—return the embrace.
For rock fans, Robert Poss may be best remembered for the mighty guitar rock ensemble Band of Susans and, if they’re really crate diggers, BOS precursor Western Eyes. But the guitarist and composer has been a leading light in experimental music circles for decades, working with Rhys Chatham, Ben Neill, Phill Niblock and others. Though Frozen Flowers Curse the Day is only his fourth solo album, his long years of experience make it the work of a mature artist. Consisting of both instrumental and vocal songs, the record indulges in guitar sounds of all stripes: acoustic, electric, clean, distorted, lyrical, overdriven. But Poss never lets his fondness for textural variety overpower the sturdy melodies on which his tunes are built.
As a statement of intent, he begins the album with the shimmering jangle of the wordless “More Frozen Flowers” and follows it with the crunchy drone pop of “The Sixth Sense Betrayed.” “You’ll Curse the Day” and “I’ve Got a Secret List” get noisier than “Sixth Sense,” but remain just as catchy. Written for a dance piece, “Time Frames Marking Time” uses spacey arpeggios and layered feedback to subtly explore the nooks and crannies of a simple but accessible melody – one strong enough to work without the visuals meant to accompany it. The slide-driven “Sketch 72” sounds like a long-lost classic rock track, despite a lack of vox. Even distortion fests “Bitter Strings” and “The Test Pattern Setting” keep their grip on tunefulness, no matter how fuzzy and crackling they get.
Accessible and experimental, avant garde and rocking, Frozen Flowers Curse the Day is a new peak in a long and successful career.
DOWNLOAD: “Time Frames Marking Time,” “The Sixth Sense Betrayed,” “The Test Pattern Setting,”
One of the perks of being young and in a rock ‘n’ roll band is the license it affords you to be shamelessly self-involved. It’s practically a job requirement, in fact, yet one that being young, confused, and falling in and out of love regularly lends itself to.
Take the debut LP from Auckland’s The Beths, part of the vibrant indie rock scene bubbling up from down under the last few years. Led by front woman and primary songwriter Elizabeth Stokes, the Future Me Hates Me features 10 high-tempo tracks long on fuzzy barre chords, thrumming bass-and-drums interplay, and sunny harmonies that belie the angst-ridden lyrical fare — though without quite shucking its weight.
Stokes, who’d recently transitioned from playing in a folk outfit, takes to the singing role with relish and stands out vocally—she sounds like Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell fronting Sparkle & Fade-era Everclear, with the occasional Joan Jett snarl thrown in for contrast against the vulnerability. On the best tracks here, Stokes manages to balance the music’s adrenalin rush with enough thoughtful imagery to keep the Beths from the hordes of pop punk wannabes. Over the buzzing chords and pointed guitar lines of “Great No One,” Stokes bemoans youthful indecision, comparing herself to a “just a broken bulb/flickering with doubt.” On “Happy Unhappy, where guitars chime more than fuzz, and the back-up harmonies trend more Beach Boys than Blink-182, the Beths embrace their pop tendencies to their benefit.
Stokes’ knack for acerbic lyrics often finds her linked to contemporary Courtney Barnett, but this is not to the Beths benefit. Stokes lacks Barnett’s songwriting diversity, worldliness and clever wordplay; too many of the songs on Future Me Hates Me are interchangeable, built on quiet, jangly verses and fuzz-button sing-along choruses that lament the usual litany of “I” and “me” woes.
It doesn’t take long for the self-examination to hit overload. The song titles alone read like journal headings: “Great No One,” “Happy Unhappy,” “Whatever,” and “Less Than Thou” do not suggest much thinking-outside-the-self box. (Admittedly, this lack of patience is a function of aging; Young Me Might’ve Been Less Curmudgeonly Than Old Me.) Over the charging guitars and red-line drumbeats of “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” for instance, Stokes worries that “You wouldn’t like me/If you saw what was inside me,” seemingly unaware that such self-awareness is pretty much de rigueur for most adults. The title track features the not-exactly earth-shattering acknowledgement that everyone Stokes knows has “has broken” under love’s vicissitudes yet “has fell for it before.” Well, luv, that explains the high-risk, high-reward attraction of it.
These shifting tides of love and mid-20s anxieties form the cornerstone that rock ‘n’ roll is built on. Nor should anyone begrudge Stokes her personal angst—we’ve all been there, but for sheer visceral terror nothing tops being in the midst of it. Still, with experience comes at least the acknowledgement that there exists a world outside our own Facebook or watering hole favorites (not to mention some different tempos or sonic variants). In the end, there’s just something to be said for taking a step back and realizing that your problems, as an old guy in a fedora once noted, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Nostalgia has always been a big component of the Essex Green’s baroque 1960s pop sound. Even in its early aughts prime, the Vermont via Brooklyn-based trio echoed the billowy harmonies and intricate keyboards of scratchy mod 78s from Thee Left Banke or the Zombies. But now, a dozen years after their last record, Hardly Electronic adds another layer of backward looking, not just to their influences but to the fuzzy Elephant Six pop revival that surrounded them the first time around.
The band’s members now live in different cities and have accumulated the usual mid-life baggage of jobs and marriages and children, but they sound remarkably untouched by all that. “Sloan Ranger,” one of the singles, bursts to life in a buoyant shuffle, all sharp, jutting guitars and wheedling organ, and soft blurrily harmonized vocals that shift from euphoria to melancholy in a measure or two. It’s quality pop a la the New Pornographers, full of a fun-house energy and slyly slanted with sarcasm. Sasha Bell, as before, sings with an endearing brashness, sugary soft but with a sardonic undertone. Chris Ziter again takes about half the lead vocals, in a reticent drawl that falls somewhere between Stuart Murdoch and Dean Wareham. And Jeff Baron plays a chiming, radiant 1960-redolent guitar with more than a whiff of the Byrds.
Yet while “Sloan Ranger” and other songs drop plenty of references to an imagined Brit Pop past (“Sloan Ranger”), the most touching of these songs invokes more recent memories. I like “Patsy Desmond” the best, for its moody, jazzy piano and slinky violin, its whispery romantic vocals (Ziter mostly, with Bell in lush counterpoint) and its hushed dioramas of 00s indie life in Alphabet City and just south of Chicago (the lost indie siren of the song promises to tell all her friends at Drag City about something). It’s the sort of song that moves through a past that you maybe hadn’t even thought of as past yet, freezes the action and frames it in black and white.
Not all the songs on Hardly Electronic are as affecting – and some of them are just good bubbly pop fun. There are some misses – the country-ish “Bye Bye Crow” isn’t very good – but most are at least solid and surprisingly fresh, and a few are much better than that. Here’s to looking backwards and moving forward at the same time.
BLURT premiered the Bird Streets track “Carry Me” recently – go HERE to check it out.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
It should come as no surprise that singer John Brodeur and Jason Falkner – power pop hero from Jellyfish, The Three O’clock and a slew of stellar solo albums – would make solid music together. What is surprising is just how good they are combining talents. Bird Streets, their eponymous debut, is a fantastic blend of power pop and indie rock that manages to sound like one of the best ‘90s album that didn’t come out until now (for the record, this one was recorded between 2014 and 2016).
All of the songs here were written by Brodeur and both he and Falkner share vocals duties. Brodeur’s voice is simply sublime here, sounding a bit like Dan Wilson (one of the most underrated singers from the 1990s), and lyrically he is at the top of his game. Subtly brilliant lines like “I remember when we were tighter than Steely Dan” (“Betting on the Sun”), remind you just how much we’ve been taking him for granted over the past decade or so.
The dark “Pretty Bones” (and to a lesser extent “Bullets”) don’t really fit in with the other tracks, with the ominous strings and haunting lyrics bring down the vibe a bit, but there are plenty of astoundingly beautiful songs here to more than make up for it.
Here’s hoping Bird Streets is more than just a one-off project.
DOWNLOAD: “Carry Me,” “Thanks For Calling” and “Betting on the Sun”
The Upshot: “Had an accident last night on Highway 95…” Howe Gelb & Co. revisit the band’s 1985 debut in classic freewheeling Gelb fashion. Go HERE to read our new interview with Gelb, in which he discusses his thumbing through the back pages and his long, colorful career.
BY FRED MILLS
It was just three years ago when England’s Fire Records, as part of their ongoing back catalog overhaul of Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, reissued G.S. debut Valley of Rain, remastering and expanding the 1985 gem (as “Beyond The Valley of Rain”) for a 30th anniversary edition. Included were extensive, fresh liner notes penned by Gelb, who duly related a conversation with his dear friend Rainer Ptacek, the late Tucson slide guitarist and songwriter with whom he’d formed Giant Sand precursor Giant Sandworms in the early ‘80s, and who would appear on many subsequent G.S. albums: “Rainer was right,” wrote Gelb, “when he said we need to make a music that won’t embarrass us ions from now (he tended to teach without really teaching).”
Prophetic—and well-taught/learned—words. Valley of Rain, whether in its original Black Sand Records/Enigma iteration or the aforementioned 2015 edition that boasts a bonus disc of outtakes and proximate live material from ’86 (the latter with Ptacek in the lineup), more than simply holds up to this day. It’s as seminal as other Amerindie titles from that period, notably the desert rock/proto-Americana and neopsychedelic/Paisley Underground scenes of the mid- and late-‘80s that included the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, Rain Parade, Sidewinders, Zeitgeist, etc. And apparently Gelb made a similar determination in 2018 that, even after helming more than 60 albums to date, VoR was worthy of the proverbial Stetson-tip. Ergo, Returns to Valley of Rain, a track-by-track re-recording—with some notable tracklist shuffling—of the ’85 platter.
From time to time you hear of artists who gripe about this-or-that’s earlier release’s faults and how they’d love to attempt a re-do. Once in awhile they might actually go through with the threat—among the adapters, for better or less, Camel, Girlschool, Mike Oldfield, Car Seat Headrest, Suicidal Tendencies, and a slew of metal bands—but more often they simply settle for re-cutting individual songs and, of course, trotting out the “classic album done live” trope, once a mainstay of ‘70s classic rock icons but, nowadays, a staple of the touring-circuit scene. (Not to mention the bread-and-butter of tribute bands, who bank on the enduring appeal of, I dunno, Beatles/Doors/Pink Floyd and Sublime/G’n’R/Phish appeal to keep their mortgage payments up to date.)
Howe Gelb, though, has the luxury of (a) never releasing an album considered so commercially iconic that going the contemporary remake/remodel route would be a reputational risk; and, (b) having a uniquely dedicated fanbase that both knows his records and understands how being a Gelb/G.S. fan means enjoying and trusting the songwriter’s freewheeling, freeform view of his own back catalog. It’s no secret that Gelb takes a Dylan-like approach to song-selection and –rendition.
Returns to Valley of Rain, then, is a start-to-finish delight. It’s technically a re-do of the original UK cassette version of Valley of Rain, which had 11 tunes compared to the 10-song US LP. (Fire’s 2010 CD reissue added a pair of bonus tracks prior to their full-blown expansion in 2015.) And as noted above, it also toggles the track order; for example, where the original album opened with the title track followed by “Tumble and Tear,” the new one reverses the pair, effectively making the latter a kind of brusque overture/prologue that sets up the deeply anthemic groove of “Valley of Rain—with its irresistible riff, memorable melody, and honeyed harmony vocals from Annie Dolan—as a thematic focal point for the album.
RtVoR rocks its desert ass off from start to finish, whether we’re talking about the straight-up Nuggets-worthy garage of “Man of Want,” the almost-but-not-quite metal of “Black Venetian Blind,” the lumbering Old Pueblo howl that is “Barrio,” or the aforementioned “Tumble and Tear,” a Jurassic stomp which, over the years has become a genuine show-stopper (check this relatively recent live version for proof).
Produced by Gelb and Gabriel Sullivan—a musical savant in his own right who came on board with Giant Sand as guitarist a few years ago—Gabriel Sullivan, and featuring guitarist/vocalist Dolan, veteran Tucson drummer Winston Watson (who is also a Dylan band alumnus), and regular Giant Sand bassist Thoger Lund (plus, on a couple of tracks, Kid Congo Powers and original G.S. bassist Scott Garber), the album’s a must-hear for any longtime fan of the band. Intriguingly enough, it also can serve as a righteous introduction for newcomers to the Gelb oeuvre, which has been known to swerve all over the rock ‘n’ roll highway, sometimes to the discombobulation of less-discerning ears and sensibilities. This album, though, is about as straightforward as Gelb gets, and it also sounds like it was a helluva lot of fun to make. In my book, that impossible-to-quantify quality will always be a selling point.
Available on digital, CD, black vinyl, and sweet limited edition blue wax (plus, from Burger Records, limited edition cassette), and with a download code, it’s an essential addition to the G.S. collection.
DOWNLOAD: “Barrio,” “Tumble and Tear,” “Death, Dying and Channel 5,” “Valley of Rain”
Rather than stay in bed, the Tar Heel power pop icon got up, hit the recording studio, and put in some serious sweat equity to craft what is destined to be one of the year’s most enduring, endearing releases. Visit Holsapple’s blog to check out his personal musings, details on live dates (he’s promoting the album with a handful of dates as the Peter Holsapple Combo), and future plans. Incidentally, he’ll also be releasing The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton in October via Omnivore.
BY FRED MILLS
Last year, with the release of the “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style” 45, North Carolina rocker Peter Holsapple set in motion a domino effect set of expectations among his fanbase—most of whom had been following the songwriter since his power pop dB’s days (and some of us since his prior tenure with Chapel Hill garage outfit the H-Bombs, or his even earlier high school bands in Winston-Salem). It had been quite some time since Holsapple had issued anything as a solo artist, yet at the time of the single, he opted to demur when questions about a full-length cropped up. As I subsequently wrote in my review of the single, “He told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays.”
But it would appear that the good Mr. H was indeed eyeing the long game. Ergo, Game Day (Omnivore), his first full-length solo rec in over two decades, a bakers-dozen worth of tunes, plus a bonus track and two “super bonus” tracks. Indeed, it has been 21 years since the release of the wonderful Out of My Way, although he hasn’t exactly been a recluse in the interim, having teamed with his old dB’s pal Chris Stamey for 2009’s Here And Now (a kind of belated followup to the duo’s ’91 album Mavericks) and a pair of singles; released several titles with the Continental Drifters; and of course reunited with the dB’s in 2012 for the Falling Off the Sky album and Revolution of the Mind 12” EP.
Still, this new album marks a welcome re-emergence precisely because Holsapple’s musical choices over the years have always been studied and deliberate, never random, and certainly not in the service of simply getting some “product” into the bins. (Peter, here’s the point where we can hear you saying, in your best John Cleese voice, “What’s wrong with putting product in the bins?” –Tar Heel Ed.)
He states his intentions at the beginning, in “Game Day”:
“My horoscope read,
‘You oughta stay in bed.’
My doctor said,
‘It’s all in your head;
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll;
It’s not getting old;
There’s no reason to quit;
So you better get used to it…’”
Indeed, Game Day is a deeply personal album, rife with self-scrutiny and autobiography, from that title track (a thrumming, anthemic number that also references times spent in the van with fellow bandmembers) and caustic garage rocker “In Too Deep” (a kind of self-j’accuse alluding to a litany of unspecified personal sins); to a strummy, insistent confessional called “The Better Man” that at times brings to mind midperiod Ray Davies, and the remarkably naked—speaking of confessionals—“Yelling At Clouds,” whose deployment of a waltzing, elegant, almost baroque arrangement can’t disguise the songwriter’s insecurities and frustrations. And dB’s devotees will cheer the arrival of “Not Right Now,” a spooky, shimmering slice of psychedelic-tinged power pop that sounds like it could have been plucked from the group’s early ‘80s repertoire. Listen closely and you’ll also hear sonic and lyrical echoes of “Sealed With a Kiss,” a 1962 hit single by pop artist Brian Hyland, and a tune that Holsapple undoubtedly heard as a kid scores of times on AM radio in the early ‘60s.
It’s a mature, songwriter’s songwriter album, although not one so deliberately omniscient and wise-beyond-the-years that you would call it Dad Rock. Instead, it’s the logical extension of such memorable Holsapple moments as the deeply moving “The Child in You” (from the aforementioned Mavericks collab with Stamey), the frustrated/self-effacing “Spitting In the Wind” (on dB’s 1984 album Like This), and the downcast “We Were Happy There” (1981’s Repercussion).
Over the years Holsapple has typically nurtured his lyrical introspection, as befits a fan of such iconic navel-gazers as Alex Chilton and Todd Rundgren, often mounting a buoyant sonic arrangement to soften his concurrent natural cynicism, and always managing to achieve the perfect balance upon the sonic/emotional tightrope he toes. Game Day is rife with musical gems—it includes both sides of the 2017 single mentioned above (as the “super bonus tracks”) along with a rowdy cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes”—guaranteed to charm even the most cynical indie rock devotee down out of their tribal treehouse. It’s also a solo record in the truest sense of the word, Holsapple having cut nearly all of it by himself (at, ahem, the popular “Bill Ding Studio,” proof that the guy’s no blockhead at the mixing desk), with only a handful of assists from friends ‘n’ family.
The closing track “The Smartest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” a terrific slice of indie rock rich with vocal harmonies and twang/surf guitar, serves as a kind of musical mini-memoir for the songwriter, who flips through the pages of his mental photo album, pausing here and there to reflect on some of the missteps he’s made over the years. Sings Holsapple, in an off-the-cuff, semi-sarcastic manner:
“There is no sense in what I say, what I’ve done, or what I try to do;
It took a good long while to get me here, standing here in front of you.
I travel, live, and learn, giving back the ways I could—
Sometimes that sounds pretty good to me.
And there is no reason to rejoice, I was just born without a voice;
The words spill out from my mouth, so to sort the meanings out.
And I’ve been told a thousand times by people better than myself
That this was not the smartest thing that I’ve ever done.
No, not so smart—I agree!”
And with that, he ties together everything that he set in motion 12 songs earlier, in deeply satisfying fashion, a guy who enjoys what he does and who’s apparently pretty damned comfortable in his own skin—which is more than a lot of people are willing to accept or admit to. Which is also one of the qualities longtime fans have always prized about Holsapple, both as a songwriter and as a person; we probably surrendered our objectivity many moons ago, and that’s okay. When the artist suggests, in his liner notes, that maybe we can “find a small place in our heads” for the album, he clearly underestimates what his four-decade-long contributions to the proverbial great rock tapestry truly represent to us.
We’ve reserved a place in our hearts, too.
Above live photo of the Peter Holsapple Combo (L-R Holsapple, Will Rigby, Glenn Jones) borrowed from his Facebook page.
Cloud Seeder—consisting of Acme Rocket Quartet members Roger Kunkel (one of the founding members of Thin White Rope), Steve Edberg, and Dave Thompson—raised the funds via Kickstarter earlier this year to release this two CD album heavily inspired both by the German band CAN and The Swell Maps. As the liner notes states, it’s a group of spontaneous recordings with zero overdubs, which makes it even more stunning that something so coherent and yet out there could be recorded in one go.
This is an album perfect for a Sunday lay-about where you let the music wash over you. On the jazzy “Reul Vallis Blues,” with its Spanish laced nocturnal guitar, what permeated my mind was the lyric “I just kissed a girl named Maria” from West Side Story—funny what comes trickling through the ether. “Pleasure Planet” is a very evocative number that sounds like a prelude to a séance or ritual bloodletting; the exquisite guitar playing and hypnotic drumming churn together with a sinister sonic undercurrent to create a compelling and disquieting tune. “Cesium Surfer,” with its noir surfer guitar and tight rhythm section, is the perfect soundtrack to something ominous and criminal. It’s Bob Bogle meets Black Sun Ensemble. CD 2 takes a turn for the more hallucinatory side of things. Longer, more experimental numbers dominate, like the edgy “Oh Dear Edgar” with its electronic blips and battlefield snare drum, which then give way to some really laid-back psychedelic guitar; it’s an amazing track and the gem on the second half of the album.
On this album, while the guitar may be the first thing we notice, one must also give equal attention to the layered sonics, the deft bass and drum playing, as well as some key sound samples that are interspersed across several of the tracks. There is so much to dig into on this record, whether you are a Krautrock fan or just a fan of really well-crafted complex tunes that challenge you in unique ways. I think it’s criminal that bands like this, operating at such a high level of musicianship, seem to get short shrift from the music-buying public. Hopefully one day this will change, but until it does, do what you can to support these guys as this album is definitely a keeper.
DOWNLOAD: “Fed by Gravity,” “Reul Vallis Blues,” “Pleasure Planet,” “Cesium Surfer,” “Oh Dear Edgar”
A Blurt Boot Exclusive: Psychedelic Furs "Only You and I" (Live Costa Mesa CA 7-19-18
Tribute: Tony Kinman (R.I.P.) and Rank And File - Video from "Long Gone Dead"
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea