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BRETT NEWSKI – Hi-Fi D.I.Y. EP

Album: Hi-Fi D.I.Y. EP

Artist: Brett Newski

Label: self-released

Release Date: October 16, 2015

www.Brettnewski.com

Brett Newski

The Upshot: Truth in titling for the EP, he’s a terrific nu-folk troubadour.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The definitive troubadour, folk pop DIY artists Brett Newski, destined for greatness any minute now, has spent the past few years traveling the globe and playing music – writing jingles for tampon ads in Asia, doing voice overs for Red Bull ads and collecting stellar fodder for his songs along the way.

His latest, the self-released five-song Hi-Fi D.I.Y. EP, is just one more example of how wonderfully charming a dude with some tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and little more than an acoustic guitar (and the occasional kazoo) can be.

Much like Todd Snider or Louden Wainwright III, before them both, Newski plays not for the masses, but the discerning minority who like their sarcasm and satire in whip smart lyrics, wrapped in a few well-strummed chords. Frustratingly short – as is the nature of a really good EP – there is not a weak track to be found here, from the catchy opener, “Black Taxi Cab,” the closest Newski has come to writing a pop song, to the closer, the endearingly ramshackle theme song to Newski’s ethos, “D.I.Y.,” an autobiographical song about playing “the worst show of your life to four people on a shitty Monday night in St. Louis”.

“I’m D.I.Y., I’m punk as fuck, don’t need your money, don’t want your love.” Indeed.

 DOWNLOAD: “Move to Berlin,” “This Will Destroy Me” and “D.I.Y.”

SAMMY WALKER – Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’ (LP)

Album: Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’

Artist: Sammy Walker

Label: Ramseur

Release Date: April 01, 2016

www.ramseurrecords.com

Sammy Walker

The Upshot: Phil Ochs protégé and Dylanesque stylist has early demos belatedly released by an admiring NC label. Very sweet on vinyl, too!

BY FRED MILLS

Georgia-born folksinger Sammy Walker resurfaced in 2008 via the Ramseur label (famous for its flagship act, the Avett Brothers). The songwriter previously cut a handful of Dylan-inspired LPs in the late ‘70s (he had caught the ear of Phil Ochs, who produced Walker’s first LP, essentially opening the industry door for him) before going on extended hiatus for more than a decade, eventually resurfacing for the first time during the ‘90s with a pair of European-only albums. A subsequent move to NC proved fortuitous, though, ultimately leading to the Ramseur record, Misfit Scarecrow. Now comes Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’, but rather than a proper followup, it comprises unreleased demos from the ‘70s that helped land him a recording contract with Warner Bros., who thought they’d snagged the latest “new Dylan” for their roster.

Which is more than merely understandable. The 10 songs here are so Dylanesque—what with Walker’s nasally croon, frequent lapses into B.D.’s signature talking-blues singing style, and spartan acoustic guitar/harmonica arrangements—that it’s amazing the general public didn’t embrace him the way they did Prine, Springsteen, Buckley and Wainwright III.

Perhaps the problem was that Walker channeled the Bard so effortlessly as to come across at times as a blatant copyist. The title track, for example, bears more than a passing resemblance to “Tomorrow’s Such a Long Time” in both melody and vocal phrasing; while the wordy “The East Colorado Dam” could be mistaken for a Woody Guthrie outtake, and as we all know, Guthrie was more than just a tiny influence upon Dylan. And on several songs you find yourself literally preparing yourself for the inevitable harmonica verse, so familiar-feeling are the arrangements.

In 2016, of course, none of this is problematic; Ramseur has even made the Dylan connection visually explicit, with sleeve art and text fonts designed to give the album the look of an early Dylan LP. The label art even mimics the old Columbia Records “two eye” design, Ramseur here opting for powder blue rather than orangey red. Ultimately, it’s a fine, illuminating archival collection.

DOWNLOAD: “The East Colorado Dam,”

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison

Album: George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison

Artist: Various Artists

Label: BMG

Release Date: February 26, 2016

www.BMG.com

George 2-26

The Upshot: Beatles.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

There’s literally nothing that can be said about George Harrison that hasn’t been said before. Although his tenure with the Beatles found him laboring in the shadows of Lennon and McCartney, he was a brilliant songwriter in his own right, and the material he composed for both the band and his own singular solo career continues to resonate, some fifteen years after his premature passing. It’s likely it always will. He may have been known as “the quiet Beatle,” but Harrison imbued a distinct sound and sensibility into his music that not only reflected his abilities as a singer and guitarist, but also as a spiritual individual whose tenets of faith never wavered, even at the end. Indeed, viewed in retrospect, Harrison clearly became as strong a presence as his celebrated colleagues.

There’s no better reminder of just how formidable that legacy remains than the two CD/DVD set culled from the night of September 26, 2014 at the Fonda Theater in L.A. when a group of admiring musicians under the direction of Harrison’s son Dhani gathered together to celebrate the man and his music. It’s telling that many of the participants weren’t old enough to remember the Beatles in their prime, but they still show due admiration when invoking his presence. The marquee names are limited to Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Brian Wilson, Ann Wilson, Perry Farrell, the Flaming Lips and Conan O’Brien (whose opening comment, “I thought this was a tribute to George Michael,” and I’ve been practicing singing Faith” all week” starts things off on a jovial note), but every performance here is still worthy of the originals. Other than the Cold War Kids’ raucous cover of “Taxman,” nobody attempts to alter the signature arrangements to any great extent, and in most cases, the performers even go so far as to emulate George’s sinewy singing style. Even Weird Al Yankovic’s wacky read of “What Is Life” comes across with a reverence that he never manages to emulate in his regular routine. Surprisingly, it’s one of the standouts in a set that boasts too many to mention.

Sadly, George Harrison was taken from us too soon, and his gentle, knowing aura is visible only through scratchy film clips and fading memories of a time when Beatlemania was considered a cure for all our ills. The sense of loss only seems to magnify as other icons pass from the planet at a shockingly alarming rate. While this faithful tribute doesn’t lessen the sadness, it does remind us that genius is timeless and that the memories of those triumphs will linger long enough to inspire us forever. The fact that these performances serve to remind us of that fact is reason enough to rejoice.

DOWNLOAD: What Is Life” (Weird Al Yankovic), “ “Taxman ”(Cold War Kids), “It’s All Too Much” (The Flaming Lips)

 

BLOWFLY- 77 Rusty Trombones

Album: 77 Rusty Trombones

Artist: Blowfly

Label: Saustex

Release Date: February 12, 2016

www.sauxtex.com

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The Upshot: Should have hung in there long enough to be Donald Trump’s politically incorrect running rival.

TIM HINELY

As we all know, the world lost Blowfly (Clarence Reid) just last month at his home in Florida. I wasn’t sure if we’d see any more releases, but this is his final one and it’s most righteous. Funny, I as much as I like his music, I didn’t know much about him, but when he passed I’d been reading articles and had no idea that he’d written songs for KC and the Sunshine Band, Bobby Byrd and several others (also that his daughter Tracy, was a former WNBA player). He’d been in the music business for 50 years (under, of course, his own name and Blowfly) and apparently this record is a return to form, parodying R & B and soul songs from yesteryear. At his age the guy never lost his nastyness (of all of his nicknames my favorite was the Smutmaster General).

The album cover is pretty damn classic (Blowfly, some near-nude women (‘natch) and lots of trombones) and cuts like opener “If You Don’t Blow Me By Now” (a twist on the Harold Melvin  & the Blue Notes classic) plus “He Will Fuck You,” “I Fuck Everything,” “The Big Gay Crack,” “I Still Believe My Dick Can Fly” and too many more (also, don’t miss “Blowfly Jeopardy”  and “Celebrity ABCs”).  Not age or anything could stop this guy from making another great record. The world already misses this guy, a stone-cold classic. RIP.

DOWNLOAD:  “If You Don’t Blow Me By Now,”  “He Will Fuck You,” “I Fuck Everything,” “The Big Gay Crack”

Titus Andronicus + La Sera 5/17/16, Denver

Dates: May 17, 2016

Location: Marquis Theatre, Denver CO

The Upshot: Denver’s Marquis Theatre was an indie rock devotee’s dream on this weekday night.

TEXT BY TIM HINELY / PHOTOS BY JD BAMFORD

I missed openers The Knew (who I heard were good) and also missed the first 2-3 songs of La Sera, unfortunately.  I’m all for gigs starting early but you gotta get there early and I was finishing dinner (3 whole pizzas, with anchovies, and a jug of prune juice, thank you very much).

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I hadn’t seen La Sera before but have really liked all three of their releases on the Hardly Art label. For their latest release, 2016’s Music For Listening to Music To they jumped labels to bigger Polyvinyl. That record was also produced by Ryan Adams and is a bit of a departure from their usually fuzzy indie pop to something with a bit more twang. I don’t mind, I like twang, but it did take a little getting used to.

On stage most of their set consisted of songs from the latest record including peppy versions of “Hight Notes,” “Shadow of Your Love,” “Take My Heart” and “Time To Go” though they did toss in a few oldies like “Love That’s Gone” and “Running Wild.” Bassist/vocalist/founder Katy Goodman seems to have a great on stage rapport with guitarist/vocalist Todd Wisenbaker and why not, it’s her husband (they got hitched last year) while drummer Brendan McCusker kept the steady beat. Goodman was hilarious, cracking up the audience between songs, but the biggest surprise came when they covered Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” to crazed applause. Come back soon, you La Sera people!

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Titus Andronicus came through last year when they toured with labelmates Spider Bags at this very same venue (that night ‘twas Merge Records in da’ house). Here they were again and just like last time, vocalist/guitarist Patrick Stickles (he grew the beard back) came out and told the crowd to “be cool you guys, we all want to have fun here so no crazy slam dancing or anything. Let’s all love our brothers and sisters ” (or something to that effect). He also stated that his mom was in the crowd so to be on our extra good behavior. Fair enough.
There were a few less people this time (the venue was probably two-third full) but the band had their fanatics up front, pumping their firsts and singing along to every word. This band inspires that kind of devotion (like if The Pogues didn’t drink (??!!) and hailed from Glen Rock, NJ). They opened with Stickles doing an acoustic version of “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with a Flood of Detritus” (that’s a moutful) from 2012’s Local Business but most of the songs they played were from last  years epic The Most Lamentable Tragedy including fierce versions of “Fired Up” and “Dimed Out.” They also tossed in fan favorites “In a Big City” and “A More Perfect Union” for my benefit (I’m convinced of it).

I didn’t stick around ‘til the bitter end to see if they played the Joe Walsh tune ‘Rocky Mountain Way” like they did last time (the three pizzas were now getting to me), but a good time was had by all. Something tells me that these guys will be back sooner rather than later and again. I won’t miss it.

Photos: JD Bamford Photography (http://jdbamford.photography/performance)

DULLMEA – Keter

Album: Keter

Artist: Dullmea

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 08, 2016

http://dullmea.bandcamp.com

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The Upshot: Eerie and experimental, the Portugal group beguiles and intrigues.

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Dullmea is from Portugal, and from the initial haunting vocals, the experimental nature of the music sets the stage to beguile and intrigue listeners, who eventually get wrapped in its undertow. Spartan in nature the tracks require an active as opposed to passive participation by the listener. The claustrophobic nature on the track “Respiratio,” with its angelic vocals layered over what sounds like a ventilator, is disturbing and yet creates from very spare sounds an aural thrill ride of sorts. “Digestio” is an eerie send-off from this strange yet very rewarding ride. Not knowing where you’ve landed but feeling richer for the experience, Dullmea’s new album is quite a rewarding experience.

DOWNLOAD: “Articulus,” “Respiratio,” “Digestio”

 

 

 

LA CERCA – Sunrise For Everyone

Album: Sunrise for Everyone

Artist: La Cerca

Label: Xemu

Release Date: May 06, 2016

www.xemu.com

la cerca

The Upshot: Tucson musician, with overtones of Yo La Tengo, Galaxy 500 and the Verlaines, imbues its tunes with a handshake-and-a-hug quality, inviting you to come into his world.

BY FRED MILLS

Originally a 2014 vinyl-only release from NC’s Fort Lowell label that landed on yours truly’s year-end best-of list, Sunrise For Everyone has, remarkably, not only retained its sonic and lyric charms, it’s arguably even a better listen now. This is partly due to familiarity; it’s hard to beat the joys of picking up a favorite record for the first time in some while. But it’s also due to a kind of ineffable timelessness, testimony to the Tucson group’s songwriting and arranging smarts—which of course are credited largely to leader Andrew Gardner. The album has now seen release on CD (remember them?), picking up a bonus track in the process.

What should you expect if you have not heard it? For starters, there’s a musical flourish coming about two and a half minutes into “Sunrise For Everyone,” the title track of Tucson group La Cerca’s new album, that provides a small but telling glimpse into what makes the band tick and also what potentially makes this the feel-good album of the summer—if not the entire year. Following a low-key intro powered by a subtly urgent guitar jangle and pulsebeat-thrumming bass, the band expertly springboards off the tune’s dynamic and into a starburst of ecstatic strums, pounding percussion and joyous “ba ba da baaaa…” voices. That they do it again later in the song, this time with peppy horns playing the aforementioned vocal line, only serves to cement the melody and rhythm in the listener’s mind, already primed by the optimism suggested by the songtitle.

It’s as if every great indie pop band you might care to cite, from Big Star to Yo La Tengo to Galaxie 500 to all the great Flying Nun bands (Clean, Verlaines, etc.) of yore, had held a summit in order to formally pass the torch to this small band of Arizonans.

High praise, indeed—bordering on, I realize, hyperbole. That those legendary groups are among my favorites and that they seem to share a deep musical kinship with La Cerca mainman and songwriter Andrew Gardner, however, only bolsters my critical regard for the music he and his compatriots create. Every track here bears sonic fruit: the swing, swagger and serendipity of the reflective, pedal steel-inflected “Sorry XO”; the stately tumble of the almost gospellish “The First One”; the angular and elegant extended jam that is “Mountain Villager,” what with its Television-meets-John-Fahey vibe; and the subtly majestic “Weather Festival,” that, incredibly, manages to distill the vicissitudes of desert weather into six rousing, dynamics-rich minutes of psychedelic blissout. (That’s not a stray observation. Point of fact: Gardner told BLURT that “I had an idea that I wanted a record to be somewhat weather-related, or atmosphere- related. It’s taking another meaning into desert rock, if you will. We’re making music that is reflective of the land, or the atmosphere. ‘Weather Festival’ is a perfect example: it’s a sunny day and you end up in a very different place. It can change your mind. It can change everything.”)

Incidentally, the aforementioned bonus track is a gem, in no way the kind of throwaway or afterthought that bonus tracks often are. Titled “Kissface,” it’s got a kind of Yo La Tengo-on-shoegaze vibe, running for nearly seven minutes and awash in chiming guitars and strafing synths.

Singing in a warm, confident, almost blue-eyed-soul voice, Gardner imbues his tunes with a handshake-and-a-hug quality, inviting you to come into his world which, per the album title, is an inclusive one. An array of Tucson musical artisans is part of the extended La Cerca family, ensuring that the sense of collective purpose is palpable. It’s not hard to tell when all the musical pieces of a project came together for its creators; there’s a peculiar quality of simpatico-ness that peeks through, and this holds true even when it’s a project born of darkness (say, Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night).

This one, though, is all about letting the light shine through. If you missed the album first time around, do yourself a favor and grab a copy now. It’ll leave you glowing.

DOWNLOAD: “Weather Festival,” “Sunrise For Everyone,” “Arizon”

Go HERE to read the BLURT interview with Andrew Gardner of La Cerca. We’ve also got a spiffy audio track you can listen to while reading.

NATHANIEL TALBOT – Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine

Album: Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine

Artist: Nathaniel Talbot

Label: Fluff & Gravy

Release Date: November 20, 2015

www.fluffandgravy.com

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The Upshot: Minimalist-tilting songwriter draws inspiration from both Nick Drake and James Taylor.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Like any good shoegazer worth his salt, Nathaniel Talbot takes his marching orders from Nick Drake, even though there’s enough implied personality to make the music his own. Lately though, James Taylor seems to have emerged as a major template, giving the nu-folk legions someone else to cite for inspiration. Not that JT’s jocularity ever enters the equation, but there’s something to be said for the soothing vocals and steadfast bearing that Sweet Baby James has loaned his musical offspring over the years, garnered from the signature songs that are most melancholic.

Talbot, a full time naturalist who spends much of his time running an organic vegetable farm on Whidbey Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound, isn’t immune to that allure, and so it ought to come as no surprise that Swamp Rose and Honeysuckle Vine, his fourth outing to date — and first to garner wider distribution — draws at least a partial influence from Taylor’s wizened ways. For his part, Talbot opts to keep the arrangements at a wholly low key level, with minimal acoustic accoutrements consisting of mournful violins, spare guitar, mandolin, double bass, and occasional understated harmonies. It’s a lovely mix to be sure, but so shaded at times, the illumination is barely visible. “As The Way,” “Before There Was Blue,” “New Haircut,” and the title track could be offered as evidence, but in fact, there’s little variation from one track to another other than the occasional acoustic guitar instrumental. (In the case of the latter, think Leo Kottke in a metaphysical mood.) These songs exist in the half light, all wistful rumination and contemplative musings. Indeed, a suggestion of sadness permeates these tepid melodies, but the effect can be spellbinding regardless. Can you say “sublime?”

DOWNLOAD: “As The Way,” “Before There Was Blue,” “Swamp Rose & Honeysuckle Vine”

ELVIS COSTELLO – Detour: Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Title: Elvis Costello - Detour: Live at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Eagle Vision

www.eagle-rock.com

Costello DD 2-12

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Based on the sheer power and largess of Costello’s catalog alone, any DVD that documents his 40 year career and more than 25 of his superb songs is in itself well worth the price of admission. Consequently, this live disc, taken from last year’s Detour tour, makes for an outstanding concert souvenir as well as a superb summation of Costello’s classic catalog. Granted there is a certain element of goofiness that accompanies the show’s center stage prop, the oversized Lupe-O-Tone TV set, but as a vehicle for Costello to ruminate a bit about his backstory and specifically his father’s career as a musician, it aids with the insight. More significantly, it provides an opportunity for Elvis to get up close and personal with diehard devotees.

 

As for the performances themselves, admittedly there is an element missing when Elvis opts to present his material sans a backing band. That’s especially apparent on songs drawn from his early insurgent phase — specifically “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down,” “Watching The Detectives” and “Accidents Will Happen” — tunes that would sound more in sync if he had a group in tow. However, he still pulls them off ably, albeit in acoustic/demo mode. Nevertheless, the best offerings come about when he has the support of his special guests, Rebecca and Megan Lowell of Larkin Poe, whose tightly-knit harmonies and adept instrumental abilities provide the backing on such standards as “Peace Love and Understanding,” “Blame It On Cain” and “Brilliant Mistake.”

 

Granted, this year’s model is considerably mellower than the angry young punk that exemplified the early Elvis, but that maturity has also brought an increased appreciation for his song craft and a stage persona that is both wiser and more wizened than ever before. Detour may have taken Costello off the beaten path, but it still finds him on the right road forward.

 

FALLON CUSH – Bee In Your Bonnet

Album: Bee in Your Bonnet

Artist: Fallon Cush

Label: LTR

Release Date: May 20, 2016

www.falloncush.com

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The Upshot: Aussie Steve Smith serves up a mix of melodious mid-tempo tunes and concise yet catchy rockers.

 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The nom de plume for Sydney Australia wunderkind Steve Smith, Fallon Cush has maintained a consistent track record thus far courtesy of two previous albums that have won glowing reviews from a host of knowing critics and pundits. This latest effort promises to continue that trajectory, given its mix of melodious mid-tempo tunes and concise yet catchy rockers. Smith and associates have built their reputation on a sound that falls midway between English pop and echoes of Americana, with neither tack overshadowing the other.

 

If anything, Fallon Crush occasionally takes its cue from famous precedents, as on the tracks “Haunting” and “The Honeycomb,” which bring to mind Kiwi cousins Crowded House, or the song “Kings of Ransom” which sounds suspiciously like the Faces fronted by Ronnie Lane. Happily, those references don’t detract from Fallon Cush’s agreeable approach, which incorporates both billowing ballads and a more assertive style. Smith’s winsome vocals generally keep the music in accessible terrain, all cooing melodies with the occasional upward spiral. An excellent offering overall, Bee In Your Bonnet is not only an ideal introduction, but, like its predecessors, an essential acquisition all on on its own.

DOWNLOAD: “Kings of Ransom,“ “Haunting,” “The Honeycomb”