GRANT EARL LaVALLEY – From LaValley Below LP

Album: From LaValley Below LP

Artist: Grant Earl LaValley

Label: Exit Stencil

Release Date: October 13, 2017

The Upshot: Sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect.            


There’s an occurrence, about a half-hour into Joshua-Tree-by-way-of-Ohio singer/songwriter Grant LaValley’s long-playing debut, that could be crudely described as “sealing the deal” for you, the otherwise increasingly transfixed listener. It’s an extended version of Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush impressionistic, druggy gem “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”: Reverently spare and true to the original melody for the first couple of verses, it subtly turns noirish—gothic, even—as distant cello and trumpet murmurs, lined with ambient noises, drift in, the volume rising uneasily to match LaValley’s neo-gospel vocal swells; he returns to the “it’s only castles burning…” chorus tag at the close, but by that point Young’s line is no longer one of reassurance, but of deathly inference. You’re left utterly haunted.

”DLIBYD” is the only cover on From LaValley Below, but it speaks volumes to this newcomer’s frame of reference, as he’s clearly cut from classic folk-rock cloth. Earlier on the album, one encounters originals such as “The In-Betweens,” a shuddery slice of midperiod solo Gene Clark; as well as the mournful, minor chord meditation “Dark Love,” and the contrasting uplift of “Seasons,” for which LaValley’s gentle fretboard pluckings are abetted by gorgeous cello-grand piano interplay and no less than his Joshua Tree neighbor Victoria Williams’ angelic warble.

And while it would be premature to make any grand pronouncements of, or predictions for, LaValley, his hermetic, almost isolationist approach to music-making certainly marks him as a man who has soaked in sonic stylings that are sweet, sour, and serene, and who has learned how to marry those key songwriting elements to most memorable effect. Keep an eye on him.

The album’s also pressed up on sweet wax – vinyl (not vinyls, newbies) to all you serious music fans. Also worth seeking out is LaValley’s recent, elaborately packaged 45 (also on Exit Stencil), “Let the Light Shine In” b/w “Dark Love” – the former track was co-written with songwriter/producer M. Craft, who LaValley met after moving to Joshua Tree. (Great minds think alike in the desert, eh?) It’s a must-own for vinyl collectors, and on heavy vinyl, at that – is it possible to have a 7” weighing in at 180 gms.?

DOWNLOAD: “Seasons,” “The In-Betweens,” “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”


Album: Baby Talk

Artist: James Blood Ulmer with The Thing

Label: Trost/The Thing

Release Date: September 15, 2017


A meeting of the minds probably no one expected, Baby Talk chronicles the in-concert collaboration between Scandinavian free jazz trio The Thing and pigeonhole-defying guitarist James Blood Ulmer on a set of the latter’s compositions from throughout his catalog. Saxophonist Mats Gustaffson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love make a formidable unit – not for nothing is one of the band’s albums called Action Jazz – but here the threesome defers to their temporary leader. Rather than whip up a storm of free jazz fury, the group follows Ulmer’s lead, letting a sense of playful whimsy guide the compositions. On “High Yellow,” the guitarist comps in his distinctive free blues style while The Thing bats around his changes like a cat with a mouse. “Baby Talk,” from the catalog of Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble, sets up a constantly shifting foundation over which Gustaffson overlays his legato squeals. Ulmer takes center stage on “Proof,” another MRE track, his clanging guitar duetting with Gustaffson’s baritone sax on a landscape of avant-garde blues. For “Interview,” Flaten and Love get a roiling groove going, setting the stage for some Ulmer/Gustaffson fireworks. Though the music often gets frenetic, at no point might one call any of it aggressive. Baby Talk isn’t about overwhelming listeners with sheer force, but highlighting the fun to be had when everybody agrees to the same non-rules.

DOWNLOAD: “Proof,” “High Yellow,” “Interview”


Album: Odessa

Artist: Thorp Jenson

Label: South Boulevard

Release Date: October 20, 2017




Managing to straddle the line between Southern rocker and Americana troubadour, Richmond-based guitarist Thorp Jenson comes off as a Southern states Springsteen on his self-produced record Odessa.


The charm of this album lies in its versatility. The first couple of tracks, like the stellar “Lonely” and “All We Have Is Time” boast echoes of Tom Petty, while elsewhere Jenson pulls off a haunting, stripped down sound that takes more from folk and classic barroom country than rock (think Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt).


Jenson relies heavily on characters to move his songs along, like the soldier returning from war and feeling out of place in his old town (“Odessa”) or the self-proclaimed sinner in the opening track “Oklahoma.” Jenson even manages to pull off a hypnotically dark version of Modern English’s “Melt With You,” adding a layer of gravitas to the song that you never thought possible.


Coming in at 10 tracks, there are not any wasted moments here as Jenson and crew turn in a brilliant debut. 


DOWNLOAD: “Oklahoma,” “Wake Up” and “I Melt With You”


LINDSTRØM – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is

Album: It's Alright Between Us As It Is


Label: Smalltown Supersound

Release Date: October 20, 2017




Five years have passed since Norwegian electronic producer and multi-instrumentalist, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm has released a full length album. Since 2012 the talented producer has released singles, collaborated with other artists such as Todd Terje and his oft-partner-in-crime Prins Thomas. For his fifth studio album Lindstrøm straddles conflicting emotions as he creates what feels like a soundtrack to sadness’ day in the sun.


A quick dismissal would label It’s Alright Between Us As It Is a “dance album.” However, the mostly instrumental release has a calm, melancholic string that courses through each track with repetition at its epicenter. This make the entire album—which includes a 50 second, self-titled introduction and interlude, “Versatile Dreams”—feel like a singular, subdued performance piece. Dependent on one’s view, this can be both its detriment and high point as songs calmly drifts from one to another.


Reveling in 80s inspired mellow, synth melded with electro-jazz some tracks fade together due to their similar sound. Both “Spire” and “Tensions” begin with fast high hats and transition to plucky keys but then there are some that slowly swoon your ears.  Instrumentals “Drift” and “Under Trees”—the latter is a great outro to the album—are indeed catchy. The nearly nine minute “Under Trees” is reminiscent to an experimental jazz session with quiet keyboard that gives way to piano that gently drips notes in the middle of the song. It isn’t until the five minute mark that the drums are invaded by atmospheric noise before it fades to nothingness. Yet on this nine-track album the songs which features vocalists Frida Sundemo, Grace Hall and Jenny Hval are the stand outs.


Each singer’s voice possesses a similar calm that perfectly matches Alright’s style. First single “Shinin’” with Grace Hall is the fastest-paced song on the album and of course the spoken word vocal stylings of Jenny Hval on “Bungl (Like A Ghost)” easily find a home here. The looping effects as she repeats the line “like a ghost,” and her eerie wail, all create a haunting yet upbeat track.


The point of Alright is not to churn out hit singles but to create an experience for its listeners, to create a concept album. Lindstrøm has successfully done so!


DOWNLOAD: “Tensions,” “Shinin”

Carmaig De Forest – I Shall Be Re-Released

Album: I Shall Be Re-Released

Artist: Carmaig De Forest

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: October 06, 2017




Carmaig De Forest was something of an eccentric back in the day, off even by the standards of someone who lived in San Francisco and openly laid claim to the city’s insurgent roots. A ukelele-playing troubadour who sprouted songs dealing with all sorts of weird wonderment, he managed to attract the attention of none other than Alex Chilton, something of a renegade himself and an artist who was decidedly oblique when it came to expressing his own doleful designs.


In 1987, the two teamed up to record De Forest’s first — and to date, only — full length album, I Shall Be Released, a collection of absurdist songs that not only missed out on the mainstream, but generally avoided notice entirely. Originally intended for a major label release, it was unceremoniously neglected and ultimately relegated to a small local label that confined it to obscurity. A live EP followed, but by then it was too late. De Forest’s destiny was doomed, and he remained known only to a handful of devotees and fellow musicians.

I Shall Be Re-Released captures De Forest’s entire output — the original album, the live EP and several outtakes from the original sessions — and although it remains a curiosity, it should also enhance his notoriety. Then again, having Chilton at the helm didn’t do much in terms of expanding his accessibility option, and if anything, the quirkiness quotient was given full prominence. A tune titled “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat” and the likeminded “Hey Judas,” a song about an encounter in hell with Judas, Hitler and then-president Ronald Reagan, didn’t have any chance of hitting the hit parade any time soon. While De Forest’s kinetic conceits and loopy, loping power plod were charming on occasion, the music is clearly far too wacky to be taken seriously for any sustained amount of time.


Still, with a generous 26 tracks included on this expansive set, I Shall Be Re-Released offers the listener plenty of opportunity to get in the groove. And with questionable covers of “Secret Agent Man,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “One For My Baby (And One For The Road),” it offers at least some hint of a familiarity factor. A curious snapshot of labored  looniness from thirty years past, I Shall Be Re-Released proves at very least, to be a liberating libation.


DOWNLOAD: “Crack’s No Worse Than the Fascist Threat,” “Hey Judas,” “Secret Agent Man”

Hollywood Undead + Butcher Babies 11/29/17, Memphis

Dates: November 29, 2017

Location: New Daisy Theatre, Memphis TN

New Daisy Theatre was the scene of the rock ‘n’ roll crime…


When I first heard that the Butcher Babies would be touring with Hollywood Undead I must say that I was surprised. The head banging, Scream rocking, hair whipping ladies of Butcher Babies just didn’t seem like the best fit for the rap rockers of Undead. It turns out that it’s a great fit and has introduced the band to a whole new group of fans.

As soon as the Butcher Babies hit the stage they began to win over the crowd and they didn’t slow down for the whole set.

After about a thirty minute timeout for the set changes and setup it was finally time for Hollywood Undead. As usual the guys took the stage wearing their masks. The first song of the night was “Whatever It Takes” and followed up with “Undead,” to which the crowd began to explode with excitement. Hollywood Undead had an excellent light show for the size of the venue, complete with several pyrotechnic sparklers that shot up about twelve feet high.

This was a great night of music—I recommend catching both groups when they are in the area. Hollywood Undead will continue touring the U.S. through December before Heading over seas in January. When they return to the States they will continue touring and playing festivals, including the Welcome to Rockville at the end of April in Jacksonville, FL.

Mark Jackson: @markjacksonphotography1

Spoon – 12/1/17, Poughkeepsie NY

Dates: December 1, 2017

Location: Chance Theater, Poughkeepsie NY


Spoon played to a full house of super attentive loyal fans at the Chance Theater. After playing two sold out shows in Brooklyn I knew this was going to be a packed theater. Opening the show with “Do I have to talk you into it” from the band’s newest release “Hot Thoughts”.  About half way through the show the band slowed it down with a heavy synth intro to the song “I’m not the one”, the crowd was entranced with lead singer Britt Daniels stage presence. These guys have been touring since the mid- nineties and it shows with how tight they play live. Closing the show with “Rent I Pay” the band and audience clearly had a great time together. I don’t know that Spoon will be playing that small of venue again, but I felt lucky to see such professional musicians in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Brian Setzer Orchestra – 12/6/17, Christmas Rocks! Atlanta

Dates: December 6, 2017

Location: Symphony Hall, Atlanta GA

For his 14th annual Christmas Rocks! Tour, at the Atlanta Symphony Hall, the Stray Cat became Santa Claws…


One of the cool things about rock and rollers having incredibly long careers is that some of them never stop getting better.  A case in point is Brian Setzer – who jumped outta the gate 35 years ago already an accomplished, confident player and entertainer, mature beyond his years even.    Now, at 58, he’s matured yet retained the exuberance and swagger that has made him so fun to watch.  At his holiday performance this week in Atlanta, I had the sense I was at a Masterclass in guitar chops and showmanship.

Setzer’s currently in the middle of his packed house crowd-pleasing 14th annual Christmas Rocks! Tour with the Brian Setzer Orchestra.   He’s clearly the driver of this engine, a 19-piece big band swing orchestra; all eyes in the band are on him, digging and feeding off his non-stop energy, just like the crowd is doing.   So much going on, all very entertaining.   Every few licks Brian stops to smile at the crowd – hoping they are having as much fun as he is. They are.

Lots of timeless Holiday standards in the set – all of them re-worked to swing and rock.  Also lots of Setzer’s hits (Stray Cat Strut, Rock This Town) from his days as leader/founder of the The Stray Cats, the rockabilly trio that crashed the gates of American Top 40 radio with their Dave Edmunds-produced platinum LP ‘Built for Speed’ in 1982.

A highlight was about half-way through the show — the orchestra leaves the stage so it’s just Brian, standup bass, 3 piece drum set and a honky tonk piano — all wailing for 20-minutes of nothing but flat-out rockabilly starting with a full blown version of Johnny Burnette’s ‘Rockabilly Boogie.’  What a treat.

Other highlights were full-song heartfelt tributes to the recently departed Glen Campbell and Tom Petty.   For me, one of Setzer’s all-time greatest moments was his guitar solo in the movie ‘La Bamba’ playing ‘Summertime Blues’ as the late great Eddie Cochran.  He played that lick at this show, albeit in another song, and it was magic.

The 30-city tour in in progress in the US through December, then Japan in January.   The who/ what/ when/ where are here:

I read a 2016 interview wherein Brian says another Stray Cats tour is going to happen, but for now, Here Comes Santa Claws, er, Claus.

(John Boydston’s bigger photo galleries are here:  (or follow him on Instagram @johnboydstonphoto)

Cindy Wilson + Olivia Jean 11/16/17, Denver

Dates: November 16, 2017

Location: Marquis Theatre, Denver CO

Femme magic at the Marquis Theatre, courtesy one B-52 and one Belle. (Above photo from Wilson’s Facebook page.)


Olivia Jean is a Nashville-based gal who was previously in a band called the Black Belle and has some kind of connection to Jack White. My pal and I got to the show a little bit late but caught the last few songs by the very retro-looking gal and her band and they sounded like some nice retro 60’s garage pop. Next time she/they’re in town gonna make sure to make it early as I liked what (little) I heard.

The new Cindy Wilson record is certainly a pleasant surprise. Change is on Kill Rock Stars no less (this was after the release of a few EPs, Sunrise and Supernatural) has plenty of surprises. Yes, the erstwhile B-52’s vocalist apparently had this one in the works for quite some time. She has a very talented band of youngsters in her band including a female on keyboards/violin who seemed to be the secret weapon. In addition there was a screen behind her showing assorted psychedelic videos so a multi-media event is always welcome.

…and Wilson herself seemed to be in a great mood. Smiling the whole time while dressed in all black, her former beehive now close-cropped (with the sunglasses not coming off all night) and looking quite fabulous, I must say.

Her current sound is a little hard to pin down with elements of pop, new wave, disco, electronica and rock all melded togeter into one unique stew.

In addition to the hypnotic electropop of the recently-released single “No One Can Tell You” we heard other cuts like the pumped-up disco of “Take My Time’ (from the Sunrise EP) and the dreamy pop of “Twice Shy.” They also did a cover of another Athens, Ga band Oh OK with their rendition of “Brother.” They played other EP cuts  like “Ballistic and “Frenzy” (both form the Supernatural).

Wilson didn’t feel the need to throw in any B-52’s songs and good for her. Plus it didn’t matter as the small but enthusiastic crowd were shaking their moneymakers all night. The new record stands on its own and she seems totally confident with what she’s done. 40 years after her other band initially got going it’s great to see her still at it and sounding great. (Tour dates are HERE at her website.