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WATERBOYS – Modern Blues

Album: Modern Blues

Artist: Waterboys

Label: Kobalt

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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www.kobaltmusic.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Waterboy Mike Scott defies the notion that musicians can’t be both intriguing and inspiring. On his last album, Appointment with Mr. Yeats, he confidentially name-dropped the iconic Irish poet of the same name. Its follow-up, Modern Blues, finds him taking an even broader sweep by seizing on any number of legendary individuals, from Miles Davis and Charlie Parker to Elvis, John Lennon and Marvin Gaye, tossing in Joan of Arc, Shakespeare and Dean Moriarty for good measure.

The music displays an unequaled eloquence to match, whether it’s the dramatic and determined “Destinies Entwined” or the loosely limbered rockers “Still a Freak” and “Beautiful Now.” Nevertheless, Scott’s poetic expression reaches its peak in “The Girl Who Slept For Scotland” (“I remember that night in a Dublin bed when she moaned like a woman and gave sweet head”), spinning a lyric that’s on a literary plain midway between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas.

A remarkable evocation of time and place, Modern Blues achieves a triumph which in many ways equates it to their Blood on the Tracks as far as its knowing, firsthand perspective. Or to borrow a verse from another Dylan classic, Scott can rightfully claim he’s painted his masterpiece.

DOWNLOAD: “The Girl Who Slept For Scotland,” “Beautiful Now,” “Destinies Entwined”

 

 

SUNDARATA – Language of the Stars

Album: Language of the Stars

Artist: Sundarata

Label: SlowBurn

Release Date: February 03, 2015

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www.slowburnrecords.net

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Tucson is an alluring destination for the musical outsider. It offers up dramatic sunsets, mystical saguaro cactuses and plenty of places and ways to lose oneself. Sure Tucson has had some successful musicians climb out of the brine reaching national or even international acclaim. How many times do we need to mention Howe Gelb or the Calexico mafia in print? It’s a good thing, though, that Tucson remains resolutely defiant and self-effacing in the face of the Gelb Machine, because it allows musicians to naturally migrate to one another and pull the lever to see if things will come up all cherries or if they walk away bankrupt, all while in the shadow of the spotlight.

So here come Sundarata with their debut album The Language of the Stars. The band is composed of members from Tucson’s Infinite Beauties and Black Sun Ensemble. Language of The Stars is a record that intrigues and entertains right out of the chute. The album’s dial is perfectly positioned just left of center with much of its music informed by a love for The Rolling Stones, Jayhawks, Acetone and REM.

Ballad of French Vedette opens the album with a lovely summery ballad where Leo Graves is allowed to just flow over a groovy back beat. The song then opens up with some joyous harmonizing over some really subtle keyboards and some beautifully understated guitar playing.

Then we’re hit with the restrained masterpiece Language of the Stars. For the guitar sound, imagine the opening guitar lick from Wing’s Band on the Run. All of this is stretched over some stellar drum work. Leo Graves’ singing is really cool here like a beat poet mixed with John Trudell. Absolutely love the occasional subtle psychedelic effects on his voice.

Morning reminds me of Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones in all its countrified glory. Jeremy Topp leads this hootenanny on Aunt Mabel’s front porch. The track works really well and shows just how talented Sundarata really are and that they’re not above having a bit of fun.

Electromagnetic is Leo Graves’ shining moment. He’s part stream of consciousness and beat poet all rolled into one. The lyrics are worth a read on the label’s website (http://www.slowburnrecords.net/language-stars-lyrics/). This is a sweet pop tune that has the ghost of Black Sun Ensemble floating somewhere in the mix.

Wrote You Back is another high water mark for the band. The track is a wonderful retro love song pinned on the back of some groovy Hammond B3 sounding keyboard, and beautiful cyclical fretwork courtesy of Adam Lopez.

Eric Johnson turns in some beautifully light-handed production that lets the songs unfurl organically for the listener.

The final track Ages is a real departure from everything that we’ve heard thus far, it’s a sinister warped concoction of old film dialogue spliced and layered over some back masking that ends with someone saying, “The fact that we don’t get to see you as much as we like….then when we do see you we appreciate you all the more.”

I truly hope we do see more of Sundarata and that this isn’t a one off project. What the band have accomplished here is to take the best of each other’s musical talents and fetishes, forging it into a coherent well-wrought album that leaves us wondering will this be the album that finally changes the axis of power in the Old Pueblo?

The answer to that my friend remains in the language of the stars.

 

MOON DUO — Shadow of the Sun

Album: Shadow of the Sun

Artist: Moon Duo

Label: Sacred Bones

Release Date: March 03, 2015

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http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Moon Duo, the long-running drone collaboration between Wooden Shjips founder Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada, makes its compositions out of the tight grinding friction of repetitive riffs, overlaid with the serenity of dreamy half-heard vocals. Their best cuts find a balance between striving and meditation, the angst prickling amid layers of time-bending krautish propulsion like static electricity in layers of blankets. The idea seems to be to wind up a steady, simple riff, grind it out like clockwork, and then stipple this metronomic landscape with light and shadow via Johnson’s free-form guitar.

For this third album, the duo has picked up a live drummer in John Jeffrey. His rackety, thwacking percussion evokes Bobbie Gillespie’s work with the  Jesus & Mary Chain and gives these endless horizon reveries a bit of structure. His flesh-and-blood rhythmic underpinning turns “Free the Skull” into something like a rock song, with its careening organs, grinding low-tuned guitar and smoke mirage vocals, and the single “Animal” is far more visceral and adrenalized because of his presence on it.

A few of these songs – “Wilding” and “Thieves” in particular — would fit quite easily onto a Wooden Shjips album, but in others Yamada takes a more audible role. “In a Cloud” is, by a mile, the most infused with feminine energy, its slow, lucid melody wreathed in her vocal harmonies, a brightness sparking in the empty spaces. “Zero,” as well, is trebly and spectral, with half-heard piano twinkling through wild high vibrations that sound like electrical wires blowing in the wind.

Shadow of the Sun sounds like Moon Duo is still working its way out of a corner, trying to find a way to expand its limited-palette sound without leaving it behind entirely. They’re not there yet, but it does seem time for a change up. Perhaps the next full-length will clarify exactly where this twosome-turned-threesome is heading.

DOWNLOAD: “Animal” “In a Cloud”

 

Lydia Loveless 4/14/15, Athens GA

Dates: April 15, 2015

Location: The Foundry, Athens GA

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BY JOHN BOYDSTON

Lydia Loveless is ripping country music a new one, one lonesome town at a time.   She’s on tour for the next couple of months, with shows across the south before heading west to California then off to Europe.  These photos are from The Foundry in Athens, Ga Tuesday April 14th.   Great intimate setting for Lydia and her crack band of players, who are:   Todd May guitar & vocals, Benjamin Lamb on bass, Jay Gasper on Pedal Steel (mostly), and George Hondroulis on drums. Lydia plays guitar and sings of course.

A must-see show for anyone who appreciates great songs and music.  Notice that last sentence didn’t use the word ‘country’ before the word ‘music.’  She seems to transcend the genre, which is a real bonus to those of us can’t stand modern country schlock. So I guess she’s in the alt-country genre, but to me it’s rock with a country heart.   And a pedal steel player in a live rock band format, is there anything better?

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But if modern country music wasn’t in such a terrible place right now Lydia Loveless would be on top of the charts out there in country land.   She avoids all the clichés that have about killed the genre from a creative standpoint.   No phony voice cracks, no auto tune vocals.   No over the top stadium-style stage stomping, or mighty power rock guitar riffs.  And no songs about pick-up trucks, Stetsons, keggers, or good old boys drinking whisky and rye.    She is still writing from a barstool, but she’s crying about the fucked up nature of life and love before the first round has been served.   And yes there will be hangovers, so one senses Hank and George would be right at home in Lydia’s world.

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Protomartyr + Gotobeds 4/10/15, Northampton MA

Dates: April 10, 2015

Location: Iron Horse, Northampton MA

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BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

There is nothing at all set up on the stage of Northampton’s Iron Horse at fifteen minutes past 10 on a Friday. The earlier show, by local folk rocker Seth Glier, seems to have involved a birthday cake and perhaps has run over. You always wonder whether the Iron Horse will go over the line far enough and be so nasty to the band you came to see that they leave and never come back. The sound guy, ominously, leaves the building in search of the Gotobeds, a much-lauded punk rock foursome, originally from Pittsburgh and now signed to mighty Sub Pop. All that counts for nothing, though. They are unable, still, to set up so much as a cymbal stand before the early set has cashed out. Evidently, there will be no sound check.

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That’s a shame because the Gotobeds’ dual guitar, high energy set has its moments, but it is impossible to hear the vocals at all, and only through lip-reading can you infer brash, thrashy, pop-vibrant melodies thrown off kilter by stuttery guitar spatter. It’s frustrating because this is obviously a fun band, coiling surprisingly intricate interlocking guitar parts around Ramones-catchy punk melodies, the guitar player juddering around the stage on a one-legged Chuck Berry-style hop. They dedicate one song to Rudy Guiliani (I’m guessing “New York’s Alright (If You Like Sex and Phones)” and another one seems to consist entirely of the lyrics “One, two! Fuck you!” They announce their next album as “Never Mind the Postal Service, Here’s the Gotobeds,” which is almost certainly not the real title, and they seem, altogether, to be putting on a pretty good show. If only you could hear it…sigh.

***

I am beyond excited about seeing Protomartyr, who made my #1 favorite album last year, Under Color of Official Right. I’d heard a lot about their live show, especially the front-man Joe Casey, who is, let’s put this gently, not exactly a rock star out of central casting, and I was looking forward to seeing their working class mayhem in action.

Protomartyr also has some early set sound problems, but sorts them out rather quickly, which is important because here’s the thing about Protomartyr: This is a ferociously tight punk band fronted by an unlikely character, Joe Casey, who stands one hand in his pocket, blasé as an accountant at a staff meeting, making occasional modest gestures, but spewing a stream of chaotic poetry. He somehow grounds the band, while also leading it in dangerous directions. The band behind him is just monstrously good. Drummer Alex Leonard weights the band’s sound with primal, tom-whacking drums, working in concert with bassist Scott Davidson to set a heavy groove. Greg Ahee layers a pedal effected guitar over it all, injecting sharp riffs and shimmering miasmic atmospheres. Good sound balances these contradictory elements, so that the weird poetry coalesces with guitar-bass-drum onslaught. If you can hear it all, it’s a pretty great night.

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The other surprising thing is that Protomartyr’s guitar sound on the album is completely different from its sound live, the warm, almost new-wave-ish framework exploded into a MBV-ish wall of distortion. (There was a bit of a dust-up over one reviewer’s likening Protomartyr to Interpol last summer, and I kind of wonder if they changed up the guitars to blow that comparison out of the water. Though I hope not. It was always bullshit.) The drums are also much louder and, frankly, a much more critical element to this band than you’d realize by listening to Under Color of Official Right. The difference goes beyond the standard, whoa-this-band-is-much-louder-in-person cliché. They sound genuinely different, even playing songs that I pretty much wore out the grooves on in 2014, and there is some new material, also very confrontational and raw, as well.

 

Protomartyr plays a lot of the songs from Under Color of Official Right, the sawed-off and tuneful “Ain’t So Simple,” a cathartically enraged “Want Remover,” the surprisingly lounge-y “What the Walls Said,” a blinding-sheets-of-white-noise-tipped “I Stare at Floors” and a hypnotic “Scum, Rise!” There are also some new ones, which sound more stripped back and punk-like than the current album, though, to be fair, the old songs sound this way as well. They finish with a blistering, annihilating “Come and See,” and pack up without ceremony. When we come out Joe Casey is having a smoke and talking to the kids who have gathered outside. If you didn’t know, you might think they were the rockers and he a fan. Protomartyr transforms the everyday into the mythic, but only when it’s on stage.

 

 

 

KATHRYN CALDER – Kathryn Calder

Album: Kathryn Calder

Artist: Kathryn Calder

Label: File Under: Music

Release Date: April 14, 2015

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www.fileundermusic.com

BY MIKE SHANLEY

 

With three albums out now under her own name, Kathryn Calder has built up a volume of music strong enough to eclipse her role in the New Pornographers. Are You My Mother (2010) and Bright and Vivid (2011) featured Calder’s sweet voice wrapped in layers of gauzy echo, surrounded by music that combines ambience and moody pop. Lyrically they both sounded upbeat and hopeful, though both dealt with feelings of loss and recovery.

 

For her self-titled third album, Calder took an Eno-esque approach to composing. She created atmospheres with keyboards and fashioned songs around them. The results frequently have fairly simple foundations of a few repeated chords. “Slow Burning,” begins the album with the statement, “Come show me something I can’t see,” which could be either a personal challenge or an outer appeal. The song serves more as extended intro rather than an opening statement, never rising above a calm murmur. “Beach” keeps things understated and intimate, with a metronomic drumbeat and clarinet added to the synths. Then Calder shifts gears in the organ-driven pure pop of “Take a Little Time,” with synth horns floating over a chugging bassline that feels infectious for all the right reasons.

 

Calder balances the rest of the album between slower tracks with brighter ones, on about a 2:1 ratio. The somber feelings of “Song in Cm” and “Arm in Arm” are answered by the synth bass-drive of “My Armour.” “When You See My Blood” actually takes it both ways, rising to a dramatic climax that’s worth the wait. And regardless of the tempo, Calder continues to show a knack for rich vocal melodies that make sure none of these tracks sound merely like a simple ideas trying to pass themselves off as songs. The real nuances come out when this music is heard closely on headphones, but even when they blare out of speakers, there is something alluring to grab the ear and pull you in.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Take a Little Time,” “Pride by Design.”

WILL BUTLER – Policy

Album: Policy

Artist: Will Butler

Label: Merge

Release Date: March 10, 2015

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www.mergerecords.com

BY FRED MILLS

Arcade Fire fans expecting something Arcade-esque from Will Butler will likely be disappointed, or at least thrown off, by Butler’s solo debut. Although he has an upper-register singing style that will recall older brother and fellow A.F. member Win Butler, only one track, out of the dozen that make up Policy, can really be likened to the anthemic fare that is Arcade Fire’s stock-in-trade. That the exuberant, shouty “What I Want” isn’t even close to being the best tune here potentially bodes well for the younger Butler, who already notched a shared Oscar nomination (with A.F. collaborator Owen Pallett) for Best Original Score for 2013’s Her.

Policy is actually all over the musical map, and indeed Butler is a former college radio deejay who knows his genres. There’s thumping, Nuggets-style garage rock (“Take My Side”); synth-driven ‘80s electro-pop (the Cars-meets-Human League “Anna”); stately piano balladry (“Finish What I Started”); strummy-folky upbeat indie rock (“Son of God”); even a moody, atmospheric dirge (“Sing to Me”) which sounds like it might have originally been intended for a film.

This scattershot, kitchen-sink approach is simultaneously the album’s charm and undoing, however. For as catchy and hooky as his material can be, the haphazard production leaves it sounding somewhat listless, Butler not so much forging a unique identity as coming across at times like just another indie forager in search of a Pitchfork review.

Still, when he’s on, he’s definitely at the top of his game, distinguishing himself apart from the mothership that pays his bills; the aforementioned “Take My Side” and “Anna” in particular illustrate his considerable gifts as a pop craftsman. Think of the album as a calling card, then, and the promising start of what we can only hope will be a fruitful solo career.

DOWNLOAD: “Take My Side,” “Son of God”

BOZ SCAGGS — A Fool To Care

Album: A Fool To Care

Artist: Boz Scaggs

Label: 429 Records

Release Date: March 31, 2015

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www.429records.com

By Lee Zimmerman

 

Although it’s likely that Boz Scaggs will always be best remembered as the smooth crooner on ‘70s classics like “Dinah Flow,” “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” his recent outings have proven there’s much more to his pedigree than the ability to pen hit songs. He established his blues credentials in the late ‘60s as a sideman with the Steve Miller Band, a role he played well before he became a steady presence on both the AM and FM radio dials.

 

Not surprisingly then, A Fool To Care, his follow-up to 2013’s much lauded Memphis, finds Scaggs continuing to transition towards senior star status. Here he pays homage to any number of classic styles, from R&B (“I’m So Proud,” “Full of Fire”) to sounds culled from south of the border (“Last Tango on 16th Street,” “I Want to See You”) and all different hues of the blues (“High Blood Pressure,” “Rich Woman” and “Hell to Pay,” the latter complemented by vocals and slide guitar from Bonnie Raitt). Happily though, he manages to maintain an uptempo groove that’s both animated and expressive. Scaggs’ molasses-soaked vocals are as tantalising as ever, never more so than on the Band’s “Whispering Pines,” which he absolutely transforms into a newly minted soul standard via an aching duet with Lucinda Williams.

Clearly, Boz is back, and at age 70, he’s never sounded so assured.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m So Proud,” “Whispering Pines,” “Last Tango on 16th Street”

WAXAHATCHEE — Ivy Tripp

Album: Ivy Tripp

Artist: Waxahatchee

Label: Merge

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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http://www.mergerecords.com

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt was one of 2013’s rawest pleasures, a flayed-open honesty framed in the barest kinds of guitar arrangements. The follow-up, Ivy Tripp, is both more substantial and less weighty, its denser arrangements cushioning but not entirely blunting Katie Crutchfield’s naked emotional appeal.

It begins in “Breathless,” a drone of organ, a buzz of feedback, Crutchfield chanting more than she’s singing, and drawing the vowels out in long, self-lacerating ooos. But it doesn’t take long before she’s surrounded by careening vocal counterparts, little fillips of keyboard, random slashes of feedback-y guitar. “I’m not trying to be seen,” she croons in her wounded wild thing cadences, and indeed, she seems to be hiding, at least partially, behind the sound.

And, yet what a joy to hear Crutchfield kicking up a racket in cuts like “Under a Rock” and “Poison,” the guitars ragged and blurred and distorted, the drums shaken to pieces by rampaging, crashing intensity. Or what about “Dirt” with its country-swaggering guitar lick, its teeth-rattling, cymbal-clashing drums and Crutchfield hushed to a husky murmur that carries, anyway, over the mayhem. It’s less revealing, maybe, but not less real.

The one that I like least is “La Loose,” built on the flimsiest, electro-bedroom rhythm and wreathed with whispery “ooh-ooh-oohs.” She sings in such kittenish, unthreatening tones, that might miss the spike in the sugar. “I feel so close to death, I will visualize a tragedy and blame you for it.” “Ooh ooh ooh” indeed.

Every once in a while you get an album that seems, definitively, to say, “This is who I am,” and Cerulean Salt was one of those. Ivy Tripp is more of a “This is what I can do,”’ album, worthy enough, and intermittently excellent, but not as shocking, not as eye-opening, not as much of a sock in the gut as the predecessor.

Download: “Dirt” “Poison”

 

 

WILL HOGE — Small Town Dreams

Album: Small Town Dreams

Artist: Will Hoge

Label: Cumberland

Release Date: April 07, 2015

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www.cumberlandrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Much like Springsteen and Mellencamp, Will Hoge recognizes that even the most sweeping epics are essentially borne from an individual’s ordeals. Indeed, the title tells it all; Small Town Dreams is essentially a look at a rapidly fading pastiche, that of life in middle America, where for all the touting of an economic recovery, the struggle for survival still persists. Hoge documents these tales from a knowing, first-person point of view, giving each scenario the credibility — and respectability — that the characters deserve. It’s touching and enlightening, and just what’s needed to put the focus back on the heartland, the place where it belongs.

For all the ache and desperation these narratives entail, Hoge’s resolute attitude, defiance and determination are the elements that rise to the fore. “It’s too late for me to go crazy, so I’m holding out as long as I can,” he declares on “Desperate Times,” one of the most driven songs of the set. That decided determination also resonates to the fullest on the album’s opening salvo, “Growing Up Around Here,” which finds Hoge taking musical cues from Tom Petty while affirming a genuine sense of self.

Hoge is essentially his own man, and it’s a credit to his credence that he never comes across as a poser or pretender. Consequently, Small Town Dreams boasts a kind of incandescent delivery and drive that makes a live rendition of each of these tracks easy to imagine.

So far, Hoge appears to be doing it right, building to bigger audiences while still keeping his homespun perspective intact. It makes a big difference, and potential admirers will likely perceive it too. Both rocking and reflective, Small Town Dreams is chock full of the kind of ready for prime time anthems that effectively assert both his acumen and authority.

DOWNLOAD: “Desperate Times,” “Growing Up Around Here”