Dan Melchior has certainly played the blues before, both straight and refracted through his own peculiar aesthetic, but he’s rarely attacked them in so direct and sustained a matter as on #The Folksinger#. Over 11 tracks, Melchior plays a stripped-down electric blues wrapped in deathly echo. There are no frills, no instruments beyond guitar and voice and absolutely no irony.
There is, in fact, not much of Melchior, either. He plays these very traditional songs just about exactly the way that Howlin’ Wolf or Son House might approach them, though of course, he is not Howlin’ Wolf or Son House (it is a little disconcerting to hear him, a white British guy, wail, “Wa-aa-aal, I wish to the lord…” in the opening track). Yet the fact remains that Melchior is good at playing this sort of music. His guitar howls and drones and rattles like a locomotive. His hollowed-out voice navigates the spooky, overtone-haunted crevices of the music and tugs the ghosts out from “The Cuckoo” and, especially, late album highlight “Pretty Polly.”
Yet this feels like an album that takes no risks and makes no changes. It goes on, song to song, without much variation, until it ends. There’s none of the restless intelligence, the impatience with easy answers, the experimentation with tone and song structure and sound that distinguish Melchior’s most idiosyncratic and compelling work. If you like electric blues, here it is unadulterated, but that’s all.
The Upshot: While there are some great intimate moments, the lack of a more consistent balance between upbeat and slow tempo drags the album down a bit.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
English foursome The Magic Numbers play a decidedly classic rock/pop brand of music that boasts a variety of influences from Thin Lizzy and The Kinks to Nick Drake and Neil Young and remarkably few traces that their listening habits stretch past the late 1970s. And that’s both impressive and refreshing when it seems most bands coming out of the 2000’s appears to listen to little of anything further back than Blink 182 or Radiohead.
The band comprisea two brother/sister combos, have managed to forge their own musical path, ignoring musical trends over the past decade. Impressively, they were shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Prize shortly after their 2005 debut.
The Magic Numbers continue their nostalgia streak on The Outsiders, their fifth LP and mellowest one to date. That’s not to say, the band doesn’t have its glam-inspired boogies spread throughout the record, like the opener “Shotgun Wedding” or the Sweet-worthy track, “The Keeper,” but the bulk of the songs here lean more toward slow burners. And while there are some great intimate moments (especially the beautiful “Wayward”), ultimately that lack of a more consistent balance between upbeat and slow tempo drags the album down a bit.
DOWNLOAD: “Wayward,” “The Keeper” and “Shotgun Wedding”
The Upshot: There’s a folkier air to this record than in the past, which might appeal to Americana fans, and if you like catchy tunes, smart lyrics and commitment to vision, all in a shamelessly (but not obsequiously) Anglophilic style, you cannot go wrong.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
OK, folks, here’s the damn deal. For years many of us have been talking about L.A.’s guitar pop janglers The Black Watch, and you’re still not paying enough attention. No matter that John Andrew Frederick writes songs the way you wish every college professor wrote ‘em: with careful attention to language but little patience for strained metaphors and thirty-dollar words, wrapped up in timeless guitar-based melodies. Never mind that the various versions of the band always treat Fredericks’ tunes with just the right amount of respect, keeping those hooks at the forefront while not being afraid to rough things up once in a while. Forget that there are few musical artists at any level who are as consistent as this one – over the course of three decades and fifteen albums, plus a bunch of EPs and a couple of compilations, there are, maybe, two mediocrities, and that has more to do with comparison to the rest of the catalog than it does the lack of quality on the releases themselves. Y’all really should wake up.
But fear not: you have another chance. TBW has just released Witches!, its sixteenth LP, on the thirtieth anniversary of its first full-length album St. Valentine. And unsurprisingly, it’s a doozy. There’s a folkier air to this record, which might appeal to you Americana types – more acoustic guitars, more of a rustic feel. Though Americana as a concept ain’t in the cards – there are more references to British locations, art and literature here than maybe any other record in Anglophile Frederick’s repertoire. “The Weird Sisters,” “From Hampstead Heath” and “Graymalkin Comes” directly invoke various U.K. icons; “Dances For Sad Footsteps Slow” doesn’t, but it adds a British prog feel to the band’s usual jangle pop and the title sounds like Romantic poetry. In other words, there’s nothing here that sounds like the Lumineers or whatever pop band parades across the charts in Americana drag these days. Plus there’s still plenty of electric guitar and fuzzy psych pop – “When We First Met” and the banging “Georgette, Georgette” have you covered if you want to play air guitar while you sing along.
Really, if you like catchy tunes, smart lyrics and commitment to vision, all in a shamelessly (but not obsequiously) Anglophilic style, you cannot go wrong with Witches! You just can’t. If you’re a browser of Trouser Press Record Guides, peruser of 120 Minutes, old school fan of Rodney on the ROQ or just someone who wonders if anyone’s continued the legacy set by the Beatles, the Kinks and the Move, The Black Watch is your meat. There’s no goddamn reason in the world you’re not chewing. So get to it, folks. No excuses.
DOWNLOAD: “Graymalkin Comes,” “Georgette, Georgette,” “Dances For Sad Footsteps Slow”
The Upshot: After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.
BY FRED MILLS
The proverbial “sleeper” in every sense of the word: Graham Smith’s umpteenth release bolts out of the gate in uncompromising fashion, courtesy the brashly abrasive riff of “Practical Effects,” a slice of dissonant pop marked by his nasal vox and complementary/adversarial vocal harmonies. It sets the listener up for a potentially uneasy listening experience. And yeah, that voice is an acquired taste, the kind that almost turns sour by the time you flip the album from side A to side B—did I mention that Vana Mundiarrives on digital and sweet, delightful 180gm black vinyl?—for “The Mesomorph,” all a-focus with double-tracked and harmony-abetted vocals.
But c’mon Mr. Reviewer, you say, haven’t you given, ahem, heroes of yours who are also idiosyncratic singers, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Richard Hell, plenty of passes over the years? Correct; and as with those musical icons, Graham Smith has a hard-to-pin-down emotional and sonic quality that eventually charms one out of his or her critical tree and makes ‘em a believer. In another era, Kleenex Girl Wonder would’ve been a flagship act on New Zealand’s vaunted Flying Nun label, in all their shambling-yet-mesmerizing glory. Early Merge Records releases also come to mind, as Smith uncannily intuits how to be shouty and passionate at the same time—not a small task. After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.
Oh, and just to obliterate my entire argument about those idiosyncratic vocals: There’s a track called “Impossible Shadow” that, with its tingly indie-pop arrangement and massed vocal harmonies, clearly marks Smith as a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys acolyte. It’s a lightbulb moment, and a sonic epiphany. This dude’s a rare talent.
DOWNLOAD: “Sounds Good,” “Impossible Shadow,” “Sunday Night Fever”
The Upshot: A remarkable, enjoyable album from start to finish by a very Nilssonesque singer songwriter.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
The comparisons between Portland-based musician Matt Dorrien and Harry Nilsson are nearly impossible to avoid, but that’s certainly not a negative thing. From the opening piano chords of his debut, In the Key of Grey, you can’t help but think of Nilsson at his peak, heartbreakingly maudlin at times. And elsewhere, like on the song “Pretty Little Thing” you hear snatches of Randy Newman at his most sardonic.
The album is a pretty big departure from his previous work in the folk-focused, guitar band Snowblind Traveler. Along with the Nilsson and Newman influences, Dorrien also tosses in some Tin Pan Alley touches, including a little clarinet and saxophone mixed throughout the 10 songs here, adding to a feeling of timelessness.
Maybe the fact that it’s just so rare in 2018 to hear a piano-led album that those influences instantly come to mind, but it’s just as likely that Dorrien’s knack for story-telling and lyrical deftness is what’s leading to the comparisons. Regardless, The Key of Grey is a remarkable, enjoyable album from start to finish.
DOWNLOAD: “Baby I’m Lost,” “I Can’t Remember” and “Maybe This Time”
The Upshot: Canadian indie soul-rocker, with his “young Springsteen” vibe, may be poised to break big.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Although AHI (pronounced “eye’) is not know much outside of his native Canada – and to be honest, not even known by many there – he’s just put out a record that deserves a big audience and will hopefully lead to it.
In Our Time, his sophomore effort, defies obvious categorizing. It could fit in with the quieter Indie rock fare of Iron & Wine or The Decemberist, just as easily alongside Stevie Wonder or Prince in his quieter moments or a slew of modern folk artists.
The first thing you notice about AHI is his deeply commanding voice that somehow manages to be both soothing and gravely at the same time. But once you start to finally focus on the words he’s singing you realize the key ingredient to his future, inevitable success are the lyrics. Much like a younger Springsteen, a number of the songs here focus on getting out (the sublime “Five Butterflies” being the best example) or avoiding exploitation (the powerfully quiet protest song “We Want Enough”).
Though AHI may not be a household name right now, if there’s any justice In Our Time will take care of that shortly.
DOWNLOAD: “The Architect’s Hand,” “Five Butterflies” and “We Want Enough”
“Hypnotic” is the best way to describe Lithics front woman Aubrey Hornor at their recent live show at Denver’s Lost Lake. Not hypnotizing. Hypnotic, as in: she was in a trance, letting the music and lyrics convey all the night’s emotion (or non-emotion, as the case may be). It’s a strategy that works. Along with the dense, dexterous rhythm from bassist Bob Desaulniers and drummer Wiley Hickson and the persistent jangling noise from lead guitarist Mason Crumley, I imagined the show as a four-way boxing match. Each musician was in their respective corner, throwing their own version of sweet science out in the middle of the ring to dance awkwardly with its sparring partners.
The result was an FAQ of definitive punk elements coming together to make thought provoking rock that will immediately bring to mind your favorite parts and pieces of Devo, Bush Tetras, and The Fall. Lithics include more of one particular musical component than their influences: space. There was a lot of silence amid the sound in each of the 12 songs that were on the set list, some deliberately so (Still Forms, Burn On Burn) with others more subtle (Specs, Thing In Your Eye). That feeling is created by a few different Lithics touchstones. For instance, there’s no distortion or effects, for the most part. You get what you get. Also, there are lots and lots and lots of truncated notes, especially from the bass, that stop almost as soon as they start. Even when there’s not actual silence in a song, Lithics open up their music for the audience to insert themselves into. The rhythm guitar stops long enough for the bass notes to take over on Glass Of Water, for instance, before launching into the staccato punctuation of the verse’s coda. The drums fall over themselves, tumbling down over the guitars, and then jump back up into lockstep progressions.
Lithics music on stage is very true to form of their records, with the same clean tone they have in the studio. The stage just adds one more piece to a jangled, sometimes confusing puzzle that will one day explain why Lithics are so, so good.
Lithics newest release is Mating Surfaces out now on Kill Rock Stars.
The late singer’s former manager delivers the definitive account of his young charge’s tragically short career.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
Considering how influential Jeff Buckley remains (despite only having one studio album released during his lifetime) and the mystery surrounding his early death, it’s surprising that more books have not been written about the young artist. Regardless, his former manager, Dave Lory, has just turned in the definitive book on the musician.
Having worked side by side with Buckley — literally in some cases, as he drove the singer/guitarist across the west coast for one of his early solo tours — Lory knew Buckley better than most at a pivotal time in his career, as he was just signing his first record deal. Lory was there as Buckley built up his backing band, cycling through members, through the recording of Grace, and on countless treks across the globe, offering a uniquely personal remembrance of the singer. While there is certainly a lot of love and admiration in their relationship, Lory also doesn’t filter the experiences by painting the musician as a saint – as is often the case of books about long-passed rock stars. Buckley could act like a dick at times and be highly manipulative, and Lory, to his credit, isn’t afraid to share anecdotes. He also doesn’t shy away from Buckley’s growing drug use.
On the other hand, this is hardly a salacious tell-all, as the author spends plenty of time showing Buckley as a wildly talented, uncompromising artist, who could be sweet and thoughtful at times, with a famous, though demonstrably absent father, who constantly threatened to overshadow his son’s own career despite being dead for decades.
The story around the younger Buckley’s own death is recounted in vivid detail here, as Lory remembers first getting the call that the musician was swept away while wading into the Mississippi River late one night while in Memphis recording what was to be his second album. Lory goes into harrowing and deeply personal details as he describes his state as well as those closest to Buckley in the days that passed before the body was finally found.
Though Buckley was just starting his ascent onto the global musical stage when he died, his debut album remains a stellar promise of an impressive career that was supposed to come and with this book (288 pages, in hardcover), Lory has managed to give us all a look into the young musician’s life as he went about putting that album together and working on its follow up.
Johnny Brenda’s was the place, and the Okie rocker was an ace! (Above photo from Millsap’s Facebook page, where you can find tour dates and more, natch.)
BY JOHN B. MOORE
The draw of Oklahoma native Parker Millsap is wildly diverse. Proof of that could be seen at a recent show at Johnny Brenda’s, a mix of college students, 30-and-40-somethings and a slew of gray-headed music fans on the other side of 60. It’s hard to imagine many other 20-ish musicians that could draw such an eclectic audience on a Thursday night.
But much like his crowd, Millsap and his band play an equally diverse brand of music that draws from Americana, Blues, Alt Country, Folk and straight-ahead Rock. Over the course of the night, they dipped effortlessly in and out of songs from Millsap’s three-album catalogue for a remarkable enjoyable set.
With Millsap’s voice a little raspy, a month into this latest tour promoting Other Arrangements, he bounded onto the stage and asked, “Want to make some noise?” From that moment on, Millsap had the crowd on his side, starting off with a trio of songs from his newest record (“Fine Line,” “Other Arrangements” and “Your Water”).
Halfway into the set, his bandmates – fiddle player, drummer and bassist – all left the stage. Millsap was joined by his opener Jillette Johnson for a duet the two co-wrote, “Come Back When You Can’t Stay,” a sublimely heartbreaking track off of Other Arrangements. Once again alone on the stage, Millsap played a few songs on his own before the band rejoined.
Throughout the night, Millsap was charming, self-effacing (at one point joking that his sweat was washing all of the product out of his hair) as he and his bandmates roared through a stellar 20-plus song set, including an inspired cover of the “Hesitation Blues,” that put the bar remarkably high for any other bands those in attendance were set to see in the coming year.
Read John Moore’s 2016 interview with Parker Millsap HERE.
The Upshot: A trip over to Memphis to record their new album was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the N.C. band. (Vinyl fans will also want to know that it is available on eye-catching purple wax—check the photo, below.)
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
The notorious Spider Bags have been rocking the Tar Heel state for a dozen years, led by (doesn’t appear too) ‘Dangerous’ Dan McGee. After a four-year drought of fresh Spider squeezin’s—go HERE to read our review of their 2014 gem, Frozen Letter—we’re blessed with a deluge of juicy tunes, perhaps their tastiest to date. Boy howdy!
Recorded and mixed on vintage equipment at Bunker Audio in Memphis, rejecting new-fangled editing software, and purposely try and create a danceable, roots of rock ‘n’ roll record, which is what you do in Memphis. According to McGee, “Rock and roll just sounds better there. I swear.” The trio now features Steve Oliva on bass and Rock Forbes drumming, but, being in Memphis means having lots of other talent on hand to incorporate. Helping fan the flames are Matt Hoopengardner of the Golden Boys, Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus, Jack Oblivian, multi-instrumentalist Seth Moody, and most of the Memphis Dawls. On top of this gaggle, a Moog and an old synth modulator guitar pedal were liberally used throughout, providing a fresh flavor to their sound. It’s been said that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit. There is no bullshit to be found here.
The Moog is skillfully brought to bear in the kick-off number, “Reckless,” a heady, mid-tempo rocker, a perfect taster of stuff to come. Classic ‘Bags velocity is achieved next with “Oxcart Blues,” followed by “Alligator.” Good, pounding beats, showing you how it should be done.
You can lose your heart in “Burning Sand,” prominently featuring the aforementioned synth modulator noodling around and embellishing the number to great effect. “Cop Dream/Black Eye (True Story)” is sheer sharp-stick-in-the-eye punk, lasting an entire minute. Much fury is unleashed. Shorter-faster-louder! Another drastic shift in tempo brings up “My Heart is a Flame in Reverse,” a throwback to some early twangers like “Waking Up Drunk” and “So Long A Rope,” dripping with regret and remorse.
“Tonight, I Walk On the Water,” is another quick-but-efficient head-banger. “Ninety Day Dog” whips up a frenzy with an electro-hoedown, replete with wild fiddling and soaring pedal steel that could raise Gram Parsons. Probably my favorite cut. Striking out in rather new direction, “Apocalypso” plods slowly along as in a syncopated dream sequence. An impressive departure from what they’ve done previously.
Like it started, the album ends with an equally impressive piece, “Rollin’ With the Flow,” a great closer, where lots more synth is utilized in the outro, to walk it out the door. A damn tasty song on what is most certainly a very scrumptious record.
It’s obvious that a trip up to Memphis was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the band. Of course, the chemistry imbued by the helping hands and producer were significant to the end product. Let’s hope that McGee doesn’t require four years to produce the next one, but, he’ll know where to go to make it happen.
DOWNLOAD: “Ninety Day Dog,” “Apocalypso,” “Rollin’ With the Flow,” “Burning Sand“
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