Monthly Archives: March 2012

Bad Weather California – Sunkissed

January 01, 1970

(Family Tree)

 

www.familytreerecs.com

 

I’m not sure if eclectic Funk/Folk Rock fans have summer
jams, but if they do, I’m certain any number of the songs off of the latest
from the Denver-based band Bad Weather California will make the list this year.

 

Sunkissed, the
sophomore album from this foursome, is just that: a soundtrack for the
sun-drenched summer months (“I’ll Reach Out My Hand”) and beer on the porch
evenings (“I’ll Sing Along)”. With its charmingly sloppy DIY feel, Sunkissed
also somehow manages to be the least punk rock sounding album that clearly
draws influence from a slew of punk rock bands (everyone from The Minutemen and
fIREHOSE to The Meat Puppets). The record follows up 2009’s Young Punks nicely, going even further
into the 60’s garage and psychedelic rock vibe they first hinted at a few years
ago. No place is that more obvious than on the almost free-form jam “I Feel
Like Dancing” or the brilliant “Let it Shine” (which could almost pass itself
off as one of Brian Wilson’s great lost Pet Sound/Smile-era experimental
tracks, though with a lot more funk).

 

Bad Weather California, which once served appropriately
enough as a backing group to odd ball genius Daniel Johnston, has a knack for
slipping in and out genres fairly easily which actually works in their favor
rather than coming off as contrived. They might just be one of the few bands
going that can appeal to both Deadheads and anyone who has ever worshipped at
the altar of the salty punk rocker Mike Watt. So whether it’s a tie-dyed bikini
or a Clash t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, you already have the music for the
summer, all you need now is for the calendar to catch up.   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Skate
or Try,” “Let it Shine” and “I’ll Reach Out” 
JOHN B. MOORE

 

Fred Eaglesmith – 6 Volts

January 01, 1970

(Sweetwater Music)

 

www.fredeaglesmith.com

 

 

The music on Fred Eaglesmith’s new album “Six
Volts” is an acquired taste.

 

If you prefer music full of pop hooks and catchy lyrics – and
there’s no reason why you shouldn’t – move along. Fred Eaglesmith isn’t your
kind of music man.

 

We always hear about musicians that mix and match influences
to create their own sounds. Eaglesmith does that, too. Not to stretch a point
too far, but comparing his sound with those of what some say are similar
artists is akin to comparing a wine from the extraordinary Opus One with, well,
not Two-Buck Chuck but you get the idea.

 

Eaglesmith’s music is a true sensory experience because of
his life experience, and that doesn’t mean age. It means a Baby Boomer that was
on such a quest to understand life that he spent part of his teenage years
hopping freight trains through his native Canada. Although Eaglesmith
presumably doesn’t hop trains anymore, his lyrics clearly show he’s a true
student of life. The result is a catalog that speaks to listeners’ hearts as it
melds the sonic flavors of bluegrass, folk and rock.

 

While many music journalists compare him to Neil Young, I
think John Mellencamp (post his “Jack and Diane” period) and John
Hiatt are his musical soul mates.

 

But that’s not important.

 

What is important is that you realize that Six Volts is yet another in a long line
of musical triumphs for Eaglesmith and those about whom he writes.

 

Of the 11 songs on this album, “Johnny Cash” is
truly a stand out track. That’s the one where Eaglesmith calls out all the (get
ready for it) Johnnies Come Lately  to
Cash’s music in lyrics that include:

 

“Where were you were in 1989/when it looked like Johnny
was on the decline/

His career was fading, His shows weren’t selling/You were
listening to heavy metal/but you sure do like Johnny Cash now

 

You sure do like Johnny Cash now/ Now that they’ve put him
in the ground/The radio station plays him all the time/too bad they never
played him when he was alive/but you sure do like Johnny Cash now.”

 

Another don’t miss song is the title track that has a simple
elegance in its guitar and simple percussion, much like the done-me-wrong
ballad “Katie.”

 

Eaglesmith recorded the album with a live band and one
(seriously) microphone. Can’t get much more down home than that. But as
Eaglesmith’s music proves, sometimes the back-to-basics approach is truly the
most beautiful.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Johnny Cash,” “Katie” – NANCY DUNHAM

Yellow Ostrich – Strange Land

January 01, 1970

(Barsuk)

 

www.barsuk.com

 

The guys in Yellow Ostrich can write a great Indie pop song.
If you need proof just listen to a handful of tracks off of the first half of Strange Land. 
Songs like the delightfully goofy “Elephant King” or “Stay At Home,” a
song so fun and peppy it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Apple’s ad firm
will snatch this one up for the next iPhone launch. The fact that the band can
clearly put down a great track, just makes the rest of Strange Land
that much more frustrating.

 

The group vacillates between fantastic melodies and the
occasional big power chords and maudlin Indie whine rock (you can almost hear Alex
Schaaf singing himself to sleep on “I Got No Time For You”).  For every solid track there’s a weaker one
right around the corner to prove it just might have been a fluke.

 

I’m not quite sure what’s to blame for the schizophrenic
nature of Strange Land. Maybe it was the transition from a solo project to a group
effort, maybe it was their decision not to use an outside producer or maybe
signing to the formidable Indie label Barsuk meant the guys wanted to out hip
the hipster. Regardless, the listener’s is left with an uneven record that one
part brilliant pop, one part pretentious melancholy.

 

There are hints of a potentially great band on Strange Land, just not enough to sustain a full
length.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Elephant
King,” “Stay Home” and “Daughter” JOHN B. MOORE

 

Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons – Happy Book

January 01, 1970

(Cosmo
Sex School)

 

www.cosmosexschool.com

 

Taking a cue from the Beatles’ so-called White Album, tireless troubadour Jerry
Joseph and his combo the Jackmormons offer up a double disc set
that emphasizes diversity and a marked shift in style. In truth, a two CD set
seems something of a stretch, given that Happy
Book
boasts only 15 tracks in total, a number that’s less than one might
expect given that expanse. Nevertheless, if Joseph was itching to exercise his
ambitions he’s found an ideal avenue; disc one reflects a fondness for funk and
a brooding, squinty-eyed perspective underscored by brass, rhythm and
rumination.

 

Even so, the second set fares better; after sufficient
warm-up, Joseph and company adopt a
Stones-like swagger, his Jagger-esque vocals providing a prominent snarl for
“Mile High, Mile Deep,” “Without a Rope” and “Campo Miguel.” It’s a surprising
shift, even for these well-rounded rockers, but the electro pulse that
underpins the bluesy “Spit” and the slow, bedraggled shuffle of “Ship,” affirms
their basic savvy. Several pedigreed guests add their talents – members of the
Decemberists, Blitzen Trapper and Richmond Fontaine among them – but the intensive
effort displayed in this Happy Book of Jackmormons is mostly a credit to Joseph and the band alone.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Mile
High, Mile Deep,” “Without a Rope,” “Ship” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Sara Radle – Same Sun Shines

January 01, 1970

(self-released)

 

www.sararadle.com

 

This Texas-bred
musician has been on the scene since 1996, when she was 17, with the punk-pop
band Lucy Loves Schroeder. Since that time she has released four previous solo
records and played with both The Rentals (with ex-Weezer Matt Sharp) and
Walking Sleep. While Radle has been in several bands she feels most comfortable
doing her solo stuff.  2010’s Four was full of spunky power pop with
big hooks and sweet melodies which brings us to her fifth solo outing here.

 

The songs on Same Sun Shines aren’t quite as
memorable as those on Four, but it’s
not a bad record, and Radle deserves serious kudos for playing every note on
here. The first few tunes are a bit uneven and don’t seem to bring out here
strengths (which is writing spunky power-pop-ish songs). When Radle is at her
best she reminds me of a poor man’s Tanya Donelly (or occasionally Juliana
Hatfield circa Hey Babe) and this is
evident on terrific songs like “The Pins” and the shuffling “There’s a Change.”
On her cover of the country chestnut, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to
be Cowboys”, she is joined by Mary Lou Lord, and theirs is a thundering version
with big drums and the Radle/Lord voices mixing perfectly.

 

Regardless of
what I (or anyone else) say, Radle will keep plugging away, the way it should
be.  Here’s hoping she knocks it out of
the park next time.

 

DOWNLOAD: “The Pins”, “There’s a Change”,  Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be
Cowboys”, “There’s A Change”  TIM HINELY

 

 

Cuddle Magic – Info Nympho

January 01, 1970

(FYO)

 

www.fyorecords.com

 

Imagine Tuli Kupferberg running onstage during a concert by
Laurie Anderson or Philip Glass. A serene stream of sound that’s equivalent to
the dips and rises on a heart monitor is playing. The most easily identifiable
elements include a casio recorder, a snare drum, a clarinet, and light
background vocals. At the mic., Kupferberg begins “Disgrace Note” with the
statement, “I can’t write a song with Vic Chesnutt gone.”

 

The lead vocals here aren’t by Kupferberg – they’re
delivered by the gentler voice of Ben Davis. The lyrics are casually
intellectual; a scattered (but not scattershot), post-Beat stream of
name-dropping consciousness. It’s an engaging rumination without an ounce of
keening: These people mattered. Their losses have left weeping wounds. For this
listener, the deeper hook comes with the line, “Go screw God again/Richard
Brautigan’s gone.” But this oddly lovely ditty may appeal to more than
Brautigan lovers – indeed, it would provide an excellent theme for an NPR
program. Although the track could be Info
Nympho
‘s most inspired stroke, opening the album with this checklist
reveals a lot about where Cuddle Magic’s coming from. High(er) Culture mavens
can make music that’s shadowy and quiet; the antithesis of People Magazine and Entertainment
Tonight
.

 

While Cuddle Magic lacks the Shaggs’ primitively naïve
oddity, along with the left of left field work of Don Van Vliet or Gypsy Cat
& Gypsy Bird, its music is fairly demanding, and cloudy. Info Nympho‘s pink digipak is its
sunniest element. When the cello-based somberness of  “Marie Cardona” is punctuated by toy piano
chirps and clarinet comments, something, in some listeners, is stimulated: It’s
an interesting plod. And it’s most likely to appeal to fans of the Raincoats,
Coco Rosie, Steve Reich, and Jad Fair, as well as the Do at its most minimal.

 

The album stops a few feet short of being wonderful – it’s
moody and on/off engaging, but as musical poetry, it’s far from laureate-level
proficiency. That doesn’t mean that this multi-armed, young man-woman
collective, which is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Brooklyn,
New York, doesn’t still have some
wonder  up its mutual sleeve. Bassist
Bridget Kearney’s “Jason” has a pea-soup mournfulness (which is easily topped
by the version recorded by another band she’s involved with, Joy Kills Sorrow).
There’s something of magic in the warm, organic chemistry of “Again,” and the
staccato choruses of “Baby  Girl,” an
ambience that accounts for the band’s full performance schedule, and the
fan-based dollars that enabled this recording by way of a Kickstarter campaign.

 

Charisma and a charmingly thoughtful presence can only do so
much via recorded translation. If it can’t wander to less repetitive,
predictable destinations – or even if it can — what Cuddle Magic lacks is
inspired, or simply better, songwriting. While the lyrics are intelligent and
sincere, the music on Info Nympho isn’t lovely, strange, or remarkable enough to earn the band a multi-sectional
sofa in the club for brilliantly quirky artists that’s populated by the
Raincoats, the Do, and Robert Wyatt. Yet. Were I in the Northeastern part of this country, I’d still attend every show I
could, just to hear the tracks mentioned, and “Handwrit,” which approaches an
urban-feeling magnificence. And to hear what the band’s going to do next.

 

[Note: Tuli Kupferberg, best known for his work with the
Fugs, died of kidney failure and sepsis in 2010.]

 

DOWNLOAD: “Disgrace Note,” “Baby Girl,” Handwrit,” “Again” MARY LEARY

 

 

Pontiak – Echo Ohno

January 01, 1970

(Thrill
Jockey)

 

www.thrilljockey.com

 

The
first three songs on Echo Ono could
virtually be one eight-minute opus in a few movements. Recorded without the use
of any distortion pedals, according to the liners, things nevertheless roar to
a start in “Lions of Least,” built on a “TV Eye”-style guitar line that moves
in and out over a steady 4/4 pound. Blink and it’s easy to miss the quick stop
before “The North Coast” expands on the monochord action, with dynamics and
more of a verse-chorus structure. When bassist Jennings Carney cues the 6/8
shift to “Left with Lights,” it ratchets the energy up even further. Clearly,
the Carney brothers (which include Van on guitar and vocals, and Lain on drums)
knew what they were doing when they sequenced these three tracks because the
final effect sounds less like songs in the same key and more like one complete
epic.

 

Pontiak
created Echo Ono by themselves at
their farm/studio in Virginia.
They used overdubs in a few spots (droning organs to add ambience, acoustic
guitars) but the overall sound feels live, where Van’s ear-splitting power
chords might drop out briefly during a verse, only to return right when it’s
time to drive things home. “Silver Shadow” and “Stay Out, What a Sight” proves
the band can mellow out a bit, without losing any direction. Van’s calm vocals
have as much presence whether he’s competing with his axe or carrying the show.
Only on “Panoptica” does the band
decide to wail away without any sense of direction. At six minutes, it’s twice
as long as almost every other track, but considering closes the album, they’ve
built up a reserve of energy that carries through to the end.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Left with Lights,”
“Silver Shadow.” MIKE
SHANLEY

Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

 

www.anti.com

 

After a brilliant debut album that pushed the parameters
into as yet unchartered realms, Lost in the Trees returns with a sophomore set
that blurs those boundaries even further. Shimmering and ethereal, A Church That Fits Our Needs finds the
band as ambitious as ever, daring to soar on the strength of a mere pluck of
piano strings (“Moment One”) or billowing symphonic set-ups (“Red,” “Golden
Eyelids”). Yet for all the ambiance there’s also ambiguity; the acoustic
guitars and clip-clop percussion of “Neither Here Not There” often seem
curiously at odds with one another, while the dainty and fragile “Icy River”
only adds to the uncertainty.

 

Admittedly, Lost In The Trees isn’t an easy outfit to pin
down, especially when vocalist Emma Nadeau
and guitarist/vocalist Ari Picker parlay their hollow-eyed harmonies in the
midst of hazy swirling sounds. Still, songs like “This Dead Bird Is Beautiful”
and “An Artist’s Song” provide appropriate odes to Picker’s mother, who took
her own life to find peace in the ether. Those ghostly sentiments inform each
of these tracks, though immediate accessibility may remain well out of reach.
Yet, that’s perfectly fine, because repeated listens offer their own rewards.

 

And with that, A Church That Fits Our Needs becomes a stirring coda that embraces the aftermath of despair, ringing with a
resilience that’s inspired, ambitious, mesmerizing and majestic.

 

DOWNLOAD:
“Golden Eyelids,” “Neither Here Nor There” LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

The Sea is My Brother

January 01, 1970

(Da Capo)

 

www.dacapopress.com

 

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

 

It’s a bright day in my
somewhat shadowed life when a new Jack Kerouac novel is “discovered” and
released by handlers of his estate. 
Since his death in 1969 at the age of 47, the family of his widow,
Stella Sampas, has controlled Kerouac’s interests and intellectual
property.  Since the release of Atop an Underwood, a collection of early
Kerouac stories, in 1999 there has been a steady flow of new material for fans
of the Beat Generation king. 

 

The latest, The Sea is my Brother, is perhaps the
best of the posthumous releases if not for quality but for how it shows the
reader the direction Jack was heading in his writing.  Sea could
be considered the skeleton that would become gems such as On The Road, Maggie Cassidy or The Subterraneans; the spontaneous
bop prosody style that Kerouac created (sentence structures that have a rhythm
much like his beloved Jazz) are in the early stages here.  Unlike “The Town and The City,” where Kerouac
obviously took an approach to writing much like his hero Thomas Wolfe, The Sea is My Brother is wholly
Kerouac.  He does not allow the
sometimes-stiff narrative to become constrictive for too long; at the brink of
convention, he breaks away from the norm and breathes life to a style that is
energetic and natural. 

 

The plot of Sea (if you could call it that) is
nearly non-existent; the book revolves around two main characters, Columbia
University professor Bill Everhart and Wesley Martin, two men that hook up
after many bar discussions and head out aboard a ship carrying war supplies to
Greenland.  Kerouac himself took this
exact trip as a merchant marine aboard the SS Dorchester.  Like any great writer, Kerouac borrowed from
his real-life experiences to formulate a world of his own where he is God and
his characters, whether they are Martin, Dean Moriarty, Old Bull Lee, Mardou
Fox or Carlo Marx, are his children to control and mold.

 

Sea is quite impressive considering Kerouac was barely out of
this teens when the writing began.  He
was already well on his way at that, tender age of creating the two mythical
American types that lay down the foundations for most, if not all, of his
future work.  Bill Everhart is the
ponderer, the deep thinker, the moral compass of the book.  Young Wesley Martin is the Dean Moriarty (the
main character of On The Road based
on Neal Cassady) of this outing.  He is
the energetic, wandering bum that only wants to have a drink, see the world and
maybe find a woman along the way.

 

Kerouac himself
identified The Sea is My Brother as
handwriting more than a novel.  The fact
that he was not happy with the finished product and chose not to publish it
alongside his autobiographical works like Lonesome
Traveler, Big Sur, On the Road, Visions of
Cody,
or the great Desolation Angels is a shame.  Yes, The Sea is My Brother is not a great piece of literature but it is
quite good.  If released during Kerouac’s
short 47 years, it would have stood with the others as an example to other
writers to find their own voices and that persistence does indeed pay off in
spades.

 

 

Prima Donna – Bless This Mess

January 01, 1970

(Acetate Records)

 

www.acetate.com

 

Sounding like a band weaned on little more than the New York
Dolls and Cheap Trick, LA’s Prima Donna (why has no one snatched this band name
up before?) play glammed up power pop and punk rock that sounds like they’ve
just awaken from a 35-year coma. Try and name any other glam punk band
recording today that includes saxophone and tubular bells?

 

Bless This Mess, their sophomore effort, is a nice step forward from their impressive if a
little uneven 2008 debut. The band has certainly kept
busy during the four-year gap touring the globe several times including a high
profile world tour opening for Green Day (Singer/guitarist Kevin Preston also
plays guitar in the Green Day side project Foxboro Hot Tubs) .

 

Years on the road have worked out well for the band as they
sound much tighter on these newer songs than their first go round. “Feral
Children” comes off like the Stooges if they had discovered melody and
“Broken,” with its piano backing, is closer in vain to more modern pop punk
songs, but both manage to highlight the band at its best. The record loses a
little steam toward the end, tacking on a couple of the weaker tracks, but the
earlier songs more than make up for the flaws. What’s punk rock without some
scars, right?   

 

DOWNLOAD: “Sociopath,”
“Feral Children” and “Broken”  JOHN B.
MOORE