Monthly Archives: June 2013


Album: Sob Story

Artist: Spectrals

Label: Slumberland

Release Date: June 18, 2013



In these days of gimmicks and high concepts, it’s always a treat to hear an artist stick to the essence of what she/he/it does. On Sob Story, the second LP from Spectrals, Yorkshire singer/songwriter Louis Jones and his drummer brother Will don’t bother to do anything other than write good songs and play them well. The duo takes inspiration from 90s popsters like Teenage Fanclub and, more significantly, late 70s rockers like Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Dave Edmunds, keeping the production simple, the arrangements uncomplicated and the whole affair focused on the songs and the melodies.

It really is as straightforward as that – everything the Jones bros do is geared toward maximizing the hooks and tuneful appeal of sprightly rockers “Milky Way,” “Something to Cry About” and the irresistible delight “Heartbeat Behind,” not to mention the winsome ballads “In a Bad Way,” “Friend Zone” and the title track. It’s always good to know there’s someone out there still doing straight-up guitar pop without irony or pretense.

DOWNLOAD: “Heartbeat Behind,” “Friend Zone,” “Something to Cry About”



Album: State

Artist: Todd Rundgren

Label: Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red

Release Date: April 09, 2013

Todd Rundgren


After a spate of recent releases that showed him diversifying his palette even further, Todd creates an unpredictable follow-up to his forays into edgy rock, fearsome blues and radically redefined versions of seminal songs produced for others. With State, he demonstrates why he’s been tagged as a musical chameleon, revisiting the synthesized setups and exotic experimentation that defined his work with Utopia and later made their way into individual outings like Individualist and Nearly Human.  

The ominous opener, aptly titled “Imagination,” finds him fearlessly admitting “I am high… that’s what I tell myself,” and given the frenzied effects that characterize this track as well as later entries such as “Serious” and “In My Mouth,” any hint of psychedelic suggestion is easily explained. Propelled by a techno undertow and electronica additives better suited to the likes of Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and Berlin-era Bowie, this material is far removed from the relentless rockers and sublime ballads Todd was known for early on. Only “Ping Me” finds him demonstrating his trademark wail, and a real willingness to keep his melodic instincts intact.

Those that deem this effort too weird or erratic are best advised to consider the deluxe edition with its live bonus disc recorded with the Metropole Orchestra at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Paying a revisit to several classic tracks, it offers ample reassurance that regardless of how he diverges, there’s always the comfort of those earlier endeavors.

DOWNLOAD: “Imagination,” “Ping Me,” “On My Mouth”


Album: Fandango

Artist: Phoenix Foundation

Label: Memphis Industries

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Phoenix Foundation


On its fifth album Fandango, Wellington, NZ combo the Phoenix Foundation doesn’t so much eschew the eclecticism of previous efforts as employ greater continuity.  Instead of shifting from jangly folk rockers to atmospheric psychedelia and back, the band instead moves everything under the umbrella of the latter while adding the melodic elements of the former. Catchy tunes come wrapped in acid-drenched gauze, leading to concise daydreams like “The Captain” and “Morning Riff” as well as relative epic dreamscapes a la “Supernatural” and the awesome “Corale.”

The crossover becomes more obvious on the concise but trippy “Walls,” the long but sugary sweet “Sideways Glance” and the haunting mid-length brooder “Inside Me Dead.” The Foundation wraps with “Friendly Society,” an 18-minute journey into the outer reaches of the inner mind that reflects the group’s soundtrack work as much as it does its pop tuneage. Lush, melodic and often downright gorgeous, Fandango moves the Phoenix Foundation to the next plane of reality.

DOWNLOAD: “Corale,” “Inside Me Dead,” “Sideways Glance”


PETER ROWAN – The Old School

Album: The Old School

Artist: Peter Rowan

Label: Compass

Release Date: June 04, 2013

Peter Rowan


 It’s not like Peter Rowan has anything to prove. Hardly. After more than 40 years of furthering the cause of modern bluegrass — first with his seminal sibling band the Rowan Brothers and then consistently on his own — his credentials are well decidedly established. (His song “Midnight Moonlight” is one of the great classics of the genre.) Yet with the all too aptly named The Old School, Rowan can again be found doing what he does best, hewing to a template that has him showing his devotion to tradition and making music that’s both vital and affecting. He doesn’t do it alone — other masters of the genre like the Del McCoury Band, Jim Lauderdale, Stuart Duncan, JD Crowe, Bobby Osborne, Don Rigby and Bryan Sutton all make cameos here — but it’s clearly Rowan that’s carrying the banner and directing the proceedings.

 Proof lies in the fact that all the songs are his, and whether it’s a rag, a ramble or both, the songs ooze authenticity. The old time-sounding “Letter From Beyond” comes across just as its title suggests, a tune that could easily be mistaken for an old time Appalachian folk song. “My Savior Is Callin’ Me” creates the same impression in a sturdy Gospel vein. In between, tracks like lovely “Doc Watson Morning,” “Keepin’ It Between the Lines (Old School),” “That’s All She Wrote” and “Drop the Bone” maintain those old school lessons with a strict discipline. Those seeking an introductory course in genuine mountain music will find no better place to begin.

 DOWNLOAD: “Letter From Beyond,” “That’s All She Wrote,” “”Drop the Bone”

GLENN JONES – My Garden State

Album: My Garden State

Artist: Glenn Jones

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release Date: June 04, 2013

Glenn Jones


Glenn Jones hasn’t been idle since he put Cul De Sac on hiatus. The guitarist and John Fahey acolyte has made a half-dozen solo albums of six-string serenades, of which My Garden State is the latest.  Written while staying in the New Jersey house in which he grew up, the record isn’t so much nostalgic as wistful, as if Jones was surveying the streets he used to walk with good memories but no desire to relive the past. Knowledge of the music’s creation won’t make much difference in one’s enjoyment, however. Whether it’s the open-tuned mantras of “Like a Sick Eagle Looking at the Sky” and “The Vernal Pool,” the dissonant textures of “Blues For Tom Carter” or the most pastoral atmospheres of “Alcouer Gardens” and “Going Back to East Montgomery,” Jones’ fingerpicking skill compliments his rolling melodies in ways that any music lover can hear.

DOWNLOAD: “Like a Sick Eagle Looking at the Sky,” “Blues For Tom Carter”



Album: Carry Me Home

Artist: Dustbowl Revival

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 21, 2013

Dustbowl Revival


Retro has come to mean any number of things in today’s genre-obsessed mindset. It’s not enough for a band to tag itself as simply roots-related; instead, it becomes mandatory to identify exactly which roots are being referenced. So when a band like The Dustbowl Revival comes along, a group that seems to take its cues from a smorgasbord of past precedents, it’s bound to throw the purists for a loop. This, their sophomore set, includes a number of weathered standards that stretch back a century or more, as well as several songs dating from the ‘20s, ‘30s and the prewar period in general.

That’s not to insinuate that Carry Me Home is merely a rehash or a history lesson; rather, this L.A.-based collective adds imagination and instrumental enhancements that actually affirm the original intents. The revered gospel hymn “Swing Low” begins with hushed harmonies and grows gradually into a rousing spiritual celebration. “John The Revelator” sheds its somber overtones in favor of raucous revelry. The Civil War lament “Soldier’s Joy” is transformed from a weary lament into a spontaneous foot-stomping, hand-clapping hoedown. Other tracks follow suit, flush with the sound of doo-wop, Dixieland, whimsy and ragtime. Ultimately, The Dustbowl Revival stay true to their name, and the results achieve something extremely rare, a sound that taps tradition while paying no heed to parameters. Praise be—this is one hell of a hallelujah.

DOWNLOAD: “Swing Load,” “Soldier’s Joy,” “John the Revelator”

Jonathan Richman & Tommy Larkins 6/15/13, Northampton MA

Dates: June 15, 2013

Location: Pearl Street, Northampton MA

jonathan richman 066



Jonathan Richman is the world’s oldest child, his bug-eyed sense of wonder filtered through world-weary years of experience. His mid-song spoken word intervals can conjure the unguarded innocence of a six-year-old, or they can sound like the disgruntled peeves of an oldster. It is a curious mixture, the way he dances with the herky-jerky abandon of a preschooler, his face shadowed with a very adult sadness and knowing.  


Tonight’s show is just Richman and his long-time drummer Tommy Larkins, who mans a set of heavily padded percussion instruments. It’s not easy to play so softly and make it interesting, but Larkins keeps it down in style, line-drawing bossa nova, samba, swing and rock ‘n roll rhythms with brushed snare, kick drum and conga. Richman, for his part, plays a strapless acoustic guitar, executing frantic strums and intricate runs while holding the instrument nearly vertical across his chest.  Sometimes he picks up a set of jingle-y bells, shaking them in wild gyrations of hips and arms and torso; his eyes remain utterly still.


There is no album to plug for this tour—not that it’s easy to imagine Richman in full promotional mode. He dips into the catalogue, fishing out crowd favorites like “Oh Moon, Queen of the Night” (and turning it into a diatribe against light pollution) and “Because Her Beauty Is Raw and Wild.” There’s an audible welcome to rousers like “La Fiesta Is Para Todos,” and a quiet appreciation for subtler “Springtime in New York.” A polyglot interval stretches four songs long, with Richman singing in French, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew; in this last song, we learn the “ka-ka-ka” (Hebrew) and “mezzo-mezzo” (Italian) and “just okay” (English) all mean roughly the same thing.


The crowd is older, mostly, a good number of them seated in the back, where the audio is good, but you can hardly see. But up front (where the reverse is true) a fair amount of grey is represented as well. There is far less checking of cell phones than usual, possibly because Richman turns “Take Me to the Plaza” into an anti-electronic-device rant midway through the show, or maybe it’s just a generational thing.  

jonathan richman 062 


You can’t avoid the impression that Richman is, throughout, in character, a weird blend of 20s romantic crooner, idiot savant child and observational comic (Steven Wright comes to mind). Yet it’s such an intriguing persona, retaining a certain amount of romantic innocence after decades of performing in grotty clubs.


Richman’s last two songs hint at how the grit of the world both have and haven’t stuck to him. “The World Showing Its Hand,” recounts his own early childhood in Brookline, MA, where bus fumes, the smell of grease and piss, each “tell me a secret.” Somehow Richman has remained astonishingly open to human experience, a two-year-old’s enthusiasm continuing to stir in his shiny wide eyes. And doesn’t that hurt?  Yes, in fact it does. The final song of the night, and the most moving of all, is “When We Refuse to Suffer.” It’s a stirring, rackety, rambunctious song with a radiant core, affirming the value of embracing all experiences, even painful ones. Otherwise, as Richman notes, “it’s just frozen pizza and twist-cap wine.”


“But I like frozen pizza and twist-cap wine,” bellows a man at the back, who has been singing along in a loud baritone for most of the second half of the show. Well, yes, embrace that, too. Jonathan Richman’s music is remarkably about everything — famous painters, true love, grimy cityscapes and even junk food.  It’s a wide armed embrace of the world that is both childish and astonishingly wise. 


 jonathan richman 064

Peter Frampton – Frampton Live In Detroit

Title: Peter Frampton - Frampton Live In Detroit

Director: n/a

Release Date: March 26, 2013

Frampton DVD

(Eagle Vision)


 Somebody please explain the difference between Frampton Comes Alive, the live Frampton experience, or Frampton’s greatest hits. The fact is, all three entities overlap, and any performance by the one-time “Face of ’68” is bound to include elements of each. So after the recent revival/recreation/revisit of Frampton’s big breakthrough, he now faces the possibility of simply returning to journeyman status.

 Which isn’t such a bad thing considering the crowd he packed in during this 1999 performance captured here on DVD. Graying, balding, bespectacled and yet still retaining his irrepressible youthful appearance on the cusp of turning the big 5-0, he’s as charming and cheery as ever. In that vein, he provides the expected (“Show Me the Way,” “ Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Do You Feel Like We Do”), various catalogue staples (“Something’s Happening,” “Lines On My Face,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor”) and a few onetime novelties (new song “If You Say Goodbye,” the relatively rare “Oh For Another Day”). Frampton fanatics — and mind you, it’s evident from this that there are plenty of them — already know what to expect, and it’s likely this stunning live set will satisfy to the max.

 For those on the fence, it’s worth the experience to see why Frampton remains one of the most fluid guitarists rock’s ever witnessed. (Hearing his stunning riffs on a track like “Lying” is all that’s needed to convince) A bonus interview with the man himself offers added insight for those still in need of the backstory. Suffice it to say, in getting back to basics, Frampton confirms that in the end the music is all that matters.


Album: More Light

Artist: Primal Scream

Label: Ignition/First International

Release Date: June 18, 2013

Primal Scream


O, Bobby Gillespie, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Just as Lulu once gushed (in To Sir With Love) about how on-screen mentor Sidney Poitier had taken her “from crayons to perfume,” Gillespie has, over his quarter-century tenure as frontman for Primal Scream, taken us from the jangle to the groove, freeing both our minds and our asses in the process. The group hit an early summit on landmark ’91 release Screamadelica, a record which, of course, helped redefine the aging UK rock scene for a youth climate awash in DJs, dance music and the drug Ecstasy while connecting it firmly with the hippie movement of yore. Soon enough, however, Primal Scream embarked upon a pick-and-choose exploration of rock’s tattered tapestry that included overt forays into ‘70s-ish, Stones-styled hard rock, ill-advised Prog and even neo-metal, and despite some occasional bursts of excellence (notably 2000’s politically-charged XTRMNTR, powered by hypnotic single “Swastika Eyes”), the group’s commercial star dimmed considerably, along with its reputation as an influential tastemaker.

The groundwork for More Light was apparently laid in

In 2011, though, when the Scream decided to perform the entirety Screamadelica to mark its 20th anniversary—first came the re-airing in London on Nov. 26, 2010 (a show filmed and released on CD and DVD as Screamadelica Live), then a good chunk of 2011 was spent touring the classic—gears summarily began grinding and the creative juices commenced flowing. Not long after, they hunkered down in the studio with producer/DJ David Holmes and assorted guests (among them: Robert Plant, Jason Faulkner, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and the Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, plus a full horn section and a slew of female backing vocalists). What they emerged with is the sound of a band utterly reborn. Boasting a lush, cinematic vibe dotted by intriguing deep-mix flourishes, exotic instrumentation (such as sitar and African percussion) and sample-snippets (as befits Holmes, who has scored a number of films), More Light is—like Screamadelica before it—a tripmeister’s delight.

The highlights are numerous on this album, which is that rare, all-over-the-map beast that resists the temptation disappear up its own eclectic ass and instead allows the groove to be its guide. There’s 9-minute opening track “2013” which in its horn-laden, glam-rock blare and lyrics about “a teenage revolution” and a “rock ‘n’ roll nation” aims to be as much a manifesto for now as “Loaded” or “Don’t Fight It, Feel It” were back in 1991. That’s followed by the trance-blues of “River of Pain,” which morphs from an acoustic guitar/percussion study into a surreal journey upriver into psychedelic dissonance laced with orchestral flourishes from producer Holmes. Both “Culturecide,” a hypnotic, part-chanted/part-sung invocation/invitation (to anarchy? to Occupy? to throw away preconceptions and challenge the politicians? only Gillespie knows for sure!), and “Sideman,” with its Nuggets-worthy fuzzadelic wooziness, subtly acknowledge Screamadelica as their spiritual forefather. And closing track “It’s Alright, It’s OK” deliberately references the ’91 release via its anthemic, gospel-pop vibe (check the keyboards, beats and female chorus). There’s also an intriguing mid-album detour by way of kitschy cabaret number “Goodbye Johnny,” which has as its origin some lyrics penned by late Gun Club singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce; Primal Scream adapted Pierce’s words to new music, resulting in a kind of kitschy, jazzy cabaret number featuring a terrific smoky sax solo.

Throughout, Holmes maintains a steady hand on the controls, never letting the stylistic shifts overwhelm the overriding ambiance, which is to revel in sensuality of synapse-stroking while riding the pure physicality of a full-on dance/rock record. As lead singer Bobby Gillespie smacks his lips and cheekily proclaims near the record’s end, “Ooh-la-la!” One readily imagines him popping up from behind the studio’s isolation cubicle walls, flashing devil horns on either side of his head, and grinning at his bandmates—kinda like what he’s doing on the frankly bizarre album cover. “Mission accomplished, mates!”

DOWNLOAD: “It’s Alright, It’s OK,” “River Of Pain,” “Culturecide”

Release note: the 13-song album also comes as a deluxe edition featuring 6 bonus tracks:

1. 2013
2. River of Pain
3. Culturecide
4. Hit Void
5. Tenement Kid
6. Invisible City
7. Goodbye Johnny
8. Sideman
9. Elimination Blues
10. Turn Each Other Inside Out
11. Relativity
12. Walking With the Beast
13. It’s Alright, It’s OK
14. Nothing Is Real / Nothing Is Unreal (Bonus Track)
15. Requiem for the Russian Tea Rooms (Bonus Track)
16. Running Out of Time (Bonus Track)
17. Worm Tamer (Bonus Track)
18. Theme From More Light (Bonus Track)
19. 2013 (Weatherall Remix) (Bonus Track)

RUSTY TRUCK – Kicker Town

Album: Kicker Town

Artist: Rusty Truck

Label: Crosseyed Music

Release Date: June 18, 2013

Rusty Truck




Rusty Truck isn’t your everyday shit-kicking country band. Led by veteran photographer Mark Seliger, it includes an all-star assemblage, including Joey Peters of Grant Lee Buffalo, Michael Duff of Chalk Farm, solo vocalist Kristin Mooney and rotating members Eric Heywood of Son Volt, Andy Gibson, a member of Hank III’s band and Sheldon Gomerg, a back-up player with Ryan Adams and Warren Zevon.


On the other hand, the music this conglomerate makes goes back to the basics, a rustic, sepia-tinged tapestry of twangy fiddles and pedal steel guitar. It’s telling that Seliger is first and foremost a world-renowned photographer – his work can be seen in the pages of Rolling Stone, GQ, Vanity Fair and Details – and that he’s played alongside Lenny Kravitz, Jakob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Sheryl Crow and T-Bone Burnett; the various vignettes that populate this, the band’s third album, create an iconic portrait of indelible American music. All the elements that contribute to that essential Southern soundtrack are present here – hopefulness, heartbreak, a down home demeanor combined with a rugged resilience. Those qualities are all manifest in traditional upbeat country narratives like “Buildings” and “It’s All Good,” as well as steadfast ballads such as “Anything In This World” and “Just Hold  the Mayo.” Contemporary country doesn’t get much more committed than this.

DOWNLOAD: “Buildings,” “It’s All Good,” “Anything In This World”