Monthly Archives: August 2013

MICHAEL FENNELLY – Love Can Change Everything: Demos 1967-1972

Album: Love Can Change Everything: Demos 1967-1972

Artist: Michael Fennelly

Label: Sundazed

Release Date: July 23, 2013

Michael Fennelly


 For the uninitiated (which is everybody that doesn’t obsessively pore over the credits of 60s and early ‘70s pop records), songwriter Michael Fennelly authored “Go Back,” a 1970 hit single from his band Crabby Appleton, as well as four songs for Begin, the sole LP by legendary 60s studio pop ensemble the Millennium. Love Can Change Everything is, as billed, a collection of demo recordings, many of which led him to be acquired by Millennium masterminds Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen, served as previews of Appleton and/or earned him his brief post-Appleton solo career.

 Fennelly’s light voice and lovelorn lyrics perfectly suit the sunshine pop scene from which he emerged, especially when married to his sweet and occasionally creamy melodies. “I’ve Been Found,” “I Couldn’t Find the Words” and “Love Can Change Everything,” recorded with his Millennium bandmates, could easily slip into the repertoire of Emitt Rhodes or the Left Banke. By contrast, several tunes feature just Fennelly’s 12-string acoustic and overdubbed vocals – the naked sound and arrangements put the emphasis squarely on his catchy melodies, making tunes like the percussive “Try,” the yearning “Hunger For Love” and, of course, the power popping “Go Back” starkly effective.

 Love Can Change Everything isn’t just a curio for fans of unjustly obscure tunesmiths – it’s an engaging listen whether you know its auteur’s history or not. 

  DOWNLOAD: “Go Back,” “Hunger For Love,” “I Couldn’t Find the Words”

ELVIS PRESLEY – Elvis at Stax: Deluxe Edition

Album: Elvis at Stax: Deluxe Edition

Artist: Elvis Presley

Label: Legacy

Release Date: August 27, 2013



 “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Thus spoke the man behind the revolution that was Sun Records, Sam Phillips. He found a few guys who sort of fit that bill (Jerry Lee Lewis, for one), but none as charismatic as a kid from Mississippi named Elvis Presley.

 As John Lennon observed, “Before Elvis there was nothing.” Of course that’s coming from a dreamy, hyperbolic English teenager. But Lennon spoke for millions his age, millions who hadn’t heard Howlin’ Wolf, another Phillips protégé, or Robert Johnson, or Skip James, or … anyone darker than blue. And in truth, Elvis’ vaunted “blackness,” which became either a mantle of credibility or larceny depending on point of view, was exaggerated. He was kid who listened to WDIA (the black voice of Memphis), but who was just as plugged into the Grand Ol’ Opry and crooners like Dean Martin. Elvis contained multitudes to be sure, but he wasn’t Brian Jones or Al “Blind Owl” Wilson, deep students of the sounds of black America.

 And by the early Seventies he played relatively little rock ‘n’ roll for someone who was supposedly the ‘King’ of the damn idiom. And as for “sounding black,” what did the King do when he booked Stax Studios in his hometown of Memphis for sessions in 1973. Stax Studios, right? Hey, a great opportunity to marinate in Memphis’s black heritage. Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Carla and Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes – the potential to track with the Booker T. & the M.G.’s as your rhythm section … Dang! Maybe cut some of the classic songs from Hayes and Porter and Otis Redding, yeah baby!

 Nope. He brought in his own band, granted estimable talents like James Burton on guitar and Ron Tutt on drums, and did what he did in the early Seventies, cut a mixed bag of songs with varying degrees of personal and artistic investment. Elvis at Stax: Deluxe Edition, a beautifully annotated 3-disc set from RCA Legacy Recordings, finds him in fair fettle for this stage of his career – still in good voice, generally engaged, capable of truly moving work when the right elements combined, capable of dreck when they didn’t.

   Elvis at Stax collects all the final masters and some of the more arresting outtakes from those July and December sessions in 1973. Not that every single lick here wasn’t released on some odious Colonel Tom Parker (pictured above, with Elvis and “friend”) processed release or another, typically mixed with other unrelated songs from sessions recorded God knows where. Parker and RCA’s greedy, manipulative management of the Presley catalog is legendary. It would be an insult to Boxcar-fucking-Willie, let alone an artist of Elvis’s magnitude. From the haphazard track selection and sequencing, to the shabby packaging (ever count the number of white jump suit/live action shots that passed for record covers?), the disservice done to a great artist by his record company remains nonpareil.  Elvis at Stax, discreetly packaged, replete with complete credits for musicians, singers, and studio personnel, and excellent (if fawning) Robert Gordon liner notes, is a nice corrective.

 After listening attentively to the outtakes that comprise almost half of this set, it’s clear this is material for the Elvis devotee, lovers of half-assed arrangements, studio chatter and forgotten lyrics. On the other hand the finished masters from these sessions contain some real treasures. From among the July 1973 masters, two tracks leap from the pile. Leiber and Stoller’s “Three Corn Patches” is a southern slice of life (by two guys from Baltimore and Long Island) – Presley’s affinity for their tunes is well documented. It rocks with authority and Elvis gives it a reading that sounds like he might just have a thing for this chick “four cotton fields away.” And Piney Brown’s blues classic “Just a Little Bit,” the readymade from which a million blues songs have been spun including Junior Well’s “Snatch it Back and Hold It,” is given a New Orleans groove. It makes you wish that some enterprising producer might have cracked the grip of the Memphis Mafia and gotten the King to cut a record in New Orleans with Cossimo Matassa, Dave Bartholomew, and Allen Toussaint. Hmm, or maybe a Joe Turner tribute record (he recorded “Shake, Rattle and Roll”). Sure, the Colonel would have gone for that!

 There’s more to love from the December 1973 masters. The King’s urgent, swinging take on Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” finds him in playful voice and Burton’s Berryesque licks are fondly derivative and fresh at the same time. The rough and tumble croon on songs like “If You Talk in Your Sleep” and “Thinking of You” show how much Bryan Ferry dug Elvis, the former’s Norman Whitfield style funk arrangement hinting at some new avenues for the artist; James Burton doing his best Dennis Coffey. Dennis Linde’s “I Got a Feelin’ in my Body,” with its percolating groove, is another slice of contemporary funk; unfortunately it’s undermined by the Chipmunk backing vocals. The Jordanaires this ain’t. The same shticky backing vocals haunt tracks like “You Asked Me To.” Presley sings this Bill Joe Shaver/Waylon Jennings tune with plaintive authority, but the choir of diabetic angels is so thick that it buries rather than supports the emotion of his performance. For Elvis and producer Felton Jarvis at this point it was reflexive – if it’s not up-tempo, drag out the lachrymose singers and strings. This they borrowed from the country aesthetic of the time, and it did country artists few favors; such excesses laid the foundation for the radical curative of “Outlaw Country,” and artists like… Jennings and Shaver.

 Presley’s take on Tom Jan’s “Loving Arms” is a revelation. The singer opens himself to the song, avoids his own tics and clichés, and almost sounds like another singer. Jerry Reed’s “Talk About the Good Times” is basically Joe South-lite, but its neo-gospel feel lets Presley hit a confident groove. And “Your Love’s been a Long Time Coming” is a minor triumph from these dates. Presley is fully invested, the “you got me hummin’ lyric is (intentionally or not) a small nod to Stax, and the swelling string and back up singers actually reinforce the emotion in the song rather than drown it.

 Otherwise, these sessions are stricken with Elvis Seventies Malaise. Presley and his producers indulged his capacity not simply for crooning, but sheer schmaltz. Too many of these songs are treacle. Neither fish nor fowl, neither soul nor country, but crap Bobby Goldsboro might’ve passed on. And while songs by Tom Jans, Billy Joe Shaver, and Waylon Jennings are all right and good here, too many of the less stellar tracks sound like inferior, Kris Kristofferson wannabe shit, songs solicited from the publishing houses on music row with little regard for the artist’s emotional identification. And the near absence of any deep soul, blues or other material from African-American writers is striking. Elvis’s increasingly Vegas-centric world was moving farther and farther daily from the Tupelo soil and the Memphis sounds (not just rhythm ‘n’ blues, but hillbilly music) that once nourished his musical soul.

 Elvis at Stax is an accurate geographical title. He cut these tracks at Stax Studios, to be sure. But whatever opportunity Presley had to engage Stax talent and Stax soul was a lost opportunity. And that’s called sad.

 Less than four years after these sessions were completed, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll departed this mortal coil. Had he survived he might have lived to be rehabilitated by Rick Rubin, like his old pal Johnny Cash. Instead he died bloated and full of pills, ensuring a morbid cult of idolaters who will eventually create a nominally Christian faith of some sort with Elvis as Jesus’ right hand man.



NIKKI SUDDEN – The Boy From Nowhere, Who Fell Out of the Sky

Album: The Boy From Nowhere, Who Fell Out of the Sky

Artist: Nikki Sudden

Label: Easy Action

Release Date: July 02, 2013


Nikki Sudden CD


As anybody who’s read his autobiography The Last Bandit knows, Nikki Sudden recorded a lot – for more often than his officially released catalog would suggest. “I’m saving it for the box set” seemed to be a mantra for him for the last decade or so of his life. Seven years after his untimely passing, The Boy From Nowhere, Who Fell Out of the Sky has finally appeared via the Easy Action label. But while the six-disk set has plenty of rarities – nearly four disks’ worth, in fact – it’s not so much a roundup of his hidden sessions as it is a career retrospective, giving force to the argument that the British songwriter was, if not a superstar, still a major contender in the world of underground rock & roll.

The first two disks collect, as they’re titled, Singles and Classic Album Tracks. Disk one covers 1977-1989, the years in which Sudden established himself as an international underground bon vivant. As with any collection of this stripe, diehards may find glaring omissions – where’s “Death is Hanging Over Me,” “Gold Painted Nails” or “The Last Bandit?” Grumbling aside, though, the disk gives a fair overview of the first half of Sudden’s career. Appropriately enough, the disk kicks off with three cuts from Swell Maps, the experimental postpunk outfit that put Sudden on the musical map. The noisy, catchy singles “Read About Seymour” and “Let’s Build a Car” show why the Maps sustain a cult following to this day. As good as they are, though, the Maps tracks are essentially baby pictures – the full-blown photographic exhibit begins with “Back to the Start,” Sudden’s first single. Though not a million miles away conceptually from the Maps, it does show incipient rock & roll swagger, as Sudden begins working his teenage obsessions with T. Rex and the Rolling Stones into the postpunk he would soon leave behind.

 Sudden’s penchant for what we’d now call classic rock fully rears its head on “All the Gold,” a brooding folk rocker from his debut Waiting For Egypt. Precedent set, the singer/songwriter rarely strayed from the midpoint where Marc Bolan, the Stones, Dylan and Neil Young meet, and the rest of the disk gives a good overview of his vision. He easily and confidently veers between the shimmering jangle of the epic “Where the Rivers End” (one of his greatest tunes with pal Dave Kusworth in the Jacobites), “When the Rains Come” (ditto) and the succinct “Jangle Town” to the roiling grunge of “Great Pharaoh,” “Back to the Coast” and “Big Store (Orig.).” When he varies the formula, it’s usually in the form of resigned balladry, with the lovely “Ratcliffe Highway” (another Jacobites triumph), “Gallery Wharf” and “Chelsea Embankment,” plus the sublime and low-fi “Winter” (from the obscure Last Bandits in the World LP) and the darkly beautiful “Wedding Hotel,” guest-starring Rowland S. Howard. The Jacobites’ “Pin Your Heart” represents one of Sudden’s rare but rewarding forays into pop anthems, while “Missionary Boy” shows that he wasn’t quite done with quirky postpunk just yet. Even with the absence of key favorites, this first disk really lays out Sudden’s vision with conceptual clarity.  

Disk two continues the theme of hits and classic cuts, taking the years 1991-2005. Country music a la Gram Parsons makes its way into the Sudden world via the wonderful “I Belong to You,” though the single’s equally worthy B-sides are absent. In fact, much of this disk revolves around acoustic guitars and folky melodies. “Golden Dawn,” “Farewell My Darling” (a duet with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy), the loud “Cloak of Virtue” (a collaboration with fellow traveler Phil Shoenfelt) and especially the Jacobites tunes “When Angels Die,” “Chelsea Springtime” and “Liquor, Guns & and Ammo” represent Sudden’s dramatic outlaw folk rock, a style difficult to pull off successfully. The Jacobites also salute Sudden’s late brother Epic Soundtracks, covering his “Wishing Well” in the same style. Sudden doesn’t abandon le rock, however, setting amps on fire with “Love Nest,” the ridiculously catchy “Don’t You Ever Leave Me” (one of the Jacobites’ greatest singles) and the particularly grungy “Whiskey Priest.” Sudden was at the peak of his powers when he died in 2006, leaving behind Treasure Island and The Truth Doesn’t Matter, his two best LPs. This disk ends, appropriately enough, with a rocker and ballad from each: Island’s tender “Stay Bruised” and blazing “House of Cards” (which features Mick Taylor and Ian McLagan) and Truth’s mature, lovely “Green Shield Stamps” and rollicking “Empire Blues.” The only significant omissions from disk two are “God Save Us” and “Teenage Christmas,” lively rock & roll tunes from the Jacobites’ final LP God Save Us Poor Sinners.

The hits out of the way, the next two CDs concentrate on the many, many rarities and unreleased songs in the Sudden archives. Disk three, subtitled Old, New, Lonesome and Blue, leans towards collaborations. Recorded in 2003 and opening the disk, “Out of My Dreams” and “Pistol in My Pocket” feature Kansas City’s likeminded Joey Skidmore, while 1996’s “Laudanum Blues” finds Sudden backed by German garage punks DM Bob & the Deficits and 1986’s “In Your Life” by the same country’s Creeping Candies. A highlight of both artists’ catalogs, “Family Bible” comes from a 2006 single on which Sudden collaborated with Athens, Georgia rock band Southern Bitch, while a “Big Store” recorded in 2003 features backing from Hanover’s psychedelic space rock troop Mandra Gora Lightshow Society. Stripped-down remakes of “Something About You” and “Liquor Guns and Ammo” come from a recording session with Sudden’s pal Max Decharné, formerly of Gallon Drunk and currently leading the Flaming Stars. There’s also an early version of “Chelsea Embankment” retrieved from a Swell Maps B-side and an alternate take of “The Bagman and the Twangman” backed by Peter Buck and members of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. A handful of Sudden-headlined tracks round out the disk nicely, including “Nothing Left” and “Pockets Full of Silver,” solo acoustic cuts of unknown date and origin, a tender take on Fairport Convention’s “Meet On the Ledge” and the efficiently rocking “I Can’t Stand Up” and “Little Venice,” recorded in Georgia in 2005. Most significant are recordings old and new: the pretty “Mr. Fox,” recorded in 1983 with Waterboys leader Mike Scott for a fanzine, and “The Way Things Used to Be,” a gorgeously shimmering ballad enigmatically listed as “The Last Recording.”

As indicated by the subtitle Beau Geste, Lost Souls and Bedroom Concertos, disk four digs deep under Sudden’s mountain of rarities, outtakes, home demos and unreleased recordings. More of a grab bag than an organized collection, the disk nevertheless contains some gems: the blazing “Sea Dog Blues,” recorded live in Tokyo in 1990; the Crazy Horse rock of “The Jewellery Quarter,” from a 1996 session in the Czech Republic; an alternate folk rocking version of Sudden’s classic “All My Sinking Ships” done in France in 1996; the hazy “Behind These Walls” from 1986, with contributions from Rowland S. Howard; the exceptionally strong “Wake Me Up,” a duet with Midnight Choir leader Al DeLoner in 2006; a nice but mysterious cover of the Boys Next Door’s “Shivers,” with no accreditation. About half the tracks come from the obscure cassette-only odds ‘n’ sods compilation Beau Geste. The wildly varying fidelity of these tracks may be an impediment to easy enjoyment, but there are rewards to be had, specifically the “country” version of the Jacobites’ “Hurt Me More,” particularly rocking takes on “Gold Painted Nails” and “Waiting For the Siege,” the odd “England’s Under Cover,” on which Sudden is accompanied by a tape, and a stark, badly recorded solo acoustic version of “The Only Boy in Heaven” with a surprisingly strong vocal. A handful of home-recorded demos from unknown time periods pop up throughout as well, highlighted by “School For Scandal” and “Girls You Fall in Love With.”

Disks five and six collect live cuts, mostly recorded for radio. Disk five, AKA The Dark Ends and the Dives, interweaves three different performances from Germany in 1999 and 2000 into one seamless show. Sudden is in full-blown rock & roll mode, fronting a four-piece electric band that knows just how to treat “Looking at You,” “Stay Bruised” and “Wooden Floor.” The blues shuffle of “High and Lonesome” becomes tedious (the blues never being Sudden’s strong suit, frankly), but the extended workout of “Take Me Back Home” rolls just fine. Subtitled Across the Airwaves, disk six naturally covers various radio sessions spanning at least 15 years (possibly more – many cuts hail from unknown sources). Barring the opening pair of 1984 Jacobites cuts, the performances here feature only Sudden, his guitar and songs from throughout his career, from “French Revolution Blues,” “Teenage Christmas” and “Death is Hanging Over Me” to “When Angels Die,” “Hanging Out the Banners” and “One More String of Pearls.” As might be expected, one-of-a-kind moments abound. He gives Groove’s “Murder Valley” and “Sea Dog Blues” their first public airing in 1988 on Hamburg radio, a mere two days after he wrote the latter. He plays covers of T. Rex (“Jewel”), the Rolling Stones (“Memory Motel”) and his own Swell Maps (“Marcella”). He performs an exceptionally strong version of “When Angels Die” on U.S. college radio, only to reveal afterward that it’s “a bit strange in the middle” when he messed up the chord sequence. He also tosses off a ridiculous 30-second piece called “The National Elf.” Outside the lack of electricity, it’s as solid a cross-section of Sudden’s musical mind as one could wish for.

If there’s one major gripe we have with The Boy From Nowhere, it’s about the lack of detailed annotation. The booklet contains a great essay from Max Decharné and an interview with Peter Buck that gives some insight into what it was like working with Nikki, but no details on the tracks. The individual sleeves list years and album titles, but little else – there’s nothing to indicate, for example, that the single “Wedding Hotel” on disk one comes from a collaborative album with Rowland S. Howard, who sings it. Likewise it’s not noted that Sudden’s friend Lizard croons “Chelsea Embankment” and “Missionary Boy,” or that “Gallery Wharf” is sung by Jeremy Gluck, with whom Sudden worked closely on the Barracudas frontman’s solo record I Knew Buffalo Bill. Thankfully, the notes get more granular on the disks of unreleased and rare recordings, and one could argue that particular annotation is more important anyway, given the previous releases of the “classic” tracks – and this box isn’t aimed at the neophyte in any case. But any lack of information on a set that attempts to give a comprehensive overview of an artist as prolific as Sudden is a detriment. Not enough of one to keep this set from being worth every penny, mind you.   

Still Full of Shocks is a separate disk, originally available with early pre-orders of the box set, but subsequently released separately in a limited edition run. It features more solo Sudden, though this time in a studio with crystal clear sound, if an unknown recording date. Sounding both focused and relaxed, Sudden flips through his back pages, avoiding many of his obvious “hits” and instead digging deep into his catalog, throwing in a few new tunes along the way. With beautiful fidelity and an air of Nikki-as-folksinger, there’s nothing revelatory here, just strong, soulful performances of some of his best numbers, including “Angels in My Arms,” “Bed Woman Blues,” “In Your Life,” “We Had It All” and “One More String of Pearls.” Ending with a cover of Marc Bolan’s “One Inch Rock,” Sudden brings his vision full circle, back to the artist who inspired his long, rewarding lifepath in the first place.

   DOWNLOAD: “Back to the Start,” “All the Gold,” “I Belong to You,” “Whiskey Priest,” “Family Bible,” “The Way Things Used to Be,” “The Only Boy in Heaven,” “We Had it All”


Album: Ages

Artist: Ghost Wave

Label: Flying Nun

Release Date: August 27, 2013

Ghost Wave Aug 27



Ghost Wave, out of New Zealand, balances jangle pop with pulsing unease, bright dual guitars with a penumbra of rhythmic murk. Ages, the first full-band LP for this bedroom-project-that-grew, is noticeably darker than early single “Sunsetter,” grounded in a subterranean buzz that is more Jesus & Mary Chain than the Clean.


Ghost Wave started as the solo project of one Matthew Paul, a guitarist and singer whose first addition to the line-up was another guitarist (who also sometimes played bass) Rikki Sutton. He then added Eammon Logan on drums and Mike Ellis on bass. Still, the double guitar interplay has been a factor since the beginning, here perhaps accentuated with marginally cleaner production. “Here She Comes,” then, is slack, slanting and gorgeous. Its drive comes from two layers of guitars, one pushing a rhythm, the other scattering rainbows.  Yet while that’s the single, other tracks are darker and stronger. “Horsemouth” comes across as louche and celebratory, a dragging tambourine suggesting a party, the roil of guitar and bass insinuating menace. “I Don’t Mind” is offhandedly radiant, guitars scrabbling away like pencils in the margin, while the bass and drums carry things forward.


The words – and indeed the singing – are not the main thing here. Paul has a high, thin, tremulous voice, rather like Jeremy Earl of Woods, which reinforces a dreamy vibe but never dominates. His lyrics are, at best, ordinary, adolescent, disconsolate.  He rasps them out of the side of the mouth, and when he ends a line with “Hey, hey!” it is the most decipherable thing he’s said so far. Not surprisingly, then, the best cut on the album is the instrumental “Arkestra,” a mesmeric jam which puts the bass up front, the drums on kraut-y repeat and the vocals way down (just murmurs). There’s a Clean-like drone in this one, but the guitars have a Sonic-Youth-circa-Rather Ripped sheen. It’s a mess and a resolution all at once, a miasma shot through with clarity. The rest of the album is good, but if you need one reason to play it again, this is it.  


DOWNLOAD: “I Don’t Mind” “Here She Comes” “Arkestra”


Album: 14th & Nowhere...


Label: Rankoutsider

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Pat Todd Aug 20


 If there’s a single artist who embodies the virtues of playing meat-and-potatoes rock & roll in the 21st century, it’s Pat Todd. The former Lazy Cowgirl not only never lost his love for the pioneers – and we’re talking about Chuck Berry, Merle Haggard, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and the Ramones here – he’s never seen any reason not to draw from all of them at once. His band the Rankoutsiders, which includes ex-Cowgirls and is anchored by stalwart guitarist Nicky Alexander, perfectly embodies his vision of earthy American music, cleaving fiercely by his side no matter what turn he takes.

 Todd is also one of the few songwriters of his generation that knows how to pen mature tunes about adult concerns without stinting on youthful rock & roll fury, and that alone puts him on a different plane than most ex-punk rockers. “Back to the Wind,” “Carry’n a Torch” and “Known to Stumble/Known to Fall” wax philosophic on a life in rock with age rapidly catching up, while the band obeys the loud fast rules. “All the Years” and “No End in Sight” follow a similar theme with a more overt country feel – if Nashville had any balls it would put these songs in rotation amongst its cowboy-hatted puppets. “Didn’t Have Ta Die” takes a hero (the liner notes mention Elvis Presley, though it could apply to any fallen angel) to task while still maintaining respect. The bitter ballads “I Won’t Forgive You” and “You & Your Damn Dream” eschew romance for rejection buoyed by dignity. A remake of Todd’s own “One More Tank of Gas” dials back the power but ups the emotional payoff in the demand “If you find some kind of love/Better hold on to it.”

 Todd and the band hit a dizzying peak with “Dirty Thoughts & Busted Hearts,” a comment on the marketing of desire and the futility thereof that still kicks out the jams with a melodic rage that makes younger punks sound weak. It’s damn near the quintessential Rankoutsiders track, the light at the end of a tunnel that, no matter how long, never drowns in darkness. If the best (adult) rock & roll burns with both passion and intelligence, then Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders’ flame can be seen for miles.

  DOWNLOAD: “Dirty Thoughts & Busted Hearts,” “Known to Stumble/Known to Fall,” “You & Your Damn Dream”

GOGOL BORDELLO – Pura Vida Conspiracy

Album: Pura Vida Conspiracy

Artist: Gogol Bordello

Label: ATO

Release Date: August 27, 2013

Gogol Bordello July 23


 Six albums on, the gypsy rock collective known as Gogol Bordello offer up their most inspired set yet, a rallying cry against complacency that urges its listeners to embrace the populism that they’ve always espoused. The title, Pura Vida Conspiracy — which translates from its Spanish slang as “pure life” – further affirms their universal, multicultural ethos, a template that creates its core from seemingly disparate Latin and eastern European elements. Yet, the ferocity in their delivery and the sheer sweep of their eager entreaties create an anthemic exposition, resulting in a series of songs that make it impossible to sit still.

 Opening track “We Rise Again” foreshadows what’s to come, a song that ignites a frenzy of ecstasy and exhortation before stampeding through the title’s thunderous refrain. Nearly every track that follows maintains this high velocity surge, although the gypsy strains of “Dig Deep Enough,” the sway and swagger of “The Other Side of Rainbow” and the accordion and strolling violins that stir “It is the Way You Name Your Ship” all add an exotic fascination that enhances the band’s world music mix. Even when they manage to subdue their outsized inclinations – as on the rambling drinking tune, “I Just Realized” – there’s enough rowdiness and revelry to keep the electricity flowing.

“I was born with singing heart,” they sing on “Malandrino,” and indeed there’s not a single moment on this album that doesn’t decidedly drive that point home.

 DOWNLOAD: “We Rise Again,” “”The Other Side of Rainbow,” “Dig Deep Enough”


Album: Dedication

Artist: True Believers

Label: Jungle

Release Date: August 06, 2013

True Believers Aug 27


 When the True Believers reunited in 2012 to pay tribute to their late manager/guru Brent Grulke, it was intended as a one-off, a celebration of the spark Grulke saw in them and no more. But the performance felt so good that Alejandro Escovedo, Jon Dee Graham, Javier Escovedo, Denny DeGorio and Rey Washam decided to keep going, booking gigs and mini-tours around their busy individual schedules. Most impressively, the quintet also did time in a recording studio.

   The result was a pair of digital singles, now collected, along with some live cuts, on this quietly released CD. Summing up both the band and the idea of rock & roll itself, Graham’s midtempo  declaration “Dedication” follows in the tradition of Alejandro’s recent autobiographical work, which makes it appropriate that the latter sings it. Javier’s burning “Gipsy Son” works a different, less introspective groove, simply cranking up the volume and reminding us what three loud guitars can do.

 Speaking of which, the six-strings fly in full formation on the live songs, retrieved from a radio appearance. “Hard Road” lays waste to everything within a ten-mile radius, “Lucky Moon” kicks the debris to the curb and “So Blue About You” swirls the ashes into a tornado. The studio songs prove that the members won’t hold back their best material for their solo careers, while the live cuts make very plain that these 50- and 60-somethings still have vigorously beating rock & roll hearts. Dedication may be merely a teaser for bigger things to come, but it’s a nugget promising a richer vein down the road.

  DOWNLOAD: “Gipsy Son,” “Hard Road,” “So Blue About You”

DODOS – Carrier

Album: Carrier

Artist: Dodos

Label: Polyvinyl

Release Date: August 27, 2013

Dodos Aug 27


The Dodos have never been an easy band to categorize, and yet it’s likely they prefer it that way. As with certain forebears – Steely Dan comes to most immediately to mind – they generally opt for the unusual, foregoing likelier pop mores in the process. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to call them “prog” per se, but the overall intelligence and indulgence in their music – and the imaginative arrangements that accompany it — attests to their elevated mindset.

After joining forces in 2005, the core of the Dodos – vocalist/guitarist Meric Long and drummer  Logan Kroeber – went on to release five full-length albums and a handful of singles and EPs, but they’ve yet to produce the vehicle that will deliver the audience eluding them so far. In fact, it’s unlikely that Carrier will be the offering that brings that promise home. Yet it is a superb showcase for the pair’s ample prowess, and on songs such as “Transformer,” “Confidence,” “Family” and “The Ocean,” the swirling set-ups, tangled tempos and consistent shifts in sound will more than likely find favor with anyone weary of today’s usual radio-ripened melodies. Suffice it to say there’s nothing here of the hum-along variety, although the contemplative tones of “Death” and lush accompaniment given “Stranger” ought to sway any listener who’s otherwise adverse to these challenging tomes.

DOWNLOAD: “Death,” “Stranger” “Transformer”

CFCF – Music for Objects

Album: Music For Objects

Artist: CFCF

Label: Paper Bag

Release Date: July 09, 2013

CFCF July 9




Working in intricate, pointillist textures primarily piano and electronics, CFCF’s Michael Silver finds emotional resonance in small, contained, repeated patterns. His Music for Objects turns from the large scale landscapes of earlier EPs (The River and, most recently, Exercises) to focus on the quotidian. Inspired by a Wim Wenders documentary on the fashion designer Yoji Yamamoto, Silver looks for the ineffable in the objects that surround us, things we can hold in our hands like keys, bowls and glasses.


As in Exercises, Silver composes in the vein of minimalists like Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, layering percussive textures of synthesizer, piano and sampled instruments over one another in iridescent sheets of translucent sound. He worked almost entirely alone for this EP, bringing in only Francesco De Gallo, the sometime Dirty Beaches horn player, for a bit of saxophone on the album’s standout “Camera.” Even so, these tracks are densely populated with sounds that are familiar but not quite natural. Altered tones of reeds, brass, bass and other instruments drift through these pieces in ways that evoke, but do not quite replicate the organic sounds they resemble. (After half a dozen listens, I still could not make up my mind whether the saxophone in “Camera” was real or synthesized.) 


Each track is named for a specific object, yet the connection between the titular “thing” and the music itself is elusive, glancing, never quite obvious. You might read a bit of descriptive narrative into the transparent clarity of “Glass” or the circular, gamelan-like cadences of “Turnstile” or the light-filled and visionary playful-ness of “Camera,” or you might not. Silver says he named the pieces after he wrote them, trying to connect the music’s emotion to items in his surroundings. As a result, you get the sense of warm, sensual connection to the world in these compositions, but not actual things. This is music for objects, not about them. Yet Silver does succeed in finding the transcendent in small, closely defined musical motifs that fit into ordinary experience like a set of keys fits the hand. And, in doing so, he imbues the mundane with a spiritual significance and beauty. This is the ordinary world made radiant, surreal and strange, its everyday objects glowing with internal light.


DOWNLOAD: “Camera” “Glass”

Photo Gallery: Outside Lands 2013 Pt. 2


This year’s event took place August 9-11 at Golden Gate Park in San Fran, and our longtime shutterbug pal Scott Dudelson, of Dudelson Concert Photography, was in da crowd. Pictured above: Sir Paul McCartney. You may have heard of him….

 Photos by Scott Dudelson (click on each image to enlarge)



Band of Horses


Bhi Bhiman


Bob Weir




Craig Robinson




Dub Gabriel




Foy Vance


Gary Clark


Hall & Oates


James McCartney (son of the dude at the top of the page)


Jeffrey Ross


Jurassic 5


Kate Berlant


Kurt Vile




Maria Bamford


Miki Matilda


Moshe Kasher


Nine Inch Nails


Red Hot Chili Peppers


Tallest Man On Earth


The Heavy


The Men


The National w/Bob Weir


Willie Nelson


Yeah Yeah Yeahs


Young The Giant