Monthly Archives: September 2013

RICHARD X. HEYMAN – X

Album: X

Artist: Richard X. Heyman

Label: Turn-Up Records

Release Date: September 17, 2013

Richard X Heyman Sept 17

www.richardxheyman

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Here’s the basic premise: Richard X. Heyman is a pop pundit who has never fully gotten his due. Forget the fact that he’s a veritable one man band; it’s his ability to churn out unfailingly infectious songs that makes him so indispensable. Even a cursory hearing affirms that assessment.

X is no different, and in fact, it’s an ideal example of Heyman’s undeniable abilities. Then too, the title bears special significance. First, it’s his middle initial. However, it also marks the fact that this is his tenth album, a milestone that’s somewhat bittersweet.  Despite the excellence of his earlier albums, they failed to elevate his profile as high as it ought to be. Why are we still forced to ask why this guy isn’t a major star?

That said, it’s better to shrug off that unfortunate situation and focus instead on the present possibilities. X comes on with a rush of sheer exhilaration and adrenalin, as immediately made apparent in the sweep of its opening volley, “When Denny Dropped Out of the Scene,” “Please  Be Mindful” and “Be the One,” the latter of which sounds like something the Who might have procured circa Quadrophenia. Then again, Heyman’s unabashed affection for all things associated with the British Invasion has always been evident, and indeed, on the wailing start-stop volley instigated on “Compass,” he sounds for all the world like any one of several vintage rock heroes. Likewise, the tangled intro to “Firing Lines” brings to mind the Yardbirds in their hit-intensive prime. The Who get more love later on, in “Hangman Smiles” and the autobiographical “Somebody Has Finally Found Me,” where Heyman’s maniacal drumming summons up the spirit of Moony himself. And if there’s any doubt that he’s equally adept on every instrument in his arsenal, the searing guitar solo on “Will to Go On” more than proves his proficiency.

With 15 tracks of similarly sumptuous exuberance, Heyman delivers both quantity and quality with nary a loser in the bunch. Riveting, resilient and packed with all the musical muscle one man could ever hope to muster, X marks another milestone.


DOWNLOAD: “Will to Go On,” “When Denny Dropped Out of the Scene,” “Firing Lines”

BALANCE AND COMPOSURE – The Things We Think We’re Missing

Album: The Things We Think We’re Missing

Artist: Balance And Composure

Label: No Sleep Records

Release Date: September 10, 2013

Balance and Composure Sept 10

www.NoSleepRecords.com

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 Emo was not always a bad word. Long before the genre was sullied by squeaky voiced teens with asymmetrical haircuts and punk rock influences that went back no further than Sum 41, emo was actually something to be proud of (…well, at least it was not something to be ashamed of exactly). And though they would likely bristle at the term, Balance and Composure’s sound harkens back to emo’s better days; Somewhere between Sunny Day Real Estate and Braid.

 The Pennsylvania band’s sophomore full length, The Things We Think We’re Missing, is an album’s worth of swirly guitars, dark, personal lyrics and pained vocals. The result, is not exactly revolutionary, and boarders on cliché every now and then (like the background screams on “Back of Your Head”), but when the band is on, they easily rise above their peers.

 Yes, this type of record has been done before, and arguably better, but there are still some powerful tracks on The Things…, most notably “When I Come Undone” and the album opener “Parachutes.” A few more records like this and we can almost forget about Fall Out Boy.

   DOWNLOAD: “Reflection” and “When I Come Undone”

TOMMY KEENE – Excitement At Your Feet

Album: Excitement At Your Feet

Artist: Tommy Keene

Label: Second Motion

Release Date: September 17, 2013

Tommy Keene Sept 17

www.Secondmotionrecords.com

BY STEVE PICK

“I’m in love with rock’n’roll and I’ll be out all night.” Tommy Keene doesn’t perform Jonathan Richman’s classic “Roadrunner” on Excitement At Your Feet, but its spirit informs the project. Keene knows the rush of turning on the stereo and hearing that perfect incarnation of free spirited, thrilling rides into the great unknown. From the beginning of his career, Keene has been a rock’n’roll romantic, a purveyor of big, fat guitar-driven, richly evocative songcraft. It was always clear that he was a devotee of the music that came before him, and here, he pays tribute to some of the least obvious yet deliriously perfect songs that shaped his life.

Obvious influences such as Big Star, the Who, and the Flamin’ Groovies are shared with the types of artists which in retrospect make perfect sense as fitting with his sensibility – Television, Mink DeVille, and Roxy Music. There are also surprises, songs by the Bee Gees, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Donovan, styles he’s kept in his back pocket for all these years.

There are serious music fans of a certain age who are likely to recognize every single song on this collection, though he digs deep into the catalog of even the most mainstream artists. Even the Rolling Stones song, “Ride On Baby,” hails from their first tossed off collection of left-overs, Flowers. Keene’s deliriously upbeat take on this reminds us that this deserves to be ranked as one of the early Stones’ best songs.  Similarly, “Much Too Much” has been hidden away in plain sight on the Who’s debut album The Who Sing My Generation for all these years, and Keene tears into one of Pete Townshend’s most nutritious nuggets.

But most of us will know some songs while discovering some gems from bands we don’t know as well as we should. For me, the greatest such learning experience is “Let Me Dream If I Want To,” originally done by Mink DeVille, a sharply etched, seriously hard-driving, and ridiculously catchy nugget that makes a great case for the New York rocker being the most under-rated of all the original CBGB’s bands.

As long as we’re talking about the late ‘70s East Coast scene, I might as well point out here that the album’s absolute highlight is Keene’s take on Television’s “Guiding Light.” Keene adds a snarl to the way he sings this that’s only implied by Tom Verlaine’s original, and his guitar playing matches the original performances by Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, while never losing his own distinctive tone. It’s beautiful and immensely moving, a version true to the masterful Marquee Moon cut, yet somehow fresh and original.

There is neither a bad song nor a wrong turn taken on this record. Tommy Keene’s record collection is clearly impeccable, and more, he has obviously spent a lot of time in his life listening to and inhabiting these songs.  As a result, this set of material he hasn’t wrote sounds as personal and as full of passion as anything Keene has released in his career.

DOWNLOAD: “Guiding Light,” “Nighttime,” “Let Me Dream If I Want To,” “The Puppet”

Full disclosure: Blurt and Second Motion Records are owned by the same company. Luckily that doesn’t prevent us from thinking that Tommy Keene is one of America’s greatest rockers, period. – Ed.

THE BLACK WATCH – The End of When

Album: The End of When

Artist: Black Watch

Label: Pop Culture Press

Release Date: September 10, 2013

Black Watch Sept10

popculturepressrecs@gmail.com

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

It’s tiresome to constantly harp on the fact that The Black Watch (the Los Angeles guitar pop band, not the Scottish infantry battalion) doesn’t have nearly the cult following it deserves, but there it is: the consistent quality of lit professor John Andrew Frederick’s long-running outfit (25 years!) should have gained it at least the same status as, say, the House of Love. Fear not, gentle music nerds – The End of When provides the perfect chance to catch up now and slap your forehead later.

The LP opens with a one-two punch most records should envy. “I Don’t Feel the Same” jangles with one of Frederick’s catchiest melodies, its straightforward tunesmithery cannily disturbed by guitarist Steven Schayer’s fuzz-engulfed chaos. “Meg” is even better, deliberately evoking the tones of the 80s Britpop that’s a key touchstone for TBW, with a one-word shout-a-long chorus to boot. They’re easily two of the group’s strongest songs in its long history, channeling Frederick’s trademark romantic frustration into ridiculously accessible music.

If the rest of the record doesn’t quite hit those peaks, that doesn’t mean the quality slips by any measure. The dreamy states of mind flowing through “”Unlistening” (written and sung by Schayer) and “Always Honey” belie the nervous energy that drives the band’s rockers. A crystalline shimmer makes the midtempo “Of Lovely Surprises” sparkle, while a gently sexy groove gives the similarly wispy “Hardly Nothing Never Ending” a sensual kick. “The Spare Side” bounces atop a sprightly melody with one foot in the Beatles and the other in early Bacharach, while the title track proffers more of the Watch’s instantly appealing trademark jangle. The record hits a new peak with the two-part “A Pleasing Dream/That’s You and Me All Over,” which combines TBW’s dreamy and rocking sides for a brilliant capsule of everything that makes the band great.

 

As a further enticement, the record comes with a second disk comprising a self-chosen best-of. Longtime diehards might quibble with the selection (we’d argue there are a few too many tunes from its most recent LP Led Zeppelin Five and not enough from The Hypnotizing Sea, plus Icing the Snow Queen isn’t represented at all), but the inclusion of such TBW essentials as “Tear the Sky,” “Like in the Movies” and “The Tennis Playing Poet Roethke Said” makes disk 2 a solid introduction to the band’s catalog. Combine that bonus with a sterling set of new songs on the main LP and you have one of The Black Watch’s very best records.

DOWNLOAD: “Meg,” “I Don’t Feel the Same,” “A Pleasing Dream/That’s You and Me All Over”

 

 

THE COAL MEN – Escalator

Album: Escalator

Artist: Coal Men

Label: Aimless

Release Date: August 27, 2013

Coal Men Aug 27

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aimless-Records/304899509523761

 

 BY: MICHAEL VERITY

 

 Dave Coleman and his band’s fifth album is a hodge podge of stripped-down rock and roll that ricochets around a pinball machine of pop punk, bluesy stomp and straight-ahead classic rock. “Last Goodbye” and the title cut take their cue from the late 70s groove of Elvis Costello and Graham Parker while “Stuck” and “Better Than” trample afoot with more than a passing nod to Cream and Zep. There’s some bashing and banging about in the spirit of Waits and Lanois (“Sanity”) that adds some charm but, in the long haul, this record never says “dance your ass off” or “drop a dime on your therapist.” What it says, sadly, is that producer Joe Garcia didn’t have a clear vision of what to do with a guy who’s a better than average songwriter and a fiercely talented guitarist. Better luck next time.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Last Goodbye,” “Sanity”

 

Sam Amidon 9/12/13, Northampton MA

Dates: September 12, 2013

Location: The Iron Horse, Northampton MA

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It’s a family affair: the show at the Iron Horse included Wes Hartley and the Tall Trees.

 TEXT & PHOTOS BY JENNIFER KELLY

  “All music is folk music,” Sam Amidon says, midway through a stripped down, unaccompanied set of plaintive shape note hymns, shaded in intriguingly modern ways. He goes so far as to include Gangstarr in the “folk music” category, since rap is, obviously, a music of the people, but he might as well be making room for his own very traditional, but also not, form of folk music, which finds doubt and ambiguity between the notes of even the most righteous of sacred harp certainties.

 Amidon is playing at the Iron Horse in Northampton, just a stone’s throw from the southern Vermont community where he first learned to sing (and play guitar, banjo and fiddle) at sacred harp gatherings. His father and mother, still active in local singing groups, are in the audience this evening, and it turns out that 1936 Gibson Amidon is playing (and which has beautiful, luminous tone) belongs to his father. His regular guitar has a hole in it, courtesy of the TSA, who put the capo under the body of the guitar in its case after inspecting it.

 Amidon is travelling with the Texas-via-Portland, Maine songwriter Wes Hartley, and his three-person “Tall Trees, “ who have between them, one guitar, one drum kit, one lap steel guitar, two truckers hats, two beards and three mustaches. Hartley is in mid-set when I arrive, in full country waltz swing, the twang of pedal steel giving way, from time to time, for a more rocking jangle. I’m off to the side, and I’m not sure the vocals are loud enough anyway, but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to make sense of the lyrics, which seem abstract and surreal, given the plainspoken musical backing.

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Wes and the Trees play a short set. It’s barely 7:30 when Amidon saunters on the stage and begins tuning, by ear, warming up with jazz-tinged guitar passage, fast and pizzicato and full of big octave leaps, which resolves, after a while, into “Short Life of Trouble.” He follows with “I See the Sign,” the song’s shimmering surface pocked with sudden sharp edges. His voice frays and wavers in in the long notes, mournful and a little harsh, full of shadowy jazz-and-blues subtext and trailing off like a train whistle in the country. For “Way Go Lily,” Amidon enlists the crowd to sing a melancholy response to his call, a single word “sometime” and it occurs to me that we are all standing in (badly) for Beth Orton.

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Amidon is all by himself up there, accompanied only by guitar (then banjo and finally with a violin), so the songs are much less intricate than on post-modern #I See the Sign# or jazz-slanted #Bright Sunny South#. Yet in the place of complexity, there’s a lovely mournful communion in songs that, even scrubbed bare, are not quite as simple as they seem. You hardly miss the trumpet when Amidon plays “Bright Sunny South,” even if it was one of your favorite things on the last album. The banjo scramble of “As I Roved Out,” feels rawer, harder, more shaded by death than on the album.

 Not that Amidon isn’t an entertaining guy, capable of a goofy summary of his novel-in-progress about the gangster King Speechy and his army of 1970s hit penning songwriters, or a bemused account of his morning in Toronto, when, in a drugstore to buy a toothbrush he happens on a free barbeque and feels weirdly guilty when he’s not hungry enough to partake. He has just played a show with Volcano Choir and confides that the drummer, Jon Mueller, looks just like Christopher Walken, “And he plays the drums like Christopher Walken would, if he played the drums,” he adds, and everyone laughs.

 There are some secular moments – a long quotation from Gangstarr, the cover of Tim McGraw’s “My Old Friend” – but the show, like Amidon’s records, is strongly rooted in sacred harp. He mentions that local rocker-and-shape-note expert Tim Eriksen taught him “How Come that Blood,” and calls one set of songs the “liturgical portion of the show.” Yet he also plays some jittery, staccato, not-very-folkish runs on the guitar, working the rhythms hard and smoothing the tension not at all. There’s one interval that sounds like a vocal exercise gone slightly feral, Amidon trying out wordless yelps and howls and falsetto yowls, as he strums frantically on guitar. He finishes the main portion of the set and comes back almost immediately with a violin to play two more songs. He starts one in the wrong key, too high, and struggles through a few bars before stopping and starting again.

 It’s all very laid-back and warm, this performance, but glowing with eccentricity’s inner light. It’s music for the people, folk music, but filtered through a particularly modern sensibility, with a dappling of shadow and doubt on it.

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Alt-j 9/5/13, Denver CO

Dates: September 5, 2013

Location: The Fillmore, Denver CO

Alt J 1

TEXT/PHOTOS BY GREG KELLY

 Ahh, The Fillmore!! Most times I have been to this venue it is nothing short of a good time. The Alt-j show was no exception. Starting the night out with “Intro” from there debut album An Awesome Wave the band set the atmosphere for the evening. Sometimes dark, sometimes poppy, these guys have come up with texture and melody with great harmonizing that I found to be better live than the album. Halfway through the set they played a new track called “Warm Foothills”. Closing the night out with “Breezeblocks” I found myself in a really good space, finding once again Colorado has some of my favorite venues and vibe anywhere!.

 Alt J 2

STS9 9/6-7/13 Denver, CO

Dates: September 6 & 7, 2013

Location: Red Rocks, Denver CO

STS9 2

TEXT & PHOTOS BY GREG KELLY

 The weekend reached a hot and dry 95 degrees at the legendary Colorado venue we know and love called Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I could feel the anticipation build during warm up acts NAS and Tycho. The place was packed when STS9 took the stage. The band seemed excited and grateful to be playing such a magical venue. The fans in Colorado are more than dedicated to the band! STS9 also supports “Conscious Alliance” a Colorado non-profit helping fight hunger across the U.S.

 STS9 1

Thank you, Conscious Alliance, for the hard work and incredible poster from the show. The two nights’ music had the crowd moving the whole time. This has been a yearly event for ten years plus. If you are ever in the Denver area don’t let this little gem pass you by. Probably one of the best venues I have ever seen a show at. And thank you, Red Rocks and STS9, for such a memorable weekend.

NICKI BLUHM AND THE GRAMBLERS – Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers

Album: Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers

Artist: Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers

Label: Little Sur

Release Date: August 27, 2013

Nicki Bluhm

http://www.nickibluhm.com/

 

 BY: MICHAEL VERITY

 

 Anyone who’s seen Nicki Bluhm perform live knows she’s the real deal. She has the sex appeal of 70s-era Linda Ronstadt, the charm of Loretta Lynn, the charisma of Roseanne Cash, the sass of Bonnie Raitt and the singing chops to match them all. Her new self-titled album with her band, The Gramblers, proves she can bring the goods in the studio, as well.

 

“It’s not how you swim, it’s how you hold your breath,” she sings on “It’s Too late,” a sultry bit of country funk that opens the record. “Hey Stranger” evokes thoughts of the aforementioned Ms. Ronstadt a la Stone Poneys while the brushes-and-bass two-step of “Till I’m Blue” begs to be included on your next road trip mixtape, right between the Burritos and Brook Benton. Husband and producer Tim Bluhm’s sneaky electric piano and Grambler guitarist Darren Ney’s smoking solo on “Ravenous” transcend the song’s Fleetwood Mac pedigree and launch it into a new dimension. “There I was in Arizona, playing stud, with a dead man’s hand” she sings in “Deep Water,” a second dose of funky Southern California country rock that’s too sexy for your CD player.

 

Whether you’re an old guy who remembers your crush on Cub Scout Linda or a new kid who just digs the groove, you’ll not be disappointed. One of the most fun and best played country rock records of the year.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: All of ‘em (seriously)

EROS AND THE ESCHATON – Home Address for Civil War

Album: Home Address for Civil War

Artist: Eros and the Eschaton

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: August 20, 2013

Eros

www.barnone.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Most couples who make music together and bind their talents together as a singing, songwriting duo don’t opt to do so with such low-key ambience. Or, for that matter, choose a handle that’s so obtuse. After all, bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine are rarely the template for a boy/girl twosome that hails from the heartland.

Indeed, there are a number of things that might seem contradictory about this husband/wife pairing of Adam Hawkins and Kate Personi. For starters, they double up on practically all the instrumentation – vocals, guitar, drums and keys – but what ultimately emerges is an airy, atmospheric drift which finds wispy harmonies and lots of cosmic noodling hovering over a mostly sturdy shuffle. It’s an unlikely combination, one that emphasizes ambiance over accessibility, plus elusive melodies. The strident strum of “20 Different Days” and the crash and clutter pervading “Terence McKenna” create a bold impression even though the celestial trappings leave little to latch on to.  Nevertheless, the deep pulse that propels “Over and Over” succeeds in providing momentum, and “Lately (I’ve Been Wondering)” almost comes close to being catchy in the traditional sense of “catchy.” Ultimately Home Address for Civil War can feel as ambiguous, aloof and difficult to grasp as the album title otherwise implies – call it, mood music for the terrestrially challenged.

DOWNLOAD: “Over and Over,” “20 Different Days,” “Lately (I’ve Been Wondering)”

 

Watch Blurt for an exclusive interview with the North Carolina band very soon….