Monthly Archives: June 2014


Album: Carter Girl

Artist: Carlene Carter

Label: Rounder

Release Date: April 29, 2014

Carlene Carter


Redoubtable singer and songwriter Carlene Carter made one of her many comebacks in 2008 with the appropriately titled Stronger, and while it’s taken her a few years to follow it up, Carter Girl is worth the wait. Rather than present a new set of her own songs, however, the daughter of June Carter Cash instead celebrates her family legacy with songs written or popularized by the legendary Carter Family.

Smartly, Carter and producer Don Was bring these tunes into the second half of the 20th century, giving them a modern Americana sheen instead of trying to recreate the sound of pre-WWII hillbilly music. Thus “Poor Old Heartsick Me” receives a 60s Bakersfield makeover,  “Tall Lover Man” bristles with country rock energy and “Little Black Train” boasts a growl like a late 80s John Hiatt record. Pals and fellow Carter Family acolytes drop by as well; Wille Nelson adds his distinctive phrasing (both vocally and instrumentally) to “Troublesome Waters,” Elizabeth Cook harmonizes on “Blackie’s Gunman” and Kris Kristofferson duets on “Black Jack David.” Carter also includes remakes of her self-penned tributes to the Carter matriarchy “Me and the Wildwood Rose” and “Lonesome Valley 2003,” lovely songs that just get better with age.

As does Ms. Carter herself – she long ago proved herself worthy of the family legacy, but Carter Girl would be a highlight of her substantial discography regardless of familial stamp.

DOWNLOAD: “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” “Little Black Train,” “Tall Lover Man”



WILLIE NELSON – Band of Brothers

Album: Band of Brothers

Artist: Willie Nelson

Label: Legacy

Release Date: June 17, 2014

Willie Nelson


“The record people nowadays keep spinning round and round. Songs about the back roads that they never have been down. They go and call it country, but that ain’t the way it sounds… It’s hard to be an Outlaw who ain’t wanted anymore,” drawls Willie Nelson in his trademark nasal delivery, on “Hard To Be An Outlaw,” the Billie Joe Shaver-penned fuck you to modern country music. And if we’re being honest here, Band of Brothers, Nelson’s latest record taken in its entirety, is pretty much a weathered, defiant middle finger in the air to what is currently being peddled as “Country Music” nowadays.

Nelson, Shaver, Waylon, Kris and Johnny (the Apostles of Outlaw Country) turned their backs on Nashville’s conveyer belt method of making watered-down, string-laden sappy records, and struck out on their own with an anti-establishment model in the ‘70s. Well, the record has spun around once again and contemporary country music is back to being style over substance (but this time it’s embroidered jeans and trucker hats instead of Nudie Suits and rhinestones) and every song is legally required (not sure if it’s a state law or one put in place by Nashville’s Music Row Mafia) to be about the beach and bikinis (the Jimmy Buffet-with-an-accent movement) or about God and Country. Which brings us back to Band of Brothers, a country record that simply sounds like nothing that is currently being played on country radio today. And that should be worn as a badge of honor.

The album, Nelson’s third in 16 months, is his first one of predominately new (original) material since 1996’s Spirit. Aside from the Shaver-authored “Hard To Be An Outlaw,” Nelson covers four other songs written by contemporaries, including the fantastic credo tune “The Songwriters,” (courtesy of Gordie Sampson and Bill Anderson). All of these ringers compliment the Nelson songs beautifully.

About a quarter of the tracks here are up-tempo (like the destined to be classic “Wives and Girlfriends” and “Crazy Like Me”), but the bulk of Band of Brothers finds Nelson in a less than raucous mood and that’s not a bad thing, when he trots out one slow burn, slyly-written sing-along after another. Like most prolific artists, Willie can be hit or miss with his offerings. This latest one lands the target dead on.

 DOWNLOAD: “Guitar in the Corner,” “Wives and Girlfriends” and “The Songwriters”

CENTRO-MATIC – Take Pride In Your Long Odds

Album: Take Pride In Your Long Odds

Artist: Centro-Matic

Label: Navigational Transmisions

Release Date: June 23, 2014

Centro 6-23



Twenty years in, Centro-Matic’s 11th full length certainly proves the Denton, TX quartet can still deliver the ferocious fuzz-rock they’ve practically trademarked. That their consistently strong output might actually work against them has become, as the title of their latest makes no bones about, the baseline from which they begin.

These dozen tracks still derive their basic songwriting fuel from an underdog status that, in today’s digital music universe, might seem less germane than it was when Centro-Matic began in the era of major label venality. And in lesser musical hands or from the mouths of the insincere, leader Will Johnson’s indignation might read as sour grapes. Instead, because of Centro-Matic’s unswerving commitment to craft and not trend, Johnson’s songwriting is grounded in compassion that transcends any petty resentment.

Johnson’s songs – including those written for quieter side-project South San Gabriel and his stark solo fare – have long cataloged those long odds in narratives that never yield to cliché or wallow in pity. The struggling fellow travelers, the friends lost to drink/drugs/depression, and all the failed and tragic relationships (including the band has with the “industry”) also carry in their DNA the passion and fire needed for redemption.

Though Take Pride may fall just short of the band’s best work, the Centro-Matic blend of fuzzy guitar hooks, rock-solid rhythms, accent keys, and sing-along choruses still makes long-time listeners wonder how the hell the band has never generated a bigger following, especially among the guitar-friendly indie rock crowd. Johnson has said this LP was a conscious return to the band’s fuzzy beginnings (a double-vinyl reissue of 1996’s Re-Do the Stacks was released the same day), but there’s consistent songwriting polish here — notably in the solid arrangements and those enormous hooks —that wasn’t as much a focus in those days of 23-song/snippet releases.

The fuzzy, GBV-like pop rock of tracks like first single “Salty Disciple” and LP highlight “Relative unto the Aces” only confirm the head-scratching nature of the band’s ongoing underdog status. The former bursts into immense sing-along choruses, while pulverizing guitar licks add a savage undertone to the latter’s head-bobbing beat. The two minutes of “Academy of Lunkers” blaze past in fuzzbox glory, fired by Matt Pence’s machine gun-triplets.

But it’s the more knotty emotional fare that draws existing Centro fans really close; it may also explain the lack of easy converts. Johnson can break a heart with the very best, and for some that depth of emotional entanglement with their music is too much. The dirge-y disc-ender “Through the Fog, Then Down” makes his talent plain while it shuffles through a friend’s collapse with compassion and elegance, accompanied like pallbearers by guitar feedback and Scott Danbom’s beautiful keyboard fills. There’s a hint of the band’s outdated alt-country tag in that song, but that’s never really been a comfortable fit because Centro-Matic’s just as often delivered tracks like “Anything Torn Out,” where swirling synth figures sound like Grandaddy melancholy.

Those emotional complexities also define the irresistible “Every Mission” — “When all the toxic tones you’re playing/Start playing you right back,” Johnson sings in a line that could be delivered into a mirror — and the sinister-sounding “On the Ride Back,” which highlight the double-edged nature of Centro-Matic songs. Through barre chord-crunch and barbed feedback, the latter deals frankly with a friend’s addiction, calling them out for their dishonesty — “we both went on your victory lap/for a time” — while offering a wary olive branch of hope. The song’s disintegration into abrasive noise, though, makes it clear the road back will be brutally difficult and all the more so for going it alone this time.

Few would exhibit the character that that kind of commitment and persistence embody. But they can they can find a supportive accompanying soundtrack in Centro-Matic to hear plainly whether it’s worth it.

DOWNLOAD: “Salty Disciple” “Take Pride In Your Long Odds” “Relative Unto the Aces”

DEVO 6/23/14, Denver

Dates: June 23, 2014

Location: Summit Music Hall, Denver CO

FILE: Musician Bob Casale Of Devo Dies At 61 2011 Art Of Elysium "Heaven" Gala - Red Carpet


It’s been a real pleasure to catch Devo in these recent years. This is my first time catching them here in the Mile High City (at the Summit Music Hall), but I did catch them twice in Portland in 2011 (3/16/11 and 9/16/11) after not having seen them for several years (my first Devo live show being 1982 for the Oh No It’s Devo tour and then caught them several other times in the later 80’s).

This tour brought along a bit of sadness as one of the founding members, Bob 2 (Casale) died earlier this year so the band was touring to help out his family with medical bills. A noble gesture to be sure but it’s not like Devo had ever been anything but noble.

The three other original members, Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh along with Gerry Casale were armed, once again with session drummer Josh Freese and this was being touted as the Hardcore Devo tour (after the two compilation releases that Superior Viaduct released earlier this year). It promised all of the early, subversive stuff along with some of the hits. The Spuds from Akron, Ohio (though having left long ago for the sunny climes of California) did not disappoint.

Gerry and Bob 1 were seated at the beginning of the set in the middle while Mark was stage left manning the keyboards and Freese was stage right, not behind the other two but drumming alongside. It was a perfect set up (sadly, the only thing missing was Bob 2) and if you were jonesing for one of the Hardcore Devo tour 2014 tour shirts they were wearing, no worries, for a mere $25 one could be had at the merch table.

They kicked into high gear like it was the mid-70’s all over again. Opening with “Mechanical Man” then lurching into other obscure, loping cuts like “I Been Refused” and “Auto Modown” (“Beehive,” “Midget” and “Freulein” were also knocked in there along with some other early cuts).

By the time the band changed into their blue jumpsuits it was later in the 70’s and they treated the sold out crowd to smokin’ versions of classic cuts like “(I Can’t Get No)Satisfaction,” “Be Stiff,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Gut Feeling” (yeah!!!) and plenty more.

Oh, you don’t believe me? How about “Social Fools” , “Timing X” and “Soo Balwz” (Yeah!!!). The clock then struck midnight (ok, so it was 10:30 or so) and it was time to exit stage left but encores were going to come hell or high water

…and the encores came and they included “U Got Me Bugged” and “Clockout” (dedicated to Bob 2 with a stand-in bass player).

The band left the stage again certainly giving the appreciative audience their money’s worth and then some. People began to exit, the stage lights came up (a little) and I think I even heard music playing and we waited. And waited.

Waited some more.

The rabid crowd was not to be denied and Devo came out for one more song, a killer version of “Mongoloid” before thanking the crowd (and Bob 2) and dancing off into the night.

The guys in Devo aren’t young and could easily rest on their laurels that encompassed 40 years of weirdness but they refuse to die. The oddball songs keep coming as do their opinions and ideas (de-evolution is alive and well in America) and the songs are still played with boatloads of energy and attitude. The way I hoped they’d be in 2014 they are. Yup.


In the photo above, the late Bob Casale is pictured second from left. He passed away on Feb. 17. R.I.P. good sir.


THE WHO — Quadrophenia Live In London

Album: Quadrophenia Live in London

Artist: The Who

Label: UMe

Release Date: June 03, 2014

Who 6-10


Arriving on the heels of Tommy, arguably the most fully-realized album the Who ever produced, Quadrophenia never quite garnered the immediate appeal achieved by its predecessor. Yet, while it may have lacked the ready refrains and a storyline that provided the hit potential for stage and screen, Quadrophenia is, in retrospect, Pete Townshend’s most ambitious masterpiece, a work of truly epic proportions that far surpassed any of his efforts before or since.

Consequently, the band’s decision to take it on tour in 2012 was not only challenging, but rather daring as well. And yet, as evidenced by this multi-format recording of its London homecoming, the band pulled it off brilliantly, leaving no detail unattended. (During 1996-97 The Who had also toured the album, but not quite this extensively and nowhere near as elaborate a stage production.) Townshend, Daltrey and musical director Frank Simes effectively recreated every nuance in the original arrangements, even to the point of syncing their live performance with archival videos of the Keith Moon and John Entwistle performing their parts as well. It’s an eerie juxtaposition, but seeing Daltrey looking on with admiration as Moon mouths “Bellboy,” the poignancy is all too obvious. Video images detailing society’s evolution since the Second World War along with film clips of the youthful Who affirm an anthemic resilience borne through songs such as “5:15,” “Drowned,” “Doctor Jimmy” and the final searing strains of “Love Reign O’er Me,” each an incisive element in this stunning set of songs.

Bonus performances of various Who classics enhance the spectacle, helping to make Quadrophenia Live In London an obviously essential acquisition for Who fans and novices alike.

 DOWNLOAD: “5:15,” “Drowned,” “Love Reign O’er Me,”

WATERY LOVE — Decorative Feeding

Album: Decorative Feeding

Artist: Watery Love

Label: In The Red

Release Date: May 13, 2014

Watery Love 5-13


Watery Love seethes with unease, its molten rages and anxieties bubbling up through a surface of roiling distortion. Guitar riffs decay into buzz and static as you listen to them. Block simple drum beats batter on, regardless, whack, whack, whack, whack on the fours, like the kit is being bludgeoned to death, rather than simply played. Two songs start with a dinner party and end in mayhem, the opener “Dose the Host,” shorting out in a demented rant about platters of skulls, missing eyes and “rabid lemurs,” the final song “Face the Door” rattling out of consciousness with a repeated cry of “Unlike you dickheads, I welcome death.” There’s a nightmare just under the surface of ordinary, irritating, daily life in Decorative Love, and when it’s not scaring the piss out of you, it’s darkly, desolately funny.

The band is an impromptu gathering of Philly-area garage noise talent. Richard Charles III (ex of Clockcleaner and the Ritchie of Ritchie Records) and Max Milgram play guitar. Daniel DiMaggio of Home Blitz plays bass and Meg Baird, yes, that Meg Baird, is bashing the crap out of an abbreviated drum kit, in a very un-Espers-y way. The four of them revel in rot and developmental stasis, turning 99%-er issuers – unpaid bills, stunted relationships, manual labor, uncleaned refrigerators – into a vibrating landscape of loathing and resentment. “Have you ever laid blacktop?” the singer murmurs in the dirge-heavy, dissonance blistered “Piece of Piss,” and then answers himself, “Of course not. You’re a lawyer.” You could cut plastic with the acid in that line. You could melt a hole in the floor and fall right through.

The whole record leads into “Face the Door,” an epic scramble of detuned guitars, a blinding migraine of miasmic sound that wraps, incongruously at first, around a familiar scenario: a bunch of friends meeting in a restaurant for dinner. (The first sign of trouble is that both males in the party want to face the door, so that they can look any potential killers in the eye.) The song has the strongest, most memorable guitar line, a revving engine-like riff that starts up and sputters, starts up and sputters, lurching from measure to measure like a belligerent drunk looking for a fight. And it has that line that makes ninja-ish sense of all the humiliations – the stacks of bills, the girls who like their dogs better, the smell of paint and exhaust and rotten eggs. “Unlike you dickheads, I welcome death” crests over a boiling mass of noise and carnage, maybe the only certain thing in a world of spinning rooms and seething walls. The world is full of small disappointments and giant rages that all have to be sucked up and put away if you want to get through the week. Watery Love takes them out and puts them on display, front and center, in one of this year’s most cathartic rock records.

DOWNLOAD: “Face the Door”


Album: Days of Abandon

Artist: Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Label: Fierce Panda

Release Date: May 20, 2014

Pains 5-13


This NYC crew never has (and probably won’t) the rep of other millennium Gotham faves like the Strokes or TV on the Radio but that’s probably because their mix of indie rock and indie pop is much more subtle and sweet. After a catchy 2009 debut, they followed up with the usual round of grueling touring and come up with the glummer but still strong (and underrated) follow-up Belong in 2011.

Now firmly planted in the pop camp, their third album is a lot airier and lighter than their previous albums and while they still know how to do catchy, it feels like they’re trying much too hard to be likable and liked, which is a cute way to say that they want a bigger audience.

Singer/writer Kip Berman still runs the show but original member/singer/keys-player Peggy Wang is missed now- though he still corals the boy-girl mix of vocals, it’s not as effectively as before. On the first two records, Berman & Wang complimented each other nicely on the bouncy tunes. Here, Berman and assorted helpmates bounce along but usually not so the songs grab you or stick in your head anymore or where you could just get dragged into their lithe songcraft and jangly momentum.

It’s a little too smoothed out and indistinct now – most of the songs are well crafted but a little TOO well crafted. The excitement’s mostly gone and the dreamy mood is a too light-headed to make an lasting impression or call you back for more- think of how Rilo Kiley ended up in the land of 70’s MOR but here it’s a little more 80’s or 90’s MOR (heavy synths, crystalline production, corals of voices), which isn’t necessarily an improvement.

Still, it’s not unlistenable- Berman knows to write pleasant enough material and if you heard any of this on some top 40 station, you probably wouldn’t rush to switch it off.   “Beautiful You” recalls some of shoegaze’s glory and occasionally, they remember their indie roots, even with the polished production attached, on faster, punchier songs late in the record like “Until the Sun Explodes” “Masokissed” (love that title).

Look- no one should begrudge them a career but if they have to smooth their sound into mush, maybe they don’t really deserve it right now.

Here’s hoping they get back to their roots.

DOWNLOAD: “Beautiful You,” “Until the Sun Explodes”


Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke [paperback edition], by Rob Sheffield

Title: Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love & Karaoke

Author: Rob Sheffield

Publisher: It Books

Publication Date: May 20, 2014

Turn Around book


 The only thing more yawn-inducing than watching someone else sing karaoke is reading about someone else singing karaoke; but somehow music writer Rob Sheffield has managed to make the act not only interesting, but emotionally powerful as well.

 In his third collection of heart-on-his-sleeve non-fiction—originally published last year in hardback, it’s now available in softcover—the Rolling Stone pop culture writer builds on his emotional, life-is-an-open-book style of writing that made the first two works best sellers. Turn Around Bright Eyes uses karaoke and his various go-to songs (everything from Bonny Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”) as the lead in to discussing his own life as a young widower up to meeting and marrying his current wife.

 Sheffield manages to pull the reader in with his deeply humorous style of self-deprecating confessions. He also pulls off the difficult task of being an entertaining music geek, one who is not above confessing his love for the Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran (a taboo among the more pretentious music nerd) just as easily as he’ll gush about The Smiths and Morrissey (the more obvious fall back of the music geek). Almost makes you want to pull up a chair and listen the next time Sheffield grabs the mic at his local karaoke bar.



SWEET TALK – Flash of Light 12” EP

Album: Flash Of Light

Artist: Sweet Talk

Label: 12XU

Release Date: May 06, 2014

Sweet Talk 10-29


Though Austin’s 12XU doesn’t specifically devote its resources to Texas bands, when it does zero in on Lone Star tuneage, it tends to come up aces. Case in point: Austin quartet Sweet Talk, who initially pinged the indie radar in 2013 with Pickup Lines, a riotous celebration of muscular, punk-tilting power pop. Now they’re back with a six-song followup, although to term it a “stopgap EP” or a similar label would be a huge disservice—these guys, in particular songwriter/guitarist Stephen Svacina, had the proverbial “all killer/no filler” equation committed to memory when they went into the recording studio.

The romping Britpunk (think Jam meets Undertones) of “Microphone”; the anthemic blare ‘n’ throb of “Fade Away”; the melodic Midwestern strut of the title track (which brings to mind our heroes Death of Samantha); these are classic tunes writ small but delivered large, the kind destined to have entire rooms of punters hoisting pints aloft and singing along at the tops of their lungs. And while no one’s trying to reinvent the wheel here, some things don’t need messing with: these gentlemen understand what they want to do, and they go right out and do it, in spades.

Give it a spin—on blue or black wax, take your pick—and you’ll become a believer, trust me.

DOWNLOAD: “Flash of Light,” “Fade Away”

DAVID J – An Eclipse of Ships

Album: An Eclipse of Ships

Artist: David J

Label: MondoTunes

Release Date: May 13, 2014

David J cover art


For many, goth pioneer David J (born David John Haskins) is beloved for his work in Bauhaus, and Love and Rockets. I have to confess that era of alt rock was lost on me as I was more the hard rock guy. Sure, I could appreciate Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” but in 1989 I was more into Appetite for Destruction and The Cult’s Sonic Temple than Love and Rockets, even though I could still dig on “So Alive.”

My, times have changed. At this point in my music appreciation I can really appreciate David J’s latest release, the acoustic driven An Eclipse of Ships. Described by David J as a “journal of the heart and a celebration of women,” this record comes across as more country alt rock than goth days revisited. The release features musicians on violin, piano, stand-up bass, mandolin, oboe, saxophone, and a slew of acoustic guitars. It aptly mixes folk, country, and rockabilly with a savvy sense of pop craftsmanship.

I wasn’t sure to expect when I first played An Eclipse of Ships, those old preconceptions still loomed. I knew the folks at BLURT are fans and that David J even played their SXSW day party in Austin. But as soon as the record’s first track “Dust in the Wind” started, I was intrigued and easily won over. Funded via Kickstarter, this record finds David J a mature singer-songwriter with a penchant for writing solid, singer-songwriter songs that are lush yet simple.

DOWNLOAD: “Hot Sheet Hotel,” “Visitation (Song for an Elegant Angel”), “Yokohama Blues”