Monthly Archives: August 2014

EDWARD O’CONNELL – Vanishing Act

Album: Vanishing Act

Artist: Edward O'Connell

Label: self-released

Release Date: July 01, 2014

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Tell ya what: if 2011’s Our Little Secret was, well… our little secret—the implied “us” being the oft-insular power pop community of fans and critics—then this D.C. rocker’s new album Vanishing Act will surely put the lie to its titular suggestion. Bursting with sonic buoyancy and lyrical resolve, its dozen tunes make an essential case for Edward O’Connell’s nomination for this year’s best kept songwriting secret.

Track after track here—the heartbeat-thumping gem “Every Precious Day”; sturdy Tom Pettyish jangler “Severance Kiss”; blazing album closer “The End of the Line,” which is surely the best song Nick Lowe never wrote; the stately “Odds Against Tomorrow”—finds its way to earworm status. O’Connell, singing in a voice clearly informed by early exposure to Elvis Costello but tinged with a genial Americana warmth, understands how to make the nuances of the pop-rock format work in his favor, and its how he leavens his material with subtlety and wry humor that leaves the listener nodding and smiling at the sonic bearhug being received.

With additional dips into pedal steel-powered country-rock and ‘60s baroque piano/guitar/strings pop demonstrating O’Connell’s mastery of pretty much every form within reach (regarding the latter, BLURT fave Parthenon Huxley turns up on backing vocals on the title track, which makes for additional reasons to cheer), Vanishing Act ultimately becomes a must-hear. If you’re a true music lover and aficionado of sharp songcraft, don’t be a dummy and pass on this album.

DOWNLOAD: “The End of The Line,” “Severance Kiss,” “Vanishing Act”

PSYCHO SISTERS – Up On the Chair, Beatrice

Album: Up On the Chair, Beatrice

Artist: Psycho Sisters

Label: Rock Beat

Release Date: August 12, 2014

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Twenty-five years ago, Vicki Peterson found herself out of a high-profile job. Her band the Bangles had spent some time in the upper reaches of the pop charts, but then broke up amidst differing perceptions of what sort of focus the music should take.

Around this time, she met and befriended Susan Cowsill, who knew a little about hit records, having been involved in them way back in 1969 when she was 10 years old, the youngest member of her family’s band the Cowsills. Peterson and Cowsill discovered pretty quickly that their voices blended beautifully, and that they had some seriously shared musical influences and ideas. Around 1989 they began writing songs and performing live as a duo, and were recruited to lend background vocals to records by the likes of Jules Shear and Belinda Carlisle. They called themselves the Psycho Sisters, which made a kind of sense as these two, who had spent so many years perfecting harmonies with their own siblings, were able to sing together in ways normally associated with sister acts.

After a while, the Psycho Sisters found themselves members of a bigger group, the Continental Drifters, who spent the ‘90s being one of the greatest live bands in the world, recording a couple of albums including the spectacular Vermillion, and eventually splitting apart in ways foreshadowed by their very name. Cowsill left her husband, the keyboard/guitar player, and married the drummer. Peterson got back together with the Bangles. Both made terrific music in the 21st Century, and both talked now and again about revisiting the old partnership.

Up On the Chair, Beatrice is a document of something that happened more than two decades ago, recorded now and sounding fresh and inspired. If these songs had been laid down in 1992, they would probably have received a big expensive production, and received a decent shot at the marketplace ripped open by the sudden interest in alternative rock at the time. But, with the possible exception of “Numb,” which could, with the right producer, have sounded like the best female version of Soundgarden imaginable, the likelihood is the songs wouldn’t have been given the most comfortable treatment they deserved.

Now, the budget is small and the chart expectations nonexistent, but the music is perfectly served. Peterson and Cowsill recruited their drummer husbands (Peterson married Cowsill’s actual brother John in 2003, thus becoming a bonafide Psycho Sister-In-Law), a bassist, keyboardist, cellist, and violinist to flesh out the acoustic arrangements the songs had once been given. Add to that Peterson’s exquisitely tasteful trademark electric guitar riffs and highly melodic solos, and you’ve got the perfect backdrop to the magical harmonies of these two talented singers.

Ten songs, three of them covers, three of them sisterly co-writes, three of them Peterson solo writes, and one co-written by Peterson and Susan’s brother Bob. This album gets in and gets out, enchanting without overstaying its welcome. The aforementioned “Numb” is a stunner, especially with the powerhouse riff being picked up by the violin and cello in this arrangement. “Wish You” is a nasty rocker kicked into high gear by the hard-edged harmonies the Sisters give it. “Never, Never Boys,” with its sad-eyed look at the loss of intimacy between friends who grow up, is a distant cousin to Peterson’s masterful “Dover Beach” from the Bangles’ All Over the Place album. “This Painting” is a goodbye and fuck-you song which could have been given a country treatment, but which steadfastly refuses to cry in anyone’s beer.

The covers, which undoubtedly are only a drop in the bucket known to these two long-established lovers of singing other people’s songs, are lovely. “Heather Says” was originally sung by Susan with the Cowsills all the way back in 1971, and this new version holds its own against that beautiful original. Harry Nilsson’s “Cuddly Toy” is done as a tribute to the late Davy Jones, who sang it in the Monkees – the version here feels like sinking into the fluffiest of pillows with all those “la-la-la’s” going round. Peter Holsapple (the keyboardist/guitarist to whom Cowsill used to be married) wrote “What Do You Want From Me,” and despite the fact that it instantly sounds familiar as a Holsapple classic, it has apparently never been recorded before.

Imagine the restraint involved in knowing you had written and/or sung all these really good songs, and knowing you had a fan-base of some size interested in hearing anything you did, and yet simply sitting on them for all these years. At any rate, that oversight has now been rectified, and the Psycho Sisters album is a terrific addition to the discographies of two very talented singer/songwriters.

DOWNLOAD: “Numb,” “Wish You,” “Cuddly Toy.” STEVE PICK



The Baseball Project + Minus 5 + Dressy Bessy 8/15/14

Dates: August 15, 2014

Location: Oriental Theatre, Denver CO



I had arrived about 2/3 of the way through Denver’s own Dressy Bessy’s set and have seen them many times over the years — they’re always a good time. This show was no exception ‘cept the professor looking bass player is not there any longer and some tall, thin dude w/ glasses is in his place. I heard a few choice cuts and the band looked thrilled when Peter Buck jumped on stage with them near the end.



The Minus 5 is a revolving cast (in the past it has included assorted R.E.M.s, Wilcos, Posies, etc) but these days it’s leader Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn, Peter Buck and Linda Pitmon and lemme tell you, they put on a terrific, energy packed set full of good vibes. The band seemed happy to be there and thus the crowd reciprocated (or vice versa…though I’m not sure if Peter Buck was mad, sick or if that low-key, hang-in-the- back-and-not-smile is maybe his stage presence). Most of the material seemed to be from the two latest records, S/T (aka the Gun Album) Killingsworth. Towards the end Mike Mills popped out and played bass on one song.



The band took a little break and out came The Baseball Project. It’s the same lineup as the Minus 5 ‘cept the 5th member is, yup, you guessed it, Mike Mills. Again, the band cranked out one baseball-themed song after another (from each of their three records including the latest 3rd on Yep Roc Records) and we heard odes to folks like Dock Ellis, Dale Murphy (“Dale Murphy needs to be in the hall of fame”) and yes, even the hated Alex Rodriguez.

Oh, there were plenty more, “From Nails to Thumbtacks” (Lenny Dykstra) “Harvey Haddix” (yup), “Past Time” (uh huh) and of course, “Ted Fucking Williams.”




More? “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads,” “13,” “They Are the Oakland A’s” and a few others (“Fair-Weather Fans”).

The mostly long-in-the-tooth crowd was not gonna let these folks leave without an encore so we heard “Extra Innings” and “Jackie’s Lament,” and then Mills began talking about a baseball team in Maryland, “I think they were from….uh….Rockville,” he explained, and they jumped right into ‘Don’t Go Back to Rockville” and just simply killed it.

Other than a gig at Coors Field the following day, this was the final night of the tour and all three bands were firing on all cylinders. What a night.


Photos credit: JD Bamford Photography (


TOM HEYMAN — Cool Blue Feeling

Album: That Cool Blue Feeling

Artist: Tom Heyman

Label: Bohemian Neglect Recording Works

Release Date: August 19, 2014

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Tom Heyman’s pedal steel has been the secret sauce in SF indie-country recordings by the Court & Spark, Paula Frazer, John Vanderslice and Chuck Prophet, his haunting slide work etching ghostly shadows into moody roots melodies. Cool Blue Feeling is his third solo album, and though he necessarily moves to the front, Heyman remains reticent, subdued and unflashy, murmuring blues-y regrets over glistening guitar licks but not throwing anything in your face.

Heyman’s voice, for instance, is workman-like and plainspoken, with decent range but not much drama. He sounds like a more urbane and self-aware John Hiatt – you know, with the hokey-ness dialed down – as he mutters wry, world-weary observations. He seems, for much of the album, to be singing right into your ear. His guitar playing is a little showier than his singing, with luminous slide work in “Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks,” and smouldery blues vamps in “Always Be Around.”

Yet it’s all so tasteful and understated that you wish he’d cut loose, forget about getting everything aligned and just turn up the temperature. That’s why, maybe, “Black Top,” the album’s opener, seems like such a highlight. Its heat is kept to a simmer, sure, but it’s bubbling underneath, and it radiates sex and desperation in a way that the other tracks don’t. I like the way the slouchy blues underpinning erupt into trebly guitar soloing; it’s like a rainbow slicing through the murkiest sort of thundercloud.

The quietness can work, too, when it suits the songs, as on the title track, which mourns the spluttering out of a love relationship. Here the reticence, the meditative distance, the steadiness of feeling mirrors the burnt out stunned-ness that comes after a break-up. And the song is beautiful, too, in its way, as it finds curves and valleys in a well-contained landscape. The little shifts, like a fat-string solo mid-way through, seem like landmarks. The slight crests in volume, the embedded sighs, the flutters of infinitesimal vibrato—all this signals deep, not fully-expressed sensation. It’s nearly stoic, but not quite, and as a result all the more powerful.

DOWNLOAD: “Black Top” “Cool Blue Feeling”



Album: Risk Profile

Artist: Sean O'Brien & His Dirty Hands

Label: First Cold Press

Release Date: July 01, 2014

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San Fran rocker Sean O’Brien has been on the scene long enough to perfect his craft, having cut his teeth with the so-called “paisley underground” (notably as a member of the Davis, Calif., legends True West) and collaborated with a host of likeminded vets. His current touring band includes Camper Van Beethoven’s Greg Lisher, while the new Risk Profile album features Matt Boudreau on drums, Tom Hofer on bass and such guests as Lisher and musicians from Four Non Blondes, Engine 88 and Penelope Houston’s band. This spells a recipe in confidence and finesse, with O’Brien stepping decisively up to the songwriting plate.

He swings for the fences right away with “Rehabilitated (I Want You),” all angular guitars and edgy rhythms. Then in rapid succession he essays woozy psychedelia (“Final Say”), jangly pop (“How I Hate That Hand”), and choogling rock (“I Can’t Say No”). There are also moments of expansive, atmospheric cinema, such as the brooding “Torn Down & Hauled Away,” which is complemented by the smokey, piano-based lounge-jazz of “The Addict Demands.” And with an unexpected foray into electronica called, teasingly “The Sugar Will Do You In” near the end the album ultimately comes across as one of the most delightfully diverse — schizoid, even — releases to date this year. It’s almost as if O’Brien had so much he wanted to say in the relatively short space of a lone album, he decided to make the most of his forum and get a little bit of everything on the table.

That may mean that some newcomers to O’Brien’s music will be confused, but patience and repeated listens will pay off, in spades. And for those of us who have followed him over the years, the musical buffet is the kind of sonic nourishment we can cherish. More, please.

DOWNLOAD: “The Sugar Will Do You In,” “Torn Down & Hauled Away,” “How I Hate That Hand”

Photo Gallery: X 8/19/14, Atlanta

Dates: August 19, 2014

Location: Atlanta, GA

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X is back and having much more fun – you can too.   Billy Zoom, Exene, John Doe, and DJ Bonebrake kicked off a a short East Coast leg of their 2014 tour in Atlanta Tuesday night.   They continue for the next ten days or so with gigs in NYC (3 nights), Boston, Pittsburgh, and Chicago (3 nights), and back home for a Sept.20th show with Los Lobos and Wanda Jackson.  Previous 2014 shows had the band performing one of their first four LPs in their entirety, but it was all hits in ATL, and the packed house was good with that from the opening riffs of “Hungry Wolf.”  Joining X on this leg of their tour is Austin band Not in the Face (photos of them at the bottom of this gallery) so get there early – they’re great. (Tour info HERE.)

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JENNY LEWIS 8/14/14. Denver

Dates: August 14, 2014

Location: The Bluebird, Denver CO



It had been a few years since I’d last seen Jenny Lewis. She and the Watson Twins had come through Portland Oregon where they put on a terrific show at the Wonder Ballroom in 2006, touring for the terrific Rabbit Fur Coat. She then released a solo record in 2008, Acid Tongue, that I didn’t love and, now, after six years, comes the Ryan Adams-produced The Voyager. I’d heard it was real poppy and I was very skeptical.

After a few listens the songs started growing on me… slowly. Tonight, Lewis and her band (3 guys and 3 gals) took the sold out Bluebird stage. The crowd was ready, willing and able as Lewis bounded out and shouted “What up, D!” Opening with Rilo Kiley oldie “Silver Lining” she then heading into some from The Voyager, including a few of my favorites like “Head Underwater,” “Just One of the Guys,” “Slippery Slopes,” and “The Moneymaker.” Honestly, she had the crowd eating out of her hand and re: Lewis’ band, they’re tight and seem to be really into the material.

About midway through we hear the terrific “Rise Up with Fists” (off Rabbit Fur Coat”) and from 2 Acid Tongues we heard “Pretty Bird’ and “The Next Messiah.’” She didn’t forget about the crowd for encores as she pulled out an acoustic version of “Acid Tongue” (with the band , standing together and vocalizing behind her) and ended with a gorgeous version of “She’s Not Me.” She then left to get ready to open for Beck a few nights later at Red Rocks.

Not quite the magic I saw in 2006 but still a damn good set by anyone’s standards.



THE POSIES – Failure

Album: Failure

Artist: Posies

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: August 19, 2014

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When the Posies first appeared on the Bellingham, Wash., scene circa 1987 it’s safe to say that the Northwest scene was already transitioning to the gnarly, dissonant, metallic sound that would come to be characterized by grunge; a year earlier the epochal Sub Pop 100 compilation had come out, and the following year would see the release of Nirvana’s debut single. So despite there already being an established pop “scene” for the region as spearheaded by the likes of the Young Fresh Fellows (Scott McCaughey’s early, much-loved band), the Squirrels and the Fastbacks and championed by the PopLlama label and other tiny, grassroots operations, it would soon be decisively overshadowed by the harder, heavier stuff.

But was it truly eclipsed? Judging by the longevity of Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer and their multi-faceted careers—which notably included their involvement in the latterday revival of Big Star—amid periodic Posies activity, one might make a case for the opposite. Failure, originally released on cassette and LP by PopLlama in 1989, marked the pair’s precocious beginnings; while it unquestionably is the sound of two young (all of 17 years, in fact) songwriters learning their craft while wearing their influences on their sleeves, it also clearly forecasts a musical greatness to come. Tracks like “At Least For Now,” a shimmering delicacy that’d make Carl Wilson weep with envy; or the strummy “Under Easy” blissful harmonies of “I May Hate You Sometimes,” both so Hollies-centric that Graham Nash and Allan Clarke should call up Ken and Jon and put together an authentic version of the Hollies to replace the ringers who go out on the road under that name; and certainly the ecstatically thrumming janglepop that is “What Little Remains,” which proudly takes its place in the pantheon of ‘80s powerpop pioneered a few years earlier by The dB’s, R.E.M. and Let’s Active”—these are not minor league compositions, but songs steeped in tradition and evidencing a keen understanding and then-looming mastery of the form.

With the LP version of the Failure reissue pressed on eye-candy greenish-gold vinyl and the CD edition boasting 8 bonus tracks comprising demos (an early version of “I May Hate You Sometimes” sounds so confident and fully-realized that you’re left wondering how the duo was able to make their final selections for the actual album back in ’89), instrumentals and live material, the Posies and the astute archivists at Omnivore have done fans a huge service. Make that a gift, in fact. A “failure”? Ironic title or not, to paraphrase a great philosopher, from small things, big things one day will come. Herein find some of those small thing—pop nuggets that turned out to be a musical goldmine.

DOWNLOAD: “I May Hate You Sometimes,” “What Little Remains,” “At Least For Now”

DR. JOHN – Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

Album: Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

Artist: Dr. John

Label: Concord Music Group

Release Date: August 19, 2014

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Given both his close identification with the music of his hometown of New Orleans and his prior history with tribute LPs to pre-rock & roll composers (cf. Duke Elegant, a nod to Duke Ellington, and Mercernary, a tip of the cane to songwriter Johnny Mercer), it was inevitable that Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack would get around to covering the music of Louis Armstrong. Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch isn’t an exercise in retro cool, however – no 1920s jazz here. Instead the Night Tripper adapts Satchmo’s standards to post-WWII R&B, from funk to gospel to hip-hop.

Thus “Dippermouth Blues” rolls as New Orleans second line funk, “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” (featuring vox from the Blind Boys of Alabama) grows into a widescreen soul epic, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” (with Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters) becomes a gospel powerhouse, “Motherless Child (featuring Anthony Hamilton) flows like a 70s soul ballad  and “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash” (with a sassy Shemekia Copeland) evolves into acidic R&B. Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife,” with a especially funky arrangement, a Mike Ladd rap interlude and Rebennack’s laconic, conversational delivery, is so far afield from typical versions as to be virtually unrecognizable.

Of course, no Satch tribute would be complete without his best-known song “Wonderful World.” As the opening track, the indisputable classic gets a thorough N’awlins makeover, with danceable rhythm and a honking trumpet solo from Nicholas Payton. Speaking of brass, while the focus remains fixed on the vocal performances, Rebennack calls in plenty of ringers to add licks from Armstrong’s primary instrument, as Payton, Terence Blanchard, Arturo Sandoval and James “12” Andrews make prominent appearances throughout.

Louis Armstrong may have provided the raw material for Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, but make no mistake: this is a Dr. John LP through-and-through. As it should be.

DOWNLOAD: “Wonderful World,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Mack the Knife”


ROCCO DELUCA – Rocco Deluca

Album: Rocco DeLuca

Artist: Rocco DeLuca

Label: 429 Records

Release Date: August 19, 2014

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Rocco Deluca is a fiercely independent purveyor of an unlikely motif. “Fierce,” meaning that his music seizes the senses in what often comes across like an aural assault. “Independent,” in the sense that his style is like no other. Comparisons fall short when describing Deluca’s general MO, an eerie mishmash of rumbling tempos and wailing melodies.

“There’s a world of hurt coming down on me,” Deluca moans at one particular juncture, and rarely is there a moment that goes by where that claim isn’t borne out. The fact that he coaxes these intriguing sounds from Dobro, lap steel and pedal steel guitar further attests to Deluca’s ingenuity. Still, the songs on this self-titled set can be daunting. “Two Bushes” and “Colors of the Cold” are ghostly and unnerving. “Free” and “Feather and Knife” convey a somewhat freakish fervor, a shimmering yet evasive ambiance that tempers this album throughout. Deluca’s uncommonly high vocals remain a constant, conveying a sense of tenderness and vulnerability that generally moots any sinister intent. The sad sway of “Through Fire” and the supremely soulful “Simple Thing” create the impression that Deluca may be a balladeer at heart, one adept at creating sobering narratives that resonate with a somewhat shadowy appeal.

Forlorn but fascinating, Rocco Deluca is an uncommon achievement.

DOWNLOAD: “Simple Thing,” “Colors of Cold,” “Feather and Knife”