Monthly Archives: August 2015

Hard Working Americans 8/18/15, Raleigh NC

Dates: August 18, 2015

Location: Lincoln Theater, Raleigh NC

Hard Working Americans (Blurt)


By the time Hard Working Americans rolled into Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre on August 18th, they were already living up to their name. Since starting their High Up On It tour in Richmond, VA, this was their fifth show in six days, and they only have one day off before ending the tour on the 30th in Colorado. [Tour itinerary HERE] At that point the members of this ‘jam-band’ supergroup, Todd Snider (singer/songwriter/raconteur), Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Dave Schools and Duane Trucks (both of Widespread Panic), Jesse Aycock (solo artist) and Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi) will return to their ‘real jobs’, some hitting the road again within days of ending this tour. Yes, these are some hard working Americans.

After opening the set with the beautiful Gillian Welch/David Rawlings ballad “Wrecking Ball,” the band set the tone for the rest of the evening with Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler.” Most of HWA’s repertoire consists of the band’s favorite songs by underappreciated songwriters they are fans and friends of (along with a few of Snider’s songs), most also dealing with the plight of the working man. What makes it work is the fact that they all become Hard Working American songs, and they are sounding better and better as the band spends more time together. Casal and Aycock each had plenty of time in the spotlight, with Casal’s clean lines contrasting nicely with Aycock’s dirty lap steel. During the instrumental jams, Snider definitely likes being the singer in a jam band, as evidenced by his barefoot hippie-dancing during the instrumental jams. These guys definitely enjoy their work, there were smiles onstage all night.

Encoring with “Purple Mountain Jamboree,” followed by Kevn Kinney’s Drivin N Cryin classic “Straight to Hell,” complete with the audience singing along on the chorus, they sent us home on a high note with a staple of Todd Snider solo shows, “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.”

In these highly charged days of bad news, protests, and politicians pandering to us a year and a half before an election, it’s worth noting that about 30 minutes into the set, Snider prefaced “Welfare Music” by saying, “We haven’t come here to protest anything… which technically means we’ve come to celebrate every fucking thing.”

Celebrate we did, Tuesday night in Raleigh never sounded so good.

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (2)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (8)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (7)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (6)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (5)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (4)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (3)

Hard Working Americans (Blurt) (1)

Todd Gunsher is a Raleigh-based photographer, journalist and musician. Check out more of his HWA photos and other equally fine cultural/musical subjects at his Flickr page. (We especially recommend his Schoolkids Records portfolios…)



Album: Horsehair

Artist: Michael Rank and Stag

Label: Louds Hymn

Release Date: July 11, 2015

Michael Rank 7-12

The Upshot: Erstwhile Snatches of Pink frontman continues on an impressive solo roll, this time teaming with Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire for a Gram-and-Emmylou-inspired gem of roots, rock ‘n’ twang.


The ever-prolific Michael Rank begins Horsehair, his second album of 2015 and fifth since assembling the free-floating Stag, with a tempered ode to the search for meaning. Accompanied by mandolinist Ron Bartholomew and Mount Moriah leader Heather McEntire, the ex-Snatches of Pink/Clarissa frontman/guitarist brings quiet certitude and back porch soul to “Frontiers,” gently letting 30 years of musical experience speak louder than a Marshall stack.

But matters of the heart rarely stray far from Rank’s worldview, as he colors the rest of these outlaw folk tunes with nods to ex-wives, current flames and, of course, son Bowie Ryder, his most consistent muse. The bitterness suffusing “Bluebird” contrasts with the hope winding through “Mexico,” the same way the easygoing country rock of “Husk” leavens the somber chamber folk of “Fire Walkers.” MVP status pins on McEntire, the Emmylou to Rank’s Gram – her country harmonies blend so well with Rank’s low-key twang that one hopes this partnership continues.

Rank’s vision reaches complete fruition, fittingly, on the final track “This Side of Texas,” which puts the “Helpless” chord changes through his distinctive roots rock ringer for an elegiac mini-anthem of love, regret and defiance. It’s a perfect balance of grit and beauty, a noble goal that Rank has successfully pursued for his entire career, up to and including the elegant, expressive Horsehair.

DOWNLOAD: “This Side of Texas,” “Bluebird,” “Husk”





Album: Do It Live

Artist: Sonny Knight and the Lakers

Label: Secret Stash

Release Date: June 23, 2015

Sonny Knight 6-23

The Upshot: Funk ‘n’ soul served up raw and steaming by the premiere Minneapolis artist whose name is not Prince—and it’s a live platter, to boot. Get down!


Not too many artists would have the balls to use as their stage-entrance music Led Zep’s “Heartbreaker”—and by transmogrifying the decidedly metallic tune’s signature opening riff into something significantly more funkified and swinging, also ensuring that a percentage of listeners would scratch their heads and think, hmm, this is kinda familiar, but…. Still, if anyone’s qualified to boast about having an impressive set of musical huevos, it’s Minneapolis brutha Sonny Knight who, on a timely live-in-concert followup to 2014’s smoking I’m Still Here additionally covers icons big (Leadbelly, on an unusual adaptation of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” aka “In the Pines,” which of course was also tackled by Nirvana), huge (The Beatles, via “Day Tripper), and respectively large, if cult-heroish (Rodriguez’s wonderful “Sugar Man,” which earns an uptempo oomph at their hands; Rodriguez is discussed HERE on our site) and pays tribute to some fellow sixties soulmen, among them Maurice McKinnies and the Champions (a rousing, introducing-the-band, JB’s referencing “Sock A Poo Poo”) and The Amazers (the super-silky “It’s You For Me,” penned by one Napoleon Crayton and originally produced by none other than Curtis Mayfield).

All the above name-dropping aside, the sheer power of the 2014 studio album (also issued by the soul survivors at Secret Stash Records) and its resulting high profile for Knight is what made this live ‘un possible, and the December 18-19 homecoming shows at Minneapolis venue the Dakota Jazz. Shows were accordingly riotous. In our original review of I’m Still Here we characterized veteran musician Knight and his young band of funkateers’ work as “a retro-soul blowout of epic proportions that will no doubt please fans of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kinds, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields et al… [doing] their traditional-tilting, seventies-inspired soul/funk with the agility of wizened veterans.” That all holds true, and then some, for Do It Live—just check out the live incarnation of hi-nrg/blues-rock, atavistic dance instructional “Cave Man,” or the positively swinging, horns-centric “Through With You,” or the flat-out stanky all-and-response stomp that is the band’s signature live track, “Sonny’s Boogaloo.”

There’s plenty more on evidence here, from Muscle Shoals and Memphis Stax/Volt to down ‘n’ dusty Lone Star State fonk and modified Afro-beat that’ll strike a chord among Fela fans. It’s all 100% Knight and his Lakers, though, and in 2015 one of the best calling cards for a live act as one can imagine. Who needs a booking agent or a manager when you’ve got a record like this? Shoot, issue it on vinyl, rename it Sonny Comes Alive! and you’ve got a whole new 2-LP live album craze in the making…

DOWNLOAD: “Cave Man,” “Sock A Poo Poo,” “Sonny’s Boogaloo,” “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Friends Of The Fish 3&4 (7” singles)

Album: Friends Of The Fish 3&4

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Fruits de Mer

Release Date: July 24, 2015
 Friends 3

The Upshot: UK label serves up incredibly eclectic buffet of left-field pop on a pair of limited edition lathe-cut 45s.


Two 7” singles recently turned up, courtesy the esteemed UK label Fruits de Mer. Friends of the Fish 3 starts off with “Soma” by Swedish band The Cats Never Sleep. It’s a really cool instrumental that starts off with a brooding bass line that transports the listener deep into the Mariana Trench. After the drums enter hazy flourishes of guitar start to peel in the background, and then the song really begins to take off with some backmasking. This is psychedelic music after all, but something more akin to what The Verve might do instead of let’s say Hawkwind, if you catch my drift! It’s a very infectious instrumental that I kept playing over and over again. This is a really cool band that apparently as the press release states was sent merely on spec to label management. What a find here’s hoping the FDM records puts out a full length!

The second track “Sungaze” by Insektlife Cycle, is a very positive summery instrumental that has a jazzy almost Pat Methenyesque vibe to it. Really love how the song keeps the good feelings rolling along all the way to the end.

Friends 4

Friends of the Fish 4 gallops out of the gate with the Me and My Kites track “War”. It’s a wonderfully crafted pop song that has a song structure and pacing that you rarely hear these days. The songwriting shows maturity and a depth that recalls bands from the late ’60s early ’70s and is definitely a showstopper of a tune crying out for a wider audience.

On the flip side are Welsh band Soft Hearted Scientists with their track “Surferella”. The track is a straight-ahead surf tune rife with tremolo-laden guitar. I really enjoy how the band keeps it light and seems to be having plenty of fun. This is the perfect song to listen to while holding a beer at a beach luau.

I’m really impressed by these two records and as a means to introduce punters to bands they may be unfamiliar these 4 tracks have definitely whet my appetite for more.

DOWNLOAD: “Soma”, “Sungaze”, “War”, and “Surferella”


BITERS – Electric Blood

Album: Electric Blood

Artist: Biters

Label: Earache

Release Date: August 07, 2015

Biters 8-7

The Upshot: In the hands of these Georgia not-so-good-ol’-boys, the the pre-punk era of power pop, Detroit rock and British glam never sounded sweeter.


Let’s hear it for the rock & roll true believers, the dreamers, schemers and laser light beamers who never gave up on the power of the riff, the chord, the slogan – the life-giving essence of rock & roll. Biters swim deep in the pool bubbling up from that particular fountain of youth on the Atlanta quartet’s latest LP Electric Blood. Big melodies, bigger choruses and a heart full of love for all things rawk power these cuts, with an emphasis on the pre-punk era of power pop, Detroit rock and British glam.

“I wanna rock and roll tonight/Like it’s 1975,” declares bandleader Tuk (formerly of the late, lamented Heart Attacks), and he couldn’t be more accurate. Or happier to be standing to be in front of an amp with an axe in his hands – nearly every song proclaims a joyous bravado that makes AC/DC sound like angst-ridden indie rockers. “Oh yeah! All right! It’s good to be alive!” proclaims the chorus of “Restless Hearts.” The title track, “Dreams Don’t Die” and, naturally, “Heart Fulla Rock n Roll” express similar sentiments, as loudly and hookily as possible.

Not everything comes up black roses in Biters’ world – “Loose From the Noose” and “Time to Bleed” betray restlessness and desperation, while “Low Lives in High Definition” and “The Kids Ain’t Alright” lament the increasing artificiality and commoditization of rock, the latter with the angry quip “How’d we ever lose control?/Now we’re killing rock & roll!” But the raucous turbo fuel running through the band’s veins makes surrender unlikely and despair impossible, as even the streets of “Space Age Wasteland” bristle with ill-suppressed freedom. Rock & roll, after all, will never die – definitely not in the hands of Biters.

DOWNLOAD: “Restless Hearts,” “Low Lives in High Definition,” “Dreams Don’t Die”


San Fermin / Soak 8/7/15, Denver

Dates: August 7, 2015

Location: Bluebird Theatre, Denver CO

San Fermin


For the August 7 Bluebird Theatre show, I didn’t know much about one of the opening acts, SOAK, except that she‘s an 18 year old Irish lesbian folksinger. That was enough to make me curious. The ad stated that the first band would play at 9 PM so we got there at 10 PM assuming that SOAK would be taking the stage but she was halfway through her set. Damn! What we caught was short but sweet and she engaged the crowd perfectly (didn’t appear nervous at all…if I was 18 and had gone to foreign country to play music I’d would’ve been…..well, wait, I never would have done it anyway). Make sure you check out her terrific debut Before We Forget How to Dream (on Rough Trade)

San Fermin….like 8 hipsters probably from Williamsburg. I made a quote to the effect of “the kind of band that yuppies in New York think they’re radical by watching.” They’re not. My friend Ben observed that “Just because you’re multicultural musicians from Williamsburg doesn’t make your music sound any less like lukewarm Peabo Bryson. San Fermin should only be playing weddings, and only those in which the ice sculptures are artisanal and abstract.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.



Metz 8/11/15, Denver

Dates: August 11, 2015

Location: Larimer Lounge, Denver CO



It was really crowded at the Larimer Lounge for Canada’s Metz. Definitely more folks here than when they played the Hi Dive a few years ago (and that gig wasn’t empty).

Opening were four guys from Brooklyn, NY called The Big Ups. The band ground out dirty riffage while the cockeyed singer, Joe Gallaraga, screamed and howled and spoke to the crowd politely in between songs (he reminded me a little of Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus). He was a tad off-kilter, but was definitely an interesting performer. They played mostly songs off last year’s Eighteen Hours of Static and while the songs weren’t great, they were definitely in the solid/pretty good category. Maybe a year from now they’ll be bringing it (a la Metz).

11 PM: watch the witching hour! Metz popped on stage. Same three guys, but this time with a new record out entitled II. To these ears the songs sound basically the same (production wise) as the ones on their debut, but they’ve upped the ante in the songwriting department. Also, on stage you can tell they’re a different band, more confident, stronger, stranger and just better all the way around. For their sound you can hear elements of labelmates Pissed Jeans as well as old timers like Jesus Lizard and God Bullies, but these guys are forging a path all their own.

Drummer Hayden Menzies is a total maniac, in fact, I never actually saw his face, all I saw was hair and drumsticks flying around while vocalist/guitarist Alex Edkins and bassist Chris Slorach did their own calisthenics on stage (and probably lost some poundage as well). We heard single “Acetate” as well as “The Swimmer,” “Nervous System’ and plenty more off II well as plenty from their debut. When the 45 minute set ground to a half I had a feeling that there would be no encore, which I was ok with. The band was spent, pouring every ounce of energy into the set and we the crowd left feeling the same way.

If next year will bring Metz III and another gig you can bet I’ll be there.

GIANT SAND – Heartbreak Pass

Album: Heartbreak Pass

Artist: Giant Sand

Label: New West

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Giant Sand 5-4

The Upshot: A stylistic collage of Howe Gelb’s storied trans-genre oeuvre remains remarkably consistent and intimate for the Tucson band’s most satisfying album in ages. (And hey, we here at BLURT like it so much we decided to review it twice!)


Call it a career overview—with a twist. Given that it’s nigh-on impossible to keep track of all the Giant Sand and solo albums that Howe Gelb has helmed—there are also sundry singles and one-offs and even the stray side project (The Band of Blacky Ranchette)—it’s more than appropriate that, rather than sum up three decades’ worth of making records via a compilation or rarities collection, Gelb has opted for what he calls conjuring via a stylistic collage of his trans-genre oeuvre, encompassing everything from desert rock, alt-country and psychedelia to loungey jazz, winsome folk and piano balladry. The idea was to assemble most of the Giant Sand regulars (both Stateside and Europe-based), line up a few friends and guests, and “conjure” up that free-wheeling G.S. aesthetic.

So there’s blazing garage raveup “Hurtin’ Habit” (featuring Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on drums); the weird, effects-drenched sci-fi psych of “Transponder” (that’s John Parish, Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle and erstwhile Sand bassist Paula Jean Brown pitching in); twangy desert rocker “Man On A String” and the countryish, Mariachi-fueled pop of “Every Now and Then.” And that’s only a handful of the styles on display here.

Sonically, you might think that an album featuring no less than 13 different engineers handling recording duties (make that 16—three of the musicians are credited as recording their parts themselves) could’ve been a mess, but somehow Gelb achieved consistency; no seams showing here, kids. It’s the juxtaposition of the weird and the familiar, the jarring and the seductive, even the sacred and the profane, that’s not only the hallmark of Giant Sand but a key component of the musical collective’s appeal. Woozy and surreal, intimate and majestic, Heartbreak Pass is the most consistently enjoyable Gelb outing in ages.

DOWNLOAD: “Man On A String,” “Every Now and Then,” “Hurtin’ Habit”

PETE BERWICK – The Legend of Tyler Doohan

Album: The Legend of Tyler Doohan

Artist: Pete Berwick

Label: Little Class

Release Date: July 17, 2015

Pete Berwick 7-2

The Upshot: Honkytonk, country-rock and soulful twang that should prove essential listening for fans of such current high-profilers as Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.


Way back in 2009 yours truly was utterly gobsmacked by Nashville-to-Kansas City troubadour Pete Berwick’s Just Another Day In Hell, for while I’d heard his music before, I was unprepared for the sheer sonic and emotional wallop he wielded over the course of the hour-long album. As I wrote in my subsequent review, this “atavistic twang-rocker in the tradition of Steve Earle and Jason Ringenberg, with clear roots in the extended outlaw tradition of Waylon and Willie,” delivered his tales in a voice “weathered ‘n’ torn from tequila and coal dust and imbued with a deep southern twang that drips authenticity.” It was one of that year’s finest roots/Americana releases and it remains a fixture in my personal playbox to this day.

Flash-forward several years and albums later and we’ve got Berwick’s sixth full-length. His essential m.o. of rockers and blues-ers, twangers and cruisers, hasn’t changed, merely been refined, for the veteran songwriter has internalized the maxim if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Ergo, this brawny, blazing, beautiful baker’s dozen o’ tuneage that takes its cue from its rousing title track, a chillingly tragic but inspiring true-life tale that pays tribute to an upstate New York 8-year old kid who perished while trying to save his disabled grandfather during a trailer fire (“too damn young to die a man,” laments Berwick, in his gravelly, soulful voice, that suggests a cross between Patterson Hood and Joe Strummer).

From there, the vignettes tumble; not for nothing is the album subtitled “…and other tales of victory and defeat.”  Barrelhouse honky-tonk and a soul-sucking vamp cozy up in “She’s Too Wild For Me”; Sticky Fingers-styled country rock and the redemptive powers of a woman who’ll be true, for “Cried My Last Tear”; the hilarious mandolin/harmonica on-the-road chronicle “Keep Your Socks On and Don’t Look Down” (this one might scare off all you aspiring touring musicians, what with its depiction of what accommodations really look like out on Route 66, so approach with caution); and, most notably, “See You In Hell,” which deliciously cribs from “Ghost Riders in the Sky” (and even namechecks the classic song) in a kind of raveup-of-the-damned cowpunk celebration for pedal steel and Tennessee Three aficionados.

Bottom line: in 2015, what with the fellow roots/Americana likes of Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell storming the charts and selling out venues, the time seems right for Berwick to transcend “poor-man’s Springsteen” (as his own bio describes him) status and start reaping the rewards of having been there first. The dude’s obviously got the chops and the songwriting smarts—he fuckin’ deserves it.

Incidentally, Berwick is also a published author and well regarded novelist. You can find out more about that at his website, natch.

DOWNLOAD: “See You In Hell,” “Are You Sure I’m What You Want,” “The Legend of Tyler Doohan”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Dust on the Nettles: a Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-1972

Album: Dust on the Nettles: a Journey Through the British Underground Folk Scene 1967-1972

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Grapefruit/Cherry Red

Release Date: July 20, 2015

Dust Nettles 7-7

The Upshot: Crucial classic Brit-folk spread across 3 CDs, featuring the likes of the Fairports, Pentangle, Vahti Bunyan, Kevin Coyne, Incredible String Band and many more.


So you think that because you own a few Nick Drake records that you’re a aficionado on U.K. folk? Well, I did until the folks at Cherry Red unearthed this three cd box set that lays down 63 tracks in all and busts open the door on this much heralded scene. Those Brits sure did love their folk music, huh?

Disc one starts off with The Pentangle and includes ace tracks from Bridget St. John, Bob & Carol Pegg, Clive Palmer, Vashti Bunyan and plenty more.

Disc two begins with Gerald Moore (who?) and lets out cuts from Steeleye Span, Joan Armatrading (??!!), Kevin Coyne Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Incredible String Band and, of course, Fairport Convention.

Disc three spouts of with opener Bill Fay plus has tunes from Anne Briggs, Simon Finn, the Occasional Word, Fresh Maggots, Country Sun, the perfectly-named Mick Softley and a boatload of others.

Folks/bands I had not heard of that I like were the otherworldly Magnet, the gorgeous Spyrogyra, the trippy Comus, the dark Parchment, the slightly harder-edged Gerald Moore, the whimsical Melton Constable, the Neil Halstead-ish Heron (assuming they were a big influence on him) and too many more to list here.

Whether acid folk was your bag or the more traditional scene it’s all covered here and the 36-page booklet is comprehensive, giving brief overviews on each band as well as liners by David Wells. Put the clove down and dive in dude.

DOWNLOAD: The Pentangle- “Let No Man Steal Your Throne,” Gary Farr- “Images of Passing Clouds,” Tuesday- “Glow of the Firelight,” Mark Fry- “Roses for Columbus,” Anne Briggs- “Standing on the Shore,” Beau- “Silence Returns”