Monthly Archives: December 2015

PETE SEEGER & ROGER MCGUINN – Live at the Bottom Line

Album: Live at the Bottom Line

Artist: Pete Seeger & Roger McGuinn

Label: BFD

Release Date: October 30, 2015

Seeger 10-30


A meeting of two legends, albeit from different generations, this archival concert from 1994 is literally bursting with songs, stories and astute reflection. Amazingly enough, this was the first time McGuinn met Seeger as professional performers. Seger was McGuinn’s musical hero well before he became a Byrd, and indeed, it’s easy to detect his enthusiasm on this particular evening pairing when he finally had the chance to share the stage with his idol. Both men run through select songs from their back catalogs — “If I Had a Hammer” and “Get Up and Go” by Seeger, “Eight Miles High,” “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Chestnut Mare” from McGuinn, with renditions of “The Midnight Special” and “The Bells of Rhymney” done as a duo), and even though the accompaniment is limited to solo acoustic guitars, the power in these performances is palatable. Each takes turn relating the origins of the material they do here, and the anecdotes are as enlightening as they are entertaining. This is only the latest entry in a recent series of reissues from the Bottom Line archives (previous entries have included   concerts by Janis Ian, Willie Nile, Tony Orlando and Harry Chapin), and each offers a rare — and rarified — glimpse at the music made at one of folk music’s most venerable establishments. If the albums to come are as memorable as this two CD set — and there’s every reason to believe they will be — so we can only hope that that the label keeps them coming.

DOWNLOAD: “If I Had a Hammer,” “The Bells of Rhymney,” “Eight Miles High”



SHOVELS & ROPE – Busted Jukebox Vol. 1

Album: Busted Jukiebox Volume 1

Artist: Shovels & Rope

Label: Dualtone

Release Date: November 20, 2015

Shovels 11-20


Covers albums, usually seen as a little more than a stopgap offering between records to buy some time and keep fans from losing focus, have historically been hit or miss affairs. Thankfully, this effort from the great alt duo Shovels & Rope falls more into the former category.

Released late last month with little warning, this 10-song affair is as eclectic and original as the band, with takes on everyone from Guns N’ Roses (“Patience”) and Nine Inch Nails (“Last”) to Neil Young (“Unknown Legend”) and Allen Toussaint (“Nothing Takes the Place of You”). Few of the tracks here have been done to death (aside from possibly “(What’s So Funny) Bout Peace Love and Understanding”), and even a song you think they’re including just as a novelty, like the Guns N Roses track, comes off as genuinely sweet. The band also brought a slew of guests into the studio to help with the covers; everyone from J Roddy Watson who lends help with his own song (“Boys Can Never Tell”) and Butch Walker, again helping with one of his own (“Bullet Belt”) to Shakey Graves and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Not every track here is a keeper. The duo’s take on Nine Inch Nails’ “Last,” alongside Caroline Rose, sounds a little uninspired, but there are plenty of other really interesting songs here to make up for it.

Here’s hoping that record is not meant to be taken as an early apology for a long delayed follow up to their last studio record.

  DOWNLOAD: “Bullet Belt,” “Patience” and “Perfect Day”


Album: In My Flat

Artist: Hermit Crabs

Label: Matinee

Release Date: November 20, 2015

Crabs 11-20


I’ve noticed a slow down in the past year or so of the output at Matinee Recordings, the Southern, California-based indie pop label that has been among the best for the past few decades. Owner Jimmy Tassos is busy with family these days but still has an ear for talent (and he also takes on bands for several records, not just one release and they’re gone). This UK (Scotland) trio , led by Melanie Whittle (former drummer for California Snow Story) , specialize in real low-key indie pop that has occasional country music flourishes.

This record was recorded in……Boise, Idaho (??!!) but you’d never know it as Whittle, along with multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Jensen and drummer, “One Take Jake” Hite (both from the Idaho band The Very Most….hence where they recorded) crank out eight songs that breeze by almost too non-chalantly on the first few plays but kept at it and songs really started sticking like the stuttering “Stuart Murray”, the country-inflected (pedal steel and all) “Should I Drop You Off” , the mostly acoustic “Tracey Emin’s Bed” (which opens with the line, “In my flat, beetles are on their backs, I’m on my back in…..Tracy Emin’s bed.) and a few others.

There’s always a spot in my collection for low-key, well written pop music. This fits right in.

DOWNLOAD: “Stuart Murray,” “Tracey Emin’s Bed,” “Should I Drop You Off”



PETTY: The Biography, by Warren Zanes

Title: Petty

Author: Warren Zanes

Publisher: Henry Holt

Publication Date: November 11, 2015

Petty book 11-10

The Upshot: Musician and scholar Zanes turns in a complex and compelling — and nigh-on definitive — look at one of America’s great modern rockers.          


It took a musician to write one of this year’s best biographies, but not his own.

Former Del Fuegos co-founder Warren Zanes, who also happens to hold a Ph. D and teaches at NYU, has written the most definitive book on Tom Petty yet, — one which manages to be both honest, exhaustive and considerate.

The fact that Zanes and his bandmates once toured with Petty and the Heartbreakers (they even dined on spaghetti with the Petty family, as told in the book) has given the author a perspective and intimacy you can’t imagine many other biographers having. The book begins with Petty’s childhood in the semi-rural Gainesville, FL – yes there was a college there, but also plenty of rednecks and hunting — and his early bands: The Sundowners, the Epics and Mudcrutch. The scene, though small, turned out a number of pretty impressive classmates in the 1970s rock scene including future members of the Eagles and the Allman Brothers Band. The incestuous scene also brought many to California, including Petty and his crew.

While the book is crammed with a lot of the popular Petty lore that many may already know, like his friendships George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan – all eventual members of the Traveling Wilburys – his longtime collaborations and kinship with Stevie Nicks and his remarkable solo career, the book also covers some of the more interesting aspects of the Petty story, most that have never been told in full detail before. In particular, before the band really took off, Petty was signed on as a writer and collaborator for Leon Russell where he would often be sent for at all hours of the night, simply to cool his heels on the couch outside the studio waiting for inspiration to strike his boss.

Despite his relationship with Petty, Zanes still tackles some of the tougher aspects of the rockers career, including his struggles with heroine and other drugs, soured relationships with his bandmates, his divorce and a strained relationship with his father. Petty discusses all in a refreshingly honest manner and still manages to come off as sanguine.

In Petty, Zanes has turned in a complex, compelling look at one of America’s great modern rockers.          



ALEX “CRANKSHAFT” LARSON – Tied to the World Behind Me (LP)

Album: Tied to the World Behind Me (LP)

Artist: Alex "Crankshaft" Larson

Label: Slabtown Music Productions

Release Date: November 25, 2015

Alex Larson

The Upshot: Young Minneapolis bluesman defies the easy genre pigeonholing and blasts a sonic cannon straight into the stratosphere.


One of those from-out-of-the-blue records, Tied to the World Behind Me is only the third full-length from Minneapolis roots-rocker Larson but it carries the unmistakable scent of a performer who can claim “veteran” status without any hint of hubris. From thumping, garagey opener “I Can’t Take It” (which, with Larson’s megaphone blare of a vocal and nasty, primal riffing simultaneously channels the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and any number of Memphis blooze-punk combos) and (speaking of Memphis) the funky, horns-accented “The Right Dress” to soul-blues workout “Your Loose Cannon” (it’s a fiery call-and-response vocal duet between Larson and Davina Sowers) and the over-the-top Hill Country boogie—think North Mississippi All Stars and Junior Kimbrough reunited at their favorite juke joint—that is “Boxed and Charred,” all the marks are hit by Larson and his band of miscreants.

Where did this cat come from and why haven’t we heard of him before now? More to the point: what are YOU gonna do now that you’ve heard of him? (If you need a little nudge, check out some music, below.) He is unquestionably the real deal, and although he’s touted as a big deal on the Twin Cities blues scene, that’s far too limiting a description. Larson has his toes dipped into multiple genres, from the aforementioned blues, boogie, soul and funk to full-tilt indie rock and just plain unhinged garage stomp. There’s even a Velvets-eque slab of drone-psych, “Stuck,” that suggests he’s not above doing some onstage conjurin’, if you catch my drift. I can’t imagine his shows to be any less diverse and nonstop fun from start to finish.

Incidentally, the 180-gm. vinyl edition is a visual and tactile delight, a thick, two-pocket gatefold sleeve with a fat LP-sized booklet boasting lyrics, action photos and downright surreal art. (Digital download card is included.) Considering how Larson’s homegrown label is called “Slabtown,” I’d say this is one helluva slab to behold.

DOWNLOAD: “I Can’t Take It,” “Loose Cannon,” “Stuck”


Album: Get Loud

Artist: Dan Baird & Homemade Sin

Label: Jerkin' Crocus

Release Date: November 13, 2015

Dan BAird

The Upshot: Knowing full well that American radio doesn’t have a clue about American rock’n’roll, Dan Baird continues to unapologetically carry the flag out of necessity, if not spite. Check out a pair of videos following the text.


After an almost seven-year wait for their last studio album (2014’s Circus Life), Homemade Sin somehow found time amid relentless touring (including onboarding new bass player Micke Nilsson) to deliver a solid follow-up a year later.

Keith Richards might have the unofficial patent for the phrase “guitar weaving”, but the interplay of Dan Baird and Warner Hodges takes a backseat to no one. Both capable lead shredders, it’s their subtlety and nuance that adds depth to the tracks despite the ironic album title. Likewise, drummer Mauro Magellan – Keith Moon incarnate when playing live – echoes the solid but tasteful restraint of a Charlie Watts. One could suggest that the studio releases fail to capture the band’s forceful stage presence, but I would counter that these are stage vets whose DNA feeds off a live audience; you’ll never capture that in a studio no matter how good you are.

Baird wrote or co-wrote all eleven tracks, the usual smorgasbord of primal rock, roots, Americana and country blues; tales of waffle huts and broken hearts, common folk and hopes and dreams. Recording most of the album remotely via file sharing might have dragged Baird into this century a few years later than most, but the results unfailingly boast the Homemade Sin imprint.

“Silver Little Lies” is an example of Baird’s sweet spot; a mid-tempo bluesy tale that hypnotically weaves twin guitars and sneaky background vocals atop a pulsating rhythm – it overwhelms (in a good way) because there’s so much going on that you have to surrender to it rather than try to find focus. Given that Homemade Sin is such an enthusiastically dynamic live band, I foresee this track as a concert staple – a peppered jab that will set up a faster song’s right cross. Already flush with a career’s worth of set list chestnuts, they can add “Movin’ Right Along” and the title track to that list of tempo tantrums.

Get Loud doesn’t have that killer single track that will fire off a flare to the uninitiated, but it’s a solid effort that grows roots with repeated listening. The core audience will eat this up with glee, while those not yet converted will hopefully be within earshot to avoid missing out on another keeper.

DOWNLOAD: “Thin Disguise,” “Fairground People,” “Silver Little Lies”

“Fairground People” live video:

“Don’t Be Wastin’ My Time” studio video:


Album: Dakota

Artist: Billy Talbot Band

Label: Vapor

Release Date: October 09, 2015

Billy Talbot 10-9

The Upshot: Crazy Horse bassist serves up an unusually low-key but still relatively satisfying 3rd solo album.

Billy Talbot’s backstory is fairly well known. At the age of 17 he moved to L.A. and then cast his fate with drummer Ralph Molina and guitarist Danny Whitten.  Eventually, after a series of false starts and unfortunate names, they morphed into a band called the Rockets. After releasing one album on the White Whale label, they caught the attention of Neil Young, who had recently departed Buffalo Springfield for the sake of a solo career. Talbot, Molina and Whitten joined forces with Young, helped record his second album, dubbed themselves Crazy Horse, and later went on to back Young on some of the most influential efforts of his career.

In 1999, Talbot ventured out on his own, formed a band that had him listed at the top of the marquee and eventually released two albums, 2004’s Alive in the Spirit World and 2013’s On the Road to Spearfish. Neither album did especially well, unfortunately. Then in 2014 he detoured into an outfit that was named Wolves, releasing an EP shortly thereafter. That same year he also experienced a mild stroke that prevented him from joining Young and Crazy Horse on a summer tour. Now, however, he’s back making music as the Billy Talbot Band and touting the group’s third effort, simply titled Dakota.


All’s well and good, but surprisingly enough, it’s an album with a decidedly low-key lustre, far removed from the frenzy and fury that marks his work with Crazy Horse. The lessons learned from Young still come front and center, especially in Talbot’s fragile, mournful vocals and the slow sprawl that delineates such songs as “No Regrets,” “Coyote” and “Touching,” but given the fact that the upbeat entries are so few and far between — the playful prance of “Outer Space” offers the album’s only exception — Dakota seems a somewhat maudlin affair.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. The wistful violin and plaintive choir-like vocals that buoy “When I Awake” are especially touching, as is the delicate delivery of “Without a Sound.” However, the fragile whisper of a vocal he affects on “Something Better” offers no reason to believe the track’s title has any real meaning. Next time around Talbot would be best advised to pick up the pace and save the sobriety for something clearly intended to be more sedate.

DOWNLOAD: “Without a Sound,” “”When I Awake,” “”Outer Space”


THE BLACK WATCH – Highs and Lows

Album: Highs and Lows

Artist: The Black Watch

Label: Pop Culture Press/The Committee to Keep Music Evil

Release Date: December 04, 2015

Black Watch

The Upshot: Long-running L.A. group spins out infinite variations of literate guitar pop.


A couple of years ago The Black Watch threatened to cease its scrutiny after a final LP. Clearly, that never happened – indeed, the long-running L.A. band has become even more prolific since, with three albums in three years. Highs and Lows breaks no new ground, but it doesn’t need to. All that’s required for a successful TBW album is for leader John Andrew Frederick to provide a strong batch of songs, and he’s certainly done that here.

As always, guitar pop in all its infinite variations carries the day – “Quondam Redhead” sparkles, “Pershing/Harvard Square” crashes, “Love’s Fever Dreams” and “There’s No Fucking Way” crunch, while “She’s a Mess” manages a spot-on Go-Betweens impression, The band also continues its successful ventures into moodier territory, giving “If Upon a Time That Never Happened” and “He Must Needs Go That the Devil Drives” (title courtesy of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well) a feel not unlike David Bowie’s more atmospheric ballads, and “Eleanor’s Not Hiding” and “Beautiful Sleeper” explore acoustic textures with lovely results. Add in Frederick’s lyrics – beautifully crafted lines that blend literary allusion with colloquial accessibility – and the results are masterfully created songs, brought to perfect auditory life by producer Rob Campanella (the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Quarter After).

On record, The Black Watch rarely dips in quality, but the most amazing thing, as exemplified by Highs and Lows, is that it keeps topping itself.

DOWNLOAD: “She’s a Mess,” “Pershing/Harvard Square,” “If Upon a Time That Never Happened”


SAMANTHA CRAIN – Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

Album: Under Branch & Thorn & Tree

Artist: Samantha Crain

Label: Ramseur

Release Date: November 06, 2015


The Upshot: Brooding chanteuse serves up contemplative Sunday morning sojourn.


With Under Branch & Thorn & Tree, her fourth full-length LP, Samantha Crain has created her most affecting effort to date, an album that surveys a broad range of emotions and sensual suggestion. Certain songs purvey atmospheric allure — “Killer,” “Moving Day” and “All In” in particular — but when she opts to hone in on a truly gorgeous melody for the sake of conveying heartfelt sentiment, as expressed in “You Or Mystery,” “Elk City” and “When You Come Back,” the mood mellows considerably, allowing for a tender touch that’s truly radiant.

Still, this Sunday morning sojourn can be elusive; she comes across as a seductive siren who rarely settles for simple songs with predictable hooks and refrains. When she does pick up the pace, on the twangy and playful “Big Rock,” she does so only momentarily, casting it as the only upbeat entry on the entire album. Rather, Crain is obviously intent on fashioning herself as a twilight chanteuse with a sound that basks deliriously in ambiance and effect.

Under Branch & Thorn & Tree is a hypnotic sojourn to be sure, one that rewards repeated listens with a sense of lofty liberation.

DOWNLOAD: “You Or Mystery,” “Elk City,” “When You Come Back,”

NICK LOWE & LOS STRAITJACKETS – The Quality Holiday Revue (Live) [RSD Exclusive]

Album: The Quality Holiday Revue (Live) [RSD Exclusive]


Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: November 27, 2015


The Upshot: We wish it could be Christmas every day with jolly ol’ St. Nick!


It’s hard not to be cynical about a Christmas album being release in 2015. As a society didn’t we pretty much lock in every holiday album we would ever need by the third or fourth Sinatra Christmas record?

That being said, Nick Lowe makes a pretty solid argument that there may be room for one more, even if (or especially because) it isn’t entirely a Christmas record.

With the live album, The Quality Holiday Revue, Lowe and his backing band Los Straitjackets churn through a baker’s dozen of songs here recorded from a 2014 concert run. Most of the songs here are Lowe playing alongside Los Straightjackets, with the exception of the opening and closing tracks featuring Lowe solo with an acoustic guitar (playing “A Dollar Short of Happy and “Sensitive Man”) and Los Straitjackets doing a killer cover of Vince Guaraldi’s  “Linus and Lucy” instrumental.

Many of the should be holiday classics here like “Christmas at the Airport,”  “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day” and “The North Pole Express” were featured on Lowe’s last holiday offering, 2013 Quality Street. This record was a November Record Store Day exclusive.

DOWNLOAD: “Christmas at the Airport,” “Sensitive Man” and “Linus and Lucy”