Monthly Archives: January 2016

CACTUS BLOSSOMS – You’re Dreaming

Album: You're Dreaming

Artist: Cactus Blossoms

Label: Red House

Release Date: January 22, 2016

Cactus 1-22

The Upshot: JD McPherson-produced platter channels Brothers Everly and Louvin via spot-on harmonies and terrific countryish arrangements.


The Cactus Blossoms’ debut disc boasts an apt title. Dreaming? Dreaming that somehow Phil Everly was able to make one final appearance with brother Don and this was the result. This sibling duo sound every bit like their famous predecessors in both their delivery and t choice of material, and emulate them so convincingly, a novice would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Jack Torrey and Page Burkum may not share the same last name, but they’re both blessed with a gift for spot-on harmonies, and their songs, which veer from the tenderest of ballads to a sound akin to a honky tonk revival, mine an archival approach. Written mostly by Torrey, these tracks appear ageless even on an initial listen. Songs like “Stoplight Kisses,” “You’re Dreaming” and “Powder Blue” would certainly have found the Louvin Brothers nodding their approval, while finding favored status in the classic country firmament.

No small wonder then that JD McPherson produced You’re Dreaming, the brothers’ ultra impressive debut. Wisely, he didn’t clutter the arrangements with unnecessary garnish, allowing the brothers’ voices to take the spotlight atop melodies that flow in a seamless sway. Their tenderest tunes dominate this set, and given Torrey and Burkum’s combined vocal caress, it’s all too apt. They encourage the listener to lean in, with results that are simply sublime.

DOWNLOAD: “Stoplight Kisses,” “You’re Dreaming,” “Powder Blue”




Album: Loves You

Artist: Reverend Shawn Amos

Label: Put Together

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Shawn Amos 10-16

The Upshot: Roots/Americana veteran who subsequently became an ordained minister proves he can focus his energies and still produce a strong album that’s a fitting tribute to his current inspiration.


Before he became a reverend (ordained by the Universal Life Church), Shawn Amos had a couple of other lives. In the early ‘aughts, the son of cookie magnate Famous Amos released three excellent solo albums that mixed rootsy Americana with strong melodies and exceptional lyrics for a body of work ripe for rediscovery. Following that, he spent several years as an A&R executive, guiding projects for Rhino and Shout! Factory. After a stint running Quincy Jones’ Listen Up Foundation, the newly ordained Reverend Amos found a new calling: the blues.

Having freely mixed and matched American music forms on his earlier records, it’s refreshing to hear Amos stick to one genre on Loves You. Backed by a band led by producer/saxophonist/fuzak star Mindi Adair, Amos eschews frills for simple (but not simpleminded) numbers that sound timeless. Rugged electric blues tunes “Hollywood Blues,” “The Outlaw” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I Get Home)” keep one foot in Chicago and the other in Texas, showcasing Amos’ easy mastery of the form. The brash boogie of, erm, “Boogie,” the slinky groove of “Put Together” and the raw R&B of “Brand New Man” add textural variety without being showy about it. A cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” with Adair demonstrates a solid grasp on a style that sounds easier to master than it actually is. The country blues “Days of Depression” invites the Blind Boys of Alabama to add gospel harmonies, while the walking blues “Brothers Keeper” expands its message of harmony beyond person-to-person to the wide world in general.

Old school Amos fans might miss the variety of his older work – he was truly a distinctive artist in the first years of the new millennium. But Loves You proves he can focus his energies and still produce a strong album that’s a fitting tribute to his current inspiration.

DOWNLOAD: “Brothers Keeper,” “Put Together,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Home)”


THE MIKE HENDERSON BAND – If You Think It’s Hot Here…

Album: You Think It’s Hot Here…

Artist: Mike Henderson Band

Label: EllerSoul

Release Date: March 24, 2015

Henderson 3-24

 The Upshot: Deep-down, impassioned, roadhouse blues with a sophisticated edge that can only result when seasoned, master players use their combined talents to blend smart covers with crafty originals, forming a seamless whole.


 If Henderson’s name sounds at all familiar, it should. He’s been the somewhat undercover guitarist-of-choice for many a Nashville session before breaking out on his own, with an equally under-the-radar solo career in ’94. From the Bel Airs to the Bluebloods, his sixth solo release complements his countless sidebar projects, including the notable bluegrass-meets-country-meets-soul hybrid, The SteelDrivers. A key partner/player back when the Dead Reckoning label formed back in ’94, it’s no surprise that Henderson’s version of ‘country’ is laced with slide, smiles and a raw collision of simpatico genres – blues, bluegrass, rock – smartly bound together under the weight of his beefy vocals, lethal slide guitar-playing and occasional, smoldering harp. A gifted, well-cured songwriter, he contributes 5 tracks to this tasteful collection of blues-based covers, bringing things down to the level of a par-boiled, roadhouse rumble.

Beginning with his self-penned “I Want To Know Why”, the listener gets an earful of low-down, stripped-down blues – lone electric guitar, barrelhouse piano and the skintight rhythm section of Pat O’Connor (drums) and Michael Rhodes (bass). Henderson’s gruff vocal is nicely contrasted by the artful flourish of Kevin McKendree on piano. Speaking of secret weapons, what this guy contributes on piano across these 11 tracks shines a light on his instrument like few before him. And then, as you warm to Henderson’s tough, papa bear growl, he applies the slide guitar that’s been his main meal ticket for so many years. The net result is a raw, hard-driving effect that’s as close to roadhouse as you’ll get without being there. Covering multiple blues guitarists, Hound Dog Taylor’s “Send you Back To Georgia” begins as a rollicking, piano-based boogie until Henderson throws down his patented slide torch, transforming the rocker into a full, foot-kicking workout.

The comparatively gentler slide intro to Taylor’s “It’s Alright” takes this simple barroom shuffle, given McKendree’s strong piano work, into familiar turf until strong guitar and piano solos merge to elevate the original. The title track, co-written with R. S. Field, provides a spirited highlight – slowed down and extra-soulful, complete with piano, B3, backup singers and added guitarist Don Underwood for an R&B finish. His own “Weepin’ and Moanin’” provides a solid blues punch, slowed to a lethal pace as McKendree and Henderson trade off their rich instrumental abilities. Yet, it’s Muddy Water’s “Mean Red Spider” which cuts deeper than most, as Henderson serves up his best vocal and stinging guitar like you’ve not heard before, combined with a powerful piano performance as the rhythm section ups their game at an upbeat, almost funky pace.

Likewise, Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession” enjoys an extended slide and vocal intro before Henderson and McKendree turn up the heat, carving out a grinding, blues-based rocker that could make Derek & the Dominos blush (and that’s with a single guitar) – the perfect vehicle for both men’s gifts. Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Unseen High” enjoys a darker, more foreboding treatment that benefits from their single-room recording process, warts’n’all, from Henderson’s extended solo intro through to McKendree’s menacing piano attack. A reworking of Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox” finds the band grafting rockabilly to rock’n’roll bedlam across a piano-based barroom boogie while Melvin “Lil’ Son” Jackson’s “Gamblin’ Blues” turns from its lackadaisical beginnings towards higher ground as both piano and guitar take extended flights.

Henderson and McKendree’s “Rock House Blues” acts as palate-cleansing coda, with solo harp opening the door to McKendree’s slow-burn piano, as if trying to cleanse the air of stale beer and cigarette smoke – which is about all this disc is missing.



Album: Fireball

Artist: Western Star

Label: Saustex Media

Release Date: November 20, 2015

 Western Star 11-20

The Upshot: Taking the noise from Frank Black and gang, the twang from Rhett Miller, and the classic ‘70s rock and roll sing-alongs from Thin Lizzy, these garage/alt-country newcomers have cobbled together a pretty unforgettable debut.


Baltimore’s Western Star have pooled together their collective influences, using Thin Lizzy, The Old 97’s and The Pixies as their template, and the result is a pretty sweet cheat sheet for the band. Old 97’s guitarist Ken Bethea was even tapped to produce this one.

While they still manage to make their own original contributions to the sound, they have taken the noise from Frank Black and gang, the twang from Rhett Miller and the classic ‘70s rock and roll sing-alongs from those Irish lads and have cobbled together a pretty unforgettable debut. “Ghostchaser” and “The Difference” could both easily pass as long-lost Thin Lizzy B-Sides.

This 12-song offering serves as a pretty solid calling card for the garage/alt-country newcomers. There are a few moments on the record where the band borrows a bit too much from Thin Lizzy, but it’s excusable when the music is this much fun. Fireball is hopefully just a prelude to bigger things.

 DOWNLOAD: “Ghostchaser,” “The Difference” and “Aeroangel”



Album: Goin' Your Way

Artist: Neil Finn + Paul Kelly

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: December 11, 2015

Finn Kelly 12-11

The Upshot: Document of the Down Under kings’ 2013 tour loaded with best-ofs and deep cuts.


New Zealand’s Neil Finn and Australia’s Paul Kelly, despite an amazing catalogue of songs between them, have long fallen out of step with modern music tastemakers. Like Paul Weller, Graham Parker and Nick Lowe, the duo are now simply playing music for the diehards who can appreciate subtle lyrics and sincere vocals over “song of the summer” hits. That’s what makes this double live album, finally released in the U.S., such a perfect record: it is crammed, 29 songs deep, with best-ofs and deep cuts from two strikingly talented musicians that have 82 years of making music between them with not a single gimmick in site.

Goin’ Your Way, at one point only available in Australia and New Zealand, was recorded on tour in 2013. Along with playing tracks from their solo careers, they take on some of Finn’s earlier efforts with Split Enz’s (“One Step Ahead,” “Message to My Girl”), Crowded House (“Don’t Dream It’s Over,” “Four Seasons in One Day”) and the Finn Brothers (“Won’t Give In,” “Better Be Home Soon”). There is almost instantaneous reaction from the crowd with the opening chords of each and every new song. As the music play out it’s simply astonishing just how many memorable tracks the two have contributed over the years, regardless of how many were actual “hits.”

In lieu of Finn and Kelly actually committing to a joint tour of the U.S., this exceptional two-disc live set will have to do.

DOWNLOAD: “She Will Have Her Way,” “For the Ages” and “Careless”



PARQUET COURTS – Monastic Living

Album: Monastic Living

Artist: Parquet Courts

Label: Rough Trade

Release Date: November 27, 2015

Parquet 11-25

The Upshot: If their entire back catalog is like a little bag of colorful jellybeans, Monastic Living would be the weird, black one in the bag.




Some time around late summer, it occurred to me that there hadn’t been anything new from Parquet Courts recently, which led me to dial up front-man Andrew Savage to see what was up with the band.

Andrew acted both a little surprised and suspicious sounding when I started probing about upcoming projects. As it turned out, they had just wrapped a recording and were about to do another one very shortly, but, he was reluctant to give me any info about the recent project, or the label, other than saying it would be a late fall release. Very mysterious.

I emailed a contact at their PR outfit to probe a bit more into all this, and was again rebuffed for info, all very hush-hush and top secret. I think I recall finding out from someone that it was going to be released on the iconic Rough Trade imprint in late November. At the beginning of November, I got a pre-release to audition and was a bit set back on my heels by what I heard.


When these guys blew onto the scene a couple of years back, they flabbergasted everyone with their sprawling talent and ability to recreate impressive impressions of a multitude of classic punk bands from over the years. The constant comparisons to many of those bands seemed to annoy, nay, irritate them more than anything else, which may have led to this EP.


With nine songs and a running time of just 33 minutes, the bulk of the album is instrumental, except the first, short, opening number, “No, No, No!” a stormy, shouted rant. The title song, Monastic Living, is broken up into parts 1 and 2 and run about 6 1/2 minutes each. Two other numbers, “Vow Of Silence” and “Prison Conversion” also are long-players, with the other five songs clocking in at just over or under a minute. Tracks 3 and 4 combine to sound like a three-minute cover of the entire Metal Machine Music album, jagged, industrial noise-punk. The songs are all rather abstract, angular or just plain angry for the most part, an obvious departure from what has come before. There’s some electronica at play here and there, that brings Young Marble Giants and the Gist to mind. The eight minute closing tune, “Prison Conversion” has overtones of the chaos, noise and feedback in “Sister Ray,” and is a standout entry here.


If their entire back catalog is like a little bag of colorful jellybeans, Monastic Living would be the weird, black one in the bag. With other song titles like “Vow Of Silence,” “Alms For The Poor,” and “Poverty And Obedience,” there’s an obvious theme at play, which leads me to wonder if the EP is a soundtrack for something like an animated piece or a play.


I recall that their next release is dropping in the spring, and I suspect it will be more in line with their previous material. However, if you love the black jellybeans, this project might be to your liking.


DOWNLOAD: “Prison Conversion,” and “Monastic Living I.”



The Jam – About The Young Idea

Title: The Jam - About The Young Idea

Director: Bob Smeaton

Release Date: December 04, 2015

Jam 12-4

The Upshot: Exceptional DVD concert/documentary that inspires absolute admiration for the trio’s efforts, as well as the inevitable remorse that they didn’t last longer than their six years of potent activity.


Paul Weller’s efforts inspired by his predecessors – that of the Small Faces, the Kinks, Traffic and other members of the original English establishment — sparked the creation of his original outfit, the Jam, and imbued the band with an authority and authenticity that was every bit as striking as those iconic artists that moved him. Little wonder then that throughout their brief reign, the Jam continually reinforced that notion, and even though Weller went on to a successful solo career — one that pursued the same purposes — it that was the Jam that put his efforts in motion.

Weller clearly fancied himself a combination of a young Pete Townshend and an emerging Ray Davies (note the Jam’s classic cover of the Kinks’ “David Watts” that’s included in this collection), and his tenure at the helm of the Jam eventually transitioned him into the role of an elder statesman whose muse dictated a clear allegiance to British rock tradition. Consequently viewing the Jam in hindsight, courtesy of this exceptional DVD concert/documentary, inspires absolute admiration for the trio’s efforts, as well as the inevitable remorse that they didn’t last longer than their six years of potent activity. As nostalgia, it works especially well, and watching the concert included here, a 1980 live telecast at Rockpalast, underscores the fact that they were one of the most potent bands to emerge from the post punk era. Archival footage, interviews with the three principals and other performance extras testifies to that assessment, making #About The Young Idea# absolutely essential for anyone obsessed with British rock, early on or otherwise.

Ultimately, About The Young Idea asserts its emphasis on “the young” portion of the title, given that the Jam were, and remain, the quintessential young British band, flush with energy, excitement and a feeling that there are no limits when it came to both attitude and aptitude. Let’s hope those attributes never go out of fashion.

TASTE – What’s Going On – Live at the Isle of Wight

Title: Taste - What’s Going On - Live at the Isle of Wight

Director: Murray Lerner

Release Date: September 18, 2015

Taste 9-18

The Upshot: Rory Gallagher’s pre-solo fame trio performed at the 1970 festival. The passion is palpable, and whether that was due to the pent up emotion or the feeling that this could have been their swan song, it’s literally a concert for the ages.


Rory Gallagher died way too young, but the charismatic Irishman left a legacy of exceptional musicianship and a singular style of the blues. It began in earnest with his three-piece band Taste, and ended with a flurry of solo albums (wisely re-released in the last several years by Eagle Rock) that confirmed his stature as one of the finest guitarists Britain had ever known. Indeed, he was only 18 when he formed the band in 1966, but he quickly won the admiration of such peers as John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, who, when asked by an interviewer how it felt to be the world greatest guitarist, graciously demurred and suggested that title belonged to Gallagher instead.

Taste were at their peak when they performed in front of 600,000 enthusiastic fans at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, a gathering that famously also included the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Moody Blues and ELP. The crowd adored this so-called “People’s Band,” refusing to let them leave the stage, even after calling them back for three encores. However, as Garth Cartwright explains in the liner notes that accompany this first official release of their incredible set, the simmering tensions between the members of the band and the band and its record label made the odds against an exceptional show even more daunting. Their van had been broken into the night before, they barely made it to the site on time, and ironically, their manager threatened to cancel their performance when they learned the festival was being filmed without their permission.


Nevertheless, as What’s Going On – Live at the Isle of Wight attests, the band played brilliantly, milking every ounce of energy and exhilaration at their command. The passion is palpable, and whether that was due to the pent up emotion or the feeling that this could have been their  swan song, it’s literally a concert for the ages. Sadly, their final tour followed almost immediately. Regardless, the testimonials by such brethren as The Edge, Brian May, Larry Coryell and Bob Geldof included herein attest to their exceptional stature, as does the archival material, a trio of promotional videos and bonus performances from Beat Club concerts recorded the same year. Taken in tandem, it all adds up to a truly Taste-ful tribute that’s long overdue.

Bonus Features:

  • Three tracks from the German TV series Beat Club: (1) If The Day Was Any Longer (2) It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again (3) Morning Sun
  • Three conceptual music videos: (1) I ll Remember (2) What’s Going On (3) Born On The Wrong Side Of Time

Photograph, by Ringo Starr

Title: Photograph

Author: Ringo Starr

Publisher: Genesis Publications

Publication Date: November 17, 2015


The Upshot: Guy from some band you may have heard of offers a personal photo album that’s rich in memory and sentiment.


Like many performers, Ringo Starr’s interests aren’t limited to music alone. Over the years, he’s dabbled in acting, painting and photography, and it’s the latter which forms the basis of this new coffee table book which collects some of the best photos the affable drummer has taken over the years.

Like his earlier book, Postcards from the Boys, which reproduced some of the many postcards sent to him from by his fellow Beatles from their various vacation destinations, this new offering is also an archival collection, one that captures key moments in Ringo’s life through photographs that were taken by him or by others who just happened to be around at the time. Most of the emphasis is on his early career — childhood shots, performance photos with Rory Storm, studio pictures capturing the seminal days of the Beatles, private moments at home and experimental efforts that test the limits of his camera’s lens. The sentiment is especially evident in those scenes shared with friends — Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, Mark Bolan, and of course, George and John — but all the high quality work that’s included here helps give a sense of Ringo’s personality and the obvious joy he’s experienced throughout his life and career.

An expansion of an earlier limited edition volume published in 2013, Photograph is not only a superb keepsake, but an astute handbook on how to experience a life that’s well lived.

BESNARD LAKES — A Coliseum Complex Museum

Album: A Coliseum Complex Museum

Artist: Besnard Lakes

Label: Jagjaguwar

Release Date: January 22, 2016

Besnard Lakes

The Upshot: Ineluctable melodies erupting from fuzz-crusted, feedback blurred roars: This band stirs a noisy pot of rock sounds, but vapors that escape smell delicious.


Five albums into their Beach Boys-with-fuzz-and-feedback career, the Besnard Lakes continue to conjure euphoria, underpinning octave-leaping, pulse-quickening choruses with the churn and friction of effected guitars. The band, formed around the husband and wife duo of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, does nothing on A Coliseum Complex Museum that it hasn’t before, but there is also no let-up in joy.

“Golden Lion,” the single off a late 2015 EP, is a shot of transcendent, arena-sized exultation, a hands-in-the-air finish of “You are the golden lion/you are the golden lion” etc. reverberating in cathedral high sonic spaces and, more importantly, in the giddy cavities of your chest. That the song achieves this transport without giving up much of its literal meaning (who, exactly, is a golden lion, and why do we care?) is a testament to its gut level power. If you listen to rock music to feel good (or at least feel better), this is your jam.

The Besnard Lakes have undergone a bit of transformation themselves since 2013’s Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, with founding guitarist Richard White leaving the touring ensemble (though he still plays on three of these tracks) and Robbie MacArthur joining. The basic wall-of-sound aesthetic remains in place, however, the scrape of Goreas’ bass, the thud of Kevin Laing’s drums undergirding a vaulting pedal-altered sound. You can catch both guitarists in closing “Tungsten 4: the Refugee” White squalling out of the right speaker, MacArthur thundering from the left. The overall effect, however, of ineluctable melody erupting from fuzz-crusted, feedback blurred roar, is pretty much the same. This band stirs a noisy pot of rock sounds, but vapors that escape smell delicious.

DOWNLOAD: “Golden Lion”