Monthly Archives: February 2016


Album: Trace

Artist: Son Volt

Label: Rhino

Release Date: October 30, 2015

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The Upshot: Ragged and tattered, a weary reflective attempt at summing up a disenfranchised view from the perspective of those on the outside looking in, upon its initial release the album certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was affecting all the same, and even today it stands up as a clear Americana classic.


If Uncle Tupelo sired the second coming of Americana, then its offspring, Wilco and Son Volt, allowed it to thrive. Yes, there were other bands that blazed the trail before — the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco chief among them — but when it came to stamping a niche in the burgeoning modern rock arena of the mid ‘90s, no one did more to bring Americana into the mainstream, the place where it’s found a home since.

Jay Farrar had been a prime mover in Uncle Tupelo, the band that gave a name to what became known as the No Depression movement, a handle borrowed from one of the group’s more prominent LPs. However when the band split, he and Jeff Tweedy, Uncle Tupelo’s other chief mainstay, parted company and set off in their individual directions. In truth, they were following parallel courses, and while Wilco continued to evolve and still remains a vital force today — albeit with a different calling — Son Volt prospered for only a short time, but still lent its influence in an equally significant way.

Volt was arguably the best of their lot, and while memories may be hazy about the impact in had at the time, this sterling reissue serves as a reminder of the timeless course it took. It was ragged and tattered, a weary reflective attempt at summing up a disenfranchised view from the perspective of those on the outside looking in. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was affecting all the same, and even today it stands up as a clear Americana classic. Songs such as “Windfall,” “Live Free” and a brilliant cover of Ron Wood’s “Mystifies Me” still stand out among a set list chock full of gems, but now, given add-ons in the forms of various demos and an entire second disc that captures an entire early performance, Volt is more essential than ever.

Son Volt may never have set out to reinvent country music, but after rising from the ashes of Uncle Tupelo, it was inevitable that they’d put a modern spin on the traditional sounds they were attempting to emulate. While Tweedy and company took Wilco into wholly unlikely and strangely twisted directions, Farrar and company more or less kept their eye on the heartland and crafted songs more becoming of their Americana origins. The band’s extended hiatus in the late ‘90s, accompanied by Farrar’s indulgence in a solo career, suggested that Son Volt had milked those realms as much as possible, but their rebound, marked by a further string of successful albums, suggested the initial inspiration would remain intact for the duration. An exceptional effort then, it’s even more so now.

DOWNLOAD: “Windfall,” “Live Free,” “Mystifies Me”


Album: It's A Sign

Artist: Sugar Ponies

Label: self-released

Release Date: September 25, 2015

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The Upshot: Amiable vocals and the guiding hand of Ed Stasium make this worthy of a spin; best suited for a rainy afternoon or an uninterrupted drive on a back road. Below, listen to a key track.


Self-labeled as altPOPcountryFolkROCK, lack of spaces and capital letters by design, one might expect that Sugar Ponies music is indescribable by any one term; a blend of spices generating a meal with a unique taste. I’d probably suggest delicateMELODICWordyYEARNING, but my Editor would fire me if I tried to suggest no spaces were needed. In fact, spaces between songs exist for a purpose; a palate cleanser to let you know things are about to change so you can shale your brain like an Etch-a-Sketch in anticipation. We can’t all be side two of #Abbey Road#, after all.

The imprimatur of Ed Stasium suggests power pop; his touch guided energetic records by The Ramones and The Smithereens among others. Here he exhibits restraint both as producer and percussionist, but given that the focus of the album is the playful voice of Suzanne Kramer, his framing allows her voice to flirt, dance or pine with ease and give the songs the personality they rely upon. Nothing here would qualify as a “hit” record, but if you do nothing else today, please listen to the cello-driven angst of “Give This Girl a Break”, a heartbreakingly naked confessional:

The danger of starting an album with a cover is the subconscious suggestion that there might be another on the way. Eight bars into “Around You” I would have bet the farm that I was about to hear an interpretation of Dido’s “Thank You” since the notes and tempo are a DNA match. And were it not for the instrumentation, I would have wondered how Julia Nunes slipped “Blueberries” past me without fanfare. But I like the song order, and with the exception of the silly “Hey Cowboy”, the songs themselves. The album is structured like a well thought out set which is only lacking the warm applause and (likely) witty stage banter.

DOWNLOAD: “Give This Girl a Break”, “Blueberries”, “You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”

WACO BROTHERS – Going Down In History

Album: Going Down In History

Artist: Waco Brothers

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: February 26, 2016

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The Upshot: It’s loud, a little messy and completely stripped of pretention; all hallmarks of the original punk and outlaw country genres. 


It’s been about four years since cow punks The Waco Brothers, side project for the Mekons’ Jon Langford, have out put a record and damn if you didn’t realize how badly you needed new music from them until you heard it.

Going Down In History is pretty much what you’d expect from the genre veterans; catchy three-chord country with some distorted guitars and plenty of punk rock attitude and smart ass lyrics. The opener, “DIYBOB” pretty much sets the stage and could be our new national anthem if Donald Trump wins the election. There is a sloppy, “fuck it let’s do it in one take” vibe to the record that’s part of the appeal. It’s loud, a little messy and completely stripped of pretension; all hallmarks of the original punk and outlaw country genres.

The band also has a sweet, spirited cover of the Small Faces’ “All or Nothing,” an appropriate gesture as Faces’ keyboardist Ian McLagan was a friend of the band. The band dedicated the album to him. Elsewhere, the band gets grittier, but closes with the perfect Waco Brothers sing-along “Orphan Song.” Simply sublime.

DOWNLOAD: “DIYBOB,” “Had Enough” and “Lucky Fool”


PAUL BURCH – Meridian Rising

Album: Meridian

Artist: Paul Burch

Label: Plowboy

Release Date: February 26, 2016

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The Upshot: A nearly hour-long song-cycle about Jimmie Rodgers that serves as something like a musical documentary.


Meridian Rising is not your typical album, and that is a good thing. Nashville-based singer/songwriter Paul Burch has created a nearly hour-long song-cycle about Jimmie Rodgers that serves as something like a musical documentary about legendary American musician.

Burch does a wonderful job taking significant moments in Rodgers’ life and dramatizing them in songs. His songs are stuffed with colorful details but you don’t feel like you’re listening to a history lesson. Burch really evokes the world that Rodgers’ inhabited, from his days growing up poor in Meridian to his on-the-road misadventures in New Orleans and San Antonio and his dying days in New York City.

While each song tells an interesting story about Rodgers’ life, several stand out beyond the context of this conceptual work. “Cadillacin’,” which looks at Rodgers’ early success as a musician, is a revved-up roadhouse number with a proto-rocker vibe, while “To Paris (With Regrets)” sparkles with a gypsy jazz flair. “The Girl I Sawed In Half” and “Gunter Hotel Blues” both are darkly humorous tunes that showcase Burch’s nimble wordplay.

Burch doesn’t try to imitate Rodgers’ musical style, although he does inject a yodel every now and then. Instead, he draws upon the various strands of music that Rodgers’ utilized, intermingling jazz, blues, folk and country into a spirited mix of early 20th century American roots music. Helping him create this vital, vintage sound is a cast of talented players, including Billy Bragg, Jon Langford, Garry Tallent, Richard Bennett, Tim O’Brien, Dennis Couch, Jen Gunderman and Fats Kaplin.

Throughout his career, Burch has demonstrated his love for music from the past; it’s no coincidence that the name of his longtime backing band WPA Ballclub references the famous 1930’s New Deal program. Burch’s work has regularly received critical accolades; however, he has aimed higher on his 10th release and hit a bull’s-eye. #Meridian Rising# is an ambitious work that succeeds both as a well-researched, engaging look at Jimmie Rodgers’ life and as a terrific set of lively songs that are rooted in pre-war American music traditions.


Album: What Was Said

Artist: Tord Gustavsen

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 26, 2016

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The Upshot: You might not understand the Norwegian words being sung, but it doesn’t matter – the feeling is what’s important on this program of church music.


Tord Gustavsen dives deeply into the art of multi-culturalism on #What Was Said#, his seventh album. Though joined by stalwart drummer Jarle Vespestad, the Norwegian keyboardist and improviser puts the focus on Simin Tander, a multi-lingual singer of Afghan and German descent. The trio presents a program of Norwegian church music, with lyrics either translated into Pashto (inspired by Sufi poetry) or adapted from the words of internationally acclaimed poet Rumi.

The origins of this music almost don’t matter, however, due to the sheer beauty on display. Tander’s lovely voice could sing her grocery list and still convey spiritual yearning and uplift. Gustavsen provides backdrops of piano and subtle electronics that give her perfect support without being intrusive. The same could be said for Vespestad, who lays out as often as he weighs in, creating a near-ambient pulse that provides color more than propulsion. Tander herself is a vocalist given more toward measured readings of the text, rather than belting – her takes on “Journey of Life,” “My Grief” and “Imagine the Fog Disappearing” are masterclasses in how to deliver a song. Gustavsen gets wordless showcases on “The Way You Play With My Heart,” with its nearly poppy melody, and “Rull,” which adds more overtly jazzy flavors.

The album ends with a triptych of sorts, as the gentle “Sweet Melting” flows into the rippling “Longing to Praise Thee” and back into “Sweet Melting Afterglow,” taking the record out on a sedately spiritual note. A lot of folks won’t understand the words being sung, but it doesn’t matter – the feeling is what’s important, and Gustavsen, Sander and Vespestad transfer it with honesty and grace.

DOWNLOAD: “Journey of Life,” “My Grief,” “Sweet Melting”


GOSPELBEACH – Pacific Surf Line

Album: Pacific Surf Line

Artist: Gospellbeach

Label: Alive Naturalsound

Release Date: October 16, 2015

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The Upshot: If you’re familiar with the psych-country rock of the Beachwood Sparks, you pretty much know what to expect.


Nothing gets Brent Rademaker hotter under the collar than having their music endlessly compared to the Byrds and being described as ‘jangly.’ I suppose that it’s easiest to always go for the low-hanging fruit with musical comparisons, but, anyway, these Flying Burrito Brothers/Parson Red Heads/Pure Prairie League/New Riders of the Purple Sage desperados’ will have to just suck up the comparisons, as they are far from the first to mosey down that dusty trail. Oh, I keed, I keed, but, with 3 members on board from the Beachwood Sparks, it points in that direction. What started out as a couple of friends playing some stuff for fun, became a 5-piece collaborative effort that snowballed to include other buds, finally congealing into an actual band and this album. Rademaker invited BS alumni Neal Casal (Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Furthur) and Tom Sanford on board, along with Ben Knight, who plays guitar on one tune. Also in attendance are Kip Boardman (Watson Twins) and Jason Soda (Watson Twins, Everest, and Crazy Horse.) Nelson Bragg from the Brian Wilson Band sits in on a song. Most songs feature 3 guitars plus bass banging away, with occasional, obligatory pedal steel, Hammond and Lowrey organs and slide guitars. Soda, a talented multi-instrumentalist brings a lot to the table in the sessions. (Rademaker later commented, “Nobody was trying to make this happen, it just came into our lives and took over.”) For the cherry on top, feast your peepers on the groovy cover art by William Stout.

If you’re familiar with the psych-country rock of the Beachwood Sparks, you pretty much know what to expect here. I fondly recall my first exposure to them, opening for the Bevis Frond in San Francisco and being blown away, and a solo New Years Eve at home, sitting in the dark, stoned immaculate, and letting their self-titled album wash over me and take me away.

Yes, all the stoner elements are here, California sun and Pacific beaches, starry desert skies and long-haired, brown skinned summer babes, all of the usual things folks around the globe associate with the Golden State. “Sunshine Skyway” pays tribute to Rodemaker’s fond memory of his home state and zooming down to the Keys for a getaway. It’s all a rather familiar vision, viewed through the lens of the Buffalo Springfield, Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris Darrow and others who pioneered the sound and glorified So-Cal’s gilded palace of sin and sun with a country spin early on.

There are a handful of songs that grab you immediately, like “Mick Jones,” “California Steamer,” “Out Of My Mind (On Cope and Reed,)” and “Alone,” all undeniably instant classics. Some other numbers were more like creepers, that grew on me after several hearings; “Southern Girl,” “Your Freedom,” “Damsel In Distress,” to point to a few. And, while all of the songs range from good to great, it’s the musicianship that steals the show here, just top-notch playing all the way. So, pull on your old Nudie jacket out of the mothballs, roll yourself a bomber, settle back in your overstuffed chair and enjoy that sweet Pacific surf line wherever you are.

DOWNLOAD: “Out Of My Mind (On Cope and Reed,)” “Mick Jones,” and “Calif. Steamer.”


Check out some videos:

“Mick Jones”

“California Steamer”

Ty Segall & The Muggers 2/23/16, Atlanta

Dates: February 23, 2016

Location: Variety Playhouse, Atlanta GA

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YOU LOOKIN’ AT ME?!? Live, from the Variety Playhouse, it’s – you know who…


I’m not really going to try and describe this show – because you know, Ty Segall.  But when the hardest working man in indie-rock goes out of his way to bring it to a town or city near you, you should go.  Especially when he brings his equally hard-working and talented buddies like King Tuff (guitar, Orange Strat) and Mikal Cronin (bass).  The music is raw and it’s big, and what’s a great rock show without some theatrical weirdness?


Ty Segall is the prolific man upfront sometimes with the big bald baby head mask; The Muggers are Emmett Kelly (guitar), Cory Handson (keyboards, guitar, and stuff), Evan Burrows (drums) and the aforementioned Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Cronin.   Not sure bands get any more packed with talent than that. Their US tour continues through March, Levitation Festival (formerly Austin Psych Fest) April 29th, then off for  European shows this Summer.  Dates are HERE.


I do apologize for the lack of variety camera angles for this gallery.  I had my heavy duty Canon and zoom and didn’t want any of the moshers down front to get hurt.

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THE SHARP THINGS – EverybodyEverybody

Album: EverybodyEverybody

Artist: Sharp Things

Label: Ropeadope

Release Date: February 19, 2016

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The Upshot: Final installment of a four-album series dubbed “The Dogs of Bushwick,” manages somehow to eclipse even the chamber-pop outfit’s earlier efforts (all of which were impressive enough on their own).


Around 2008, New York’s chamber pop flag wavers The Sharp Things set out a seemingly unimaginable crusade to record 40-plus new songs as part of a four-album set dubbed “The Dogs of Bushwick.” Despite the fact that most musicians tend to be big on ideas and not so hot on follow through, the group faithfully soldiered on with the pledge, turning out one solid album after the next (Green is Good, The Truth is Like the Sun and Adventurer’s Inn, all between 2013 and 2014). And far from being an eye-roll inducing pretentious practice that brings to mind some of the most self-indulgent moments of the 1970s, this collection was pretty damn fantastic.

The final entry, the 10-song album EverybodyEverybody, manages somehow to eclipse even the earlier efforts (all of which were impressive enough on their own). The dramatic cycle that streams seamlessly from one track to the next sounds more like one massive soundtrack to life, from the early moments of first love through heartache and reconciliation, the album is one massive sweeping moment of beauty with several seconds of silence every few minutes. Drawing inspiration from Brian Wilson and George Harrison to Bowie and Harry Nilsson, EverybodyEverybody is a masterclass in songwriting and execution.

After this powerful four-album opus, you can only hope than band doesn’t decide to call it a day.

 DOWNLOAD: “Sport’s Drinking Again,” “Shine Shine Shine,” “There’s Been No One Since You”


DRESSY BESSY – Kingsized

Album: Kingsized

Artist: Dressy Bessy

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: February 05, 2016

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The Upshot: Following a seven-year layoff, the Colorado band gets the balance right. Special guests include Peter Buck, Vanessa Briscoe-Hay and Eric Allen.


On Dressy Bessy’s 1999 debut, Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons,
singer-guitarist-composer Tammy Ealom revealed a genius for power-pop
tunes that the band wasn’t quite agile enough to deliver. The
sprightliest of the songs — especially “If You Should Try to Kiss
Her” — endured anyway, but as the Colorado quartet got tighter, its
material sagged a little. After four more albums and a seven-year
layoff, the band gets the balance right with Kingsized. It sounds
like Dressy’s best.

The album opens with a Raspberries-style drum fanfare and a
unexpectedly political kick: “Lady Liberty” is a lament, as bouncy as
it is breakneck, for people who are “trying hard to get along.”
Exactly what Ealom deplores about the state of the union is hard to
discern, since her multi-tracked vocals stuff words into the verses
and her soprano sometimes melds with the churning jangle produced by
her, fellow guitarist John Hill and guest player Peter Buck. Yet the
anti-anthem’s exuberance is irresistible.

While Dressy Bessy’s original style is intact, it now has more drive,
swagger and range. The group lost its longtime bass player before
recording Kingsized, and the album was recorded with such stand-ins
as Eric Allen (of Hill’s other group, the Apples In Stereo). The beat
turns bluesy for “These Modern Guns,” and toggles to punk-funk for
“Get Along (Diamond Ring),” whose methodical pulse may be a tribute to
the former band of its harmony vocalist, Pylon’s Vanessa Briscoe-Hay.
The album’s many visitors don’t distract Ealom and her comrades from
their vision, as they demonstrate with such jaunty numbers as “Pop
Phenom” and “Dirty Birdies.” They frolic the way Pink Hearts, Yellow
meant to.

DOWNLOAD: “Lady Liberty,” “Pop Phenom”

AVISHAI COHEN – Into the Silence

Album: Into the Silence

Artist: Avishai Cohen

Label: ECM

Release Date: February 12, 2016

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The Upshot: The Tel Aviv-born trumpeter’s latest is a superb example of how the right combination of artists can bring a vision to life.


Trumpeter Avishai Cohen made his name with a pair of outfits: the family band 3 Cohens Sextet and the aggressively improvisational trio Triveni. For his latest solo album, however, he moves into a more contemplative, even melancholy mood. Into the Silence pays tribute to the Tel Aviv-born/NYC-based composer’s late father, who had always wanted to be a musician himself but couldn’t, instead passing his love on to his children.

Favoring muted tones and moderate tempos, Cohen moves with a deliberate touch, as if every note was carefully considered and conveys just the right emotional weight. Pianist Yonathan Avishai, Cohen’s longtime partner in crime, provides sympathetic support and engaging counter melodies, joining his pal in weaving a tapestry of intertwined lines. Cohen’s Triveni bandmate Nasheet Waits and Branford Marsalis Quartet bassist Eric Revin keep the rhythms percolating no matter what the tempo; Waits in particular shows a sensitivity that comes from a deep understanding of how to support the leader. Guest saxophonist Bill McHenry adds creamy solos from time to time.

The band’s obvious chemistry gives Cohen’s compositions the simpatico touch they need, from the melancholy “Life and Death” to the celebratory “Dream Like a Child” to the elegiac “Behind the Broken Glass.” The near-perfect balance of heart and craft on display here is even more remarkable for the fact that this combination of players worked together for the first time on this record. Into the Silence is a superb example of how the right combination of artists can bring a vision to life.

DOWNLOAD: “Dream Like a Child,” “Behind the Broken Glass,” “Life and Death”