Monthly Archives: April 2016

ERIC AMBEL – Lakeside

Album: Lakeside

Artist: Eric Ambel

Label: Lakeside Lounge

Release Date: April 01, 2016


The Upshot: An ace collaboration between Roscoe and Jimbo Mathus, it’s also one of the purest gut-level rock ‘n’ roll albums you’re likely to hear all year.


You’ve heard that term “tight but loose,” right? This new one from Eric Ambel is more along the lines of loose but tight, with that twinned swinging/in-the-pocket vibe. That for Lakeside, Ambel signed up Jimbo Mathus for production duties as well as sundry drums, bass and guitars, would suggest a summit of like-minded, er, swingers. Because this is one of the purest gut-level rock ‘n’ roll albums you’re likely to hear all year.

Ambel, of course, has a particularly potent CV: tenures with Joan Jett, the Del-Lords, the Yahoos and Steve Earle’s Dukes; production gigs with a who’s who of exemplars (among them: Nils Lofgren, Bottle Rockets, the Backsliders and Marshall Crenshaw); his own occasional solo excursions under his own name or as Roscoe’s Gang. But Lakeside, named after the NYC watering hole he used to operate, and cut with Mathus at his own professional recording studio in Brooklyn, Cowboy Technical Services, is something else, man.

It kicks off with a tune written by his old Del-Lords running partner Scott Kempner, a good-timey, twangy little shuffle called “Here Come My Love.” That’s immediately followed by a classic slice of heavy blooze-rawk, the Mathus-penned “Hey Mr. DJ,” a paean to turning up the volume (“crank that shit up all over the place”) that, with its Neanderthal thud and distorted solos, could pass for a vintage slab of Free, Cream or Mountain. Ditto with Ambel’s own “Have Mercy” (speaking of Free, the riff is not too far removed from “All Right Now”; that’s Phil Cimino manning the drum kit here and on several other cuts), and the downright nasty “Don’t Make Me break You Down,” which suggests Neil Young Crazy Horse assaulting the Don Nix classic “Going Down” (speaking of assault, check Ambel’s brutal leads). Meanwhile—speaking of Young—the Ambel-Mathus composition “Buyback Blues” is out of that same Cortezian wheelhouse, a slow, mournful, dark 12-bar thang that swaps nasty for haunted.

I could go on at length about every song here, but… for a change of sonic pace, certainly turn your attention to both the sweetly-textured, gently-paced cover of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “Look at Miss Ohio” and the Ambel-authored instrumental titled “Cryin’ In My Sleep” that’s an homage to all the great Fifties and early Sixties instros (think Floyd Cramer). Meanwhile, there’s also a riotous take on the timeless R&B raver “Money” destined to be the ultimate set-closer for Ambel in concert, tailor-made for when everyone is perfectly lubricated, stomping their feet, and hollering along at the top of their lungs. I risk redundancy in saying this, but the bottom line is the album is about as pure a distillation of rock ‘n’ roll as I’ve encountered in ages.

Lakeside is a vinyl-only album, a gatefold beauty limited to 500 copies and pressed on sweet 180-gm wax (download included), so grab it while copies last, punters.

DOWNLOAD: “Buyback Blues,” “Money,” “Have Mercy”



AZIZA BRAHIM – Abbar el Hamada

Album: Abbar el Hamada

Artist: Aziza Brahim

Label: Glitterbeat

Release Date: March 18, 2016


The Upshot: The singer/songwriter’s album fronts defiance of oppression everywhere, but comes equally loaded with optimism and hope.


Aziza Brahim had it rough when she was young. Born in a Saharawi refugee camp in the Algerian desert, she’s lived in exile from her home for two decades, currently residing in Barcelona. The singer/songwriter hasn’t let that poison her outlook, however. Her latest album Abbar el Hamada fronts defiance of oppression everywhere, but comes equally loaded with optimism and hope.

Over accessible grooves derived from the same source used by groups like Tinariwen and Terakaft, Brahim sings with an easy tone that coils her passion into a tight spring, rather than shoot it out of a cannon. “El wad” and the title track spark a brightly but not furiously burning flame; “El canto de la arena” and “Los muros” add a strain of melancholia that leavens, rather than obscures, the hope. The nimble, melodic guitar work of Kalilou Sangare and Ignasi Cussó adds beautifully-wrought webs of sound in support of her supple singing. Abbar el Hamada is a textbook example of turning hard times into hopeful art.

DOWNLOAD: “El wad,” “El canto de la arena,” “Abbar el Hamada”


FRANCES ENGLAND – Explorer of the World

Album: Explorer of the World

Artist: Frances England

Label: Self-released

Release Date: April 01, 2016

F England 4-1

The Upshot: Strummy melodies, innocent lyrics, and a generally optimistic attitude for those days when you need it the most.


San Fran’s Frances England is a, quote/unquote, “kids’ music artist,” an area with which I am relatively familiar, having been the parent of a kid for a reasonable amount of time. Said kid is now a teenager, but I still remember fondly our early listening sessions with—and eventual concert forays to—the likes of Farmer Jason, Dan Zanes, Billy Jonas, and of course my friend Uncle Rock. And I also recall that one common thread among all those performers was how they never talked down to their audience, eschewing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” fluff for material that respected these budding young citizens’ minds and sensibilities.

Which partially explains why England’s fifth album is a success on a far deeper level than “just another collection of cute kids’ songs” from a kids’ performer. While she has actually released a record targeted at adults (Paths We Have Worn), I would propose that for the uninitiated, there’s nothing remotely juvenile going on here, nothing that, unless you examine the lyrics within the context of them being written in order to appeal to both young and old, would tip you off. The title track, for example, with its sing-songy vocal and minimalist piano-based arrangement, could be a Feist tune (England’s voice recalls Feist, with maybe a hint of Neko Case), while the jocular “See What We Can See” has a gentle Elephant 6 collective vibe (love that trumpet). Even a track like “Closer to You,” a strummy ditty that features England and her friend Stew Peck swapping hopeful lines “I’ll take a freight train/ I’ll take a scooter/ We’ll get together somehow” that might suggest to a child how important interpersonal bonds are, works—for lack of a better term here—in a vacuum.

My suggestion: check preconceptions at the door and listen with the same open minds we ascribe to our children. After all, music can and should foster freshly-tilled innocence, not cynicism. There’s plenty of the latter in the world already.

“Hi Fred,” began the handwritten note that accompanied Explorer of the World, in lieu of a bio or one-sheet. “I know there’s a slim chance of you listening to this given how much music you must receive. This is a little different… Fingers crossed you’ll give it a listen, Frances.”

Correct on two of the points, Ms. England, but not the one about a “slim chance” because honesty counts for a lot in my book. And lord knows I read enough hype-filled hoo-haa in my line of work. All the best, Fred.

DOWLOAD: “Explorer of the World,” “See What We Can See”

KIM SALMON – My Script

Album: My Script

Artist: Kim Salmon

Label: Bang!

Release Date: April 01, 2016


The Upshot: Sound beamed in directly from the Scientists/Beasts of Bourbon/Darling Downs musician’s brain – unfiltered and unpolished.


Outside of his home country of Australia, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kim Salmon is best known for his leadership of the swamp punk pioneers the Scientists and avant power rockers the Surrealists, as well as his erstwhile membership in demimonde supergroup the Beasts of Bourbon. But there’s more to the underground rawk legend than that – his career has spanned pop to improvisation to whatever it was he was doing with Ron Peno in the Darling Downs (interviewed HERE at Blurt).

My Script, his latest solo album, puts all his pieces into one pie. The first three songs alone take in introspective folk (“Pathologise Me”), punky power pop (“Destination Heartbreak”) and fuzzy electro weirdness (“Sign Apps”). Salmon wanders all over his own map, exploring everything from his usual rock outs (“Client JGT683,” “Always Turned Out Burned Out [Fast Burn]”) and winsome strumming (“Making Me Better,” “Already Turned Out Burned Out [Slow Burn]”) to no wave brooding (“It’s s SOdisSTOPic”) to using his finger tapping the end of a live guitar cable as accompaniment (“Tell Me About Your Master,” “Fucking Shit Up”).

Recorded in as uncomplicated, but professional, a manner as possible, these tracks sound beamed in directly from Salmon’s brain – unfiltered, unpolished and dedicated to the idea of delivering what he hears in his head straight to your ears.

DOWNLOAD: “Destination Heartbreak,” “Client JGT683,” “Tell Me About Your Master”


THE NOBILITY – Ashford Castle

Album: Ashford Castle

Artist: The Nobility

Label: Self-released

Release Date: February 19, 2016


The Upshot: Catchy yet eclectic, with an extra dose of Jellyfish, ELO and the Beach Boys.


It’s pretty tough to stand out in a music scene as varied and impressive as Nashville in 2016, but somehow the fours-some that make up The Nobility has managed to do just that with their third effort, Ashford Castle. The record grabs influences as varied as Jellyfish, Harry Nilsson, ELO and The Beach Boys, and mixes them into a sound that’s as infectiously catchy as it is eclectic.

The band deals heavily in tight harmonies, strong hooks and choruses that are irresistible, all backed by pianos, drums, guitars and the occasional trumpet and violin. But rather than a cluttered sound the guys have created a vibe that would make Jeff Lynne proud.

Songs like “Rollin’ in the Aisles” and “Mrs. Judy May” have a definite ‘70s FM radio feel to them, but the band can just as easily switch gears to a much more contemporary (but still catchy) sound for a song like “On the Sly.” There are a few weak spots on the record (most notably when it sounds like they are trying too hard to write an ELO song), but those moments are fleeting and are far outweighed by a song like the earworm “Alone.”

It’s only a matter of time before people finally start namechecking The Nobility when they tick off the reasons why the Nashville scene is in its prime.

DOWNLOAD: “On the Sly,” “Alone” and “Mrs. Judy May”

THE DEADLY ONES – It’s Monster Surfing Time

Album: It’s Monster Surfing Time

Artist: Deadly Ones

Label: Vee-Jay/Concord Music Group

Release Date: April 08, 2016

Monster LPO

The Upshot: Do the monster mash, but on surfboards, and with Duane Eddy on the iPod.


Roll over Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and tell Southern Culture On the Skids the news, kids! Or at least quit rolling over to all those rekkird dealers on eBay who are trying to gouge you for original copies of 1964’s It’s Monster Surfing Time, which as we are told, nets upwards of 200 bucks on eBay and Discogs in its original Vee-Jay Records iteration. Yes, that same Vee-Jay that played early host to a band colloquially known as the Fab Four…. but I digress.

Monster Surfing then

Surf music is a well-established, and much-loved, sub-genre of rock music. So-called “horror music” is also a sub-genre—think “Monster Mash” and all the other staples of oldies radio each year come the end of October—albeit, by virtue of its seasonality, considerably less so. But what if you combine surf and horror? Well, then, you have… bone rattle, er, I mean, drum roll please… well, you have It’s Monster Surfing, by the Deadly Ones. Who are the Deadly Ones? Most likely a bunch of Los Angeles session hacks, er, I mean, studio veterans, who gathered in 1964 in order to cash in on the burgeoning teenage phenom going on in the United States. Who were they? Maybe it was Glen Campbell and Carol Kaye, but seriously, who cares! (Fun Fact, however: One “J. South” gets multiple songwriting credits here, so… use your imagination.)

From the garage-shock blast that is “There’s a Creature in the Surfer’s Lagoon” and the minimalist (yet effects-strewn; is that a human voice trying to sound like a Theremin?) “Wipe Out” pastiche that is “Surfin’ Dock Side”; to the ridiculously overblown “Igor Goes Surfing” (which, amid some admittedly tasty upper-neck fretwork, finds the world’s worst Basil Rathbone imitator giving the titular Igor orders) and the similarly inclined title track (here, tremolo-tinged twang, wolfman howls, and Vincent Price’s stand-in); to a spate of actual/credible covers that include “Raunchy,” “Rebel Rouser” and “The Moonlight Surfer” (when you need some additional twang oomph, always call on Duane Eddy & Peers), well… these ghouls are for YOU, fellow hodaddys.

It’s all pressed on delightfully translucent green vinyl (“slime green” is what the ads say, so who are we to differ?), and with the utterly out-there cover artwork, it’s also one of those hang-on-your-wall pieces of vintage album art. So what are you waiting for, all you fellow wax ghouls?

DOWNLOAD: “Igor Goes Surfing,” “Rebel Rouser,” “The Mad Drummer Part 1”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – God Don’t Never Change—The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson

Album: God Don’t Never Change—The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson


Label: Alligator

Release Date: February 26, 2016

Blind Willie CD

The Upshot: More than a tribute album! An important blues document, period, featuring Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams and more.


God don’t never change—the Songs of Blind Willie Johnson is more than a tribute album; this is an important musical document in its own right. Tribute albums, even in the blues, have been common over the years. But to hear artists like Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Cowboy Junkies, Blind Boys of Alabama, Rickie Lee Jones tackle the songs of this still to this day obscure Texas country bluesman who only did sacred or religious music is itself a revelation.

Johnson was an itinerant street preacher. Being accessible was never his thing. He recorded just 30 race records for Columbia from 1927-1930. By 1945, he was dead at the age of 48. So while Robert Johnson was laying the groundwork for the rock and roll revolution three decades later, Blind Willie Johnson was trying to save souls. Indeed, we learn in Michael Corcorin’s wonderful booklet with the CD, he actually recorded before both Charley Patton and Robert Johnson, the kings of country blues.

Even dedicated blues fans searching out the roots of the blues, like myself, found it a challenge to embrace this Johnson. His music, just him singing in a gravelly voice and playing slide guitar, is almost otherworldly, spooky. And then your hear “Cold Was The Ground, Dark Was The Night.” And this is the sheer terror of the blues; a slide masterpiece. A song apocalyptic in its power. His playing is so full of passion and so fiery that it is that rarest of things, a song impossible to ignore. According to the booklet, that song was inspired by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Listen to this song and you can feel the passion of Christ. Rikki Lee Jones does it beautifully with vocals on this album.

Or listen to Tom Waits tackle two songs, “The Soul of a Man” and “John the Regulator” and you can almost hear Blind Willy’s growl coming through the speaker. Modern music fans will recognize “Motherless Children” that Eric Clapton had a hit with in 1974. The song’s actual title is “Mother’s Children have a Hard Time” and here it is done in a beautiful gospel version by the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama. Or listen to the hypnotic version of “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, with vocals by Susan Tedeschi and a great slide by Derek Trucks.

The 14 songs on here represent a major artistic statement which not only pays tribute to one of the greatest bluesmen of all time, but speaks to a modern audience. You do not have to be religious to appreciate this album or the power of Blind Willie Johnson. He was one of the greatest artists America ever produced. Again, Alligator proves itself to be the greatest, most vibrant blues label in the world. If you have one blues tribute CD in your collection, it should be this one.

DOWNLOAD: “The Soul of a Man,” “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” “God the Revelator”


Album: Né So

Artist: Rokia Traoré

Label: Nonesuch

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Rocia 2-12

The Upshot: As with so much African music, Né So favors hope over despair, proud defiance over inchoate anger.


It’s a tricky road to walk as an African recording musician – you have to balance wide international appeal while still remaining true to your own artistic traditions. That latter notion doesn’t mean hewing closely to traditional forms (though it can mean that) – Africans do live in the 21st century, after all, and avail themselves of the same modern recording gear and instrumentation as anybody else. But it can be a difficult balancing act to maintain. Not an impossible one, by any means – witness the spectacular careers of Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Angelique Kidjo, Miriam Makeba, Salif Keita, Tinariwen, the Touré family and the Kuti family.

Add the name Rokia Traoré to that distinguished list. Undeniably the next African superstar, the Malian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist compromises her vision not a whit, while still making music accessible to a general audience (if there is such a thing for music this far outside the mainstream). Working with producer John Parish (PJ Harvey), Traoré takes the circular melodies of her mentor Ali Farka Touré and gives them danceable grooves, letting her rich trill (in French and her native language) take center stage. The frenetic rhythms of “Ô Niélé” (with guest John Paul Jones on bass) and “Kènia” keep the melodies roiling while her voice rides the wave. The less frantic grooves driving “Tu Voles” and “Mayé” keep the songs from boiling over, but still simmering, and may be the most enticing tracks for non-African ears. “Kolokani” couches its longing for home in soft sounds that come as close to a ballad as Afropop gets.

Oddly, one of the best tracks comes from a non-African source – at least not directly. Traoré’s cover of “Strange Fruit,” accompanied by jazz bassist Reggie Washington, seems like a gimme for Western ears on the face of it. But the parallels between the racially-based violence of the American south and the Malian north are too close to deny, and Traoré’s haunting vocals bespeak every stitch of generational and ancestral pain. But the record ends on “Sé Dan,” an English-sung message of respect and optimism that even a guest spot by indie folk wackjob Devendra Banhart can’t knock off-kilter. As with so much African music, Né So favors hope over despair, proud defiance over inchoate anger, and stands as the most trenchant portrait of the African musical spirit so far this year.

DOWNLOAD: “Kènia,” “Strange Fruit,” “Tu Voles”



Album: Chúcaro

Artist: Cocofunka

Label: Cocofunka

Release Date: February 26, 2016


The Upshot: Everything from ‘80s pop to reggae and funk can be heard on this party-ready platter.


Cocofunka’s latest album Chúcaro is a real treat for music lovers as it has something for everyone. The album reminds me of El Paso circa 1987 and me heading to Juarez with friends to do some under age drinking. This is the sound of the music at Fred’s Rainbow Bar off the strip. It oozes a vibe of drinking tequila slammers with friends and then somehow making it back across the border alive to tell the tale.

The second track on the album “Coleccionista” is Bryan Ferry’s “Kiss and Tell” meets Level 42’s “Running in the Family”. It’s a funky ‘80s-imbued, slick tune that gets in your head and leaves you wanting more. The band add just enough a hazy vibe to it that you can smell the Drakar Noir cut with a hint of Carta Blanca and sweat.

“Melancolia” is another killer tune. Here the song takes on a regretful air and really shows that the band possess an encyclopedic knowledge of ‘80s. Here they somehow have become kindred spirits with Argentinian masters, Soda Stereo. I’m somehow reminded of Soda’s song “Zoom” off of their magical Sueño Stereo record.

“Oso Perezoso” has a really interesting time signature, and seems more Pacific coast than Atlantic side. The track is as cool as chipped ice on a late summer’s night. The guitarist really shines on this track. His well placed funk inflections are a joy to listen to and make the song really groove.

In the later half of the record the track “Noche Tras Noche” is a stunning culmination of all that the band have built up to this point. Here we have a beautiful collision of reggae, funk and ‘80s pop that just oozes cool.

Consider me converted, as Cocofunka have created a well crafted album that from the music to the production has obviously been very well thought out. What they’ve managed to do on this record is amalgamate some really interesting influences and forged an exceptional artistic statement.

DOWNLOAD: “Melancolia” “Noche Tras Noche” “Collecionista”






Album: Love Songs

Artist: Winterpills

Label: Signature Sounds

Release Date: March 18, 2016


The Upshot: Like all their albums, it doesn’t harbor immediate hooks or go for the recurring refrains, depending instead on its subtle allure to provide its appeal.


Any album that’s billed simply as Love Songs is bound to bask in the half light, and indeed Winterpills’ meditative gaze makes for a seamless fit with all that title implies. Those who have followed the band’s past progression are likely already aware of their ethereal harmonies and other-worldly ambiance, and so it’s no surprise that again, this time around, they don’t disappoint. Yet while the songs that bookend the album — “Incunabula” and “It Will All Come Back To You” — hold to that trademark texture, the group still manages to rouse the tempos regardless, with “Freeze Your Light” and “A New England Deluge” being the two more obvious examples. They even toss an odd bit of discordance into the mix, via the somewhat unsettling “Bringing Down the Body Count.” Granted, the song titles are a bit incongruous, but then again, Winterpills has always made it a point to mix some mystery in with their low-lit amplitude. Like all their albums, Love Songs doesn’t harbor immediate hooks or go for the recurring refrains, depending instead on its subtle allure to provide its appeal. Still, for those who allow time for the music to fully sink in, these Love Songs will easily prove enamouring.

DOWNLOAD: “Incunabul,” “Freeze Your Light,” “It Will All Come Back To You”