Monthly Archives: May 2016

MERCURY’S ANTENNAE – Beneath the Serene

Album: Beneatrh the Serene

Artist: Mercury's Antennae

Label: Projekt

Release Date: March 04, 2016


The Upshot: Cosmic music for blissing out, not drifting away.


For its second full-length, misty dreamsquad Mercury’s Antennae pulls itself out of the ether just long enough to establish a foothold on good ol’ earth. This is at least in part due to the presence of new bassist Cindy Coulter, whose twanging bottom grounds the music in a way it wasn’t before.

But it’s as much about emotion as anything – singer Dru Allen deals with the way she feels about life on this planet, not out among the stars. Instrumentalist Erick R. Scheid gives her a spacy backdrop, no doubt – his combination of guitars and electronics swirls like the dust between comets, but it settles on terra firma. That gives “Ivy Tree Shore,” “Into Lost and Away” and the title track enough backbone to keep from dissolving in the rain, even when things get downright cosmic in the epic ambient instrumental “Migration.” Mercury’s Antennae gives us music for blissing out, not drifting away.

DOWNLOAD: “Beneath the Serene,” “Into Lost and Away,” “Migration”


Album: Atomic

Artist: Mogwai

Label: Temporary Residence/Rock Action

Release Date: April 01, 2016  /


The Upshot: A companion piece to a BBC documentary that features none of the big dynamic shifts you’d expect from earlier albums. Ironically, for soundtrack to a movie about atom bombs, it is uncharacteristically lacking in explosions. Pictured above is the colored vinyl version that fans were able to pre-order; although it doesn’t get shipped until early June, it’s already sold out.


Mogwai’s Atomic began its life as the soundtrack to a BBC documentary about nuclear science called Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise, which explains the themed track titles — “Bitterness Centrifuge,” “U-235,” “Fat Man,” “Little Boy” etc. It may also explain the chilled, scientific remove of these cuts, which move with slow tempo mechanical precision, parts interlocking in a precise give and take. The album’s sounds are derived largely from synthesizers with organic instruments (guitar, drums, at one point a violin) sitting decidedly back in the mix.

The best tracks have a church organ grandeur, intimating menace and redemption in blasts of keyboard sound. “Pripyat,” named for a town downwind of Chernobyl, is the biggest and most impressive of these cuts, pacing rippling tone-poem atmospherics with a solemn, ritual beat. But “Bitterness Centrifuge” moves with a similar shuddering grace, its desolate ruminations turning intermittently brighter, like strong sunlight shining through dusty stained glass.

“Little Boy” falls closest to Mogwai’s non-soundtrack work, with rich striations of tone and overtone blooming over the bump of bass and hiss of cymbals. It’s the one you’d recognize right away as a Mogwai song, yet even it feels weighted with the subject matter. “Are You a Dancer” harks back to Come on Die Young, in its moody contemplative aura, though perhaps because of the violin, it also sounds a bit like Dirty Three.

Because it’s a soundtrack, where the music works in support of narrative and imagery, Atomic remains subdued. There are none of the big dynamic shifts you’d expect from earlier albums, and, indeed, very little in the way of gradual crescendo. The medium-temperature-ness of this album is its main drawback. Ironically, Mogwai’s soundtrack to a movie about atom bombs is uncharacteristically lacking in explosions.

DOWNLOAD: “Pripyat” “Are You a Dancer?”





Album: Cleopatra

Artist: Lumineers

Label: Dualtone

Release Date: April 08, 2016


The Upshot: Quieter and striking a more somber tone than their Grammy-nominated first record, it sounds as if the band went out of its way to tone down the catchiness of their initial offering.


Those expecting a bombastic folk pop foot-stomper from The Lumineers this time around, a “Ho Hey Pt. 2,” are bound to be disappointed with the Denver band’s sophomore effort.

But casual fans be damned, the band has turned in yet another solid collection of thoughtful indie folk with Cleopatra. Quieter and striking a more somber tone than their Grammy-nominated first record, it sounds as if the band went out of its way to tone down the catchiness of their initial offering. But the softer focus put the lyrics front and center and that’s, in part, what separates The Lumineers from the slew of bands that came after trying to replicate the success of “Ho Hey”.

Lyrically tunes like “Gun Song” or “Long Way Home” have lines that stick with you even long after the melody is gone. While the opening track, “Sleep on the Floor” is instantly memorable, the songs further into the record take several listens to really appreciate, but it’s ultimately worth spending time with.

Fittingly, the album closer, the instrumental “Patience,” is the most upbeat track on the record, perhaps signaling that things are still pretty damn fine with the band, despite a quieter offering this time around.

DOWNLOAD: “Sleep on the Floor,” “In the Light” and “Long Way Home”

Nada Surf + Moving Panoramas 5/24/16, Denver

Dates: May 24, 2016

Location: Bluebird Theatre, Denver


Live from… Denver’s Bluebird Theatre. And a good time was had by all, even the dude in dreadlocks.


I love the Bluebird for those early starts…doors at 7 PM and Austin TX all-female trio Moving Panoramas were on by 8 PM. These ladies are with Nada Surf for then end of their tour, playing three gigs with them and this was the first of the three. A few pals told me that they were worth showing up for an they certainly were. A dreamy pop sound with tense yet loose rhythms and  from leader Leslie Sisson (she was in the post American Analog Set band called Wooden Birds) laying out smooth guitar chords. They played all of the songs off their recently release full length entitled One (Modern Outsider Records) and seemed to easily win the approval of the normally fickle Denver crowd (ah who am I kiddin’ these people aren’t fickle). Great stuff (just don’t call ‘em lady gaze).

I’ve been lucky enough to catch Nada Surf a few times in the past few years, once at Riot Fest and before that at the Summit Music Hall in 2012. This band never disappoints (and they’ve been at it for 20 years). They are touring under their new record, You Know Who You Are (Barsuk Records) and I mentioned in my last live review how they’d added ex-GBC/Death of Samantha guy Doug Gillard on extra guitar (he’s not even the new guy anymore) but this time the bassist Daniel Lorca was not on stage. Singer/guitarist Matthew Caws mentioned how Lorca is taking a break from touring and they have a fill in guy (from the band Ozma).

The band played a good dose of cuts from their latest record including “Rushing” and “Believe You’re Mine”  but also tossed in some classic oldies (well, oldies on the world of Nada Surf) like “Happy Kid,” “Inside of Love” and “Blonde on Blonde (all from 2002’s classic Let Go). Also “Concrete Bed” from 2005’s The Weight is a Gift  and “Jules and Jim” from 2012’s The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy.

Not much more to say, really. These guys have it down pat. They’re completely efficient but not robotic. Matthews Caws is constantly chatting up the crowd in between songs (including calling one guy Drill who was making weird tool noises) and as for the songs, they are a completely well-oiled machine and I never get sick of seeing them.

WILLIE NILE – World War Willie

Album: World War Willie

Artist: Willie Nile

Label: River House

Release Date: April 01, 2016


The Upshot: Long having shaken the “next Dylan” and “next Springsteen” labels, Nile continues to drop albums that fit seamlessly within the same playlist. Like great wine, he gets better with age.


Let’s attack the elephant in the room right away – if the first twelve bars of “Forever Wild” don’t immediately trigger your brain’s Springsteen reflex, your synapses are way off. But where pale Boss mimics would continue painting by numbers – perhaps even inserting one too many uses of the word “mister” in the lyrics – Nile’s territory is sufficiently earmarked to permit the occasional audio misdirection. And coming on the heels of a mellower piano album, #World War Willie# finds Nile and his crack band confidently re-immersed in dynamic rock, effortless and heartfelt, soulful and spirited.

But within the cabinet-shakers are back-to-back gems – the pulsating “Beautiful You” and his ode to the late, great Band leader on “When Levon Sings”. Nile’s emotive vocals and sing-along choruses transform several songs into subliminal marching orders; when he commands “Let’s All Come Together”, we sign up without a second thought. And as always, a great cover tune is included, this time Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”. Somehow I get the feeling that if Lou didn’t write this, Willie would have had to.

If there’s one nit to pick, it’s crowning great songs with sub-par titles. The Clash-like “Grandpa Rocks” is an ass-kicker saddled with a silly chorus, and although I understand the appropriate relationship, “Citibank Nile” is too blatant a lyrical stretch. The title track is an acoustic pile driver, but again…”things get rough / when your last name’s Nilly”? Thankfully the masterful “Trouble Down in Diamond Town” is a storyteller’s calling card.

Willie Nile, at 67, can still paint a picture with words and burn the house down from the stage. Savor it.

DOWNLOAD: “When Levon Sings”, “Forever Wild”, “Beautiful You”



Album: Hi-Fi D.I.Y. EP

Artist: Brett Newski

Label: self-released

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Brett Newski

The Upshot: Truth in titling for the EP, he’s a terrific nu-folk troubadour.


The definitive troubadour, folk pop DIY artists Brett Newski, destined for greatness any minute now, has spent the past few years traveling the globe and playing music – writing jingles for tampon ads in Asia, doing voice overs for Red Bull ads and collecting stellar fodder for his songs along the way.

His latest, the self-released five-song Hi-Fi D.I.Y. EP, is just one more example of how wonderfully charming a dude with some tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and little more than an acoustic guitar (and the occasional kazoo) can be.

Much like Todd Snider or Louden Wainwright III, before them both, Newski plays not for the masses, but the discerning minority who like their sarcasm and satire in whip smart lyrics, wrapped in a few well-strummed chords. Frustratingly short – as is the nature of a really good EP – there is not a weak track to be found here, from the catchy opener, “Black Taxi Cab,” the closest Newski has come to writing a pop song, to the closer, the endearingly ramshackle theme song to Newski’s ethos, “D.I.Y.,” an autobiographical song about playing “the worst show of your life to four people on a shitty Monday night in St. Louis”.

“I’m D.I.Y., I’m punk as fuck, don’t need your money, don’t want your love.” Indeed.

 DOWNLOAD: “Move to Berlin,” “This Will Destroy Me” and “D.I.Y.”

SAMMY WALKER – Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’ (LP)

Album: Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’

Artist: Sammy Walker

Label: Ramseur

Release Date: April 01, 2016

Sammy Walker

The Upshot: Phil Ochs protégé and Dylanesque stylist has early demos belatedly released by an admiring NC label. Very sweet on vinyl, too!


Georgia-born folksinger Sammy Walker resurfaced in 2008 via the Ramseur label (famous for its flagship act, the Avett Brothers). The songwriter previously cut a handful of Dylan-inspired LPs in the late ‘70s (he had caught the ear of Phil Ochs, who produced Walker’s first LP, essentially opening the industry door for him) before going on extended hiatus for more than a decade, eventually resurfacing for the first time during the ‘90s with a pair of European-only albums. A subsequent move to NC proved fortuitous, though, ultimately leading to the Ramseur record, Misfit Scarecrow. Now comes Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin’, but rather than a proper followup, it comprises unreleased demos from the ‘70s that helped land him a recording contract with Warner Bros., who thought they’d snagged the latest “new Dylan” for their roster.

Which is more than merely understandable. The 10 songs here are so Dylanesque—what with Walker’s nasally croon, frequent lapses into B.D.’s signature talking-blues singing style, and spartan acoustic guitar/harmonica arrangements—that it’s amazing the general public didn’t embrace him the way they did Prine, Springsteen, Buckley and Wainwright III.

Perhaps the problem was that Walker channeled the Bard so effortlessly as to come across at times as a blatant copyist. The title track, for example, bears more than a passing resemblance to “Tomorrow’s Such a Long Time” in both melody and vocal phrasing; while the wordy “The East Colorado Dam” could be mistaken for a Woody Guthrie outtake, and as we all know, Guthrie was more than just a tiny influence upon Dylan. And on several songs you find yourself literally preparing yourself for the inevitable harmonica verse, so familiar-feeling are the arrangements.

In 2016, of course, none of this is problematic; Ramseur has even made the Dylan connection visually explicit, with sleeve art and text fonts designed to give the album the look of an early Dylan LP. The label art even mimics the old Columbia Records “two eye” design, Ramseur here opting for powder blue rather than orangey red. Ultimately, it’s a fine, illuminating archival collection.

DOWNLOAD: “The East Colorado Dam,”


VARIOUS ARTISTS – George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison

Album: George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison

Artist: Various Artists

Label: BMG

Release Date: February 26, 2016

George 2-26

The Upshot: Beatles.


There’s literally nothing that can be said about George Harrison that hasn’t been said before. Although his tenure with the Beatles found him laboring in the shadows of Lennon and McCartney, he was a brilliant songwriter in his own right, and the material he composed for both the band and his own singular solo career continues to resonate, some fifteen years after his premature passing. It’s likely it always will. He may have been known as “the quiet Beatle,” but Harrison imbued a distinct sound and sensibility into his music that not only reflected his abilities as a singer and guitarist, but also as a spiritual individual whose tenets of faith never wavered, even at the end. Indeed, viewed in retrospect, Harrison clearly became as strong a presence as his celebrated colleagues.

There’s no better reminder of just how formidable that legacy remains than the two CD/DVD set culled from the night of September 26, 2014 at the Fonda Theater in L.A. when a group of admiring musicians under the direction of Harrison’s son Dhani gathered together to celebrate the man and his music. It’s telling that many of the participants weren’t old enough to remember the Beatles in their prime, but they still show due admiration when invoking his presence. The marquee names are limited to Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Brian Wilson, Ann Wilson, Perry Farrell, the Flaming Lips and Conan O’Brien (whose opening comment, “I thought this was a tribute to George Michael,” and I’ve been practicing singing Faith” all week” starts things off on a jovial note), but every performance here is still worthy of the originals. Other than the Cold War Kids’ raucous cover of “Taxman,” nobody attempts to alter the signature arrangements to any great extent, and in most cases, the performers even go so far as to emulate George’s sinewy singing style. Even Weird Al Yankovic’s wacky read of “What Is Life” comes across with a reverence that he never manages to emulate in his regular routine. Surprisingly, it’s one of the standouts in a set that boasts too many to mention.

Sadly, George Harrison was taken from us too soon, and his gentle, knowing aura is visible only through scratchy film clips and fading memories of a time when Beatlemania was considered a cure for all our ills. The sense of loss only seems to magnify as other icons pass from the planet at a shockingly alarming rate. While this faithful tribute doesn’t lessen the sadness, it does remind us that genius is timeless and that the memories of those triumphs will linger long enough to inspire us forever. The fact that these performances serve to remind us of that fact is reason enough to rejoice.

DOWNLOAD: What Is Life” (Weird Al Yankovic), “ “Taxman ”(Cold War Kids), “It’s All Too Much” (The Flaming Lips)


BLOWFLY- 77 Rusty Trombones

Album: 77 Rusty Trombones

Artist: Blowfly

Label: Saustex

Release Date: February 12, 2016

Blowfly 2-15

The Upshot: Should have hung in there long enough to be Donald Trump’s politically incorrect running rival.


As we all know, the world lost Blowfly (Clarence Reid) just last month at his home in Florida. I wasn’t sure if we’d see any more releases, but this is his final one and it’s most righteous. Funny, I as much as I like his music, I didn’t know much about him, but when he passed I’d been reading articles and had no idea that he’d written songs for KC and the Sunshine Band, Bobby Byrd and several others (also that his daughter Tracy, was a former WNBA player). He’d been in the music business for 50 years (under, of course, his own name and Blowfly) and apparently this record is a return to form, parodying R & B and soul songs from yesteryear. At his age the guy never lost his nastyness (of all of his nicknames my favorite was the Smutmaster General).

The album cover is pretty damn classic (Blowfly, some near-nude women (‘natch) and lots of trombones) and cuts like opener “If You Don’t Blow Me By Now” (a twist on the Harold Melvin  & the Blue Notes classic) plus “He Will Fuck You,” “I Fuck Everything,” “The Big Gay Crack,” “I Still Believe My Dick Can Fly” and too many more (also, don’t miss “Blowfly Jeopardy”  and “Celebrity ABCs”).  Not age or anything could stop this guy from making another great record. The world already misses this guy, a stone-cold classic. RIP.

DOWNLOAD:  “If You Don’t Blow Me By Now,”  “He Will Fuck You,” “I Fuck Everything,” “The Big Gay Crack”

Beale Street Music Festival 4/29/16-5/1/16, Memphis

Dates: April 29 - May 1, 2016

Location: Memphis TN

Neil Young (1)

Neil Young (pictured above), Yo Gotti, Indigo Girls, Zedd, Beck, Violent Femmes, Gin Blossoms, Weezer, Panic! At the Disco, Grace Potter, Cypress Hill, Courtney Barnett, Jason Derulo and many more made Memphis a must-be-at city once again.


April showers may bring May flowers, but rain during Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival brings mud—and lots of it.

Memphis Music Fest is no stranger to the rain during the annual weekend event, but it doesn’t seem to keep any true music lovers away. The festival grounds actually hold up very well for the most part, but I do recommend packing a pair of rubber boots and a poncho.

Mudd Fun

So, on with the show. This is one of my favorite festivals of the year, due to the organizers and staff. This event always has a top notch lineup with a diverse line up of acts. How many festivals can you see Neil Young, Yo Gotti, Indigo Girls, Zedd, Beck, and a whole stage dedicated to the Blues, all in the same weekend. This Festival is also one of the best values around, with tickets for all three days for just over one hundred dollars.

There was no way I could have caught all the bands with three stages running at the same time, so I had to plan out my weekend to make sure I was able to take in the must see’s.

Gin Blossoms

Friday’s must see’s for me were: The Struts, Gin Blossoms (above) Panic! at the Disco, Grace Potter, Weezer, and finishing up the night with Neil Young & Promise of the Real. I also happened upon Young and the Giant. I had never heard of them, but they had a really cool sound with a great stage presence. One of my favorite things about music festivals is that you can always discover new music and new bands.

Grace Potter

Grace Potter (1)

Grace Potter


Weezer (1)

Panic! At the Disco

Panic at the Disco (3)

Panic at the Disco (2)

Panic at the Disco (1)

Young the Giant

Young the Giant

Saturday started off with Lunchmoney Lewis (below), who came out in his traditional bathrobe and boxer shorts. If you haven’t heard of him or seen his video for “Ain’t Too Cool,” please finish reading this article, then grab your coolest shades and check it out – you will be hooked.

Lunchmoney Lewis

Next up on was Better Than Ezra from Louisiana, whose biggest hit was in 1995 and titled “Good.” They were as tight as they were in the ‘90s. Up next for me was Moon Taxi, the indie-progressive rock band that is based in Nashville. They took the stage at 7:00 PM as the sun was starting to set and the crowds started to swell.

Cypress Hill (1)

Cypress Hill

The group I was most excited to see this weekend was Cypress Hill (above); ever since I first heard their “Insane in the Brain,” the song has been imbedded in my brain. I was on my way to the photography pit in front of the stage when a white transport van pulled up next to me. As I moved to the side to allow the van to pass, it stopped and out stepped Cypress Hill. No waiting or warming up for the veterans, they exited the van and quickly walked to the stage and proceeded to rock the crowd—from the moment B-Real appeared onstage, the crowd was hyped, getting hits like “How I Could Just Kill A Man”, “Superstar”, “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That”, “Hits from the Bong”, and “Lowrider” and jumping nonstop and, er, waving their hands like they just don’t care.

Yo Gotti

Yo Gotti (1)

Next up: local Memphian rapper Yo Gotti (above), His DJ whipped the crowd into a frenzy before he even hit the stage, dressed in all white and sporting a white ski mask. The huge monitor screen that projected behind him on stage played images of Memphis before switching over to a cool looking graphic screen. Yo Gotti was a perfect act to put on before the night’s headliner of the Bud Light Stage with Jason Derulo.

Jason Derulo

Jason Derulo (1)

Jason Derulo (2)

Jason Derulo (3)

Jason Derulo (4)

Jason (above) came, saw, and kicked ass: People had already stood in front of the stage for hours and hours just to ensure they were front and center for this show. With choreographed moves and lots of dancers, this show alone was worth the price of the three-day ticket. If you have turned on the radio in the last five years, you have heard one of his hits such as “Wiggle”, “Ridin’ Solo”, “Watcha Say”, “Talk Dirty”, and now “Get Ugly.”

Violent Femmes

I didn’t get to see headliners Megan Trainor on the Fedex Stage or Modest Mouse at the Rockstar Energy Drink Stage. I did to get catch a couple of songs from Violent Femmes (above) on the Rockstar Stage. It would have been an incomplete weekend if I hadn’t been able to photograph and jam out to “Add It Up.” With my legs feeling like I’d hiked Mount Everest, Saturday was now in the books. Time to catch a little sleep before a full Sunday of music.

Blackberry Smoke

Blackberry Smoke (1)

Blackberry Smoke (2)

Sunday kicked off with Blackberry Smoke (above) from Atlanta, with a cross of southern rock, country rock, and bluegrass and having toured with such names as Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, ZZ Top, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

indigo girls

Indigo Girls (2)

Indigo Girls (1)

Next, I made my way over to the Rockstar stage to shoot the Indigo Girls (above). For a 4:15 Sunday show, there was still large crowd that was singing along to most of their songs and keeping time with the songs.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (1)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night sweats

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (3)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (2)

Next up on the Rockstar Stage was another act I couldn’t wait to see, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (above). This soul singer, with his soulful voice and talented band, is one you must make plans to see perform. His breakout hit “SOB” is great, but just the tip of the iceberg. After leaving Nathaniel’s set I made my way over to the Bud Light Stage to catch a little of Courtney Barnett before making my way to the Fedex Stage to catch Beck (below), whose hits include “Loser”, “Where It’s At” and “Devil’s Haircut”. (He also won album of the year in 2014 for the album Morning Phase.)


Beck (2)

The final act of the weekend was Zedd on the Bud Light Stage. More and more festivals are turning to a mixture of DJ, dance, and EMD due to the popularity and the high energy vibe it brings to the crowd, and Zedd is a mixture of producer/DJ/musician who has done collaborations with such artists as Kesha, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Hayley Williams. He had a whole stage LED board which was positioned about 20 feet high, and the stage was rigged with flame throwers, smoke and confetti canons. The whole set became a non-stop dance party, and the LED boards conjured the vibe of an outer space journey.


Zedd (1)

Zedd (2)

Zedd (3)

Kudos, incidentally, to the people in charge of booking this year’s Beale Street Music Festival. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a great weekend.

Zedd Crowd