Monthly Archives: June 2016


Album: Pendulum

Artist: Clarence Bucaro

Label: MRI

Release Date: May 20, 2016


The Upshot: Soothing, sublime and emotionally intoxicating, this is the kind of albums upon which reputations are built.


Credit Clarence Bucaro for establishing his reputation as a serene, serendipitous crooner whose credibility as a serious songwriter has managed to win him favor with fans of easy, breezy melodies and folks who recognize and appreciate honest, heartfelt expression.

Bucaro is one of those rare artists who manage to achieve both goals; much like Paul Simon and James Taylor, he’s able to offer up optimism and circumspect all within the space of a single song, enticing and entrancing his listeners all in the same breath. Indeed, Bucaro’s built a career on crafting superb songs, many of which sound like standards even on first hearing. His excellent new album #Pendulum# demonstrates those skills and more, with offerings that literally seem to shine, bringing both a restful repose and thoughtful exposition all at the same time. There’s literally not a single song that doesn’t aspire to a higher standard here, with the title track, “Barcelona,” “Girl in the Photograph,” “My Heart Won’t” and “Quiet Man” coming across not so much as standouts but rather as exquisite examples of the excellence Bucaro achieves with every time out.

Soothing, sublime and emotionally intoxicating, this is the kind of albums upon which reputations are built. There’s no reason to think that this Pendulum won’t swing his way and bring him the star status he’s deserved for so long.

DOWNLOAD: “Barcelona,” “Girl in the Photograph,” “My Heart Won’t”

JAMES SUPERCAVE – Better Strange

Album: Better Strange

Artist: James Supercave

Label: Fairfax

Release Date: February 12, 2016


The Upshot: One of those records that takes a few or more plays to grow on you, featuring indie pop, trip hop, chillwave and more. Vinyl version comes in limited edition white wax, no less.


At first I thought it was the name of someone and I was thinking that James Supercave is a bad pseudonym but it’s not a he, it’s a them and for a band it’s a great name. Three dudes, Joaquin (vocals), Patrick (keyboards) and Andres (guitar) who call Los Angeles home and on their debut album they eeked some very cool sounds. But not just sounds there’s songs on here, too. There’s a whole range of influences here from trip hop to dance to indie pop to chillwave (can’t believe I just wrote that word) to other eperimental genres not even invented yet (psych, baroque pop and even soul). It’s one of those records that takes a few or more plays to grow on you ‘cos despite my description above it’s actually pretty low-key; they’re not jumpimg up and down  in your face or anything.

Opening cut, the title track, is so low key you might miss it but you won’t miss the grinding synths or “Whatever You Want” or “Burn.” Plus on “Get Over Yourself” Joaquin shows off his falsetto which is better than my falsetto and your falsetto (so get over yourself). Also, you just gotta, gotta hear “The Right Thing” which pulses and soars at the same time (don’t miss the video either). If you hear things like I hear things, you’ll hear echoes of MGMT, Arcade Fire, some Radiohead, and the like. This is smart pop for now people or now pop for smart people; whatever, just listen.

DOWNLOAD: “Whatever You Want,” “Burn,” “Get Over Yourself,” “The Right Thing”



LP III & THE TRAGEDY – Southland Hum

Album: Southland Hum

Artist: LP III & the Tragedy

Label: Maplewood

Release Date: May 06, 2016


The Upshot: Most promising debut of the year thus far is steeped in roots-rock tradition while staking a claim to a sound wholly the band’s. Below, check out the group’s first video, too.


The Los Angeles roots movement of the ‘80s, which featured cowpunks Rank & File, retro-rockers the Blasters, and swamp-noir terrorists the Gun Club, can be viewed nowadays as something that had to happen if the subsequent alt-country, proto-Americana national scene of the ‘90s would emerge. Echoes of those groups and their peers continue to reverberate through our contemporary landscape, and the band at hand is not only emblematic but can claim a direct lineage: the titular LP III is none other than Louie Perez III, who of course is the son of Louis Perez Jr. of Los Lobos, another band that originally came from that same L.A. scene.

Perez (Guitar, Vocals), is joined by Ruby Rosas (Bass, Vocals), Eric Fuller (Drums, Percussion), Carlos Guzman (Guitars), and Mike Berault (Keys, Accordion); you might recognize one of those other names as the daughter of Los Lobos’ Cesar Rosas. Together, the musicians do indeed channel the aforementioned icons while staking a claim to a sound that is wholly theirs. Several of the best tracks—the revved-up, slide guit-fueled punkabilly of “City of Drums” (which practically screams to have the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce to jump in with a “I was all dressed up like an Elvis from hell!” line); Latin-tinged, spaghetti western rocker “Southland Hum,” Phil Spectorish twang anthem “When I Told You”; the strummy, harmonies-rich folk-rock of “Uneasy Street”—make their stylistic allegiances clear, yet they  also are so earworm-rich that you’ll quickly be adding them to your own Americana-tilting playlists. No copycatism, in other words, on this superb debut, one which holds as much promise for the future as any record this year.

Upstart Orange County label Maplewood, founded in 2014 by Ian Capilouto, has gone the extra mile with Southland Hum, too, pressing it up on limited-edition purple/blue colored vinyl. It’s a gorgeous piece of wax, indicative of the sonic beauty its grooves contain. Color me impressed—and a fan.

DOWNLOAD: “When I Hold You,” “Southland Hum,” “City of Dreams”

The Claypool Lennon Delirium + Deen Ween Group 4/18/16, Portchester, NY

Dates: April 18, 2016

Location: Capitol Theatre, Portchester NY

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The Upshot: With Dr. Ween on hand as well, Dr. Claypool brought an uncommon new level of cool to John Lennon’s kid.


The crowd at the Capitol Theatre was in for a treat, and the night got started with the Dean Ween Group (below), which was billed as a special opening act for the last two nights of the tour. Ween went through a great set list, playing the Grateful Dead’s “Stella Blue” as well as some killer Ween tracks which really set the tone for the evening. The Dean Ween Group is a force to be reckoned with—a unique part in their show was when Les Claypool came out and played “The Mollusk” with them. A rock and roll connection that echoed through the walls of the Capitol.

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The Claypool Lennon Delirium next opened their part of the show with “There is no Underwear in Space.” Never having seen Sean Lennon before this night, I have a whole new respect. Together the collaboration between the artists added a whole new dimension, as both are very talented and have their own styles. Playing a good part of the new album The Monolith of Phobos, the band had a grip on the audience, with a sometimes psychedelic/sometimes jam-like sound. Lennon demonstrated great guitar interplay with Claypool’s bass, and you would think these rockers have played together much longer than they have.

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Towards the end of the show the band played an incredible cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” as well as a very impressive version of the Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Closing the night, Dean Ween was invited on stage to join in on an eighteen-minute-long Primus classic, “Southbound Pachyderm.” This band made people feel good, Claypool and Lennon joining a long list of performers who have appeared on the stage of the legendary Capitol Theatre.

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Album: Blanco

Artist: David Bazan

Label: Barsuk

Release Date: May 13, 2016

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The Upshot: With a new electronicized approach, Bazan has never sounded more honest or real or, paradoxically, artful, and as a bonus, you can dance to it.


David Bazan has used synthesizers before, most prominently on his 2005 as Headphones, but never as luxuriantly as here. The Headphones record sounds buzzily lo-fi and minimal – think Casiotone for the Painfully Alone or Vex Ruffin. Blanco, on the other hand, is lush with disco hedonism and new wave glossiness. There’s some chatter online about the influence of Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin, but I’d say the Cure, the Pet Shop Boys, even Depeche Mode are more relevant.

The contrast with Bazan’s regular guy rasp and earthy poetry could not be more striking. “Both Hands” kicks off the disc in a conflagration of electronic sounds, abstract bumps, moans and turmoil. This sensory haze gives way eventually to a sleek and variegated palette that evokes dance, new wave, even dubstep. A silky, stylish vibe presides, as synthesized sonics swirl over and around the melody. The music poses and preens, while Bazan, as always, opens his heart (“sometimes twice a week, we make ourselves vulnerable”). And yet the mix works somehow, making Bazan seem more real, the arrangements more unearthly, through juxtaposition.

That continues through much of the album’s first half. “Teardrops” surrounds sad sack self-deprecations with a dry snare beat, its sweet-but-distant Pet Shop Boys vibe constructed of flute-y synths and tinkling keyboards.  “With You” frames mumbled confessions with a high pinging synth line that reminds me of the Thompson Twins. And “Trouble with Boys” the first of a couple of songs apparently addressed to Bazan’s daughter, glitters with angelic, upper-register keyboards, as the quintessential dad voice assures someone that “you’re worthy of love.”  Electronics recede in the album’s latter tracks. “Little Landslide” is mostly strummy and acoustic, while “Kept Secrets” admits only the barest trace of synthesizer whoosh and hum amid its songwriter-y revelations.

The songs on Blanco first appeared on Bazan’s monthly 7” series, so it seems clear that using synthesizers was one way of differentiating them from their original versions. (He must like doing this, since his last album was a collaboration with the Passenger String Quartet.)   But he seems to be onto something interesting with this electronicized approach. He’s never sounded more honest or real or, paradoxically, artful, and as a bonus, you can dance to it.

DOWNLOAD: “Trouble with Boys” “Kept Secrets”



Album: Saturdays

Artist: March Divide

Label: Self-released

Release Date: May 13, 2016

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The Upshot: The kind of anthemic pop album that, in a just world, will be blasted from car stereos all summer long, windows down, fists pounding on steering wheels and young lovers sitting close beside one another.


It stars with one of those perfect pop—with power!—songs, all jangly descending riffage culled from the Guided by Voices Book of Oomph, a propulsive back beat (that you can’t lose, natch), yearning-yet-emphatic vocals that’d make a Superchunk fan stand up and salute, a heartbeat, drop-out midsection that steers you directly up to the pinnacle. No matter that “Exit Signs” is a cautionary, pessimistic tune about good times that are in danger of going bad (although the closing chorus tentatively reassures that “it’ll be all right”); by track’s end, Jared Putnam has hooked you, in all the ways rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to hook you. (Hold that thought, please….)

San Antonio-based Putnam, essentially a one-man band, now on full-length number three, has steadily been refining his musical vision, to the point that Saturdays is easily the most assured effort from the March Divide to date. There are songs so effortlessly accessible that you could imagine them being slotted into an I Heart Radio playlist without blinking—he’d teach the listening audience a thing or two about craft, methinks, as opposed to no-substance flash and image—and there are songs as visionary and forward-thinking as GbV’s Robert Pollard was back in the day, during his ahead-of-the-pop-curve days.

From the insistent push-pull pulse, sinewy strums and buoyant “whoah-ohh-oahhh” chorus of “Take Your Chances” and the Weezer-esque anthemism of “I Give Up,” to the Big Star-informed, strummy acoustic reverie that is “Over and Over” and the meaty minor chord rocker (and equally anthemic) “Go to Sleep,” Putnam demonstrates his mastery of the love song, in all its myriad variations. It’s a fun album, upbeat when it needs to be and soulful when you need it to be. The kind of album that, in a just world, will be blasted from car stereos all summer long, windows down, fists pounding on steering wheels and young lovers sitting close beside one another.

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Speaking of “hooked,” above: Saturdays is a vinyl fetishist’s delight, pressed as it is on random shades of colored wax. Mine is a lovely magenta/purplish, blue-splotched platter, bolstered by a corresponding blue label. It’s the little touches that count, at least to these eyes and ears. If this is a March Divide, then I’m joining up.

DOWNLOAD: “Exit Signs,” “Over and Over,” “Go to Sleep”


DORI FREEMAN – Dori Freeman

Album: Dori Freeman

Artist: Dori Freeman

Label: Free Dirt

Release Date: February 05, 2016


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The Upshot: About-faced, fresh vocal talent from a sweet, 24-year old Virginian, injecting her brand of country/olde-tyme music with more old soul than the category’s had for eons, with a suitable assist from Teddy Thompson.


 The first thing that hits you upon hearing Dori Freeman sing is the distinctive old-school quality of her voice. Breathtakingly beautiful and thoroughly innocent-sounding, you’d swear it belonged to a ghost from the past – certainly nothing circa 2016. As many singer-songwriters as there are out there vying for a toe-hold, this is a rare sound, indeed. Think the distinctive purity of Iris DeMent; that faraway, forever sadness of Emmylou Harris; the tortured, tormented heartache of Shelby Lynne; the incurable melancholy that is Gillian Welch. Hers is the near-desolate sound of a terminal loner – capable of laying pain and suffering right out on the table, with or without accompaniment (as she does on the finger-snapping, a capella “Ain’t Nobody”). Devoid of hope, with no expectations of compassion, her haunting, oft-forlorn-sounding vocals break the skin, piercing more deeply than is comfortable – yet, remains as irresistible as flame to a moth. Each stinging wound is generously cauterized by equal measures of an old-school sweetness and tenderness that’s sorely missed in today’s world. Heartache incarnate, she’s a siren for the disenfranchised and shares that rare trait of real country singers who go beyond simply having the voice – to definitely owning it. Beginning with the crystalline “You Say”, featuring little more than voice, acoustic guitar and Jeff Hill’s acoustic bass, you’re immediately struck by Freeman’s bell-clear tone that, although it projects equal parts longing and unsatiated desire, communicates absolute strength. Having appealed (via Facebook) to one of her favorite singers to produce her debut, it’s the complementary combination of Freeman’s vocals in tandem with Teddy Thompson’s on “Where I Stood” that lift this disc to its loftiest heights (there are three such duets on this release). With the only accompaniment being acoustic guitar, their two voices dovetail in blissful proportions – broken relationships have never sounded so good. Yet Thompson proves a wise choice in the producer’s chair, careful to keep the spotlight on Freeman’s gifts rather than water them down. He also experiments with varying levels of sophisticated production technique across these ten tracks, demonstrating his new find’s abilities in both stripped down and lushly accompanied affairs. Case in point, “Go On Lovin’” harkens back to a time when country was slick but not overly polished, with a grand production befitting Tammy Wynette. Erik Deutsch adds true country piano to Jon Graboff’s steel guitar as Alex Hargreaves adds fiddle, atop Hill’s bass and Rob Walborne’s drums. Freeman’s voice rises to the occasion, lending its emotion-charged, near-desolate sense while revealing her non-too-subtle grasp of profound depth and range. Yesteryear’s country radio gets an upbeat treatment with the brilliant “Tell me”, which seems Thompson’s best attempt at targeting his protégé to the commercial gods, or what’s left of them. Soothing strings and perky arpeggios adorn his heroine, whose own perky warble and built-in twang help make this one of the album’s strongest tracks. A more traditional pop detour is realized with “Fine Fine Fine” with its strong hooks (recalling 70s-era Nick Lowe), Graboff’s crisp, ringing guitar and the addition of Thompson on acoustic guitar and background vocals. Gentle, muted percussion greets the delicious “Any Wonder” as Freeman and full-band tackle a more acoustic approach featuring a rich, country blues assault on broken hearts, featuring Walborne’s sturdy backbeat with Thompson adding guitar and vocals. The most singular “Dori Freeman track” on this release is, without doubt, the bravely delivered, finger-snapping, “Ain’t Nobody”. Her desolate-sounding vocal, alone, registers a mountaintop of hell and hardship that touches on oppression of all kinds, from impossibly cruel situations to abuse by evil power brokers of all stripes, sounding fully burdened with the weight of the entire world on her capable, sturdy shoulders. A strongly ‘50’s-flavored “Lullabye” conjures capri pants, cardigan sweaters and the back seats of convertibles while tremelo’d guitar and lush piano accompany Freeman’s focused vocal, flexing the strength of her upper register, adding just the right amount of country. Deutsch’s piano and Graboff’s guitar gently spar during a too-short instrumental that simply begs more. “A Song for Paul” owns the distinction of serving up Freeman and Thompson’s two voices in an enchanting serenade, underlining the phenomenal power of two voices destined to be singing together, as the gentle touch of acoustic guitar (Freeman) and piano (Thompson) provide subtle contrast. The ultimate put-down is found with Freeman’s tale of broken love, “Still A Child”, featuring outstanding piano from Deutsch, rich bass from Hill and Alex Hargreaves’ old-time fiddle as Freeman opens her diary on yet another example of man’s inability to act their age in affairs of the heart. I’m not sure where she buried him, but I’m sure he’s deep.

Dori Freeman, for all her 24 years, has managed to stop time with this strong release. Although she sounds of another place and time, her relevance and currency is underlined by her ability to connect emotionally in today’s world. She’s a rare beauty, no matter the angle and a fiercely proud representative of her steadfast Galax, Virginia roots. Her potent, honest brew is instantly classic fare that can’t be ignored or forgotten.

DOWNLOAD: Prairie Song,” “Fine Fine Fine,” “You Say


Album: Earth

Artist: Neil Young

Label: Reprise

Release Date: June 24, 2016

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The Upshot: Ragged and raging live album featuring Promise of the Real, it finds the chameleonic Young at least as concerned with the message as he is the music.


Neil Young has done his share of proselytizing over the course of his career, but never more so then he has recently. Last year’s Monsanto Years found him railing against corporate concerns and their poisoning of the year’s natural resources. Prior to that, his major concerns were focused on the nation’s political quagmire, a topic brought front and center on Living With War and, earlier, his signature song “Ohio” recorded with CSNY. The ravages of drug abuse became the subject of “The Needle and the Damage Done” and other tracks from that darker period in Young’s musical trajectory. Once both a wistful folkie and committed rocker, he’s now a prime example of an artist turned musical chameleon, one who inspires baited anticipation from fans with each new release.

In the case of Earth, Young’s actually on a rare continuum, taking the ecological strains of The Monsanto Years and expanding the theme through live performances of older songs that fit that topic well. Consequently, several signature classic reappear here — a lovely “After the Goldrush” with added ethereal harmonies from Lukas and Micha Nelson, the CSNY outtake “Human Highway,” and “Vampire Blues,” given a particularly scalding treatment that adds context as well as content. Recorded live with his latest backing band of choice, Promise of the Real (who must make Crazy Horse feel as if they’ve been forcibly retired from their former day job), Earth has that ragged, raging feel that marked Time Fades Away, easily the bleakest entry in Young’s extended solo canon.

There is a difference here, however. Despite the live settings, nature sounds — the sound of rain, cows, wind, insects, squawking birds — have been inserted between songs as if to emphasize that need to protect and respect our planet. Yet, even while Young’s rants against the unfair advantages of big business on songs such as “Big Box,” or laments public indifference for these concerns via “People Want to Hear About Love,” the songs are so compelling they actually work as entertainment as well. Indeed, both “Wolf Moon” and “Love and Only Love” are classic examples of essential Young, the former a typically melancholy ballad, the latter, an extended guitar drenched workout similar in scope to “Cowgirl in the Sand” or “Down by the River.”

Young might not appreciate the irony in that last comment. Clearly, he’s at least as concerned with message as much or more so than mere melody. Yet, these songs are striking in a musical sense. Young, never the most dynamic vocalist, is remarkably expressive here, particularly on the latter song which finds him wailing with a harsh intensity he’s rarely exhibited before. Earth may be grounded in anguish, but it’s still an expressive effort indeed.

DOWNLOAD: “Love and Only Love,” “People Want To Hear Songs About Love,” “Human Highway”


Album: Colvin & Earle

Artist: Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle

Label: Fantasy

Release Date: June 10, 2016


The Upshot: Nary a false moment or a bad song.


One of the beautiful things about the implosion of major record label (aside from the obvious schadenfreude of watching folks who exploited their artists for decades while lining their own pockets suddenly be out of work via consolidations, much like they tossed out their musicians), is that a record like Colvin & Earle likely never would have surfaced when both were signed to major labels.

The self-titled album is a mix of Folk, Blues, Country and Americana without any hint of an obvious radio single or trying to appeal to the widest audience possible. It’s simply two talented artists playing music that they obviously dig and the result is just as fun to listen to. Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin sound remarkable together, sharing vocals and guitars on all 10 tracks.

The two go back 30 years, when Colvin opened a show for Earle, but it wasn’t until 2014 when they finally teamed up for a proper tour together. Along with breathing new life into The Stones “Ruby Tuesday,” Emmy Lou Harris’ “Raise the Dead” (as well as two other covers), Colvin and Earle offer a full range of emotions on this record from the beautiful Blues/Gospel-tinged “Tell Moses,” to the irresistibly cheery “Happy and Free” and the more maudlin “You’re Still Gone.” There is not a false moment or bad song on the album.

Yet one more positive thing to come from the collapse of the old school record label.

DOWNLOAD: “Tell Moses,” “Ruby Tuesday” and “Happy and Free”


Album: Follow Me Home

Artist: Mystery Lights

Label: Wick/Daptone

Release Date: June 24, 2016


The Upshot: Sounds like 1966, but like it’s happening all over again, organically and without premeditation, and it rocks.


Fuzz guitar, vintage Farfisa, hair-clutching bad-trip psychedelia and aggressive, bell-bottom-flared sexuality – it’s 1966 all over again with the Mystery Lights, NYC’s Nuggets-Box-set-come-to-life band. And yet while all the sounds are recognizable, none have gone stale. This is by the best retro garage album I’ve heard in years, reinvigorating the art of the Seeds, the Sonics, the 13th Floor Elevators and the Electric Prunes with lust and swagger and bravado.

Mystery Lights started in California around a core of guitarists Mike Brandon and LA Solano, who went to high school together. The two moved, separately, to New York City, met up again there, recruited Alex Amini on bass and Nick Pillot on drums (but not for long; their FB page says they’re looking for a new drummer) and started banging out shows. They are the first band to record on Daptone imprint Wick Records, which makes perfect sense. What artists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley do for classic soul (i.e. make it sound like they just thought of it), Mystery Lights are doing for garage rock. First single “Follow Me Home” is brash, guitar-slashed, organ-burnished and Seeds-ish, with a scrappy call and response in which whatever Brandon says elicits an all-hands “Follow me home” (or sometimes “ah-ah-ah”). “Flowers in My Hair, Demons in My Heart” comes more from the Roky Erikson side of demented psychedelia, and “Too Many Girls” just sounds like the 1960s, a freak beat humble brag about all the women-kind who won’t leave Brandon be.

The production reinforces a fresh but retro vibe, with Daptone’s classic analogue aesthetic a perfect foil for stripped down, raggedly romantic anthems. Follow Me Home sounds like 1966, but like it’s happening all over again, organically and without premeditation, and it rocks.

DOWNLOAD: The whole fucking thing. [Amen. —Garage Rock Ed.]