Monthly Archives: September 2016

THE RUMJACKS – Sleepin’ Rough

Album: Sleepin' Rough

Artist: Rumjacks

Label: ABC

Release Date: August 05, 2016

www.TheRumjacks.com

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The Upshot: Powerhouse Celtic punk from Australia’s Outback, and we’re not talking the steakhouse, either.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Call ‘em the Outback Pogues, because Australia has yet to put forth a finer Celtic punk band then The Rumjacks. And before you get all hung up on the Australian thing, consider the fact that in the late 1800s, a third of Australia’s population was Irish, so just because this isn’t a bunch of redheads from Boston sportin’ green clover tattoos doesn’t make them any less authentic.

On their fifth album, Sleepin’ Rough, despite slipping into some of the Celtic punk clichés from time to time (two songs with “O’” in the title?), The Rumjacks play a raucous brand of the genre combining plenty of the vim and vigor of punk rock (“Dead to Me”) with traditional Celtic instruments and a slew of great drinking songs (take your pick).

The band definitely excels at the up tempo songs, but shows some depth here as well on slower tracks, like “’Eight Beers’ McGee” and “Murder Shanty” with the delicate tin whistle intro. Lyrically the band has taken some big steps since their earlier efforts and the proof is in a song like “Les Darcy,” tackling the idea of religion in an authentic matter. There are little surprises on Sleepin’ Rough, but that’s not a bad thing. More than any of their other records, this one catches a band that is confident in its sound.

DOWNLOAD: “Patron Saint O’Thieves,” “A Fistful of O’Roses” and “Les Darcy”

 

CIVIL UNION – Seasick, Lovedrunk LP

Album: Seasick, Lovedrunk

Artist: Civil Union

Label: Melted Ice Cream

Release Date: May 20, 2016

www.meltecicecream.co.nz (via 12XU in the U.S.)

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The upshot: A powerful statement that hearkens back to the NZ and Aussie noisemongers, recording for maverick labels like Xpressway and Red Eye/Black Eye, of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

BY FRED MILLS

“These guys are completely dry inside and you can feel that hopeless feeling in their music—great dark riffs that show us a different way of making music. Goth Post Punk, or as they call themselves, Antipodean Gothic Perfection.”

Indeed. On this vinyl release, Civil Union, a New Zealand three-piece would seem to revel in dark misery, as if songtitles like “Death Clings to Your Clothes,” “Loves Makes Slaves of Us All,” and “Come and Pray and Flourish” don’t telegraph precisely that. The latter song alone, which boasts a low, clanging, bass-strings powered riff and evil-twang fretboard flourishes and sounds uncannily like midperiod—speaking of Antipodean—Scientists, is uncommonly bleak, although from the chaos a remarkable sense of catharsis unfolds, too. Meanwhile, “My Father Below” mines dissonance for sonic gold, the part-moaned/part-chanted vocal upping the nails-on-blackboard sense of unease. And “Death Clings to Your Closed” comes across along country-blues noir lines, the band swaying mournfully as in a cabaret waltz that’s destined to end in tragedy.

All in all, a powerful statement that hearkens back to the NZ and Aussie noisemongers, recording for maverick labels like Xpressway and Red Eye/Black Eye, of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The statement at the start of this, incidentally, doesn’t come from a formal review of or feature about Civil Union, but rather from a satisfied fan commenting on the website of the trio’s website. And it pretty nicely summarizes the dark, enveloping sound of Seasick, Lovedrunk. While Anthony Sheehan-Drent, Alessandra Banal and Perry Mahoney aren’t exactly reinventing the post-punk wheel here, they still manage to roll it a good ways down the hill, and woe be upon anyone who thinks he can stand his ground as it tumbles their way.

DOWNLOAD: “Death Clings to Your Clothes,” “Come and Pray and Flourish,” “Follow the Red Herring

JOHN CAGE AND SUN RA – John Cage Meets Sun Ra: Complete Performance

Album: John Cage Meets Sun Ra: Complete Performance

Artist: John Cage and Sun Ra

Label: Modern Harmonic

Release Date: June 24, 2016

www.modernharmonic.com

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The Upshot: An important document of the musical collaboration of two of the 20th century’s most “outsider” composer-performers.

BY BILL KOPP

A musical summit between avant-garde legends John Cage ad Sun Ra is the kind of thing that – had it not actually taken place – history might have had to invent. While the idioms within which each of these giants worked were quite different from one another, both men shared a commitment to pushing the boundaries of what was thought of as conventional art and/or music.

On June 8, 1986, Cage and Sun Ra shared billing at an event at the Sideshows storefront theatre in Coney Island, New York. An edited tape of that performance was released the following year; this new release features the complete and unedited warts-and-all program.

Those who know little about John Cage tend to know at least one thing: he composed a work called 4’33” in which he sat at a piano and essentially did nothing for four and a half minutes. That concept of silence as a sonic choice – as part of the mix, so to speak – informs a good deal of Cage’s pieces at the 1986 performance. He engages in wordless vocalizations (titled “Empty Words”) in which he creates all manner of odd sounds with his voice. Long periods of silence between the sounds are quite common.

Music fans who have heard just a little about Sun Ra might know that he claimed to be from the outer reaches of Earth’s solar system. His musical pieces on this program – “Untitled Keyboard Solo 1” and so forth – reinforce that idea; with a very improvised feel about them, the works are combinations of outré melody, synthesizer experimentation and (what will sound to many listeners like) just plain noise. But just when things get their noisiest, Sun Ra deftly pulls the music back toward something more accessible. The instruments at his disposal would seem to include piano, harpsichord, Clavinet and synthesizer.

The monaural recording was made using a minimal setup of stage mics; this means that tracks like the previously-unreleased “We Hold This Myth to Be Potential” feature Sun Ra’s keyboards well out front, but his vocal recitation is nearly inaudible. Thankfully, the CD digipak includes a transcription of the piece and three others. “The Damned Air” is a spoken word (no music) piece from Ra, and though it’s hissy, his recitation can be heard. “This is the Space Age” is a kind of distillation of the man’s purpose.

Ra’s “Untitled Keyboard Solo 3” is a challenging work that suggests Glenn Branca, Edgard Varèse or any number of out-there composers. It might make a fine soundtrack for greeting Halloween night trick-or-treaters, too. June Tyson adds some free-jazz vocals to “Enlightenment,” a giddy yet decidedly weird ditty. The apocalyptic “Untitled Keyboard Solo 4” is perhaps the most engaging musical work on the set, though it incorporates a good deal of static and distortion.

Cage and Sun Ra finally get together on the 18th track of the performance, but they do so within the confines of a work titled “Silent Duel.” No bonus points if you figure out what it sounds like. “Empty Words and Keyboard” is exactly what its title suggests, featuring minimalistic contributions from both men, seemingly with each leaving space for the other. It’s followed by another “Silent Duel” that’s – surprise – quite similar to the first.

Sun Ra closes the set with the fifth in the evening’s series of untitled keyboard solos. Leaning toward what many might consider sound-effects or musique concréte, it’s in turns terrifying and playful.

Certainly not for the faint-hearted nor the musically parochial, John Cage Meets Sun Ra is nonetheless an important document of the musical collaboration of two of the 20th’s century’s most “outsider” composer-performers.

Consumer Note: Clear vinyl 2LP edition alert, below. Sweet! You seriously don’t want to waste money on a CD, now, do you? Go to the label’s product page to score. -Wax Ed.

DOWNLOAD: “Untitled Keyboard Solo 3,” “Empty Words.” “Empty Words and Keyboard”

Bill Kopp is the editor of Blurt’s Jazz Desk. He knows of what he speaks/writes/blurts, so pester him accordingly at his Musoscribe blog.

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VELVET CRUSH – Pre-Teenage Symphony

Album: Pre-Teenage Symphony

Artist: Velvet Crush

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: July 22, 2016

www.omnivorerecordings.com

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The Upshot: One of the last great American power pop bands gets its acknowledged classic ’94 album pre-examined, and adds a terrific live show featuring Tommy Keene in the lineup.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Unhappily M.I.A. for the last 12 years or so, Velvet Crush is one of the last great power pop bands. If the Rhode Island/Illinois/L.A. duo/trio/quartet (depending on what era you catch them in) isn’t breaking its long silence with new music, at least it’s doing it with something worthwhile. Pre-Teenage Symphony documents the work around its classic 1994 LP Teenage Symphonies to God, containing eight pre-album demos and eight live tracks from the subsequent tour. (Everything here was previously issued on the self-released collections Melody  Freaks and Rock Concert, but those were in such limited release and are so long out of print they might as well have not existed.)

As expected, the versions of TStG tracks included here sound a bit more raw and less refined than their major label counterparts, though not so raw as be anywhere near lo-fi. But the band’s patented blend of the Who, the Byrds and the Raspberries boils down to extra potency here, fueled by the joy of recording excellent new songs for the first time. Joined by guest guitarists Mitch Easter, Phil Hurley and Dave Gibbs (the latter two from the Gigolo Aunts), the Crush rocks, rolls and harmonizes its way gleefully through such rich nuggets as “Hold Me Up,” “Time Wraps Around You” and “This Life is Killing Me.” In addition the band takes a bash at compadres Three Hour Tour’s “Turn Down”  – just right for them – and an otherwise unrecorded gem, the rocking “Not Standing Down.”

The second half of the disk contains eight rocking tracks from the TStG tour, recorded at the Metro in Chicago while opening for the Jesus & Mary Chain. Augmented by Tommy Keene on lead guitar, the band rips through tracks from both TStG and its debut album In the Presence of Greatness with all the extra muscle and energy you’d expect from a performance by a group hitting its peak. Harmonies are scarce, with vocals relying almost solely on bassist Paul Chastain’s gritty leads, but the combo of sweet melodies meeting in-concert might makes that a minor quibble. As Keene adds tasteful guitar explosions, the Crush sounds confident and vibrant on “Ash and Earth,” “Atmosphere” and an especially powerful “My Blank Pages.” Bringing the set crashing to a close with a fiery cover of 20/20’s “Remember the Lightning,” Velvet Crush reminds us how empty the void is left by its continued absence.

DOWNLOAD: “Not Standing Down,” “My Blank Pages (live),” “This Life is Killing Me”

 

OKKERVIL RIVER – Away

Album: Away

Artist: Okkervil River

Label: ATO

Release Date: September 09, 2016

www.atorecords.com

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The Upshot: Though there are moments of beauty, overall, like many transition records, it feels half-baked, with a tentative foot in the future and a hand clinging to the past.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Will Sheff has always expressed healthy cynicism about the businesses—art and music—he’s in. That has, in the past, worked well as ballast against the strong romantic streak present in Okkervil River’s songs. He may have been singing about tragically exploited porn starlets, delusional velvet-rope rockers or suicidal poets, but the clever, often poignant narratives came packaged with a knowing nod-and-a-wink: Isn’t human behavior absurd?

That nuanced take also created essential distance between Sheff’s archetypal subjects and what life in a rock band of middling popularity was really like. But on Away, that distance has been stripped, well, away. Suddenly, the charming raconteur on the next barstool is threatening to become that guy, the one whose conversation keeps circling back around to how his life has turned to total shit lately. “But I didn’t open up my mouth just to piss and moan,” Sheff sings on the opener, “Okkervil River, R.I.P.” Yes, well…

Of course, even when a few of Away‘s nine tracks fail to gel musically or meander down their own narrative cul de sacs, we’re still treated to some of the Okkervil River pleasures we’re accustomed to over the band’s decade-and-a-half run. But Away is a capital “T” Transition record, and though we’re ringside for most of the crises, it doesn’t often feel like it—it’s not quite clear where Sheff and Okkervil River are headed, and some of this LP’s songs suggest that that matters.

The messaging begins at the start in bold neon with the lead track epitaph, a beautifully arranged song built around simple acoustic guitar, piano, organ, and resonant double-bass (kudos to Noah Garabedian, a highlight throughout). Unlike the other long numbers on Away, though, it doesn’t overstay its welcome even as it stretches out to nearly seven minutes—largely because it hits its crescendo mark where others don’t or refuse to. Sheff remains the loquacious lyricist, painting a vivid if rambling portrait here of the losses—the passing of his grandfather, his band’s shaky status, and the music industry implosion—that have shaken his psychological moorings. When the drunken, pilled-up narrator is “escorted from the premises for being a mess,” it’s not Sheff playing the roguish anthropologist of human foibles, it’s Sheff coming apart.

Similarly, the twangy sway of “The Industry” catches Sheff surveying his band—which saw several members’ departures after 2013’s The Silver Gymnasium—from the current day, easy-peasy access end of the telescope, which is guaranteed wrist-slicing behavior (as any music journalist will attest). The song, one of the LP’s almost up-tempo numbers, leaves Sheff—and anyone over age 35—longing for those moments “When some record was enough to make you raise your fist?/When some singer’d make you sure that you exist?” Sheff’s taken on this topic before in various forms (commercial radio was once his favorite target), but the country shuffle here fondly elicits memories of the band’s precocious Down the River of Golden Dreams era.

It’s just not a question of tempo, though. “Mary On a Wave” saunters into your ear buds at the same relaxed pace as the other tracks, but in its relatively compact form (five minutes) allows its highlights—especially some nice background “sha-la-las” from Marissa Nadler—to stand out. The sparkling desperation of “Frontman in Heaven”—which is the closest Away Sheff comes to sounding like Black Sheep Boy or The Stage Names Sheff—may push it with an eight-minute run time, but it beats a lot of what surrounds it and especially what follows. The LP drifts away—figuratively into twilight and literally out of mind—with “Days Spent Floating (In the Halfbetween),” which tries to capture that sense of disembodiment that grief carries with it, but becomes just a sad sunset of synths, bongos and guitars straight off of a 70s’ America LP instead (sans missing the AM-friendly chorus).

“Judey On a Street,” the half-way point on the LP, speaks to both Away‘s transitional promise and faults. The tune borrows a pulsing tempo similar to The War On Drugs, tightening tension along the 7-minute-ride through swirling strings, regal horns and motorik-Lite beats to arrive…nowhere in particular. The cathartic payoff never shows up despite receiving multiple invitations. (If ever a song could’ve benefited from a crescendo, that was it.) Similarly, “She Would Look for Me” drifts unremarkably through its seven minutes, an effect of—as Sheff says in publicity for the record—cutting the song “pretty shapelessly.” Other cuts, too, though, feel cut from the shapeless cloth.

In that same publicity, Sheff wrote of Away that “I realized I was writing a death story for a part of my life that had, buried inside of it, a path I could follow that might let me go somewhere new.” But like many transition records, it feels half-baked, with a tentative foot in the future and a hand clinging to the past. The dynamism and dramatic musical shifts that characterize the best of Okkervil River are intentionally downplayed here, but the pretty orchestration from Nathan Thatcher doesn’t make up for its absence. Away has some fine moments, but is an LP completists will get the most mileage out of, perhaps as that curio figure in an artist’s evolution to somewhere else.

Consumer Note: Pictured at the top is a product shot of the colored vinyl edition of the album displayed at the ATO shop. Below, the copy – note color variant – currently spinning on the Blurt office turntable.

DOWNLOAD: “Mary On a Wave,” “Okkervil River, R.I.P.”

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THE COAL PORTERS – No. 6

Album: No. 6

Artist: Coal Porters

Label: Prima

Release Date: September 16, 2016

www.sidgriffin.com

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The Upshot: Hey-ho, let’s go – hear some bluegrass, that is, from Sid Griffin (Long Ryders) and his British compatriots, serving up everything from traditionally-styled twang to a left-field power pop cover to a pointedly non-traditional tribute.

 BY FRED MILLS

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “bluegrass”? If you answered “the Ramones” you’re lyin’ through yer teeth, bub. In the case of England’s Coal Porters, however, the ‘grass/‘mones intersection is as sharp a fit as those tailored suits they sport when performing onstage.

For album No. 6, the group—Sid Griffin (mandolin), Paul Fitzgerald (banjo), Neil Robert Herd (guitar), Andrew Stafford (bass), Kerenza Peacock (fiddle); all of them sing, of course, and each player picks up at least one other instrument over the course of the record—opts to lead off with “The Day the Last Ramone Died,” which as you might surmise is a musical memorial to Joey, Johnny, DeeDee, and Tommy. In the song, Griffin reflects upon the first time he saw the Ramones perform, in the late ‘70s in L.A., which of course is where he would also eventually form proto-Americana rockers the Long Ryders:

“Tickets in hand, we went to see this band

Not knowing our lives would soon change…

Gabba gabba hey, 1-2-3-4 they did say

DeeDee, Johnny, and Joey

Are taking our blues away

Now we’ve lost Tommy

So listen to a song where we all cried

I put on my old leather jacket

The day the last Ramone died.”

 Didn’t we all, Sid, didn’t we all. At any rate, the number’s as tuneful as it’s heartfelt, smartly arranged for the five primary bluegrass instruments, with the mandolin and fiddle in particular riffing in tandem on the verses as if transcribing an actual Ramones arrangement. And make no mistake: This isn’t one of those schlocky/gimmicky Pickin’ On… bluegrass tributes, although it certainly might cause the old-timers to raise an eyebrow or two when the song rolls around to the chorus and Griffin invokes the name “Ramones” instead of Watson or Monroe. It’s still proof, though, that genuinely good, expressive music is imbued with a commonality that will always transcend genre, purists be damned.

Highlights abound elsewhere on the record, which was produced by  John Wood, of Fairport Convention/Nick Drake/Beth Orton renown. There’s Herd’s upbeat “The Old Style Prison Break,” which conjures images of a vintage western’s montage, what with the good guys and black-hatted ones flickering through the lyrics like sepia-toned clips from a pre-talkie film. The sunny “Save Me From the Storm,” also by Herd, has a swing ‘n’ sway to it that’s downright righteous, the bandmembers all crowding around the mic to chant the titular phrase on the choruses. And Griffin’s “Salad Days,” another remembrance (this one about the initial career arc of the Long Ryders, with mentions of John Peel, Roger McGuinn, and record deals), is simultaneously rocking and reverent, a bit of down ‘n’ dirty and high ‘n’ lonesome all at once. There’s also a fiery instrumental titled “Chopping the Garlic” and penned by Peacock, who steers the gentlemen through the changes and their solos like a seasoned bandleader thrice her age.

Now, while the Porters are deeply in love with bluegrass and can lay claim to being the best and most authentic bluegrass band in the UK, they clearly don’t mind throwing out a curveball or two—as if the Ramones homage isn’t tipoff enough, and longtime fans know of the group’s penchant for left-field grassified covers, such as Edwin Starr’s “War,” Bowie’s “Heroes,” the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks” and the Stones’ “Paint It Black”—and they accordingly save their big surprise for last. As track number 10 cues up and the intro unspools, the dim flicker of recognition starts to kick in: Peacock spirals upward, bowing a sweet melody that seems uncannily familiar, then Herd eases into the lyric: “I always flirt with death/ I look ill but I don’t care about it…”

Yes, it’s that kind of holy shit moment when you realize they are doing the Only Ones’ eternal classic “Another Girl, Another Planet,” famously covered by the Replacements and not-so-famously covered over the years by scores of punk and pop bands. Here, the high-energy power pop gem gets slowed down to a kind of jaunty midtempo as it celebrates the giddy joys of youthful infatuation, and you simply cannot resist the urge to sing along with the band. (Loudly, at that—just ask the folks who were in the car beside me at the stoplight earlier today.) [Below: watch the band do the song live at a 2014 show in Wales.]

Bottom line: You won’t be able to resist this delightful album’s charms, either. Don’t even try. Gabba gabba hey.

DOWNLOAD: “Salad Days,” “Save Me From the Storm,” “Another Girl, Another Planet,” “The Day the Last Ramone Died”

BEVIS FROND – It Just Is

Album: It Just Is

Artist: Bevis Frond

Label: Fire

Release Date: September 30, 2016

http://www.firerecords.com/wp/the-bevis-frond/

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BY JONATHAN LEVITT

Fire Records, the UK label that took over from Cherry Red in the reissuing of Bevis Frond Records, now tackles It Just Is, originally released in 1993, which was the year I graduated from college. It was the soundtrack to my directionless existence. It’s not an easy record for me to listen to mostly because it reminds me of how truly untethered I felt after being released into the world without a plan for my own life. I remember picking the CD up at a record store on State Street in Madison Wisconsin, and poring over what little information came with the album. On this album I found Bevis Frond exploring a decidedly more introspective and cynical side of life. Take for instance opener “Can’t Stop Lying” it begins with a blistering guitar solo and then this interesting lyric, “I’ve got a string of young admirers who love every note I play. Got a problem with my woman don’t believe a word I say” This line set the tone of the record for me and I was hooked. “Time Share Heart” is a song realizing the person you care about is actually not that into you. Nick sings “Six senses reeling in anticipation of what’s in store, hopes built on quicksand gradually sinking through the floor”. If it sounds depressing, well it is. The bright spot is a double tracked guitar solo that serves as a counterbalance to the lyrical ballast. It gets bleaker still on the next track “Idiot Dance”, which is one of Nick’s finest songs of that era. Opening with an evolving guitar line, the track gradually builds with the addition of drums and then Nick sings later on in the song, “Everyone knows nobody needs a thesis, everything dies everything falls to pieces”.  Dipped in melancholy and leaving little room to catch one’s breath, Nick thankfully chose to follow up “Idiot Dance” with the scathing “Desperate”.

“Desperate” is a gritty, growling, guitar number that provides a nice segue into another hue of emotion that is infused throughout this record which is a cry for a validation of existence. This is a track I’ve always wanted to hear performed live. Later the depressive nature of the record continues with tracks “Day One” and “Terrible Day”. On “Dreamboat Sinking” Nick sings, “Oh she was a blushing bride, drove me to uxoricide” (that’s the murdering of one’s wife), it’s actually quite a rousing rocker that is the perfect balance of muscular riffs, skin smashing and lyrics that let the air out of life from one cutting line to the next.

If there’s a corner that is turned on this record it happens on track 13 “Hit the Lights” where the vibe is probably the most positive on the entire record. Here Nick plays his own worst critic, “Little Nicky Saloman began to learn guitar when he was 7, 33 years on he’s not much cop.”

“Everyday Sunshine” is a shred of bittersweet hope kept alive in the face of life’s constant assault. It’s my favorite song on the album and showcases some brilliant playing all of which is done by Nick himself. But hey if you think this record was going to take the easy way out you’re sadly mistaken because on the final track “And Then” Nick concludes this emotional journey with these uplifting lyrics. “…before we sink back in our chair, wring our hands in deep despair, kiss the wife to clear the air and smile for a while and then we die.” Definitely not for the emotionally weak, this record is best listened to minus any sharp objects nearby. It’s a bruising journey through, sadness and redemption that finds Nick taking emotional stock and pulling no punches along the way.

DOWNLOAD: “Everyday Sunshine”, “Idiot Dance”, “Desperate”, “Dreamboat Sinking”

Go HERE to read Levitt’s recent interview with Nick Saloman.

 

GHOST BOX ORCHESTRA – High Plaine

Album: High Plaine

Artist: Ghost Box Orchestra

Label: Evil Hoodoo

Release Date: May 06, 2016

www.evilhoodoo.bigcartel.com

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The Upshot: The lysergic Boston quintet kicks up a tornado’s worth of psychedelic dust here.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Proof that stylistic indulgence has little to do with location: High Plaine, the second LP from Ghost Box Orchestra, deftly mixes a widescreen spaghetti western feel with the kind of claustrophobic acid noise associated with the likes of Loop and Spacemen 3 – never mind that GBO hails from Boston. Geography aside, the lysergic quintet kicks up a tornado’s worth of psychedelic dust here.

Dark clouds of distortion hover over Jeremy Lassetter’s phantasm howl on “Socrates Burned” and “Flutter,” while a relentless groove drives him to speaking in digitally delayed tongues in “Days Are Forever.” Things get out of control in “Dead and Gone,” as the band descends into barely contained chaos and the wind whips in distress. Though it strays too close the sound of the Black Angels for comfort, “Within the Sound” stomps through the echo with rumbling fury. As it should, it all comes to a heady head in album closer “Causality Devotional,” eight-plus minutes of drifting, flying, fuzzing, haunting psych rock.

Ghost Box Orchestra digs its way deeply into the heart of a psilocibin sun, accurately capturing the feel of a strange trip whose destination is far less important than the journey itself.

DOWNLOAD: “Dead and Gone,” “Socrates Burned,” “Causality Devotional”

 

 

decker. – Snake River Blues

Album: Snake River Blues

Artist: decker.

Label: self-released

Release Date: September 23, 2016

www.deckermusic.org

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The Upshot: Equally at home rocking or brooding, the songwriter conveys a brutal appreciation for the human condition in all its contradictory beauty and tragedy.

BY FRED MILLS

Although this Sedona, Ariz., based songwriter/rocker has an intriguing enough backstory—runaways, drug addiction, robbery at gunpoint, and self-imposed exile in the desert all figure heavily—to give writers plenty of journalistic hooks, all would be for naught if there wasn’t music to go with the personality. Don’t worry about the overly stylized single-word name. (It’s decker. With lower case text and a period at the end. Which wreaks havoc on search engines, apparently.) He’s got plenty more words to share with you.

Six albums and seven years in, decker. is equally at home rocking or brooding, both of which figure on the five-song EP Snake River Blues. Opening track “The Holy Ghost” takes the former approach, with a straightforward uptempo arrangement melodically and rhythmically descended from “Train Kept A-Rollin’”; it’s a powerhouse number, the kind that a band can open a concert set with and instantly having people at the bar jerking their heads around and the rest of the audience pushing towards the stage. Meanwhile, on “The Black Widow,” he sets the dial on, indeed, “brood,” with a spooky, nocturnally-tinged Bad Seeds-esque rumination. And the cinematic title track, a pounding, crashing, echo-and-reverb drenched blues, turns out to be the perfect closing number, the kind destined to leave fans gaping and gasping, before they erupt in stunned cheers.

In the case of Snake River Blues, less is definitely more, because all five songs are borderline brilliant. No need for any additional songs;  you’ll want to cue this up successively, over and over. Singing in an edgy, at times haunted-sounding tenor that can become a spine-tingling yelp or wail in an instant, decker. conveys a brutal appreciation for the human condition in all its contradictory beauty and tragedy. It’s not hard to imagine him crouched on the edge of a dusty, ragged pueblo out in the middle of the desert at midnight, cursing the moon and the spirits while giving thanks for simply being alive.

DOWNLOAD: All of it.

SETH WALKER – Gotta Get Back

Album: Gotta Get Back

Artist: Seth Walker

Label: Royal Potato Family

Release Date: September 02, 2016

www.theroyalpotatofamily.com

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The Upshot: A trip back in time to channel classic jazz, blues, gospel, and soul.

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

Seth Walker may be from North Carolina, but he sounds like a New Orleans kid, born and bred. On his latest, Gotta Get Back, he’s just one horn section away from being a full-fledged member of the Marsalis family.

Gotta Get Back, Walker’s ninth, deftly marries together jazz, blues, Americana, gospel and a little bit of soul for good measure. For this one, Walker turned to his family – where he first got his start as a musician – for inspiration. His dad taught cello and Irish fiddle, while his mom was a violinist (both of his parents and sister play on the record).

 While most of his releases have been satisfying, Gotta Get Back is his most consistently great record to date. Despite slipping in and out of genres there is not a weak song to be found here, whether it’s the quiet contemplation of “Home Again,” the hymn to love in “Back Around” or the wildly infectious “Turn This Thing Around,” Walker comes off as timeless and is clearly in his element throughout.

Along with his family, Walker also admits to looking back to Ray Charles, Al Green and Louis Armstrong for inspiration with this outing. The trip back in time clearly paid off as Gotta Get Back is easily Walker’s finest hour.

 DOWNLOAD: “Back Around,” “Turn This Thing Around” and “Blow Wind Blow”