Monthly Archives: February 2017

OTIS TAYLOR – Fantasizing About Being Black

Album: Fantasizing About Being Black

Artist: Otis Taylor

Label: Trance Blues Festival

Release Date: February 17, 2017


The Upshot: An album making an impact on the soul that will be felt until the end of one’s days. 


One of the few contemporary blues artists who builds on tradition instead of refining it, Denver’s Otis Taylor has almost quietly amassed a monstrously powerful body of work over the course of two decades. His distinctive style of trance blues, as effective banged out on a flat-top as filtered through an amplifier, has redefined the country blues on which it’s based, and given Taylor a versatile platform on which to voice his concerns.

Fantasizing About Being Black, his fifteenth LP, marks something of a return to an earlier style after several concept and experimental albums – it’s most reminiscent of records like The Truth is Not Fiction and White African. Which means that, whether he’s bashing the pain against the head of a banjo (“Banjo Bam Bam”), the soundhole of an acoustic guitar (“Tripping On This”) or the strings of his no-doubt battered electric axe (“Jump Out of Line,” “Hand On Your Stomach,” “Walk On Water”), Taylor finds a simple rhythm, a classic riff and a menacing progression and drives the lot past repetition into mantra. Though he leavens the tunes with fiddle and trumpet here and there, the focus is almost purely on his voice and guitar, which is all Taylor has ever needed.

Like all of his best work, Fantasizing About Being Black makes an impact on the soul that will be felt until the end of one’s days.

DOWNLOAD: “Hand On Your Stomach,” “Walk On Water,” “Banjo Bam Bam”

TY SEGALL — Ty Segall

Album: Ty Segall

Artist: Ty Segall

Label: Drag City

Release Date: January 27, 2017

Ty Segall

The Upshot: There’s more soft focus psych pop, exuding warmth, sweetness and melody.


Ty Segall’s ninth full-length digs deeper into the raging guitar psych of his last few recordings— Emotional Mugger certainly, the Fuzz albums, and before that Slaughterhouse—but also probes a folky psychedelia shared by sometime collaborator Tim Presley. This new album shares a name, but not much of a vibe, with his 2007 debut album, whose minimalist one-man garage stomp is a far cry from these overdriven squalls and jangly ditties.

Segall reconvenes most of the Muggers here — Emmett Kelly, Mikal Cronin, Charles Moothart and Ben Boye— and, yes, that’s a lot of guitar players. In fact, if you had to pick one representative sound for this no-holds-barred album, it would be that of at least two guitars going at it on electrified solos, sort of aware of each other, but not exactly constrained. In track one, “Break a Guitar,” Segall confesses that he was made “in the red,” before inviting mayhem as he slips off for a cold one, “Come on take it, take my guitar, I’ll be, I’ll be at the bar.”  Chaos ensues, naturally.

And yet while Segall definitely brings the rock in tracks like “Break a Guitar,” “Freedom,” and “Thank You Mr. K,” there’s more variety here than in recent albums. The long “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)” has its Beatles-esque LSD dreams, its spiraling solos, its riff-driven, metal-flirting midsection. Still 10 minutes is a long time, long enough to turn towards the mystical in the Krautishly expansive, in a jazzy cool interval lit by electric piano, which sounds, more than you’d expect, like the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”  And what can you make of the lackadaisically countrified “Talkin’,” the softest, twangiest Segall cut on record, which turns a gossiping girl’s chatter back on her in an extended I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I argument.

There’s more soft focus psych pop as the album continues, exuding warmth, sweetness and melody. “Orange Color Queen,” the single, jangles with acoustic gentleness and folky sincerity. Even when the drums kick in, it’s pillowy soft, sung in near-falsetto and eased across, not a squealing solo to be found. “Papers” swaggers more, but stays well out of the red zone. “Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)” both ingratiates and burns it all down, threading what was a quiet, comfortable melody over a building roar of guitar dissonance. Far from nailing down who he is or what he’s attempting in this second self-titled album, Ty Segall seems to be trying all different things. Good for him.

DOWNLOAD: “Break a Guitar,” “Orange Color Queen,” “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”

SON VOLT – Notes of Blue

Album: Notes of Blue

Artist: Son Volt

Label: Transmit Sound

Release Date: February 17, 2017

Son Volt

The Upshot: You can’t help but get the feeling, like many of their other efforts, that the band is recycling some of their music.


When Uncle Tupelo officially called it quits and splintered into two bands in the mid- ‘90s, it become apparent soon after who owned all of the country influences in the Jay Farrar/Jeff Tweedy split. While Tweedy went on a more standard indie rock path with Wilco, Farrar carried on down the alt-country road with his new endeavor Son Volt.

And eight records later, those influences are still front and center. But Farrar and co, also add in plenty of blues with their latest, Notes of Blue (from a more traditional blues take like “Cherokee St.” and “Sinking Down” to a modern garage/blues take on “Static”). The results are mixed. Lyrically, Farrer has always been ahead of many of his peers and that is still apparent on this latest album, with this collection of 10 thoughtful tunes. But you can’t help but get the feeling, like many of their other efforts, that the band is recycling some of their music.

The mix of blues, with their standard, folk and country is a nice addition, but may not be enough to win over folks who aren’t already Son Volt devotees.                                                

DOWNLOAD: “Static,” “Lost Souls” and “Threads and Steel”

Pegboy 2/17/17, Denver

Dates: February 17, 2017

Location: 3 Kings Tavern, Denver CO

Pegboy Facebook page image

As part of the Don’t Panic festival, the Chicago punk legends laid waste to Denver’s 3 Kings Tavern


Wait….Pegboy is still around?? I had no idea. I had posted one of their songs on my Facebook page last month when a pal asks me if I’m going to see them next month. I’m like “Where? In Denver??! Uh…hell yes I’m going!.” Sure enough I checked the schedule and they’re playing this thing called the Don’t Panic fest. For me just seeing Pegboy was good enough thought I did catch a few other bands (Black Dots were real good).

Pegboy crawled out of Chicago in the late ‘80s loaded with talent, including ex-Bhopal Stiffs guy Larry Damore on vocals and guitarist John Haggerty, ex of Chicago legends Naked Raygun. Haggerty has always been one of my favorite guitarists, the sound he’s able to get out of that instrument still slays. On drums is Haggerty’s brother Joe (formerly of Bloodsport) and on bass is Mike Thompson (for a long stretch it was N.R. bassist Pierre Kezdy but he has been suffering some health issues the past few years).

Oddly enough, in all of my years of gig going, I don’t think I had ever seen Pegboy before so that made me doubly jazzed. It was going to be a late night, they were gonna hit the stage at 11:45 PM, but hey, if the guys in the band can do it (all over 50 years old ‘cept for the bassist) then this 50-plus year old can do it.

Damore was great, smiling throughout the set, cracking jokes, throwing his arms up in the air and then letting the crowd know “It’s been 17 years since we were last in Denver, if you can believe that.” The kind of guy you wanna throw your arm around him after the gig and buy him a beer. The rest of the band kept their heads down and went to work, Haggerty grinding and slashing on his axe while the rhythm section were powerful yet precise and they all really made these great songs come to life.

As far as the song selection? Pretty damn great, we heard “Strong Reaction,” “My Youth” and the unbelievably great “Dangermare.” They didn’t let us down on the covers either handling Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” (which they’d recorded for their 2nd album Earwig) and Naked Raygun’s “Soldier’s Requim.”

Toward the end of the set we heard “Field of Darkness” and the instrumental “Locomotivelung”  to which the packed house was going ballastic. Damore stated that “We usually don’t played any encores but we will tonight” when the band launched into “Slipped Through My Fingers’ (off the band’s debut EP, Three Chord Monte) and then, at the end, Damore stated “Thanks everyone , that was great, we’re gonna be hanging around if anyone wants to chat and get a beer with us.”  And with that Pegboy were off into the night. Let’s hope it’s not another 17 years before they make it out this way again. The band is too damn good to keep these songs under wraps for so long.


THE FEELIES – In Between

Album: In Between

Artist: The Feelies

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: February 24, 2017


The Upshot: The band sounds relaxed, confident that it can deliver its songs without overloading on its trademark sound.


The Feelies have always been the kings of jangle rock. The New Jersey quintet’s Byrds-meets-Television guitar clatter defined the hordes of college rock guitar bands that followed them as sharply as that of their peers R.E.M. But In Between, the band’s sixth album, explores a different side of the Feelies.

Recorded in a home studio instead of a professional facility, the ten songs (and one reprise) have a sedate vibe, as if the musicians were recording in the basement while trying not to bother their families. Acoustic guitars reign, with electrics turned down to “just enough” volume and the rhythm section allowing itself to be relegated to the background. “Time Will Tell,” “Stay the Course” and the peppy “Turn Back Time” wipe the dust up rather than kick it, and even the fuzz-loaded “Been Replaced” keeps the volume at a low-key rumble. “Pass the Time” and “Make It Clear” are so quiet they’re almost lullabies. Only the rollicking “Gone, Gone, Gone” and a psychedelic jam reprise of the title track approach the band’s signature rush, and even then they simmer more than boil.

This isn’t to say the Feelies sound enervated here – far from it. Instead the band sounds relaxed, confident that it can deliver its songs without overloading on its trademark sound. In Between takes more spins to reveal its charms than is usual for the Feelies, but the effort pays off handsomely.

DOWNLOAD: “Turn Back Time,” “Pass the Time,” “Gone, Gone, Gone”

THE CHEAP CASSETTES – All Anxious, All The Time

Album: All Anxious, All The Time

Artist: Cheap Cassettes

Label: Rum Bar

Release Date: February 17, 2017


The Upshot: Cheap Cassettes offer welcome hints to everyone from ‘90s greats Material Issue to a ‘60s/’70s band like The Zombies or Flamin’ Groovies.


You can almost see the Cheap Trick and Replacements posters on the practice space walls listening to the latest LP from Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes. All Anxious, All The Time is brimming with infectious power pop, punctuated by jittery distorted guitar and Chaz Matthews’ caffeinated vocals; a sound that is sorely missing in pop music lately.

Two-thirds of the band is composed of members from Boston’s Dimestore Haloes, who despite relocating to Seattle managed to snag yet another displaced Bostonian, to round out their trio.

The fact that the record, the band’s first, is lo-fi, stripped of any unnecessary polish that tends to get coated on a lot of power pop albums, just adds to the appeal. The group’s influences are as impressive as they are deep, with hints to everyone from ‘90s greats Material Issue to a ‘60s/’70s band like The Zombies or Flamin’ Groovies on a song like “Disappear With You.” The band is also not afraid to add a little punk rock guitar a’ la The Buzzcocks, smeared across songs throughout. All this while still managing to sound completely original.

All Anxious, All The Time took four years to record in five separate cities, but still manages to sound cohesive; a wildly promising intro to the music world. The music was originally released in digital form some time ago, but now Boston’s Rum Bar label has made it widely available.

DOWNLOAD: “My Little Twin,” “Disappear With You” and “Seconds of Pleasure”


VARIOUS ARTISTS – Magnificent: 62 Classics From The Cramps’ Insane Collection

Album: Magnificent: 62 Classics From The Cramps’ Insane Collection

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Righteous/Cherry Red

Release Date: November 18, 2016


The Upshot: As the subtitle announces, “long gine in the world of incredibly strange music.”


Wow…’ve gotta hear this! No, I mean you really have to hear it. As the title says, 62 tracks spread out over two CDs taken from Lux and Ivy’s insane collection of music. Though Lux hasn’t been with us for a long time (RIP) I’m so glad this has spirit lives in in collctions like these.  If you’ve ever heard any of the recordings that Joe Meek did then you’ll be in the ballpark of this collection of tune. In other words, it’s got a little bit of everything and the everything has a lot of reverb (just how I like it).

Jimmy Haskell and his Orchestra “Blast Off” on the first cut while other cuts follow like  Bob and Jerry doing ‘the instrumental Ghost Satellite” and The Five Blobs offer up “The Blob.” Later on a few more faves include the swamped-up rockabilly of The Duals doing “Wait Up Baby” and Wanda Jackson offering up “Riot in Cell Block #9.” More folks on disc one include Bo Diddley The Champs, The Frantics, The Tides, The Tokens and too many others. Head over to disc two and you got heavily greased scorchers from Ronnie Dawson (who I caught live a few times), Robert Mitchum with the great “Ballad of Thunder Road,” Kay Martin with “The Heel” and you can’t have a collection like this without including a cut by Ken Nordine  (here he does “Fliberty Jib”). Duane Eddy, The Chiefs, Bob Lee, Johnny Burnette and his Trio, Buddy Miller, The Clovers, Andre Williams the Dion Juans and plenty more round out disc two.

I would have given anything to head over to Lux and Ivy’s place and check out their record collection. Too much great stuff on here. I know what I’m spinning at the next party at my pad.

DOWNLOAD:  “The Blob,” “Wait Up Baby,” “Riot in Cell Block #9,” “Ballad of Thunder Road,” “The Heel”

Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, Illinois, 1973-2005, by David Ensminger

Title: Out of the Basement

Author: David Ensminger

Publisher: Microcosm Publishing

Publication Date: February 07, 2017



I first became aware of current Houston resident David Ensminger’s writing when he did his classic punk zine Left of the Dial. I was sad when that one folded but since then Ensminger, who also teaches at a university, has published numerous books, most detailing all of the nooks and crevices of different punk rock scenes. This particular book, as the title states, goes into depth on Ensminger’s hometown of Rockford , IL. If you’re like me then the only thing you knew about Rockford was that it was the birthplace of Cheap Trick. I believe a few of the C.T. members still live there, but Ensminger goes back from the time of the immigrants who built the city in the early 1900s to the time it became a dilapidated rust belt city by the ‘70s and beyond.

After a small but strong music scene began to blossom when teenagers began buying guitars the author goes into the ‘60s garage band scene who called the place home to the classic Cheap Trick (‘70s) and then, by the early ‘80s, a hardcore punk scene began to spring up  of which the author was a big part of (doing zines, helping put on shows, etc. The scene seemed like that of many others with too many good bands that never got the proper notice. Built by a dedicated crew of folks who kept it alive to the downsides of scenes (drunkenness, infighting, apathy, etc.) but Ensminger has a certain flair for words so he can turn even a humdrum Tuesday night punk gig at a bowling alley into the most exciting night of the year.

The book is part of the Microcosm’s “Scene History” series and it’s terrific. Pocket-sized, under 100 pages and a wealth of information.  Even if you only have a passing interest in the punk scene you won’t want to miss this one as it not only give a history of the music scene but a history of the town of Rockford itself, built by the immigrants looking for a better life.

STRAY OWLS – A Series of Circles

Album: A Series of Circles

Artist: Stray Owls

Label: Potluck Foundation

Release Date: February 17, 2017


The Upshot: Dandy duo from North Carolina conjures sonic imagery both past and present via an eclectic, melodic, adventurous collection of memorable tunes.


Though still relatively young as a band, with two EPs released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, Mebane, NC (near Chapel Hill), duo Stray Owls seem old at heart, with an expansive, inclusive sound that dips back years, if not entire eras. That the Chapel Hill/Durham PotLuck Foundation label they are releasing their debut longplayer on bill itself as a label for “music nerds” doesn’t seem entirely coincidental. The fact that A Series of Circles was produced by veteran Tarheel studio maven Jerry Kee (Superchunk, Polvo) doesn’t seem to be random, either.

As the album unfolds, sonic ghosts of everyone from Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, and Elliott Smith seem to hover benevolently in the ether, as layered acoustic guitars and close-mic’d vocals conjure a profound intimacy, one which is also tinged with sufficient amounts of sonic looniness to prevent the listener being lulled into complacency. For example, the sing-songy folk that is “Franklin Borough” bears the tap-tap of a typewriter at one point; “Ok, Ok” incorporates some creamy mellotron lines and a momentary xylophone melody; and “Cut & Paste Time Machine” lives up to its title via a succession of tempo and tonal shifts that include, variously, fuzzed-out guitars, trilling, Andean-style flutes, choirlike harmony vocals, and a synth-strafed sonic collage.

One also imagines that contemporary avatars such as the Flaming Lips and the sheer bloody-mindedness that informs Neil Young have also informed the Stray Owls’ aesthetic. The brilliant, nearly six minutes-long “Ruin is Formal” seems to be a culmination of sorts, at once wispily anthemic yet strummily unhurried, with producer Kee’s drumming providing a jumping off point from which Scott Griffiths and Matt French can aim for the kosmiche horizon. It’s psychedelic as hell, but richly folkish, at once expansive yet ruminative, and followed as it is by the stomping, distorted, whacked-out closing track “Red Flags” (also close to six minutes), you ultimately are not just observers of the pair’s journey, but part of it.

Add to that “old at heart” notation listed above—wise beyond the years. If these owls are strays, you’ll no doubt be eager to take them in and offer shelter and sustenance.

DOWNLOAD: “Ruin Is Formal,” Ok, Ok,” “Red Flags”


Album: Hard Love

Artist: Strand of Oaks

Label: Dead Oceans

Release Date: February 17, 2017


The Upshot: Probing songs that, while noisy and raucous, don’t sacrifice intimacy and tunefulness.


Sensitive folkie by day, wild-eyed rock & roller at night, Tim Showalter has led a double life in his guise as Strand of Oaks. The Philadelphia act’s records tended to lean harder on melodic introspection, while the tour for 2014’s acclaimed Heal reveled in ear-punishing volume and the joy of rock abandon. Hard Love, the Oaks’ fifth album, unabashedly fuel-injects the latter aspect of Showalter’s personality into his probing songs without sacrificing their intimacy and tunefulness.

In “Salt Brothers,” Showalter takes what could have been a simple folk rocker and slathers it in ribcage-rattling grunge and decaying feedback. “On the Hill” and “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” add burly muscle to dreamy melodies, the overloaded acid rock apt for tales of psychedelic awakening. “Radio Kids” throws the lighters in the air and the power chords into the sky for an irresistible tribute to that one song that gets your blood singing, no matter what else happens. “At least I had that song on the radio,” Showalter sings with desperate passion, blissfully free of self-consciousness. “Rest of It” simply bashes out a basic rock & roll melody like the bar band of your dreams. Only “Cry” refrains from sonic overload, its plaintive arrangement in line with its introspective melancholy.

All this noise stays in service of the songs, which remain as self-reflective and personal as ever. Showalter isn’t using the volume to hide the emotions spilling out of “Everything” or the title track, but rather to amplify them. That he does so without entering into U2-esque excess is a tribute to both his conviction and his taste. “Make it good/make it real/make it true,” Showalter implores in “Salt Brothers,” and he spends Hard Love proving true to that promise.

DOWNLOAD: “Radio Kids,” “Salt Brothers,” “On the Hill”