Monthly Archives: May 2017

WVWHITE – House of Spiritual Athletes

Album: House of Spiritual Athletes

Artist: WVWhite

Label: Anyway

Release Date: May 19, 2017

The Upshot: Brutal yet beautiful lo-fi psychedelia that’ll leave you both perplexed and sated.


WVWhite—that would be West Virginia White —makes its bid for flagship status on the estimable Ohio label Anyway, having charmed critics out of their proverbial trees with their 2014 debut. All those slop/slacker-rock labels and Guided by Voices/Grifters/Pavement comparisons seem to have inspired the quartet to make the proverbial rise-above move for House of Spiritual Athletes, and if this med/lo-fi sonic epistle causes you to scratch your head and wonder what the fuss was all about, well, pal, all I can say is, maybe your parents should have conceived you a little earlier. The record is for cueing up and blasting through shitty speakers, not hunkering down in the back of your classroom or retreating during your subway commute with earbuds jammed deep.

It’s a warm, intimate, portastudio/four-track-deck vibe on display, with vocals set on “wander,” guitars proposing sweet melodies one sec and veering astray the next, and the rhythm section gamely keeping up. A beautiful racket, in other words—as evidenced by such gems as “Drag Down” (a fuzzed-out, yowling anthem with worthy Who aspirations), the wobbly, disconcertingly percussive “Truth Is New,” and lengthy, psychedelic epic “Space,” which lives up to its name via grand, echoey chords, mantra-like vocals, and a beat guaranteed to overrule the construction crew down the street that keeps waking you up too early on weekdays.

Brutally beautiful, WVWhite bolts directly out of the gate and, against all odds, not to mention several trips and detours later, busts through the tape at the finish line. True champs.

House of Spiritual Athletes arrives on 12” vinyl, as it should, and if you are gazing at the sleeve art and thinking it might be some long-lost portrait by UK artistic maverick Savage Pencil, guess again, and get out your crayons and medium-point felt-tips: it’s an adult coloring book-type offering, with all the requisite assigned numbers to designate where you locate your scribbling. Speaking as someone who actually was working in a bookstore precisely as the adult coloring book craze was hitting warp speed, I can say with confidence this rendering will provide you with far more profound artistic challenges than any of the moronic offerings—I mean, c’mon folks, mandalas? sunflower gardens? fucking pretty birds perched in autumnal foliage?—you may find on the shelves. Have at it. Don’t forget to paint areas marked with arrows first….

DOWNLOAD: “Space,” “Drag Down”


R.RING – Ignite the Rest

Album: Ignite the Rest

Artist: R.Ring

Label: Sofa Burn

Release Date: April 28, 2017

The Upshot: Abrasive guitars with strong pop melodies—Breeders’ Kelley Deal and Ampline’s Mike Montgomery kick out da jams.


You need to go back to Bob Mould’s brilliant ‘90s band Sugar to find a band that so deftly blends abrasive guitars with strong pop melodies as R.Ring does on their debut LP, Ignite the Rest. The duo—The Breeders’ Kelley Deal and Ampline’s Mike Montgomery—have turned in an impressive collection of alt rock ditties that prove guitar rock is far from dead.

Despite the album including a number of singles the band has released over the past several years, there is still a strong cohesiveness to the album. A song like “Fallout and Fire,” going back to 2012, sounds like it was written and recorded at the same time as some of these newer singles. While Deal’s vocals are front and center on most of the songs, Montgomery’s turn at the mic, on a song like the album closer “See” is just as powerful. The pair bring in a handful of guests to flesh out the record, like celloist Lori Goldston who played alongside Nirvana and professional skateboarder Kristian Svitak.

Considering how long R.Ring has been together putting out singles, it’s surprising it’s taken them this long to finally put out and LP. Hopefully we won’t need to wait as long for a follow up.

DOWNLOAD: “Cutter,” “You Will Be Buried” and “See”



Album: Small Town

Artist: Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan

Label: ECM

Release Date: May 26, 2017

The Upshot: A master class in chemistry, creativity and the joy of making music for no other sake.


Being at the forefront of your profession is great, but exhausting. There’s a lot of pressure in being an innovator and a leading light for others to follow, and sometimes you just need to let your hair down. On Small Town, maverick jazz guitarist Bill Frisell does just that. Teaming up with bassist Thomas Morgan, Frisell sets up at the Village Vanguard for a relaxed session of duets, covers and originals.

The album begins, appropriately, with a stroll through Paul Motian’s “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago” – the two men worked together on the late drummer’s final session. Morgan lays out the groundwork so Frisell can skitter over it, making smart use of his loop pedal as he goes. From there the pair trips through several distinct wires, from the bebop of Lee Konitz’ “Subconscious Lee” and R&B of Fats Domino’s “What a Party” to the proto-bluegrass of the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and the iconic James Bond theme “Goldfinger.” Outside of others’ catalogs, Frisell contributes the title track, a twangy roll through Western Americana that first appeared in truncated form on his album Disfarmer, and the duo co-composes the sometimes playful/sometimes lovely “Poet – Pearl.” The pair also revisits the moody “Song For Andrew No. 1,” which Frisell contributed to last year’s Andrew Cyrille album The Declaration of Musical Independence.

Throughout Frisell is in top form, keeping his distinctive watery tone close to recognizable melody while still putting his own improvisational spin on the tunes. Morgan is well-versed in the accompaniment of iconoclasts, due to his work with Tomasz Stanko and David Virelles, not to mention partnering with other axeman like Jakob Bro, and he’s the perfect partner for Frisell here. His round, open tone and nimble fingerings don’t merely lay a foundation, but also provide counterpoint and an alternative voice for the guitarist to bounce off of. Small Town is a master class in chemistry, creativity and the joy of making music for no other sake.

DOWNLOAD: “It Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago,” “Subconscious Lee,” “Poet – Pearl”




Album: Moog Indigo LP

Artist: Jean-Jacques Perry

Label: Vanguard

Release Date: March 03, 2017

The Upshot: On one level, a demonstration record, a document of just what can be done with Moog analog synthesizers in 1970. But it’s also a collection of impossibly catchy tunes, delivered in the most playful manner imaginable.


Perhaps Jean-Jacques Perrey shouldn’t be thought of in the same context as Jean-Michel Jarre, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and other early pioneers of the synthesizer-as-musical-instrument. His work wasn’t as edgy and experimental as that of those other guys. But here’s the thing: a half-century on, spinning a Perrey album is far more likely to bring a smile to the listener’s lips than most anything by those other, more “serious” artists.

On one level, Moog Indigo is a demonstration record. It’s a document of just what can be done with Moog analog synthesizers in 1970. But it’s also a collection of impossibly catchy tunes, delivered in the most playful manner imaginable. Perrey was no dour experimentalist; he made records that were fun, full stop.

The sound textures brought forth on Moog Indigo are so dated, so frozen-in-time, that it’s difficult to listen without chuckling. Wah-wah guitars about. Churchy organ lines find their way into pop tunes. Bloops and bleeps of every imaginable texture flit in and out of the mix.

Most of the dozen tracks on Moog Indigo – now lovingly reissued on 180-gram vinyl in an extra-sturdy reproduction sleeve – are originals composed specifically for the record. Perrey himself had a hand in composing about half of them. Gilbert Sigrist’s “The Rose and the Cross” is one of the few “serious” tunes on the set, so it feels a bit out of context. Yet it’s still lovely. “Cat in the Night” sounds very much like Emerson, Lake and Palmer in a particularly goofy moment; the lead synth sweeps have a distinctly Emersonian texture to them.

“Flight of the Bumblebee” has a synthesizer tone that – while inevitably annoying – exquisitely suits the song. It’s pretty clear that Perrey and his unnamed musical associates took these sessions very seriously, but also manage to have a lot of fun in the process. Listeners open to this kind of thing should appreciate their efforts. “Gossipo Perpetuo” is the strangest cut on the disc; it sounds uncannily like someone’s playing sampled male and female voices. But such technology simply didn’t exist in 1970, so it’s up to the listener to sort out what might be happening. In any case, it’s delightfully weird.

If you’ve ever seen the old comedy/variety television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, then you might recall those bits in which the entire cast was dancing to some way-out instrumental music, punctuated every few seconds by some freeze-frame and comedic one-liners. Well, leave the jokes out and keep the dancing going, and Moog Indigo would make a perfect soundtrack. Try it for your next party, too.

SEAN O’BRIEN – Mistakes EP

Album: Mistakes EP

Artist: Sean O'Brien

Label: First Cold Press

Release Date: April 07, 2017

The Upshot: Elements of country rock, power pop, garage and even Thin Lizzy inform this diverse four-songer.


In testimony to the song’s timelessness, Irish anthem “Whiskey In the Jar” continues to be rediscovered and reinvented. No longer the mere domain of Irish traditional musicians (Dubliners et al), it probably made its biggest impact in the ‘70s when Thin Lizzy took it to the top of the charts. A generation later, Metallica snagged a Grammy for their 1998 version. Northern Cali songwriter Sean O’Brien (True West, Denim TV, Mariettas) would probably be considered as arriving on the musical scene in between those two bands, age-wise, but with his latest combo His Dirty Hands, he sounds thoroughly fresh—and he’s rejuvenated the aforementioned track to turn it into a rousing slice of power pop that contains certain Lizzy overtones (the main guitar riff in particular) but, with his high, keening vocals, brings a certain yearning quality that’s all his own.

Elsewhere on this four-song EP, O’Brien & Co. serve up the title track, a galloping, twangy anthem; “Sleeping With Me,” a dark, rumbling, dissonant garage rocker; and “The Drooling Angels,” a sweet country-rock ballad that, with a female’s co-lead vocal, lends a distinctive Gram ‘n’ Emmylou vibe to the proceedings. Huzzah! More, please.

Plea answered: En route from O’Brien is a new single this fall, “Old Black Cloud,” a wonderful soul workout, complete with horns, which was cut during the Mistakes sessions. Too, earlier this year O’Brien released a collection of live acoustic tunes, It Was Sad Without You There. You can snag ‘em all at his website and also check him out at his Facebook page.

DOWNLOAD: “Whiskey In the Jar,” “Sleeping With Me”



Album: Fall

Artist: Overlake

Label: Bar/None

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The Upshot: New Jersey shoegaze and psych pop holds up.


Jersey City’s Overlake plays shimmering psych pop like Mom used to make, especially if your mom was related to bands like Slowdive or the Drop Nineteens. Emphasizing melody over crunch, the trio worries less about overwhelming folks and more about tickling their tune bone. The songs turn around six-string strumming and chord changes that move from winsome to aggressive, with a propulsive rhythm section that never lets things get too wispy. Guitarist Tom Barrett has a typically mellifluous voice, but with a croon that sounds like Eric Matthews after taking acid, what other kind of music is he going to sing? Bassist Lysa Opfer chimes in from time to time as well, frosting a vocal blend heavy on the creamy side. “And Again,” “Can Never Tell” and “Winter is Why” roll from jangle to crunch without muss or fuss, never overloading on either approach – it’s as if the band realized the melodies would work either way, and decided to do it half-and-half. Overlake doesn’t do anything new with its dreamy alt.rock, but what it does do, it does quite well.

DOWNLOAD: “Can Never Tell,” “And Again,” “Winter is Why”



Justin Townes Earle + The Sadies 5/26/17, Denver

Dates: May 26, 2017

Location: Bluebird Theatre, Denver CO

More twang per capita than most folks get in a lifetime, but this time it was the Bluebird Theatre.


At this point I’d have hard time believeing that The Sadies could even put on a bad show. After seeing them last summer in Denver (at the Bull and Bush Pub) and tonight it’s obvious this band’s strength is on the stage. By the time we had arrived the band was already on stage, but only a song or two in and the nearly capacity crowd were completely rapt while the band was playing and erupted in applause n’ hoots once each song was done. Their fan base is very dedicated.

The band hails from Toronto, Canada and is the brainchild of brothers Dallas and Travis Good (with Sean Dean on stand-up bass and Mike Belitsky on drums) and are usually lumped in with the alternative country crowd and while they do mine plenty of country elements in their music, they also include elements of surf and psych into their proceedings as well. The end product is a set of instantly likeable songs (even if you don’t like country music) and the band just exudes a certain energy, flair and a serious love of what they’re doing. It’s really intoxicating. They played a handful of songs off their latest, Northern Passages (Yep Roc) and tossed in a cover of fellow countrymen Blue Rodeo’s “Palace of Gold.” Please keep comin’ back to Denver.

It had been a number of years since I’d last caught Justin Townes Earle (opening up for Jason Isbell at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland in 2011 or so). On this night he was backed by the Sadies (yup, pullin’ double duty) and had an extra guitar player in Lambchop’s Paul Niehaus (who is a monster on guitar). This lineup fit him well.

He’s touring for his band news album, Kids in the Street (New West Records), another strong record from this son of Steve Earle who hasn’t made a bad platter yet. He opened up with a few cuts from said record and then turned back the clock and played some of his older cuts like “Christchurch Woman,” “Move Over Mama” and “One More Night in Brooklyn.” All crowd pleasers.

The cuts from the new record we heard were “Champagne Corolla”, “15-25” and. He then went backwards and we heard stunning versions of “I Killed John Henry,” “Nothings Goma Change the Way You Feel About Me Now” (which he described as “maybe the saddest song I ever wrote”) and he even snuck in a cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”

He left and came back for a few encores (including “Harlem River Blues”) and called it a night.

It’s obvious that Earle is a real talent. He seems to have beaten his battle with the bottle (being newly sober with a baby on the way). I sure hope so, the guy is too damn good to go the way of so many other musicians. We need him here and now.

PAUL WELLER – A Kind Revolution

Album: A Kind Revolution

Artist: Paul Weller

Label: Warner Bros.

Release Date: May 12, 2017

The Upshot: The production, composing, arrangements, and playing make it something uniquely special in the Paul Weller catalogue.


Many have asked before me, “What happened to rock ‘n’ Roll?” or have asked and wondered “What happened to new wave, mod rock, or punk?” Well, the answer is here—Paul Weller is what we have all been waiting for and wanting. Weller, of course is known by music enthusiasts from his previous bands, The Jam and The Style Council, both amazing.

Now, Weller has a new album, A Kind Revolution, and it is a beautiful masterpiece. He is a rare breed who has had a long and successful career, one who may be considered a national talent in Britain, but the type that any true music fan will appreciate for his longevity. I also think this will be the album that will make damn sure he is appreciated as an international talent. A Kind of Revolution has a great, solid sound throughout; one can discern the blues, jazz, and mod rock influences unique to Weller. It is what rock ‘n’ roll forever means. Again, this is the answer we all have been waiting for.

The album starts with a hard rocking sound and ends with great mod rock that even the late David Bowie would love. Consider each track:

  • “Woo Se Momma” – Solid, hard rocking with a blues twist; strong guitar throughout, with a hint of good vibes thrown into the mix. Everything works.
  • “Nova” – Dreamlike beginning with a dark voice along with keyboards, reminiscent of the great new wave from the 1980s. Yet again, great guitar throughout.
  • “Long Long Road” – Beautiful, just beautiful. The music for this song brought a tear to my eye. Well done Mr. Weller.
  • “She Moves with the Fayre” – Looking for a song just to mellow out to? Then look no further. The guitars and drums are lined with a hint of strings and horns. This is the best to mellow out and relax to, grab a glass of your favorite beverage, and enjoy.
  • “The Cranes Are Back” – Beautiful piano to augment the guitars and rhythms makes for a wonderful arrangement—pure pleasantry to the ears. (Let everyone know the Cranes are back.)
  • “Hopper” – Simplicity at its best from wonderfully talented musicians, and a unique horns/drums/piano/guitar arrangement, all guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
  • “New York” –This is a rock song with a gritty feel, best described as a unique sound matching its title. The interesting arrangement holds surprises, a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, and rock all rolled into a beautiful package. (I love New York, just wanted to throw that in, it’s my city and I miss it.)
  • “One Tear” – There’s a melodic-rhythmic element here that’s almost psychedelic in feel throughout. Included is a short guitar solo that’s mixed in with what sounds like a rain storm.
  • “Satellite Kid” – Loving the dirty guitar for this—welcome to rock’n’roll! A lot can be learned just from the guitar playing: Take lessons, all you up and comers. The solo in particular is destined to become one of my all-time favorites. All guitar fans should listen to this song.
  • “The Impossible Idea” – This is the last song on the album, and when I first saw the title, my thought went straight to the impossible girl in Who. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) It’s a lovely-composed song with a dreamy voice to match the music. The string arrangement will make you swoon and sway, a great way to end an album.


The production, composing, arrangements, and playing makes A Kind Revolution something uniquely special in the Paul Weller catalogue. Weller is a talent like no other, and you will not be disappointed.

DOWNLOAD: “Long Long Road,” “New York,” “Satellite Kid”

Photo Credit: Tom Beard


Lewis Watson 5/12/17, Toronto

Dates: May 12, 2017

Location: Mod Club, Toronto ON

Live at Toronto’s Mod Club, the British singer-songwriter proved he was no Sheeran wannabe.


Behold a new breed of concert for a new breed of fan. Know that I don’t yet consider myself one – but, having offered to drive my daughter home after the show, I thought I’d stick my head in to see what all the fuss was about. What I observed was a roomful of intensely-focused fans – mostly teenaged girls and youngish couples, obviously smitten by the charms of this 24-year old, British singer-songwriter, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

Nothing particularly different about that, maybe – except that each fan knew every word and would join Watson in unison (or add harmony) with less than a gesture. From an old fart’s perspective, this was a 90-minute group hug of the closest kind, as rewarding for the artist as it was for the fan. There’s no question an artist performs differently for people who appreciate their music – it’s far more than a payday. This was clearly an elongated love letter between the two. Watson has been seen, by some, as being another Ed Sheeran wannabe – however there’s no questioning his talent as a gifted writer and as a performer. The Sheeran comparison has its validity, primarily for their shared approach to tapping into a certain freshness in the category of introspective, acoustic pop, for their seemingly boundless energy and for that coy hint of innocence. Similarly, Watson possesses an innate rhythmic element (recalling a young Dave Matthews) and – with two LPs and countless EPs to draw from – a pool of material which reveals him as an inventive lyricist and arranger. This simplified, solo set provided an opportunity to zoom in on the strengths of his vocals. Label-free and running his own show with little more than the power of Social Media on his side, the young Oxford native is promoting a well-teased, new, 10-track album, Midnight – rich in blending the expected with a more progressive use of added instrumentation.

Touring the world on the strengths of his loyal, if not rabid, fans, he’s delivering exactly what they want. And while the strengths of these songs depend heavily on the support of a full band sound, Watson exudes an obvious charm, an emotive voice, a deep-dish sincerity and conviction, plus enough sing-along hooks to keep the potentially rowdy room completely spellbound. More power to him. And if that wasn’t hard enough work for one night, he made a heartfelt promise to meet everyone (“no matter whether you buy any merch or not”) after the last song was played (the stunning “Deep The Water”). There was no call for an encore. It was an understanding. And then the entire room queued up to meet their youthful hero – a huge line snaking through the full depth of the room and 3-4 deep. True to his word and with barely the wipe of a towel, Watson preceded to meet’n’greet each and every individual, tapping into utter enthusiasm with tireless energy. Hugs to all, animated conversations (most fans have seen him before), posing for countless cell phone photos for one and all, selling and signing LPs, CDs and shirts and generally adding another hour or two to his evening.

He’s no dummy nor is there any question of his genuineness. This is the job and he loves it like it’s his first time. Had you arrived at the show feeling largely unloved or at all under-appreciated, you’d go home feeling like a million bucks. No wonder he’s catching on.


Son Volt + Sera Cahoone 5/12/17, Englewood, CO

Dates: May 12, 2017

Location: Gothic Theatre, Englewood, CO

Live at the celebrated Denver-area Gothic Theatre, the Americana pioneers touched all the right bases.


It had been close to two decades since I’d last seen Jay Farrar’s Son Volt in a live setting. I loved the band’s first two records (and most of the third one, too), but after that record Farrar didn’t release another Son Volt record for another 7 years (2005’s Okemag and the Melody of Riot) and instead opted to release records under his own name and do some collaborations. It wasn’t quite the same for me. I’d heard bits of later records but for me nothing quite seemed to catch that magic like those first few records.

I wasn’t going to go tonight, but a few pals had planned on it so I joined in. Plus Sera Cahoone was opening and I try not to miss any of her sets.

Walked in to a packed house at the Gothic and Cahoone had just started. It was just her on stage with a friend who was playing violin. Cahoone is touring for her new record, From Where I Started (Lady Muleskinner Records) and it’s another gorgeous bunch of folky songs from this highly underrated songwriter. They played a handful of cuts from that record but also pulled out some classics from her last record,  2012’s Deer Creek Canyon including the title track and “Nervous Wreck.”  They also did a splendid cover of “Delta Dawn” and called it a night, but not before giving a shout out to her family (Cahoone was born and raised in the Denver area but now lives in Seattle).

Farrar and company hit the stage at 10 PM and I noticed that I wasn’t the oldest person here and the gig was a nice mix of ages. They opened playing a bunch of  cuts from his latest, Notes of Blue including “Static,” “Lost Souls” and “Cherokee St.” From there they also pulled out several gems from classic first album, Trace including “Route,” “Tear Stained Eye,” “Drown” and “Catching On” while from ‘97’s Straightaways they played the beautiful pop song “Back Into Your World.”

During the set the band members mostly kept their heads down and played with Farrar, a man not known for too much chatter, occasionally mumbled a “thank you” in between songs (toward the end of the set he also introduced the band).

They came out for a two-song-encore which was “Windfall’ and  Uncle Tupelo’s “Chickamauga” and then came out for a second encore handling the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On,” slowing it down, if just a little. Another terrific set from this hard-working bunch. All of the folks I spoke to after the set were more than satisfied.