Monthly Archives: August 2017

WRECK LOOSE – OK, We’re Wreck Loose

Album: OK, We’re Wreck Loose

Artist: Wreck Loose

Label: self-released

Release Date: June 16, 2017

The Upshot: Pittsburgh combo plays catchy piano pop/rock and does it right.


Pittsburgh’s Wreck Loose have managed to channel Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-era Elton John, Harry Nilsson and early Ben Fold Five throughout OK, We’re Wreck Loose, their brilliant and brilliantly infectious self-released debut. Spread across nearly a dozen tracks, the four-piece make piano pop music fun again thanks to catchy hooks and wry lyrics.

The tone is perfectly set on the first song, the Leon Russell-esque piano/guitar boogie “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller,” and rarely lets up throughout, cycling through one standout track after another. They bring back that cool ’70 swamp boogie vibe on “Hearts Been Broken.” A song like “Hard Drugs” perfectly demonstrates their bitingly smart lyrical prowess, as does “Phil Spector Just Killed Someone Today.” But just as quickly, they can segue into a more-sincere number (well, sincere-ish) like “Isn’t it a Shame About Kurt,” all with one eyebrow raised.

The album closes on a curiously mellow note, with the somber “The Day Before the Day of the Dead” and “Make It Out Alive,” but you should have already found one or two of your favorite new songs from earlier in the record that it doesn’t matter. There are not a ton of bands playing catchy piano pop/rock nowadays, but OK, We’re Wreck Loose is proof that the genre, when done right, can still be pretty amazing.

DOWNLOAD: “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller,” “Hard Drugs” and “Placebo”


Album: Ohmme EP

Artist: Ohmme

Label: Foxhall

Release Date: June 30, 2017


The Upshot: Female singer-songwriter duo finds an odd, intriguing balance between pretty melody and confrontation.


Ohmme plays radical games with the notion of female-singer-songwriter pop, with songs that use alternative vocal techniques, mood shifts and wild dynamic swings to upend any preconceptions you might have about tight-harmony, acoustic guitar duos. The Chicago-based duo of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham, in various capacities, have backed Second City luminaries from Chance the Rapper to Wilco to Twin Peaks to Whitney. Here on their debut EP, the two find an odd, intriguing balance between pretty melody and confrontation. You are never quite sure where you stand or what’s coming at you.

Consider the opener, “Woman,” with its slow twitch of electric guitar, its soft, slyly syncopated vocal line which traces a he said/she said narrative of inter-gender disconnection. Wry, intelligent, not too noisy female-oriented pop, a la Regina Spector, am I right? I am not. The shift comes in the sudden percussive “ah ah ah ah ah” vocal break, which pounds like an avant garde hammer through the verse, as a slumberous guitar wakes in a rumble of feedback. And then just as unexpectedly, the song falls back to a murmur, only to swing wide open again in a woozy psychedelic interlude. The dynamic range is canyon wide, the vocals unexpected. It’s the kind of song you can’t figure out right away but worry at with repeated, obsessive listens.

Similarly, “Furniture” begins in moody introspection, the two women breathing staccato reveries between widely spaced keyboard notes. But here, too, there’s a dramatic break, an irregular guitar riff, a build of hiss and roar and a melodic break powered by pure psych-pop joy, a la Olivia Tremor Control. It’s like a Russian nesting doll, a song within a song, but the one inside is somehow bigger than the packaging.

Each of six cuts is distinct and fascinating, whether the relatively straightforward finger-picking folk rock of “Ithaca” or the piercingly rueful “Bully Clouds” (with the arresting line, “You’re happier when we are dying”), or the long radiant closer “You, Your Face” which has the otherworldly aura of certain Laura Gibson songs. None of these tunes are easy or obvious. They all take some work to get inside of, but oh how nice it is when you get there.

DOWNLOAD: “Woman,” “Furniture”


Tift Merritt & Friends 8/19/17, Raleigh NC

Dates: August 19, 2017

Location: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh NC

Live at the North Carolina Museum of Art, it was a fine day to be on the green…


Having grown up in Raleigh, NC, singer-songwriter Tift Merritt chose to make the hometown stop on her current tour a special one-time only event billed as Tift Merritt and Friends. The friends she brought along for the show were M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, Eric Slick of Dr. Dog, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man, and The Suitcase Junket. These artists have all in recent years played shows and recorded together in various combinations and Tift wanted to get them all on stage together; I’d say everyone in attendance was glad that she did.

In addition to the music, the party had food trucks and a tent made from an old army parachute underneath which was a commissary with unique goods from local vendors. The stage was even set up with a variety of Americana ephemera from Butch Anthony’s Traveling Museum of Wonder, who drove up in the old Cadillac he traded a painting to Leon Russell for. Even the car was a work of art, being adorned with a deer head and trophies from front to back. Tift herself was completely hands on with the planning of the event, all the way down to offering menu ideas to the local food trucks. (I can vouch for the chicken and waffles!)

Over the course of the nearly 2-1/2-hour show, each of the artists took their turn in the spotlight and backed each other up. It was a wonderful evening of songs and musical collaboration. First up was, of course the MC for the evening, Tift Merritt, with a couple songs from her newest record, Stitch Of The World. Next up was a couple numbers by Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, who we were told has her debut solo record on the way.

One of the great things about an event like this is getting to hear new (to me) artists, and experiencing The Suitcase Junket was a treat. Matt Lorenz is a one-man-band who sings his songs with an old guitar and a percussion contraption mostly made up of random found objects. Despite being self-contained, he was accompanied by some of the others who took care to let his unique thing stay front and center. After a couple songs by Eric Slick, the musicians gathered around one mic to sing Tift’s “Dusty Old Man” and “My Boat” who’s lines, “room onboard for my friends” seemed to sum up the ethos of the evening. Next up was M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger who brought a little volume to the proceedings which got the folks up front on their feet. The whole ensemble again gathered around one mic as Taylor asked us to sing along with the chorus of “Drum,” “Take the good news, carry it away. Take the good news spirit it away.”

Adding to the feel good vibe of the night was a recognition of the 20th anniversary of concerts being held at this venue, a jewel of a small amphitheater on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art. After performing Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around A Memory” and “Stray Paper,” Tift waxed poetic about her town, friends, and all the support over the years as a cake was brought out to celebrate the museum’s program director. She then closed the set with “Proclamation Blues” but we knew there was more to come. A couple minutes later she returned, and giving thanks to everyone involved, her love for the hometown she recently returned to was evident as she said, “I can’t think of a better place to raise my daughter.” Sitting down alone at the keyboard she sang an emotional “Good Hearted Man” and as the whole ensemble returned for one more song, she reminded us that “the good is there, no matter what else is going on.”

I once heard someone say that the world can’t have too much love or too much music. On this Saturday night in Raleigh, that never felt more true.

Switchfoot + Lifehouse 8/22/17, Greensboro

Dates: August 22, 2017

Location: White Oak Amphitheatre, Greensboro NC

Live at the White Oak Amphitheatre in Greensboro, North Carolina. Above: Switchfoot.



The Greensboro Coliseum Complex hosted Lifehouse & Switchfoot with special guest Brynn Elliott at the White Oak Amphitheatre on August 22nd. Their current tour, “Looking For Summer, features 30+ dates across North America, the first one being kicked off in Denver, CO. this July.


The Greensboro show consisted of both bands playing hits and new material. Switchfoot’s set had a very peace and love feel to it along with a high-energy performance, with at one point frontman Joe Foreman getting off stage and singing in the crowd for half a song. Switchfoot gave a very captivating performance of their song “Where I Belong”. Fans were waving flags from the audience with “Where I Belong'” written on them. Lifehouse also had a very high-energy performance with the main spectacle being their music.


Both bands made you feel like you weren’t in a huge crowd, but in a smaller venue in which they were playing for only you.


Brynn Elliott

Lifehouse: Bryce Soderberg

Lifehouse:  Jason Wade

Lifehouse: Steve Stout
Switchfoot: Jon Foreman
Switchfood: Tim Foreman
Switchfoot: Chad Butler
Switchfoot: Drew Shirley

EMILY DUFF – Maybe in the Morning LP

Album: Maybe in the Morning LP

Artist: Emily Duff

Label: Mod Prom

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The Upshot: The “S” word gets a thorough workout, FAME-style, on what just may be the most perfect platter of 2017 so far. Worth noting: In addition to CD, it’s available on 180-gm vinyl, and an informal A-B comparison clearly suggests that the wax is sonically superior.


Everything—and I do mean everything—on the third record from NYC-based country soul songstress Emily Duff clicks, from the wise-beyond-her-years lyrics and charisma-draped, Melissa Etheridge-meets-Lucinda Williams-meets-Bobbie Gentry vocals, to the easy-going virtuoso musicianship of her band and assorted guests and the rare-air recording vibe that comes with cutting an album at the legendary FAME studios. Even the album cover—a painting by Chalet Comellas-Baker that depicts a shot glass, an ashtray, and a vintage turntable with a record spinning on it—carries a whiff of intimacy that augments the larger picture (no pun intended).

Duff, who grew up listening to classic roots (Kris, Willie, Janis) and soul (Al, Marvin, Aretha), worked with guitarist Gary Lucas in Gods & Monsters in the ‘90s, replacing Jeff Buckley when he embarked upon a solo career. Soon enough, she felt the irresistible tug of Americana, releasing Pass It On and Go Tell Your Friends and laying the stylistic and emotional groundwork for what would become Maybe in the Morning. Fortuitously, an opportunity arose to record in Muscle Shoals, and she jumped at the chance. Aptly enough, country soul/swamp pop as immortalized at FAME has, according to Duff, “a sexiness to it that almost feels forbidden. It’s rock ’n’ roll, but there’s also a bit of it that sounds sanctified, that’s protecting from the devil. It’s almost got a church quality to it, that you can step to the edge but then you’ll step back.”

No shit. The dozen tracks on Maybe in the Morning embody those very qualities, and then some.

Opening track “Hypmotizing Chickenz” [sic] is funky and funny, with her core band—guitarist Scott Aldrich, bassist Skip Ward, and drummer Kenny Soule—conjuring up a groove that’d make the original FAME Swampers proud, while an actual FAME alumnus, session keyboardsman Clayton Ivey, contributes crucial organ textures to underscore Duff’s vocal swagger. (Duff’s lyrics have a delightful “Polk Salad Annie”-esque quality to them here, in lines like “Backwards walkin’ Granny/ She fell off the front porch again/ Made it all the way to Nashville/ She’s still lookin’ for big brother Ken.”) A few songs later, the title track goes for full immersion via a thickly-pulsing arrangement and choirlike backing vocals. Amid the gently waltzing “I’d Rather Go Blind” vibe of “Don’t,” things get taken down a notch or two, smokily, sweetly, and sexily, Duff’s subtle vocal rasp imbuing the song with an uncommon earthiness; that contrasts perfectly with jaunty upbeat twanger “Daddy’s Drunk Again,” in which Duff details a family that’s holding on but is at risk of disintegrating and, as the narrator, she’s just about had her fill (“Daddy when you gonna put that bottle down/ Looks like you’re tryin’ awful hard to drown/The same damn thing goes down every day/ $50 and a dream on the scratch ‘n’ play/ But nobody wins when Daddy’s drunk again…”).

One unimpeachable standout, among many, is “Diamonds”: With its “Ode to Billie Joe”-tilting, country-swamp arrangement, it finds Duff training her lens on marriage, Loretta Lynn style—which is to say, the good parts alongside the bad. And on closing track “Somebody on Sunday,” she goes straight-up country gospel soul (there’s that “S” word again)—complete with call-and-response choruses and righteous chants of “Amen!”—to bring a universality to the fore wherein everybody, on Sunday morning, is equal (equally culpable, and therefore equally capable of redemption) in the eyes of you-know-who.

It’s risky to assign a 5-out-of-5 stars to a review of a new release, as the wise rock critic will typically wait at least a year (or ten) to see if a record can hold its own against the passage of time. But Maybe in the Morning has an essential timelessness that can’t be denied. It’s the kind of album that deserves to be framed and hung on the walls of FAME studios—just like its progenitors from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Believe it.

DOWNLOAD: “Somebody on Sunday,” “Maybe in the Morning,” “Don’t,” “Needledrop Blues” (The latter is, you guessed it, an ode to the joys of spinning wax that doubles as a relationship metaphor. —Vinyl Ed.)



MONK PARKER — Crown of Sparrows

Album: Crown of Sparrows

Artist: Monk Parker

Label: Grand Jury

Release Date: August 11, 2017

The Upshot: Six-song mini-album charts country soul introspection and virtuoso musicianship.


The desolate and the uplifting jostle elbows in Monk Parker’s Crown of Sparrows, a clutch of six songs written in roughly the same time frame as his last solo album, How the Spark Loves the Tinder. Parker made these songs at home, while recovering from a serious illness, and you can certainly trace elements of that experience — feverish unreality, fluttering uncertainty and longing and the gradual gathering of strength and hope — in these shadowy compositions. Parker’s voice rises like a flicker amid sweeping spectral washes, as he considers love, memory, mortality and forgiveness in these tunes; he is sheathed in echoey insubstantiality, but bolstered, often, towards the end, by a swell of brass that buoys him to conclusion.

A plurality of these songs move in molasses tempo’d waltz time, their pulse more of a lilting caress than any invitation to dance. “Crown of Sparrows,” the opener, worries at the ephemerality of existence with a lament in pedal steel, “This crown of sparrows was never going to stay…every sweet thing flowed away.” And yet though pensive, the song takes on muscle and bone at its midpoint with a giant crash of feedback, big battering drums, slow, swaggering wallops of horns, all erupting in a woozy glory.

Parker’s work here has the same haunted, inward-peering reverberation as his songs with the ought’s gothic Low Lows and before that Parker & Lily, but it is augmented with a cast of roughly 30 musicians, a rough country orchestra of guitars, brass, keyboards and reeds that lifts these introspective tunes into grand, exultant crescendos. The culmination comes in “Drowned Men,” whose mournful textures take on the density and joy of certain classic soul tunes (I’m thinking O.V. Wright’s “Drowning on Dry Land”), as a swaying, rollicking, band of ruffians fills in the anguished spaces with something like triumph.

DOWNLOAD: “Crown of Sparrows” “Drowned Men”


DIEALPS! – Our City

Album: Our City

Artist: DieAlps!

Label: New Granada

Release Date: August 04, 2017

The Upshot: Florida baroque pop—imagine that from the Sunshine State!—on a stunningly beautiful debut.


 For decades now, Florida has been churning out bands that owe their careers to distorted guitars and loud amp stacks. It’s spawned a slew of great punk bands and a mess of not-so-great Nü-metal groups. So, it seems surprising then that the Sunshine State could have also nurtured a thoughtful baroque pop group like DieAlps!.

 Comprising Cornelia Calcaterra and husband/guitarist, Frank, the Tampa-based band made an at times stunningly beautiful debut album with Our City. Spread across a dozen tracks, there is a strong ‘90s alt/college rock influence felt throughout, recalling everyone from The Sundays to Buffalo Tom.

The record certainly has its quietter moments on songs like “Dwight” and the swooning “Mayfly,” but the band is also just as willing to crank up the volume on songs like “Our City.”  The duo trade off vocals throughout, making for a compelling sound.

Tampa may have given the world an unnaturally large number of death metal bands (including Morbid Angel and Assuck), but the city has also offered up the stunningly great DieAlps!, so let’s call it even.


DOWNLOAD: “Mayfly,” “Trust Me” and “In the Country”


Dead Boys 1977: The Lost Photographs of Dave Treat, by Dave Treat

Title: Dead Boys 1977

Author: Dave Treat

Publisher: Signature Books

Publication Date: September 29, 2017 /

The Upshot: Photographer living in Cleveland when the punk icons formed was able to capture them at the beginning of their ascent.

By Fred Mills

It would appear that 2017 is The Year of the Dead Boys. Not only does it mark the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the earliest, and most influential, punk albums, Young, Loud and Snotty, it also brings guitarist Cheetah Chrome’s revived Dead Boys (featuring fellow alumnus Johnny Blitz, plus three like-minded miscreants rounding out the lineup) with a tour and an actual remake of that album, titled Still Snotty: Young, Loud and Snotty at 40, on the Plowboy label. (They performed it this past March in Austin during SXSW and reports are that it was positively smokin‘.) Meanwhile, even the bootleggers are taking the cue, such as with the vinyl release a couple of months ago of Down in Flames: Live at the Old Waldorf San Francisco 1977.

Which brings us to Dead Boys 1977, a coffeetable-style volume that collects heretofore unpublished photos of the band. It turns out that photography student Dave Treat had moved into a Cleveland apartment complex, and soon enough, one of his neighbors was Stiv Bators. “We became friends,” writes Treat in his foreword. “Over the next year, hanging out with Stiv, Cheetah, Johnny, and Jimmy was always a great time. The parties on Giel Avenue were legendary.”

No doubt. Treat also found the band to be a fertile photography opportunity, shooting the a reel of photos that would inspire the iconic YLAS cover (which itself was shot by Glenn Brown, but simply compare the cover to the Treat book here to the record sleeve and the evidence is undeniable). Collected in Dead Boys 1977 are a number of similar images, the band posing in the doorways of crumbling Cleveland tenements, lounging in decrepit alleyways and on loading docks, perched on fire escapes and in front of liquor stores and porn shops—you get the idea.

One particular gem is of a dirty apartment building’s hallway with Cheetah crouched over between his bandmates and mooning the camera.

Most of the photo are black and white (Treat also had a showing of his work in 2016 that included many of the images that now appear in the book), although there is a dynamic sequence of live shots that includes eight pages in full color. There’s also a final closing section dedicated to Stiv posing in his apartment—on the floor, laying on a couch, asleep in a chair, peeking out of the bathtub—and one of them, which depicts him crouching in the corner of the room with his hands stretched across his head, bears an uncanny similarity to the front cover of his first solo album, Disconnected. Perhaps he remembered the apartment session and wanted to recapture the original photo’s despairing, discombobulated vibe?

Treat clearly looks back on these days with great fondness, and his written recollections of Stiv in particular bring out an emotional side to him. For a performer and a band that specialized in outrage and confrontation, and did their fair share of giving American parents the willies about letting their kids check out this new punk rock noise, it might seem a stretch to suggest that Stiv and the Dead Boys are a source of tender nostalgia. But they meant something to us, and Stiv in particular managed to endear himself to a lot of people. His death in Paris in 1990 (he was hit by a car) was a huge shock, so to have these photos now, four decades after he hit the public consciousness in a big way, is a true gift.

By way of a personal coda: I never saw the Dead Boys first time around, during their Sire Records era in the late ‘70s. I did, however, see them at a small punk dive when they did a reunion tour in 1986 a few years after the initial breakup, and they—Stiv, in particular—didn’t disappoint. It’s a memory I cherish.


Hellyeah + Kyng 8/6/17, Memphis

Dates: August 6, 2017

Location: New Daisy Theatre, Memphiis TN

New Daisy Theatre saw a bloody good time on this steamy summer evening.


Chad and the boys of Hellyeah brought heavy metal to Memphis, TN. on August the 6th. From the moment that drummer Vinnie Paul appeared behind his drum kit the crowd knew they were in for a head banging loud concert. Lead singer Chad Gray is know for his signature look of bloody face, wild hair, and great heavy metal voice that can also bring it down. The new hit song “Love falls” show the full range of Chad’s voice, not to mention the talent of the entire band. Hellyeah is out on tour in support of their 2016 album Undeniable. With Songs such as “Human” “Love falls” and “I don’t care anymore” (Phil Collins cover) this is an album that any metal head should have in their library.

Chad loves to get up close with fans and photographers too. Many performers choose to stay far away from the edge of the stage but not Chad, he spent much of the night right up front and came out into the crowd more than once! This was a great show and a great night. Now if I can only get my ears to stop ringing! I can’t wait to catch Hellyeah out on the road again, hopefully sooner than later!

Below: opening act Kyng



Mark Jackson: @markjacksonphotography1

Priests + Lithics 8/12/17, Denver

Dates: August 12, 2017

Location: Larimer Lounge, Denver CO

Live at the Larimer Lounge for an evening of edgy art pop ‘n’ punk.


I hadn’t heard Lithics before but they hail from my old stomping grounds of Portland, Oregon. Three guys on guitar/bass/drums and one deadpan female on guitar/vocals. They really delivered a convincing set of quirkly art pop/ no wave kinda stuff with good short songs. I was at times reminded of Pylon, UT (remember them?), and a little Bush Tetras, too. I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the songs but if you’re planning on catching  Priests gig they’re definitely worth showing up early for (and it looks like their Bandcamp page has plenty for sale).

My first time seeing Priests and I believe that vocalist Katie Alice Greer stated that this was their first time in Denver and she was excited by that. The Washington, DC quartet are touring on the heels of their debut lp, Nothing Feels Natural that came out earlier this year on the band’s own Sister Polygon Records. The record is a fresh blast of angular, politicized punk that at times reminded me of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

On stage Greer is all over the place, staring audience members down then giving them a sly smile while guitarist GL Jaguar  rips out dirty chords and is moving, too. The rhythm section of drummer Daniele Daniele and new bassist Fabi Reyna are the glue that holds it sall together. Songs from the LP, like “JJ,” “No Big Bang,” “Suck,” “Pink White House” and the title track take on the feel of classics every time I hear them.

I expected more political banter between songs, but aside from one mention of the Charlottesville incident that happened earlier in the day, she was more friendly and playful in chatting with the crowd. Having said that, this band is the real deal, don’t take her kindness for weakness. She can change that tune in a second and begin spitting out lyrics that will set you on your ear (as on “Pink White House”).

It’s not all one big emotional spit though. The band can be understated and subtle when they want to be. That’s one of the things that makes them so special.

In a city like Washington, DC where the Dischord label looms large and bands like these have come (and gone) it takes a special kind of band to really stand out from the pack and Priests have done just that. I’m glad to see that not only did they do it on record, that live they can deliver as well.