Monthly Archives: January 2018

AMIGO – “And Friends” LP

Album: “And Friends”

Artist: Amigo

Label: Carlisle Beauregard Records

Release Date: January 26, 2018 /

The Upshot: Stealth moments of Americana, indie rock, and garage that are guaranteed to creep into your dreamscapes and line your waking activities, from a gifted NC trio.


Let us dispense with formalities and summarily count the ways:  A rockin’ North Carolina—specifically: Charlotte, NC—twang/psych trio with classic ‘70s singer/songwriter and early ‘90s indie-rock smarts; ace guest turns from a slew of fellow NC virtuosos (among them, mandolin and fiddle ace John Teer, from Chatham County Line); recording sessions with Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium studio, and mastering by Dave Harris at Charlotte’s Studio B. Sure sounds like a litany of TMOQ signage to this impartial observer. One hazards the statement that “And Friends” by Queen City trio Amigo is about as quintessentially Tar Heel as a Dean Smith tailgate party or a Sen. Sam Ervin memorial barbecue.

Okay, so maybe “this observer” isn’t exactly impartial, having seen the band awhile back—and in about as up close and personal a venue as it gets, during a record shop in-store performance. (Raleigh, NC, store Schoolkids Records, to be specific—the group loves breeding such intimacy, trust me.) So this reviewer doesn’t need much encouragement, having been a fan since 2014’s Might Could album: Frontman Slade Baird, drummer Adam Phillips, and bassist Thomas Alverson have the kind of musical mojo and natural stage charisma that’d create new friends whether appearing on a huge festival stage or sharing a post-gig beer at your local neighborhood pub.

There are elements of both classic and contemporary on “And Friends,” notably (for the former notion) the pedal steel, piano, and woodwind-adorned “I Wanna Live (UK Surf),” a stately, gently moving existential meditation that suggests a tuneful summit between Traffic and American Beauty-era Dead; and “Underground Medicine,” a full-tilt twang/garage raveup guaranteed to make those 2am last calls complete washouts as the audience absolutely refuses to let the group off the stage for another hour. Hey, next round’s on me, Slade.

Beyond that, there are stealth moments on this gorgeous collection that are guaranteed to creep into your dreamscapes and line your waking activities, from stunning opener “The Big Idea,” which conjures sonic memories of The Band (listen, in particular, for the Garth-like organ and some sinewy lead guitar); to an out-of-this-world cover of John Prine’s “Everybody” (did I use the word “raveup” yet in this review?); to a somewhat sneaky reprise of “The Big Idea” that gets retitled as “Almost Something Good” and is recast as a haunting acoustic guitar reverie eventually giving way to a lush country-rock arrangement.

Sings Baird, amid a swell of mandolin, pedal steel, guitar, bass, and drums: “What if I found something good? It’s just the way I feel – I only hesitate because the first time, it was almost something good. A little apprehensive ‘cause the last time was so fucked up.” As vulnerable a moment as you’re likely to encounter in this still-young new year—and a sentiment to let you know you’re not alone for the rest of this unfolding year as well. Lord knows, we’re gonna need some shoulders to lean on.

These guys, well… they’re your amigos.

Grab it on sweet heavyweight vinyl (w/download code included), folks, or on CD and digital should you require. You know what this reviewer recommends…

DOWNLOAD: “The Big Idea,’ “I Wanna Live,” “Underground Medicine”


MARCUS ROBERTS TRIO – Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane

Album: Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane

Artist: Marcus Roberts Trio

Label: J-Master

Release Date: November 17, 2017


While it’s not unusual for jazz musicians to make albums paying tribute to a formative influence, they tend to cast a wide net on that influence’s catalog, creating their own personal best-ofs. It’s highly unusual for an entire album to be covered back to front. Pianist Marcus Roberts does just this with Trio Crescent: Celebrating Coltrane, taking on Coltrane’s 1964 LP Crescent. Though that record has nowhere near the reputation of A Love Supreme or Giant Steps, it’s an important brick in Coltrane’s wall, showcasing the saxophonist at his most melodic and soulful. Roberts knows a thing or two about soul and melody, so he and his trio (bassist Rodney Jordan, drummer Jason Marsalis) sound perfectly at home with Coltrane’s suite. The rhythm section steps forward more prominently here, with Marsalis’s subtle cymbal work and Jordan’s swinging grooves as important to the atmosphere as the leader’s keyboard work. Speaking of which, Roberts channels a century of ivory tickling styles, from classical to stride to hard bop, filtering it all down to his own unique, virtuoso playing. From his lush chord work on “Crescent” and “Lonnie’s Lament” to his swinging solos on “Bessie’s Blues” and “Wise One,” Roberts demonstrates why he’s been quietly but insistently celebrated as a jazz titan for thirty years.

The band closes the record with a bonus performance of Coltrane’s “Traneing In,” Roberts prancing across the 88s like a man who just rediscovered his own skill. Reinterpreting a horn player’s work without having a horn is always a challenge, but one for which the Roberts Trio is clearly built.

DOWNLOAD: “Bessie’s Blues,” “Lonnie’s Lament,” “Traneing In”


VARIOUS ARTISTS – Nightshining (Vol. 26) LP

Album: Nightshining (Vol. 26) LP

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Vinyl Moon

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: One of the few vinyl subscription services that provides a genuinely meaningful way to digest new music and build your vinyl collection at the same time.  


With the resurgence of vinyl there are plenty of subscription services out there not worth the price of admission. Thankfully this is not the case with the Vinyl Moon mix tape, on a record concept that offers on a monthly basis, to the musically curious, two sides of astutely curated songs. It’s a cool concept, and one that aims to satisfy your vinyl porn fetish at every turn (I’m talking to you Fred Mills). [Yep. He’s a sick one. —#Vinylporn Ed.] From the music to the deep purple vinyl to the sleeve art, it’s a beauty to behold. Nightshining’s songs and associated artwork give one the sense of being lost in a foreign metropolis. The assembled images that were taken somewhere in China, remind me of some of my earliest memories of Shanghai. I recall wandering around on my bike and just staring at the buildings with their odd shapes and colors, coupled with the strange scents wafting in the air, feeling that I was a million miles from home. Caught with that final glow in the sky before things go black, these images, shot by photographer Marilyn Mugot, are worth the price of admission alone. But hey, this isn’t an unboxing review, so let’s get to the music.

Side A begins with Kan Wakan’s “Phantasmagoria Pt. 1.” Dark and melancholic, the song is a real stunner that’s part jazzy with hints of Massive Attack/Portishead embedded within. The next amazing tune is by a band called Shy Girls, whose track “Why I Love” does a beautiful job of mixing an icy remoteness over a river of passion. It’s a really sad and reflective piece that makes me want to hear more from this group. Rounding out side A is the band Mustard and the Silverfish, with the track “Jubilee Green,” a slightly off-kilter psychedelic pop tune that revolves around what sounds like a Hammond B3 and a Moog, high-as-a-kite-vocals, and flanged out drums to yield a narcotic effect that was hard to shake. Side B’s standout tracks include the Chameleons-like track “Nevada,” by Brooklyn band Hypoluxo and imbued with a distinct eighties vibe. Leo Law’s “Brothers and Sisters” is a brilliant track from this UK singer songwriter, and as the liner notes say this is barely his second recorded song. Funky, soulful and totally chill, this track is perfect for listening in your room as the sun sets in the winter sky.

Side B definitely wasn’t as strong musically as Side A, but even so, the number of unknown bands that I heard and the format that I heard them on proved to be a unique experience that I won’t soon forget. This is a great idea that I hope will gain some traction as one of the more meaningful ways to digest new music and build your vinyl collection at the same time.

DOWNLOAD: “Phantasmagoria Pt. 1” “Why I Love” “Jubilee Green” “Nevada” “Brothers and Sisters”


JOHNNY RAWLS – Waiting For The Train

Album: Waiting For The Train

Artist: Johnny Rawls

Label: Catfood Records

Release Date: September 15, 2017

The Upshot: Seemingly on a tear, Rawls’ latest follows closely on the acclaim of his last release, Tiger In A Cage – revealing an artist who lives for the raucous groove, blending equal parts southern soul to Mississippi blues with a healthy reverence for Stax and Motown.


Those of us having any difficulty getting out of bed in the morning might take some inspiration from 67-year old Johnny Rawls. His seventeenth release, Waiting For The Train, proves that he clearly starts his day with more than orange juice, assaulting originals and covers alike as if half his age. And if he’s finally realizing the success he’s due, it’s because he’s following a formula that brings out his absolute best. With another production helmed by the gifted and precise mastery of Jim Gaines, Rawls matches smart covers (from the catalogues of Dylan, Wilson Pickett, Tyrone Davis and Syl Johnson), laying them out seamlessly amidst strong songs of his own (5 co-written with longtime bassist Bob Trenchard; another penned with Trenchard and James Armstrong). Blend in the turn-on-a-dime playing skills of his long-time band, The Rays: Johnny McGhee (guitar), Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums) and Dan Ferguson (keyboards). Insert the high-end kick of their flawless horn section in Andy Roman (alto/tenor sax), Mike Middleton (trumpet), Nick Flood – baritone/tenor sax and Joel Chavarria (trombone). Mix in Jon Olazabal’s (The Dirty Heads) heady percussion and the dynamic impact of his brilliant backup singers – Janelle Thompson and Shakara Weston (1/2 of El Paso’s Somethin’ 4 The Fellas/S4TF) – and Rawls’ recipe comes to a full boil.

Behind this full head of steam, the train leaves the station briskly, driven by the powerful, horn-driven “Rain Keep Falling (‘Til I’m Free)”. This one song is a master class in what Rawls does best, he and his Rays delivering a powerful shot of modern soul, its roots buried deeply in the past. Special attention is due Dan Ferguson on this opening track for his keyboard flourishes as this tight outfit keeps things slightly restrained, allowing Rawls’ presence to stay out front where it belongs. The rollicking “Las Vegas” could go a long way towards turning around the city’s tourism numbers single-handedly, its energetic tempo serving to camouflage the downside of sin and a life lived doing what you know you shouldn’t be doing. But isn’t that what Vegas is for? Come to think of it, consider this the funkiest anthem against gambling and losing one’s way that ever there was.

Based on these two performances, alone, the spunky Rawls seems a million miles away from ruminating on the sunset of his life, yet “Waiting for the Train” meets mortality head-on. Dan Ferguson’s light touch on keyboards marries to McGhee’s Benson-like touch as Rawls and his sensual backup singers soulfully signal the approach of the ultimate station stop. When Wilson “Wicked” Pickett put his singular stamp on Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love” back in ’68, he helped ease R&B firmly into the Soul camp. Rawls’ treatment of this untouchable classic hit actually kicks it up a notch – given Gaines’ astute production, the chemistry of this band and the molten connection between Rawls’ vocals and his simpatico backup singers. Rawls’ confidence is obvious here, unintimidated by this hit’s rich legacy. The funky “California Shake” conjures the unstoppable groove of the late James Brown, driven forward with tight horns, frenetic percussion and McGhee’s grasp of the songs’ key hook – the groove all the tighter for his studied economy. “Blackjack Was A Gambler” is a story-song with legs of its own ­– a cautionary tale that, despite its prominent sax solo and Richy Puga’s locked-down drumming finesse, waxes on about a minute longer than it might have.

However, Rawls’ reinvention of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” is, in a word, stunning. More celebratory than it is church-like, Rawls never overplays it, the honeyed harmonies of his singers melding with Ferguson’s reverent B3 and piano. Brilliant. Tyrone Davis’ “Turning Point” retains its funky groove yet, given this album’s lofty standard, seems a little light on energy. Syl Johnson’s “We Did It”, too, feels down a notch on Rawls’ Richter-like energy scale yet the arrangements are so skintight on this undeniable groove as to only be shaving hairs, the band getting a little more time to shine. Laying back a little, “Stay With Me” ends the album on a lovely note. The band tones things down ever so slightly, enabling Rawls, Thompson & Weston an opportunity to achieve a sublime vocal fluidity that flows along as if they were siblings.

Waiting For The Train is an even stronger release than the last – which seems an impossible achievement. Yet Johnny Rawls, if he sticks to his recipe, seems destined for greater and greater recognition in his seemingly effortless quest for blues-soul domination. There can be nobody more suitable to assume the crown.


Album: Ad Out LP

Artist: Dylan Hicks

Label: Soft Launch

Release Date: October 20, 2017

The Upshot: Singer-songwriter (and novelist) Austin-born/Minneapolis-based Hicks creates a delightful stew of Americana, soul, rock, and jazz.


Minneapolis raconteur Dylan Hicks describes himself as “singer-songwriter, minor novelist, folk pianist, essayist, and odd-jobber,” which is fair enough; last year he published second novel Amateurs and busied himself on various writing projects while prepping a new album. And on Ad Out he seems utterly relaxed and comfortable in his own skin, hardly the sound of someone who spends his days scraping and hustling and stressing. Fellow artists, take note: Here’s a guy showing you how life is supposed to be lived—enjoying it.

Ad Out, available on digital, CD, and sweet heavyweight vinyl (thumbs up!), follows 2012’s acclaimed Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene (a kind of musical companion to his first novel, Boarded Windows), and as produced by John Munson and featuring the ensemble Hicks is “provisionally calling” The Dylan Hicks Retreat, the songwriter comes across as erudite and engaging, with a delightfully wry sense of humor lining the edges. Highlights? There’s the jaunty opener, “Interested Party,” wherein Hicks, in his trademark part-croon, part-drawl, part-sing/speak, rolls the word “interested” around in his mouth like a delicious piece of candy. “Asking For a Friend” could be a long-lost outtake from The Band, stately Americana with a gospel undercurrent, while the funky “I Was Made Anew” is a soulfully-rendered masterpiece boasting Hicks’ jazz ivories, wiry wah-wah guitar (courtesy Adam Levy), and a 3-piece horn section.  And on “A Chance In Hell” Hicks skillfully channels Mose Allison—speaking of jazz ivories—with understated aplomb, right down to the offhand vocal style.

All in all, a delightful effort, one which pays multiple dividends upon multiple spins. More, please.

DOWNLOAD: “I Was Made Anew,” “Interested Party”

SALAD BOYS —This Is Glue

Album: This Is Glue

Artist: Salad Boys

Label: Trouble In Mind

Release Date: January 19, 2018


Salad Boys’ second full length is noisier and more emphatic than 2015’s Metalmania, drawing sharper outline around its fuzz-crusted pop songs, kicking them harder and finding a vein of anarchic joy in its classic Flying Nun sound.

During the interim, there’s been a change in line-up for the Christchurch-based outfit –Joe Sampson, the singer and guitar player, is now flanked by Ben Dodd on bass and Ben Woods on drums. That shift in players may account for the programmed drums in lead-off cut, “Blown Up,” whose tense, monotone chants, give way to clanging guitar. The cut tugs hard at the leash all the way through its blatting, bleating, robot-krautish introduction, its whispered verse barely rising above the hard beat, and then a minute in, guitars crash in head-first, heedless and hedonistic, full of joy and distortion.

“Psych Slasher” is even better, with real drums and slashing, slanting guitar right from the beginning, and fist-in-the-air defiance in the shouty, hooky chorus. A viscous, rubber-oozing bass line pushes the song onward, the drummer slaps the beat hard on the twos and fours, and the whole thing is an adrenaline coursing racket, but not without its melancholy. Salad Boys have a way of infusing even the hard-charging songs with melancholy; the minor key twists in their bright melodies are like shadows in sunlight.

As before, Salad Boys intersperse rockers with blissful acoustic jangles, where whispery wistfulness threads through the tunefulness. “Dogged Out” is maybe the best of these rain-through-windows songs, embellished with ribbons of string sound for a fuller sound. Yet the best cuts have a bit more bite to them – the early R.E.M.-ish anthem “Exhaltation,” the punk-ish, friction-y “Scenic Route to Nowhere.”

This Is Glue is several orders of magnitude better than the already quite enjoyable Metalmania. Without changing the formula much, Sampson has somehow increased the impact of his ramshackle, ear-wormy songs and made them matter more. Where the earlier album made you nod in recognition and, later, reach for your old 1980s Flying Nun LPs, this one seems entirely sufficient on its own terms. Here comes the new century of 21st century NZ lo-fi; on the strength of This Is Glue it’ll be just as good as the last one.

Download: “Psych Slasher” “Exhaltation”




Album: Invitation

Artist: Filthy Friends

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Release Date: August 25, 2017



They don’t make super groups like they used to, at least when it comes to touting the names of the big stars and running the hype up the proverbial flagpole. Still, that doesn’t mean they ought to pass without a mention. Consequently, the debut of Filthy Friends via the overtly titled Invitation does deserve notice. The list of participants is impressive enough — R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, multi-tasker extraordinaire Scott McCaughey, the ever omnipresent Kurt Bloch, King Crimson (and former R.E.M.) percussionist Bill Rieflin and singer/songwriter Corin Tucker, front person for the band Sleater-Kinney — but the sound that they summon forth is solidly of the rock and resolute variety. It’s driving, deliberate and void of any pandering or pretence.

In truth, Invitation would be a noteworthy offering regardless of the names that appear on the marquee. Songs such as “Depierta,” “Faded Afternoon” and “Any Kind of Crowd” could easily catch the ears of an arena-packed audience straight from the get-go, while others — “Second Life,” “Come Back Shelley,” “You and Your King,” and “No Forgotten Son” in particular — provide an undercurrent of prime punk petulance. While the tone and temperament lacks the verbosity normally associated with an otherwise insurgent sound, Buck’s relentless guitar wail and Bloch’s virulent vocals ensure a tempestuous touch stays intact throughout.

The result is an album of uncommon strength, not necessarily due to the individuals involved, but rather because of the sheer force and fury of the unified thrust. Filthy Friends never waver from this mission, making this one Invitation well worth heeding.

DOWNLOAD: “Second Life,” “Come Back Shelley,” “No Forgotten Son”


BRAD SAN MARTIN – Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight

Album: Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight

Artist: Brad San Martin

Label: Jigsaw

Release Date: November 10, 2017

The Upshot: Staying power for a 10-song collection of indie pop gems.


Erstwhile One Happy Island songwriter Brad San Martin dropped his first solo album, Tell Someone, a home-recorded affair, but for his sophomore effort the multiinstrumentalist availed himself of Mitch Easter’s famed Fidelitorium studio and, along with his friend and OHI producer Pete Weiss, he ultimately exited the studio doors with an indie-pop winner. Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight still finds San Martin handling a huge chunk of the duties, but he’s also joined by some estimable talent – guitarists Kevin Dunn and Mitch Easter (you may have heard of him).

The transition from lo-fi, low-key musings to full-on studio bliss yields such affable gems as “The First Few,” a McCartney-esque piano popper; the jangly, optimistic “Hey Everyone”; “Song About ‘Soul Finger’” which does indeed betray a deep love of soul on San Martin’s part, but with a peppy indie-rock/anthemic edge; and a cinematic, neo-orchestral, take-your-breath-away study in dynamics and texture called “Headstrong.” With introspective, probing lyrics, arrangements that swing between lush and intimate, and a general sense of slotting effortlessly into the pure pop pantheon—the Beatles and Brian Wilson figure strongly in San Martin’s presumed influences—Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight is one of the just-closed year’s sleepers that yields rewards with each successive spin. Don’t let it be relegated to “last year’s stuff,” because it’s got staying power.

DOWNLOAD: “Song About ‘Soul Finger’”; “Hey Everyone”; “Headstrong”


Album: Doors of Perception

Artist: Raoul Björkenheim/eCsTaSy

Label: Cuneiform

Release Date: October 06, 2017


Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim has wielded his axe in a variety of contexts, from the free jazz of Scorch Trio to the long-running prog/jazz hybrid Krakatau. Doors of Perception, his third album with eCsTaSy, showcases the jazz side of his personality. Joined by saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen, bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Markku Ounaskari, Björkenheim confidently blends expansive composition and loose improvisation, like a blend of Miles Davis fusion and Ornette Coleman free playing. Though highly skilled and no stranger to effects, especially distortion, Björkenheim doesn’t overload his space with sound and fury, staying close to the pocket and comping as often as riffing and soloing. The liquid “Ecstasy Dance,” frenetic “Answer It!” and noisy title track use aggression for intensity, rather than flamboyance, showing off his talents without making a fuss about it. Lyytinen proves himself the leader’s match, spiraling through the swinging “Elemental” and honking across the jerking “Jitterfug.” Huhtala sticks with acoustic bass, giving the bottom a proper shading of lightness as well as anchor, while Ounaskari keeps the rhythms percolating, even under a fever dream like “Sunflower.” Fusion without cliché, Doors of Perception provides a freaky good time for jazz fans with a sense of adventure.

DOWNLOAD: “Elemental,” “Doors of Perception,” “Ecstasy Dance”


Album: Flow

Artist: Paul Giallorenzo Trio

Label: Delmark

Release Date: October 20, 2017


Jazz musicians in the 21st century have over 100 years of work to use for inspiration, education and/or theft – long gone for the most part, are the days when an instrumentalist would be a disciple of just one mentor. Pianist Paul Giallorenzo is a good example. On Flow, his second album for the venerable Delmark label, the Chicago improviser pulls bits from a variety of keyboard titans, from Erroll Garner and Bud Powell to Dave Brubeck and Cecil Taylor, taking what he likes and blending it into his own streamlined approach.

Minimalist chords set up rippling melodic lines, as dissonance creeps in, then gleefully waltzes back out again. Bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Mikel Patrick Avery play perfect support, keeping the groove going with little fuss, stepping out only at the most appropriate points. The back-to-back pairing of “Rolling” and “Interstice” shows off Gialllorenzo’s vision nicely, the relative melodicism of the former contrasting with the dissonance of the latter, though it’s to the leader’s credit that each song features elements of the other. The on-the-nose duo “Darkness” and “Lightness” also highlights Giallorenzo’s dual interest in lush melody and angular performance. The exploratory epic “Flipd Scrip,” meanwhile, brings a playfulness to the Trio’s aesthetic, and also give Abrams room for a lengthy arco solo.

None of this is to say, though, that Giallorenzo has a split personality. Far from it – his ability to mesh his various interests into an integrated whole makes the aptly-titled Flow a beautifully crafted showcase for a singular talent.

DOWNLOAD: “Interstice,” “Rolling,” “Darkness”