Monthly Archives: October 2019

Shovels & Rope – 10/13/19, Philadelphia

Dates: October 13, 2019

Location: Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA

One of the BLURT braintrust’s fave band live at Philly’s Union Transfer on a sweet – loud – Sunday evening in the fall… (Above photo from the band’s Facebook page.)

BY JOHN B MOORE

For a duo, Shovels & Rope sure as hell manage to make their sound heard. (No shit. – Ed.)

Headlining a series of shows to promote their latest, By Blood, wife/husband duo Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent traded off vocals and turns behind the drum kit and on guitar, reeling through a 20-plus song set with the energy and hunger of a band just starting out. The fact that Shovels & Rope have been around for close to a decade made that feat that much more impressive for the crowd that ate up every moment Hearst and Trent were on stage.

The set kicked off with the title track from their latest LP and include a handful of new tracks like the destined to be show staple for years to come, “C’mon Utah,” a song set in future America about a horse helping unite a father with his son after a wall was built to keep immigrants out. Rather apt song for our time. The two deftly mixed in new songs alongside some of the greats from pervious records, like “O Be Joyful,” “Hail Hail” and a deeply spirited “The Devil is All Around.”

As impressive as the energy they put into the show – despite spending much of the past year on the road – was the versatility of these two musicians. Hearst managed to play both the drums and organ simultaneously throughout the set, a feat her husband was able to pull off as well when they switched places mid set.

Several times throughout the set, the two managed to show their appreciation for the audience who came out on a Sunday night: “We always feel blessed that this is our job every day,” said Hearst at the start of the show. Not too long after, a self-deprecating Trent unbuttoned his jacked to reveal a By Blood shirt. “After the album came out, we ordered a ton of these shirts thinking they would sell. Um, they’re not selling as well as I thought so I just started wearing them on stage. I’ve got plenty of clean shirts for the rest of the tour.”

A remarkable show by a remarkable band that proved yet again how they’ve managed to build such a loyal following with little airplay but strong word of mouth.

NICK LOWE – Love Starvation EP

Album: NICK LOWE - Love Starvation EP

Artist: Nick Lowe

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: October 04, 2019

Yep Roc

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Let it be said that Nick Lowe is such an exceptional artist that even a four song EP can offer as much satisfaction as an entire LP by practically anyone else. At this point in his career he’s clearly capable of shoring up his strengths with an abbreviated set of songs that sound like ready made classics even from the get go. Love Starvation is, in fact, essential Lowe, melodies that recall the best music he’s made throughout his career, from his early days as a proficient power pop champion through to his rebirth as an Americana Anglophile, flush with both credence and conviction.

Backed by his current collaborators, Los Straitjackets, Lowe sits comfortably at the helm, producing the effort and contributing three of its four songs. Opener “Love Starvation” brings to mind songs like “Cruel to be Kind” and his initial solo sojourns, flush with energy and effusive enthusiasm. “Trombone” sounds like a ready-made single, pop perfect and radio ready. The final two songs, “Blue on Blue” and “Raincoat in the River” find Lowe reverting to music of a vintage variety, affecting a smooth croon that would likely compel the Big O himself, Roy Orbison, to nod his approval. The arrangements echo that dedicated delivery, sharing the sense that Lowe has not only absorbed a certain pop pedigree, but effectively inherited it all by himself.

If this was the only thing Lowe had ever done, it would still be enough to constitute an abbreviated greatest hits, Indeed, each song represents Lowe at his very best. Love Starvation is not only a must-have acquisition, but also ample reason to love Lowe all on its own.

DOWNLOAD: “Blue on Blue,” “Love Starvation,” “Trombone”
Go HERE to view our review and photo gallery of Lowe and Los Straitjackets live in Atlanta.

BRETT NEWSKI – Live in Wisconsin

Album: Live in Wisconsin

Artist: Brett Newski

Label: self-released

January 01, 1970

https://brettnewski.com/

BY JOHN B. MOORE

For close to a decade now, Brett Newski has been living the troubadour life. And not, “oh, that guy tours for a month at a time, he’s a real troubadour.” No, the Wisconsin-based musician Newski, began his career in 2011 with a six-month Southeast Asia tour. He followed it up the next year with a 20-date South African tour and has pretty much been on the road ever since – playing festivals, opening for everyone from the Violent Femmes to Barenaked Ladies, to playing living room and basement shows. Sometimes with a buddy on drums, but, more often than not, traversing the globe alone, his live shows are a thing of wonder and beauty. Part stand up, part serenade, he even manages to play his own backbeat through foot pedals, accompanying himself on guitar and occasionally the kazoo.

It’s a wonder that it’s taken him this long to put out a live record. He does a good job of filling 14 tracks here with a nice cross section of music from his last few albums, from the deeply comical (“DIY”) to the slightly more earnest (“Ride”), with plenty of his charmingly witty banter interposed throughout.

While it hasn’t completely captured the feel of a Newski live show – that would be virtually impossible – it does a pretty admirable job. Live In Wisconsin is certainly worth picking up and playing on repeat until Newski comes through your town again. And based on his track record, that’s probably just a few weeks from now.

DOWNLOAD: “I’m Paranoid,” “DIY” and “No Anchor”

NEW PORNOGRAPHERS – In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

Artist: New Pornographers

Label: Concord

Release Date: September 27, 2019

www.concord.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Longtime New Pornographer’s member Dan Bejar’s 2017 departure and subsequent minimal involvement notwithstanding, In the Morse Code of Brake Lights finds Vancouver’s odd and eccentric collective New Pornographers as exuberant as ever. While Neko Case’s moonlighting from her solo day job allows her to enliven the proceedings, it’s obvious that the ensemble, as a whole, contributes to the richness and resonance that the new album exudes in its entirety.

Indeed, there’s a lot to take in here in terms of the ambiance and arrangements. The effusive output found in such songs as “You’ll Need a Backstreet Drive,” “The Surprise Knock” and “Colossus of Rhodes” speaks to the group’s emphatic delivery, with all its surprising sounds and atmospheric infusion. Granted, it’s hard to catch some of the lyrics, and oftentimes the sheer magnitude of the proceedings can feel overwhelming, but credit the band for their invention and ingenuity regardless. Anyone who feels weighed down by their daily doldrums ought to feel inspired even after a single listen.

To be sure, there are moments of respite that give listeners time to catch their breath. The decidedly affirmative “Higher Dreams’ lives up to its billing, while “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile” offers a shimmering example of their more ethereal charms. Nevertheless, the giddy, gregarious vibe remains intact throughout, revived and renewed via “Dreamlike and On the Rush” and “You Won’t Need Those Where You’re Going,” two notable selections that appear midway through. It’s songs like these that underscore the adrenalin rush and suggest that the brake lights referred to in the album title are applied sparingly at best.

DOWNLOAD: “Higher Dreams,” “You’ll Need a Backstreet Drive,” “The Surprise Knock”

Cruel To Be Kind: The Life And Music Of Nick Lowe, by Will Birch

Title: Cruel To Be Kind

Author: Will Birch

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Publication Date: August 20, 2019

Da Capo Press

https://www.dacapopress.com/

By John B. Moore

Nick Lowe should be as well-known as Springsteen… or at the very least, Elvis Costello. And by musicians, of just about all stripes, he is. But to the casual music listener, aside from his 1984 earworm, “Cruel To be Kind,” (initially released five years prior, to little notice), many have no idea just how influential he is as a musician, songwriter, producer and all around dapper guy who has seamlessly segued from a hippie to a pub rocker to a beloved troubadour over the past five decades. And Will Birch’s bio brilliantly and lovingly documents that transition. Mass stardom has always been elusive for Lowe, but at some point, he simply stopped focusing on the masses and discovered a decidedly smaller, but rabidly loyal audience.

A longtime music journalist, and one who moved in many of the same music circles as Lowe throughout the years – he was a member of British pub-rock group Kursaal Flyers, followed by power popsters The Records, and he also worked with both Dave Edmunds and Billy Bremner, who of course were in Rockpile with Lowe – Birch had phenomenal access to the singer and those who worked with him over the decades. The obligatory childhood stories are all here as are his first fits and starts of becoming a famous musician, but the most compelling sections begin when Lowe’s longtime manager co-founded Stiff Records and, along with putting out his solo records, brought Lowe on to produce everyone from an up-coming Elvis Costello (soon to be a lifelong Lowe friend) to The Damned (for the record, Lowe produced what is arguable the very first punk song).

Despite an obvious close relationship with Lowe, Birch doesn’t skim past his personality quirks (at times, he seemed like the definition of a curmudgeon), or his alcoholism. But his history with Lowe provides for some impressive anecdotes few others could offer.

Despite, or more likely because of, his disparate career, Lowe has evolved into a dependably brilliant performer. Cruel To Be Kind is a bio worthy of his quirky and irresistible reputation.

ELENI MANDELL – Wake Up Again

Album: Wake Up Again

Artist: Eleni Mandell

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: June 07, 2019

https://yeproc.com/

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

With a dozen albums and more than 20 years spent pursuing her career, one would think that Eleni Mandell would be better situated in the public consciousness by now. Certainly, though, it’s not through lack of trying. Nor does that failing have anything to do with her inability to move in the right circles. Her past associations have included X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, Wilco’s Nels Cline, Berlin’s Steve Berlin, noted drummer Lenny Waronker, and chanteuse Inara George with whom she partnered in the short-lived indie supergroup The Living Sisters. Mentored by Chuck E. Weiss, Rickie Lee Jones’s legendary muse, Mandell makes music that’s occasionally insurgent, but not so far from the mainstream to be considered anything other than engaging.

Wake Up Again offers further proof of that point, its title suggesting it’s the public, and not the artist, that needs to take a second look. Its songs are entrenched in a solid folk-like firmament, with some, such as “Circumstances,” “Be Yourself,” “Ghost of a Girl” and “Wake Up Again,” infused in that delicate more than others. To be sure, there are a couple of assertive pronouncements — “Box in a Box” and “What’s Your Handle (Radio Waves)” being the most prominent, but overall these are songs of wistful reflection and quiet contemplation. It’s a set of songs that’s sweetly sugar coated throughout, its pleasantry apparently part of its purpose.

If the title holds deeper meaning, it might be interpreted as Mandell’s desire to maintain a sort of cerebral dream state, one where life is celebrated from a nocturnal perspective, shielded from the otherwise unpleasant intrusions of the world around us. Obviously, that’s not realistic, but here, in a bubble of serenity and serendipity, we’re given opportunity to imagine what such a blissful existence might actually be like.

DOWNLOAD: “Circumstances,” “Be Yourself,” “Ghost of a Girl”

 

 

 

JACK WATERSON – Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson

Album: Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson

Label: Linear Labs

Release Date: April 12, 2019

 

https://linearlabsmusic.com/

 BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

The ubiquitously titled Adrian Younge Presents Jack Waterson could be considered payback of sorts. Twenty years ago, Waterson befriended and subsequently mentored Younge, an 18-year-old budding musician whose ambition and admiration eventually made him the perfect foil for the near legend that Waterson had become. Indeed, there was reason for Younge’s devotion; a critical member of L.A.’s hugely influential psychedelic revivalist ensemble Green on Red, Waterson was rarely heard from, though he remained a seminal figure regardless.

In the 25 plus years since Green On Red originally disbanded prior to briefly reforming in the new millennium – read about the group’s history and legacy here – the band’s pervasive appeal has only broadened, even though Waterson’s individual output was limited to only one earlier album, 1988’s well-regarded Whose Dog? With this current effort, Waterson seems intent on restating his claim to the band’s acid-drenched imprint, thanks to ten tracks that firmly instil that same hallucinatory impression. Songs such as “Smile,” “Religion of Death” and “The Legend of Shorty George” are flush with ominous uncertainty, a tangle of bleak and bizarre atmospherics that defy form and function. Even the titles are lysergic in tone — “Flashback,” “They Won’t Help You” and “Prepare for a Long Fall” are clearly a set-up for the dire circumstance they share. Waterson and his protege play all the instruments between them, but the darkness and density suggests some far deeper design.

 After all the harsh, harrowing circumstance, the final two tracks, “Larceny” and “All Hail the Emperor,” find the duo shifting somewhat into more subdued circumspect. But no matter. The imagery and intrigue of this effort overall ensures its lingering largesse.

DOWNLOAD: “Smile,” Stay,” Religion of Death”

Blacktop Mojo 8/16/19, Pittsburgh

Dates: August 16, 2019

Location: Hard Rock Cafe, Pittsburgh PA

Live at the Iron City venue Pittsburgh Hard Rock Cafe! Above: Blacktop Mojo

TEXT & PHOTOS BY TIFFINI TAYLOR

When it comes to rock concerts, finding just a good old garage feel band rock show seems to be a dream for fans. I’m here to say that isn’t true anymore! Pittsburgh Hard Rock Café was the place to be, the stage rocked with Chuck Moses & The Trash Bandits, Redson, Lullwater, and Blacktop Mojo. The “Can’t Sleep” tour has a perfect line-up for all rock fans. The tours intensity to bring rock and smack you in the face will make you smile.

It’s been said rock is dead, don’t believe it! Rock has a soul as pure as the first breath of the word rock. It may be a little harder to find pure rock during this present time, but it is out there and needs to be heard. Pittsburgh Hard Rock Café had bands who knew how to get down good. It was a semi-cool summer Tuesday night to have a drink at Hard Rock Café and enjoy the music.

***

Chuck Moses and The Trash Bandits, a local band, rocked a simple lighting effect stage, orange, blues and white. A band of talented musicians who has a retro late seventies vibe with blues thrown in made the crowd feel good. The drums were pounding by a man who knew how to pound, the bass was going with a sexy Miami Vice vibe, and the guitar player who was enjoying himself who resembles Robert Plant. A simply good band.

***

Next taking to the stage is Redson, a band who embodies the appearance of rock ‘n’ roll. A heavier sound is what Redson brought to the stage. The stage lit up with nice lighting effects of red, blue, white, orange, and it has a little purple too. Their sound is harsh, but in a good way. The music is heavy, it’s like if good and evil had a baby. The guitar growls into pure heavy rock while beat is flavored with powerful drums and bass. Redson is a heavy rock band who is worthy of being seen on this tour.

***

A band from Athens, Georgia as popular as Creature Comforts “Athena”, better known as champagne of the south, Lullwater is the champagne of grunge style rock. Lullwater is becoming legendary, just like Creature Comforts, all over the country and the world. The band are good guys who love music who’ve been doing it for a long time. Lullwater comes full on heavy rock and brings it all to the stage. Their newest released album “Voodoo” will put the voodoo inside you. No one will be disappointed, especially seeing them live. Simple stage lighting made the music come to life. A large audience gathered around the stage to see a good heavy rock band. A loud riff beginning everyone knew who Lullwater was before their set was over. Red, white, and blue lights illustrated the musicians to another level of rock. Hearing Lullwater play live and viewing their charisma is bliss.

 

 

***

Once hearing Lullwater you begin to think it can’t get any better, then Blacktop Mojo enters onto the stage. These guys from Texas know how to rock ‘n’ roll. The crowd seemed to have grown larger and the excitement to rock grew stronger. Jeans and cowboy boots walked into Pittsburgh Hard Rock Café with a strong Texan howdy. Upon entering the stage, the audience had a roar. The first drumbeat, bass strummed, and the guitar riffs, it’s party time. The white lighting, with hues of blue, orange and red compliments the band and their instruments. Feeling the beats and the vibe from the stage knew this was a special moment which you look for in rock ‘n’ roll.  “Can’t Sleep” is a song which is a taste of their upcoming release of the album “Under the Sun”. Blacktop Mojo came into town to rock Pittsburgh, PA an it was accomplished. Everyone at Hard Rock had a great time along with great vibes and memories.

 

Blacktop Mojo and Lullwater are the  new face of rock ‘n’ roll. Don’t believe me, then check out these faces.

Ride 9/29/19, Atlanta

Dates: September 29, 2019

Location: Variety Playhouse, Atlanta GA

Shoegaze legends invade the Variety Playhouse in fine style.

PHOTOS/TEXT BY JOHN BOYDSTON

One of my favorite early ’90s UK pop-gaze bands is back – been back for a while actually, and I’m guessing they’ve never sounded better, because they were amazing at this Atlanta performance.    It was my first chance to hear them.  Ride formed in Oxford 1988 and quickly became part of the shoegaze scene that I personally still can’t get enough of.  They made some great records, found an audience and critical acclaim, but broke up in 1996.    Andy Bell, Laurence Colbert, Mark Gardener, and Steve Queralt reformed in 2014 and have found an even bigger audience and are still making great records.

Ride is currently touring the US and circling the globe in support of their latest LP ‘This is Not a Safe Place’ on Wichita Recordings, and has found an even bigger audience since getting back together.

They broke out of the shoegaze mold a long ago by writing catchy songs, but keeping the pedals on overdrive.  The result is a wall-of-sound guitar bliss.  Check out the music and dates and all things Ride here. Photos of the Atlanta show are below.

***
John Boydston’s galleries are viewable at jobo.smugmug.com and on Instagram at @johnboydstonphoto.