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.)


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


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.

Trashcan Sinatras 10/13/19, Denver

Dates: October 13, 2019

Location: Soiled Dove Underground, Denver CO

Live at the Soiled Dove Underground.


Afternoon shows are always a bit weird (I’m sure for the musicians as well, probably even more so) but even though I had had a late the night before at the SLF/Avengers gig I was not about to miss the Trashcan Sinatras who were hitting the stage at 1:30 in the afternoon. I’d already mowed the lawn (and my wife and kid were shopping) so my day was free. This particular venue is in the basement of a restaurant, kinda cabaret style, and it was maybe 2/3 full for this gig (should have been packed for these guys).

If I’m correct I believe they’ve been touring on different albums the past few years and for this tour it was their 1996 album A Happy Pocket and the much better 2004 record Weightlifting (I unfortunately missed last year’s Cake and I’ve Seen Everything tour).

For this tour it was vocalist Frank Reader (who mostly sang lead but played guitar on a few), John Douglas (who played rhythm guitar and sang a few) and Paul Livingston who was playing lead guitar while sitting down in a chair behind them.

They opened with the songs from A Happy Pocket, not a bad album but definitely not the quality of the first two, which were fabulous. Still the band brought the songs to life with Reader pouring every bit of emotion into it while John and Paul furiously strummed away (or is most cases strummed delicately). Reader telling funny stories and Douglas occasionally telling what the songs were about.

“Twisted and Bent” “A Pop Place” and the final two, “Safecracker” and “Therapist” were among my faves from this set.

After a 15 minute break they came out for 2004’s Weightlifting. In my opinion a much better record and the songs in this set much livelier and more dynamic. Cuts like “Got Carried Away,” “All the Dark Horses” the title track and especially “What Women Do To Men” were absolutely sublime. The crowd was mostly focused and attentive throughout the whole set.

These guys are all about song craftsmanship and are among the best in the business. In this intimate setting all of the songs beautiful intricacies and nuances came out. It was a really wonderful afternoon of music.

They don’t make it to our shores very often so when they do you’ve gotta get out and see them. I’m sure glad I did.




Avengers + Still Little Fingers 10/12/19, Denver

Dates: October 12, 2019

Location: Gothic Theater, Denver CO

Live at the Gothic Theater.


My buddies and I had been psyched for this show for quite some time as it was announced a few months before it happened. Most of them had never seen 1970’s San Francisco punk band The Avengers but I had seen them once in the mid-00’s in Portland, Oregon. That show was original members Penelope Houston on vocals and guitarist Greg Ingraham along with the rhythm section from the Mr T Experience (Joel Reader on bass and Luis Illades on drums) and the band put on a rousing performance that night.

That rhythm section must have been busy for this tour but no worries, as they brought along legendary bassist Hector Penalosa (The Zeros!) and drummer David Bach.

Houston’s sneer is still in fine form and she’s a great performer as well, chatting up the crowd and punctuating words with actions like hitting the mic against her head and skirting around the stage. Ingraham’s guitar still is a major, powerful force and that rhythm section of Penalosa and Bach was absolutely spot on (didn’t seem like a fill-in at all).

We heard all the classic Avengers chestnuts like “Teenage Rebel,”  “Cheap Tragedies,” “We Are the One,” “Second to None” (written by Sex Pistol Steve Jones) “Desperation” (which Penelope dedicated to all the folks who came up from Colorado Springs) and plenty more. They saved the end of the set for their Stones cover (“Paint it Black”) and their own gem, “The American in Me.” What a set! If they come to your town do not miss them.


Belfast, Ireland’s Stiff Little Fingers formed in 1977 (heavily influenced by The Clash as leader Jake Burns stated on this evening) and released their debut LP, Inflammable Material in 1979. This is the 40th tour for that record so the band, of course, played that record in full as well as a handful of other old classics.

For this tour it’s Burns and original bassist Ali McMordie along with Ian McCallum on guitar and Steve Brantley on drums (both with the band since the mid-90’s so not newcomers at all).

They started off with a handful of other songs including “Strummerville” (where Burns talked about the Clash influence), “My Dark Places” (where he openly talked about depression) and the raging “Nobody’s Heroes” (off their sophomore record of the same name). All sounded terrific.

They then kicked straight into the great debut LP with the killer, stuttering “Suspect Device” as well as the jagged “Barbed Wire Love” , their great Bob Marley cover “Johnny Was” and the searing ‘Alternative Ulster.” Burns (who has lived in Chicago for quite some time now) still has the fire and passion and definitely provided fans their money’s worth. The still played with plenty of fire and passion  (especially McMordie who looked on the verge of anger at times).

A great double bill of bands that started before many of these fans were born, but still showing ‘em how it’s done!

BRETT NEWSKI – Live in Wisconsin

Album: Live in Wisconsin

Artist: Brett Newski

Label: self-released

January 01, 1970


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


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”

The Melvins & Redd Kross 9/20/19, Denver

Dates: September 20, 2019

Location: Gothic Theater, Denver CO

Live at the Gothic Theater.


Jeff McDonald plays a 1964 Guild Thunderbird guitar.

That is not important to most of the people who showed up to a nearly sold-out Gothic Theater in Denver to see Redd Kross play with the Melvins last Thursday night for easily one of the best shows to hit Denver in 2019, but it matters. The Guild Thunderbird would fool most people into thinking it was a much more widely available Fender Jazzmaster. The Jazzmaster is the one you see all the indie bands playing nowadays, and the Thunderbird is roughly the same shape. And the Jazzmaster, in the right hands, is a great instrument. But when it comes to production, and popularity, and tone, the Thunderbird is the true stand alone individual, overshadowed by everything around it while being the actual, real authentic standout. It’s its own complete thing.

And that’s pretty much Redd Kross in a nutshell.

Redd Kross brought pure, unadulterated rock fun to the stage and swept up the crowd in their hummable hooks for nearly an hour. And that’s the main takeaway from the Redd Kross portion of the show: it’s fun. Opening with the eponymous single from the band’s newest album Behind The Door (out now on Merge Records), Redd Kross proved that their music is somewhere beyond solid songwriting and ever-better in studio production: The band is about fun. On stage, it was obvious the band was having fun. The crowd is having fun. Everyone seemingly wore the same knowing half grin, just drinking in Redd Kross’s brand of harmony heavy, completely honest power pop/rock/punk/what have you. You stand and you listen and you dance a little and you just have this overwhelming sense that this is exactly … exactly … what rock and roll is all about. Jeff was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and Steve was wearing a white leisure suit with a rhinestone shirt. Fun. Lead guitarist Jason Shapiro threw picks out to the crowd throughout the set. Fun. Everyone in the band ads these signature hand flourishes here and there when they play a note. Fun. And the best part was that there was not a single moment where what Redd Kross did was ironic. Their set, like all their music, was the complete opposite of ironic. It was completely and totally genuine and honest, and that might have been the best thing about the whole night.

It’s here where we pause to explain the cross pollination between Redd Kross and Melvins. Jeff and Steve are the original Redd Kross Brothers. Jason Shapiro was a former RK guitarist who left and reemerged later as the official touring lead guitarist. Dale Crover and Buzz Ozbourne are the original Melvins guys. In 2014-ish Steve started playing bass for Melvins, and in 2016 Dale started playing Drums for Redd Kross. So when they play together, Dale and Steve are playing both sets for both bands. Cool, huh?

Jumping on stage with an entirely different stripe of fun, the Melvins were, as always, loud as absolute fuck. Drummer Dale Crover and bassist Steve McDonald, pulling double duty as full time Redd Kross members, stepped into the dark, heavy Melvins set without missing a beat. Buzz Osbourne, who seemingly draws power from the wizard/spaceman robes he wears on stage(?), led the band through an hour and a half or so of flawless music, proving yet again that if you like your music slow and pummeling, there’s nothing that beats a live Melvins show. The band played across their catalog as always, starting with the seminal tracks “Sesame Street Meat” and “the Kicking Machine,” and bringing out Jeff and Jason for the finale, a cover of Kiss’s “Deuce.”

Rock apparently keeps Buzz and Dale and Steve and Jeff and Jason all young enough to keep going full bore. The show was completely high energy start to finish and a good time was had by all (just as importantly for the people on stage as in the crowd). Even pre-show experimental artist Toshi Kasai, who makes shape changing laser designs sonically linked to noise, seemed like fun, in the right context. For both fans and non-fans, they tour a lot. If you’re even have interested in getting a taste of a genuine, no-frills, insanely entertaining night of loud music, go see them now.


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

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.


Album: Wake Up Again

Artist: Eleni Mandell

Label: Yep Roc

Release Date: June 07, 2019


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


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”