It’s rare these days for a record to stun me upon first listen, but that’s exactly what happened with Moon Goose’s debut album.
Opening cut “Second Life” is a gloriously tight psychedelic instrumental that reminded me of the band White Manna with its widescreen spirit leading us somewhere uncharted. “Knifeless Skinning” is a fascinating descent into an unsettling scene, where exploration and an incantations are all rolled into one.
And it just gets better from here.
“Le Conte” amps up the uniqueness to 10. Funky, diverse, and deep, the song is magical as it unfolds for the listener. Here the band reminds me of Malesch-era Agitation Free with their organic transitory sound. “Trains” is a slow burner that eventually reaches max elevation, with guitar playing that’s as magical as it can get. Then there’s “Carnage,” which is an amazing amalgam of the band’s best elements and musical leanings. Succinct, melodic, and tighter than a nun’s ass, the band really lets it fly on this brilliant track.
This record glides from one glorious moment to the next. There’s even a double colored vinyl pressing in the offing (it includes a CD of the whole album as well) so our vinyl-porn-fixated Chief Editor Fred Blurt can get his fix. (Gimme. You had me at “Agitation Free” who, incidentally, have just seen Malesch reissued on colored wax.— Krautrock Ed.)
Florida native Michael McArthur credits isolation, among other things, for the tone of many of the songs off of Ever Green, Ever Rain, his debut LP. That loneliness can heard throughout each and every track here as McArthur turns in a vulnerable, haunting collection of modern folk that brings to mind everyone from Bon Iver to Iron & Wine.
There is an openness to many of these songs, like the self-confessional “Elaine” that makes the listener almost feel guilty for listening in. Gorgeous? Yes, but it sounds a little intrusive, like listening to a relationship ending at the next table. There is also a vulnerability to both his voice and lyrics that echoes back to decades to folks as diverse as Nick Drake and James Taylor.
Though a dozen tracks of earnest, heartfelt folk can be tough to take in one sitting for some, McArthur manages to turn his isolation and loneliness into a movingly beautiful album.
DOWNLOAD: “Wild in the Blood,” “Elaine” and “Warmer Months”
Atlanta’s rock & roll hot streak continues with Don’t Go Out Tonight, the fiery debut from power trio Bad Spell. Though ostensibly playing garage rock, guitarist Bryan G. Malone, baritone guitarist Shane Pringle and drummer Pietro DiGennaro didn’t purchase Nuggets and stop there. The band explores the nexus of mid- and late-sixties guitar grunge, starting at the Sonics, continuing through the Litter and ending up in Detroit. Powered by burly riffs, raw singing (and we do mean actual singing, not screaming), and DiGennaro’s jet engine drumming,
Bad Spell’s energy level kicks the needle into the red, pulling back at just the right times, in order to make the next punch deadlier. The group’s blare is effective enough, but it’s put to use on songs with substantial melodies and a sense of actual craft. The band isn’t hiding an urge to be the Zombies underneath its crackle, but there’s definitely a vibe that says “Yes, Virginia, we know how to actually write songs.” That’s evident in the blazing “Sick On Love,” “Spellbound” and “Some Kinda Strange,” the almost rootsy “Jenny Lynn,” “Wastin’ Time On You” and “(Hey Hey Hey) Let’s Disappear” and the crunching powerhouse that is the title track. Indeed, there’s not a bum track here – every song is primed for maximum riffology. This kind of crash-and-bash rock & roll is becoming scarce, at least the kind that’s done well, so kudos to Bad Spell for taking an older model and giving it a turbocharge.
DOWNLOAD: “Don’t Go Out Tonight,” “Some Kinda Strange,” “(Hey Hey Hey) Let’s Disappear”
Chicago alt folk/Americana upstarts The Way Down Wanderers have managed to spike their music was some interesting elements on their sophomore effort, adding in snatches of jazz and pop here and there, while still remining true to the sound that made their debut a satisfying affair.
Though not vastly too different from their self-titled record, Illusions takes small steps forward both musically and lyrically for a more consistently appealing sound. Songs like “Frozen Through” and the creative musical stuttering on a track like “She’s Alright” find the band building on the foundation laid out two years ago and starting to separate themselves from an ever-growing field of bluegrass/Americana bands that have sprouted up over the past year or so. While the infusion of other styles for the most part serve to bolster their music, the Reggae-like beat on “All My Words,” has the opposite effect, dragging down an otherwise decent song.
Lead singers Austin Krause-Thompson and Collin Krause have impressively built on their strengths from the debut, perfecting their trade off vocal style and knack for strong harmonies. Aside from a few small stumbles here and there, Illusions is another solid effort from The Way Down Wanderers.
DOWNLOAD: “FROZEN THROUGH,” “SHE’S ALRIGHT” AND “HEARTLAND”
Coming immediately off a run of summer dates in 2018, Joe Jackson and his current band hit the studio to capture a group that was still very much hitting its stride musically. The resulting album Fool, Jackson’s 20th, still boats many of the jazz-infused pop trademarks that marked his post-big hit debut through much of the 1980s. It’s a solid set from the always dependable Jackson, if not a bit uninspired in places.
The album starts off with the ambitious “Big Black Cloud,” a dark song that sounds a little forced on the first listen but stays with you on repeated listens – one of the savviest tracks on the record. The breezy “Friends Better,” sounds as if it came off of “Look Sharp!”
Elsewhere, there are some songs that sound like they were last minute add-ons (“Alchemy” is so plodding you can almost watch time stand still), but taken as a whole, Fool still finds Jackson playing some of the best pop music out there, immune to fads and current trends.
You want an education in Baroque pop? Well, you’ve got it right here in 3-cds (in a lovely clam shell box set with an awesome, informative 40-page booklet that I’m only like a quarter of the way through). Lotsa music was churning through England during those late 60’s and early 70’s years. If you were the long-haired type your tastes may have been leaning more toward Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, but those more, shall we say, cerebral folks, their ears were pointed toward what George Martin and the Beatles were doing and hundreds more bands took the ball and ran with it. Bands that didn’t at all mind experimenting with instruments like harpsichords or oboes or flutes and let’s not forget the granddaddy of ‘em all, the French horn! Oh sure, you know about Donovan, The Zombies and The Move (who all have songs on disc three) but how about the likes of Fickle Pickle or The Factotums or The U-Know-Who (I swear I’m not making these names up). Oh and the Spencer Davis Group also show up on disc three as well. If you want to go chronologically check out disc one first and you’ll heart cuts by Genesis (yup), The Strawbs, Bert Jansch and The Honeybus (with the whimsical (“do I figure) In Your Life”). A few others on disc 1 that I heard for the first time include The Toast, The Matchmakers and Curved Air, just to name a few.
I have to admit, other than the big names (The Zombies, Donovan , etc) I was a latecomer to the whole baroque pop scene. What initially got me interested was the Cardinal record (released on Flydaddy in 1994) and I worked back from there listening to American bands like The Left Banke and Mortimer (who Cardinal covered on their record), so yeah, a lot of the stuff on here brand new to me despite some of it being 50 years old. The vocals soar as do the glistening melodies. Again, it’s a big spoonful here but if you’ve got time to lock yourself in your room for a few days you’ll come out a very educated person on the topic. We’ve all got time for that, right?
DOWNLOAD: Michael Blount- “Acorn Street,” The Honeybus- “(do I figure) In Your Life?”, The Searchers- “Popcorn, Double Features,” The Freshman- “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune”
There’s something about Oklahoma. Over the past several years, some of the strongest, Americana/country/folk albums have been put out by native Oakies like Parker Millsap, John Fulbright and The Turnpike Troubadours. Add M. Lockwood Porter to the list. A native of Oklahoma, he carries on the Red Dirt tradition beautifully with Communion In The Ashes, his third album and a triumph in diversity.
Effortlessly slipping in and out of musical genres from modern folk (“Get Back To The Wild”) to updated spirituals (“I Will Do No More A-Prayin’”) to straight up rock (“Anything For Greed”), Porter delivers a remarkably impressive album. The obvious dual influences of Springsteen and Dylan are present here, especially in his lyrics (“Get Back To The Wild” is truly one of the best spiritual anthems to come out in years), but you can also glimpse nods to others like Bright Eyes and Kristofferson.
Across 11 tracks, there is not a single moment of filler or superfluous music here. Ever lyric, every note works to deliver a remarkable album. Given the history of Oklahoma, there is a compelling argument to be made that the Sooner state could rightfully hijack Nashville’s claim to “Music City” or Austin’s brag of “Live Music Capitol of the World”.
DOWNLOAD: “Get Back to the Wild” and “Anything for Greed”
When former Saints and Laughing Clowns guitarist/songwriter Ed Kuepper put together the Aints in the early nineties, it was with the intention of reclaiming the Saints’ seventies catalog in the style in which the songs were originally recorded. The band quickly evolved into a vehicle for Kuepper’s bluesier, more jamming instincts – a sound in opposition to the highly crafted, idiosyncratic folk rock with which he worked on his solo albums. Twenty-six years after the last Aints album, Kuepper adds an exclamation point and revisits his original notion.
Rather than cover the already well-known work by his former band, however, Kuepper instead digs into his archives and resurrects a set of unrecorded songs – some predating the Saints and some coming from the time between 1978’s Prehistoric Sounds (and the subsequent dissolution of the original lineup) and the 1982 debut of the Laughing Clowns. That last period seems key here – not only for the presence of horns, which had debuted to great effect on the Saints’ “Know Your Product” and become integral on Sounds, but for the creeping jazziness that would define the Clowns’ innovative postpunk. Aided by Australian jazz pianist Alister Spence and a three-piece horn section, Kuepper pushes “You Got the Answer,” “Elevator (A Song For Barking Lord Jeff)” and the title track into what would have been quirky territory for the original band, but now strikes one as perfectly transitional. This is the world in which much of Kuepper’s work lives, and it sounds glorious.
Not everything strives to break what was then new ground, however. “Country Song in G” is another lovely folk rocker in the vein of “A Minor Aversion,” while “Winters Way” balances grooving R&B and melancholia for a brooding delight. “The Rise and Fall of James Hoopnoch Eefill” indulges in a Kinks-like fantasia, while “Goodnight Ladies (I Hear a Sound Without)” delves into epic psychedelic postpunk. “S.O.S. ‘75” and “Red Aces,” meanwhile, simply rock out, the latter opening the LP with a bang. The horns and piano stay with these tracks as well – along with Kuepper’s sense of melody and distinctive singing, which has only gotten richer with age, they provide continuity as the band explores various stylistic avenues. Not that there needs to be thematic unity – Kuepper’s writing is so strong and the band’s performance so tight the tracks would succeed under any circumstances. Welcome back the Aints!, stronger than ever.
Note: The album is also available as a limited-to-500-copies vinyl LP, while the deluxe version of the CD comes with a bonus disc, “The Church of Simultaneous Instrumentals.”
DOWNLOAD: “Red Aces,” “Winters Way,” “You Got the Answer”
The Upshot: Two songs in and your inner beast will be soothed, if not seduced, as Alabama-born Coco O’Connor baits her gentle trap – a blend of country-hued heartland music – as inspired by her Nashville tutelage as it is by the haunting effects of her remote home in the mountains of Santa Fe.
BY ERIC THOM
At 27 minutes, this 7-song release might be considered more of a tease than a full sale yet, there’s no denying that something powerful is going on here. With just enough of a taste to set the bar, once hooked, you’ll want more. This is not the first kick at the stall for the 45-year old Alabama native. In fact, This Ol’ War is her sophomore release after ‘16’s Turquoise. Beyond her statuesque, good looks – no obstacle to marketing – O’Connor proves her worth as a sophisticated songwriter (providing 2 slick originals and 5 tasty co-writes) and singer. Her writing reflects her status as an outsider, migrating to the mountains and vistas of Santa Fe, New Mexico after rejecting Nashville’s hustle, bustle and the pressures of creative judgments. Valuable time spent nurturing her latest work in relative isolation made all the difference, as did connecting with wunderkind Parker Cason on the project. What comes out in her music is any combination of family, history and roots influences driven by an outgoing and rebellious spirit. Multi-instrumentalist Cason (piano, organ, synth, acoustic guitar and pedal steel) also served as O’Connor’s like-minded producer and her assembled band features Jon Radford (drums), Rich Brinsfield (bass), Michael Rinne/Sadler Vaden [Jason Isbell] (guitars), Wanda Vick (fiddle, mandolin, dobro), Judy Rodman (backing vocals) with Jeff White adding vocals to the third track).
Maybe it’s the sepia-toned artwork or sense of detachment but one can’t help but feel an overall sense of time standing still – from O’Connor’s references to the Civil War to time spent in the remote grandeur of her mountain perch. Lyrical content ranges from the trials and tribulations of relationships to dancing with her Daddy, exile, hardship and home – clearly where her heart lives. Consider the rural charm of the mandolin-driven “Daddy’s Arms” where, strong of voice, O’Connor “Aw, shucks!” her way through a down-home family portrait that might cause Alison Krauss to blush. She and her mercurial band are well-suited as they embrace O’Connor’s strong vocals with layers of moody pedal steel, fiddle, dobro, guitar and percussion. From this strong country-does-bluegrass beginning, strong-picking dominates another dobro-friendly track, “The Devil, A Wounded Man & Me”, while O’Connor doubles up with Jeff White on vocals, to impressive effect, as Wanda Vick’s fiddle stitches it all together.
One of the album’s best tracks is her very own “Abilene” – so good it sounds like an old country song you’ve had in your head for years. Having already demonstrated her able vocal range, the deep-dish twang of baritone guitar and a timeless snare shuffle (complete with a string section) sets O’Connor free with a vocal that absolutely soars in heartfelt tribute to her Texas roots, delivering both pleasure and pain with a bittersweet edge. “This Ol’ War” depicts matters of the heart, her mezzo-soprano voice hitting even higher ground as her band toughens to mine more of a country-rock vein, leaning on atmospheric lead guitar and weeping pedal steel. Another powerhouse track is the promising “South of Santa Fe”, making effective use of pedal steel and backup vocalist Judy Rodman – another fine example of her songwriting _ a co-write with Doug Kahan. The odd duck might be “Crenshaw County” – a somewhat clunky depiction of unrealized goals and hardship – O’Connor donning her Daisy Mae cut-offs and cryin’ the real-world blues with the help of pedal steel, fiddle and some tasty lead guitar from ‘Vadler’. However, its odd chorus of “Crenshaw County” just doesn’t feel like it fits the song. However, this detour is immediately redeemed by the O’Connor/Cason composition “Free State of Winston”. It’s the song Tom Petty was born to sing yet, in his absence, O’Connor injects it with rocky swagger and plenty of attitude. This is one infectious earworm that leaves This Ol’ War on a high note as it underlines O’Connor’s wide-ranging tastes and chameleonic abilities. At four minutes in length, it’s the track you’d wish would go on much longer while the band’s barrage of B3, screaming guitars and pounding rhythms is anything but where this record began.
This may suggest that O’Connor isn’t entirely clear on where she wants to go next with her music. It’s a little California, a little Nashville and the product of a woman who’s lived a real life and is ready to write about it. Over the course of seven short songs, she’s covered a lot of ground, musically – hinting at her potential. She’s beyond her years in musical maturity and, given the high quality of songwriting found on this record, her compelling vocals and skills at arranging, whatever follows should fully illuminate where this evolution is taking her. Given her uniquely isolated perspective and capacity for dynamic performance, this next release should be well worth looking forward to.
Given that Deer Tick turned in two full albums in late 2017, it’s a little surprising just a month in the new year that they already have another LP ready to send out into the world (even if this recent, sudden gift of music was preceded by a four-year absence). But be thankful for small miracles. Mayonnaise, the band’s eight full length is another amazing collection of rock-tinged Americana, made up mostly – I’m assuming – of songs that didn’t make it onto 2017’s two self-titled efforts.
Far from sounding like lesser cast-offs, the songs here are just as worthy as anything off those earlier albums. The music vacillates between more mellow, acoustic fare like “Pale Blue Eyes” and straight-ahead rock numbers like the infections “Hey! Yeah!”. They even flirt with instrumental jazz on the piano/sax-heavy “Memphis Chair”. Pleasantly the band is solid regardless of whatever musical road they head down on Mayonnaise.
Not sure if this latest release, the third in the series, is foreshadowing another hiatus, but hoping that’s not the case as the group is clearly hitting their stride.
DOWNLOAD: “White City” and “Hey! Yeah”
A Blurt Boot Exclusive: Psychedelic Furs "Only You and I" (Live Costa Mesa CA 7-19-18
Tribute: Tony Kinman (R.I.P.) and Rank And File - Video from "Long Gone Dead"
Blurt Audio Exclusive: Thin White Rope "The Fish Song" (from 2018 remaster of The Ruby Sea