“After 15 albums, i’ve taken all of my thoughts about the history of racial injustice and created a musical interpretation for modern times,” says trance blues artist Otis Taylor. His latest, Fantasizing About Being Black is shattering and thought-provoking. By looking backwards, Otis Taylor has made an album that is unfortunately still prescient.
The latest Son Volt album, Notes Of Blue, may just be precisely the album that will put your anxious brain at ease. It’s inspired by Nick Drake, but it’s also inspired by Mississippi Fred McDowell and Skip James. While the influences of the latter are more easily evident, Son Volt’s leader Jay Farrar says he was “aiming for where blues and folk and country converge.” He’s certainly hit his mark.
By Tim Murr
Jade Jackson © Andrew Stuart
Over at The Bluegrass Situation you’ll find the video for the debut single from Americana artist Jade Jackson. The song, “Motorcycle,” is the lead track from the forthcoming album produced by Social Distortion’s Mike Ness. “Motorcycle” is scrappy but soft-spoken and feels like a dusty western noir. I’m really looking forward to this album; if “Motorcycle” is any indication Jackson will be an artist to watch in 2017.
Thrash veterans Overkill return on February 10 with The Grinding Wheel. The first single, “Our Finest Hour,” is exactly what you want/expect from Overkill, which is lightning-fast, squealing-tires-on-pavement, aggressive, and confrontational classic thrash metal. You can check out “Our Finest Hour” below. The album is currently up for pre-order on digital, digi-pak, CD, and vinyl. The vinyl comes in four variants; black, yellow, green, and splatter. You can pre-order from Nuclear Blast Records.
In keeping with the “coming soon” theme of the day, Mastodon released their first single for their March 31 album Emperor Of Sand a few days ago and you can preview it on Loudwire. It’s called “Sultan’s Curse” and sounds like the Mastodon we all know and love. I’ll admit that nothing the group has done since Leviathan has exactly thrilled me as much as their metal adaptation of Moby Dick, but that hasn’t stopped me from being excited every time a new album is announced. In addition to the video in the link, Loudwire also has some info on the album itself. Spoiler alert: it sounds pretty great.
Maiden remains one of the best live bands ever. Their heavy and ambitious Book Of Souls album is a highlight of their nearly four-decade career and with their latest tour they promise to bring back all the Eddies. I saw them a couple years ago with Alice Cooper (who also still knows how to put on a hell of a show) and it was a blast! It’s absolutely worth the experience. (And Ghost is opening!—Ed.)
JUN 03: BRISTOW, VA; JIFFY LUBE LIVE;
JUN 04: PHILADELPHIA, PA; WELLS FARGO CENTER
JUN 07: NEWARK, NJ; PRUDENTIAL CENTER
JUN 09: CHARLOTTE, NC; PNC MUSIC PAVILION:
JUN 11: TAMPA, FL; AMALIE ARENA
JUN 13: NASHVILLE, TN; BRIDGESTONE ARENA
JUN 15: CHICAGO, IL; HOLLYWOOD CASINO AMPHITHEATER
JUN 16: MINNEAPOLIS, MN; XCEL ENERGY CENTER
JUN 19: OKLAHOMA CITY, OK; CHESAPEAKE ARENA
JUN 21: HOUSTON, TX; TOYOTA CENTER
JUN 23: DALLAS, TX; AMERICAN AIRLINES CENTER
JUN 24: SAN ANTONIO, TX; AT&T CENTER
JUN 27: ALBUQUERQUE, NM; ISLETA AMPHITHEATER
JUN 28: PHOENIX, AZ; TALKING STICK RESORT ARENA
JUL 01: SAN BERNARDINO, CA; GLEN HELEN AMPHITHEATER*
JUL 03: LAS VEGAS, NV; T-MOBILE ARENA
JUL 05: OAKLAND, CA; ORACLE ARENA
JUL 07: SALT LAKE CITY, UT; USANA AMPHITHEATER
JUL 09: LINCOLN, NE; PINNACLE BANK ARENA
JUL 11: KANSAS CITY, MO; SPRINT CENTER
JUL 12: ST LOUIS, MO; HOLLYWOOD CASINO AMPHITHEATER
JUL 15: TORONTO, CANADAvBUDWEISER STAGE
JUL 16: QUEBEC CITY, CANADAvVIDEOTRON CENTRE
JUL 19: MANSFIELD, MA; XFINITY CENTER
JUL 21: BROOKLYN, NY; BARCLAYS CENTER
By Tim Murr
Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mick Harvey will likely be best known as Nick Cave’s longtime collaborator, from their first 1band The Boys Next Door, to the Birthday Party, to Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Harvey worked with Cave for 36 years, but he’s also had a distinguished solo career in his own right with Crime And The City Solution, The Wallbangers, and under his own name. It seems whatever Harvey has touched has been at the very least a fascinating addition to the annals of rock and roll.
Brigitte DeMeyer and Will Kimbrough have written songs, recorded, and toured together for years, but with their album Mockingbird Soul, they are putting both their names on the collaboration. And Mockingbird Soul is a true partnership, one that is evident in their instinctive harmonies, their quietly literary lyrics, and the grace of their musicianship. It’s a beauty of an album.
By Tyler Hodg
If ELO, ABBA, and the Rolling Stones had a baby, it would be Foxygen, but don’t believe that they are any sort of rip-off. The duo’s latest effort, Hang, is a symphonic powerhouse that not only borrows from music of yesteryear, but also delivers a sense of authenticity and originality that only comes around so often. With a 40-piece orchestra accompanying all eight (typically) upbeat tracks, Foxygen has released one of the most fearless and valiant records in recent times. (more…)
By Tim Murr
Gabby Gaborno; Photo © Riff55
The Pacific Northwest’s Dark Palms return with a four-song EP that expands the group’s sound in fantastic ways. Smoke opens with a title track that sounds like Black Sabbath by way of Hüsker Dü with a Funhouse Stooges digression. “Heroes” has a push and pull rhythmic thing going, almost as if the song is fighting against being buried alive. “Salton Sea” is more of a straight-forward rocker, like it could have been on the band’s previous release, Hoxbar Ghost Town, but there’s an aged quality to it, like a hot rod running against a desert wind.
The album closes with “Margarita And The Master” which borrows its title from the Mikhail Bulgakov novel about the Devil visiting the atheistic Russia. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on the lyrics and if they actually reference the novel, but the song conjures an interesting notion. All four tracks are damn good and Smoke is a great companion to the group’s debut from last year.
Ah, Werewolves In Siberia, one of the most kick-ass synth-wave projects out there… This album hits Bandcamp today to coincide with the release of Death Race 2050. You get three tracks: the title track, plus two versions of “Frankenstein, The Indestructible,” one with a sample from the original film and one without. The trailer looks like a direct sequel to Roger Corman’s original Death Race 2000, and it looks fucking awesome. The EP is pretty great itself, as one would expect from WiS.
A while ago during my hiatus from Popshifter, Gabby Gaborno, lead singer of the Cadillac Tramps and Manic Hispanic, passed away after years of struggling with health problems. He was a great singer and frontman and both bands are well worth your time to seek out if you’re unfamiliar with them. From interviews I’ve read Gabby seemed like a really cool, nice guy. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
Do you want to know what surprised me the most about Sad Vacation: The Last Days Of Sid And Nancy? What surprised me was how very young Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen were at the height of their infamy and subsequent deaths. Sid was 21 when he died, and Nancy just 20. They were just babies.
Nada Surf, You Know Who You Are & Peaceful Ghosts: 2016 was a banner year for fans of Nada Surf—not only did we see the release of You Know Who You Are (great record;very much classic Nada Surf) but we also got a new live record (Peaceful Ghosts) where a handful of Nada classics are performed with a full symphony—and the result is an impeccably recorded, truly inspiring live record. (Chris)
Weezer, White Album: This is the best gift of the year. Weezer’s best effort since Pinkerton. In a way I feel like it’s the record that could’ve been released after the Blue Album. Great, great, great songs. This is Weezer at its best. (Andy)
Bill Shaouy, The Other Town: Sounding like an Andy Partridge/Colin Moulding pairing, packed to the gills with great songs. Check out “Candy In Line” or “Bunting Bird” and you’ll be immediately sold. (Keith)
Lemon Twigs, Do Hollywood: This record really took me by surprise; these NY brothers created a perfect little pop record of super Nilsson-inspired mini masterpieces. Initially their nutty middle eight/bridges and rhythm fluctuations kind of bugged me but now I’ve grown to adore and expect them… and ultimately want more. (Chris)
Gretchen’s Wheel, Behind The Curtain: Lindsay Murray is a big talent waiting to be discovered. This record is full of great tunes treated with just the right brush strokes. Look for LM to raise the bar even higher on her next. (Keith)
M. Ward, No Rain: M. Ward continues to write and record songs that keep me interested. He’s not doing anything outside his norm but that’s completely OK with me. His recordings are always warm and fuzzy. (Andy)
John Paul White, Beulah: I was not a fan of the Civil Wars but this stripped-down batch of songs hits the spot. There are some sweet chord changes and his voice is a perfect fit for these darker tunes. This is a cool record that really took me by surprise. (Andy)
Nick Piunti, Trust Your Instincts: The third record in as many years, this one might just be the best of three classics. Nick’s best batch of songs and a perfect band to carry them home. (Keith)
TUNS, TUNS: So you tell me you have a band that contains Chris Murphy of Sloan, Matt Murphy of Super Friendz and Flashing Lights, and Mike O’Neill of the Inbreds—easy—where should you run off to buy it? Only problem is that it’s WAY too short. (Chris)
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, Casino Drone: I’m a late comer to the pop musings of Mike Adams but glad to have Mike in my life. Just take in the track “Diem Be,” and you’ll be singing the appropriate praises in no time. (Chris)
The Legal Matters are: Keith Klingensmith, Andy Reed, and Chris Richards. We reviewed their album Conrad on October 28, 2016.
In really hard times, music is the only thing that gives me any kind of real comfort. I don’t know why I bring this up now, since 2016 was an unending laugh riot…
Anyway, here’s some music that mattered to me in 2016. There’s no real ranking here, and I’m sure I’m forgetting or neglecting a million things I discovered and adored. But for here, for now, a rundown of some things I loved this year.
Fairy Bones, 8 Ball and Pink Plastic Cups: In 2015 Fairy Bones had one of my top albums of the year with Dramabot, produced by the always-dapper Bob Hoag. We didn’t get a new album in 2016 but these two singles are top-notch (and landed on a variety of savvy year-end best-of lists). Chelsey Louise is among the very best rock vocalists out there, and this tight-knit band is totally irresistible, so don’t bother resisting, just get this. New album coming in 2017; don’t miss it.
The Armoires, Incidental Lightshow: Yeah, I loved this record so much that I put it out on my own label Black Market Glamour. There’s a sonic dynamic/vocal interplay here somewhere between John Doe and Exene & Gram and Emmylou, with swirling sounds and moving stories that will cast an immediate spell. Deeply emotional, with deft lyrical sleight of hand, this is a record that rewards intimate, repeated listenings. Expect to fall in love. New record coming in the new year!
Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, Eyes On The Prize: the eminent music writer Mitchell Hillman once described Carol Pacey’s sound as a pioneering Americana thrash-pop and it’s an apt description; it’s Americana only in the sense that the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” is Americana. On this, their second full-length outing, Carol and the Honey Shakers explore darker, moodier space, then kick out the jams at a speed and intensity few bands can touch. The push-pull between Carol’s amazing voice and the searing, soaring guitar work of Andy Borunda is something to behold.
Loveland Duren, Next: Memphis legends, national treasures—there aren’t enough superlatives you can throw at Vicki Loveland and Van Duren to really do ‘em justice. We’re talking about voices and songwriting of the very highest order here. Their first album together, 2013’s Bloody Cupid, was stunning, soulful, lush; Next pares it down to a raw, urgent sound, putting both the songs and Van and Vicki’s singular, beautiful, deeply affecting voices right up front. From its heartbreaking tribute to Johns Fry and Hampton to its gorgeous, intricate guitar work, this one is a must-have.
The Monkees, Good Times: Aptly named, this thing; who knew that after 50 years, the Monkees would not only still be a band, not only still making records, but that the record would be a lot of fun and great music besides? But how could you go wrong, really, with songwriting contributions from Paul Weller, Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger (who also produced), Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo, as well as longtime Monkees cohorts like Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Goffin & King and the mighty Harry Nilsson—as well as cheery beyond-the-veil vocal contributions from the departed-but-not-gone Davy Jones and Nilsson himself. It’s a fresh and fun record and one of their very best.
Emitt Rhodes, Rainbow Ends: Despite the incessant prattling of its tiresome, sleazy, two-faced apologists, the major-label music industry always seems to take a special joy in destroying true artists. Said industry did a real number on Rhodes back in the 1970s, robbing him of both his life’s work and the will to create. It took 40-something years, a Herculean effort from producer Chris Price, and an all-star squad of musician-fans including Price, Taylor Locke, Jon Brion, Fernando Perdomo, Jason Falkner, Roger Manning, and Aimee Mann to bring Rhodes out of self-imposed exile. He’s not the fresh-faced kid anymore—both his voice and his songs reflect the journey his life has taken—but it’s all the more moving as a result: this is the real thing, real art and real heart and soul, something no corporate goons can synthesize—or silence.
The Legal Matters, Conrad: If you don’t know Detroit popsters the Legal Matters, set yourself straight with this outstanding collection of classic power pop sounds—tight songs, gorgeous harmonies, crunchy guitars, and a sense of joy you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Fernando Perdomo, Voyeurs: I’ve met this guy once or twice, and I can tell you that he is an outstanding instrumentalist and a songwriter of great depth and versatility; there’s no genre, no style that is out of his range, and on Voyeurs he took to Facebook live and created/recorded the songs in front of an audience (something I myself have done, now and again). The result is tuneful, inventive, surprising, beautiful, heartbreaking. With gorgeous, poetic songs like “Feels,” “The One You Run To,” “Stay With The Friends,” and “Holding Back I Love Yous,” you’ll probably find yourself wishing he’d written one of these about you.
Sam Means, Ten Songs: Sam was half of the wonderful pop band The Format (Nate Ruess, now in fun., was the other), and while Nate has gotten most of the post-Format attention, Sam’s tuneful and thoughtful songs here are a reminder of his extraordinary gifts as a performer and songwriter. It’s a dynamite record and one you should own.
Ken Sharp, New Mourning: Ken’s talents as a music journalist are legendary; many, many more people need to hear his equally amazing songs, which are hauntingly beautiful, intricate, sometimes delicate, but with a power and punch all their own. With gorgeous vocals and flawless musicianship, guests like the Knack’s Prescott Niles and the great Rick Springfield, and production/instrumentation by Fernando Perdomo (this year’s hardest working man in show business by far), this introspective and hook-laden set of gems is not to be missed.
Beat Angels, Holy Mother Of Christ! It’s The Best Of The Beat Angels: You almost certainly have never heard of the Beat Angels, and that is your loss; a blast of undeniable sonic hooks, sex-on-wheels swagger and merciless, literary lyrics, the Beat Angels were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s and ‘00s; picking up roughly where the late, lamented band Gentlemen Afterdark left off, the Beat Angels built on and vastly expanded that band’s singular sound—and maintained their 100% consistent dubious luck, as well. Onus Records has compiled a selection of their best material from three studio albums (one, sadly, never released). Mostly produced by Gilby Clark, it’s a wonderful overview, but a full reissue and reassessment is urgently needed. In the meanwhile, start here.
Gentlemen Afterdark, Gentlemen Afterdark EP and Open The Door EP (iTunes): Glam, New Romantic, Postpunk, New Wave, and beyond: the Gentlemen did it all and did it better than anybody else. After years of being out of print, some of their best songs—and some never before commercially released—are now available via iTunes. A physical release and proper retrospective would be ideal, but for now? At least you can finally hear these absolute ear-candy songs.
Omnivore Recordings is pretty much the undisputed label of the year, having released the Emmit Rhodes album, the Legal Matters, and an absolutely staggering series of reissues, including Game Theory, The Muffs, the Bangles, NRBQ and the undisputed champeen, Big Star’s Complete Third, among dozens of other absolutely essential releases all year. I could write an essay on each of these, but then I would die of exhaustion and people would be sad. Go to your record emporium, look at the records, if you see the Omnivore label on anything, purchase it at once. Your ears will thank you.