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Album of the Day 10/7/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #481:

Danny & Dusty – The Lost Weekend

This semi-legendary 1985 collaboration among several Paisley Underground types from the Dream Syndicate, Green on Red and Long Ryders has the feeling of an album made in a single afternoon fueled by a lot of alcohol, a story that Steve Wynn AKA Dusty has confirmed. Danny here is Dan Stuart of Green on Red. Most of the songs are about drinking, Wynn’s set in a typically surreal LA noir milieu. The Word Is Out focuses on a character who suddenly finds that he’s paying for everything he used to get for free; Song for the Dreamers and Miracle Mile are a memorable grab bag of boozers and losers, an idea they take to its logical extreme on King of the Losers. The best of the bunch is Wynn’s deliriously gospel-fueled Baby We All Gotta Go Down; there’s also the proto alt-country Send Me a Postcard and the creepy Down to the Bone, all of this good enough to make you forget about the pointless Dylan and Donovan covers at the end. Long out of print; here’s a random torrent. If you like this you may also like Danny & Dusty’s 2007 follow-up, still available at Wynn’s site.

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October 7, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catchy Driving Music from Jason Waters

Singer/guitarist Jason Waters hails from Queens. His new ep See This Through is streaming in its entirety here – it’s yet another good example of new, accessible rock that hasn’t been dumbed down to appeal to corporate radio or the bankruptcy-bound major labels. A lot of this sounds like the BoDeans, especially the title track – a casually swaying, quietly apprehensive highway rock tune – and the fourth cut, which has some sweet twelve-string guitar and really grows on you. The strongest cut here is Darkness of the Day, a darkly slinky, biting country shuffle. The last cut, Late Night Telephone has great production – snarling and swoopy guitars- and catches up on you too. It’s easy to be cynical about music like this because it’s thisclose to top 40 – although a lot of this could have gone nationwide 20 years ago. And maybe it still can – we’re in an era where the playing field is pretty much level again. Nice tasteful performances from Waters on guitar and keys and ultra-tasteful, purist performances by Jim Sabella on guitar, Mike Mulieri on bass, guitar and keys, Jared Waters also on keys (and where are the keys here? They’re almost invisible) and rock-solid drummer Steve Holley.

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #533:

Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like, had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #561:

The Hangdogs – Wallace ’48

These New York hellraisers got their start as sharply literate if drunken alt-country types in the late 90s. By 2003, when this final album came out, they’d gone in more of an Americana rock direction: imagine Jello Biafra fronting Social Distortion, and you’ll get some idea of what the Hangdogs were all about at the end. This is a slice of life from the early Bush era, a scathingly hilarious account of everyday people battling sadistic bosses, broke and too wasted on reality tv to realize how much closer to slaves they became every day. The title track is a bluegrass homage to perennial Socialist Party candidate George Wallace, followed by Waiting For the Stars To Fall, the towering, elegaic ballad that Oasis never wrote. Lots of funny country songs here: Memo from the Head Office, making sure that we max out our credit cards on the all shit we don’t need; Drink Yourself to Death, a spot-on satire of “new Nashville” music; the self-explanatory Alcohol of Fame, and Serious Guy, who’s somebody you hope you never work for. And just as many genuinely serious songs: the workingman’s lament Early to Bed; the plaintive She’s Leaving You; lead guitarist Texas Tex’s hallucinatory, somber Porch Swing; and the bitter band-on-the-road anthem Goodnight, Texas. Frontman Matthew Grimm would go on to equally good things as the leader of socially aware Iowa rockers the Red Smear later in the decade. Utterly impossible to find as a torrent; the usual pay sites have mp3s, and the whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

July 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James McMurtry Rocks the Bell House

Saturday night at the Bell House, James McMurtry kept switching guitars and then retuning them. More often than not, he didn’t bother to hit his pedal to find the right pitch: he didn’t have to. Although he played a lot of songs on acoustic guitar, this was the rock set. It was just as much about the tunes as the endless torrents of lyrics chronicling the disenfranchised Americans hanging over the line between blue-collar poverty and complete destitution. Forget for a minute how vivid his narratives are, or how memorably he’s captured the silent majority’s endless struggle to claw their way out of the poverty trap: he’s also a mighty interesting guitarist. After several rapidfire verses of Choctaw Bingo, a characteristic, offhandedly savage chronicle of the Oklahoma crystal meth economy, McMurtry and his band left behind the bluesy, Come Together-ish shuffle and let the tune explode in a blast of raw guitar fury straight out of R.L. Burnside. Childish Things swung with a snarling, sour mash-fueled groove, part Stones, part Steve Earle. Too Long in the Wasteland took on a careening desperation. And his best-known song, We Can’t Make It Here, stomped with a hypnotic desert-rock vibe complete with a flange guitar solo before the last chorus. “We were gonna drop this from the set list, but it’s still relevant – which sucks for everybody but us,” McMurtry dryly told the crowd. He was being sarcastic of course: in better times a songwriter of his caliber could fill Madison Square Garden. He’s played the song a million times, yet he doesn’t seem to be sick of it, maybe because the most potent chronicle of the economic devastation left behind by the Bush regime resonates as powerfully today as did five years ago. McMurtry drew a line in the sand and dared any Bush-apologist CEO to cross it:

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof
It won’t pay for a drink and you gotta have proof…
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can’t make it here anymore

The stories, obviously, are what the crowd came out for, and McMurtry gave them plenty. His characters will squeeze a discarded soft pack in the case that the person who tossed it away might not have noticed that there was still a smoke or two inside. They regret the choices they’ve made, the kids they shouldn’t have had, they drink too much and do too many drugs, they think about giving up completely but they never do. Ultimately, McMurtry and his endless parade of the debt-ridden and the angst-ridden are optimists, if only because the idea of doing anything other than carrying on is impossible to imagine. Surprisingly, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night was one of the most subtle, the disarmingly allusive Restless. Other songs went for the jugular: Levelland, with its cruel, almost caricaturish tableau of Midwestern anomie, satellite tv dishes and cover bands playing Smoke on the Water. Ruby and Carlos, done solo acoustic, kept the suspense going all the way through to the end, where the shellshocked veteran from the first gulf war lets the land line ring and misses the call from his long-lost, now-injured ex. And The Lights of Cheyenne glimmered distantly, capturing the casual, occasionally dramatic cruelty of life in small western highwayside towns, and the temptations to throw it all away in a futile shot at escape.

And it was good to kick off the night early with a show by another literate rocker whose narratives are just as vivid and intense. LJ Murphy’s songs chronicle the same parade of characters, albeit in a more urban milieu. At Banjo Jim’s, he and his band ran through a similarly bluesy set full of “cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs” in a pre-condo era McCarren Park, pink-collar happy hour crowds too clueless to realize how exploited they are, CEOs getting a hard time from the dominatrixes they love so much, and imperfect strangers who never fail to drive away anyone who gets too close.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carly Jamison’s New Album Happened for a Reason

Carly Jamison is tough and fearless and funny as hell sometimes too. What a breath of fresh air – in a world of wussy waifs and wannabe Jersey Shore skanks, she’s a rare individual voice making smart, accessible, kick-ass Americana-flavored rock. Whether she’s pissed off, or daring you to do something, or cracking a joke, she sings low and confident, casual and conversational. The conversation might go something like this: “Don’t fuck with me.” Her new album Everything Happens for a Reason has to be one of the best driving albums of recent years – it’ll keep you awake on the way to work, and bring you back to life on the way home. It sounds like a vinyl record, like one of those great Georgia Satellites records from the 80s – that fat backbeat, that whiplash snare drum sound, the way the bass rises as the chorus kicks in and all that kick-ass Stonesy guitar. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Dan Baird of the Satellites (and the Yayhoos) plays guitar here, and he might be even better now than he was then.

The opening track, Bring It On sets the stage nonchalantly with scorching layers of guitar, Jamison coyly sliding up to her notes. As is the case throughout this album, the little touches mean a lot – the drum break just before the end, a slide up on the bass and some tremolo-picking from Baird in the distance as it fades. Doubt – as in “there ain’t no doubt” – works a John Fogerty swamp-blues hook and neat layers of acoustic and electric guitars, the first of several kiss-off anthems. “What doesn’t kill us makes me stronger, and I’ve been through many worse things than this,” Jamison asserts knowingly. The classic, a song that needed to be written, is Ask Me If I Give a Shit, the kiss-off song to end all kiss-off songs. “I’ll look into your eyes and tell you where to go,” Jamison sings practically in a murmur, and it just gets better and better from there. A string section with a woozy phaser effect kicks off The One with You, which might be a cheating song, or it could just be a regret song, Baird again putting the rubber to the road with those big, simple, turbocharged riffs.

The mostly acoustic Hills of Jericho chronicles teenage lust triumphing over conformity, with nice high harmonies by Joslyn Ford-Keel: “I once believed in all their stories, I once believed in all their lies,” Jamison admits, but she doesn’t anymore. Self-Consumed is another go-to-hell number, this one for a selfcentered jerk, anchored by some wry baritone guitar. A Stonesy stomp, Look Where It’s Coming From is a dis aimed at a big bullshitter; No Control Anymore starts out tense and acoustic, threatening to fly off the hinges at any second, and when the electric guitars kick in on the chorus it’s soooo satisfying.

After the reverb-drenched honkytonk blues This Big Old Bottle, the album ends with what should be the single, Dreaming, an Orbisonesque noir tremolo-pop song with some tasty violin textures as it builds. It’s simple enough to fool the programmers, real enough to sink its hooks into you and not let go. Maybe this can be Jamison’s sneak attack on country radio – country radio is rock now after all, and it’s overdue for an antidote to all those Shania Twain wannabes. A self-taught musician and songwriter based in New York, Jamison seems more of a creature of the studio than a live performer; here’s hoping this album gets her songs the exposure they deserve.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kasey Anderson’s Heart of a Dog Has Lyrical Bite

Kasey Anderson’s most recent album, Nowhere Nights was one of the best of 2010. The “nowhere nights” theme continues on his new one Heart of a Dog, except with the guitars turned all the way up, pretty much all the way through. Steve Earle is still the obvious comparison – if you’ve ever heard Earle play Nirvana, that comes closer to describing what this sounds like. It’s lyrical rock: Anderson still scours the fringes with a merciless eye for detail and an ear for a catchy, purist guitar hook. His monster band the Honkies includes Andrew KcKeag on lead guitar plus Eric Corson (of the Long Winters) on bass and former Posie Mike Musburger on some of the most effectively loud rock drums in recent memory.

These songs are dark. The album gets off to a great start with The Wrong Light, a big crunchy bluesmetal number that works a Born Under a Bad Sign vibe, thematically if not tunewise. “I got a handful of powder and a wicked grin, open your eyes and let the wrong light in,” Anderson entices in a leering stage whisper. It’s the first of several launching pads for some searing, bluesy lead work by McKeag, who delivers a mean late 70s Ron Wood impression with a slide on the cynical, Stonesy rocker Mercy. Building from an ominous piano intro to a big anthem, Exit Ghost is a grim, completely unromanticized girlfriend-lost-to-drugs story. Your Side of Town might be the predecessor to that one, a bitter kiss-off anthem:

You kept my pockets empty, I was keeping my eyes wide
You were dealing pride and envy, I got my other fix on the side

Another big, fast Stonesy tune, Sirens & Thunder is cynical, but with an unrepentant smirk: the time with that girl may have been crazy and ultimately it might have been hell, but some of the craziest parts were a lot of fun. Kasey Anderson’s Dream offers a considerably louder apocalyptic garage rock update on Bob Dylan’s Honest with You, namechecking Sharon Jones and staring straight into the future: “You want a brave new world, well that can be arranged – the ship’s still sinking but the captain’s changed.” The rest of the tracks include more doomed Dylanesque imagery in Revisionist History Blues; the crushing lucidity of a hangover unfolding in the slow, brooding For Anyone; some delicious organ and accordion work in another regretful ballad, My Blues, My Love; the fast, Springsteenish My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball, and a blazing backbeat cover of the 1983 English Beat frathouse anthem Save It for Later that blows away the original. Pop a Mickey’s Big Mouth and crank this.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #692:

Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets

Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #725:

The BoDeans – Joe Dirt Car

Despite their occasional brushes with fame – the powerpop hit Closer to Free was the theme song to a 90s network tv sitcom – the BoDeans have always been colossally underrated. Gifted with not one but two first-rate songwriters, they foreshadowed the advent of alt-country by almost a decade. By the turn of the 90s, they’d moved on to a more anthemic straight-up rock style. This exhilarating 1995 double live album intersperses singer/rhythm guitarist Sam Llanas’ dark, cynical Americana songs among lead player/singer Kurt Neumann’s big rock anthems. The iconic classic here is Idaho, recorded on the spur of the moment at a soundcheck, a brutally sarcastic portait of rural redneck hell. The big hit is their 1985 debut single, the lusciously jangly revenge anthem She’s a Runaway. The scorching Stonesy rockers here are Fade Away, Still the Night, Say About Love and an absolutely volcanic Feed the Fire, alongside the starkly intense Ballad of Jenny Rae – another battered woman’s revenge tale – and Black White and Blood Red. Llanas mines a wry, wistful oldtime country vibe with I’m in Trouble Again and Looking for Me Somewhere; Neumann’s distant, alienated angst gets plenty of space on the jangly concert favorite Paradise and the bitter You Don’t Get Much and True Devotion. More than two dozen tracks here, virtually all of them first-rate and a handful of genuine classics. Almost thirty years after they started, Llanas and Neumann still tour with a revamped version of the band, continuing to pack stadiums throughout the Midwest. Here’s a random torrent.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/13/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Thursday’s is #747:

The Del Lords – Get Tough: The Best of the Del Lords

We’re going to stick with the Americana rock for a second day in a row, moving forward a couple of decades. Taking their name from the director of the Three Stooges movies, the Del Lords were led by Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner along with hotshot lead player Eric Ambel and a killer rhythm section of bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro. Critics and college radio djs in the 80s loved them, but despite a well-earned reputation for strong songwriting and killer live shows, they never broke through to a mass audience (this was at the end of the era when big record labels were signing good bands). This 2006 reissue is a strong representation of their recently resuscitated career. It’s got their best song, the luscious janglefest Burning in the Flame of Love, along with their rocking adaptation of the 20s blues song How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. Cheyenne is another rich, lush blend of jangle and clang; Judas Kiss is a gem of a powerpop tune, although this version pales next to Ambel’s own interpretation. There’s also the brisk, Dire Straits-ish Love on Fire; the Neil Young-influenced About You, foreshadowing the turn Ambel would take as a solo artist; Love Lies Dying, which blends 80s new wave with Americana; the Georgia Satellites-style riff-rock of Crawl in Bed, the comedic I Play the Drums and a ballsy version of Folsom Prison Blues. All of this is streaming at myspace (but be careful, you have to reload the page after each song unless you want to be assaulted by a loud audio ad). Here’s a random torrent; the band reunited in 2010, with a series of shows in Spain, hopefully some more stateside to follow.

January 13, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment