ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Go Fly a Kite, by Ben Kweller
Kweller’s last outing was a more moody affair, however that comment can’t be made of his latest release.While there are some acoustic moments, Kweller has brought the rock. And damn it sounds good.
“Time Will Save the Day” is the song Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo wishes that he wrote; spit-fire lyrics set against bombastic guitar chords. “A problem’s a wave you gotta ride to the other side and wave bye-bye-bye.”
“Mean to Me” leads with muscular guitars, punctuated by sharp horn blasts. Yet the song also finds Kweller staying true to his power pop heritage with a quiet, harmony-soaked chorus. Meanwhile “Free” has a musical vibe that recalls the Steve Miller classics. The song has a groove-heavy beat propelled by chugging guitars.
“The Rainbow” finds Kweller in a reflective mood. “Why do I sing these songs, all of these mixtures of pain,” he sings. Piano and strings join as the song builds towards the chorus, “still I can’t figure out why I act this way, just trying to live my life day by day.” It is this moment of reflection that illustrates the strength of Kweller’s songwriting – an innate ability to be introspective and a musical restlessness that finds him constantly searching for emotional clarity in song.
Audio Download: Ben Kweller, “Mean To Me”
Sugar & the Hi-Lows, by Sugar & the Hi-Lows
The first thing that you’ll notice about the debut release of Nashville duo Sugar & the Hi-Lows is the timeless quality of their songs. These are immaculately crafted pop songs that are beautifully packaged, deftly balancing a contemporary feel with a retro-sheen.
The second thing you’ll notice are the handsome harmonies by principals Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup. Their voices blend magnificently.
I was hooked at the gentle sway of opener “Show and Tell.” It is nearly impossible to not get lost in the song as Dabbs and Stroup let their voices glide effortlessly across the melody. A string arrangement adds an extra flourish.
“See It For Yourself” is edgy yet alluring. “You spend a life time looking when a life time is in front of your eyes,” sings Stroup while Dabbs lets loose with some jagged guitar riffs. When Stroub lets loose a wail during Dabbs guitar solo, you know that you are hearing one of those magical moments when two musicians are totally connected with the song.
“Think I Said Too Much” is noteworthy for its simplicity. A heavy beat propels the song while Dabb’s guitar sets the stage for the duo’s glossy vocals. The groove continues on “This Can’t Be the Last Time,” which finds Stroup chastising a lover.
Dabbs and Stroup announce their arrival with a release that is both fresh and inviting. Mark this down as the first stand-out debut of 2012.
Audio Download: Sugar and the Hi-Lows, “See It For Yourself”
Country Girl, Carolina Chocolate Drops (from the Nonesuch Records release Leaving Eden)
I have to admit that I’m late to the Carolina Chocolate Drops party. I’m finally arriving with a proper listen to their latest release. It is filled with moving acoustic music that is filled with a welcoming down-home warmth and authenticity. Some may say that it is about damn time, but I prefer to say better late then never. (See Bill’s review here.)
Audio Download: Carolina Chocolate Drops, “Country Girl”
When I Was Young, Nada Surf (from the Barsuk Records release The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy)
Matthew Caws just has a knack for sublime power pop hooks. While most of the band’s latest release is filled with concise rock gems, this track is a more sprawling affair. It starts as an acoustic ballad but then shifts into a mid-tempo rocker. “Now I’ve grown up, I wonder what was that world I was dreaming of,” sings Caws in a wistful reflection on the freedoms and ambitions of youth.
Audio Download: Nada Surf, “When I Was Young”
I know that some will take offense to this take on the Dylan classic. To me, however, it is a real treat. I love how Bad Religion stay true to both themselves and the song – a straight-forward rendition with the electric punch that is all Bad Religion. Note to self: listen to more Bad Religion.
Audio Stream: Bad Religion, ” It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue ”
Soul Power, Ray Ganucheau (from the self-released Ray Ganucheau and the Bande Le Rois)
What is it about New Orleans? The city just oozes with musical talent. I’ve had Ganucheau’s 2010 release in my queue for quite some time and finally gave it a spin. The interplay and balance between the instruments on this track, from the crispness of the drums to the simmering organ to the jazz-influenced piano, create a brilliant musical palate. Soul power indeed.
Audio Download: Ray Ganucheau and the Bande Le Rois, “Soul Power”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.