ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Battles, by Kingsley Flood
Battles is the sound of a band hitting stride. Kingsley Flood have always delivered rock solid songs and performances. Their latest release, however, packages their most potent songwriting to date with some equally powerful arrangements.
There’s a real edge to the songs across this release. The title track will burst through your speakers, propelled by a bristling guitar and pounding drums. “Down” is equally intense, this time driven by fuzzy bass (and listen closely for the piano flashes in the first verse – a nice touch).
“Hard To Break a Habit” opens with a relaxed acoustic guitar but an ominous keyboard foreshadows the sonic explosion that occurs later in the song. The song finds singer-songwriter Naseem Khuri describing what it is like to be on the receiving end of a break-up, “Now my hands they shake for the first time, I’ve never waited on a ringing phone line.”
“Strongman” opens with a rockabilly acoustic guitar before the band joins in to rough it up into a badass rock song. “Your ivory tower’s bigger than mine and you know it,” acknowledges Khuri before cautioning that power is what you make of it, “but you gotta put your hand in the mud to throw it.”
“King’s Men” has a baroque barroom feel with its piano and orchestral strings and horns, not to mention the loud conversation and barking dog that accompany the mid-song interlude. The symphonic instrumentation also anchors the brooding “Waiting on the River to Rise.”
Singer Khuri has a distinctive voice that lends an edge to his songwriting. On more intense tracks like “Pick Your Battles” his spitfire vocals conjure up images of Joe Strummer or Craig Finn. On slower songs like “Sigh a While” he recalls a young Tom Waits.
The band has hidden weapons in the form of multi-instrumentalists Chris Barrett and Jenee Morgan. From violin to trumpet and from saxophone to keyboards, they give the band’s songs extra depth. This was no doubt advanced on the latest release by the band’s work with producer Sam Kassirer. Known for his previous work with Josh Ritter and David Wax Museum, Kassirer excels at nuanced instrumentation and arrangements.
Attention artists releasing albums this year: the gauntlet has been thrown.
Audio Download: Kingsley Flood, “Strongman”
Another Love Song, Ted Russell Kamp (from the PoMo Records release Night Owl)
Kamp says that he took a little extra time putting together his latest release. Was it worth it? You betcha. His songwriting is as strong as ever, fourteen tracks of impeccably crafted Americana. What sets this release apart, however, is the musicianship and production. There’s a restrained yet enthusiastic confidence, infused with a warmth to it that is tremendously inviting. Anchoring it all is Kamp’s voice, as honeyed as it is weathered.
Audio Download: Ted Russell Kamp, “Another Love Song”
So Many Midnights Ago, Joey Kneiser (from the This Is American Music ep release Moonlight for the Graveyard Heart)
Glossary’s Joey Kneiser snuck this 2012 release in just under the wire. More relaxed than a typical Glossary release, it comes across with more of a polished home demo feel. Yet that doesn’t diminish its power, in fact it strengthens it. This wistful ballad finds Kneiser longing for a lost love.
got so far to go and no way to get there
but this town has always been on my side
so let the rain fall on me
if its has got to fall somewhere
let it wash away the dirt for awhile<
Audio Download: Joey Kneiser, “So Many Midnights Ago”
Walkin’ Down My Street, Nude Beach (from the Other Music Recording Co/Fat Possum release II)
Not sure where I stumbled across this 2012 release but seeing it on Eli’s Favorite Records of 2012 list certainly caught my attention. This album, with ten tracks clocking in at a scant 32 minutes, is filled with ramshackle rock gems. This is high energy music centered on imminently catchy melodies and a great garage rock sound. Here’s exhibit A for your listening pleasure.
Audio Stream: Nude Beach, “Walkin’ Down My Street”
Harmony, Goodnight, Texas (from the Tallest Man Records release A Long Life of Living)
I feel a little deceived by this song. On my first listen I was enthralled with the lilting melody and beautiful harmonies. On second listen I paid attention to the lyrics, which describe a man realizing that he has fallen out of love. Not as uplifting as the melody implies….
I’ve been looking at the life we have and wondering what it’s for
‘cause we’ve been building it up so tall that you can’t see the ground anymore
I’ve been dancing around the fact that life is passing by
but I’ve been waiting on an exit plan that wouldn’t make you cry
This may be the duo’s debut, but their finely honed sound — rooted in Appalachian folk music but with a contemporary sheen — flows as if they have been making music together for years.
Audio Download: Goodnight, Texas, “Harmony”
Sad Joy, Carrie Rodriguez (from the Ninth Street Opus release Give Me All You Got)
My favorite tracks on this release find Rodriguez’s signature fiddle playing, well, second fiddle in the arrangements. All the better to showcase Rodriguez’s continued growth as a songwriter.
In an interview, Rodriguez tells the story behind this bittersweet song that reflects on finding joy in sorrowful situations. A lesson for us all.
(See Shawn’s take on Give Me All You Got here.)
Audio Stream: Carrie Rodriguez, “Sad Joy”
Favorite Shirt, Rich Mahan (from the Snortin’ Horse Records release Blame Bobby Bare)
“She wore my favorite shirt and nothing else, it really was a lovely sight to see,” sings Mahan on this stand-out from his debut release. This track – and much of the release – has a great laid-back 1970’s feel to it with some classic outlaw country attitude. This is PBR music, perfect for the jukebox at that comfortable dive bar in your neighborhood. Thanks Bobby Bare.
Audio Download: Rich Mahan, “Favorite Shirt”
Everybody Knows, The Stone Foxes (from the Ingrooves/Fontana Records release Small Fires)
The San Francisco quartet have amp’d it up several notches on their third release. This bluesy romp, loosely based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, finds drummer Shannon Koehler stepping out with some sinister harmonica riffs.
And put this band down on your list of bands to see live. Their energy is intense. Just don’t forget your earplugs.
Audio Download: The Stone Foxes, “Everybody Knows”
Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, Elephant Stone (from the Hidden Pony Records release Elephant Stone)
You gotta love a band that includes a sitar, 12-string guitar and farfisa organ. Meet Elephant Stone. The Canadian quartet bill themselves as a psychedelic rock band although I hear a strong power pop element to their music.
Audio Download: Elephant Stone, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”
International Appeal, the Shilohs (from the Light Organ Records release So Wild)
This quartet from Vancouver, Canada make their mark with a mighty fun debut release. I’d like to think that if the Beatles had relocated to Bakersfield, California they might have sounded like this.
Audio Download: The Shilohs, “International Appeal”
Wild Country, Wake Owl (from the Vagrant Records ep release Wild Country)
Melancholy is the first word that comes to mind when listening to Wake Owl’s debut ep. Singer-songwriter Colyn Cameron pairs contemplative lyrics with brooding melodies. Rich harmonies and a plaintive violin paint a rich aural picture on the title track.
What will become of the truth when we keep it in
things we don’t remember when they ask us when
we did the things that we learned we shouldn’t do again
what wasn’t learned from mistakes, we will make them
Audio Stream: Wake Owl, “Wild Country”
Wish You Looked, Jones Street Station (from The Perennials Project)
Have you been keeping up with Jones Street Station’s Perennials Project, a year-long cycle of free weekly downloads? If not, you’ve been missing some great music from these acoustic troubadours. The good news is that you can find all the songs — plus the ones still to come — on their web site. Go get ‘em.
Audio Download: Jones Street Station, “Wish You Looked”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Ragged Religion, Asa Brebner (from the Hi-N-Dry Recordings release Ragged Religion)
Longtime Boston musician Asa Brebner built his musical reputation as a member of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers and as co-founder of early 1980’s group Robin Lane and the Chartbusters. Brebner came into his own with a series of solo releases in the late 1990s and early 2000s filled with big brawny rock songs. This song is one of my favorites, a tremendous showcase for Brebner’s guitar prowess and his sometimes wry, always vivid lyrics.
Standing in the broken glass waiting for the mood to pass
I smoke too much but it’s the only fun I get
Jenny’s in the laundromat telling all her sisters that
I lost the grocery money on a football bet.
Audio Download: Asa Brebner, “Ragged Religion”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.