ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Rickenbacker Girls, by Todd May
This is a real rock record. Now I don’t mean that it is filled with wailing guitars and pounding drums, although both certainly happen on this record. Rather I am referring to its authenticity: real instruments, real songs, real stories and real emotions.
It starts with the title track. No, it’s not about the legendary guitar, although one can hear a Rickenbacker elsewhere on the record. Rather, it refers to the girls around Rickenbacker Air base in Ohio. The song finds May quietly reflecting on his youthful time there chasing after airmens’ daughters and the lives that these women went on to lead. “You know I snuck through that fence on many a night, there’s just something ’bout a girl locked up that tight,” he concludes in a line that clearly has meaning beyond the song.
This album really struck me with the opening piano chords on the rousing “Alphabet City.” I don’t think I fully appreciated how much a piano can get watered down in the mix until I heard how the piano launches this track. It sounds like the piano that sat in my living room growing up. Talk about authentic.
The song is ostensibly a small-town guy describing New York City to his girlfriend but ultimately captures a man finding peace in his situation.
nobody’s gonna mistake you for Nico
hell, no one is gonna mistake me for John Cale
you and I ain’t built for that speed
or that level of temptation
and that’s just as well
May describes the song as “a homesick postcard from NYC.” Homesick, perhaps, but the song has a melody so catchy that you’ll be hard-pressed to not smile and sing along.
The Byrds-esque Rickenbacker guitar rears its head on “Gadflies and Magpies” a song that finds May counseling a friend dealing with some tough times. “Shooing all the gadflies away,” he observes, “you didn’t bargain for this, did you babe?”
“Left To Your Own Devices” is a fragile ballad that recalls classic Hank Williams. Against a plaintive acoustic guitar, May laments getting cheated on not once, but twice.
the first time, as I recall, I drank the guilt
tried to bottle it up but the bottle spilt
so the second time seemed bolder than before
and now I can’t afford to leave you here anymore
May is clearly well-versed in music history. Beyond Williams and the Byrds, there are traces of the Allman Brothers, Steve Earle and a host of other classic rock and country artists tucked in the crevices of this record. Yet May stands strongly in his own right, a talented story-teller who imbues his music with warmth and authenticity.
Audio Download: Todd May, “Alphabet City”
To Dance With You, K Phillips (from the Rancho Azul release American Girls)
Here’s a 2012 release that somehow slipped by me. After years playing as a sideman to other songwriters, Phillips stepped to the forefront with a debut release as confident as it is entertaining. His songs have a loose and carefree swagger that is just plain fun. “I dealt with the devil to dance with you…”
Audio Download: Phillips, “To Dance With You”
When I’m Gone, The Steeldrivers (from the Rounder Records release Hammer Down)
Have you ever had one of those songs that just claws its way under your skin? That’s what this song did to me. It’s an immediately likable pop melody served up with all the acoustic instrumentation and harmonies one would expect from these talented bluegrass musicians.
Audio Stream: The Steeldrivers, “When I’m Gone”
Never Going Back, Samantha Crain (from the Ramseur Records release Kid Face)
Oklahoma singer-songwriter Crain has a wonderfully quirky voice that gives her music extra character. She wraps this voice around a collection of autobiographical songs on her latest release. Here’s a gem about moving forward from a failed relationship.
I had a deal with man and god
One let me down and one did not
So I made my way back home
Audio Download: Samantha Crain, “Never Going Back”
In the Garden, Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition (from the Fat Possum Records release White Buffalo)
The former Squirrel Nut Zipper has blazed quite a trail since that band’s demise. He set up a successful recording studio in Mississippi and played alongside Buddy Guy and others. His latest release, produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, is a rollicking good time. I was originally captivated by the high test moonshine of “Fake Hex” but found myself gravitating towards the mandolin and accordian that fuel this track.
Audio Stream: Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, “In the Garden ”
Somerville Shuffle, Lyle Brewer (from the DeeVeeUs Records release Wicked Live!)
There aren’t many songs written about the town where I live. Actually, this is the only one that I know. This track would still be playlist worthy, though, even without the personal connection. Brewer is an extremely talented musician whose guitar shuffles, swaggers and glides across this track. Of note, this entire instrumental release was recorded live in front on an audience at Boston’s Q Division studios.
Audio Download: Lyle Brewer, ” Somerville Shuffle”
Don’t Lead With Your Heart, Stag (from the Fin Records release Stag)
This Seattle quintet hearken back to the glory days of 1970’s power pop. Think Cheap Trick or the Raspberries in all their glory. Stag’s songs overflow with radiant melodies delivered in bombastic rock fashion. This is a power pop explosion.
As a special bonus, here’s the cool video, starring John Roderick of the Long Winters, that the band created for the song. When was the last time you saw Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny doing shots with a valentine?
Audio Download: Stag, “Don’t Lead With Your Heart ”
Shotgun, Matt Costa (from the Brushfire Records release Matt Costa)
I can’t say that I knew too much about indie singer-songwriter Costa before listening to his latest release. Costa recorded the album in Glasgow, although this particular track overflows with California sunshine and more than a little classic ELO orchestral pop flair.
Audio Stream: Matt Costa, “Shotgun”
Moving Along, Lions in the Street (from the Beverly Martel Records ep On the Lam)
On their debut release, Lions in the Street were sporting a mighty fine Rolling Stones swagger. Their latest ep finds them with a harder but equally potent sound. Think anthemic rocks songs led by highly-charged guitars. Turn it up!
Audio Download: Lions in the Street, “Moving Along”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.