ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
The Other Life, by Shooter Jennings
I’ll admit that I haven’t spent much time with Shooter’s previous releases. No real explanation, his music just never made it into my rotation. My bad. His latest is one of the most refreshing country records that I’ve heard in quite some time. Shooter and crew serve up a collection of songs that fit like a well-worn pair of boots – comfortable but a no bullshit attitude.
“The Low Road” is a classic country song that is just damn good fun. “My daddy always told me do the best that you can to be a kind-hearted sensitive hard-workin’ man,” he sings, “But if the high road is closed and the light is comin’ down sometimes you gotta man up and take the low road around.” Sounds about right.
Jennings stretches out on “Gunslinger,” a song that finds him marking his territory, standing tall but demanding to be left alone. An acoustic guitar opens the track, quickly building in intensity as Jennings get more defiant. Something happens towards the end, however, when a saxophone appears and the song breaks down into an extended jam. Perhaps not traditional country, but damn if it doesn’t sound good.
A few guests join Jennings for songs that, depending on your point of view, are about either unrealized ambition or live’s gone wrong. “Wild and Lonesome,” with guest vocals from Patty Griffin, is a downhearted tale of a guy looking for love but who gets lost in the bottle.
One man band master Scott H. Biram joins Jennings for a cover of Steve Young’s “The White Trash Song.” Against a rolling train drum beat, the two sing about a country boy resigned to a simple and lonely life.
I get to thinking about the road
And all the times I come back again,
I was born a child to these muddy roads,
Die here lonesome as the wind
“Outlaw You” is a timely song given the recent controversy over Blake Shelton’s comments about the evolution of country music. Partially reflecting on his father Waylon’s legacy, Shooter lambasts a lack of authenticity in country music.
Hey pretty boy in your cowboy hat
You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat
Country ain’t just about where you’re at
It’s about bein’ true to what’s inside
Amen Shooter, ‘tis a sentiment that applies to any genre. Do it for right or don’t do it at all.
(See Chip’s take on The Other Life here.)
Audio Download: Shooter Jennings, “Gunslinger”
Texas Talking, Shinyribs (from the Nine Mile Records release Gulf Coast Museum)
I’m not really sure what to make of Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell’s earnest take on the classic “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” the closing track on his latest release. Sincere? Ironic? I’m not sure but the fact that Russell leaves it open to interpretation makes me appreciate the song that much more.
I have a similar reaction when I listen to his originals as well. While his accent leaves little doubt that he is a Southern boy, his songs are infused with elements of rock, pop and soul. Heck, “Texas Talking” even has a bit of disco boogie in it.
The one thing of which I am certain: there’s no escaping Russell’s unassuming – and infectious — charm.
Audio Download: Shinyribs, “Texas Talking”
Brand New Day, New American Farmers (from the Big Barncat Records release Brand New Day)
One of, if not the best thing about Twangville is getting that random album in your inbox that just hits the mark. Of course, it’s not as is the Farmers are a new band, just new to me. The core of the group — Paul Knowles and Nicole Storto – have spent the last decade mastering a classic Southern California Americana sound. It’s hard to not get sucked in by the happy-go-lucky optimism of the title track from their latest release.
Oh, and don’t miss their magnificent cover of the ELO classic “Can’t Get It Out of my Head.”
(See Shawn’s review of the New American Farmers here.)
Audio Download: New American Farmers, “Brand New Day”
Gone, The Howlin’ Brothers (from the Readymade Records release Howl)
There’s no escaping the brilliant old-timey feel of this Nashville-based trio. You can hear it in their voices, the songs that they write and the instruments that they play. It’s a quality that makes even this song of love gone wrong sound jubilant.
Well do I love you, well it’s funny you should ask
You stole my heart and now you wanna give it back
Well I’m gone, gone, gone.
Lord, give me a little strength to carry on,
pain and love and loss it makes us strong
And I’m gone, gone, gone.
Audio Download: The Howlin’ Brothers, “Gone”
The band may hail from Washington D.C. but many of these songs were born when songwriter Ryan Bailey was living in the jungles of Costa Rica. Bailey sings with a relaxed soulfulness, which blends well with the Allman Brothers vibe of this freewheeling track.
Check out the cool animated video that accompanies the song.
Audio Download: The Riverbreaks, “Tell the Girls”
Take It On Faith, Matt Mays (from the Sonic Records release Coyote)
After putting out three albums in four years, Canadian singer-songwriter Mays took a four year hiatus from new recordings. The break appears to have suited him well as he’s back with a powerful new release. His songs are filled with energy and fervor, typically packing a sonic rock blast.
Audio Download: Matt Mays, “Take It On Faith”
Lady Luck, Pickwick (from the Dine Alone Records release Can’t Talk Medicine)
Seattle sextet Pickwick make a strong statement with their debut full-length release. Singer Galen Disston has an expressive voice that fits well with the refined yet insistent grooves of the band’s songs. The group is joined by Sharon Van Etten on this bass-driven cover of a Richard Swift song.
Audio Download: Pickwick (with Sharon Van Etten), “Lady Luck”
Long Red Bottle of Wine, Michael Carpenter (from the Paisley Pop Records release Skrang: Sounds Like Bobby Sutliff)
When musician Bobby Sutliff was badly injured in a car crash last year, a group of fellow artists banded together to raise funds towards his recovery. And these aren’t just any artists, but a veritable who’s who of power pop musicians: Matthew Sweet, Will Kimbrough, Don Dixon, Velvet Crush and Tim Lee, to name just a few. Here’s but one example of the pop goodness to be found on the tribute, an infectious track from Australian rocker Michael Carpenter.
Audio Download: Michael Carpenter, “Long Red Bottle of Wine”
There Will Be a Reckoning, Billy Bragg (from the Essentials Music release Tooth and Nail)
Bragg looks at life with a more mature eye these days, but that doesn’t mean that he’s lost his feistiness and sharp tongue. To wit:
There will be a reckoning
For the peddlers of hate who spread the poison all across this estate
And a reckoning, too
For the politicians who left us to this fate
There will be a reckoning
At this year’s SXSW, Bragg talked about writing protest songs. Most writers fail, he said, because they focus too much on the lyrics and not enough on the music. His latest proves that he still knows how to find the right balance.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.