ALBUMS OF THE SEASON
The Death of the Self-Preservation Society, by Two Cow Garage
Two Cow Garage have a well-earned reputation as road warriors who put on ferocious live performances. Their shows are always intense, sweaty and raucous, the way rock is meant to be enjoyed.
What sets these guys apart, however, is the strength of their songwriting. Sure, they’ve got the bar band edge that one would expect, yet their latest songs are filled with the perspective of guys who have been plying their trade for twelve hard years. The result is their best album yet.
“Are you growing up or are you just growing old?” they ask in “Stars and Gutters,” a song that finds them looking back on the rock and roll lifestyle as they reach middle age. That song gives way to the glorious classic rock hooks and harmonies of “Pantomime.” The trio lock into a groove so tight it conjures up images of go-go dancers rocking along as the band plays.
“Geri,” which clocks in at a furious two and a half minutes, will have you careening off the walls. Mid-song, however, the trio breaks into a hearty “ooh la la la” chorus that hearkens back to 1960’s Beatles or Kinks. “I explained away my youth with three chords and the truth,” they sing, “living young and dying fast.”
“Lost On Youth” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or rather a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The band takes a fun pop song and roughs its up until it’s ready for repeated plays at your local dive bar.
The album centerpiece is “Van Gogh,” a song that epitomizes the band’s edgy maturity. Bassist Sweeney and drummer Murph attack their instruments as guitarist Schnabel sings:
Never again will I fall back in
those anxious days of youth and what could have been,
my rebellious years were a waste and I’ve only myself to blame
but I’m older now, not making the same mistakes.
These are songs with more than a little disillusionment and self-reflection. Yet they are equally filled with gratitude for the musical lives that the band leads. I know that I’m one of many when I say, keep on rocking boys, keep on rocking.
Audio Stream: Two Cow Garage, “Van Gogh”
Long I Ride, Robbie Fulks (from the Bloodshot Records release Gone Away Backward)
There are two glorious sides of Robbie Fulks displayed on his latest release. The first is the gifted songwriter that we’ve long enjoyed, a guy who brings together inviting folk melodies with lyrics that are both charming and sly. The second is the artist who is clearly relaxed and having fun playing some old-time country music. One listen to this track and you’ll see what I mean.
These New York folks will treat your kind when your wallet’s in your hand,
but a six-string on your shoulder could be the devil’s brand.
Well they’ll put themselves above you but for all the strut and brag,
I’d trade every brick on Wall Street for one Black Mountain Rag.
It’s long to ride for the little I gain.
$1000 Car, the Bottle Rockets (from the Bloodshot Records re-issue of Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side)
The Bottle Rockets are Americana royalty in my book. Although it has been way too long since they released an album of new music, this re-release of their first two albums is a great reminder of their immense talent. Songwriter Brian Henneman’s songs are filled with well-worn wisdom and wit, which the band serves up with a bristled rock edge.
How’s this for some rock wisdom, “If a thousand dollar car was truly worth a damn, then why would anybody ever spend ten grand.” Indeed.
(See Jeff and Shawn’s take on the Bottle Rockets’ re-issues here.)
Boy Crazy, Lydia Loveless (from the Bloodshot Records ep release Boy Crazy)
I’d say that we at Twangville have been waiting patiently for some new music from Loveless but that would be a lie. In fact, we’ve been impatient as hell. Well, the wait has come to an end with the release of a rambunctious five-song ep (a teaser in advance of a new full length planned for next year). We’re happy to report that Loveless is as feisty as ever, infusing each track with energy and conviction.
Ah, I’ve really missed Grimm. From his early days with NYC’s late, great Hangdogs to his subsequent solo releases, his catalog is filled with heartland rock anthems that have a decidedly sharp lyrical point of view.
After a five-year musical hiatus, Grimm is back with a new album that brings together choice covers with a handful of originals. Although he has mellowed through the years, he still knows how to throw a lyrical punch.
The lead-off track conjures up the spirit and wisdom of Woody Guthrie as a rallying cry for social action. Grimm reflects on Guthrie’s famed 1942 New Year’s resolution list, most notably the final one, “number 33, wake up and fight.”
Audio Download: Matthew Grimm, “Woody Guthrie’s 33rd Resolution”
Working Class, The Defibulators (from the self-released Debt’ll Get ’em)
Who says that there isn’t good Americana in New York City? The Defibulators’ prove ’em wrong with an album that is as rootsy as it is fun. This track tells the tale of a guy who prefers drinking to working, singing, “I got some big ideas I doubt I’ll hammer out, but if you buy a round of stout I’ll tell you all about.”
Audio Download: The Defibulators, “Working Class”
Broken, Wild Ponies (from the Ditch Dog Records release Things That Used to Shine)
The Nashville by way of Virginia duo of Doug and Telisha Williams have taken well to their new home, thank you. They step into classic 1970’s country territory with this freewheeling song from their debut release. I’m not sure what I like better: the authenticity of their voices or the pedal streel guitar set against the low register of the electric guitar. Either way, it makes for a mighty fun listen.
Audio Download: Wild Ponies, “Broken”
Restless Soul, Adam Klein and the Wild Fires (from the Cowboy Angel Music release Sky Blue Deville)
The Athens, GA-based Klein writes songs that have a nice spaciousness to them. These are rock songs that are filled with a mountain air, all the more so from the longing in Klein’s voice.
Audio Download: Adam Klein and the Wild Fires, “Restless Soul”
Good Luck Heart, Greg Trooper (from the 52 Shakes Records release Incident on Willow Street)
I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that artists from Steve Earle to Billy Bragg are Trooper fans. Trooper excels at character studies, painting wonderful portraits of people living through good times and bad times. His matter-of-fact deliver – as both a singer and a songwriter – bring a sense of realism to the tales that he tells.
Audio Download: Greg Trooper, “Good Luck Heart”
Bring Up You, Michael Rank and Stag (from the self-released Mermaids)
Michael Rank is a busy guy. Not content to release just one album this year, he has just unleashed his second album of 2013. Mermaids is the perfect companion to In the Weeds, chock full of songs that are as raw as they are relaxed.
Audio Download: Michael Rank and Stag, “Bring Up You”
This Old Ghost Town, The Fratellis (from the BMG Records release We Need Medicine)
This is feel-good rock and roll at its finest, filled with plenty of riffs and hearty rock beats. The weather may be turning colder in the Northern hemisphere but the sun is always shining when this record is playing.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.