ALBUMS OF THE SEASON:
Love on the Dial, by Stone River Boys
From the depths of tragedy springs a new beginning. When Chris Gaffney, one half of the Hacienda Brothers, was diagnosed with cancer in early 2008, brother Dave Gonzalez led a tour to raise funds for his close friend. Among those who joined for some of the shows was Austin’s Mike Barfield, the rightfully self-proclaimed “Tyrant of Texas Funk.” Fast forward two years and the two have formed the Stone River Boys, a new band that carries on the Hacienda Brothers legacy.
The group bursts out of the gate with a tremendous 1-2 punch. “Bluebonnet Blue” mixes a bit of Eddie Cochran rockabilly with some tasty slide guitar while “Can I Change My Mind” takes a more soulful, if no less catchy, path.
And it doesn’t stop there. Track three, “The Struggle,” finds the band gliding across the dance floor with some mighty fine southern style rhythm and blues. Barfield may be handling the vocals but it is Gonzalez’s guitar that really sings. The group finds a stellar groove on the title track, a potent mix of smoldering guitar and slowly simmering organ. Barfield injects the song with some impassioned vocals, pleading “put a little love on the dial.”
Chris Gaffney is sorely missed, but I suspect he would take pride in knowing that his spirit lives on within the Stone River Boys. Let the good times roll.
Audio Download: Stone River Boys, “Love On the Dial”
The Great War, by Justin Currie
Currie’s long overdue 2007 solo debut was among my favorite records that year, a somber and imposing masterpiece. Three years down the road he returns with another gem. While no less lyrically dark, Currie does inject some more upbeat melodies into the mix. Many of the songs explore the range of a man’s emotions dealing with relationships. Not surprisingly this is a complex area. On “Ready To Be” Currie takes on the role of a worn-down man, ready to give in to other’s expectations of him. “A good man’s just a great disguise,” he declares, “’cause I’m ready to be the devil they’ve been seeing in me.”
Later, on the jarring “Everyone I Love,” he takes an aggressive turn on the same topic. Atmospheric keyboards give way to a percussive rhythm as Currie lashes out, vowing “tonight I’m gonna hurt everyone I love just to see if they love me.”
Lest anyone think that he always plays the part of maligned lover, “Can’t Let Go of Her Now” makes a back-handed case for love. “Give up my liberty, that’s what she wants from me, Well, I guess I’d care but it feels alright,” he sings, “And if I lose my grip I won’t make it anyhow, so I can’t let go of her now.”
“As Long As You Don’t Come Back” proves that Currie has a knack for catchy melodies, even when the lyrics take a different turn. While electric guitars, organ and subtle harmonies create an enticing backdrop, the lyrics reveal a man cutting the cord of a failed relationship, “And I know that I should be mending fences but why would I do that, when I won’t feel alone as long as you don’t come back.”
Audio Download: Justin Currie, “A Man With Nothing To Do”
Wig!, by Peter Case
Case may be a true student of the blues but he isn’t defined by it. One can hear the lessons learned from his studies yet his songs have a contemporary feel reflective of his distinctive style. “House Rent Jump” has the expected jump blues beat to propel Case’s growl about not having money to pay the rent while the companion “House Rent Party” is a solo acoustic blues number that showcases his tremendous talent. As if to illustrate his musical diversity, “Words In Red” has an enticing Byrds sound, as much for the lyrics as for the 12-string guitar. Meanwhile, New Yorkers will appreciate Case’s brief borough tour on the ramshackle “Ain’t Got No Dough,” a track that shares a musical feel with the classic “Money (That’s What I Want).” My personal favorite, “Colors of Night,” bristles with an anxious wanderlust feel as Case wonders aloud, “Colors of night what does it mean? If all I find is darkness at the end of my dream? Better move fast watch out below, lookin’ for those colors everywhere that I go.” Keep on searchin’, Peter, keep on searchin’.
Audio Download: Peter Case, “Look Out”
White Crosses, by Against Me!
Sure, this ain’t your typical Twangville fare. But good music is good music, right? And this is good music. Florida punk band know their way around a rock riff. Which isn’t to say that they aren’t punk, but rather that they excel at rousing rock anthems.
“I Was a Teenage Anarchist” is a shining example. The song profiles a man reflecting back on his activist youth. “Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire,” asks singer Tom Gabel with the band’s guitars ablazing.
“Because of the Shame” is the spiritual sibling to Bruce Springsteen’s “Bobby Jean.” The song’s stirring sing-along chorus can’t mask the tale of a man trying to understand the passing of a former lover from long ago. “I’m not sure what I meant to you then,” asks Gabel, “so I’m not sure what I owe you now.”
Lest anyone think that that aren’t punkers at heart, look no further than “Rapid Decompression.” The song teems with the spirit of the Clash and the Ramones. Not a bad thing, indeed.
Goodbye Sweet Dreams, Roky Erickson with Okkervil River (from the Anti- Records release True Love Cast Out All Evil)
Much has been written about singer-songwriter Roky Erikson, former singer-songwriter for the 13th Floor Elevators, and his battles with mental illness. All the better, then, to hear his first album of new material in 14 years. Paired with fellow Austin musicians Okkervil River, Erickson has found the perfect partners for his first album of new material in 14 years. This track is a shining example. An acoustic guitar opens the track with the aching feedback of an electric guitar in the distance. The uneasiness carries through the song as the band kicks in with a dissonant cacophony and Erickson proclaims, “Love has been said, it should come and go. Goodbye sweet dreams, if you believe them then go.”
The Curse, Josh Ritter (from the Pytheas release So Runs the World Away)
After an apparent bout of writer’s block, Ritter emerges with a dark and brooding release that still manages to maintain his winsome charm. This quiet epic is a time-lapse tale of a woman who discovers a mummy in Egypt and then brings him home to New York. In typical Ritter form, the song is intelligent and open to interpretation.
Kids With Songs, The Coal Men (from the Funzalo Records release Kids With Songs)
This Nashville three-piece makes quite a racket. Singer Dave Coleman has a great voice for rock and roll, a seemingly effortless style that is strong yet restrained. Bandmates Jason Hitchcock (bass) and Dave Ray (drums) are equally talented, bringing their “A” game on this brawny rocker.
Something For You, the Pernice Brothers (from the Ashmont Records release Goodbye, Killer)
After a four year hiatus that saw Joe Pernice working on solo projects (a book with a companion solo release), the Brothers are back with another diverse and satisfying release. This track hits the mark in classic power pop territory with a strong melody serving as a frame for Pernice’s literary lyrics. And don’t get me started about the nearly one minute closing guitar solo that hearkens back to classic Matthew Sweet circa “Girlfriend.”
Weather, Chauncey (from the Change Records release Chauncey)
I don’t recall ever seeing a band heckled into playing an encore. I can’t say that any more. The late, great boston band Chauncey reunited after a 2 year hiatus for a one-off show last week. When the planned set was through, the crowd sprang into action calling out the band’s tunes alongside some choice covers (Bon Jovi anyone?). This wasn’t the song the band ultimately chose but it is a fine example of their killer song and live energy. Visit their web site here for some additional live tracks, including a boisterous take on David Bowie’s “Sufragette City.” Wham bam thank you ma’am!
Audio Download: Chauncey, “Weather” (live)
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.