ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
“Who’s got into that 80s radio?” ask the Posies at the start of “Licenses to Hide.” It is an appropriate question for a band whose first album dates back to that era. In a triumph of talent and perseverance over the music business vagaries, the Posies are still releasing standout albums 22 years later. The band is a remarkable partnership between Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, two singer-songwriters who bring distinct personalities to the band’s songs. The commonality is their joint affection for well-crafted pop songs overflowing with rich harmonies.
The album opens with “Plastic Paperbacks,” an angular pop song that challenges the listener – in a good way – with some jagged chord changes. “Take Care Of Yourself” is filled with angst with the melody matching the seriousness of lyrics about a loved one battling despair. “Cleopatra Street” has a Beatles-esque quality (“Sgt. Pepper”-era) while “So Caroline” demonstrates that songs heavy on acoustic guitar can still rock. Personal favorite “The Glitter Prize,” as much as any song on this release, sums up the Posies ethos. Minor chords set against an urgent beat to give the song a tension that contrasts with the melody and harmonies that give it an unmistakable sweetness.
Audio Download: The Posies (featuring Kay Hanley), “The Glitter Prize”
It’s hard not to hear a Bleu song and smile. His enthusiasm and joy for music is infectious. Look no further than “Singin’ in Tongues,” the rocking opening track of his latest release. Bleu’s opening count off gives way to a guitar-propelled melody building to an out-sized, sing-along chorus. You’ll be hard-pressed to not join in. And the fun keeps coming. “Dead in the Mornin’” is a blast – a classic 1960’s soul rave-up with a contemporary sheen while “I’ll Know It When I See It” explodes with energy propelled by fuzzed-out guitars and an urgent drum beat.
As a Boston area resident, I clearly share Bleu’s adoration for the city on “B.O.S.T.O.N.” The song is part autobiography, part tribute as Bleu sings, “I was born in Green Bay, raised up in VA, now I live in LA and I think I just might stay, but if you ask me where I’m from, it’s Boston.”
Even when he slows things down, as on “When the Shit Hits the Fan,” has a sincerity bolstered by regal strings that stands in contrast to the song’s title. And perhaps that speaks to one of Bleu’s finer traits. He takes neither himself nor his songs too seriously. It is a refreshing quality in an industry more often filled with attitude and pretense.
But don’t take my word for it. Bleu asked fans for support through Kickstarter, hoping to raise $8k to promote this release. Fans piled on, 387 of them to be exact, fulfilling Bleu’s goal on the first day of the campaign and ultimately pledging nearly $40k. Count me proudly among them.
Audio Download: Bleu, “Singin’ In Tongues”
I Don’t Wanna Hear It, J Roddy Walston and the Business (from the Vagrant Records release J Roddy Walston and the Business)
What happened to all the rock and roll piano players? And no, The Fray and Coldplay don’t count. Luckily Baltimore’s J Roddy picked up the gauntlet and, with the help of his band mates, serve up one heck of a rock and roll party. I’m, of course, picking a track that doesn’t feature J Roddy on piano, but you’ll get the picture. See them live for the full experience – you won’t regret it.
Audio Download: J Roddy Walston and the Business, “I Don’t Wanna Hear It”
Tin Can Trust, Los Lobos (from the Shout Factory! release Tin Can Trust)
Can someone tell me why these guys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Well over twenty-five years down the road they continue to impress with musicianship that Their latest release straddles the line between rock and jam band, with a healthy dose of traditional Mexican influences in the mix. I’m partial to this track, a restrained blues rock gem with some smoldering guitar solos.
Audio Stream: Los Lobos, “Tin Can Trust”
Come And Get It, Eli “Paperboy” Reed and the True Loves (from the Capitol Records release Come and Get It)
The title track from Reed’s latest plays like it was pulled from the Motown vaults. It’s a testament to both the band’s songwriting chops and their musicianship.
Keep Walkin’, The Parting Gifts (from the In the Red Records release Strychnine Dandelion)
What started as a one-off collaboration between songwriters Greg Cartwright (The Oblivians, Compulsive Gamblers, Reigning Sound) and Coco Hames (The Ettes, Coco Motion) has, pardon the pun, blossomed into a full-fledged release. This track will hit the spot looking for some garage rock goodness.
Audio Download: The Parting Gifts, “Keep Walkin’”
Good Luck Charm, Peter Himmelman (from the Minivan Records release The Mystery and the Hum)
Rock Renaissance man Himmelman has built a solid career from acoustic-based anthems. His sense of melody will suck you in; his intelligent lyrics will keep your attention. This track starts out reminiscent of early Jackson Browne but quickly evolves into a rougher, more tense song. (See Shawn’s full review here.)
Resolution, Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three (from the Yep Roc release Northern Aggression)
Northern Aggression is an apt title for Wynn’s music. You’ll find some heroic melodies and thoughtful songwriting under the surface, but it’s the feedback-drenched guitars that demand attention. Wynn is When you’re in the mood to rock, look no further than Wynn and the Three.
Audio Download: Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three, “Resolution’”
Bad Again, Richard Thompson (from the Shout Factory release Dream Attic)
Thompson is yet another artist who belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His latest release of new songs was recorded live on various stages across the United States. It is the perfect showcase for Thompson’s immense talent as a songwriter and one of rock’s preeminent guitar players. Listening to him and his crack band jam should be required listening for many upcoming artists.
All the Way From Moscow, Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social (from the SideOneDummy Records release Love It To Life)
Malin’s first collection of originals in nearly four years finds him in a rock-and-roll mood. He’s found a talented group of co-conspirators – dubbed the St. Marks Social. The furious guitars tell the story while Malin barks, “you never get your money back kid.” Life lessons from someone who has learned a few.
Live There, The Lonely Forest (from the Trans Records ep The Lonely Forest)
This indie rock quartet from Anacortes, Washington caught my ear with this track. The piano and repetitive, ringing guitar give the song a wistful feel – the perfect accompaniment to the change in weather as summer turns to fall.
Audio Download: The Lonely Forest, “Live There”
You Want to Stay High, Rich Pagano & the SugarCane Cups (from the self-released Rich Pagano & the SugarCane Cups)
Remember what I said last month about Rich Pagano’s unabashed rock number? I think that I’m going to trade it in for this one, featuring the triple guitar theatrics of Jimmy Vivino (Fab Faux, Max Weinberg 7), Andy York (John Mellencamp, Willie Nile) and Trey Anastasio (Phish). The closing 70 seconds of guitar pyrotechniques is stellar.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.