ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
What Is Love For, by Justin Currie
Justin Currie sets the tone for his long-awaited solo debut with his opening line, “What is love for?” Over twelve intense tracks, Currie explores broken relationships with a studied but captivating eye. Lyrics filled with tinges of regret and resignation abound, often with an emotional honesty that may seem abrasive to some. On “If I Ever Loved You” Currie reflects sharply on a failed relationship (“If I ever loved you how come I feel alright? How come the nights are so easy and the mornings look so bright?”), yet offers a moment of self-reflection and perspective mid-song “Maybe I was not the one but I had to try, and in the end there’s no such thing as wasted time.” The musical arrangements are as sharp as Currie’s lyrics. A touch of harp here, a quiet piano there, all combining to create an engaging tension that gives the record a theatrical quality. Musically grand and lyrically rich, “What Is Love For” is a breathtaking achievement.
Draw the Curtains, by Will Hoge
Long time Twangville favorite Hoge is one of rock’s hardest-working artists, maintaining a nearly non-stop touring schedule. Not surprisingly, the time spent on the road has finally seeped into his music. In the spirit and style of Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty,” Hoge serves up a collection of restrained songs filled with a road weariness that veers between anxiety and forlorn. Among the stand-outs are Hoge’s moving reflection on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, a song that conveys defiance and hope with the chorus, “Down here we’re washed by the water, the water can’t wash us away.” Album closer “The Highway’s Home” sums it up best. With a quiet pedal steel guitar guiding the way, Hoge declares “With a suitcase full of empty dreams. A guitar with broken strings. A busted heart that longs to sing the blues. A mind that always leads me wrong, a head full of Hank Williams songs. I’m sorry, honey, but this highway’s home.”
Audio Download: Will Hoge Washed By the Water (live, Nashville, TN)
[Source: Will Hoge]
Girls in their Summer Clothes, Bruce Springsteen (from the Sony Records release Magic)
Bruce channels the Beach Boys with a touch of the classic Phil Spector sound on this early favorite from his latest release. As winter descends on New England, its easy to get lost in teh upbeat melody as Bruce sings about “the girls in their summer clothes in the cool of the evening light.” It isn’t a surprise that this song has become an encore staple in his recently launched world tour.
Days Aren’t Long Enough, Steve Earle (from the New West release Washington Square Serenade)
Having relocated to Greenwich Village in NYC, Earle nails the 1960’s Village sound. With a simple melody propelled by a fat-back bass and lightly strummed guitar, Earle and his wife Allison Moorer blend their voices enchantingly on this humble love song.
Time Is a Lion, Joe Henry (from the Anti release Civilians)
With a well-established reputation as one of soul’s leading producers (Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette, Allen Toussaint/Elvis Costello), Henry turns his attention to his own compositions with remarkable results. A deep percussive groove propels this track while the bluesy interplay of guitars and piano give the song a dark edge. Henry’s expressive vocals fit perfectly into the mix as he proclaims, “Time is a lion when you are a lamb.”
Here Tomorrow, Gone Today, Two Dollar Pistols (from the 8th House Records release Here Tomorrow, Gone Today)
North Carolina’s Pistols serve up a beguiling paradox of singer John Howie, Jr.s laid-back baritone vocals with a kickin’ country beat.
Gusto, Ha Ha Tonka (from the Bloodshot Records release Buckle in the Bible Belt)
The band formerly known as Amsterband betray their alt-country roots by delivering a rock album that has shades of classic Doobie Brothers (“Hangman”), Live (“Gusto”), and Billy Joel (“Up Nights”). I’m particularly taken with “Gusto” and its combination of a driving rock beat and the band’s signature multi-part harmonies. Their powerful set was one of my surprise discoveries at the SXSW 2007.
Audio Download: Ha Ha Tonka Gusto
Ain’t No Hiding Love, Deadstring Brothers (from the Bloodshot Records release Silver Mountain)
The opening track from Detroit’s Deadstring Brothers latest release pulls no punches. This is classic rock with the loose swagger of the Faces and the Stones. A chugging organ and guitar jams that are ragged in just the right way will defy you to keep your feet from tapping.
Close Up the Honky Tonks, Dwight Yoakam (from the New West Records release Dwight Sings Buck)
Dwight Yoakam has long drawn inspiration from Buck Owens, originator of the “Bakersfield Sound” (named for the California town in which Owens lived). Owens died last year and Yoakam offers one of several tributes to the country music pioneer. This song, one of Owens biggest hits, get a bit of country swing treatment from Yoakam. “Close up the honky-tonks, throw away the key. Then maybe the one I love will come back to me.”
I Don’t Know You But I Don’t Like You, Two Dollar Pistols (from the 8th House Records release Here Tomorrow, Gone Today)
If Dwight and Buck are urging you to close up the honky tonks then the Two Dollar Pistols are kicking open the door on this barn-burner anchored by a classic southern guitar groove. “I don’t know but I don’t like you,” sings John Howie, Jr., “because she likes you more than I knew.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Fourth of July, X (from the Elektra Records release See How We Are)
I saw John Doe perform a solo show recently when someone called out a request for this song. “I’m sorry sir, but I can’t play that song after Labor Day,” quipped Doe. Too bad, as it is a gem. Songwriter Dave Alvin’s roots sensibilities revved up with X’s punk intensity is a potent mix on this studio version originally released in 1987.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.