ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
Another Country, by Tift Merritt
After 2004’s classic Tamborine, Tift Merritt escaped more than her record contract — she fled the country. Relocating temporarily to Paris, she found an apartment with a piano. The record that emerged is a travelogue of a different kind, a search for identity and assuredness. Merritt chronicles her journey from the pensive “Keep You Happy” to the burgeoning optimism of “Broken” as she declares “I think I will break but I mend.” Her confidence breaks free on the self-explanatory “I Know What I’m Looking For Now” and the rollicking “Tell Me Something True.” It is a journey well worth taking.
Leavin’ the Game on Luckie Street, by Butch Walker & the Let’s Go Out Tonites
I’ve noticed a funny thing about Butch Walker. Once you hear your first walker album – it doesn’t matter which one – you immediately feel compelled to purchase his entire catalog. I’ve seen it happen several times and it has always amazed me. It’s a true testament to Walker’s talents as a songwriter. Just ask Pink or Avril Lavigne who have him to thank for some of their biggest hits. If you’ve never heard Walker, the live spectacular is the perfect introduction. From ultimate power-ballads “Sober” and “Cigarette Lighter Love Song” to guitar-overloaded popsters “Uncomfortably Numb” and “Bethamphetamine” Walker serves up a survey of his shoulda-been hits as a solo artist and the late great Marvelous Three. Walker is offering the entire concert audio for free download (but I recommend the $5.99 version to support Butch and the band and get the bonus cover of James’s “Laid”) here.
Rain, by Joe Jackson
Jackson relocated to Berlin and, in the process, rediscovered his roots. Rain hearkens back to his Night and Day-era with impressive pop songs tinged with jazz flourishes. Jackson’s piano plays prominent in the mix and a close listen highlights the intricacy of his arrangements. Ballads like “Wasted Time” and “Solo (So Low)” showcase Jackson’s penchant for dark, captivating melodies while “Too Tough” veers into a wonderful soaring chorus punctuated by a staccato piano rhythm. The rocking “King Pleasure Time” shows that a piano trio can still break loose as bassist extraordinaire Graham Maby and drummer Dave Houghton make their presence known.
Overcome, by The Jones Street Boys
This album has been sitting in a pile next to my desk since its release last October. When I finally gave it a spin earlier this month, I promptly gave myself a knock upside the head for not listening sooner. The Brooklyn quintet fill their songs with blissful harmonies and an enchanting blend of acoustic guitar, piano and the occasional harmonica and mandolin. Stand-outs include “Julia Belle,” which marries a haunting melody with the tale of a sinking Mississippi riverboat steamer, and “One Last Love Song,” a plaintive ballad featuring guest vocalist Jon Langford (Mekons/Waco Brothers). By the time I got to the Boys evocative cover of the Band’s “Twilight” I was hooked.
Whose Authority, Nada Surf (from the Barsuk Records release Lucky)
Brooklyn’s pop maestros serve up another satisfying release. This track features all that is good about their sound: jangly guitars, catchy hooks, well-worn harmonies and forlorn lyrics.
Make Yourself Useful, Babe, The Star Spangles (from the Tic Records release Dirty Bomb)
How did I miss these guys last year? Perhaps it’s just the charming title, but I’ve got this one on heavy rotation. This is garage rock at its finest with just the right pop touch. “Hey, who’d you blow off today, some shady friend you made, you better make yourself useful babe.” Check their myspace page for a rockin’ version of Richard Thompson’s “I Feel So Good.”
These Sunday Nights, Greg Trooper (from the Running Time Music release The Backshop Live)
Melancholy oozes from every corner of this impressive live solo acoustic performance. “Out come these damned ol’ Sunday night blues, they follow me Monday through Saturday too.”
Down By the Riverside, The Blind Boys of Alabama (from the Time Life release Down in New Orleans)
Can you think of a more compelling combination than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Allen Toussaint and the Blind Boys of Alabama? I certainly can’t, especially when they record this classic New Orleans spiritual. A jubilant and triumphant performance!
Kiss Me Again (Stuttering), Ben’s Brother (from the Virgin Records release Beta Male Fairytales)
I don’t know much about this UK band but do know that they’ve got one of the catchiest songs so far this year. You’ve probably heard this song as part of a Dentyne advertising campaign but if not, it only takes one listen to get you hooked.
Crooked Roof, J Tillman (from the Undertow Records release Minor Works)
The ache in Tillman’s voice will carry you on an ambling journey through the sorrow in this song, perfect for daydreaming on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
California Girls, Magnetic Fields (from the Nonesuch Records release Distortion)
Call it an anti-Beach Boys song. This is what happens when you take a sunny melody, give it plenty of reverb and run the vocals through an echo chamber. Throw in some lyrics about the brutal demise of the aforementioned girls and you’ve got a song is as enchanting as it is sinister.
Muhammad Ali (The Meaning of Christmas), Greg Trooper (from the Running Time Music release The Backshop Live)
When Steve Earle makes a musical recommendation, as he does with this song, you’d be wise to listen. “I remember they called him a clown, then Sonny went down, no more than six rounds, and he was teaching us all a new day was coming… His hands were shaking and his knees were weak, but listen when this old warrior speaks, ‘I am the greatest’ he said with a grin, he’s talking about you, not about him.”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.