ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
The Duke & The King, by The Duke & The King
I’ll admit to not knowing much about the Duke and the King. I was aware that Simon Felice had moved on from the Felice Brothers and had formed this new outfit, but little more. Let’s just say that I’ve corrected that now.
The band serves up a brilliant blend of upstate New York Americana (think the Band) and Muscle Shouls soul. This isn’t, perhaps, too much of a stretch when you consider the band’s credentials. Aside from Felice, bandmates Bobbie ‘Bird’ Burke and Nowell ‘The Deacon’ Haskins have connections to George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic while Simi Stone is steeped in soul and R&B.
And the music? Sublime. Opener “If You Ever Get Famous” is a winsome folk song accentuated by the beautiful harmonies that are a band hallmark. That leads right into the laid-back R&B groove of “Shaky” with its closing saxophone solo that recalls “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Stone shines on what is easily the stand-out song on the album. “I lost my man, to the whiskey and the heart in my hand, been holding on for two years too long,” sings Stone before the band kicks in with a melody that is equal parts pop, folk and R&B. The song brilliantly brings together a happy-go-lucky attitude with an appealing swagger.
“Shine On You” opens with acoustic guitar and harmonica that leads one to think that the song will be a quiet ballad. The arrival of a tasteful yet ragged electric guitar and some brilliantly soulful vocals join in the chorus to give the song tremendous depth.
“If I was dying of heart-ache would you write me a song, rock me there in the moonlight all night long” Felice sings in “You and I.” It is a sentiment that perfectly fits this release, the ideal soundtrack for gazing into a moonlight night.
Audio Download: The Duke and the King, “Shine On You”
World Wide Rebel Songs, by Tom Morello, the Nightwatchman
I’ve never been a big Rage Against the Machine fan, but Tom Morello’s latest solo release is really hitting the spot. Aside from a healthy dose of Morello’s guitar prowess, it is filled with the socially and politically conscious lyrics for which Morello is known. “Troubled times call out for troubled songs,” says Morello of this latest release, “I wanted to capture a vibe midway between Johnny Cash and Che Guevera, murder ballads and Molotov anthems.”
The album roars out of the gate with “Black Sparticus Heart Attack Machine,” ostensibly an acoustic rocker but instilled with the intensity one would expect from Morello. “I’m a massive air strike on a beautiful night, yea it’s my song I’m singin’,” he roars, “somebody better start countin’, we’re coming out swinging.”
“It Begins Tonight” is perhaps the closest to a Rage song, with Morello’s electric guitar spitting out licks against a furious rhythm. “I see your mouth moving but man I ain’t listening, “ he snarls before letting loose a fiery guitar solo. Intense.
Morello channels Woody Guthrie with the sing-along “World Wide Rebel Songs,” albeit with his own distinct lyrical imprint. “Where they’re voices raised and barricades, believe me man I’m down,” he sings, “raise your voices all together, mother f*cker here we come!”
“Speak and Make Lightning” has a down-home foot-stompin’ feel. A rollicking piano and backing vocals help the song build to a gospel rave-up before Morello lets loose with what can only be described as a country-esque guitar solo delivered in the Morello style.
The restrained yet powerful “Save the Hammer for the Man,” co-written and featuring Ben Harper, contains the lyric that best captures the spirit of Morello’s music. “Alone I marched towards freedom, leaving footprints across the land, with a vow that’s left unspoken, save the hammer for the man.” Ironically it is sung by Harper but that doesn’t lesson its relevance.
Regardless of whether you agree with Morello’s views or not, this is music that commands attention.
Audio Download: Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman, “It Begins Tonight”
Damn This Town, John Hiatt (from the New West Records release Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns)
Nearly 40 years. That’s how long John Hiatt has been releasing albums. Pretty darn impressive if you ask me, particularly given how consistent – consistently good – he has been over the years. His latest is just another feather in the cap. The lead-off track is a perfect example, with Hiatt’s gruff voice perfectly matched with the bluesy guitar riffs. And the album title? A classic. (See Eli’s take here.)
Audio Download: John Hiatt, “Damn This Town”
Little Bird, Kasey Chambers (from the Sugarhill Records release Little Bird)
It is hard not to get lost in Australian singer-songwriter Chambers’s voice. It has an ethereal quality yet is instilled with confidence and strength. Musically, her songs are steeped in the country and folk tradition, yet shine with a uplifting pop sensibility. The combination is irresistible.
Audio Download: Kasey Chambers, “Little Bird”
Cry, Slaid Cleaves (from the Music Road Records release Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge)
Cleaves is a songwriter’s songwriter, crafting thoughtful folk songs rich with detail and intelligence. Those who know his music will appreciate this casual performance from Austin’s legendary Horseshoe Lounge, complete with stories and clinking beer bottles to add extra character to his songs. And for those who aren’t familiar with his music, what the heck are you waiting for? There’s no better place to start than this collection that features some Cleaves classics, such as this track that has remained on my playlist since it was released more than two years ago.
Audio Download: Slaid Cleaves, “Cry”
I hate New York, ‘cause I found a love I’d hold until eternity, I hate New York, that god-forsaken skyline is my enemy, fueled the fantasy that she chose over me.
Audio Download: Jim Boggia, “I Hate New York”
Richie and Ruben, Fountains of Wayne (from the Yep Roc Records release Sky Full of Holes)
It would be easy to talk about Fountains of Wayne’s incredible pop sensibilities and insanely catchy melodies. I’ve always been struck, however, by the quality of their lyrics. The attention to detail is astounding as the band keys in on the small details that infuse their songs with immense personality. Exhibit A is this quirky tale of two guys searching for the next big business venture.
Audio Stream: Fountains of Wayne, “Richie and Ruben”
Baby’s Got a Dream, Girls Guns and Glory (from the Lonesome Day Records release Sweet Nothings)
If you’re looking for some honky-tonk, this could be the release for you. The Boston-area quartet mix their country chops with a small dose of rock. The results? A down-home good time.
Audio Download: Girls Guns and Glory, “Baby’s Got a Dream”
Saturday, Little Jackie (from the release Made For TV)
Imani Coppola and Adam Pallin mine the best of late 1970’s and early 1980’s soul pop. The string flourishes help give this song a retro feel but Coppola’s silken vocals and an alluring groove maintain a contemporary edge. This is perma-grin music — it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Audio Download: Little Jackie, “Saturday”
Audio Download: Jim Boggia, “Thunder Road”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.