Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 2

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, by Dave & Phil Alvin

Dave & Phil AlvinThis album is no doubt a labor of love. Sure, the Alvin brothers have a reputation for family squabbles. They are still brothers, however, who share a passion for music. So I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve reunited – for the first time in almost 30 years – to pay tribute to a songwriter who inspired their careers in music.

The man in question? Big Bill Broonzy, a guitarist and songwriter who emerged in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Broonzy was a pioneer of acoustic country blues and is considered by many as one of the forefathers of rock and roll.

The brothers Alvin tackle twelve songs from the Broonzy catalog, ranging from early gems like “Big Bill’s Blues” to later classics like “Key to the Highway.” Not surprisingly for those familiar with the brothers earlier work in the Blasters, they bring these songs to life like few others can. Brother Phil is in fine voice while brother Dave lets loose on both electric and acoustic guitar.

Tracks like the acoustic opener “All By Myself” and “How You Want It Done?” have a healthy swing; others, like “I Feel So Good” and “Truckin’ Little Woman,” have a great juke-joint swagger.

Two masters paying tribute to a legend – what’s not to like?

Audio Download: Dave and Phil Alvin, “Key to the Highway”

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THE PLAYLIST


Get as Gone Can Get, Sarah Borges and Ward Hayden with Girls Guns and Glory (from the Lonesome Day Records single Baby Don’t Go b/w Get as Gone Can Get)

Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory have already independently released two of my favorite albums so far this year. I didn’t think that they’d be able to top that. Man, was I wrong. The two have collaborated on a killer new vinyl/digital single.

One side is their take on the Sonny & Cher classic “Baby Don’t Go.” It’s the flip side, however, that really rocks. The Borges-penned track may clock in at just under two and a half minutes, but it packs one hell of a punch.

Well, I was drinking whiskey and he was drinking wine
I had a bottle in my pocket, it tasted like turpentine
We was gettin’ loose to the hillbilly sway,
I knew I should have turned around and run the other way.

Audio Stream: Sarah Borges and Girls Guns and Glory, “Get as Gone Can Get”

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Our Kind of Love, Christopher Denny (from the Partisan Records release If the Roses Don’t Kill Us)

Denny has a voice the likes of which you’ve likely never heard before. It’s beyond retro, it’s vintage. Think Al Jolson crooning back in the early 20th century. There’s a bit of drawl and plenty of character in his singing as well.

While that alone would make Denny unique, his songwriting voice is equally distinctive. He brings to life the hardships that he has encountered, more often than not with a positive attitude and outlook, and reveals a tender romantic side as well. The results are magical.


Shock to the System, Eli “Paperboy” Reed (from the Warner Brothers Records release Nights Like This

Back in the 1960s there was an dazzling type of R&B-flavored pop song, soulful and made for dancing. The lyrics used simple language without being simplistic. The results were infectious.

Reed has spent years studying the forebearers while honing his own musical style. Whereas his earlier releases had a strong retro feel, his latest crackles with a contemporary vibe. The blend of old and new is potent and makes for the perfect soundtrack to your summer.

Reed traveled to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record this alternate version of a fave track from Nights Like This. The backing band includes legendary Swampers David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and Spooner Oldham.


How Would You Feel, Cowboy Mouth (from the Elm City Records release Go)

It’s great to see that, as Cowboy Mouth celebrate their 25th anniversary, the New Orleans-based quartet haven’t lost their step. Fred LeBlanc still bristles with a manic energy while band co-founder John Thomas Griffith still has a knack for writing catchy pop anthems. As this track clearly illustrates, they have no intention of slowing down. Here’s to another 25 years.

Audio Download: Cowboy Mouth, “How Would You Feel”

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Timmy, John Murry (from the Evangeline Records ep release Califorlornia)

Oakland by way of Mississippi songwriter Murry follows up his excellent 2012 release The Graceless Age with another gem, this time an ep. His songs can be jarring but that’s part of their charm. Whether telling stories (“The Murder of Dylan Hartsfield”) or capturing moments or emotions (“The Glass Slipper”), he applies a vivid and darkly realistic eye.

This song pays a moving tribute to his late friend and producer Tim Mooney, known to many for his work with American Music Club and Sun Kil Moon.


Mayer’s Playlist for July 2014, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

Resolution Road, by Easton Stagger Phillips

Easton Stagger PhillipsI don’t like to draw direct comparisons between artists but it’s hard not to do so with the latest release from Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips. This talented trio of singer-songwriters conjure up the finer moments of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Resolution Road flows with the laid-back feeling and gentile harmonies that were – and are – a CSN hallmark.

Phillips kicks off the album with “Always Came Back To You,” a graceful love song made all the richer by the trio’s warm harmonies on the chorus. His reflective “Lucillia” has similar qualities and a day-dreamy vibe.

Stagger brings a tempered rock attitude to his contributions. A persistent drum beat ushers along “Traveler” as vocal harmonies give way to a George Harrison-flavored slide guitar solo.

Easton’s closing “Baby Come Home” is simultaneously melancholy and sentimental. “Sitting here late at night wondering where you might be,” he laments before the others join him to declare “baby come home right now, I need you for the rest of my life.” Guest Derry deBorja adds some subtle yet expressive organ flourishes.

Each singer-songwriter bring their own personality and songs to the group. Yet they blend together beautifully, as if they were meant to perform together. Like CSN, Easton Stagger Phillips prove that sometimes 1+1+1 equals more than three.


Dereconstructed, by Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires

Lee Bains III and the Glory FiresThere’s an old adage — write what you know. Birmingham, Alabama native Lee Bains takes this to heart with a searing album about life in the modern South. His lyrics reflect on the weight of history, religion and everyday economic struggles of small town Southern life; his songs are fueled by incendiary guitars and furious rock beats.

Bains doesn’t shy away from social commentary on tracks like “The Kudzu and the Concrete”:

You can talk, talk, talk about it: Repentance, and forgiveness, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
But what the hell does that mean when all your neighbors look the same and think the same or else live a couple miles down the rural route?

He wrestles with the love-hate relationship of growing up in Birmingham in “The Weeds Downtown.” “I know that Birmingham gets you down, but look what it raised you up to be,” he sings.

“The Company Man” takes a stand against greed and blind obedience. “All it takes is one wicked heart, a pile of money and a chain of folks just doing their jobs,” he cautions.

Bains lets his guitar do plenty of talking, too. Dereconstructed is a no holds barred rock album. Bains and fellow guitarist Eric Wallace trade licks like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor back in the day. The entire band sounds ferocious, rough and ragged. Bains describes it best on “Dirt Track” when he says, “Squeezing glory out of three rusty chords.” The results are glorious, indeed.

Audio Download: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, “The Weeds Downtown”

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THE PLAYLIST


Bernadine, Adam Carroll (from the self-released Let It Choose You)
I’d lost touch with the music of Austin folk-country singer Adam Carroll a few years back. I recall him tending towards humor in his songwriting yet always equally adept at finding the tenderness of a moment. His latest release shows that he hasn’t lost his touch.

While there are still occasional glimpses of humor, his latest batch of songs tend towards the sincere end of the spectrum. His voice and music have a gentle aura about them, his songs filled with thoughtful character-driven stories.

Audio Download: Adam Carroll, “Bernadine”

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Carry On, Denver (from the Mama Bird Recording Company release Rowdy Love)
Three singer-songwriters out of Portland serve up songs that are alternatively ramshackle and relaxed. The eleven tracks on Rowdy Love are rooted in country but sometimes veer towards mountain folk-rock territory that is reflective of the region from which they take their name. Then there is this track, a personal favorite, which has a decidedly Gordon Lightfoot feel.


Down, Kingsley Flood (from the self-released Live at the Armory)
I wouldn’t often call a live album one of an artist’s best releases but it’s appropriate in this instance. To tide us over until their next studio release, the Boston and Washington D.C-based six piece sextet took over an intimate venue to perform a career-spanning set. They impressively find a way to breathe fresh life into older songs and ratchet up the intensity of their already forceful more recent work. It also showcases the talents of songwriter Naseem Khuri, who crafts songs that are exceptionally intelligent and damn catchy, too.

You can download a free six-song sampler from this release here.


Monday, Caleb Caudle (from the This Is American Music release Paint Another Layer on My Heart)
New Orleans by way of Winston-Salem North Carolina singer-songwriter Caudle says that much of this album was inspired by a year of touring and the corresponding yearning for home. “I’m really leaving it’s really Monday, I don’t know how it got here so soon,” he laments on this stand-out, “lately I’m finding so little to trust in, that’s why it’s harder leaving you.”


Too Long I’ve Been Gone, Dom Flemons (from the Music Maker Relief Foundation release Prospect Hill)
The Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder continues his exploration of the early American music canon on his latest release. Flemons roots himself in folk but masterfully blends countless other genres into the mix. “Georgia Drumbeat” beautifully blends jazz, country and folk while “Have I Stayed Away Too Long?” has a touch of Dixieland and “I Can’t Do It Anymore” brings in some tasty blues playing. I’m partial to this song, a more traditional – and winsome – ballad.

Mayer’s Playlist for June 2014, Part 1

ALBUM OF THE MONTHS

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, by Sturgill SimpsonSturgill Simpson

It’s easy to take pot-shots at what passes for country these days. You know what I’m talking about: the feel-good, truck-drivin’, beer-drinking music makes for great stadium concert sing-alongs. If that’s your scene, then more power to you.

Some of you, like me, want something different. We want music that is more firmly rooted in the country tradition, songs of heartache and life’s tribulations that are performed with grit and authenticity.

Fortunately for us, there is a renaissance afoot. A new breed of artists has emerged who are revitalizing country, reviving the spirit and song craft of the country pioneers. Score one for us that Sturgill Simpson, one of the neo-traditionalist movement’s leading lights, is back with his second album in as many years. Damn if it ain’t a beaut.

Lead track “Turtles All the Way Down” has a warm and rambling melancholy that gives way to the chugging honky-tonk “Life of Sin.” “Long White Line” keeps things moving with a groove that hearkens back to the truck-drivin’ classics of the 1970’s.

A real surprise is Simpson’s magical cover of the late 1980′s new wave hit “The Promise.” Simpson transforms the song by giving it a dramatic George Jones feel. “I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say,” he croons, “I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be.” It is a performance that is plaintive and powerful.

Lyrically, Simpson preserves the custom of writing about troubled times without being spurious or sensationalistic. His characters take a matter-of-fact approach as they consider their oft-troubled situations. “But it ain’t all flowers, sometimes you gotta feel the thorns,” Simpson declares on “It Ain’t All Flowers.”

With Sturgill helping to lead the charge, country music is beginning to sound as fresh today as it did back in the day. Can I get an amen?


THE PLAYLIST


When You’re Here, John Fullbright (from the Blue Dirt Records release Songs)
After the tremendous (and justifiable) success of 2012’s From the Ground Up, Fullbright strips things down with his latest release. Following in the footsteps of writers like Randy Newman, he understands that subtlety can be incredibly compelling.

The arrangements, mostly centered around Fullbright’s piano and acoustic guitar, are particularly stunning here. Alternately lush and sparse, they convey the drama in Fullbright’s songs.

His lyrics are simple and direct, while conveying tremendous power and emotion. This magical ode to companionship is a great example. “As for lonely I can show you how to live a life alone,” he counsels, “all it takes is getting used to getting lost.”


Frankie Please, Rodney Crowell (from the New West Records release Tarpaper Sky)
There’s a lot to be said for consistency. Rodney Crowell is a fine example, a 40+-year songwriting veteran with a tremendous catalog that grows stronger with every new release. His latest is a roots-rockin’ hootenanny, filled with gentle ballads and crackling rave-ups. From the ambling Cajun feel of “Fever on the Bayou” to the emotional tug of “God I’m Missing You,” Crowell’s songs are filled with vivid language and vibrant storytelling.

Here’s one of my favorites from Tarpaper Sky. How can one note love a song that begins with a line like, “You tore through my life like a tornado looking for a trailer park.”


Intervention, Old 97’s (from the ATO Records release Most Messed Up)
The quartet from Dallas are back with a collection of no bull-shit, let’s have a good time kind of rock and roll. Pick your favorite topic – such as boozin’ or hanging with friends, lovers or wanna-be-lovers – and there’s undoubtedly a song about it here. Musically the band is in rip-roaring form, guitars blazing and beats pumping.

If there was ever any doubt that the Old 97’s are the life of the party, Most Messed Upshould put it to rest.


We Both Lose, Tommy Malone (from the MC Reocrds release Poor Boy)
Whether performing solo or as a founding member of the subdudes, New Orleans singer-songwriter Tommy Malone knows how to serve up a potent stew of R&B, rock and soul. His latest solo release drives the point home.

Malone brought together a crack group of like-minded musicians, the kind who know how to play and sound damn good doing it. They play with precision and grace, all the while finding some spirited grooves.

Of course it helps that they start with a damn fine batch of songs. Here’s one of my favorites from the release, a happy-go-lucky break-up song.


Audio Stream: Tommy Malone, “We Both Lose”

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First Cold Day of Fall, Ian McFeron (from the self-released Acoustic)
Seattle-based McFeron revisits songs from his catalog on this special acoustic release. His songs have always been enchanting, possessing a soothing warmth even when he is singing about heartache and tragedy. The sparse acoustic arrangements presented here make them even them even more so. Multi-instrumentalist Alisa Milner adds her own special musical touch, not to mention some wonderful harmonies.

Audio Download: Ian McFeron, “First Cold Day of Fall”

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Sing Together, Jeff Black (from the Lotos Nile Music release Folklore)
Black writes in the liner notes that the compositions on Folklore are inspired by photographs. Close your eyes and you will undoubtedly begin to visualize these photos as you listen to this collection of songs.

Black is a storyteller of the finest kind. Armed with just his guitar (and the occasional banjo and harmonica), he paints vivid musical portraits. He has a wonderful way of bringing characters to life in his songs, burrowing into their innermost thoughts and deliberations. The results are sublime.


On a Wire, Waylon Speed (from the Crow on Ten Records release Kin)
Who says that you have to be from below the Mason-Dixon line to play some fine Southern rock? No one told these four guys from Vermont, as they serve it up in spades. Their songwriting is top notch, catchy yet with plenty of whiskey-infused edge in the mix. At times they channel the rambling feel of the Allman Brothers, at other times they evoke the electricity of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Audio Download: Waylon Speed, “On a Wire”

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Age of Miracles, The Trews (from the Nettwerk Records release The Trews)
For over ten years, Nova Scotia’s the Trews have served up brilliant stadium-ready rock. Their latest shows that the group has no intention of slowing down or changing. The songs on this self-titled release overflow with bombastic electric guitar riffs, softened only by the quartet’s pop hooks and polished harmonies. It is a perfect summer soundtrack. Best played loud.

Mayer’s Playlist for May 2014

ALBUM OF THE MONTHS

All Or Nothin’, by Nikki LaneNikki Lane

Nikki Lane’s sophomore effort caught me by surprise. I’d be lying if I said that I had more than a cursory exposure to her 2011 debut, but the just released All Or Nothin’ has grabbed my attention.

Lane’s songs are rooted in country, albeit with a healthy nod towards the pop end of the spectrum. “You Can’t Talk to Me Like That” is a soothing retro ballad with a chorus of harmonies setting the stage for Lane’s entrancing vocals. “Seeing Double” moves along with a rumbling rockabilly beat while a lap steel guitar propels the gentle “Good Man.”

Lane doesn’t pull any punches lyrically. All the better I say. She takes a defiant tone on “Man Up,” demanding “you better get off your ass, you better man up or I’m gonna have to be the one who gets tough.” She steps out on the brash and boozy “Sleep with a Stranger,” proclaiming “I ain’t looking for love, just a little danger.”

As if to drive the point home, the title track finds her declaring “It’s always the right time to do the wrong thing.” Words to live by, right?


THE PLAYLIST


Beauty of All Things, Bow Thayer and Perfect Trainwreck (from the self-released Eden – Live at the Chandler)

Thayer’s 2013 release Eden was a real gem, an organic slice of Americana with a slightly jam band feel. Well, Thayer and the boys are back with a complete live performance of said album, recorded live at the Eden cd release show in Thayer’s native Vermont. The talented group of musicians prove that they are the real deal, a band that can beautifully and consistently capture their studio magic on a live stage.


Hold On to Rockets, Gina Villalobos (from the self-released Sola)

Few artists capture melancholy as skillfully as Villalobos. Her music walks the subtle line between tranquility and yearning, a sound made all the richer by the mix of angst and charm in her voice. It is a potent combination that makes Sola, her first release in five years, such as treat.

Audio Download: Gina Villalobos, “Hold On to Rockets”

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You Don’t Know, Glen David Andrews (from the Louisiana Red Hot Records release Redemption)

Combine two parts New Orleans rhythm & blues with one part rock & roll and you’ll end up with a sound like Glen David Andrews. Like many an artist, he has faced down some personal demons and emerged with a powerful and personal musical statement.

Redemption is filled with plenty of guitars and horns but it is Andrews’ booming voice that stands front and center. It has a sinister quality that is intoxicating, coming across like a potent mix of a preacher and an old bluesman.

As an added bonus, Andrews invited some friends to sit in on various tracks. Ivan Neville, Galactic’s Ben Ellman and guitarist Anders Osborne all join in the redemption.

Audio Download: Glen David Andrews, “You Don’t Know”

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Man in Question, Cheap Girls (from the Xtra Miles Recording release Famous Graves)

When you just need some good ol’ rock and roll, look no further than Cheap Girls. The Lansing, Michigan-based trio take great pop hooks and serve ‘em up with burnished flair. Bassist Ian Graham sings with a bit of a drawl that makes for a nice contrast with the raucous noise that he and his bandmates make.

Lots of bands like to say that their music is best played loud. With Cheap Girls it is true.


The High Road, Archie Powell and the Exports (from the self-released Back in Black)

Did someone piss off Archie Powell? His latest release has an angry edge (and lots of shouted vocals), much more so than 2012’s impressive Great Ideas in Action. Don’t get me wrong, Powell still knows his way around a pop hook and there are plenty to be found here. Even when he slows things down, albeit to a tempo just a notch below “furious”, the songs still have some venom and punch. The Exports are in fine form as well, making quite a racket of their own.


Gimme Truth, High on Stress (from the self-released Leaving MPLS)
This is one of those unfortunate posthumous reviews as the Minneapolis-based quartet recently called it quits and played their farewell show. ‘tis a shame, as the band really know their way around a rock song. Leaving MPLS is chock full of hearty guitar-driven rock and roll, the kind of fist-pumping songs that beg to be heard live. Pardon the pun but they are leaving on a high note.

Audio Download: High on Stress, “Gimme Truth”

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You Are Gold, The Soft White Sixties (from the self-released Get Right)

This San Francisco-based quartet walk the line between the 1960’s R&B-influenced pop that their name suggests and contemporary indie rock. If you like this shimmering track, you’ll find plenty more like it on their latest release.

Audio Download: The Soft White Sixties, “You Are Gold”

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Katie Deter – The Brooklyn Sessions

katie deterIt isn’t every day that a sixteen year old singer songwriter can captivate a producer through a social media post. In fact, the same would go for a 26 year old songwriter. However, that is exactly what happened in this case. When Brooklyn based producer/musician Brian Murphy saw a video of Katie performing posted on a mutual friend’s Facebook page, he reached out to her. Next thing you know, Katie and her father are on their way to Brooklyn for a recording. For the project, Murphy assembled a team of musicians that are essentially the backing band for much hyped group, The Lone Bellow. The result is a five song EP entitled “The Brooklyn Sessions”.

One word comes to mind when describing these songs. That word is “refreshing”, and the accompanying music captures the feeling perfectly. The perspective in these songs is what is so refreshing. Katie may have a sixteen year old’s view of the world, but it is her own view and accompanied by a healthy dose of humor. Take the opener ”The DMV Song”. It is all about how a drivers license to most people marks the first step to being “independent and free”. Katie rejects this conventional view and says, “I’ve got this spirit in me, and I will do with it what I please. I don’t need that piece of paper to prove I’m independent and free”. Kudos to her for realizing this now, because it seems that in each stage of life there is a piece of paper that tries to define us. All of the songs in this project deal with identity in one way or another. Katie deals with the subject of identity often with humor. On “I Wish I Was Irish”, you can’t help but laugh as she describes an idyllic vision of the future in a fun way. The song “Black Coffee” has the same feel when describing an aspect of love.

It is so enjoyable to listen to a collection of songs that can make keen observations without being too heavy. On “The Brooklyn Sessions” Katie’s comforting voice and perspective is accompanied by a well produced indie-folk framework. On the song “Gotta Grow Up” Katie sings about trying to “make my mom and dad proud”. I think she already has.