Audio Stream: JW-Jones, "Magic West Side Boogie" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/07%20Magic%20West%20Side%20Boogie.mp3]
Boxers, by Matthew Ryan Boxers is an album of discontent. Life, love, work -- you name it -- the characters that inhabit this collection of songs are dissatisfied. There is rage, resentment and restlessness. Through it all, however, Ryan manages to find a glimmer of hope -- sometimes it’s a lyrical cue, other times it is a shimmering melody. It isn’t always bright but it’s there if you want to find it. Ryan sets the tone early with the blaring guitars and pounding drums of the title track. “How do you say goodbye to a dream that just won’t die,” he asks. While some might view this as a song of resignation and defeat but I consider it a more an acknowledgement that the road is rarely easy. "You're a boxer against the ropes & there's blood running down your throught," he continues, "but this is the fight you chose... Here we go." “Suffer No More” tells the tale of a couple dealing with job loss and economic hardship. “All we want today is something like a fair shake,” Ryan sings, “and all we want tomorrow is a ladder that won’t fall away.” An acoustic guitar and a sauntering beat convey at least a touch of hope. Ryan recalls painful early lessons in love on on the boisterous “The First Heartbreak.” I’m sure that many a listener can relate to the line, “I was there the night you got that tattoo, some scars got nothing to hide and everything to lose.” It is a line that is vivid, raw and meaningful, a hallmark of Ryan’s writing. Songs like the noisy “This One’s For You, Frankie” and the potent "Heaven's Hill" showcase the exceptional band that Ryan assembled for Boxers. Producer and guitarist Kevin Salem left the rough edges intact as musicians Brian Bequette, Joe Magistro and Brian Fallon (the Gaslight Anthem) unleashed a sonic fury across most of the album. In the midst of all the bruising rock songs are occasional quiet moments such as the stunning acoustic ballad “A Song to Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come).” In many ways it plays as the album's musical centerpiece as Ryan quietly reflects on hardship and pain yet still remains optimistic.
So let’s sing “Dirty Old Town” at the top of our lungs Don’t look now here comes the sun Your head is a map and your heart is a drum And the road is the road you’re on ‘til kingdom come.Boxers also contains “An Anthem for the Broken,” a song that Ryan released earlier this year to raise funds for longtime friend of Twangville John Anderson as he battles ALS. You can read more about it here, but I challenge anyone to not be moved by the song’s furious jolt of electricity and optimism.
An anthem for the brotherhood The light in the dark and the lean for good The knowing not which way to go But here but for the grace of the unknown I know Adollar's not a peace nore end I'd do it all and all again An anthem for the broken hearts That made it worlds from where they'd start.Even in its darkest moments there is a message that resonates across Boxers – life may be harsh but it needn’t be bleak. We all have the power to find satisfaction and contentment, even if it isn't in a way that we originally intended or expected. We just need to find it. Leave it to Ryan to craft a raggedly beautiful album to remind us of this fact.
Audio Download: Matthew Ryan, "Boxers" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/01%20Boxers.mp3]
Words From a Letter The Far West (from the Medina River Records release Any Day Now) I caught this Los Angeles-based quintet play an afternoon show at the Americana Conference and was damn impressed. They skillfully mine the Southern California brand of Americana, recalling Gram Parsons and the legends of the Bakersfield Sound. Singer Lee Briante has an appealing melancholy to his voice. It lends the right country feel to their more rock-laced songs while giving added depth to the country-oriented ballads.
Audio Download: The Far West, "Words from a Letter" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/07%20Words%20From%20A%20Letter.mp3]
Jailhouse, Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives (from the Superlatone Records release Saturday Night/Sunday Morning) Marty Stuart's latest release borrows a title and concept from Dr. Ralph Stanley. The impressive double album celebrates the decadence of Saturday night and the penance of Sunday morning. While some might frown on reproducing the concept, Stuart is one of the few who has the credentials to pull it off. Stuart is a rightful heir of the country music tradition, an honor that he wears with pride with this release. Joined by a crack band dubbed the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart romps, rumbles and strolls through the 23 glorious tracks on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. They infuse every song with an enthusiasm and joy that is infectious.
I Wasn't the One, Joshua Black Wilkins (from the self-released Settling the Dust) It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the Nashville-based Wilkins is a phenomenally talented photographer. He approaches music in a similar manner, creating songs that have an evocative appeal. The musical arrangements are minimal without being sparse. They are often punctuated by a wistful pedal steel. To these ears it conjures up images of a drifter riding the rails, singing songs that are dusty, weathered and downright intoxicating.
Audio Download: Joshua Black Wilkins, "I Wasn't the One" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/03%20I%20Wasn't%20The%20One.mp3]
Domino Sugar, Luke Winslow-King (from the Bloodshot Records release Everlasting Arms) I’ll openly admit that I have a bias towards New Orleans musicians. It’s not because they live in one of the world’s greatest cities. Rather it’s because they are often musical scholars versed in genres from jazz to rock to rhythm and blues. The best ones bring that expertise to life in their music. Put Luke Winslow King in that category. His latest release shifts with ease from the New Orleans jazz of “La Bega’s Carousel” to the Southern rock-tinged boogie of “Domino Sugar” to the bluesy folk of “Traveling Myself.” We’ll call it eclectic in all the right ways. We’ll also say that, perhaps reflective of the city that Winslow King calls home, this album makes for one hell of a listening party.
Coffin Black, The Pine Hill Haints (from the K Records release The Magik Sounds of the Pine Hill Haints) Although the Pine Hill Haints have been around since circa 2000, the Twangville introduction to the Pine Hill Haints came via our Muscle Shoals series. Their self-described "Alabama Ghost Music" blends is a potent mix of folk, rockabilly and bluegrass. The group shifts with ease from the down-home roots of “Scarlet Fever” to the fuzzed-out guitar rock of “Coffin Black.” If you’re looking for some music that overflows with a raw and rootsy enthusiasm, you’d do right to check out the Pine Hill Haints.
A Waltz For Old Jeppson (Carl's Theme), Archie Powell and the Exports (from the single A Waltz for Old Jeppson) I've never tried Chicago home-grown liquor Jeppson's Malört, whose motto is apparently "Malört is not for the faint of heart." Nor do I expect the lyrics of this song to change that fact. "Be it your drug of choice or a big last resort," Powell proclaims, "the results are the same if you're drinking Malört." I am certain of one thing, however. I'll be listening to this rockin' song for a long time to come. (Check out the band's entertaining video tribute to Jeppson's Malört here.)
Nothing Left, Elliott Brood (from the Paper Bag Records release Work and Love) This Canadian trio fall on the rock end of the Americana spectrum. Their songs overflow with catchy melodies propelled by jangly guitars and carefree harmonies. There's a breezy Sunday afternoon vibe to their music, albeit a breeze that packs a playful and energetic punch. If you enjoy this track, you’ll undoubtedly find plenty more to your liking on their latest release.
Audio Stream: Duke Robillard, "Motor Trouble" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/07%20Motor%20trouble.mp3]
Audio Stream: E.G. Kight, "Don't Give Up" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/04%20Don't%20Give%20Up.mp3]
Swimmin' Time, by Shovels and Rope
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent -- aka Shovels and Rope -- just keep getting better and better. Swimmin' Time takes their customary percussive guitar and drums and expands their musical palette with piano, horns and a host of other instruments. The result is something special.
The duo push at genre classifications across this thirteen-song collection. “Bridge on Fire,” while still grounded in Americana, is a perfect pop confection. A prominent piano joins their brilliant harmonies to give the song an extra sugary crunch. That combination continues on “Coping Mechanism,” which has a fun 1950’s feel.
Surly guitars give “Evil” a dark edge while “Ohio” has a heavy New Orleans vibe, right down the mid-song Bourbon Street brass horn interlude.
"After the Storm" has an epic quality to it. The song opens gently but soon explodes with Hearst and Trent’s emotionally charged vocals. The lyrics describe a quest for redemption from past wrongs despite the recognition that these same failures still stand in the way.
Like the widest river // Like the brightest morn // There is hope where you can’t see it // There is a light after the storm
But won’t you help me to get through it // I’ve been flailing like a child // My mistakes they are so many // For my weary heart is wild
The duo round out the album with “Mary Ann and One-Eyed Dan” and “Save the World,” a pair of stripped-down songs that hearken back to the group’s rootsy early days. All the better to enjoy the charm of their singing and songwriting.
I’m In Love with Everything, The Fauntleroys (from the Plowboy Records release Below the Pink Pony) In this case, the album title is as real as it is descriptive. Four musicians – friends and admirers of one another’s work – gathered in a room below a former NYC restaurant called the Pink Pony to bash out their debut release. The results are at once cohesive yet reflective of each artist's individual personality. Alejandro Escovedo brings an appreciation for 1970’s British blues-based rock, Ivan Julian lends his punk pedigree, Nicholas Tremulis contributes his eccentric pop-rock feel (“Suck My Heart Out with a Straw” is one of his contributions) and Linda Pitmon adds her powerhouse drumming.
Audio Download: The Fauntleroys, "I’m In Love with Everything" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/01%20I'm%20In%20Love%20With%20Everything.mp3]
All That We Have Is Now, Jesse Winchester (from the Appleseed Recordings release A Reasonable Amount of Trouble) Although we lost Jesse Winchester earlier this year, he left us with a new album that was completed just prior to his passing. Winchester possessed a genuine and gentle spirit as well as an insightful lyrical eye, both of which are sharply evident here. The twelve tracks on A Reasonable Amount of Trouble, nine originals and three covers, are a reminder of his musical allure.
The Archivist, American Gun (from the Jangly Records release Promised Youth) In the interest of full disclosure, American Gun’s Todd Mathis is a long-time contributor to Twangville. Don’t hold that against him, though. Mathis also happens to be a talented songwriter. After releasing the rootsy Please… Don’t Tread On Me (recorded with Whiskey Tango Revue) last year, Mathis rejoins his American Gun compatriots for the bruising Promised Youth. As is the group's style, they let their electric guitars lead the charge. This go-around, however, finds them adding some synthesizers and strings to give the music added density. The result is a rock record with a dark and brooding vibe. Here, for your listening enjoyment, is the tale of a woman who has given up on love.
Audio Stream: American Gun, "The Archivist" [audio: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/7770435/04%20The%20Archivist.mp3]
Love Song #9, Scruffy the Cat (from the Omnivore Records release The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990) I shared a vintage video of the late, great Scruffy the Cat a few weeks ago (here). It was either a great introduction or a welcome reminder of the band's infectious energy. This new collection of previously unreleased tracks offers a fun glimpse into the band's creative arc. Starting with their rough early recordings through to their late era sessions at legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis, it showcases the charm in their songwriting and the unbridled enthusiasm in their performances. Give a listen to early tracks like the boisterous “Big Fat Monkey’s Hat” and the more slickly produced but no less spirited later output like "Love Song #9" and you'll hear what I mean.
Sure Thing, Sam Morrow (from the Forty Below Records release Ephemeral) My introduction to this LA by way of Texas singer was his somber cover of Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing in the Dark" that was released earlier this year. His debut album proves that Morrow stands tall in his own rite, thank you. There is both warmth and world-weariness in his music, all the more impressive given that Morrow is still in his early 20s. Restrained arrangements, often infused with subtle strings, give the songs additional depth.
Got Caught Up, Pete Donnelly (from the self-released Face the Bird) I’m a sucker for a good pop song. Fortunately for me (and maybe you, too), Pete Donnelly’s got a catalog that is filled with ‘em. Donnelly has an impressive resume -- he is founding member of the Figgs and has also logged more than a few miles with the Candy Butchers and NRBQ. As if that weren’t enough, he has also released a couple of mighty fine solo albums. Check out this gem, co-written with Shelby Lynne, from his most recent release. Man, those horns!