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 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.

Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2

ALBUMS OF THE MONTHS

English Oceans, by Drive-By TruckersDrive-By Truckers

I suppose that this review could be titled “Cooley Steps Out.” The band co-founder, who has historically contributed only a couple of songs per release, is credited with six songs on English Oceans. Ever better, they are some of his strongest songs in years.

The opening “Shit Shots Count” is classic Cooley, a guitar-fueled shot of attitude. “Pride is what you charge a proud man for having,” he barks, “Shame is what you sell to a whore.”

“Hearing Jimmy Loud” finds Cooley, well, shooting the shit with a guy named Jimmy. The song mingles tales of hardened blue collar life with life teachings like “the moral lessons of a charmed life only get through guilty ears.”

He reflects on old age with the melancholy “Primer Coat.” A jangly guitar propels the song forward as he sings, “He’s staring through his own taillights and gathering speed.”

Patterson Hood, too, serves up a fine batch of songs. His story-telling and character studies are as vivid as ever. The somber “When Walter Went Crazy” is the dark tale of a husband and wife who have drifted apart and whose lives have spiraled into darkness. “When Walter went crazy he had rattlesnake in his eyes,” Hood explains, “blended whisky in his veins and murder in his heart.”

Hood’s “Pauline Hawkins” starts with a brooding guitar and snare drum beat before exploding into a piano-fueled rave-up. The song, inspired by a Willy Vlautin novel, tells of a fiercely independent title character warning companion, “I won’t let you cage me or lock me away.”

Album closer “Grand Canyon” is an epic and moving tribute to a longtime friend of the band who passed away last year.

If the recently departed make the sunsets
to say farewell to the ones they leave behind
There were technicolor hues to see our sadness through
as the sun over Athens said goodbye


Dark Night of the Soul, by Jimbo MathusJimbo Mathus

The latest album from Jimbo Mathus has an interesting backstory. The artist was given access to a studio near his home for nearly a year to work on the release. With the time and freedom to explore, Mathus emerged with an album that is a bit darker and more rocking than his recent work. As he so brilliantly describes it, it is “more ultra chrome and less sepia tones.”

The song collection hearkens back to the finer moments of the 1970’s rock era, calling to mind a number of the finer artists from that period.

“Tallahatchie” has the musical feel and storytelling style of a long-lost song from the Band while “Casey Caught the Cannonball” would fit well in the Little Feat cannon.

“Fire in the Canebrake” has a mighty fine Neville’s groove. A simmering organ and some funky guitar propel the song towards the forceful chorus.

Mathus showcases his mountain country roots on “Hawkeye Jordon,” the tale of a happy-go-lucky moonshiner.

“Rock and Roll Trash” is, well, a dirty ol’ rock and roll song with a Faces vibe. “Yo mama say she don’t like the rock & roll, your friends say you ain’t nothing but trash,“ he sings as guitarist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel joins in with a healthy dose of electric guitar and harmony vocals.

The album may have dark overtones, but it sure is a whole heap of fun.

Audio Stream: Jimbo Mathus, “Rock and Roll Trash”

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THE PLAYLIST


Half the City, St. Paul and the Broken Bones (from the Single Lock Records release Half the City)

Last fall we chronicled some of the incredible music bubbling down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (read more here). St. Paul and the Broken Bones were among the up-and-comers featured on the list. Well, fast forward a few months and the boys and have finally unleashed their debut album. Damn, if it don’t sound good.

This is old school soul in all its glory. Horns figure heavy in the mix with just the right amount of electric guitar added to usher the melodies along.

And then there is vocalist Paul Janeway. Upon first glance he looks somewhat academic with his blazer and glasses. Any impression that he is quiet and subdued, however, disappears when he opens his mouth. His voice is equal parts honeyed gospel and gritty soul shouter.


Hope Dies Hard, Jonny Two Bags (from the Isotone/Thirty Tigers release Salvation Town)

Jonny Wickersham, aka Jonny Two Bags, is known to many for his work with Mike Ness as a member of Social Distortion. Well, the time has come for Mr., um, Two Bags to step out on his own. Based on the strength of the songwriting on his debut release, one wonders why he didn’t do so sooner. These are honest and heartfelt songs about striving for, but not always achieving, happiness.

Wickersham is joined by a veritable all-star cast that includes Jackson Browne and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), among others.


I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright), Hurray for the Riff Raff (from the ATO Records release Small Town Heroes)

There’s a wandering spirit that wafts through songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra’s songs. Perhaps this isn’t surprising given Segarra’s history. She set out from her Bronx home at the age of 17, heading west and eventually settling in New Orleans. She and her talented collective of musicians perform with a loose and jammy feel. Their performances ebb and flow, filling Segarra’s songs with grace and charm.

Though Segarra is still a young 27, she has an old soul. That’s a glorious thing for a folk singer, for sure.


The Mighty Storm, Peter Bradley Adams (from the I Me Mine Records release Mighty Storm)

Adams is a songwriter’s songwriter. His songs are brilliantly crafted yet they possess a raw honesty. The title track of his latest release is a great example. A simmering tension makes for an evocative song.

Audio Download: Peter Bradley Adams, “The Mighty Storm”

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Violet, The Damn Choir (from the self-released Creatures of Habit)

With a name like the Damn Choir, it isn’t surprising that this Chicago-based sextet has an edge. Yet there is a brilliant majesty to their music. Some of this comes from the contrast between Katy Myer’s elegant cello against singer-songwriter Gordon Robertson’s impassioned vocals. Robertson writes from a place of honesty and raw emotion, which the band brings to life with a sound that is as graceful as it is intense.


Mary’s Getting Married, Amelia White (from the White-Wolf Records release Old Postcards)

I like my Americana with a rock edge and damn if White doesn’t hit the spot with Old Postcards. The songs on her latest release are fueled by driving drum beats and plenty of electric guitar. Throw in White’s weathered songwriting and vocals and you’ve got a keeper.

The Twangville 2014 Release Preview, Boston Edition

This is shaping up to be a great year of music in Boston. All the albums below will be unleashed to the world in January and February. Here’s hoping the following ten months are just as fruitful.


Sarah Borges

RADIO SWEETHEART

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SARAH BORGES

If there’s such a thing as a rock star quality then Sarah Borges has got it. She has a way of commanding attention, cracking one-liners one minute and cutting loose with a rousing rock song the next minute. Radio Sweetheart, her first release since 2009, was produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and is filled with swagger, attitude and musical punch.

Borges will be celebrating the release with a special co-headlining show with Girls Guns and Glory at Sinclair in Cambridge, MA on 7 February. (Info and Tickets )


Susan Cattaneo

HAUNTED HEART

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SUSAN CATTANEO

(21 January)

Last month we had the pleasure of previewing the stinging “Lies Between Lovers,” an early favorite from Susan Cattaneo’s forthcoming release. Since then we’ve had time to dig into the full album to enjoy how the singer-songwriter displays a restrained confidence as she shifts effortlessly from country gems to pop standards.

Among the standouts are the trio of songs that take a scorned lover to task. In addition to the aforementioned track, these include the country blues “Worth the Whiskey” (“every time you feel the burn I hope you miss me, ‘cause I’m worth the whiskey”) and the beautiful ballad “Done Better” (“You said you did the best you could, you should have done better.”)


Sacred Shakers

LIVE

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THE SACRED SHAKERS

(21 January on Signature Sounds Recordings)

The Shakers are best described as more a collective than a band. Born out of an casual country hootenanny, the group performs old-time country gospel that is authentic and true. Anchored by the Eilen Jewell Band, the collective also includes members of the Tarbox Ramblers and talented friends like Greg Glassman, Daniel Fram and Eric Royer. If you’re hankering for something old school, and I mean truly old school, then the Sacred Shakers have got you covered.


The Curtis Mayflower

EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS UNDER ATTACK

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THE CURTIS MAYFLOWER

(28 January)

What’s not to like about a band that draws its name from the late, great Curtis Mayfield? These guys do the master proud with a collection of songs that are dark, brooding and full of soul. They’ve been generating quite a bit of buzz and their debut release more than lives up to the hype.

The Curtis Mayflower will be celebrating their release at Beatnik’s in Worcester, MA on January 24th. (Info)


Girls Guns and Glory

GOOD LUCK

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GIRLS GUNS AND GLORY

(4 February on Lonesome Day Records)

Singer-songwriter Ward Hayden has the kind of voice that is made for honky-tonks. In that sense it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he and the band love to pull out Hank Williams songs in their live shows. For their latest release, the quartet traveled to Brooklyn to work with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel. The result is an album that brilliantly straddles the line between classic country and 1950’s rock and roll.

Girls Guns and Glory will be celebrating the release with a special co-headlining show with Sarah Borges at Sinclair in Cambridge, MA on 7 February. (Info and Tickets)


Amy Black

THIS IS HOME

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AMY BLACK

(4 February)

Black teased us last fall with a covers ep that she recorded at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It was the perfect prelude to her new full-length release. Black hits stride on This Is Home, injecting her songs with a healthy dose of gospel-tinged soul. The real power of the release comes from Black’s voice, which is as enchanting as ever.

Black will be celebrating the release at Johnny D’s in Somerville, MA on Friday February 7th (Info and Tickets) and Saturday February 8th (Info and Tickets).

Download Black’s Muscle Shoals ep for free here.


Lake Street Dive

BAD SELF PORTRAITS

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LAKE STREET DIVE

(18 February on Signature Sounds Recordings)

It doesn’t seem right to call Lake Street Dive a jazz group even though that is the cornerstone of their sound. Sure, singer Rachael Price’s silky voice and the band’s delicious grooves are undoubtedly the envy of many a jazz ensemble. Yet their music also incorporates folk and pop qualities. The results are mesmerizing.