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


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”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


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”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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




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




(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




(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




(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




(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




(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




(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.

The Twangville 2014 Release Preview

If the releases below are any indication, 2014 is shaping up to be a musical embarrassment of riches. What releases, whether on this list or not, are you most excited to hear?

Hard Working Americans

(21 January on Melvin Records/Thirty Tigers Records)

What happens when a group of musicians — Todd Snider, bassist Dave Schools (Widespread Panic), guitarist Neal Casal (Ryan Adams/Chris Robinson), keyboardist Chad Staehly (Great American Taxi ) and drummer Duane Trucks (King Lincoln) — get together for a jam session? Well, something like this. The Americana/jam band super-group of sorts take on songs by Randy Newman, Lucinda Williams, Hayes Carll, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings and Brian Henneman (The Bottle Rockets), among others.

Parker Millsap

(4 Feb on Okrahoma Records)

I stumbled across Millsap in Nashville last fall when I crashed his CMT Edge taping. His blend of bluegrass, gospel and folk crackles with a vibrant energy. He is definitely one to watch in 2014 and beyond.

Hurray for the Riff Raff

(4 Feb on Okrahoma Records)

New Orleans musician Alynda Lee Segarra and the Riff Raff crew serve up music that is best described as indie-folk. Their songs are true to the indie rock ethos, packaged in mighty fine folk arrangements.

Lydia Loveless

(18 Feb on Bloodshot Records)

Loveless teased us last fall with a five-song ep. Now we’re ready for what will undoubtedly be a raucous and rockin’ full-length affair.

Will Kimbrough

(18 Feb)

Musical journeyman Kimbrough has spent the past few years playing with Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and a host of others. Fortunate for us, he is stepping forward with his first solo album in four years. We’re expecting him to pick up right where he left off with 2010’s Wings – plenty of splendid pop melodies wrapped in rootsy Americana arrangements.

Jimbo Mathus

(18 Feb on Fat Possum Records)

Mississippi musician Mathus is wasting no time following up last year’s mighty fine White Buffalo. Word on the street is that his forthcoming release takes a darker and rock-oriented path with, as Mathus describes it, “more ultra chrome and less sepia tones.”

St Paul and the Broken Bones

(18 Feb on Single Lock Records)

The Birmingham Alabama-based sextet got soul. ‘nuf said.

Drive-By Truckers

(4 Mar on ATO Records)

Any year with new music from the Truckers is bound to be a good year, right? Well Messrs Hood and Cooley are back with another character-driven Southern rock and roll record. The songs are just about evenly split between the two writers. We’re particularly excited to hear the opening track called “Shit Shots Count.”

Johnny Cash

(25 Mar on Legacy Recordings)

Cash recorded these songs in Nashville back in the early 1980’s and they’ve languished in the vault ever since. We’re counting down the days until their March release. The legend continues.

Archie Powell and the Exports


Powell’s Great Ideas in Action was one of my favorite albums from 2012, filled with glorious power pop melodies delivered with cranked up guitars and an in-your-face intensity. I’m expecting more of the same with their forthcoming release. Bring it on, gents!

Matthew Ryan


Ryan traveled to upstate New York to work with producer Kevin Salem. Sounds like the recipe for a great rock record with plenty of cranked-up guitars. We’re salivating at the prospect.

Joe Fletcher


Fletcher has taken his time prepping his forthcoming album. Originally scheduled for a 2013 release, Fletcher’s incessant touring has kept him from putting the final touches on the collection. We’ve no doubt that it will be well worth the wait.

John Fullbright


It’s going to be tough for Fullbright to top 2012’s brilliant From the Ground Up, but we’ve no doubt that he is up to the challenge. We’re expecting another outstanding collection of incisive songs and a sound honed by a year and a half of non-stop touring.

Photo credits: Scott Simontacchi (Matthew Ryan); Jesse Golding (Joe Fletcher)

Honeylark – Heavy

This time of year the shadows stretch long across the frozen landscape, adding a lightly brushed undercurrent of foreboding to everything.  It’s always there, lurking, feeding the darker human emotions, even when the event of the moment is a totally enjoyable holiday celebration.  When you put that feeling to music, you get what Honeylark calls folk noir, which is the exactly right description for their debut album, Heavy.

Honeylark + Fiawna Forte – “Afternoon” (Official Music Video) from Nathan Poppe on Vimeo.

The first cut on side 1 of the album (that’s right, it’s vinyl or download only, no CD) is Widow, a musing about the black widow spider on the window sill, with a gothic chorus that makes the song kind of creepy beautiful.  Riverbed is a brassy, bouncy, light-hearted song about…death.  Hospital carries more of an indie sound in the early going, but builds a Wagnerian crescendo that’s practically oppressive.  Yours & Mine features the Ryan Houck half of Honeylark’s husband and wife songwriting team on banjitar, and similarly builds to a crescendo at the end, though not perhaps so Teutonic as Hospital.

11298_fullsize A number of tunes on the album take the much lighter approach I mentioned earlier, with the noir a much subtler bit of the background.  Afternoon is a bitchy fun song about being either a morning person or a night person, I’m not sure which.  Love Is Red is mostly bluegrass, but singer Natalie Houck puts a bit of steaminess to it.  The final cut of the album is Big Red Alarm Bell, with a Celtic lilt that laments, “I wish I was stupid enough to be happy.”  I’d like to hear The Pogues or Flogging Molly do a cover of it.

Heavy is my first album to review this year and it’s a great place to start.  It’s full of texture and melody and emotion–the perfect answer for what to do if you’re stuck inside because the weather outside is frightful.

Mayer’s Picks: Best Songs of 2013

I posted a best songs list for the first half of 2013 back in July (here). Rather than replicate that list for my full year review, consider this the continuation — the best songs from the second half of the year.

Closed Hand, Full of Friends, Foy Vance
(from the Glassnote Records release Joy of Nothing)

Vance’s writing is filled with an alluring mysticism and an uplifting spirit that will pick you up on even the darkest of days, to wit: “I will find my means to an end, with an open-hearted hope and a closed hand, full of friends.”

Watching him perform this song at the Bushmills Distillery is just the icing on the cake. The liquid kind of icing, that is.

Alone in Memphis, Austin Lucas
(from the New West Records release Stay Reckless)

When I wrote about Lucas earlier this month, I talked about him as a country crooner fronting a rock band. The album version of this song rocks through and through, so here’s the acoustic version to prove my point.

My Favorite Picture of You, Guy Clark
(from the Dualtone Music Group release My Favorite Picture of You)

Clark’s ode to his late wife is simply stunning.

When the Moment Comes, Mia Dyson
(from the Black Door Records release The Moment)

The title track from Dyson’s latest release bursts with infectious energy and fervor. I’m always overcome by a spontaneous need to crank it up every time I hear it.

Handyman Blues, Billy Bragg
(from the Essential Music release Tooth and Nail)

This is one of those songs that is brilliant in its simplicity and charm.

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed
But I can write a song that tells the world how much I love you instead
I’m not any good at pottery so let’s lose the ‘t’ and just shift back the ‘e’
And I’ll find a way to make my poetry build a roof over our heads

Evelyn, Andrew Duhon
(from the self-released The Moorings)

I had a tough time narrowing it down to just one song from Duhon’s latest release. There’s the mesmerizing ballad “Feel It in My Soul” and the Louisiana bluesy groove of “Feelin’ Low Down,” but it’s the rich storytelling and melancholy melody of this song that keeps drawing me back.

Just One Night, Patrick Sweany
(from the Nine Mile Records release Close to the Floor)

Sweany throws rock, soul and blues in a blender and comes up with songs that sound simultaneously fresh and timeless. It’s hard to escape the soulful groove on this one. I certainly can’t.

Patrick Sweany

Audio Download: Patrick Sweany, “Just One Night”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sometimes the Grass Is Greener, Robbie Fulks
(from the Bloodshot Records release Gone Away Backward)

Even if it wasn’t such an enticing bluegrass gem, Fulk’s ode to life in the music business would have made this list for the chorus alone.

Now I’ve seen the sun go down on the streets of New York town
And I watched it from the hills of old Virginia
Beauty’s what the eye beholds,
One man’s dirt is another’s gold
And sometimes the grass is really greener.

Love in the Worst Degree, Shannon McNally
(from the Sacred Sumac Music release Small Town Talk)

McNally, with help from Dr. John and the Lower 911 Band, paid tribute to the late Bobby Charles by recording an album of his songs. Their spirited performances breathe new life into these classic songs, hopefully introducing new legions of new fans to the Charles catalog.

Dreamin’, Please Please Me
(from the self-released Shake a Little Harder)

This is one of those occasions when the title is the perfect match for the song, a wistful and haunting piece of pop perfection.

Down at the Heel, The Silks
(from the self-released Last American Band)

How’s this for a 1970’s style classic rock song, complete with fuzzy guitar and cowbell. A glorious racket!

Key Bump, Faithless Town
(from the self-released American Refugee)

I love rock songs that walk the line between abandon and restraint. Put this one on that list.

Click here for more Twangville Best of 2013 coverage.