Mayer’s Playlist for July and August 2013, Part 1

ALBUMS OF THE MONTH

American Ride, by Willie NileWillie Nile
Willie Nile is on a roll. After playing the major label game twice in his nearly 35-year career, Nile quietly self-released 1999’s outstanding Beautiful Wreck of the World. Since then he has delivered three more compelling albums filled with high energy rock songs and touching ballads. Well, he’s done it again with the American Ride, the latest addition to the Nile canon.

Nile writes a lot about what he knows: life in New York City. “Bleecker Street” sets vingettes from Nile’s Greenwich Village neighborhood against a bustling melody. “This is life on Bleecker Street where the tourists shuffle to a boom-box beat,” he sings, “old men sit and stare at their feet, this is life on Bleecker Street.”

Nile hits the road for the melancholy “American Ride,” a celebration of the rich beauty and history of the United States. While the song is ostensibly about a cross-country trip, the chorus is a gentle plea for companionship as Nile pleads, “ride with me baby come on.”

“If I Ever See the Light” and “She’s Got My Heart” are quintessential Nile. The former features verses that build to an anthemic chorus while the latter is a mature love song with a gentle sway. There’s just an infectious energy to his Nile and his music. It’s as if he is defying you to not break out into a grin and sing along.

The lone cover is a rousing take on Jim Carroll’s legendary “People Who Died.” As a rock and roll survivor with New York City street cred, Nile is among the few who can do the song justice. The song also serves as a showcase for his formidable band. These guys know how to rock, and they rock this one hard.

The tempo slows on the beautiful ballad “The Crossing.” Accompanied only by a piano with some light string flourishes, Nile reflects on the immigrant experience:

Sing we of our kin and kind
All those we have left behind
Ever in our hearts and minds
We who made the crossing.

It seems apropos that the opening track is titled “This is Our Time.” Keep on waving the rock and roll flag, Willie, ‘cause this is your time.


Audio Stream: Willie Nile, “American Ride”

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THE PLAYLIST


Elegy (In a Distant Room), Cold Satellite (from the Signature Sounds release Calvacade)
What happens when a poet Lisa Olstein joins forces with a folk singer Jeffrey Foucault? They make a killer rock album, of course. There are a couple of ballads in the mix however it’s the bruising guitar-driven rockers that caught my ear. The songs have a great road-worn feel to them, in fact they’re the perfect soundtrack for long drives down rural highways.

Audio Download: Cold Satellite, “Elegy (In a Distant Room)”

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When the Drugs Kick In, The Del-Lords (from the GB Music release Elvis Club)
After a 13(!) year hiatus, New York City’s Del-Lords went back into the studio and picked up right where they left off. This is an album filled with amp’d up guitars and pounding beats, weathered vocals and rebellious lyrics. What’s not to like? This is rock and roll the way it was meant to be played.


Audio Stream: The Del-Lords, “When the Drugs Kick In”

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Box I Take to Work, Mike Stinson (from the self-released Hell and Half of Georgia)
After 18 years in Southern California, singer-songwriter Stinson relocated to the musically inviting climate of Houston, Texas. Damn if it doesn’t suit him well. He reminds me of Steve Forbert both in voice and writing style. His songs are filled with colorful stories that will bring a smile to your face. Even the sad ones radiate humor and warmth.

I love this song that finds Stinson reflecting on a traveling musician’s tools of the trade. “I got a torn envelope that says band money,” he sings, “let me tell you that’s an oxymoron, honey.”

Audio Download: Mike Stinson, “Box I Take to Work”

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Dreamin’, The Please Please Me (from the self-released Shake a Little Harder)
This was one of those glorious random discoveries when I stopped by my local late one Saturday night a year or so ago. I gotta imagine it was tough for the band to be playing to a talkative club crowd far from their Austin home. Well, they earned at least one fan that night.

Singer Jessie Torrisi has a bit of edge that she channels through her earnest songwriting. Torrisi’s bandmates, percussionist Agustin Frederic and cellist Alissa McClure, add their touch to create a soundscape that has a compelling tension yet is immediately engaging.

Audio Download: The Please Please Me, “Dreamin’”

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Treme Second Line, Kermit Ruffins (from the Basin Street Records release We Partyin’ Traditional Style)
Ruffins has become something of a New Orleans institution, a musician whose regular weekly gigs across town always draw a fun-seeking crowd. And for good reason: Ruffins and his band know how to throw a party. As the album title suggests, his latest hearkens back to the classic era of jazz. Alongside covers of Louis Armstrong and others from the bygone era is Ruffins’ own rollicking “Treme Second Line.”

If you’ve been to New Orleans and haven’t seen Kermit, then you haven’t been to New Orleans.


Audio Stream: Kermit Ruffins, “Treme Second Line”

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Homesick Tributaries, Christopher Paul Stelling (from the self-released False Cities)

Armed with just his guitar, Stelling packs his songs with enough energy and intensity to be the envy of a full-on rock band. Of course, having said that, I picked a ballad for the playlist. Well, whether fast or slow, his songs have a depth that command attention.

Audio Download: Christopher Paul Stelling, “Homesick Tributaries”

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Mayberry, I Can Lick Any SOB in the House (from the self-released Mayberry)

How can one not like a band with a name like this? Even more so, how can one not like ‘em when they sing a rock song about Andy Griffith? Singer-songwriter laments a loss of innocence, telling the tale of a boy with an abusive father and a troubled life. “They don’t make men like Andy Griffith anymore, Mayberry is dead and gone.” If you like your Americana infused with Jack Daniels, then this is the band for you.

Audio Download: I Can Lick Any SOB in the House, “Mayberry”

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Like a California Wildfire, Deadstring Brothers (from the Bloodshot Records release Cannery Row)

Lead Deadstring Brother Kurt Marschke relocated from Detroit to Nashville and absorbed the Nashville influence into his music. His music still has the rough edges and freewheeling attitude of the band’s earlier work, but now has a more laid back country feel.

Audio Download: The Deadstring Brothers, “Like a California Wildfire”

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Ain’t Gonna Let the World, Dan Israel (from the self-released Live On)
The prolific Minneapolis singer-songwriter has unleashed the 12th release of his 22-year career. While many of the songs reflect on falling short despite the best of intentions, they are fortified with a delicate optimism. “I ain’t gonna let the world get me down… sayin’ no to the sorrow, no to the pain.”

Audio Download: Dan Israel, “Ain’t Gonna Let the World”

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Ghosts Along the Brazos – When It Rains It Pours

Some songs, and albums, take you to a particular time in your life, junior year in high school maybe, or the first summer of backyard barbecues in your first home.  Others take you to an era, the 30′s of NY with early Duke Ellington, or Bakersfield in the early 60′s with Buck Owens.  And some take you to a place–how can you think of anything but New Orleans when you hear Professor Longhair’s Tipitina?  The sophomore release from Austin-based Ghosts Along the Brazos, When It Rains It Pours, falls into the last category.  For reasons I can’t fully explain it takes me straight to the Hill Country of Texas.

I suppose what really leads me there is the mix of swing and country waltzes and jazz riffs, sprinkled with some Norteno and pop, all rolled into a Friday night dance hall.  Take Down ‘n’ Lonely, a waltz featuring Connor Forsyth on piano and guest Warren Hood on fiddle.  You can just see the couples on the dance floor, hear the chatter by the bar, and sense the hipsters with their eyes closed just absorbing the vibe.  Part Of the Past takes you there, too, as does the title track.

There’s also a couple of serious uptempo tunes.  Corndog Shuffle could have been a Little Feat number with its boogie piano and Kristopher Wade’s sweet bass lines.  Beaver Stew is kind of a Junior Brown meets Austin Lounge Lizards song.  My favorite on the album is a bit the outlier; I’ll Get Home, with its Randy Newman lyrical hooks and pop sounds.

Ghosts-Brazos cover When It Rains It Pours is only 8 songs and 25 minutes, but there’s no filler.  If you want to get a sense of,  or just have a reminder, of a warm summer night in Gruene Hall, this is the record for you.

Phoebe Hunt – Live at the Cactus Cafe

I’m pretty sure Phoebe Hunt could sing a used car commercial and make it mesmerizing.  The former lead singer and fiddle player for the Belleville Outfit just released her first full length solo collection, Live at the Cactus Cafe, and it does a great job showing off her musical and vocal range.

Several of the songs on the record do have that crossover country/jazz sound that Belleville Outfit was known for.  Fly On, the opening cut has that spice to it, as does the funky Flee Fly Flow Fum.  A little more in the jazz vein are Oh, So Many Ways and the almost steamy rendition of One Trick Pony.

For me, though, the strongest songs on the disc take that jazzy influence and add just a touch of, dare I say it, a progressive, folk rock sound of the 70′s.  On Walk Away, it’s so easy to hear Hunt channeling Joni Mitchell.  Wild Oats, her self-proclaimed folk anthem, has guitarist Reed Turner injecting some sweet synthesized sounding guitar.  Woman On Fire, the most up-tempo song on the album outside the Bo Diddley beat of I Got Love, carries a certain Celtic folk influence to it.  Good Blood has a Ricki Lee Jones club performance feeling, some of that I suppose from the always great vibe of the Cactus Cafe.

Hunt-thumb The material on this album celebrates a lot of styles that get thrown into the Americana mix.  There are slow, acoustic ballads and upbeat pop songs, gospel, blues and country.  So in many ways it’s the perfect accompaniment to this Independence Day weekend.

Caitlin Rose- The Stand-In

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Writing this review is difficult for me, and not because my feelings about the album are ambiguous. I almost uniformly adore the record. The difficulty arises in attempting to write about the record. Because, despite my adoration of The Stand-In, I can’t really put my finger on the reason why. Every thought comes across as either a) generic or b) like I don’t actually like Caitlin Rose. This is my problem.

The truth is that I do think Rose has improved by leaps and bounds (suggesting she was somehow inferior before?) and that this record squarely address the question of what a ‘country’ or ‘americana’ record ‘should’ sound like. Both of these are ridiculous subjects to write about. I liked Rose’s debut, 2010’s Own Side Now. I featured it as one of my favorite records on that year’s best of list. “Shanghai Cigarettes” is still a favorite song for shuffles and playlists. As for abstract discussions of ‘country’ and ‘alt. country’, check my past posts and reviews and you can find that subject droned on about both poorly and often. This album deserves better. So let’s see if I can get past my reductive tendencies and give this record a worthy review.

Opening with big guitar chords worthy of a Tom Petty classic, Rose makes it clear from the get go that this isn’t going to be a quaint, acoustic singer-songwriter record. In fact, despite the frequent flourishes of steel guitars, The Stand-In rarely feels like a country record. Rose’s full length debut three years ago hinted at an indie rock sensibility, but The Stand-In doesn’t hint at anything. Genre classifications are merely the broad brushes that Rose used to sling paint at the walls. Most of the songs seem to have guitars, bass, and drums, so maybe we can just call it rock and roll? “Waitin’” is an R&B lyric delivered in a punk rock snarl. The more traditional ‘country’ songs like “Pink Champagne” and “Dallas” have a Memphis-soul vibe to them. Stand-out track “When I’m Gone” begs for a Bettye LaVette re-interpretation that god-willing is only a couple years away.

Thinking, I’ve been thinking
About leaving this old town behind
I’ll beg and borrow, to leave tomorrow
Find no more sorrow, and just say goodbye

Come on, you can sleep when I’m gone
I was lying when I said there’s plenty of time
Don’t need your alibi baby
Cause I’m always running
From the scene of the crime

Rose is always at her best when delivering catty one liners between biting guitar lines, as she channels her inner Petty and her guitarist channels their inner Mike Campbell (“Silver Springs”, “Menagerie). “Only a Clown” is perhaps the best example of this to date. Co-written with The Jayhawks Gary Louris, the song bounds forward with a musical optimism that is buoyed by a chorus of “put your record on, let the band play a song/ all about love and believing”. Though the chorus belies the song’s angsty roots, you can’t help but sing along. And maybe that is why I can’t quite put my finger on Rose, because nothing makes quite as much sense as ‘I just can’t help but sing along.’

Everyone came, lanterns lit the way
And they all brought a bottle of wine
Guess you could say
That I came alone, and I thank you
For being so kind

Put your record on, let the band play the song
All about love and believing
Good for you, ‘cause if that’s true
Then it’s only a clown, that’s leaving

At the end of the night
All the ice has melted down
You’re picking up after everyone
Remember I came and went
And that no one says goodbye to a clown
They only laugh when he’s gone

And for your pleasure, here is a free download courtesy of our friends at ATO Records.

Audio Download: Caitlin Rose, “I Was Cruel”

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