ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
The Lumineers, by The Lumineers
I discovered the Lumineers thanks to, of all things, an airline who shall remain nameless. When they botched my return to Boston from a day gig work trip to LA, I found myself stranded in Denver. Others might have been upset, but I relished the chance to check out the local music scene at the expense of said airline. And that was how I came across the Lumineers.
Fast forward a year and the band has just released their debut, an album that fully captures the vitality of the band that I saw that night in Denver. Singer-songwriter Wesley Schultz has a weathered voice that radiates emotional intensity. When he sings, “it’s better to feel pain than nothing at all” in “Stubborn Love” one it feels authentic and achingly true.
Yet even as he sings of grief and heartache, there is a sense of optimism that pervades his songwriting. Despite a focus on the angst that can accompany a relationship, “Stubborn Love” explodes into an uplifting sing-along chorus of “keep your head up, keep your love.” “Ho Hey,” which has become a signature song for the band, follows a similar path both for its uplifting sing-along qualities and its lyrical balance between optimism and remorse.
Other stand-outs include “Slow It Down,” a song dramatic in its simplicity. “Some love was made for the light, some kiss your cheek and goodnight,” sings Schultz against a lightly strummed electric guitar. The tender yet light-hearted “Classy Girls” finds Schultz propositioning a girl in a bar. “I made her laugh, I made a pass, I showed her my half dollar ring, “he sings, “She said, ‘That’s pretty cool, but classy girls don’t kiss in bars, you fool.’”
Schultz’s bandmates contribute much to the album’s success. Percussionist Jeremiah Fraites, with his honeyed harmonies and effervescent personality, is the perfect foil for Schultz. Cellist, well really multi-instrumentalist, Neyla Pekarek gives the band additional depth with her musical contributions.
The Lumineers is an auspicious debut, overflowing with character and passion. Thanks, airline whose name will not be mentioned, for inadvertently enabling this music introduction.
Audio Download: The Lumineers, “Ho Hey”
Great Ideas In Action, by Archie Powell and the Exports
Damn, I’m lovin’ this album. It’s got everything a guy could want — crunchy hooks, rousing lyrics and more energy than a case of Red Bull. The Chicago-based quartet serve up eleven tracks of earnest rock and roll reminiscent of Elvis Costello in his early rocking years.
Album-opener “Metronome” sets the tone with a head-bobbing beat fitting for the song’s title. Powell sticks to the theme singing, “Life is a bitch for me and all the folks you know, ticking away like beats from a metronome.”
The transition into the subsequent “Crazy Pills” makes for a potent one-two punch. Pounding drums and simmering organ feed off one another to glorious effect as Powell declares, “My little problem’s that I just can’t win, your little problem’s that you’re soaked in gin.”
Did I say 1-2 punch? I really meant 1-2-3 as “Crazy Pills” gives way to the infectious blast of “Shooting Spree.” A killer riff opens the track before Powell jumps in with a tale of quarreling criminals, “and it’s a shame I gotta be the one who carries all the load for three, the only rifle in this shooting spree.” It is an incredible end to an opening trifecta that is guaranteed to have you bouncing around whatever room you’re in.
Things keep moving on the playful “I Need Supervision” (“Baby I don’t know how to explain why I’m half polite and half profane”) and “Job Fair” (“My diploma doesn’t help a damn and all in all I guess I’m better off to throw my head against the wall.”).
There isn’t a lot of subtlety to this release, but then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is pure rock and roll. And damn good fun.
Audio Download: Archie Powell and the Exports, “Shooting Spree”
Jericho, John Fullbright (from the Blue Dirt Records release From The Ground Up)
The Oklahoma native channels the local musical heritage, bringing together aspects of Leon Russell’s musical style and Woody Guthrie’s lyrical conscience. At moments he also calls to mind Randy Newman and Hayes Carll who, although not from Oklahoma, are both fine songwriters and lyricists. It is hard to believe that Fullbright is a mere 23 years old – his songs overflow with a profound wisdom and experience that belies his age.
Look inside yourself to see
Where these walls appear to be
Let your soul step out to breathe
Swallow whole your dignity
Audio Stream: John Fullbright, “Jericho”
Tear the Woodpile Down, Marty Stuart (from the Sugar Hill Records release Nashville Vol. 1: Tear The Woodpile Down)
There are lots of musicians who play country music, but few have the encyclopedic musical knowledge and talent to personify it. Marty Stuart is one of the few who fit that description. His latest is an honest and wholesome country classic, filled with great songs and overflowing with twang. To these ears, this is the way that country is meant to be played.
Audio Download: Marty Stuart, “Tear the Woodpile Down”
Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, Antonio Lulic (from the self-released Rough)
Lulic was a SXSW discovery who is still in heavy rotation on my musical playlist. Here he delivers an impassioned performance of a Foy Vance composition. (You’ll find Lulic’s own spectacular “Hey, It’s Ok” in my 2012 SXSW coverage here).
Audio Download: Antonio Lulic, “Indiscriminate Act of Kindness”
The Way We Move, Langhorne Slim (from the Ramseur Records release The Way We Move)
One might not recognize this as a break-up album without listening closely to the lyrics. Slim’s percussive musical style and half-shouted vocals make this a rollicking good time.
Audio Stream: Langhorne Slim, “The Way We Move”
Ship Of Fools (live), World Party (from the Seaview Records release Arkeology)
Simply stated, Karl Wallinger is a pop genius. He is a classicist, well-schooled in everyone from the Beatles to Dylan to Mott the Hoople. A trip through his storied catalog includes brilliant covers from each of those artists alongside his own magnificent compositions. A new box set captures it all, from a pristine take on the Beatles “Dear Prudence” to a raucous take on Little Richard’s “Lucille” continuing on through his own slice of pop perfection “She’s the One” and the spirited “Way Down Now.” And then there is this gem, steeped in social commentary, from his debut World Party release. “Save me from tomorrow, I don’t want to sail on this ship of fools.”
Audio Download: World Party, “Ship Of Fools (live)”
Centerville, Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires (from the Alive Records release There Is a Bomb in Gilead)
Southern rock, well certainly the Alabama variety, is on a roll of late. The latest Alabama artist to emerge is Birmingham native Lee Bains III and his band the Glory Fire. Whether pounding through a full-on rocker or an Allman Brothers-style jam, the boys pack their songs with the proper amount of Southern swagger.
Special bonus: Bains and crew are offering a free download of their show from the Bama Theater in Tuscaloosa, AL on 23 March 2012, a benefit to raise funds for the recovery from the devastating tornados that hit the area. Get it here.
Audio Download: Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, “Centerville”
Bad For Me, Brendan Benson (from the Readymade Records release What Kind of World)
Benson is a power-popper extraordinaire, effortlessly churning out infectious guitar-driven pop songs. His latest is chock full of these uptempo jewels – check out “Met Your Match” or “Happy Most of the Time” – but what really caught my attention were the country-tinged “On the Fence” and the melancholy “Bad For Me.”
Audio Download: Brendan Benson, “Bad For Me”
Guilty Good Intentions, Filligar (from the Three One Two Productions release The Nerve)
The Chicago indie rockers serve up some mighty fine ramshackle rock, with piano and electric guitars bashing out a beautiful noise.
Audio Download: Filligar, “Guilty Good Intentions”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.