ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Everything’s Up For Grabs, by Christian McNeill and Sea Monsters
It has been ten years since Christian McNeill’s last studio release, but it’s not as if he has been absent from the music scene. He has continued to write and perform around Boston, ultimately joining up with a talented crew of musicians to form the collective that became known as the Sea Monsters.
For three years the group held down a weekly residency where they honed their sound and sharpened the songs that make up Everything’s Up For Grabs. The result is one of the year’s more explosive releases.
“Older Now” establishes McNeill as a passionate vocalist in the soul shouter tradition. A ferocious rhythm and energetic horns propel the song, joined by a simmering organ for a fiery sound.
“Best in the Business” has a folk-infused edge and an ambling quality while “I Will Always Be Your Friend” enthralls with an infectious swagger. “Everything Changes” matches a forlorn melody with a forceful rock beat with McNeill lamenting, “the second it’s the brightest day, it turns to night again.”
McNeill’s original Sea Monster collaborator Jesse Dee steps to the microphone for the title track. His soulful intensity lends itself perfectly to the old school R&B ballad.
And then there’s “If You Need Some (Come and Get Some)”. Quite simply, it’s among the best Van Morrison songs that Van the Man didn’t write. The horn arrangements are downright sublime as McNeill proclaims, “’cause when I hear my favorite song all I wanna do is sing along, is sing along, sing along.” You’ll be singing along, too.
Which brings me back to the Sea Monster’s residency. Put on this record and close your eyes. Imagine yourself is a soulful and sweaty club on a Sunday night. Feels pretty good, right?
That Old Southern Drag, by Patrick Sweany
Patrick Sweany is a bit of a paradox. His songs have a refreshing contemporary feel yet possess a timeless quality. His melodies are simple yet the arrangements have a subtle complexity. Put it all together and you’ve got an immensely soul-satisfying release.
Musically the album is built on a strong rock and roll foundation with healthy doses of blues and soul. Album opener “Sleeping Bag” begins with a bluesy electric guitar riff before the rhythm section kicks the song into high gear. “Oh! Temptation” has echoes of Del Shannon’s classic “Runaway” while “More and More” reverberates with a classic Muscle Shoals sound.
Sweany cranks up the guitars on “Police Car Blues” and “Heavy Problems (Peavey Rage).” The former song is awash in great guitar riffs echoed by a spit-fire organ while the latter song has an intricacy to the guitar arrangements that gives the song extra depth.
The tempo slows down with “Same Thing,” a soulful tale that finds Sweany exploring universal needs and desires, declaring “I want to be treated like you would want yourself, I want to live a long, long life in reasonable good health” before concluding “everybody wants the same thing.”
I’m a bit late to the party – this album was originally released in February 2011 – but better late than never! And take my advice, see Sweany live if you get the chance. As good as he sounds from the studio, Sweany cranks it up several notches on stage.
Audio Download: Patrick Sweany, “Sleeping Bag”
See How We Are (Live at Moonlight Graham), John Doe and Exene Cervenka (from the Moonlight Graham Records release Singing and Playing)
If you don’t already know this song, consider this your long overdue introduction. Originally recorded by the duo’s legendary punk band X, the song captures a rough and tumble side of Los Angeles. The matter-of-fact lyrics don’t mask the social commentary that infused the band’s music. This acoustic reading shines the light on the lyrics while showcasing the duo’s distinctive harmonies. Twenty-five years after its release, the song sounds musically fresh with lyrics that still resonate.
Wasted On You, Michelle Malone (from the SBS Records release Day 2)
It’s been well over three years since Malone’s last album, the impressive Debris. Don’t fret (pun intended), Malone picks up right where she left off with the just released Day 2. As this song demonstrates, she packs her songs with a healthy dose of bluesy Southern swagger. And damn, can she play the guitar.
I got a beat up ego the size of my Durango boot
If I could get resoled, re-heeled, If I could get a redo
I don’t have too many regrets about my misspent youth
Except the money and the time and the dreams that I wasted on you
Audio Download: Michelle Malone, “Wasted On You”
All Men Are Liars, Robert Ellis with Caitlin Rose (from the Fiesta Red Records release Lowe Country)
“Do you remember Rick Astley, he had a big hit is was ghastly; he said ‘I’m never gonna give you up or let you down’, I’m here to tell you now Dick’s a clown.” It’s hard to imagine anyone better to play up the country side of this song that Robert Ellis. He takes Lowe’s original southern swing and takes it up a notch with slide guitar and his vocal twang.
Lowe fans, and even those not familiar with Lowe’s impressive catalog, should seek out this release. Artists from Hayes Carll to Ron Sexsmith more than do justice to Lowe’s songs, giving them that extra bit of twang.
Audio Download: Robert Ellis with Caitlin Rose, “All Men Are Liars”
Pretty Faces, Somebody’s Darlings (from the self-released Jank City Shakedown)
The Dallas quintet deliver a heavy dose of roadhouse rock. Singer Amber Farris has a voice that often recalls Maria McKee and more than holds its own against the band’s brawny electrified sound.
Audio Download: Somebody’s Darlings, “Pretty Faces”
Run Like Hell, Drive He Said (from the self-released ep Multitudes)
Maxim Ludwig was the man behind some of my favorite songs from last year. After a brief hiatus, he is back with a new band and a slightly more polished and poppy sound. Underneath, however, Ludwig’s enthusiasm and infectious songwriting remain intact.
Special bonus: Ludwig and the band are giving away their latest ep, including this track, via their web site. So what are you waiting for?
Audio Download: Drive He Said, “Run Like Hell”
Little Mistakes, Watershed (from the Curry House Records release Brick and Mortar)
Ever have one of those moments where you think “I wonder what happened to…” and find yourself pleasantly surprised that the artist in question has just released a new album? That was my recent experience with Watershed. These guys play power pop to perfection, filling their songs with hearty rock beats and sing-along choruses. Singer and bassist Joe Oestreich also just released “Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll,” an entertaining book on his rock and roll experience.
Audio Download: Watershed, “Little Mistakes”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.