ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Boxers is an album of discontent. Life, love, work — you name it — the characters that inhabit this collection of songs are dissatisfied. There is rage, resentment and restlessness. Through it all, however, Ryan manages to find a glimmer of hope — sometimes it’s a lyrical cue, other times it is a shimmering melody. It isn’t always bright but it’s there if you want to find it.
Ryan sets the tone early with the blaring guitars and pounding drums of the title track. “How do you say goodbye to a dream that just won’t die,” he asks. While some might view this as a song of resignation and defeat but I consider it a more an acknowledgement that the road is rarely easy. “You’re a boxer against the ropes & there’s blood running down your throught,” he continues, “but this is the fight you chose… Here we go.”
“Suffer No More” tells the tale of a couple dealing with job loss and economic hardship. “All we want today is something like a fair shake,” Ryan sings, “and all we want tomorrow is a ladder that won’t fall away.” An acoustic guitar and a sauntering beat convey at least a touch of hope.
Ryan recalls painful early lessons in love on on the boisterous “The First Heartbreak.” I’m sure that many a listener can relate to the line, “I was there the night you got that tattoo, some scars got nothing to hide and everything to lose.” It is a line that is vivid, raw and meaningful, a hallmark of Ryan’s writing.
Songs like the noisy “This One’s For You, Frankie” and the potent “Heaven’s Hill” showcase the exceptional band that Ryan assembled for Boxers. Producer and guitarist Kevin Salem left the rough edges intact as musicians Brian Bequette, Joe Magistro and Brian Fallon (the Gaslight Anthem) unleashed a sonic fury across most of the album.
In the midst of all the bruising rock songs are occasional quiet moments such as the stunning acoustic ballad “A Song to Learn & Sing (Until Kingdom Come).” In many ways it plays as the album’s musical centerpiece as Ryan quietly reflects on hardship and pain yet still remains optimistic.
So let’s sing “Dirty Old Town” at the top of our lungs
Don’t look now here comes the sun
Your head is a map and your heart is a drum
And the road is the road you’re on ‘til kingdom come.
Boxers also contains “An Anthem for the Broken,” a song that Ryan released earlier this year to raise funds for longtime friend of Twangville John Anderson as he battles ALS. You can read more about it here, but I challenge anyone to not be moved by the song’s furious jolt of electricity and optimism.
An anthem for the brotherhood
The light in the dark and the lean for good
The knowing not which way to go
But here but for the grace of the unknown I know
Adollar’s not a peace nore end
I’d do it all and all again
An anthem for the broken hearts
That made it worlds from where they’d start.
Even in its darkest moments there is a message that resonates across Boxers – life may be harsh but it needn’t be bleak. We all have the power to find satisfaction and contentment, even if it isn’t in a way that we originally intended or expected. We just need to find it. Leave it to Ryan to craft a raggedly beautiful album to remind us of this fact.
Audio Download: Matthew Ryan, “Boxers”
Words From a Letter The Far West (from the Medina River Records release Any Day Now)
I caught this Los Angeles-based quintet play an afternoon show at the Americana Conference and was damn impressed. They skillfully mine the Southern California brand of Americana, recalling Gram Parsons and the legends of the Bakersfield Sound. Singer Lee Briante has an appealing melancholy to his voice. It lends the right country feel to their more rock-laced songs while giving added depth to the country-oriented ballads.
Audio Download: The Far West, “Words from a Letter”
Jailhouse, Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives (from the Superlatone Records release Saturday Night/Sunday Morning)
Marty Stuart’s latest release borrows a title and concept from Dr. Ralph Stanley. The impressive double album celebrates the decadence of Saturday night and the penance of Sunday morning. While some might frown on reproducing the concept, Stuart is one of the few who has the credentials to pull it off. Stuart is a rightful heir of the country music tradition, an honor that he wears with pride with this release.
Joined by a crack band dubbed the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart romps, rumbles and strolls through the 23 glorious tracks on Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. They infuse every song with an enthusiasm and joy that is infectious.
I Wasn’t the One, Joshua Black Wilkins (from the self-released Settling the Dust)
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the Nashville-based Wilkins is a phenomenally talented photographer. He approaches music in a similar manner, creating songs that have an evocative appeal. The musical arrangements are minimal without being sparse. They are often punctuated by a wistful pedal steel. To these ears it conjures up images of a drifter riding the rails, singing songs that are dusty, weathered and downright intoxicating.
Audio Download: Joshua Black Wilkins, “I Wasn’t the One”
Domino Sugar, Luke Winslow-King (from the Bloodshot Records release Everlasting Arms)
I’ll openly admit that I have a bias towards New Orleans musicians. It’s not because they live in one of the world’s greatest cities. Rather it’s because they are often musical scholars versed in genres from jazz to rock to rhythm and blues. The best ones bring that expertise to life in their music.
Put Luke Winslow King in that category. His latest release shifts with ease from the New Orleans jazz of “La Bega’s Carousel” to the Southern rock-tinged boogie of “Domino Sugar” to the bluesy folk of “Traveling Myself.” We’ll call it eclectic in all the right ways. We’ll also say that, perhaps reflective of the city that Winslow King calls home, this album makes for one hell of a listening party.
Coffin Black, The Pine Hill Haints (from the K Records release The Magik Sounds of the Pine Hill Haints)
Although the Pine Hill Haints have been around since circa 2000, the Twangville introduction to the Pine Hill Haints came via our Muscle Shoals series. Their self-described “Alabama Ghost Music” blends is a potent mix of folk, rockabilly and bluegrass. The group shifts with ease from the down-home roots of “Scarlet Fever” to the fuzzed-out guitar rock of “Coffin Black.” If you’re looking for some music that overflows with a raw and rootsy enthusiasm, you’d do right to check out the Pine Hill Haints.
A Waltz For Old Jeppson (Carl’s Theme), Archie Powell and the Exports (from the single A Waltz for Old Jeppson)
I’ve never tried Chicago home-grown liquor Jeppson’s Malört, whose motto is apparently “Malört is not for the faint of heart.” Nor do I expect the lyrics of this song to change that fact. “Be it your drug of choice or a big last resort,” Powell proclaims, “the results are the same if you’re drinking Malört.”
I am certain of one thing, however. I’ll be listening to this rockin’ song for a long time to come.
(Check out the band’s entertaining video tribute to Jeppson’s Malört here.)
Nothing Left, Elliott Brood (from the Paper Bag Records release Work and Love)
This Canadian trio fall on the rock end of the Americana spectrum. Their songs overflow with catchy melodies propelled by jangly guitars and carefree harmonies. There’s a breezy Sunday afternoon vibe to their music, albeit a breeze that packs a playful and energetic punch. If you enjoy this track, you’ll undoubtedly find plenty more to your liking on their latest release.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.