ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Austin Lucas wears his heart on his sleeve. He writes from a personal place, revealing – if not quite reveling in – tales of his adventures in love and music. “I look around and at 35 all I’ve got are songs,” he sings on the telling “Wrong Side of the Dream.”
His last album was a rock extravaganza, courtesy of backing provided by the rock band Glossary. This time, however, he’s scratching his country itch. It’s a sound that suits him well, accentuating the twang in his voice and the ache in his songwriting. “Pray for Rain,” for example, recalls the tearful ballads that ruled the airwaves in the classic country era. “To know a storm is to love you,” he sings as a mournful pedal steel cries, “left to drown while you move on.”
Of course that doesn’t mean that this is an album that contains only plaintive ballads. Rather, pedal steel guitars are accompanied by persistent drums on songs like “Kristie Rae,” an ode to a former love.
If “Kristie Rae” is somewhat of an apology to a lover wronged, the tables are turned on the boisterous “The Flame.” Angelic voices may open the song but a guttural guitar and a honky-tonk piano set the tone as Lucas takes a lover to task. “Though he’s not the one you love, bring that flame close to your chest and let it burn you up,” he exclaims.
That track, along with several others, feature Lydia Loveless on guest vocals. Sometimes she offers a counterpoint to his lyrics, such as on the winsome “Wrong Side of the Dream”; other times she tenders some beautiful harmonies to lend depth to the songs. Their voices blend beautifully and here’s hoping that they collaborate further in the future.
“I’ve been told to walk away nearly every time I’ve made an album,” he confesses on album opener “Unbroken Heart.” Thankfully he’s ignored that advice. We music fans are all the better for it.
My summer soundtrack is shaping up quite nicely, thank you. The latest addition comes via Dallas, Texas quartet the Roomsounds.
The band recorded their sophomore album at legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama although one only gets a wisp of hint of the studio’s storied soul sound. Rather, the group takes their cue from the rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones and Bob Seger who have also found inspiration in Muscle Shoals.
The songs on Elm St. overflow with a youthful innocence and exuberance, even as the lyrics find the group struggling with, well, everything. “I don’t sleep so well these days with all the static on my mind and every time I’m feelin’ good seems I’m wasting my time,” singer Ryan Michael confesses on “Lay My Head Down.” He lays it out more fully on the ultra-catchy “What Do I Gotta Do”:
I’m halfway through my roaring twenties,
Seems I’m lived a life that is unknown
I’ve held the hands of angels, seen the face of evil on my own.
So what do I gotta do, what do I gotta do, to get where I belong.
The quest for love proves equally challenging. “Don’t give up on me,” Michael pleads on the song of that name, admitting to a host of failures while insisting “I’m just finding my light, when the timing is right I’ll give you something better.” Things don’t seem to be going much better on “Take It All Wrong” as Michael confesses, “‘cause I just want to tell you that babe I’m crazy for you, but I’m afraid you’ll take it all wrong.”
Despite, or perhaps because of, their expressed anxieties, these songs swell with a feel-good attitude. The band sum up their mantra quite nicely on “Lay My Head Down.” “Rock and roll won’t save my soul but I might as well try,” they explain, “‘cause it’s about the only thing that I believe in, the only thing that gives me meaning.” Amen and keep on rockin’, fellas.
It’s tempting to say that Delta Spirit front-man Vasquez has found a new maturity on his debut solo release. Sure he relocated from Brooklyn to Austin and celebrated the birth of his first child. Let’s not kid ourselves, however. He still likes to rock.
The musician’s electric guitar is a primary weapon on Solicitor Returns, although acoustic guitar and oft-atmospheric synthesizers do make appearances. The result is a sound that often channels Neil Young in both sonics and style, certainly not a bad reference point.
Vasquez’s impassioned vocals are a touchstone here as well, giving his songs an extra emotional punch. The combination of his voice and guitar on this standout track is especially potent.
The Posies may not be the most prolific artists – this is their first album in six years, (and only the eighth studio release of their nearly 30 year career), but damn if they don’t consistently deliver power pop perfection.
The band’s calling cards are pristine arrangements and immaculate harmonies, both of which are as strong as ever on Solid States. Although the songs may be a touch more subdued that earlier releases, they still pack a musical and lyrical punch. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, the band’s principals and songwriters, tackle religion, mortality and even touch on the privacy debate across the twelve tracks presented here.
Without fail there is always at least one song on every release by the Posies that claws its way into my head and won’t let go. Sometimes it’s an Auer song; sometimes it’s a Stringfellow song. On this record, I’ve got to give a tip of the hat to both of ‘em. Auer hits the mark with “March Climes,” partially inspired by the Charlie Hebdo attack while Stringfellow succeeds with the biting “Squirrel vs Snake.”
Canadian singer-songwriter Matt Andersen has one of those voices that is as expressive as it is soulful. On his latest release he wraps it around a collection of songs that land somewhere near the intersection of pop, blues and soul. There’s a relaxed and laid-back quality to his songwriting that makes it the perfect summer beach soundtrack.
The one exception to this description – and the album’s standout moment – is this heartwrenching ballad. Accompanied solely by a piano, Andersen unleashes the emotion in his voice. “Don’t’ believe my words ‘cause words don’t mean a lot,” he confesses, “just ignore my voice but listen to, please listen to my heart.”
Mathus has been on a creative tear, of sorts, releasing albums in each of the last six years. Whereas the previous releases tended to have a somewhat consistent sound, his latest is an eclectic collections of songs.
In that respect Band of Storms is a good representation of the songwriter’s talent and personality. You get everything from the raw and rockin’ “Massive Confusion” (which also appears on the Eric Ambel’s recent Mathus-produced album), the fun boogie-woogie stomp of “Can’t Get Much Higher” and the ambling country of “Play with Fire.” Jimbo is a man unleashed… and we’re the beneficiaries.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.