ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Mike June doesn’t pull his punches. At all. His latest release is filled with biting commentary about society, politics and religion. He approaches it with a working-man’s perspective, certainly jaded but with a spirit that flirts between combative and cautiously optimistic.
“Big corporations too big to fail, politicians and bankers too rich to jail,” he rages on the acoustic rocker “The Darkness,” before declaring, “The Darkness has got me but it ain’t killed me yet… I’ll fight the Darkness.”
Later, on the bristling “Fall From Grace,” he chronicles a host of political and social woes that range from economic injustice to global conflict. “You can’t lead from the darkness into the light with a cross in your left hand and a gun in your right,” he cautions as a driving rhythm and beefy guitars give the song extra bite.
“God Gave Up” offers a somber reflection on the terrorism rampant in the world today. “On the seventh day he rested,” he sings, “on the eighth day he cried.” Yet he maintains hope, concluding:
We could learn to love
Take this broken kingdom
Build it back up
God won’t give up on us
We can change it “
Lest anyone think June is all vitriol, he adds a new classic to the baseball canon. “The Baseball Song” pays homage to America’s pastime, a colorful tale of a minor leaguer with big dreams. “Biding my time, riding the pine,” he explains, “When I get my chance I’m gonna touch them all.” He even waxes poetic about the New York teams, to wit: “God bless the New York Yankees, God help the Mets,” he sings, “God bless you Louis Armstrong, it ain’t over yet.” No love for the Red Sox, Mike?
Regardless of whether we agree with June’s world view (or favored baseball teams), there’s one fact that is indisputable. Poor Man’s Bible is a potent rock and roll record.
“I’m so sick of (fill in the blank)” sings Will Toledo on his label debut. After a series (make that a deluge) of home-recorded and self-released output, he entered a proper studio and emerged with a glorious ode to youthful anxiety.
Toledo walks the line between simple pop and adventurous rock. “Vincent,” for example starts with a repetitive guitar riff that continues for over two minutes – nearly reaching the point of aural carpal tunnel syndrome – until the band joins in to create a ferocious horn-laced rock explosion.
While it’s hard not to view Teens of Denial as auto-biographical, Toledo approached the album as a thematic piece about the struggles, both real and perceived, of a fictional character. He tells the tale with lyrics that are not quite stream of consciousness but are certainly free-flowing. They can also be quite intense, as the screamed lyrics of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” demonstrate:
what happened to that chubby little kid who smiled so much and loved the Beach Boys?
what happened is I killed that fucker and I took his name and I got new glasses
tell my mother I’m going home, I have been destroyed by hippie powers
Yet the song also reveals Toledo’s knack for thoughtful perspective. “It’s more than what you bargained for, but it’s a little less than what you paid for,” he declares. Although the lyric refers to whether the song’s protagonist should grab another beer, it certainly rings true to more significant life experiences.
“Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” seemingly takes place later that night when, having had more beer, he ponders how to get home. Again Toledo uses the moment to convey a broader message on how to find a new path away from past mistakes:
but if we learned how to live like this
maybe we can learn how to start again
like a child who’s never done wrong
who hasn’t taken that first step
Teens of Denial heralds a commanding new voice in rock and roll. One might say that it’s just what we needed.
Some comparisons are inescapable. Such is the case with Those Pretty Wrongs, former Big Star drummer Jody Stephens’ latest project. It’s hard not to think of his former band while listening to Those Pretty Wrongs’ debut release. That’s ok, though. Big Star has had such a lasting (albeit under-appreciated) legacy why wouldn’t we want one of the band’s founders to carry it on.
Many songs on the group’s debut are spare and intimate – just Stephens singing while Luther Russell accompanies him on guitar and harmonies. Elsewhere they bring in subtle piano, strings and horns (not to mention Stephens on drums). The result is something wonderfully endearing, especially when paired with their meditative lyrics.
And now for something completely different. Austin-based Charlie Faye built her reputation through a series of fine Americana albums. Her latest release, however, finds her turning back the clock to pay homage to the great female pop groups of the 1960’s like the Shirelles and the Ronettes.
Said simply, Faye, along with fellow Austin singers Betty Soo and Akina Adderley, nails it. The songs crackle with an infectious enthusiasm while the trio’s harmonies sparkle. If you’re looking for some refreshing ear candy, Charlie Faye and the Fayettes have got you covered.
These are my kind of rock songs, er, pop songs, er… I guess if I have to choose I’d call them a rock songs that roll with some head-banging hooks. The guitar-drums duo of Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt like their music raw and gritty, kind of reminiscent of Warren Zevon (well, at least Zevon’s Hindu Love Gods side-project… if that group didn’t include bassist Mike Mills, of course).
Bonus points for a killer cover of the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive,” a perfect addition to my recent covers post.
Although I’ll admit that I wasn’t previously familiar with his work, apparently Danny Hutchens is something of an Athens, GA institution. Over the years he has been a fixture on the local scene, a prolific songwriter who has written with and for the likes of Widespread Panic, Jerry Joseph and others.
Song titles like “Jack Nicholson Grin” and “Wigs and a Walking Cane” should give some indication of the colorful storytelling and eye for detail that define Hutchens’ writing. Working with producer Dave Schools (Widespread Panic, Hard Working Americans), Hutchens serves up the kind of music that you’d expect to hear in a Southern dive bar – perhaps not the sloppy rock you’d find on a drunken Saturday night but certainly the relaxed swagger of Friday happy hour. In other words, the perfect soundtrack to lead you into a the weekend.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.