Kevin Gordon has long been one of contemporary music’s most compelling storytellers. He fills his songs with colorful characters and literary tales, all set to music that has more than a few gloriously jagged edges.
Tilt And Shine steps beyond the more structured stories that have anchored his previous releases. On this latest release he mixes in character-driven vignettes that are more snapshot reflections on attitudes and emotions. The scenes range from the quest for contentment in light of self-inflicted suffering of “Saint on a Chain” to the chastising encouragement provided to a friend in “Get It Together” (“When you gonna get your shit together; might be now, might be never; Better sit right down, and get it together now.”)
“Rest Your Head” is a love song as only Gordon can write one – blue collar and forlorn. “Work is good but wants to steal away our time,” he sings, “Hours and frustrations lead to nothing but paper dollars and thin dimes.”
“Right on Time” is simply a great rock and roll song, right down to the subtle 1960’s organ that wraps gently around the chugging guitars. The lyrics portray the life of a musician with Gordon’s trademark wordplay and wit.
2 kids and a wife, that makes three
People who don’t know what to make of me
Blowing through the doors with my 4 chords and my rhymes
Chasing down the next hundred bucks
Dying for love and praying for luck
And I’ll be there right on time
Musically Gordon scuffs up his already gritty sound. Biting guitars fuel the raw blues of “Fire at the End of the World” and “One Road Out” while piano and scruffy, persistent drums drive “The Drunkest Man in Town” and the aforementioned “Get It Together.”
The heart of any Kevin Gordon release is the ragged beauty of his songwriting. Tilt And Shine further cements his reputation as a poet laureate of Americana.
(See Shawn’s take on Tilt and Shine here.)
Apparently even fatherhood does little to lift the dark clouds that envelop Ben Nichol’s songs. “Among the Ghosts,” the opener of Lucero’s latest release, finds him longing for home and his family. “The first word she said to me was ‘goodbye’,” he sings as he laments a life on the road away from his young daughter.
Pianist Rick Steff remains but gone are the horns that gave Lucero’s recent albums a buoyant feel. What remains are guitar-fueled songs filled with melancholy and overflowing with the ruminating intensity that have long sustained Lucero and endeared them to so many music fans.
Nichols mixes songs of heartbreak with those that reflect the longing for loved ones left behind. Among the former are “Bottom of the Sea”, where he declares “a heart left alone sinks like a stone.” The latter category includes the engaging “To My Dearest Wife,” a song inspired by letters written home by Civil War soldiers.
In between are somewhat ambiguous songs like “Always Been You.” The tone, certainly suggested by Steff’s piano, is dark and foreboding, but optimists might find some hope in the closing “All of those things that we wanted to say, give me a chance and I’ll say them today.”
The album closes with the jubilant return of the horns on “For the Lonely Ones.” Nichols pleads “come on baby dance with me, they’re playing for the lonely ones” in what is destined to be a long-time fan favorite.
Amanda Shires celebrates the completion of a masters degree in poetry in the best possible way – with a new album that showcases her growth as a writer and artist. In doing so, she’s also taken her music in a much more edgy direction, letting her signature fiddle mostly give way to unruly electric guitars.
One need look no further than the furious “Eve’s Daughter”, where fuzzy and ferocious guitars propel a rough and tumble tale of someone pursuing happiness with decidedly mixed results. “If I had to do it all again,” she proclaims, “I’d hit the sunset shifting gears to the something better shining diamond clear.”
Lyrically, she attacks her songs with a directness that borders on abruptness. She addresses mental health in the insistent “Take on the Dark.” She opens the song by declaring “I know I said everything’s gonna be okay, but what I meant to say was you’ll make it through.” Later she decries “It’s ok to fall apart” while cautioning “take on the dark without letting it take over.”
“Break Out the Champagne”, a song about responding to life’s challenges, takes things a step further in “damn the torpedos” fashion. “Might as well break out the champagne if this is really how it’s gonna go,” she proclaims, “let’s get on with the shit show.” A lesson for all.
Seeing Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires can be a cathartic experience. Anyone who has seen them perform knows that it is an understatement to say that the quartet unleash a rock and roll fury. Give ‘em a stage in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama – in this case a local club called The Nick – and an explosive show is all but guaranteed.
Bains and company blast through 15 songs in just over an hour, not once taking their foot off the gas. Longtime fans will undoubtedly appreciate how the album captures the raw energy of a Glory Fires show. Fair warning to newcomers: buckle up, you’re in for one hell of a glorious ride.
There are many bands that claim to be maximum R&B – the Greyhounds are one of the few who can. Keyboardist Anthony Farrell and guitarist Andrew Trube each bring their own style to the group. Farrell is sultry and soulful while Trube treads in more jumpin’ juke-joint grooves.
Together, however, they compliment one another perfectly as they blend their styles and instruments to create a unified soulful vision. Songs like “Goodbye” and “I Don’t Want No Other Woman” blister with an R&B fury as the two trade solos while “Learning How to Love” and “All We Are” slither with a profound sultriness.
Cheyenne River Drive is a welcome addition to the Greyhounds catalog and further cements their reputation as true masters of classic R&B.
North Carolina’s Sarah Shook likes her country music authentic, thank you. Her latest album Years is dripping with pedal steel and filled with songs that mix heartache with attitude. And it’s a healthy dose of attitude, indeed – “Well I need this shit like I need another hole in my head,” she declares on “New Ways to Fail” before advising, “It was more the way the words came out than the things you said.”
On “Over You” she looks back on a broken relationship with perhaps a touch of sentimentality. “Those were the days when love was not a lie you told,” she sings before quickly acknowledging “But with brightest flames of love can grow cold.”
She strikes more of a middle ground on the insistent “Lessons.” The song is reflective in intent if not tone.
I wanna learn me my lesson and move on
I wanna keep on lovin’ til the lovin’s gone
Cos I can see that sometimes weak is somehow strong
That said, Shook is not afraid to shoulder some blame, as she does on “Parting Words.” Even as she laments “parting words won’t keep my heart from hurting,“ she openly admits “I deserve parting words.”
Shook is a welcome voice who leading country music back to where it belongs: honest, straight-forward and filled with a proper Southern twang.
Few artists can match Willie Nile’s infectious charm and energy. It’s a spirit that flows unsparingly through his music. One need look no further than the opening “Seeds of the Revolution” where he sings “So raise your weary head put your hand in mine, Together we will take our stand and walk across the borderline.”
The rock and roll survivor serves up some feisty punk anthems on tracks like “Rock and Roll Sister” “I Defy” and “Don’t” (which features the lyric “Don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz.”).
That attitude rolls over into political songs like “Earth Blues” and “Getting’ Ugly Out There.” The raucous former track blasts those destroying the environment while the more folkish latter song laments today’s frayed state of society and politics.
Nile later turns his attention to topics more personal, such as the quest for love and happiness. He considers the meaning – and obtainability – of true love on the beautiful mandolin-laced “I’m Looking For Someone.”:
There’s a bottle of whiskey on a window ledge,
I wanna be a painting I don’t wanna be a sketch.
I look into the future but I’m staring at the past,
Does anyone know if love really lasts.
Children of Paradise – well Willie Nile – is a breath of fresh air in turbulent times.
What is it about bluegrass that lends itself so well to cover songs? Answering my own question – it must be the musical prowess that the finest bluegrass players possess. The intricacies of bluegrass arrangements and the dexterity of the players give them the ability to transform any song into a blast of finger-picking goodness.
Charlottesville, VA’s Love Canon have established themselves as prodigious interpreters of others’ songs. Their latest is chock full of circa 1980’s classics, each imbued with an acoustic charm.
In some ways it speaks to the flexibility of the underlying song – such as Paul Simon’s “Graceland” or Billy Joel’s “Prelude (Angry Young Man)”. In others – most notably Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” or their fun romp through Howard Jones’ “Things Can Only Get Better” – it speaks the group’s ability to transform the song.
Adding to the fun, they invite several friends to join the party. Folks like Jerry Douglas, Aoife O’Donovan and Mark Erelli, to name just a few, lend their talents to Cover Story. ‘Cause why shouldn’t they have some fun, too.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.