Orphans is notable in that it is made up of songs that were written for but didn’t make the cut for McDermott’s recent albums. Orphans they may be, outcasts they are not. This collection of songs more than hold their own in the McDermott canon.
Titles like “The Wrong Side of Town”, “Giving Up the Ghost” and “Ne’er Do Well” provide a clear indication of the lyrical subject matter to be found on Orphans. McDermott draws from a life hard-lived, his stories often cast with anxiety and uncertainty. Yet he typically finds a way to infuse them with considered, if restrained, resilience.
As usual, the songs are musically and lyrically accessible even as they pack an emotional punch. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rousing rocker like “Tell Tale Heart” or a somber ballad like “Full Moon Goodbye”, there’s a good chance that you’ll soon be singing along.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Michael McDermott record without a soul-wrenching ballad. Album closer “What If Today Were My Last” is both sobering and poignant.
What if today were my last
Would I be happy with the way that I lived
Would my friends all raise a glass
My trespasses, they would forgive
Would there be such tears and laughter
Boy, it all goes by so fast
Today, I’m gonna make me some changes
What if today, were my last
Why aren’t there more songs about bowling? Trapper Schoepp’s rollicking “If All My Nines Were X’s” makes the case that there should be. Certainly the song has a deeper meaning as Schoepp contemplates unrealized dreams, but the bowling reference is front and center. Adding to the song’s charm are crunchy guitars and insistent drums make the song more celebratory than disheartening.
That allure permeates Primetime Illusion. Break-up songs like “It’s Over” and “Drive-Thru Divorce” marry their topical matter with infectious, happy-go-lucky melodies. “Freight Train” rumbles with a Petty vibe, electric guitars combining with a vibrant piano to give the song urgency.
And then there’s “On Wisconsin”, Schoepp’s co-write with Bob Dylan. The Milwaukee-based Schoepp took a long lost but recently found (and auctioned) Dylan lyric and set it to music. Dylan and his management team gave their approval and a gentle waltz paying tribute to the Badger State was born.
Primetime Illusion is a fun and freewheeling listen, a wonderful showcase for Schoepp’s earnest rock and roll spirit.
Memphis by way of North Carolina musician Liz Brasher is a welcome new discovery. Painted Image, her debut full-length release, is a gorgeous and classic sounding R&B collection.
The album is anchored by Basher’s voice, an instrument as soulful as it is powerful. She wraps it around songs that are filled with their own captivating tension. The lyrics generally overflow with sorrow and discontent, yet they often contain an air of strength and defiance.
The nuanced production and musical arrangements give the songs extra punch. Varied instruments, Flourishes of strings, horns and keyboards float in and out of the mix depending on the song. Horns, for example, give “Blood of the Lamb” its R&B punch while an organ imparts “Body of Mine” with a mysterious vibe and strings give ballad “Cold Baby” a retro 1960’s pop feel.
Painted Image is a wonderful introductory statement to an artist who will hopefully continue to musically captivate for years to come.
It’s hard to escape the fragility of Reed Foehl’s voice and songwriting, most certainly on his latest release. Lucky Enough, his first album in five years, finds Foehl in an especially reflective mood.
A profound sense of sorrow, coupled with a touch of serenity, is tucked away in the more upbeat “If It Rains.” Though ostensibly a tale of dustbowl drought, the song conveys a broader message of seeking tranquility in the face of hardship.:
If it rains, the dust clouds will settle
And if it rains, the wheat crop will grow
If it don’t shed a tear
We wait ‘til next year
Heartbroken but lucky enough
He reflects on the nature of friendship, concluding that “it takes a long time to make old friends” on the song appropriately titled “Long Time to Make Old Friends.” He later describes an encounter with a former lover on “Hello My Dear”, the distance having softened its failure and prompting him to consider the lessons learned.
Foehl is joined on Lucky Enough by The Band of Heathens. The group adds to the somber beauty of the album, their restrained accompaniment let the songs truly breathe.
Kilzer’s day job as an associate pastor focused on addiction and recovery gives him a distinctive perspective on the human condition. The songs that make up his latest release are anchored by a sense of coping, whether with one’s self (“Scars”), a romantic partner (“Hello Heart”) or society in general (“The American Blues”). He brings them to life with a well-worn voice that oozes with life experience, all set to satisfying musical arrangements that are infused with a gentle touch of Memphis soul.
May your days be full of wonder
May your nights be full of stars
May you dance at every party
And may you learn to love the scars
Album’s don’t come more brawny and, well, bad-ass than Nikki Hill’s Feline Roots. There’s a formidable rock swagger from start to finish as Hill and company take classic sound soul and R&B riffs and simply set them on fire. “The Fire That’s In Me” hits like a punch to the gut and one can almost feel the sweat dripping off songs like “Take The Ride (It Don’t Matter)” and “Just Can’t Trust You.”
Although firmly rooted in blues rock, Hill and crew aren’t afraid of veering into hard rock (“Poisoning The Well”), some classic rockabilly (“Tell The Next World”) and even a touch of reggae (“Can’t Love You Back (It’s a Shame)”).
The one constant? Growling guitars and wailing vocals. Hill offers no ballads and takes no prisoners — Feline Roots is straight up rock and roll glory.
Jon Fratelli sets aside the wonderful power pop of his band The Fratellis to release an elegant solo album filled with both country-tinged gems and symphonic standards (a la Tony Bennett). Bright Night Flowers leans heavily on ballads, all of which are filled with the charming melodies that make Fratelli’s music so engaging. It’s hard to escape the piano and strings wistfulness of “After a While” and ”Rolling By” or the ambling pedal-steel laced “Evangeline” and “Crazy Lovers Song”.
Bright Night Flowers proves that great pop melodies can transcend genre boundaries, especially in the hands of a writer as talented as Fratelli.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.