Dalton Domino does more than wear his heart on his sleeve; he lays it bare. Much of his latest release finds him cycling through the various stages and emotions of heartbreak, from bitterness to self-reflection.
He opens with the brooding “Happy Alone”. The song begins with an acerbic indictment of an ex before turning to the singer’s own sadness and loneliness. “I found peace in the shadows and claimed your darkness as my own, you taught me how to be alone,” he sings.
The quiet and acoustic “Cheap Spanish Wine” ruminates on the tremendous emptiness of the initial break-up:
To say I didn’t love you would take all that I have
I forgot at the time what was to lose
Now it’s three warm bottles of cheap Spanish wine
To get through my first midnight without you
Domino mixes a bit of denial into his resentment on the “The Nerve” before unleashing some anger on “Dead Roses.” “I spent 10 months in hell but I’m off my knees and for the first time I know how it feels to finally be set free,” he sings on the latter, “dead roses still have thorns babe and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is just a flame.”
At other moments on Songs from the Exile, the anger and disappointment gives way to a more selfless perspective. On “Better Now” he declares “life has a funny way of proving things by knocking us on our ass, all I pray is that you’re doing better now.” Sure, he fires a shot at the ex on “Love Is Dangerous” – “In your case happiness and what you want rarely are the same” – but ultimately recognizes that “if this life I’ve got is as bad as it gets then I guess I’m doing fine.”
In the midst of all this heartbreak is “All I Need”, a somewhat melancholy love song. It finds the singer and duet partner Kalsey Kulyk struggling to explain the genesis of a relationship.
I believe we’re tied together by moments
That might eventually lead
To the reasons why we crossed paths
And why fate led you to me
But if those answers never come
And I’m left in the dark
I’ll still be amazed and grateful
For making it this close to your heart
Songs from the Exile is wonderful example of how the best music is born from pain and heartache… and how talented songwriters bring it to life not only for themselves, but for their listeners as well.
Sometimes it pays to let your figurative hair down. Goodnight, Texas established themselves with a series of wonderful and well-crafted concept pieces. Their previous three albums they have traversed American history and landscapes: A Long Life of Living drew inspiration from the Civil War and Appalachia; Uncle John Farquhar drew on Midwestern family lore from the late 1800s and Conductor wanders through the American Southwest in the early decades of the 20th century.
Their just released 5 song EP lacks the historical perspective but mines similar musical territory. It’s mostly a rootsy affair, heavy on the roots with plenty of acoustic picking on acoustic guitar and banjo, the kind you expect to hear sitting around on the back porch on a relaxed afternoon. The EP is book-ended by a pair of instrumentals, the rhythmic ode to their tour van (“Gerald Ford”) and the gentle closer “For My Mother’s Wedding”. In between are three eclectic lyrical pieces that include the banjo-laden tribute to Tennessee and the electric guitar-drenched “Blood Brothers”, a reflection on a childhood friendship as recounted to the friend’s wife.
Nashville by way of Minnesota singer-songwriter Austin Plaine may be early in his career but writes with a weathered air of self-reflection, often filling his songs with melancholy and regret.
He sets the tone early with the opening “Something More”, a fond reflection of a long-ago love. “Then one day I saw your face on the cover of a magazine,” he sings, “ you had a different name but those eyes still look the same as before when we were something more.”
What follows are a number of songs that describe broken relationships. Whereas most of the time he portrays himself as the guilty party in the described relationship failures, he places the blame elsewhere in “What Kind of Fool.” The uplifting melody softens some of the song’s angry edges but the lyrics make the story clear. “Girl you’re so cruel,” he declares, “and what kind of fool do you take me for?”
He closes with an ode to focusing one’s life on the future, but not without taking a few shots at the pitfalls of modern society. Some music fans may appreciate his generally accurate portrayal of concert audiences today, “I go out among the audience and they’re blind behind their screens and they’d rather post a video than listen to me sing,” he proclaims before concluding with the empowering – and broadly applicable sentiment: “But when I say my final song and strum my final strum, I’ll live life today as if tomorrow never comes.”
If you’ve never seen Jesse Dayton live, you’ve missed out on one hell of a raucous party. For starters, he’s got incredible musical chops – there’s a reason that Dayton is a sought after guitarist who’s worked with legends like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash and punk rockers like X and the Supersuckers.
His own music is a potent stew that, while rooted in country, mixes in healthy doses of punk, rockabilly and blues. He gives it an extra jolt by infusing his songs with plenty of humor and attitude.
That said, Dayton’s latest release is an eclectic mix of covers. He serves up everything from countrified takes of “Bankrobber” by the Clash, “Just What I Needed” by the Cars and “Whole Lotta Rosie” by AC/DC to more folksy versions of Neil Young’s “Harvest” and Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”. All are Dayton-ized, loving tributes that come alive with Dayton’s energy and attitude.
The story behind the recording of Portland, Oregon’s TK & the Holy Know-Nothings album is almost as interesting as the songs that their debut it contains. The group travelled to a small cowboy town in western Oregon and set up shop in a 100 year-old historic theater. Once there, they gathered on the stage to perform the songs live, capturing the audience-less performance on tape.
The ramshackle energy that one would expect from such an approach and location permeates Arguably OK. It most notably manifests itself in some fine jam-band style interplay on some of the album standouts. Harmonica and guitar solos weave around one another on “Tunnel of a Dream”; acoustic and electric guitars careen around the feel-good stomp of “Good Stuff”. “Hard Times” has the brooding quality that the title suggests, prodded along by an ominous electric guitar and singer Taylor Kingman’s somewhat shouted vocals.
There’s a special magic among musicians from New Orleans. More than any other city, there’s an authenticity in the music that emanates from the storied city. The latest evidence comes from singer-songwriter Esther Rose.
You Made It This Far is rooted in country but with the occasional jazz elements that are a New Orleans hallmark. Songs like “Sex and Magic”, for example, recall the early days of country, albeit if they were sung by a jazz singer in a speakeasy.
Others, like “Lower 9 Valentine”, are more straight-up classic country. All that’s missing is the am radio static and you’d swear it was a vintage Grand Old Opry broadcast.
South African rockers have made their name with soaring rock anthems. Their latest continues the trend in fine fashion. Heck, they even manage to turn an ode to fleeting moments like “Leave a Light On” into something infectious and irresistible.
“A Beautiful Life” goes to the other end of the spectrum, at least lyrically. “Life will be golden if I grow older with you, to have and to hold as long as you say that I do,” proclaims singer Kahn Morbee.
Elsewhere on the sprawling pop collection, “Young & the Guilty” hearkens back to R.E.M’s “End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)“ with its spitfire social commentary while “Twilight” continues the societal indictment, albeit in the context of a love song where Morbee asks, “Will you be my lover in those twilight years.”
Josh Berwanger may have made his name as a purveyor of high energy power pop, but he takes a mellow turn on his latest release. At times one might even call it folky. Songs like “When I Was Young” and “I Keep Telling Myself” find him in an introspective mood, looking back and what seemed like simpler and more care-free times.
It wouldn’t be a Berwanger album without a few up-tempo and electric guitar-fueled pop gems injected along the way. “Turn Off Your Mind”, in particular, crackles with a meticulous and crunchy guitar riff. “Bad Vibration” is like a catchy cousin to the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibration”, heavy on melodic charm and harmonic background vocals, albeit with lyrics that paint a more pessimistic relationship picture than the one Brian Wilson described.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.