Rebecca & Megan Lovell pull no punches on their latest release. Self Made Man, their follow-up to 2018’s Grammy nominated Venom & Faith is a bruising rock album pure and simple. The sisters are old souls possessed by the spirit of the legendary blues musicians, yet they are equally fueled by a modern rock temperament. It’s a potent combination.
Songs like the title track and “Holy Ghost Fire” are scorching rock anthems while “Tears of Blue to Gold” and “Ex-Con” adds a pop flair into the mix. “Back Down South” is a sweltering tour of Southern musical history, with references to Little Richard, James Brown, and even Charlie Daniels. They close the album with the electrified blend of blues and bluegrass of “Easy Street” – an uplifting finish to a formidable album.
Michael McDermott is a bit mad. So mad that he both opens and closes his latest album with it’s fiery title track. The opening salvo is an electrifying outburst, McDermott spitting out lyrics that decry the state of American politics and society before bellowing:
Hey, hey what do you say, tired of hearing everything will be ok
Hey, hey what do you say, dark days comin’ for the USA.
Packaged in-between are songs that encapsulate all that is wonderful about McDermott’s songwriting. There’s the storyteller who spins melancholy tales filled with wanderlust and the quest for salvation and happiness. There’s “New York, Texas”, for example. The song tells the tale of two runaways looking for adventure and escape, undoubtedly with an ironic wink from McDermott, to the southern Texas town that shares a name with the metropolis in New York state.
“Blue Eyed Barmaid” is a romanticized character study of a bar maid who charms her customers even as she slowly reveals her own unsettled life. “I noticed she was reading Nietzche and I thought that made perfect sense,” he considers before amusingly adding, “she’d never heard of Del Amitri, but she loved Car Seat Headrest.”
There’s the romantic side that McDermott displays on the simple yet enchanting “Until I Found You”. “I never knew about selflessness, I never knew about loneliness,” he sings, “I only knew about emptiness until I found you.”
And then there’s McDermott the philosopher, putting life into perspective with a captivating charm. “Sometimes it seems the things you want are already here” he sings (“The Things You Want”) before reflecting on his journey to sobriety on “No Matter What”,
And looking back it’s plain to see
It’s a hard life livin’ on your knees
Even when you feel you’re cursed
Things can always get a little worse
So don’t give up no matter what….
A sentiment for us all in these trying days.
Tiny Little Movies is an apt title for Will Hoge’s latest, an album filled with engaging vignettes that showcase his penchant for thoughtful storytelling as well as the range of his lyrical focus. In bringing these stories to life, Hoge and his band traverse extensive musical terrain as they move effortlessly from the opening heartland rocker “Midway Motel” through to the cinematic closing ballad “All the Pretty Horses”. Some of the album’s finer moments find Hoge digging into romantic relationships both bad (“Even the River Runs Out of This Town”) and good (“The Curse”). The Nashville songwriter doesn’t shy away from politics, either, careening into hard rock territory with the scorching guitars and commentary of “The Overthrow” and “Con Man Blues”.
Sometimes a change of location is more than a change of scenery. Boston-based Aloud relocated to Los Angeles and found a new sound, injecting their classic power pop with a healthy dose of California sunshine. And I did I mention the horns? The result is an evolved sound that is bombastic in glorious ways.
Which isn’t to say that Sprezzatura is all flowers and good times. The group’s infectious melodies can’t hide the downhearted subject matter of the string-laden “Twenty-Third Fresh Start” or the LA irony of “Been So Long Since We’ve Seen the Sun”. The former is a tale of trying to find one’s footing in a life gone awry while the latter is perhaps a bit of Boston winter seasonal affective disorder wrapped in a Muscle Shoals soul package.
As for me, I’ll be cranking up the horn-drenched 1-2 opening punch of “Loving U’s a Beautiful Thing” and “Waiting (Scenes from a Lonely Planet) – a glorious way to kick off my summer soundtrack.
Ben de la Cour is storyteller extraordinaire. The songs of Shadow Land are filled with troubled characters, often in even more troubling situations, that are brought to life with de la Cour’s vivid language and dramatic flair.
Exhibit A is the dirty guitar-fueled social commentary of “In God We Trust… All Others Pay Cash”, which Twangville had the honor to premiere in May. Exhibit B is “Amazing Grace (Slight Return)”, the acoustic guitar, cello and piano ballad that follows. De la Cour’s restrained, almost spoken vocals, add to the heaviness of the tale that he tells.
Those are but two examples of the exceptional literary and emotional depth to be found on the intoxicating Shadow Land.
Leave it to Butch Walker to revive the rock opera concept. Because who else would? Walker’s American Love Story was written in the aftermath of the 2016 election, his reflection on the social and political tensions that have only gotten worse in the years since.
Walker tells a tale of bigotry and close-mindedness, often taking on the persona of those sings in the first person, taking on the persona of bigots and other close-minded individuals.
Even with the uncomfortable subject matter, it’s hard to miss Walker’s melodic charm. He perhaps not so subtly pays homage to the music of the 1980’s, an earlier era of conservative politics, ravaging disease, and environmental calamities. “Torn in the USA”, with an obvious nod to Springsteen has an opening that recalls Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” while “Everything White” tips a cap to George Benson (“Give Me the Night”).
Learn more about the story and watch Walker’s film accompaniment to his songs here.
Willie Nile is a rocker as true as they come. Over the course of a more than 40 year career, he has built a catalog that bursts with fiery anthems and beautiful piano ballads. Nile’s love affair with New York City – his adopted hometown – has long been a recurring theme and continues here. Beyond the obvious references of the album name and several song titles, the city’s energy and rough-hewn charm infuses every track.
Of course, the album’s magnetism – and Nile’s musical calling card – is the songwriter’s infectious optimism. Even when he sings “The doors of paradise swing both ways”, you know which way that he is headed.
Before he teamed up with Jack White to form the Raconteurs, Brendan Benson put out a handful of (great) guitar-fueled power pop albums. Nearly seven years after the last one, Benson is back with a new solo release.
Dear Life adds some synthesized sounds alongside the electric guitars, but retains Benson’s splendid sense of melody and power pop dynamics. The album finds Benson mostly reflecting on the happiness in his life (“Richest Man Alive”, the Will Hoge-penned “Baby’s Eyes”) but not without reflections on battling anxiety and discontent (“Good to Be Alive”, “I Quit”).
Louisiana native Chris Watts – aka Dirt Reynolds – writes from experience. From his conservative Southern upbringing to time spent on National Guard duty in New Orleans post-Katrina (where he was shot while in the Superdome), the stories of his past inhabit his songs. He sings of racism (“The Day David Duke Came to Destrehan”), broken relationships (“Empty Bottles, Empty Beds”), and losing a friend in the Iraqi War (“Fireworks Over Buhlow”) with honesty and authenticity.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.