If you’re anything like me – especially in a year like this one – sometimes you just want a healthy dose of electrifying rock and roll. Thankfully Terra Lightfoot is back to fulfill that desire and, perhaps, melt a few faces with Consider the Speed.
She kicks things off with the percussive groove of “Called Out Your Name”. The song is the perfect showcase for Lightfoot’s guitar. She keeps it rumbling but restrained at the opening before shifting into thrashing power chords and some melodic licks that appear to round out the chorus.
The title track starts with a bit of Memphis soul, not a surprise as she recorded the album in that famed music city. It quickly shifts, however, into a guitar-fueled, vehement rocker. “Midnight Choir” takes a similar approach, lulling you in with a pleasant guitar riff and harmonizing vocals before exploding into a slashing guitar fury.
The Memphis sound returns with “One High Note”, fortified by luscious horns before she closes the album with the relaxed, but still electric, ballad “Two Wild Horses”.
Lyrically Lightfoot writes about love lost (“It’s Over Now”), found (“Love You So”), and desired (“Called Out Your Name”). Consider the Speed is a welcome addition to the Lightfoot canon, and provides further evidence of her triple threat powers – as a singer, songwriter, and one hell of a guitar player.
Damn if Sam Morrow doesn’t hit stride on his latest album. Morrow conjures up some of classic rock’s quintessential artists while delivering some of the strongest songs of his career so far.
Touchstones abound, from the Joe Walsh funkiness of the title track to the Little Feat grooves on “Wicked Woman”. Morrow even makes a nice lyrical reference to the late Lowell George classic “Sailin’ Shoes” on opening track “Rosarita”.
Did I mention the hooks? These songs are chock full of ‘em. Morrow surrounds them with chugging electric guitars that are, themselves, anchored by rumbling beats. It all comes together to make a collection that oozes confidence and attitude, not to mention one hell of a satisfying listen.
See Chip’s take on the album here.
After the Fall brought both a change of scenery and musical palette for Austin-based The Sideshow Tragedy. The scenery came via trips to upstate New York to record at a studio located there. The expanded sound is courtesy of instrumental that pushed the duo beyond their guitar-drums core.
Among the album’s highlights are the Lou Reed-esque “Hold On It” and “The Lonely One”. The raw and vivid lyrics delivered in a half-spoken style are given an even sharper edge when paired with percussive musical backdrops.
“Young Forever” brings a touch of Springsteen into the mix with its lyrics of youth and ambition, coupled with saxophone a la Clarence Clemons. The horns return, accompanied by a healthy dose of wah-wah guitar and some stellar background vocalists, to give “Same Thing” a funky R&B vibe while an insistent piano adds extra flair to the pop charm of the title track.
All that said, the anxiety and stinging bite that are the group’s hallmark remain firmly intact. “Learned it the hard way, everybody’s got something stupid to say,” declares singer Nathan Singleton on “Easy Action” before adding, “we speak in code; sometimes we even say what we mean.”
No code breaking required here – After the Fall is another great rock and roll outing for The Sideshow Tragedy.
Drive-By Truckers have never shied away from social and political commentary, all the more so in recent years. The New OK, their surprise October release, isn’t even their first pre-election offering – 2016’s American Band was a reflection on the state of the world in the period leading up to that year’s election.
The New OK kicks off with Patterson Hood’s incendiary take on the current state of affairs. “Have we lost our way,” he asks before raising a rallying cry of “it’s a battle for the very soul of the USA.” Things only get sharper from there. “Flags of oppression are blocking out the light, dismantling The Greatest Generation’s fight,” Hood warns on “The Perilous Night”.
Several of the tracks have an enticing soulful vibe, no doubt a reflection on Hood’s Muscle Shoals roots and the fact that they were recorded at the legendary Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis (during the American Band sessions). “Tough To Let Go” has an alluring sway fueled by organ and horns. The horns later add to the funkiness of “Sea Island Lonely”.
The group closes things out with what has become a DBT concert staple – bassist Mike Patton leading the band through a roaring take on the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away”. A sing-along rock song with a political point of view? It fits in perfectly on The New OK.
Beautiful City ‘Cross the River, Dave Alvin (from the Yep Roc Records release From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings)
When you’ve been making music for as long as Dave Alvin has, you’re bound to have some real treasures on the shelf. Alvin dusts off some of these beauties and shares them with From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings.
Alvin’s musical range stretches across a broad range of American music, a point reinforced with this collection. He takes us to a New Mexico roadhouse with “Albuquerque”, shares some country-flavored rock on “Man Walks Among Us”, veers into more traditional country territory on “Amanda”, and shares a rocked-up version of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited”. He digs into blues (“Perdido Street Blues”, “Mobile Blue”), a cornerstone of Alvin’s sound, and even throws in a glorious rumba (“(Variations on Earl Hooker’s) Guitar Rumba”).
The album is also a testament to friendships. It leans heavily on covers, many written by compadres like Peter Case, Chris Smither, and the late Bill Morrissey. Players include several of Alvin’s dearly departed friends, including Chris Gaffney, Amy Farris, and Bobby Lloyd Hicks.
From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings is a wonderful illustration as to why Alvin is an American – well, Americana – treasure.
Jerry Joseph is, in many ways, made for these times. His world travels have taken him to some troubled places, experiences that he brings into his songs with a raw intensity. Yet he also injects some glimmers of optimism into an otherwise rough-hewn album.
The Beautiful Madness covers a lot of ground, from reflections on the sweat equity invested to sustain a relationship to stark commentary on society’s darker side and even shares a stunning pair vivid character studies. All resonate with intelligence as well as Joseph’s studied observation and consideration of human behavior.
In what is the perfect marriage of singer-songwriter and band, Joseph is backed on the album by Drive-By Truckers. The group creates a rich musical canvas, infusing the songs with tension and grit.
The Beautiful Madness finds Joseph at the top of his game, blending weariness and wisdom into a striking musical statement.
San Francisco musician Bob Hillman has embraced the pandemic. That may seem an odd thing to say, but not all embraces are signs of affection. In Hillman’s case, it’s about confronting fear and the array of emotions we face in these troubled times.
“Now, I’m In Favor of a Wall” juxtaposes the anti-immigrant nationalism of just a few years ago with the anti-science sentiment of those deride today’s calls for masks and social-distancing. “Inside & Terrified” considers the impact of self-isolation while considering the politicized environment that surrounds it:
We read the news
And absorb interviews
In pursuit of applicable facts
All sorts of misInformation persist
By the graces of partisan hacks
I wish we were free in the evenings
When phobias preoccupy
You came by but I was inside and terrified
These songs, as well as the others that make up this EP, are offered with a genteel fashion. Hillman’s hushed vocals set against forlorn melodies that are occasionally accompanied by lustrous strings. It all comes together for a musically soothing, lyrically challenging, and ultimately satisfying release.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.