Matt Lorenz – aka The Suitcase Junket – has always had a penchant for great melodies, but he rachets it up a notch with a particular focus on sing-alongs with The End Is New. As notable, he continues to stretch beyond his rough-hewn, one-person band sound. While the core of it persists, Lorenz is careful to not let it define the music.
Although Lorenz describes the music as “doom-folk”, it is often infused with an arena rock sensibility. “Breathe Forever” and “When the Battle Is Won” are soaring and anthemic, the former of the fervent nature and the latter more of the swaying variety. “Light a Candle” hearkens back to 1990’s power ballads, with a beautifully intense guitar solo from J Mascis that can easily be imagined reverberating around a dimly lit arena.
The doom-folk is more apparent in the lyrics. The aforementioned “Light a Candle” is a song of profound loss (“Then I got sadder than I thought I oughta be, sadder still for trying to keep the sadness out”) and “Can’t Look Away” laments the state of society and the environment (“But it’s just another human disaster…”).
The End Is New is an exhilarating combination of melodic songwriting and impassioned performance.
It’s hard not to get lost in Kris Delmhorst’s Long Day in the Milky Way. While the lyrics are weighty and rich with imagery, the music has an ethereal glow.
Delmhorst excels at painting musical portraits, filling her songs with a tremendous wistfulness. There’s a wonderful subtlety to the arrangements – horns and harp on “Flower of Forgiveness”; piano and electric guitar interplay on “Secret Girl”; piano, guitar, and harp on “Horses in the Sky”. The real sparkle, however, comes from the mesmerizing harmonies provided by Rose Cousins, Rose Polenzani, and Annie Lynch. They wrap their voices around Delmhorst’s with remarkable grace.
The songs focus on a search for contentment, or at least firmer footing. “Put your head down lower than your heart, throw a little light out in the dark,” she sings on “Nothing ‘Bout Nothing”. On the opening “Wind’s Gonna Find a Way” she declares, “No shame in the long game, look around and see that time is all we got.”
Nature is a recurring theme in Delmhorst’s writing. It starts with songs titles like “Hanging Garden”, “Horses in the Sky”, and the aforementioned “Wind’s Gonna Find a Way” and carries through in the lyrics. “Call Off the Dogs” closes the album with this vivid picture:
See all the melting snow
See the river overflow
Learn how to let it go
Only so much you can hold
Just keep the wind behind you
Just let the sound remind you
Love knows just where to find you
Delmhorst somehow finds a way to create an album that is simultaneously restless and soothing, expressive and rewarding.
“Smokin’!” is the best way to describe Mississippi Suitcase. The album is filled with fiery blues gems, both Parcek originals and classics from some legendary bluesmen. Throw in a cover of Lou Reed’s “Waiting For My Man” and an instrumental version of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and you’ve got a master class in blues-based electric guitar.
Chuck Melchin of The Bean Pickers Union has a knack for songs that ache with a sense of distance and longing. He teams with talented multi-instrumentalist Michael Spaly as Los Brujos, who announce themselves with the enthralling Alchemy.
The duo bring lots of great musical touchstones, not to mention some great songwriting, to their compositions. Opener “Reckoning”, with its brooding acoustic tension and stellar harmonies, is classic Crosby, Stills, and Nash. “Everything I Can” has a beguiling Waterboys shuffle while “High Times” recalls the Band.
There is plenty of regret to be found in their lyrics. “Bitter Blue” is the tale of moving on from a failed relationship. “Gonna start all over fresh in someplace new and make the same mistakes again I made with you… call me Bitter Blue,” declares Melchin.
“Bronco” mines similar ground, albeit with a focus on memories and regret. “Golden meadows, autumn windows, I can’t find the stars tonight,” sings Melchin, “close my eyes and picture your hand holding onto mine so tight.”
Despite the downhearted subject matter, Alchemy is a collection tranquil and beautiful.
Cold Chocolate may have started in the rootsy, bluesgrass realm but have evolved into more jam rock with shades of jazz and funk. It makes for a fine musical blend.
The catchy “Follow Far Behind” opens the album with a swaggering groove. The band’s Ethan Robbins (guitar / vocals) and Ariel Bernstein (percussion / vocals) are joined by longtime Josh Ritter sidemen Zach Hickman (bass) and Sam Kassirer (piano/organ) to craft this rollicking collection. “Before the Sun” is a prime example, the quartet effortless shifting from sauntering pop into some jazz style solos mid-song.
Part of the band’s charm are the Robbins and Bernstein’s harmonies, which add a layer of sweetness to their beguiling melodies. It comes together to make their music spirited and uplifting.
GA-20 made quite a statement with their soulful blues debut Lonely Soul, an album steeped in the soulful side of the blues. If that release made you want to hear the band live, or heck, to even hear live music this year, you’re in luck.
The group recently released a fiesty 4 song live EP. Opener “The Whale Has Swallowed Me” shuffles with a dirty groove while “No Teasin’ Around” and “Tell Me Pretty Baby” are classic electric blues. And if ever there was a time for the blues…
If 2018’s outstanding Las Cruces was Buckley’s Crazy Horse album, Hallway Kid is his eclectic CSN release. He book-ends the album with the rocking social commentary of “Goodnight America” and “Wednesday’s Child”. In between he stretches from the Little Feat groove of “18 Wheelin’” to the Sly Stone vibe of “Gotta Git It Down” to the David Crosby-esque “Ups and Downs”.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.