Sunrise Diner, born of heartbreak, is not a happy album. Nonetheless, it is immensely satisfying as Brandon Callies blends melody and melancholy into regal pop songs.
Opener “The City” sets a sorrowful tone, describing the singer wandering seemingly deserted city streets trying to assess a broken relationship. “I’ve been stumbling around the streets all alone lately, and the burden it brings keeps tearing at me,” he sings, “it’s funny how the night changes the city.”
“Carried Away” is an attempt to understand – and come to terms with – a companion’s hurtful actions. “Old Bridges” digs deeper into the relationship, chronicling its disintegration. “It’s a hard game of cards when you’re playing with all that you’ve got,” he reflects, “nobody’s folding and no one admits that they’ve lost.”
“I’m Not There” and “Let You Know”, the last two tracks on the album, are a tale of extremes. “I’m Not There” is two and a half minutes of brilliant late 1960’s shimmering pop that then gives way to the plaintive piano ballad “Let You Know”. The poignant closer finds the singer struggling to leave a relationship, broken by infidelity, behind. He ultimately comes to terms with decision with a pained combination of reluctance and decisiveness. It’s a powerful conclusion that brings some closure to this musical journey.
If the Ottoman Turks’ self-titled debut was a fun lovin’ cow punk escapade then Ottoman Turks II is the group’s metal rampage. Sure, we get a couple fine country romps like “Travelin’ Blues” and “Low Down Blue Dog Whine”, but the quartet are clearly – as the opening track clearly states – “Wound Up”.
Said opener kicks things off with a jittery swagger. The tempo is insistent but not overly so, underlying the song’s sinewy electric guitar and a shouted refrain of “let’s get wound up and run into a wall at least a thousand times, ain’t nothing at all.”
It is followed by the furious “Vaquero”, with singer Nathan Mongrel Wells spitting out rapid-fire lyrics and guitarist Joshua Ray Walker unleashing a frenzied guitar solo. The group later venture into some muddy blues on “Zootstack Lightnin’”, channel Link Wray on the rumbling “Rootless Tree”, and hit peak heavy metal form on the brooding “35 to Life”.
The ambling “American Male” kind of straddles the line between their country and metal inclinations – a country song at heart, albeit one amped up with electric guitars. Lyrically, it amusingly mocks a stereotypical good ol’ country boy such as the one who shows up at the liquor store a few minutes after closing time, “the workers don’t like me, I don’t give a damn you see, I got to get my Bud Light Lime.” Later Wells adds, tongue firmly in cheek, “I don’t think Hank ever done it this way and exactly who George Jones is I couldn’t say.”
Ottoman Turks II is one heck of an adrenaline-fueled rock outing.
There’s something special about a singer-songwriter with a pointed world view and the ability to translate it into song. Vanessa Peters’ latest album finds her taking stock of life in troubled times, confronting the hyper-intensity of modern society and exploring fractured inter-personal relationships. In considered fashion, she moves from feelings of exasperation through stages of self-empowerment to some semblance of optimism.
Peters kicks things off with the title track. The song finds her looking back fondly on perceived simpler and less anxious times. She calls out today’s material and technology-driven culture, packaging her missive somewhat deceivingly in a savory upbeat and electric guitar-fueled melody. “Now we check our phones and we check the news eighty-five times a day,” she sings, “but I don’t understand the draw; there’s nothing good there anyway.”
She gets more confrontational on “Make Up My Mind” and “Hood Ornament”. On the former she describes a world on fire even as “we all just went to work like it was fine.” On the latter she calls out “the old boys” attempting to restrict her growth and success, “standing guard, they cross their arms, the door is barred.”
“The Band Played On” is a fighting song, even when facing overwhelming odds: “’Cause what else are we gonna do?, we can’t give up just ’cause the bastards won,” she declares before adding, “I’m going down with the ship and they’ll say ‘the band played on and the band played on’.”
She gets even more contentious on the brooding “Yes”, proclaiming “I’m so tired of smilin’ and sayin’ ‘yes”; of always being passed up when I was clearly next” as an angular and sometimes slashing guitar adds to the song’s intensity.
Peters wraps up Modern Age on a somewhat positive and optimistic note with “Still Got Time”.
’cause you’ve still got time to shake off your loneliness
you’ve still got time to make your own happiness
you’ve still got time as long as you’re hearing this
you’ve still…. you’ve still got time!
It’s a fullfilling conclusion to a fine musical journey.
The debut from Lewis III, the duo of Trey Johnson and Rich Martin, plays like a long lost Randy Newman album. Well, sorta. Opener “Won’t Be Long”, with its acoustic guitar and stirring harmonies, recalls Simon & Garfunkel. From there, however, the EP channels Newman in all his songwriting glory.
“Hey Buddy” is quintessential Newman with its jaunty ragtime piano and rich, character-driven storytelling. Johnson’s half-spoken delivery and the song’s first person narrative bring to life the entertaining characters who the singer encounters while passing time at a bar.
The ambling “Joke’s on Me” and the brooding “American Soil” are sharper with their social commentary. “Heartache is buried in American soil, it’s too much to carry, it swallowed us whole,” Johnson sings on the latter, “we just need somebody who can lighten the load.”
Hopefully Home Again, Home Again is just the taste of additional music to come – the EP has certainly whet my appetite for more.
Although it is only three tracks, Lydia Low has taken several years to meticulously craft NAME has been several years in the making. The collection has an intensity that calls to mind Ani DiFranco, albeit more brooding and with a smokey jazz club vibe. Low generally takes an introspective lyrical view, confronting mistakes and hardship – sometimes with a sense of encouragement (“Please Be Kind To Yourself”) and sometimes not (“Coward’s Road”).
THE SINGLES CLUB
Bastards of None, John Pedigo
Singer/songwriter/producer John Pedigo has been putting out some great monthly singles since last fall. In recent months we’ve had the rocking “I’ll Never Tell You I’m Sorry” in February and the crime ballad “Abandoned” in March, but I’m really partial to last November’s “Bastards of None”, an homage to the Replacements.
Yahoos and Triangles, Texicana
The prolific Texicana have launched a cover single series, inviting a special musical guest to join them for each release. They kicked things off with Trees Marie wrapping her voice around Janis Joplin’s “A Woman Left Lonely” followed by 40 Acre Mule’s J. Isaiah Evans letting loose with a barreling take on the blues classic “Got My Mojo Workin’”. The most recent addition is Old 97’s Ken Bethea tearing up “Yahoos and Triangles”, the Refreshments-penned theme song for “King of the Hill”.
Kodachrome, Garrett Owen
Fort Worth’s Garrett Owen has his own singles series in process. He’s just released a breezy and relaxed take on Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” (featuring Daniel Creamer of Texas Gentlemen), the follow-up to his ominous acoustic version of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box”.
Waitin’ on a Train, Vandoliers
This isn’t your typical train song. The train in this case isn’t bringing a loved one home from far away travels. Instead the songs finds the singer racing to get home to save his relationship, only to be waylaid at a train crossing.
Now I’m waiting on a train, train, train,
Sittin’ in the rain, rain, rain,
Red light flashing, box cars screaming
Should have tried harder, now she’s leaving
I better pray, pray, pray,
It’s not too late, late, late
Swear all my wrongs
Are just as long
As every mile of track they laid
Yea, I’m waiting on a train
Oh, and the Vandoliers are joined by special guest Bruce Robison on harmonica, who released the track as part of his The Next Waltz series.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.