ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening, by The Bottle Rockets
I don’t know why, but I’ve always hedged when considering the Bottle Rockets as an acoustic outfit. It makes no sense, I know, given that the band is so well travelled on the Americana road.
Sure, I love the backporch feel of “Welfare Music” but then I immediately turn to the guttural guitars of “Gravity Fails.” Heck, singer-songwriter Brian Henneman even name-checks Peavey electric guitars on the amped up “1000 Dollar Car.”
Well, this release makes a strong case for the band’s acoustic side. Recorded live, it benefits from Henneman’s banter and a great down-home feel. Of particular note is “Perfect Far Away,” a song that Henneman humorously describes as being inspired by a Dolly Parton concert.
The set also features a track from their excellent Doug Sahm tribute album, coupled with the story behind that release. “If someone makes a Doug Sahm tribute album they will never ask us to be on it,” says Henneman, “so we did what we usually have to end up doing with this band, if we want to get it done we have to do it on our own.” The group then launches into a knock-out acoustic take on “I Don’t Want to Go Home.”
Some songs ring true to the original recordings but others shine in this different light. The aforementioned “1000 Dollar Car” has a great back-porch swagger while “Kit Kat Clock” has the lilt of a swinging clock pendulum.
Then there is the acoustic take on “Gravity Fails,” a song that I’d listen to in just about any arrangement. This version maintains the depth of the original, in part due to the fervent acoustic guitars. Who says that you can’t rock an acoustic?
See Shawn’s take on the Bottle Rockets’ latest here.
Audio Download: The Bottle Rockets, “Smokin’ 100’s Alone (live acoustic)”
Living With Scars, by Jo Wymer
In recent years the long tradition of powerful women singer-songwriters has been rather quiet. Sure there are plenty of extremely talented artists putting out some incredible music, but it has been awhile since I’ve heard a voice overflowing with confidence and bravado. New Jersey singer-songwriter Jo Wymer is set to change that.
Living With Scars is filled with the type of bristling rock and roll that explodes from speakers big and small. Album opener “I Can Tell” sets the tone with Wymer calling out a cheating lover against a backdrop of furious guitars and pounding drums. “Dirty Secrets” finds Wymer cautioning a new lover to leave her history book closed. “Curiousity kills everything,” she warns as the electric guitars drive the point home. Call it blues rock with an attitude.
Even the more pop-oriented “That Kiss” is a tremendous showcase for Wymer’s boldness. Through the course of the song she moves rapidly from romantic self-defeat to insistent redemption, bursting into a hook-laden chorus. The ballad “Memories” has a similar build towards an explosive chorus, with a searing organ adding additional emphasis.
A heavy beat and a strutting guitar set the tone for album stand-out, “This Ain’t Love (Love and War).” It’s hard to beat the potent combination of slide guitar and horns that appear mid-song, call it the Reeses Peanut Butter cup of rock and roll – two great tastes that taste great together.
Living with Scars may be Wymer’s debut, but it is enriched with the long legacy of rock and roll.
Audio Download: Jo Wymer, “This Ain’t Love (Love and War)”
You Can’t Keep Me, Amy LaVere (from the Archer Records release Stranger Me)
I can already tell – this one is going to grow on me with repeated listens. LaVere channels a break-up into a stellar release, rocking much harder than expected. “You can’t make me stay, I’m not your pet,” she sings matter-of-factly, “I’m gonna break the chain you have tied around my neck.” Throw in some mariachi trumpet and the song is almost a celebratory feel.
Audio Download: Amy LaVere, “You Can’t Keep Me”
Magic, Kris Delmhorst (from the Signature Sounds release Cars)
If the return of the legendary group the Cars wasn’t reason enough to re-visit their impressive back catalogue, New England folk artist Kris Delmhorst provides the perfect excuse. The acoustic arrangements and Delmhorst’s engaging vocals are a remarkable showcase for classic pop songs like this one. An added bonus – Delmhorst is backed by a who’s who of New England folk and roots musicians and Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes guests on ukulele.
Audio Download: Kris Delmhorst, “Magic”
Doreen, Session Americana (from the self-released Live)
I’ve written about these guys enough times that there should be little doubt that I hold them in high regard. Now they’ve captured some of their live show magic for all to hear. You’ll hear the cacophony of six talented musicians – plus their special guests – sitting around a table singing. And pay close attention at the start for the aborted introduction.
Audio Download: Session Americana, “Doreen”
When the Day Is Done, Dan Israel (from the self-released Crosstown Traveler)
Minneapolis singer-songwriter Israel tends towards the solo acoustic format, all the better to focus attention on the intelligence of his lyrics. He brings the band along for this noteworthy outing, giving extra punch to the collection. I’m particularly taken with the hook on this track and the dueling guitar solos that close the song are especially sublime.
Audio Download: Dan Israel, “When the Day Is Done”
Falling Down, Hotel Lights (from the Bar None release Girl Graffiti)
Former Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jessee has been quietly releasing splendid pop albums since the demise of his former band. This song – and much of the album – strike me as having a bit of a lo-fi feel, but with a nice pop sheen. Jessee’s whispery vocals give the tracks an enjoyable laid-back vibe.
Audio Download: Hotel Lights, “Falling Down”
Fearless, The Latebirds (from the Second Motion Records release Last of the Good Old Days)
Although Finland’s Latebirds have spent the past few years making the annual trek to Austin, Texas for SXSW, they are just now releasing their US debut. They wear their influences well, having recorded some this release at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock. While they are clearly students of Americana, they bring a distinctive rock edge to their songs.
Audio Download: The Latebirds, “Fearless”
Highway to Hell, Session Americana (with John Powhida and Lyle Brewer) (from the self-released Live)
You never know what will happen when musical friends show up at a Session Americana show. Call this AC/DC, Americana style.
Click here to download all songs in this playlist.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.