ALBUMS OF THE MONTH:
The album open as one would expect. “I Want You So Bad” is built around an accordion and a bouncing beat. “We all know that life ain’t fair,” the band sings, “but we forget it when desire becomes despair,” with the latter line sung in rich multi-part harmony.
But then things start to change. The guitars emerge and the traditional sound fades into the background. “Haunted,” the fifth track on the album, opens up into what could easily become an extended jam. Electric guitars, particularly a steel guitar, glisten as they wander around a classic southern rock riff. A steel guitar and a Southern drawl stand mostly alone as the connections to the band’s roots base.
“Ink and Grief” is a gem, a ballad both tender and bittersweet. Steel guitar and fiddle intertwine beautifully as Kevin Russell plaintively counsels, “when love is gone, carry on.”
“Your Benefit,” the closing track, reaches a pinnacle of the jam-band sound. The song has an angular chorus that is complimented by some great harmonies. The song has, dare I say it, a Grateful Dead feel. Given Jerry Garcia’s penchant for bluegrass, I suspect that the Gourds – and certainly this release – would have had his seal of approval.
Download “I Want It So Bad” here.
The Spade, by Butch Walker & the Black Widows
If there is one thing that is clear about The Spade, it is that Butch set out to have a good time. The electric guitars are a blazin’ right out of the gate on “Bodegas and Blood.” As if removing any doubt about his intentions, Walker sings “It’s days like these that keep me on my winning streak.”
“Day Drunk” raises the festivities to an epic level. The band’s harmonies on the chorus are downright aggressive, daring the listener to not break into an ear-to-ear grin. I know that I couldn’t resist.
“Suckerpunch” finds Walker lamenting a disastrous drunken bar brawl. This being Walker, of course, it crackles with a playful attitude. “I hope I said something really good just before I got suckerpunched,” he sings, “somebody’s fist took my face to lunch.”
Listen closely and you’ll hear some great pop references. “Every Single Body Else” would musically fit well on the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” soundtrack while “Synthesizers” hearkens back to the Dexy’s Midnight Runners classic “Come On Eileen.”
And then there’s “Summer of 1989,” Walker’s play on Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 1969.” In Walker terms, this track took a bit longer than usual to claw its way into my head. By that I mean it took maybe three listens, but now I can’t get it out of my head. The track finds Walker spinning tales of spirited teenage antics, “we would listen to Kiss (with rockets for fists), acting like Saturday’s fools.”
For some extra amusement, Butch and the crew leave some of the studio banter in the mix. You hear them debating the opening riff to “Bullet Belt” and coaching one another mid-song on “Suckerpunch.” The fun is infectious.
My only regret? That it wasn’t released in June as it would have been the perfect summer sunshine soundtrack. Ah well, at least it will bring me back to summer mode for a few fleeting moments.
Audio Download: Butch Walker and the Black Widows, “Summer of ’89”
Girl on the Beach, Jack Oblivian (from the Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum Records release Rat City)
Memphis rocker extraordinaire could almost rival Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard in the prolific musician category. It would be easy, and in many cases true, to describe Oblivian’s output as garage rock, but that isn’t a full reflection. That is, in part, why I gravitated to this track from his latest release. The bass-infused pop melody would have been enough, but the addition of banjo, accordion and violin make the song irresistible.
Audio Download: Jack Oblivian, “Girl on the Beach”
Destroy Me, Tommy Stinson (from the Done to Death Records release One Man Mutiny)
Stinson is perhaps best known for the bands with whom he has worked throughout his career, from his formative years as a founding member of the legendary Replacements to his more recent work with Guns N’ Roses. This, only his second solo release, shows that he stands just as tall on his own. The pure emotion of this song as it builds from acoustic introduction to electric rocker is a shot in the gut. And you should buy this album for another reason: Stinson is donating half the proceeds to Timkatec, an organization that houses and educates homeless children in Haiti. Pretty damn impressive.
Audio Download: Tommy Stinson, “Destroy Me”
Never Enough, John Doe (from the Yep Roc release Keeper)
I saw John Doe in concert a few months back and he talked about the inspiration for this song. Listen to the lyrics and you can probably guess – the tv show “Hoarders.” The song reflects Doe’s antipathy toward both commercialism and reality tv. And therein lies the allure in his songs – he marries rough-hewn melodies with lyrics that don’t shy from tough topics, from social commentary to difficult relationships.
Audio Stream: John Doe, “Never Enough”
Na Na Nothing, Mike Doughty (from the Snackbar Records release Yes And Also Yes)
Former Soul Coughing principal Mike Doughty is a songwriter with a distinctive edge. You’ll hear it in his music, usually led by acoustic guitars with a percussive fringe. You’ll also hear it in his lyrics, intelligent and challenging. “Well your man won’t dance but I will, he’s just a cup of punch that you’ll spill, “he tells an apparent former lover, “You got Na Na Nothing, I found out that I’m a chump and you were cold, cold hearted to me.”
Audio Download: Mike Doughty, “Na Na Nothing”
Typhoon, Crooked Fingers (from the Merge Records release Breaks in the Armor)
“There’s a typhoon blowin’,” sings Eric Bachmann against an ominous musical backdrop. It is a potent reminder of the band’s musical prowess. Bachmann’s songwriting is raw and evocative; his voice nearly as expressive as the songs themselves.
Audio Download: Crooked Fingers, “Typhoon”
Sing Your Own Song, John Wesley Harding (from the Yep Roc release The Sound of His Own Voice)
It’s been a few years since Harding’s last album, a period that saw him focusing on Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, his novel release earlier this year. Now returning to music, his latest release is an enjoyable romp from an artist who brings a literary eye to music. This track, the album opener, offers words of encouragement arguably about music but with a deeper perspective. “‘cause if you do what you like and you like what you do, then someone somewhere knows you’re there and the world may come to you.”
Audio Stream: John Wesley Harding, “Sing Your Own Song”
Late Nights with the Power Pop, Matthew Sweet (from the Missing Piece Records release Modern Art)
It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten new music from power popster Matthew Sweet. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and this case the statement rings true. Even better, Sweet’s latest incorporates all the elements of his classics from sugary pop harmonies to scrappy dueling electric guitars. Ah the sweet sound of electric guitar (pun intended).
Audio Download: Matthew Sweet, “Late Nights with the Power Pop”
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About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.