Friday, April 28, 2017

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers -- Sidelong

There's been a lot of buzz about Nikki Lane and Margo Price as the next generation of (women's) outlaw country music but I've took a spin through their albums and...I dunno. I just don't buy it. There's a certain slavishness to making it sound old, to projecting an image of a woman who just doesn't give a shit, that makes their acts just that -- an act. Sarah Shook, on the other hand, is the real damn deal. Equal parts Lydia Loveless and Hank, Shook displays her scars with honesty and aplomb, the kind of person who has real war stories and lots of practice sharing them.

Like the best guitar slingers, Shook unabashedly approaches her pain with sadness, frustration, humility, and humor. "Keep the Home Fires Burnin'" opens the album with a dirt-kickin', boot-stompin' drive that never lets up. The Disarmers are one of the best country bands out there, driving Shook's searing, trembling vocals with a hell-bent possession. Then, of course, there's "Dwight Yoakam," the country song I've been waiting for, in which Shook's girlfriend leaves her for another crooner. (I don't like Shook because she openly sings of relationships -- or the lack thereof -- with women, but it sure as hell endeared her to me.) Shook's rough-and-tumble vibe might not get her out of the basement bars she and the Disarmers must surely destroy, but there's no question in my mind that she belongs in the country firmament.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jesus and His Judgmental Father -- Kings and Queens

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh. Why is this band so good?

I know that that's the hard-hitting music writing you come to this site for but that's pretty much where I'm at with Jesus and His Judgmental Father, who learned about from queer punk podcast Homoground. The title track, "Kings and Queens," has a bubbly Clash-reminiscent bassline and gentle 90s post-punk vocals. The dispassionate vocals and catchy melody coalesce into a chilling song about trans* bashing. Once the bridge hits you, you see that the uptempo music is really just a sugary veil hiding unabashed rage. And let me tell you, that's how being queer feels a lot of the time.

Jesus and His Judgmental Father attack toxic masculinity and breakups with equal aplomb. The band's ability to deliver sharp twists in their lyrics makes them stand way out from a crowded field. The band's pride and sense of self is really quite intoxicating, even in its darkest moments. This is the kind of music that makes me -- and I hope, you -- feel seen and heard. I hope they make it over stateside one of these days. We need them.

Jesus and His Judgmental Father -- Official, Bandcamp

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Aaron Lee Tasjan -- Silver Tears

It's taken a while, but I'm finally on board the Aaron Lee Tasjan train. I liked In The Blazes, but I felt I didn't have much to see about it other than what others had -- a smart country album about getting high. In Silver Tears, Tasjan dips his toe back into his glam rock roots for the gorgeous "Little Movies," but otherwise these songs are pure ten-gallon hat. That glam rock aesthetic, though, makes for a luscious studio sound throughout the album.

The careful attention to production makes for a stunner of an album -- all of these songs sound like the old-school Nashville sound if you're not listening carefully before you're dragged by the scruff of the next to the present with a bitter barb or a weed joke. That's not a bad thing -- each song on this album is tightly constructed with nary a lazy note or throwaway line. The songs on Silver Tears sound like they belong in the country canon precisely because they do. Tasjan's as gifted a storyteller as he is an instrumentalist. Honestly, this album is perfect.

Aaron Lee Tasjan -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

On the album Aaron sings "They say I'm worth a million dollars/But I haven't got a dime" and that's true of me, too! Please donate to my Patreon here for exclusive content, playlists, and more!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jason Springs -- Blue Collar Bones and Busted Knuckles

I have a heretofore unwritten rule that I reject any submissions where a man sings about a Tragic Woman. The Tragic Woman is usually described as beautiful but a hot mess and everyone knows it. The invariably male narrator is usually watching her from a distance in a bar or at a party and decides, possibly against his better judgment, to take her home anywhere. The story usually ends there, though sometimes they fall in love. Otherwise it's a shitshow but he knows that's how it was going to turn out.

First of all, men, there is all kinds of tragicomic bullshit you can call out amongst yourselves. Secondly, taking home someone who's more fucked up than you is the very definition of rape culture. Don't. Do. It. Thirdly, there aren't that many songs out there where women sing about men being sloppy-ass messes. In fact, they're usually sad songs about how she should have known better. There is, of course, "Don't Go Home A Drinkin,'" but that scolds the Tragic Man. It's not about how much fun Loretta was having. Songs about the Tragic Woman are often fun and celebratory. Because you're about to sleep someone who isn't able to give full consent.

Fuck. That.

All of this is to say that I managed not to hold it against Jason Springs for leading off his debut album with a Tragic Woman song. "Danville in the Dust" is a fun song to rock to, but it was Springs' wild delivery, reminiscent of Matt Woods, that impressed me enough to overlook the content. (And this is hardly Springs' fault -- the Tragic Woman is a long tradition that I hope, like murder ballads, will die off soon.)

That all being said (sorry, Jason), Blue Collar Bones is a hell of an album and an excellent debut. Springs can battle it out with the best of them. Any fan of John Moreland, Cory Branan, or Matt Woods will find themselves at home with Springs. Springs' descriptions of an aimless-seeming life down South are poignant and hard-hitting. While this may be Springs' first record, it's certainly not his first collection of songs. We often get the sense that he's pleasantly surprised to see he made it out of his twenties in one piece. Most importantly, he's proud of where he's gotten and it's that sense of celebration that makes Blue Collar Bones an exhilarating listen. Springs has a bright future ahead of him, and I'm excited to see where he and his guitar travel next.

Jason Springs -- Official, Facebook, Purchase CD From Jason Springs' Site, Purchase Digitally on iTunes, Spotify

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Leesta Vall -- The Office Sessions

If you're a vinyl head, then this one is for you. Leesta Vall Recordings has a pretty ingenious set-up. They've cut a number of direct-to-vinyl recordings of their artists. I'm not familiar with the artists on their lineup, nor was I able to listen to any of the recordings because, well, they're cut straight to vinyl. But if you like the idea of a limited-edition cut and want to take a chance, you can check out the series here.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

The Wild Reeds -- The World We Built

As I mentioned in my Patreon preview, I couldn't let the week end on a downer -- not when the weather's been so nice in New York. Over the next four years, we're going to see a lot of protest music. Most of it's not going to be particularly good or interesting. Most of it's going to be angry, urgent, sad. But The Wild Reeds, possibly without knowing it at the time, are bursting through the generic junk with an unexpected spin: exuberance.

The World We Built manages to bitterly condemn oppression in its many forms -- sexism, economic, environmental degradation, self-doubt -- while proudly and fiercely declaring a sense of self-love that reminds us all we are perfectly capable of creating a world we want and the resilience necessary to get there. In "Only Songs," the trio triumphantly reminds the narrator's lover that

The only thing that saves me
Are the songs I sing, baby
You can't save me from anything

This isn't a rejection of the person she's singing to, nor a searing self-critique (as opposed to Two Cow Garage's "Sweet Saint Me.") It's revelry in knowing that the narrator can rely on herself, not just the help of others, to get her through.

It's these layers amid beefy hooks and thrilling three-part harmonies that prove The Wild Reeds' excellence. Hie thee to your nearest record store to avail yourself of this nuanced critique of the world we built and a pathway to the one we could have if we put aside the fears that hold us back.

The Wild Reeds -- Official, Facebook, Purchase Digital/Vinyl, Purchase Digital

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cory Branan -- Adios

Cory Branan's pretty all over the place. If you've ever seen him live, you know that he's a madcap, adventurous soul, musically and otherwise. If you haven't seen a Cory Branan show, it's worth it. (I meant to see him last week, but sometimes it's hard to pass up an impromptu barbecue at the foot of the George Washington Bridge.) Branan's a charming ruffian who can slingshot from humor to pathos at the strum of a chord. Adios exemplifies his flexibility.

There's a curious thing, for me, about Branan's music. If I'm being honest I don't listen to his albums much in between releases. But when I see his live shows there's a song that touches me somewhere deep in my soul; even if I've never heard the song before it's as if I've known the words all along. One example of this is "Visiting Hours," a punchy punk-inspired number about a friend ailing in a hospital. "The Vow" is Branan's most touching song yet about fatherhood -- and he's got quite a few. Adios isn't just about the death of a person. It's also about the death of ego, as "I Only Know" gently mocks and vows to leave behind youthful insecurity. (This bubbly lead track is supported by Laura Jane Grace and Dave Hause and is one of my new favorite songs.)

Branan also addresses death in the streets with "Nightmare in America" and this is one I need to respectfully take him to task for. It tells of a police shooting from...the cop's point of view? I know that the intent is to make such people sound paranoid and short-sighted, but the song is catchy-as-hell and is easy to dance to. The line of critique is difficult to catch on a single listen and will certainly be more difficult to absorb live. In my view, it's really not necessary to highlight these peoples' voices. Putting them in the first person still elicits a certain amount of sympathy because we find ourselves identifying with them. Furthermore, their point of view is not interesting. They're abusing their power and murdering young people, no matter what they think they're doing. End of story. Or at least don't make it an anthemic song. I think a more interesting perspective would be from one of these "All Lives Matter" or "Blue Lives Matter" people -- not a perpetrator but a sympathizer -- who's suddenly confronted with police violence in their own community.

That being said, Adios is an album I see turning to repeatedly for some time to come. Branan hits the nail on the head, for me, with many of the life experiences described in Adios. With Adios, both the recording and the live versions of the songs strike a chord in my soul.

Edit: Josh over at Bloodshot Records was kind enough to send me this video, in which Branan discusses "Nightmare in America."

Cory Branan -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

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