Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kelly Hogan -- I Like to Keep Myself In Pain

I listened to this album through exactly once on Spotify, and then I rushed out to buy it.

While the stable of musicians Hogan assembled for this album are impressive (Booker T, James Gadsen, Gabe Roth of the Dap-Kings, Scott Ligon of NRBQ) -- as are the past collaborators of hers who offered their lyrics to the album (Jakob Dylan, Andrew Bird, Vic Chesnutt, and M. Ward, to name a few.)

But Hogan's voice is front and center, as it should be. Pure as a bell and widely expressive, Hogan is a modern-day Patsy Cline. The soothing quality of her voice, and her intelligent interpretation of the lyrics, prevents the album from becoming too dark. A mixture of Americana, soul, and jazz, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain is a treat for your ears. I'd be shocked if you don't buy it yourself.

Kelly Hogan by Rachel C on Grooveshark

Kelly Hogan -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify

Monday, September 24, 2012

Corin Tucker Band -- Kill My Blues

Quite simply, this is the album that Sleater-Kinney fans have been waiting for.

I was not initially sure if that meant it was a triumphant return. Though I was disappointed that the majority of the songs on The Corin Tucker Band's first album, 10,000 Years, did not sound like its lead-off single "Doubt," I got used to the lovelorn ballads after a while. As I listened to Kill My Blues the first time through, I wondered if Tucker's return to writing songs like those she had written ten years ago was really a healthy thing.

But it didn't take me long to be reassured that all is well. The lead-off track, "Groundhog Day" is as blustery as any Sleater-Kinney song -- though as I mentioned a few months ago, it's hard to take Tucker's third-wave feminist indignity seriously considering she was so enamored of Twilight that she got back into music just so she could submit songs to New Moon's soundtrack.

That being said, the songs here feel like they come from a much more personal place than any S-K album. The pulsing dance-punk featured here deals with such complex material as fear of death ("I Don't Wanna Go"), true love ("Kill My Blues") and budding teenage sexuality ("Neskowin"). "Joey" seems to be a sequel to Tucker's first runaway hit, "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone." Kill My Blues, to me, is a much more confident return to music a truer arc of growth than 10,000 Years. That's not to say it's a footnote in Tucker's otherwise illustrious ouvre. But I get the sense that Kill My Blues gives us more of a window into how Tucker actually thinks, and where she's been -- and if that's not compelling music, I don't know what is.

 The Corin Tucker Band -- Official, Facebook, Buy from Kill Rock Stars, Buy from Amazon

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jeff Brown -- Last Chance

Chicago-based Jeff Brown does not monkey around. A lawyer-musician, Brown came to me by way of Cobalt and the Hired Guns. Like Cobalt, Brown's music challenging without being threatening. Brown describes his sound as "a singer-songwriter who got himself a band" -- which feels pretty apt. I would say that the music here flourishes as a result of the backing band.

For me, this album doesn't really pick up until track 6. Now why, you are justly wondering, should I tolerate an album for that long? Well, there are two reasons. For one, you might be more interested in male singer-songwriters than I am. If that's the case, you'll be perfectly happy with those first five songs, which mostly feature Brown's vocals with some tasteful instrumentation.

However, Brown's vocals -- which I suspect are modeled after James Taylor's attempts to sound unpolished -- work best when surrounded with others' voices. Also, the songs from "Grace" onward are more musically adventurous -- ranging between jazz, classical, and roots, the sheer inventiveness of these compositions deserve your attention.

Jeff Brown -- Official, Bandcamp, Facebook, CDBaby

Monday, September 17, 2012

We're All Criminals -- Various Artists

Presented with little comment: an Uncle Tupelo tribute album featuring some of the best bands in rock'n'roll today.

Two Cow Garage performed their version of "We've Been Had" at their New York show. I've heaped praise on Empty Orchestra in the past. Drag the River and Have Gun Will Travel, it goes without saying, know their stuff.

This track features clips of all four songs. I'm excited.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Coty Hogue -- When We Get to Shore

Coty Hogue knows her stuff. Specifically, she has a Masters in Appalachian Studies and spent her time in grad school studying folk music. These influences are readily apparent in the Montana native's craft: though not slavishly devoted to the old-time sounds, Hogue molds Appalachian folk into her own subtle sensibilities.

Being relatively unacquainted with folk myself (Willie Lomax? Who?) I find it difficult to tell which of the songs are Hogue's and which are traditional. Hogue's sense of self is so apparent in her music that, if one had never heard the song before, they would think that her stunning cover of Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" were her own. It is the cover song that all cover songs aspire to be -- it captures the emotions of the original recording while embodying Hogue's approach to music. In fact, I prefer hers to The Boss's.

That the album was recorded live is a testament to Hogue's vocal prowess. She and her bandmates come off as relaxed and confident performers. The somber timbre of many of the songs are balanced by the gentle banter and anecdotes Hogue relates between songs. Here's hoping we get to see her on the Eastern and Western shores sometime soon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray -- We're From Here

Thanks to The Civil Wars, the alt-Americana scene seems to have seen a resurgence (or at least a renewed interest) in male-female duos: Shovels and Rope and The Parlor Soldiers, to name two, have started to garner critical acclaim. But they should all step aside for Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray.

I earmarked the duo a couple of months ago after watching their video on Couch by Couchwest. I kept pushing them to the back of the queue -- fortunately, yesterday's release of their debut album, We're From Here, has given me the impetus to tell you all a little more about them.

The crackling intimacy in the above video is expanded a thousandfold on We're From Here. If I had a million dollars, I would pay Miss Shevaughn to sing me to sleep every night for a year. I'm not picky -- she could Skype or phone it in while she's on tour.

This album is many things: despairing, contemplative, vengeful, loving, personal, political. There is one thing it is not: lazy. There are musicians who have worked all of their lives to produce the perfect album, but Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray have pulled it off in one shot. Though the first track, "Go Hang" is a stunner, once the duo hit the electric guitar crescendo in the middle of the third track, "The River Made Me Do It," We're From Here never looks back. Every beat, every note from Yuma Wray's off-kilter licks, every distinctive moan and tremble delivered by Miss Shevaughn is carefully, beautifully placed. Expect to see We're From Here again at the end of the year -- it's one of the best albums that's come my way this year.

Plus, they have a truly amusing Twitter feed. How many people can you say that about?

Go Hang
Cloin's Lament
Anniversary Song

Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray -- Official, Facebook, Twitter, Buy We're From Here

Monday, September 10, 2012

MilkDrive -- Waves

I survived my first two days of school -- 178 to go! I realized that I never actually posted the music that went with my TCG entry, so feel free to take a gander at that.

Now, on to business.

My mom is really into classical music. I grew up listening to WQXR, NYC's classical music station, wondering how they managed to produce a listener's top 100 list every year. After all, it's not like the content changes that much. She points out that the difference lies in the performances. I don't know enough about the music to judge -- it all sounds the same to me after a while.

However, MilkDrive's Waves has taught me a lesson about music appreciation. Noah Jeffries, Dennis Ludiker, Brian Bekin, and Matt Medford's commanding performances make Waves a standout album.

 The Redwall-like cover is another reason to love this album.

The Austin-based group describes itself as "jazzgrass." Certainly, they pay homage to their roots foundation, but their faultless musical intuition allows them to expand Americana's boundaries. MilkDrive is creating something new and significant, and Waves allows us to stand back and watch breathlessly as the band climbs to death-defying heights.

MilkDrive -- Official, Facebook, Buy Waves

Friday, September 7, 2012


Adobe & Teardrops favorite The Creak are making a new album. And albums cost money.

The San Francisco band's sardonic bluegrass won my heart over, and the video displays their quirky sense of humor and unity fairly accurately. 

If you need more convincing, download their free EP Fool's Gold and buy their luscious debut album, Here's to Feeling Happy All the Time.

So fork it over here.

The Creak --  OfficialBandcamp

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ode to First-Year Teachers: A Two Cow Garage Triptych

I've wanted to be a teacher since I was ten years old. In New York City, Thursday will be the first day of classes. So I've essentially spent my entire adult life preparing for tomorrow. But no pressure. You'll be fine, they say.

Or "Middle school in the South Bronx?! I'll say a prayer for you!"

Both are, like, really encouraging.

Luckily, I've got Two Cow Garage on my side. What's compelling about Shane and Micah's music is the trajectory they've traveled throughout their career: from songs about working class suburban nostalgia to quarter-life crises. Their most recent album, Sweet Saint Me, ended on a defiant note that I think will continue to resound through their upcoming album.

These days, giving your kids the education they deserve -- not the ones the policymakers want -- is an act of resistance. So here is my gift to my fellow teachers -- particularly new ones. A song for each third of the school year with (what else?) a rationale. Your exit ticket is below.

"What Dying is For" -- If this isn't a pump-up song, I don't know what is. Celebrating the idealistic, fresh-faced lambs for slaughter, Micah is singing about his decision to pursue the rock'n'roll lifestyle.  But in my futile attempt to flip the system, I find common cause with Micah. If I'm not "shaken, broken, anxiety-addled" by December, then I'm probably not doing my job right. As we launch our first weeks of school, remember why you started on the path you're on.

"No Shame" -- Spotify lists this as the track from the album, but this is a live version. Although the song is thinking about quitting said rock'n'roll life (and therefore not too cheerful), lots of people seem to find the song empowering. I have yet to go to a Two Cow Garage show where this song isn't requested. That's because the fact that it's being sung proves that our humble narrator has not given up, and neither should we. So, once we hit those midyear doldrums, just remember that it's OK to mull the thought. But don't be a quitter.

"Brothers in Arms" -- Guys. We did it. And we'll continue to do it like sirs.

Before you leave, please list your three pump-up songs (whether you're a teacher not) in the comments below.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Tressels -- American Sunset

Here are three things you should know about Philadelphia-based band The Tressels:

1) They are opening for A&T favorites The Sparklers HERE IN NEW YORK FUCKIN' CITY on Saturday, at The Alphabet Lounge. You'd be crazy not to go. Who wouldn't want to see these dapper gents face-to-face?

2) They already have a Kickstarter project going to finish post-production on their fourth album, which will be sequel to the one reviewed below. And I promise you're gonna love it so much you will throw DOLLAR DOLLAR bills at the band.

3) American Sunset is a great album. And you can name your price for it on Bandcamp. Like The Sparklers, The Tressels have embraced an early nineties country-rock ethos. Clocking in at a mere six songs, it's clear that the band carefully pruned their material to create the best album they could offer -- and the effort certainly shows. The album begins carefully with "Wolves," a contemplative, steel guitar-laced crooner that transitions to a heavier anthem. However, it soon crescendos with rockers "Tell Me a Secret" and "Wilma," which should make you fall in love if you haven't already.

I will say that, after listening to the album, I felt the writing could have used some maturation. The single from the next album in the band's American Trilogy, American Midnight, shows that progress. And you should drop some money on it.

The Tressels --Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Kickstarter