Monday, September 30, 2013

Sarah Marie Young -- Too Many Februaries

And now for something completely different: jazz pop.

Whuuuu? You ask, and that's kind of what I said when Sarah Marie Young's music was described to me. But it fits. The lady's got pipes that are too robust for your average singer-songwriter, but her music is too accessible (in a good way) to be described as anything less than pop -- but the good kind.

Too Many Februaries draws from a number of styles, ultimately in service of what makes Young truly stand out: her voice. I'll be honest -- the songs themselves don't necessarily do much for me (though "Somewhere" is a pretty damn awesome medley.) But that's okay -- Young is still honing her craft. The discrepancy between the quality of the songs themselves and the quality of her raw talent just shows how much potential she has. Once her songwriting catches up to her musicianship, Sarah Marie Young will be a true powerhouse.

 Sarah Marie Young -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby, iTunes, Soundcloud

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Grisly Hand -- That's Not Affection Music Video

Continuing in our series of music videos (ie, I've got too many lesson plans to write and friends to see), my favorite band from Kansas City, the Grisly Hand, has a new, tasty video for its '90stastic roots-pop single, "That's Not Affection." (Note: Some "f"-bombs in the lyrics.)

The Grisly Hand -- Official, Bandcamp, Facebook

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sarah Alden and the Red Hot Rubies -- Fists of Violets

The pulsing rhythms on Fists of Violets' titular track are enough to make you acknowledge that Sarah Alden is, indeed, one of a kind.

Alden, hailing from the only metropolis in this great country worthy of the title*, deftly combines Appalachia, old time, Balkan, and punk in a stunning combination of songs. She could easily go toe for toe with Corin Tucker in "Dink's Tune," a reinterpretation of an old John Lomax recording.

Even without the liner notes (you mean you don't read those?), Alden's respect for her source material is obvious. While one could find a comparison to Regina Spektor's lyrical playfulness and "gypsy" influences, Alden's got more substance and two feet planted firmly on the ground. (That's not a knock on Spektor -- I'm just saying that Alden's more earthy.) In all honesty, I owe you all an apology for not getting this review out sooner.

Sarah Alden -- Official, Bandcamp, Facebook

*New York

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

New Country Rehab -- The Ghost of Your Charms

Better grab a coat, because New Country Rehab's The Ghost of Your Charms is really damn bleak.*

It's easy to see why the Canadian government helped foot the bill to record this album. (Wouldn't it be nice if our government did that? I guess good things can happen to colonies that don't rebel against the most powerful empire in the world?) It's kind of an instant classic.

I can say with perfect honesty that the lead and title track, "Empty Room Blues" is by far the most imaginative, non-novelty (ie, it doesn't turn out the narrator committed double-suicide, is a zombie, is in love with a horse, etc.) breakup song I've heard since I started this here country music album two years ago. So let's do the math on that.

And it continues to get better. "Lizzy Dying of a Broken Heart" is a chilling tale of the unintended victims of war. "Luxury Motel" reminds us of the things that were. But "Home To You" also asks us to remember the happier things in life. (Or, at least, bittersweet.) But all of these stories are held together by masterful writing and relentless, organic musicianship. Don't sleep on this one, folks.

And listen to "Luxury Motel" here. (For some reason, I can't embed it.)

New Country Rehab -- Official, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon

*Bleak: a land devoid of vegetation, open to the elements. Yeah, it's a stretch. You can write this thing, if you want.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Falldown -- I Will Go

Last week, Chicago's Falldown (who I couldn't stop gushing over back in December) recently released a music video for their dreamy "I Will Go."

Falldown is comprised of members of The Redwalls, Safe Haven, and The Hue

If you can't get enough of how adorable they are, you can see them live soon!

Friday, October 4 @ Tonic Room (w/ The Crane Wives)
Wednesday, October 16 @ AliveOne Chicago
Saturday, November 2 @ the Old Town School of Folk Music

Falldown -- Official, Facebook 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Scott Cook -- One More Time Around

No joke, Scott Cook's One More Time Around brought a few tears to my eye.

We listen to music because it either gives us Feelings or helps us process the Feelings we have. But great musics takes those Feelings and asks us to change our outlook on life completely.

Ladies, and gentlemen, Scott Cook.

Bands like Two Cow Garage resonate with me because their anger and anxiety about the current state of our world help me process my own. It's a self-inflected wound, though. I've said many times to anyone who will listen that if you are a public school teacher who isn't fucking furious, then you're not doing your job right. And perhaps that attitude should extend to, well, everyone.

But what if there's another way to approach this?

The beautiful essay in Cook's liner notes is worth the $20 CAD price of admission alone. Cook's confidence that mass action, spurred by a reflective lifestyle and genuine self-love, is endemic throughout his music. Whether it's a political statement or a simple love song, every single track on One More Time Around is an absolute masterpiece.

In keeping with his philosophy that the world belongs to all of us, Cook has included lyrics and chord progressions for all of the songs on the album. He's also put the songs under a Creative Commons license, so I'm sure he won't mind if I stream a few here. But really, you should him put gas in his tank and buy the album from his site.

Pass It Along

Mama Always Said

Broke, and So Far From Home

Scott Cook -- Official, Purchase

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sioux City Kid -- Minutes, Miles, Troubles, and Trials

Minutes, Miles, Troubels, and Trials is a 35-minute, in-your-face, set of blistering rock music. You'll probably find yourself breathless at the end of the triumphant final track, "Low Down and Busted." Singer Jared Griffin sounds like he's got a jackhammer for a mouth, though his backing band is able to match him blow for blow when it comes to intensity.

The album is more of a "grower" than a "shower" (if you'll forgive me for using that phrase.) The first four songs are perfectly competent thrash Americana (yes, I just made that up.) But there are other places to get polite, shit-kicking music that's so popular with us kids these days. Minutes picks up with "Lookout Tacoma," a ballad of loss and homecoming. It's the first slow (well, slow for these guys) song on the album. It's a gentle vise, but soon you'll find that Sioux City Kid just won't let you go.

You can download a free sampler from Noisetrade. As of this writing, I haven't found a preorder link for the album, which will be release on September 24th.

Sioux City Kid -- Official, Facebook, Amazon

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Indiegogo alert: Help save captainsead!

Hey, folks.

I want to interrupt the music coverage for some blogger news.

Greg over at captainsdead needs your help keeping his blog alive. He sold it to some friends a few years ago but continued his writing duties. They no longer want to run the blog, but what are friends for if not to make things complicated? So he needs $3000 to buy his baby back.

I haven't read captainsdead before hearing about this, but I'll definitely add it to my feed. There aren't too many other places you're going to see the Tragically Hip, Will Oldham, and Mount Moriah on the same page (though this place is one of 'em.)

If you have a dollar to spend, donate it over on Indiegogo.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Interview: Dead Professional

A few months ago I celebrated Virginia-based Dead Professional's utter pop coolness. Now, a few words from the man himself, as well as his latest song "Downtown at Sundown."

Who are your biggest influences?

 I like a lot of vintage pop and early rock and roll but also a lot of modern electronic pop as well. But I guess my biggest inspirations are great modern singer-songwriters like Nick Lowe, John Prine, Randy Newman, Jarvis Cocker. They're all real singer-songwriters' singer-songwriters.

Could you tell us more about your previous work? Is Dead Professional a big shift for you? 

Before this, I’d been writing and singing in a duo for a few years. On stage, this project is very different without the live drums and that band’s unique chemistry. But I think my new songs and recordings are a very natural continuation. And it's still my voice and guitar. So, it’s a shift of gears but I’m driving on the same road.

When confronted with a drum machine, I think most people these days would make dance pop. What inspired you to use new technology to make old timey tunes?

Well, people like JJ Cale have done this before and there’s a world of other variations nowadays. Like Sleigh Bells, the Kills etc. I like electronic beats for practical and aesthetic reasons. To me it’s all about simplicity and emotional impact, whether a song comes from tin pan alley or some Swedish guy’s laptop. These days we can pick and choose from the whole history of music to try to come up with fresh combinations of sounds. But for me the ultimate goal is great songwriting, which I think is a bit more timeless.

Do you see Dead Professional as a project you'll devote all of your time to, or will it continue to be a side project for now? 

 Dead Professional is very much my priority. I’d like to have a live band for Dead Professional tours sometimes and I’m always up for being a sideman to other people, singing harmony and playing guitar solos. But this solo thing is definitely my main thing.

Dead Professional -- Official, Soundcloud

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Left Lane Cruiser -- Rock Them Back to Hell!

Gott damm this is amazing, hair-curling stuff.

Left Lane Cruiser has been tearing up the pavement with their freakish garage blues for some time now. Today, they release their third studio album.

At first I was a little dubious of the slutty Union zombie (seriously? What do you even do with boobs like that?) but Rock Them Back to Hell! is all killer, no silicone. (Except for the CD, I guess.) Freddy J IV's squalling vocals and Brenn Beck's "trash" drum kit (it really is made of trash) create an unearthly sound that's simultaneously sublime in it's perfection and unholy in its blistering sensuality.

Zombie Blocked


Paralyze Ya

Left Lane Cruiser -- Facebook, Purchase from Alive NaturalSounds Records, Purchase special collector's bundle from Bomp

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zachary Lucky -- The Ballad of Losing You

Zachary Lucky's new album is a stunner. The Sasketchawan native brings the lonely, wide open spaces to his music. He's as lonely cowboy as you can get.

The Ballad of Losing You is, in essence, a breakup album. It's stark and perfectly minimalistic. You know, so you can feel Zachary's soul (and your own) leaching away but, of course, recovering with due time.

This is an album best listened to by yourself on a rainy Sunday, maybe with a glass of wine. (Probably with a glass of wine.)

Ballad of Losing You gave me plenty of Feelings, but the big takeaway was this: Zachary Lucky's music is what country music should always sound like.

And you can preorder it now! (The album will be released tomorrow.)

Zachary Lucky -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, September 13, 2013

Deb Oh and the Cavaliers -- Hieroglyphs

Here's a recommendation from one of my pals in Germany. In spite of all the craziness going on in the world, you have to admit that the fact that someone in Germany can discover a band in NYC, and then tell their friend over there to go check them out, is a pretty wonderful thing.

Deb Oh and the Cavaliers is about as polished-sounding as I prefer to get, but their style is what'll grab your attention.

The Cavaliers have a forceful groove, combining soul and electronic pop. It's a unique combination. Even if you hate it, you have to give them points for their confidence and originality.

Deb Oh and the Cavaliers -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Help out Brent Puls!

Help saxophonist Brent Puls pay for some unexpected medical bills, and get yourself some deep cuts from some of your favorite artists.

I just got the press release in my Inbox today and haven't had a chance to listen to it (I'm still at school) but with contributors like Joe Pug, Wilco's Pat Sansone, JC Brooks, and Rachael Yamagata, I know it's a compilation I'll love. And it's great to do someone a good turn!

Pledges of $10 or more will help this great cause!

Brent Puls -- Official

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

BC and Sam -- Night Crossing

Sometimes names do matter. The only reason I listened to BC and Sam when they showed up in my inbox was because I know another pair of humans named BC and Sam, but it seemed unlikely that they would contact me by e-mail, and that both of their names would be in the e-mail. But then I realized it was from a certain entity that often sends me music to preview. Until that point, I had genuinely detested every single artist they sent me, so I only clicked on the link for my person education. I mean, BC and Sam? What is that? Two drunk Texans with guitars?

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Bc and Sam remind me of the Indigo Girls. It's not their sound -- though singer Samantha Thoe-Schechter's voice does bear a resemblance to Emily Saliers'. It's the pure perfection in the way she and renowned guitarist Brian Cutler work as a unit. It really is breathtaking, and more interesting than the music itself.
Considering the songs are entirely original compositions about love loss, the Civil War, and prison yards that could have been written in your great-great-grandpappy's time, that says a lot. You can't help but lose yourself in Night Crossing. It's absolutely a testament to the power of good songwriting. More importantly, it's a reminder of how rare and gorgeous good teamwork is.

BC and Sam -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby, CDUniverse

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two Cow Garage -- The Death of the Self-Preservation Society

It's not at all a stretch to say that this was my most anticipated album of the year.

In case you haven't been paying attention, I unabashedly adore this band. But I was a little worried about Self-Preservation. See, they grow and change so much between each album, that I usually hate the latest album, even as I've come to adore the previous one. (I hardly ever listen to III anymore, even though it's the one that got me into the band in the first place.) When I heard the first few singles on Ninebullets Radio, I had very mixed feelings.

I'm happy to say that was not the case this time. I was in love during the first listen.

The album takes on a lot of Big and Intriguing topics, so much so that if you care to read a critical analysis of TCG, I'll be writing it when I can gather my thoughts a little better. Micah is scary smart when it comes to layering the musical and lyrical themes in his songs, and it's about time that someone took a crack at unpacking it.

Over at Ninebullets, romeosidvicious questioned whether or not Self Preservation was a concept album. I'd say it is and it isn't. Over the course of time, their albums have tackled specific topics in a very deliberate way. III and Speaking in Cursive were about youth and the associated bullshit, and every single song in Sweet Saint Me was about religion (even "Angeline" had some significant Christ imagery.) In case the title didn't tip you off, The Death of the Self Preservation Society takes on politics. As such, the album is pretty straightforward punk, stylistically speaking.

Our heroes continue to do new and interesting things musically. Both Micah and Shane have changed the way they pitch their voices. Micah has (finally) stopped straining his upper registers. He sounds more like a grown man, which is certainly in keeping with his songs about growing up. But now Shane is singing higher. I'm not sure it works for him as well. And Murph contributes to the bridge on "Stars & Gutters." (Side note: I think the song would sound really great with Austin Lucas singing that part.) "Mantle in '56" and "Lost On Youth" veer off into surf pop -- a new direction that ends up working out great.

Blah blah blah this is the best thing I've ever listened to blah.

Here's the thing: my attachment to this band comes from the genuine catharsis I get out of listening to these albums and it would be foolish to talk about the album without talking about that. I blasted Sweet Saint Me every goddamn day of June in the copy room at school and did not give a single fuck if anybody minded. It's about staying true to yourself, no matter what the people around you say. It was full of piss and bile and defiance, and I needed that to preserve any kind of self-concept of who I was as a person and teacher that month.

Death of the Self-Preservation society is my pump-up album before I go out at night, or on dates. I'll probably have to start pumping it before work soon. I know every douchebag in Long Island has their pump-up playlist. But this isn't about pretending I'm Party God. This is not party music.

This is about self-preservation in a culture that perpetuates itself with a cycle of inadequacy, shame, and retail therapy. And the way to do that is to celebrate yourself. To celebrate that you're alive. It's the one thing they can't take from you.

Stars & Gutters

Lost on Youth

Annie, Get Your Guns

Two Cow Garage -- Facebook, Preorder on vinyl and CD from Last Chance Records (Released on 9/10)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Have Gun, Will Travel -- Fiction, Fact, or Folktale?

I used to wonder
Why the petals fell
But it's a fool who meddles
In the affairs of the dead 

Say what?

That was my reaction halfway through the kickoff track, "Standing at the End of the World," a cheerful, apocalyptic ditty.

That incongruence sets the tone for the rest of the album. Fiction, Fact, or Folktale? is about cheerfully going to Hell while holding the hand-basket. HGWT has received some commercial success lately (they've had several songs featured on network TV and they've recently received a nod from NPR.) Fiction, Fact, or Folktale? has a wry  melancholy and bookish intelligence that is sure to catapult the band into heavy rotation on public radio. It's certainly one of the best albums so far this year. I'm excited to get to know it better as the year passes.

Standing at the End of the World

Finer Things


(Releases 9/10)

Have Gun, Will Travel -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from This Is American Music

Friday, September 6, 2013

frog -- frog

frog's debut EP, er, LP, er, release ("it is in between an ep and an lp and as such we've decided to call it a release which is neither and both") is a whole heck of a lot of fun.

This richly textured collection is a real trip. The Queens, NY-based duo revels in washed out guitars and jangly melodies. The songs are layered with half-forgotten pop culture references (as in "Nancy Kerrigan") and barrel through the '90s-pop ouvre with an early-aughts electronic sensibility. The result is like a happier cousin of Adobe & Teardrops State Champion -- seductively smooth music with hidden lyrical gems.

Usually I tell you guys to buy something that I received as a review copy. I actually bought this one. It's excellent.

frog -- Official, Bandcamp, Monkfish Records

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Greencards -- Sweetheart of the Sun

Memorandum to all musicians: your followup albums do not need to be somber! It doesn't necessarily make you more mature or artistic, though I guess getting older does make people sadder?

Returning to a theme, The Greencards' newest album, Sweetheart of the Sun, is markedly more subdued than their previous release, The Brick Album. It's a fun, sometimes raucous album that you should check out post-haste. But now I'll dive into this album's merits.

The Greencards' founding members, mandolinist Kym Warner and singer Carol Young are Aussies who have found themselves in the heart of America. Certainly, there are English and Irish influences in their meditative bluegrass that adds a richer quality to their sound. Warner's singing is nothing short of perfect. She brings us to new heights, helps us recall sweet memories, and makes us want to cry into the bottom of our glass. It may not have been what I was expecting, but Sweetheart of the Sun is a remarkable album.

Once and Gone

Forever Mine

Wide Eyed Immigrant

The Greencards -- Official, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Magnolia Mountain -- Beloved

December will be the 2nd anniversary of Adobe & Teardrops' existence. I've finally gotten into a "rhythm," have developed something like a voice, and truly enjoy the task of sitting down and writing now. I always thought these were things only "real" writers talked about, but I guess I'm kind of a "real" writer now.

But what's really cool is that I've done this long enough that bands I reviewed early on are coming out with new material. If you've been here a while, you may remember that I rhapsodised about Magnolia Mountain's previous album, Town and Country.

Beloved is a little different, and that's okay. To be perfectly honest, I fell deeply in love with Town and Country, and expecting to fall in love with Beloved would be like dating your ex's sibling. It's a little unrealistic to expect that.

For one thing, Beloved is a pretty dark album (in case the jacket art didn't tip you off) and it's more focused in terms of its sound. Where Town and Country was a celebration of all things American and musical, Beloved is a meditation on the pain that love brings. Renee Frye and Melissa English do most of the vocal lifting on Beloved, with frontman Mark Utley providing tasteful and timely harmonies.

Magnolia Mountain has plenty of laurels to rest on. But they're continuing to push themselves musically, and that's a pleasure to see, even if it doesn't always hit the mark for me. I'm looking forward to seeing how they've improved the next time around.

Magnolia Mountain -- Official, Facebook, Buy Beloved

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Buffalo Gospel -- We Can Be Horses

We Can Be Horses, the first full-length album from Milwaukee-based Buffalo Gospel, is a stunner. Like a hit-you-between-the-eyes-and-you-didn't-know-what-happened kind of deal.

Buffalo Gospel's work is a fine example of modern, minimalist Americana. Vaguely melancholy, cautiously optimistic, 100% moving. The band's spare instrumentation and careful harmonizing are used to great effect.

There's no getting around that Americana is sad music (as my mom likes to say, folk music is sad because, well, folk are sad.) Buffalo Gospel has melancholia to spare, but they're never cloying. Rather, they've taken what works well and milked it for all it's worth.

Buffalo Gospel -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, September 2, 2013

Alice Gerrard -- Bittersweet

For those of you who, like me, need to brush up on your folk music history, Alice Gerrard is a living legend. One of the first musicians -- let alone ladies -- to popularize bluegrass among '60s hipsters, she also brought Founding Mother Hazel Dickens to national attention via their collaborations.

Gerrard is known mostly for her collaborations. Her latest album, Bittersweet, is her third solo album in her celebrated 50-year-career.

It's probably better that way. Every single song on Bittersweet is a finely polished gem. Gerrard is still at the top of her game and treats us to her perspectives on love, loss, and -- something we don't often get in a field that it's essentially a young man's game -- growing older as a woman. I'll be durned if "My Once True Love" didn't make me tear up. 

Bittersweet taught (or re-taught) me a very important lesson: that older folks still have plenty of life and story in them. Alice Gerrard should be an inspiration to us musically, of course, but also in terms of how she's living her life: with joy and wisdom. 


My Once True Love 

Payday At The Mill
Alice Gerrard -- Official, Buy Bittersweet