Friday, December 20, 2013

Jeff German and the Blankety Blanks -- Twelve Rounds

There are two things I know about Columbus, Ohio:

1) Because its demographics are similar to that of the continental United States, it is the fast food focus testing center of the planet.

2) There must be something in the water, because many of my favorite artists and bands call Columbus home.

And it's looking like Jeff German's about to join their ranks.

Jeff German's the first to say he's not a blue collar rocker. Sure, but he brings an earthy sensibility to his music and lyrics. You've probably heard his guitar work with Lydia Loveless and the Cur Dogs, but this is Jeff's first (or most recent -- I can't tell) crack at solo work. These songs are simple, but that's only because they hit you between the eyes with their earnestness and confidence. German is mature but never sedate.

Overall, I'm honored to conclude 2013 with Twelve Rounds: this was a year with some of the most tumultuous news stories since 2008, and it also brought us some incredible music. Twelve Rounds gives me plenty of optimism for the coming year. Check back on the 2nd for my favorite albums of 2013!

Jeff German and the Blankety Blanks -- Official, Facebook, ReverbNation, Bandcamp, CDBaby

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Carbon Leaf -- Constellation Prize

I've always felt bad that I haven't been a better fan of Carbon Leaf. I their double live album, 5 Alive!, has been a faithful companion for many years now. But I've never made it out to their shows, nor have I committed myself to any of their other albums.

So I was really excited (and honored) when I was invited to review their latest album, Constellation Prize. Because I have the musical taste of a 35-year-old, my friends wanted to know what the big deal about Carbon Leaf was. I said something along the lines of their being a stoner folk band that hung out with Dave Matthews, but now I can give them a real answer: just listen to the album and find out.

For those not in the know, Carbon Leaf excels in intertwining Celtic, Appalachia, and country music. They're a bit of a jam band, but they get away with it because of their talent. Corny as it sounds, there's a bass solo on 5 Alive! that eventually morphs into "Ode to Joy" that brings me to tears every time.

Constellation Prize is a little heavier on the country, but not much seems to have changed in the ten years since 5 Alive! However, for better or worse, my conception of the band is mostly informed by that album. I'm still getting used to some of the poppier elements in the first few songs, but it made me realize something: all of the hipster folk bands that are making it big these days wish they were Carbon Leaf.

See, the whistling and handclaps and group shouting by other bands is fragile and wispy, there's no other way to put it. It's like these guys are afraid or embarrassed to put their feelings out there.  

But Carbon Leaf has never shied away from beauty. "All Of My Love" on this album is what Carbon Leaf does best: set beautiful poetry to amazing music, and letting the two dance around each other. The whistling and handclaps accentuate the songs' power, not struggle to bolster it.

TL;DR -- If you already love Carbon Leaf, you won't be disappointed. If you haven't heard them before, here's as good a place to start as any.


All Of My Love

Tombstone vs. Ashes

Carbon Leaf -- Official, Facebook, Store

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drop Top Lincoln -- Sixxx Dollar Suit

Those of you playing along at home may have noticed that the music that's been featured here lately has been sad bastard music-ish. Not even sad bastard, really. More like thoughtful bastard, or musing bastard.

Eff that noise, though. I want to kick things into high gear next year and I'm happy to let Drop Top Lincoln get things started for us.

The Colorado-based quarter blasts high-octane roots rock like no tomorrow. They like to describe themselves as "gutterbilly," which works for me. It's a little growly and a little skeevier than your usual rockabilly fare, nor do they wink at faux retro stylings. Drop Top Lincoln really is in love with the cars and bars and strippers they like to sing about. As one reviewer put it, "As soon as I heard these...songs, I grew a beard and became drunk."

Wish I could grow the beard, but at least I can get myself drunk, and Sixxx Dollar Suit will be my soundtrack.

Primer Grey Ford

Six Dollar Suit


Droptop Lincoln -- Official, Facebook, Buy Sixxx Dollar Suit

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

INTERVIEW: Andrea Tomasi

I recently shot the breeze (virtually) with gifted songstress Andrea Tomasi. Learn more about her approach to songwriting and our shared love of the Hudson Valley below!

The Hudson Valley has been a haven for artists since the turn of the century. Woodstock (the town) was where '50s-era hipsters (ie, beatniks) hung out, then people like my grandparents gentrified it. How did you find yourself in New Paltz?

I  was introduced to Hudson right at the close of my senior year at Oberlin, and ended up visiting and feeling excited about potential projects and people who were living there. I decided to live in Hudson, but got connected to New Paltz folks from playing out in the Kingston/New Paltz area. The community I was a part of was rich with talented and forward-thinking young people, and I feel grateful for the experience I had there.

How do you feel the Hudson Valley has influenced your music?

I was living in the Hudson valley during my transition from being in college to trying to figure out how to be an adult in the world….So I felt supported by the natural beauty that is that area, and also the honest work that people are doing there, such as farming or alternative healthcare or working with children. There was lots of room for reflection and learning new skills and meeting new people…all these things must have influenced my music in a way.

So the story goes you had to cancel your Brooklyn recording session thanks to hurricane season. But what made you decide to record in Minnewaska State Park?

My engineer, Jeremy Backofen, had recently bought a cabin in the Mohunk preserve, so he had some available property to do the recording on. We thought it would be a peaceful and beautiful way to record; right in the midst of nature and all of it’s sounds. I use a lot of natural imagery in my lyrics, because I feel that is what I know, and trust the most. So the outdoors seemed like the perfect partner for my songs.

Lately I've been receiving a lot of music from artists whose lyrics are "inspired" by poetry. Why did you go that route with Hurricane Dream, and why Pablo Neruda?

I went with Pablo Neruda because that was what I had on hand at the time. I’m actually not that big of a poetry reader, but I would pick up his book to start to get my brain aware of descriptive language, or to serve as a launching point. Its sort of like drawing—it necessitates a different kind of seeing, of being aware of angles and shadows. Often you have to practice this kind of thing, and warm up into the seeing. Similarly, for me with writing, reading poetry warms me up to the different way of communicating, or telling—it stimulates something inside of me so that I can enter more of a state of unconscious, where I let myself trust or flow with the words, rather than analyzing so intensely.

What other sources do you use as inspiration?

Discovering other musicians or artists that touch me is always deeply inspiring. Discovering my truths, through experience and reflection, and attention to listening—also observing human behavior and my own in relation to others—all are big sources of inspiration.

Any thoughts on your next project?

I think about what is next a lot—and thus far haven’t gotten any clear answers. I hope to start collaborating, and developing perhaps a fuller sound that I feel excited about. It is the unknown, so it can feel a bit daunting and scary at times—im waiting for the internal push that says, “do this!” In the meantime, I think playing with others is probably the best way to figure out where I’m heading…

Andrea Tomasi -- Official, Facebook, Buy From Team Love Records

Monday, December 16, 2013

Anchor Bends -- First Four Songs

The other night I watched the American Country Awards because I...

a) am a masochist
b) had two 90-minute lesson plans to create for an increasingly hostile class
c) wanted to see what was going on in lamestream country
d) have an unhealthy obsession with Nashville and wanted to see the IRL pageantry
e) all of the above

But really it was to remind myself why I write this blog. Anchor Bends is very much why this blog exists.

Anchor Bends is glass bottle-smashing, tinnitus-inducing rock'n'roll. None of us here would have it any other way, right?

These four short songs portend of great things to come. "Kiss Me" grabbed my ears and heart strings -- I guess I have a thing for lurve songs, no matter how distorted -- but the other three are The Stuff as well. Anchor Bends have catapulted themselves to the top of my favorite new artists list of this year. Click the ol' play button to find out why.

(PS -- I didn't mind seeing Danica Patrick in a showgirl costume at the ACAs. Just saying.)

Anchor Bends -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, December 13, 2013

Doug C and the Blacklisted

I got a rather pointed e-mail the other day. It read "Why do punk rockers think they can play country music?" from none other than Doug Carrion of the Descendants and Circle Jerks, among others.

It's a good question, though. I wondered this myself in high school -- why was I so drawn to both genres? And could the twain ever meet? (The answer is presented to you here on this blog.)

I think it's because both punk and country come from the same place. The songs are -- theoretically -- supposed to be easy enough for just anyone to play. As we all know, there's power in a three-chord song. More importantly, both songs are about isolation. The only difference is the approach: cowboys are sad, lonely, or sardonic, and urban punks are pissed off. With maturity, one turns into the other.

So where does that leave Doug Carrion? Well I guess he's grown up because this four-song EP is pure country. Yeah, there's that special bite to it that only punk rockers know how to do but for the most part these songs are sad (or at least the idea of a weekend warrior makes me sad, even though I am one), lonely, and sardonic. There's no questioning the competence of Carrion or his band. They're tight-knit and sound like they're having a heck of a lot of fun.

And let's face it -- the loneliness is not a bad thing. After all, if you felt happy and accepted, well, you'd be singing Broadway musicals.

Doug C and the Blacklisted -- Facebook, Soundcloud (free downloads)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Low Bow -- Dig! The Guilt

I gotta say, lesson planning takes time and I just spent the last 6 hours preparing two extremely badass lessons about South Africa and Nelson Mandela. So unfortunately I'm going to have to give Dig! The Guilt shorter shrift than it deserves.

It's also extremely unfortunate that Low Bow is the last on the list of East Asian punk acts that Gui Gui Sui Sui recommended to me. I've really enjoyed listening to the most joyous and vibrant garage rock I've heard anywhere, and Low Bow is no exception.

Much like Gui Gui Sui Sui, Low Bow is a British expat who has found himself churning out intensely distorted punk in Shanghai. This stuff is so gritty you feel like you need to scrub beneath your nails. Does anyone truly know the loneliness and isolation of an expat? (Well, other than the guys who invented the blues -- strangers in their own land.) Dig! The Guilt is full of howling men and screaming guitars. You may not be able to tell the difference sometimes. And that's how it should be.

Low Bow -- Bandcamp

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Interview: Sans Abri

 Josh Erwin and Michael Paynter, the fine gentlemen of Sans Abri, took a break from writing brilliant songs to answer a few of my queries.

The music of Sans Abri is clearly very different from the bluegrass you guys normally write. Where did these songs come from?

Josh: The songs from Sans started as individual songs of mine and Michael's.  They just started popping up and naturally came out while trying to not let specific genre/form dictate any direction of where the music should go.  After they were completed it became pretty clear that they did not have a home in the Packway Handle Band repertoire, but both Michael & I thought they were still great songs, so we created an outlet to perform them.

I think what's most distinctive about Shelter is the way the two of you complement each other so well. What is your writing process like? 

Josh: Writing the music and lyrics start individually.  The bones of a song are written by either Michael or myself-- lyrics, chord progressions, verses/choruses.  We get together and introduce the structure, go through playing the verses and the choruses.  When we're at the point of understanding how the parts fit together, ornaments begin to develop.  Ornaments may be what rhythm fits best over the song, where harmonies should be placed, if parts should be repeated/shortened, intro or outro ideas, etc.  It usually takes playing these songs for about a month or so before they are completely developed.

To piggyback off the previous question, how did the two of you begin to write songs? (Either individually or together.)   

Josh: I began writing songs when I was a teenager.  After I had a basic understanding of the guitar, I liked forming my own guitar licks and chord progressions.  It was only about the music portion of songs for me until I was in my mid 20s.  Never considered lyrics or thought I could write words for my own music until then.  It's definitely something I enjoy-- putting my own lyrics to my own music. Alot of strategy and crafting.

Michael: I also started writing songs in my teenage years.  I had been writing poetry, bad poetry to be sure, in years previous and when I realized I could add music to my words I knew it was what I wanted to do.

What's the inspiration behind "Winds Me Up"? I find it to be the most emotionally touching song on the album.  

Michael: "Winds Me Up" is about being away from the one person who understands you.  I experienced a lot of mental problems in my late teens and early twenties, namely panic and anxiety, and not being able to talk that someone who understood me left me feeling alienated and alone.  It was like not being able to touch ground and recenter myself.

Sans Abri -- Bandcamp

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ken and Brad Kolodner -- skipping stones

Ken and Brad Kolodner's skipping stones taught me a sobering lesson about judging a book by its cover.

I looked at their press release and saw "father son duo."


 Then I kept reading and saw "Appalachian old time music."


But I figured hey, why not?

And I'm glad I gave the album a shot.

It may not be the kind of thing that gets your blood pumping, but the Kolodners sure do make pretty sounds.

I guess what I don't like about old-time is that it sounds really busy to me. It's the same reason I don't care for metal. A lot of the time, the music is about getting people dancing and showing off your own chops. It's not very melodic. That's me, at least.

But the Kolodners have made me come around. Whether they're giving a two-timing girl a good scolding on "down on my knees" or leisurely winding through an instrumental like "the orchard," their music is downright stately. The Kolodners clearly have a deep respect for their source material but not to the point where they've trapped it in amber. This isn't hillbilly sawing. They're reserved and confident; they know they're good and they love their music. While I generally like to keep my music loud, skipping stones has made me change my tune (so to speak.)

the orchard

down on my knees

the cowboy waltz/tombigbee's waltz

Ken and Brad Kolodner -- Official, Store

Monday, December 9, 2013

Carolann Solebello -- Steel and Salt

It's refreshing to hear about a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn who's actually from Brooklyn. Solebello is best known for her work with the bluegrass trio Red Molly. Her fourth solo album, however, leans more heavily on folk.

Bostonians beware: Steel and Salt is nothing if not a love song to New York City. You'll have to forgive me if it twanged a few of my heartstrings. "Brooklyn In the Rain" is a true ode to Brooklyn -- it's not about chasing dreams, making it big, or hanging out on Bedford Avenue (ugh) until the sun comes up. This is an album about home. Whether you're from my home or not.

In "Movie Queen," Solebello sings that "We will never be celebrities." While that's probably not a bad thing (if I learned anything from yesterday's 13-hour binge of Nashville, it's that fame isolates you from the ones you love), it would also be a shame to let this album fade into obscurity.

Brooklyn in the Rain


Movie Queen

Carolann Solebello -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby, iTunes

Friday, December 6, 2013


If you haven't filled your dance card for tonight, join me and some other sweet dudes and dudettes at the Mercury Lounge. Drag the River is the headliner, but you should come to the "early" show -- at 10:30, 'cuz that's how we roll here -- to check out Cory Branan.

I myself am not too familiar with Cory's music but all my favorite blogs and podcasts say he's great. They also say the only way to experience his stuff is to see his live show, and that's exactly what I plan to do. Check out the Springsteen-esque "Bad Man" below.


Mercury Lounge (217 E Houston Street -- Take the F to 2nd Ave.)
Cory Branan -- 10:30
Drag the River -- 11:30
Tickets: $15

Cory Branan’s Official Site, Cory Branan on Facebook, Cory Branan on Spotify, Buy Mutt

prattle on, rick. -- Some Quiet Majesty

In case you missed it, the Vulture recently published an article about the similarities between hipster folk bands like Mumford & Sons and the folk movement of the '60s. If you idolize Bob Dylan, you should make sure you take your blood pressure medication before you read it.

But the TL;DR is the idea that most of the people performing this type of music -- then and now -- is that they're not actually that authentic. They're not poor, they're not hobos, and they may not have really been oppressed all that much.

But Nitsuh Abebe gets it right on the nail when he explains what folk is all about:

"...the claims in favor of folk are always, across the years, that it is somehow right. That it has more depth and spirituality, more connection to history and the people, more political consciousness."

prattle on, rick. shows us that side of folk music -- the good, the pure, the right.

In the hands of a less capable artist, Some Quiet Majesty would be a grandiose and presumptuous title for an album. But Patrick Rickelton's meditations on fatherhood and spirituality truly are majestic. These songs are honest, sure, but there's lots of honest songwriters out there. There's a subtlety to Rickelton's craft that gives Some Quiet Majesty a unique depth. More importantly, it speaks of even greater things to come.

prattle on, rick. -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, Bandcamp

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Marina Rocks -- The Comeback Kid

Short, sweet, and packed full of punches, Marina Rocks' sophomore album is the kind of honest songwriting we've all been waiting for. "Stuck in the Mud," the album's opener, is the best redemption song you'll hear this side of 2013. And that's just for starters.

Marina's songwriting would be enough to draw your attention by itself -- and it certainly has. She's won or has come close to winning songwriting prizes all over Texas, where the competition is no doubt stiff.

But damn. Dat voice.

It's equal parts Bob Dylan, Patsy Cline, and Etta James...though, of course, it's Marina's passion that will get you to stop what you're doing and just listen. See for yourself below.

Stuck in the Mud

Mother's Daughter

Marina Rocks -- Official, Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wolfmoon -- Wolfmoon

Verily, is there anything more epic than this album art?

It's hard for anything to live up to that image, if we're all being completely honest with ourselves. Wolfmoon is another installment of producer Swamp Dogg's series of reissues on Alive Naturalsound records. Originally released in 1969, Wolfmoon's gospel pop is fresh. But don't think it's psychedelia free -- the intro and outro to "People Get Ready" almost certainly sounded better to everyone in the studio than it does now. That sign of the times aside, Wolfmoon and his band dig deep in the low end, giving songs that sound familiar to the casual soul fan like myself a fresh perspective.

If He Walked In Today

If I Had a Hammer

People Get Ready

Wolfmoon -- Purchase at Alive Naturalsound

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Finnders and Youngberg -- I Don't Want Love You Won't Give Until I Cry

The more I do this blog, the more I'm convinced I need to get myself over to Colorado. It seems like there's amazing music spilling out of every last person's pores. I tend to associate Fort Collins with some of the great cowpunk acts of our time like Arliss Nancy and Drag the River. But it turns out that there's a fantastic country scene as well.

Though Finnders and Youngberg's latest EP clocks in at only six songs, the quintet packs a powerful punch. Any song on here would deservedly belong in the classic country canon. "Infidelity" and the title track are my two favorites -- they hit you right in the gut, which is where music should always be felt.


I Don't Want Love You Won't Give Until I Cry

Finnders and Youngberg -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby, iTunes

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pat LePoidevin -- American Fiction

Canadian singer Pat LePoidevin's project transcends the bounds of mere music. Literally. American Fiction is actually a multimedia project: the album is accompanied by a book of short stories written by his childhood friend Lewis Smith. Each song (and, I guess, story) are named after a small town in the States. Neither men are American, nor have they lived in America. The project was an exercise in storytelling, and boy is it a success.

I have no had a chance to read the book, but it would be interesting to contrast the two. LePoidevin's lyrics surely have a literary quality. Each song tells the story of lovers, losers, and dreamers in small towns across the US. The economic decay and traditions of these imagined communities form the backdrop of perfectly ordinary people. LePoidevin's artistic lens gives these stories an epic scope.

It's funny to think of the America as an exotic place, especially given how culturally similar we are to our Northern friends. For one thing, many of LePoidevin's songs use baseball as a motif. Unfortunately, we're a nation of barbarians who would rather watch grown men concuss themselves instead of gentlemen who follow an arcane set of etiquette and do everything they can to hide the fact that they're totally cheating. What's more American than that?

Pat LePoidevin -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp