Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Natalie Salzman -- Ebb & Flow

Natalie Salzman stands out in a crowded field of Americana musicians, partially because she plays classical harp.

In the hands of a less able musician, the use of the harp in conventional-sounding Americana songs would be gimmicky. But Salzman knows what she's doing technically and in terms of songwriting. Instead of substituting other instruments, Salzman's harp floats above and around the range where you'd expect to hear a guitar or mandolin, giving the songs added harmonic depth. The songs themselves are solid. While most are beautifully written breakup songs, "To Have and To Hold" is the standout track for me: it's the first love song I've heard in a good long while that isn't precious or cloyingly romantic. It's about a serious commitment between two people, a vision of love that shouldn't be revolutionary but is. My only real complaint about Ebb & Flow is that it could use about 7 more songs.

Natalie Salzman -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, iTunes

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Red Wine Effect -- Afternoon Cab

My body metabolizes things strangely. I think it's because of the damage caused by years of unknowingly eating gluten. Suffice to say, I can pound ten tequilas and ciders (and switch between the two!) on a school night and be totally fine in the morning. But the other night I had a thimbleful of cheap red wine and I woke up wishing I had never been born.

Fortunately, that's not the effect the Red Wine Effect has on me.

Formed in 2008, the Red Wine Effect is comprised of Nashville singer-songwriters Hollie Brogunier and Kathy Redwine. These songs are the products of late afternoons drinking red wine, which features prominently in most of the songs.

Some of these songs will not be your cup of tea. The duo leans heavily on a pop-oriented Nashville sound. Some of them are, frankly, not so great, like "Bad Bad Boy." The Red Wine Effect is at its strongest (ha, get it?) when they let down their hair and dig into their country sound as they do on the lead track, "Too Many Irons in the Fire." The word play and inventiveness is truly superior and more than make up for some of the filler-ish songs on the album.

The Red Wine Effect -- Official, Facebook

Monday, April 28, 2014

Music Video -- Morgan Manifacier

Sometimes you have to unplug. Here's Morgan Manifacier's video for "My Own." You'll be hearing more about him in the upcoming weeks.

"My Own" - Morgan Manifacier from Morgan Manifacier on Vimeo.

Morgan Manifacier -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, April 25, 2014

Big Shoals -- Still Go On

I spent the last five days at Disneyworld. It was amazing, but by the fourth day I thought I was going to kick a puppy between the incessant repetition of the same seven Disney songs and the muzak they pipe in around the different parks to keep you from losing your shit. It made me want to listen to the most dark, most aggressive music I could find once I got home. I could feel my brain turn to jelly from all of the pop music.

It's neither dark nor aggressive, but Lance Howell's new album, Still Go On, is exactly what I needed to get my brainwaves back to normal.

Still Go On features some of my favorite songs from Howell's previous EP, but this time he brought his band. The Big Shoals crank it when the occasion calls for it on tracks like "Devil O'Devil" and "Maybe Next Time." But the emotional weight of songs from the first EP, like "Tumbleweed Towns" and "Skipping Stones," are given added gravity with a few more people behind Howell. Still Go On is a reminder that the "real" America is not the sanitized fable Disney presents in its parks, nor is it the single-minded Amurka I saw in many of the park's patrons. (I've never been so happy to see a hipster as I was when I landed at La Guardia.) There's shades of gray, there's struggles with the pride, and for all of those moments in between, Still Go On will be there to restore my sanity.

Big Shoals -- Bandcamp, Facebook

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Blessed Broke -- Ladders Out of Purgatory

The Blessed Broke was one of the very first artists I reviewed on this blog and I'm incredibly excited to tell you how great their sophomore release is.

The first thing I learned from this album is that songwriter Brian Frame seems to live in a very creepy house.

The second thing I learned is that he's amazing at creating ambiance. The music on Ladders Out of Purgatory is forlorn but never bleak or maudlin. Frame's voice is weary to the point of breaking, guitarist Andrew Luker's wailing slide guitar adds some ghostliness for good measure, while Josh Mobley's keys and Matt Richey's drums add an air of haunted finality to the business. It's worth mentioning Betse Ellis's contributions on bass and vocals; I already told you I think she's the best so I was pleasantly surprised to see her name here. Maybe Kansas City isn't as desolate as Frame makes it sound.

The Blessed Broke -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brandon Luedtke -- A Self-Titled EP

The first thing that stood out to me about this album is Brandon Luedtke's voice. It's distinctive but it somehow has a timeless quality; like Bob Dylan took a right turn on the way to Albuquerque instead of a left.

That's how the music feels, too. The first two tracks on the album (the A side if you get it vinyl) are traditional songs: "Molly and Tenbrooks" has deep roots, and most Americans are/should be familiar with "Lonesome Highway." The final three tracks (the B side) are original compositions, but other than references to TVs you'd never be able to tell the difference.

Luedtke has already recorded a full-length album, but this EP is suggestive of big things to come.

Brandon Luedtke -- Facebook, ReverbNation, Stream on Bandcamp, Purchase at Salient Records

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ryan Smith -- Better Days (Video)

If you're reading this, it's cuz I'm in muthafucking Disneyworld!

But Ryan Smith, whom I said nice things about a few weeks ago, will make you forget about your intense jealousy with this music video:

Ryan Smith - "Better Days" from Josh Fitzwater on Vimeo.

Ryan Smith -- Official, Bandcamp

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NC Music Love Army and Robert Sarazin Blake

Today's post is going to be a little unusual and a little long as I'll be reviewing two albums, so I'll be breaking it up into different sections. It's also the last post before I travel for spring break, so perhaps it'll leave you with some food for thought.


Or intellectual masturbation, whichever you prefer. I was inspired to write this review after going to a concert in Williamsburg (with Miss Shevaughn and Yuma Wray and Uncle Leon and the Alibis, so it was great and you should have been there.) I hadn't been there in months and I was glad for it. Here's why.

I hate Williamsburg almost as much as I hate Times Square, probably more.

You have to understand how deep and burning my anger must be for a native New Yorker to say such a thing. Everyone knows Times Square is the worst place on the planet.

Here is why I hate Williamsburg: it is the living embodiment of everything that is wrong with New York City right now, from gentrification to corporate greed to education policy. It is basically a trust fund baby college town combined with the original gentrifiers, who sold out and made bank in the tech industry (or banks) and swill organic fair trade kombucha and pretend they're still counterculture or something. Meanwhile, there are a few Puerto Ricans left who have managed to hang on for dear life.

I'm not blameless here. I don't live in Williamsburg but I'm living in a neighborhood that is 100% whiter than it was when I moved here six months ago. I wear plastic rimmed glasses, I have a penchant for chambray, and I've got an undercut. I listen to music that nobody cares about.

But Williamsburg. It's infuriating because people go there for "authenticity," for "real" art. But really what's going on in Williamsburg is a homogenized not-so-alternative culture that is fueled by Wall Street money, globalization, and free market-inspired housing policy that allows rent to skyrocket while working class families are displaced. (Fun fact: the increase in luxury housing in NYC is directly proportional to the increase in homelessness! Thanks, Bloomberg!)

In other words, bored suburban kids' search for the "real" New York is eradicating the very thing they seek: the hustle New York is so famous for. The rest of the world doesn't seem to appreciate that that's the real New York: an immigrant mentality in a city that at least used to be full of opportunity.

Yes, neighborhoods change. That's how cities work. But there's no neighborhood in New York that's on its way down; you've got neighborhoods that already have money, neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying, and neighborhoods that are abjectly poor. The middle ground is rapidly shrinking.

Williamsburg draws my ire because it pretends that it was never complicit in this process, that it still exists outside of it. In reality it's the worst and most arrogant perpetrator.

So let's talk about music.

NC Music Love Army -- We Are Not For Sale 

While Mike Bloomberg was busy shaping New York into a neoliberal playground, the North Carolina legislature has taken a sledgehammer to leftist politics in the state. You may have heard of the Moral Mondays protests held weekly at the state capital. Occupy Wall Street was started by hipsters who thought they could make protest into an ironic joke. The NC Music Love Army uses music as a legitimate form of protest.

This album is awesome. It's a compilation of modern-day protest songs and it is, as my students would say, fi-yah. The album encompasses all kinds of genres of folk, including hiphop. In the grand tradition of protest songs, some of these are funny, some of these are strident, some of them are really fucking angry. I love it. They may have been created for the protests in North Carolina but they're applicable in any state. Including Brooklyn.

Purchase the album; proceeds go to NC Planned Parenthood.

NC Music Love Army -- Website

Robert Sarazin Blake -- Self-Titled

I get a lot of music from Devon Leger. When I received a folk album from a Washington native who moved to Brooklyn, Devon probably heard my eyeroll over the Internet. But most of the best music on this blog comes from Devon's suggestions, so I gave it a shot.

My first impressions were that Sarazin Blake is a truly gifted songwriter. These songs are warm and simple but richly textured and beautifully written.

I was excited to write a review for this album, but then "Ghosts on Bedford Ave" came on and I had to drop everything and listen. (Bedford Avenue is the main street of North Williamsburg.) The final track on the album is a 13-minute, stream of consciousness meditation about political activism during Bush-era New York (which I was just becoming aware of) and the Williamsburg that existed before it became, well, Williamsburg. And it'll never come back.

Robert Sarazin Blake -- Official, Bandcamp

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Library Is On Fire -- Halcyon & Surrounding Areas

The Library is on Fire does not have an official website but they do have a Wikipedia article. Here's what it says:

The Library is on Fire is an American indie rock band formed by singer/guitarist Steve Five in 2007. Their sound has been described as art punk. The band originally began from a manifesto of the same name written by Five. Five took the name from a poem by French war poet René Char while working at Strand Bookstore....
If that made you throw up in your mouth a little, it's alright; you weren't the only one.

Whatever the band's origins are on paper, I can promise Halcyon & Surrounding Areas is not the usual hipster bullshit. First off, it's clear that Five is quite intentional with his compositions. "Fly On the Painting" features what I believe is a harmonica floating in, out, and around what would otherwise be a straightforward melody -- not something I'd thought you could do that with instrument. Five has got something to say and he put a lot of care into it. He's not some kid with a vaporizer, thrift shop keyboard, and GarageBand.

Secondly, this is not the "apathetic melancholy" (as Micah Schnabel so aptly put it) that often wafts across the Brooklyn Bridge. Yes, the lyrics are dense and literary, sometimes the point of obscurity. The urgent punk that supports the lyrics makes sure the emotions behind those words bleed through. "Art punk" to me means "pretentious lyrics with lazy use of power chords." That's not the case here. The Library on Fire makes finely crafted music with punk as a jumping off point.

The Library is on Fire -- Purchase from Official Site, Facebook

Monday, April 14, 2014

GuiGuiSuiSui -- A Cult of Bipolar Personalities

Guiguisuisui has been amusing and bemusing me for nigh on a year now.

This neo-colonial (I sure hope he doesn't mind my saying that) bluesman is a British expat living in a dingy industrial city in the bleak steppes of Northern China. I can't imagine it's much fun, but Guiguisuisui made his own fun -- literally -- with a bo diddley made out of a skateboard.

A Cult of Bipolar Personalities is Guiguisuisui's homecoming. It includes some songs that appear to be recorded live in Dartford, England. This music is grungy and raw and you'll find yourself picking weird things out of your teeth afterwards. His rendition of "John the Revelator" is spooky and impassioned enough to raise the dead. And it's definitely better for the Chinese economy than opium was.

Guiguisuisui -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, April 11, 2014

4H Royalty -- Liars and Outliars

Oh man, did I ever need an album like Liars and Outliars. Denver's 4H Royalty has been championed on better blogs than here and it's truly a gross oversight of mine to not have looked into them earlier. Liars and Outliars may have come out last year but it is certainly one of my favorite albums this year.

My biggest regret, though, is reading the lyrics before listening to the songs all the way through. 4H Royalty sounds like a simple alt-country bar band at first glance, but they're so much more (I asked Ninebullets writer and Ajax Diner Book Club host Charles Hale to recommend some punchier music for the blog, and here we are.) Zach Boddicker's capacity for perverse humor is only matched by his ability to spin a story through verse. Trust me on this one -- don't read the lyrics; the punchlines are just too good to spoil.

4H Royalty --Official, Bandcamp

Thursday, April 10, 2014

George Taylor -- Rain or Shine

If there's justice in this world, George Taylor will become a household name as a singular bluesman.

The Tennessee native's Americana roots pairs nicely with whiskey (or, in my class, aged rum that tastes like whiskey when I close my eyes.) Taylor has a playfulness in his lyrics and a clarity of purpose that reminds me of a young Roger Clyne (though maybe one from the Ozarks?) Taylor has spent the last few years studying blues in the Delta and it shows: these songs are honest and to the point and feature some badass blues licks. They could've been written in the 1930s or 30 days ago. You'd better get in on the ground floor here because if Taylor's next albums are like Rain or Shine, you'll have a hard time getting to see him live.

George Taylor --Official, ReverbNation, CDBaby, iTunes

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Banded Stilts -- Little Village

I'll just start with this one: Little Village is a thing of beauty.

The opening track, "The End of February" is a stunner and it only gets better from there. The intimacy of the first few lines says it all:

If you listen closely in the kitchen
You can hear the pigeons coo
They made a home inside a home
As creatures often do

The song gradually unfolds into the story of a failed relationship. But Banded Stilts isn't in a rush to get anywhere in particular. Little Village tells the story of a Newfoundland fishing village. The album is replete with nautical imagery: sailing, fishing, mermaids, giant squids.


Yeah. It's a meandering album with a few fisherman's tales to spin. To be honest, I passed on it the first time but it somehow landed in my inbox again. This album is a grower, but you'll be happy to let it into your heart.

Banded Stilts -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bishops -- Silver Lining

If you're looking for a blistering wall of apathy to climb over in this early spring weather, here it is.

Bishops, based in West Virginia, is the brainchild of Tucker Riggleman. Part shoegaze, part strident punk, Silver Lining presents few moments of hope. That's okay, though, because they make depression sound pretty damn good. My favorites are "Darker Side of Town" and "Fix It," since they feel more narrative rather than a confessional about having a general case of the blahs. They capture a sense of urgency,  a fear that maybe we'll never reach our full potential, but we can't afford to sit here and wait it out. Bishop captures that curious contradiction between restlessness and depression. It's a weird album for a weird mood, but it holds a special place in my heart.

Bishops -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Preorder the vinyl at Twin Cousins Records

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hurray For the Riffraff -- Small Town Heroes

Considering I do this as a hobby, it sounds crazy to say, but I cannot stand music journalism. I recently read a piece where the writer breathlessly describes what the artist he interviewed had for lunch and what kind of tobacco he chewed. It must have been the guy's first time in a diner or something because the artist is not exactly a superstar...not that somebody's penchant for grilled cheese is fascinating fare regardless of who eats it. (That being said, George Bush's painting jag is the best thing that has happened in the world.)

But American Songwriter's profile of Alynda Lee Segarra is worth a read. It's crazy for me to believe that somebody with as sharp a pen and as powerful a singing voice as Segarra ever felt self-conscious about her music. I'll let you read the story yourself, but it's a powerful reminder that songwriting, like any craft, isn't something you're just born with. Sure, some people have more innate talent than others, but if you want to stay in the game you have to constantly self-educate.

Although the rest of the world may have been astonished by Hurray For the Riff Raff's previous albums, it's clear that Small Town Heroes is Segarra's personal stamp on her music. It's a slow album, to be sure, but that seems to make sense from Segarra's roots in busking. While it's easy to let your brain glide over Segarra's softspoken guitar, her lyrics have a depth that require multiple listens. The highlight of the album for me is "Levon's Dream" -- I can hear the ghost of Patsy Cline standing over Segarra's shoulder. I can't wait to play it for my students and then tell them that country singer is from their zip code.

Hurray For the Riff Raff --  Official, Facebook, Purchase

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Jinxes -- We Create

The Jinxes have crafted folk pop to pure sugary perfection. They were one of the very first bands I wrote about way back when and it's great to see that they're still in the business of making music.

The Jinxes are very much in the same vein as the Weepies: unassuming pop, a husband-wife duet, and plenty of lush synth to boost the pair's quiet harmonizing.

They say music shapes our brainwaves. This is definitely an album for putting your mind at rest.

The Jinxes -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Honey Don't -- Heart Like a Wheel

Sometimes all of the emails I get from hopeful musicians is tiring. But then there are gems like Honey Don't, a husband-wife duo from Colorado that just gets it. It makes sense; Bill Powers has his own folk music radio show on the local public broadcast radio station. He and Shelley Grey also play in a blue-grass band called Sweet Sunny South. Heart Like a Wheel is more squarely focused on folk and roots music and it hits every note.

The love ballads like "Heart Like a Wheel" or "Colorado Wine" take a measured, graceful pace. "Rock And a Hard Place" offers well-deserved political commentary and Powers' guitar on "Breakin' Down" is so intense you can feel his body turn as he shows the fretboard who's boss. Grey's vocals soar throughout even as she holds down the low end. Powers and Grey are consummate songwriters and musicians. Let them take you for a spin.

Honey Don't -- Official, Facebook, ReverbNation, Purchase

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Roxie Watson -- Songs From Hell's Hollow

Last night I made the decision to listen to FM radio. I haven't surfed the radio in a good year or so and these were my findings:

  • The Spanish-language stations ALMOST outnumber the English stations in New York City. It might even be a 1:1 ratio.
  • There is a country music station in New York City. When did that happen?
  • No matter the language or genre, the music is loud and simplistic.
It's a good thing Roxie Watson is around to keep my faith in music. Their third release, Songs From Hell's Hollow, picks up the temperature in comparison to their previous releases.

I've been super jazzed about Roxie Watson since Sonia Tetlow hinted that she was in the studio a few years ago. The group has flourished and seems to be getting noticed in the bluegrass world. All five members contribute songs to the project. While everyone has a distinctive songwriting voice, the group gels together in a way that's truly rare. It makes sense, though -- Roxie Watson started off as a song swap between friends, and they did us a favor by recording the music.

While choosing a favorite song on this album is kind of like choosing a favorite student (I do have favorites, but most of my students are simultaneously my favorites? Shhhhh don't tell) I'd have to say that Lenny's songs on all three albums have a special place in my heart. Lenny's sense self-effacing humor and straightforward approach certainly speak to me. (Also one day when I grow up and I guess smoke 10,000 cigarettes my singing voice is going to be just as cool as Lenny's.) That being said, there's a song for every season on Hell's Hollow. If you like your music lovingly crafted, intelligent, and honest...then why are you reading this blog?

Ha. No. Go buy this.

Give It Time
Double Wide

Roxie Watson -- OfficialFacebook, CDBaby, Louisiana Music Factory

The Lucky Jukebox Brigade -- Glamour

Here's a Blondie-esque rocker from Albany-based Lucky Jukebox Brigade. This is a great (and charming) video. Let's just say it's worth several viewings.

The Lucky Jukebox Brigade --Official, Facebook, Download on iTunes, Amazon