Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Luke Winslow-King -- Everlasting Arms

Luke Winslow-King is a Northern boy made good. Lured to New Orleans for the same reason everyone else is (music), Winslow-King studied at the University of New Orleans. While I'm sure he was interested in blues and jazz long before then, that hip-swaggering, bourbon-and-tea-sipping New Orleans style is very much a presence in Everlasting Arms.

Winslow-King's warm, earthy voice lends itself to these down-to-earth compositions. "Everlasting Arms" and "Swing That Thing" show off Winslow-King's rock'n'roll bravado. Winslow-King's the first album, The Coming Tide, was celebrated for its New Orleans-influenced tunes. This time around, it feels to me that New Orleans takes a -- not a backseat, let's say passenger's seat -- to Winslow-King's take on rock'n'roll and pop. These songs would be very much at home on the radio in the best kind of way. However, it's the majestic "Last Night I Dreamed My Birthday" that stopped me in my tracks. The lyrics, instrumentation, and performance are absolutely perfect -- the kind of song that makes this album earn its place on my list of required reading.

Luke Winslow King -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

Monday, September 29, 2014

Emma Swift -- Emma Swift

I'm gonna start with the bad since I like to end with the positives: I wish this album were longer.

Emma Swift splits her time between Sydney and Nashville, but there's no question that the Australian native deserves a special place in Music City. Swift's got the voice of singers long past -- maybe great country vocalists were a dime-a-dozen in the old days, but in an age of autotune and sampling, Swift will make you stop right in your tracks.

That's not to say she wouldn't have stood out back in the day, but her voice is a clarion call now more than ever in a time where soul is being eked out of music for every last penny. Swift's backing band is no less impressive -- "King of America" is a dreamy ballad of a drunken encounter, one that Hank or Loretta could have sung. But as the three-verse song is spun out over 8 minutes, you can't help but be carried away to your local dive bar and sadsack cover band. Swift's approach reminds me of Sturgill Simpson's latest opus -- proving their traditional chops allows both artists to push the boundaries of the genre over the edge without you even realizing.

Emma Swift is absolutely a keeper. Maybe we can convince Australia to let us have her as our next national treasure.

Emma Swift -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, September 26, 2014

Emilyn Brodsky -- Eats Her Feelings

Emilyn Brodsky's charisma is difficult to resist. Here's the snippet from her bio that won me over before I'd even listened to her music: "She has been called ‘charmingly aggressive’, ‘the love of my life’ and ‘a jerk’."

Brodsky's lyrics are devastating -- deeply honest, funny, and bitter. She flits between country ("Functional Alcoholic") and more experimental polka...ish?* ("Paper Thin Line") Amidst the tales of dysfunctional relationships (more on that in a minute), the album is interspersed by ironic voicemails. This might be gimmicky with a lesser artist, but something needs to cut the harsh realism of the album's first half. There's no question that the conceit is a hipsterish, but for once it doesn't bother me. (I live in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, wear plastic glasses, and sport an undercut. Deal with it?)

The album seems to focus on Brodsky's breakup but glides into songs about dating and trying to find the next person -- lately I've been feeling like that's a basically impossible task in New York City. (PS -- If you have a job, are comfortable with your sexuality, and a reasonably clear bill of mental health, hmu because I can't seem to find somebody who can check off all three boxes.) "Someone Belongs Here" brings it all into perspective:

someone belongs here more than you
someone belongs here more than you
someone belongs here more than you
but you’re here so let’s not take the longview

are you the hunter or are you the hunted?
are you pining or are you wanted?
i forgot who i was just then;
are you my lover or my mother or my father or my friend?

But the album isn't a downward spiral. The last few songs detail healing and ends on the high note of "Good Days."

Emilyn Brodsky Eats Her Feelings is not for the faint of heart, but you'll feel more refreshed once you get to the other side.

Emily Brodsky -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes, Webstore

*I am the next Greil Marcus

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cricket Tell the Weather -- Cricket Tell the Weather

Cricket Tell the Weather is one of the Northeast's breakout folk bands and with good reason. The band won first place at last year's FreshGrass festival and they've won several songwriting awards.

That's all great, but let's talk about their banjo player Douglas Jay Goldstein -- mostly because he's so cute when he blushes. Doug and I went to high school together (Karen of Karen and the Sorrows also attended its hallowed halls) and sat next to each other during English. (Sounds boring but we read Lolita and Grimm's fairy tales and discussed the nature of childhood. It was a badass class.) Even in high school Doug cut class to jam with the likes of Victor Wooten. When he was around you could find him playing the theme song to Doug in the cafeteria, which I always thought was the coolest thing.

All of that is to say that I knew Doug was going places musically and I'm glad to see his devotion to his craft paying off.

In addition to writing beautiful, moving music, the band does a lot of educational outreach to bring appreciation of bluegrass and roots music to youth. (Doug is doing this at our alma mater.) Cricket Tell the Weather is obviously dedicated to their music -- both in terms of their own songwriting and the way they spend their day jobs. I hope there's even bigger things in store for Cricket Tell the Weather because they absolutely have the chops and historical expertise to take them on.

Cricket Tell the Weather -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons -- You've Got the Wrong Man

Joe Fletcher was easily one of my favorite "discoveries" at Campfire this summer. I'd heard his name around but never took the time to check him out. His set was low key -- it was early in the morning and everyone was hungover, possibly including Joe -- but...determined. Fletcher's lonely folk music isn't quite fit for a sunny weekend afternoon in the country. It's best suited for a bar with a drink in hand. (Literally zero of the alcohol on sale at the festival was gluten free, so I got to enjoy the show sober.)

Joe brings a working-class ethic to stage and that's evident in his songs. "Haint Blue Cadicallic" is an inventive imagining of a night drinking with Hank William's ghost. "I Never" is apparently a live staple of Fletcher's that had the crowd groggily stamping their feet at Campfire. "Ms Red" is my favorite song on the album -- a beautifully crafted snapshot of a post-breakup stupor. I'm not familiar with Fletcher's deep cuts, but standing on its own, You've Got the Wrong Man is an album that displays the talents of a songwriter who's got plenty of game.

Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, September 22, 2014

VIDEO: Éyal Hai -- You and I (feat. Margaret Glaspy)

Bummed out by the end of September? Here's some summer lovin' from New York-based songwriter Éyal Hai and the distinctive jazzy vocals of Margaret Glaspy.

The video takes selfie culture to the extreme -- a comment on the narcissim of love? Or a cleverly executed music video? You decide!

Éyal Hai -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp
Margaret Glaspy -- Official, Soundcloud

Thursday, September 18, 2014

North by North -- Mama Gold // Break Some Bones

Just a public service announcement -- manic blues rock band North by North, whose album I discussed a few months ago -- have a cute lil EP out.

The album art reminds me of Johnny Quest. The songs themselves are at least as adventurous as getting chased around by robot spiders in a black turtleneck.

North by North -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Brother Dege -- Scorched Earth Policy

Scorched Earth Policy really is just that -- a rock'n'roll tour de force that'll singe the little hairs on your arms and eyebrows. In this summer mixtape (which clocks in at over an hour), Brother Dege takes no prisoners and reminds us that there's a whole lot of ground that still needs to be covered in Southern rock.

Brother Dege is probably still coming off the high of having his music featured in Django Unchained and other TV shows that represent a warped version of Southern life. It makes sense -- Dege draws off his own upbringing in Louisiana backcountry to pay tribute to his elders, but there's something dark and compelling about his music that gives his interpretation of a time-honored genre a contemporary feel.

Scorched Earth Policy was inspired for Dege's fondness for Southern rap culture. Though those musical influences don't make it on here, their eclecticism does. This album is made up of studio recordings, covers, live recordings ("field recordings") and spoken word. It speaks to Dege's (feverish) imagination, something we can all benefit from.

Brother Dege -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, Purchase Albums

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

VIDEO and FREE MUSIC: City City -- I Don't Dance

Still recovering from Shit Storm 2014, but here's a moment of zen from LA-based synth-pop band City City.

It's certainly on the other end of the budget spectrum from yesterday's video, but I think both are equally charming. I gotta say that I've never really understood the joyless teacher trope. Maybe it's because I've only been in schools with young staffs (high turnover rate in inner city schools = lots of n00bs straight from grad school.) I had a very involved conversation with students today about nailpolish, cross-dressing, and the utility of cosmetics. What did you do today?

You can also download the single for free here.

City City -- Official, Facebook, iTunes

Monday, September 15, 2014

Campfire Music Festival

With all the stuff that's been happening around me lately, taking a mental trip back in time to two weeks ago, when I attended the Campfire Festival, has brought me back to my happy place.

So how was the inaugural festival? Let me put it this way: I was invited as a member of the media. If I'm not invited back next year, I'd gladly pay to go as a civilian. I'd love to give a shout-out to the staff for being so energetic and accommodating. (There weren't enough people from NYC requesting to take a shuttle directly to "camp," so somebody came to pick us up at the Scranton bus depot.)

Spirit Family Reunion
Wait...camp? This festival took place at a summer camp in the Poconos (as a matter of fact, parts of Wet Hot American Summer were filmed there.) The founder of the festival was a former camper and friends with the gentleman who now runs the place. As a result, the attendees (an intimate 700-ish of us) had full run of the campus -- cabins, the lake, paintball court, basketball courts, etc. etc. (Hopefully the rope course will be available next year.) But the festival also provided us "campers" with lanyard, beads, friendship bracelet threads, as well as other camp-like activities like a cabin spirit contest. (I didn't get to experience the last one...we camped in actual tents.)

Pat and the Hats playing by the boathouse. It was like something out of an Elvis movie.
There were three stages -- the main stage and a smaller acoustic stage alternated sets while there was a setup down by the waterfront. Sitting on the beach and watching New Hampshire-based Pat in the Hat kick out some good old-fashioned pop rock felt like another time and place. However, since most of the bands were not as well-known, people tended to pursue the camp-like activities during the day. I mostly watched the bands but the crows hardly topped 100 until the openers for the headliners came on.

All of the bands were from the Northeast -- while most of them were from New York City and Philly, I'd never heard of many of them since they're more clean-cut and friendly than the scoundrels who congregate around here. But by far the best lineup of the weekend was Friday's: Spirit Family Reunion, Amy Helm (who played a powerful Band-heavy set), Langhorne Slim, and, topping it off, an electrifying set from Charles Bradley.

Langhorne Slim harangues us like a country gospel church
This was my first Langhorne Slim set and it was everything I've ever wanted from a rock'n'roll show: beauty (both in terms of scenery and the music), self-love, joy, and even pain ("Song For Sid" broke my heart all over again.) I imagine this is what a young Fred LeBlanc was like. Slim's set was easily the best of the weekend. There'll be more about the show in an upcoming post.

The Black Rose of Soul struts his stuff
Now let's take a moment to talk about Charles Bradley. I had never heard of him before this but I guess you all are hepper than I am. Bradley released his first album in his 60s and has been lighting up stages ever since. While I didn't necessarily care for the music (the man's amazing but he unfortunately didn't take care of his voice) he's an incredible performer. He's got moves that'd make my teenage students sweet. I dunno -- he must be bionic. His elaborate costume changes and overall positive message bowled over the small crowd on Friday night.

The Delta Spirit, who I guess headlined the festival, played on Saturday night. Thirty minutes into the set I could barely stifle my yawns, so we played laser tag instead.

But the party didn't end after the headlining concerts. Impromptu sets sprung up in the cabins after hours, both with attendees who brought their guitars and performers who were soaking in the casual atmosphere. Campfire brought us back to rock'n'roll's roots: music to be shared and enjoyed without all of that bullshit posturing.

Though the rave reviews the festival has been getting will undoubtedly mean an increase in attendance, I hope the intimacy of this summer will remain. (I understand that the organizers were thinking of putting up a sponsored stage in the cabins but formalizing those sessions will kill what made them so great in the first place.) That all being said, I hope everyone reading this has a great school year because I can't wait to see you (again) this summer!

Campfire Outdoor Music Festival's Official Site

Friday, September 12, 2014

VIDEO: The Feel Bad Hit of the Winter -- Mind the Monsters

Sorry for missing a day -- shit got really real. But to take my mind off of that, enjoy Feel Bad Hit of the Winter's newest video. They've taken their dreamy pop to an actual garage and employed the cutest, dorkiest little boy this side of the Pacific to fight his monsters.

You can hear one of Feel Bad's happier tunes, Smile, on my benefit compilation album. 25% of the proceeds go to FIERCE, an LGBTQ youth organization that trains our next generation of activists. The rest goes to the artists who contribute. You can check out Proud here, and check out Feel Bad Hit of the Winter at the following places:

Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ten Ton Man -- "Mary"

I apologize for the spotty updates -- some real stuff came my way and the blog had to take a backseat. While I get my rhythm going again, here are some real pros at said rhythm.

Like every good country song, Ten Ton Man paints a picture in three short minutes. Like every great alt-country band, they do it with crunchy guitars and style. "Mary" is their most recent single, but they've also got a sweet little EP available on Bandcamp.

Ten Ton Man -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes, CDBaby

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sean Rowe -- Madman

Superhero stories are popular because it taps into our belief that we all have a special gift, if only circumstances or discovery could show us what it is and how to use it.

I don't think that was a difficult struggle for Sean Rowe. His singing voice should be impossible, but here he is, sharing it with us. But it's not just that Rowe sounds great -- his songs are carefully crafted and quietly powerful. Rowe catches us by the ear with the lead track, "Madman," but ends his sophomore album with a slow, graceful descent with his meditations on fatherhood and mortality.

While the album's production can feel a little glossy at times, this is honest music. Rowe probably fits most handily into the category of folk, but it's clear that he draws from a rich tapestry of country, hip hop, and world music. In my opinion, it's this casual melange that feels like the next direction for American folk -- as a culture, we have to stop ignoring and start celebrating the non-Anglo-Saxon traditions in our midst. This inclusion never feels obvious or strained on Rowe's part -- it just simply is. Whatever Rowe's talents as a performer, it's his skills as a writer and arranger that's the true gift.

Sean Rowe -- Facebook, Anti- Records, Online Store

Monday, September 8, 2014

Forrest Brown -- There Are No Unsacred Places

Words, words, words. Here.

I thought I'd just do things the way other around in this post. Forrest Brown's acoustic instrumentals need to speak for themselves. Elegant and understated, these compositions highlight the beauty in the mundane, as the album's title suggests.

My only complaint about this EP is that it's way too short. I just want to float away on the landscapes Forrest paints. While I indulge in instrumental music occasionally, it's not every day that a piece arrests my attention like the EP's second track, "I'll See You Again." There Are No Unsacred Places is a true achievement.

Forrest Brown -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Alternative With Chris Atwood Compilation Album

In case you missed it, I made a compilation album with Russian Winter Records. I'm not the only music nerd to receive this honor. Alternative rock radio host Chris Atwood also took a shot at it.

So I'll be honest...I'm not really sure how to approach this: do I talk about the music or the flow of the album? Well, I'll start with the music. A close reader of this blog will not be surprised to hear that the music was pretty hit-or-miss for me. I'm just not a fan of most 80s music. But there are some great songs on here -- "Deena Met the Devil" by Ruby Rae is a fun punk number. The New Frustrations' Bob Mould-influenced "Biggest Lie" kept me plenty of company while I was setting up my classroom. Like me, Chris chose to feature Russian Winter artist The Feel Bad Hit of the Winter (whose album I reviewed not so long ago.)

The album itself is a solid playlist, displaying the range of alternative 80s music. Starting with rock and sliding into punk, I personally enjoy the first half of the album best. When we get into electronic territory ("Workforce" and "A Fifth Column") a hit the skip button.

Long story short, there are some great new discoveries for me on here. If you like most of the songs, definitely get the album so the artists and Chris can get their due for putting the album together.

Chris Atwood --Official, Bandcamp, Facebook

Russian Winter Records

(PS -- I'm donating my cut of my comp album to an LGBTQ youth activist organization called FIERCE. You should buy my album and then go buy Chris's.)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Hotbreath Tea and The Invisible Branches -- Settler

School starting up again is kind of a bummer (unless, I guess, if you're a parent), so here's a fun, *free,* eccentric tune from Chicago-based pop rockers Hotbreath Tea and the Invisible Branches.

Hotbreath Tea and the Invisible Branches -- Download on Bandcamp, Facebook

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sturgill Simpson -- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

I'm not really sure how Metamodern Sounds in Country Music landed in my lap. I've looked through all of my usual sources for music and it's just...not there. So let's just call it serendipity, much like the album.

I spend a lot of time on here ranting about authenticity (specifically when it comes to gentrification) but who the fuck am I kidding? I'm a Jewish American Princess who dodges that fate by listening to country music. This is amusing to pretty much everyone I know, so I enjoy seeing their reactions to whatever music I'm currently listening to.

My roommate, who despises country on principle, poked his head and found himself surprised by liking it. When I was setting up my classroom the other day (PS, I have my very own classroom this year which is by no means standard these days) the crunchy English teacher who surfs every morning asked what the name of this singer was.

"Sturgill Simpson."
"I am...not at all surprised."

One of my history colleagues heard Simpson's cover of "The Promise" and gasped, "Oh my God. I love this song." (I didn't realize it was a cover and now that I'm listening to the synthpop original, I'm impressed that he was able to pick it out at all.)

Point is, this album has some serious universal appeal, and I haven't even addressed Simpson's trippy compositions in "Turtles All the Way Down" and "It's Not All Flowers." Simpson has drawn from a truly impressive array of sources to make a true country album: songs that will gently break your heart and heal your soul.

Sturgill Simpson: Official, Bandcamp, Facebook

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

VIDEO: The Creak -- Seafoam Black

I'm still recovering from Campfire (though I can't wait to tell you all about it) and preparing for the school year. In the meantime, enjoy perennial favorite The Creak's newest single (and arresting video), "Seafoam Black."

The Creak -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp