Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 of 2014

This was a hard list to make, great year for music, blah blah blah

10. Nudie -- Remember This
This was the first album of 2014 that I fell for. Nudie combines the driest of wits with good old, dirt-kickin' country. If you missed it the first time spin it now.

9. M. Lockwood Porter -- 27

M. Lockwood Porter is batting a thousand so far. 27 is just the second in what I'm sure will be a long list of excellent, insightful albums.

8. Faith Evans Ruch -- After It's Said and Done

If the submissions I've been getting in my inbox are indicative of any trends, it's that old-school female country singers are coming back in a big way. But none of them were quite silver-tongued or adept at songwriting as Faith Evans Ruch. I hope she hurries up and writes another album so she can be on this list again next year.

7. Angela James -- Way Down Deep

There are a number of brilliant songwriters on this list, but not all of them are as haunting as Angela James' jazz-tinged folk. This album has haunted me well after my last listen.

6. Cory Branan -- The No-Hit Wonder

This was a shoe-in from the release of the first single. Cory's earned a reputation (justly) for his storytelling and sharp songwriting. In No-Hit Wonder he traded some of his edge in for warmth and quiet observations of life. It suits him well
5. Cayetana -- Nervous Like Me

A late entry to the list, but brilliant nonetheless. This may be a band that all the cool kids like, but they have a helluvalot of heart, soul, and drum fills.

4. Adam Faucett -- Blind Water Finds Blind Water

I was pleased to see this album on American Songwriter's top 50 (or whatever it was) list. At first I was a little turned off by Faucett's voice, but once I got a good listen (ie, a decent set of speakers) I was hooked. This album makes the little hairs on your arm stand up on end.

3. Robert Ellis -- The Lights at the Chemical Plant

I never got the chance to write up a full review, but this is an album that is absolutely worth your time and money. Ellis proves in no uncertain terms that he's a masterful songwriter with the voice of an angel. It's not an especially happy collection of tales, but they're as real as anything. Like Sturgill Simpson's celebrated album, Ellis pushes the sonic boundaries of country music while retaining its core -- sad stories about honest folk.

More info on Robert Ellis -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Robert, iTunes

2. NQ Arbuckle -- The Future Happens Anyway

Usually I want my music to make me feel uplifted or consoled, but sometimes an album will shatter my heart into a million pieces and then put it all back together. The Future Happens Anyway did just that.

1. Against Me! -- Transgender Dysphoria Blues

I'm a little insulted that nobody else has put this at number 1? I guess it just spoke to me -- an album for all seasons. If I was feeling sad, I blasted this. If I was feeling triumphant, I blasted this.If I wanted to get pumped up before going out, I blasted this. If I was pissed off at authority figures, I learned some songs from this album and blasted it. If I wanted to feel queer as fuck, I blasted this. There was a three-month period where there was pretty much the only album I listened to and I didn't get sick of it. I know I'm late to the party, but I'm glad to be a newly minted Against Me! fan.

But my favorite CD of the year, of course, was the one I had a hand in. If you're feeling like today is a treat yo-self day, check out the Proud compilation CD. It features a number of my favorite artists and a few who many be new to you. The money supports FIERCE, a youth organization for LGBTQ young people of color. Listen here.

Happy new year! Here's to a happy and healthy 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Round Eye -- Full Circle

I thought I'd end 2014 on a fun/loud note. My work with Guiguisuisui has opened up a whole new world of Chinese expat punk. A lot of it is a bit too crazy for my taste, but Round Eye (could there be a better name?) is crazy fun.

The band gleefully careens from Ramones-style garage rock to bossa nova, doo wop, and sweaty, ham-fisted punk. If you're dreading family time, Round Eye will definitely put some pep in your step.

Round Eye -- Official, Bandcamp

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cayetana -- Nervous Like Me

Just out of curiosity, I looked to see when I began this blog -- I knew it was sometime in December. It turns out the third anniversary of this blog has already come and gone (on the 7th.) Thanks for sticking around and, if this is your first time here, please do come back!

Tomorrow will be my last new of review for 2014, and then I'll post my top 10 between Christmas and New Year's. Cayetana's Nervous Like Me is a late entry (for me) but a guaranteed entry on the list.

I caught wind of Cayetana on one of NPR's many lists of great music. Even though I scarcely set foot in Philadelphia when I went to college in one of its stifling suburbs, I like to pretend I've adopted it anyway. The fact that Cayetana hails from Philly is definitely a big plus in my book.

If you're a public radio person then you've probably heard "Scott, Get the Van, I'm Moving" plenty of times. But that's not even the best song on the album. Cayetana's frenetic energy, wry sense of humor, and full-bore (but hella fun) existential angst are the big draws here. If you had this album on as background music, with the volume turned low, there's a possibility you could dismiss it as hipster noise. But that's pretty slim, because the band's intelligence and sense of purpose grab you from the first chord.

Although Mike Ostrov put the album on his top 10 on Ninebullets, to me this is absolutely a young person's album (which is not to say that Mike isn't young at heart. It's just that I'm younger than him.) Case on point, my school just installed a number of fancy touchscreen blackboards. It doesn't particularly improve my teaching life but the speakers are pretty badass, so of course I had to crank Cayetana on them.The coworker I often refer to here was working on some stuff in my classroom at the time. He almost always love the folk or Southern rock I play but was quite nonplussed by Cayetana.

"Too emo?"

So if you're in your twenties (or maybe older?) and wondering if you're always going to feel lost and confused (or nervous), here's some Christmas magic to help you feel a little less alone.

Cayetana -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, December 18, 2014

LA Salami -- Day to Day (For 6 Days a Week)

I've made it pretty clear what I think of LA Salami in the past. Here's a quiet meditation for your Friday afternoon.

LA Salami -- Official, Facebook, Camouflage Recordings 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kitten Forever -- Pressure, The Vinyl Records -- Ready Set Go

Let's end the year with a fuckton of punk. Specifically, punk by lady-identified humans. First up is Kitten Forever, a Minneapolis-based trio that brings a whole ton of piss and vinegar. I initially listened to the album in September and I planned to write something about early Sleater-Kinney and riot grrl being born again but then Sleater-Kinney reunited and you guys I'm going to finally see them live.

But to be perfectly honest I'm kicking myself for not being able to say Kitten Forever when they passed through here. Listening to Pressure makes me feel exhausted -- the live shows must be an experience to behold.

Kitten Forever's frenzied vocals, whacked out guitars and furious drums are enough to set your pulse racing. Their songs about parties and sexy times (but not with just anyone, asshole) will get your fists pumping and your booty moving. So it's nice that Sleater-Kinney is touring again and all, but there's clearly room to spare on the throne.

Kitten Forever -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Speaking of young upstarts, The Vinyl Records, a quarter based out of the "Himalayas," is thundering into the world via Metal Postcard Records. In case Kitten Forever wasn't proof, they're here to remind you that women-fronted punk is here to stay.

The Vinyl Records have a smoother sound but they're no less potent.

The Vinyl Records -- Bandcamp

Todd Kessler -- Exactly Where I Should Be

I'm taking a quick writing break. In the meantime, check out Todd Kessler's latest pop folk masterpiece, "Exactly Where I Should Be." At has a little more edge than his more recent work.

Todd Kessler -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tapes & Tubes -- Moon & Stars

If you're like me around the holidays, you tend to get reflective and maybe a little broody. I thought Tapes & Tubes' (nee Austin Potter) music would be appropriate for the mood. He released a full album last summer, but his new EP is fairly similar to his previous work.

Potter explores the edges between folk and drone rock. His deep voice is well-suited to his somber monologues juxtaposed with delicate fingerpicking. It's perfect for a winter twilight.

Tapes & Tubes -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Show Ponies -- Run For Your Life

The Show Ponies are back in the saddle with their new EP. It's more of the same. As in, 5 more high-energy, witty songs that make you feel feels. I know this is a short review, but only because there are only so many great things I can say about this band. They work so tightly as a unit. I'm always impressed by their faithfulness to their simple old-time sound and the complexity of their lyrics.

"Honey, Dog, and Home" follows in a long tradition of proudly defiant road songs, though I find the imagery refreshing. "Run For Your Life" is the emotional and musical centerpiece of the album. It's a gentle, clever, critique of the misery of modern society but damn does it make you want to stomp your feet and holler. This'll make a great stocking (or Hanukkah Harry) stuffer.

The Show Ponies -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cahalen Morrison and Country Hammer -- The Flower of Muscle Shoals

Cahalen Morrison has already established a name for himself as a purveyor of gorgeous folk music with his musical partner Eli West. This time, Morrison strikes out with his own with a full band. Just as he carefully recreated the feel of classic folk music, The Flower of Muscle Shoals breathes new life (perhaps it would be better to say "life anew") into classic country.

From an outsider's perspective, it feels like country can divide itself into two camps these days: mainstream country that is saccharine or defines country life as being willfully ignorant, and the sadsack music usually featured here that depicts rural living as meaningless drudgery. Morrison's careful observations of rural Tennessee, on the other hand, show pride of place without arrogance or idealization. It just seems like a nice place to live. But with lots of heartbreak, crying, and pedal steel.

Cahalen Morrison and Country Hammer -- Official, Facebook, Buy on Amazon

Motel Glory -- Weekend Treasures, Monday's Trash

With a band name and album title like these you pretty much know what you're in for. This is beer-soaked twang punk that's easy enough to sing along to when you're plastered but meaty enough to enjoy when you're sober. I found these guys through Anchor Bends' Bandcamp page. I'm glad my web surfing paid off.

Motel Glory is not the first band to mix up punk and country, but they certainly have their own spin on it. While some songs, like "Drive Away," have clear influences from bands like Social Distortion and Superchunk, Motel Glory's sharply worded lyrics and drier-than-toast wit keep things lighthearted. They're not about celebrating debauchery (though that's a prominent theme in their songs) and they're not about wallowing in their cups (though there's also plenty of that) -- it's more like they're reveling in the fact that both the ups and downs (mostly downs) exist at all. Weekend Treasures is a fun ride that deserves your ears.

Motel Glory -- Bandcamp, Facebook

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Anchor Bends -- All Out of Fireworks

You might not realize it, but Anchor Bends totally kicked your ass last year with their first four songs. And whether or not you figured it out, you've been begging for another beating.

 The Atlanta-based group brings a little twang to their punk, but their second EP is primarily punk rock. There's nothing wrong with that. Each song on here is a gem with a driving beat, the kind of plaintively beautiful melodies that only exist in pop punk, and incisive lyrics. Then there's "Brown Dogs," a country song in the spirit of pretty much any song about a dog. Why do dogs get the brunt of the country stick?

You can name your price for the album on Bandcamp, but Anchor Bends deserve your money and you deserve good karma.

Anchor Bends -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Graham Nicholas -- Sometimes Chicken, Sometimes Feathers

Feel that cold wind a-blowin', because it's the next in our polar vortex of folk music. Hailing from Toronto, Graham Nicholas delivers a tour-de-force of finely crafted folk and country. Sometimes Chicken, Sometimes Feathers is a surprisingly confident album (surprisingly only in that it's Nicholas' first full-length.) The songs on here are instantly likeable.

"Roll Me Up" and "Sunday Kind of Love" show off Nicholas' playful side -- and it's damn good rock'n'roll. Then there's "Heart Please Forgive Me," a classic country tune. My favorite song, though, is "Happy Endings," an incisive commentary on youth and the twenty-first century that is a feat in brevity, rhyming, and delivery. Sometimes Chicken, Sometimes Feathers establishes Nicholas as a strong, one-of-a-kind voice on the scene today.

Graham Nicholas -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

James Hill -- The Old Silo

I think Canadians just might be better at Americana than Americans. Just in time for the Nor'easter we're currently enduring, I'll be featuring a polar vortex of Canadian folk singers. You already heard from Mo Kenney and there will be a few more on the way. Both musicians had their album produced by Joel Plaskett. As a sidenote, I think it speaks to Plaskett's talents that neither album sounds alike. (T. Bone Burnett chooses amazing people to work with, but then he ends up making all of them sound exactly the same.) Clearly, Plaskett is more interested in showcasing individual artists' strengths. This is something James Hill has in spades.

Hill is known as a ukulele virtuoso (move over, Hawaiians) but I think he deserves to be known for his songwriting. This album is brimming with warmth -- even on the sad songs. Hill takes pride in his work and it's well-deserved. These songs deserve to be canon somewhere -- they communicate complex ideas and emotions efficiently and simply, but without cutting corners. In other words, Hill hits the target every time. If you have enough sense to read this blog, you should go ahead and buy this album. Get it for everyone you know -- they're guaranteed to find something to love about this infectious (but not in an Ebola way) album.

James Hill -- Official, Stream the album for free on his site, Facebook, Purchase on iTunes

Marca Cassity -- Songs From the Well

I just got an e-mail highlighting somebody's Christmas single that features a kazoo solo. Jesus Christ, people. Not every idea that comes into your head is a good one.

On the other hand, Marca Cassity's gives us eleven brilliant, beautifully executed ideas in her fourth album, Songs From the Well. Ordinarily, copying an artist's press materials would be bad form, but Cassity's story is so remarkable that I'll let it speak for itself:

Marca Cassity's fourth independent release, "Songs from the Well" is a tribally-funded collection of 11 folk rock spirit songs, that delivers a positive message with Native nuances that speaks to overcoming hardship through resilience, in connection to nature, humor, love, compassion, spirituality, and heritage. The album, recorded at world-renowned Bay area based Fantasy Studios, and produced by Julie Wolf (Indigo Girls, Carly Simon), features guitarist Adam Levy (Tracy Chapman, Norah Jones), bassist Paul Olguin (Mazzy Starr) and drummer Dawn Richardson (4 Non Blondes). For this recording, Marca Cassity was honored to have been recognized by the Osage Nation with a tribal artist grant. The grant provided half of the funding for the project, and the remaining funds came from contributions by fans and supporters through Indiegogo.
Growing up on the Osage reservation in Oklahoma, Marca learned early on about resilience through struggle and persecution. Born a two spirit Indian of mixed heritage in the midst of a blue collar bible belt, Marca’s youth was filled with life challenging adversity. Ostracized, and having outgrown her small town, Marca set out on her life’s journey, studying with spiritual teachers and musicians from around world, eventually becoming a trauma nurse and later a trauma specific counselor for Native American families in San Francisco.  


The album title “Songs from the Well” was inspired by a cousin’s near death vision of a box of unrecorded songs written by Marca that she found in the well house on their Osage Great-Grandmother's land. Thirteen years after her cousin’s vision, Marca sifted through her song catalog to record this album, and realized these eleven tunes were the songs from the well. The well that allowed her to return full circle, home, and back to her roots. 

At worst, these songs highlight Cassity's own spiritual evolution and the strength she clearly gives to others. She truly bears her soul in these songs, and not in the sense of the usual self-hating, confessional soul-bearing on this blog. The depth and maturity in her storytelling gives us a glimpse into a courageous and grounded human's heart. At best, we're all better for getting to know Cassity for 45-ish minute duration of Songs From the Well. The album is nothing less than uplifting.

Marca Cassity -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, December 8, 2014

Keyan Keihani -- Eastbound

M. Lockwood Porter has some seriously talented friends. Keyan Keihani is another Lockwood associate you should know about. Keihani is an exceptional singer-songwriter whose songs fall in a more pop-oriented vein. His first album, Eastbound, is gentle on the ears but not gentle on the heart.

Like any good folk singer, Keihani's great at capturing that high and lonesome sound, but he doesn't get mired in it. Songs like "Channing Way" and "Don't You Ever Leave" would have been radio hits back in the day -- in fact, Keihani's music sounds like it could be from an alternative universe where Better Than Ezra aged gracefully and continued to write good music. Like vintage BTE, they're carefully crafted, honest, and filled with more hooks than Madonna's got looks.

Keihani's working on his second album. You can watch the videos for these singles, "Dark Country" and "Better Man," by following the link. These songs are a little sadder and a little more contemplative. Without a band behind him, these songs showcase Keihani's soft-spoken but earnest vocals. This preview just confirms that my hopes for 2015 are appropriately high.

Keyan Keihani -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Mo Kenney -- In My Dreams

Last year I waxed I geeked out about Canadian singer-songwriter Mo Kenney's debut album. This time around, Kenney's given us even more music to adore.

I'm not the only one who took notice of Kenney. Kenney's self-titled debut earned her nine different songwriting awards and she's only upped her game since. While her first album wasn't exactly peppy, In My Dreams is well, dark. "I Faked It," the lead-off track, caught my attention right away:

I faked it
now that I look back
from the very first kiss
I knew it wouldn’t last 


‘cause I liked it
I remember how it felt
when I fell in love with someone
and they hit below the belt

so I hit you
and I knew that you would hate me
shooting fish inside a barrel
yeah it’s never been so easy
I faked 

Kenney's performance is no less arresting, a powerful mix of smug self-satisfaction and seething self-hatred. Even Kenney's gentler songs, like "Dancing," aren't quite as simple as it seems like it should at first glance. In this album, Kenney pushes herself away from intelligent pop and folk songs to something much more emotionally and musically complex, much like another Canadian singer-songwriter who looks sharp in a tie and vest (that Google image search did not make me sad). There's no question, though, that Kenney stands on her own as an important new voice. I eagerly await her first trip south of the border.

Mo Kenney -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, December 5, 2014

Saint Agnes -- Where the Lightning Strikes

I wanted to call your attention to a new single released by the British band Saint Agnes. "Where the Lightning Strikes" is a truly epic blend of pop, rock, and country western, all with glorious sludge-y overtones. Check out the single here, then head to their site.

Saint Agnes -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, iTunes

"Wake Up Clean" -- Will and the Won'ts

If you're looking for a little rock'n'roll nugget, here's a tiny EP from LA-based blues rock band, Will and the Won'ts. The band's healthy amount of swagger grabbed my ear. It's an impressive showing for a first recording -- give it a spin and give the band a few dollars so they can move on to a full album!

Will and the Won'ts -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Harmonica Lewinskis -- Dad Rock

How about some ska? No? (Party pooper.) How about some Southern rock? Bossa nova? Punk? Here. Check out Dad Rock.

I always appreciate bands with pun-derful names, but the Harmonica Lewinskies are definitely  more than a novelty band. Their musical ADHD is an expression of their sheer creative power. It's clear from Dad Rock, their third album, that they do what they want and they're damn good at it. Mostly, they're just a helluva lot of a fun. You really can't go wrong with this album. There will definitely be something for you to fall in love with.

The Harmonica Lewinskies -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Sulfur City -- Sulfur City

If you've been waiting for a rock'n'roll album that's going to save your soul (released in 2014, anyway), then here it is. Holy smokes. Sulfur City is a powerhouse of grunge, punk, and soul. There are plenty of people out there who are trying to do something similar, but nobody's nailing it like these guys.

Lori Paradis steals the show with her Patti Smith yowl and tortured blueswoman depth. Pick a great female vocalist of the late 20th century -- I think Paradis could go head-to-head with her with some confidence, even if she wouldn't win. But Sulfur City's real secret weapon is its songwriting. I find that a lot of "psych blues" bands tend to be more excited by the novelty of mixing the two genres than the music itself. Sulfur City, on the other hand, actually has something to say. I'm most struck by "On My Knees." Lyrically, it's as simple as it can get, but even without the band's ferocious delivery it's striking:

Help I said to the Lord
Help I said to my Lord
Help I said to my Lord
Won't you hear me now

I'm on my knees praying hard
I'm on my knees praying oh so hard
I'm on my knees praying hard
Won't you hear me now

I'm screaming out for my soul
I'm screaming out for my soul
I'm screaming out for my soul
Won't you hear me now

I'm blind to all things that are well
I'm blind to all things that are well
I'm blind to all things that are well
Cause Lord I'm not well

The devil's got me in his song
The devil's got me in his sweet sweet song
The devil's got me in his song
Won't you hear me now

Help I say to the Lord
Help I say to my sweet sweet Lord
Oh help I say to the Lord
Won't you hear me now...

This is the rock album we've all been waiting for. It may even be the one we deserve.

Sulfur City -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

KERMIT -- We Tripantu

I was approached by KERMIT late this summer with this rousing single. I'm not into jazz as much as I'd like to be, so I don't have an educated reason for liking this. It's definitely dynamic and even though it isn't particularly melodic, the track sounds like it's going somewhere, rather than the endless noodling that passes for instrumental music in all genres these days. Give it a listen:

KERMIT -- Facebook

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Whitey Morgan and the 78s -- Born, Raised & LIVE From Flint

There's nothing like Thanksgiving to get you to interact with the older, out-of-touch generation. In this case, it was one of my oldest friend's dad. He enjoys drawing people out into vigorous debate by attacking the ideologies they hold dear -- he says it's to help broaden people's perspectives. I say it's a good way to make me not want to go over there anymore. Anyway, his favorite line is that as a white woman teaching in the Bronx, I'm slowly but surely pushing my students to "join" the more "modern," middle class "culture" and leaving their "less complex" black and Latino cultures behind. The "conversation" ended with him saying, "You can't have self-respect and live any other lifestyle than that of the bourgeoisie."

I bring all of that up to contrast with Whitey Morgan's latest release, Born, Raised & LIVE From Flint.

It is very much a paean to the working class. I don't know if people with self-respect get thrown out of bars, cheat on their partners, or shoot people in the face when they get pissed off, but it sure sounds like a lot of fun (the drinking and whoring, not the getting shot.) I'm not familiar at all with Whitey Morgan and the 78s but this album feels like a great introduction. Each song is sharp and sounds fresh. Playing on their home turf to an appreciative crowd, the band sounds like they were born playing together but keep it loose enough to let everyone shine. You can feel the band's pride in their work -- and there's a lot to be proud of. The cover photo pretty much says it all.

If you like songs about rough-hewn guys with chips on their shoulders, but love music that sounds like bourbon (that's what I think of when you throw a pedal steel in there) then you've found your new favorite band. These are stories about complex people in complex situations, no matter what a snooty one-percent-er might have to say.

Whitey Morgan -- Official, Facebook, Official page on Bloodshot Records, Purchase from Bloodshot

Angela James -- Way Down Deep

The latter end of 2014, it turns out, has delivered a fine crop of vocal powerhouses (tune in tomorrow for Sulfur City.) If you found Faith Evans Ruch too twangy for your taste, I guarantee you'll fall in love with Angela James. Actually, if you're a breathing human you'll probably fall in love with her.

Way Down Deep, James's third album, was recorded live with some of Chicago's premier jazz musicians. Although this album is Americana to its core, this decision leads to an album that's clean and austere even as it washes you in the comfort of folk music. This is not an album to cozy up to. You have to take a deep breath and jump in head first. The feel of the music would be enough to make the album stand out on its own, but add James's voice into the mix and you get a classic. Brimming with emotion, James is never melodramatic. The tension between her passion and the music's restraint elevates these songs to a keener emotional plane. When August, James's PR rep and purveyor of many of the fine music you've heard here, e-mailed me he promised it would go on my Top 10 of 2014 list. The man knows what he's talking about.

Angela James -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

American Thread -- Songs In the War

American Thread is the kind of band this blog exists for. Beautiful songwriting, honest-to-goodness rock'n'roll, and oblique John Mellencamp references will always capture my heart. In short, American Thread is the only good thing to come out of Boston.

Songs in the War is American Thread's second album. There is confidence in spades on here, and if this were a different time American Thread would be poised for greatness. As it is, there's always love for well-crafted rock'n'roll in these parts. Given time, it's my hope that American Thread is a touring band (if that's what they want) instead of a local band. Boston needs to learn how to share. More importantly, though, you'll be seeing Songs in the War on a certain upcoming top-ten list.

American Thread -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, December 1, 2014

Whitney Lockert -- Whitney Lockert

Longtime favorite of the blog, Whitney Lockert, has released his first album. Only one song has made the jump from the EP to the album, Lockert's scathing satire "Rupert Murdoch." The other eight are brand new and music to my ears. Or anyone's.

Lockert's got a voice that ensures he was destined to be a country music singer. Deep, melodious, and mournful, his songs are the requisite mix of sardonic and thoughtful ("Wine, women and song/ What could be more boring?" he asks on the song with the title). This album sees a larger band and glossier production than his previous EP, but it only serves to highlight Lockert's best features. Lockert also demonstrates his mastery of just about every country sub-genre. He matches "Rupert Murdoch"'s chugging rhythm line with "Yours to Give"'s thoughtful, end-of-the-night meditation. "Methadone Lover" is a nugget of country rock perfection.

If you're in New York, check out his album release party at the Grand Victory on December 8.

Whitney Lockert -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, Purchase on iTunes, Purchase on Amazon

Faith Evans Ruch -- After It's Said & Done

I always appreciate songs that are simple enough for even me to figure out how to play on guitar. It's sort of like watching movies from the '40s -- forcing yourself to work around restrictions ends up making for more interesting fare. In Faith Evans Ruch's case, though, she could sing One Direction lyrics and she'd be captivating. Even better, the lady's an incredible songwriter.

Ruch's voice belongs in the pantheon of greats. There's no better way to describe these songs than "timeless." Each song on this EP is carefully crafted and, frankly, perfect. Ruch really shines on her longer compositions, "Dream Come True" and "Thanks For the Song." Both of these songs shift in tone, tempo, and composition during their four minutes and change, but her storytelling transitions so gracefully you won't even notice 'til it's done. All with strum patterns and chords that this hamfisted wannabe can replicate. The only trick here Ruch's talent and disciplined craftsmanship. Easily one of my favorite albums of the year.

Faith Evans Ruch -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp