Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pearls Mahone -- Echoes From the Prairie

You know what the world needs? More rockabilly. Pearls Mahone delivers with a voice that they just don't make anymore. With a velvety Patsy Cline-like purr and a sense of reckless fun, Mahone's an unholy alliance of demure 50s pin-up girl and swinging hellcat. In other words, my kind of woman.

Echoes From the Prairie is a mix of covers of more well-known songs ("All Of Me," "St. James Infirmary," which was also on Tough Old Bird's release earlier this week) and originals (I think -- feel free to correct me.) The selection showcases Mahone's versatility. The raucous opener "Blow Your Top" establishes Mahone's rowdy rockabilly street cred, while "Oklahoma Hills" will make you do a spit-take. It's hard to believe the song was recorded in 2015. Mahone nails that classic country sound. But this isn't just some re-hashed old-time music. Mahone's charisma and enthusiasm are infectious -- this album is guaranteed to get your feet tapping even if you think country music isn't your thing.


Pearls Mahone -- Official, Facebook, Purchase

Joseph Michael Wharton -- Los Matando Abrazo

So I know I'm only halfway through the Spanish lessons on Duolingo, but shouldn't the title be Los Matandos Abrazos? Anyway, Google translate tells me it means "the killing embraces." Speculations on Spanish syntax aside, Joseph Michael Wharton's music is basically a checklist for music I look for to post on this site.

- sad but witty, self-effacing lyrics
- punk rock ethos
- catchy melodies
- twang
- pack-a-day cigarette voice (optional but preferred)

In other words, even if nobody in the world read this blog but me it would absolutely belong here. But I'm glad that you're reading about this album! And I hope you enjoy it! This is very much a modern-day blues album. Instead of pitying the circumstances, Wharton chooses to pity the one thing we truly care about in the 21st century: ourselves...but, you know, ironically. But Wharton's rock'n'roll swagger ensures that his perspective is neither pretentious nor posturing; it's unapologetic and a little self-mocking. And that's very much what flies here. If you're reading this blog, you'll love this album.

Joseph Michael Wharton -- Bio on All Hooks No Looks Records, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Caleb Sweazy -- Lucky or Strong

Caleb Sweazy brings old-world charm to his Americana. His old-time crooner's voice blends seamlessly with his twang-inflected ballads. "Soldier's Heart," a tale of love from WWI, is an instant winner -- though considering how easily the song could be about a more modern soldier, what feels whimsical quickly becomes sobering. That's the trick to most of the songs on Sweazy's albums -- they all need at least three listens before you're hit with the gentle melancholy that pervades the album.

Sweazy's debut almost never happened. He thought he had given up music, but was "discovered" at one of his few live performances. It's easy to see why -- he doesn't just have the voice, but he also has the wit and -- more importantly -- charm to help us see life from his point of view. As Sweazy sings, in this world you're either lucky or strong. Turns out he's a little bit of both.

Caleb Sweazy -- Facebook, Archer Records, iTunes, Amazon

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tough Old Bird -- Barn Sessions

I couldn't resist being drawn to the romance of Tough Old Bird's new album. Recorded in a barn in Hume, NY (which is probably not named after the great Enlightenment philosopher, but I'm going to pretend it is because upstate New York, the Enlightenment, barns, and blues are all things I can get behind.) Tough Old Bird, comprised of brothers Matt Corrigan and Nathan Corrigan, present four originals and two standards.

Both the originals and standards are presented with a timely urgency. "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground," which I've usually heard performed as a jaunty pick-a-thon, becomes a lush, plaintive ballad of unrequited love. "Busted Up Blues" and "The Swinging Judge," the two standouts for me, firmly establish Tough Old Bird's street cred as modern folk singers: embracing tradition, but using the medium to tell new stories. The brothers' layered vocals and seamlessly intertwined guitars remind us of the power of simple, acoustic music. I can only imagine how powerful their live shows are.

You can download this EP for however much you want to pay, but I have a feeling you'll want to throw a few bucks these guys' way.

Tough Old Bird -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, April 24, 2015

DK and the Joy Machine -- Shy One

I'm not sure how many more times I can tell you that Karen and the Sorrows' Queer Country Monthly showcase is one of the best things to do in New York City. The sense of community is palpable and wonderful. There's nothing better than a late night set where everyone knows each other, and you're all caught up in the music.

One of the biggest contributors to QCM is DK and the Joy Machine (otherwise known as a dulcimer.) (Incidentally, you should check out her monthly Songbird Series.) DK's songs are delightfully eclectic -- swinging from love songs to feral cats, love songs to feral women, traditional folk, punk (yes, on the dulcimer), and poetry by William Butler Yeats. It all hangs together on DK's wry sense of humor and crooked smile.

DK usually performs by herself at QCM, so I enjoyed hearing a band flesh out her sound on the album. It's especially vivid on "Four Walls" and "Lay Me Down Easy." DK's isolation stands out in stark contrast to the soundscape that softens the least a little bit. These emotional crests are softened by sillier songs like "Stay Cool" and "Fuck You, Dad!" It's a collection of great music. Aaaaaaaaaand if you're in New York you can hear it all live at DK's release party on Monday, April 27th at 7 at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3. (Order your tickets now because that room is itty bitty!)

DK and the Joy Machine -- Official, Facebook, CDBaby

Also win some free music from Anielle Reid here! Today is the last day to enter!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pops Staples -- Don't Lose This

The backstory for Pops Staples' posthumous release is almost as interesting as the album itself. To be honest, I only really knew about -- and appreciated -- Mavis Staples with her "comeback" album You Are Not Alone. (My parents pretty much only listened to the Beatles. No R&B for me.) But I know her main body of work was created with her father and siblings as the Staples Singers. Don't Lose This was the last album Pops recorded. Recently, Staples unearthed the masters with her longtime collaborator Jeff Tweedy to finish the album, adding rhythm guitar, vocals, drums, and bass.

The album itself is a treat to listen to. Tweedy kept the arrangements sparse, featuring Pops' vocals and guitars. However, it's easy to tell which parts were laid down after the fact. I don't think this is a bad thing, though -- it gives Pops' warnings against temptation a ghostly, ethereal quality that makes them all the more meaningful. The man lived a long and storied life -- he speaks with authority about the bad times and about the strength and faith you need to get you out of it.

Pops Staples -- Official Page on Anti- Records, Purchase from Anti-, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon

And get some free music from future living legend Anielle Reid here!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Whiskey Charmers -- The Whiskey Charmers

A while back I directed you to the Whiskey Charmers' Kickstarter page. If you're one of the people who was kind enough to donate, then you', you lucky duck, already have had a chance to hear the band's debut album.

One of the reviews on the Bandcamp page describes the album as "Lucinda on LSD." That's pretty apt. Carrie Shepard's sultry voice ripples over forlorn steel guitars and mystical lyrics about bedding vampires and sending chain-bound ghosts to the great beyond. It's not all Southern gothic, though. "C Blues" will tickle that deep-seated part of the brain that loves pentatonic scales, and "Sidewinder" is a treat on its own. The Whiskey Charmers bring a fresh take to the more melancholy side of alt-country, and they do a damn good job.


The Whiskey Charmers -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Want some free music? Check out our giveaway here

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FREE MUSIC: Joplin Rice -- Low Hum

If you want a splash of pop with your melancholy, Joplin Rice's Low Hum is the perfect cocktail for you. Rice's sunbathed, dreamy melodies just barely hide the acid bite of his lyrics. The opener "Arrow" kicks off the tone:

i made a million things last week & i love them
but no one can ever touch them
i'm not leaving here soon
but loneliness don't call from this room

There isn't a song here that doesn't operate that way. But sometimes Rice's songs are less a blunt tool and more a twist of the knife. It's easy to bliss out on the innocuousness of the music, but there's always something that reminds you: the world's not such a great place.

everything is fair
everyone can change
you're wasting all your time
dying inside
& no one even cares

it has to be the cold
driving you insane
just wait until the spring
& you'll be smiling
& nobody will know

everything is fair
everyone can change
you're wasting all your time
dying inside
& no one even cares

Maybe Rice finds solace in his music. I know I feel at peace listening to it, in spite of the subject matter. The album was released through Practice Tape Records, the official record label of one of my favorite blogs, the modern folk music of america. (A blog that has its own record label? Hmmmm...) You can name your press for the digital version on Bandcamp, or score a cassette if you're a hipster like that.

Joplin Rice -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Want more free music? Enter to win Anielle Reid's new album here!

Monday, April 20, 2015

MUSIC GIVEAWAY: Anielle Reid -- Ain't Like 'Em

Overall, the banjo is a severely underrated instrument. At last night's Queer Country Monthly, I had the pleasure of watching AJ Lewis tear it up. But those were old time-y songs. Anielle Reid, on the other hand, has found the sweet spot between old-time sounds, indie folk, pop, and R&B and has charted a course for where the banjo can (and should) go.

Reid's quick-witted songwriting sensibility and velvety voice reveal an artist who understands her path and knows exactly where she intends to go. Reid's not necessarily interested in overturning preconceptions about any of the genres she summons forth. My favorite song, "Secrets," is a fun, seductive tune of self-recrimination. It also reminded me of this Amy Schumer sketch (NQuiteSFW -- includes some gore). Instead, it's the best way for her to express her worldview. Ultimately, it's quietly revolutionary music that makes for great listening.

Anielle's giving away a free copy of the album. If you're interested, please leave a comment with your favorite banjo song below! It goes without saying that you should sign in with your e-mail address. I'll randomly select the winner on Friday and get in touch with you!

Anielle Reid -- Official, Facebook, Name your price on her site

Thursday, April 16, 2015

VIDEO: Jeffrey Martin -- "Newborn Thing"

Jeffrey Martin impressed me a few months ago with his album Dogs in the Daytime. Here's the accompanying music video for his observational ballad "Newborn Thing." If you dig archival footage of train tracks, this is the perfect music video for you.

Jeffrey Martin -- Official, Purchase

VIDEO: Saint Agnes -- A Beautiful Day for Murder

Gothic blues duo Saint Agnes has another song to share. I dig the ominous beat in the background and Pixies-inflected guitar fills.

Saint Agnes -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, iTunes

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jake Xerxes Fussell -- Jake Xerxes Fussell

This album was released a few months ago, though there's honestly no better time to listen to this album than right now: enjoying the warmth of early spring on your porch. The birdsong definitely blends in with Fussell's earthy, sun-soaked voice.

Fussell's father is a folklorist (hence his middle namesake being the Persian king) and Fussell has followed in his footsteps, collecting and reviving folk and early blues songs on his debut album.

Fussell's consummate skill is matched by his backing band. They're all accomplished in their own right but nobody's here to be flashy. This is just a relaxed time with people who happen to be amazingly good at what they do doing the the thing that they loved. I'm sure a lot of these songs were (and are) played at parties where who knows what goes down. But for here and now, Fussell's interpretations of this music sound like a back porch hangout. That's where you'll find me when I put this one on.

Jake Xerxes Fussell -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Paradise of Bachelors, Bandcamp

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Triumph of the Wild -- We Come With the Dust

Triumph of the Wild's sophomore debut is brimming with the kind of chemistry and excitement that makes me look forward to writing this blog. Triumph of the Wild is comprised of Christy Barrett and Ryan Schilling. If they sound like a full band on the recording, it's because Schilling is a multi-instrumentalist god who plays guitar, harmonica, and foot drum with Barrett rounding out the sound with additional percussion and powerhouse vocals.

The band's playful but diligent dedication to the blues makes for a sound that is somehow classic but lush with muscular vitality. This blog is dedicated to musicians who sound as if their lives depend on having their voices heard. Triumph of the Wild surely belongs on here -- they're completely at ease doing what they were clearly put here to do.

Triumph of the Wild -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Purchase

Monday, April 13, 2015

John Moreland -- High on Tulsa Heat

Given my own emotional state lately, I was a little nervous about listening to the new John Moreland album. Could I really handle another beautifully phrased litany of personal failures?

I was happy to find that High on Tulsa Heat has struck a happy balance between Moreland's strongest impulses: it's not as slit-your-wrist bleak as In The Throes, but it's still muted compared to Everything the Hard Way.

If you're new to the game, then the first thing you need to know about John Moreland is that he's easily one of the best songwriters out there. If you already know him, rest assured that High on Tulsa Heat is more of the same. That's pretty much the long and short of what needs to be said about this album. It's hard to pick a song that stands out to me since they're all so strong individually. I guess I'll just say that if you're struggling with depression, John can articulate it better than you can, but there's a lot of comfort in that.

It's been exciting to see John featured on major outlets like Diffuser and NPR! In The Throes generated a lot of buzz and it seems like the right people are starting to key in. Sometimes the good guys win. And if anyone deserves it, it's John Moreland.

John Moreland -- Official, Facebook, Preorder High on Tulsa Heat on John's site

Friday, April 10, 2015

Purple Hill -- Top 40 Radio Dream (Oh Yeah!)

I feel like I've been posting a lot on the blog than I have in the past. I'm trying to find more of a balance, and "Six String All to My Heart," the lead single off of Purple Hill's latest album, hits that sweet spot. An ode to rock'n'roll sung with manic intensity and power pop sensibility, how could I resist?

In case the album title wasn't a tip-off, Top 40 is a whole mess of fun. Owen Marchildon giddily careens from 60s crooning to garage rock pining to punk rock, loogie-hocking, roars. The band's sweat and fury practically oozes through your speakers. Top 40 Radio Dream is nothing if not a celebration of the strange cultural moment of rock music.

Purple Hill -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Hiders -- Totem

I've been waiting and waiting for that band to show up in my Inbox, the one with a sound that's raw and honest but doesn't leave their guts all over my sneakers. The ominous bass notes and opening chords of "Motherlode" made me breath a sigh of relief. Finally. I found it.

On their fifth LP, the Hiders teeter giddily between blues, country, and psych-rock. It's like Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and the Black Keys at a jam session. (The music isn't quite far out enough for the four gents to have tripped on acid. That's fine with me.) Totem has a little something for everyone -- I didn't enjoy the trippier stuff as much as their more straightforward songs like "Jesus Was a Cowboy" or "First Real Blues." Still, that's a matter of taste. The band's sheer intensity and confidence will make you a believer in their songs. Anyone who says rock'n'roll is dead should be given a copy of this album.

The Hiders -- Official, Bandcamp, iTunes, Vinyl on CDBaby, CD and mp3 on CDBaby

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Moonage Shine -- lord, i must be stoned

The Moonage Shine has released another delightfully weird EP. With three EPs/albums under their belt, it's fair to say that these guys are consistent fantastic.

Some people might be put off by the Moonage Shine's willful flouting of folk and roots stalwarts -- the wide-ranging, 7-minute opener, the distorted vocals on "hello, my name is time," the 3-minute instrumental on "senderos." If I was reading this myself I'd probably roll my eyes.

But it's that disregard that makes the music richer. At the end of the day, this is still Americana music: it's raw and combines the traditional with the artist's vision. Maybe you can't just pick up your guitar and learn these songs, but they're there for us to enjoy when we feel lost or uplifted. Isn't that what it's all about?

Moonage Shine -- Facebook, Bandcamp, Spotify

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Scott Hrabko -- Biscuits & Gravity

When someone describes himself as a "(criminally) obscure singer-songwriter from Kansas City," you have to assume that the guy has a lot of chutzpah but probably not the talent to match it. But sometimes those people actually do, and Scott Hrabko's one of those guys.

With the hope of doing my bit to right this injustice, I will tell you that Biscuits & Gravity is a damn fine country album. Not a guy with a twang crooning on his guitar country album, but a country album in the classic sense. It's hard to believe all of the songs on Hrabko's second album are originals. They sound like they should be pouring out of the tinny speakers of an old jukebox somewhere. Hrabko's smooth cowboy vocals remind us that they really just don't make 'em like they used to, and his lyrics are whip-smart:

Rivers run dry when I walk by
Birds fly away and babies cry
Cookies crumble and milk expires
I can't begin to tell you why
I'm just an ordinary guy

If you've been hankering for some classic country, Hrabko's your guy.

Scott Hrabko -- Official, Facebook, Spotify, Bandcamp, Purchase from Scott, iTunes

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Write Brothers -- First Flight

What happens when a group of New Orleans songwriters at their primes sit around a kitchen table and shoot the shit? They create a Voltron of top-notch music.

The Write Brothers consist of Spencer Bohren, Jim McCormick, Alex McMurray, and Paul Sanchez. While I'm most familiar with Paul's work, if you're someone who listens to country radio you've almost certainly heard Bohren's work sung by the likes of Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, (but don't let that turn you away), Tim McGraw, and Keith Urban, among others. The first half of the album consists of songs the four co-wrote, and the last half are recordings of the group playing each other's songs.

Since Paul's work is what I know best, I'm going to talk about how his contributions influence the album. I can only assume that what I say about him is true of the other three. It was interesting to hear Paul through the filter of three other people -- I could pick out which lines were his, but they have a new power when woven through a larger tapestry. It was also interesting hearing him sing a song that seemed to have less of his influence -- "Lost Eskimo" is a country tune that's a little more sharp-worded and cutting than most of his recent output. For what it's worth, I liked hearing him sound bitter again, even if for a short while. These guys are all powerhouses on their own, but it's exciting to hear them challenge themselves through collaboration. That excitement and sense of risk-taking is prevalent throughout the album.

Overall, this is a beautiful set of songs. Some of them are silly -- like "Too Many Times" and "The Ballad of Lito Benito" -- but the more serious tunes will remind you why you like music in the first place. It's worth reading Offbeat Magazine's story about the creative process that went into the album. These guys make writing amazing music seem so easy, so it's nice to have a reminder that the process is puts you in a pretty vulnerable place, especially when working with others.

The Write Brothers -- Stream clips here, Official, Facebook, Buy from Louisiana Music Factory, iTunes, CDBaby

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Westies -- West Side Stories

A word of advice about West Side Stories: don't listen to it while you're driving.

The album is based on the real-life Irish-American that helped give Hell's Kitchen its name. And while the songs themselves are about some pretty rowdy characters, they're so damn soothing they'll tame any mood.

The Celtic influence is (mercifully) soft here. Instead, West Side Stories features 11 softspoken, emotionally devastating songs about love and redemption. I fully intend to take some more time with this album to better understand the stories that are woven across the album. Nevertheless, there isn't a dud on here. Each song features fully realized characters and stories with real depth. I guarantee there will be at least one line per song that jumps out and makes you think, "Damn -- I wish I was that good at anything." West Side Stories is easily my favorite album so far this year. You can stream much of the album on the Westies' site, but drop some dinero on it if you can.

The Westies -- OfficialFacebook, Purchase from the WestiesiTunes, Amazon

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Devil's Cut -- Antium

Last year the Devil's Cut released the stunning No Salvation last year. Antium follows hard on its heels, though it's not quite as bleak.

In another change, the Celtic undertones aren't as strong this time around, though the country-western feel is definitely amped up. The result is Celtic-ish rock that you can think to and drink to. "Sad Songs" must be a heckuva lot of fun to sing to, especially when you're a few Jamesons in.

Another new development in Antium is its slightly hopeful tone. "Fire In the Streets" paints a desperate picture of a man on the run, to be sure:

We burned down the store last night
In my heart I hope they'll find me

But that line grabs me as a desire for redemption, rather than a suicidal deathwish. I dunno -- maybe it's me. There are also some more uptempo songs like "Hurley Hill" and "Sad Songs" to round out the angst. Overall, Antium is the latest entry in an alt-country tradition that's alive and well and the Devil's Cut will only continue to push the genre forward.

The Devil's Cut -- Official, Bandcamp