Thursday, March 31, 2016

VIDEO: Jackie Venson -- Always Free

Blues guitarist extraordinaire Jackie Venson recently released a video for my favorite song off her album, The Light in Me. Check it out below:

Jackie Venson -- Official, Facebook, Soundcloud, Purchase from CDBaby, iTunes

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Alyssa Kai -- contingency

contingency is not an easy album to listen to, but it's a necessary one.

It's not so hard to write a song that people enjoy partying to. It's a little harder to write a song that other people can connect to, but it can be done.

It takes true daring and skill, however, to write song after song after song that truly bares your soul, that allows a total stranger an understanding of your mind's inner workings. This is not music as expression. This is music as survival. Alyssa Kai is as tough as they come.

On her website, Kai credits Greg McKillop as an influence. There are a lot of similarities between their music: the literate assertions spat rapid-fire over folk-punk guitar riffs, tied up in a bow with some truly dark humor; the relentless pursuit of self-love over death. "Exegetical Heretical" stands out in particular as a commitment to pride even at the expense of casting off one's upbringing. contingency, and Kai, are a testament to art's ability not only to remind us that we're not alone, but to inspire us to do and be better.

Alyssa Kai -- Official, Bandcamp

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dyke Drama -- Tender Resignaton

I'm so excited that my roommate finally got into med school. He's worked really hard for it and one of my good friends will be taking his room. When the new potential roomie and I were talking, I pointed out that it would be weird to live with a straight person. He laughed and asked when the last time I lived with a straight person was.

I thought about this for a moment. I thought about my college roommates of all four years. Then I thought about my time growing up. I looked at him and said,


I mean, it just hasn't happened. Ever. Between my real family and chosen family, it just hasn't happened. There's something special and life-affirming about that shared experience -- knowing that, to one degree or another, we all fought for our lives to understand, accept, and be proud of an extremely vital part of ourselves. That doesn't mean my friendship with my new roomie will be "less than" -- we just won't be able to share that particular bond.

So Dyke Drama, the solo project of prominent queer punk rocker Sadie Switchblade, gives me special warm fuzzies. Like any great punk album, it is at once a harsh critique of dominant culture, vulnerable, strident, and victorious. These are, of course, universal human emotions. You don't need to be a stripe on the rainbow to enjoy Dyke Drama. In fact, I've found the majority of my favorite queer punk acts through Ninebullets' Mike Ostrov, who has some of the best taste out there. But for anyone who is queerer than a pride parade, Tender Resignation is an especially potent reminder that self-doubt happens, and self-love conquers all.

Dyke Drama -- Bandcamp

Monday, March 28, 2016

CONCERT REVIEW: Great Peacock at the Mercury Lounge, 3/26/14

Let's just say that Saturday was very much a day of managed expectations. But as anyone reading this knows, beautiful music is a panacea for all heartache. Great Peacock wowed the a restive crowd, confused because there was a healthy difference between the set times the Mercury Lounge had published online and the reality. There were comments like, "This isn't the band we're here to see!" And "Are they a country band...?" Not that this would come as a surprise to those of you who are familiar with the band, but after one song Great Peacock enchanted us all.

I've enjoyed Great Peacock's music in the past. They fall a little closer to the Lumineers on the Americana scale than is generally my taste, but "Desert Mountain" and "Take Me to the Mountain" often ring through my head. Seeing the band live, however, has turned me into a true believer.

To watch Great Peacock is a study in contradictions. Blount Floyd's heavy metal headbanger intensity counterbalance Andrew Nelson's studiously cool country singer. The two singers bring punk rock intensity to songs as intricately crafted and delicate as chantilly lace. Drummer Nick Recio and bassist Ben Cunningham's stoic personas make their masterful performances look like child's play. If you've played music live on stage, then you know that it's basically impossible to hear your bandmates. Floyd and Nelson's harmonies were as tight as any studio recording. When I asked him about it after the show, Floyd laughed and said that at this point the band was working on muscle memory by now. That being said, only a band with something special to say could click so tightly on their second tour.

So for anyone who might accuse Great Peacock of chasing a trend, see them live. This band believes in their music in a way that no fatuous top 40 song could ever hope for.

You can listen to some live tracks (not from the show) here:

And if you live in these places, you can (and should) see Great Peacock live:

Great Peacock -- Official, Bandcamp

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bobby's Oar -- The Weeds in Your Garden

If there is nothing else to say about The Weeds in Your Garden, it has a lot of heart. Fortunately, there's a lot more to say about it. Weeds is Greg Hughes' farewell and love letter to Orlando as he prepares to move to colder, rainier climes in Seattle. Hughes' straightforward folk punk -- almost to the point of being blunt -- is strident, earnest, but, most importantly, winning.

Hughes wield the hard-won, cigarette-bedraggled voice that any good hardcore kid worth his tats sports, but his delivery swings between choir boy and rabble rouser, making lyrics like

A bartenders wanted at Turtle Bay, 
I ride my bike right past the sign. 
 It’s the sketchiest bar, 
in the sketchiest place. 
I start to wonder how long that place has been, 
and who are the regular people there.

sound like an epic pronouncement. And that's the point here -- The Weeds in Your Garden documents all those moments that may seem mundane in a few years, but at 23, they loom large indeed.

Bobby's Oar -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mink's Miracle Medicine -- Countrypolitan

Countrypolitan sure feels like it was tailor-made for me. Mink's Miracle Medicine blends '90s jangle rock with country and pop to deliver the most delicious melancholy bites. "Why Does Everyone?" captures what I imagine small-own ennui to feel like. (Though to be fair, Harper's Ferry is a pretty fascinating small town to be from.)

But the duo shines brightest with their plaintive country-heavy songs. It's easy to imagine these songs being picked over in a box car hurtling over a lonely stretch of plains. Countrypolitan might not be the cure for what ails your breaking heart, but it certainly does a body good to know that others are ailing too.

Mink's Miracle Medicine -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, March 21, 2016

Kelcy Mae -- Half-Light

In the history of the world, there must be a billions of love songs and at least twice as many break-up songs. But we keep coming back for to hear somebody else's take on these seemingly universal experiences, thirsting for that one person who can create that combination of words and melody that perfectly capture our own experiences. Kelcy Mae's Half-Light captures that quest well. Mae's pop sensibilities make her songs seemingly accessible at first blush -- a combination of Liz Phair with the country and Americana sensibilities of Kasey Musgraves. These melodies, however, are camouflage for some truly unique and perceptive songwriting.

We can see an example of Mae's inborn storytelling qualities on the lead-off track, "Bright Eyes." Each line represents a minute image, a single frame on a film strip depicting a painful breakup. Songs like "Favor" and "I Remember" will creep on you at odd moments of the day, their distinctive melodies hooking onto your subconscious. Half-Light is a strong collection of powerful songs that should be at the top of your musical shopping list.

Kelcy Mae -- Official, Facebook, iTunes, Purchase from Kelcy Mae

Friday, March 18, 2016

VIDEO: Anielle Reid -- Better

Anielle Reid, bano-playing-pop-singer extraordinaire reminds us that heartbreak is universal in her recent (as of 5 months ago -- sorry) video, "Better."

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Kristina Stykos -- Horse Thief

Kristina Stykos' latest relief, Horse Thief, is a trip through decades of American music, as well as her own life. Stykos is most at home with folk music, but many of the songs on Horse Thief incorporate Southern rock'n'roll and -- more distinctively -- rap. These songs remind me a little of Patti Smith's talk-singing, though Stykos revels in electronic drum loops and is certainly invested in creating a distinctive mixture of "urban" and "country" music.

The album was recorded in Stykos' home studio in the dead of a Vermont winter. The setting was certainly fitting for the subject matter: mid-life change. Unlike the younger, anxious men I tend to enjoy listening to, Stykos addresses many of the same themes -- loneliness, broken relationships, questioning one's path -- with a gravity and self-assuredness that can only come with wisdom and experience. Thought I'd be done with that shit but at least it gets a little better when you get older. At least Stykos makes it sound good.

Kristina Stykos -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

VIDEO: Hood Smoke -- "Alluring Bedlamite"

A little bizarre and a little tense, the video for Hood Smoke's "Alluring Bedlamite" perfectly captures the feel of the song. Your ears will wonder where "Alluring Bedlamite" might fall in your references to other music, but you won't care as soon as you're sucked into the alluring (see what I did there?) bass line. (In other words, about 5 seconds in.)

Hood Smoke will be releasing their album, Rough Around the Hedges, next Friday, March 25th. You can snag "Alluring Bedlamite" (and presumably the rest of the album) on Bandcamp.

Hood Smoke -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Melaena Cadiz -- Sunfair

Melaena Cadiz's first album, Rattle the Windows, was probably the first album I bought because of a review on Ninebullets. (The first of many, thankfully.) In short, I've been a fan of Cadiz since before this blog was a glimmer in my eye. I saw her live a years ago with Christopher Paul Stelling as the opener. I was so amazed by the beauty of both artists' performances that I went right out and bought my own acoustic guitar (not that I'll ever be as good as they are.) Stelling's last album brought him a good deal of critical and popular acclaim, and I'm hoping Sunfair will finally put Cadiz on the map.

Sunfair is a true expansion on Cadiz's part. She's always had a way with words, but each of the songs on this album feel like a prose story that's been set to music. Cadiz resists easy classification in terms of genre, though folk and country remain a strong influence. These stories are nostalgic and melancholy, reflecting on Cadiz's departure from New York to seek new directions on her native West Coast. Perhaps it's the change of scene that have had the biggest impact on this album -- as poignant as they are, the songs are designed to feel over-exposed and faded out, like a Polaroid left too long in the sun. Like all of Cadiz's work, this album is best appreciated with multiple listens, as this is when the true nuances of Cadiz's craft shine through.

Melaena Cadiz -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, March 14, 2016

INTERVIEW: Kate Vargas

 Kate Vargas is grabbing everyone's attention with her single "Call Back the Dogs." The simple blues riff is buttressed by Vargas' distinctive voice and casually graceful lyrics. Vargas was gracious enough to take a moment to reflect on her varied influences, all of which can be heard in the song.

What (or who) were some of your earliest influences?

I suppose whatever kept my interest or made me feel something was an  influence. The earliest “whats and whos” off the top of my head: playing in the dirt, the sun, coyote howls, hot air balloons, Roald Dahl, the stars, Annie Lennox’ “Walking on Broken Glass”, the smell of roasting chiles, tire swings, forts and, strangely enough, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Whom do you model yourself after stylistically?

It’s a tough question. I don’t consciously model myself after anyone but, there’s no doubt, that my sound has been shaped by nearly everyone I’ve ever been drawn to. 

How do you prepare for a performance?

If possible, I get pretty quiet. I meditate, do yoga or workout. I do my best to keep myself balanced, so that I can be present for the gig and not have my mind elsewhere.

 If you could perform with anyone in the history of the world, what would be your dream concert lineup?

I feel like a broken record whenever I mention Nina Simone and Tom Waits, but there they are. They have both had a profound impact on me so, I would always choose those two.

In the history of the world?! Jeez. My dream lineup for this very moment would be, in order of birth date:

Hildegard von Bingen
Robert Johnson
Tito Puente
Bob Dylan
Otis Redding
Bonnie Raitt
The Triplets of Belleville (the actual animated sisters, in their later years)
Johnny Flynn

What is the most important thing you'd like people to take away from your music?
Just take something. What’s most important to me is that you take something, what you take is none of my business.

Kate Vargas -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, iTunes

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that "Call Back the Dogs" was Vargas' debut single, which it's not. I also changed the image at the artist's request.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Caleb Caudle -- Carolina Ghost

I waited to write about Caleb Caudle's masterful release until I had seen him in concert. When introducing the music to a potential (ahem) acquaintance, she appreciated the "Carolina-ness" of his sound. I take that comment to mean Caudle and his band's fondness for country tropes like a pedal steel guitar, but rejecting the heavy twang so often associated with country music. We had planned to go to the show, but my immune system had other plans for me. But Caleb Caudle didn't need my review on release day. Carolina Ghost has already gotten press from some very heavy hitters in the music world, and it's easy to understand where the appeal comes from. These songs are light on the ears, but they'll make an impact on your brain.

Carolina Ghost feels like a nice progression, sonically and emotionally, for Caudle. His beautiful Paint Another Layer on My Heart shows Caudle at his most vulnerable, wondering if he can truly open up to a new love. Surrounded by a confident backing band, Caudle reassures us, himself, and his lover that he's glad he tried. Caudle's carefully rendered lyrics make his relationship seem like the romance of the century. Caudle's not maudlin -- not by any stretch -- but it's obvious that he's found someone who complements him in the way that he complements them. Maybe I've become the Hugh Grant character in my romantic comedy, but I'll consider myself lucky if anyone feels the same way about me as Caudle does about the person he's addressing. Carolina Ghost is not an album to sleep on.

Caleb Caudle -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Friday, March 4, 2016

VIDEO: Samantha Crain -- Killer

A few months ago I wrote about Samantha Crain's moving, timely album Under Branch & Thorn Tree. Today I'd like to share the moving music video that accompanies Crain's protest song, "Killer." While the song itself addresses the deadly slow pace with which justice marches, the video itself addresses police brutality. Shot in Houston's historic black neighborhoods, the video is a stark protest against police brutality.

While instances of police violence have slipped below the fold to make room for election coverage, there is no question that race has a huge impact on the election, as it always has. Trump's recent courtship of the KKK should be a crystal clear example to us all that these bogeymen are not relics of a regrettable past. We must march the long road Crain describes in "Killer," and one of the places it winds through is your local voting booth.

I have more than a few leftist, activist friends who have chosen no to register to vote. That just boggles my mind. Voting is not the loudest or most visible way to effect change, but it's as important an act of civic engagement as showing up to City Hall. Please register to vote in the presidential election in November, whether or not you approve of your party's candidate. Show the establishment machines in both parties that we, as a country, will not swallow their shit lying down.

Samantha Crain -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Samantha Crain, Stream on The Guardian

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Corin Raymond -- Hobo Jungle Fever Dream

Let's cut to the chase: this album is astonishing. Corin Raymond is a truly masterful songwriter. I'm sorry that I haven't heard of him sooner. Maybe it's an unconscious association, but Raymond's sharp intellect and a delivery that gives the impression he's worn life through to the barest of threads reminds me of his fellow countrymen NQ Arbuckle. Hobo Jungle Fever Dream is easily my favorite album of the year thus far.

So it is with great pleasure that I get to premier "Under the Belly of the Night," which is handily my favorite song of the year and possibly of the five years I've spent writing this blog. This is the Buddy Holly memorial that Don McClean wishes he had written. For those of us who have ever picked up a guitar and thought to write a song, this is a song that will make you gnash your teeth with jealousy and simply give up, because it is highly unlikely that you will ever write a song that's almost this good as this one.

It's no surprise, then, that Raymond spent a year writing it. He says of the song:

 “Under the Belly of the Night” began with me imagining driving on some back road in the middle of the night, twisting the tuning dial, and stumbling onto a frequency from beyond the grave. Hearing the ghost of Buddy Holly singing to us from the other side. Over the year it took to write it, that idea morphed into something else. Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson showed up as well. But I never stopped thinking about this palpable ache in the air, and in the airwaves, and of the voices that haunt the dashboard-lit cabs of cars and trucks crawling along under the vast nighttime. “Under the Belly of the Night” - to borrow a phrase from my cousin Ed Hillier - is about “talking to the ghosts.”

The rest of the tracks on this stunner have the same degree of imagination and thoughtfulness. It is well worth a listen.

 Corin Raymond -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Corin Raymond

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Waco Brothers -- Going Down in History

I recently went on a date with someone who likes to go to museums and keep up with contemporary literature. I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here? I go watch bar bands and then I go home and write about them like they're sublime." It's a gross generalization, of course -- I know that most of the music on here Matters, but I don't think the Whitney will be hosting a forum on Micah Schnabel's corpus any time soon. And even then, the familiar strains of country and punk help the clever lyrics stand out in contrast. The music on this site isn't produced by bar bands -- it's written by smart people who hang out in bars.

The Waco Brothers' new release, Going Down in History, has one foot planted firmly in "party music" and the other in "sublime." The first track off the album, "DIYBOB" beautifully interweaves the personal and political -- allusions to breaking up the band and climate change cohabit peacefully -- with a churning cow-punk backdrop that perfectly communicates the frustration and swagger of the band.

While I'm admitting to my own lack of sophistication, I also never truly understood how classical music aficionados could compare two musicians' performance of the same song -- it all sounds the same to me. But maybe I've just listened to enough four-chord country songs to be impressed by the Waco Brothers' downright confidence. It fills all the songs on the album and is notable simply because it's so rare. The band is equally at home with punk, straight country and rockabilly. Each song is a joy. If this is indeed the band's last album, as "DIYBYOB" promises, it's certainly a high note to go out on.


Waco Brothers -- Official, Purchase from Bloodshot Records

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Eric Peter Schwartz -- Gloaming

Gloaming, from Old English, is another word for twilight. It also shares the same root as "glow." I expected Schwartz's fourth release, a five-song EP, to take us down the same, darker path that Casual Ghosts did. However, in spite of the title, Gloaming has a light touch.

 Schwartz is best when he sneaks up on you. Though the songs might sound airy, his lyrics enter the cracks our waking thoughts avoid:

Another time, another place
I had substance
a life I could call my own
now I find
I haven't got a home
calamity, catastrophe
a cool, condescending cadaver for me
now I find
I'm waiting for the ascension climb

"The Cold Spot" combines Schwartz's knack for storytelling and easy listening, even if the words are hard to hear. Gloaming is a strong addition to Schwartz's portfolio of sweet, funny, and deeply personal music.

Eric Peter Schwartz -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp