Monday, December 31, 2012

Meet Aware Wolf

If you subscribe to the belief that not enough bands recall the Buzzcocks, that no sound is more mellifluous than a distorted guitar, and that any song longer than three-and-a-half minutes is just wasting your time, please allow me to introduce you to Aware Wolf, an indie duo that has just released a three-song EP guaranteed to buzz around your brain for days on end. It's a name-your-price affair, so please toss a couple of bucks their way. You won't regret it.

And while you're doing your online shopping, my novel XL is available at Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes and other fine retailers.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Miners, Shark Tape and Superfive - Tonight at Milkboy!

 Three bands. Ten bucks. Tonight at Milkboy Philadelphia (1100 Chestnut Street). The Eagles are in the crapper, Andrew Bynum is the second coming of Jeff Ruland and the Flyers, with boatloads of young talent, can't be arsed to get on the ice. So what's that leave? Rock and roll, my friends. Rock and roll.

 The Miners headline as they drop their debut disc, Miners' Rebellion, a six song cornucopia of lilting, mournful melodies that feature the dazzling pedal steel of David Thornburgh and Jim Callan. Lead singer and songwriter Keith Marlowe's no-nonsense vignettes recall the dusty charm of Green on Red's Dan Stuart, but even more they evoke memories of the late, great Philly roots rockers The Rolling Hayseeds.

The straight ahead power pop crunch of Shark Tape, whose late period Replacements inspired "Eyes on You" is gathering heat from WXPN airplay, are second on the bill. These young bloods are promising that tonight they'll be "releasing a new single and dancing on the moon beams", but I'm hoping to hear "Red Lights", because it makes me think of Cheap Trick's In Color, and you know that is a very good thing.  

Openers Superfive (get there early!) feature the hook happy songwriting of former Conrad Michael McLaughlin and bassman about town Tom Szwech - check out "Happier Days", which sounds like a lost Plimsouls classic from MTV's The Cutting Edge. Dig it!

Superfive - "Happier Days"

Both Miners' Rebellion and Shark Tape's Eyes on You EP are available at Main Street Music in Manayunk. Call 'em at 215-487-7732.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

ESPN NFL Kickoff Tackles The Princess Bride

If you are like my brothers and me, there is never an inappropriate time to drop a Princess Bride reference. So I offer a Teenage Kicks salute to three honorary "brothers-in-arms" - it appears they are not lacking in chaaarms - the ESPN NFL Kickoff crew of Trey (Trip) Wingo, Mark (Kevin) Schlereth and Teddy (Scott) Bruschi... morons compared next to these guys as they drop enough Princess Bride quotes and reference to fill a wheelbarrow. Fun stuff.

Hat tip to Patricia Noonan... as you wish.

Willy DeVille - "Storybook Love" (from Miracle)

Bruce Robison - "My Brother and Me" (from Wrapped)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Salim Nourallah's Hit Parade (Tonight at Union Transfer)

The first words on Salim Nourallah's most recent release, Hit Parade, are "this is the place to fall in love". And if you go weak in the knees for literate, Beatle-esque power pop, then Hit Parade is definitely the place to fall in love. Nourallah has been churning out breezy, melodic songs of love and loss for over a decade. There's a mountain of back catalog to explore, but it's hard to fathom that a songwriter this sharp, knocking out 3 and half minute nuggets by the dozens, has flown under my radar for so long. I live for this shit.

Having produced two Old 97's albums as well as Rhett Miller's 2009 self titled solo disc, Nourallah shares Miller's gift for turning simple, direct songs into hook happy, sing along psalms. "Unstoppable" chronicles the untapped, unlimited potential that lives in every five year old, and wouldn't sound out of place on an album by fellow Texan and pop savant Ben Kweller. But the main influence in evidence is the wistful side of Ray Davies, especially as Nourallah looks back on friendships squandered, lost and missed on the latter half of the album, where "Everybody Knows" and "The Quitter" quietly seethe and "Goddam Life"(featuring this very Kinks-ian "And when fall gives way to winter / You're standing in your favorite coat / The sleeve's ripped it doesn't fit you anymore / Another thing you loved outgrown"... ouch)  and "Friends for Life" are laced with regret.           

If you are heading out to Union Transfer tonight, make sure you get there early to check out Salim Nourallah and The Travoltas as they set the table for the Old 97's and their Too Far to Care 15th Anniversary tour. And snag a copy of Hit Parade - it'll be right up your alley.

Salim Nourallah - "Goddam Life" (from Hit Parade)

Old 97's - "Barrier Reef" (from Too Far to Care)


Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Yawpers - Capon Crusade

The Yawpers Capon Crusade, out this week (buy it here at cdbaby), is a badass record with giant balls. It's messy, loud, distorted and six kinds of fun. Hailing from Boulder, CO and led by vocalist/guitarist Nate Cook, The Yawpers scrap like a dogfight between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Cook makes like a manic Peter Case fusing acoustic folk blues with cathartic, stomping rave-ups that explode like cheap beer flying out of wildly shaken happy hour long necks.

There are times when calling a group a "bar band" can seem like a pejorative. This is not one of those times. This is the band you want playing at your favorite bar... every night. Even when they hit "Rock Bottom", where "the floor is covered from door to bed in Rolling Rock and cigarettes", the band sizzles with a chaotic fever, the tempo driven by the downright nasty blues harp of secret weapon Dave Romano. I can't remember a recent rock record where the harmonica spit felt like it was leaking out of the speakers.

Capon Crusade mixes styles effectively, balancing the lighters aloft power balladry of the (slightly) overlong "Darkening Doors" with the scuzzy blues wail of bookend barnburners "Savage Blue" and "Silicone Love". "Mother" explores the need for connection and the desire to find home, and evokes prime Whiskeytown in the process, while "Replace Me" cops the Springsteen harmonica riff from "Promised Land". Currently on tour to promote their debut full length, The Yawpers expect to hit the Northeast next spring - watch this space for further updates.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Replacements Reunite! Still Rocking Like Murder!

As reported earlier today by, Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson recently got together and recorded 4 cover songs to benefit former band member Slim Dunlap, who's been struggling since suffering a stroke earlier this year. The songs were knocked out in one day and will be available by auction only in a limited run of 250 vinyl 10" EPs, and will include their version of Slim's "Busted Up". When Westerberg was asked about a possible Replacements album or tour, he said " "It's possible. After playing with Tommy last week, I was thinking, 'All right, let's crank it up and knock out a record like this.' I'm closer to it now than I was two years ago, let's say that." (Editor's note: Be still my beating heart)

Despite my general disdain for cash grab reunion tours, I'd be first in line for this one. With Westerberg's recent free release of the piano ballad, "My Road Now", it's wonderful to see a little activity from the Westerberg camp.

Slim Dunlap - "Busted Up" (from Old New Me)

Paul Westerberg - "My Road Now" (from the internet)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Chris Erikson - Lost Track of The Time

Chris Erikson has been a human being for over 40 years, a guitar player for over 30 years, a hired gun to NYC americana stalwarts (Tandy, Matt Keating, Florence Dore, Hem) for over 20 years, a dad for over 10 years and a solo recording artist for less than one year. So you can see how maybe he lost track of the time.

The current Brooklyn resident makes up for that by jam-packing his solo debut with smoke-filled songs of heartbreak, romance, wiseass broadsides to exes, hyperbole and heartbreak, each one caked with a droopy-eyed hopeful cynicism delivered with a lopsided Ted Mosby smirking grin. So many alt-country/no depression artists take themselves soooo seriously (I'm looking at you, Jay Farrar and Gary Louris), it's nice to see a sense of humor poke its nose through the flannel ("When I write my memoir, you'll barely get a mention").

For a New York city slicker, Erikson's friendly drawl shows a hint of his southern origins (born in Atlanta, but moved to Connecticutt at the impreesionable age of one) on the cry-in-your-beer honky tonk weeper "Call It Even", where sly wordplay ("When you moved in, I paid the rent and never once complained / And though I hardly watched the cable bill stayed in my name / You burned through all my cigarettes and never bought a pack / Just one more thing gone up in smoke that's never coming back") catalogs the price of  love and recalls the Doug Sahm classic, "Give Back The Key to My Heart", and doesn't wilt by the comparison.

"Ear to The Ground" is the should have been a hit candidate, all jangly guitars up in your grill, making an absolutely joyous sound on a chorus so catchy it should be inoculated, all the while waiting to be discovered by some big-hatted hunk and taken to the bank. There's a lot more to be discovered on this excellent debut (the giddy pedal steel on "When I Write My Memoir", the sad-sack boogie-woogie hyperbole of closer "The Worst Thing That Ever Happened", not to mention the handclaps on "All I Need", which also features pure, brief serve-the-song soloing that makes me want to force feed it to the overplayers), so you should snag a copy of LostTrack of the Time so it's not another 40 years until the next record.
For those in the Phily area, Erikson will be playing in Scott McClatchy's band next Saturday, September 15, at the second annual Haverford Music Festival, in glorious downtown Havertown.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Joe South, 1940-2012

“Are you familiar with a guy named Joe South?” Ric asked.

“I think so,” I replied. “Or am I thinking of Joe Tex?”

“Joe South is a kind of legend in the business,” Ric said. “I’ve never met him, but I’ve always been fascinated by him. He had a couple of hits a long time ago. ‘Games People Play’ was one of them. And he was a terrific guitar player. He played on Blonde on Blonde and Lady Soul. He also wrote songs that became big hits for other people. Do you remember ‘Yo-Yo’ by the Osmonds? He wrote that. ‘Hush’ by Deep Purple? He wrote that. “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson? He wrote that, too. You think anyone else ever wrote hits for the Osmonds, Deep Purple and Lynn Anderson? The guy made it in the business not because he was the best at anything, but because he was really good at a lot of things. I’ve always thought that you were like him.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The one in which Michael writes a novel

Because a fear of heights prevents me from climbing mountains, I decided to write a novel instead. It's not entirely finished, but it's close. It's called XL. Like this blog, it's about people who love rock and roll. If you like Nick Hornby's books, you might like XL, too. An excerpt is in the new issue of The Providence Phoenix. Read it here. And for more details about the project, go here.

Why "Hold My Life" is The Replacements' Greatest Song

Sure there are many other Replacements songs that could be considered their peak – an impossibly magnificent group that would include “Alex Chilton”, “Left of the Dial”, “Bastards of Young”, “I Will Dare”, “Unsatisfied”, “Answering Machine”, “Within Your Reach”, “I’m in Trouble”, “Kids Don’t Follow”, “Achin to Be”, “Here Comes A Regular”, “Sixteen Blue”, “Never Mind” ,“I’ll Be You”  plus a dozen others in a catalogue that has no peer in the post-1977 rock world. But only one Mats’ song kicks off their best album (Tim) with this sobering declaration of the eternally drunk and downtrodden “Well, well, well, I’ve found (it’s my life) / Down on all fives”.  Down on all fucking fives.  Crawling along, crushed by the fear of expectations, paralyzed in boy-man limbo with “decisions to be made”, but not having enough sack or interest to make them.  “Hold My Life” completely captures the paranoid stasis most folks have that live life without a roadmap.  And there’s still the faux-fatalistic humor that shows up in the next two lines – “Let me crawl / If I want, I could dye… my hair”.

The only comparison I can make between Westerberg and me is that, in 1985, neither one of us wanted to grow up, but as we closed in on impending real life, we just wanted it to stop. Right there. Hold my life… freeze it until I am better equipped to use it.  Because at that exact moment - decent job, staying up late, sleeping late too, no real responsibilities and a never-ending beer – life is a new, carefree adventure each day.  Screw up and get out, ready to tear it up again tomorrow.  There’s no wife, no kids, no lasting commitments at work or home.  Those commitments would come later – and then “Hold My Life” morphs from trying to stop life from beginning to now trying to stop it from moving too fast to its ultimate destination.  It’s the threat of those commitments that lead us to “lose it in the shade” or “crack up in the sun”. The song never loses its relevance. But the razzle dazzle” hook, that at first seems innocuous or trite, is telling us it’s OK to mess up (we all will), because it’s the trying that allows “this one to come alive”. As Mr. Wizard would say to Tooter Turtle “Be just what you is, not what you is not. Folks that do this are the happiest lot.”
The Replacements - Hold My Life (from Tim)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sessions at 23 East with Scott McClatchy

For the last 8 weeks, Scott McClatchy and his group of vagabonds, fiddlers, losers and lovers have been lighting up Brownies 23 East with a loose limbed jam that features Celtic reels, folkie standards and country and western weepers. It's fun for boys and girls of all ages. Doors open tonight at 8:00 and the music gets going around 9 or so. And it's free. And there's beer (not free, but some good specials). And the tunes are top notch. What's not to love?

Where - Brownies 23 East (23 East Lancaster Ave. - Ardmore)
When - Every Thursday around 9:00 (maybe a little earlier)
Cover - A recession-busting zero dollars!!

You might hear these:

Scott McClatchy - "American Land" (from A Dark Rage)
Scott McClatchy - "Sally MacLelanne" (from A Dark Rage)

Friday, June 01, 2012

Anthony D'Amato - Paper Back Bones (Appearing in Philly on 6/3!)

Still in his early 20's, Anthony D'Amato has released 4 albums, each one better than the last. Paper Back Bones, just out this week, isn't a huge departure from 2010's Down Wires, it just sounds a little bigger, a little lusher and definitely a lot more beat down. D'Amato's songs of death, desperation and doubt are colored by hauntingly sweet pedal steel and fiddle, not to mention the  banjo plonking that powers the sweet and sour love letter, album opener "But For You".

 D'Amato's characters carry heavy burdens, most noticeably in "Arrowhead", a foreboding tale of a snake-bitten family that he performed at the 2010 Montreal Folk Festival for a songwriter showcase called "The Hurtingest Song I Ever Heard". D'Amato is a gifted writer with a keen sense of melody, and those sweet melodies are needed ease the strain of Paper Back Bones dark night. My favorite melody envelops "On The Banks of The River Where I Died", whose hot-button tale of a failed border crossing calls to mind the graceful storytelling of The Band (this would have been perfect for Levon to sing).

Closer "Ballad of The Sleepless" captures the early morning dread that night lovers face every day. And it brings the listener full circle from Down Wires opener "Ballad of The Undecided".

Anthony D'Amato - "Ballad of The Sleepless"  (from Paper Back Bones)
Anthony D'Amato - "Ballad of The Undecided" (from Down Wires)

Anthony D'Amato is a finalist in the 2012 Philadelphia Songwriters Project contest. D'Amato plus 11 other singer-songwriters perform this Sunday (June 3) at The Blockley.

Philadelphia Songwriter Project Finals
June 3, 2012 at 4:00
The Blockley
3801 Chestnut St. (the old Chestnut Cabaret)
Tickets are available here.

Philly note - Main Street Music (4444 Main St.) in Manayunk is the only brick and mortar store selling D'Amato's cds. Call 215-487-7732 for info.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Music

Here’s some stuff from the inbox that caught my ear.

Bad Veins is a meaty, beaty, big and bouncy two-piece from Cincinnati that come off like a dancier version of The Strokes. “Dancing on TV” is from their new album The Mess We’ve Made. Go here for a free download or check out the video.

Jay Shepard’s album Harsh Mistress comes out in July. The single “Last Man on Earth” is a buoyant, fuzzy ray of power pop sunshine. Listen and download for free here.

Ali Young is a singer-songwriter with a deft melodic touch. Her EP Love Animal can be downloaded here

Listen to Ali Young’s “Make Believe” 

The title to Gospel Music’s song “This Town Doesn’t Have Enough Bars For Both of Us” is irresistible, and so is the tune. You can download it here, or check it out below.

Finally, the band Animal isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse, but the email that brought them to my attention was perfect – short and to the point, the perfect antidote to the six-paragraph bluster about how “our post-psychedelic dreamcore band started as an idea in one man’s bedroom in Boise and took shape over a nine-year spiritual journey that ended in Tibet” that I get from so many bands. Note to such bands: I get dozens of these things a week. If I have to work that hard to get to the actual music you make, I’m never going to listen to it, let alone share. So, yeah, check out Animal’s album Diatoms.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

# 1 (TM) Middle Brother - Middle Brother

Supergroup my ass. That term generally signifies bland half-baked jams (Superheavy, Them Crooked Vultures), main group throwaways (Golden Smog, Monsters of Folk), intriguing novelty (The Baseball Project, Tinted Windows) or sheer wretchedness (Chickenfoot). Middle Brother brings their A game and top flight songs.

Middle Brother brings together three songwriters (Deer Tick's John McCauley, Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith and Delta Spirit's Matthew Vasquez) whose main bands have yet to rise above club status. They cherry pick the best attributes from each band and reign in their excesses. While Vasquez (the Crazy Horse inspired "Blue Eyes", the irresistible 50's pastiche "Someday") and Goldsmith ("Thanks for Nothing" and "Wilderness") shine, it's McCauley's rumpled stumblebum who dazzles. The theme is pie-eyed lovable losers, and the only cover, a suitably shaggy run through The Replacements' rarity "Portland", manages the neat trick of saluting patron saint Paul Westerberg and eclipsing his original.

But the stunner, and the best song on the year's best album, is "Daydreaming", whose chord progressions hint that this is the kid from Big Star's "Thirteen", a few years older, still lovesick and longing, looking for someone to "be an outlaw for my love". Simply gorgeous.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

# 2 (TM) Butch Walker and The Black Widows - The Spade

Butch Walker is a melody freak. And a fun junkie. And with The Spade, he hits all my musical g spots - big guitars, gigantic hooks and instantly memorable choruses. There's also bit of hair metal cheese wrapped in a glam, alt-country sandwich. But the main focus is F-U-N. With an in-jokey, self-referential, self-deprecating boys club atmosphere, The Spade was 2011's best non-stop party.  
Butch Walker and The Black Widows - "Bodegas and Blood" (from The Spade)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

#1 (MA) Nick Lowe - The Old Magic

Nick Lowe has been mining the same territory for nearly twenty years now, meaning that "this phase" of his career has gone on for longer than the part that we normally think of as "his career," namely the Jesus of Cool and Labour of Lust years. His stock-in-trade is now to create new songs that you swear you've heard before, 1960s country and R&B classics that you just can't place, records that James Carr and Charlie Rich probably made before you were born. And he does it with such ease, such wit, such elegance that you might fail to notice the genius behind all this effortless beauty. The Old Magic is pure grace, the kind of album that will never be in fashion, but can't go out of style.

#2 (MA) Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - Mysterious Power

There's a moment on Mysterious Power when you realize that this isn't the Ezra Furman you know, the clever but sometimes too-jokey troubadour whose whine too often overwhelms his roar. It happens on the third track, "Hard Time in a Terrible Land," when Ezra and the Harpoons cast all notions of indie propriety aside and rock out with abandon. There are no trappings of irony here. Instead, Mysterious Power is a deeply felt set of songs, alternatively tender and ferocious, that reveal a songwriter and band at the height of their powers.

Monday, May 07, 2012

#3 (MA) Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Yeah, so it's May, and we're still telling you about the albums we enjoyed last year. Maybe it's just taking us that long to get our heads around them. I feel rushed when December comes and I have to tell you how I feel about an album I bought five minutes ago. How should I know how I feel about it? I don't even know it yet. This is one of those albums that took some time to get to know. On one level, it's irrepressibly indie, the kind of thing made for the blogger/tumblr/twitter culture that celebrates songs that only twenty-seven people will ever know. On another, it's rooted in the let's-roll-another ethos of the 1970s, an unapologetic rock record that demands to be revisited, not just consumed. I bought this on mp3, but I find myself reaching for the gatefold cover and lyric sheet that I don't have. It's magic.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

# 3 (TM) William Elliott Whitmore - Field Songs

William Elliott Whitmore's Iowa farmer perspective infuses darkly soulful songs with dirt underneath the fingers backbone that are delivered in an extraordinarily rich, booming cannon of a voice. Each song is a call to arms, inspring listener action and reaction. Reminds me of Jay Farrar's gift - sounding like an old soul frozen in a young man's body.

Field Songs mark time like old time spirituals, songs of faith and promise sung by slaves to try and temporarily ease their burdens. The sparse instrumentation (a gently picked banjo, a barely strummed guitar) places the focus on Whitmore's bruising vocals, and he hangs on to words like he's afraid to let them go. At 8 songs and 34 minutes, Field Songs scores a quick and decisive knockout, landing blows for the oppressed and depressed everywhere.

William Elliott Whitmore - "Let's Do Something Impossible" (from Field Songs)
William Elliott Whitmore - "Johnny Law" (from Animals in the Dark)

# 4 (TM) - Lydia Loveless - Indestructible Machine

21 year old Lydia Loveless (who name conjures up a goth country diva) initially impressed with "Steve Earle", a fitting "tribute" that paints Earle as a stalker of sweet young things who "won't stop calling me" and "just wants to write some songs", but all she wants is for Steve "to please introduce me to your son", the ultimate backhanded compliment. And it's just the tip of the iceberg for Indestructible Machine, an album awash in that Old 97's galloping backbeat, but recasts Rhett Miller as Loretta Lynn.

But mostly this album recalls the glory and go-for-broke-ness of the debut Lone Justice record, especially on the roiling "
Bad Way to Go" and the unapologetic war cry of "Do Right." Loveless may not possess Maria McKee's wondrous range, but that's really praising by faint damn. Loveless is a take-no-prisoners storyteller and the freshest new female alt-country voice in recent memory.

Lydia Loveless - "Steve Earle" (from Indestructible Machine)
Lydia Loveless - "Alison" (Elvis Costello cover from her "Bad Way to Go" Record Store Day 7")

Saturday, April 28, 2012

# 5 (TM) The Decemberists - The King is Dead

Deciding to cast aside the wonkier folk-prog pretensions that conjured dreams of 17 song suites and nightmares of Jethro Tull comparisons, The King is Dead is far and away the most inviting record The Decemberists have ever made. It also contains the best collection of melodies on any 2011 album. Sounding like a more lucid REM in their prime, songs like "January Hymn", "All Arise", "Dear Avery" and "June Hymn" all sound like instant classics. A panoply of song indeed.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Record Store Day 2012!!

I hope you score that Feistodon 7" that's got Feist and Mastodon covering each other. Or the Carolina Chocolate Drops/Run DMC split 7" which pairs CCD's new version of Run DMC's classic "You Be Illin" with the original. Or maybe you'll splurge and get the first three groundbreaking Uncle Tupelo albums on 180 gram vinyl. Me, I'd like to get the Dave Hause and Justin Townes Earle 45's and the fun. 10". But the important thing is to get out of the house today and go converse with other humanoids. That's what Record Store Day is about (well, that and getting Feeney to perk up a bit) - the connection with the music, the discovery, the thrill of finding a record you've been searching for or stumbling upon a future crush you didn't even know existed (like Shark Tape). Talking to people!! Check out this clip from Almost Famous which features a young Patrick J. Feeney getting safe passage to a new world courtesy of the old album stash under the bed.

I'll be spending the day at Main Street Music in Manayunk, but Record Store Day sales and celebrations will be emptying wallets all over the Delaware Valley at Repo, aka, Shady Dog, Tunes, Mad Platter, Siren, Positively and many others.

Here is the Main Street Music (4444 Main St., 215-487-7732) schedule of live bands and a sample mp3 from each:

12:30 - Shark Tape - "Joanne"
1 PM - Cheers Elephant - "Falling Out"
2 PM - Megan Reilly - "Throw It Out"
2:30 - John Wesley Harding - "There's A Starbucks (Where The Starbucks Used to Be)"
3:30 - Anthony D'Amato - "On The Banks of The River Where I Died"
(buy Anthony D'Amato's brand new release, Paper Back Bones, a month
before it's release date exclusively at Main Street Music... it's really good!)

4 PM - Jesse Malin - "St. Marks Sunset"
5 PM - Spinto Band - "Summer Grof"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sunday, April 15, 2012

#4 (MA) Black Keys - El Camino

Not the last rock and roll band, but maybe the last one with great pop instincts, in 2011 The Black Keys made the rarest kind of rock album - one that connected with the masses while remaining true to all that has always been good about a band that was once viewed as a destitute man's White Stripes.

#5 (MA) Dawes - Nothing is Wrong

On the album's closer, "A Little Bit of Everything," Taylor Goldsmith sings "so pile on those mashed potatoes and an extra chicken wing, I'm having a little bit of everything," and that's an apt a metaphor as there is for an album that's pure comfort food for the ears. My constant companion throughout the year, it was my most comfortable jeans, my softest leather boots, my mellowest whiskey.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

# 6 (TM) - Dave Hause - Resolutions

Making the transition to punk rocker (as lead singer of The Loved Ones) to singer-songwriter is difficult to pull off, but Dave Hause has not only done it with grace and cred intact, but has also succeeded with his veins bulging ferocity intact.  

The songs on his solo debut Resolutions grapple with that moment when idealized notions (changing the world via punk rock) meet maturing truths (how to marry art, family and adult obligations) in a fantastic mess of frayed nerves and still to be finished stories. Hause dials down a bit of The Loved Ones' scorched earth policy, but his clear, testifying vocals fill the grooves with emotion and empathy. Inspirational verse which strikes at Resolutions evangelical, hardcore heart - "I want to play some Al Green  and spend more time with Tim".

Dave Hause - "C'mon Kid" (from Revival TourCollection 2009)
Dave Hause - "Another Town" (Steve Earle cover)

# 7 (TM) - Dawes - Nothing is Wrong

Dawes will not change the world, but Nothing is Wrong might change yours. Writing drifting, lovesick tunes about homesick blues, Dawes are tasteful to a fault. The songs are terrific, but lose some of the zip the exhilarating live shows bring. But that's a minor quibble when you're sitting on songs as good as "Time Spent in Los Angeles", "Coming Back to A Man", "Fire Away" and "Million Dollar Bill". And verses like this from "Time Spent in Los Angeles" recall early Jackson Browne, which sets the bar extremely high:

"Cause you got that special kind of sadness
You got that Tragic set of charms
That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles
Makes me wanna wrap you in my arms"

Leading the way (along with The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons) in reviving the Laurel Canyon brand of melodic and heart on sleeve songwriting, Dawes rank among the best young American bands.

Dawes - "Lawyers, Guns and Money" (Warren Zevon cover)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

# 8 (TM) - Deer Tick - Divine Providence

Divine Providence is the album where Deer Tick kick off their dusty boots and put on their high heel sneakers and claim the boozy, freewheeling throne The Replacements abdicated two decades ago. Lead Tick John McCauley seems hell bent on rock and roll destruction, and on the caveman-like stomp of the "The Bump" (a too dumb to live, too smart to die update of "We're An American Band") and the Westerbergian "Main Street", he bleeds and carouses enough for all of us.

Deer Tick - "Dead Flowers" (live)

Monday, April 09, 2012

# 9 (TM) - David Wax Museum - Everything is Saved

Switching effortlessly from Tex-Mex hoedowns ("Born With A Broken Heart", "Chuchumbe") to gorgeous, plaintive ballads ("Lavender Street", "Wait For Me" and the heartbreaking look back "The Least I Can Do") to the relentlessly upbeat "Yes Maria Yes", The David Wax Museum's Everything is Saved is the year's most approachable and inviting album. This band is impossible not to love. Fans of Los Lobos and early Felice Brothers should take note.

The David Wax Museum - "Yes Maria Yes" (from Everything is Saved)
The David Wax Museum - "The Least That I Can Do" (from Everything is Saved)


# 10 (TM) - Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - Mysterious Power

Managing the neat trick of sounding simultaneously worldly wise and impossibly naive, Ezra Furman gives Jonathan Richman a run for the money as the king of quirk. Instead of "She Cracked", Mysterious Power sounds more like "I Cracked". Come for the cloistered  optimism of "Mysterious Power" and "Fall in Love With my World" but stay for the off-the-rails punkitude desperation of "Teenage Wasteland" and "I Killed Myself but I Didn't Die".

Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - "Mysterious Power"  (from Mysterious Power)
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons - "Teenage Wasteland"  (from Mysterious Power)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

#6 (MA) Florence & The Machine - Ceremonials

Riding the fine line between Echo and the Bunnymen and Martha and the Vandellas, our heroine is the undisputed queen of gothic soul, like Annie Lennox updated for a new century. Fierce.

#7 (MA) Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams

This is some sheer pop perfection. Dee Dee's voice is three parts Chrissie Hynde to one part Neko Case, and the thick dreamy production draws a few clouds across the sunny California skies. Resistance is futile.

#8 (MA) The Roots - Undun

The world's greatest rock and roll band is now one of the most consistent outfits, too, delivering one album after another of hard fatback funk and fluid flow. We don't do a lot of hip hop around here, but this one is undeniable.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

SXSW 2012 - Day 4 - Start Again

It's now two weeks since SXSW ended and it's time to finally wrap up the wrap-up. We saw 50 performances in 4 days, saw legends made and others fade.  (On a side note, we aim to finish our best of 2011 before the first NFL game is played. Guaranteed, my friends.) If you've been to Austin, you want to go back. If you've been to Austin twice, you start imagining a life there. I'd live out beyond South Congress, a little ways away from the mayhem. V would stay in Boston so we could still remain friends.

Highlights – The whole day. After a massive IHOP breakfast that soothed the hangover beast and obliterated the need for lunch, we set out immediately for Jovita's and Twangfest, probably the location with the best vibes of any SXSW venue (with apologies to The Mean Eyed Cat, since we didn't get there this year). Jovita's utilizes two stages- one indoor is a small, dark but homey bar/restaurant and the outdoor stage sits on a rickety porch with a wooden lattice fence on side, a stone wall behind and few tables lazily arranged on the other side. It's a couple miles out of town and has a bucolic charm a million miles away from the frantic frenzy of Sixth Street.  It's probably as close to its roots as SXSW gets these days and a must stop for any americana fan.

We arrived a little late but caught the tail end of Chuck Prophet's jam packed set, quickly moved outside to catch the massively talented Joe Pug steal the day and some tears as he debuted 4-5 songs from his new album, the wonderfully titled The Great Despiser, out April 24. I can't really put my finger on what makes Joe Pug so great (it's probably the songs, stupid), but his wit and charm enliven small tales of everyday battles that recall the Midwestern grace of fellow Chicago storytellers John Prine and Steve Goodman. Then we rushed back inside to see the always great Waco Brothers, whose "Do What I Say, Don't Do What I Do" should be an unofficial Austin anthem. No one is more comfortable in his own skin than Jon Langford. Exploding onto the stage next was star in the making JC Brooks, whose Uptown Sound is a much tighter soul revival than the insanely hyped Alabama Shakes and who acknowledged their Chicago roots with a blistering cover of local kid Jeff Tweedy's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart".  SXSW staple Glossary closed out our back porch hoedown with a scoop of soulful southern rock, and we made a promise to spend more time at Jovita's in 2014.
Next up were The Shins in a converted (Spaghetti) warehouse, whose sleek, darkened, air-conditioned setting was the antithesis of Jovita's laid back scene. But there was free beer. And that is good. After too long a wait, The Shins hit the stage with a much tougher sound than they possess on record. But while James Mercer is a top flight songwriter, his on stage charisma is negligible. Mediocre sound and a by-the-numbers performance had us making an early exit, but did I mention there was free beer. Highlight!

The night began with Justin Townes Earle at Stubb's leading a full band for the first time and his Memphis fried americana is in full bloom, as noted by half a dozen songs off his brand new Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now, including the highlight "It Won't Be The Last Time", an unapologetic apology for past transgressions with no promise of better behavoir. Then quickly over to  the Cedar Street Courtyard to see another electrifying set by J Roddy Walston and The Business, followed by the amazing William Elliott Whitmore, whose gritty voice of god vocals consecrate working class spirituals for The Great Recession. His 2011 release, Field Songs, was among the year's best. After WEW, it was time to set the wayback machine to 1979, slip on a skinny tie and take a nostalgia trip with Peter Case and Paul Collins as they celebrated their power pop heyday trawling their melody rich catalog of tunes by The Nerves, The Beat and The Plimsouls. A balding, unlikable Collins and the incredibly likeable, wild-eyed gnome Peter Case blasted out a set that was better than it had any right to be. Dominated by songs from The Beat's sterling 1979 debut plus a few Case classics, their set gave a room full of aging hipsters a chance to let their hair down (so to speak) and engage in carefree shout-alongs.

The final show of my SXSW was Diamond Rugs, the likely one-off semi-super group featuring main man John McCauley of Deer Tick, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and other indie types from Black Lips, Dead Confederate and Six Finger Satellite. They played their upcoming debut straight through and reminded me of a scuzzy, Southern fried, whiskey swilling Rockpile masquerading as a Rolling Stones cover band. Yeah, it was that good. There were horn fueled stompers, balls out rockers, a psychedelic freak-out, and even the awful lounge lizard on Quaaludes misstep "Totally Lonely".  John McCauley is quickly becoming the Jack White of the indie twang set (except, you know, without White's massive commercial success) who seems either hell-bent on self destruction or cranking out a genre-defining masterpiece. I hope it's the latter.
Lowlights – Trying to order a burger (and avoid cheese) at a Mexican restaurant.  The prospect of four hours sleep. Realizing Paul Collins is still a jackass.

Moments to savor – That IHOP coke, scrambled eggs and bacon combo... manna from the gods. Joe Pug bringing up local Austin legend Harvey Thomas Young to duet on Young's "Start Again" which closes Pug's new album. The mutual affection was obvious, as the shy upstart paid tribute to a forgotten songwriter and shared a tender moment in the sun. Classy and touching. Whitmore's voice.  Steve Berlin's baritone sax. V's arrival home 2 minutes after me... didn't think he had it in him.

Goodbye Austin... see you in two years. V... hope I see you sooner.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#9 (MA) Middle Brother - Middle Brother

Sorry about the long delay (went on vacation, got distracted, etc.). I have a good feeling that this one is going to show up close to the top of my partner's list, so I won't steal his thunder. Enjoy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

SXSW 2012 - Day 3 - KIck Out The Jams

Friday - Day 3

Highlights – Two Cow Garage’s blazing, spastic take on punk rock heartland Springsteen blew out the cobwebs from the previous night – free beer did not in any way hinder our enjoyment of this performance.  J Roddy Walston & the Business barrelhouse set at South by San Jose thrilled the near capacity crowd– this is a real piano led southern rock and roll band that owes as much to Little Richard as it does to Lynryd Skynyrd. The dB’s delighted an overstuffed room full of 80’s pop nerds with classic cuts “Big Brown Eyes”, “Love is For Lovers” and “Neverland”, but the real surprise was that the 4 or 5 new songs they previewed did not suffer by comparison, catapulting Falling Off The Sky (due June 12 on Bar/None) to the top of 2012’s most anticipated releases.  SXSW mainstays Lucero celebrated the release of their excellent new disc Women and Work with a typically bruised, battered and beery set at Bar 96.
Lowlights – Typhoon’s too cluttered sound failed to ignite at Homeslice Pizza and count me as a naysayer to the mounting hype for The Alabama Shakes, whose generic blues rock captivated the jam-packed crowd at South by San Jose, but whose set seemed short on great songs, save for the slow burn sizzler “Hold On”, an undeniable treat.     

Moments to savor – Two Cow Garage’s Micah Schnabel going stalker crazy on “Skinny Legged Girl” in the mid-day Texas sun and Lydia Loveless turning the stalker tables on “Steve Earle” an hour later.  Singing along with the dB’s as they nailed “Big Brown Eyes” and being blown away by pile of hair J Roddy on the blistering, pounding “Brave Man’s Death”.  Wayne Kramer joining fellow anarchist Ton Morello for a soul-cleansing, powerhouse version of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams”, followed in short order by Morello (the “pied piper or rock”) leading the packed audience at the Swan Dive out on to Red River Street for his “Occupy SXSW” street performance of “This Land is Your Land” and “World Wide Rebel Songs”, done commando style acoustic as the local police dutifully helped out by shutting down the PA.
Also Got to See – The soul revue workout of JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound at The Yard Dog Party, the energetic, very young Chicago-bred jazz/funk/hip hop band Kids These Days as we waited for the Alabama Shakes and the well scrubbed Americana of Britain’s The Dunwells, who may appeal to all those Mumford & Sons fans that came out of nowhere to make Sigh No More such a smash.

Two Cow Garage “Skinny Legged Girl” (from Speaking in Cursive)

Lydia Loveless“Steve Earle” (from Indestructible Machine)

J Roddy Walston & The Business“Brave Man’s Death” (from J RoddyWalston & The Business)

MC5 “Kick Out The Jams” (from Kick Out The Jams)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SXSW 2012 - Bruce and Big Star

Thursday - Day Two

Highlights – Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech, which should be required viewing for anyone with a passing interest in rock and roll. Part history lesson and part fatherly advice, Springsteen’s passion for and grasp of rock history is unsurpassed. If you care deeply about rock and roll, carve 50 minutes out of your life and watch the whole thing here. Tom Morello’s closing set at the New West party was a revelation– we all knew he could do wonders with six strings and a whammy bar, but he’s also a charismatic and riveting band leader, with megawatt charm and movie star presence.  I loved the understated brilliance of Big Star Third performed live by Chris Stamey, Jody Stephens, Mitch Easter, Austin’s Tosca String Quartet and a few dozen others – it was a music geek’s wet dream (I am looking at you, DJ Mertter). There were loads of guest stars (M. Ward, Tommy Stinson, Peter Buck, Peter Case), but the real stars were the songs themselves.

Lowlights – TK fave Ezra Furman’s nasal whine brings to mind the skittishness of the Violent Femmes and the wide-eyed playfulness of Jonathan Richman, but his intentional on the verge of nervous breakdown, exaggerated bleat during a slowed to a crawl “Sweet Jane” was a sure-fire room clearer at the Continental Club. It may signal a new direction, as Furman appeared earlier in the week in only his socks and boxer briefs and declared “I was supposed to be a wide-eyed sort of singer-songwriter, but I don't feel like that anymore. Too bad, marketing team." Get well soon, Ezra. Other lowlight – not winning the Bruce lottery (but not really since it freed up the time to go see the Big Star Third show),

Moments to savor – Getting up on stage, jumping up and down and singing along with new best bud Tom Morello during “World Wide Rebel Songs”.  During his SXSW keynote, Springsteen playing a verse and the chorus of the Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and declaring after a dramatic pause “ That’s every song I’ve ever done. I’m not kidding, that’s all of ‘em.” The ageless Martin Zellar transporting me back to 1990 with a snappy take on the Gear Daddies’ “Stupid Boy”. Zellar is one of the great under-appreciated songwriters of the last 25 years. Tommy Stinson, revered ex-Mat, killing us with the Bash and Pop classic "Never Aim to Please".

Also Got to See - A superb set of Woody Guthrie songs by Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson and Colombian superstar Juanes preceding the Springsteen keynote. Lydia Loveless' badass cowpunk, Aussie Henry Wagons arch, droll set full of wit and self-deprecation to a nominal crowd in a small, upscale bar, a scorching set by Columbus' Two Cow Garage (someone please figure out a way to get these guys heard), the melodic but stiff pop punk of Cheap Girls, the vibrant traditionalism of the Punch Brothers and the wonderful Southeast Engine, whose quiet, bittersweet beauty should be all the rage with No Depression types.