Showing posts with label Album Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Album Reviews. Show all posts

Jun 25, 2019

Album Review / Taylor Alexander / Good Old Fashioned Pain

By Megan Bledsoe

Good Old Fashioned Pain. What a fitting name for a traditional country record, indicative of the reality of heartbreak and struggle that has always been a part of our beloved genre. It suggests an album of hurt and heartache accentuated by fiddle and crying steel, and Taylor Alexander delivers here both musically and lyrically.

We can spend weeks discussing what qualifies as country, but we all know it when we hear it, and this is solidly, unashamedly country. As traditional as this record is, though, it still sounds fresh and energetic. The instrumentation is simple but not sparse, and the production works well with each song. It's country thematically and sonically, but without becoming simply an interpretation of the traditional style, country for country's own sake. The songs feel true to Alexander, a genuine reflection of his story rather than a purposeful attempt to perfect a particular sound. The album also avoids the pitfall common to so many Americana projects of becoming too dark or sleepy with upbeat moments like "Passing Lane" and "Break my Heart Tonight."


The pain itself arrives in different forms. There's the heartache and self-reflection expressed in "Real Good at Saying Goodbye," the financial struggle highlighted in such excellent detail by "Hole in the Wall," and the reality that we're responsible for our own happiness, as told in "I Never Ask For Nothin'." But Alexander cautions himself and his listeners in "Wishing my Life Away," reminding us that although hardship is ever-present, we can miss the blessings of this life by constantly looking forward to something "better." This track provides hope and perspective to a dark record, a gentle reminder that joy is as real as pain and often exists alongside it if we're paying attention.

Good Old Fashioned Pain is an excellent album, great for traditionalists but also accessible, a record to play for your friend who hates the genre or who hasn't explored country beyond the radio dial. Strong songwriting, nice vocals, and that undeniably traditional sound. A fine record, and a promising debut by Taylor Alexander.

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Megan Bledsoe is a proud Oklahoman who has been immersed in music most of her life, from writing it to performing it to just appreciating the power of a good song. She is the founder and editor of countryexclusive.com, where she has been writing about great music since 2015.

Jun 5, 2019

Say 'How Do' To Austin's The Barnyard Boys

by Robert Dean

Definitely not taking themselves too seriously, The Barnyard Boys have dropped their debut e.p. Barn Yesterday, that covers everything from taking out the trash to just hanging out drinking some beers. And you know what? It's sweet as hell.

While most of the stuff we write about is always super serious and driven by artistic integrity, The Barnyard Boys ain't having any of that. It's fun to hear a band that patently doesn't give a fuck, that isn't chasing stages or streams, instead, these are the kinds of dudes psyched to play their local bar for some friends and drinking plenty of beers in the process. If The Barnyard Boys were a drink, they'd be a cold tallboy of Lonestar; it's accessible, goes down smooth and you can always grab another to keep the party going.  

There are tunes about tractors, getting laid, recruiting new members via song and a whole bunch of other lighthearted concepts. But, while the lyrics aren't serious, the musicianship is top notch. The Boys' don't miss a lick and continue to keep the listener's attention, no matter what rabbit hole they venture down. 

If you're around our fair city of Austin, Texas, you'll probably catch The Barnyard Boys stomping around a local brewery somewhere, or maybe just out playing you know… in the barn. 

Apparently, they play in it every weekend. They even wrote a song about it. Just be sure to bring enough to drink for everyone, it seems like that's their vibe. 





Jun 3, 2019

Album Review / Willard Gayheart & Friends / At Home in the Blue Ridge

Dori Freeman isn't the only person in her family with chops; apparently grandpa has them too

By Robert Dean

In the random goodness section of Farce The Music, I was given the link to check out Willard Gayheart's new record, At Home in the Blue Ridge. While it's straight ahead, down-home bluegrass, that's entirely capable of captivating even the most stringent of fans, what's endearing about the project is that this is Gayheart's first record, and he's 87 years old. 

Gayheart is a famed visual artist in the small town of Galax, Virginia and has been in the bluegrass scene throughout the Blue Ridge Mountain area, but At Home in the Blue Ridge is a substantial collection of songs that is nothing but a sweet surprise. Gayheart should have released a solo record decades ago considering how well the songs are put together. 

The songs on the record are clearly rooted in the Appalachian traditions as well as respect for the local culture. Despite playing in bluegrass bands throughout the years, Gayheart hadn't flexed his songwriting muscles, till it became a family affair as At Home in The Blue Ridge features his granddaughter, the Americana songstress Dori Freeman, her husband Nick Falk, plus Dori's dad Scott Freeman. The record was produced by Teddy Thompson, who's long been a collaborator with Dori.


What gives At Home in The Blue Ridge it's unique and inviting tone is that it was recorded live in Willard's frame shop where he proudly displays and sells his pencil drawings. How homespun is that? One of the most endearing things about Gayheart's songs are the stripped down, honest themes of the bygone days of Appalachia, good times and bad when people still scraped livings from the mountains themselves, growing what they had to eat and sharing what they grew. 

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At Home in the Blue Ridge is available on Amazon and other music sites.

May 31, 2019

On Poem, Jeremy Squires Has Finally Found His Sound

By Robert Dean

Jeremy Squires never disappoints. One of the better voices creeping out from the backroads of North Carolina, Squires is back with his new record, Poem. And once again, it’s a slow-burn stunner that reminds listeners of backyard bonfires, and tall tales told over tall boys of PBR in quiet confidence. 

Poem is moody and takes what’s considered “Americana” by its ear and dares us to explore what works within the confines of genre. Much like how Lucero dove on Among the Ghosts and Jason Isbell did with The Nashville Sound. What works about Poem is that it feels like Squires set aside what he couldn’t do, but instead, focused on what was possible by testing what he was capable in the studio. 

Poem is dreamy with haunting guitars that aim more towards My Bloody Valentine or Radiohead than what Squires country-inspired contemporaries are focused on and it’s imprinted all over the record. "Stargazer" and "A Calm Around" aren’t bangers but float through the collection of tunes in a haze, which is perfect considering the vibe of the record overall.


It’s also refreshing to hear songs that that feel earnest instead of trying to catch a wave or appeal to an audience that might not exist. On Poem, Squires has found much more of himself than on his previous releases, which were also solid, but this time around, this batch isn’t as self-serving, this is a man comfortable in his own skin, but also satisfied with what he does. For a lot of us, we’re always chasing that dragon that might never land, and we could all be so lucky to finally our moment as Squires has. 

The back half of the record is decidedly more country but holds its presence nonetheless. If anything, the second half sounds a little more Tom Petty country than it does hard Nashville. 

One thing to definitely take note of is the record’s cover. Whoever did it rules. It’s got this metal well of skulls thing going on. Super cool. Thank you for not wistfully staring out at the sunset or body of water, Jeremy. 

Poem doesn’t go overboard, and no track overturns the applecart, but instead, the songs are dreary, rainy day bummers, which will forever have their places as long as people get sad and need someone else to feel their pain. 

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Poem is available on Jeremy’s Bandcamp page and most everywhere you consume fine music.


May 30, 2019

Album Review / Ian Noe / Between the Country

A Name to Noe: Ian Noe’s Debut Album, Between The Country Is More Than Worth Your Time
Review by Travis Erwin

Hailing from Western Kentucky, Ian Noe’s voice sounds strikingly similar to that of John Prine - to the point a casual listener might initially confuse the two. Musically, Noe’s upcoming album, Between The Country utilizes a variety of melodies and sounds, but my prevailing take away is that young Mr. Noe was heavily influenced by The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the lineage of country rock bands that followed. 
This fusion of undeniably Kentuckian vocals, and the guitar heavy country rock that sprang from California back in the late 60s, works quite well and it is this combo that does the majority of the lifting. No band capitalized on that sound more than the Eagles, and on more than one track I was left thinking this reminds me of the Eagles, but with a ton more emotion and grit.
The blend of vocals and melody left me wishing Prine and Linda Ronstadt had given the world a love child. Actually, Ian Noe might very well be that love child. Okay, not biologically of course, but certainly by way of his music.
Noe flexes his timeless songwriting craft throughout the album, with a collection of stories about the downtrodden, the desperate, and the degenerate. The characters in his songs feel honest and real, and through them, the listener has little choice but to empathize as we share in their pains, their hopes, and their inevitable falls.
The album opens with the prodigal daughter, “Irene (Ravin’ Bomb),” arriving drunk and on her momma’s front porch. A ballad of addiction, it sets the tone for the rest of the tracks. 


“Barbara’s Song” offers a montage of characters headed for their doom aboard a train, bound for nowhere. The calm before the end brings home the unfolding tragedy. I struggled a bit to wrap my head around “Junk Town” a song full of sorrowful harmonies and a rusty metaphor for the coming end that never fully materialized for me, though the pair of songs contrast in that one is a look at sudden death while the second sheds light on the emotion of a long, slow passing.
Love is served up in the next few tracks. “Letter To Madeline” as an outlaw writes to his beloved for what no doubt will be the last time. “Loving You” pulls in elements of the blues and the strong tradition of old, sad country songs to bring out the heartache most of us have been hit with at one time or another.  
 “That Kind of Life” rides the easy vibes of the dog days of summer to showcase a laidback lifestyle that often goes unappreciated. This smooth song of people living and getting along gives way to the slow roll of dark and murky storytelling in “Dead On The River.”
We’ve all been told of the thin line between love and hate, but the eighth track on Between The Country walk a different line. Proving the gap between hope and despair is indeed narrow, “If Today Doesn’t Do Me In” is perhaps my favorite track among the ten offerings.  


The next to last track drags us even deeper into the dark side of society. “Meth Head” is a term bantered about in communities across the country and at this point no further explanation is needed to conjure a mental idea and image but on this track Noe gives us the intimate look at those who have fallen prey to this bathtub and back room concoction.  
The namesake single is the final track of Between The Country. Laying out a bleak look at the urban side of Western Kentucky complete with a line to go with the imagery of the cover the songwriting is full of powerful lines that go with what is a powerful and dark debut for Noe. His musical influences merge and blend to give us a talented new voice and writer on the scene.
Overall, the album takes a hard truthful look at a place that has seen plenty of hard difficult times. Sure there are glimpses of hope and happiness, but the album gives us a look at what happened to Western Kentucky after Mr. Peabody hauled paradise away.
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Travis Erwin is Texas boy now living the life of a free-spirited writer in sunny Southern California. A long time music blogger and sports writer, Travis is the author of a comedic memoir titled, THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES, and a pair of novels, TWISTED ROADS and WAITING ON THE RIVER. His latest release is a joint, short story/EP collective with singer/songwriter Dan Johnson, titled HEMINGWAY. 

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Between the Country is available tomorrow everywhere.

May 24, 2019

Album Review / Frankie Lee / Stillwater

By Megan Bledsoe

Unsatisfied with the glamor of all the larger studios he had investigated, singer-songwriter Frankie Lee went home to Stillwater, Minnesota, and made a record of the same name. And just like its name might suggest, Stillwater is a mellow, easy listen, simple and laidback like Lee's hometown and so many other small towns across America and the world.

This album is simple, yes, but far from sparse or minimalistic. This is largely due to the richness and detail in instrumentation which serves to give variety to a mostly mid-tempo record. Upright piano features heavily on Stillwater, adding color to tracks like "Only She Knows" and providing the backdrop for the closer, "Ventura." There's lively harmonica on "Broken Arrow" and "Blinds," and a healthy amount of steel guitar sprinkled all over the album to add a more country flavor to what is an otherwise folk/Americana affair. And the flute comes out of nowhere in the opening track, "Speakeasy," to make this one of the most interesting moments on the whole thing. It might seem like a strange component in a country or Americana song, but it fits perfectly here and makes me want to hear more artists try to incorporate it into their songs. A little more variety in tempo could have helped this record go from nice and pleasant to really great, but these arrangements make up for that pretty well.


If you only pick one track to listen to from this album, make it "Downtown Lights" or "Blinds." The former was the first song released from the album and is said to be inspired by the commercialization of Stillwater and other small towns like it, as little towns lose their identities in favor of tourism and commerce. The latter is just one of those songs where the melody, the instrumentation, and the lyrics come together to form a really special musical moment.

This record isn't going to be for everyone because of its mellow, gentle nature. Some will find it sleepy, and it's indeed a mood record, for a lazy Sunday afternoon. It's a project which will inherently sound better in October than in May. This is an album for those who appreciate quieter, introspective moments, and for the right audience, it's a comfortable listen with a lot to enjoy.
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Megan Bledsoe is a proud Oklahoman who has been immersed in music most of her life, from writing it to performing it to just appreciating the power of a good song. She is the founder and editor of countryexclusive.com, where she has been writing about great music since 2015.

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Stillwater is available today here and all the other usual locations.

May 15, 2019

Album Review / Hayes Carll / What It Is

by Travis Erwin
Hayes Carll has a newish album out, but before we dive deep to discover What It Is, actually is, let me address you potential rabble-rousers.
Yeah, I am a writing up a review for an album that dropped a few months back. That’s why I wrote “newish,” my friends. But here’s the deal, no artist has perfected the art of being a “Slacker Genius” better than Hayes Carll, and while I can’t lay claim to the genius half of that equation, I can say I’m a topnotch slacker. 
Besides, I wouldn’t exactly be embracing Carll’s lackadaisical vibe, if I just threw out a half-assed review after one or two listens. No, I had to wait and grow my hair out, don a flannel shirt and listen to What It Is three or four dozen times, because to write about Hayes Carll, you gotta be Hayes Carll.  
Bullshit you say? Yeah, Rolling Stone didn’t buy it when I pitched that angle to them either. 
All BS aside, I consider Hayes Carll a friend of mine. Not because we’ve ever sat down over beers, chased drunken Mona Lisa’s together, or so much as spoken a word, but rather because, for over a decade now, his writing and voice have kept me company through good times and bad. 
Carll writes songs that often as not feel like a casual conversation. Couple this songwriting tendency, with a voice that cracks, breaks, and is usually delivered with a calm chillness, and it’s easy to come away with the impression that Hayes somehow stumbled his way to brilliance. This assumption would be wrong. At this juncture in his career, it’s obvious his talent is no accident, and What It Is proves, Carll is far from slacking off.
“None’ya” kicks the album off with a sound any Carll fan will be familiar with. The give and take banter of a couple at a crossroads feels lighthearted, but for our beleaguered Romeo, that “None’ya” is anything but. At first listen this opening track seems like an outlier to the songs that follow, but as in music and life, things tend to circle back around.
The Shut-Up-and-Sing crowd might take offense to the lyrics of “Times Like These,” but they will do so while jitterbugging across the dance floor to a lively beat. Speaking of “Things You Don’t Wanna Know,” track three infuses some Motown rhythm to go along with Carll’s vocals while holding to a developing theme that carries through the first half of the album.


Riding a thumping rockabilly beat that harkens to Johnny Cash, “If I May Be So Bold” joins the two previous tracks to draw a line in the sand. The statements continue to come in “Jesus and Elvis,” as Carll lays out the emotional impact of political decisions. This is not to say the album is preachy in any way.  No, like the two influential men in the title of track five, Carll delivers his thoughts in a manner that suggest better ways, rather than demanding them.  
Music is most often digested in bite-sized chunks these days, so the art of album construction is rarely on full display. But the first half of this album closes with “American Dream,” which shines a light on the thoughts that went into overall song placement. This track is the perfect closure to a grouping of songs that makes it clear Carll has something to say about the state of the American Dream.
The back half of the album ushers in a section of three relationship songs. That is the extent of commonality within the trio. Slow, melodic chords accompany the anxious despair of knowing a relationship won’t last in “Be There,” while “Beautiful Thing” rides a piano-charged romp about the euphoria of newfound love and lust. The album’s namesake, “What It Is,” brings a bluegrass sound to the collection and leaves us with many things to ponder.
Unlike the political tones earlier in the album, the next couple of songs are more about universal human rights, than they are about political divide. Exploring the tendencies of human nature, Carll deploys a sharp taunting melody, and pointed lyrics within “Fragile Men,” to slice through chauvinistic ideals. Taken alone that track could come across as judgmental, but when followed by “Wild Pointy Finger” it seems like Carll is looking at himself as well. This next to last track sounds a suspicious lot like “I Got a Gig” from his 2008 release and when you listen to both tunes you can only assume this was intentional, as a way to highlight the change in his own ideas and ideals over the last decade. Both in society and in himself.
The album closes with “I Will Stay,” bringing the twelve songs full circle. The first track gives us a lover walking out the door, while this last track offers a beautiful ballad of perseverance. And no, that is no accident.  

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Travis Erwin is Texas boy now living the life of a free-spirited writer in sunny Southern California. A long time music blogger and sports writer, Travis is the author of a comedic memoir titled, THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES, a pair of novels, TWiSTED ROADS and WAITING ON THE RIVER, and his latest release is a joint, short story/EP collective with songwriter Dan Johnson, titled HEMINGWAY. 

Apr 29, 2019

Album Review / Caroline Spence / Mint Condition

By Matthew Martin

I remember the first time I heard Caroline Spence.  She was opening for John Moreland at Jammin' Java in Vienna, VA.  I was expecting to be blown away by Moreland, but was yet again extremely happy I got there for the opener.  Caroline Spence opened and completely blew me away.  I left feeling gut-punched, not only by Moreland, but by Spence.  She sang incredible songs with a wonderful, strong voice.

On Spence's latest album, Mint Condition, she continues her strong streak of albums.  There are songs for every mood and occasion, but one thing remains constant; Spence's perfect songwriting ability.  The production on the album is also great.  It allows Spence's voice and lyrics to be the star of the show.  There isn't much flair in terms of added instruments or needless solos.  Sure, they're there, but they add flavor rather than a distraction.

As for the songs themselves, I think these are some of Spence's greatest.  She deals with trying to get out of town to turn your life around ("Angels or Los Angeles").  Or, she sings about the insecurity that comes with relationships and growing up ("Who Are You" and "Song About A City").  My favorite song on the album, "Sit Here and Love Me,” is at once crushing and beautiful.  This perfect song about dealing with depression and the need to just have a loving ear and it caught my attention immediately; I continue to go back to it more and more.  Sometimes the solution to any problem is to just love and be loved.  It's beautiful and I hope if nothing else, you listen to this song intently.


Spence can also write a damn good, clever line with the best of em.  On the great "Who's Gonna Make My Mistakes" Spence muses, "Talking to this man is like looking at an ashtray, something was there but there ain't much left..."  Lines like that are strewn throughout the album here and there.  You gotta pay attention and with Spence's voice, that isn't hard to do.  She demands attention.  She deserves your attention.  Come for the voice, stay for the songwriting.

The album finishes with the title track, "Mint Condition."  This song is a great representation of all that is Caroline Spence.  At once beautiful, clever, and graceful, the song is a perfect way to end the album.  Spence can write the hell out of a love song.

I think Spence is one of the songwriters we don't hear nearly enough about.  She consistently puts out great albums and this album is no different.  Go buy it.  You won't be disappointed.  Go see her when she comes near your town.  She's worth every damn cent.  I know I can't wait til she comes to D.C. so I can hear these brand new songs live.

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Mint Condition is available Friday.


Apr 25, 2019

Album Review / Will Kimbrough / I Like It Down Here

By Trevor Balthazar

If you were to sit down with Will Kimbrough’s new album & simply glance over the track listing, you could surmise that this is a record of place. Titles like, “I Like It Down Here,” “Alabama (For Michael Donald),” and “When I Get to Memphis” make it abundantly clear that this album is going to be dealing in mostly southern matters.

The ever-consummate sideman, Kimbrough’s years of music with artists such as Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, and Todd Snider are probably impossible not to mention. He’s done solo work, been in groups, written songs for others, produced albums for others, and more. But on I Like It Down Here, we find Kimbrough returning to a very natural version of himself and to a very familiar place, both geographically and emotionally.

The American south is full of things we all love—good music, good food, and good people. This beautiful trifecta is also riddled with bullets of extreme racism, crooked politics, and bad people. Unsurprisingly, Kimbrough’s album echoes these ideas throughout. The lead-off track, “Hey Trouble” is a minor groove about a man lost and, invariably, in trouble. With trouble as his companion throughout the journey, Kimbrough speaks in vaguely heartbroken blues lyrics about the lonesomeness and longing that accompanies a woman gone. If I wanted to wax poetic (or political), I’d tell you that the woman is a metaphor for hope—and that the man left behind is our country, having to deal with the hostile climate we find ourselves in today.

The most interesting lyrical content is delivered in the title track—a greasy creeper about a couple of trashy characters who, unmistakably enjoy their lives in the south. Rife with imagery and language that could be foreign to someone not from down there, the song and message sit in stark contrast to the following track, “Alabama (For Michael Donald)’—a gruesome recounting of the 1981 lynching of a young black man in Mobile, Alabama. These two songs not only define the album, but also the double-edged sword that many from the south have to lay down upon when speaking about where they’re from.


The rest of the album bounces around quite a bit, but has something for most tastes. “I’m Not Running Away” is a jangly pop anthem about getting away from it all; “Salt Water & Sand” is a lilting ode to the gulf shores, and “Anything Helps” is a mid-tempo jaunt about homelessness. 

Lyrically, the album has some bright spots of quirkiness (“I Like It Down Here,” “It’s A Sin”) but is mostly comprised of classic blues-based phrasing and generality—in my opinion, on purpose. Musically, Kimbrough is s fantastic producer and played a myriad of instruments on the album. The songs, though many may be sparse instrumentally, are tightly arranged and well-executed. There’s no over-playing, just tasty riffs and licks—which brings me back to southern food. 

This is an easy afternoon record. If you’ve got nothing to do, put it on and shuck some oysters, stew over a pot of dark gumbo, or crack a beer next to the barbecue pit and you too can ponder where you’re from and what that might mean to you. 

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I Like it Down Here is available now on Amazon, iTunes, and pretty much everywhere you like to consume music.


Feb 21, 2019

Album Review / Yola / Walk Through Fire

Call her country soul. Call her a singer-songwriter. Call her Americana. Whatever you label her as, British belter Yola Carter is a force of nature. With a rich and inviting voice, loads of soul, and big, enticing melodies, she's an undeniable talent. 

Her debut full-length, Walk Through Fire, finds Yola giving us a broad view of her artistry. There are songs for  letting go ("Ride Out in the Country"), songs for holding on ("Rock Me Gently"), sexy country jams ("Love All Night"), and everything in between. 

"Lonely the Night" lets Carter show off the comforting lows and thrilling highs of her singing chops. The step-up from the verse to chorus raises goosebumps in anticipation of the crazy release of the chorus, which does not disappoint.

"Keep Me Here" is my favorite song on the album. It's an old-school slow jam with Vince Gill on backing vocals. It finds Yola stuck in a one-sided relationship she really has no desire to leave. This would've been a smash hit in the late 70s or early 80s. 

Despite the ability to let it rip vocally, there's a humble authenticity in Yola's work, and Walk Through Fire is a true showcase of both restraint and abandon. These are endearing songs that grab you immediately and stick around. A powerful debut worth your time. 


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Walk Through Fire is available this Friday on all platforms.

Nov 26, 2018

Break Out The Christmas Tree, JD McPherson's Socks is The Best Christmas Record in Forever

by Robert Dean

Nine times out of ten, I hate Christmas music. Outside of “Blue Christmas” and “The Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues, which makes me homesick for the dive bars in Chicago filled with Irish folks chatting over shots of Jameson and cold bottles of Miller, I am most definitely not a fan of the genre. 

I want to stab my ears out when I hear “All I want for Christmas is You” and every year, they pull Mariah Carey out of her crypt and she gets up there and smiles knowing how much cash she’s about to make for the month. 

On JD Mcpherson’s new Christmas record, Socks, I don’t feel that mind-numbing hatred, but in fact, I absolutely love it. 

Instead of hokey tunes that feel like you’re trapped in mall-flavored hell, Socks is a refreshing take on a stale genre. I get it, tons of bands, artists, and labels love to cash in at Christmas because fans eat the genre up, but Socks doesn’t come off that way. Instead, it feels like one of McPherson’s records, just done up in red and green lights and tinsel. 

What’s cool about Socks is that it’s very much in the spirit of McPherson’s first record, Signs and Signifiers, where the songs feel like they’re straight out of the Little Richard songbook. Nothing on Socks feels like it was written as a throwaway, but instead, he could play them in the middle of June with the same sense of excitement. These are straight up old school-minded rockabilly tunes that well-written and boy do they swing. The vibe is playful and there’s a swing of the hammer that just doesn’t quit. 


“All The Gifts I Need,”, “Hey Skinny Santa,”, “Socks,” and “Santa’s Got a Mean Machine,”, all of these songs are total sock hop dancers that you can’t do anything but bounce around to. Socks is the perfect Christmas party record, its loud, fun, and never gets lame. 

Basically, let me put it this way: if you can’t put Socks on the turntable or wireless speaker while cooking dinner and not want to do the twist in your socks, you’re a monster.  Get out and buy a copy before everyone else finds out about the record, you jolly Santa-themed maverick, you.

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Socks is available on the New West Records store, Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, etc. 

Nov 13, 2018

Ruston Kelly's Dying Star Shows Promise of Things to Come


With the ironically named Dying Star, Ruston Kelly 
shows promise of bigger things to come

By Kevin Broughton

Last week saw the long-awaited release of season two of Amazon’s original “Patriot,” easily the most underrated and hilarious television show on any platform the last five years. The protagonist, John Tavner (a.k.a. “Lakeman”) is an intelligence operative/assassin who deals with the job’s inevitable stressors in an unconventional way: By getting high, writing songs about his real-life exploits, then singing them at open-mic nights. This “sad man in a suit” never smiles; but no matter what awful wolves are at the door, he always answers “pretty good,” when somebody asks how things are going. And things are always impossibly awful for Tavner.

One imagines a third season of “Patriot” heavily laden with Ruston Kelly songs. His full-length album debut, Dying Star, is wonderfully, beautifully – almost impossibly – melancholy. His characters just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Whether it’s pills, booze, infidelity or commitment issues these folks touch all the bases and are therefore of necessity sympathetic to somebody. A listen/look at the “Mockingbird” video
gives a pretty good idea at how heavy an emotional investment some of these songs bring. Kelly’s plaintive, poignant voice gives an intimate authenticity to the collection of misfits who bring these stories to life. “Faceplant” is a halfway-funny song about a pill head worrying his girlfriend will key his car and leave his possessions outside when he staggers home for the last time. And that one is followed by “Blackout,” which is the dude’s favorite thing to do in the car. 

Probably no one remembers a time when Ryan Adams wasn’t a pretentious douchebag. Maybe in an alternate universe, Ruston Kelly is Adams, but a version that will never wear horn-rimmed glasses and read his book of poetry to a fawning crowd at a library in Brooklyn. Kelly has the sweet, soulful voice and the songwriting chops. And if these fourteen songs – none of which you’ll want to skip – are any indication, he can be every bit as prolific. Toward the end of the record, there’s even a hopeful uptick toward redemption. Throughout, Kelly makes great use of pedal steel and an occasional dueling harmonica to punctuate his phrasing. The whole record is just really danged pleasing to the ear.

This probably won’t be the best album Ruston Kelly ever makes. But there aren’t many released in 2018 by anyone that are its equal. 

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Dying Star is available anywhere you buy or stream fine music.


Oct 9, 2018

Album Review / The Pollies / Transmissions

by Matthew Martin

The Pollies have had a busy, if somewhat quiet career since their debut came out in 2012.  They've released 1 other full-length album, have backed Chris Porter on an EP, and have, of late, been backing Dylan LeBlanc around the US and Europe.  In that time they have stretched their musical muscles and expanded the sounds that made their first two albums so intriguing.  Now, they have released the retro, but positively modern, new album Transmissions.

With pulsing synths opening up the album, the Pollies let you know that a band from a place with rich musical history (Muscle Shoals, AL) can still shatter what it means to be a Southern band.  While decidedly Southern sounding on most of the album, there are moments of freakouts such as the midway point and end of "Knocking At My Door."  These are well-served and welcomed additions to these songs, adding a layer of intrigue to the perfectly crafted pop songs on the album.  (To be fair, I've always been a fan of any sort of freakout moment on an album, so maybe I'm just biased.)

Jay Burgess and crew have started to hone their hook skills with beautiful rock songs like "Love's To Fault" and "Hold On My Heart."  Burgess's voice is perfect to carry across these songs of loving and longing.  You know how Lindsay Buckingham is the only person who could ever sing "Tusk?"  Burgess's voice just ties all of these songs together with his raspy, wistful voice.  Listen to "Lonely" and try to not be moved.  


At their core, The Pollies have always been a pop rock band with tendencies to stretch out songs.  Southern pop rock has always been a rather unglorified but important genre.  Bands like Big Star put Southern pop rock on the map, but there are a number of bands emulating that style today (one other that comes to mind is Belle Adair out of AL, as well).  The Pollies are carrying that torch and making that sound all their own.  

If I had one complaint, I would say that I almost wish "You Want It" was a bit muted on the synths.  It's an interesting inclusion, and I almost like the addition.  But, it gets to be a bit glaring and doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the album.  The rest of the songs are incredibly well thought out and balanced.  "You Want It" misses that mark, for me.  

Still, Transmissions is worth the price of admission.  You won't be disappointed with the contents.  This is an album of perfect summer tunes- almost wish I had the whole summer back to enjoy this one with the windows down or out on the river.  In a different life, The Pollies would be getting their due on the radio, but that is not the world we live in.  Instead, you should go out, buy this and every other Pollies album, and share or buy one for your friends/family.  

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Transmissions is available on Bandcamp, Amazon, Spotify, etc. 


Aug 29, 2018

Shooter Jennings is Back With His Best Record in Years

By Robert Dean

It takes a lot of time, patience, and mistakes to realize who you are as a man. From the way we get knocked down, to what we do next when the dust settles, all of those moments matter, they say something about us, what stock we’re built from. 

Throughout Shooter Jennings career, he’s made it a point always to turn left when his peers go right, to duck and dodge, when everyone else is out there trying to sing a little ditty to sell a few Dodges. He’s a man you cannot put a label on, because the minute you try, he’ll outwit you and drop a surprise you never saw coming. 

On his latest record, Shooter, Jennings has done it again. He’s made the album no one expected, except this time, some ghosts are lingering of a different variety. Shooter isn’t a record Jennings could have made when I first met him almost ten years ago, instead, that Shooter Jennings was channeling his inner Trent Reznor, he was finding new and beautiful ways to fuck with anyone who thought they knew him. 

On Black Ribbons, Shooter Jennings wrote a concept record that has flashes of brilliance that hit harder today than we could have foreseen at the time. The fact that that album lies dormant in a lot of rock and roll minds is a crime, but hopefully, history will be on Jennings side, and he’ll get the credit he deserves. 

Following that record, Jennings stayed close to country, writing records like Family Man or The Other Life, which are strong genre records, but they still had a flavor of angst, a shadowy, “can I crank up the gain a little here”, or “can I try this concept on them” there. Straight ahead country records, they were not. While solid, that era of Jennings career wasn’t his most pure; it was a time of growth and personal observation, which in the greater catalog, we can see the direct impact of. 

On Shooter though, everything feels different. There’s no way, the guy who wrote Black Ribbons could have sat down and written “Born to Git Down” – Shooter is a portrait into a man who’s come to terms with his abilities, goals, and what he’s after. You can’t write a bunch of feel-good tunes that go hard with the beers, without a sense of purpose, and humility, otherwise, it comes off contrived and douchey, AKA most of the garbage pop country radio pedals. 


Collectively, Shooter is Jennings best record. It’s fun, it’s loud, and it’s carefree. There’s elements of boogie-woogie, Motown, pure rock and roll, and a lot of heart. “Do You Love Texas” should be a new Lone Star anthem given it’s unabashed, bold, and in your face, which are all things Texans love. My new hobby is to pull the song up on a TouchTunes jukebox, and then watch people walk up to see the track, and immediately put it on their phones.   

“Denim & Diamonds” calls back to Hank Jr’s “Outlaw Woman” a solid beer tune, good for the dark bar, and those drinks you have alone when the day’s been just a little too long for small talk. 

I appreciate and applaud Shooter Jennings for reaching inside of himself and owning his legacy and his past. I hope the world around him, and the country radio program managers take a risk and add a few of the tunes off Shooter, if anything, as an effort to save their souls, because Shooter is fun, it’s reckless, and it’s pure country music that is without false pretense. If you can’t kick up your heels to “D.R.U.N.K,” you need to take those boots right off the dance floor, mate.

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Shooter is available everywhere you ingest fine music.


Aug 2, 2018

Album Review / Lucero / Among the Ghosts

Ghosts No More: Lucero Have Come Home

by Robert Dean

After two decades in the game, Lucero has reached one of those critical milestones as a band: people care about their new music. 

As many of their peers are relegated to being humored when they play new songs live, Lucero’s fans crave new music, they want the stories singer Ben Nichols crafts from his years on the road, with a heart that’s taken a beating. The darkness of Lucero is what keeps people coming back, and always will. 

On their new record, Among The Ghosts, Lucero have tapped into their hard-living past, the present as the perennial road dogs, but also, what Lucero will mean down the line. Considering the guys in the band haven’t had regular jobs since before they could legally buy beer, it’s an interesting pretense for a core that’s never broken up, but also, evolved together as a unit. 

A Lucero show isn’t a concert; it’s a drunken hangout. The bar hums with copious amounts of whiskey and the crack of a tallboy. The crowd hollering along is a part of the ritual, a moment with your tribe saying that this room understands you, that this moment, these tattooed jerks can lead you somewhere honest, somewhere that only the baptized understand. 

For many of us, we see those songs, those moments of anathema as a reflection of our own mistakes. Ben Nichols managed to take when we feel alone and broken, but shapes his pain into an experience that strangers share, and for many, to the point of tears. Lucero’s darkness, their self-loathing, their regrets, shame, the world pushing against them, against us – was the bond, the communion. 

Fans of the band have a preconceived idea of what Lucero is. The thing is that they’re an emotional collective people feel like they have ownership of. It’s a special place to be in hearts when you can fill a room in any corner of America, and a good 50% of those people  have your band’s logo tattooed on them. The songs are anthems that timestamp people’s hearts and mean different things do different parts of the country. 


For the yankees, Lucero is a band drawn up from the Southern mud, a group that rips apart a room and lets them kick up their heels, hoisting their drinks in hand, shouting along to drinking songs and bummer tunes alike. For the southerners, Lucero is a mixture of country idealism, but with the punk rock ethos so many in the crowd lived through in a pre-internet age, when having tattoos and a Black Flag shirt, but a Hank Williams tape in the car meant something much different than it does today. Lucero even played Alaska, finding a way to give people who are far removed from the continental US something to drink about. 

But, then Ben Nichols got happy. He got married, and later he became a dad. Word around the campfire was the band just couldn’t run on the same kind of smoke as it had in its past, for the fans, it was a long sigh of, “well, at least we’ve got the old songs because the new ones are gonna suck.” 

We figured we’d lost our hillbilly Tom Waits; Lucero was now going to be another band where we endure the new tunes to get to “Drink Till We’re Gone” or “Tears Don’t Matter Much.”

When Among The Ghosts was announced, it wasn’t a surprise by any means; Lucero is a prolific band that releases records on a fairly regular cadence. It was just that the optimism of possibility wasn’t there, that we were going to get another Women and Work or All A Man Should Do. While both records have a few solid tunes sprinkled throughout, they’re not the powerhouses that make up the band’s back catalog like the perennial favorite, Tennessee, or That Much Further West or even 1372 Overton Park

Then the songs started leaking out. Lucero flipped the script; they challenged what they’d become over the last few records. 

While the Stax-heavy horns were an experiment in identity, Lucero is so much more. Lucero is regret in song form but also knowing what life looks like from a lot of lenses. Among The Ghosts captures that familiar darkness that fans craved so much, it broke our hearts again, this time not because the bar is yelling the last call, but because the reality of life on the road, temptation, and sin are all out there, but Nichols isn’t interested. 

Among The Ghosts is a personal dive into what it’s like to leave children behind, as drummer Roy Berry recently became a father, too. Guitarist Brian Venable has a son who recently toured with his dad for the first time. These guys are living their years out on the road while their children grow, while their hometown of Memphis goes on without them. 

“For The Lonely Ones” is easily one of the best Lucero songs of all time. It’s better than anything off of the last three records combined. If there was a way to explain what Lucero means, what they feel like, in one moment, the encroaching analog darkness that slithers from the tape and through the vinyl is there, ready to be devoured. 


“Cover Me” is a howling madman of a tune that encapsulates a yearning, an animal fire that’s not like any of the previous Lucero anthems. While it’s about Butch Cassidy, it feels much more nefarious, which is a good thing. “Cover Me” feels violent, but without a threat. Title track “Among The Ghosts” doesn’t feel forced. Instead, it’s a promise to Nichols wife and child, explaining his world one tortured vowel at a time. 

This is the Lucero record fans have wanted. This is what Lucero is, intrinsically: those guys sweating it out in a room, figuring out the vibe, their history, but also knowing who they are. While some bands get progressively tamer with each release, Lucero are more punk now than ever. They’ve always straddled a line of punk and country as kissing cousins, there’s nothing the band can do that would shock or surprise the faithful. The blood is on the tracks. 

Among The Ghosts is the moment that refocuses the dynamic of what Lucero is: While the punk overtones have always been there, “Among The Ghosts” is a statement, that despite what changes in their lives, how they grow, those boys from Memphis with all them tattoos, still have plenty of darkness to mine from. 


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Among the Ghosts is available tomorrow everywhere.


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