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

Aug 20, 2019

Penguins with Knives Have Come For Your Daughter, Chuck

By Robert Dean

Penguins with Knives is a goofy name for a band. But you know what's not goofy? The jams these dudes from New Orleans crank out.  The band's debut record Those People Are Dead, PWK is a subtle mix of bands like DOWN, Acid Bath, ZZ Top, and a little Memphis soul all wrapped in a filthy, dirty gas rag. 

There's some experimentation going on throughout the record, but the identity of the music never waivers off into unfocused territory. Instead, what PWK do is level an attack that's balanced and heavy, but also palatable thanks to how the vocals are phrased. Despite being four guys used to hammering back some whiskey shots with plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon chasers, the sounds on the record are a solid batch that offers a lot of promise. The New Orleans spirit comes through via the sonic grooves stitched throughout the album, giving frontman Benjamin Deffendal plenty of chances to capture his moods across the songs showcased. 

"Pickpockets and Loose Women" is a New Orleans sludge banger with all of the requisite head-bobbing riffs one needs while keeping their beer close. The smoke-infused intro with its wailing feedback is straight from the Eyehategod playbook, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. "Tale of The Wandering Witch" is distorted, nasty and heavy but keeps the groove at the center of the song, always keeping its foot on the gas.  


Trying to stand out in a town like New Orleans is hard. When you do breakout, you become canon immediately, it's just how serious people take the metal that comes from the Crescent City; it's dirty, it's flawed and always fucked up, but it's also delicious. Penguins with Knives is no expectation. If they continue to make more music, this is an excellent starting point, it can only get weirder, darker and sludgier from here. And you know, what? The world needs more bands that make you want to hoist your drink while making the nasty doo-doo face while you silently whisper to yourself, "fuck yeah, that's sick." 

Check out Penguins with Knives on Bandcamp today. Don't be a cheapass, buy the record. They put some elbow grease into it. 

Aug 19, 2019

Album Review / Tyler Childers / Country Squire

By Matthew Martin

A few months ago, Tyler Childers released the first single ("House Fire") from his upcoming album Country Squire along with the trippy cover art.  It was perfect, in my mind.  I loved everything about the song- from the simple, understated start to the whirring, fuzzed-out ending.  I knew this was going to be an album every bit as good as his previous album (Purgatory). 

But then I heard the next single- "All Your’n”- and my excitement dipped a bit.  It seemed decidedly not Tyler Childers.  I wasn't sure what to think of the upcoming album after that song.  Here we have a raucous first single with some crazy artwork followed by a nice, but not all that exciting follow-up single.  But, I was hoping that my instincts were wrong; that it would all make sense in the context of the album.  I mean, Sturgill was a producer for the album and he's got a pretty good track record.  

Then the album came out.  And, let me tell you something, it's everything I wanted from a Tyler Childer release.  It's fiery.  It's full of innuendo.  It's sweet.  It's 100% pure-Tyler Childers.  The difference we have here is that he's taken on a bit of that Sturgill-like tendency to make a compelling, complete song-cycle.  While not every song is thematically related, the songs are all tethered together with no real beginning or end to each; only the fade out into the next song.  

While it is one cohesive album, there are clear standouts to me on this album.  "Country Squire," "Bus Route," "Gemini," and "House Fire" being my favorites as of right now.  "Bus Route" takes me back to my days growing up in rural Tennessee where I also had a bus driver who didn't put up with shit (Mr. Morris was scarier than hell).  "House Fire" has gotten a little backlash because of the mix, but I think the mix is just about damn perfect.  The only time I think his voice fades a bit is in the second half of the song when all of the instruments are all blending and weaving in and out of each other.  I think of his voice as an extension of the instruments and it works incredibly well.  My wife, after listening to "House Fire" for the second or third time looked at me and said, "This song feels like it's always been around."  That's it.  That's the perfect song.  Timeless and new all at once.


Even when you get to "Ever Lovin' Hand" (you know, the song about self-love), you might giggle at the first or second listen, but then you realize that it is actually pretty sweet.  I dunno, maybe I'm just a sucker for a sweet song, but this one got to me.  If you would have told me Tyler Childers would make a song about masturbation that I'd tell you was sweet, I would have laughed in your face.  But, that's the genius in Childers.  He approaches these topics with humility and humor.  He doesn't try to make fun of anything, it seems.  These are things that happen day in and day out, and as they say, ahem, write what you know.  And as for "All Your'n" I dig it now.  It works totally within the album.  I wouldn't change a damn thing about it or the album.  I apologize profusely for doubting this song.  


Last time I saw Tyler Childers, he was in a small venue up here in D.C. called Rock and Roll Hotel.  It holds around 400 folks.  When he comes back in December, he'll be playing at The Anthem.  It holds 6,000 people and it's already sold out (I'm bummed that I missed out on getting tickets to this one...).  Tyler Childers is here and everyone has caught on to his genius.  His new album is a continuation of everything we've grown to love about the Kentucky redhead.  But, there’s also growth.  He tried something new on this album, and damn, it worked.  I'm already dying for more new music.  Go buy everything you can from Childers and go see his incredible band live.  You won't be disappointed.

Aug 2, 2019

Album Review / Elaina Kay / Issues

By Megan Bledsoe

The best way to describe Elaina Kay’s Issues in one word would be "interesting." It's intriguing from the moment she starts singing on the opener, unashamedly telling us all about her "daddy issues," or perhaps the daddy issues of this character. It's certainly an interesting way to open an album and perhaps even more of a statement on the opener of a debut. It unfolds into an engaging little eight-track album that's a solid foundation for Elaina Kay.

The greatest strength here is the sound. It's a nice mix of country and rock elements, with The Texas Gentlemen as the backing band. There's quite a lot of energy packed into this, with fun, up-tempo numbers like "Rodeo" and "Pull Your Own Weight," and this is balanced well with quieter moments like "Cheating me Out of Love" and "Lose a Little."

The songwriting is solid and fresh throughout, always holding the listener's attention, but there's not really a particular moment of lyrical epiphany. Instead, this album leans more heavily on the melodies and the hooks to make its points, and Elaina Kay is a fine melodic composer. As for the strongest song lyrically, it's probably "Cheating Me Out of Love," with the simple honesty in lines like, "I can't get over this, at least not as quickly as you want me to. I wanted to, I wanted you." It paints a nice picture of the feeling of wanting to forgive someone, knowing you should, wanting things to be right again, but not being able to forgive in spite of yourself.


The vocals are stronger on these quieter, more introspective moments, where the production is scaled back a little to showcase the writing. The production can drown out Kay in places on some of the more upbeat tracks which can in turn occasionally make her harder to understand. This is something that can be ironed out on subsequent records, as Elaina Kay begins to fine-tune her sound.

For fans of that awesome blend of country and rock sensibilities, this is certainly worth checking out. Issues is a fun little record and a solid start for Elaina Kay.


Jul 26, 2019

Straight From the Bottle: A Review of Gethen Jenkins’ Western Gold

By Travis Erwin

A throaty, whisky burnt growls kicks off Gethen Jenkins new album, Western Gold, (out today) and straight off you know what to expect, as the opening track is drenched in Honkytonk nostalgia. Call it a throwback or call it traditional, this album is pure old, drinking-your-heartache-away country, with a dose of pissed- off I don’t give a shit served as a chaser.

Born in West Virginia and raised on steady pour of Outlaw and Honkytonk tunes, Gethen is also influenced by his time as a Marine as well as his two decades of life in California, and every last one of these influences shows up at one time or another on this album.

Slide guitar goodbyes and dancehall defiance define the first track, “Bottle In My Hand.” A barroom anthem to drinking her away that gives way to the more melancholy, “Heartache Time.” This second track captures the emotion after that first round of I don’t need her bravado. The booze infused emotion continues with “Whiskey Bound,” which continues the up and down ride through the emotional train wreck of life.

The album finds a new energy with “Maintenance Man,” a tune that is the musical equivalent to a Penthouse Forum letter. The rebellious tone continues even on the slower tempoed “Restless Ways,” and “Waiting” which come back-to-back in the middle of the of these eleven tracks. A pair of songs those are both reflective and reaching in nature.

 “Western Gold,” kicks off the back half of the album, and as the title track, it carries the banner for a collection of songs that speaks of the fleeting nature of humanity. This particular tune does so with an unflinching honesty that says, “Yeah I’m leaving, but hey we are both here now so let’s make the most of it.”

Lord knows it ain’t easy loving the restless kind, and “Strength Of A Woman,” takes the emotion of that and distills it down for those who dare try to tame the wild wind of a rambling man.

Imagine David Allan Coe penning a song specifically for Jerry Lee Lewis and you will have a solid idea of how “Basket Case” sounds long before you hear the ninth track of the album.


“While I’m Away,” returns to that fleeting nature of relationships, with an ode to uncertainty and insecurity. Easily the most vulnerable of any song on the album, it is also perhaps the most well-written. The last track, “Me My Bottle And Nothing But Time” recaptures the IDGAF spirit of the beginning of the album, with yet another alcohol soaked set of lyrics that scream barroom jukebox.

Like a lone shot of whiskey, the collection of songs that is, Gethen Jenkin’s Western Gold feels rowdy and raw when consumed singularly, but taken as a group, that burning edge is not nearly as prevalent, leaving you to notice the complex subtleties in both flavor and emotion. 

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Travis Erwin is a fiction writer, lyricists, and music critic. A native Texan Travis now calls the West Coast home. His work can be found anywhere books are sold, and you can reach him on twitter @traviserwin or via comment on this post.

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. 

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