May 20, 2021
Sep 3, 2020
23 Favorite Albums of the Decade (2010-2019)
I meant to post this at the end of last year with blurbs and whatnot, but it did not happen.
1. Jason Isbell - Southeastern
2. Lori McKenna - The Bird and the Rifle
3. Tyler Childers - Purgatory
4. The Damn Quails - Down the Hatch
5. Father John Misty - I Love You Honeybear
6. John Moreland - In the Throes
7. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
9. Jamey Johnson - The Guitar Song
10. Brandy Clark - 12 Stories
11. Run the Jewels - RTJ
12. James McMurtry - Complicated Game
13. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
14. Kendrick Lamar - good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
15. Turnpike Troubadours - Goodbye Normal Street
16. Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
17. Jamie Lin Wilson - Jumping Over Rocks
18. Run the Jewels - RTJ2
19. Lydia Loveless - Somewhere Else
20. Chris Stapleton - Traveler
21. Cody Jinks - Adobe Sessions
22. Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere
23. Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden
Honorable Mentions: Sturgill Simpson - High Top Mountain, Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park, Cody Jinks - I’m Not the Devil, Turnpike Troubadours - A Long Way From Your Heart, Kellie Pickler - 100 Proof, Mike & The Moonpies - Cheap Silver, Turnpike Troubadours -s/t, Miranda Lambert - The Weight of These Wings, Ruston Kelly - Dying Star, Brandi Carlile - By the Way I Forgive You, Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor’s Guide, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - There is a Bomb in Gilead, Charlie Robison - Beautiful Day, Lucero - Among the Ghosts, Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial, Gojira - Magma, Colter Wall -s/t.
Feb 18, 2020
Feb 6, 2020
By Travis Erwin
John Moreland's latest offering, LP5, delivers the same acoustic sensibilities we have come to expect, while showcasing his notable evolution as an artist and as a human. The end product for the listener is honest, thought-provoking songwriting, delivered with authentic emotion.
The album opens with tender guitar notes pulling you into the single “Harder Dreams,” though Moreland’s poignant lyrics soon take over. And while it is hard not to get lost in the calm tones of his voice, the songwriting is what truly elevates both this track, and the entire album. The lines … Are you lonely in your convictions, staring through the glass tonight? Is the truth a work of fiction, better ask the blood-stained skies … stuck out for me, but the emotional imagery within this opening song is gripping. This opening track foretells what’s to come, in terms of quality of sound, songwriting prowess, and in the teasing the overriding theme.
With a bit more of a bluesy funk, “A Thought is Just a Passing Train” offers a different vocal style than the rest of the album. At nearly five and half minutes long, this second track has a jam groove that sort of relaxes your senses and allows you to close your eyes and settle in for the long haul. But don’t dismiss the power of the lyrics, because we’ve all been hit hard by an emotion, fear, or doubt, and this song is all about recognizing the brevity of such gut punches.
“East October” is the kind of track that subtly reveals itself. Painted with broad strokes in places and refined thoughts in others, the track repeatedly asks the question, … How Am I ever going to get by, all my myself? The song left me thinking about a divorced man reflecting on the memorabilia of a marriage gone bad. Though the fact it was written with a nod to Chris Porter’s song, “East December,” makes it clear Moreland wrote it from more of a grieving friend’s viewpoint. Porter passed away in 2016. That such a song can be parlayed into broader emotion is more proof of Moreland’s talent for bringing forth our humanity.
My personal favorite track on the album is “Learning How to Tell Myself the Truth." The song delivers unrelenting truth. Coming via a stream-of-consciousness style, the track brings out the nuances of Moreland’s emotional vocals. This track is the musical equivalent of staring into the mirror and talking to the person looking back.
“Two Stars” is a soft guitar instrumental that bridges the gap over to “Terrestrial,” another track about overcoming the self-doubt and uncertainty that washes over all of us at times. Discovering what is real both within our own heads and the outside world around us is the prevailing thought behind much of this well-written album.
Moreland again pays homage to his friend, Chris Porter, with the track “In Between Times.” Written a mere two weeks after Porter’s untimely passing, Moreland puts words to the kind of grief that often leaves others speechless. The pain is palpable, and his voice is raw, over a stripped-down melody.
Not known for love songs, Moreland proves he can take on the most vulnerable of emotions with “When My Fever Breaks,” a track he began writing, while first dating his wife. The song took him more than three years to finish, but the result is a song that stays with you. It feels genuine without resorting to being overly sentimental, simply for the sake of the poetry.
“I Always Let You Burn Me to the Ground,” feels like a goodbye, not in the literal sense, but in the admission of our own weaknesses, so that we can finally let the ashes of our past blow away in the wind. “For Ichiro” is another instrumental track that serves as an emotional reset. This track has a digital vibe laid over keys and a guitar, making it feel slightly out of place with the album, though it is tranquil and entertaining enough to certainly have merit.
The album finishes with “Let Me Be Understood,” which is fitting, because I imagine this is the internal plea of every songwriter, when they release new material out into the world. But here, this track is about growth and wisdom that comes to us on down the road, giving us a new outlook over hindsight. Bluesy and folksy, the track brings forth many of Moreland’s best sounds, both musically and vocally, and as always, the songwriting is relatable and makes you ponder your place in this world.
Or perhaps more importantly, the song and the album are meant to reinforce the fact we all have these complex thoughts and emotion running through our heads. And the lasting message is that it's okay to let them in, because we will emerge on the other side all the better for having them. As a writer and fan of his work, I hope that is what Moreland wanted understood, but no matter the intent, his new album, LP5 is definitely worth your listen.
LP5 is available Friday everywhere you buy or stream music.
A native Texan, Travis Erwin is an author and music reviewer now living in Southern California. Find his novels and memoir, anywhere books are sold, or visit him in the Twitterverse, via @traviserwin.
Dec 4, 2019
Oct 24, 2019
When you hear Jason Aldean playing over the speakers before you even walk into a store
New Sturgill Simpson be like...
Why should you buy the concert ticket?
Luke Bryan's dance crew practicing before a show
New John Moreland and American Aquarium albums next year?
When somebody asks me why I listen to so much sad country music
When Janet Weiss is a Kane Brown fan
Explaining Zac Brown's rise and fall
Aug 23, 2019
|Photo by Sean Rosenthal|
By Kevin Broughton
Jason Hawk Harris hit rock bottom during the writing and recording of his debut full-length albumLove and the Dark. In the last few years, the Houston-born-and-raised, Los Angeles-based musician endured life-altering hardships—illness, death, familial strife, and addiction—yet from these trials, a luxuriant and confident vision of art country emerged.
With an unlikely background, Harris is a singer/guitarist/songwriter who walks his own line, one that touches on Lyle Lovett’s lyrical frankness, John Moreland’s punk cerebralism and Judee Sill’s mysticism and orchestral sensibility. There’s even the literary and sonic audacity of an early Steve Earle, an outlaw unafraid to embrace harmony. Comparisons to Jason Isbell will inevitably follow, and they won’t be hyperbole, either.
While touring and performing in the indie folk band The Show Ponies,Jason started writing his own songs, intuitively returning to his country roots but incorporating his classical and rock ‘n’ roll performance skills. He released his first solo offering, the Formaldehyde, Tobacco and Tulips EP in 2017 and hit the road.
Meanwhile, his world fell apart: his mother died from complications of alcoholism; his father went bankrupt after being sued by the King of Morocco; his sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and gave birth to a premature son with cerebral palsy; and—subsequently—Jason got sidetracked by his own vices.
This album is his personal narrative on death, struggle, and addiction, of a life deconstructed and reassembled. From the opener, “The Smoke and the Stars,” it’s apparent this album, produced by Andy Freeman, will take you to compelling new places. An ache, a longing, claws its way out of the speakers, the gradual drone blossoming through without rigid genre designs. You can hear the essence of classical music in a long crescendo; you can feel his Houston upbringing in JHH’s soulful and humid inflection; you can sense his Los Angeles home in the sharp and risky dynamics. You can also hear the joy and exquisite desperation when he swings for the fences, belting “Maybe I was just waiting for you, to get through the grapevine, tear down that door, and let me live in those green eyes of yours.”
Harris has composed one of the best country albums of the year and helped Bloodshot continue its hot streak of debut records from its stable of the finest talents in the genre.
A master’s degree in music was at one time a viable option for you. Though you ended up not going that route, I’m curious about what formal or classical music education you’ve had.
Yeah, I have a bachelor’s degree – from a small, liberal arts college in Southern California called Biola University -- in music composition with an emphasis in voice. That’s the level I stopped at. I applied and was wait-listed for the master’s program at UCLA, but I just decided I didn’t want to go that route.
Do you play more than guitar on this album?
Uh, let’s see…I played some percussion; I played most of the guitars, though there were a few of those parts I didn’t play. I played somepiano, but for the most part, anything that wasn’t guitar…I wanted killer players on this record and had them in studio. So the piano and percussion stuff I did was after the fact and just to fill in space.
A couple of the songs have a classical or orchestral feel to them, particularly the first and last cuts. Can you describe how you and (producer) Andy Freeman went about arranging and producing this album? You obviously had some really good players; how much of this was done live?
As far as the arranging goes, I’m the most anal about that sort of stuff. So usually when I go in the studio I have a really good idea what I want to do. And I’ll throw it to Andy, and he’ll be like the fine-toothed comb; he’ll say, “Well, I like this, but this part needs to shine a little bit more,” you know? Andy is really good at unlocking the creativity in the people he’s producing. And sometimes he’ll just let me go nuts, like I did at the end of “Grandfather,” and bring out all the classical chops and orchestral training.
A lot of the album was recorded live. Even the base tracks for “Grandfather were recorded live; obviously the strings and the percussion and xylophone were not. “I’m Afraid” is one whole, live take.
Speaking of the opening song: I believe a dream about being in a room full of snakes inspired “The Smoke and the Stars.” Someone with green eyes comes to your rescue, but by then the snakes are a metaphor for something else, aren’t they?
Mmm? I don’t know. Maybe. My thing is when I’m writing like that, I’m not just writing metaphors. And I don’t like metaphors that have to work too hard. So I’m just writing as if the subject is real.
You’ve not made a secret of the fact that you struggled with substance abuse during the making of this album. If you don’t mind elaborating, which were your poisons of choice, and what are your physical and spiritual states as you approach your release date?
I’ll just say this. I’m physically and spiritually more healthy than I’ve ever been. It’s something that I’m trying…trying not to think of as something that defines me, even knowing full well that it has an effect on me. I’m not sure I’m ready to talk about drug of choice or low points or anything like that just yet. Maybe for the next record
“Giving In” is as positively an upbeat song about an addict’s relapse I can imagine, with imagery of a man’s using his wife’s wages when he goes out to fix. What went into writing this song?
Yeah. Not all of my songs are completely autobiographical. Most of them have a lot of me in them, though. “Giving In” is a character that’s kind of based on my mother and me. My mother was an alcoholic and an addict, and she was someone – and I’ve been around a lot of addicts in my life – who wanted to stop. She wanted to be sober more than any addict I’ve ever met. And she was just powerless to do so.
So it’s a combination of her journey and her struggles, and mine.
The line “I wish that where I am was where I’ve been” can be interpreted at least a couple of ways. Is someone looking ahead or backwards?
The way I was thinking about it was, “I wish that where I am now,” which is not sober and completely idiotic and drunk – I wish that was something I could look back on and say, “Oh man, remember when I used to get so f*cking drunk and I was a mess? That was so dumb.”
You’ve experienced a horrific level of family tragedy in a short time. It seems hackneyed to ask if the creative process was therapeutic, but there does seem to be a hopeful air to an album filled with really sad vignettes. Do you feel like making it helped you emerge in a better place?
Yeah, I think so. Hope is something that – even in the darkest times of the past five, six, seven years when the aforementioned tragedies took place – I never felt hopeless. It’s…I do believe in an afterlife and I believe that we’re all going there. And that gives me a lot of hope, even when I see the worst that life has to offer. Because I don’t think that it’s the end. And it’s okay if other people don’t believe that, but that happens to be where I fall on the spectrum of belief.
I kind of got that feeling, especially listening to the last song, which I’ll ask you about now. “Grandfather” is such a warm, big sweeping song. It’s literally otherworldly; I’m just not quitesure of the context. Did you have a near-death experience and see your granddad? The song has a church feel to it; is this how you envision Heaven? Or something else altogether?
I think I’d like to keep it open for people, because I wanted it to be – well, I wanted it to have an opiate feel, which is why I’m so vague about where I am in the first verse. And I think that’s important to the song’s ethos – that it has an air of mystery and the unknown. I think hope is the embrace of the unknown; it’s not something desperate and awful.
Apr 29, 2019
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.
Mint Condition is available Friday.