Showing posts with label Matthew Martin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matthew Martin. Show all posts

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.


Mar 26, 2019

Live Review / Charles Wesley Godwin / The Vinyl Lounge / 3/14/19



By Matthew Martin

West Virginia ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes. There's poverty.  There's wide-reported drug abuse.  And there's a sense of this almost pride that you're NOT from West Virginia.  But, on the other side of that coin are the people from West Virginia.  If you actually meet folks from West Virginia, they're nothing like those silly caricatures you read/hear/joke about.  They're proud.  They're proud of what the state stood for during the Civil War. They're proud of what the state provided to the country with the mining industry.  They're proud of the unions that began in that same mining industry.  And over the years some of the best Appalachian music has come out of those hills and hollers.

Charles Wesley Godwin is someone I believe will become a household name very soon.  There's nothing but authenticity dripping from every word and chord that pours out of him.  And he has the voice to carry these sincere, heartfelt songs of growing up in West Virginia.  Songs that are so specific to the Appalachian region that you almost feel you're there as you listen to him sing.  This all comes through on his fantastic debut album Seneca.  I was pleased to find out that in a stripped-down, solo live show, nothing was lost.

We went to see Charles at The Vinyl Lounge which is part of the Gypsy Sally's venue in D.C.  We had once seen Sturgill Simpson play solo at this place to about 50 people.  So, this felt similar- like I needed to see Charles Wesley Godwin before he started making it to venues where the crowds were growing.  He began the show around 10PM.  

The first couple of songs were new songs as far as I was concerned ("Jesse" and "Bones").  I don't believe they were from his previous band, either.  These songs were incredibly well-written and true to CWG's young, but quite impressive career.  CWG would then go on to play a great mix of songs from his debut album ("Coal Country", "Strawberry Queen", and "Shrinks and Pills") as well as songs from his previous band's (Union Sound Treaty) output ("Peaked" and "Hazelton").  He threw in a couple of covers as well from folks like Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Martin.

CWG played for those of us there for around an hour and a half.  It was an intimate affair and one that I am incredibly glad I got to witness.  The songs of CWG are smart and emotional.  West Virginia pride is rich in the tradition of the songs.  He wants you to know that WV is still here.  With songs like "Here In Eden" he calls his WV brothers to arms.  You get the idea that CWG would never apologize for where he's from.  And, that's what makes his songs so relatable and so damn irresistible.  We all want that sense of pride of our home.  CWG has it damn spades.

To drive this point home, CWG pulled a barstool out from the bar for his last song.  He stepped away from his mic.  He unplugged his guitar.  And he sang with all of his heart and soul the WV standard: "Country Roads".  We all sang along.  We felt connected.  And, we walked away from the show feeling like we'd just watched something pretty special.

If you are anywhere near CWG, go see him.  It is special.  He's building something.  He will be someone we all will say we remember when he was still building that something.  Until he comes to your place, go buy his music; his solo album and his previous band's album.  You won't be disappointed. 




Jan 16, 2019

Live Review / Ryan Culwell / Hill Country DC

by Matthew Martin

Something that really grabbed me about Ryan Culwell's latest album, The Last American, was his voice.  His voice and phrasing are unique and the range is pretty impressive.  So, when I saw Culwell was going to be at Hill Country here in Washington, D.C. for a solo show, on January 10th, I knew I had to round up the troops and go.  The best thing about these solo shows is it allows the words and the voice of the artist to really stand out.  That's exactly what happened.

Culwell sang most of the songs off of his new album, but also sang quite a few from his last album Flatlands.  I had listened to the Flatlands album prior to seeing this show, but there was something about seeing those stark songs in that setting that made them hit much harder.  When he sang songs such as "Never Gonna Cry" and "Red River," the crowd was hushed and listening with the same intensity as Culwell was singing. 

Of course, every show has 1 or 2 of those people that won't quite read the room around them.  And, this show was no different...  Two women sat two rows from Culwell and talked, laughed, and generally disrupted the show for those around them.  Most of it was overlooked.  Until in the middle of a washed-out, quiet song Culwell stopped playing until the two women got the point and decided to take their talents elsewhere.  This was met with cheers and applause from the whole room.  My wife was about to lose her cool, so I was glad Culwell dealt with it so graciously.

With that out of the way, the crowd could once again focus on the songs.  The remaining night, Culwell had everyone under his spell going from sweet songs ("Moon Hangs Down") and heartbreakers ("Dog's Ass") to blues numbers ("Dig A Hole").  Ryan easily commands attention while on stage.  Even when he's singing the saddest, quietest songs, you strain to make sure you catch every single word sung.  It was very clear that Ryan is comfortable in that space and knows how to work his voice with ease.  Adding some reverb to wash out his vocals was a great way to fill out the songs, as well.  

(different show, obviously)

With all that said, there were a few moments in the show that hit me incredibly hard; one of which was the song "Won't Come Home". The song is about traveling/leaving home and the fact that sometimes it's hard to come home again because your experiences have broadened.  What you think you knew is no longer what you know.  Not that you know any more or any less.  It's just that you have a very different perception of what life, and home, is.  That one got me down in my soul.  I remember thinking that my mom would sob uncontrollably the moment she ever hears that song.  What a song.  What a night.  The night ended on the standout track "Can You Hear Me" from his latest album.  With that, Culwell walked off stage and met the many fans that came out to hear him.  

If you get a chance to see Ryan Culwell soon, do it.  Doesn't matter if he's opening for someone, headlining, with a band, or solo.  This guy is the real deal.  He's out there slinging authentic, honest songs and deserves every ounce of our attention and the accolades he's been receiving.  I highly recommend his latest album as a starting point.  It's lyrically strong and the music is a perfect amalgamation of what makes Ryan Culwell so great.  But, don't sleep on his 2015 release Flatlands. When you go see him (or hell before, so you'll know all the songs), buy one or both of those albums.  You won't regret it.


Jan 2, 2019

Matthew's Top 10 Albums of 2018


by Matthew Martin

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1- Brandi Carlile - By The Way, I Forgive You
Brandi Carlile's album this year was by far and away the album I listened to the most and the one that had the most emotional punch.  Brandi's voice is perfectly suited to the songs of heartbreak, being a new mother, and being a touring musician.  The production is immaculate and if Hold Out Your Hand doesn't get you moving, you're clearly a lost hope. This is a perfect, timeless album.


2- American Aquarium - Things Change
When BJ lost his band a couple of years ago due to whatever reasons, I thought the American Aquarium name would be retired.  Instead, BJ found a new backing band and came back stronger than ever.  These are some BJ's strongest songs he's written since Burn. Flicker. Die. And, the band!  I'll be damned if this band doesn't seem even tighter.  When BJ has been at his lowest point, band-wise, he's given us masterpieces and this album is no exception.  


3- Lucero - Among The Ghosts
To follow Lucero's career has been an amazing transition from country/punk 4 piece to a straight-up Memphis rock and roll band complete with a horns section.  For their 9th (or 10th if you count The Attic Tapes) studio album, the guys took it back to their roots and left the horns out for the most part.  What they gave us was their best album since 1372 Overton Park.  It's a musically concise album cutting away any fat and letting the songs and band speak for themselves.  Ben Nichols has written some of his most interesting songs to date about Civil War battles, touring, and shoot-outs.  In a catalog full of incredible albums, this one is certainly at the top.


4- Cody Jinks - Lifers
I remember when I first heard Cody Jinks a few years ago, I wasn't immediately a fan.  I don't remember what made me think that- maybe just wasn't in the right headspace or something.  But, that has completely changed.  Jinks released the album that will likely (and seems to already have) boost him to the ranks of Simpson or, potentially even Stapleton.  Jinks's voice is velvety smooth and his band is right on the mark.  The songs are a perfect mix of hard-life livers, hard-night havers, and hard-love lovers.  It's incredibly relatable to those listening and it's the kind of tunes we've come to expect out of Jinks over the last few years.  Yet another very good album in Jinks's short, but incredibly respectable output.


5- Ryan Culwell - The Last American
This album hit me harder than any other album on this list.  Just by sheer surprise and being completely blown away by Culwell's voice and music composition.  This is the album it takes folks quite a few albums into their career to get to.  But, this is Culwell's 3rd.  And it's a masterpiece.  The songs are barnburners and gut-wrenchers.  It's a perfect mix.  This is perfect Southern American music.  It sounds like Tom Petty channeling Mark Knopfler.  There's going to be a lot to hear from Culwell in the future, so I definitely suggest you go ahead and hop on the bandwagon now. 


6- Great Peacock - Gran Pavo Real
I've been a fan of Great Peacock for a few years now and after their last album, I was excited to see where they would go.  As I would go to shows over the next few years, it became clear they were going to go in a more electric direction.  And, they absolutely did.  This album is a rocker full of the harmonies and introspective lyrics you've come to expect.  This is the one you reach for on Saturday night around midnight.  


7- Caleb Caudle - Crushed Coins
Caudle has been pumping out perfect country songs for a while now.  On Crushed Coins, Caudle hit his full stride.  The songs are his best set of songs he's put out.  The music and production are absolutely perfectly suited for his voice and his songs.  NYC In The Rain is a perfect song and a perfect Caleb Caudle song.  I don't think there's anyone else I can imagine singing this song other than Caudle.  If you haven't checked out Caudle, this album is the one to start with.  It's Caudle at his best.


8- Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - The Difference Between Me and You
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have been making music for over 10 years now and let me tell you, they haven't lost a step.  If anything the music has grown more electric, more biting, and louder.  2018 Black Joe Lewis is still writing those 2008 funky party songs, but now he's writing songs about issues he sees going on in this country.  If you like The Stooges, James Brown, and pissed off Steve Earle, this is the album for you.


9- The Pollies - Transmissions
I'm a sucker for any album The Pollies put out.  In my mind, they're one of the best bands out there and it's a complete shame that more people don't know them.  On Transmissions, The Pollies have written a perfect set of Southern pop rock songs.  It's hard not to bob your head along to these songs.  If you've been looking for our generations answer to Big Star, you have no need to look any further.  Keep an eye on The Pollies and do yourself a favor and buy this album.



10- Whitey Morgan and the .78s - Hard Times and White Lines
When it comes to straight-up, hard-edged country, there's not a single person doing it better than Whitey Morgan.  He and his band have again written a damn incredible country album.  You can always bet the bank on Morgan to only release the best of the best.  You will not get filler or cheap songs.  You're going to get songs about living out on the road, the things that does to relationships, and ways to pass the time when out on the road.  It ain't a pretty life, but when Morgan sings about it, it sure makes you wanna try it out for a while.

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. 


Sep 26, 2018

Matthew Reviews Great Peacock… Playing HIS Wedding Reception

Photo by Darcy Ferris


by Matthew Martin 

I'm going to do something a little unusual here.  I'm going to tell you about one of my favorite days I can ever remember up until this point in my life.  On Saturday, September 15th, I made a pretty big life change.  I married my best friend and it was amazing.  It was in front of a church built in the 1800s with much of its stained glass still intact.  The weather was perfect, if a little hot (but, it's September in TN, what can you expect).  All that was something I could never forget.  But, then we got to the reception and it was the most fun I've had at a wedding (yeah, I know I'm biased) because we did something a little unusual: we got one of our favorite bands to play our wedding.  That band is Great Peacock.

One of the first dates my wife and I went on was to see Great Peacock at Hill Country here in DC.  It was a hell of time back then, and time has done nothing but made Great Peacock better.  One of our concerns with having a band many of our friends had never heard of (not for lack of our trying, I want to add) was whether or not people would be inclined to dance to songs they didn't know.  This turned out to be a ridiculous concern as people were out on the small dance floor we had and the surrounding grass almost immediately.  

When we were talking to the guys in Great Peacock, we made it clear that we didn't want them to be a wedding band, we wanted them to be exactly who they were.  So, if they wanted to play a couple covers, those covers should be songs they wanted to do, not songs we wanted them to do.  Although, I will say that we requested for them to play "Wildflowers" by Tom Petty for our first dance and it was perfect.  

Needless to say, they ripped through their songs at near perfection.  They played songs from their first and second albums, which we love.  They played songs such as "Take Me To The Mountain", "Tennessee" (which my dad specifically requested), "Miss You Honey", and "Let's Just Get Drunk Tonight."  Oh, and on "Let's Just Get Drunk Tonight" the guys let me come up and play harmonica.  Now, I'm not one to usually do something like that because of things like, oh I don't know, over a hundred people looking back at me, but my wife and I talked about it and this was something she really wanted me to do.  I'm glad I did, because the joy it brought my family was special.  

Photo by Darcy Ferris


They ended their night on "Desert Lark", that is, until the 150+ people at the wedding shouted for them to play one more song.  So, they played their always hell-on-wheels version of Whiskeytown's "Hard Luck Story."  It was the perfect cap to the perfect day.   Maybe it was the moonshine my dad was handing out (don't ever question my country bonafides, son), maybe it was the joy of being at a wedding, or maybe it was the perfect backdrop of an old pre-Civil War era cabin, but this was by far my favorite time seeing Great Peacock perform.  

When we had set out to thinking of the reception, we asked ourselves what could possibly make our special day even better.  We kicked around a DJ, we kicked around a bluegrass band, but ultimately we thought we'd share with everyone the band that we both believe in and genuinely love.  Sometimes it's hard to convince people to go to a show of a band they'd maybe only heard of but with busy schedules just never got around to checking out.  So, we wanted to make it easy for them.  And, we also knew that the music would be perfect.  And it was.  We had aunts, uncles, cousins, old friends, new friends, grandmothers, and our parents out there dancing, throwing their hands up, and shouting with reckless abandon.  It was a magical moment and it wouldn’t have been close to being possible without Great Peacock.  They picked up new fans from Dallas, TX to London, UK.

So, on that note, I'll leave this by saying, go see that band your friends have been raving about.  You don't know how much your presence might mean and you might also find your next favorite band.  The guys in Great Peacock make some of the best music out there right now.  I am confident in saying that.  They are tight, they are professional, and they have all the chops you'd want from a band.  And, to top it off, they are genuinely some of the nicest dudes I have met.  I'm glad we got to share this special day with them.  Go see em and go buy their music wherever you buy music.

Photo by Matt DeFina



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Great Peacock's latest album, Gran Pavo Real, is available on Spotify and all the usual locations.

Aug 23, 2018

Lucero: Our Dream Set Lists



~intro by Robert Dean

If there’s a band that deserves to finally break through to the next level, it’s Lucero. They’re the humble road dogs who never quit, and continually deliver the goods. And with Among The Ghosts debuting at #2 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart and the band celebrating 20 years of existence, we wanted to take a minute and gush with pride and love for the best dudes from Memphis. It's about damn time for a Grammy nod for these boys.

Considering a few of us (Trailer, Chad, & Robert) have seen the band live more than they can count on two hands, we wanted to put together dream set lists. Just for funsies, because you know, NERD ALERT. 

The only rules are: 15 songs and an encore (although Lucero routinely plays 20+ songs per show).



Robert Dean’s dream Lucero set: 
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Smoke

Everything Has Changed 
Anjalee
I Can Get us Out of Here 
Among The Ghosts 
Baby Don’t You Want Me
Nights Like These
Drink Till We’re Gone 
Sweet Little Thing 
Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble 
Texas & Tennessee 
On My Way Downtown
For The Lonely Ones
Raisin’ Hell 
Hate & Jealousy

Encore: 
Tears Don’t Matter Much  

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Jeremy
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Can’t You Hear Them Howl
For the Lonely Ones
The Man I Was
To My Dearest Wife
Darby’s Song

Went Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles 
Among the Ghosts
Woke Up In New Orleans
Hey Darlin’ Do You Gamble?
They Called Her Killer
All Sewn Up
Texas & Tennessee
Nights Like These
Goodbye Again
All These Love Songs

Encore:
The Closer You Get (Alabama cover)
Tears Don’t Matter Much

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Trailer
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The Mountain

Among the Ghosts
All These Love Songs
Chain Link Fence
Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good
My Best Girl
Texas & Tennessee
Sweet Little Thing
That Much Further West
Nights Like These
What Else Would You Have Me Be?
Raising Hell
Noon As Dark As Midnight
It Gets the Worst at Night
Kiss the Bottle

Encore:
Smoke
Sixteen
Tears Don't Matter Much

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Kevin
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Downtown (Intro)
On My Way Downtown
Like Lightning
Last Night in Town
The War
She's Just That Kind of Girl
I Can Get Us Out of Here Tonight

Sweet Little Thing
Darby's Song
Johnny Davis
The Devil and Maggie Chascarillo
Smoke
Can't Feel a Thing
What Are You Willing to Lose?
Sounds of the City

Encore: 
The Mountain

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Chad
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For the Lonely Ones
Last Night in Town
Little Silver Heart
To My Dearest Wife
Among the Ghosts
Raising Hell
That Much Further West
Sweet Little Thing
Bottom of the Sea
Sixes & Sevens
All Sewn Up
Texas & Tennessee
Nights Like These
Chain Link Fence
Tears Don't Matter Much

Encore:
San Francisco
Drink Till We're Gone

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Matthew
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Can't You Hear Them Howl
I don't think there would be a better damn way to begin a Lucero show than this opening riff. 
Cover Me
Little Silver Heart
Nights Like These
Watch It Burn
What Else Would You Have Me Be?
I feel confident a show that began with these first 6 songs would absolutely create a frenzied-as-hell crowd.  And, I am all for it.  Let's burn this whole thing down!
Sweet Little Thing
Last Night In Town
This song was played at the first Lucero show (I think) I went to with my Dad and brother back in my home state of TN and it meant a lot at the time to me since I was leaving to come back up to D.C.  I wish it was played every single show I attended.  
Tears Don't Matter Much
Hate & Jealousy
I haven't seen this song or Sing Me No Hymns live before and I have to believe that these would absolutely be scorchers live.
Sing Me No Hymns
That Much Further West
To My Dearest Wife

On My Way Downtown
Sound Of The City

Encore:
The War->Raising Hell
I know I'm cheating here, but I think this would be a killer way to do an encore.  You can't have a Lucero show without The War and Raising Hell is a life affirming way to end my night of Lucero's perfect set list.
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Jun 4, 2018

Album Review / American Aquarium / Things Change

by Matthew Martin

When I heard the news last year that American Aquarium was experiencing a mass exodus of all members except for singer-songwriter BJ Barham, I wondered what form Barham would continue on in.  I knew that he'd continue.  The songwriter in him showed no signs of quit, of having that hard-earned time out on the road be for nothing.  I will admit that I was shocked to hear that the name American Aquarium would continue on with all new members.  But, at the end of the day, Barham's earnest lyrics and dedicated-to-the-craft workmanship is what made American Aquarium truly work.  So, it should be no surprise that the latest output from Barham and new mates is just as impressive as ever.

Barham seems to find that muse of his when his back's against the wall.  When he feels like he's been backed into a corner and the only way to get himself out is to fight like hell.  It's what we saw with 2012's stellar Burn. Flicker. Die.   And now we see it here on Things Change.  I think that muse was burning from both ends of the same candle on this latest output as Barham saw not only the end of his band, but a change in the U.S. that was hard for many to grapple with.

I'll get that political upheaval out of the way first because I think that may turn some folks off.  It shouldn't.  Barham writes from his personal worldview.  You might disagree, but he isn't wrong either.  When he sings of seeing the hate his grandfather fought against being alive and well, it's there.  And, regardless of who won the election of 2016, it was still going to be there.  So, before getting mad at yet another artist who should just "shut up and sing," just listen.  Try understanding that there are folks out there that are worried- on both sides.  We are scared of each other, but we can change that.  Music is one of the things that can, and does, bring us together.  

As far as the other subjects on the album, there is a mighty heavy dose of regret and hope when it comes to losing friends you've had for years.  There's always sadness when you lose someone- whether it be by choice or, god forbid, death.  But, there is always hope and happiness in what that change can bring.  Barham doesn't shirk responsibility for those relationships failing.  He meets them head-on and tries to learn lessons from those failures.  He addresses the man he used to be when he would blame every trouble he had on every woman who did him wrong ("One Day At A Time").  He addresses the booze that always led him astray and towards self-destruction ("I Gave Up The Drinking").  Barham knows he isn't perfect, but his ability to stare his demons in the face with hope is what makes the album so incredibly stunning.  And, that's just the words...


The music on this album is a synthesis of every single American Aquarium album up until now.  There are hard-driving rockers ("Crooked+Straight"), acoustic self-reflective songs ("One Day At A Time"), and straight up country songs ("Work Conquers All").  While the band prior to this iteration was a pretty damn good band, this new band has absolutely crushed any expectations one could have had going into this album.  Barham is the glue holding the band together, sure.  But, the band takes his bare bones songs and kicks them up countless notches.  I don't think Barham could have chosen a better group of musicians for this new era of American Aquarium and I can't wait to hear where this band goes from here.  

So, give these songs a listen.  Take time with them.  Don't get turned off because he says something that might not be what you want to hear.  Hear it from his point of view.  Music is the great equalizer and as always, hope springs eternal.   And don't forget to go see Barham and crew as they come to your town!

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Things Change is available everywhere you enjoy good music.

Mar 23, 2018

Album Review / Great Peacock / Gran Pavo Real

by Matthew Martin

When I first heard Great Peacock's EP a few years ago, it felt like it was the beginning of something special - an inside peek at the beginning of the rise of an obscure band.  5 years later, and it still feels that way when I hear a new Great Peacock offering.  The band's sophomore album is no different as the band takes a slight turn away from the gentle, melodic Americana and more towards the psychedelic, Americana-tinged rock. 

The last output, their great Making Ghosts album, was everything we had been promised from their self-titled EP.  It was a melodic outpouring of yearning tunes with Blount Floyd and Andrew Nelson's voices working perfectly together.  The band toured restlessly off that album, coming to DC at least 4 times, I believe, during that time.  Around the last couple of times the guys came through, you could hear something shift in their music.  There were 2 acoustic guitars on stage, then there was one acoustic and one electric, then there were only electric guitars.  The songs began to shift sonically and jam a little more.

On Gran Pavo Real, those new sounds are apparent with the opening organ-heavy jam of "Hideaway."  The harmonies of Floyd and Nelson are still there and the heartbreak-driven tunes are still there, but there is a shift in the tone towards a Pneumonia-era Whiskeytown.  But, never to fear, there are still hints of the old Great Peacock there - "Begging to Stay" and "Miss You Honey" being the two most akin to their previous album.  


There's always a bit of concern with a new album from an artist you really like - are they going to hit the mark they were aiming for and if they do, is it the mark we're wanting to hear?  Will they grow in a way that stays close to their sound but sees them exploring new themes and sounds?  On all accounts, I think Great Peacock hits every note right on this Gran Pavo Real.  They take a chance moving away from their first album and coming up with an even better version of themselves.  They're bluesier ("Heartbreak Comin' Down").  They're subtler at times ("All I Really Want is You").  And, they're just all around better.

This is the kind of album that's just right for the upcoming Summer.  It's going to be on my stereo all year long, for sure.  There's a song for every occasion, high to low.  And the music is rollicking and a damn good time.  You should go buy this album, and then buy another for a friend.  Then, go to every show these guys put on near you.  Let's make the world know Great Peacock.

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Gran Pavo Real will be released next Friday, March 30th and you can pre-order it at iTunesBandcamp, and other music outlets.


Oct 19, 2017

Chris Porter & The Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes - Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You

Art by Pearl Rachinsky Moreland
by Matthew Martin

This one was honestly kind of tough. It's such a gut-wrenching album.  And, I feel I don't have the words to properly articulate the feelings Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You gave me. 

For those of you who don't know, Chris Porter, longtime musician and by all accounts good dude, along with his bass player Mitchell Vanderburg passed away after a traffic incident on the way to a show in Baltimore, MD.  Their drummer survived the crash. This happened exactly one year ago from Thursday (October 19, 2016).  

Porter and his bandmates, the Bluebonnet Rattlesnakes, were working with Will Johnson (of Centro-matic fame) on recording Porter's follow-up to his stellar 2015 release, This Red Mountain. Unfortunately, Chris and Mitchell would not see the release of this album, but - a credit to the likability of Porter - many got together to ensure this album was finished and would see the light of day.  That day is Friday, October 20, 2017.

One of my favorite Porter projects is the Porter and The Pollies EP from a few years ago.  It was rollicking, fun-loving, and just a loose affair.  It really showed off Porter's skills as a songwriter and a bandleader.  This Red Mountain focused more on the songwriting than the rocking and rolling, documenting a tumultuous time in Porter's life when he moved to Austin, TX.  

In 2016, talk began circulating of a new album Porter was working on with a crackerjack band and producer.  I got incredibly excited, hoping that the album would continue to grow the talented Porter's popularity.  Tragically, as I mentioned, Porter would never see that album released.  However, I was right in my hopes.  This is the album that would have hopefully, at least in a just world, sent Porter on a trajectory of playing larger venues, at the very least, and it is an absolute masterpiece of an album; the final puzzle piece of Porter's career.  

Every song leaves a mark, with a gut-punch lyric that seems foreboding in retrospect.  There are moments that careen almost off the rails, but are held together by a thin thread, and it's truly magical to hear.  "Your Hometown" is a perfect example of this careening.  It's a rocker that happens to be one of my favorite Porter songs.  To me, a great song is one that seems it was written either specifically for, or about you/your life.  And this song hits every note for me.  Small, rural, Southern town living...I'm a long way from that now, but damn this song takes me back there with every listen.

This is an album full of heart-breaking songs about, presumably, Porter, his relationships, and the past.  There are songs dealing with tragedy, and those are some of the hardest to listen to.  When you hear "Shit Got Dark", it's hard to get through...  But, it's also a song played and sung with sheer defiance.  Yeah, shit got dark, but maybe there's enough stubborn attitude in us to not let that be the end of the story. 


As far as final albums go, this one is crushing to me because it's absolutely Chris Porter's best and most fully realized album.  The promise the album shows was taken from us last year, and that deserved recognition Porter was always riding towards, always just out of reach, will sadly never be reached.

Credit the musicians on this album as well - an Americana who's who featuring John Calvin Abney, Shonna Tucker, Will Johnson, and The Mastersons. Everyone involved in this project worked incredibly hard to get this album out and I have to believe Porter would be incredibly happy and satisfied with the final product.

To close this out, remember that we love these artists for the release they give us.  The way they make us forget our problems, or let us wallow in them knowing we aren't alone.  We forget that they are real people at times.  People with darkness and light, ebbs and flows.  People with flaws and imperfections.  They work hard for us- to show us that we aren't alone.  So, please, when a band comes through, go see them.  Support them.  Buy all of their albums.  Keep them going.  

To Chris Porter, who I never met, I will quote one song I have a hard time making it through still ("Go On And Leave Me"):

"Hope you find a spot where the lights are hot and draw a crowd..."



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Don't Go Baby It's Gonna Get Weird Without You is available tomorrow on Amazon, Cornelius Chapel, etc. 





Jun 30, 2017

Album Review: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - Youth Detention

by Matthew Martin
We're in an age of unfettered voicing of opinions.  Maybe it's always been this way bubbling just beneath the surface, but with social media and 24-hour news, that squall is reaching a fever pitch.  Each side is pissed and each side fears the other.  It's in this vein that a lot of great music is made.

In the times of slavery, the spiritual was a song or a chant decrying the atrocities happening to those slaves.  During the Civil Rights movement, countless artists and songs decried the tragedies happening to the weakest among us.  In the 90s and 2000s, hardcore and punk bands railed against the state of the world- from consumerism to seemingly constant war.  I say all this to simply state that music is release.  It's an artist's take on their world view.  Sometimes that view may not be our view, but it's an important view and one we shouldn't scoff at or denounce, but take that view and check it against our own world view.

In 2014, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires released the incredible, loud, in-your-face Southern punk rock album Dereconstructed.  I said when I first heard that album, and still believe, that there hadn't been an album that important to the South since Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera.  It was an album that took the quick-paced Southern rock on their first album and ratcheted up the guitar and turned a mirror on the South's transgressions while still maintaining that love most of us Southerners have for our region.  Bains and crew have once again taken a look at the South as a microcosm of the nation on Youth Detention and tackle it the only way we Southerners know how to- loud, abrasive, and mad as hell.

In the first five songs, Bains tackles injustices that happen to those that aren't powerful ("Good Old Boy" is a minute and a half of pure adrenaline-fueled punk) and then hits the nail on the head with "Whitewash."  While the song is slower than the first four, it's the one that hit me the hardest.  With lyrics battling what it means to lose a sense of self and place over time, including our Southern accents (this hit close for me because after moving out of the deep South, I've mostly lost my Southern accent), "Birthmarks to be scrubbed away," Bains sings.

"Underneath the Sheets of White Noise" is a song that LB3 & The Glory Fires were meant to play.  It's a damn good song full of the social commentary we've come to expect from Bains played again, fast and loud.  The surprise song on the album to me is "Crooked Letters."  This song is a typical Bains song with a trudging guitar riff and bass line with lyrics damning and self-reflective at once.  However, it has a loop played mostly throughout of children chanting the chant most of us in the South used to learn to spell Mississippi.  Upon first listen, I was a little turned off by this addition, but to be honest, I can't imagine this song without that loop now.  It's going to be odd to hear the song live without the chant!

The next four songs- "I Can Change!" to "Nail My Feet Down to the Southside of Town"- are the best batch of songs on the album with "I Can Change!" coming in at one of my favorite LB3 songs ever.  The driving guitar with squelching feedback are perfect backdrops for a song that grapples with guilt, ultimately delivering "Guilt is not a feeling, it's a natural fact."



The album ends with two damn good songs- the first being "Commencement Address for the Deindustrialized Dispersion" which again deals with the dispersion of Southern people to other areas, but ends with the chorus "May we all grow old and free, And wander home again."  Amen, Lee, amen.  And "Save My Life!" takes us home with a pure Southern rock and roll song about the life-saving and life-changing nature of rock and roll.  That's what it's all about, man.  Rock and roll is good for the soul.  It releases something in us all.

Clocking in at around an hour and 17 songs, Youth Detention is a break-neck speed of an album touching on everything a good punk album should.  If you don't like your music loud and your artists' opinions worn on their sleeves like a badge of honor, then Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires likely isn't for you.  But, if you're willing to challenge yourself and your beliefs and like your music loud, brash, and full of life, then this is for you. Bains' voice is as good as ever and the band is as tight as you'd expect a band that's been together this long to be.  This is album will be one of my favorites of the year.  If you've never seen the band live, go see 'em.  But, dear Lord, wear ear plugs...

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Youth Detention is available on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

May 19, 2017

Album Review: John Moreland - Big Bad Luv

by Matthew Martin

The first thing I noticed about the latest album from John Moreland was the generally positive and upbeat tint to the album.  Where other Moreland albums burn and singe their ways into your soul, this album boogies its way in.  That isn't to say that this particular outing from John Moreland doesn't have those same gut-punch moments.  It does.  The man writes songs that are written, it seems, in the dead of night with not a lot going on- just your thoughts either haunting or taunting you.

The next thing I noticed was just how damn soulful and bluesy Big Bad Luv is.  I know that's always been there with Moreland, but on this album it's much more pronounced.  The album is such a throwback Americana album to me.  It's something that Steve Earle would have put out.  There's a hint of Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty.  It's an album that will certainly grow as the Summer heat begins to intensify.  The laid-back bluesy songs such as "Love Is Not An Answer" or "Salisaw Blue" are perfect soundtracks to Summer.

So, the album is a damn good album.  It's a growth even if it, in reality, is a step backward for Moreland.  Sure, his last two albums were more somber in tone, but those weren't his first albums.  He's always had bands and this album is more or less a return to those earlier days.  I think that this is an artist who is happy, who is comfortable with the artist he is, and has found a group of musicians that has helped him realize his vision.

Let me get back to the positivity for a moment.  Yeah, there are some crushing lines on the album ("If we don't bleed, it don't feel like a song"), but those feelings of despair are mostly in the past and nearly every song has a moment of clarity for Moreland, acknowledging his love has more than made him happy- she's made him better.  He's a married man now, and that new truth colors his new music.

Yeah, there's a lot to think about in our pasts, but sometimes we get lucky and we have someone come along who makes those past experiences seem worth it.  Those experiences led us to this point.  And, it's not so much dwelling on those past experiences.  It's more acknowledging them.  That's always been Moreland's strength; turning a sharp, unblinking eye on those pasts and the feelings they conjure late at night.  He makes us confront what we may have been disregarding.  That's what makes us love him and his songs.

Every John Moreland album always ends up being one of my favorite albums of the year, and I don't see a way this album won't also be in my favorite albums list.  If not at the top, then damn near it.  If you've never seen the man live, he's going on an extensive tour this Summer and you should do all in your power to get out and see and support him.  The show is unreal.  It's stunning.  While you're there, or before, pick up Big Bad Luv and all the previous albums if you don't already have them.


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Big Bad Luv is available everywhere you consume music, except like, Walmart probably.

Feb 6, 2017

Album Review: Japandroids - Near to the Wild Heart of Life

by Matthew Martin

Japandroids released a new album on Friday, January 27th 2017.  Let me repeat that- Japandroids released a new album!!!!  The thrill of this release to me was probably only rivaled by Sturgill's A Sailor's Guide in recent years.  The last album Japandroids released was 2012's Celebration Rock, which a buddy of mine turned me onto way too late in that year.  Not sure how I had missed out/dismissed these guys, but I was hooked by the time the ending fireworks were exploding on that album.

On Japandroids' first two albums, the themes were clear- life lived with abandon, with all of your best buddies around you to enjoy every last drop.  On Near to the Wild Heart of Life, the enjoyment and positivity is still there, but there seems to be a lens on home and/or the road.  In short, this is Japandroids' road album.  Most of the songs on this album revolve around leaving home, missing home, or coming back home.  But, it's not necessarily a depressed longing for home.  It's more of an excitement of what leaving (and going back) home can promise.  As someone who left my rural upbringing behind over ten years ago, both of those things hit very close to home for me.

I don't know if it's just me and my excitement for this album, but every single drum beat on this album hits harder than anything the Japandroids have done up until this point.  Every guitar note is perfect.  It seems that on all Japandroids releases, they've perfected the art of opening/closing songs and Near to the Wild Heart of Life is no different.  In my mind, these two songs (opener- "Near To The Wild Heart Of Life" and closer- "In A Body Like A Grave") are two of the three best songs on this album with "North East South West" coming in at a close third.




If you're a fan of rock and roll, of reckless abandon, and of anything Japandroids has ever put out, you need to grab Near to the Wild Heart of Life.  If you have been on the fence about listening to Japandroids for whatever reason, I strongly urge you to give in and listen to this album.  I saw these guys live around 2013 and had one of the best show experiences I'd ever had- everyone smiling from ear to ear and shouting along to every "oh oh oh oh!" If you get a chance to check them out live, I would definitely suggest that as well.  Go support music, y'all!

Near to the Wild Heart of Life is available everywhere and way you normally consume music.

Jan 30, 2017

Live Review: Craig Finn of The Hold Steady

Craig Finn- Pittsburgh Living Room Show 01/20

 by Matthew Martin

On January 20th, 2017, the day our new President was inaugurated and spouted nationalist rhetoric to the thousands who were in town, my buddy and I drove to Pittsburgh to get outta DC and see Craig Finn play an intimate show in an office space.

Seeing Craig in this particular setting playing songs from his new album appropriately named "We All Want The Same Things" was extremely cathartic for me.  We sat on the floor and listened to songs about people who've seen better days, but are so damn positive that those better days are still reachable and right over that horizon.  

This blue collar optimism in the face of defeat is the signature of any Finn-penned song.  The new songs on the upcoming record are no different, if maybe a little darker at times.  Those characters are still there fucking up, but getting back up and fighting back.  If this isn't a metaphor for the times we're in right now, man, I don't know what is.

I'd never seen a show in this setting, and I gotta say, it was wonderful.  It was something I'd highly recommend to anyone who is within driving distance to see one of their favorite musicians play an incredibly intimate show to fewer than 50 folks.  It gives a real sense where the artist was when that song was created.  It didn't hurt that Craig made time for some questions during the show, so it was a real insight into some of his songs.

I think most in the room, including Craig, felt a little weird about what had just happened earlier in the day.  I think everyone felt a little better about the world afterwards.  Maybe not for too long, but at least for a little bit.  And, dammit, that's what music is for.  Craig Finn is a national treasure and I can't wait to hear this album in full.  Go pre-order this album here and I can guarantee you you won't be disappointed.

Dec 29, 2016

Matthew's Top 11 Albums of 2016

  Matthew Martin's Top Albums of 2016


11- Young Thug- Jeffery:  I know what you're thinking; this is not an album that would typically get love from this website.  But, honestly, this album is wonderful.  Sure, Young Thug employs some of the same mumbling rap techniques that can get tiresome, but YT's mastery of that along with the superb production on this album make it one of my favorites of this year, and one of my favorite Hip Hop albums in the last few years not named Run The Jewels.  Also, YT is one of Hip Hop's most intriguing artists right now, pushing the envelope on so many things including gender identity- the dude wears a dress on the cover of the album. "Wyclef Jean" is a perfect example of musical perfection with YT's emotional sing-songy delivery.

10- Two Cow Garage- Brand New Flag:  Man, TCG had no idea (I think) that this album would hold the weight that it does when they recorded it.  I am sure they assumed it would be a footnote in the year of 2016 when things were getting weird.  But, things got even weirder and this album got so much more important.  TCG are no strangers to heavy, important tunes and on this album prove that they've honed those skills terrifically.  "Let The Boys Be Girls" is absolutely one of the best songs of the year.

9- Cody Jinks- I'm Not The Devil:  As far as Cody Jinks goes, I'd never really listened to him much, but had heard lots of good things about this album and everyone was absolutely right.  This album is an emotional heavyweight with every song containing some heartbreaking moment dealing with either personal or relationship failures.  I don't think, in my mind, there's been such a gut-punching true Country album since Dwight Yoakam's Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room.  Honestly, if you're looking for a Country album full of hard-driving, honky-tonk, good-timin' tunes, maybe this isn't for you.  But, if you're looking for a hell of a Country album that is perfect in just about every way that gets better with every listen and maybe that much better when you're a little down and out, get this right now.  "I'm Not The Devil" is the song that got me hooked on this album.  Killer song, killer chorus.

8- Paul Cauthen- My Gospel:  WHEW!  Now, this guy caught me by surprise this year and damn he killed it.  This album, unbelievably, is the 2nd best debut album of the year.  Every song on this album is perfectly catchy.  If there was a just world, THIS would be Pop Country.  This is what Roy Orbison would have sounded like if he made an album in 2016.  I hope Paul Cauthen continues making music for years to come.  He's created a perfect throwback album that is already completely timeless.  I dare you to try and listen to "I'll Be The One" without dancing.

7- Natural Child- Okey Dokey:  On this throwback album, I think Natural Child has finally figured out how to turn their Punk, Blues, and Country hippie sound into a force to be reckoned with.  While they released a similar style album in 2014, they hadn't quite gotten the formula down.  Okey Dokey sees all the pieces fall into place and Natural Child create their best album.  "Now And Then" is probably the theme song of Natural Child and easily one of their best songs.

6- BJ Barham- Rockingham:  For a dude that has been fronting the fairly prolific, constantly touring American Aquarium, I was surprised that BJ Barham had enough extra songs to create a solo album.  But, after being overseas when the Paris attacks occurred, Barham felt the need to write a set of songs to deal with the emotions of this ever-changing world and those needless attacks.  The result of those songwriting sessions are some of Barham's most affecting songs and an album that is as good as it is heart-wrenching.  Try to listen to "The Unfortunate Kind" without tearing up, I dare you.

5- Diarrhea Planet- Turn to Gold:  Alright, I won't lie, I'm a DP fanboy.  They can do no wrong.  BUT, that doesn't mean that I'm wrong!  Starting out as a full-on sub-2 minute Punk band, DP began writing more serious, personal songs on their previous album, I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.  On Turn To Gold, DP have mastered the sonic nature of their tunes and created a master album.  How any band can have 4 guitars and know how to play quietly at times is beyond me.  How DP can do that and then turn the guitars up to 11 and not sound overbearing is a Herculean feat.  But, they do it and do it well.  This is the mature album that the band with fecal matter in their name probably never thought they'd make.  "Bob Dylan's Grandma" is a perfect example of the soft/loud dynamics that DP have mastered.

4- Luke Bell- S/T:  This was the best debut of year and one of my most listened-to albums of the year.  Every song on this album is perfect cowboy Country.  Dwight Yoakam is one of my favorite artists of all time and the influence of Buck Owens on him is not lost on many, if any, people.  Luke Bell is the natural progression through the years from Buck to Dwight, and now to Luke.  If Paul Cauthen and Luke Bell are the future of Country, then we are going to be A-OK, y'all!  "Bullfighter" is a perfect example of Luke Bell's mastery of capturing every day moments in his songs.

3- Sturgill Simpson- A Sailor's Guide to Earth:
I was prepared to go into this album with an open mind after hearing that we shouldn't expect a full-on country album.  And, thank god.  Because, it's not a typical Country album, no, but it's still a wonderful album.  It's an album that is so good from start to beginning that I can't imagine any other way of listening to it.  If you were turned off by this album's not completely inherent country-ness, I highly suggest you revisit this one with an open mind.  This may not be Sturgill's best album, but it's damn close.  Every song from start to finish is a homerun, making the album as a whole quite the emotional powerhouse.  And, of course knowing the context of the album- written as a love note to his son- only helps the listening experience.  "Call To Arms" is probably now my favorite Sturgill song and by the time I got to this song on the album, I couldn't sit down.  Such a barn-burner, such a wonderful way to end a wonderful album.

2- Arliss Nancy- Greater Divides: I wrote about this album on this site earlier this year, and my feelings on this album have done nothing but gotten stronger.  This is without a doubt Arliss Nancy's best album.  There is not one weak song, not one weak moment.  The songs on this album are the kinds you need to hear- songs to make you feel happy for being alive and resilient through those times that are less than perfect.  Again, in a world that makes sense, this band and this album would be popular.  The band and songs have never sounded better or tighter.  The growth over their last 3 albums is incredible.  I can't wait to hear where they go next.  "Finches" is a great example of Arliss Nancy's ability to take a normal moment and feel all the weight in that moment through past failures/triumphs.


1-  Drive-By Truckers- American Band: There is not a more important album in Drive-By Truckers' repertoire.  I say that fully aware of the importance of Southern Rock Opera and even The Dirty South.  However, this is important in a very different manner.  This is an album written by deep-red-state Southern men about issues that many in this region turn away from.  This is DBT taking their implicitly political music and making it as explicit as possible.  And, in the process, they made a few fans turn away from them.  But, the band didn't back down and, to my way of thinking, we're much better for it.  This is the album we needed in 2016, and will continue to need as we move forward.  It's ok for us to have differing opinions and as Cooley says, "if the victims and oppressors, just remain each other's others," then where will we be over the next few years.  So, this album is an impressive call to arms for everyone to look ourselves and those who differ from us in the eye and figure out how to find some common ground, while also calling bullshit on those who wish to divide us.  "What It Means" is already in my top 5 favorite DBT songs and to me, this is the best song of the year.  The best song of the year on the best album of the year by one of the most important Southern bands of our time.

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