Jan 6, 2024
Aug 12, 2020
I have a Spotify playlist called Hidden Gems and it’s one of my favorites to return to a couple times a year. There’s no genre distinction, no particular theme; these are just great songs that are generally unknown. There are killer songs from well known artists who weren’t as popular at the time of release, amazing tunes from artists who flamed out before they ever got over, forgotten gold, little heard gems from stalwarts, and just damn good songs not many people have heard. I’m going to pick a few of these from time to time to spotlight.
The Broken West - “Down in the Valley”
Holy shit, what an introduction! When I heard this song, I thought this band was destined for greatness. Power pop with some Americana influence, and a MASSIVE hook, swagger, and all kinds of “It” factor, this should surely have made them a household name. Sadly, it didn’t happen. In the very least, “Down in the Valley” should have been a big hit in some format. That didn’t happen either. I have no idea why. It’s a damn ear worm. The Broken West only released 2 proper albums and broke up. What might have been… with better promotion and the right ears hearing it. They’d fit in perfectly today with pop inspired rockers like White Reaper and Rookie.
Krizz Kaliko - “Bipolar”
Part of Tech N9ne’s hip-hop collective, Strange Music, Kaliko is both a skilled rapper and a talented vocalist. “Bipolar” features the latter, and it’s a strangely catchy look into a difficult upbringing. Dealing with childhood mental illness, it's a bracing story with an addictive piano riff and an oddly sing-along chorus. The contrasts make this a memorable tune. And for those who think hip-hop is just brags over beats, this is a narrative filled with true emotional candor. A real hidden gem.
Whiskeytown - “Choked Up”
I know Ryan Adams’ name is verboten these days, and with good reason, but I’m slowly coming around to allowing myself to listen to a few of his songs again (at least if they come up in a shuffle, I don't skip), particularly the best of the best. This is one of them. Adams’ vocals are chilled out, letting the killer melody and tasteful harmonies take the lead. It’s a sweet pop-folk tune that sounds like something you’d hear in the background of an early 00s teen drama that you’d rush to buy on iTunes after the show, but one that stands the test of time. It was recorded during the Pneumonia sessions, but left off that record. To my knowledge, the only release of this song was on Lost Highway’s compilation album Lost and Found, Volume 1.
Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise - “Once Upon a Time”
“Once Upon a Time” was a minor hit on MTV in 1996 but has been lost to the sands of time. It’s a soulful, nostalgic look back at the days of Marvin Gaye and ’72 Chevys. Bradley’s gritty voice is the centerpiece, and I was hooked immediately. A blind soul singer finding success in his latter years leading a garage rock band was quite the marketing hook, but this band backed it up with moving music. Although I had my doubts, I’m happy to report that Bradley is still alive and recording music. Wikipedia lists the band as still active, though they have not released an album since 2008.
May 2, 2020
Sep 19, 2018
Mar 23, 2018
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.
Gran Pavo Real will be released next Friday, March 30th and you can pre-order it at iTunes, Bandcamp, and other music outlets.
Mar 6, 2015
I think I like this better than the studio version...
Sep 19, 2014
May 20, 2014
Fire Mountain's All Dies Down is my favorite pure alt-country album I've heard in ages. It harkens back to the 90s glory days of the "genre," bringing to mind the guitar pop of The Gin Blossoms, the addictive low-key melodies of Whiskeytown, and the edgy jangle of R.E.M.'s more country-leaning tunes. All Dies Down isn't stuck in that era by any means, but it certainly draws deeply from the well.
Lead singer Perry Brown has an affable growl of a voice that's versatile enough to drive heartland rockers like "Factory Line" or ache through the lush balladry of "Traces." Fire Mountain's sound is a big one - restrained, but full - with ample rhythm and crisp guitar licks. There's also piano (don't worry - it doesn't push them into easy listening territories) and it's a distinctive part of their approach, woven seamlessly into the songs.
The songs are the thing though. As good as Fire Mountain is, what they offer your ears on All Dies Down is much greater than the sum of parts. Love, loss, heartache, regret, finding your place, making changes - in their bio, they say (paraphrasing) this is the lot in life of being in your mid-twenties, but I don't know anyone who can't relate to the universal emotions relayed here.
Brown is a sneaky writer, both of subtle hooks and sharp observations. Lines like "How I hung heavy on your heart" from "Anchor Iron" will slide by you so smoothly, you won't know how it got stuck in your head 3 hours later. "When I kiss you just know that I'm spitting blood" from "Factory Line" is delivered with such simmering spite, you can taste the words.
"Doing Fine" is a prime example of the understated nature of these gently delivered but powerfully received messages. With a palette heavy on grays and muted hues, the gleams of light or glimpses of shadows stand out that much more. The chorus seems simple, but simple like a Hank Williams song, forlorn and insightful.
"Traces" is my personal favorite on the album. It's a hard-hitting ballad with a sweeping chorus (with enchanting harmony vocals provided by Janet Simpson-Templin, of Delicate Cutters/Gum Creek Killers/Wooden Wand/ Teen Getaway) and it wouldn't be out of place soundtracking a somber breakup scene in some teen soap. That's not to say it's generic and schmaltzy… okay, it's a little schmaltzy, but it's so damn well-written and just unfair on an emotional level. I would have straight up wept into my cheap beer if this had come out during my college days.
There are a few rockers on the album too, but the heart of the band is most strongly shown in the quieter moments. All Dies Down is thinking man's windows-down music. It's catchy sad-bastard music. It hurts so good.
Highly recommended to fans of: Buffalo Gospel, R.E.M., Reckless Kelly, The Gin Blossoms, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, good music.