THE BEST KIND OF COMPLICATED: James McMurtry’s latest, Complicated Game, a worthy listen

We grew up hard and our children don’t know what that means
We turned into our parents before we were out of our teens
Through a series of Chevy’s and Fords
And the occasional spin ’round the floor at the Copper Canteen

Nobody paints a lyrical picture of modern American life better than James McMurtry, who has the balls to open his first album in six years with the positively brilliant lyric “Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun; I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done.” This is the man who wrote the searingly honest “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” about the “WalMart”ification of American life, as well as the beautiful “Ruby and Carlos” off Just Us Kids, the perfect love song about the honest love most people experience rather than the Hallmark-style tripe we’re frequently force-fed.

According to a great interview in Rolling Stone Country, McMurty still takes his work seriously enough that he regrets how most fans misinterpreted his song “Cheney’s Toy”:

“People thought that I was saying that the soldiers were Cheney’s toys — I was saying Bush was Cheney’s toy. There were clues like Cheney saying, ‘You’re the man,’ to Bush to pump up his ego, so he’d go out and sell his politics, which I read in the New York Times. Not everybody reads the New York Times it turns out.”

Willing to admit that he erred in making such a polarizing song anchor the album as a single, he’s chosen to focus Complicated Game, his latest album, on songs tied to real people living real lives. And he’s taken on vocal coaching, apparently, which has given his road-weary vocals even more power.

I’m still digging into the album, but so far I hear no reason to suspect McMurtry’s voice is anywhere near wearing out, nor that his lyrics risk losing relevance. Check out “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” below — his latest single echoes back to the frantic vocal percussion of the fan-favorite “Chocktaw Bingo” in its lyrical Molotov cocktail of American experience.

Three decades into a career with no limits, McMurtry’s proving yet again that he’s the best kind of complicated. And Complicated Game is well worth making an appointment to play.

THE LIVE WIRE: Against The Clocks – “Top Floor”

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Rockville, Ind.’s Against The Clocks perform during Birdy’s Battle Royale. They won, advancing to perform again in April. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

When you come from a small town, sometimes half the battle is explaining to fans where your band got its start without having to resort to pulling out the Google Maps app. Against The Clocks, based in tiny Rockville, Indiana, will dispose of that problem when their new album, 47872, comes out hopefully this March. With any luck the album will put them and the town squarely on the musical map, because what this band offers is an ear-catching blend of classic rock and modern pop, heavy on the keyboards and the hooks you won’t find anywhere else.

With two keyboard players sharing vocal duties, the band really hits the ground running, merging the big melodies of Journey with the rock aesthetic of the Allman Brothers, adding the hooks and production smarts of a guy like Ryan Tedder. Everything comes out in the mix to create juicy pop music you’ll want to have on repeat all summer.

The band performed their song “Top Floor” at Birdy’s Battle Royale in Indianapolis this past Friday, winning their competitive round and advancing to perform again this coming April. You’ll want to be there when they do, but you can enjoy the video below. This is the only place to hear the entire song until the band releases 47872 later this spring!

ARTISTS TO WATCH: The Venom Cure

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Indianapolis’ The Venom Cure perform at Birdy’s Live during week three of 2015’s Battle Royale. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

Though we may have to wait a few weeks to know whether they’ll sneak into the next round of Birdy’s Battle Royale, due to an incredibly close score during the overall voting, there’s nothing keeping you from backing the Venom Cure, clearly a band to watch in the region. Hailing from Indianapolis, this band blends the best of 80’s glam-tinged stadium rock with the deft arrangements of symphonic metal to create a show you’ll want to see more than once. The band has been working the local scene since 2009, drawing comparisons to bands as disparate as Bon Jovi and Queensryche.

Though they had to adjust their performance on the fly due to tech elements not working within the venue’s audio parameters, the band responded admirably. Lead vocalist Steve Nicolas was the quintessential frontman, working the crowd like a pro while the entire band stepped up to the challenge by giving the strongest overall performance of the night, the close crowd vote nonwithstanding. And drummer Jimmy Whetstone’s perfectionist performance ethic was evident in an individual performance which was particularly fun to watch.

I’m told they’ll have another local gig at the Emerson Theater in March — as soon as I have more information I’ll post it here, hopefully along with an interview. Until then, enjoy videos of “Flood” and “Orphan Song” from their Birdy’s performance, both of which can be found on the band’s EP On The Other Side Pt 1. Here’s hoping they make it through to that Wild-Card Round in April!

THE VENOM CURE – “Flood”

THE VENOM CURE – “Orphan Song”

THE LIVE WIRE: The Murder Junkies coming to Indy’s 5th Quarter Lounge in June!

If you’ve ever said there’s nothing hardcore going on in Indianapolis, prepare to have those words force-fed down your throats by the band that all but defines the raw brutality of the punk aesthetic. That’s right — the Murder Junkies, the final band to back the late, quite possibly certifiably insane, punk legend G.G. Allin will be coming to Indianapolis to play the 5th Quarter Lounge on June 13, with support from Late August, ASD, Hell’s Orphans and Giraffes Eating Lions. Brought to you by Dan Nash and Circle Pit Conservative in cooperation with Mona DeMaggio at the 5th Quarter, this looks to be THE SHOW this summer, one you won’t want to miss if you have ever claimed to support punk rock and free speech. I’ll bring you more information on this show as things develop, but tickets are available now for $8.00, or $10.00 at the door (if they’re not sold out by then).

ARTISTS TO WATCH: JEFF The Brotherhood

Nashville rockers JEFF The Brotherhood are ready at last to release their follow-up to 2012’s Hypnotic Nights! Whether the three-year wait was worth it remains to be heard, since as of yet the only new track I’ve heard is “What’s A Creep” (posted below). But the new album Wasted On The Dream was co-produced by Jake and Jamin Orrall with Joe Chiccarelli, who has produced many of my favorite records including the Raconteurs’ Consolers of the Lonely and the White Stripes’ Icky Thump, as well as several classic albums from seminal Mexican garage band Cafe Tacuba. So I have high confidence that this album is going to have more than enough raw rock to get people excited about the state of 2015’s new music. As the band states in a recent press release:

Wasted on the Dream is the first JEFF The Brotherhood album to showcase the band’s recent evolution into a full-blown ROCK outfit: Jake plays six-string guitar (as opposed to his custom-made signature 3-string model), Jamin plays a full kit and Jack Lawrence (of Dead Weather and Raconteurs fame) plays bass on the entire album. The album also features guest contributions from Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, Diarrhea Planet guitarists Evan Bird and Emmett Miller, and a flute solo by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. To accommodate their bigger sound live, JEFF has expanded to a highly voluminous, balls-out twin guitar monster of a quartet.

The album drops March 10th, and will include the following tracks:

  1. Voyage Into Dream
  2. Black Cherry Pie
  3. Cosmic Visions
  4. Mystified Minds
  5. Melting Place
  6. In My Dreams
  7. In My Mouth
  8. Karaoke, TN
  9. Coat Check Girl
  10. What’s A Creep
  11. Prairie Song

NEVER SAY NEVER: Ian McLagan (1945-2014)

I’ve been listening to an angel’s cry
I can dream if you hang around
I can do anything
With you by my side
Never loved anyone
I never loved anybody
But you baby
Never been lucky babe
I’ve never backed winners
But I’ll never say never again

Rock music lost a legend today, but the music won’t be going anywhere. I could listen to Ian McLagan play on a non-stop loop and never be disappointed. If I disappear for a few days it’ll be because I’m digging up any Faces clips I can find and watching them on repeat. Here’s a personal fave from his later years, off Letterman, who was clearly a huge fan. And Patty Griffin on harmonies … just wonderful.

F#@^ YEAH IT’S CHRISTMAS: DePue Brothers Band – “Linus and Lucy”

I love Christmas, bluegrass and the Charlie Brown Christmas album, so when I stumbled on this track from the DePue Brothers Band, off their album When It’s Christmas Time, I couldn’t help but spread the word! Zach DePue, on violin, is currently the concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony, which gives this some local flavor. But what I really loved about their backstory is how much family history there is in the group’s celebrations of the holiday spirit. Their father, Dr. Wallace DePue, Sr., wrote a new Christmas carol for the family as his holiday gift, a tradition carried forward to this day:

No matter where they may be performing, the brothers reunite each Christmas and each year their dad writes another carol. These carols were musical expressions of love to his four sons and enduring gift cards to the DePue‘s family and friends with personal notes and updates from each growing child. In addition, as a gift to their community, they would perform in their hometown church and, now, they return to the church this Christmas with an additional gift – their holiday music recorded.

The entire album is as captivating as the video below, capturing the beauty of the holiday season via rollicking bluegrass arrangements you won’t be able to help tapping a foot to. As you settle back into your groove now that Thanksgiving’s come and gone, let this reworked classic get you into the spirit of the season!