Recently I ran across an excellent guest post about house concerts by acoustic artist Fran Snyder on The DIY Musician. These gigs are so named because the artist performs in someone's living room in front of anywhere between 10 to 50 friends and neighbors of the host and hostess. Such concerts are very intimate affairs: most venues enjoy excellent reputations for having good concerts, and it will usually be a packed house.
With the right promotion this is exactly the kind of album pop radio claims to be looking for: “Sooner Or Later” in particular has a ballad-lover’s hook music programmers should already be fighting over who gets to claim loving it first.
Jon Jonsson – “Wait For Fate” (2012, Independent)
“Every day gets way better when you’re around,” Jon Jonssen sings on “When You’re Around,” the lead-off single for Wait For Fate. What would sound cloying coming from a lesser songwriter has an honest, road-tested vibe when emerging voiced by Jonsson, an Icelandic native who honed his chops while studying at Boston University. Clearly the sounds of Jason Mraz rubbed off on him; the laid-back grooves on Wait For Fate are undeniably resonant, particularly the layered melodies which are subtle yet incredibly effective. What’s more impressive is how Jonsson builds on that level of pop pedigree, drawing on a jazzy sound which makes “Kiss In The Morning” sound as much like Star Turtle-era Harry Connick, Jr or just about anything to ever come from the mouth of Jamie Cullum.
If you can listen to this album and still claim to not find your toes tapping or a whistle budding on your lips, you may lack a pop music soul. If that’s the case, carry on in peace, but those looking for such hidden gems will be glad they took the time to listen to Jon Jonsson. With the right promotion this is exactly the kind of album pop radio claims to be looking for: “Sooner Or Later” in particular has a ballad-lover’s hook music programmers should already be fighting over who gets to claim loving it first. Wait For Fate is a refreshingly confident debut from a songwriter I can’t wait to hear more from.
Don’t let the radio-baiting pop of “Buy Me” discourage you from giving Barefoot in Your Kitchen a close headphone listen. To ignore this album would be a major error. A stunning alliance of Norah Jones jazz-pop excusions meeting Amy Winehouse retro-cool nostalgia-diving, Bev Lee Harling deserves to be 2012′s next big thing.
Bev Lee Harling – “Barefoot in Your Kitchen” (2012, Wah Wah 45s)
I was ready to dismiss this album unheard when “Buy Me” hit my speakers and I focused on the lyrics of the chorus: “Give me your money / I just want to get onto the radio / I’d be so grateful if you could help me / I’ve been singing too long for free.” The song played as a crass cash-grab masked as mock honesty from a musician hoping to cash in on hipsterism’s love of irony, even if it is masked by a stunningly catchy bass-heavy dose of retro-40s meets 2012-pop gloss.
Thank God I kept listening.
Don’t let the radio-baiting pop of “Buy Me” discourage you from giving Barefoot in Your Kitchen a close headphone listen. To ignore this album would be a major error as the remainder of the album steps up the challenge, hitting a home-run in the process. A stunning alliance of Norah Jones jazz-pop excusions meeting Amy Winehouse retro-cool nostalgia-diving, Bev Lee Harling deserves to be 2012′s next big thing.
This is one of those albums where you can’t listen to the singles on their own and fully follow the songwriter’s aural muse. That’s not to say some of the songs don’t stand well on their own. My favorite being the sultry jazz-pop swing of “Robots and Angels” and her spectacular picked ukelele cover of Sting’s “Everything Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” which showcases Harling’s magnificent vocals — something the single does not remotely accomplish. The key grab, however, of Barefoot in Your Kitchen is that these songs merge as a suite, creating a debut no current American pop songwriters have come close to matching.
What stuns upon repeated listens is how deftly Harling takes her retro inspirations and twists them into modern pop. She does so without sacrificing what makes us nostalgic in the first place, while imprinting the songs with her own sense of original flair. Others who have attempted to merge the past with the present have fallen short of their goal, living in the past rather than probing toward the future. Not here: Barefoot in Your Kitchen is an album which reveals more on each listen, making it a valuable pop contribution in a year which has been devoid of many truly inspiring releases.
Spin made my evening with a free download of the set which launched the era of 90s alternative nostalgia: The Pixies, live at Coachella in ’04. The EP features “U-Mass,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Hey!” and “Caribou.” If you’re really into the band, dive off the deep end and buy the entire set. If anyone’s wondering where my mind’s going to be at when I’m at work tomorrow … you’ll have to head to Spin to check it out, I was unable to embed it properly here. But trust me: it’s worth it!
Oh, R.E.M., at the time I didn't realize that you guys were a big deal, I just enjoyed your music. To me, you actually sounded like if the Munchkins had their own rock band. Your lead singer had this high nasal sound that could have been straight from Munchkinland, and I always liked the idea that while the rest of the Munchkins were out touting the Lollipop Guild and the Lullaby League, you guys were hanging out by the Yellow Brick Road, smoking cigarettes and looking dour.
If you’re among those who feel a new Emerson Hart album can’t come soon enough, this new single from Nashville songwriter Jameson Elder comes along just in time. A sunny melody propped up by hook-infused vocals, “Take Me Back” would have been a surefire mainstream hit in the 90s, but should still warrant word-of-mouth praise even in this “here today gone tomorrow” music climate. “It’s taking me back again from my heart down to my skin,” Elder sings, and his praise of second chances seems fitting, considering the nostalgia these days for hook-filled pop without hidden motives. With summer looming months ahead of schedule, this is the perfect track to play with the windows down and an arm out the car window, a breezy example of alt-pop done right. Whether you’re into roots-rock, pop or Americana, Jameson Elder’s got somethign for you; The Home I’ve Never Known, his upcoming studio EP, can’t come soon enough.
Everywhere I steady myself
I feel it burn me
It might burn you
It might make you feel
But being burned isn’t the only thing worth living for
I can always count on AbsolutePunk bands to bring the heat with their singles when they come my way, and Brooklyn’s own Sun + Flesh’s “Purge” is no different. This song is sonically as incendiary as the lyrics themselves, with Christoph Manuel leading the band in a frenetic, hook-filled search for mainstream success. The droning backing vocals hearken back to early Nirvana (“burning bright and take it slow” echoing the “all in all is all we are” mantra of “All Apologies”) but the brunt of the track is a sonic hybrid of modern rock and punk influences which manages to sound entirely original.
Their upcoming self-titled EP features “Purge” alongside four equally single-worthy tracks. “Breathe” features a more bone-crunching series of guitar riffs, along with screaming which echoes back to bands like Thrice, while “Open Flame” features fuzzed-out vocals and haunting guitar echoes to create a perfect into to another ear-bending rock hook. It all leads up to the magnificently addictive thunder of “Shades of Grey,” which breaks out the screams to all their full-throated effect. With mixing by Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, Black Tide) and the deft production touches of Melissa Cross and Manuel himself, the EP is as expert a debut as you could expect from a rock outfit hitting the scene fully formed, ready to light the scene afire.
California singer-songwriter Danny Hamilton isn’t a household name yet, but he’s already had success in CMT’s Music City Madness competition (he finished second) and with various YouTube videos, including a bluegrass jam version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and a few of his own originals (this one here is my favorite, a song which means a little more when you hear “I’ve been knocked down but I’m still here” while knowing he was almost killed by a truck at age 14.) But his recently posted cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s iconic “Sounds of Silence” is the most impressive of his many YouTube covers, an arrangement which manages to be faithful to the original while melding in a few Native-American flourishes which make this cover a particularly memorable one
Like the song? You can buy a download of it from ITunes!
Serena Matthews – “2012″ (2012, Independent)
The rain, it talks to me
When no one else can tolerate
My words that don’t make sense
To anyone except for me and my old friend the rain
- Serena Matthews – “Rain Song”
This album should come with the subtitle Greatest Hits, because even if you’ve never heard a word sung by Serena Matthews prior to pressing play on these, you’ll be won over and a lifelong fan once you do. Full disclosure: I’ve been addicted to Serena’s beautifully elemental folk songs since I first found her music on mp3.com close to a decade ago. Because she does not seek the limelight, her music never made a wider splash than it did on that site and various others around the Internet where she’s posted her continued creative musings over the ensuing years. Rest assured, however, that these are among the best bare-bones acoustic folk songs you’re liable to find.
The 21 songs on 2012 are each delicate aural paintings of raw depth and beauty which stand up to repeated listening because of their elemental nature. Whether she’s singing about a man going to his death (“Crow Song”) or observing the rare transcendent grace of the world around us (“Blackbird Fly Away”), Serena doesn’t mince words. Hearing these compositions all in one place after all these years simply accentuates what makes them so memorable and indispensable. Serena doesn’t want fame, but she’ll continue to have a rapt audience as long as she continues to release such stunning music. 2012 is a stirring example of Americana at its finest, and it deserves to be savored.
My friend, watch out for the traitors.
I see them but i try to close my eyes for the haters!
Fans of hardcore punk, you’ve found your new favorite! Sweden’s veteran thrashers Raised Fist bring everything to the table with “Friends and Traitors,” off their 2009 effort Veil of Ignorance, creating a riff-heavy catchy as hell example of why sometimes music’s just got to be as loud as possible. If you can believe it, Alexander Hagman even manages to scream melodically, positioning himself as the most interesting hardcore vocalist since System of a Down’s Serj Tankian. Haters beware, because this music will expose and then destroy you with a wall of thunder.
As Americans, we tend to be a celebrity-obsessed culture. We constantly prowl for the next big thing, and when we find it we latch on with all our strength and demands for perfection. This can lead to incredible rises, but more often the resulting crash is just as precipitous. In our modern musical landscape, the booms and busts often happen quickly, but not long ago the biggest stars in the business shone so brightly that they dominated the landscape across numerous genres.
Regardless of how you look at it, Whitney Houston was one of those superstars who left a colossal imprint on the music world during her quick rise to fame. Like Michael Jackson, she paved the way for a generation of young black women to make their way in the world of popular music. While Jackson broke MTV wide open for young black men, that door had remained obstinately closed for women of the same age. Then Whitney put Houston, just 22 at the time, on the global music map, conquering radio and television to become one of the biggest star-making vehicles of all time. Rolling Stone and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named the album one of the 500 greatest of all time, and it launched her voice into the top echelon of great female voices.
You haven’t heard of And The Giraffe yet, I’m sure, but their music is building buzz around the Internet, and it’s thanks in no small part to the elegant textures of “Underground Love,” their latest single. Opening with a distorted drone which soon blends with mild, evocative acoustic picking and vocals which remind this listener immediately of Griffin House’s magnificent “Amsterdam” meeting up with Alexi Murdoch’s brand of understated vocal touches. You’ll know what I’m talking about the moment you hear it. The band’s two members, Nick Roberts and Josh Morris, filmed the video on virtually no budget, and their EP Something for Someone has been reviewed by more than sixty publications, including the blog Michigan Review, which called the EP “frustratingly short but attention grabbing.” Hey, that’s what repeatedly hitting the play button is for!
Watch the video first, before you read anything I have to say:
Three words …. what the fuck? This may be the most awesome video I’ve seen in months, a visual experience which matches the aural twists and turns the music already provides. On this basis alone I immediately know I want to hear more, and quickly! The song leads off the band’s latest release, EP3, a five-track extravaganza blending serious psychedelic insanity with the guitar-wielding crunch of modern acts like the Gay Blades, Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. They’re definitely worth keeping an ear on as the year gets going!
Lindsey Buckingham – “Seeds We Sow” (2011, Buckingham Records)
Reviewer: Madison Faulkner
There seem to be two Lindsey Buckingham’s that exist on the icon’s latest solo endeavor, Seeds We Sow. The legendary rocker’s newest release proves to be a fusion of the Buckingham that once was and the Buckingham that is. Listeners are given a choice as to which Buckingham they prefer — the harmonious crooner humming over the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar or the fast paced, stern vocalist layered over frantic, gritty synth blare with the occasional guitar solo.
The title track starts the album off strong as the sweeping chorus plays through with accompanying strings as Lindsey cries. The definition of each note played is pure and symphonic, done only in the brilliance that Buckingham can offer in his melodic lullabies. Airy whispers echo on as the song fades out, “Oh the seeds we sow”—a little cheesy but I will forgive him for that. He, did, after all give us Tusk.
The rest of the album is hit and miss for the artist. “In Our Own Time” is a dizzying, fast paced number with Buckingham’s vocals layered over an annoying buzz-like warble reminiscent to that of gnat in your ear, producing a cheap and unwelcome effect. “Rock Away Blind” once again showcases Buckingham’s uncanny ability to capture the poetic beauty of rock music. Lindsey’s mastermind is complemented by the toe tapping, gentle melody that carries you along as vocals sweetly coo in and out, weaving their way through the guitar’s rhythm.
Lindsey’s split personality rears its head once more in “One Take”, delivering its direct, stern vocals and a gritty, pulsating guitar riff. The genius of Lindsey’s frantic finger picking guitar solo is almost enough to save this song but falls short when Buckingham half-heartedly raps through parts of verse.
The album comes to a close with Buckingham’s breathy, tender cover of “She Smiled Sweetly” sending listeners off with the same image of Buckingham as when they entered; melodic, gentle vocals accompanied by the brilliance of his cadenced guitar playing.
We want to keep Lindsey as he was in Fleetwood Mac but as he ever so swiftly progresses into old age, perhaps he has earned the right to let his freak flag fly. Some of the tracks on Seeds We Sow verge on the edge of progressive with their hurried, synthetic rhythms but the album is salvaged by the brilliance of Buckingham’s songwriting and saccharine sweet vocals. Some listeners will appreciate the assortment Buckingham offers and those that do will find the outnumbered tracks varying in style much to their liking as they lose themselves in the genius that is Lindsey Buckingham.
I can’t believe that barely a week after we get the news of an In Living Color revival on Fox, we get the polar opposite news that Heavy D has died at the age of 44, cause of death unknown. I really don’t know what to say, I totally didn’t see this coming. His biggest hits may seem dated to those who have grown up in a world where rap is pop, but he continued to work hard in the world of music even if he may not have had the impact of his earliest work.
I really enjoyed this interview, which ends on a note which seems appropriate today as he looks back on his career as a whole:
I think that I have the work, I’ve put the work in, I love the art and the culture and I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done. I think that’s a great way to be.
It’s depressing that he goes on to talk about what he still could accomplish over the next twenty years or so, but it’s a lesson for people never to let a moment go wasted. You really never do know how much time you’ll be given.
Year of the Album — #077
Deer Tick – “Divine Providence” (2011, Partisan Records)
Like their namesake, this is a band which digs its musical pincers into your skin and hangs on for dear life. Combining folk, blues and country into a combination that rocks like nothing else, they’re the best rock act to come out of Rhode Island in … well, ever when you get down to it. Anthems like “Let’s All Go To The Bar” echo the Dropkick Murphys aesthetic, and the entirety of Divine Providence comes together as a full-on blitz, with no wasted moments allowed to get in the way of forty minutes of alternative eccentricity. That’s not to say they can’t slow things down; “Clownin’ Around” is a particularly tough nugget to pin down, with guitar, vocals and what sounds like a Fender Rhodes, slowing things down as John McCauley sings of hiding the devil in his basement and attempting to control his darker urges. But it’s “Main Street” which proves to be the band’s finest attempt at a potential single on this album. Opening with drums and straightforward guitar chords, McCauley’s raw vocals, just on the edge of a growl without losing the melody, make the song a true keeper. This isn’t weighty rock that defines a generation or makes any grand statements. Deer Tick simply rocks, and more often than not, that’s more than enough.
When I was young I told my momma
That I wanted to be famous
And I meant, and I meant, and I meant it …
Welcome to the freshest, most interesting old-school styled rap track of the year so far, where Skipp Whitman drops rhymes over drumline percussion, speaking of the long hard walk toward fame. The idea is if you want something you better get out there and earn it. No one’s going to give you anything. “Motherfuckers are talkers, everybody’s a salesman,” he says, but the question remains: what’s the product? In the case of Skipp Whitman and his latest single “Famous,” the product is tightly rhymed hip-hop with one foot in the past and the other firmly planted in the right-now.
He’s got personality and flair which clearly sets him apart from the rest of the pack. “Some say I’m full of myself, I say I’d rather be that than full of something … else!” This is a distinctive track from an artist I’d expect to make a much bigger mark down the road. His new album, Skipp City, makes a bold statement that he’s one of the most interesting artists to watch in the Brooklyn hip-hop scene, and he’s ready to be famous.
Are you ready to help?
From the opening moments of “This Town” I was convinced that I’ve stumbled upon the next artist ready to carry the torch of Tom Waits to a new generation of music listeners not yet too jaded to appreciate the touch of sinister imagery he brings to bear. With an eye for pop hooks to match someone like Duke Special, who has made his name with similar cabaret-pop experimentation in Belfast, Don Ryan knows he has to win listeners from the very first moments … which makes “This Town” even more impressive, since the smothering sense of doom is present instantly, yet manages to build as the song progresses. “This town is burning down,” he sings, his vocals providing hits of desperate hope even as all the music around him floats like flotsam upon the oily black bilge water below.
In other words, this is music for those of us who like our pop music with enough edge to make it worthwhile. And you can trust me on this or rely on the video below, but what Don Ryan brings to the table here is nothing short of deliciously twisted.
Ryan’s album Tangle Town comes out officially next week. Queue up!
It may not be what Dr. Hook meant when they wrote “On The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” but I sure felt like buying five copies for my mother when my letter made it into Issue 1140 of RS! I was inspired to write based on Patrick Doyle’s solid article from RS 1138 about Campbell’s comeback album, recorded during his battle with Alzheimer’s. I never heard back from the editors regarding my emailed letter, so I didn’t expect to ever hear about it again, until I saw this on my page followed by my “signature”:
Reading about how such an iconic songwriter is being robbed of his memories was heartbreaking. But the new album shows that Campbell is capable of taking control of his legacy even as he loses connection with what built it. Patrick Doyle has earned his spurs with this one. Thanks for treating a legend with such respect.
It may not be much, but for a music critic who would someday love to have the chance to profile a singer of Campbell’s caliber for a magazine like Rolling Stone, it was definitely a cool moment.
Below you can hear his new song “Ghost on the Canvas,” from the new album of the same name, along with “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” Then go get yourself a copy of the new album — you won’t regret hearing one last salvo from a legend of classic country music! I’d link to Doyle’s article, but as best I can tell it’s not available online unless you pay for an RS subscription (at $3.95 a month it’s not a bad deal, considering you get the online archives plus the print ‘zine!)
Year of the Album — #064
We’re All Just Passing Through – “Bedroom Recordings Vol. 2 (EP)” (2011, Independent)
We’re All Just Passing Through started out as a solo project for Travis Johnides, who used to play guitar for Long Island punkers The Goodwill. Now, working with his sister Alexa as a duo, the band’s latest EP specializes in upbeat pop music with a serious sense of earnest fun. Though three songs is hardly enough to give a full picture of what these two are capable of, “Tonight Is The Night” is an infectious way to get things started, a wall of drums and acoustic guitar standing out like something akin to Mountain Goats lite — pop hooks without any real meat on the bones lyrically.
And though the version on the EP features all manner of background noise and other ambient bedroom sounds, “There Comes A Time” is a particularly solid ballad. It deserves to be recorded in a more professional setting, but when you break it down, this EP delivers exactly what it promises: low-fidelity bedroom recordings which positively sparkle with the pure determination of Travis and Alexa to put a smile on your face. Though there’s plenty of room for the duo to branch out and make a more original name for themselves down the road, this EP is definitely a solid start.
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Listen to “Tonight Is The Night” below, and download your free copy of “Bedroom Recordings, Vol. 2″ at Mediafire.
It’s hard to believe I first ran reviews on this site two years ago this month. But it really has been that long, and though it’s taken pretty much all of those two years to get the site going in the direction I’d like, it’s been worth every post. Which reminds me … listened to Billy Talent lately? I hadn’t, but man, a quick YouTube search brought me back. Oh, the 2009 nostalgia! Enjoy “Devil On My Shoulder” below, and enjoy “a voice that merges the best of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.” And stay tuned for more of the best of 2011 … and beyond!
Aaron Moore hopes that one day you’ll hum one of his songs in your car, that he’ll have the chance to be a part of your life for a few seconds or a minute. A musician living and writing independently in Joplin, Missouri, Moore has developed a sound akin to Elliott Smith with songs showing a similar flair for experimentation and musical exploration. His passion for folk music across the genre’s spectrum shines through in his songs in a way that suggests he will continue to write until his music finds a larger audience, no matter how long that takes.
I submit for your approval a song called “Ashiato,” from Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud. The song’s lyrics blend the English and Japanese languages over haunting strands of guitar and bass. Its subtle beauty reveals itself quietly; you’ll be hard-pressed to stop listening once the haunting chorus turns you inside out. I consider this song a true find, and I hope you find as much to enjoy in its depth as I have.
Here’s hoping Moore finds the audience his stunning music so richly deserves.
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If you enjoy this song, there’s much more available via Moore’s Bandcamp page.
For those of you who are in the know, Turntable.fm is perhaps the coolest new streaming service on the internet, if only because not only can you be a tastemaker and impress yourself, now you can impress others by DJing songs for folks and getting immediate feedback. In that vein, I’ve decided to create a room for “Hear! Hear!” called “The Group W Bench” (named in honor of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” To join, you have to have a friend on Facebook, and in your case, that’s ME … if you’re an interested reader, friend me on Facebook and get in to the awesomeness!
I’ll play folk, rock, indie and other genres, with an eye for pop — in other words, exactly what you’ve come to expect from “Hear! Hear!” Feel free to join in and play your own stuff too, and I’ll mix in a lot of the artists I’m covering here, so you can expect a lot of great music. Enjoy!