FEATURED SONG: J Tex and the Volunteers – “This Old Banjo”

Credit: Ole Kragh Jabobsen

Billed as “Denmark’s coolest artist,” J Tex and the Volunteers would be the face of Danish Americana (if that can be a thing) were T-Bone Burnett to go to Europe to produce it. “This Old Banjo” showcases that sound to its fullest extent, a bare melody of acoustic guitar intertwined with flourishes of banjo which expertly back Jens Einer Sorensen’s dry, wind-broken vocals in a very cinematic fashion. “I hear that banjo and it makes me sad,” he sings, but the effect of the song itself is the opposite, making listeners want to hear more. Like another long-lost European country outfit called Funky Nashville, J Tex and the Volunteers dig out what’s great about classic Americana while twisting it through their own unique lens, something I could stand to hear plenty more of. It’s a good thing their new album Old Ways vs. New Days comes out January 30, 2015 on Heptown Records!

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UNDER COVER: Doctorfunk’s “Back In Black” the prescription for good times

Not since I heard Bloomington, Indiana’s now defunct 16-piece funk outfit Flattus have I heard anything as immediately infectious as Doctorfunk, a band as comfortable dabbling in off-kilter covers as they are breaking fresh ground. I submit for your approval this funkadelic bad-assed restructuring of AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” which is as fitting a summer jam as I’ve heard in years. The jazzy funk backdrop gives the song a fresh new groove, but the vocals stick close enough to the original that this serves as a fitting homage to one of rock’s greatest tracks. For more, check out Second Opinion, the band’s exceptional sophomore album, produced by Jeff Tamalier, who formerly produced or played guitar for Tower of Power, the Strokeland Superband, Cold Blood and others over the years. And follow them on Facebook, you’ll want to definitely keep these guys on your radar screen!

CARRY THAT SPARK: Counting Crows’ “Palisades Park” a return to August form

Adam Duritz is excited about the new Crows record due out at some point this fall, and I’ve got to say, based on a first listen to “Palisades Park,” the band’s returned to form and is ready to craft “imaginative music” again. Says Duritz, via Billboard:

“The songs are different from anything I’ve ever written before, I’ve got to say. They’re a little more imaginative, a little more imagery-heavy. They’re willing to be a little goofier and have a little more of a sense of humor, occasionally. It’s really cool.”

The eight-minute track (nine minutes plus on video) opens with an intro which seems almost the direct continuation of “Chelsea” off Across A Wire, eighty seconds which then catch fire as Duritz then begins singing an almost stream-of-consciousness lyric akin to his live versions of “Round Here” or “Rain King,” a real return to the sound in which the band has yet to dabble in non-concert form this decade. For a guy like Duritz, who has fought more than a few battles with his creativity over the years, to get back to basics in this vein without losing what made his early songs like “Anna Begins” so immediately indelible is quite an impressive act. It’s the careening free-wheeling style of his lyrics which makes this song stand out, even as the musical arrangement is equally innovative, shifting style and meter in a frenetic burst of spectacular pop songwriting.

It only took nine minutes to shift from “who knew he still had songs like this in him before?” to wondering how long we have to wait to hear the other eight. And if they’re as good as “Palisades Park,” I fully expect the album to top my year-end list.

FRESHMEN NO MORE: After 13-year hiatus, The Verve Pipe returns with Overboard June 17th

I’ll admit that Brian Vander Ark’s vocals on the entirety of Villians soundtracked my early high school years, giving me plenty of reason to play the album and dozens like it on repeat as I navigated teenage awkwardness. Unfortunately the ’90s alternative rock scene wasn’t built on longevity, at least where myopic, aurally insensitive radio execs were concerned, and bands like the Verve Pipe, Harvey Danger and Semisonic never got the long-term traction they so richly deserved. It wasn’t that they couldn’t write another hit, but rather that radio and label honchos wouldn’t have known said hit if it broadsided them.

Thirteen years after their last full-length rock album, however, The Verve Pipe returns June 17th with Overboard, an album which relights the fire under their blend of well-crafted pop and catch-you-off-kilter rock. With “Crash Landing,” the album’s first promotional single, they show you really can’t go back again — this is no “Villians” or “Photograph” — but you can put a new spin on something and reinvent yourself in a way which is refreshing and well worth the listen. “I’m hearing words no one’s spoken,” he sings.  “And I can feel my heart beat though I know it’s broken. Nothing is the way it seems, like being awake in a dream.” The chorus then crash-lands with an impact that launches this song instantly into the memory banks.

If you’re looking for the band to tread water through nostalgic carbons of what you heard while walking those sophomore hallways, you may be disappointed. But it’s refreshing to hear a band return after all these years, arriving with the verve to sound as fresh in the current musical climate as their alt-grunge did when we first heard it in the early ’90s. That the band’s songs feature hooks as brilliantly singable even after a decade and a half in limbo is the icing on the cake. Overboard is the most pleasant surprise of the summer so far, and it’s an album you shouldn’t miss.

“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: Hurrah! A Bolt of Light – “In Over My Head”

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Brooklyn’s Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! brings a sensational blend of U2 arena rock and Augustana-inspired pop to the table via the entirety of their self-titled debut album, due out April 1st. The band spent time with producer John Fields (Switchfoot, Soul Asylum, The Rembrandts) in Los Angeles working to get the sound right, and I’ll come out and say it: there’s not a dud on the album.

“In Over My Head” in particular is a shining example of what the band offers. “I keep my heart in a little box … I should have known there’d be hell to pay,” Will Farr sings, backed by shimmering guitars, thundering percussion and echoing hand-clap fueled backing vocals. And while he may feel as though he’s in over his head, listeners will fall head-over-heels as they sing along with this perfectly radio-ready nugget.

Help break this band wide and share the track now, available to stream and download exclusively at “Hear! Hear!” via the above link. It’s easy to say there’s nothing great making it to radio but it’s another thing entirely to sit back and let something this good slip away. (You can follow Hurrah! A Bolt of Light! on Facebook and Twitter.)

“HEAR! HEAR!” EXCLUSIVE: PAZ’s “The Silence” is golden, an EDM hit in the making

There’s nothing about this song lyrically that would typically draw me in, but the hook to “The Silence” is immediate and I could legitimately expect to hear PAZ’s latest played on radio stations in the same mix as Imagine Dragons, Skrillex and Avicii, something which should attest to its EDM bona-fides. In the end the hook is all that matters, and it will have you singing along mindlessly long before you have the inkling to think about what you’re singing. That’s the essence of a great pop song, one which grabs hold and drags you kicking and screaming into liking it, and then getting you to spread the word even when you know you’ll be tempted to attach “guilty pleasure” to the description.

“Hear! Hear” is excited to be the first place you’ll hear “The Silence,” which you can stream via Soundcloud below. When more information is available about the full mixtape, we’ll let you know here as well.

Tom Levin’s “Pull Yourself Together” melds sly folk with pseudo southern gospel for real keeper

Like a twisted blend of Cracker, Tom Waits and Jason Isbell filtered through the sensibility of the Coens’ Fargo, Swedish artist Tom Levin defies the “sanctity” of genres with this riot of a single off his latest album Them Feet. Hell, even Levin hints that this is his version of “Minnesota Nice,” twisted through a wondrous sludge of psuedo-Southern Folk and gothic Gospel touches. Says Levin:

The lyrics to “Pull Yourself Together” are inspired by how people in the [American South] are very good at letting someone know, in a polite way, when they are behaving like an idiot. I wrote the song because I had to get my disappointment with certain peoples’ behavior out of my system. “Bless your little heart” takes the edge off almost any insult and sometimes makes it sound like a compliment. If you or anyone you know ever needs to tell someone they are being a total jackass.just send them this song.

Watch it below and make your night just a little more special!