“Play It Loud, Ray!” — Jacob Jones teams up with Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard on the perfect throwback single for any Music City Sweetheart
Jacob Jones’ Good Timin’ In Waynestown doesn’t come out until next week, but that’s no reason not to play his single loudly a few times in celebration of Jones’ throwback rock-a-boogie vibes, which blends the sounds of New Orleans jazz with fifties-era rockabilly and hints of Motown soul. Adding the vocals of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard to “Play It Loud, Ray” was an inspired touch, adding to the singalong chorus’s unstoppable hook. The rest of the album more than sustains the hype, with “Now That I Found You,” “Lost on the Ohio” and “Don’t Turn Me Loose” proving in particular that Jones has an ear for making these throwbacks fit in a modern pop context. If you too are ready to, as his website proclaims, “Honky Tonk yourself to death,” play this album loud and proud. Nothing else comes close to putting Chuck Berry into the same company as Ryan Adams or Alabama Shakes, which for this critic is more than enough reason to listen.
“Darling, Cinder Block eyes, you put me in a coma,” Sean Thomas Gerard sings, delving into a dream he had about Medusa. The track which resulted from said dream is the perfect introduction to this Wilmington, North Carolina band, which revels in a blend of alt-folk and rock which is akin to combining the tunefulness of a band like Gin Blossoms and throwing it into a blender with Will Hoge, Ryan Adams and Wilco. Even then, the end product stands out as something truly stamped with their own experiences, a perfect example of building on your influences to then go off in your own direction.
If you enjoyed the Hoots and Hellmouth song I posted this morning, you’ll absolutely love “Cinder Blocks.” Which means their latest album, Monsters, should be required listening. Regardless of how long you listen, the music most certainly will not put you in a coma. This is music you shout about from the rooftops … or at least you should.
Year of the Album — #086
Grand & Noble – “Grand & Noble” (2012, Independent)
I’m really getting excited about the music coming in 2012, and Grand & Noble’s self-titled debut (out January 10, 2012, or right now as a name your price download via the band’s website) is right at the front of the pack. Fronted by Jon Elling’s emblematic vocals, which resonate immediately and provide a real sense of depth to the music, the band rocks out with touches of Wilco-inspired alt-country and more than a bit of modern piano blues-rock thrown in for good measure. “This Light” gets the album going in the right direction with a touch of Ryan Adams guitar melded with a bassline which brings to mind Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. Lyrically it’s right up Kellogg’s alley: “Call me up and say what’s there left to do but save our money for some ordinary shoes? I don’t believe the fun must end so soon …” Elling queries, raising his plaintive vocals to the sky as he wails the chorus: “Don’t say it’s over! Don’t say it’s over! Don’t say it’s over ’til you’re through.” By the time the song reaches its zenith you’ll be hoping this song won’t have to be over anytime soon.
“Paris (and Danielle)” picks up the reins from there with a touch of bass-heavy blues melded with a throughline of piano which pushes the song into the territory of top 40 music too good for top 40 to ever dare to play. “Feel the heat now, feel the friction – living life without permission,” Ellis sings forcefully, as the song takes its own motives to heart, the guitars crunching with wild abandon as the band breaks it all down and makes this seem so damned easy. But the band really brings it home on the soulful, introspective “Episcopal,” which features excellent harmonies over acoustic guitar and piano: “Somewhere in my shattered faith the chance I want is waiting there,” Elling sings as the band provides him wth a backdrop so filled with measured yearning it’s impossible not to keep the faith in what this band’s offering.
The rest of the album lives up to the challenge these songs set for Grand & Noble, crafting a debut of self-assured daring and willingness to build on what’s come before while forging their own identity. This is an album which is immediately revealing of a major artistic force, while the music reveals intricate original touches that will challenge any self-respecting music fan to listen repeatedly long into the new year. I’ll go out on a limb and say you won’t find many more adventurous debuts in 2012 or any other year. Put succinctly, Grand & Noble is a keeper.
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You can sample songs from the album below via Bandcamp:
Ryan Adams – “Ashes and Fire” (2011, Capitol)
Reviewer: Matthew Sanderlin
Ryan Adams has never played the “safe” card a single time throughout his endlessly interesting (and still somewhat budding) career. Even when his original record label (Lost Highway) forced him to swap in Gold for The Suicide Handbook or Rock N Roll for Love is Hell, the man sprang for “unpredictable,” “wild,” and “rebellious.” Even after he stopped doing (ridiculous amounts of) drugs, Adams launched his own record label and began releasing things as unexpected as Orion— His sci-fi, metal-influenced concept album.
Ashes & Fire, Adams’ latest opus, presents a completely different Ryan Adams. “I don’t remember, were we wild and young?” Adams reflects back in Ashes & Fire‘s late-album track “Lucky Now.” “The lights will draw you in / And the dark will bring you down / And the night will break your heart / But only if you’re lucky now,” he wisely cautions.
Mysteriously absent are the sometimes scarce, sometimes predominant lyrical expletives of Adams’ earlier years. He hardly even touches an electric guitar, for goodness’ sake! In fact, most of these tracks are very simple in arrangement— Usually no more than four or five tracks on each song, led by Adams on acoustic guitar. The great victory of this approach, however, is Glyn Jones’ thoughtful and masterful production (on analogue, I might add), and how comfortably it matches Adams’ writing style. The stunning “Chains of Love” melodically conjures memories of Easy Tiger-era Adams, while Jones’ sonic precision moves the timestamp back into an undetermined-yet-ageless sound.
Norah Jones again joins Adams, along with Heartbreakers (as in, “Tom Petty and the…”) keyboardist Benmont Tench— And the quiet beauty of the eleven Ashes & Fire tracks are effortlessly revealed through this strong collaboration of Adams and his team. In other words; Adams has made his leap into maturity, and this grown-up approach dresses his fine new tunes aptly.
Lyrically, Adams is again quite simple and straight-forward. While his poetic literary voice is still strong, prevalent, and colorful, Adams seems to have trimmed the fat to the point where general accessibility is fluent and natural, and where listener comprehension is a pleasant ease. All of this careful revision leads to a refreshingly classic-caliber lyrical form from the already very talented Adams.
Adams then sneaks in a wedding/honeymoon ballad at the album’s close. (Adams recently wed to famed actress Mandy Moore, who also features on Ashes & Fire.) After all of these years of Adams defying the unkindness of love and rebuking the injustice and cruelty of life, “I Love You But I Don’t Know What to Say” is a breathtaking and joyous resolve— Almost as a period after a long series of question marks on the pages of a lovelorn songwriter. It is incredible.
Ashes & Fire is Ryan Adams at his calmest, strongest, and most mature. What more could one want? This album is easily one of 2011′s best, and unshakeable proof that Adams is still one of the most powerful, adaptive, and timeless songwriters of our generation.
Consider them a musical mystery which still manages to sound both fresh and familiar. Whatever you choose to think going in, Daniel and the Lion will control the space between your ears for as long as you listen before managing to force yourself to pull away. This is music for anyone who loves bands from Stephen Kellogg’s Sixers to Ryan Adams, competently recorded by a band which knows how to craft a pop-laden hook without selling out to lowest common denominator bullshit. The band reported recorded Sweet Teeth, their 2011 offering, on a $6,000 Kickstarter-fueled budget, and they’re proudly supportive of the Midwestern fans who give them the chance to live the dream. “The Chase” and “Horses” are two of the best independently produced alt-country gems I’ve heard so far in 2011. Give the album a listen, you’re sure to quickly become converts.