Friday, September 7, 2012

REVIEW: Will Johnson - Scorpion

Scorpion, Will Johnson's new solo record differs from Centro-matic records in that it is quieter - a really hushed affair. It differs from his South San Gabriel side projects in that it is more raw. And in Johnson's own estimation (read interview with Dallas Observer here), he intends it to be a "grower". And it is.

Scorpion starts out slow, quiet and intense... and stays that way. It's a record whose vocal intensity forces you to pay attention, but that is so musical and listenable that you find yourself lost in it. Johnson's vocals are, as always, a highlight. He conveys so much with slight changes in tone and tempo, that he's one of the best acoustic artists working today (electric, too, but that's for a Centro-matic review).

Check out the just-released video for "You Will Be Here, Mine":

And you can see our previous post here, with a link to download that song, too. Just an amazing vocal. Special thanks to "The Galassi Brothers", who are credited with filming it.

Some of the songs sound like demos - "Winter Screen Four", for example with its slowly plucked acoustic and whispered vocals - and that is due to the process employed on these songs, which Johnson describes: “A lot of them were written in the studio, right then and there, in the moment. I enjoy capturing those initial gut reactions in songwriting. It doesn’t always work, but when it does — you capture the song in such a raw, unique form.”

Helping him with the record are Matt Pence (at whose studio it was recorded) and Scott Danbom from Centro-matic, Howard Draper (Tre Orsi, Shearwater, Okkervil River) and Magnolia Electric Company’s Mikey Kapinus.

Other highlights include "It Goes Away So Fast", with what sounds like a looped synthesizer slowly morphing into a raw-but-restrained electric guitar solo over the last minute or so of the song, and the 7:00 "Bloodkin Push", an alternately pretty and difficult song, featuring mostly just acoustic guitar and piano, that really takes its time.

This record rewards your attention, especially your repeated attention. It's going to be out Tuesday (9/11) but you can stream it now at Paste.

Johnson has self-released the record, and you can get it at his website, or via the usual sources. At his website, you can also check out tour dates.

Will Johnson Website

Centro-matic Website

Premiere of Sam Russell's video for "Too Far In The South"

On October 30, Seattle's Sam Russell will release The Year of the Cow, the sixth edition of his Blue Moon Bible collection of eight-song albums with interconnected themes and characters.  A less raucous set of songs than the previous five in the series, we will post a full review of the new album when nearer to the release date.

After completing the album, Sam filmed his performance of each of the songs from the album at Studio V in Seattle.  Sam intends to release these performances in the weeks leading up to and through the release of the The Year of the Cow.  Today, When You Motor Away is honored to premiere the video -for Sam's performance of  "Too Far in the South".  While the song appears on  The Year of the Cow, on the album the lead vocals for the song are provided by Kate Noson.  The performance here simply is Sam and his acoustic guitar, with Michael Spaly playing the fiddle off-screen.  The video simply is a great showcase for a stellar song and a wonderful delivery.  Enjoy!

The video was filmed at Studio V, directed and edited by Lulu Gargiulo, and recorded by Charles Bork, Michael Spaly and Conrad Uno.

If you would like to check out our previous posts regarding the Americana soul of the talented Mr. Russell and his collaborators, see here and here.


The Soul Corner - The Isley Brothers "It's Your Thing"

The Isley Brothers were immensely talented, and immensely frustrated working on Motown's back bench. So they left Motown for a small label and released a single in 1969 that became a funk classic, "It's Your Thing":

This one still rocks the house, still sounds good.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

REVIEW: Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance

Patterson Hood's new album features a title that couldn't be more apt. Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance summons thoughts or memories of hot, languid nights spent reflecting on things far away... and that's kind of what the record is about.

A little background: According to Hood, the album started as a book, based on his turbulent experiences after moving to Memphis in 1992. “I was 27, my band broke up, I got divorced… my car got stolen, our band’s truck got stripped and I fell in love. I fell out with my family (who I was very, very close to) and had my heart broken.”

So it's been in the works for a while - in essence, most of Hood's adult life. And the consistently high quality of this record shows that. Hood, again: “The songs begin in the period that the book was set in, but don’t end there, as they really just were the impetus for writing about the life I am living now and contrasting it with the troubled times of two decades ago."

Living a good life - while reflecting on a distant past when life wasn't so good but we lacked the perspective to know better - what better material for an artist as talented and reflective as Hood to make into his best record? The record is rich, deep and beautiful. I could write paragraphs about how many wonderful little touches embellish this record - the :45 intro to the title track is as good as R&B-flavored Southern rock music gets, for example, and then it gets better. And I believe the bass lines merit special attention. I'm not sure I could tell you which lines are played by his dad, and which by Hood himself, or which by Cooley, and I'm not sure it matters. They are all wonderful, yet somehow understated, and create a very comfortable atmosphere for every song on the record. But I really don't know how much you need me to tell you about this record. If you like storytellers, if you like Southern rock -- or any kind of rock, or country, or R&B, this record is well worth your time.

Here's a video of Hood singing and talking about "Depression Era", which was actually written and recorded for a film in 2010:

When we first got word of this record, we put up a post featuring a free download of "Come Back Little Star", Hood's ode to dear departed friend Vic Chesnutt. You can find that post here.

In fact, you can stream the record right now at Rolling Stone.

Hood is not holding anything back on this record. As good as his previous work has been, consider that he's held back some of this work for 20 years while he polished and honed it - and it shows. And he's assembled a cast of bandmates, friends and family to help him realize his vision for the record: Drive-by Truckers Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez, Brad Morgan and John Neff, as well as Scott Danbom and Will Johnson from Centro-matic and Kelly Hogan (who co-wrote "Come Back Little Star" and whose vocals on that song are a highlight). Hood’s father, famed Muscle Shoals bassist, David Hood also plays on the record. [As do David Barbe and Jacob Morris - thank you to commenter "Anonymous" for pointing out my oversight!] In short, Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance is a masterpiece - as much as I've grown to like the Truckers and Hood's other work, this is simply the best record he's ever made.

The record will be out next Tuesday (Sept 11). Hood and his band The Downtown Rumblers are going on tour to support this record:

Sep 14 Jomeoke Music and Arts Festival – Pinnacle, NC
Sep 15 The Southern Cafe and Music Hall – Charlottesville, VA
Sep 16 World Cafe Live Downstairs – Philadelphia, PA
Sep 17 Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY
Sep 18 Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
Sep 20 Club Helsinki – Hudson, NY
Sep 22 City Winery – Chicago, IL
Sep 23 City Winery – Chicago, IL
Sep 24 Fine Line Music Café – Minneapolis, MN
Sep 27 Star Theater – Portland, OR
Sep 28 Star Theater – Portland, OR
Sep 29 Biltmore Cabaret - Vancouver, BC
Oct 1 Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA
Oct 2 Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA
Oct 5 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – San Francisco, CA
Oct 6 Masonic Lodge @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Los Angeles, CA
Oct 7 Anthology – San Diego, CA
Oct 10 Cactus Café – Austin, TX
Oct 11 Cactus Café – Austin, TX
Oct 12 Austin City Limits Festival – Austin, TX

REVIEW: Bob Dylan - Tempest

Five Songs for a Long-Distance Road Trip

Bob Dylan, perhaps you've heard of him?

Tempest, Dylan's 35th studio album, is a dense, compelling work that is going to take many listens to fully unravel. What could drive a man to make edgy, tough-to-categorize music 50 years into his career? Who knows, but we are damn lucky to be here to experience it.

Dylan resides in his own musical space, one where the rock'n'roll of the past 50 years, including his own, doesn't exist. Instead Dylan plays with the building blocks of rock'n'roll - the blues, jazz, folk and string bands of the '20's, '30's and '40's. But Dylan's Americana is not rooted in rosy nostalgia, and instead lurks within the dark underbelly, the margins, the hard times.

Take the title track for example, a rambling 11 minute retelling of the sinking of the Titanic, a story so rich with images of horror, avarice, class warfare. Or the one nod to the rock'n'roll era - "Roll On, John", an ode to the only real musical peer Dylan ever had, his friend John Lennon. In both cases, great seemingly undefeatable forces of progress come to a bad and violent end - a loss of life, innocence and greatness.

Is this all a commentary on modern America?

Another song "Early Roman Kings" suggests the fall of a great empire from greed and corrupt leadership. One line in that song is particularly hard to ignore: "I ain't dead yet, but my bell still rings."

That may be the only thing that need be said about Tempest. Bob Dylan's bell still rings. He is making new and compelling music. He is making it strictly on his own terms.  And there's an undeniable groove and swing to this stuff that makes me want to listen to it all night long. Check out "Duquesne Whistle":

Special kudos to my friend Scott Litt who engineered this record and gets just the right sound.

Tempest will be available in stores on September 11 and can be streamed now in its entirety on iTunes. It's dark and weird and wonderful and you should buy it. Tempest

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ringo Deathstarr - new video for "Rip" from forthcoming album Mauve

You may recall we posted about Texas psych/shoegaze band Ringo Deathstarr a while back - first, a review of their last album Colour Trip in 2011, and then more recently when they were looking for help with their current project, an album entitled Mauve.

Well, good news is, they got the help they needed and the thing is on track to be released by the end of September. The lead single "Rip" will be out next Monday - here's the video:

Ringo Deathstarr are Elliott Frazier (guitars & vocals), Alex Gehring (bass & vocals), Daniel Coborn (drums).

Ringo Deathstarr Facebook

Free jangle pop from Seattle's Zebra Hunt

Seattle's Zebra Hunt is a fairly new band.  In fact, their Facebook page states that the band was formed early this year.  However, their Bandcamp site has two October 2011 demos, so they may have been testing the waters a bit ahead of the official start date.  In any case, there was no need for caution.  Erik, Mitch and Robert have dialed in accurately to a much loved and classic indie guitar sound.  The jangly, noisy touchstones of The Clean and other Flying Nun bands will come to mind, as well as contemporaries such as The Fresh & Onlys.  But this is no tribute act--when you hear Zebra Hunt, you'll want to put on your pith helmet and sign up for the safari.

The songs are available free, so join the hunt!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Pop/Punk Discovery: The Excuses - Ifya Got Audio

Nashville's The Excuses are playing a really exuberant brand of punk-inflected rock music with a lean in the direction of power pop. It's got a strong backbeat and a well-defined sense of melody. Playing "spot the influences" isn't a bad way to explore this record and will yield comparisons as diverse as, say, Fountains of Wayne ("Ashley Changed Her Name to Brooklyn") and Foo Fighters (several intros, most notably "Has Anybody Ever Loved You Like That"), with the common elements being sing-along-worthy choruses and strong support from the rhythm sections.

The Excuses are Jeff Skorik on guitar and lead vocals, Pat Meusel on bass and backup vocals and Chris Minnis on drums.

They all do a good job - the guitars are turned up, the vocals are loud and snarly like good rock music, and the bass provides solid support - but to my ears, Minnis' backbeat is the key to making these songs really stand out.

You can give a listen at their Bandcamp page:

Where you can also buy the record, either digital, physical or both.

I look forward to hearing more from these guys.

REVIEW: The New Tigers - The New Tigers

There was a time when the music scene in Finland was famous mostly for the multiple types of metal music it produced.  But that time is in the past.  The current scene contains a plethora of bands recording high quality music in other genres, and a fine example is The New Tigers, whose self-titled LP of noise pop is one of the out of left field surprises of the year.  It only features eight tracks, but two of them are in excess of eight minutes, so you aren't being short-changed.  Here is the album's opening track --

The next track is the lovely dream pop of "Velvet Jam".

The members of the band are Appu (guitar, vocals, glockenspiel), Valtteri (guitar and vocals), Janne (bass and synth), and Kece (drums).  Their hometown is Turku, Finland.

The New Tigers is an album for fans of the electric guitar.  Not metal-shredding guitar, but melodic, chiming, fuzz-drenched layers.  It will remind you of young Teenage Fanclub and Sonic Youth.  If you are like me, you'll get this album, put it on, and find that about nothing else you have can knock it off your playlist.  By the way, my favorite song on the album is the sixth, "Door on the Floor".  I think it is the way The Jesus and Mary Chain would have sounded if the Reid brothers had been happy.  And for those who want a slow dance, "Transitions" in the number seven slot fits the bill.

"Clocks of Destruction", the album's closing track --

Here is a picture of the lads in front of the house they will buy if all of you purchase their album.  [Editor's Note: Scott may be wrong about this picture, as his knowledge of Finnish is highly suspect.]


Monday, September 3, 2012

REVIEW: Two Gallants - The Bloom And The Blight

For want of a better term, I'd describe Two Gallants' new record The Bloom And The Blight as "hard folk". Lead singer Adam Stephens has a way of switching between a throaty roar and a plaintive wail, often within the same song - and on this record, they really turn up the guitars. From the beginning of first song "Halcyon Days", the guitars and drums are turned way up, and Stephens (with drummer Tyson Vogel's backing vocals) is reminiscent of Eddie Vedder - a full voice fronting a nearly arena-worthy roaring rock band.

You can listen at (click here) for now, not sure when they'll take that down.

Here's a video of them performing "Winter's Youth" at Schuba's in Chicago:

Like a lot of two-member bands, they pack a lot of sound into a pretty small space, and I think Stephens' voice is unique and very evocative. They've crafted a really interesting sound... at times I had the thought "What if you crossed Fairport Convention with Led Zeppelin?"

We wrote about these guys a while back when they made the first download available in June, and again earlier this month with a free download of "My Love Won't Wait".

So, you've got an opportunity to listen at, and two downloads if you click on our links above. If the video does anything for you, I suggest you check out those other songs and go buy the record. It's out tomorrow (September 4) on ATO Records.

And they've got some travelling planned - they are playing nearly every night for the rest of the year. Check out their Facebook page for info on tour dates.

Lee "Scratch" Perry/The Orb - The Observer in the Star House

The Observer in the Star House is a collaboration of famed reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry and electronic music masters The Orb.  The result is a collection of well-crafted electronic canvasses, with a base in ambient house and an infusion of dub effects, over which Perry weaves his unique magic.  At a time when too many artists are trying to distinguish themselves doing what others are doing, but trying to do it better, The Observer in the Star House is a refreshing sonic breeze.  Track "Hold Me Upsetter" is available free from The Orb website (link below) --

The triumph of this album is that, despite the presence of one of the true masters of reggae and dub, The Orb eschews the temptation to make a focused dub reggae album.  And despite the collaborators seeming incongruities, the evidence is that the sessions brought out the best of both parties.

At age 75, Perry can still elicit awe, and can still cause some to question his grasp or reality.  But for us, there really is only one concern, and that is whether he can still communicate through his music.  And quite clearly, he can.

"Golden Clouds" --

We're seriously into this album at the Rocksteady ranch, and it is available today.  Join the party!

The Orb