Friday, June 29, 2012

REVIEW: The Menzingers -- On the Impossible Past

I think On the Impossible Past is a really important album that everyone should know about. That's how I answer myself when I ask myself why I feel the need to do this review, when the album came out 4 months ago on a big-time label (Epitaph), and, for a period of weeks if not months, had the highest new release metascore on Metacritic. Hell, I've owned this album for months, listened to it dozens of times. My wife is obsessed with it, and it would get her vote for AOY if there were universal suffrage in this principality. Yet no one else I know knows about this record. Maybe that means I hang out with a bunch of stiff honkies, and despite my generally malevolent disposition toward white people, the observation is not entirely off-base. But do this -- go to Pitchfork (who are, self-styled at least, unstiff honkies) and type Menzingers into their search field. You get "sorry, no results match your query." Wha?

The Menzingers formed in Scranton, Pennsylvania a few years ago, and are now based out of Philadelphia. They are a true American punk band, with songs about girls, drinking, and dreaming about getting to some place different, and maybe better, than here (wherever here is). They take their punk music and cram it into perfect popsong structures. The playing is beautiful and very loud. The singing is powerful and emotive (but not emo), careening between straight-played rock vocals and surprising harmonies and well-spaced yelling. I'm not overselling the very broad appeal of what this band does. Indeed, verily let it be said, negatively I crappeth thee. Here's the video of their song "Nice Things":

The group is a traditional four piece (two lead singers is traditional now, no?), with Tom May and Greg Barnett singing and playing guitar, Joe Godino on drums, and Eric Keen on bass. Once I was drawn in by the great songs and great playing, I started hearing other things -- mainly lyrics that are intelligent and measured and authentic all at once. This is one of those rare bands that seems effortlessly to be able to distill the sublime from the prosaic. They draw believable characters, and put them in familiar bad places. Sometimes it gets to the point of making you wonder whether you used to know these people. Consider this, from the terrific song "Mexican Guitars":

You were an old friend
The kind I could confide in
And drink with on random neighbors' porch steps
Our glossy eyes painted portraits of the streets
You were an old friend
That covered up your innocence
With five tattoos of all the bands you loved in high school
The ones you said that I had to listen to all the time

Hell, consider the song itself:

There are 13 songs on this record, and not a weak half-note to be heard. Not only do I have trouble listing a favorite, but, maybe more illustrative of my irrational infatuation, there's no way in hell I could name a least favorite. Sure, some songs speak to me more than others. For example, the (nsfw) chorus of "Obituaries" would serve well as the epitaph on my gravestone:

I'm all for the idea behind this blog's mission to write only about music we like. There's so much great stuff being released every day that it doesn't make any sense to me (or to my friends who write here) to spend time writing about music that we consider crappy for one reason or another. What's the point? To try to influence you not to buy it? We ain't Consumer Reports. The flip-side of that, though, is that I worry I run the risk of sounding like a teenage cheerleader when I get to fawning over this or that album -- to the point of abandoning any critical credibility. I mention this here because I really do think this Menzingers album is important in a way that other albums I've reviewed may not be. We need to try to keep them around and writing and playing for a long time.

Menzingers on Facebook

Menzingers Epitaph page (you can buy the album here)

The Soul Corner: David Ruffin "My Whole World Ended"

We took the kids to a big concert this week and the opening act was an up and coming young neo-soul singer who shall remain nameless due to the philosophy of our friendly little blog here.
But I did start thinking about the genuine article - the vocals, persona and even fashion sense of a great Motown artist that this no doubt well intentioned young fellow was trying so hard to imitate.

Which brings me to this video, poorly lip synched as it may be. We've praised the great David Ruffin here before and probably will again. Larger than life, the very definition of the real deal. After leaving the Temptations for a solo career, David Ruffin had a few more great songs, like this one here:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

New tunes from Preteen

As long time readers of WYMA know, I'm quite fond of the music of San Francisco's PreTeen.  The band is on these pages again to share some songs that have popped up since the February release (our review here).  The stuff has a great, relaxed, lo-fi vibe that the band calls "slop pop".  It is good summer listening.

"Kisses from Sixth Street" --

"House of Shivers" --

"White Elephant" --

"Keep It Simple" --


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Release: Future of What - Moonstruck EP

Future of What plays electronic-based rock with all kinds of keyboard sounds and delightful female lead vocals. It's reminiscent of some of the early MTV-era electronic pop you may recall from artists like Berlin, and some of the instrumental work is definitely in the vein of European dance rock. Their 4-song EP, Moonstruck, is presented as the precursor for an album later this year and it's pretty catchy stuff.

Here's the video for "Back To The City":

The first single, "I Wait For You" was previously posted on WYMA here. That and two other songs are pretty sprightly, but they stretch out on track 4, "Party in Heaven" and hint at some of the, maybe darker, Euro-influenced synth-pop possibilities here.

But, in the end, Blair's vocals are the centerpiece and these are well-structured songs. Check it out via their free download at Soundcloud:

I'm fairly impressed, considering this band was just formed in January of this year and recorded these songs in March... looking forward to hearing more.

I Am Harlequin - new EP Craze out next week

We've featured I Am Harlequin, which is German artist Anne Freier, on WYMA previously and really enjoy her singing style and presence.

She's got an EP, Craze, out next week and here is a video for the song "Wild One", recorded with a full choir:

And here is a link to the original version of that track on Soundcloud. On that page, you can see how to buy the music on iTunes.

As I observed when I first heard her last year, one of her best features is the variety in song structure... but the vocals are impeccable throughout.

REVIEW: Ty Segall Band - Slaughterhouse

Ty Segall is a stalwart of the Bay Area garage rock resurgence.  He also is one of the hardest working and prolific musicians on the scene today.  Nevertheless, Slaughterhouse is a milestone of sorts as it is the first recording using his touring band.  The result is not only a garage rock gold nugget, but a contender for the noisy rock album of the year so far.  Fans of Segall and his live band know what to expect (only more so).  For those less familiar, you should know that what you get will be fuzzy, distorted guitars, howling vocals, and big garage riffs.  They are psych-pop songs at their core, but while the pop elements are very close to the surface of some songs, in other songs the pop is fully enveloped by the band's maelstrom.  It occurs to me that Slaughterhouse is the best possible advertisement for those considering attending a live performance of this outfit.

The album begins with full bore blast via "Death", "I Bought My Eyes" and "Slaughterhouse".  Here is "I Bought My Eyes" --

"Tell Me What's Inside Your Heart" mines the psychedelic side of garage rock with confidence and swagger--


The pop hooks come up a bit higher for air in portions of the second half of the album.  My favorite is the infectious '60s garage rock of "Muscle Man" --

And by the way, if you like "Muscle Man", you will want to hear the two following album tracks, "That's the Bag I'm In" and "Diddy Wah Diddy".

To recap, we have heavy sounds, feedback, distortion, vocals at the breaking point and hooks surfing the whole thing like locals on big wave day on Oahu's  North Shore.  I haven't had this much fun with a rock album in a very long time.

Ty Segall Band is Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Charlie Moothart, and Emily Rose Epstein.  Slaughterhouse was released this week by In The Red Records.

Ty Segall's Facebook
In The Red Records
Label page for the band/album

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

REVIEW: Charlie Big Time - Dishevelled Revellers

I've learned several things in blogging about music this year, and one of them is to pay attention when Matinee Recordings advises me of a new release.  In this case, the album is Dishevelled Revellers -- four tracks of superb guitar pop from Bolton, UK's Charlie Big Time.  This is the kind of early Creation Records style pop that, for some of us, never goes out of fashion; particularly when it is this well done.   But when an EP leads off with my new favorite song, I know I'll give the entire EP a chance.  Listen for the vocal hook in the chorus just past the 1 minute mark -- I think you'll agree that it is high quality, and the sort of thing that is responsible for the early demise of many innocent "replay" buttons.

Chris Tiplady and Matt Pendlebury  released the band's first EP on Cloudberry Records in 2007.  In the intervening years they released an LP and placed songs on some indie compilations.  For Dishevelled Revellers, Chris and Matt invited Beth Arzy of Aberdeen and Trembling Blue Stars fame to add her vocal abilities to the group.  The wonderful result is top-flight songwriting and polished performances, with Beth providing a bit of sunshine to the lightly melancholic arrangements.

Enjoy the second track, "The Liberation of Love" --

 Dishevelled Revellers is released today, and because I can only assume that this post has convinced you that the EP is worth your time and money, I've provided the Matinee and Amazon links below.

Track three, "Real Estate" --

Dishevelled Revellers link at Matinee Recordings
Matinee Recordings
Amazon link for the EP

Monday, June 25, 2012

REVIEW: Echo Lake - Wild Peace

I regret to begin this review on a sad note, but we send our condolences to the family and girlfriend of Echo Lake's drummer, Pete Hayes, and to Pete's bandmates.  Peter died last Thursday and we learned of it on Sunday.  So the release of this album, which should be a time of great joy for the band, undoubtedly is colored by sadness.

Imagine My Bloody Valentine infused with affecting female vocals and extra attention to melody.  A nice idea, right?  Well, London's Echo Lake think so as well, and have executed it to great effect on Wild Peace, a dream pop album with a distinctive aggressive edge.  The result is an impressive debut, brimming with confidence and purpose and showcasing an excellent set of songs.

"Last Song of the Year" is one of the more pop-oriented songs, with an infectious Stone Roses-style guitar riff and a Spectoresque wall of sound --

The title track, "Wild Peace" is one of several beautiful slower songs that highlight Linda's vocal powers.  Other songs, such as "Another Day", are chameleons, shifting between girl-group sweetness and a shoegazey sonic tapestry.

"Young Silence" displays the raw sonic overdrive reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine --

If this is your introduction to the band, don't feel behind the times.  At this point, their fan base is largely in the UK.  However, I expect that to change with Echo Lake.  I expect that more than a few tracks here will compete for spots on your summer soundtrack.  Then you can relax and watch this band get big over the next few years.

The members of the band are Thom, Linda, Pete (R.I.P.), Kier, and Steve.

Echo Lake is out in the UK on 6/25 on No Pain In Pop and in the US on Slumberland on 6/26.

Twitter ( @echolakeband )
Slumberland Records
No Pain In Pop

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday morning concert with the Allah-Las

The Allah-Las have emerged as one of my favorite bands this year (my review of their recent EP is here).  There is a temptation to throw labels on bands, but I'll pass on playing this game for now, and just state that the way their music makes me feel is one of the principal reasons I listen to music.  So I've chosen to make your summer Saturday morning better by giving you a little internet concert.  Consider supporting the group and owning their music.

Here is the title track to their EP --

"Don't You Forget It" --

"Long Journey" --

"No Voodoo" --

"Busman's Holiday" --


Friday, June 22, 2012

REVIEW: Jesus H. Foxx - Endless Knocking

Do you like parties?  Oh good - so do I.  And if you like parties, you may well like Endless Knocking by Edinburgh's Jesus H. Foxx.  For me, Endless Knocking is like going to one of those wonderful house parties full of witty, eccentric characters.  As you wander through the house, you find interesting conversations or happenings in every room.  Everyone is nice and charming, but at times you may have to struggle a bit to get the joke.  So too, this album is full of diverse, eccentric songs, characterized by mid-song changes of pace and style, and unusual rhythms.  The result is a very satisfying collage and, like when you go home after a good party, you'll be satisfied, energized and having made a few new friends.

The first single from the album is the charming "So Much Water", which features jangling guitars and dueling vocals (the track on this player ends thirty seconds early, and I don't know why).  The song can be downloaded free at this link.

Jesus H. Fox was formed in 2007.  They released a smaller recording in 2009, and built a devoted local fan base that was eager for an album.  In May, the band delivered Endless Knocking via Edinburgh's Song By Toad Records.  Apparently, the album had been recorded in 2010, but the band wasn't satisfied and reworked the songs until they felt comfortable releasing the album.

The band's line up is Michael Hunter (vocals/guitars/keys), Neil Duncan (guitars/vocals/drums), Owen Curtis Williams (drums), Rich Butler (bass/vocals), Richie Henderson (guitar/vocals/keys), Tallah Brash (cornet/glockenspiel/keys/vocals), and Thomas Western (keys/vocals).  Their facility with multiple instruments, and the fact that they all sing, give the band more flexibility in fleshing out the songs, and extending their sonic range.  Coupled with the inventive songwriting (and, apparently, perfectionist approach), it is no surprise that this is a quality listen.

"I'm Half the Man You Were" is a shambles along as a delightful folk jam --

I think a taste of a live performance is in order as a closer.  We present "This Is Not A Rental Car" (live) --

Album page at Song By Toad Records
Song By Toad Records

The Soul Corner - Geater Davis "Sweet Woman's Love"

A loyal reader (thank you Mr. Graves wherever you are!) tipped us off to a soul artist we had not previously heard.
Geater Davis is one of those hard luck stories - bankrupt record companies, never caught a break, etc.
But he wrote some great songs and created some truly fine deep soul recordings.

Here's "Sweet Woman's Love" from 1970.

Geater Davis' work is highly regarded enough that there are a few compilation CD sets available, notably Sadder Shades of Blue: The Southern Soul Sessions 1971-76. We will certainly be picking that one up for the Soul Corner library.
Davis was from Kountze, a small oil industry town in east Texas. He died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 38.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

REVIEW: Laurence and the Slab Boys - Lo-Fi Disgrace

As I understand it, Larry Reid and his fellow Cinematics had left their Glasgow homes to live and record a third album in Berlin.  Instead, the band broke up and Larry was left in Berlin, working as a DJ, and without a band.  He started writing material for an album, informed by the isolation and loneliness inherent in being far from home, without his band, and not speaking German.  Apparently he considered scrapping the project at various points, but he eventually became persuaded that recording and releasing it was the right approach.  Good decision, Larry.  Good decision.

Recorded and released under the name Laurence and the Slab BoysLo-Fi Disgrace is a noisy, fuzz and feeback-laden brand of dream pop, with a few hard edges musically and plenty of hard-edged emotions lyrically.  For me, it is one of the brooding highlights of the year so far.  There is no major label involved, so it is the album Larry and his collaborators wanted to make, made to please them and not some A&R guy's image of what would sell.

Perhaps the best introduction for the reader is the second track, "Mushroom", which is the first single from the album. Here is a live version.

One of the most distinctive features of Lo-Fi Disgrace is the vocal performance of Reid.  While his vocals are soft, and not overly-emphasized in the mix, they command the proceedings by virtue his raw, baritone delivery (reminding this listener of Ian Curtis and, at times, Peter Murphy) and emotional content.  For me, his best vocal performance is in the third track, a story of dying love for which Reid's underplayed delivery beautifully underscores the hopelessness of the dying relationship, and highlights the key phrase "I would not do for diamonds, what you have done for free".  Apparently the song also gives name to the album, through the lyric "you killed it in haste, like some lo-fi disgrace".  Here is Do For Diamonds --

LoFi Disgrace includes tracks with upbeat melodies as well.  In particular, "Space Dream #2" and the track provided below, "Ballroom Killers", could feature on the dance floor.  And "K.E.O." is a swaggering delight.

The album was recorded in Berlin and Manchester.   The label is Grumpy Records.  In addition to Reid, the band includes Josh Brady, Matt Smithson and Lee Walsh.  The group takes its name from a trilogy of plays written by Scottish playwright John Byrne and set in Paisley, the town in which Reid was born.

Twitter ( @theslabboys )

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New video from Cats on Fire

Cats On Fire has released a video of the band performing "After the Fact" from their spring 2012 release, All Blackshirts to Me (our review here).  Since US readers don't have many opportunities to see the band live, this may be your closest look.

Twitter ( @catsonfire )
Matinee Recordings

REVIEW: Bart and Friends -There May Come A Time

If a gathering of jangle pop fans sat down, poured a few ales (yes, we drink ales, thank you very much), and took turns offering lineups of potential supergroups, one certainly would have a knock-out round contender if he or she suggested Bart Cummings (The Cat's Miaow, Hydroplane, Pencil Tin and The Shapiros), Mark Monnone (The Lucksmiths), Louis Richter (Mid State Orange, The Lucksmiths), and Jeremy Cole (The Zebras).  But the truly competitive player (assume that the winner drinks free) leaves nothing to chance, and suggests that the vocals for the group be handled by Pam Berry (The Pines, The Shapiros, Glo Worm, Black Tambourine) and Scott Stevens (Summer Cats, The Earthmen).  And we all are winners, because that's the current iteration of the Australian supergroup, Bart and Friends.

Assembled around Bart Cummings, Bart and Friends' first iteration was around 2000, and released a few records on two different labels.  A second gathering released an EP and a mini album on the Lost and Lonesome label late in the '00s.  The 2012 version, with the membership proposed by our hypothetical winning jangle pop fan above, has recorded one of the EP gems of the year so far, There May Come A Time on Matinee Recordings.

Shimmering, jangling guitars, bright melodies and affecting vocals, this is the motherlode for guitar pop fans.  The only criticism one can have is that it is over very much too soon.

Here is the title track, which already is one of my favorite songs of the year --

I should mention that among the other tracks is an excellent jangly version of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love", two songs from a long sold out earlier Bart and Friends album and to other sweet tunes.  If my computer could develop deeper grooves from excess plays, the section with this EP would look like the Grand Canyon.

Artist's page at Matinee Recordings
Matinee Recordings

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New single from the June Brides

The June Brides were among the best, and best loved of the C86 bands from the UK from 1983 to 1986.  To the delight of their old and new fans, the band's front man, Phil Wilson, has revived the group.  Their first recording is a double A-side "A January Moon/Cloud", on Slumberland Records in the US and Occultation in the UK.   You can sample both tracks below.

"A January Moon" --

"Cloud" --

In addition to Wilson (guitar/vocals), the current iteration includes original members Frank Sweeney (viola), John Hunter (trumpet), and Simon Beesley (guitar/vocals).  Phil's recent projects under his own name have included Andy Fonda (drums) and Arash Torabi (bass/vocals), and I suspect they were involved on these recordings as well.

Twitter ( @philjunebride )
Slumberland Records

REVIEW: Olympic Swimmers - No Flags Will Fly

No Flags Will Fly, the debut full-length from Glasgow's Olympic Swimmers, is one of those albums. By that I mean if you first hear it a year or two from now you'll say to yourself "why didn't I know about this album, and why didn't I know about this band, in June 2012".  Well, dear readers, it is our goal to save you the public embarrassment and private self-loathing that can result from such circumstances.

Olympic Swimmers are Graeme Smillie, Jamie Savage, Jonny Scott, Simon Liddell and Susie Smille.  Their music is a melodic, sophisticated, multi-layered indie pop, featuring excellent musicianship and stellar vocals. They have released a couple of EPs, and aren't strangers to recent "ones to watch lists".  No more teasing and no more promises from this gang, they have delivered.

Opening track, "Father Said", has an orchestral feel.  The ebb and flows reminds this listener of the later stage work of the Delgados --

The music is diverse and uniformly outstanding.  Some parts are delicate, some vulnerable, and some noisy and bursting with energy.  While the entire ensemble is excellent, Susie Smillie's vocals may be the most memorable feature in this set of songs.  Ethereal, folky or pop, as demanded by the musical context, but always with remarkable clarity and a hint of emotional ache.

"Apples and Pears" is probably the nearest track on the album to pop song.

"Where It Snows" is a perfect slice of dream pop.  Apparently, some of the footage in the video was shot in years ago in the village in which siblings Susie and Simon grew up.

No Flags Will Fly was available on June 4.  The band isn't signed to a label, but you can purchase downloads at the Bandcamp link below, as well as iTunes and other download stores.  Physical copies are available in some UK stores, but US fans probably would need to have them shipped.

Twitter ( @OlympicSwimmers )

Monday, June 18, 2012

REVIEW: ExLovers - Moth

When a stunningly good album is released, one that you want to play over and over and tell your friends about, the temptation is to assume that it all came somewhat easily to the five young folks who can proudly call it their own.  But in the case of London's ExLovers, there was a lot of hard work behind this dazzling debut.  In their early days even the stereotypical broken-down tour van was a bridge too far -- Exlovers traveled to early gigs via public transportation (how many seats does one purchase for a drum kit, anyway?).  But this review has nothing to do with sympathy or extra points for hard work; this review is earned by releasing a collection of songs that should demand the attention of any guitar pop fan.

Moth opens proceedings with the bright melodies of  "Starlight, Starlight".  If this is your first exposure to Exlovers, you could be forgiven thinking that they were pulling in the listeners by leading with their best track.  If so, you'd likely reassess quickly when confronted with the second track, "This Love Will Lead You On", which is the first single --

"Emily", which will be released as a single in July, is third, and is a wonderful piece of melancholy.  If you are like me, at this point you are thinking that Exlovers has a great mastery of the guitar pop genre, and Moth will be a very creditable first album if they can bring it home without losing too much steam.

And then, if you like what I like, Exlovers hits you with their best one-two punch.  Here is the wonderful jangle of "Just A Silhouette" --

The second punch is track five, "Blowing Kisses", and is my current  favorite song on the album.  It also was my introduction to the band in early 2011 --

As the remainder of the album unspools, the band demonstrates equal comfort with slower, sadder songs, but never loses their sense for melody.

Moth is the work of  Pete, Chris, Brooke, Laurel and Danny.  Their guitars ring, jangle, chime and crunch as needed.  The rhythm section is superb (one of my fellow WYMA contributors, on first hearing blowing kisses, said something like "man, what a drummer").  And the male/female vocals, alternating and harmonizing, contribute a texture that many other bands can only envy.

When describing Moth to a friend, he asked me to compare it to the debut from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart because he knows that I'm very fond of that band.  My response was that I think Exlovers paints on a broader indie canvass than TPOBPAH.  But more than that, I think Moth quite simply is a better album than the Brooklyn noise poppers debut.  It is that good.

Moth is released on London's Young and Lost Club label.  You may recall that the debut from Being There was released by the same label earlier in the month.  Make a note of them--Sara and Nadia are tastemakers and curators of fine new music.

A live version of the album's closing track, "Moth-Eaten Memories" --

Young and Lost Club

New Discovery: Sarah Gwen

I was asked to write a bio for Sarah Gwen, a new Portland singer-songwriter whom I have been closely following and cheering on for the past 2 years. So our readers at WYMA get the first glimpse of this strikingly talented new artist. 

Somehow it would not have been quite right for Sarah Gwen to give her debut CD any other name but her own. “Yes, every song here is autobiographical,” Sarah Gwen definitively admits.  “When people come up to me at my shows and say, ‘It’s so real’, I think, well, what is it supposed to be?  I was na├»ve and clueless,” she continues,  “didn’t even realize that people wrote fictional songs until everyone seemed to think it was weird that every one of my songs was true.  I will never understand people writing songs about riding trains when they weren’t on them.”

While it is true at a certain level for all debut records that the artist went through a lifetime of experiences to create that work, Sarah Gwen’s story is more literal than many. 

Inspired by Nirvana then at their apex, Sarah taught herself to play guitar and start writing songs at 15, in the small Idaho town where she grew up. 

A decade later, in her mid-20’s, she found herself divorced and living in Portland OR.  “I didn’t play music while I was married, but when we broke up, I moved into an apartment and it was all I did. I would come home from a bar and couldn’t sleep, so I had this window to write and record songs between 1 and 3 a.m. It was always a private thing, a cathartic outlet, and a way for me to express the things I was pissed off about but didn’t know how to say to people. All these songs were written about my ex-husband and two guys I dated after that.”

Enter Portland guitarist and songwriter Scott Weddle (Amelia, Storm Large, The Flatirons).  “I never would have made this record without Scott,” says Sarah. “I would have been happy to play the songs alone in my bedroom at night. But Scott introduced me to people, helped me get some shows and encouraged me.”

That push led Sarah Gwen to Portland’s Dead Aunt Thelma’s Recording Studio with Scott Weddle, multi-instrumentalist and engineer Mark Orton (Tin Hat Trio), and somewhat remarkably, two friends of Weddle’s and one of the most highly regarded rhythm sections in Americana music – drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos – on a brief hiatus from touring as Ray LaMontagne’s band (The Prairie Dogs) and various high placed sessions jobs (Robert Plant / Alison Krauss, Aimee Mann, Joe Henry, Paula Cole and a near endless list). 

They knocked out all 12 songs in 2 days. Sarah Gwen: “It was all kind of a blur. But it was awesome to hear these songs sounding so complete, professional and beautiful. The players on this record are insanely great. I’d never had a bass player before, but it worked so well with the songs, made them sound so much fuller. “

The songs vary quite a bit in Americana flavor from country (“King of France”, “Good Girl”), Tom Waits-ish stompin' blues (“Come Get Me”, “Woods”), soul  (“Don’t Mean To”, “Ready”), pop (“Be Mine”) to a couple terrific ballads (“I’ll Show You”; “Elephant”, in video above, an earlier live recording in a studio). 

While the arrangements and playing are first rate, this CD is going to connect with people first and foremost through Sarah Gwen’s expressive, deeply passionate voice and unflinching lyrics (“Another woman’s baby on my hip / She cries all damn day / Guess I’ll join her”). You immediately sit up and listen in “Impossible” when she sings “Your hands on my neck / you said spread your legs / You kissed me so hard I thought my teeth would break.” 

No one would guess that such a newcomer would possess the power, control and confidence shown in “Impossible” to repeat a simple line and just ever so slightly turn up the heat as she proceeds: “Are you jealous?” “Are you jealous?” Are you jeall-louss? Do you get jealous?” Sarah Gwen is a natural, blessed as both a writer and singer with a controlled intensity and authenticity that you can’t teach. 

The one song here that Sarah Gwen did not write is an unlikely cover – Genesis’ “Misunderstanding”, about as far from the tough Americana tone of this CD as one can get. There is zero irony in this slowed down, aching version of the song, which Sarah Gwen against all odds transforms into something genuinely moving. 

Ask Sarah about her influences and she gravitates not to the female singer-songwriters she sometimes gets compared to (Lucinda Williams, Liz Phair, Polly Jean Harvey), but Tom Petty. “Oh man, Tom Petty. I wish I was that tough and a rocking guitar player like him.”

I find it fitting she would use the word “tough” because one of the main the reasons these songs resonate so strongly for everyone who hears them is their rare combination of bare vulnerability and undefeatable resilience. As one friend of mine leaned over and said to me 3 songs into the set the first time he heard Sarah: “Goddamn, she is bad ass.”  

From here, Sarah Gwen is looking forward to finally putting music first in her life, out from the cover of the middle of the night and into record stores and live music venues across the US. Her goal is as simple and direct as her songs: “I want people to hear these songs as authentic genuine music.”

So is Sarah in the same space as when she wrote these songs? “I am happier in my personal life now,” says Sarah Gwen. “I don’t feel as vulnerable as I did a few years ago. But when I sing the songs live, I easily tap right back into what was part a big part of my life. And I will probably always write about things that bum me out. I have tried to write a love song but trust me, I am not very good at it (laughs).”

Preview and purchase right now at iTunes: Sarah Gwen . Hard copies of the actual CD are coming in September.  

Sarah Gwen, Sarah Gwen

Sarah Gwen Peters – vocals, guitar, songwriting
Scott Weddle – guitars
Mark Orton – guitars, keyboards
Jennifer Condos – bass
Jay Bellerose – drums, percussions
Additional musicians and singers: Paul Brainard, Rob Burger, Dave Lipkind, Megan Orton,  Warren Pash, and The Real Vocal String Quartet.

Jeff Wooding
Woodtone Artist Management
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Sunday, June 17, 2012

REVIEW: PUJOL - United States of Being

A relatively recent favorite here at When You Motor Away is Nashville rock band PUJOL. Following up on last year's EP Nasty, Brutish and Short (WYMA link here), they've delivered a terrific debut album, United States of Being.

Daniel Pujol, the leader of this band, is one of the hardest-working musicians in Nashville and has a well-deserved reputation for delivering quality, albeit down-and-dirty, rock music. It's tempting to just call it "garage" and that label certainly applies to the opener, a very fuzzy number named "DIY2K" with shouted vocals over a wonderfully ragged guitar riff... And the second song, "Providence", builds on both the theme and the musicianship, adding a pounding piano line and some nice harmony vocals on the chorus. Here's "Providence":

But it's not all fuzz and pounding, there are a variety of sounds on this record. There's some riff-based, almost "album rock" sounding stuff in the middle - "Keeper of Atlantis" and "Made of Money" feature guitar riffs and piano lines that wouldn't have been out of place on, say Kiss or Skynyrd records. Then, an acoustic song, "Endless Mike", but eventually it's back to what I would call the signature sound (and the sound that makes me want to hear more from this band): "Reverse Vampire".

Here's the official video for "Black Rabbit", which was previously released as part of the EP:

Here is the 7-song set from the release show PUJOL played in Nashville on June 5:

The record is out now on Saddle Creek Records. PUJOL played Bonnaroo in Daniel's hometown of Tullahoma, Tennessee - so the buzz machine is probably already in high gear. And it's well-deserved.

Update: Joe Henry and Lisa Hannigan

Check this out from Paste magazine. I hope Mr. Henry and Ms. Hannigan are still performing "Helpless" next week when they come south of the border to Portland.
Joe Henry and Lisa Hannigan field recordings and travelogue

Friday, June 15, 2012

REVIEW: Japandroids -- Celebration Rock

"Whatsoever is material, doth soon vanish away into the common substance of the whole; and whatsoever is formal, or whatsoever doth animate that which is material, is soon resumed into the common reason of the whole; and the fame and memory of anything is soon swallowed up by the general age and duration of the whole."    Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, The Seventh Book

"Bullbats hawk the insects in the warm air next to the pavement."  Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

"Sweet JESUS, my heart is beating faster and faster."  Art Brut, "Modern Art"

I'll make a confession, for what it's worth. A few months ago I read some interview with Japandroids guitarist Brian King where he said one of the things about their then-upcoming album, Celebration Rock, that would be different from their 2009 debut was that he actually had written lyrics. I thought this was a terrible idea.  After all, it was the irreverent exuberance of those repeated lines that made Post Nothing so special. You could write all the lyrics from that entire record on a single square of Charmin. I love that record with a fanatical abandon (it was my '09 AOY with a bullet, as they say) and have challenged any willing music dweeb to name any three song cycle on any album that can match the sheer heart-pounding joy of "The Boys are Leaving Town "/"Young Hearts Spark Fire"/"Wet Hair" from that record. So my concern with this lyrics business was that someone had hijacked their sound, and the new record would be a canuxsploitation -- you know, complete with a cover of "Fight the Good Fight" by fellow countrymen Triumph.

Well, not for the last time was I dead wrong, and now, after about 30 times through this 8 song dervish of a record in the past 2-plus weeks (damn right I preordered from Polyvinyl and got it a week early), I am ready to close the books on the album of the year. Hell, I'm ready to enshrine it in the canon right now so I can look smart 20 years down the road. This album is a bracing, jarring, sonic joyride by two guys who know how to play their instruments, and who also have been reared in the rock and roll temple.

Although King and drummer David Prowse always have worn their influences on their collective sleeve, covering the likes of Mclusky and Big Black on earlier releases, and monkeying with a Thin Lizzy song title on the debut, their brash cover of The Gun Club's tribal-gothic "For the Love of Ivy", even (thankfully) subbing in "answers" for the racial epithet near the end of the song, is an unqualified success. The dirty production and fuzzed vocals on the song match the sense of menace in the original without any cheap attempts at mimicking the unique wail of Jeffrey Lee Pierce. The song is from the 1983 album Fire of Love, which I consider to be one of the 20 greatest rock and roll albums of all time. Covering "For the Love of Ivy," though, is just the most overt homage to the album. On Celebration Rock's third song, "Evil's Sway," the repeated "sexual red" imagery is lovingly borrowed from Fire of Love's psychobilly anthem "Jack on Fire."

I haven't had the time or the need to parse out the lyrics, but the new approach works. For now, the lyrics are like great impressionist art, in that the fragments may be inscrutable, but when experienced as a whole, the message is clear:

Celebration Rock has the pacing and feel of 70s vinyl recordings, when bands used to group songs into two cycles, one for each side. Here, each side begins with three relentless power anthems followed by something to check the inertia. On "side one" it's the Gun Club cover, and on "side two" the album closes with "Continuous Thunder," a slower, almost wizened coda along the lines of the way the Hold Steady seem to like to finish their records. In all, it's the best 34 minutes committed to record in a year that's shaping up to be mighty strong for good music. Go buy it, and go see their excellent live show. For a glimpse of the latter, check out this recent performance of "Fire's Highway" (more Fire of Love imagery) on Fallon, with my apologies if you have to sit through a commercial (it's worth it).

Japandroids homepage

Polyvinyl Records

The Soul Corner: Eddie Hinton - "Hard Luck Guy"; "Everybody Needs Love"

Eddie Hinton was born in Tuscaloosa Alabama on this day June 15, in 1944. I only discovered Hinton a couple years ago based on the proselytizing of both Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers ) and Peter Case.
But man what a soul singer. This one is my favorite:

"Everybody Needs Love" is a great one as well.

The Drive-By Truckers recently recorded a fine cover version of "Everybody Needs Love" played here live in June 2011:

Eddie Hinton was lead guitar player in the Muscle Shoals studio band, and played on recordings by Wilson Pickett,  Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, and Elvis Presley, to name a few. Patterson Hood's father David was the bass player in that legendary band.
Hinton's own recordings never got their due, perhaps the world not being ready for a white soul singer that real and raw. He was as talented a songwriter as he was a vocalist and guitar player, the best known of Hinton's songs being "Breakfast in Bed", the Dusty Springfield classic, covered by many including Jamaican singer Lorna Bennett, who transformed it into a reggae classic.

Hinton died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of just 51.  We celebrate his birth and great music today.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

REVIEW: Sam Russell With The Harborrats - The Water Balloon

Seattle singer/songwriter Sam Russell, with his frequent collaborators, The Harborrats, has just released The Water Balloon, the fifth edition of his Blue Moon Bible series.  What does this writer do when he discovers there is a new release from Sam Russell With the Harborrats?  I assure you, it was an entirely objective and professional response - I set aside my other work, ignored other deadlines, procured the album and resolved to push it towards the head of the line and get a post out as soon as I could.  After all, we aren't just highly-paid and internationally acclaimed tastemakers at When You Motor Away, we are fans of music we like.  And I like what Sam and his friends are serving.

And what comes from the tap is Americana soul.  The music has high energy, emotional depth and a lead vocalist in Russell that, as another critic once wrote, no other artist ever wants to follow on stage.  The music reflect Memphis soul, old fashioned pop, garage, folk and country, but specializes in songs that start slowly, pulling the listener into the story, and then explode into rollicking climax.  Moreover, the work is impressive not just because it sounds good.  The songs are authentic stories about life, with humor, sorrow and optimism.

Memphis soul from a white boy who grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin?  Here is the lead track:

A slower tempo offering is the title track, a sublime tale of addiction and potential redemption:

You can stream the entire eight-track album at the Bandcamp link.  But you also can purchase it for six dollars.

Sam wrote all the songs on the album.  The player credits are as follows:
Sam Russell-vocals, guitar 
Michael Spaly-violin, vocals mandolin, guitar 
James Apollo-vocals, keyboards, guitar, harmonica 
Carey Rayburn-trumpet 
Allison Tulloss-vocals, flute, keyboards 
Kjell Anderson-violin 
Schuyler Jones-electric bass 
Ken Nottingham-upright & electric bass 
Dave Forrester-drums, percussion 
Isaac Chirino-percussion 
Toby Hanson-accordion 
John Tomlinson-Hammond B3 
Carlos Tulloss-bass on 3 
Nathan Wade-vocal on 6 
Daniel Jay Shontz-trombone on 5 
Justin Roeser-guitar on 4 

"Support Your Local Waitress" is a fun pop track --

The Blue Moon Bible series is intended to be eight albums with eight tracks each, and they feature recurring lyrical themes.  The crack When You Motor Away accounting department assures me that Water Balloon is number five.  The sixth, The Year of the Cow, is scheduled for an August release.  You can find past releases in the series at the links below.  In reflecting on the list, I was impressed with the number of songs from past releases that have spots on my favorite playlists.  And to entice you to spend a bit of time exploring the prior volumes, here is the wonderful title track to Volume C, "Salted Caramel Shake" --

Blue Moon Bible series homepage
Sam Russell's Facebook