Matthew Sweet (from the album Catspaw available on Omnivore Recordings) (by Joe Burcaw)
It has been close to three years since we’ve heard new material from Matthew Sweet and this time around the tables have turned in the lead guitar department. Sweet’s criterion going into this project was to execute every lead part himself. Matthew has never played lead on any of his previous releases just rhythm guitar, bass, and piano. As a fan, I was overjoyed by this musical shift and quite surprised by the melodic output blazing through his fingertips. Let me warn the listeners now, this is not a Steve Vai tribute with blistering solos incorporating running Mixolydian and Phrygian modes throughout. Instead, we have been gifted noise infused Power Pop with guitar hooks that were created to remain memorable and timeless.
Matthew Sweet, at this point in the game, has had a long history collaborating with the likes of Michael Stipe, Susanna Hoffs, and a brief stint with his super group “The Thorns” featuring fellow Athens Georgia alum Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge. Now, it’s time to bring things home again and get back into the shed. All of the instruments (aside from the drums which feature longtime drummer Ric Menck) were performed by Sweet, the way it should be. The lead off track “Blown Away” brings me back to 1970 when Badfinger and The Beatles (who were record label mates) ruled the airwaves with their guitar driven Pop anthems. I believe it’s safe to say here that Mr. Sweet has been influenced by The Beatles vocally, and by Badfinger musically. What struck my attention, aside from the lead guitar riffs weaving in and out of the verses and choruses, was the abstract lyrical line ‘and I found a key to turn like a worm, like a worm’. What that means exactly I haven’t the slightest idea but I love when songwriters throw in the odd simile to counter the underlying message within the body of the lyrics.
My favorite stand-out track is “Challenge the Gods”, the melodic 8-bar guitar intro is what we need to hear more of in Pop Rock music. ‘Do what you wanna do, go where you wanna go, challenge the Gods to act’ has been lodged inside of my head for the past few days, a chorus that keeps on persisting. This song brought me back to Sweet’s time collaborating with Boston new wavers Til’ Tuesday, on their third and final album’s title track, “Everything’s Different Know”, co-written with MTV unplugged host Jules Shear. I bring this up because Sweet’s phrasing is very similar to what Til’ Tuesday lead guitarist Robert Holmes would create as a soloist, a nice contrast of melody, space, and hook all wrapped up in one musical burrito. The vocal lines display more of that Beatles signature layering but leaning more toward King’s X co-vocalist Ty Tabor’s vocal tonality and expression. Trust me, this song will not disappoint! The featured first single, “At A Loss”, pays homage to Neil Young’s unique soloing style of bending notes while simultaneously creating a mood with noisy guitar raucous. I admire this uniqueness and was immediately brought back to 1989’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” when taking a listen. It is a mighty fine choice for a lead-off single that encapsulates all of the Power Pop essentials of pure genius in just 3:37 minutes of music. Keep up the great work Matthew, you’re on the way to achieving another smash hit even bigger than “Girlfriend” on this one....... (by Joe Burcaw)
Listen and buy the music of Matthew Sweet from AMAZON
For more info, check out the Matthew Sweet website
<iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/12TuSIXqbiNtEKZZyS1jKH" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe>
This Frontier Needs Heroes (from the album Go With the Flow available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Psychedelic Country. Lo-fi Folk. Slacker Roots. All terms are apt descriptors for Go with the Flow, the latest from This Frontier Needs Heroes aka Brad Lauretti. Deliciously laid-back, This Frontier Needs Heroes presents a Country groove album, an unassuming package of loosey-goosey Roots music that’s casual, lyrically straight-forward and just downright cool. The record opens with the title track, a faintly picked melody kicking into a slow, anthemic singalong that offers up inspiration and motivation to make life happen because ‘if you miss the boat you’re gonna be sad’.
“Dumb it Down” has a cowpunk bounce amidst a Rootsy rhythm and “One Mistake” is a Folk ballad, lyrics loaded with honest, self-reflection. In “Don’t Hate Your Hometown” This Frontier Needs Heroes tells the all-too-common tale of ‘easily bored’ American kids that ‘dreamed very far, sooner or later we had to depart’. It’s a tale for people that bailed from the familiar, coming back when they realize that where they came from isn’t that bad while “Fossil Fuel Fascists” finds Lauretti stripped-down and in protest tune mode. Go with the Flow is a Folk meets Lo-Fi Indie Rock package. This Frontier Needs Heroes’ stories and suggestions come direct via the unambiguous, Protest and Country music that lives outside the norms of Protest and Country music.
Listen and buy the music of This Frontier Needs Heroes from AMAZON
For more info, check out the This Frontier Needs Heroes website
<iframe src="https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/5Hd6enpNTZCvvC7mI5RhCU" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe>
Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams (from the album Plastic Bouquet available on New West Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
‘Every December, Christchurch enjoys the start of summer as Saskatoon begins to freeze over’. So begins the liner notes to Plastic Bouquet, a collaborative project between Canadian Folk duo, cousins Clayton Linthicum (guitar) and Kacy Anderson (vocals), and New Zealand singer-songwriter and guitarist Marlon Williams. As the story goes, Williams initiated the project upon hearing Kacy & Clayton's song “Springtime of the Year”, (a beautifully exotic and inventive, Spanish-tinged piece), through his radio. Marlon Williams (who has two well-received solo albums to his name) flew to Saskatoon, and the three worked together in person for this album.
“Isn't It” starts things in impressive fashion. Anderson's voice spell-binding, flowing like honey, effortlessly evocative and, yes, haunting. So wondrously balanced is the production that Anderson's voice becomes the proverbial ‘human instrument’, combining organically with solid drums, bass, and delightfully off-kilter guitar. The track walks a remarkable tightrope between pure Pop and something more dense, nuanced and intelligent. Violin strings weave subtle traces of light through a wall of fascinating sound. “Isn't It” conjures, during its short length, hazy and electric memories of primal Summers and blurred, fractious futures.
Title track, “Plastic Bouquet”, presents, on the surface, as straightforward Folk-Country. What sets it apart is the first-class musicianship, Anderson's purring, eternally appealing voice amid washes of post-Pop adventurousness. There's nothing knowingly self-referential here, the trio's passion for pure honest Folk songs shines through. “Light of Love” shambles and rattles with eyes half-closed against the sun. Spanish ornamentations, spiky guitar runs and shuffling drums propel us through another gorgeous arrangement. Something of a 60’s California vibe permeates this track and, indeed, the whole album, but it is a mazy, slightly distrustful vibe full of pathos, longing and hope.
What consistently amazes one, upon experiencing this album, is just how easy and unaffected the trio manage to make this sophisticated, lush music sound. For all of its multi-layered tapestry, Plastic Bouquet remains effortlessly accessible. The wistful “Arahura” on which Williams takes lead vocals, winds through a molasses canyon, throwing out sparkling hooks like candy. Williams high, keening voice, it must be said, is a wonderful foil to Anderson's, full of sad-eyed, good-natured appeal. “Last Burning Ember” returns us to Classic Country-land, albeit with the band's by-now-unsurprising knack for finding wonderfully original ornamentations and flourishes which lift this music several degrees above the usual.
“Devil's Daughter” takes us out; a slow, relatively simple and lovable song, constructed from vocals, bass, brushed drums and acoustic guitar. It is a mark of these player's pedigree that even this straightforward composition grabs the heart and the mind and sweeps us along on a bittersweet journey. Whilst I generally stay clear of comparisons, in this case I feel it is warranted. With Plastic Bouquet, Kacy, Clayton and Williams have created something which, while wholly their own, brings to mind a startling mix of The Band, Dylan and Nick Drake.
Plastic Bouquet is a remarkable record, well worthy of your time. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams from AMAZON
For more info, check out the Kacy & Clayton and Marlon Williams website
Tekla Waterfield and Jeff Fielder (from the album Trouble in Time available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Stripped down and simple, high on feeling and soaring with emotion, the latest from husband/wife duo Tekla Waterfield and Jeff Fielder finds the couple doing a lot with a little. Dig deep into Trouble in Timeand you’ll find a quiet simplicity that is instrumentally bold, where soft vocals come with a gutsy delivery. Harmonizing vocals introduce the record with “Let There Be” where the duo dig into a spaghetti western melody. Soft acoustic picking follows on “Burden of Fear”, a bowed bass preceding practically whispered, bedtime story vocals. “Thief” is a haunting heartbreak tune with subtle twang, calling out a planet with people that make others question ‘how can there be a world like this so one like you can exist?’.
“Better Days” is a bright, easygoing morning cut, a tune with hopeful vocals and an optimistic outlook while “No Justice, No Peace” closes the record on an anthemic note, a freedom fighting folkie calling for fairness with the straight-ahead statement of ‘until we are equal, we’ll never be free’. It is a heavy closer with booming instrumentation, small musical pockets filled with a twangy punch. Trouble in Time is a record begging a quiet and in depth listen. Loaded with layered instrumentation buried deep, peeking out like a hidden treasure, only to reveal themselves in short but necessary, perfectly placed bursts. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of Tekla Waterfield and Jeff Fielder from AMAZON
For more info, check out the Tekla Waterfield and Jeff Fielder website
Adam Beattie (from the album Somewhere Round the Bend available as a self-release) (by Chris Wheatley)
Scottish singer/songwriter, guitarist Adam Beattie is what you might call an artist out of his time. Harking back to the days when independently-minded musicians made careers out of well-crafted, thoughtful songs which borrowed from multiple genres yet retained a core sound of their own. In truth such artists have never gone away. It is simply that these days it is much quicker and easier to follow another path. Nevertheless, four albums into a critically well-received career, Beattie (who also records and performs as part of the excellent Band of Burns) is back with Somewhere Round The Bend, a collection of twelve new compositions featuring Adam Beattie and a full cast of guests; Fred Thomas (bass), Fiona Bevan (vocals) and a host of others lend their talents.
Opener and title-track “Somewhere Round the Bend” glides us into the album; a warm, quirky, Jazzy narrative-song full of fuzzy guitars, spiky lines, rolling percussion, and ghostly sparks. It is a lovely, idiosyncratic piece which successfully marries acoustic instrumentations to sweeping synths, keyboard chords and bubbles of electronica. Others may have been down this road before, but Adam Beattie weaves his spell with such aplomb that this track alone warrants repeated listens. It's something of a shock to emerge into “A Thousand Roads” with its delicate acoustic guitar, gentle percussion and soft, pastoral colours. Beattie's writing is never less than interesting and his compositional skills are wonderful. Violin laments and shuffling bells rub shoulders with ringing electric guitar and subtle slides. A word on the vocals: Beattie's voice has something of the Folk-quality of Pete Seeger or Ewan MacColl. There's a soft edge to Adam Beattie's singing, however, and an easy warmth which only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved by.
“Stripped to the Bone”, which opens with a quick snatch of ambient street-sounds, sways like the sea, full of ominous chords and reverberating runs. ‘Bombs fell on your house, wiped out the whole street, you grabbed what you can, you're out on your feet’ sings Beattie, who is never afraid to tackle a difficult subject. Indeed, the breadth and pathos of his work are two of his greatest strengths. “Grottammare”, for instance, propelled by accordion, brass and lovely harmonies, takes us for an enjoyable jaunt into Bavarian/Gallic territory, before fading out unexpectedly. More street ambience greets the start of “Sickle Red Moon” as tender a love song as you could wish for. Adam Beattie's works never lack for invention. Even this relatively simple piece comes replete with plucked strings (mandolin?), violin, jazzy brass and tinkling piano. It is a beguiling track, one to float away on but it also packed with fascinating codas which will have you pressing 'repeat'.
“To Conquer the Heart” hops like a sparrow. Over a sparse and fragile, yet compelling, framework, ‘I wanted to make every woman love me, I wanted to never again gaze longingly’ sings Beattie wistfully. An almost perfect blend of Folk, Jazz, and Orchestral sounds. The bombastic “Bad Man” rumbles down a lost Americana woodland path, summoning visions of travelling circuses and femme fatales. With everything that Adam Beattie produces, however, there is always a wry humour and love. “All the Gods” sees us out; a soft, shimmering, low-key number which, with its emotional pull, stirring harmonies, lyrics of depth and spider's-web silk intricacy, is a wonderful representation of the album as a whole.
I can unreservedly recommend your spending some time with this record.
Listen and buy the music of Adam Beattie from Bandcamp
For more info, check out the Adam Beattie website
Dust Bowl Faeries (from the album The Plague Garden available as a self-release) (by Bryant Liggett)
Dust Bowl Faeries play music born out of another time. It is music that carries gypsy mystery, a playlist for travel through Eastern Europe and an Indie Rock soundtrack for your Tango party. Yet even with its international vibe and old-school flare, the latest from Dust Bowl Faeries, The Plague Garden, is also as refreshing and new as next week. After a 13-second opener in “Overture” that hints at the classical bit “Funeral March”, the band breaks into “Dustbowl Caravan”, a humorous blast picking on the overly happy repeating the line ‘its annoying how cheerful you are’ across a gypsy bounce.
“Vampire Tango” is spirited and seductive, “Serpentine Samba” has a mysterious swing with a musical saw that hauntingly sings. The saw continues its high-pitched moan for the playful “Cyanide Hotel” while teasing the “Funeral March” once again for the intro of “Forest of Breath”. The historical musical vibe addresses the very 21st Century problem in an uninvited pandemic that is refusing to leave in “Pandemic Tango”. It is a cut that is stripped down, finding vocalist Ryder Cooley along with a piano. Despite its lyrical topics of vampires, serpents and cyanide, this is dance music, and Dustbowl Faeries play it to the top. Accordion heavy, the at-times lyrical irreverence plays right alongside a feverish bounce that can kick up dance floor dust. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of Dust Bowl Faeries from AMAZON
For more info, check out the Dust Bowl Faeries website
Various Artists (from the album The Next Waltz, Vol 3 available on The Next Waltz)
At the center of sound for The Next Waltz is The Bunker, the recording site for the music released by the label. Run by The Next Waltz co-label head Bruce Robison, The Bunker is home to world class musicians for a backing band, the tracks captured on 2-inch tape, 16-track recording with all-analog reverb. That sound is what was the backing soundtrack for singles Bruce Robison recalls growing up. The Next Waltz began releasing album to collect the singles from the label, Volumes 1 and 2, beginning full album releases from artists in 2020 with The Panhandlers.
The third installment collects singles from an A-list of performers, presenting “Tennessee Blues” from The Next Waltz label heads, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. Current single releases from The Next Waltz, Vol 3 features recent cover cus from Charley Crockett, who offers Billy Swan’s “I Can Help” and Shinyribs, mashing up Rhianna and The Doobie Brothers with “Bitch Better Have My Money”. Cuts from Cody Canada, Jack Ingram, The Panhandlers, Flatland Cavalry, and Robert Ellis are included on the compilation.
Listen and buy the music of The Next Waltz from The Next Waltz website
For more info, check out The Next Waltz website
Dave Mason (from the album Alone Together Again available on BMG)
Fledgling Rock radio began in earnest in the late 1960’s. The available records featuring album cuts for the format becoming champions of the FM underground. British band Traffic was one of the artists whose music became a staple on early Rock radio and when guitarist Dave Mason left the band to go solo, his debut Alone Together, was well-received by the format. The album was stacked with A-list players, featuring Leon Russell on keyboards, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, future Derek’s Domino’s, and Delaney & Bonnie alumni, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, as well as backing vocals that included Bonnie Bramlett, Rita Coolidge, and Claudia Lennear. Full disclosure, the Alone Together album was a staple for this writer when he and teenage bud Drew Goss cruised late night streets. The same can be said for the album’s author, with Dave Mason citing ‘I’ve played these songs for the better part of 50 years because I love them. I re-recorded the whole album because I still feel inspired by the music. This makes Alone Together Again a true labor of love. Some things I know for sure; music is relationship and love is best when shared. That is the whole conceptual play of Alone Together’.
For Alone Together Again, Dave Mason does not mimic the cuts from the original. His understanding of the songs has grown over the five decades and Alone Together Again mirrors the emotions that have affected the musician, and by extension, his songs. “As Sad and As Deep as You” is a painful memory, Spanish-flavored guitar lines peppering the Folk Rock of the tune. The organ huffing in the opening of “Look at You, Look at Me” extolls deeper breaths as the groove of the song goes low and rough, taking the feel of the original 1970 storyline from a tender request to a desperate cry. There is a familiarity to opening cut “Only You Know and I Know” heard in the chord strums with Dave Mason’s vocal slightly more accusatory while “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” keeps its beat as the melody drifts through hazy psychedelia. The original 1970 release needed no polishing or primping, and Dave Mason has made no attempt to better the record as he introduces Alone Together Again with maturity in words and music due from a vintage age. “Waitin’ on You” stays true to both its hurried beat and original delivery as “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” layers a dreamy flow over the swaying groove while “Just a Song” backs the story with prominent banjo picking and “World in Changes” steps to island rhythms. For the 1970 release, 30% of the albums were released on marble vinyl. To mirror and celebrate the process, Alone Together Again features CD discs in the same marble pattern.
Listen and buy the music of Dave Mason from AMAZON
The Suitcase Junket (from the album The End is New available on BMG) (by Bryant Liggett)
2020 is a perfect year for the genre of Doom Folk to take hold. It’s how Northeast-based musician The Suitcase Junket (aka Matt Lorenz) along with pal and co-producer Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos), categorize his latest; a musical mix of Avant-garde Blues and Pop Psychedelia where electric Folk does a socially-distanced dance with gritty Garage Rock. But the latest release from The Suitcase Junket, The End is New, digs in deeper, a lyrical examination of self and scene, where emotion is high and laid on heavy. The End is New is rough around the edges sound with widespread appeal from Emo punks to sentimental Folkies.
The Suitcase Junket toys with noise for the 33-second intro opener that gives way to a finger-picking Blues groove where he sings of the an outer, unattainable, cold reality in “Black Holes and Overdoses”. The End is New sings about ‘just another human disaster’ and the inability to avert eyes on “Cant’ Look Away” while “Jesus, King of the Dinosaurs” starts as a sentimental Folk ballad before kicking into a Pop-gem. “Breathe Forever” is an anthemic Rocker aiming for stadium-seating back rows, the line ‘I don’t mind dying but I’d really like to breathe forever’ set for lighter-raised singalong, and “Rock Bottom” is laid-back, lazy and cool. The Suitcase Junket dishes out a big, catchy, easily digestible buffet of Rock music. There are a few curveballs, DIY and rough in all the right places while also slick in production to deliver a polished product. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of The Suitcase Junket from AMAZON
For more info, check out The Suitcase Junket website
The Flat Five (from the album Another World available on Pravda Records / Augiedisc) (by Bryant Liggett)
Sugary sweet, big and catchy, the latest release from The Flat Five furthers the band’s pursuit of Indie Pop perfection. The Flat Five resume is stacked in favor of the home team. Vocalists Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor have both done time backing Neko Case in her solo work while the rest of the band have made music with NRBQ, Mavis Staples, Iron & Wine, and Jakob Dylan among others. Call them an Indie supergroup via the lineup because that’s what The Flat Five are, and Another World, the recent release from the Chicago, Illinois-based group, is superb.
The record opens with “Drip A Drop”, a subtle groove bouncing the listener along, its guitar solo dark and fun with The Flat Five calling for some nationwide unity as they state ‘America, we’re giving you a warning, we’re making love not no stinking Civil War’. “Look at the Birdy” has a Schoolhouse Rock influenced, cool Jazz vibe and “The Great State of Texas” is a sad, cowboy song that turns into a woeful death-row confession as the narrator runs down a list of her last wishes…a murder ballad where the killer is the state of Texas. “Butterflies Don’t Bite” with its vibraphone and piano keeps a slick pace, “Oh What A Day” is a playing hooky and skipping school soundtrack, and album closer, “Over and Out”, is a fast-paced blast of fun. The Flat Five bang out lines like ‘split the scene’ exhibiting a cool hipness without becoming hipster. Trumpets turn a bunch of tunes into bouncing, party-fun, and there’s an animated flavor that makes it a swinging kids record for everyone. It’s a good-time record that’s flat out and Flat Five fun. (by Bryant Liggett)
Listen and buy the music of The Flat Five from AMAZON
For more info, check out The Flat Five website