Wednesday, May 31, 2017

United Folk Festival Has an Unbelievable Line Up, and It's Free

Let's face it. Most of us aren't going to the Newport Folk Festival this year. Tickets now go on sale before Christmas, and sell out virtually instantly. Plus, while the ticket prices aren't that outrageous as far as festivals go, staying in or around Newport for a weekend during the summer is a very expensive proposition. But, if you like listening to first class Americana music at an outdoor festival in southern Rhode Island during the month of July, we now have a second option.

In what appears to be its second year, the United Folk Festival takes over Wilcox Park in Westerly, Rhode Island on July 1st. Usually free, outdoor concerts in public parks are limited to band concerts and geriatric jug bands, but the United Folk Festival is bringing some of our favorite artists, all for free. The line up includes Blitzen Trapper, Langhorne Slim, Woods, The Low Anthem, Elvis Perkins, My Bubba (who might be your next favorite band), and many more. It's nine hours of a free folk festival with bands you already care about!

The United Folk Festival will be July 1 at Wilcox Park in Westerly, Rhode Island. For more on the festival, check them out on Facebook.

Radar State - "Spinning Wheel"

Photo via Facebook
Bands like The Get Up Kids and The Anniversary are guilty pleasures for me. I always felt that I was a little bit too old to be into them back when both were at the height of their popularity. This was really driven home at a Get Ups Kids show I went to at the Worcester Palladium in 2001, which was the very first time I felt old at a show. I was 25. 

I was thrilled and hesitant when I first heard that there was a new supergroup formed from members of both The Get Up Kids and The Anniversary. Radar State features Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic of The Get Up Kids and Josh Berwanger of The Anniversary. Adam Phillips of Architects is on drums. The band has released the first song off their upcoming EP. "Spinning Wheel" sounds like classic, old school Get Up Kids, the kind of emo you can listen to in your 30s or more without embarrassment. It's just fast enough to have a punk edge but melodic as can possibly be. We'll see how the entire EP is with three frontmen and all, but if "Spinning Wheel" is any indication, the EP is promising, at the very least as a not-so-guilty pleasure.

You can listen to "Spinning Wheel" below. Radar State's self-titled EP will be out in September, and is now available in various pre-order packages here. For more on Radar State, check out their Facebook.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for May 26

A slow week with the Memorial Day holiday.

Artist: Swet Shop Boys
Album: Sufi La
Quick Description: EP from the former Das Racist folks.
Why You Should Listen: A significant improvement from their debut.
Overall Thoughts: Given that everyone liked Das Racist, the spinoff of their dissolution was a welcome event. But the first Swet Shop Boys album, for me at least, lacked the necessary staying power to really hold up over numerous listens. We get a quick EP from them this week, and I think this is the release we were hoping for – it has some great beats, some fun lyrics, and felt like the total package. I don’t know whether this is a preamble to new music or castoffs from the last album, but this has me exctited for the group all over again.
Recommendation: Worth your time this week.

Artist: Justin Townes Earle
Album: Kids in the Street
Quick Description: Latest from the independent country troubadour.
Why You Should Listen: JTE typically has well-crafted songs...
Overall Thoughts: ...and this is no different. A favorite of Ken's in particular, this album is the latest in a line of albums that are just solid listens even if it lacks that one significant punchy song that can really raise it to the next level. Still, in terms of the folky country space, there are few as good as Earle at what he does.
Recommendation: Worth a listen.

Artist: Eivør
Album: Slør
Quick Description: Icelandic pop.
Why You Should Listen: You enjoy all things Icelandic music-wise.
Overall Thoughts: No, she's not Bjork, but she's definitely in that mold. A more mainstream voice, a more melodic approach, and the result is a darkish affair from an area that seems to produce a lot of great musicians. I don't have a ton to say except that I really enjoyed this one, and it would be worth hearing even in a busy week.
Recommendation: A great release this week.

Artist: Swarming Branch
Album: Surreal Number
Quick Description: Interesting, psych-tinged indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: This is the most unique release I've heard in a while.
Overall Thoughts: Swarming Branch defies pretty much every expectation I had. The good in that is where the album stands out, as it's a little strange and borrows from so much. The bad, really, is that it feels pretty uneven and doesn't always work. But considering all the parts together, this is an inventive, ambitious project with a lot going for it, and I will spend a lot more time with it.
Recommendation: Better than a curiosity, worth a listen.

Artist: Hazel English
Album: Just Give In/Never Going Home
Quick Description: A dual EP from an female indie voice.
Why You Should Listen: Fits in with a lot of the more adventurous voices.
Overall Thoughts: I sense a lot of Crutchfield in this voice, and that's not a bad thing - I liked more than I disliked here, and I feel like there's a lot of experimentation here to go along with the sharp songwriting and overall quality of this. It's a great sign of things to come, in my opinion, so get in early on this.
Recommendation: One of the better releases of the week.

Also out this week:

* James Vincent McMorrow - True Care (honestly? Kind of middling.)
* The Charlatans - Different Days (not good)
* Mabel - Bedroom

The Sticks - "Come Back"

The Sticks from Brighton (UK, not the Boston neighborhood) refer to themselves as a "not very rock band." The band recently unearthed a lost album that was never released. They've released one song from it before it is released. "Come Back" is stripped back as can possibly be, with barely any instrumentation. There's barely a beat that can be heard, with guitar and bass that almost take turns. It's a fully fleshed out song, but it's the bare minimum that could be called post punk, which is already a genre based on minimalism. But this is so sparse and minimal that it's almost a post punk mixed with folk hybrid. It's an absurdly refreshing and unique sound, which is beyond welcome.

You can listen to "Come Back" below. The Sticks' new/forgotten album, Why Bother, will be out on June 2 on Faux Discx. You can order a copy now via Bandcamp. For more on The Sticks, check them out on Facebook.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Secret Sisters - You Don't Own Me Anymore Singles Pack + PledgeMusic Sessions

In what seems to be a recurring theme, for a limited time NoiseTrade is offering two singles from The Secret Sisters' upcoming album as well as a song from their PledgeMusic acoustic session. It's a collection of three songs total, but it's great to tide us over while we wait for The Secret Sisters' long awaited new album. The Secret Sisters might have the most perfect retro country/folk sound out there, to the point that even their originals sound like they might be covers of classics. It's all harmonies and gorgeous melodies. You Don't Own Me Anymore Singles Pack + PledgeMusic Sessions offers you "Tennessee River Runs Low" (which we brought to you back in March) and "He's Fine," which is offered in both album versions and the PledgeMusic Sessions version. 

You can get a copy of You Don't Own Me Anymore Singles Pack + PledgeMusic Sessions for a limited time via NoiseTrade. You Don't Own Me Anymore will be available on June 9. It can be pre-ordered now through Amazon. For more on The Secret Sisters, check out their website.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pega Monstro - "Cachupa"

We're just over a week away from the release of Pega Monstro's new album, and we have a new song with a tweaked sound to check out. Our favorite garage rock sister duo from Portugal have released a new song, "Cachupa," and while it still has some of Pega Monstro's garage rock sound, it's a bit more tame and has more than a little bit of a dream pop sound to it. It still has classic garage rock guitars in it, but there's more of a dreamy, psychedelic element to it, almost as if it's being played through a haze. The dreamy, psychedelic sound is slowly drawn out more and more as the song continues. Plus, it clocks in at almost six and a half minutes, so it's practically the length of three normal garage rock songs. It's a welcome change to their sound while still sounding like a Pega Monstro song.

You can listen to "Cachupa" below. Pega Monstro's new album, Casa de Cima, will be out June 2 on Upset the Rhythm. You can order your copy of the album here. For more on Pega Monstro, check them out on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Benjamin Booker - "Believe"

Photo by Ken Sears
Back in the 80s and 90s, an album would be announced, and you'd have one single released before the album. With the current music industry model, you get 2-4 singles released before the album is, since there is really no such thing as radio or video airplay anymore. The only challenge with this model is you can really burn yourself out on an album before it's even out yet.

I doubt that will happen with the upcoming album from Benjamin Booker. "Believe," the third single released for Witness, Booker goes full on soul. The proto-punk blues meets Nirvana sound of his 2014 self titled debut is gone on this track. This is pure neo-soul, and what's most shocking perfectly is how Booker's ragged voice fits both heavier rock songs and soul. The accompanying video was shot in Providence's Columbus Theater with an orchestra and gospel choir.

Benjamin Booker's new album, Witness, will be out June 2 on ATO Records. You can watch the video for "Believe" below. For more on Benjamin Booker, check out his website.

Downtown Boys - "A Wall"

Photo via Facebook
If you told me that Downtown Boys would be toning down their sound on their upcoming Sub Pop debut, but I'd end up still loving it, I'd have scoffed in your face. Luckily, you'd end up being right. "A Wall," the first single off Cost of Living, runs at about half speed of most of the songs on 2015's Full Communism. All things considered, by punk standards, it's a fairly tame song. Victoria Ruiz's vocals are still unhinged and go against the melody of the song. Oh... did I mention that there's melody? You can feel the influence of producer Guy Picciotto: The bass feels Fugazi level heavy. Plus, the left leaning politics are still there, with the title "A Wall" being about an obvious subject. This is the exact moment a punk band starts growing up a bit, while they're still keeping their edge.

You can listen to "A Wall" below. Downtown Boys' new album, Cost of Living, will be out August 11 on Sub Pop. You can pre-order your copy here. For more on Downtown Boys, check out their Bandcamp.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for 19 May

A busy release week, but also a busy weekend for me, so this is somewhat truncated. Still, some real highlights:

Album of the Week:

Artist: !!!
Album: Shake the Shudder
Quick Description: Latest from the dance-rockers.
Why You Should Listen: !!! is always amazing, and they've really hit their stride as a band.
Overall Thoughts: It's rare for an album to both be album of the week and for me not to have a lot to say about it, but here is the new !!!, and they've got a pretty solid sound going at this point. They're not weird anymore, and they kind of have a great type of sound that doesn't take a ton of risks anymore. So, while we don't get legendary tracks like "Pardon My Freedom," we do get songs that hook you in immediately like "Dancing is the Best Revenge." !!! are a band out of time in a way - I'm into it.
Recommendation: Always wonderful, and this is a must-listen like all of their stuff.

Artist: Cayetana
Album: New Kind of Normal
Quick Description: Hook-happy indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: This is the latest in a line of great albums out in this space recently.
Overall Thoughts: My album of the week because apparently I’m predictable enough to hear a female-fronted indie rock act and fall in love all over again. This has been a banner year for woman artists, I think, and between this, Diet Cig, Charly Bliss, Dude York, and the revival of Juliana Hatfield, we’ve got a veritable bumper crop of solid music that harkens back to a great time in music. Cayetana isn’t mimicking the Hatfields and Veruca Salts of the 1990s, but instead has a bit of a cleaner, less fuzzy Weezer vibe on a lot of this album. The result is some tight songwriting and some tunes that I caught myself singing along to some of the songs even as I hit my first rotation through the tracks. It’s that catchy and good. Whether this will stick with me for weeks like Charly Bliss and Diet Cig have so far remains to be seen, but for now, this is my favorite album of the moment, and would be my favorite of the week had this come out last Friday and not a few weeks ago.
Recommendation: A stellar release.

Artist: Stevie Parker
Album: The Cure
Quick Description: British singer's debut album.
Why You Should Listen: You like pleasant voices with some modern, mid-term instrumentation.
Overall Thoughts: Stevie Parker isn't going to blow you away with her voice or any theatrics, but there's something intriguing and interesting about this album that hooked me right in. It's a very modern album, but it's not so much poppy as it is radio-friendly for a more discerning audience. As the pop listener here, this isn't hitting me in the same place that others do, but this is right in line with albums from Frances and Wet that I've liked recently. It might not be for you, but if it is, you'll love it.
Recommendation: Worth a listen this week.

Artist: Pokey LaFarge
Album: Manic Revelations
Quick Description: Latest from the rootsy favorite.
Why You Should Listen: Pokey LaFarge sets his own retro path, and it's always worth a listen.
Overall Thoughts: I enjoy Pokey LaFarge, and he's an interesting character musically. I know Ken's a bigger fan than I, but this happens every time - LaFarge puts out a solid album, I listen a few times, and I move on. Then a new album comes out, and I remember why I like him all over again. This latest album feels like LaFarge in his prime, and it works on a lot of levels. I just don't know why he's not as buzzworthy as, say, Langhorne Slim. It's baffling. Maybe this will be the breakthrough he deserves.
Recommendation: A solid release.

Artist: Jade Jackson
Album: Gilded
Quick Description: A rootsy debut.
Why You Should Listen: Jade Jackson's debut shows a lot of promise.
Overall Thoughts: A friend turned me onto Jade Jackson, and “Aden” is a song that hooked me in to stay. I talk a lot about trying to find the act that will fill the Kathleen Edwards-shaped hole in my heart, and Jade Jackson comes close – the synthesis of emotional rock music and roots influences is tighter here than in a lot of albums in this space, but the album’s only flaw is a significant one – there’s an urgency in some of the songs that don’t carry over to a lot of others, resulting in a bit of a slower pace. In a way, it does remind me of Edwards’s first album, Failer, in that the more faster-paced songs stole the show, but the pacing here is what keeps this album from being more like a great Edwards/Lydia Loveless record. I am being more negative than I should be here, because this is a solid album. I finished it up just wishing it was a little more on first listen, and I’m thinking that future listens may uncover some stuff I missed.
Recommendation: Definitely worth your time this week.

Artist: The Builders and the Butchers
Album: The Spark
Quick Description: Latest from the not-quite-folkies.
Why You Should Listen: This band has been consistently good for a long time.
Overall Thoughts: I have no clue when I first got into this band. It might have been an old Turntable.FM room that played something, or a shot in the dark from eMusic or something like that, but either way, I’ve always liked them. This new album is the first in some time from them, and they are bringing the heat. This album is a lot stronger, louder, and more immediate than their previous efforts, and to their benefit. It’s a tone that fits them, and the distinct vocals combined with the musicianship makes for a solid listen.
Recommendation: Give this a listen.

Artist: Deb Talan
Album: Lucky Girl
Quick Description: New solo album from half of The Weepies.
Why You Should Listen: Deb Talan has a gorgeous voice and the music here is great.
Overall Thoughts: The female voice of The Weepies offers her first solo album in well over a decade. It will surprise no one that this largely sounds like a Weepies record with a slightly different feel to it. And that’s fine – it absolutely works, and there are some great gems on this album that I already feel like I want to go back to. This is just a great listen, and considering how relatively rarely we get music from either of the Weepies, alone or together...
Recommendation: ...this is a welcome listen.

Artist: Daddy Issues
Album: Deep Dream
Quick Description:
Why You Should Listen:
Overall Thoughts: A few songs of theirs have been bouncing around in various playlists for some time for me, and this album is a great continuation of what we’ve heard from a short EP and some of the lead singles. Yes, the comparisons to Charly Bliss and Diet Cig apply here as well, but it’s pretty hard to avoid those comps and the result might be one where this is lost in the shuffle. It shouldn't be, but that's where we're at. Solid melodic indie rock, though.
Recommendation: Don't sleep on this, though.

Artist: The Mountain Goats
Album: Goths
Quick Description: The latest Mountain Goats album is a little weird, even for them.
Why You Should Listen: Even a bad Mountain Goats album is worth a shot?
Overall Thoughts: I didn't like this. I'll just put that out there. Yeah, we're a long way from the "I record on cassettes" days, but this album is noteworthy due to the lack of guitars and the seeming lack of any real edge on first listen. I don't quite know what John Darnielle was trying to accomplish here except that I know it didn't excite me at all. I'll give it another shot, but in a week full of hits...
Recommendation: ...this was a miss.

Also out this week:

* Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions (this is great, but not a lot else to say about it)
* Wavves - You're Welcome (also solid)
* Fastball - Step Into Light
* Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures
* CLUSTERSUN - Surfacing to Breathe
* Erasure - World Be Gone
* Helium - Ends With And

She Makes War - "I Want My Country Back"

Apparently other countries are in full on protest song mode, too. She Makes War (aka Laura Kidd) is back with a brand new single, "I Want My Country Back." It's a rant against the hate being forced upon British citizens with racism and xenophobia. (Maybe we can relate on this side, too?) Musically, this is pure mid 90s alternative rock along the lines of Letters to Cleo and Veruca Salt gone political with a chorus of:
So let’s make Britain great /
Get your fake news from the Daily Hate /
Close your eyes - let them feed you to the wolves /
You deserve it /

Right now you can download a copy of "I Want My Country Back" for free until the British general election on June 8th. It is out on Strataville, and you can get your copy here. Laura Kidd has released a manifesto on the meaning behind the song. That can be found here. For more on She Makes War, check out her website.

Monday, May 22, 2017

no hope/no harm - "Roger Ailes Is Dead"

Considering no hope/no harm features Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine, somehow this is the first time we've brought you one of their songs. Last Thursday, the news broke early in the morning that Fox News founder Roger Ailes had died. Somehow, later that very same day, no hope/no harm released a brand new song called "Roger Ailes Is Dead." Perhaps they have an entire series of songs about the deaths of celebrities just on file and ready to go, much like news channels already have obituary videos ready to go for multiple celebrities. Just plug in a few facts at the very end, and they're ready to go.

"Roger Ailes Is Dead" is a bouncy and mopey song, much in the way that The Smiths and The Cure are both bouncy and mopey. The song even borrows the artwork (and most likely song title) from The Smiths' classic The Queen is Dead. Basically, if you have a jones for both The Smiths and the kind of late 90s pre-emo that will probably get lumped into emo even though it wasn't that The Sheila Divine produced, you'll love this song, and most likely the rest of no hope/no harm's just starting catalog.

You can listen to "Roger Ailes Is Dead" below. For more on no hope/no harm (and to purchase the single), check out their Bandcamp and Facebook. If you happen to be in the Boston area, the band is playing a show on June 24 at Great Scott in Allston.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Freebie: Sammy Brue - I Am Nice Singles Pack + PledgeMusic Acoustic Sessions

I just discovered Sammy Brue on Saturday when he opened up for Justin Townes Earle and The Sadies, and then shared the experience with all of you on Tuesday. Almost right on cue, Sammy Brue and NoiseTrade are offering our very favorite thing: Free music!

If you Google Sammy Brue, you're going to find a ton of articles with headlines starting with "13 Year Old Guitar Prodigy..." and "14 Year Old Guitar Prodigy..." He's now 15 and about to release his debut album on New West. To get an idea of his sound, you can download I Am Nice Singles Pack + PledgeMusic Acoustic Sessions. The two singles from hsi upcoming album, "I'm Not Your Man" and "I Know" completely reflect the two sides of Sammy Brue I saw on Saturday. "I'm Not Your Man" is more Americana and roots based, while "I Know" is far more mainstream and pop, while still being a folk song. How you feel about each song will completely depend on your personal preference. Either way, what will strike you is the pure talent Brue shows on both songs. To truly see his talent, there are three songs included from his PledgeMusic session. It's just him and his guitar playing live, and this is the best way to experience Brue's music. It includes "Was I the Only One" (my personal favorite from his set at The Sinclair) and a stripped down version of "I Know" that far surpasses the single version.

You can get your free copy of I Am Nice Singles Pack + PledgeMusic Acoustic Sessions for free via NoiseTrade. I Am Nice, which was produced by John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes), will be out on June 16 on New West Records. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon. For more on Sammy Brue, check out his website.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Woggles - "Fire Thief"

Even though The Woggles have been around for two decades, I always swear that they've been around for much, much longer. That's because, unlike most garage bands, The Woggles don't sound like a band coming up after the Ramones. They sound like a band that influenced the Ramones. This is pure 60s style British invasion garage rock. Their newest song, "Fire Thief," fits this perfectly. It's melodic music you can dance to. It's polished while still being rough enough to rock. There are harmonies and killer riffs galore. This is the perfect sound for any summer in the past 50 years.

You can listen to "Fire Thief" below. The Woggles' latest album, Tally Ho!, will be released August 11 on Wicked Cool Records. For more on The Woggles, be sure to check out their website.

Gold Dime - "Shut Up"

When I use the terms art rock and noise rock, I'm going to be talking about insanely loud, aggressive, and pretty much unlistenable music. It might be electronic blips, or it could be feedback and insane drums, but either way it's not (traditionally) pleasant music. No one told Gold Dime that.

Gold Dime is a project from Andrya Ambro from Talk Normal. Her new song, "Shut Up," is definitely artistic noise rock, but it's almost soothing. Almost. There is still plenty of odd electronic noise, feedback, swirling guitars, and disjointed beats throughout, but it's bordering on pleasant. First of all, there is actual singing in the song, which is rare in this genre. Also, all of the noise elements are used in small doses, sprinkled throughout the song like little treasures to be discovered as the song unveils itself to you. It's as if noise rock is trying to go top 40.

You can listen to "Shut Up" below. Gold Dime's first album, Nerves, will be out June 2 on Fire Talk Records. For more information, check out Gold Dime's Bandcamp and Facebook.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Courtney Barnett - "How to Boil an Egg"

Photo via Instagram
Any day we get to bring you something new from Courtney Barnett is a pretty good day, even if it's not exactly new. "How to Boil an Egg" was written eight years ago back when she was 21 and doing open mics. While working on her upcoming album, she decided to finally record the song. It didn't fit on the album, so now it's being released as part of the Milk! Records Split Singles Club series.

"How to Boil an Egg" sounds like classic Courtney Barnett, but even though it has been reconfigured and just now recorded, it feels younger than her normal work. The guitars are impossibly jangly, giving the song a bouncy, upbeat vibe despite lyrics like "Trying hard to see the point in anything at all." On second thought, this might be the most perfect Courtney Barnett song yet.

You can listen to "How to Boil an Egg" below. For more on the Split Singles Club, go here. To find out more on what Courtney Barnett is up to, check out her website.

The Prefab Messiahs - "Sometimes Sunnydaze"

After taking nearly 32 years off, Worcester, MA's favorite psych-pop rockers have been much more active and are back with a new digital single and video, "Sometimes Sunnydaze." If you've been paying attention, The Prefab Messiahs bring this great blast of psychedelia to garage rock. "Sometimes Sunnydaze" tone both the psychedelic and the garage rock side of their sound. What's left is virtually perfect late 60s power pop. Think of Alex Chilton, but more on the lines of The Box Tops than Big Star. There are great instrumental breaks sprinkled throughout the song to remind you of the band's more rockin' side. Plus, it's a song about enjoying staying inside on beautiful days, so it's the perfect song for the upcoming season!

You can watch the video for "Sometimes Sunnydaze" below. You can buy it now over at the band's Bandcamp page. For more on The Prefab Messiahs, be sure to check them out on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Live Shows: Justin Townes Earle, The Sadies, & Sammy Brue, The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA 5/13/17

Justin Townes Earle
Photo by Ken Sears
Saturday night was an odd night in the Boston area. It was a painfully chilly night, a full 10 degrees cooler than the seasonal average. Plus, a lot of college students have moved out of the area already. For a large city, Boston can feel like a ghost town starting in mid-May, which can suck the life out of the area. As far as the show went, it ended up starting a full half an hour before the initial announced time for the doors to open. In a really strange move, when I arrived about 15 minutes before Sammy Brue opened, there were three times as many people in the balcony than on the floor. Luckily, the music won out over the oddities of the night to make it one of the best shows I've seen in ages.

The Sadies did double duty as openers and Justin Townes Earles' backing band. They've always been one of those bands that I just couldn't get into. Their albums have been fine, but just nothing that has connected with me. If you feel that way, I implore you to get out to a show. With only 45 minutes for their allowed time, they plowed through songs with the speed and intensity of a band cramming everything they had into 30 minute a 90s Warped Tour set. They just plowed through song after song, making sure that their fans who came out to see them got their money's worth, even with a shorter set. Their longest stage banter was when they called The Sinclair the Royale, another venue across town (which they have never played, oddly enough). The set highlights were their instrumental songs, which blended surf rock and alt-country. Despite not walking into The Sinclair as a fan, I wished they could have played longer.

The Sadies
Photo by Ken Sears
After a break that seemed to be extended, The Sadies came back with Justin Townes Earle (plus Paul Niehaus on guitar and pedal steel guitar). I've been seeing Justin Townes Earle live for six years now, and this married and soon to be dad version might be the best yet. He seemed perfectly relaxed on stage, and genuinely is having a great time. Opening with "Champagne Corolla" off the upcoming Kids In the Street, he settled in right away and owned the crowd. A huge chunk of the set came from 2010's Harlem River Blues, including set highlights as "One More Night in Brooklyn," "Move Over Mama," and show closer "Harlem River Blues." Early on he played three songs solo, including a Carter Family cover, "Gold Watch and Chain," and "Mama's Eyes." "Mama's Eyes" derailed the crowd for a bit because apparently Mother's Day makes Boston super rowdy. The song might have been the highlight of an outstanding set.

Sammy Brue opened the night, a full 30 minutes before doors were set to open. He's young, but he has amazing potential. His songs are a bit schizophrenic, and he seems to have not decided whether he wants to do more traditional folk or a more mainstream sound. I'm personally hoping for the former, but that's just my own personal taste. The kid could go with the latter and be the next Amos Lee. He's incredibly talented as both a player and singer. He easily won over the crowd that showed up early enough in his all too brief set.

First Listen: New Releases for May 12

A much more standard week this week.

Album of the Week:

Artist: Girlpool
Album: Powerplant
Quick Description: Folk rockers turn up the noise a bit.
Why You Should Listen: This is a positive evolution for this duo.
Overall Thoughts: Album of the week this week, even though it’s following a trend of a lot of recent releases I’ve loved. 2017 is quickly turning into the year of woman-led rock music with a message, and Girlpool is lining up for their shot at the throne with this effort, which is bigger and grander sounding than their folk-heavy debut from a couple years ago. Truth be told? I like this version of them more, and I suspect you might as well. Great for fans of their old anti-folk-style stuff as well as those who are looking for the next great indie listen...
Recommendation: ...this is worth some time in your rotation.

Artist: Dharma Bombs
Album: Old Time Romance
Quick Description: Good ol' jazzy tunes.
Why You Should Listen: You miss the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
Overall Thoughts: I really enjoyed this album, and this feels pure and right. It's very straightforward, it doesn't have any pretense to it, and it's just a great time all around. If you like jassy, old timey music, this is it. Don't even waste more time reading about it, fire it up.
Recommendation: A must-listen.

Artist: Modern Mal
Album: The Misanthrope Family Album?
Quick Description: A strange concept record of sorts.
Why You Should Listen: This is definitely the most challenging record of the week.
Overall Thoughts: At times listening to this, I realize that I use the term “retro” a lot, and an album like Modern Mal’s kind of demonstrates how meaningless the word can be sometimes. Modern Mal is both anything but and exactly that – an album that equally reminds you of an entirely different era while also taking its own current spin. It’s a good album on a whole, although those seeking a cohesive, unifying idea musically might be a little flummoxed.
Recommendation: It's good, but might not work for you.

Artist: Alex Napping
Album: Mise en Place
Quick Description: Solid indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: This is one that will fly under your radar if you don't listen now.
Overall Thoughts: A holdover from last week’s deluge, Alex Napping hits that sweet spot for female-fronted indie rock. While this is not to the nearly-life-changing level of recent releases like Diet Cig or Charly Bliss, there are a lot of parts here that make the whole worthwhile. A song like “You Got Me” gave me similar vibes to when I first heard Courtney Barnett, and the whole thing shows a ton of great potential for a band I only heard of in the last 36 hours. Check these guys out and keep them on your radar.
Recommendation: A great listen this week.

Artist: Harry Styles
Album: Harry Style
Quick Description: One Directioner heads off on his own direction.
Why You Should Listen: You are open-minded enough to give an ex-boy bander a try.
Overall Thoughts: Harry Styles is best known for being one of the heartthrobs from One Dimension. He’s off on his own now, and I was going to ignore this album because, well, it’s a One Direction solo record. A friend said I should listen and pretend it’s Tame Impala, and I gave it a listen – it’s actually quite good. It’s actually really reminiscent of Travis in many spots, which came as a surprise, and I don’t ultimately know how much creative input Styles had into this entire thing, but, to me, he appears to be positioning himself as a 2010s-era Robbie Williams. This is not a bad thing. Overall, this album *will* surprise you if you’re willing to take the plunge.
Recommendation: This is one of the best of the week. No, really.

Artist: Ingrid Michaelson
Album: Alter Egos
Quick Description: A collaborative EP from the singer songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: You're a fan of Michaelson or whoever else is on the EP.
Overall Thoughts: Ingrid Michaelson is back with an EP with a little help from her friends. I can’t say there’s a ton to say about this, except that it’s a worthy follow-up of sorts to her recent album. If you’re a fan, there will be a ton to like here already...
Recommendation: ...but this won’t bring anyone new into the fold.

Artist: Dreamcar
Album: Dreamcar
Quick Description: Synthy supergroup!
Why You Should Listen: You're wondering what some of your not-favorite bands from the 1990s are up to.
Overall Thoughts: Dreamcar has members of AFI and No Doubt, so that might end the discussion for a lot of people right there. For me, though, this is a surprisingly capable record. It’s not ska, it’s not really punk, it’s pretty radio-friendly alt-rock on a whole. There’s some value to that, sure, but this is unlikely to whet anyone’s whistle if you’re a regular around these parts.
Recommendation: Skip this.

Artist: Paul Weller
Album: A Kind Revolution
Quick Description: Lead singer of The Jam's new solo album.
Why You Should Listen: You're a fan, but that's the only reason.
Overall Thoughts: Paul Weller is legendary in many circles, and this latest album probably won’t win him any new converts, but won’t lose them, either. It sounds largely like what I expected, and I can’t say it did a ton for me or that I have much else to say. Classic acts are always hit-or-miss on new efforts, and this one is not terribly different in that regard.
Recommendation: Not recommended.

Artist: Elf Power
Album: Twitching in Time
Quick Description: Elephant Six act has their first new album in some time.
Why You Should Listen: If you were a fan in the early days, this is worth a shot.
Overall Thoughts: I chalked up Elf Power as one of my favorite bands for a long time. Their run from When the Red King Comes to Back to the Web was an underrated indie run that didn’t get nearly enough play, probably because Of Montreal hit it huge during that same run. Still, their more recent output was really iffy to me, to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure I was on board with this one before I even fired it up. The good news is that this is the most Elf Power-y album we’ve gotten in nearly a decade from the band, and it’s a long-awaited return to form that I am so, so glad occurred. I’m in a different stage of my life now than I was when Elf Power was really doing it for me, but this is the type of sound that hits a lot of nostalgic buttons for me, so welcome back.
Recommendation: I loved this album. You might, too.

Artist: Amber Mark
Album: 3:33 AM
Quick Description: New buzzworthy R&B artist.
Why You Should Listen: This is a name you're going to know.
Overall Thoughts: Amber Mark is a buzzworthy name in R&B right now, and this short album/EP definitely demonstrates why. Songs like “Lose My Cool” are instant classics, while there are other songs here that stretch the boundaries and make things a little more interesting. At only 7 songs, it’s merely a taste, but here’s looking forward to more from her soon.
Recommendation: Worth a listen.

Artist: Ellen Allien
Album: Nost
Quick Description: European DJ back with a new album.
Why You Should Listen: It's a traditional throwback of sorts.
Overall Thoughts: Ellen Allien is a European DJ who has always put out interesting electronic music. Her latest is surprising in that it feels very straightforward in ways her more recent efforts, by my recollection, haven’t. This is a good thing, where a sort of back-to-basics modern-sounding electronic record has a lot of value in an era where people don’t seem to care so much about a driving beat and straightforward sampling.
Recommendation: A solid listen this week.

Artist: Sarah P.
Album: Who Am I
Quick Description: More modern electronic music from the lead singer of Keep Shelly in Athens.
Why You Should Listen: A sharp contrast to Ellen Allien.
Overall Thoughts: It is interesting to contrast Sarah P. with Ellen Allien this week. Where Allien is going traditional, Sarah is going modern, and the result is an interesting listen that didn’t totally grab me, but is interesting enough where I want to take more time with it. The album itself is a pretty solid affair, but with the glut of music in this space, it’s going to struggle a bit to stand out on its own unless you already know her existing band.
Recommendation: Liked this, but it won't work for everyone.

Also out this week:

* PWR BTTM - Pageant
* Son Lux - Bones
* Toss Rundgren - White Knight
* The Bob's Burgers Music Album

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wilco Cover Nick Lowe

Photo via Facebook
I know a lot of people hate Spotify, but when Spotify releases a single that includes Wilco covering Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?," they're all right by me. With the post headline of 'Wilco Covers Nick Lowe," you pretty much know if this will be for you. And, if you think you'll like this, you probably will. Wilco's version is a step or two slower than Elvis Costello's trademark version, which is exactly what you'd expect from the current version on Wilco. It's the most dad rock take on what is a dad rock classic, chugging along with Wilco's trademark new blend of Americana but with enough noise popping up every now and then to keep things interesting. It was recorded at Spotify Studios, and it feels like a live recording, especially when Jeff Tweedy's voice cracks every so often.

You can listen to Wilco's cover of "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" below. For more on Wilco, be sure to check out their website.

Snail Mail - Habit

Snail Mail, aka Lindsey Jordan of Baltimore, MA, does 90s throwback indie rock perfectly, especially considering she wasn't even alive in the 90s. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Snail Mail is 17. (When I stop to think of the kind of music that I would have been doing when I was 17, and that was in the 90s...)

Snail Mail's EP, Habit, was released back digitally in 2016 and somehow evaded our attention. Luckily, it's about to be released on vinyl so it has popped up on our radar. Habit is going to be perfect for anyone that is loving the current 90s indie sound being brought back to the forefront by Courtney Barnett and Palehound. Her voice is a mixture of Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair, with just the slightest bit of Kim Gordon thrown in. Musically, it's also pretty similar to those three artists. It has a much more melancholy aspect to it, and could almost fall into the singer/songwriter category if the guitars weren't so perfectly jangly.

You can listen to "Static Buzz" below. Currently, Snail Mail's EP, Habit, is available digitally via Bandcamp. If you don't mind waiting, the vinyl will be out on July 28 on Sister Polygon Records. For more on Snail Mail, check her out on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Banditos - "Fine Fine Day"

As much as I love garage rock, at least 99% of it has the same basic sound repeated over and over. Banditos are the rare exception to that rule. Their latest song, "Fine Fine Day," isn't rough or aggressive as most garage rock. It's pretty lighthearted and trippy. But, trippy psychedelic garage rock ends up being really flowery and hippie sounding. "Fine Fine Day" is much too fast to fit in that style. Banditos have this song that's too poppy and trippy to be garage rock, but too fast to be psychedelic. Oh, did I mention it has a southern rock vibe to it,too? The result is a rare fresh take on a few genres that are each multiple decades old.

You can watch the video for "Fine Fine Day" below. You should make sure you watch it, too. It's a very simple idea and concept, but it's one of the more fun music videos I've seen in years. Banditos' new album, Visionland, is due out June 23 on Bloodshot Records. For more on Banditos, check out their website.

Nas and Jack White Cover Memphis Jug Band

None of these things sound like they belong together, but just trust me on this one. Starting on May 16, PBS and BBC will start airing a documentary series called American Epic, which is put together by Jack White, T Bone Burnett, and Robert Redford. It looks back at the 1920s, when record companies would send representatives travelling across the country to record new musicians. The series ends with a film on June 6 called The American Epic Sessions which will feature Willie Nelson, Beck, Alabama Shakes, and more recording on the same equipment from the 1920s. 

Right now you can watch a preview of the series featuring Nas and Jack White reworking Memphis Jug Band's 1928 classic "On the Road Again" as a blues/hip hop hybrid. In the video, Nas explains that he considers this song to be the birth of hip hop, based on the vocal stylings of the original. One of the highlights of the new version might be a musician using a jug to almost beat box. 

American Epic will start airing every Tuesday on PBS and BBC starting on May 16. Today, there are two companion albums being released. Legacy Recordings has a 100 song box set (as well as a shorter soundtrack album), while Columbia will be releasing the American Epic Sessions performances.You can get more information about the series via PBS.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sheer Mag - "Just Can't Get Enough"

Photo by Marie Lin
While they did release a compilation of EPs earlier this year, as of right now Sheer Mag have yet to release a proper full length. That is all about to change, as they just announced the July 14 release of Need to Feel Your Love

Sheer Mag have a unique sound. While the Philadelphia based band is widely considered to be punk, they have a lot more in common with 70s Motown like The Jackson 5 than they do The Clash or Minor Threat. That's truly evident with the first single off of Need to Feel Your Love, "Just Can't Get Enough." It's a fun, wildly danceable song, and I just can'r even imagine anyone moshing at all to this, and let's not forget that I was going to shows in the 90s when people were moshing to Letters to Cleo and G. Love & Special Sauce. I think the most punk aspect of "Just Can't Get Enough" is attitude. Somehow they turn what feels like a truly earnest love song about being in love into this in your face soul song.

You can listen to "Just Can't Get Enough" below. Need to Feel Your Love is due out on July 14 on Wilsuns Recording Company in the US and Static Shock Records in Europe. For more on Sheer Mag, check them out on their website and Bandcamp.