Year In Review, Vol. 7 - The Roadside Graves

This December, to celebrate the music of 2007, I asked a bunch of the artists I’ve featured on PHW over the last 11 months to share their thoughts on the “year that was”. I asked a mix of my favorite local artists, as well as several larger acts, with the hope of having a diverse assortment of reflections on the music that mattered to the artists that mattered to me.

It was a banner year for The Roadside Graves. In January the band released a sort of best-of EP, What Happened To Him Could Happen To Anyone, with several of their earlier standout tracks, 2 new songs, and a new single called “West Coast”. That song was from their then forthcoming record No One Will Know Where You’ve Been (my review), which followed a few months later and stands as the watermark of the Jersey septet’s short recording career. More than anything else the album stands as a reaffirming statement that the alt-country genre is not as dead and buried as one might think. No One Will Know… shakes the dust off the tired confines of its genre by containing nothing but smart, energetic, poignant songwriting and playing by its plethora of band members. Taking inspiration from bands like early Son Volt and Whiskeytown, the Graves infuse their sound with more than a little tip of the cap to The Band, as well as Jersey’s most famous rock n’ roll man himself, Bruce Springsteen. The results are captivating. 11 tracks that set the bar high for modern folk-rock, with a lyricist able to use the smallest of details to open up worlds of possibility in his characters. Oh yeah, did I mention that No One Will Know Where You’ve Been, an “alt-country” record, was reviewed by Pitchfork and received a 7.5? That’s higher than Sky Blue Sky, and almost higher than the last Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle albums combined.

Do yourself a favor and download these 2 songs, and then go buy the album from Kill Buffalo. “West Coast” is the perfect introduction to the band. The song is a rousing anthem, with a driving beat and a chorus that sticks. It features some inspired writing: “I got a name and I got a place, for every scar you see on my face, and I got a heart that won’t quit, won’t break”. “Radio” works as the album centerpiece, even though it is the second to last song. It begins as a plaintive, traditional sounding folk song, then bursts into an organ and electric guitar romp, before settling into what may be some of 2007’s most beautiful and memorable moments, an organ solo that takes the song to new heights, becoming something that would sound right at home tucked into the back half of The River. The song’s finale, the simple repeating of the line “it was a good, good night on the radio” over and over, at first just to piano accompaniment and then slowly back to the whole band, is worth the price of admission by itself. It’s a line that sounds like something I’d love to say again at some point, an innocent declaration that seems to be falling further from reality all the time, and one that captures a youthful appreciation of the magic that good songs, played in a row, can have.

MP3 :: West Coast
MP3 :: Radio
(from No One Will Know Where You’ve Been. Buy here)
-------------------------------------------------------------I caught up with lead singer/songwriter John Gleason recently, and he sent along this detailed account of the band’s many highs, and a few lows, of a very productive year:

We went on a small tour this past summer from New Jersey to Louisiana. We set it up ourselves. In Birmingham, Alabama we were treated. We had sweat towels and water bottles on stage! We watched the LAST WALTZ in an old Air-stream trailer. Well, we skipped right to Neil Diamond actually..."Dry your EYES!". Strange women danced with us, some of us. We slapped each other's asses on stage repeatedly.

Other random acts of tour included: our drummer diving into a bush and dripping blood from his nose back to the hotel room, a two hour lecture from a meth addict poolside about Mexicans taking over the country, the same meth addict inviting me into her room so she could undress and show me her swastika tattoo, answering a knock on our Day's Inn door to find an all-girl teenage punk band holding a wild feret, watching fire works before our set in Atlanta, and being welcomed in Shreveport, Louisiana by an enthusiastic bunch of Texans.

Our new record, 'No One Will Know..." was well reviewed by Pitchfork and others, yet our local paper compared our EP to Elmo and Patsy, yes of “Grandma Got Run Over” fame. So lesson to be learned...You can't please 'em all.

As for new music, Jeremy and I were just speaking about Antony and the Johnsons. How unearthly that man is. His voice is so fucking intimate and comforting. His recent covers of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are worthy of quitting music. My favorite records this year were by the National, Okkervil River, the Hold Steady, and Alex Delivery.

As for 2008 the graves are currently writing a new record, "My Son's Home." We are recording a demo of it in February and crossing our fingers it will find a home to be released sometime in the next year. We are planning another homemade tour this summer in mid-July and hope to retrace our steps down south and then venture north to the Great Lakes.

Thank you for listening.
-john Gleason


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