PHW Songs of the Month - 8/08

There were a bunch of great songs to hit my ears this month. Here are my current favorites:

The Sweetbriars
Stream :: No Way Home From Here
(from Please Pass The Revolution! Buy here)
Previously :: New Music - The Sweetbriars

Note: Though it isn’t streaming at their myspace, “Skeletons” is a totally kick ass track from the new album as well…

Vivian Girls
MP3 :: Where Do You Run To
(from Vivian Girls. Info here)
Previously :: [mp3] Vivian Girls - “Where Do You Run To”

The Roadside Graves
MP3 :: Ruby
(from My Son’s Home demos. Info here, eventually)
Previously :: New Music - The Roadside Graves

Basement Band
MP3 :: Nine Days
(from Until The Evening Came. Buy here)
Previously :: New Music - Basement Band

McCarthy Trenching
MP3 :: Roasting Song (“we’ll be eating swine ‘til the cows come home”)
MP3 :: Mormon Girl Blues
(from Calamity Drenching. Buy here)
Previously :: New Music - McCarthy Trenching

Ra Ra Riot
MP3 :: Dying Is Fine
(from The Rhumb Line. Buy here)
More to come from Ra Ra Riot soon….

Happy Labor Day Weekend!!!!


More 90s Albums: Another Reaction To Treble's Best of the 90s List

Alright, so the other day I chimed in on the recent feature on Treble where they ranked the best (their collective favorite) albums of the 1990s, the decade in which a very high percentage of music blog readers came of age one would assume. I’ve already posted an addendum to their list with a bunch of the best Americana/folk rock/alt country/whatever that didn't make the cut. I’ve paid a lot of attention to their list for a couple of reasons. First, I’m kind of a list junkie and use them to explore albums I’m not familiar with and to maybe reevaluate some albums I haven‘t listened to in a while. Second, though I haven’t done so in a while I’ve written a few reviews for Treble in the past. So I guess in a weird way I feel some sort of kinship to them and their lists. This list is another addendum to theirs in a way - a few albums that would be on my favorite albums of the 90s list, if one were to exist. None of the following appeared on the Treble lists. Maybe a few of them should have:

Mercury Rev - Deserter’s Songs
1998 - V2

Of all the exclusions on Treble’s lists the lack of Deserter’s Songs and Uncle Tupelo are most glaring to me. The lush orchestral production of David Fridmann, who went on to helm The Flaming Lips’ classic The Soft Bulletin soon after, provides the foundation for a huge musical departure from the band’s earlier psyche-rock. Deserter’s Songs is a dark and druggy song cycle that bleeds earnesty without ever sounding sentimental. On any given day this is one of my favorite albums. Period.

MP3 :: Holes
(Buy Deserter’s Songs here)

The Lemonheads - It’s A Shame About Ray
1992 - Atlantic

Though Evan Dando’s emergence as the heartthrob of the alternative nation damaged his street cred, there’s no denying what It’s A Shame About Ray is - an endlessly melodic batch of folk-pop nuggets that was all over modern rock radio during the height of grunge.

MP3 :: It’s A Shame About Ray
(Buy It’s A Shame About Ray here)

Silver Jews - American Water
1998 - Drag City

Quite simply, American Water may be the lyrical highpoint of the decade. David Berman tosses off line after line of “did he just say that?” poetry that sits atop his band’s (which features Stephen Malkmus) meandering folk-rock. “Random Rules” is unforgettable - and just the tip of the iceberg.

MP3 :: Random Rules
(Buy American Water here)

American Music Club - Mercury
1993 - Reprise

I bought Mercury without ever hearing a note after reading a review. I know, that’s practically unheard of in 2008. In 1993 I did this with some degree of frequency, and Mercury was one of a few big payoffs. Though the eclectic music and brooding baritone of Mark Eitzel were a challenging first listen, in short order it became a favorite, and remains an album I go to often on long, lonely nights.

MP3 :: If I Had A Hammer
(Buy Mercury here)

The Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
1992 - Def American

Though Shake Your Money Maker made them stars, it was their sophomore album where the Crowes really impressed. This is a dirty slab of Southern fried blues-rock with a batch of songs that surpasses those of their debut. “Sometimes Salvation” in particular is the sound of a band reaching their potential and tearing it to shreds.

MP3 :: Sometimes Salvation
(Buy The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion here)

The Tragically Hip - Fully Completely
1993 - MCA

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an album from the Hip on this list - they were my favorite band from about age 19 to 25. Fully Completely is their 4th album, and it’s a tense song cycle that brings to life singer Gordon Downie's take on Canadian myth. With a full on rock band blazing away behind him.

MP3 :: At The Hundredth Meridian
(Buy Fully Completely here)

Sinead O’Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
1990 - Chrysalis

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an album as harrowingly personal as this. O’Connor lays her soul bare, and though “Nothing Compares 2 U” was the monster hit, songs like “Black Boys On Mopeds”, “Three Babies”, “The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” and others are equally as powerful. O’Connor demonstrates a mastery over multiple styles, as the songs veer from a cappela and trip hop to folk rock to dream pop.

MP3 :: Black Boys On Mopeds
(Buy I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got here)

[video] The Felice Brothers - "Frankie's Gun"

Here’s the first official video from The Felice Brothers. It’s a rag tag live version of album stand out “Frankie’s Gun”, which is still one of my favorite songs of the year. The Felice Brothers are on tour through the Fall with 2 other PHW faves - Deer Tick and A.A. Bondy. Dates below:

MP3 :: Frankie’s Gun
MP3 :: Wonderful Life
(from The Felice Brothers. Buy here)

* = w/ A.A. Bondy
# = w/ Deer Tick
% = w/ Old Crow Medicine Show


04 – Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
05 – Northampton, MA – Iron Horse
06 – Cambridge, MA – Club Passim
07 – Great Barrington, MA – Club Helsinki
11 – Albany, NY – Linda Norris Auditorium*
12 – Ithaca, NY – Castaways*
13 – Hoboken, NJ – Maxwell’s*
14 – Alexandria, VA – The Birchmere Bandstand*
16 – Atlanta, GA – Smith’s Olde Bar*
18 – Nashville, TN – Exit / In*
19 – Lexington, KY – Christ the King Oktoberfest*
20 – Chicago, IL – Abbey Pub*
23 – Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room*
24 – St. Louis, MO – Billiken Club at St. Louis University (Open to the Public)*
25 – Notre Dame, IN – Legends of Notre Dame (Student’s Only)*
26 – Newport, KY – Know Theatre Tribes*
27 – Rutland, OH – Reclaim Festival*
29 – Knoxville, TN – Barley’s Taproom*
30 – Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506*


02 – Philadelphia, PA – First Unitarian Church*
09 – Princeton, NJ – Terrace F. Club (Princeton U – Student’s Only)#
10 – Pittsburgh, PA – Club Café#
11 – Louisville, KY – Palace Theatre%
15 – Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s#
16 – Birmingham, AL – Workplay Theater#
17 – New Orleans, LA – Maple Leaf#
18 – Alexandria, LA – Alexandria Music Project#
22 – West Hollywood, CA – The Troubadour#
23 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall#
24 – Portland, OR – Mission Theatre#
25 – Seattle, WA – Chop Suey#
27 – Salt Lake City, UT – The Paladium#
28 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre & Café#


02 – New York, NY – Spiegeltent#

New Music - Matt Singer

Matt Singer, one of my very favorite local artists and just an endlessly compelling songwriter, has just finished recording the follow up to 2006’s All Us Heathens. The Drought is a new 6 song EP that will see release from Family Records in November. But, if you head out to The Living Room tonight (Wednesday, 8/27) to check out the “Completion of the Album” party you should be able to score a copy a few months early. Singer’s broad range as a songwriter is on full display over The Drought’s 6 songs, 5 of which are now streaming over at his myspace (check the link below). Included is a newly recorded version of one of last year’s best songs (according to me), “Stacy J”.

Stream :: The Poet / Bird Song / Stacy J / Everything We Do / Dynamic Public Speaker
(from The Drought. Info here)

MP3 :: Stacy J
(from Cross Pollination: The Mixtape, Vol. 1. Download here)

[video] Bon Iver stands in on "Blue Tulip"

Here’s the fourth of the stand ins covering Okkervil River’s upcoming The Stand Ins. Last week I posted A.C. Newman and Will Sheff doing “Lost Coastlines”, and now Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) has contributed a take on “Blue Tulip”. I‘m not crazy about the album version, but Vernon does a beautiful job - this is my favorite so far.

MP3 :: Lost Coastlines
(from The Stand Ins. Pre-order here)

The Best Americana/Folk Rock/Alt Country/Whatever of the 1990s

You may have noticed, but the nice guys & girls over at Treble ran an ambitious 2-week series on the best music of the 1990s that just ended last Friday. All the standards and modern classics you’d expect to end up dominating such a list are accounted for - and, really, there aren’t a heckuva lot of surprises to go with them. It’s not like they’re going to go and put OK Computer as the 6th best album of 1997, you know? So if the lists (an 11 album retrospective for each year - over 110 albums in all, with full reviews of nearly every one of them) are predictable at times you have to forgive them - you‘ve most likely seen very similar lists before. No one was trying to re-write the past, despite some continued revisionism (Neutral Milk Hotel’s legend continues to grow, even though few would have called In The Aeroplane Over The Sea the record of the year in 1998). Lists are always subjective entities made to spark debate and nostalgia. They are not definitive - any list of anyone’s favorite (almost) anything is constantly changing.

Articles like Treble’s do a few things for me though. First, they allow me to devise in my head (or on my computer) just such a list of my own. But no one wants to read that except me. They also make me obsessive-compulsive to study it and discover a few things that I’ve somehow overlooked for far too long. As I type this I’m listening to (get ready…) I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One in its entirety for the very first time. Crazy, right? I’ve heard bits and pieces of it over the years, and I’ve loved “Sugarcube” for forever, but I’ve never in my life let it play from start to finish. It’s really good btw. I’m not sure #4 of 1997 good, but damn. And props for recognizing Siamese Dream as the goddamn rock masterpiece that it is, which is another effect of a good list - reintroducing/reevaluating old favorites. I loved that album for years in the early and mid-90s, but the bloated (and stupidly titled) follow up Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness lost me and I never went back. For all the idiocy that is Billy Corgan and his revolving band of misfits, I don’t think there is a better radio-rock record from the whole decade than Siamese Dream, and I hadn’t listened to it in a long, long time.

All that being said, Treble’s lists are so heavy on “alternative” classics, post-rock, Bjork, early indie-rock, Brit-pop, electronica, and Elliott Smith that very little of the decade’s best Americana and alt country appears. The only albums representing either genre are Being There and I See A Darkness - both are certainly deserving of inclusion but are only a teaser as to all the great roots music made during the 1990s. Now, I’m not going dispute the widely revered classics Treble lists - most of which I’ve caught up with since the emergence of the internet over the past 6 or 7 years and agree with their inclusion. I didn’t have my finger on the pulse of modern music while I was listening to little other than grunge in the early 90s, Phish during the middle, and alt country near the end. But I’d like to add a bit of an addendum to it - the Best Americana/Roots Rock/Alt Country/Whatever of the 1990s that was not included in the Treble lists. Perhaps their exclusion is a result of being part of a genre that doesn’t have as much mass appeal, but for my money, any of these records could stand next to the best music of the decade:

Son Volt - Trace
Warner Bros. 1995

Jay Farrar’s first album after the demise of Uncle Tupelo set the bar pretty high for the entire genre. The 11 songs on Trace are an extension of what his former band had worked up to on 1994’s Anodyne - windswept folk ballads and Crazy Horse inspired, driving folk-rock. Trace is about as American as it gets - dusty roads, steel guitars, and spinning wheels - and its easily one of the best albums of the 1990s.

MP3 :: Windfall
(Buy Trace here)

The Jayhawks - Tomorrow The Green Grass
1995 - American

Though they first made some waves with 1993’s Hollywood Town Hall, it was on Tomorrow The Green Grass that Mark Olson and Gary Louris perfected their unique blend of high harmonies, pop song craft, and chiming folk-rock.

Buy Tomorrow The Green Grass here

Scud Mountain Boys - Massachusetts
1996 - Sub Pop

Joe Pernice’s whisper-folk predated Iron & Wine by a decade, and may have laid the groundwork for the eventual signing of Sam Beam to Sub Pop in the early part of this decade. Essential homemade American music that gets better with every listen.

MP3 :: Holy Ghost
(Buy Massachusetts here)

Palace Music - Viva Last Blues
1995 - Drag City

Before Will Oldham became Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and solidified his place in the American songwriter pantheon when Johnny Cash covered “I See A Darkness” he made this lo-fi folk classic, with a number of unforgettable songs, most notably “New Partner” - one of the decade’s very best.

MP3 :: New Partner
(Buy Viva Last Blues here)

Old 97s - Too Far To Care
1997 - Elektra

I’ve said it before - this is one of my favorite albums to crank up and shout along with. On Too Far To Care an impossibly charismatic Rhett Miller sings a series of youthful anthems documenting heartbreak, drunkenness, and a handful of (very) short love affairs. Musically, the band’s rousing shuffle beats and memorable riffs come on like a runaway train. Too Far To Care is the perfect synthesis of the barreling speed-country of Wreck Your Life with the more traditionally pop-inspired songcraft of Fight Songs and Satellite Rides.

MP3 :: Nite Club
(Buy Too Far To Care here)

Uncle Tupelo - Still Feel Gone / March 16-20, 1992 / Anodyne
1991 & 1992 - Rockville, 1994 Sire

Take your pick here. Still Feel Gone is my favorite though, and it’s usually thought of as the red-headed stepchild of the Uncle Tupelo catalog. Not as groundbreaking as No Depression, traditionally compelling as March 16-20, 1992, nor as accessible as Anodyne, Still Feel Gone works simply because it is their best recorded representation - a bracing collection of punk-country anthems that work best loud and with the company of a few cold ones.

MP3 :: Postcard
(from Still Feel Gone. Buy Uncle Tupelo albums here)

Richard Buckner - Devotion & Doubt
1997 - MCA

Devotion & Doubt may be the least known record on this list, but might be one of the best. The quiet, dusty folk and Buckner’s unmistakable baritone make for a startlingly emotional listen - one that explores the ups and (mostly) downs of a relationship with a Blood On The Tracks-like intimacy.

Buy Devotion & Doubt here

Steve Earle - I Feel Alright
1996 - Warner Bros.

His first record after his release from prison may have been the acoustic Train A Comin’ (another essential!), but it was on I Feel Alright that Steve Earle boldly reasserted himself as one of America’s best songwriting voices. His tales of redemption have never been as consistent or fully realized as they are here - on an album with about 6 or 7 of the best folk-rock songs of the decade.

MP3 :: Feel Alright
(Buy I Feel Alright here)

I’m sure I’m missing a few important records, but that’s all I can think of right now. What am I missing in your opinion? Lists spark thought, discussion, and debate, and my take on Treble’s Best Music of the 90s lists is that it is pretty damn good. I do however have other gripes with a few exclusions, but no more time today to spend typing. Check back later in the week for more albums they somehow overlooked…..


New Music - McCarthy Trenching

Here’s a couple of new tunes for those who dig authentic sounding Americana. McCarthy Trenching is primarily the work of Dan McCarthy, who sounds uncannily similar to Mississippi John Hurt on “Mormon Girl Blues” - a finger-picked folk-blues song that could easily have been written 100 years ago. To get that old-timey feel McCarthy records his songs at home on an 8-track tape machine “mostly in the living room, because that’s where the piano is”. He’s joined on his new sophomore record Calamity Drenching by a talented assortment of Team Love and Saddle Creek stalwarts. The 3 tracks that have been released as promo mp3s are full of rich acoustics, sharp wit, and droll humor - and most of all a distinctive Midwestern voice singing songs about girls, alcohol, and cassette tapes. You can’t really have enough of those. It comes out 9/23. This is the good shit.

MP3 :: Mormon Girl Blues
MP3 :: Roasting Song
MP3 :: Cassette Tape Massacre
(from Calamity Drenching. Pre-order here)

Fri 09.26.08 @ Haileys (Denton, TX) w/ Neva Dinova
Sat 09.27.08 @ Emos (Austin, TX) w/ Neva Dinova, Jose Gonzalez
Mon 09.29.08 @ Rhythm Room (Phoenix, AZ) w/ Neva Dinova
Thu 10.02.08 @ Hemlock Tavern (San Francisco, CA) w/ Neva Dinova
Fri 10.03.08 @ Silver Moon Brewing (Bend, OR) w/ Neva Dinova
Sat 10.04.08 @ Towne Lounge (Portland, OR) w/ Neva Dinova
Sun 10.05.08 @ Tractor Tavern (Seattle, WA) w/ Neva Dinova
Wed 10.08.08 @ Kilby Court (Salt Lake City, UT) w/ Neva Dinova
Thu 10.09.08 @ The Hi Dive (Denver, CO) w/ Neva Dinova
Fri 10.10.08 @ Waiting Room (Omaha, NE) w/ Neva Dinova
Sat 10.11.08 @ Vaudeville Mews (Des Moines, IA) w/ Neva Dinova
Fri 10.17.08 @ The Double Door (Chicago, IL) w/ Will Hoge, the everybodyfields
Sat 10.18.08 @ Beachland Ballroom (Cleveland, OH) w/ Will Hoge, the everybodyfields
Sun 10.19.08 @ State Theatre (State College, PA) w/ Will Hoge, the everybody fields

PHW Album of the Month - 8/08

Though they may seem somewhat out of sorts (purposefully?) speaking and performing on Fox News, there’s nothing uncomfortable about the new Walkmen record You & Me. Sporting a decidedly lived in and sultry sound, You & Me officially hit stores this week, which means you can no longer pick up the album digitally for 5 charity dollars. The blog buzz You & Me has generated this summer has been astounding, and deservedly so. Anyone who has been lucky enough to hear an advance (re: leaked) copy knows just how special an album it really is. Now it’s time to buy it. This week the official review sites started chiming in as well, and the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Still need convincing? Read some reviews here, here, and here. It’s one of the year’s best. And it’s the PHW Album of the Month for August, which I think I've known it would be since I first heard it in June. Highly recommended!

MP3 :: In The New Year
(from You & Me. Buy here)

[video] The War On Drugs - "A Needle In The Eye #16"

If you’re anything like me, you’re still really diggin’ The War On Drugs album Wagonwheel Blues - their debut which was released earlier this year by Secretly Canadian. That there’s the first video from the 9 song set. “A Needle In The Eye #16”, which TWOD kingpin Adam Granduciel told PHW in an interview was one of the last songs written for the record, sounds like one of those roadhouse songs from The River as done by 1970’s art punks Suicide. Vintage 60’s style clips demonstrate the vast difference between American and Native American cultures. Visually, it’s a strange couple of minutes, but the striking images fit the controlled chaos of the music. Stereogum had a great interview with Adam a few weeks ago, and they have “A Needle In Your Eye #16” for download there.

MP3 :: Taking The Farm
(from Wagonwheel Blues. Buy here)

MP3 :: Arms Like Boulders
(from the Barrel of Batteries EP. Download for free here)

Video: Will Sheff/A.C. Newman

Last week came the first taste of what to expect from the forthcoming Okkervil River album The Stand-Ins with the release of the "Lost Coastlines" mp3. That there’s now the first in a promised series of stand-in performance videos that will further help promote the album. And yes, that’s Carl “A.C.” Newman of The New Pornographers standing in for Will Sheff on the song, and Sheff standing in for the now departed Jonathon Meiburg. That Will Sheff is so clever. Turns out Newman is a great choice here, as he not only does a knockabout job on the song but he’ll soon have something of his own to promote - his solo follow up to the excellent The Slow Wonder (from 2004) will be released in early 2009. Get Guilty is the name, January is the tentative release time, Matador is the label, and Pitchfork has more details.

MP3 :: Drink To Me Babe, Then
MP3 :: Miracle Drug
(from The Slow Wonder. Buy here)

MP3 :: Lost Coastlines
(from The Stand-Ins. Pre-order here)

And in semi-related Pornographer news, Muzzle of Bees reported recently that Neko Case will be releasing her next solo album, Middle Cyclone, on Anti in March of 2009. No word yet on how many records Dan Bejar will release next year.

Stream :: Hold On, Hold On / Star Witness
(from Fox Confessor Brings The Flood)

Gold Soundz: "St. Stephen ---> The Eleven"

As a one-time fanboy of The Grateful Dead, and one with plenty of Dead Heads among my family and friends, it was quite refreshing to read Mark Richardson’s recent brief history of the godfathers of jambands (I made that up) over at Pitchfork. I thought he did a fantastic job of detailing the strengths (beyond the insane jams of the early years) and weaknesses (beyond the terrible studio albums of the later) of every era of the band. To say the least, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve listened to anything by the Dead - it’s been very, very sporadic since Garcia died back in the mid-90s.

As much as I enjoyed the music though, I never did dive head first into the Dead culture. For me it was never about the look or the scene (weird and amazing as it was) - I just loved (cliché alert) getting lost in the music. But I was also a picky fan - I remember one time being at a urinal between sets at Giants Stadium (‘95, I think) and an older gent asked me what I thought of the first set. I was feeling pretty good I’m sure so I wasn’t freaked out by this obvious social miscue of being spoken to while peeing, and I told the guy I thought the set was a little mellow. He looked at me like I had two heads (not counting the one in my hands…..OH!), and repeated in stunned disbelief, “mellow?!?”. I’m sure the guy was nothing but sincere about his enjoyment of the show thus far, but dude, it was mellow as hell. That’s not a bad thing at all, but to my wild, 20 year old ass it always kept me from falling Head (pun intended) over heels into the whole lifestyle. I needed to rock out too.

Anyway, Richardson does a nice job detailing the various phases of the band - from the careening, psychedelic garage rock of their very early years through the harmony drenched Americana of the early 70s and into the (yikes) disco, jazz, and blues of later years. For anyone even mildly interested in the history of this band (at least those who can look at it without the rose-colored glasses), it’s a terrific read. And he highlights one of my favorite ever Dead jams - an early, somewhat rare song called “The Eleven” - one with a propulsive time signature played often during the late 60s that was retired, along with “St. Stephen”, way too soon.

MP3 :: St. Stephen >>
MP3 :: >> The Eleven
(from Two From The Vault. Buy here)

New Music - Arms

Last weekend I got myself wrapped up in a new album called Kids Aflame by Arms, and I‘ve been meaning to get a post up about it ever since. You may have heard of The Harlem Shakes. I have. Never heard their music (yet), but I’ve heard of them. Arms is the solo project of Shakes guitarist Todd Goldstein, and Kids Aflame is his debut solo album. He’s Brooklyn-based (surprise!) and has been recording songs on his own for a few years now. I read the review over at Treble and the interview over at I Guess I’m Floating, both of which perked my interest.

Kids Aflame may be most noteworthy for its diversity - if there’s a sub-genre to indie-rock this album probably has it covered. “Whirring” was released as a single last year and kicks the album off with driving, anthemic guitars. “Kids Aflame” feels vaguely like The Smiths doing ukulele-led folk, and “Shitty Little Disco”, a song from a 2004 EP of the same name, has an 80’s feel to it. Every song is a winner and each seems to have its own personality - perhaps a result of the album being pieced together over the past 3 years. Check it out.

MP3 :: Kids Aflame
MP3 :: Whirring
(from Kids Aflame. Buy here)

New Music - The Sweetbriars

Sooner or later it was bound to happen. A town the size of Lewisburg, PA, with a population about the same as the average Brooklyn street, just isn’t big enough to hold two talents the size of Earl Pickens and Bruce W. Derr. I can just imagine the tension that there must have been when these two first crossed paths - a volatile, dangerous moment that easily could have exploded into violence. Derr, the longtime Lewisburg resident, jealous of Pickens big city ways, playing in his venues and in front of his peeps. Pickens bullying his songs into people’s heads, trying desperately to steal Derr’s small town thunder. There’d be blood on the floor of the coffeehouse, maybe a strangling with a giant sunflower stem, maybe a smothering with a giant cowboy hat. Maybe worse.

Of course, all of this is just a scene from my lazy summer imagination, and Lewisburg, PA is, by all accounts, a very friendly, civilized place. And when Derr and Pickens first crossed paths there was no territorially motivated mayhem, but a mutual respect and genuine enthusiasm for the other’s music. That’s just speculation as well, but most likely more accurate, as the two have started a new band together. Derr, until recently a reclusive rock star in the making, and Pickens, a seasoned veteran of NY's folk-rock scene, have joined forces, formed The Sweetbriars, and are ready to conquer the world.

You might think that Derr’s lo-fi bedroom leanings and Pickens’ country crooning would make an odd mix. You’d be way wrong - these two different songwriting styles mesh perfectly on The Sweetbriar’s debut record, Please Pass The Revolution!, and show these two are a match made in rock 'n roll heaven. Derr and Pickens wrote all 10 tracks featured on the album together (except one which also features Derr’s brother Ben), and recorded them quickly with one goal in mind - to rock. Rock, that is, with a focus on tight harmonies and some old fashioned, good natured fun. The album mixes Tom Petty styled, radio-ready folk-rock, vintage 70s power-pop, and the “alternative” pop-rock that dominated A.O.R. airwaves in the 90s, and barely comes up for air for 35 minutes. Lead guitarist Paul Curcuruto and drummer Jake Kline, two natives of Central PA and longtime session men, give the songs added muscle.

Early highlights are the first single “Get Down Into It”, a socially conscious rocker that recalls, thematically, what Pickens did a few months ago during the Pennsylvania primaries (his Obama video was featured for a while on the Democratic nominees’ website), “No Way Home From Here”, an urgent folk-rocker with Jayhawks-esque duel vocals and a killer chorus (a line from which I've lifted for my header quote up there), and “Skeletons”, a Derr-sung song that would sound right at home on the first Golden Smog album. Overall there’s not a weak moment - this is a rousing, emotionally charged set of songs that you should check out, and lucky for you, 5 of ’em are streaming over at their myspace:

Stream :: I’ll Be The One / No Way Home From Here / Get Down Into It! / Parade / White As A Ghost (from Please Pass The Revolution! Buy here)

The Sweetbriars will be making their NYC debut this Saturday night at Hill Country. It’s a free CD release party that will be opened, conveniently enough, by Earl Pickens’ other band, Earl Pickens & The Band Named Thunder. Here’s the first video from Please Pass The Revolution! - for "Get Down Into It!" - and as you’d expect from a video made in part by Pickens, it’s good for more than a few smiles:



Earl Pickens - Singer, Wrong-Righter
Year In Review, Vol. 2 - Earl Pickens
Introducing: Bruce W. Derr
[mp3] Bruce W. Derr - “Mr. Personality”

Live Review - Wilco @ McCarren Pool

Well, after mentioning it a few times over the past 2 weeks, the night of Wilco’s show at McCarren Pool finally came and went. And what a damn show it was. Unfortunately I forgot my camera, but I suck at taking concert photos anyway so it doesn’t matter. The show itself was the perfect ending to a flawless day. As I did last year after seeing them at the Hammerstein, let’s get to the highlights:

1. There was a guy who walked past my friends and I as we got closer to the venue who whispered “doses” to us. Awesome. Haven’t heard that since Phish back in ’97. Then we thought it would be funny to say it to other people as we walked by them. Chad took it too far when he said it to an 8 year old. That kid’s dad was not amused.

2. Got rid of my extra for an even $50, exactly what I paid after Ticketmaster charges and what not. My buddy John had 2 extras and sold both for $40. Total. Sucker.

3. The show started slowly - “Via Chicago” into “Blood Of The Lamb” (wtf?) into “You Are My Face” into “Hummingbird”. Thankfully things got better quickly.

4. “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart”, despite hearing it every time I’ve ever seen Wilco, was incredible. Then “Shot In The Arm” and I was thinking how superior these songs were to the opening run. And “Handshake Drugs” is still my favorite live song to hear from any band.

5. “Side With The Seeds” = pee break.

6. “Misunderstood” got things going in the right direction and the band never really looked back. They played “Far Far Away” and a really sublime “California Stars” (w/ horns!) that were just beautiful.

7. I was pleasantly surprised by a few old favorites I don’t think I’ve ever heard live before - “Pieholden Suite”, “Pot Kettle Black”, and, best of all by far, “Can’t Stand It”. Wow, that song is such an underrated and overlooked gem in their catalog. Overall, the set was much less dependent on Sky Blue Sky songs and all the better for it.

8. You didn’t hear this from me (I‘m not a gossip site), but a certain older celebrity couple known for being devoutly liberal were hanging out on the soundboard stage enjoying the show. I don’t want to mention any names, but you may know them from a certain stone classic movie about minor league baseball from the late 80s. I was standing pretty much right next to the board and looking over during “California Stars” I noticed the gent lighting up a big fat splif. Hm, I thought. Likes Wilco, likes weed. Cool. Wife shook her head “no thanks”. Soon after security and paramedics were surrounding said gent who was stumbling around the stage and wound up on the ground for a solid half hour, pretty much oblivious to what was going on around him. Silly celebrity, drugs are for kids. I honestly thought I was witnessing what could have been front page news, as the staff people looked confused as to what to do with him. If this wasn’t the guy who starred in that bomb movie with Jeff Bridges or that Mystic River movie with Sean Penn he probably would’ve been tossed out on his a$$. Wouldn’t you know it though - dude was rallying by first encore and walked out on his own after the show.

9. I had a bird’s eye view of my buddy Wagner’s (very) close encounter with a touchy feely dude passing us by. Let’s just say it was very crowded where we were standing and the guy invaded poor Wagner’s personal space. It was pretty sexy.

10. “Poor Places” into “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” was tremendous, as usual. All songs played during the encore (there were about 10 of ’em) were as well. “The Late Greats” was a highlight, as was “Monday” and “Outtamind (Outtasite)” (w/ horns!).

11. I don’t love “I’m A Wheel” but watching Pat Sansone windmill is pretty fuggin’ awesome.

12. No new songs tonight, which was a little disappointing. Really wanted to hear “One Wing”.

13. Goodbye to McCarren Pool - a really fun venue to see a show that’s growing up and becoming a real pool again next year.

13. “Goodnight. Thanks. See you again after we finish our next record”.

MP3 :: One Wing (live from Lollapalooza)

[mp3] Motel Motel - "Mexico"

Off to see Wilco in a few minutes and I’m pretty friggin excited about that, duh. But before that I wanted to leave you with this new track from a Brooklyn band called Motel Motel. Listening to their debut album, New Denver, can be quite an intimidating experience. At 13 songs (10 of which are well over 5 minutes) and a running time of an hour and 12 minutes we’re probably looking at an album that’s a half hour too long for one continuous listen. There are gems throughout though, and buried at the album’s midpoint is one that’s really hitting the spot right now - a lilting folk rock tune called “Mexico” that makes for a great sing along.

MP3 :: Mexico
(from New Denver. Buy here)

Album Review - Conor Oberst

One of the biggest musical surprises of the summer for me is just how much I’m enjoying the Conor Oberst solo album. I don’t know why I’m particularly surprised by this, I mean I’ve enjoyed every Bright Eyes album to varying degrees, especially I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. But last year’s Cassadaga was kind of an uneven mess, and it’s something I haven’t gone back to in over a year, so I thought my interest in his music was waning. Conor Oberst the album though reestablishes him as one of the better working folk-rock songwriters.

As on Cassadaga, the major theme of Conor Oberst seems to be travel, restlessness, and finding your place in the world. For an artist who has always been thought of as strongly connected to his hometown, Omaha, and who has up until this point stayed loyal to a relatively small hometown label, Saddle Creek, it may be noteworthy that this release is coming from Merge Records - perhaps signifying a major career shift. Multiple songs reference the road as a place of escape - “there’s nothing that the road cannot heel” he sings on “Moab” - and the album was recorded without his usual Bright Eyes cohorts (most notably absent is longtime collaborator Mike Mogis) in Tepoztlán, Morelos, México.

The songs themselves are diverse enough to keep interest, yet flow smoothly from start to finish. Most avoid being overly precious and over-emoting, two things that has plagued Oberst from the start, and rather play to his many strengths - there’s humor, playfulness, reflection, and some poignant character sketches. Most of the songs find characters who are at the end of their ropes, looking for escape and new starts - something that Oberst approaches with a plenty of sympathy. Musically, the change in setting hasn’t really changed the overall approach, as most of the songs adhere to familiarity - simple folk rock, mid-tempo barroom rockers, or straight acoustic ballads prevail, with production that doesn‘t attempt to strip the songs of their loose, off-the-cuff charm.

“Cape Canaveral” and “Milk Thistle” open and close the album with stripped down arrangements and vintage Bright Eyes melodies. In fact, the opening run of songs, up until “Danny Callahan”, a song that uses imagery of a sick child to suggest there’s no order in the world and we should never take life for granted, are all particularly strong. The middle of the album tends to drag somewhat but Conor Oberst comes back to end with some of its better moments. “Moab” and “Souled Out!!!” are slick rockers that would each make good singles and “Milk Thistle” is one of the year’s most beautiful songs. Overall, Conor Oberst isn’t going to sound revelatory or amaze you with new tricks - it’s simply a very solid singer-songwriter album from an artist just restless enough to keep things interesting.

MP3 :: Danny Callahan
(from Conor Oberst. Buy here)

And here’s that new video for “Souled Out!!!”


Wilco Demos - Summerteeth / Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Here’s another batch of Wilco rarities to get you tuned up for the band’s upcoming show at McCarren Pool. These are from the Summerteeth / Yankee Hotel Foxtrot years - check out other recent Wilco outtakes posts here and here. “She’s A Jar” comes from the Summerteeth demos - most of which I don’t think are worth a post because the arrangements don’t vary much at all from the final versions. This take though obviously came pretty early in the sessions, as it features the type of stripped down folk setting that was more characteristic of the band’s earlier years.

“Kamera (demo)” and “Not For The Season (demo)” are 2 of my favorite Wilco rarities, both far more rockin’ than anything the band did on YHF. “Kamera” obviously evolved (re: mellowed out) into the well known YHF version. “Not For The Season” got a name change (“Laminated Cat”, eww) and appeared in much different form on the first Loose Fur album. Though never officially a Wilco song, it was played quite a bit during the YHF tour (you should hunt down a bootleg from that time period - they were playing versions based on the Loose Fur version that were downright revelatory), and did turn up on the Jeff Tweedy solo DVD Live From The Pacific Northwest. And “Nothing Up My Sleeve” is a curiosity as it doesn’t seem to fit, musically or lyrically, with what Tweedy was writing during this time. Regardless, it’s a strong, straightforward rock song that never saw official release.

MP3 :: She’s A Jar (acoustic)
(from Summerteeth demos)

MP3 :: Kamera
MP3 :: Not For The Season
MP3 :: Nothin’ Up My Sleeve
(from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot demos)

New Music - Basement Band

I predicted earlier this year that I’d soon have more to say about the multi-colored gatorade chuggers in New York’s Basement Band. With the recent release of their excellent debut through Baskethouse Records, now’s the time. Until The Evening Came is a remarkably consistent collection of dusty folk-rock gems, barreling barroom honky-tonk, and soaring harmonies. It comes 3 long years after long time friends (singer/songwriter) Jeff Malinowski and (drummer) John Durgee moved to Brooklyn, started up the band, and began playing shows around the Northeast.

“Nine Days” is a standout track - a breezy country rock song whose multi-part harmonies sound like Crosby, Stills, & Nash jamming with Stranger’s Almanac-era Whiskeytown. Malinowski often demonstrates the unique ability to write songs that sound timeless, a talent that is perhaps most noticeable on “Soldiers”. The song, whose vivid detail of young men going off to war could very easily be set during any point in U.S. history, earned him a second place finish in the 2007 Williamsburg Songwriters Contest. With vital alt country (whatever that is) albums all but extinct in 2008, it’s refreshing to find a band breathing some new life into a tired genre.

MP3 :: Nine Days
MP3 :: Soldiers
(from Until The Evening Came. Buy here)

[mp3] of Montreal - "Id Engager"

After loving last year’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? (my personal introduction to Of Montreal) I’ve wanted to post the first single from the forthcoming Skeletal Lamping for about a week now. And I’ve been sitting on it. I guess I just don’t feel the same urgency about posting this as I did last year about many of those songs. I mean, that album was special, you know? Hopefully Skeletal Lamping will be too, but I’m just not that crazy about “Id Engager”, at least not as a single. I mean, it’s good - kind of like some of those post “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” tracks on Hissing Fauna meets “Rock The Casbah”, at least between the 4 and 23 second mark - and no doubt would be a decent deep cut. It’s just not grabbing me in the same way as “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” or “Suffer For Fashion”. Regardless, it’s got a nice little dance floor groove, and it’s kind of (good) kitsch, and it’s all weird, playful sexuality. So it’s prime Of Montreal, no? It's worth a post, no doubt. What do you think? Skeletal Lamping is out October 7th on Polyvinyl.

MP3 :: Id Engager
(from Skeletal Lamping. Info here)

MP3 :: Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse
(from Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Buy here)

Polyvinyl has a generous supply of older Of Montreal mp3s available for free download here.

[mp3] Vivian Girls - "Where Do Yo Run To"

I’m excited to hear the rest of Vivian Girls self-titled debut, which will be reissued by In The Red this Fall. “Where Do You Run To” is equal parts garage rock and melodic girl group pop, and one of the most memorable new songs I’ve heard all summer.

MP3 :: Where Do You Run To
(from Vivian Girls. Info here)

Vivian Girls’ myspace has tour dates and another track from the album available as a free download:

MP3 :: Tell The World

Old & New Music - Lambchop

Lambchop, and their 2000 album Nixon in particular, have until very recently always been on my periphery. I’d always heard of the record’s hybrid of smooth countrypolitan and lushly orchestrated soul and expected it to be something I’d enjoy but, after using some of my eMusic downloads last month, I wasn’t prepared to be so taken with it so quickly. Front and center is the band’s resident genius Kurt Wagner, who slips effortlessly between his usual baritone croak of a voice and a disarmingly cracked falsetto - both to equal effect. Originally a 3-piece, the band had grown considerably by Nixon, often including both string and horn sections. Never though does the music seem crowded - in fact I can’t think of another collective with so many members who are able to make music sound this spacious. The songs are continually rewarding from start to finish, my favorite right now being the incredibly weird and beautiful slowly building soul of “You Masculine You”.

MP3 :: You Masculine You
(from Nixon. Buy here)

Lambchop have released several records this decade since Nixon, perhaps most notably 2002’s incredibly sparse and elegant Is A Woman. Now working with Merge Records, Lambchop are preparing the release of OH (ohio) on October 7. The band has been whittled down to its core for this release, but one should still expect the usual variety of genres and sounds. “Slipped Dissolved and Loosed” is the first single from the upcoming release and, with its stately, gentle strings and idiosyncratic lyrics, makes for a fine introduction to the band.

MP3 :: Slipped Dissolved and Loosed
(from OH (ohio). Info here)

Wilco Demos - Being There / Mermaid Avenue

9 days left until Wilco plays McCarren Pool and my anticipation keeps growing. As promised, here’s another small batch of Wilco rarities, these coming from the Being There / Mermaid Avenue years. “No Poetry”, I believe, is an outtake from Being There and has never appeared on any official release. “Ain’t Gonna Greed My Lord (No More)” is not the technical name for this Woody Guthrie penned track, but it seems a logical fit - and the song remains one of my favorite outtakes from the era. And this version of “At My Window Sad & Lonely” is just a beautiful, stripped down folk version of the song that appeared on Volume 1.

MP3 :: No Poetry
MP3 :: Ain’t Gonna Greed My Lord (No More)
MP3 :: At My Window Sad And Lonely (acoustic)

New Music :: The Roadside Graves

2007 was quite a successful year for the gritty New Jersey band The Roadside Graves. They released the stellar No One Will Know Where You’ve Been - a spirited take on alternative country-rock that takes inspiration from Springsteen, The Band, and The Stones - on Kill Buffalo Records. The album garnered favorable attention from dozens of blogs (including this one - in my top 15 last year), as well as from both Stereogum and Pitchfork. Any regular reader of Pitchfork knows that roots rock is not usually their genre of choice, but No One Will Know Where You’ve Been did very well for itself, scoring quite a bit higher than Sky Blue Sky and nearly equaling the scores of Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams’ most recent efforts combined. The attention was well deserved for these guys - truly one of the country’s finest acts working in the Americana genre.

2008 finds the band looking for a new home, as they have been shopping a set of newly recorded demos around to various labels. Lead singer John Gleason informed us last December that the working title for the new record is My Son’s Home and, from the sound of these 6 tracks, will once again feature the Graves stirring blend of rock ‘n roll, country, folk, blues, and poignant, afflicted storytelling. “Ruby” has been circulating since being featured on Stereogum a few weeks ago - it’s a stomping barroom folk sing- along and easily among the band’s most memorable songs. The working title track, “My Son’s Home”, shows the quieter side of the band, as Gleason turns in a terrific vocal over rolling, circular acoustic guitars. Another new track, “Far And Wide”, was recently featured over at An Aquarium Drunkard and is streaming at their myspace. The band is looking to hook up with a new label and record another batch of songs to augment these - look for a release either later this year or early next. Can’t wait.

MP3 :: Ruby
MP3 :: My Son’s Home
(demos from My Son’s Home. Info here, eventually)

And while we’re at it, here’s a solid little Roadside Graves rarity from an unreleased compilation which, if nothing else, has the strangest name you’ll see all day.

MP3 :: Lot Lizards Ain’t Lip Kissers