Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Favorite Albums from April 2019

OK, I think I like this format of posting what I've been listening to over the past month. So, we'll see how this goes.

There was a lot of good stuff to come out in April, but these three albums really stuck with me.

First up is Rod Melancon's Pinkville. It's at times manic, laid back, country, rock, punk and uncatergorizical (I may have made that word up). Melancon has a unique voice that one could either love or hate. A few times, there is more narrative telling than singing, but it works. The closest comp I can come up with is John Mellencamp deep tracks. Here is "Westgate":

I've been a Melissa Etheridge fan since her first self-titled album came out in 1988. Her latest release, The Medicine Show, may be my favorite since that debut. For this listener, this album seems to recapture the feel of her first two albums. It's not as raw as those first two, but for whatever reason, the edge is back.

The third album is the self-titled debut from Jade Bird. This was not even on my radar until my fellow blogger Megan clued me in. And I'm so glad she did. The 21-year-old singer/songwriter from the UK weaves together a perfect amalgam of country, roots rock, folk and young angst. Think of an Amanda Shires/Lucie Silvas/Alanis Morisette mashup. Yeah, it's diverse and interesting, if you're into that.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Favorite Albums At the Quarter Pole

I admit, I have not written about music for a while. Sorry folks. Life happens. I have been listening.

I'm going to reimagine this blog, maybe. Gonna try to do this monthly, but for now, this is what I've been digging for the first quarter of 2019. Bear with me. I'll try to do better.

In no particular order:

Jenny Lewis - On The Line

Admittedly, this is outside of my wheelhouse. There is not enough swamp there, but the songs are so damned good I could not include it. It's eclectic enough to keep me interested, yet never strays outside of her zone.

Here is one of my favorite songs:

Alice Wallace - Into The Blue

Alice Wallace puts the Western in Country and Western. Specifically California Western. I love that it is unapologetically California. Artists who write albums that encompasses where they're from usually comes off as very authentic. Wallace does it well on Into The Blue. "Echo Canyon" may be the best song I've heard where the music, mood and lyrics mesh so effortlessly and beautifully.

Rival Sons - Feral Roots

By far Feral Roots is the best rock album I've heard this year. I read about a new (to me) term recently: NWOCR, which stands for new wave of classic rock. Rival Sons have nailed it.  Feral Roots is an amalgam of 70s classic rock, Soundgarden and some sounds from doom metal. And it has elements of swamp.

Elles Bailey - Road I Call Home

Elles Bailey's sophomore effort, Road I Call Home, has been called blues or country or roots rock among other things. What it actually is, is a badass collection of 11 songs. Yeah, there are blues elements, country elements, rock elements, but it doesn't really matter. What matters are the songs. And the songs are there in spades.

Adia Victoria - Silences

Adia wants to characterize this album as a blues album. OK. It's not what I think of when I think blues. To my ears it's more in line with the weird, trippy, uncategorical vibes of Kate Vargas. And that's a good thing. I'm a music first guy, if you're music isn't interesting, I don't care about your message/lyrics (and those are for every individual listener to interpret). Silences is interesting and good.

Vandoliers - Forever

Vandoiers debut album The Native was an almost perfect representation of their home state of Texas. They have continued that with their sophomore effort, Forever. It's a fun album and a great listen. And it has more depth than their debut.

Austin Meade - Waves

I've waffled on this album. There is nothing bad, but there is nothing that stands out. But there is enough there there to warrant inclusion. Full disclosure here, I saw him live before I ever heard anything from him. Great live. So that clouds my vision. I understand the restraints of recording. Make the best of what you can with the budget you have. I'll be interested in following his career to see what comes next.

Lauren Jenkins - No Saint

This may be my favorite album early in 2019. The songs are so well-crafted. Even the songs I don't particularly like have redeeming qualities. There's a groove or a hook that can't be denied. And that voice. It has that Stevie Nicks quality that can't be quantified, it just is. This song just resonates with me, dammit it's MY bar. This is from the EP, but you get it.

Diamond Dogs - Honked! All Over Again

OK, this is kind of cheating. This is a 25 year anniversary release to digital. In other words, this is the first time the debut album from the Diamond Dogs is available to stream. It contains some B-sides and extras, I don't know which is what since I just discovered them recently. This Swedish band, heavily influenced by Honky Tonk Woman era Rolling Stones, does it well. It's a fun listen and they seem to be self-aware. From the original album:

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Album Spotlight: Sari Schorr - Never Say Never

Sari Schorr's 2018 release Never Say Never is the kind of blues-infused hard rock that I love. Schorrr's raspy, powerful, badass vocals are definitely the star. But if you've been reading my blog at all, you know it's all about the music first.

Never Say Never reminds me most of an album that not many have heard: When The Blackbird Sings by Saraya. That is a compliment.

Schorr evokes the best of the 80s. Reminiscent of Bonnie Tyler, Stevie Nicks and bluesy hard rock, in the best way. It also has a 70s vibe to it.

Forget what you've heard about rock being dead. It's just being repackaged.

Here's a live clip of "Valentina". Enjoy.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Some Personal Stuff

For those of you that actually read this blog, thank you. And I think I owe you all an explanation.

2018, personally, has been a trying year. A couple of major life events. Some heartache and loss. I won't burden you with the details.

Due to life stuff happening, I have not been able to write as much as I would have liked. Rest assured that I have been listening to music, just not writing.

Music is healing. Music is cathartic. Music is always there when you need it. Sometimes I didn't feel like writing, but I was always listening.

I will do a year end list early after the new year. In the past I've only considered albums I've written about. This year, there is so much good stuff that I never got around to writing about, I'm not following that rule.

I also will not do it typical list style; it will come in the form as a narrative.

2018 was a good year for music. I thank you all for following along and wish I had done more writing.

Here's to a fantastic 2019.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Album Spotlight: Bri Bagwell - In My Defense

First of all, full transparency. Bri Bagwell granted me a Q&A. I've met her a couple of times. We've had exchanges on the tweeter machine. I like her. You can accuse me of bias, and that would be fair. But I also thought when I started doing Q&A's I would not write about an artists music after because of perceived bias. I've changed my stance.

In My Defense, Bagwell's latest album, is too good not to write about. She's got hooks. And more hooks.y

It's a country album from start to finish with tinges of Southern Rock sprinkled in, but it's mostly country from instrumentation to style.

It's an album that is personal and cohesive from start to finish. I know, you've heard it all before "this is my most personal album ever." In this case, it seems legitimate. Bri told me in an email that she wrote a party song, which she said she performs live, but it didn't fit the album.

That's what I mean by cohesive. How many times have you listened to an album and wondered why the hell this song was included? There's none of that here.

I usually focus on sound here, leaving the listener to interpret the lyrics in their own, however I will expound on one song this time. "Cheat On Me" is a song most people can relate to at some point in their lives. Bagwell does an excellent job of telling it from a female perspective, but it's very relatable for the dudes in the audience. I've been there.

Go buy the album. Stream it. See her live. You won't be disappointed.

A live version of my favorite song. Even with technical difficulties and bad camera work, it's good.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Album Spotlight: Jessica Meuse - Halfhearted

I've been sitting on this for a while. Why? Because, for the most part, it's a lot of the same song, thematically, over and over. And it's 15 songs long.

The theme? I'm better off without you since you treated me like garbage. The length? Nine to 11 is the sweet spot for me as far as album length, but since this was four years in the making...

I could easily dismiss Jessica Meuse's debut album Halfhearted on either of the aforementioned premises. But here's the thing: The songs are so damned good musically.

Halfhearted definitely leans Country. But not in the way one would expect. There are songs that would comfortably fit into the modern definition of Country Radio (though she has no chance, because she's a "she"). Then there are the songs that would nestle nicely into late 70s/early 80s country. That and the Southern Rock influence.

Jessica's voice is not soaring vocal gymnastics ala Carrie Underwood, but it suits the songs. Much like Stevie Nicks.

Probably not the best way to introduce an album that I really, really like. But despite what I said above, Jessica Meuse has put together a great album.

Halfhearted is diverse (and regular readers know how I love diversity), And here is the thing, I'm an album guy, and this album, you can put it on and listen to it start to finish and be satisfied. Does that sound like a ringing endorsement? Nope. But it is.

I like the album. Here are some songs. Judge for yourself.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Album Spotlight: Kate Vargas - For The Wolfish and Wandering

Kate Vargas doesn't follow any of your silly rules or conventions.

Song structure? Screw that, let the song go where the song goes. Don't clean up the string noise. Leave in the imperfections. Let the songs speak for themselves.

For The Wolfish & Wandering is a masterpiece of imperfections and genius. And we haven't even gotten to the voice. That voice.

Kate Vargas has one of the most unique voices in music today. Combine the voice with the weird, trippy songs and just enjoy.

I could write 500 words on each song, but that would be going too deep in the weeds.

Kate Vargas cannot be placed in any genre, except maybe the genre of good music. She is weird, trippy, spooky, elegant, beautiful, raw, real and current.

Here is the vid for "Affliction". Enjoy

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Album Spotlight: Amanda Shires - To the Sunset

Amanda Shires put out a damned rock album. Deal with it because To the Sunset is great.

I could go into details here, but I have something in the works. A collaboration.

Here is what I'll say now because I've heard some rumblings that producer Dave Cobb has gone outside his box to produce a rock album. Cobb produced the last two Europe albums (yes, "The Final Countdown" Europe), and he has also produced Southern rockers Whiskey Myers.

Amanda Shires, rock goddess. In the realm of Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks and Grace Slick.

Here's a vid:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

ZZ Ward Show Experience

Saw ZZ Ward on 5/18/18 in Austin at Emo's.

First of all, never miss the opening act, you never know what you might miss. Opening for ZZ Ward was the trio consisting of brothers from the UK with an American drummer called the Ruen Brothers. They were a blast.

I don't know how to exactly to describe what they did. It was kind of a rockabilly/country/California surf punk/50s/Brit pop mashup. Go figure. I'd never heard any of their songs before, as I'm sure a large percentage of the crowd had not, but they kept everyone engaged throughout their 40 minute set.

To me, that's what separates the good live entertainers from the bad; if no one knows the songs, is the crowd still engaged? They did that.

I'm a recent fan of ZZ Ward since hearing her most recent album The Storm, which I wrote about.

Ward is an exceptional performer, vocally fantastic with her unique voice, playing harmonica, guitar and keys at various points throughout the show. She transitioned smoothly between full band and acoustic, blues and beats.

I'l admit, I'm not fully versed in her full catalog, but the songs I didn't recognize had me just as engaged as the songs I was familiar with. See above, but to me, that's what makes an artist truly great in a live setting.

Ward is heavily influenced by the blues, and that is where she and her band really shined. More blues rock than straight blues, but her set was heavy in that area and the crowd (and I) really dug that.

I understand the draw to recreate the album as close as possible, but the only criticism I have of the show is the use of pre-recorded music for a few songs. She, and her band, are good enough to pull off the songs without it. It was obvious, and they didn't try to hide it. It did not take away from the enjoyment of most patrons, but as a music nerd, it bothered me. I'd rather hear a stripped down version of the song than trying to emulate the album exactly, but that's just me.

Other than that, the show was awesome. She commands the stage. Her band is fantastic. Packed in the music, not much banter, one song to the next. You get your money's worth at a ZZ Ward show.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Favorite Power Ballads From 1988-1992

Loudwire put out their best power ballads of all time that don't suck. I don't think they understand what a power ballad is.

Before I saw that article, this happened. I'm a big college football fan and Andy Staples, who writes for Sports Illustrated about college football, has a column every Monday which includes a "Random Ranking". Via Twitter, I asked Staples if he'd ever done a random ranking on power ballads between 1988 and 1992. He replied that it would be in this week's column, You'll need to scroll past the football stuff to get to it if you're not a fan.

Why 1988 to 1992? Because that was power ballad prime and power ballad hell, concurrently. Then Nirvana blew the whole thing to shreds.

What follows are my Top 10 Favorites. Notice I didn't say "best". That's subjective. "Favorites" lets you know that it's subjective.

1. "I Remember You", Skid Row. This song perfected what the power ballad is supposed to be. A tame, acoustic opening. Hints of power in the verses. A bombastic, memorable chorus. The ramp up in the bridge before the guitar solo. Bring it down for the third verse before blowing out the final choruses with Sebastian Bach's soaring vocals.

2. "House of Pain", Faster Pussycat. Harmonica intro into acoustic verse. This one may not fit the classic definition because it actually has some real meaning behind the lyrics. Taime Down has, shall we say, an interesting voice. But it has the memorable chorus. Tasty electric guitar solo. It doesn't have the signature bridge. What can I say, it's one of my favorites and it's my list.

3. "Ballad of Jayne", L.A. Guns. Familiar acoustic start through the verse and chorus. This one, again, has more meaning behind it, being that it's about someone who has passed. Goes with the electric guitar solo. More subdued than others, before transitioning back to acoustic. And we get some strings towards the end.

4. "Heartbreak Station", Cinderella. I could probably put three Cinderella songs on this list, but I'm just going to stick with this one. Tom Keifer as a ballad writer is unmatched. You get the lap slide solo in this one. You get the piano ballad from "Don't Know What You Got" and the more pure power ballad in "Nobody's Fool", just to name a few.

5. "I Saw Red", Warrant. OK, I know most people, if they were to choose a Warrant song would choose "Heaven". Not me. This is just an old fashioned cheatin' song. And he's very nonchalant about it. He didn't see his face, but he saw hers and closed the door and now he's not going to love her anymore. So simple, yet so poignant. Then the bridge before the solo, we get the pain and anger.

6. "Close My Eyes Forever", Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. I'm not sure if this may not be the best song on my list. But it fails to make the top stop on the spirit of the list because it has too many epic qualities. It's a great song, but a bit over-produced and over-dramatic, but I can't not include it.

7. "Love's A Loaded Gun", Alice Cooper. Hey, if Ozzy and Lita can get into the power ballad game, why not Alice? Of course Alice puts his own twisted twist on the power ballad by making it about a call girl that he's in love with/stalking?

8. "Something To Believe In", Poison. OK, I know, "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" is the popular choice. I don't know, I like my power ballads to have some substance. And besides this is the superior song.

9. "Fly To The Angels", Slaughter. I think Mark Slaughter oversings everything, but that's just him. It doesn't take away from the greatness of this song. Again, this song has some meaning to it. I don't know, maybe it's just me getting older, but mostly I'm not here for the superfluous. Don't get wrong, I still like my nonsense, but don't give me meaningless fluff.

10. "Love Of A Lifetime", Firehouse. This is not a great song. Why do I include this? Because this is the kind of schlock that killed an era and led to grunge. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Number 10 should always be a wildcard, right? Or make a point? The previous nine are good songs. This is just what happened.