Overdue: Two Albums That Should’ve Made My List

Posted by Payton | Posted in album review, best of 2009 | Posted on 03-31-2010

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It’s now the end of March – one-quarter of the year down. Just three months ago, I made my picks for albums/songs of the year. I gave you a list of 20 albums I believed to be the best of the year 2009. Now, I listen to A LOT of music, but as much as I try, I simply can’t filter through all that comes my way. Through these 3 months, I’ve had time to digest the multitude of tracks that I downloaded at the end of year preparing my lists. Here are 2 albums that, if I were to go back, would’ve made my list:

The first sorely overlooked album is Vetiver’s Tight Knit. The band, now on their 4th album, has often been associated with ‘freak folk’ acts like Devandra Banhart and Joanna Newsom, but I find their brand of folk to be far from freak. I’ve sampled Vetiver’s back-catalog since picking up this disc, and much of it is quite pleasant. Their songs tend to be low-key but feature prominent bass lines that create an equally lazy and positive vibe. Nowhere better have they found this niche than on Tight Knit.

A single song from this album found its way to me by list-making time and made my Top 50. ‘Everyday’ is easily the most accessible song from the album, but as you may have guessed from me taking the time to write about Tight Knit, it’s definitely not the only good track. The album begins the way I like ‘em – with an easy-going acoustic number. They increase the groove throughout the next couple tracks, but for the most part, the first side of the album remains peaceful. Beginning with ‘On The Other Side’, things start to get more interesting. ‘More of This’ stands out as the liveliest track in the set with a soft-punk guitar leading the way. Tracks 8 and 9 takes the sound a little lower to the ground with a hint of jazz. The final track, ‘At Forest Edge’, brings things full circle, setting the album down softly. The interesting mix of tempos and overall mellow attitude make Tight Knit a completely listenable album best enjoyed from a turntable on a lazy Sunday. Try it out.

Vetiver - On The Other Side
Vetiver - More of This
buy Tight Knit: [CD][Vinyl][mp3]


Not only did I miss this album last year, I also missed a chance to catch Dawes live back in 2009. They played a string of shows opening for This Mornin’ favorite Deer Tick and made a stop in Austin (check out a review of DT’s show with photos). Not having heard of Dawes, we decided to skip the opener in lieu of cheaper drinks down the road. Poor decision.

I downloaded Dawes’ debut North Hills just before finalizing my year-end lists. Their impassioned, harmony-laden ‘Give Me Time’ caught my ears first and sneaked in to my Top 50 Songs list. But that song is simply one of eleven amazing tracks. North Hills is a very accessible sort of Americana. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith leads the band’s chill-inducing harmonies with a smooth, almost familiar voice. North Hills supplies just about every variant of the folk/Americana sound you could ask for. Songs like ‘Love Is All I Am’ and ‘Bedside Manner’ keep the instruments subdued, allowing Goldsmith’s tender lyrics to come through bare and personal. Electric guitars are turned up in ‘When You Call My Name’ and ‘When My Time Comes’ creating a full sound that come across as uniquely Dawes. The rhythm section ushers in ‘My Girl To Me’, an impressively busy bass line keeping the groove. Although the stellar harmonies are present throughout, they boys of Dawes are simply showing off on ‘Give Me Time’ and ‘Take Me Out of the City’. I could go on, but just know that had I given North Hills a proper listen last year, it would have easily been a Top 5 album.

Dawes - When My Time Comes
Dawes - Bedside Manner
buy North Hills: [CD][Vinyl][mp3]


Dawes deservedly found themselves abuzz earlier this month at SXSW. Playing shows alongside last year’s breakout act Deer Tick sure didn’t hurt their cause. Even more, Taylor Goldsmith joined forces with DT’s John McCauley and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit to create of supergroup of prodigies who call themselves, simply, MG&V. They debuted at SXSW and you can catch some videos here.

New Digs: The Happen-Ins (Exclusive Tracks)

Posted by Payton | Posted in album release, album review, exclusive, new digs | Posted on 03-03-2010

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Austin is a music city – we all know that. From South Austin up to 6th Street, Town Lake to Lake Austin and beyond, you can find any genre of music that could possibly fit your ears. But take an eastward turn under I-35 and things begin to change. Instead of a background of competing soundwaves from bands up and down the street, East Austin offers a soundtrack of sirens and catcalls. That is unless you find yourself close enough to whatever dive The Happen-Ins are playing in that night.

Born from the ashes of numerous Austin bands, The Happen-Ins honed their blues riffs in an East Austin garage before taking their show to the streets. In the last six months, they have amassed quite a loyal following – not huge – but consisting of the right kind of folks. Don’t be surprised to find a few well-known musicians enjoying their Austin nights off by taking in a Happen-Ins show. Providing much of the guitar-work and a healthy portion of lead vocals is Sean Faires – you may recognize his name as one-half of The Dedringers, a now defunct Texas band filled out by Jonny Burke (who’s also got his own thing going this past year). Ricky Ray Jackson (Hayes Carll, Lomita, Brothers and Sisters) sings lead on just about half of the disc, his songs sporting a bluesy-er feel. When not up at the mic, Ricky Ray offers his talents on the pedal steel, feeding a solid stream of a Byrds-style country sound to the album. John Michael Schoepf (Hayes Carll, Deadman, The Dedringers) provides a knee-knocking bass guitar to the set. On the drums, you’ll find Paul ‘Falcon’ Valdez, who has played with the likes of Eleanor Whitmore around Austin.

Photo by Alexandra Valenti

Set for a March 4th release (March 12th on Vinyl), The Happen-Ins’ self-titled debut proves that all you need to make great music is a mutual love for a good groove and a nurturing home base… and maybe a little talent. The Happen-Ins’ lineup could be be considered a supergroup – each member coming from previous successful bands, and each player superbly apt at their role. The band’s retro yet virginal sound is rooted in Sean Faire’s energetic guitar. The album is brimming with head-bobbingly memorable guitar riffs, most sporting Sean’s unique overhand bic lighter-style of slide. ‘Never Said’ leads things off with a bang – distorted guitars, a backing chorus, and a little spite for the girl that didn’t quite understand the romantic arrangement. The album’s sexual undertones climax with ‘Do It’, and, yes, that’s exactly what they mean. This theme continues with an album highlight, the short but sweet ‘Die’, in which Sean implores that “you better get some love before you die.” Hit after hit, you find yourself immediately recognizing the first notes and thinking “ooh this is a good one.” What sets this band apart from your usual hometown blues outfit is the quality of the songs, often highlighted with 4-part vocals. Towards the end of the disc, The Happen-Ins show their versatility, laying off the heaviness and letting their folk-roots (‘Bashful’) show through  the leftover reverb from the disc’s beginnings. But capping off the set is ‘The Kids Don’t Dance’, a groovy number that leaves you with a greasy, somewhat violated taste in your mouth, similar to what a Happen-Ins live show down on the East side will do to you.

The disc’s liner notes contain some vital listening suggestions:  “While preparing your listening experience, it don’t matter where you put your hands, where you sit or where you stand, this machine kills pessimists. We bring that John the Conqueroo, the rest ain’t really up to you. Calling all hens to the coop… If your body hasn’t already begun to move you’re closer now than ever before. Expect palpitations, perspirations and motivations to stomp the floor.” Very true.

The Happen-Ins – Baby
The Happen-Ins – You’ve Been Bad

[Purchase The Happen-Ins through Amazon.com]
Pick up another track as part of LimeWire’s Ear To The Ground: Austin Sampler

Sure, it’s fuzzy. But it’s supposed to be. Funk & Roll, as I like to call it, should be loud, distorted, and at times gibberish. The Happen-Ins take their influential queues from the best of the Rock & Roll and R&B/Blues worlds. You’ll find a heavy dose of Stones-esque guitars, mixed in with a little Muddy Waters lyrical confusion, and highlighted by by a Townes-inspired style of songwriting.

The Happen-Ins will obviously be present throughout SXSW this month, and I predict they make out like Deer Tick did last year. The album has a very limited pressing, so if you’re going, I suggest you make grabbing it your top priority. The CD will only be available through Austin’s own Waterloo Records, but you can grab it digitally at Amazon. Catch the band’s LP Release Party March 12th at The Scoot Inn… East Austin.

The Happen-Ins: [facebook][MySpace]

Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell

Posted by Payton | Posted in album review, bonus disc, ryan adams spotlight | Posted on 11-11-2009

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My last official post in the Ryan Adams Spotlight (since filled in with Viva la Vinyls and an Evolution of Song) was way back in March. In my Rock N Roll review, I mentioned that Love Is Hell was supposed to be the follow up to Demolition but was rejected (or rather put on the back-burner) by Lost Highway. Ryan subsequently recorded Rock N Roll to assuage his label, who released the blistering disc in November of 2003. And as reciprocation, Lost Highway also quietly released Love is Hell, Pt 1 the same day. The remainder of the selection of songs that would eventually become the complete collection were released as Love Is Hell, Pt 2 a month later in December of 2003. It wasn’t until May of ‘04 that the label felt it necessary to re-issue the collection as one complete set.

Ryan says LIH is “a lot like Heartbreaker, but better and more severe.” I can get on board with the latter. “It’s complex and it’s damaged, a genuine, freaked-out, psychedelic wall of soundscape, and I think for subject matter it can’t be beat.” As far as subject matter goes – and while we’re making Heartbreaker comparisons – it’s much more personal in content than his debut. He also says its “me totally being me. It was the record I needed to make.” But if Ryan has ever been accused of being the sad-bastard type of singer/songwriter, then LIH is him at his sad-bastardest.

The album isn’t his strongest, either looking forward or back, but it may just contain some of his strongest and most underrated songs. The sad part is, none of these come until the latter part of the album (or Pt. 2, if you prefer the EPs). This may be the reason that the album never became a fan favorite or was ever referred to as one of his better albums. If I were a casual listener, I would have a hard time making it to Side 2 before giving up on the album. It begins with the weakest album-opener in his repertoire, ‘Politcal Scientist‘. Afraid Not Scared‘ follows only to bore me further, going so far as to slightly annoy me with its repetitious, droll lines. Each of the 5 or so opening tracks can be considered a microcosm for the entire album itself: sure, there are some good (even great) parts, but on the whole, the depressing, metallic feel of it all overwhelms.

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I And Love And You: The Curious Case of the Missing Banjo…

Posted by Payton | Posted in album release, album review | Posted on 09-28-2009

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I’ve had a digital copy of The Avett BrothersI And Love And You for over a month now. The fact that I haven’t said anything about it yet is a little telling. For one, because of the brothers’ new label/record deal, I have been afraid to post (leak) any songs too far prior to release day (tomorrow). On the other had, maybe I haven’t shared anything from the album for the simple reason that I’m not too thrilled with it.

Upon learning about the band’s label switch and plans to record with the famous Rick Rubin, I was immediately torn. Good for them. Potentially bad for the music. As I’ve made clear before, I grew up on ‘Texas Music’ and was indoctrinated with the “Nashville Sucks” mentality, which despised anything considered major label or big-time. To say the least, the term Sell-Out was heedlessly thrown around at the first sign of an increased paycheck. While I’ve since learned that the devil doesn’t reside in Tennessee, and in most cases, a band’s musical direction is ultimately an inside decision, a little part of me dies inside every time a favorite band jumps a rung in the music world.

I And Love And You is a good album. There are a couple of great songs. But it will never compare to Emotionalism. End of story.

OK, well… not the end of this one. I’ve got a few points to hit on. The biggest turn-off from the disc is the blatant lack of banjo. It may be a genre-polarizing instrument, but Lord, don’t completely take it away. Scott admittedly doesn’t play the banjo in the traditional fashion – but that’s what makes it so exceptional. At some point he picked up the instrument and figured out how to make music with it. So what he’s not playing clawhammer. He makes the banjo as much a percussion instrument as a stringed one. It only makes a few scattered cameos on IALAY, the first of which may just be my favorite song from the album.

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Following The Elephant….

Posted by Payton | Posted in album release, album review | Posted on 06-23-2009

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There were only two debut albums that made my Best of 2007 list, but both of them placed very high. The KooksInside In/Inside Out was my 2nd best album for that year, while Deer Tick’s War Elephant took the 3rd spot. The reason I bring this up is that breaking onto the scene with a knockout album can often be a blessing and a curse for a new band. With every subsequent release, critics will continue to use that stellar introduction disc as a barometer of sorts – at least until they outdo themselves. While some never do, I have faith that both The Kooks and Deer Tick will someday surpass the success of their first albums – though neither quite have with their second.

Leading up to the release of The Kooks’ follow-up, I anticipated that they may have a tough time matching the effect of their debut. Konk, alone, from the British rockers didn’t even come close to the greatness that was Inside In. If it hadn’t been for the inclusion of the Rak Bonus Disc, I may have completely forgotten about the album, but this set of extra songs served as a little precursor to what the band has in store in the future – and I’m excited for it. Check out an old post on that bonus disc here.

I didn’t have any of the same reservations before Born On Flag Day dropped (today, officially). I never doubted that John McCauley, now with a tight-knit band behind him, would pull off another superb set and blow the doors open. I can’t say that Deer Tick has done exactly that, but first, let’s explore this new wax.

As Far as making an entrance goes, ‘Easy‘ does its job and grabs your attention. Loud, driving, angry… all while still very much under control. The biting lyrics and la bamba-esque riff in the chorus make the song stay with you. In fact, this track was the only pre-release preview we got, so I’ve been spinning for about a month and find myself singing it all the time. But by the time the album hit my doorstep, the track was old-news and this makes for slightly less excitement when it happens now. The same can be said for some of the other tracks. ‘Little White Lies‘ and ‘The Ghost’ were displayed at their Daytrotter Session as well as a live show I have. About the same time I picked up War Elephant, I found an early recording of ‘Hell On Earth.’ While all of these songs were vastly improved in the studio for this record (The Ghost, especially with the addition of a whining harmonica), much of the freshness has been used up.

But that, folks, is where my disappointment ends. The ‘new’ tracks are just about all I could have asked for. Well-written, well-structured laments full of bare-faced emotion and building tempos. One of the most impressive aspects of War Elephant was the wide range of influence present in the song styling. Born On Flag Day lengthens this range with hints of John Prine (‘Song About A Man’), Chuck Berry (‘Straight Into A Storm’), and even some classic 50’s-style melodies and vocals (‘Stung’).

A fresh voice enters the mix on ‘Friday XIII’ when Liz Isenberg, another Providence native, joins John in a duet she co-wrote. She goes from simple harmony addition to taking on a verse herself, and they finish with some fast paced call-and-answer vocals.

The album is capped of with a live sing-along (hidden track) of the classic bar-closer ‘Goodnight Irene’ sure to give new Deer Tick fans a glimpse into the Deer Tick live experience and drink-loving demeanor.

My favorite line on the disc comes in the aforementioned ‘The Ghost’ as an irrelevant Surgeon General’s warning doesn’t phase John, simply for the fact that he is neither pregnant, nor a woman:

“There’s a label on the bottle that I read
But it don’t have a thing to do with me
I ain’t carrying no child; it’s only dreams I got inside
And tonight they’re getting drunk with me”

All that said, I can’t put this new one above Deer Tick’s debut. As is often the case, you can never duplicate your first experience with a new band, so maybe I’m just spoiled. Thanks guys.

Song About A Man
Straight Into A Storm

Pick up Born On Flag Day today.
CD: [Direct/Amazon]

Vinyl: [Direct/Amazon]
Digital: [iTunes/Amazon]

For a limited time, grab a download of War Elephant for $5 at Amazon.

Mailbox Music: Bomb, Bomb, Bomb (not a repost)

Posted by Payton | Posted in album release, album review, mailbox music | Posted on 06-02-2009

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If you take a look back at the archives – or at the Mailbox Music feature link – you’ll see back in April of 2008 I had a post with this same title. Ramseur spark plugs Bombadil had contacted me and shot over a copy of their debut full-length, A Buzz, A Buzz. I immensely enjoyed the freshness and originality of the album – and band for that matter.

Well guess what? The guys from Bombadil were generous enough to contact me saying that they had a copy of their newest disc, Tarpits and Canyonlands (out on Ramseur July 7th) with my name on it. How thoughtful. Last weekend, I picked up my care package (complete with personalized note).

Tarpits starts where A Buzz left off, building upon an already strong base of inventive folk music whose influences span the dial and the globe. Not only has the Peruvian flute returned on this new album, but one song is sung entirely in Spanish – and beautifully done, by the way. They move on to pay tribute to the capital of Malaysia in a groovy tune called ‘Kuala Lumpur.’ This world-traveling theme is echoed in the artwork for Tarpits. The album title was taken from a short narrative written by Matthew Swanson (art by Robbi Behr) that is reproduced along the folds of the album case. Buy the album for this inspiring artwork alone and you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve often thought that while lyrics have the ability to evolve along with the human race, melodies and structures are a non-renewable resource bound to one day run out. I still don’t know if that’s quite true, but if it is, Bombadil has gotten us much closer to that day. The band has used way more than their fair share of original melodies, tempo changes, and out-right ‘what just happened’s’ on their two albums. As long as we have fresh minds like theirs behind the controls, we should be good for another couple eons.

What surprised me about Bombadil’s first album was an element I looked forward to on this new one: a band that obviously shines when multiple elements are working together at a lightning pace can downshift so effortlessly and provide us with a beautifully simple love song.

Bombadil – Reasons

But as I said, you can’t speak of Bombadil without mentioning the barrel of fun that is their controlled chaos.

Bombadil – Oto The Bear

Pre-order Tarpits and Canyonlands (7-7-09)

Purchase A Buzz, A Buzz
Also get their self-titled debut EP

I got quite a chuckle when I imported the disc into my iTunes as the suggested genre was set to ‘unclassifiable‘ – I couldn’t agree more. I’m never quite sure what it is I’m listening to with Bombadil, but I don’t care.

~I would like to send well-wishes out to the band, Daniel in particular, who is suffering from tendinitis that has caused the band to cancel their tour until he can recover. Get well soon, then come play some shows in Texas.~

Check out Mailbox Music: Bomb, Bomb, Bomb (original)

This post will hopefully begin a resurgence of those feature posts I initiated last year; Mailbox Music being severely neglected. I don’t get discs in the mail every week, but I DO get songs in my email every day. So I will make more of an effort to give these a try and share them with you.

In The Toolbox: Begonias (2005)

Posted by Payton | Posted in Uncategorized, album review, toolbox | Posted on 05-06-2009

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I never have understood the term ‘critically acclaimed.’ I mean, if the acclaim of critics is important enough to note at every chance, shouldn’t people (record companies for one) take their opinions more seriously. The term instead has become a stigmatic warning that equates to one saying “this record didn’t sell shit, but I – and a few of my colleagues – really dig it.”
But it really is a shame that the opinions of some of the most qualified music aficionados out there fall upon deaf ears. The people that make the decision of ‘what should I listen to’ for the majority of the country are money-minded, corporate radio operators and mega-conglomerate record execs. This leaves the nation blindly believing that what they hear on their speakers is the best music out there. If only they knew………..

Can you imagine if the Midwest housewife that grew up on a diet of Patsy Cline and Porter Wagoner knew what Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell did for country music back in ‘05? Well, they made Begonias, a stunningly beautiful REAL country album. By the way – it was critically acclaimed all over the place – just check out this rap sheet.

Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell – Begonias
(Yep Roc, 2005)

Caitlin, the velvet-voiced violinist formerly of Whiskeytown, found in Thad a perfectly complimentary tenor tone. Thad Cockrell, the son of a baptist preacher, took to songwriting in college and when the two found themselves looking for work in Raleigh, NC, the pieces just fell into place. Begonias is at once sad, classic country and hopeful, modern folk.

The disc strolls in with a modest-tempo tune, Thad leading the way. Immediately you recognize the effortlessness in his upper-range tenor. Caitlin covers the last line in the first verse with angelic harmony, setting the tone for what will prove to be a record of vocal perfection.

Two Different Things

The duo keeps the album fresh with each track; “Something Less Than Something More” unique in its contrast. Heavy steel guitar and haunting vocals are countered by driving tom brushes that keep the song moving. “Second Option” can easily be considered the stand out alt-country tune with an original melody, electric guitar sparingly displayed, and even a timely bridge/solo break. But just as Begonias has picked up speed and lifted spirits, Caitlin drops you to your knees with her a capella intro to “Please Break My Heart.” This throwback tune evokes a long-lost Patsy Cline/Buddy Holly collaboration, toeing the line between country gold and doo-wap.

The album highlight comes at track 7. Truly one of the most beautifully written and performed songs I’ve heard, “Warm and Tender Love” is what country music should sound like. This song simply speaks for itself.

Warm and Tender Love

The back half of the disc does have its low points, interestingly coming from the faster-paced songs that come across as hokey. The album, however, finishes very strong. Written from an interesting point of view, “Conversations About A Friend” tells the story of the fate of a pair of lovers from the perspective of the friends that originally set them up. Caitlin and Thad take you back South, where they dread the cold winter days, “Waiting on June.” Country music is inherently sad, and this album stays true to that. Not in the clichéd ‘my wife left me and my dog died’ fashion, but in pure, heartbreaking stories told in the simplest way. Begonias is wrapped up with its saddest effort. Sparse insturmentation allows the couple’s dripping vocals to shine in the beginning of this desperate tune, but when the emotion has nowhere else to go, it manifests itself into a full band escort to the “Big House.”

Big House

So there’s just one more bit of ‘critical acclaim’ for Caitlin and Thad. It may not get them played on any mainstream radio show, and may only equate to a few more album sales, but if I can get the word out to enough ears, the music will do the work itself.

Purchase Begonias [Direct] [Amazon] [iTunes]

Caitlin Cary [Website][MySpace]
Thad Cockrell [Website][MySpace]

Previously Posted on In The Toolbox:
Dublin Blues
John Prine
Red Headed Stranger

Yonder Is The Clock….

Posted by Payton | Posted in album release, album review | Posted on 04-07-2009

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I said at some point in the past that 2008 was the breakout year for The Felice Brothers. Now, I can’t quite say that they have broken into nationwide stardom by any account, but within the circle of the music world I run in, they’ve jumped quite a few rungs. The biggest test of a new(ish) band recently elevated in notoriety is keeping up with the Joneses. Can they match, or better yet surpass, the clout of their ‘breakout album?’ Long story short – The Felices are way cooler than the Joneses.

I’ve been spinning an early copy of Yonder Is The Clock (2009, Team Love) for the last few weeks and the simple fact that I’ve continued to listen is testament enough. The Felice Brothers’ new disc (which, by my count, is their fifth album) delivers on all levels. Sure, the album contains as many skippable tracks (they can become rather stagnant at times) as any of their previous efforts, but that has yet to make a single one any less enjoyable. The new one borrows equally from each of their earlier collections but matures in all the categories that really count.

The songwriting – and vocals for that matter – falls mainly on the shoulders of Ian Felice. His ability to create characters that perfectly fit his whiskey-graveled, heart-broken yet optimistic howl is the band’s strongest attribute. Here, Ian shows progress in his lyrics as well as his melodic awareness. Also showing much improvement on Yonder… is the instrumentation of the rest of the gang. Simone’s unorthodox percussion is sharper than ever, helping to push the songs through unique arrangements and single-handedly driving the handful of groovy breakdowns present on the new album. James’ tasteful accordion brings more of a zydeco ambiance, rather than the polka-feel it previously added.

‘Big Surprise’ is a one of the boys’ slower tunes that works well. Whether it’s the sporadic yet commanding rhythm of the drum kit or Ian’s foreboding lyrics, the song serves as a perfect intro. It pleads the listener to sit and thoughtfully take the album in. The brothers used this same ploy at the show I caught in Austin, opening with the song on an unlit stage.

To come through on his lyrical and emotional promise, Ian leads track two to the other side of the tempo spectrum. ‘Penn Station’ is easily one of the standout tracks, recalling the allure of ‘Frankie’s Gun.’ The song sounds like an impromptu performance played at the party celebrating the narrator’s resurrection. Never a writer to shy away from the theme of death, Ian also brings us ‘Chicken Wire,’ a lively blues progression with an infectious melody. He seems to almost enjoy the inevitability of his eventual resting place on the ocean floor.

To be honest, much of the middle of the disc borders on sappy, ‘Ambulance Man’ taking the elevator to the basement and ‘Sailor Song’ finding a dark closet once there. The love ballad ‘Katie Dear’ offers light solace, aided by a well-chosen horn solo. But things are thrown back in the fast lane with ‘Run Chicken Run.’ Barn-stomping fiddle, zydeco accordion, and chorale backups paint a picture of the dreadful fate of a low-man in the underbelly of NYC boroughs. Simone Felice takes the lead for a surprisingly peaceful ditty in ‘All When We Were Young.’ ‘Boy From Lawrence County,’ dripping with desperation, reminds me of ‘Rockefeller Druglaw Blues’ – simple acoustic guitar overlayed with accordion. This is where The Felice Brothers shine, albeit not overly obvious.

If you had any question as to how the band plays live, ‘Memphis Flu’ is your ticket to a packed barroom with The Felice Brothers. It may not always stay under control, or even be coherent, but it sure is fun. Track 12 of 13 is the ultimate treasure on the album. ‘Cooperstown’ is simple, elegant, and perfectly written. A Neal Young-esque upper-range acoustic lick intercedes verses that effortlessly tie the lessons the great American pastime into life experiences.

The Felice Brothers have created yet another essential element to any Americana collection – even if it’s a portrait of a dusky, backwoods America.

The Big Surprise

Purchase Yonder Is The ClockCD/Vinyl/MP3

Ryan Adams: Rock N Roll

Posted by Payton | Posted in album review, ryan adams spotlight | Posted on 03-28-2009

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Rock N Roll…. loud, unfiltered, adored, maligned, epic.

But before I get into all that, you must know that Rock N Roll was not intended to be the follow-up record to Demolition (neither was Demolition Ryan’s proposed record, but I digress). In 2002, Ryan began a transition, some might say a regression, toward a heavier sound. Full electric lineups turned up to 11. He formed yet another punk band, The Finger, with Jesse Malin and a few others under a pseudonymous shield. Ryan (Warren Peace) provided dirty guitar. They released 2 EP’s – which I have – but will spare your ears the posting of them (check out the answeringbell.com page for full artwork/credits).

Sensing the inevitable sound transformation, Ryan wanted to record one more (last?) down-tempo, sentimental album. Love Is Hell was recorded in New York in 2002 – more on this in the future – but was not accepted by Lost Highway. They reportedly complained that the collection was “too alternative,” “incredibly depressing,” and “not your best stuff.” Again, the label wanted Ryan to recreate the success of Gold, most-likely telling him to create more of a rock and roll sound. Ryan took that and ran.

Straight back to the studio with a group of friends, Ryan recorded what would be a metaphorical slap-in-the-face to Lost Highway: A record spitefully entitled Rock N Roll. The set is blatant, forceful rock that is the furthest overlap of Ryan’s therapeutic but never-serious side projects into his ‘real’ work.

“Rock N Roll is unadulterated–it’s the way I play guitar live. It’s the exact sound I always use when I make the demonstration recordings for my records. The other albums are concept records a little bit, but I wasn’t trying to reference anything here.” – Ryan Adams

Present in the studio during the two-week recordings were Smashing Pumpkins/Hole bassist Melissa Auf de Maur, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong – whom Ryan shockingly resembled during this time – and his then love interest Parker Posey.

R&R isn’t shy in expressing it’s contempt, both lyrically and musically. Powerful guitar riffs become instant classics in songs like ‘Shallow,’ ‘Wish You Were Here,’ ‘So Alive,’ and ‘Do Miss America.’ Most songs on the collection end in huge crescendos of drums, vocals and reverb. That is, except one. Keeping with the sarcasm theme, the title track is the only cut to not feature amped-up guitars. This depressingly slow ballad features only Ryan on piano and vocals:

“Everybody’s cool playin’ rock and roll.
Everybody’s cool playin’ rock and roll.
I don’t feel cool, feel cool at all.
I don’t feel cool, feel cool at all.”

‘Rock N Roll’ concludes with a grainy voice mail from a terrified Courtney Love. The barely discernible audio may have helped to spurn the recent lash-out from the troubled songstress in which she accused Ryan of draining all of her daughter Frances Bean Cobain’s trust fund. The money was allegedly used to fund studio costs, guitars, expensive dinners at Nobu, and plenty of speedballs. She claims that the costs added up to a cool $858,000 and goes on to completely bash the album itself, calling it “one of the worst recordings [she's] ever heard.” Read the entire, ridiculous thing here.

Ryan’s left-handed sarcasm shows through only in somewhat lackluster writing. Nearly every song concludes with repetitions of cliché rock phrasing – “just like magic” “wish you were here” “the drugs ain’t working“taking me higher!” This element is frighteningly similar to the problems I had with Cardinology, but on Rock N Roll, it all works to add up to an effective statement of defiance toward authority. And that’s the ultimate goal of rock and roll, right?

Well, I wasn’t arrogant in the beginning; I was naive. I didn’t know to not speak about my music like I totally believed in it.”

Read the whole interview, conducted by Parker Posey.


Now for the good stuff: Bonus Tracks

Rock N Roll [UK/Japan Bonus Tracks] Nov, 2003

Funeral Marching
posted here

So Alive [International Single CD1] Jan, 2004

Ah Life
Don’t Even Know Her Name

So Alive [International Single CD2] Jan, 2004

I’m Coming Over

So Alive [International 7" Single] Jan, 2004


This Is It [Single] May 2004

Red Lights
Closer When She Goes
Twice As Bad As Love

Ryan Adams: The Swedish Sessions….

Posted by Payton | Posted in album review, ryan adams spotlight | Posted on 02-08-2009

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Oh, how I love the internet. If you spend enough time just trolling around, little nuggets of gold can be found. I was under the impression that I had collected, reviewed, and posted all of the studio sessions that helped form Ryan Adams’ Demolition, but if you look back at that post, you’ll see that one song, ‘You Will Always Be The Same’ was not credited with a session of birth. That tune was originally recorded in October of 2001 during what would the final studio session needed to complete Demolition.

Ryan took some time during an overseas tour to stop in at Nord Studio AB in Stockholm, Sweden and lay down yet another album’s worth of tracks. The Swedish Sessions rival 48 Hours as the best unreleased album in his repertoire. Hell, this one may even go twelve rounds with Heartbreaker. The Swedish Sessions are in fact very reminiscent of that solo debut. When Ryan is plaintive and full acoustic, it’s downright heartbreaking. But somehow, he can mix in a screaming harmonica fueled jam in the middle and it just works.

The two lead-off tracks were unfortunately the only survivors from the session. ‘For Beth’ was later renamed ‘Friends’ and became the final track on Cold Roses. ‘Dear Anne’, a song dedicated to Anne Frank, is an obvious standout with Ryan’s classic vulnerable yet so emotive soft vocals.

Track 4 busts in the room with a slick groove and even a great joke thrown in the lyrics: “Why’d the boat get drunk? Pier Pressure.” Ryan also offers up one of his best attempts at a true blues number with both takes of ‘Madeline.’ The rising pressure in the song never seems to fully escape, but you gotta give him credit for staying true to the style and not overcooking it.

‘Oh, Charles’, a prison letter ballad drags you right into the dark cell with the narrator. Offering a glint of hope and beginning the ascent back up in the album is ‘Come Monday’ that leads into a slightly humorous ‘Not In Love’ showcasing expert fingerpicking. ‘Friendly Fire’ shows Ryan building to the melodic perfection that was Cold Roses. The Swedish Sessions ends with an acoustic groove as good as ‘Choked Up’ or ‘Monday Night.’

1. You Will Always Be The Same buy Demolition
2. For Beth (aka Friends)
3. Dear Anne
4. Poor Jimmy
5. Madeline I
6. Madeline II
7. Oh, Charles
8. Come Monday
9. Not In Love
10. Friendly Fire
11. Fool For You

Swedish Session ZIP

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