Perhaps you’ve always loved the Western sounds of Enrico Morricone, film score extraordinaire. Or perhaps you’ve always loved that BIG Phil Spector Wall of Sound. For the most part, your two interests have been exclusive, until now, where The Lonely Wild said screw you to convention and decided to marry the two anyway. You and the rest of us are in luck as “Right Side of the Road” delivers in spades, it’s like Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros with a little more ambition, or if Cotton Jones hadn’t drowned in theirs.
I’ve been a fan of Josh Tillman since well… he was Josh Tillman. The beautiful “Steel on Steel” from Vacilando Territory Blues, his 2009 LP was what first caught my eye. However, Josh Tillman is a man of many hats as he’s been the drummer for Fleet Foxes and most recently, adorned the nom de plum Father John Misty and come out with his Sub Pop debut Fear Fun. It’s already gathered praise from indie greats like Blitzen Trapper and Dawes (whose bass player, Wylie Gelber was assistant producer on the album) and cuts through with sonic clarity that hasn’t felt so earnest in years. Tillman described the development of the album as “I got into my van with enough mushrooms to choke a horse and started driving down the coast with nowhere to go” yet the album itself doesn’t wander. “Nancy From Now On”, the second song on the album almost sounds like the bastard child of The Beach Boys, The BeeGees and Harry Nilsson but without either’s excess. A great song, and an equally great album. Plus, that album artwork is fantastic.
In many ways, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were the American equivalent to Dire Straits. Both had distinct lead vocalists, used similar instruments and had a sound influenced by both British and American rock & roll. While my favorite Tom Petty song might be “Don’t Do Me Like That” from Damn The Torpedoes, their 1979 LP, “Breakdown” from their 1976 self-titled debut is a great piece of music. There’s that slow-burning vamp from Am to G, and that slinking guitar line. Even Petty’s delivery is in top form, arguably influencing Elvis Costello’s brash vocal style that would emerge on My Aim is True a year later. Tom Petty is so capable of crafting classic rock melodies that its almost easy to forget how good he was at it because the thing just sounds so damn easy. Nevertheless, it’s a great song off of a great debut record.
Allen Toussaint is a Louisiana legend, he’s worked with all sorts of great musicians including Paul McCartney and The Band (it’s he who wrote the brassy arrangement for the spellbinding performance of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” from The Last Waltz) and written classics like “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” and “From A Whisper To A Scream” and it’s his voice you hear on the beginning of the catchy, but otherwise meaningless McCartney song “Listen to What The Man Said”. Life, Love And Faith , his 1972 LP, and debut with Warner/Reprise finds him at his most exultant and melodic and “My Baby Is The Real Thing” deserves to be picked up for a movie soundtrack, or played non-stop at an old fashioned record store or a dive bar, or just for your own listening pleasure. Either way, it’s a great little catchy tune.
They may be forever known for their 1972 smash “I’ll Take You There” with it’s inimitable intro and rolling bassline. But by Soul Folk in Action, their Stax Records debut in 1968, they had already been a veteran band of 16 years. It was their switch to a less acoustic, more funky and upbeat soulful sound that brought them huge success. Soul Folk is a proper label for “Got to be Some Changes Made” which boasts some great harmonies by the group along with some solid guitar lines played by Steve Cropper and Pops Staples (by then 54). Also on this album was their great cover of “The Weight” by The Band, a song that came out the same year. Got to be Some Changes Made- The Staple Singers
Norah Jones has always been a class act, and this unusual pairing with Dangermouse, producer-extraordinaire on her latest album Little Broken Hearts has brought Jones into a whole new direction and whole new aural world of songwriting. On “Happy Pills” you’ll be hard pressed to find a better hook written between the two of them collectively, which says a lot. Your catchy song of the week. Backed by a crack session band that includes Blake Mills on guitar along with bassist Gus Seyffert and Joey Waronker, the overall vibe of the songs comes off like an updated Fleetwood Mac at times, with that golden California vibe and a thrilling little touch of mysticism.
Elton John owned 70’s music, easily the highest selling artist of that decade and the man behind such hits as “Bennie and the Jets”, “Crocodile Rock” “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man” to name a few. Lost in the shuffle however was his most challenging and gorgeous early effort, the concept album Tumbleweed Connection released in 1970, which profiled the myths of the American west. Perhaps the finest gem of the bunch is “Love Song” which finds John only backed by some breathtaking harmonies and lovely guitar playing. I’ve also decided to include “Burn Down the Mission” another epic off of Tumbleweed Connection as well as a fine cover of The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women” from his underrated 11-17-70 live album.
Delta Spirit have come a long way since the release of their debut Ode To Sunshine, a nostalgic, golden and sunny album that featured an old photograph of one member’s uncle as the cover. Befitting their name, the band’s sound has evolved and this atmospheric number “Into the Darkness”, the ninth song off of their latest album Delta Spirit, is exceptionally produced with a great rhythmic groove and one of my favorite songs of 2012 thus far. Check it out.
It’s a good time to be a folk music fan. Ever since Fleet Foxes, and then British imports Mumford & Sons set the world on fire with catchy and organic folk anthems the music world has exploded. I’ve posted before about Boy & Bear but 2012 seems to be the year for The Lumineers, a Denver by way of New York based band that has been fueled by turmoil, a band member’s brother’s drug overdose, an expensive and unfruitful stint in New York city that left them headed to greener pastures. Lucky for us, they’ve managed to turn their pain into passion and a gift for songwriting. Check out “Big Parade” the eighth song off of their self-titled debut.
A great melody, Beatlesque harmonies, as well as what may be the best use of a fiddle in music this year come together in glorious matrimony on “Easy Come Easy Go”, the seventh song off of the new Great Lake Swimmers album, New Wild Everywhere. Be sure to listen to the wonderful amalgamation as you learn new words for saying marriage. Music can be good and educational too!
Blitzen Trapper might as well start adding “the hardest working band in showbusiness” to their name. After releasing the fantastic American Goldwing last year and co-headlining a tour with Dawes, just about playing ever SXSW show humanly possible and getting prepped to go on another tour this year, Blitzen Trapper released a 7-inch for Record Store Day 2012 featuring a classic take on “Hey Joe” and “Skirts on Fire” an unreleased song from the American Goldwing sessions. Here, “Skirts on Fire” sounds like a lost cut off of Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead, a catchy countrified number that deserves to be heard by everyone. So do yourself a favor and pick up the exclusive yellow vinyl (there are only 1800 in circulation) and happy Record Store Day!
The beautiful lost classic “Pain In My Heart” by Otis Redding of his 1964 debut was brought to my attention by the TV show “Awake” in a touching moment where the protagonist finds a tape that he made for his wife which was simply this song over and over, so that “she didn’t have to rewind just to hear it again” its a touching moment for a touching song and makes me wish that you could still make an old fashioned mix-tape these days.
There are two ways that you can be a great singer, one is more reliant on technical ability; the vocal range, the timbre (lets call this the Paul McCartney side for the sake of argument) and the latter is perhaps even harder, to live in your songs to make the experience both universal and truly heartfelt. Like Lennon, Levon Helm was among the latter and he left an indelible mark on American rock music with his plaintive gruff vocals. When you think of The Band, you immediately think of songs like “The Weight”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up On Cripple Creek”, and “Ophelia”. All of which had Levon Helm’s Arkansas bred hands all over them. Yet this performance of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” might be his finest moment, it would be simple to marvel alone at his ability as a drummer to sing as well as he played, but moreover you get the sense that Levon Helm was in the Civil War himself, a marvel against time ( in part due to Robbie Robertson’s fine lyrics) come to represent the ever burning hope of man. Robertson made a point to focus not on what the war’s issues were, but the theme of what war does. This is Levon Helm’s legacy, and the world will be lit a little dimmer without him in it.
In todays music, psychedelia usually falls victim to being too out there (see chillwave, electronica, trance) or an homage with little originality. Here though Spiritualized makes the most of taking up the mantle of psychedelic rock that The Beatles left in 1968 (The lack of a statement with the album cover is a fitting callback to The Beatles own White Album) with “Little Girl”, there are beautiful strings that haven’t felt so delightfully strange in an arrangement since “I Am The Walrus” and a great rousing chord progression that belies the song’s downcast nature. A tongue in cheek piece of songwriting worthy of Lennon.
I hadn’t heard Maps & Atlases until I received a tweet from my sister a day ago praising this song as “a barn party of Bon Iver, Toro Y Moi, Fleet Foxes, and New Villager”. I wasn’t the biggest fan of New Villager but I gave it a shot anyway. The song may well be one of 2012’s best, a gorgeous multilayered vocal with just the most subtle hint of autotune (no small feat) and a muted guitar rhythm that explodes into polyphony worthy of the most daring of Bon Iver tunes. Don’t miss this one.
Iceland has always been a surprising hotbed of musical activity and like Sigor Ros before them, Of Monsters and Men seem destined to become a global musical act. While they may have the ever-enchanting “foreign band” label as a calling card, Of Monsters and Men show more similarities to bands like Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, though thankfully they didn’t pursue the & symbol in their name. ”Mountain Sound” the third track off of their debut LP My Head Is an Animal has a bright opening hook worthy of Springsteen and sparse guitar chords and an upbeat call and response vocal fitting the chorus between Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar “Raggi” Porhallsson.
As the song builds, the arrangement widens with an echo befitting the mountain sound of which they speak, filling the air with backing harmonies and handclap-stomp rhythms as the lyrics turn into exultant Walt Whitman-esque chants. A fine piece of work for a band debut.Check out “Slow and Steady” as well, which melds Florence and the Machine vocals with Local Natives percussion and packs quite a punch.
Elsewhere, Of Monsters and Men show off a large sphere of influence from the powerful “Six Weeks” inspired by an article on the most badass men in history and tales of whales with houses on their backs (“From Finner”). Overall it’s a wonderfully produced album and sure to be on the tops of lists for best of 2012.
A Two for Tuesday so to speak. M. Ward’s latest album A Wasteland Companion is a return to form to the spellbinding off kilter acoustic that albums like Post-War had made people expect of the mysterious M. Ward, a man with a tuneful warble, and the silent Him of She & Him. Do yourself a favor and go through this man’s albums (You can skip Hold Time) and you’ll find an artist who isn’t afraid to take ventures into silent 30’s films musical territory, as well as cover songs from the greats like Pete Townshend’s ”Let My Love Open The Door” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. “Primitive Girl”, the track featured here, is evocative of its title with simple and bright acoustics, shining like the titular girl herself.
A Wasteland Companion was released on April 10th, 2012 on Merge Records. You can find all versions (including the stunning vinyl package) on Merge Records here, and the digital version on iTunes here .
G. Love & Special Sauce has always been a hit or miss band for me, either they nail it, or the hip-hop/blues sound that they sought to define becomes too aimless and unfocused, the lyrics too simplistic, or too overwrought. Philadelphonic, the 1999 release finds the band breaking new ground and it makes it a fascinating listen. There are flaws, “Numbers” is a prime example, “Relax” barely scrapes out of its lazy wordplay through its fantastic arrangement, and there are plenty of those to go around. Anchored by the fantastic rhythm section of Jimmy “Jazz” Prescott and Jeffery “Houseman” Clemens and boosted by fantastic backing vocals, the songs that shine are full of energy and a wonderful mix of instrumentation. “Love”, the song featured above, finds G. Love’s hip hop blues at its most downright plaintive with a wonderful guitar melody. “Dreamin’”, the album opener, takes an upbeat message that could have certainly fell flat if not for the wonderful meld of sampled (the guitar from “Clean Up Woman” in this case) to organic instrumentation. “Kick Drum” features an old soulful groove and wonderful harmonies that bolster an otherwise crude song about foreplay while “Rodeo Clowns” would be the worlds introduction to Jack Johnson. Even the turns at rapper are good natured fun, with “Friday Night (Hundred Dollar Bill)” leading the pack, and “No Turning Back” and “Honor and Harmony” rounding out the fantastic arrangement, lackluster lyric section. Check out some of the album highlights below.
Even today, The White Album, the double album that The Beatles released in the turbulence of 1968 has a particular resonance in the quality of its songwriting, never before or since would a Beatle album contain such biting social commentary or such a deluge of output in a wide variety of genres. Lost in the shuffle is the timeless “Long, Long, Long” a George Harrison number that would lay the groundwork for indie rock balladeers like Elliot Smith, an ironic result for a man whose work so often preached transcendance in spiritual form. Nevertheless, the quiet, and quite profound number that follows the chaos of “Helter Skelter” remains potent and important to this day.
Without the rest of The Beatles to reign him in, John Lennon’s solo career became dogmatic in the quest to bring equality to the world. “Imagine” and “Give Peace A Chance” and “Power to The People” may have more infamy than this cut off of his 1974 release Mind Games but “Bring On the Lucie (Freeda People)” was perhaps the better anthem. Building upon a slide guitar melody, the song is rife with what would become John Lennon’s signature sound, a powerful message that is backed by clean cut drumming, in the pocket bass lines and swaggering horns. No wonder that this song was chosen to play over the credits of the great film Children of Men. For all his faults, Lennon’s talent was in making anthems that still resonate today.