250 word album review: Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

Hurray For The Riff Raff - Navigator

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Hurray For The Riff Raff gained a ton of attention with the album “Small Town Heroes” in 2014 and now they (she) is taking a shot at an even larger audience. On “The Navigator” the sound is clean and more produced making it a bit harder to classify it as simply folk music.

There are great songs here like “Living In The City” with its Bob Dylan style layout which is the strongest song here. On “Hungry Ghost” there is more drive and a much bigger sound, in a better world where shitty music didn’t dominate the charts this would be a pop hit. On “Rican Beach” things get experimental with a primitive yet expansive sound on the protest song. Songs like this really help tie an album together as it shows the same tunes weren’t just rehashed a dozen or so times. On “Pa’lante” there is no hiding the love for John Lennon, it’s so blunt that it’s obvious there was no attempt to hide it and the song is stronger because of that transparency. On “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” there is a much softer approach and you see a rare spot of vulnerably from Hurray For The Riff Raff. You also get to hear the unashamed sweet vocals on the track featured up front making it for an album highlight.

This album is everything a fan of the band can hope for and for listeners just getting into Hurray For The Riff Raff it is a perfect place to start.

Key Tracks: “Living In The City” “Nothings Gonna Change That Girl” “Rican Beach”

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250 word album review: Justin Townes Earle – Kids in the Street

Justin Townes Earle - Kids in the Street

Stars4.5

Justin Townes Earle is finally back. After a very disappointing foray into the albums “Single Mothers” and “Absent Fathers” he returns to the artist that had been so interesting over the last decade. This album is the third part of that trilogy in many ways but is far superior than either of the other two releases.

Somehow Earle had been baited into slower singer/songwriter songs with few hooks and not a whole lot interesting about them so “Kids in the Street” is a breathe of fresh air. On “Champagne Corolla” he writes a classic car song about a not so classic car and it’s great, it stomps and drives making for a great lead single. On “Maybe A Moment” and “What’s She Crying For” his keeps it slow and lets his songwriting take the reins but the songs are very good and never fail to be interesting. On “15-25” he gets rowdy again and keeps the tempo of the record from becoming monotonous. He hits many of his influences that he spent whole records exploring in the past. He does some traditional folky blues on “Same Old Stagolee” that would make Taj Mahal proud and he adds some steel guitar to “What’s She Crying For” to give it a classic Hank Williams feel. There’s a little New Orleans sound with the added horns to “What’s Goin’ Wrong” and he ends the record on a slower note with “There Go A Fool,” a song that fits the sound of his last couple records perfectly.

Key Tracks: “Champagne Corolla” “Maybe A Moment” “15-25”

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250 word album review: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

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Jason Isbell has watched his career simply skyrocket since that day he split from the Drive-By Truckers. Now he finds himself with more success than that band all together. He is making great sounding records in big studios, is a revered songwriter rubbing shoulders with John Prine and Willie Nelson and is winning Grammys.

He doesn’t put together story songs from the South so much any more, instead he is examining sobriety and his place among his peers. “The Nashville Sound” is not his best record but it is in no way a disappointment. On “Last of My Kind” he unfurls a John Prine song that Prine never got around to writing (likely something Isbell has always strived for.) He includes a couple more rockers here than his last couple releases in “Cumberland Gap” “Anxiety” and the excellent single “Hope the High Road.” He writes an all time classic love song with “If We Were Vampires” that is sure to be one of the endearing songs of his career and rightfully so. Isbell writes lyrics a little more straight forward than in the past here too. “Anxiety” is a good jam but it seems not as clever as Isbell can be and on “White Man’s World” the guilt of being white gets to him and it is possibly one of the worst songs he has put on a album in his career. Just listen to the lyrical layers on “Chaos and Clothes” if you want to hear how great Isbell’s writing is.

If you wanted Isbell to rock, you’ve got it here for the most part. It’s nice to hear those guitars blast again a bit, something many fans had been missing. This record is far from perfect but it another great resume piece.

Key Tracks: “Hope The High Road” “If We Were Vampires” “Chaos and Clothes”

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Concert Review: Nick Waterhouse at The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO 6/11/17

The time machine complex in music is perplexing. Sometimes bands sound ahead of their time(especially in retrospect) and sometimes it feels like a band’s sound was plucked right out of a previous decade. The latter is the case for California’s Nick Waterhouse who has found a way to sound like a 50s era R&B band.

Not to say that Waterhouse is copying anyone because that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. He has a very unique sound all to his own, especially among the current musical landscape. The freewheeling singer is a supreme vocalist and more than knows his way around a few guitar chords as well. His assembles his bands carefully it too, paying close attention to have the musicians with both the technicals skill and improvisational talents to follow him.

Nick Waterhouse and his 6 piece band perform live at the Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on 6/11/17.

Nick Waterhouse and his 6 piece band perform live at the Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on 6/11/17.

An artist such as this is in their element on the west coast but when they play the Midwest it’s such a lovely out of place event that it shouldn’t be missed. When Waterhouse took the stage at the Record Bar on 6/11/17 it wasn’t to a ton of fanfare, he hardly acted or was greeted like a rock star. While tuning his own guitar some people not have recognized him with his newly acquired beard. When his 6 piece band came out the crowd instantly slipped toward the stage curious to see what was in store. With a keyboardist, drummer, electric bass player, saxophonist and backup singer the stage was full and the bands sound was tight and on cue from the first note. Waterhouse would spend the next 80 minutes sampling pretty evenly from his first two albums and hitting his excellent new album “Never Twice” the hardest.

First the California surf band Sadgirl would start the show and prove to be a fantastic opener. The mix of ambient old school prom-rock and Ventures style turn ups paved the way for Waterhouse perfectly. The few fast instrumentals and slow dance numbers like “Breakfast Is Over” is put the crowd in a nice headspace for the headliner.

Waterhouse of course would still steal the show however, big choruses on new songs like “It’s Time” and “Straight Love Affair” make it clear they are some of his most popular material already. The biggest reactions are probably still songs from his first record like “Don’t You Forget It” and “If You Want Trouble.” He would comment on how it’s good luck to have a song named after a woman on each record as he tore into “Holly” and “Tracy” back to back before diving into “Straight Love Affair” which got the crowd moving as much as any song of the evening.

Nick Waterhouse shreds in back of the stage while performing live at the Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on 6/11/17.

Nick Waterhouse shreds in back of the stage while performing live at the Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on 6/11/17.

He would introduce his new song cowritten by new soul superstar Leon Bridges called “Katchi” and the crowd would go crazy.  “Katchi” is likely the best hook he has in his repertoire and it’s hard to imagine him ever getting to his dressing room again without playing it first. On a slowed down half speed introduction to “I Can Only Give You Everything” Waterhouse would carefully detail his band in almost a beat poet style while the music would never stop. The introduction built anticipation for the song making it better as well. “LA Turnaround” would be dedicated to the aloof Jonathan Richman who Waterhouse cited as a “spiritual inspiration” which upon hearing it made perfect sense. On introducing one song Waterhouse even detailed the crowd stating they it was time for them to dance and “don’t stop until we stop.” By the time the band would later return for the encore they were relaxed and had the slightly dwindling Sunday night crowd in their hands. With the combination of “Our Place” and “Some Place” for the encore it seemed everyone would be satisfied as the new Record Bar neared their midnight curfew.

Nick Waterhouse setlist from The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO 6/11/17:

  • I Had Some Money (But I Spent It)
  • Dead Room
  • Sleeping Pills
  • I Can Only Give You Everything
  • It’s Time
  • Don’t You Forget It
  • Holly
  • Tracy
  • Straight Love Affair
  • Stanyan Street
  • Katchi
  • It #3
  • LA Turnaround
  • If You Want Trouble
  • Is That Clear
  • This Is A Game
  • encore break
  • The Old Place
  • Some Place
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Album at a glance: Jeff Caudill – Reset the Sun

Jeff Caudill - Reset The Sun

On this EP Jeff Caudill shows off his shiny feathers as a songwriter putting his own spin on familiar themes. There’s nostalgia and love littered throughout on this mostly pop record with strong country roots. Caudill’s vocals are reminiscent of Robb Thomas from Matchbox 20 (make fun if you want, I stand behind the band) but also at times hit an Uncle Tupelo vibe. There is a strong yearning for pop songs like “Around We Go” but on a few tracks like “Bruised Ribs, Broken Heart” Caudill dials up the twang and delves head first into alt-country. Both are good but switching leaves the EP a slight lack of identity but the good thing is that the songs hold up decent enough to make it a good listen.

Key Track: “Bruised Ribs, Broken Heart”

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250 word album review: Cory Branan – Adios

Cory Branan - Adios

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Cory Branan is an outlaw in pedestrian clothes. He shows more versatility than ever before on his new record “Adios” as he navigates through his past trying to figure out how he got where he is now. In the end it’s clear he stands alone, confident and never showing weakness.

On “Imogene” Branan throttles through the most accessible song of his career. It’s well produced and radio-worthy and with Branan’s natural ability to throw great hooks effortlessly it is easy to see how it can be a clear favorite here. He shifts gears with the weird ZZ Top (the most intriguing version of the band) sounding “Walls, MS.” He goes for a straight up anthem with “Yeah, So What” where he shows his ability to mindless rock out. On the “Another Nightmare In America” he shows his teeth in a song that is so shap it sounds like it could have came from Against Me’s catalog. Songs like this just prove Branan is made up of more Replacements than Johnny Cash and that is just fine. On the closing “My Father Was An Accordion Player” you’ll find Branan wandering like he’s in a drunken circus with dark lyrics and sloppy horns to navigate his journey. This being the only song not by Branan on the record but by Memphis songwriter Andy Grooms yet it fits with the madness of this record nicely.

Cory Branan has found a way to carve out his niche among the alt-country world by never sacrificing himself to preconceived notions. His music is unique and it’s clear he calls plays from his own playbook. “Adios” is that much better for its versatility and shows he will be making interesting records for years to come.

Key Tracks: “Imogene” “Yeah So What” “My Father Was An Accordion Player”

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250 word album review: Old 97’s – Graveyard Whistling

Old 97's - Graveyard Whistling

Stars4

The Old 97’s are a model of consistency. How does a band achieve this? How about rattling through 11 studio albums over 23 years with the same lineup. For a band that has been around so long they are still remarkably interesting.

On this album “Graveyard Whistling” they show sincerity and humor as they always have. You’ll see lead singer Rhett Miller dive head-first into self loathing on “All Who Wander” where the band keeps the song upbeat enough to trick a casual listener into thinking it’s not depressing as hell. That being said it might be the strongest track on the record. They touch interestingly on religion a couple times here as well. First with the witty “Jesus Loves You” where you a slightly different take as in Hayes Carll’s “She Left Me For Jesus” as the instigator competes with Jesus for a girl. Then the darker and more serious “Good With God” where the band creates their sure lock single of this group of songs with the help of Brandi Carlile. They use the same dark vibe to make “I Don’t Wanna Die In This Town” and can’t miss track as well. On “Drinkin’ Song” the band plays fast and sloppy matching the barroom mystique of the song. Only the outgoing charm of Rhett Miller could pull off the chorus of “Hell yes, hell yes, hell yes, right on, right on, right on” on the track.

Again, the Old 97’s fully deliver. This isn’t a surprise. If they have a new record just buy it because it will be good.

Key Tracks: “Good With God” “All Who Wander” “I Don’t Wanna Die In This Town”

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