In this edition: Buffalo Killers, Thea Gilmore, Boston Spaceships and Fountains of Wayne.
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Buffalo Killers: 3 (Alive Records)
Setting wing with a bird that can never land, the third long-player from Ohio’s Buffalo Killers is a thing of grace and buffeted beauty that taps into the bittersweet ache of living, crying, “I want more. Where’s my crown?” The trio of Zach Gabbard (bass, lead vocals), Andrew Gabbard (guitar, vocals) and Joseph Sebaali (drums) conjure lush soundscapes on 3 (released August 2) that bring to mind bonafide greats like Moby Grape, Grin and pre-Eagles Joe Walsh, where melody and flow join an undeniable edge. The Gabbard Brothers know how to craft hooks and even reach the master class level of The Mother Hips a few times on their latest, notably on Mountain Sally, All Turn To Cloud and Could Never Be, and also share the Hips’ capacity to make psychedelic embellishments relevant and not some corny throwback. While 3’s predecessor Let It Ride drew attention for The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach’s production, this band-produced album actually sounds better, the trio’s uniqueness coming to the fore in a way that betters previous studio attempts, a high flying melancholy drifting hither and yon, an updraft into both sunlight and gray, lovely and tender in all the right measures. (Dennis Cook)
Buffalo Killers are in the midst of their album release tour and perform next on Thursday, August 4 at Sunset Tavern in Seattle, WA. Check here for further dates.
Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Thea Gilmore: John Wesley Harding (Fulfill)
Revered by fellow musicians and oft-covered, Bob Dylan’s 1967 masterpiece John Wesley Harding is a knotty semiotic puzzle dotted with more historical and cultural references than a vintage Dennis Miller routine. Saints and founding fathers wander a song cycle that finds humanity in the downtrodden, bending an ear to those whispering, “Oh, help me in my weakness.” A spare counterpart to the rockin’ thickness of predecessor Blonde On Blonde, John Wesley Harding wastes no words and susses out the power of compositional simplicity. As the world economy continues to crater and more and more voices are stifled by power grabbers and their political monkeys, this album is ripe for rediscovery. Gilmore, one of England’s finest new generation of singer-songwriters, celebrates Bob’s 70th birthday with a track-for-track rerecording of Harding (released June 28 in the U.S.), finding the same affinity with outlaws and the money-poor as Dylan did back in the day. Some interpretations echo the lean arrangements and basic instrumentation of the originals, though with subtle differences like ukulele on the title cut or the ringing banjo on I Am A Lonesome Hobo, while some numbers like As I Went Out One Morning, I Pity The Poor Immigrant and I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (which originally appeared on 2002’s excellent Songs From The Gutter) opt for a plush, highly modern sound. Gilmore’s smoky voice and captivating phrasing thrive in this setting, particularly on the exposed take on Dear Landlord and a rockin’ interpretation of The Wicked Messenger. As usual with Gilmore, she’s surrounded by dead solid players who follow and move with her expertly. Only All Along The Watchtower feels a touch perfunctory but that’s a tough nut to crack after Hendrix, et al. and it’s balanced by the sprightly, country smart takes on Down Along The Cove and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight that close the album. As the least of us in the 21st century face tougher times than they’ve seen in some time, this fresh take on John Wesley Harding is timely and appropriately “alive with fiery breath.” (DC)
Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Boston Spaceships: Let It Beard (GBV, Inc.)
The reunion tour of the classic Bee Thousand lineup of Guided By Voices might have been the thing everybody has been talking about in reference to Robert Pollard these days, but beyond the buzz of such a historic comeback in the indie rock annals, old Bob remains as busy as ever on his own endeavors. So much so, in fact, that you’re left to wonder how on earth he even had time to tour with his old bandmates at all. This year alone, the man has dropped something like four albums in the first half of the year, including two solo albums in January’s Space City Kicks and June’s Lord of the Birdcage, a collaboration with Big Dipper guitarist Gary Waleik called Mars Classroom, and a new LP from his Lifeguards side project with former GBV guitarist Doug Gillard (and that’s not even mentioning the new Circus Devils record coming out later this fall and God knows what else before 2011 comes to a close). So, when the announcement came down the publicity poop chute about the existence of Let It Beard, a double album from Pollard’s power trio Boston Spaceships with Decemberists drummer John Moen and GBV guitarist Chris Slusarenko, it was undoubtedly hard to fathom how its release could be perceived as nothing less than a lofty exercise in creative overkill. But upon listening to this 75-minute opus from the Ships – the group’s fifth album in their short three years together – it proves to be nothing short of an astonishing feat of rockist foraging and quite possibly the most expansive and accomplished album Pollard has crafted since Alien Lanes. Soft-loud dynamics on a Quadrophenia level, spoken word pieces, mariachi horns, experiments in Dadaism, folkie interludes, multi-pronged song suites and guest licks from a bevy of guitar-playing associates including Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs, Steve Wynn, J. Mascis, Colin Newman of Wire, Rick Buck of Phantom Tollbooth and GBV veteran Mitch Mitchell define the dynamics of this 26-song set, defying any and all expectations on what you have come to expect from Ohio’s finest. For those of you waiting with baited breath for the illusion that this reunion tour might bring about a new Guided recording, get over it. Nothing that old skin can do at this moment can come close to the raw majesty of Let It Beard. (Ron Hart)
Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Fountains of Wayne: Sky Full of Holes (Yep Roc)
The landmark North Jersey backyard emporium it was named after on Route 46 may no longer exist, a shocking casualty of the Great Recession. However, Fountains of Wayne the band press on, as their unique brand of suburban power pop could never be replaced by some corporate fool’s idea of progress even if they tried. On their first album since 2007’s underwhelming Traffic and Weather, the Queens quartet prove they are here to stay for good with a 13-track collection containing some of the best work of their 15 year career, evident on such quirky character sketches as the tale of two hapless Bush-era businessmen Richie and Ruben, the morning commuter cruising for chicks on the Amtrak and the touring pop singer penning a love ode to his significant other in between Will Ferrell flicks and country breakfasts at the Cracker Barrel on A Road Song. The group even tries on a bit of the acoustic-heavy country rock veneer associated with their new label, Yep Roc Records, on the twangy Workingman’s Hand and the Springsteen-esque Radio Bar. But the brightest moment on Sky Full of Holes (released August 2) comes at its end with the shimmering Cemetery Guns, as gorgeous a ballad songwriters Chris Collinsworth and Adam Schlesinger have written since The Senator’s Daughter from Utopia Parkway. (RH)