In this edition: The Habit, Deer Tick, Tom Waits and The Strange Boys.
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
The Habit: Lincoln Has Won (Reel To Reel)
Brooklyn’s The Habit trundles at one like a horse drawn wagon on fire, scattering folks hither-thither with a force animal and old school on their marvelous full-length debut, Lincoln Has Won. The Band gets name-checked in the first sentence of the liner notes, and the reference is apt, to a point. While they excel at stilling things to a whisper, there’s something more rattled and careless, in a fully positive way, about The Habit, who bring to mind X – both the growling Los Angeles side and the more folk-wise See How We Are end – with a winning mix of female and male lead vocals and a careening song sequence that keeps one on their toes. Drawing inspiration from the American past is old hat for rock ‘n’ rollers, though most don’t pull it off with the same style as The Habit, who use the post-Civil War period as a touchstone here. Sadly, there are many comparisons between today and that fractious time, seen in America’s anti-immigration stance, growing tribalism – particularly geographically – and general need for countrywide healing. With amps turned up impolitely, harmonicas wailing and hearts worn out in the open (this album sounds wonderfully raw – kudos to engineer & DI fave Ivan Julian and the producers), Lincoln Has Won oozes passion and purpose, shared greatness just out of reach snatched at with hunger and conviction. And by gum, it won’t be long until The Habit has it firmly in their grip. Listening to them chase down big ideas is a goddamn blast, truly the arrival of a band on par with the opening salvos from The Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo and other kindred spirits. (Dennis Cook)
Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Deer Tick: Divine Providence (Partisan)
“I’ve got a lust for life and a dangerous mind / In my trail of dust, who knows what you’ll find? / I can take a tree and tear it from its roots/ If you see me I suggest you move.” That’s a lot of cocksure attitude to start an album with but Deer Tick is ready to whip it out and measure on Divine Providence (released October 24), easily their best effort since John McCauley emerged seemingly fully formed on 2007’s killer-diller War Elephant. As McCauley secured a steady band behind him in the intervening years, the studio output for Deer Tick has been a touch too over serious, missing out on the playfulness and humor the band shows live and popped up on his debut. Maybe in trying to be taken seriously, Deer Tick forgot to have fun, but they’ve sure as hell found their funny bones (and undomesticated rock mojo) on Divine Providence, a freewheeling manifesto for good-bad behavior that literally screams, “Let’s all go to the bar!” Calling love a funny word and swearing up a storm, Deer Tick have knocked out their best record yet. Let’s hope they continue to not over-think what they do – they work GREAT when they’re wheeling around itching for a fight. (DC)
Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Tom Waits: Bad As Me (Anti-)
2012 will mark the 20th anniversary of the street date for Tom Waits’ singular masterpiece Bone Machine, an album that took the West Coast icon’s kitchen sink approach to blooze pop songwriting kicking and screaming into dark chasm of the 120 Minutes-era with an equal helping of Bukowski, Beefheart, Bird and Beck.
It was also the only album in existence to feature both Keith Richards and Les Claypool on its session roster. That is, however, until old Tom dropped his 20th studio effort on our unsuspecting heads. Though many lovers of Mule Variations and perhaps even Real Gone might object, Bad As Me (released October 24) is arguably Waits’ best since Bone. And not only do Les and Keef return here, they also play on one track together, the absurdist homage to The Rolling Stones Tom titled “Satisfied”. You can also catch Mr. Richards getting down with another alt-rock bass master on “Hell Broke Luce”, which features Flea on the four-string, not to mention longtime TW associate Marc Ribot in that ever-crucial Brian Jones/Mick Taylor/Ron Wood role as the guitarist’s second string foil. Also on hand for this 13-song set (16 if you splurge for the deluxe) are Bone Machine alumni Larry Taylor and David Hildago of Los Lobos on guitars as well as the great Charlie Musselwhite playing harmonica on several tracks, each of whom lends a crucial hand in helping Tom and wife Kathleen Brennan achieve the most striking balance between the artist’s Asylum and Island years on record yet, evidenced on cuts like Face to the Highway and the gorgeous Small Change-esque closing number New Year’s Eve.
In a near 40-year career spilling over with highlight reel earmarks, the brilliant Bad As Me has “all-timer” scribbled all over it. (Ron Hart)
Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
The Strange Boys: Live Music (Rough Trade)
“Authentically troubled blues for the modern age,” raves English music mogul Geoff Travis in reference to one of the best young acts signed to his Rough Trade label, The Strange Boys from Austin, Texas. On their third LP, this ragtag combo continues to keep it real beyond their years. With Live Music (short I, as in “come on now baby, don’t you wanna live with me”) (released October 24), the Sambol brothers and friends come together with producers Jim Eno of Spoon fame and Mike McHugh to expedite their Stonesian fever dream past straight into the Between The Buttons period with a more expansive, Technicolor view of their Chess-gone-DIY rhythm trip. If these Boys have trouble on their mind, the 14 songs presented here prove they are having a hell of a good time lamenting about it. (RH)