In this edition: Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, The Band of Heathens, Grant Hart, Ty Segall, and Surf City.
Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion: Wassaic Way (Rte. 8 Records)
Both a work of refinement and redefinition, Wassaic Way (released August 6) showcases the intrinsic harmonic and emotional resonances of this husband-wife team in choice pop-rock settings where echoes of classic 60s singles mingle with shimmering, grey-tinged modernity. It’s a quietly gorgeous record, inviting for sure but also sophisticated in how it haunts one, certain lines sticking in the mind’s teeth long after it’s slipped it back in the sleeve – “Love has a way of making you stay and going crazy” and “wait until the dawn to discuss anything that’s wrong” being choice examples.
Irion and Guthrie’s catalog is full of thoughtful engagements with what it means to love, particularly when it is hard but the bonds remain strong, perhaps too strong, and freedom is on one’s mind despite one’s best efforts to banish the thought. However, Wassaic Way offers the sharpest execution of their vision yet, moving the pair away from the folkie-ness of their long running acoustic duo shows and nearer to contemporaries like Blitzen Trapper, Everest, and Wilco, whose Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone served as producers. Actually, the album is closer in spirit to Sansone’s fabulous classic pop-rock leaning side project The Autumn Defense, where one is struck by the quality and pleasing craftsmanship, a clear descendent of the sweet and sour heyday of AM radio, the bittersweet and bright offered in careful measures that lift one’s heels and make one croon along dreamily.
There is sweetness and light to Wassaic Way but also dark of night rumination, which makes these songs about what connects us and keeps us apart hum with lived-in reality. Combined with the tasteful, masterful production of Tweedy and Sansone, which recalls Jon Brion’s awesome work with Aimee Mann, the pure pro playing of all involved, and Irion & Guthrie’s most focused, immediately gripping songwriting to date, Wassaic Way is an end-to-end treat. (Dennis Cook)
Pick up this self-released gem HERE and know you’re doing your part to help keep quality independent music alive and well.
Read DI’s interview with Johnny Irion HERE, where he discusses making this album with the Wilco fellas.
Easily DI’s favorite song about a hipster in 2013:
Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
The Band of Heathens: Sunday Morning Record (BOH Records)
A humanizing breeze blows through the fourth studio album from this consistently excellent Austin-based roots-pop-rock outfit. Sunday Morning Record (released September 17 on the band’s own label) is perfect music for being served weekend breakfast in bed by someone special that’s also equally simpatico with being one’s sole companion as they make their own coffee and eggs. All 11-tracks seem born of those hours just past dawn where the day stretches out ahead but the mind contemplative and quiet enough to pick up on the subtleties drowned out once the world gets active.
The Band of Heathens, now centered around singer-songwriter-guitarists Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist after some major shakeups both personal and lineup related, hit the sweet spot between Doug Sahm, early Eagles and something more Badfinger-y, the album strolling confidently while retaining a lil’ Texas drawl. There’s a friendly intimacy to most of Sunday Morning Record, though any ambitious FM program director looking for a cool surprise to slot in next to the new Jack Johnson and Sheryl Crow singles would do well to slot in “Records In Bed” on the regular. Clear, 70s warm production from George Reiff and Steve Christensen cements the feeling the BOH is a worthy descendent of folks like Poco and The Long Ryders – i.e. guys who make it sound so easy and together that one might miss how good you have to be to pull this stuff off so very well.
[Pick up the album here, and again, know you’re doing you’re part to keep good music independent and alive]. (DC)
Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Grant Hart: The Argument (Domino)
While Bob Mould has been very out and about in the public eye since the dissolution of the mighty Hüsker Dü over a quarter century ago – be it as a solo artist, a gay community icon, a pro wrestling scriptwriter, or leader of one of the 90s best alt-rock acts in Sugar – his songwriting foil Grant Hart’s own solo turn has been nearly mute in comparison. But after quietly releasing an anthology’s worth of material with his Clinton-era group Nova Mob and three terribly underrated LPs under his own moniker, the former drummer delivers his grand opus with the beautiful, complex The Argument (released July 23). Channeling his love for English Lit and the hypnotic catharsis of his old friend William S. Burroughs, Hart delivers his own interpretation of 17th Century poet John Milton’s destruction-of-man epic Paradise Lost with a 20-song cycle that has more in common with Roger Waters’ 1992 concept masterpiece Amused to Death (albeit via GBV’s Bee Thousand) than Zen Arcade. Nice dig at old Bob on the cover by jacking his Sugar font for the album’s title. (Ron Hart)
Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Ty Segall: Sleeper (Drag City)
After dropping some of the heaviest, headiest guitar psych bliss on our domes with last year’s Slaughterhouse and this fall’s upcoming eponymous debut of his group FUZZ, New Weird America wunderkind Ty Segall mellows his mind with this laidback collection of hallucinogenic campfire tunes that rely largely on the unplugged setting. And as the dazed hootenanny of tracks like “Crazy” and “The West” illustrate, there’s a strong possibility the troubadour route might be this youngster’s way to go on future recordings, or at least on a half-n-half basis like his man Neil Young. (RH)
Ron’s Bonus Review:
Surf City: We Knew It Was Not Going to Be Like This (Fire Records)
New Zealand’s most exciting new export may have tightened up the volume on this second LP for the Fire Records brand (released September 3). But as snappy as the Surfs get channeling Yo La Tengo’s Beach Boys fixation on such uptempo cuts as “If I Had the Starring Role” and “No Place to Go,” it’s the jammy noisepop sprawl of the near nine-minute closer “What Gets Me By” that signifies these Kiwis’ place at the apex of Auckland’s modern music scene. (RH)