Impounded Inquiries

Sherman Baker

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”Stand still long enough and maybe you’ll find yourself.”

Sherman Baker

Sherman Baker

Sherman Baker is a keen observer, a songwriter able to carve out the right details for his songs about all our all-too-human stumbling and groping for connection. His new self-titled album [a steal at just $7 bucks] moves with unforced elegance, the small things of a day put into empathetic focus. This is the kind of album one returns to when they’re ready to sink into contemplation, meditative and melodic but never sleepy, a space where disrespected knaves and born riders can wheel about unafraid to show off a spot of melancholy.

Despite hailing from Sacramento, CA, Baker has an English lilt – Perspex Island/Globe of Frogs-era Robyn Hitchcock springs strongly to mind – melded with the finely carved bedroom symphonies of X/O period Elliott Smith. The care and time of his music’s gestation shows in the details, in the smooth, unexpected shifts and melodic sweetening that elevates his uniformly good songs to greatness more than a few times on his lovely eponymous album.

Baker has been an interesting, gifted singer-songwriter since his woefully overlooked 2004 debut, Carry Me Home, but the intervening decade has refined his talents and given his work an appealing romantic edge, a quiet glimmer in the corner of his naturally skeptical eye, a thimble of hope despite his understanding “how far we’ll go to get outside ourselves.” 10 years in, Baker now sits comfortably with contemporaries like Conor Oberst, Daniel Martin Moore, and Field Report.

DI asked Sherman to join our lil’ philosophical roundtable, and here’s what he had to say.

Be good to the animals!

Baby, You're A Star!

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The Humidors

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There are many more ways to get funk wrong than there are ways to get it right. Funk is seemingly simple but in reality it’s a complex dance of contradictions. Like any tributary that flows from jazz, it requires chops BUT it simultaneously demands organic looseness, ass-activating swing AND clear-eyed discipline measured out with intuition and crowd-reading sensitivity. Funk is often best served up on stages, fueled by the heat of bodies and the sweat a band wrings from the audience BUT the best purveyors of funky stuff know how to deliver the goods in the studio as well (see just about every 60s/70s James Brown album as proof). Funk also asks musicians to blur genre lines in a most conversational way, groove being the underlying unifier but growling rock, saucy Latinismo, belly fire blues and more tilt the music in all sorts of directions. It requires players to straddle several realms simultaneously AND still make folks move, and similarly, the lyrical content of good funk needs to be both streetwise-philosophical AND nuanced to accentuate hip grinding movements.

Debut Album

Debut Album

So, with so many moving parts and so many places to slip up, it’s a real pleasure to come across a funk-soul debut like the self-titled inaugural release from San Francisco’s The Humidors. This young, hungry band just gets funk right. Things are tight when they need to be and voluptuously flexible when that’s the right thing. The Humidors play as a unit, and even as single instruments float into foreground – the solos are lean models of how to do this shit without wasting time or showboating – it’s the overall group feel that ensnares one.

From the first rushing notes of “Fat Cakes” – there’s something pleasantly old school about their song titles – it’s nakedly obvious this band is after “it” – the big groove, some truth, a good time, etc. – and they pursue their goals with breathless, focused intensity. Sharpened in Bay Area night spots, this is the refined version of The Humidors’ hopping, downright humid live shows. “Gospel of Funk” and “Funk You to Death” are suitably scorchers, and they show some darker hues on “Filthy Laundry” and “Treason” as well as Latin swerve on “Feel Me Now” and an Ethiopian pop feel permeates“Lust For Life.” Unlike a lot of their soul-minded peers, this band writes memorable tunes with enough flexibility to continue to evolve in concert. It’s one thing to play well – and they do – but to put one’s talents to work on worthwhile material is so much better.

The Humidors

The Humidors

They know their funk history and there are juicy echoes of early Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, 60s Blue Note Records, Tower of Power, and Gary Bartz Ntu Troop. Lead singer Joseph Carter offers a highly appealing mixture of authority and panty-dropping smoothness, and the rhythm team of Eric Podolsky (bass), Junichiro Shimamura (drums) and Justin Abee (congas, bongas, percussion) are an ideal funk line – always where they need to be, riding in the music’s muscles but peppering things with interesting touches that reward the listener for tuning into individual elements. The front line of Bryan Weinberg (guitar) and Benjamin Carrie (keys, Hammond) sting mightily, and the horns are both a strong presence felt and just the right amount of brass interjection. Flow and variety are the hallmarks of the album, and like the best first offerings, it gives one the sense that this band is going to continue to evolve and sharpen their game with enjoyable steadiness.

Though a fairly new group, The Humidors, based on the evidence of this debut and their strong live presence in the SF area, are comers, a band capable of holding their own against established touring circuit/festival acts like Pimps of Joytime and The Monophonics, and it’s to be hoped that forward minded bookers snap them up as a surprise as the band begins to expand beyond its home base this year.

Dirty Impound Questionnaire

Mike Dillon Band

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The Mike D Band is currently on tour out West. Check out dates here, including some special round-robin shows with fellow DI favorites Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.

Mike Dillon Band

Mike Dillon Band

Not a lot of new music is honestly thrilling. The general output of the early 21st century is more concerned with style and texture, concept and cleverness, wearing well-worn uniforms well than it is with forging into the dark lands for undulating new forms. However, there are glorious exceptions like the Mike Dillon’s Band of Outsiders. When this wildly gesticulating, ferociously competent quartet launches into action the air crackles and hair stands up on one’s arms, something fresh and vaguely untamed entering the room. What veteran mallet master Mike Dillon (electric vibes, marimba, xylophone, tabla, percussion, vocals), Carly Meyers (trombone, vocals), Patrick McDevitt (bass, vocals) and Adam Gertner (drums, vocals) conjure is both alien and accessible, a grand cluster-cuss of tradition mud wrestling esoteric demons, wild hairs, and punk-addled energies. Put more simply, this shit is goddamn exciting.

New Album

New Album

After 400-plus shows and countless miles in the tour van in just the past two years, the Mike D Band delivers their lovely-jittery sonic manifesto in Band of Outsiders (released April 1 on the ever-excellent Royal Potato Family label). By turns charmingly nuts and surprisingly sophisticated, the album is equal measures vintage punk rock, small group hot jazz, boundary-less experimentation, and freak show house band. While Dillon has been involved in a huge number of projects (Critters Buggin, Dead Kenny G’s, Garage A Trois, Malachy Papers, Hairy Apes BMX), the Band of Outsiders allows the full spray of his imagination to run and root around. Chasing the Great Lake’s tuna and tossing folks in bonfires, Dillon and his talented, exuberant gang remind us that everything hasn’t been done, that genuinely original music is still possible if one combines the vast DNA available into non-standard helixes.

We got the entire Band of Outsiders to dig into DI’s signature questionnaire, and as you’ll see, they’re as fascinating as the sound they stir up.

shake the hand of God!

Dirty Impound Questionnaire

Jimbo Mathus

Tri-State Coalition, Squirrel Nut Zippers

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”Take me to your sweet solution. Bathe me in your absolution.”

New Album

New Album

Dark night of the soul. It’s a loaded phrase, full of touchstones in literature and religion, a collective acknowledgement of the lowlands that exist in every life and the universal desire for light, a new dawn, safe passage through the worst of it. In a yearning, slightly cracked voice riding solitary barrelhouse piano, the new salvo from Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition is the ideal rock ‘n’ roll companion through this troubled, expectant terrain – muscular, confident, battered but persevering music to bolster and uplift when shadows and doubts gather. Dark Night of the Soul, the band’s third outing, is what one throws on when they’re leaving behind a bad life with just a suitcase of essentials, a full tank of gas, and nothing but miles of possibilities ahead, both a torch against the blackness and a spark that reminds one they shine like a diamond even if they feel like coal.

Jimbo Mathus

Jimbo Mathus

In a just few years, the latest band for long time musical instigator Mathus has developed into a well-oiled, classic rock conscious, blues powered unit with their leader revealing more and more of his rowdy side. Mathus is a busy dude – modernizing old-timey sounds with Squirrel Nut Zippers, putting some fire under Buddy Guy in recent years, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with heavy hitters Luther Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart in the South Memphis String Band – but in many ways the Tri-State Coalition feels like his most personal work to date. Dripping with Southern echoes, the Tri-State Coalition’s sound is a balance of tough and tender, descendent to the Dickey Betts end of the Allmans, prime 70s Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings, and the slinky, country-tinged side of classic Muscle Shoals.

The new album cranks up the guitars and there’s even a touch of greats like Robin Trower (“White Angel”), rowdy Crazy Horse (“Burn The Ships”), and Procol Harum (“Butcher Bird”). Mathus is the epitome of a musician’s musician, and in the Tri-State Coalition – whose current release features spark-tossing electric guitar from The Del-Lords’ Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and longtime Mathus foil Matt Pierce as well as Mathus (acoustic, guitar), Eric Carlton (keys), Ryan Rogers (drums) and guest bassist Matt Patton (Drive-By Truckers) – finds the man at his most engaged, grappling with fundamentals and shaping music that grabs one readily and delivers them somewhere better than where they started.

We asked Jimbo to tackle DI’s signature questionnaire, and here’s what he had to say.

read on for greater decibels

OMG this is really happening

Michael Penn

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Michael Penn

Michael Penn

Since the late 1980s Michael Penn has been steadily making some of the finest rock albums of the past 25 years, works of sustained pleasure, intelligence and emotional grace. His music builds on the groundbreaking mid-60s flowering of The Beatles, The Zombies, The Kinks and others who harnessed craftsmanship to boundary pushing gusto. Penn’s records show the same kind of attention to detail and life-enhancing observations about the human condition that mark the best work of his forebears. Things are exposed in creative language, imaginative arrangements, and gorgeous melodies that illuminate one’s walk through this rocky world, arming one with songs against the darkness and doubt, a sonic hand to hold as the clouds gather and a familiar chill settles into one’s bones. The light that Penn sparks in his music is real and thus actually warms us unlike the dazzling but ultimately thin glow that most pop-flavored rock has today.

Over the course of five enduringly excellent albums and his ever-increasing soundtrack work – most recently as the composer for the HBO series Girls as well as Showtime’s Masters of Sex – Penn has evolved a catalog that’s rich in feel, music of haunting texture and emotional delicacy that lingers, increasing in quality and depth the longer one spends in his soundscapes. His is a careful hand and the music reflects the smarts and time that go into it but never sacrificing heart and feel for anything cerebral, his work a beautiful balance of elements delivered in one of the Impound’s all-time favorite rock voices, a seductive set of pipes right up there with Paul Carrack, Glenn Tilbrook and young Todd Rundgren for pure, immediate power.

Michael Penn was kind enough to spare DI an hour of his time to discuss making records (including why he hasn’t made a new rock album since 2005’s Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947 – an unsung classic of the early 2000s), his work on Girls, what it means to make a living making music in the modern times, and more.

Penn's 1989 Debut

Penn’s 1989 Debut

In 1989, I didn’t feel like The Beatles had won whenever I listened to the radio, and then your first record came out and I thought, “Yes, this is what it sounds like if The Beatles won.”

[Laughs] That’s a very sweet way of putting it.

From the beginning it seemed like you weren’t aiming to be part of what was on radio at the time, that you had a higher standard you were aiming towards.

I don’t know if it was aiming higher but it was certainly aiming at a different place. I grew up listening to a lot of music from the 60s. I grew up in the 70s but my musical appetite was such that I grabbed everything I could. And while I appreciated a bunch of stuff from the 50s and a bunch of stuff that was happening in the 70s, I really gravitated towards the mid-60s era, which was so fertile. For me, the benchmarks were The Beatles and Dylan, primarily – Dylan for lyrics and Beatles for melody – and my focus was not just songwriting but record making. Someone like George Martin was as important for me as Lennon and McCartney. The thing that really got me about that period, particularly as it moves into what’s known as the psychedelic period, was rock music got to a place where it was all about eclecticism. You could do anything. You could do an Indian rock number followed by a vaudeville homage.

The Beatles’ White Album is a shining example of the weird spray of styles possible under one roof.

Penn_RIO

It’s like someone said, “You’re free. You can do anything.” That, to me, what was so great about that period, and it stuck with me. Then, I got bored with pop music and got really into things like this movement in the 70s called RIO or Rock In Opposition. It was almost a punk aesthetic but with art-rock style music. It was very intentionally avant-garde, and I was immersed in that for years. At some point, I came back to writing songs and had this band that I kind of knew what I wanted to do with it but it was definitely not what was going on at radio at the time [laughs].

The process of exploring the past and finding something relevant and exciting to the present is a dynamic common to a lot of great art, to till the field and see what grows from old soil tilled by new hands.

I think that’s a part of my personality. In many ways, I feel like a steampunk. There’s a great quote from C.S. Lewis where he says if you’re on the wrong road then progress can mean going backwards. So, that’s kind of the way I looked at it, and a lot of the music that was happening when I was younger wasn’t reaching me. I didn’t like synthesizers, and as that palette took hold I just wanted no part of it.

Having Patrick Warren and his arsenal of vintage keyboard sounds on your early records was a real breath of fresh air in that era.

A Chamberlin

Chamberlin

The worst part was when they tried to have a string section that was a synth sound. There’s just no way that isn’t cheesy. So, I became obsessed with this guy Harry Chamberlin, and I worked for two summers to buy his instrument called the Chamberlin, which is a keyboard that can actually give you strings because it’s an actual recording of strings on tape. So, that instrument became a very prominent sound on my records because it had some of the textures I felt the music should have.

You sent me down a rabbit hole learning about Chamberlins and other vintage instruments in the same vein after seeing the names in the liner notes of your records. Are vintage instruments still a passion of yours? There is a soul and power to them that’s different than modern instruments.

Novachord

Novachord

Absolutely! Even in terms of synthesizers, the tube oscillator synthesizers that were around in the early part of the 20th century are cool like Ondes Martenot or the one Hammond made, the Novachord. Some of those things just sound remarkable and have such a texture to them because they’re not trying to be something else; they aren’t imitating strings or something.

That makes me think of Pierre Henry’s stuff, which feels very alive and alien because it isn’t trying to be anything but its own strange thing.

I love that stuff and if I had money and room I’d be accumulating a lot of these things!

As you’ve moved further into the field of soundtrack work has it freed you up to explore more of those Rock In Opposition ideas without the constraints of the pop-rock songwriting format?

In tiny ways it has. I don’t want to have an agenda going into a project. It has to be a really good fit and be right for a project. Some of my more – for lack of a better word – experimental ideas do get some play in the soundtrack world. It was always a treat for me to find moments to do that on my records, too, to have moments within a song that aren’t so traditional. But for soundtrack stuff, it’s really about finding the right thing for the specific project.

It keeps you busy but I have to ask why there hasn’t been a new song-oriented rock album since 2005?

Penn's Latest Studio Album

Latest Studio Album

To be honest, it’s very hard to think about making a record when that’s just not what you do anymore. And for me, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s made it a less alluring prospect to sit down and write and record 10-15 new songs. It’s a completely different world. So, I can continue to be a songwriter if I want to keep touring the rest of my life, but if I want to be a record maker, well, recorded music for its own sake is no longer viable.

There are still plenty of people out there making great albums but they’re not making money from that. They’re making money from touring, and that’s a bargain I’m not that interested in. Touring was not my favorite part of the job to begin with. I’ve got my own issues and being on the road isn’t necessarily healthy for me. And it’s not what I got into it for, which was to make recorded music. Soundtrack work allows me to do that though I’m not a songwriter, which I miss very much. I hope at some point to have the time and money to do that again but I am enjoying the work I’m doing these days.

Maybe the modern era may offer some opportunities to do singles, EPs and albums offered directly to listeners and fans via the internet without a label or other intermediary. Radio may not welcome these variations of formats but there’s a potential audience that might.

Penn_BrotherSingle

Yes, I agree with you and there are opportunities to make things happen. I did this single for Sweet Relief [pick it up here], and I’d like to do things like that more often.

It plays to some of your strengths. I’ve often thought you had singles on your albums in the classic sense that maybe don’t jive with the modern meaning of singles. Your melodic sense means you’re writing singles for the Great Jukebox In The Sky and not VH1.

The way my head works on that is a single is just a great song and I’m always trying to write a great song. So, it’s always sort of the goal, but at the same time, I know I can be a bit odd in terms of my melodic structures. The last thing I want to do is repeat myself or do something somebody else has done. When you’re dealing with 12 notes in a scale and a basic harmonic sense engrained in me it does become challenging to find something new to say in an emotional way. It’s not about radio. It’s about coming up with something that’s dynamic and makes you feel something. That’s what a great song should be.

Penn_Count

You’ve put out a tidbit here and there like ”The Count of Pennsylvania”, which show you’re as on-point as ever as a songwriter. Are you compiling material for some future day?

I write when I feel the impulse, but I haven’t really recorded anything in years besides my soundtrack work. Again, it’s gonna be a moment where I have a little breathing room. The good part is when I do get to there it will be because I want to do it. It won’t be for any reason other than that.

You’ve been doing music for the HBO series Girls for both seasons. You hit the right mood for the series, and I dug the song that closed season one [listen here]. Has it been a good experience working on the show?

Girls Soundtrack

Girls Soundtrack

It’s been really great. Lena [Dunham] is just fantastic to work with. Her writing is so sharp and so smart. It’s been a fantastic gig.

I find her writing to be a real frog-in-slow-boiling-water experience, where I’m initially not sure if I’m digging it and then when it all ties together at the end I’m generally impressed.

She has real insight and gives a shit.

It’s fun to make art in conjunction with another art form, to let different disciplines speak to one another.

That’s something I really enjoy and it’s something I never get from making records. When I make records it’s a very solitary thing. It’s not like I’m in a band. I tend to produce myself. I write it and often play a lot of the instruments. It’s very solitary. [Soundtrack work] is much more collaborative and that’s fresher to me at the moment.

Having others as a catalyst for what you do takes some of the weight off from constantly generating ideas, angles to work, etc. I’ve been impressed with your evolution as a soundtrack composer. It’s a very different language than rock.

Penn_Girls2

It is. There are certain things that are similar in terms of emotional content where you’re trying to use melody to reach people. That part of it is the same. It’s been really great on Girls because there’s a tendency with a lot of score work to really try and stay neutral because you don’t want to direct the emotion of a scene unless it’s appropriate. Oftentimes the moments composers get to have when they score stuff and guide you through a scene emotionally, a lot of those moments are now taken up by songs in movies and TV, those moments are taken away from the composer. But, even though there are a lot of songs on Girls, there’s also been a lot of opportunities for me to do that.

I’m a big fan of the classic soundtrack guys like Bernard Herrmann, Mancini, and Nino Rota, and all these guys had a sense of personality that emerged in their work. That’s a much bigger challenge in an era, as you point out, where neutrality is more the rule than the exception. Do you feel you’ve developed a personality as a soundtrack composer?

Well, I don’t think about it but I certainly hope so [laughs]. I think can be objective enough to say that I do. It’s certainly idiosyncratic enough that would make sense, so let’s just hope that communicates.

You said touring isn’t really your bag but what does lure out to do the occasional show. I caught you a time or two at Café du Nord in San Francisco. What prompts you out?

Michael Penn

Michael Penn

New songs. That’s the one foot that has to be followed by the next foot. For me to think about going out and doing a tour, to think about playing a bunch of shows where most of the songs, at the newest, are 5-6 years old, doesn’t really get me charged up. If I had a batch of new tunes I’d be completely up for it. It’s really a matter of me deciding the time is right to woodshed a bunch of new songs and then try to get them recorded.

The intimacy of you and a guitar is great, and it’s where truly good songs live or die. If the bones of the thing aren’t sturdy you’ll know it right away in that setting.

No question, and for me that’s always the way a song has to begin AND then the fun part begins with the arranging and recording. Again, that’s as much of why I got into this as writing the song, finding a way once you have the song to paint it out and have it live in its own world. That can be something really simple like a guitar and a voice but it has to be dictated by the song. That’s what I miss more than playing live.

I’ve always gotten the sense that you listen to your songs well. There’s an emotional truth and organic grace to the way you dress them and send them into the world. Sometimes sounds serve things on a subliminal level we can’t reach with language.

Penn_ListeningParty

I think that’s true, and I also think it’s a way of experiencing the song, for lack of a better word, that’s more cinematic, where you can create an environment that can hopefully absorb you as a listener. But a lot of this is coming from what I’d guess a lot of people would consider a very old fashioned view of music, which is music as a shared experience in front of a hi-fi, where you’re listening through speakers rather than through your phone or earbuds, it’s enveloping you and it becomes a participatory act of really listening to something and getting into it, which is the way I grew up and listened to music with my pals as a teenager, sitting around on a good evening where we got together specifically to listen to records. I’m sure in 30 years there will be people bemoaning the wonder years of videogames where people actually sat together and played them in the same room. Those are the sort of shared experiences that have moved into other realms. Music is a more isolated thing. I’m not talking about live music; I’m talking about recorded music.

The iconic image of the whole family gathered around the radio during the 1930s and 1940s goes right to this point.

It’s a different way of listening. You can hear the music in any number of ways and it takes different forms. It’s an attitude issue.

Picking up on somebody else’s enthusiasm for a particular piece of music has been essential my evolution as a listener and appreciator of music. So, you have “1947” in the title of one of your records and you’ve done a cover of “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” Is there some longing in you for an earlier time?

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini

No, I don’t think that’s it. For me, I may be completely wrong about this but it just seems like music serves a different function in society than it once did. Maybe I’m wrong but it feels that way to me. It’s shifted somehow, and the symptoms of that shift can be seen in how it’s not a viable commodity anymore because it can be downloaded for free very easily. The reality of most people listening to music on YouTube and not paying for it has to be dealt with it. The rise of popular music and its evolution as a corporate commodity probably devalued it. There was this golden age I got to live through but I have to remind myself that it’s gone. When I grew up there were huge stars but they weren’t just huge stars because they were funded by a big company but because they had musical worth and people saw value in what they were doing. But, in 1920, the biggest star in the world was a magician, so clearly these things change over time [laughs]. The tricky thing with recorded music is realizing that music as a commodity is not that old. Before that there was sheet music and that was the original souvenir. Then records followed and became their own art form. My relationship to it is I’m not into being beholden to my past and my relationship to music I had in my youth but I still want to approach it with respect.

You can honor the past without having to be constricted by it.

Penn_CDTrash

The business started to change dramatically in the seventies but the seventies were also the last era where the business was run by people with actual musical backgrounds. The things that were being signed were not only getting signed for completely crass, commercial reasons because the people making those decisions were music people. That started to change and the music people who survived were the ones who understood that we were now in a blockbuster mentality where the measure of success had to be so enormous to justify the machine they were building to promote it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t serve anybody very well. And then there was just a horrible lack of foresight with music and how to deal with the realities of the digital age. The industry was just blind about it even though many others readily saw what was coming. They went from selling a wave form embedded in an object to just selling the wave form. Without having thought that one through they shot themselves in both feet.

It boils my blood that people claim to love a musician and then take their music for free. It seems like it would be self-evident that one needs to support an artist with dollars as well as enthusiasm if they want that artist to thrive and continue making music they claim to love.

But it’s not really self-evident, especially to someone growing up now because it’s already a different world. The notion of music as a permanent object is non-existent.

I know, I know. I sound like Old Man Cook yelling at the kids from my porch.

I’m absolutely certain I sound like that but I’m comfortable with my porch.

Baby, You're A Star!

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The Curtis Mayflower

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What makes you tick, darling? What makes you sick, darling? Clockwork hearts have broken parts but there’s a fix, darling.

Debut Album

Debut Album

Feel can’t be manufactured. A lot of other stuff can be faked or Pro-Tooled these days but feel, the essential intangible to really good music, only occurs naturally. It’s the thing that makes one’s hair stand up long before one understands why. Feel is what makes us hit repeat and gush apostolically about a band’s merits to friends. Central Massachusetts-based The Curtis Mayflower oozes feel from the first bubbling notes through the last moaning chords of their excellent debut album Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack (released January 28), which vibrates with immediacy, all hot breath and focused attack on this 11-song, live off the floor collection of one-takers.

The Curtis Mayflower by Marc Blackmer

The Curtis Mayflower by Marc Blackmer

The Curtis Mayflower play rock ‘n’ roll of the best, broadest kind – Duane-era Allman Brothers and Delaney & Bonnie and the Butterfield Blues Band in their prime spring to mind – delivered with a confidence, manly aura and sure-footed skill that’s downright seductive, a sound with a wide appeal to electric blues nuts, jam band kids, Muscle Shoals enthusiasts, and perhaps Black Keys fans looking for something deeper and more subtle. Pete Aleksi (guitar, backing vocals), Duncan Arsenault (drums, percussion), Jeremy Moses Curtis (bass, backing vocals), Brooks Milgate (keyboards, accordion, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Craig Rawding (lead vocals, harmonica) get after it with a sincerity, rugged tenacity and earthy vibe. In other words, there’s the unmistakable sense that these dudes are after IT in a most tenacious way all over their debut.

All veteran players with resumes that include stints with Levon Helm, Booker T Jones, Jim Carroll, Mark Burgess and others, the combination of personalities and talents in The Curtis Mayflower is evident real deal chemistry. Together these guys swing, hard and long, and their pleasure and purpose infuse the music. And while they can rock the hell out (“Crawl No More,” “Carry Your Burden” and “Ben The Destroyer” growl and howl convincingly) it’s when they slow it down during the early album sequence of “Last Kiss,” “Punchline” and “Paraselene” that it’s most obvious this band knows what it’s doing, reining in and releasing its power with effective intuition. This sequence is also where the deep soul of Rawding’s lead vocals really emerge, a powerhouse cousin to Frankie Miller, Robert Palmer and Warren Haynes (there’s actually a fair amount of kinship with Gov’t Mule with this whole band). One can easily imagine the closed eyes and clenched fists as he drags out all the feeling inside him and launches it at the listener with walloping force.

Studio Working

Studio Working

Everybody can play in this band, like down in the cut, got that groove by the teeth musicianship, and the Impound is knocked out by the flowing, muscular rhythm team of Curtis and Arsenault, the shifting, sexy keyboard work of Milgate (who brings to mind a merger of Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright and young Gregg Allman), and the way guitarist Pete Aleksi burns hard in the right measures but shines equally well when he embeds himself in the sinews. There’s not a ton of solos and the preference for textures and ensemble playing intensifies the feeling of a group effort. Cool little touches abound on Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack, including some sweet baritone sax from Dana Colley on “Clockwork Hearts”.

The Curtis Mayflower joins the growing ranks of what Dirty Impound calls the Real Rock Revolution. It ain’t happening on video channels or most commercial radio stations but something bred in the bone and birthed from Classic Rock’s soil is emerging, and these cats join Dead Boots, Ghosts of Jupiter, Futurebirds, Powder Mill, Rose Hill Drive, The Steepwater Band, Lions In The Street, Go By Ocean and a handful of others uninterested in catering to industry tastes but utterly committed to forging tough, craftsman-wise and gut level true music. It’s also a fair guess that if one is partial to what the Tedeschi-Trucks Band is laying down these days they’re going to find a lot simpatico in The Curtis Mayflower – savvy blues fest organizers take note.

Bottom line, this band is in it to make music that means something to them. There’s zero hint of market planning or demographic catering, just music for the beautiful, life-affirming sake of it, suffused with heart and skill, ready to soundtrack the working weeks and long hours folks face every sunrise.

OMG this is really happening

ALO's Steve Adams

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ALO by Jay Blakesberg

ALO by Jay Blakesberg

There’s a lot to be said for starting new traditions. Sure, the calendar is already crammed with loads of generally held annual occasions but the ones we choose for ourselves often have greater meaning. These closely held dates signify what’s important to us, what we consider worthy of elevation, where our hearts truly reside. For the California tribe primo party rockers ALO have gathered around them the annual Tour D’Amour is a thing of love, both in how it’s loved by fans and how it boldly & broadly celebrates love in a larger sense. It’s a chance for these super-pro musicians to reconnect with their home state faithful with a roaming musical Valentine that many consider some of the group’s best each year. The kinetic, symbiotic energies between the band and the crowd is reliably delightful at these shows, and the overall effect is good times, dancing, and some of the best pop-rock going today.

DI snagged ALO bassist Steve Adams for a few questions about the band as they soon embark on Tour D’Amour VIII beginning February 13 in Santa Barbara. Find the full itinerary here.

1. The title of the latest studio album reads like a sentence, and to these ears, comes across like a succinct mission statement when taken together. So, dance a little about architecture and tell us about what ALO sounds like.

ALO_SoundsLike

The title Sounds Like This came mainly from Zach’s lyrics in “Blew Out the Walls”, which became a pivotal track for us throughout the making of the record. As a band, we turned inward a bit on this one. Our three-record label deal was at its end and we didn’t really even know if we’d be putting out our next record on Brushfire. That alone made us ask ourselves. “Ok, well, if it was just us again, back in the basement, working on tunes just for ourselves, what would that be?” Zach’s lyrics in “Blew” captured that feeling well, reflecting on that early time of discovery and making music with no attachments or expectations In a way, I think the band was returning to that place again, with the feeling of, “Let’s just do this for us and see what happens”. And when we put our name and the title together – “ALO Sounds Like This” – it just clicked as a great title to describe this moment of finding ourselves again. It also seemed to answer the question asked so often by people who don’t know your music: “So what do you guys sound like?” Maybe it was even a call to attention, like if you didn’t know who we were or what we sounded like yet, here ya go, check this out!

2. Pop has become a dirty word to a lot of people in the 21st century, perhaps because of what largely populates the airwaves now. ALO has always seemed to embrace pop in the classic sense (The Beatles, 80s radio fare). What do you dig about this single-minded form of music making?

ALO_Bubblegum

Pop isn’t such a dirty word for us. Yes, there’s some bad Pop music out there, stuff that feels very contrived and just made to sell. But there’s also some good stuff. With those big Pop record budgets, sometimes interesting new things can emerge. And of course, if you include the Beatles, Esquivel, Motown and all the many great bands and artists in between, those are big influences on us. The art of crafting a song, arranging it and recording it the best you can, those are things we try to do too.

3. You four have played together pretty much the whole of your adult lives. What’s it like to play with these three guys? What do you think lies at the core of your chemistry as a quartet?

ALO

ALO

Maybe like some kind of family band, I think ALO has the ability to be really in-tune with each other, like a sixth sense type of thing. I think we can anticipate moves, finish sentences, understand glances. It can get us in trouble sometimes too though, because sometimes you don’t need to know so much – too much information! Sometimes a streamlined simplicity can get you through the gig a little easier, with a few less waves of emotion to process. But that special connection we share can really allow some amazing magical musical moments to happen, too. So interesting sometimes that when you listen back, you’re not even sure how you did what you did. I think our long-time friendship and trust and love for each other is the core of this chemistry. As long as we continue to nurture and care for that, I think we’ll be able to keep taking fun musical leaps and connect even deeper as a band.

4. A big part of this band’s reputation is as a live band. Talk a bit about the difference between delivering these songs live versus what you do in the studio.

Steve Adams by Kerri Kelting-Leslie

Steve Adams by Kerri Kelting-Leslie

Live and studio are two different contexts for sure. We try to serve each for what they are. In the studio, you can get really detailed with sound choices and arrangements. Live, it’s a bit more of a creative mess. For some reason in ALO, we’ve always allowed each other to be very free. So as opposed to just recreating what we did in the studio, there is this freedom that anyone can start a song a little different, or even play a song a little different. It keeps us on our toes, and connected to each other, and the moment. We always write a good little road map for a set, and usually mix up the song selections pretty good, but I think the real magic is what happens off the page – the banter that gets filled in, the left turns people take, the extended solo that someone was feeling, someone in the audience yelling something out. I think it’s those moments that make our shows feel alive, and I would imagine it’s what keeps people coming back to see us, as much as hearing the tunes they love.

5. A favorite song to play live? Why?

ALO_ManoftheWorld

It’s funny, we hardly play the song live, maybe because it’s a little bit slower. And maybe even because we don’t play it much, it always excites me when I see it on a setlist, but “States of Friction” from Man Of The World is one of my favorites [Editor’s Note: One of the Impound’s favorite ALO tunes, too]. It’s different than most of our songs, the groove of it, and we pulled in some of the cool soundscapes we created in the studio into a sampler we use live. The texture and ambiance always sounds really neat to me. I like Zach’s lyrics to the song too, which I get to sing on a few harmony parts. It’s just a cool tune and one that speaks to me.

6. Best part of touring life? Most challenging/negative part of touring life?

ALO_Tour

The best part of touring for me is getting to see so many different places. I love meeting new people and experiencing the different cultural styles. I love hitting up recommended food spots and discovering cool little record stores.

The most challenging part is no doubt staying healthy. The long drives, the lack of consistent sleep, the eventual bad food stops, the temptation of having a few drinks each night (our office is a bar after all) are all challenges in staying bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Adrenaline can sometimes get you through tough little spurts, but on marathon tours you really have to think sustainably. Mental preparation sometimes helps me, keeping your head up so you’re aware of what kind of storm you’re headed into and where and when you’ll get a chance to rest and recoup.

7. With more than 20 years in ALO’s history – countless tours, special shows like the recent Fly Like An Eagle late night, seven studio albums – what do you think the future of ALO holds? Rock operas? More elaborate costuming? Chorus girls and helper monkeys onstage? What’s next?

ALO_HelperMonkey

Well, I could certainly imagine developing our live show so it’s an even more elaborate experience. We keep discovering new ways to stitch our material together and use different songs to tell certain stories each night. I could see incorporating more visual stage stunts. I could see possibly even expanding the band a bit with percussion, horns and more vocals. I could also see this move affecting our studio work, as far as creating music that may support a bigger stage show approach. Rock operas, chorus girls, helper monkeys? Exactly!

Ravings

Dirty Impound’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2013

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Top25_Intro In a year where many musicians chased modernity and way too many rock bands strived to be dance bands, Dirty Impound finds itself more in love than ever with bread ‘n’ butter rock ‘n’ roll, a sound largely neglected by most critical organs – especially if it was self-released or put out on a smaller indie label, who generally shrink from anything that smacks of classic rock if it’s not by a brand name like Pearl Jam, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen. Rather than reinvent the wheel a lot of DI’s 2013 picks reminded us what a sweet invention the wheel is and showed how it can roll splendidly in the right hands. Through sturdy, largely flash-free musicianship, strong but unobtrusive production, and most importantly GREAT FUCKING SONGS, these artists sculpted albums that skirted the single-focused, consciously ephemeral zeitgeist that plagues music today, particularly the mainstream lifestyle accessory widget factory. Each of these albums is a life-affirming reminder of what long-form thinking, dedication to craft, undisguised passion, emotional intuitiveness, a dash of daring, and no small measure of natural talent can produce.

Now, on with the show…

Dirty Impound’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2013

[Presented In Alphabetical Order]

Akron/Family: Sub Verses

Top25_Akron Like yoga for the mind and ears, the sixth studio outing from this ever-evolving trio resonates in the listener’s meat and bones, alternately thunderous and delicate in its deep vibrations but always unmistakably human. There’s something primordial and ancient to the forces Akak stir and mold, a sound both psychedelic and caveman basic infused with laughter and tears, yearning and abiding satisfaction, music that draws one closer to both the divine and the terrestrial with strokes bold and subtle. As unique and potent a band as this age has produced.

The Bye Bye Blackbirds: We Need The Rain

Top25_ByeBye Give the Big Star nostalgia a rest and grok this superb Oakland descendent. Melding finger-snapping, sock hop inspiring moves with growling, ringing guitars, pleasing, radio-ready vocals, and one terrific tune after another, the Blackbirds raise the spirit of Jesus of Cool-era Nick Lowe and In Color period Cheap Trick on this fiercely catchy, smartly carved collection. [original review]

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away

Top25_NickCave 30 years into an experiment that began with the thoughtful molestation of the blues, Kurt Weill and punk, Nick Cave and his trusty Bad Seeds are still bloody intriguing. Where the previous two releases, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008) and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2004), were tinged with wildness, as extrovert and blissfully flailing as anything in the group’s catalog, Push The Sky Away is a lovely, subtle exercise in restraint. There is tension and sway but little explicit release, and always the luxurious, gutter-wise language of Sir Nick, his Devil’s molasses voice caressing the undulating moans of his men as they drive pop culture into a mountain of eternal truths.

Ceramic Dog: Your Turn

Top25_CeramicDog The clang and closeness of big city streets and contemporary hustle bustle careens around this musically bumptious power trio led by guitarist extraordinaire Marc Ribot (Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Tom Waits). Ceramic Dog renovates the noisy freedom of vintage CBGB’s and uses it to excavate truth and nicely dented vibrancy today. “Those searching for rigorously applied formal constraints may have to wait. Ceramic Dogs just wanna have fun,” says Marc Ribot. “If you listen closely, you can hear the rage, hope, disappointment, ritual excess, love and anarchy that were in our personal and collective airspace during [the making of this album].” [original review]

Clutch: Earth Rocker

Top25_Clutch Utter pummeling brilliance. Earth Rocker is rock shorn of its excesses and conceits, a creature of ropey muscle, Adamantium bones and snarling, smart things to say. Moving into their third decade together, the quartet is sharper, tougher and more engaging than ever, crafting an album that makes the competition seem lazy and sleepy by comparison. Yes, there’s a nod to the blues, which they’ve exhibited a sweet tooth for on other recent albums, but the accelerator is mostly pressed through the floorboard as Maryland’s finest confirm their spot atop hard rock mountain. (DI Interview with Clutch)

Cold Satellite: Cavalcade

Top25_ColdSatellite Gutbucket true and gorgeously rowdy, the second offering from Cold Satellite reminds us rock need not be polite to be heady or overtly arty/experimental to break new ground. Swinging on riffs vintage Rolling Stones or Faces would have been proud to stumble into, Jeffrey Foucault and his gifted collaborators swing on the poetry of Lisa Olstein, and the results are intelligently saucy and subtly intoxicating – a work deeply simpatico with tying one on OR having a quality think. (DI Interview with Jeffrey Foucault)

The Del-Lords: Elvis Club

Top25_DelLords Two guitars, bass and drums. Earthy, streetwise-dappled voices raised in resistant fortitude. Crushingly good songs. Poppin’, hefty production that lets the music come through clean and clear. The return to the studio for this beloved 80s cult band testifies to things getting better with age. It’s not complicated stuff but these guys just do it better than most other bands. One of DI’s favorite driving records in 2013 – a real top-down, glad-to-be-alive vibe that’s perfect for devouring distance and shedding troubles along the white lines. (DI Interview with The Del-Lords)

Dolly Varden: For A While

Top25_DollyVarden The Impound’s favorite Chicago rock outfit – Clem Snide/Eef Barzelay being a close second – delivered a beautiful, richly melodic, wonderfully sung, all-around well put together song cycle about memory, history, and how lucky we are even if we don’t know it. Most bands don’t knock out their most off-handedly excellent album 20 years into a career but that’s just what Dolly Varden has done. If you dig folks like Aimee Mann, Badfinger and other top-shelf pop-touched rock then this should be your gateway into one of the finest American bands around. If nothing else, take a focused listen to the track below (especially if you’re a musician – this will resonate with you), which never fails to choke DI up. (DI Interview with Dolly Varden’s Steve Dawson)

Endless Boogie: Long Island

Top25_EndlessBoogie This NYC gang oozes all the undisguised carnality and lick-you-all-over lustiness that the vast majority of rock ‘n’ roll today simply can’t muster. Long Island walks with giants like Blue Cheer and 70s Stones but in ways more subterranean, more crazed-blues inflected than their ancestors. Everything is just the right amounts of sloppy and tight, the whole affair careening with stoned gravity that curls around one and leaves one flushed, moist, grinning and enjoyably off-kilter. (original review) (Endless Boogie is playing a Union Pool Residency in NYC this January)

Hiss Golden Messenger: Haw

Top25_Hiss Beginning with a dance through forked-tongues that cries – simply, directly and prayerfully – “Oh, Lord, be happy,” HGM’s latest salvo finds the fullest, richest distillation of their soulful, pastoral flavors to date. Already kin to Roy Harper, Michael Hurley and Bonnie Prince Billy/Palace, with this album Hiss Golden Messenger – built around the core Mike Taylor and Scott Hirsch – has carved out their identity, that intangible thing that makes them who they are and not just an assemblage of influences and prescribed formulas. Death, life, rebirth, God and Man (in the big sense) stroll Haw’s corridors but with a delicacy and verisimilitude that makes them breathe in ways that palpably inform and uplift us children of the dust. DI’s Favorite Workingman’s Hymnal of 2013. (original review)

Jason Isbell: Southeastern

Top25_Isbell You’re either not paying attention or have terrible taste in music if you don’t include Isbell’s latest in your list of 2013’s finest releases. From the first staggeringly perfect song on through one fantastic number after another – each delivered with the feeling and refined touch that would make ol’ Charlie Rich smile – Southeastern is as fabulous a singer-songwriter album as anything Kris Kristofferson, John Prine or Townes Van Zandt generated at their best. The heart and human failings are examined with tenderness and clear-eyed truthfulness, and each setting – from bare light bulb intimacy to beer hall ready bravura – suits each song to a tee. Again and again one is inspired to say aloud, “Jeezus, this guy is really fucking good.” Still giving DI shivers after dozens of spins. (original review)

Jerry Joseph: Self-Titled

Top25_JerryJoseph The way one can truly tell the true merit and measure of a singer-songwriter is when they step into the spotlight with just a guitar, their voice and a tune to share. If it flies in this raw setting then one knows they’ve experienced something real, something of quality descended from troubadours, traveling showmen and deskbound Brill Building scribes. For all the albums he’s made and many forms he’s taken Jerry Joseph has never been so wonderfully exposed as he is on Self-Titled. With the volume down and electricity low, Joseph picks out some of the sturdiest, most gorgeously crafted bits of his vast songbook and lays them at our feet with little fanfare. The effect is tenderizing and thought provoking like weather that steals one’s words and sends their thoughts skywards and backwards in time and ultimately interior to face the feelings Joseph’s crosscut voice, wicked picking and ever-insightful, culturally savvy, wonder chasing, despair shattering music stir up. Self-Titled shares the spirit of Tim Bluhm’s California Way, John Martyn’s Solid Air and Eef Barzelay’s Bitter Honey – works that understand a few things about how people operate and gives that knowledge tuneful, transformative elegance.

(Jerry Joseph begins a solo acoustic tour in support of this fab album in January. Check out tour dates here.)

Nathan Moore: Hippy Fiasco Rides Again

Top25_NathanMoore A trickster, a blue jean Buddha, a prestidigitator, a new millennial vaudevillian, a grifter for love. Nathan Moore is all these things but above all he’s one of this generation’s finest singer-songwriters. Few others in his field have etched such distinctive, individual character or bravely gone where the musical currents have carried their feet with little thought to the consequences of surrendering to the fates. Interesting bits stick to Moore, his nature that of spiritual/cosmic Velcro, and Hippy Fiasco Rides Again finds him positively enrobed by cool contributions from players both well-established and amateur – PLAY is essential to the Moore zeitgeist. Yet, this doesn’t feel ramshackle in the slightest. The album has a flow and feel that’s quietly hypnotic, a beckoning wind that teases one to wander and wonder. “Plain As Day,” “Do You Believe In Ghosts?” and “Rollaway Bed” rank amongst his best tunes and they’re hardly lonely here. Nathan Moore is a bard for our troubled times and he’s given us another nourishing Baedecker to stuff in our satchel. (original review)

The Mother Hips: Behind Beyond

Top25_MotherHips If you’re not listening to The Mother Hips then you’re missing out on one of the great American rock bands of our time – and they ably hold their own against the pantheon that came before them, too. Each studio album has shown evolution and metamorphosis. The conversation is never the same twice, so it’s always wise to put one’s expectations out with the trash when it comes to the Hips. But the leap they’ve taken on Behind Beyond hums with future possibilities, their youthful jam tendencies finding deadly solid footing in the fab songs of today with an air of wisdom-touched maturity permeating the proceedings. This is rock for adults crafted by adults. (original review)

Willie Nile: American Ride

Top25_WillieNile Critics have been quick to heap praise on Springsteen’s recent studio work but for DI it’s been hard to swallow some of the populist sentiments and workingman attitude of a guy who’s been a millionaire for decades. True populism comes from the streets and it involves the lived-in ache of struggling to pay bills and find places where one’s voice can be heard. Willie Nile’s American Ride is just the sort of streetwise, struggling-to-make-it joint the ol’ U.S. of A desperately needs right now. There is the clang of bottom up hope born of an inner revolution that finds its fire and purpose in song and hard-won community. Nile has made some great records but this one takes the cake, the culmination of a career duking it out with all the right targets, a man of the people offering us anthems to carry us through our working weeks and workaday woes. (original review)

The Orange Peels: Sun Moon

Top25_OrangePeels If the Impound were the Sultans of Radio we’d make this Bay Area under-appreciated gem the benchmark for airplay. Beautifully crafted, lovingly sung, and pared of any fat or distractions, the songs on Sun Moon skip and sigh in ways that make life more fun, more full of feeling, more better. A wistful shimmer gleams in parts but not in a naval gazing, journal entry way. It’s just the bittersweet tang of being alive and the world having its way with us. If you’re a fan of pre-disco Bee Gees, prime Badfinger, or the quality jangle of Slumberland Records then you need to spend some quality time with The Orange Peels. (original review)

Powder Mill: Land of the Free

Top25_PowderMill “You can smell it from the road,” is the inscription that adorns the website of this criminally under-sung Missouri outfit, and there is a whiff of the real coming off them. These guys are comfortably in the lineage of forward thinking Southern rockers like the Drive-By Truckers and The Dexateens, where the concerns of daily life and the colorful characters that surround us even in the tiniest of towns find vibrant, totally rockin’ form in their music. Land of the Free is the best damn long-player yet from a band that’s consistently better with each passing year, their heart and soul growing steadily stronger and surer with each season. The liner notes, penned by yours truly, call them the true sons of Ronnie Van Zant who’ve made a record that “strives to drag Jesus from the dark side of town, eager to bring the good word to every battered, struggling soul living on the ragged, shadowy edge.” Powerful stuff but also utterly relatable to anyone living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if this is all there is to life.

Red Fang: Whales and Leeches

Top25_RedFang Album number three confirms this Portland quartet as the best thing to hit hard rock/metal since Mastodon. Sharply carved and progressive thinking, Whales and Leeches adds quality complications, little touches that show they’re thinking harder, playing harder, and trying to cram as much good stuff as they can into their music. Produced by The Decemberists’ Chris Funk, who also helmed the band’s previous album Murder The Mountains, this works both blasted hellaciously loud and as a bong-rip, headphone experience. And no stupid Cookie Monster with strep throat vocals because this band has two good singers and lyrics worth hearing and puzzling over – and trust us, nothing unlocks readily in the Fang catalog despite the visceral force they muster. Taken together, especially given the tremendous live versions surfacing on the current tour, Whales and Leeches offers loads of reasons to be excited about heavy music and this band’s future in it. Churn it up, motherfuckers!

The Steepwater Band: Live & Humble

Top25_Steepwater Slow and steady wins the race. It’s an overused cliché but it truly suits Chicago’s The Steepwater Band. Since the late 90s, they’ve steadfastly forged resoundingly solid music from the indestructible raw elements of the blues, classic rock, real country and other flavors. Like kindred spirits The North Mississippi Allstars, pre-Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac and Marc Ford, The Steepwater Band takes the past and gets it to shimmy in ways that make one stare and lick their lips. Live & Humble is a perfect primer in the best of their rich songbook and a showcase for all the roadhouse earned chops and flair the group has to offer. Again and again here, these guys go for it, presenting the core of the songs and then pushing them into the red in all the right ways. The good news is after you’ve been smilingly flattened by this live set you can get intimate with their ace studio work as the band stretches into fresh rounds of national touring in 2014.

The Stone Foxes: Small Fires

Top25_StoneFoxes Spend just a few minutes with San Francisco’s The Stone Foxes and one is struck by two things – how freakin’ nice they are AND the unmistakable passion they possess for real deal rock ‘n’ roll. That ardor and their instinctive capacity to deliver it in gut-punch, boot-scootin’ ways was evident on the Foxes’ first two albums and it sparks up regularly on Small Fires but the lads have chosen to consciously add greater depth to their rock stew. The conflict obsessed times we live in are held up to the light and examined in interesting ways on this album, and the takeaway is a need for greater compassion, greater awareness of others, and a commitment to love as hard as one can. It’s inspiring without being preachy, which suits these testifying young dudes to a tee. (DI Questionnaire with The Stone Foxes)

Tea Leaf Green: In The Wake

Top25_TeaLeaf An album that affirms that rock ‘n’ roll can be truly artful. Repeat spins reveal this SF quintet is perhaps the American answer to Crowded House in their fighting prime, sharing that great band’s intelligence, chops, top-flight songwriting, appealing, varied vocals, and enlivening attention to detail. In The Wake is a song cycle about what we go through and what we do once we’ve arrived on the other side. While such subject matter can weigh a record down, this is so playful, engaged and finely assembled that one exits feeling refreshed and a touch closer to truth with a capital “T”. (original review)

Truth & Salvage Co.: Pick Me Up

Top25_TruthSalvage This sing-a-long ready, heartwarming, real as rough road, sweet as a sunrise album reminds one how paltry mainstream music has become. In another era, these guys would already have a spate of Number One hits under their belts because this is Everyman (and Everywoman, too – this band really loves the ladies and they love ‘em right back) music that harks back to peak-era Doobie Brothers and Eagles. When so much of today’s music seeks obscurity and obfuscation in order to differentiate itself, Pick Me Up rustles up tune after tune that reaches out a hand to every damn person in earshot, gives them a lil’ spin, and sends them off with a smile. Like a lot of classic radio fare that once defined 70s AM radio, the directness and openness of Truth & Salvage Co. elevates one’s mood in ways that transcend logic – this just FEELS so dang good. (DI Interview with Truth & Salvage Co.)

Typhoon: White Lighter

Top25_Typhoon This is the kind of album that leaves one shaken up no matter how many times one listens to it. But it isn’t the devastation of despair that dominates White Lighter but hope clawing for the surface, gulping air and tunneling through all the wounds, history and rough stuff that stands between one and a life of connection, understanding and believable hope. And the music is so, so, so bloody exciting. Typhoon makes me feel like there are still new things to be done in rock even as they hold down all the necessary fundamentals. The instrumentation choices, the arrangements, and the weird curves that work against expectation add up to something hefty that also doesn’t feel like work for the listener. The voluminous (and in DI’s opinion undeserved) praise heaped on Arcade Fire for their emotional density and musical depth really belongs with Typhoon. The band’s driving force Kyle Morton says, “The record is a collection of seminal life moments, in more or less chronological order, glimpsed backwards in the pale light of certain death, brought to life by a remarkable group of people who hold as I do that the work is somehow important.” Intention is important and when combined with talent and bravery of this order it really does produce music that’s important – a tool for the living as they stretch over life’s abyss.

Chris Velan: The Long Goodbye

Top25_ChrisVelan As exposed and brave as Joni Mitchell’s Blue or Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, the latest offering from Canadian songsmith Chris Velan tackles the tough but all too common experience of really, really loving someone and realizing you’re not the one for them. Where most of us crawl away to hide in the shadows, Velan took his guitar and notebook to scribble down some wisdom and helpful reflection from within the worst of times. To love and not be loved in return – at least not on the same level – is a pain worse than most blades or bullets can produce. But there is a balm in music that directly addresses the confusion, the lingering I-want-the-best-for-you ache, and undeniable hurt and sadness at knowing that despite one’s best efforts there’s no way to chisel one’s self into something other than what they are. The Long Goodbye is a succinct, beautifully drawn work that may well help folks move on from such hurts and hampering history. (DI Interview with Truth & Salvage Co.)

White Denim: Corsicana Lemonade

Top25_WhiteDenim If there’s a more exciting guitar rock band emerging today then DI hasn’t encountered them. Long full of fascinating riffs and thought provoking verses, White Denim more fully embraces the Boston/Journey-esque classic rock animal lurking inside them on Corsicana Lemonade, an album that verily screams for oversized vintage Klimt speakers or a booming stereo in a cherry 70s El Camino. Oh, the music is as brainy and early Steely Dan-like as ever but it’s got more red meat in its teeth this time out. More bluntly, this is primo inducement to hip grind and fist pump that also doesn’t make one feel dumber or cheapened in the way it stirs these impulses.

Bubbling Under
Adam Ant: Adam Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter
Bad Religion: True North
Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers: self-titled
Barton Carroll: Avery County, I’m Bound To You
The Dirtbombs: Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!
Dr. Dog: B-Room
Dumpstaphunk: Dirty Word
Futurebirds: Baba Yaga
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion: Wassaic Way
Robyn Hitchcock: Love From London
Leroy Justice: Above The Weather
Kenny Roby: Memories & Birds
Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues
Tracorum: Tricked
This Town Needs Guns (TTNG): 13.0.0.0.0