Get Gone by Seratones

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Notable new releases this week include an epic loose concept album by emerging indie singer/songwriter Car Seat Headrest “Teens of Denial”, the second album from the pre-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch (with Petty on bass instead of guitar) “2”, new “supergroup” (featuring members from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Blood Brothers) Head Wound City’s loud hardcore abrasive “A New Wave of Violence” and new singles from the Scottish electronic band Chvrches and the criminally underrated Chicago rockers Chevelle.  All worth checking out.
Among the many great releases over the past month includes the debut album from passionate Louisiana vintage soul/R&B/punky garage rockers Seratones, titled “Get Gone”.  Imagine Alabama Shakes at their highest intensity, with some added Louisiana swing and a general looseness in their sound that gives off a celebratory vibe.  The band name is very fitting for the music they play, playing off of the word “serotonin” which is a chemical produced by the body that makes you feel happy.  Maybe Car Seat Headrest should talk to this band about coming up with a better name… Anyway, the band first formed in Shreveport, the original three all knew each from the local music scene – vocalist/guitarist A.J. Haynes, guitarist Connor Davis and drummer Jesse Gabriel.  Once they got a block of time in a local recording studio, the three added bassist Adam Davis (Connor’s brother).  The band quickly made a name for themselves on the local music scene with their live shows.  The Seratones got their big break when playing a show in Arkansas with a band called NERVES.  The NERVES lead singer worked at Fat Possum Records, one of the best southern indie labels, and he convinced the label head to check out the band.  The Seratones were signed by Fat Possum, and that led to their debut album that came out this month “Get Gone”.
Haynes is a POWERFUL vocalist and frontwoman and she is the main catalyst for the band.  Not that the rest of the band doesn’t do a great job backing her up, because they do.  But Haynes has a strong and dynamic voice that demands your attention.  She developed her pipes singing in church choirs (how many times have you heard that background for great singers?), and her destiny is to be singing this kind of music.  She can rip it up tempo, take it way down as needed – just a ton of versatility with her vocals and delivered with an energy and charisma that you can’t teach.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in the future for this band, hopefully they gain some positive press and firmly establish themselves in the music world.  And the album has a lot of great songs on it, I’d jotted down over half a dozen before picking the three I’m sharing below.  So there’s plenty of reasons to listen to their debut album – check them out!
“Choking on Your Spit” – This is the lead track on the album and it’s a great way to kick-off the record.  This song highlights the band’s punky, loose and loud side, but punk bands don’t typically feature a vocalist with these pipes.  This song launches full bore and maintains the intensity throughout its short runtime.  The one exception is the quick stop-start that is kicked back off by a little bass solo before the rest of the band blasts off into the ending. – bonus live performance from their national television debut
“Get Gone” – Taking things down a notch on the title track to show a slower side of the band but there’s no loss of intensity, it’s just shared in smaller doses.  Haynes’ vocals are highlighted a bit more since the music is slower and more open, and she gets plenty of room to stretch them out.  Davis also highlights some understated guitar playing, never flashy but provides some solid riffs throughout the track.

“Chandelier” – Kicking it back into a higher gear again, Haynes lets off a great little squeal near the beginning of this song before going into her vocals.  The band does an effective job of slowing it down a bit in order to highlight the sound when dial it back up.  Again, Haynes shows off vocals that are all over the spectrum, knowing when to bring it down and then ratchet up the intensity.  Near the end of this song, there’s a great little drum break before the band and Haynes dial it up to 10 until the track abruptly ends. – bonus live performance from their national television debut
Notable new releases this week are a bit slim but I’ll give a shout out to the new EP from New York indie rockers the Strokes “Future Present Past” and the 5th album from the duo featuring Alison Mosshart (The Dead Weather) on vocals The Kills “Ash & Ice” (it’s good, I’ve listened to it).

Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest

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Car Seat Headrest is a pretty stupid name for a band, but there’s a story behind it that makes more sense.  They actually started not as a band, but the work of a single artist, Will Toledo.  Toledo hails from Virginia, and first started recording music on his computer with the built in mic and music software that was included on it.  His recording techniques did grow in sophistication over time, but he was always seeking simple solutions to his recording problems.  When he discovered he preferred recording vocals in his car rather than in his home, that’s where he got the name that he currently records under.  6 years ago Toledo released his first album as Car Seat Headrest, titled “1”.  He then proceeded to release “2”, “3” and “4” within the next few months.  While he made them available on his online store, he added a warning that they were “not very good”.  He then released a compilation of b-sides and random songs that he described as pretty awful, but in 2011 he released an album without any disclaimers about how bad the music was.  He released a second album later that year that gained some critical buzz.  He then released two more albums in 2012 and another in 2013.  At this point, Toledo decided he needed to get out of Virginia, so he packed up and headed to Seattle.  This led to the release of “How To Leave Town” in 2014 which got him even more buzz.  This led him to sign with Matador Records, who released “Teens of Style” in Oct. ’15.  This brings us to May ’16 where Car Seat Headrest has released the new album “Teens of Denial”.  This is also the first album that Toledo recorded with other musicians (on drums and bass) in a professional studio.  While I’ve heard of Car Seat Headrest and read glowing accolades from enthusiasts, I’ve never listened to any of his work until this new album.  Toledo’s sound is a mix of lo-fi noises with pretty clear and innovative production.  He also displays a pretty wide-range of fairly experimental songwriting styles.  This makes for a pretty interesting and sprawling listen, but if you want to hear something that doesn’t sound mainstream, this would fit the bill.  Oh yeah, it’s also a concept album based on a kid named Joe who’s dealing with a host of issues and dilemmas about late adolescence and early adulthood.  The new album gained a little additional publicity when copies of it had to be pulled at the last minute when Ric Ocasek declined permission to use a few bars of The Cars “Just What I Needed” on “Just What I Needed/Not What I Needed”.  All the initial vinyl and cd copies had to be destroyed and Toledo reworked the song and titled it “Not What I Needed”.  Below are a few tracks to check out if you’re curious to hear what Car Seat Headrest is bringing to the table.
“Destroyed By Hippie Powers” – This may be the most rocking song on the entire album, so of course I was immediately drawn to it.  Loud guitars, a locked in rhythm section and some good hooks, what’s not to like?  I hear a little bit of Pavement in this track (and Weezer), but also a handful of other influences.  I especially love the part where the sound is cranked up even louder near the end (plus there’s cowbell). – (all I could find was an earlier version of this track performed live at Ground Zero 18 months prior to the album being released, not quite as good as the album version)
“Fill in the Blank” – More solid guitars ringing out on this song, which kicks off the new album.  The chorus is cool with just the right amount of sloppiness to give it a live and unrehearsed feel, with plenty of stops/starts.  This song brings in some more influences – yes, I can hear a little bit of the Strokes in there. 

“Vincent” – This shows off a little more of an experimental side of Car Seat Headrest’s songwriting.  This video is the edited version of the song, which takes out some stuff in the beginning that isn’t important in the song structure (album version is 7:30 long).  Toledo demonstrates some interesting vocal styles, throwing words out of his mouth at some parts on this song.  This is a track that may not register that hard when you first hear it, but then after you’ve heard it a few times it has suddenly left a very big imprint on your brain.  I heard this track come on the radio on a Sirius XM “alternative” alternative channel and immediately recognized that I knew the song, but wasn’t sure who the artist was until I looked at the name.  Then it all came together in a burst of realization.


Who Shot Ya by Living Colour

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Notable new releases include albums from eclectic rapper M.I.A. “A.I.M.” (evidently her last), Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have “Skeleton Tree” which also accompanies a feature film “One More Time With Feeling”, Jack White has a career spanning compilation “Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016”, clipping. features two rappers that are also in “Hamilton” and their 2nd album “Splendor & Misery” is a dystopian science fiction opera and finally The Beatles dropped a live album “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”.
Living Colour released an EP today “Who Shot Ya”, which is driving this week’s write-up.  Any new material from Living Colour is a cause for celebration.  Their last album came out 7 years ago so they are overdue for some new music.  While the EP only has three songs on it (along with remixes) and one of the three is a cover of the Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel”, it’s all good because it still has Corey, Vernon, Will and Doug playing together.  Living Colour has been around since the ‘80s, most of you are probably familiar with their biggest hit “Cult of Personality”.  However, this band is vastly underrated, the talent of each of these four guys is truly phenomenal.  For various reasons, they’ve only put out 5 albums over the past 28 years.  The first two albums featured Muzz Skillings on bass who was replaced by Doug Wimbish in the early ‘90s.  Hailing from NYC, the band also features Vernon Reid on guitar (underrated guitar god) and Corey Glover’s incomparable vocal abilities on themic.  And then of course the monster rhythm section of Will Calhoun on drums and Doug Wimbish on bass.  The band was finding their way, regularly performing at CBGB’s, when Mick Jagger took notice of them.  He produced a demo for the band and helped get them signed to Epic.  Their debut album “Vivid”, featuring “Cult of Personality” brought a lot of buzz and even a Grammy award.  Plus the band got to open for the Rolling Stones on their stadium tour that year (which I attended).  Of course since then, there’s only been four more albums.  The band broke up for a while from ’95-’01, before getting back together.  While they are still touring, they are not releasing a lot of new music.  So that’s why I’m featuring a few of the EP songs today, along with a track from their second album just so you can hear how good these guys were.
“Regrets” – This track settles into a nice groove, and is a slower and more simple song from the band.  Vernon Reid plays some great riffs and the rhythm section is locked in as always.  There’s plenty of space for Glover to show off his vocals as well.  My favorite lyric on this song is “I raised some hell; it felt like hell raised me”.  During the last minute, the band kicks it up several notches and you’re also treated to a very nice guitar solo from Reid.  This song would play great live.

“This Place Hotel” – Yes they covered the Jacksons, but who cares especially since they put their own stamp on this song.  Calhoun/Wimbish lock down a monster groove on this track, and Glover really gets to let loose with his vocals.  The lyrics are a little more simple than you’d typically hear from the band, but Glover takes the opportunity to put his stylistic stamp on them.  Reid also gets some space to throw down another solo near the end.

“Pride” – Reid is scorching from the first note on this track, and Calhoun/Skillings lay down a monster rhythm.  Keep in mind this song’s was recorded over 25 years ago.  Glover supplies his usual stellar vocals, but the band is really driving this song, there’s some great playing on here.  Reid demonstrates why he’s one of the most talented guitar players out there.

Nonagon Infinity by Bottomless Pit

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Notable new releases this week include new albums from noise/rap innovators Death Grips “Bottomless Pit”, a punkish yet very focused effort from White Lung “Paradise”, and an interesting collaboration-filled release from Montreal-based producer Kaytranada “99%”.  There were also new singles released this past week by both Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – I recommend checking both out.  There was nothing notable or interesting released by Drake – and yes, I’d be happy to say that to his face.  I’ve no clue why he’s popular, do people just feel sorry for his lack of real talent?
Well, I touted their new album dropping last week and lo and behold here they are a week later in my write-up – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.  Their new album is titled “Nonagon Infinity” and it’s a very interesting record.  First for some background, these guys formed five years ago in Melbourne, Australia and have just released their 8th album – yes do the math that’s 8 albums in 5 years.  NIN have been going for 28 years and have released only one more album than KG&LW.  These guys have a psych-rock garage sound and are quite experimental with their records.  Last year alone they released a 4-song jazz-prog epic where each track was 10:10 long and a second album recorded only on acoustic instruments.  “Nonagon Infinity” is nothing like either of those, this is their loudest, most focused and ferocious effort to date.  The most unique thing about “Nonagon Infinity” is that it’s designed to flow continuously from song to song with no breaks in an infinite loop – the last track seamlessly works back into the first track on the record.  This also means the songs are similar in pace/tempo and there are some repeating elements from track to track.  Nevertheless it’s a very fun and exhilarating listen – not to mention a great workout record.  The band really pulled it together on this effort and came out with something pretty special.  I’m highlighting 2 of the 9 tracks below.
“Gamma Knife” – This song starts off fired up and swinging and stays on that course throughout its 4+ minutes.  Buzz saw guitars, hoots and hollers, some wailing harmonica and a solid rhythm section provide the backbone for this track.

“Mr. Beat” – Besides a cool title, this track has a great repeating riff/chorus that just becomes a lockdown mantra in your head.  The singer sings right on the bassline during the chorus and there’s some cool organ work on this song.  Really, the chorus makes the whole song, along with the organ breakdowns.

“Brace For Impact (Live A Little)” – Probably the song with the best groove on the album, this song brings out a lot of different instrumentation.  Ringing guitars, a solid bassline, horns, organ – it’s all here on this track. – live version on Colbert’s late night show
“In Bloom” – If this sounds familiar to you, it’s a cover of Nirvana.  But the only part that would sound familiar are the lyrics.  Simpson makes this song his own, completely changing up the arrangement and it sounds perfectly at home within the context of his album.  The soft approach with the lyrics is very effective.  Sturgill grabs a hold of this song, wrestles it down and completely makes it his own.

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter by Margo Price

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Margo Price just released her debut album on Jack White’s Third Man Records label.  Margo definitely brings a classic singer/songwriter vibe to her record, which hints at some of the best parts of the classic country sound from the ‘60s & ‘70s but she adds her own personal stamp so it’s not overly nostalgic.  Titled “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter”, Price’s album has the markings of becoming a classic in this genre.  Her songwriting displays great narrative throughout, and it’s the little details she hones in on that help her stand out from the masses.  She recorded the album at Sun Studios, which she financed on her own.  Allegedly, she sold her wedding ring, car, instruments and vintage recording equipment to fund the recording at Sun.  Jack White was already a fan of Price, seeing her at various local shows in Nashville.  So she sent White her album and he was impressed enough to sign her to his label and release her solo debut.  I think it was worth her investment.
Price is not a newbie on the scene.  She grew up in Illinois, sang in the church and went to college to study dance and theater.  At the age of 20 she dropped out of college and moved to Nashville to work on a career in music.  She was in a few bands – Buffalo Clover where she ended up marrying the bass player.  The band released three albums until splitting in 2013.  Price then formed Margo and the Pricetags, a band with a revolving line-up that sometimes included Sturgill Simpson – another upcoming star in the alt-country scene.  This led to Price financing the solo album that got her signed to Third Man Records.
I’ve included three tracks below from “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” that will provide a good overview of her sound.  Even if country music isn’t your thing, check these out.
“Hands of Time” – This is the first track on the album and a great way to kick it off.  Price assembles quite the narrative during this song, which is an absolute knockout.  Typically it would be hard to follow this with 9-10 more songs that wouldn’t be seen as inferior, but Price is more than up to the task.  6:00 has never gone by so quickly.

“Four Years of Chances” – This song has such an awesome vibe to it, bringing the best of the ‘70s with a modern take.  A whole album of music sounding like this would be incredible – or maybe this song stands out that much more because it stands out uniquely.  A great country/rock/blues hybrid, complete with guitar and keyboard solos in the middle, this is a great song from the very first bass note. 

“Desperate and Depressed”–This is a stripped down song, just Price’s voice and two guitars spinning a tale ofabout people who only want to take advantage of you.  This track may only appear on MP3 versions of the album as a bonus track.  “10% of nothing ain’t worth a dime” is one of my favorite lines in this song.  There is some nice guitar work throughout on this. 

Post Pop Depression by Iggy Pop

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This week featuring the likely swan song from an artist I’m sure many thought would never still be around at this stage in his life…
Considered by many to be the godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop has been playing music for the past 50 years.  Born and raised in a trailer park in Michigan, Iggy (real name James Osterberg) was forming bands while he was still in high school.  He started off on the drums, playing in blues bands in Chicago after a stint at the Univ. of Michigan didn’t work out.  He then went back to Ann Arbor and formed a rock band, electing now to be the frontman instead of the drummer.  His inspirations included Jim Morrison and Lou Reed.  He was aiming for a band that was aggressive, sexually charged and repetitive.  He hooked up with two brothers and a bass player and they formed the Psychedelic Stooges (later shortened to just the Stooges).  Right around the same time, Osterberg changed his name to Iggy Pop.  Iggy gained a reputation for being crazed onstage, confronting the audience and working himself into such a frenzy that he was usually bleeding by the end of the night from various cuts and scratches.    The band released two albums, a S/T one and “Fun House” but they sold so poorly (plus there were drug issues) that the band was dropped by their label.  Ironically both albums have now become classics and were massive catalysts for what became punk rock.
David Bowie, who was a fan, ended up tracking down Iggy Pop and convinced the now clean and sober singer to restart his career.  He relocated to England, paired up with a second guitarist the Stooges had enlisted and signed with Bowie’s management company.  They then reunited with the Asheton brothers and the Stooges were back in business.  They signed with Columbia and released “Raw Power”.  Pop’s goal for this record was for it to be so brutal and powerful it would physically hurt the listener as it played.  Bowie produced and the album was another commercial flop.  The band went back heavy into drugs and broke up for a second time.  Iggy was homeless at one point on the streets of Hollywood.  He later checked into a psychiatric hospital and started writing some music while he was there.  Bowie came and visited him and offered to take Pop out on the road with him to support Bowie’s new album.  They moved to Berlin together and Bowie helped Pop get a solo record deal.  Bowie helped write and produce “The Idiot” and “Lust For Life” for Pop, which sold better than any of the Stooges’ albums.  This led to a long solo career, with many ups and downs along the way. 
After 30 years had passed since the Stooges were together and many bands had cited them as an influence since then, Pop brought the band back together in 2003 to record some songs on his current album and do some touring as the Stooges.  In 2010, Iggy and the Stooges were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and did some touring during that timeframe.  After the second member of the Stooges died in 2014, that closed the final chapter on the Stooges.  That brings us to 2016 when Iggy Pop has now released possibly his final album, “Post Pop Depression”.  The unique thing about this album, other than it probably being the last of a very long and storied career, is that he co-wrote it with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), with help from Dean Fertita (QOTSA, the Dead Weather) and Matt Helders (Arctic Monkeys drummer).  They recorded the album in secret and funded it independently, so it was a complete surprise when it was announced to the public in January.  The album came out last week and it’s a solid effort.  If you like Pop, Homme or QOTSA, there’s plenty to enjoy about “Post Pop Depression”.  I’ve included the first two tracks from the album down below to check out.
“Break Into Your Heart” – You’ll get a good idea of Pop’s current vocal style, which is obviously very different from his Stooges days.  Keep in mind he’s 68, and it’s been a HARD 68 years.  It’s kind of a talking/singing voice, but Iggy make’s the most of it.  And actually, his vocal style worksextremely well with the type of music Homme tends to write.  This was actually a surprisingly good pairing.  The end of the song is particularly interesting when it slows down and really focuses on Pop’s voice.    This track could have easily been a B-side from the most recent QOTSA album.

“Gardenia” – This track probably has the biggest commercial potential.  Very catchy chorus and again, very well-suited for Pop’s vocals.  The bouncing bass line drives the song forward, while Pop “speaks” his vocals in between the music. 

Firestone by Kygo feat. Conrad Sewell

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Kygo ft. Conrad Sewell – “Firestone” – Kygo comes to us from Norway and is pretty new to the EDM/Dance scene. Like Zedd, Kygo started out in music as a classically trained pianist. When he was about 16, he decided to leave the classical realm of music and started to produce EDM music while watching tutorials on YouTube. He primarily gained success through releasing tracks on SoundCloud and YouTube. In 2013, he released an unofficial remix of Ed Sheeran’s track “I See Fire”; this track has received over 50 million plays on SoundCloud. Thanks to the success of this remix, Kygo was approached by Avicii and Chris Martin from Coldplay to make official remixes of their songs. It was at this time that Kygo established a good relationship with Avicii and toured with him in the early part of 2014. This lead to Kygo stepping in for Avicii during a festival, due to some health concerns for Avicii. In December of 2014, Kygo released his first single “Firestone” featuring Conrad Sewell. This track has helped catapult Kygo into mainstream airplay and it has over 200 million views on YouTube. Since dropping “Firestone”, Kygo has gone on to drop 3 additional songs from his highly anticipated debut album Cloud Nine; sadly there isn’t an official date for the album. I will say that based on the 4 songs that he has released thus far, the studio album is looking like it’ll be a great success.

Ouroboros by Ray LaMontagne

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If you had told me a week ago I’d be featuring the latest album titled “Ouroboros” from Ray LaMontagne, I would have likely responded that you must have mistaken me for someone else.  I had heard a little bit of LaMontagne here and there, he’s shown up on various soundtracks from TV and motion pictures (most recently Sawyer Fredericks who won the Voice last year cited him as a key influence).  I didn’t dislike him, but nothing ever really stood out enough for me to ever listen to one of his records.  Then I saw a write-up someone did about the new album, heavy praise, discussing the change in his sound and how this is the type of record that you put on and sit down and shut out the rest of the world as you absorb it.  The praise was sincere enough for me to note the album and actually listen to it when I had a chance earlier in the week.  Needless to say, even though I was only able to hear a few songs the first time I played it, I was intrigued.  It was definitely a sound that was unique and without any commercial aspirations.  You could tell he was playing music that he wanted to perform and it would simply be a bonus if other people also enjoyed it.  LaMontagne plays this music like he’s floating by on clouds, there’s a big sense of space and an ethereal quality to most of the album – the sound hangs all around you.  Most of his vocals are quiet and hushed as he strays away from his sandpapery vocals reminiscent of Van Morrison and Jeff Buckley. 
Whatever he set out to accomplish, I liked it.  His album is very different from most of the other music I listen to, so it provides a breath of fresh air.  Intrigued on why/how he changed up his sound, I found out his new album was produced by Jim James (My Morning Jacket).  Oh, well that explains a lot of the sonic differences and I’m a fan of James so I could see one reason why his new album appealed to me.  The two work well together.  LaMontagne had worked with the same producer on his first three albums, self-produced his 4th and worked with Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) on his 5th.  It wasn’t like LaMontagne hadn’t been experiencing success, his 5th album topped the Billboard rock chart and charted as high as #3 on the album charts.  Previous releases charted in the top 3 on American charts and he even earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.  Nevertheless, he proceeded to forge a completely new sound on “Ouroboros”.  This is a record that is meant to be listened to as an album.   The 8 tracks are split out into Part One and Part Two.  There are no aspirations of hit radio singles here.  But if you don’t have a chance to listen to the album in its entirety, here are a few tracks for the curious to check out.
“Hey, No Pressure” – Of course I pick the “heaviest” song on the album to feature first, but it’s still my favorite at the moment.  And it still has an overall chill vibe.  I love the guitar line on this track and the often repeated title phrase.  This song could probably go on for 20 minutes before I got tired of the groove.  Throughout the track is some very cool instrumentation, plus the song has a good message. – live version on Colbert’s late night show (and it looks like playing on stage with him is the bass player, drummer and keyboardist from My Morning Jacket)
“In My Own Way” – Here’s a very mellow track that kicks off Part Two on the album.  You can identify some of the impact Jim James had on the record listening to this track – reverb, the big space this song seems to float around in and the dreamy, ethereal quality of the music.  Nothing is going to hurry this song along so just let it unfold and it will fade out whenever it’s ready.

A sailor’s guide to earth by Sturgill Simpson

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Sturgill Simpson, in my opinion, is currently the most exciting artist in the country music periphery.  Granted, I’m not a big country music fan but there are a few artists I like to listen to.  There are two things I admire most about Simpson – 1) his vocals – he has a classic country sound that is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings and 2) he is pushing boundaries within genres – Simpson strays outside the normal country music sound, bringing in elements of rock and soul and being much more liberal in his songwriting. 
Simpson hails from Kentucky, but moved out west to Oregon while in his late teens.  He first formed a band called Sunday Valley back in 2004.  However, Simpson eventually decided to take on a solo career, releasing his first solo album 3 years ago titled “High Top Mountain”.  This album embraced a sound that harkened back to the ‘70s but Simpson’s lyrical content kept it modern.  After touring behind the record, Simpson started working on his next album.  This is when he started stretching the boundaries of country music, delving into topics like physics and evolution on “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” released in 2014.  This is the album that first caught my attention.  Simpson was a breath of fresh air in the country scene, and he was rewarded with a top 10 album on the country charts, a Grammy nomination for best country album and winning best emerging artist at the Americana Music Awards and then artist of the year in 2015 from the same foundation.
That brings us to the release of Sturgill’s 3rd solo effort “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”.  Mentioned in my new releases blurb last week, this album was pretty highly anticipated by me and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s a loose concept album based on a sailor writing letters back home to his wife and family while he’s away at sea.  Simpson manages to bridge sounds of classic ‘70s albums but expands the palette of what you would have heard back then.  Horn sections pop up on many songs, there’s rock, progressive folk, soul, strings – you name it.  Simpson does not shy away from bringing in any musical elements he wants to explore; he will not be pigeonholed.  Simpson self-produced this album, and was able to indulge in all of his whims.  I love this album, and it’s much bigger as a sum of all of its parts compared to isolating individual tracks.  Given that, I’m going to share a couple of tracks that fall in the middle of the album.  I highly recommend listening to “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” from start to finish though.  Also, an added bonus is the gorgeous cover art, one of my favorite album covers in quite a while. 

“Brace For Impact (Live A Little)” – Probably the song with the best groove on the album, this song brings out a lot of different instrumentation.  Ringing guitars, a solid bassline, horns, organ – it’s all here on this track. – live version on Colbert’s late night show
“In Bloom” – If this sounds familiar to you, it’s a cover of Nirvana.  But the only part that would sound familiar are the lyrics.  Simpson makes this song his own, completely changing up the arrangement and it sounds perfectly at home within the context of his album.  The soft approach with the lyrics is very effective.  Sturgill grabs a hold of this song, wrestles it down and completely makes it his own.

More Rain (Favorites) by M. Ward

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M. Ward, based out of Portland, OR, released his 8th studio album this month titled “More Rain”.  His music brings a West Coast vibe to an Americana-influenced sound.  Listening to his albums is like pulling a nice warm blanket over yourself and settling in on a rainy day.  His guitar playing is exceptional and understated and his vocals fit his music very well.  Ward spent six years playing in the folk rock trio Rodriguez before embarking on his solo career.  His first solo effort “Duet for Guitars #2” came out in 2000.  Ward got some positive critical buzz and some attention from the underground scene and did some touring in the U.S. and Europe.  It was Ward’s third solo effort in 2003, “Transfiguration of Vincent” his first release on Merge Records, that got him some mainstream attention.  His next two albums “Transistor Radio” and “Post-War” (my favorite) set him up as a major player in the indie folk/adult alternative rock scene.  Then in 2008 after collaborating on a soundtrack song with Zooey Deschanel (yes the actress), the two recorded and released an album as a duo – She & Him.  Ward continued to work on solo efforts while also recording 4 more albums with She & Him (who have charted as high as #6 on the album charts).  Ward also recorded an album with folk-rock super group Monsters of Folk (Ward, Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes).  Ward’s musical talents are also in demand from other artists; he has performed on albums by Neko Case, Norah Jones, Cat Power, Jenny Lewis, Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket.  He clearly is a musician that is well-respected by fellow musicians.  His 7th solo album which came out 4 years ago, was his highest charting solo effort rising up to #21 on the Billboard Chart.
That brings us to album #8, “More Rain”.  Ward brings together the familiar elements of his sound across the 11 songs on the album (the first track is basically a recording of rain for one minute).  He features a few guests including Neko Case and Peter Buck (REM), covers a Beach Boys song and mixes things up enough to keep the listener engaged.  While maybe not his best album, it’s another solid release from Ward.  Here’s a few of the best cuts from “More Rain”.
“Girl From Conejo Valley” – The first single from “More Rain” highlights is an example of a classic M. Ward song.  Guitar driven with some other interesting sounds in the mix (in this case a Moog synth stands out), quieter verses and a chorus with a nice hook. 

“Temptation” – Ward pushes the intensity level up a bit on this track, getting some additional guitar work from Peter Buck to beef up the sound.   This is a short and efficient song that works very well in the context of the album.

“Confession” – Another classic example of an M. Ward song with some nice guitar but this one also has some bass playing a bigger role in the sound.  There are some nice background vocals during the choruses as well as a trumpet solo playing a prominent role at the end of the song.