Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Jamestown Revival – Live From Largo at the Coronet Theatre – 9 songs / 42 minutes
Their first live album finds the band sounding polished beyond their years, and comes with a nice selection of covers as well.
If you are not familiar with Jamestown revival, that is understandable for two reasons: they have not yet hit the big time, and they only have two albums and about six years under their belts. However, this live recording showcases a band with very clean instrumentation and relatable lyrics. Complete with just the right amount of interaction with the audience and solid songs throughout, this is a very worthwhile listen that I will find myself going back to in the future.
The stomp and sizzle of “Fur Coat Blues” provides some energy and gets the crowd into it, the strikingly minimal and clean sound of lament on “Golden Age” is a true highlight. When Jonathan Clay sings that “good times are over, didn’t you know, well I heard it on the radio; read it in the paper, saw it on the news, the golden age is on the move”, I know this is not new ground but they cover it very well.
However, the real show stoppers for me are the three excellent covers, the most moving being their very sincere rendition of John Denver’s “Paradise”. On this song they sing and play with a reverence that belies how much they loved this music growing up, and seem to be reaching for a level that would make the legend proud if he were still here to hear it. Another of their childhood influences (along with pretty much everyone else in Texas, or America, for that matter) was Creedence Clearwater Revival, and they knock “Cottonfields” out of the park, supplementing the basic structure of the song with some killer grooves of their own. Finally, their cover of The Black Lillies “Goodbye Mama Blues” is a fun ride and even finds a rare appearance of the F-word. Oh dear!
This is a great place to start for any fan of the type of sound that bands like The Lumineers or The Avett Brothers have been making. And for those who already know of the band, this is a validation that they are in fact the real deal – not only in performing beautifully, but in selecting some great songs to cover at their shows.
Key Tracks: “Golden Age”, “Paradise”, “Fur Coat Blues”
Tyler Childers – Live on Red Barn Radio I & II – 8 songs / 29 minutes
This live collection finds Tyler and minimal backing musicians in a largely acoustic singer-songwriter mood and sounds superior to his two studio albums.
In a recurring theme, here is another live album from an up-and-coming artist with only two studio albums under his belt. This one is considerably different than Jamestown Revival, however: less polish, more angst, and a rawer feel.
Call him a one-man Osmond if you like, because Tyler Childers is in fact a little bit country and a little bit rock n’ roll. On this live album, he is in pure country mode, and it sounds fantastic. After I had a friend of mine give this a listen she had this feedback for me: “I really like it and listened to him for the past few hours. Heavy on the drugs though.” Funny, because I hadn’t really noticed but the next time I heard it, she is right: there are far too many references to drugs and booze to mention. Not that that is a bad thing, just an astute observation.
The music is enjoyable and consists almost entirely of acoustic guitar, violin, and banjo, but seems to me to be merely a vehicle for the star of the show: Tyler’s voice and quality of his lyrics. The songwriting shines through, particularly on the biting “Charleston Girl” which I can’t get enough of, and the opener “Shake the Frost”. As luck would have it, Tyler will be making a Boise appearance in November. From what I can see, it looks like it may be an acoustic tour – don’t hold me to that, but I am keeping that on my radar for sure.
Key Tracks: “Charleston Girl”, “Whitehouse Road”, “Shake the Frost”
The Vines – In Miracle Land – 12 songs / 34 minutes
The sometimes annoying Aussies with that one song fifteen years ago are back and better than ever with a nice mix of Europop and millennial-era rock angst. This one will go down as their comeback album, at least in my mind.
You may remember The Vines from their 2002 debut album Highly Evolved, which featured the massive hit “Get Free” and came on the same wave as The Hives, The Strokes, and lots of other snarky garage-rock bands that promised to save rock and had names that started with The. For those unfamiliar with the life and times, shenanigans, bizarre episodes, etc. of front man Craig Nicholls you can read up on that elsewhere. Needless to say he is older now, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and seems to be back to business.
While this is not their first new album in ten years, it is the first one I have taken time to listen to more than once. That is because it is head and shoulders better than anything they have released since Highly Evolved. From the layered and downright eerie vocal harmonies of “Gone Wonder” to the Beatles/Oasis influenced “Hate the Sound”, there is plenty of “grown up” music here.
But fear not, my rock-loving readers: The Vines are still able to get loud and even sometimes a little silly while they do it, as on “Leave Me Alone”, complete with the fantastic chorus “I want you, I want you, I want you, to leave me alone”! Simple? Sure… Childish? A little. Pretty catchy and fun as hell? Yep. Another track with that turn of the century throwback sound is “I Wanna Go Down”, with that standard loud-quiet-loud sound that fans of 90s/grunge rock are familiar with (thanks Frank Black and Kurt Cobain).
Key Tracks: “Gone Wonder”, “Hate the Sound”, “Leave Me Alone”
The Milk Carton Kids – All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do
My mind is as blown that in the summer of 2018 I am writing a post highlighting a release from The Vines and barely mentioning a Milk Carton Kids record. The trouble here is twofold: first, the addition of a full band and even (gasp!) backing vocals. Second, the quality of the songs themselves is lacking. Although for the most part the pedal steel and other instrumentation is in the background, it just takes away from what makes these guys so ridiculously talented and fun to listen to: their acoustic guitar interaction and layered harmonies.
All three of Joey and Kenneth’s previous releases under the MCK moniker are truly classics, and their Monterrey album was my pick for second best of 2015. Don’t get me wrong, this latest effort isn’t throwaway trash. And I understand when I read Kenneth’s comments that “there arose some sort of need to change” and “it was liberating to know we wouldn’t have to be able to carry every song with just out two guitars”. However, this is the weakest set of songs they have put out thus far, and makes the changes all the more shocking to absorb.
“One More for the Road” is a terrific 10-minute ballad that comes as close to classic MCK as you will find here, but on steroids. “Big Time” is enjoyable also, but beyond that I have a hard time identifying songs that I will want to go back to again and again. My profound respect for these guys means that I will inevitably return to this album in the future and see what I may have missed. Here’s hoping they come back strong with their next one, band or no band (please no band, guys). Oh, and here is hoping they stop in Boise again, because seeing them at the Egyptian Theater was one of the most incredible live performances I have ever seen. To say they carried every damn song that night with “just” their two guitars would be an understatement.
Florence + the Machine – High As Hope
“Big God” sounds like classic F+M to me, and the “No Choir” is a perfectly melancholy reflection on songwriting and happiness. Not a lot of the rest of it stuck with me, but this is by no means a terrible record.
Gorillaz – The Now Now
Somewhere along the way Damon Albarn and his collaborators in Gorillaz went from a quasi-rock band with overt hip-hop and electronic flourishes to something that I just can’t get into. You do you, Damon, and I will wait for the next solo or Blur release.
The Wild Feathers – Greetings From the Neon Frontier
This one is just too country and contrived for my taste. It’s a bit like the Eagles, but in a bad way. Cue The Dude lamenting how it’s been a long day and he hates the fucking Eagles, man (his words, not mine).
Smash Mouth – Fush Yu, Mang (acoustic)
No. Just, no.