New Music 7/6/18: Damien Jurado, Kinky Friedman, The Nude Party

Hot off the presses: new music!  Better said, new music that is worth your time.

Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed – 11 songs / 37 minutes

Yet another worthy addition to an already strong catalogue for the Seattle-based songwriter who continues to defy genre classification.

 

Damien Jurado is one of those artists who possess both gobs of talent and a strong desire to be in control of his own destiny and free to follow his muse.  Throughout his 20+ years as a solo artist, he has released many different moods and sounds, and his ability to be consistently effective is impressive and makes him one of “my guys” along with the likes of Neil, Beck, Jack, and Tom.  After the fuzzy electronic-tinged sounds of the fantastic Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, Damien went back to a mellow and folky sound on 2016’s Visions of Us on the Land, and continues on with a new variety of that sound here on The Horizon Just Laughed.

Much of this album (including leadoff track and second single “Allocate”) is fare that requires multiple listens to notice and appreciate the subtle instrumentation and depth at work; at first listen much of it sounds like basic elevator music with Damien sing-talking over it.  Most of this is worth those repeated listens and rewards the patient listener.

Lead single “Percy Faith” is classic Damien, with his vocals front and center and a lovely melody and delightful keyboard doodling.  Also, we get the requisite mention of Seattle (they have trademarked the rain, he tells us) and an allusion to a future that sounds eerily like our world today: “I am writing from the future, where people never look you in the eye; and there is no need to talk, and the sidewalks they walk for you; I know everything and yet no one at all”.  This is greatness, and is basically seeing Radiohead distilled through Damien’s eyes.

“Over Rainbows and Rainier” features nothing but Damien’s voice and some basic acoustic strumming as he spins an intricate tale.  After the rambly ballad “The Last Great Washington State” and the interlude that is “Cindy Lee”, “1973” finds Damien singing to random people again, and has a great line: “my girl Lucy waits for me to bend my knee, but the diamond doesn’t shine and I can barely make the payments on our telephone ring”.  “Marvin Kaplan” is too beach-Kokomo for me, and “Lou-Jean” is rather unremarkable, but the closing two tracks are tremendous.

“Florence-Jean” finds a more upbeat acoustic guitar-heavy groove, with Damien joyfully yelling that he “had a way to express myself, had a way to be honest” as the horns play behind him.  Short and sweet, it fades nicely into the terrific closer “Random Fearless’, which switches between mellow bongo, keyboard, and strings and the loud drum and guitar chorus, and finishes with a smatter of guitar shredding (well, for Damien, anyway).  This eclectic song is a perfect end to an eclectic album by one of the finest around.

Key Tracks:  “Percy Faith”, “Florence-Jean”, “Random Fearless”

Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4GvQWTUAzX3rpdO3OW6zik?si=mZ3cGp3BTym6drkrnh_cEg

 

Kinky Friedman – Circus of Life – 12 songs / 35 minutes

“Country’s Frank Zappa” finally plays it straight and hits it out of the park on this magnificent release.
Richard Samet “Kinky” Friedman has always been known to push boundaries with his satirical music and writing, gleefully and intentionally being offensive and reminding us not to take ourselves so seriously.  As a native Texan and Jewish man, he saw no problem with naming his first band Kinky Friedman & the Texas Jewboys – while some found it tasteless.  In fact, his 1975 Austin City Limits performance was shelved as it was deemed too controversial (finally released in 2007, thankfully); it featured classics like “Asshole From El Paso”, “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore”, and “Homo Erectus”, just to name a few.

He faded from the spotlight in the early 80s and credits Willie Nelson for resurrecting his career about 5 years ago, which is the subject of one of the tracks on this record: “Autographs in the Rain (Song for Willie)”.  The one constant in Kinky’s music has been that the man is talented and has a knack for penning thought-provoking material.  His voice now worn and weary, he has hit his stride with 2015’s The Loneliest Man I Ever Met and now Circus of Life.  On the former, we were treated with several originals that were among the best songs of that year, as well as terrific covers of Tom Waits (“A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”) and Warren Zevon (“My Shit’s Fucked Up”).  These selections were perfect because they are both powerful and adult songs that sound anything but, based on song title alone.  What is that old saying about books and covers?  It also applies to music and names.

On Circus of Life, we get the real deal.  No frills or fancy production: this is mostly just the man and his guitar (the subject of the excellent “Me & My Guitar”), with occasional flourishes of mandolin, accordion, harmonica and pedal steel.  There are also no covers, this is all new and all original material, mostly looking back on a life that has seen its fair share of ups and downs.  Finally, there is no controversy, satire, or shock value here.  Whether telling the tale of a hitchhiking man who just won’t give up on “A Dog Named Freedom” or reminiscing about a woman loved and lost on “Song About You”, the songwriting is top notch.

Nowhere is his crafty prose better than on my favorite track and instant classic “Jesus In Pajamas”, a rueful tale of remorse over ignoring a down and out man in need.  This is quirky, with biblical analogies to a Dallas Denny’s, but there is no tongue in his cheek.  This is powerful stuff and a heavy reminder for all of us that we ought to look out for each other.  Coming from almost anyone else I would have considered it cheesy and moved on; but Kinky sings it with sincerity and that voice of his and it works – really, really well.  One of the ten best songs I have heard thus far in 2018.

Key Tracks: “Jesus In Pajamas”, “Song About You”, “A Dog Named Freedom”

Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4UaDLrDGLRMzbaSMLLBzXN?si=UvV9hljbQ3WkT33fXWOf0g

 

The Nude Party – The Nude Party – 11 songs / 43 minutes

The debut LP from these college party rockers shows serious potential and reminds me of early Rolling Stones swagger.

 

Listening to The Nude Party sort of feels like walking into a frat party in the early 1970s, with a hint of Ray Manzarek-inspired organ and plenty of Mick & Keith swagger.  These guys formed in 2012 in their dorm at UNC, and became legendary in that part of the world for playing basement shows buck naked, while encouraging the audience to join them in a literal nude party.  Now that they are a little older (and clothed) they are ready for the big time.  This is not a consistently strong effort from top to bottom, but there is plenty to like (and rock out to) here.

Leadoff track and lead single “Water on Mars” gets things going with a psych-rock organ and guitar groove and lazily sung/spoken vocals.  Things get Cold War-esque on “Feels Alright” with its catchy guitar riff and rock piano accompaniment as singer Patton Magee tells a tale of a post-nuclear war landscape that “don’t look good, but it feels all right”.  Another war-related tale is found on the fifth track, “War Is Coming”, which warns that “war is coming, comin’ for your sons; war is coming, comin’ for your soul” as the organ wails out the warning.

The best material here is the classically irreverent and snarky repudiation of unsolicited advice on “Chevrolet Van”, which finds Patton gleefully disregarding the warnings of his family (and strangers) that touring and drinking with his friends is not a good life strategy.  The excellent chorus goes a little something like this: “You’ll never make enough money, and no one cares about the things you say; you’re gonna wake up someday, man you’ll wish you got a job.  Spend half your life in that Chevrolet, driving up and down the freeway; someday when you’re too old to play, man you’ll wish you got a job”.  For now, these guys are going to stick with the van, the freeway, and the jams.  I wish them well, and if they continue to record music like this, they might just make it.

Key Tracks: “Chevrolet Van”, “Records”, “Feels Alright”

Spotify album link:

https://open.spotify.com/album/7eL0YCyfl9aaNuzt3gn23Q?si=8z2U3ujbSZ-Evu238U218w

 

Also heard:

The Donkeys – Sun Damaged Youth

I am a fan of The Donkeys, and enjoyed seeing them in person a few years back, but they are a band without a real identity.  None of their albums really sound like the others and I never know what to expect from them.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and most of their stuff is pretty damn good, but this quasi-concept album about a radio station playing to a dystopian landscape is short on quality songs.  To be fair, “Pink Seaweed” is a pretty cool chilled-out stoner surf instrumental…

If you are not familiar with these guys, start with their excellent Born with Stripes.