Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Blackberry Smoke – The Southern Ground Sessions (EP) – 6 songs / 25 minutes
An EP of live in-studio acoustic versions of 5 songs from their latest album, with a fantastic Tom Petty cover thrown in for good measure.
These boys from Atlanta released some quality new material earlier this year with their LP Find a Light, and we get a slight overhaul of five tracks from that album here. Complete with guest musicians Oliver Wood and Amanda Shires, this record is loose and feels like a first-take type of affair (although it surely is not). Most of the songs start with band banter, chuckling, and counting of the start of the song, making the listener feel like they were there in the room.
Album starter “Run Away from It All” sounds very similar to the electric studio record version, but there are nuanced flourishes and Charlie Starr’s voice shines here. On “Medicate My Mind”, a song that sounds as if it were written for this type of hushed arrangement, Charlie sings the fantastic refrain “I’m the darkness reaching for daylight, I’m a spring that needs to unwind; I’m a wreck but everything’s all right, just as long as I can medicate my mind”. I can’t say if he is talking about booze, weed, or an exercise-fueled endorphin rush; either way, I think everybody can relate to this tune.
The stripped down version of “Let Me Down Easy” is the best of their original songs found here and is a must hear. The multi-talented Amanda Shires provides a nice touch on backing vocals and even a little of her trademark violin towards the end of the song. “Hopefully I’ll make it and I’ll be all right in time, I’ll probably go to pieces now, but darlin’ you’ll be fine. Let me down easy if you can, I’m not half as strong as you think I am; I guess I’ll try to take it like a man, just let me down easy if you can”.
The highlight of the album, and a total show-stopper is their gorgeous and heartfelt take on Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky”. This recording absolutely nails it, and the star of the show is some absolutely stunning violin playing from Amanda; this track is a must-listen. Even if you are not fond of these guys, and they are far from a truly great band, I understand – do yourself a favor and check this out. Not only will Mrs. Shires’ (aka Mrs. Isbell) music raise the hairs on your neck, but take note of Charlie’s melancholy take on the vocals here as well. There have been so many Petty tributes over the past year (for good reason), but this one is among the very best.
Key Tracks: “You Got Lucky”, “Medicate My Mind”, “Let Me Down Easy”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/18LxZwoKsFfDsKLFPSULGp?si=L-xWg__ZSY2TuUEhjdRsWA
Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre – 10 songs / 34 minutes
Luna frontman Dean Wareham and his pal Cheval Sombre provide their takes on ten classic western songs. And by western I mean the old school out on the range stuff, not Toby Keith or whatever.
I’ve been a fan of Dean’s voice for some time now, mostly due to his work with his band Luna. To be perfectly honest, I do not know Cheval Sombre from Adam’s house cat. So I admit that I came to this album a bit biased, but I think you’ll agree that it is Dean’s voice and his take on the five songs he is responsible for that rule the day here. Give the record a listen and see if you agree, or do yourself a favor and cherry-pick; your call.
While none of these songs are original, and most are more than half a century old, Dean makes a yeoman’s effort to make them his own. On “The Bend in the River” he takes the story of a man who believes that something good is always waiting just around the next bend or over that next hill. He longingly tells us that “past the first hill in the desert, is another hill I can’t see; and the hill that keeps hiding, is the hill that keeps calling to me”. Check the drums on this track, and tell me you don’t dig it.
“Mountains of the Moon” is a gorgeous song that is built on some beautiful acoustic guitar strumming, with sparse electric guitar notes in the mix as well as hushed backing vocal hums. Yes, his true love has departed, leaving him broken hearted, but he knows they will meet again. Just where? Well, “in the mountains of the moon, where my true love waits for me; in the mountains of the moon, I’ll be going there real soon”.
Dean’s majestic warble and a killer bassline are the driving forces behind this slow and minimal take on the old standard “Wayfaring Stranger”. “Wand’rin’ Star” is longest song on the album, but never once in its five minutes does it get boring. The tale of a man who was born to wander and ramble, the mellowed out guitar work is terrific.
“My Rifle My Pony and Me” is classic spaghetti western, complete with whistling and a sound that instantly reminds the listener of the dusty plains. This is a story of a man coming home for good, written from a rancher/cowboy perspective, instead of the cliché rockstar viewpoint. “No more cows to be ropin’, no more strays will I see; round the bend, she’ll be waitin’, for just my rifle, my pony, and me”.
Key Tracks: “Mountains of the Moon”, “Wand’rin’ Star”, “My Rifle My Pony and Me”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/71bdfxDYeSBneKX12gDPbm?si=_oWWwU4qRq6Uwbj59p7Axg
Also released (and not strong enough to recommend):
Ty Segall – Fudge Sandwich
On the third (yes, THIRD!) album from Ty in 2018, the ever prolific goofball gives us an up and down bunch of songs on this collection of covers. Let’s get one thing clear: Mr. Segall doesn’t play these songs straight, instead choosing to remake them in his own image, to differing levels of success.
Two standout tracks: the raucous and sped-up take on Neil Young’s “The Loner”; and the creepy, tripped out version of War’s “Low Rider” – here Ty’s vocal delivery is reminiscent of Marilyn Manson in its creepy and ominous mumble and whisper. The song is full of industrial sounding keys and hordes of cowbell. The guitar riff on “I’m A Man” is a real earworm, also.
Thom Yorke – Suspiria (Motion Picture Soundtrack)
This thing is at times beautiful, but mostly just plain eerie and downright unnerving. This album is fine for what it is (a soundtrack to what I assume is a creepy movie), but only die-hards will enjoy it front to back. I listened to the entire album while jogging in the foothills a few weeks ago, and several times found myself looking around for threats (people, animals, aliens, monsters?) with goosebumps.
“Suspirium” and “Has Ended” are highlights. On the former track, Thom’s croon over the elegant piano work is quite lovely and reminds me a bit of his band’s “Like Spinning Plates”. This song finds Thom asking “is the darkness ours to take” and telling us that “all is well, as long as we keep spinning”. I dare you to listen to this entire record alone in a dark room, heh.
Chevelle – 12 Bloody Spies: B-Sides and Rarities
Here we have nine unreleased songs, alternate takes on “The Clincher” and “Sleep Apnea”, and “Until You’re Reformed” (previously released on the deluxe version of their breakthrough 2002 album Wonder What’s Next). Of the unreleased tracks, “A Miracle” and the instrumental “The Gist” are the strongest, with the former harnessing that classic Chevelle sound and featuring an extended outro, while the latter reminds me of their fast and furious debut (and best) album.
Together PANGEA – Non Stop Paranoia (EP)
I typically dig their indifferent and irreverent – yet often melodic – take on punk, and enjoyed the Hell out of their Treefort show last year, but there isn’t anything here worthwhile.