Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Hayes Carll – What It Is – 12 tracks / 38 minutes
Mr. Carll turns in his finest work yet on this thorough and consistent album full of more tales of lovers and leavers.
The bio page for Hayes Carll on Spotify describes the singer-songwriter as a man with a rock n’ roll heart and a country soul- that about sums up his music. His previous two efforts (KMAG YOYO and Lovers and Leavers) both had plenty of solid moments, but on What It Is, Hayes is on his game from start to finish. He has his own unique drawl, but on this set of songs he frequently reminds me of Justin Townes Earle, albeit with a more countrified vibe.
Leadoff track and second single “None’ya” starts things off with easy-going acoustic guitar and harmonica, as Hayes tries to figure out why the woman in his life is leaving. She isn’t interested in helping him understand – you see, if he was listening to begin with, he would already know. Yes, this is familiar ground; but Carll’s sincerity and attention to detail (the bright blue paint on the ceiling, for instance) make this a great story. His aim is true and his desire straightforward: “for the laughter, for the pain, for the way you call my name – girl all I wanna do is be your man”.
The hard-times ballad “Times Like These” is country that rocks just enough, and finds Mr. Carll lamenting losing his mind in these trying times. He almost raps his intentions and frustrations, saying “I just wanna do my labor, love my girl and help my neighbor while I keep a little hope for my dreams, but its sure getting’ hard brother in times like these”. The horns steal the show on “Things You Don’t Wanna Know”, a song about the danger of asking questions that you don’t want to know the answers to.
There is a classic country bassline and drums, reminiscent of the Tennessee Three, on “If I May Be So Bold”, where Hayes says he is “bold enough to make a difference, bold enough to care; bold enough to keep on tryin’ even when the will’s not there”. Lead single “Jesus and Elvis” is a pretty ballad about a man returning from war and finding familiarity in his favorite bar, complete with pictures of “the King of Kings and the King of Rock N’ Roll”. Blues guitar and rock piano drive the lighthearted and groovy “Beautiful Thing”, while the lovely twang of a well-picked banjo is the backbone of the terrific title track.
My favorite track of the album is the goofy and self-deprecating “Wild Pointy Finger”, where we are told of his habit of calling out others – anyone but himself. This is a fun listen but also a good reminder for all of us to stop being so damned judgmental. “I’ve got ten digits like most other people, I can build the church, but I can’t hold the steeple; nine of them stand up and do exactly what I say, but the one by the thumb it just points all day… you sure be disappointed if you wait around to see, cuz my wild pointy finger’s never pointin’ back at me”.
Hayes will be in Boise for a set at The Neurolux on April 27th, and in my view this one is a must see.
Key Tracks: “Wild Pointy Finger”, “Times Like These”, “Beautiful Thing”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/440AzTicFLovCInQhORffL?si=W6fkNd2WRcuaSk_8n-VFMA
Noah Gundersen – White Noise B-Sides – 8 tracks / 36 minutes
The PNW-based songwriter shares another batch of songs that didn’t quite make the cut on his excellent White Noise album.
On this collection of leftovers from the incredibly fruitful White Noise sessions, one immediately notices the mellow vibe: these tracks are almost all piano/keyboard-based, and none of them rock in the way several of the released A-sides did. However, there is plenty of goodness here, in fact a couple of these songs being left off the original release seems criminal. In the end, I’m just pleased that these songs got to see the light of day, and this is worth listening to.
“God Don’t Talk to Strangers” is a song carried by some pretty piano work, like many here. “Noah croons, “bloody nose and a crooked tongue, I always wanted to be someone; face down on the concrete floor, I guess God don’t talk to strangers anymore”. This song is engaging and interesting, and not just because it references my man Neil Young’s oft cited “better to burn out than to rust” lyric from 1979. There is also plenty of lovely steel guitar and a nice solo later in the song.
Noah’s casual and laid back yet deep and captivating vocal delivery is part of his allure; that, and a frequently sharp and biting lyrical style. “Lady of the Ocean” finds Noah and his sister singing to a woman he desperately wants to get back to, over another calm but engaging piano melody, and plows the same fruitful ground that much of White Noise harvested. Like several of the songs here, this one could have fit right in on the album. The multi-textured and percussion-heavy “California” is a gem, and still has its hushed, vulnerable moments – this track frankly should have made the LP.
The title track has a piano riff so catchy and yet daunting that I truly, honestly don’t understand how it didn’t make the original album. This was an oversight on the team’s part: this thing is a sinister, haunting winner. Now, they can’t all be winners; this is a B-sides collection, after all. “Some Nights” is fine, but not particularly noteworthy. “I’m Alright” is a bit cliché in its “I’m fine, I think” mantra, but still isn’t a total loss thanks to some stark and foreboding keyboard work. The Pink Floyd “crazy diamond” reference doesn’t save “Sentimental Kids”, although this is solid evidence that even at his worst, Noah is not too bad.
Overall, there are a few solid tracks songs here, and this is a collection many songwriters would be proud to present – for Noah, it’s just the best of the rest. Here’s to his follow up, which should be coming in the next twelve months, I reckon.
Key Tracks: “White Noise”, “God Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “California”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3TvKKMHZjPLbmWcbaunCTq?si=h5y6G3Z6S3Kr6lxusfX0xA
Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center – 10 tracks / 37 minutes
This “super-group” collab is a gem full of pretty melodies, harmonized duets, and hodge-podge lyrics.
What a year for the young and talented Phoebe Bridgers: first, her work with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus on boygenius was given rave reviews, then she was one of the women cited in the explosive Ryan Adams allegations; and now, this collaboration with Connor Oberst (Bright Eyes) that came out of nowhere. Her voice soars, and sounds even better when harmonizing over Connor’s laid-back drawl, like on the deep and bizarre story that is the leadoff track “Didn’t Know What I Was In For”. By the time the drums finally kick in at the three-minute mark, you’re hooked. The track ends with this keeper: “To fall asleep I need white noise to distract me, otherwise I have to listen to me think; otherwise I pace around, hold my breath, let it out, sit on the couch and think about how living’s just a promise that I made”.
This quickly segues into Connor explaining that “Sleepwalkin’” is “impossible to count”. He’s right, the rhythm here is a strange and unique amalgam of counts, but it works. This song bounces between your standard folk tune to an acoustic prog-rock rave-up on the chorus- and folks, it is killer. “Dylan Thomas” is the most raucous track here, and finds Phoebe describing going to see a politician speak and comes complete with references to flag pins on lapels and talking heads busy talking shit, and my favorite line: “they say you gotta fake it, at least until you make it, that ghost is just a kid in a sheet.” She also mentions taking a shower at the Bates Motel; yes, this is at times a lyrical grab-bag, or a Rorschach test for the listener, but the music is compelling and once again, the voices sound great together.
Instead of going on and on about it, I will just say give it a listen. “Exception to the Rule” is a fitting title for a song that has a sound that turns me off, yet I still enjoy it. This is truly the exception to my rule for what good music sounds like. Like Unlikely Friends Crooked Numbers record from last year, this collaboration came out of left field and has rocked my fragile little mind.
Key Tracks: “Didn’t Know What I Was In For”, “Dylan Thomas”, “My City”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/5622zSt4RLqNSPShdqmWpj?si=TVjI_T2cQw6ZcsMnWKP1KQ
Czarface – Czarface Meets Ghostface
For their sixth effort, Czarface (7L & Esoteric with Inspectah Deck) bring another Wu-Tang member into the fold (Ghostface Killah) for a decidedly up-and-down effort. Yes, at its best, this recording is reminiscent of classic Wu, especially on highlight tracks “Face Off” and “Iron Claw” (which has the best beat on the album). Much of it, however, is all filler no killer, and thus I recommend this only for hardcore Killah fans.
Seth Walker – Are You Open?
While I am still waiting for Seth to put together a solid album, he does provide a couple more earnest and heartfelt songs here: the yearning but hopeful title track (with its pretty yet forlorn ambient pedal-steel guitar) and the let-it-go mantra of “Something to Hold”.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Signs
Overall, this one is a bit mild for my taste, but “Shame” and “They Don’t Shine” at least rock a little and include some yummy horn work.