Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Gary Clark Jr. – This Land – 17 tracks / 72 minutes
Up, down, and all around, his third studio record demonstrates the undeniable strength of Gary Clark – at times.
Gary Clark is a man with incredible guitar talent, and an ability to make an electric axe wail and scream in that legendary Santana/Hendrix style. His music is also influenced by (and here, frequently infused with) soul and R&B elements, creating a sound that is uniquely Clarkian. When he hits the mix “right”, it is magic and something that is instantly recognizable as G.C. Jr.
However, sometimes the excessive falsetto crooning is too much for these ears. I just want the man to shred, is that so wrong?!?? This album finds him bringing quite a bit of the goods along with a healthy dose of music that I give a hard pass. While not consistency great, and far too long, This Land is worth a listen and has several songs that lift it above its weaker moments.
The title track is overtly political and provides a 21st century take on the Woody Guthrie mantra. Complete with Trump references, F-bombs, and repeated uses of the ol’ N-word, Gary is about as real as he has ever been on this track. The message is sincere and relevant, and the guitar playing is superb. Next up is “What About Us” which is a more subtle version of a similar vein –it, too, rocks, but has a more hip-hop vibe. “Feelin’ Like a Million” isn’t one of my favorites but the sonic assault is very Caribbean/reggae, which is a nice change of pace.
The lovechild of “Blitzkreig Bop” and “Purple Haze”, “Gotta Get Into Something” is Gary’s take on punk as far as I am concerned. Are the lyrics worth a damn? No, but with music this fast, loose, and fun, you won’t care. Besides, it’s over before you have time to question it. Again, this album has some serious diversity in musical style, which the man should be applauded for. The horns make the next track, the similarly weak lyrically but fun-as-Hell “Got to Get Up”.
The killer bassline, six-string noodling, and horns of “Feed the Babies” come together to form one of the finest songs on this album. “Low Down Rolling Stone” was selected as a single for a reason: it rocks and allows Gary to lament on his life, telling a story of disappointment while soaring “like an eagle” on guitar. “The Governor” is 140 seconds of pure blues-rock greatness and is probably my favorite track here. “Dirty Dishes Blues” brings, well, the low-down blues – just what I needed at the end of this sprawling record (the bonus extended version features two more songs: “Highway 71” I dig, “Did Dat” I don’t).
Final verdict – This is a long, bloated record, clocking in at well over an hour, and would be well served to have some of its considerable fluff trimmed off. There is a reason two of his first four albums were live performances – the man can shred and does his best work outside of a studio. This may not be his finest work yet, but it carries the mail and has a true diversity of sounds that most musicians wouldn’t dare to dabble in. Even on the weaker moments, he never falls on his face, and delivers a fine record overall.
Key Tracks: “Low Down Rolling Stone”, “Dirty Dishes Blues”, “The Governor”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/6pwdy6oQdwSQo8XOfpfAJJ?si=ML2j1UhcTLuRDva6PUCOWA
Fruit Bats & Vetiver – In Real Life (Live at Spacebomb Studios) – 6 tracks / 24 minutes
Two of our finest (and under-appreciated) songwriters team up to perform duets of each other’s songs along with a couple of obscure but lovely covers.
Eric Johnson and Andy Cabic may be better known by their stage/band names Fruit Bats and Vetiver, but on this intimate acoustic studio performance they are just that – solo artists spending an afternoon together. This live EP consists of six songs with only the two men and their acoustic guitars, and includes two terrific Fruit Bats tunes “When U Love Somebody” and “Humbug Mountain Song” (one of my favorites from his excellent Absolute Loser and a killer opening track here). On the latter, Eric sings of meeting the love of his life: “next time I realized I was breathing and alive, was the first time that I saw your face; I wanted you but I didn’t know if I was brave enough to say how the sight of you messed up my mind”.
Yes, I am a big fan of EDJ/Fruit Bats and in fact one of the people standing next to me on my blog’s Instagram profile pic is none other than Mr. Eric D. Johnson, who I got a chance to meet and chat with last year at the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival in Everett. Earlier that evening, Eric had played an hour-long solo acoustic set that included both of these tracks. He also performed “Don’t You Know That” because when he asked for requests I yelled loudly and forcefully for that gorgeously melancholy gem, but that is beside the point.
Yes, I may have buried the lead… my blog (not me, I don’t do the sosh meeds) is now on IG… look it up, click on it, follow it, share it, and all the rest at “inmyroomblog”. Also; back to that profile pic – that other handsome young fellow is Kevin Morby, who you need to check out if you don’t already know him.
Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled music review/rant…
The two Vetiver compositions included here are “Maureen” (which works splendidly and really shines) and “Rolling Sea” (which doesn’t quite, for me). The heartfelt and smitten cover of Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be In A Good Place Now” is an absolute gem and a definite highlight. Eric’s voice beautifully carries the tune along over a delightful melody of their complimentary guitars.
The album’s other cover (and closing track) is the cheesy but simply fantastic “Nice Baby and the Angel”. Give this thing a listen and try to get it out of your head… good luck. “I called for an angel many times before, now at last, there’s an angel at my door”. This is heartwarming and fun music recorded by two artists who complement each other incredibly well – here’s to more collaboration between the two in the future.
Key Tracks: “Humbug Mountain Song”, “I Must Be In A Good Place Now”, “Maureen”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/5pVxOrb0ZRoNBbWXLTPstl?si=XWwzxyWTT6q1f1mVPNV_2Q
Jose Gonzalez & the String Theory – Live In Europe
Fans of this guitar picking and songwriting guru will surely enjoy this live album, complete with what sounds like a full orchestra behind him. “The Forest” and “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” are two of Jose’s finest tracks, and they shine on this recording, but overall there is little new or rewarding here for the casual listener.
Julia Jacklin – Crushing
“When the Family Flies In” is one of the most vulnerable, pained, and beautiful songs you’ll hear this year – check it out. I enjoy the clever Courtney Barnett-esque snark of “You Were Right” also, but don’t recommend this album as a whole.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
This Sean Lennon (The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, and, you know, John’s kid) and Les Claypool (Primus) collaboration has a few tasty basslines and grooves, and this is the early pick for acid trip album of the year. Although a few songs are unlistenable for me, “Blood and Rockets…”, “Cricket Chronicles…” and the title track are delights. Listener beware: you might get hooked.
Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive
I dig their passion and most of their message, but I can’t get down with their delivery and vibe.