Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Damien Jurado – In the Shape of a Storm – 10 tracks / 28 minutes
This collection of unused songs written over the criminally underrated songwriter’s career is an absolute gem.
Damien Jurado is one of those artists that just hits me right in the ol’ ticker. He has followed his muse down several different paths over the last twenty-two years, but is always at his finest when his sincere and earnest songwriting is the focus. I’ve said many times that I would happily listen to him sing anything at all, and this album is yet more evidence to that fact.
Don’t get me wrong, most of these songs are also incredibly well written: from the light-hearted and punny genius of “Newspaper Gown” to the downright heartbroken yet still (regrettably) hopeful lament that is “Anchors”, there is power in the lyrics he presents in his trademark delivery. On “Anchors”, easily my favorite track here and one of the finest songs of Damien’s career, he sings that “I don’t need another reminding of how it isn’t our time, I live with a daily reminding and it has not changed my mind. I still go on seeing you as mine, just not at the present time”. All the feels, folks. All of ‘em.
“Oh Weather” finds Damien telling the mighty storm that stands between he and getting home to his love that it must move aside. Few others could relay this sentiment with the deep sincerity Damien does here; and in 67 seconds, no less. The down-trodden and morose guitar chords of “South” immediately put the listener in a sorrowful place, and when he closes the song with some hearty whistling, no relief is found. “Where You Want Me To Be” finds Damien well aware that the one he loves is probably just leading him on, telling him only quietly that she loves him. He seems resigned to this and content to let it play out to its inevitable end.
Eight of these songs have the simplest possible arrangement – just Damien and an acoustic guitar. These work better than the couple of tracks that feature some sonic flourishes that are reminiscent of his incredible Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son album. While his recordings with a full band provide more oomph and occasionally even rock a bit, this is really Jurado’s wheelhouse. The man can spin a sad bastard yarn, and his basic guitar strumming is merely a vehicle for his consistently excellent words.
I had the great pleasure of watching him perform at the Neurolux a few years back with just a mic, a stool, and a guitar – it was magic. This album reminds me of that experience and is an absolute must listen for anyone who has enjoyed his work along the way, and a terrific starting point for new listeners.
Key Tracks: “Anchors”, “Newspaper Gown”, “Where You Want Me To Be”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/6knwzkzYzZBffvbhK9iWeu?si=0pbMTQpaSEeHHQLA7uzE4A
The Leisure Society – Arrivals & Departure – 16 tracks / 57 minutes
The finest effort yet from these melody-conscious indie folk rockers from London.
The Leisure Society have released five albums over the last ten years, and each contained a few stellar moments that showed potential, but none of them delivered anything consistently great. On their sixth effort, a “double album” that is really not – it’s still less than an hour long, folks – they come even closer to that promise. I’m still holding out for them to reach the next level, but even if this is as good as The Leisure Society gets, these guys are worth your time and attention.
This is pretty music, more inclined to make you sway (and think) than to dance or rock out. Take the pretty piano and lush strings that highlight the gorgeous arrangement on “I’ll Pay for It Now” as an example of what I mean. This is truly beautiful music that comes across as lighthearted but after repeated listens makes me think there was painstaking thoughtfulness behind the production. And that doesn’t even give credit to the terrific lyrics found on this track.
Some of this music rocks a little bit, too. Restrained but lovely guitar shredding accompanies the drums and horns on “Don’t Want to Do It Again”, and Nick Hemming’s voice is perfect here. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Hemming is well into his forties and has been making music for nearly thirty years – as a casual fan I had always assumed this was a group of young up and comers. “Beat of a Drum” is the epitome of power-pop and is catchy as Hell. In the end, there are ups and downs here, and this album may have been better served with a little bit of careful trimming, but it sure is a fun listen and shows me that this is a band that is still growing.
Key Tracks: “I’ll Pay for It Now”, “Don’t Want to Do It Again”, “A Bird, A Bee, Humanity”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/5CgHtVU4v6FKhp2urJhXPv?si=8q6gbQaIRT6MlUspU8alcw
Band of Skulls – Love is all You Love
Russell and Emma have been making some of my favorite rock music under the Band of Skulls moniker for a decade now, but unfortunately they are yet another of my top-shelf bands veering away from guitar rock and straight into power-pop, where beats matter more than riffs (see Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, etc.). Part of me is incredibly disappointed that they are continuing on the arc that began with their 2016 release By Default, and yet part of me has to admit there are some GD earworms here.
See “Cool Your Battles”, “We’re Alive”, and “Carnivorous” as prime examples of how their new sound works for them. Then go listen to their strong debut, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey or their absolute classic sophomore effort Sweet Sour to see how much better these Brits used to be. Yes, some of this is still good music, and I am sure their live show is fantastic, but I fear the days of visceral, riffy rock a la Sweet Sour are over for this band.
John Paul White – The Hurting Kind
In any divorce, people have to take sides. When The Civil Wars disbanded (oh, what a shame that was!), I joined Team John and have remained in his corner. Sure, at times his delivery is a bit whiny for my taste, but there is no doubt that the man can make some beautiful music. See “The Good Old Days” or “The Long Way Home” as perfect examples of JPW at his best.
Norah Jones – Begin Again (EP)
This collection of recent singles is a pretty diverse EP and has some of the best material I have heard from her in a while. “Uh Oh” and the title track are the gems here.
Shovels & Rope – By Blood
Although I still haven’t gotten to see them perform, I have heard some very good reviews, and have always figured these two are one of those groups that struggles to capture that live magic in the studio. Nothing here is really that bad, but beyond “Carry Me Home”, nothing jumped out and grabbed me, either.
Aaron Lewis – State I’m In
Aaron’s genuine take on country music is a welcome sound, even if I can’t fully get behind this album. His mockery of the hordes of pop-country phonies wearing “their sister’s jeans” on “It Keeps on Workin’” is the highlight for me. The man has a solid voice even if I wish he was still destroying it like he did with Staind in their Dysfunction era. Alas, that is a tired critique now, some twenty years later.