Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
What a week in new music, with six (6!) records worthy of discussion – these reviews will be short and sweet…
Kevin Morby – Oh My God – 14 tracks / 49 minutes
The former Woods bassist continues to come into his own as a solo artist.
Right up front – I adore this record. Yes, I am biased, because I believe Kevin is one of the best songwriters and musical artists in America today. With each release, he continues to build on an impressive catalogue of rootsy songs full of sharp and thoughtful messages. After City Music, which was a tour de force and his finest work, a regression was inevitable. Instead, he went a different direction with this album full of religious themes and nods to God and that great big gig in the sky.
The album opens with the title track, an uplifting piano ballad that finds Kevin noodling along the keyboard while asking the Lord to carry him home, as he has grown too weak for the heavy load he is holding. The subtle and gorgeous female croons in the background only add to the reverence this song commands. Next up is a true gem: “No Halo”, complete with piano (the most common instrument on this album), handclaps, and some seductive saxophone. When the drums kick in about halfway through, the second time through the lyrics become even more poignant.
“Nothing Sacred/All Things Wild” finds Kevin remembering the fire and passion of his youth, while “Seven Devils” is a slow burn that culminates with some terrific electric guitar shredding. “OMG Rock N Roll” offers a sped-up reprise of “Oh My God”, complete with lyrics borrowed from the excellent one-off single “Beautiful Strangers”, a song that deserves more than its throwaway status. The organ work on “Hail Mary” steals the show, and finds Kevin saying “so Hail Mary, oh go long; cross my heart, hope to die in your arms”.
When death comes calling, we all must answer – that inevitability is Kevin’s muse for the dark but rewarding “Piss River”, where he admits that he prays basically the same way I do: “I tried to pray, but I didn’t know what to say, so I just mumbled some names and said I hope they’re okay, then Amen. They were the names of my family and friends”. Last but far from least, a quick note on “Congratulations”, which starts with multiple voices apologizing to God and asking for forgiveness overlaid atop each other. Once the music starts, it is true beauty, and the lyrics are as positive and life affirming as you’ll find, without a trace of sarcasm or irony: “congratulations, congratulations, you have survived, oh you stayed alive; this life is a killer, but oh what a ride, just to wake up each morning, just to open your eyes”. Yes, this is a heavy album, and is the overall absence of guitar or “rock” is noted – but it is a powerful and divine work that stands up with Mr. Morby’s best so far.
Key Tracks: “No Halo”, “Congratulations”, “Piss River”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Xugyt3sTfDgvALU1St1QA?si=3mOefMk4RMKj60O8qnEZZw
Josh Ritter – Fever Breaks – 10 tracks / 45 minutes
This gem of an album has something for everyone and stands tall among his best work.
Local product (he’s from Idaho, sort of) Josh Ritter has built quite a career writing and performing his songs, and Fever Breaks is yet another example of his prowess. His output has been productive and prolific: this is his 10th studio LP by my count, and 2019 is his twentieth year as a solo recording artist. The music here is diverse and ranges from mellow folk-Americana to straight-ahead guitar rock, and the songwriting is top-notch, rivaling better known lions of the genre such as Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earle.
Leadoff track “Ground Don’t Want Me” finds a man lamenting how that no matter how hard he lives, he just won’t seem to die – as Josh says, “you’ll never get to Heaven, so go to Hell real slow”. On the second track and album highlight “Old Black Magic” Josh lets his rock and roll sensibilities show as he shreds some electric guitar over a stomping bass and drum groove. This track will be absolutely killer during his live show, which consequently will be at the Egyptian in Boise on June 20th. If you haven’t already gotten a ticket, bummer: it sold out weeks ago.
The ominous and brooding “The Torch Committee” has piano and electric guitar muted behind Josh reciting rationale for a punishment that seems unjust for an untold crime, and although something here is definitely not right, it is sinister in the best way. “All Some Kind of Dream” is pure folk bliss, with twangy acoustic guitar and harmonica flourishes, and it leads perfectly into the driving rock of personal favorite “Losing Battles”. As I look around at America in 2019, I think I’ll adopt this line from that song as my mantra: “Sometimes the righteous win, most times it’s a losing battle”. All in all, this is a great starting point for casual listeners and will be a welcome addition to any fan or Mr. Ritter’s work.
Key Tracks: “Old Black Magic”, “Losing Battles”, “Ground Don’t Want Me”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3qL2gdQLgulBvIo7bng2zS?si=tvBydSpySs2-mzCjAs0CNA
Tylor & the Train Robbers – Best of the Worst Kind – 12 tracks / 49 minutes
This talented local artist continues to shine in relative obscurity, and brings more of the goods here.
Tylor Ketchum’s brand of country music is right up my alley: earnest and relatable songwriting coupled with solid musicianship and just the right amount of don’t give a damn attitude. These guys have been playing the Boise scene relentlessly for years and after their excellent debut proper LP (2017’s Gravel) I figured big things were in store. Well, they’ve followed up with Best of the Worst Kind which finds them at an even higher level. If they keep it up, you won’t be able to walk into Grainey’s or Pengilly’s on a random evening and find them playing for free much longer, folks.
On leadoff track “Lost and Lonely Miles” Tylor imparts some wisdom he has learned so far through a life spent trying to do what he wants, chasing that honky-tonk dream. “Good at Bad News” tells about how he and his woman can handle the blues that seem to just keep coming, and “Fumblin’ for Rhymes” laments a life spent trying to write a perfect song that can last. “Storyteller”, Tylor’s ode to his grandfather (who sounds like he was quite an interesting character), is a well-written ballad that will tug at your heart strings a bit.
The title of the record is a reference to a line on the album’s highlight track – the railroad bandit tale “The Ballad of Black Jack Ketchum”. This excellent tale of a crook finally getting busted by the law starts out mellow but builds to a climax in which Tylor channels his inner Patterson Hood (this could be some lost Drive-By Truckers/Adam’s House Cat track). The rapid growth of our fair City of Trees is the subject of “Construction”, and Tylor’s frustration with trying to get around in the “circus”. This track features shout outs to the Safari Inn, the Broadway Avenue Whole Foods, and I-84, but works even if you aren’t familiar with Boise.
Key Tracks: “The Ballad of Black Jack Ketchum”, “Storyteller”, “Good at Bad News”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/1EAHRqQcW6fastOwrDDTDS?si=3uIu4u9aQ5arVmD7Orm1CA
Rob Thomas – Chip Tooth Smile – 12 tracks / 39 minutes
At this point, Rob might be better known for his solo work than his previous day job fronting Matchbox 20.
Yes, the leadoff single “One Less Day (Dying Young) is super catchy, but there is more here to enjoy. Throughout the ups and downs of this album, it is Rob Thomas all the way – his instantly recognizable voice and that trademark Dad-rock sound with hooks abound. For over twenty years Rob has written cartfuls of guilty pleasures for yours truly and that trend continues here. Check out “Can’t Help Me Now” and “Tomorrow” if you need any more examples of the guy’s ability to create music just about everyone can enjoy.
Having said all of that, this album has one song that is head and shoulders above the rest in my book: “Early in the Morning”. The only track that runs over the four minute mark, this thing is part motivational speech and part dance track. And as for the the hook on the chorus, you have been warned: extreme earworm alert. Fans of his work will surely find plenty to love here, and even the haters will probably be nodding their heads to some of this stuff, as long as no one else is looking, of course.
Key Tracks: “Early in the Morning”, “Can’t Help Me Now”, “Tomorrow”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0vCpM6bbidKly1aRrf8wmz?si=d3cNv4iDQaqeBntELs8z4w
Patrick Park – Here/Gone – 10 tracks / 35 minutes
The Los Angeles based songwriter’s fifth LP is his most consistent yet.
The ten songs that comprise Here/Gone are all short and sweet, and the 35 minute run time goes by rather quickly. Nearly two years after he first released what has become my favorite song of his as a single (“Five Alarm”), it leads off this new album. Complete with a simple yet unique and ultra-catchy guitar riff, this song is a keeper but thankfully is only one of several solid tracks here. The strings and acoustic guitar interplay of “Everything Falls Apart” makes for a fantastic three minutes even as Patrick sings about the inevitability of darkness finding you.
Some lovely steel guitar and downright country vibes persist on the yearning “I Feel a Fire”, which has this lyric that I enjoy: “they say it’s easy, but you know it’s not; when giving up feels like your only shot”. “Whirlwind” seems to me to be a song about how little control we have over our lives, and how chaos, circumstance, and luck (the whirlwind) rule the day. Regardless, it is a highlight on this album of solid songs from front to back.
Key Tracks: “Five Alarm”, “I Feel a Fire”, “Whirlwind”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2n5rLr0IXLleyh7i2aczDQ?si=prCbFcduTWybbRgpKgirVA
Bear’s Den – So That You Might Hear Me – 10 tracks / 41 minutes
Like a warm blanket or a familiar face in a crowd, the music of Bear’s Den is comforting and soothing, sometimes to a fault.
This is music that requires a certain mood or frame of mind for me to truly enjoy, but make no mistake – it’s some pretty powerful and emotional stuff. My preference is the songs that have some driving music behind them such as “Hiding Bottles” or the wonderfully catchy “Laurel Wreath”, but even some of the slower (and sappier) ballads have their own kind of power to them (see “Fossils” and “Crow”). “Not Every River” is a short and sweet parable that serves as a metaphor for life, and is my highlight for So That You Might Hear Me, their third album.
Key Tracks: “Not Every River”, “Laurel Wreath”, “Hiding Bottles”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4UGUJOgcTFGVA2ki2fFByI?si=nmleW0kjQlmXZ1wzSRzDjg
The Cranberries – In the End
In a sad twist of fate, Dolores O’Riordan emailed her very last vocal tracks to her bandmates mere hours before she passed away unexpectedly last year. Her mates took those vocals and turned them into the last Cranberries record, and fans of their work will not be disappointed. From the straight-ahead rock sound of “Wake Me When It’s Over” to the haunting piano riff and singing on “Catch me if You Can”, there is plenty to like here. The album closing title track is a show stopper, with Dolores singing over acoustic guitar “take my house, take the car, take the clothes, but you can’t take the spirit”.
Rodrigo y Gabriela – Mettavolution
More of the same from this incredibly talented flamenco/dance/rock duo, complete with a truly compelling 18-minute cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. The leadoff title track is about as R&G as it gets – if you aren’t familiar with them, that’s your four-minute crash course.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Fishing for Fishies
A diverse and eclectic set from these oddballs that would make Wayne Coyne proud. Check out “Real’s Not Real” and “The Cruel Millennial”, the album’s highlights.
PAWS – Your Church on My Bonfire
One thing that you gotta love about Paws: they are a bit different with every release. While this is no Cokefloat!, it does have a couple of gems: “Honoured to be Honest” and “Not Enough”.
Catfish and the Bottlemen – The Balance
These pop-punkers who opened for Green Day on their 2017 tour (I saw the Salt Lake show) bring more of their sound, which I find hit and miss. “Basically” is snarky and catchy over some sick guitar distortion, and “Coincide” has the in-your-face pop hooks that the kids seem to love these days.