New Music 5/24/19: Justin Townes Earle, Black Mountain

Hot off the presses: new music!  Better said, new music that is worth your time.

JTEarle

Justin Townes Earle – The Saint of Lost Causes – 12 tracks / 50 minutes

What do you do after you release the finest record of your career?  If you are JTE, you simply follow it up with an ever better effort – this is an absolute must listen and one of the finest albums so far this year.

 

Make no mistake, Justin is no longer just “Steve’s kid” – he is at the forefront of the contemporary American songwriter scene.  For me, Kids in the Street was a turning point, where the man went from a reliably decent artist to another level, and he continues that level of work here.  The dark and pensive leadoff title track alone is enough to carry an album, with its clever metaphorical wordplay of sheep, shepherds, and wolves.  The reason this album is so great is that there are several songs that are even better.

“Ain’t Got No Money” is a bouncy jam that finds Justin trying to maintain his dignity as he explains that he “ain’t got nothing besides what you see… gimme some money, I ain’t got no money”, and the harmonica is stellar.  “Mornings in Memphis” is classic Justin, a quick journey inside his drunk head as he sits watching the sunrise, contemplating several things that he could do.

There is a ton of good material here (and a couple of clunkers, he is human after all), but the highlights for me are “Flint City Shake It” and “Appalachian Nightmare”.  On the former, he tells the tale of GM’s departure from Flint, Michigan in the 80s and the resulting strife the community has suffered over a genuinely tasty boogie (the special shout-out to “that son of a bitch named Roger Smith” would make Micheal Moore smile).  “Flint city shake it, let ‘em all know, Detroit can rock, but Flint city’ll roll”.

“Appalachian Nightmare” is one of the darkest songs I’ve heard in a while, but the tale is told with such conviction and lack of judgement that by the time it ends you just might find yourself feeling some sympathy for a cop killer.  My only complaint is that this heavy SOB should have been the album closer.  Bravo, Justin, you have outdone yourself yet again.

Key Tracks: “Appalachian Nightmare”, “The Saint of Lost Causes”, “Flint City Shake It”

Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2u56gjSmnJzoZOcUO84Lrw?si=t2tcboBSRZqrOxtX0RyZ6Q

 

Blk Mtn

Black Mountain – Destroyer – 8 tracks / 43 minutes

On their fifth LP this Canadian gang bring the synth psych to the forefront, with mixed results.

 

Right from the start, I will be up front about my adoration of Stephen McBean and his band Black Mountain.  Their blend of synth-heavy psychedelia and prog-rock forces has entertained me for over a decade, and their previous release, IV, is an instant classic.  With Destroyer, they go to full-on synth mode, and at times it’s a bridge too far for me. There are also a few songs here that seem more liked demos than fully-evolved compositions.  However, there are enough gems here to make this a worthwhile outing.

I respect the group for following their muse (in this case, Stephen’s new drivers license and anxiety about getting behind the wheel for the first time at 50 years old), and hope they continue to do so.

Lead single “Future Shade” was a fair representation of what we get for most of this album, which definitely leans more sonically to In the Future than say Wilderness Heart or the aforementioned IV.  Two of the songs seem to confront our society’s flirtation with extinction, or as Stephen puts it “living close to the edge”.  “Closer to the Edge” is a quick but brooding near-instrumental, while “Licensed to Drive” is the fleshed out version.

The highlights here are when Black Mountain do Black Mountain and find that perfect space in between the two worlds: “Pretty Little Lazies”, “Boogie Lover”, and “High Rise”.  Amber Webber’s vocals that close the latter steal the show although the guitar and keyboard work is also off the charts.  On the former, when the acoustic guitar kicks in about 45 seconds in, I fall in love.  A couple minutes later the guitars and keys are turned way up, and create an impressive wall of sound, just in time for things to get quiet again.  This is what they do best, and it stands up with their finest work yet.

Key Tracks: “Pretty Little Lazies”, “High Rise”, “Boogie Lover”

Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3NWMc0pI8amx5vpl29Em1a?si=ZzzBMy3aSbWW9r9TclXJsw

 

Also heard:

Mavis Staples – We Get By

More music from the ever-prolific Mavis, and this time Ben Harper stops by to contribute on the title track.  Her backing band is loose and provides a great backbone, although a few of the songs are fairly weak.  Check out “Anytime” and “Stronger” if you want proof that she has still got it.

 

Cate Le Bon – Reward

 

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