Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
June 21st was an epic week for new music, with six noteworthy releases! I’ll keep these short and sweet…
The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger – 12 tracks / 41 minutes
Jack and the gang are back after an eleven year hiatus with a genuine contender for album of the year.
By now everyone is aware of Jack White and his seemingly endless outlets for musical genius. Perhaps you don’t know, or had forgotten, about The Raconteurs, his side project with Brendan Benson, Jack Lawrence, and Pat Keeler. After Consolers of the Lonely was released in 2008, the band was never heard from again – until now. Eleven years later, their third and finest effort is currently rocking my world.
Jack is on top of his game, with riffs that scream his unique take on classic rock and roll. Opener “Bored and Razed” was an afterthought that almost didn’t make the album, but serves as a great starting point. The two vocalists trade verses, with Brendan lamenting his SoCal roots: “plastic features, perfect face; what a waste, and I’m still thinking about her”. “Help Me Stranger” alludes to the band’s instruments and the “16 strings we’re strummin’”, and “Only Child” features this clever little quip: “Only child, the prodigal son; has come back home again, to get his laundry done.”
While the first half of the album is solid, the best is waiting for the second side. “Sunday Driver” has the greatest riff in Raconteurs history and kicks serious ass, while “Now That You’re Gone” is easily my favorite jam here – the bassline and ambient sounds behind the guitar and drums are as haunting as they are groovy. On the latter song, Jack asks “what will you do, now that you’re gone; on to somebody new, well that didn’t take long. Where you gonna go, not that I care; and who can you trust, now that I’m not there”.
There are softer moments also, like the piano-driven “Shine the Light on Me” and the excellent album closer “Thoughts and Prayers”, which has plenty of acoustic guitar and violin. “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” -a Donovan cover – is given the royal treatment and is a great stop along the journey, with a terrific drumbeat and some killer harmonica work from Mr. Benson. No matter what tempo they find themselves in, this band is on top of their game in a big way, and deserved to have the #1 U.S. album spot they held the week after Help Us Stranger’s release.
Key Tracks: “Sunday Driver”, “Now That You’re Gone”, “Help Me Stranger”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/12rfrkN4eZOpmJUmVzE84M?si=iAPjJfI_SrCc5zsMAIxdyg
Collective Soul – Blood – 10 tracks / 34 minutes
Remember these guys from the 90s? Well, they’re back with their catchy trademark sound, albeit on shorter songs.
Collective Soul was one of my favorite bands growing up in the 90s. Something about Ed Roland and his band’s sound hit a chord with me – along with millions of other people. I think they lost their way a bit over most of this century, but their familiar sound is back in full force here. Although there are weak moments, I am happy to report that this is hands down their best work since Dosage twenty years ago.
From the opening drum kick, guitar riffage, and Roland verse of leadoff track “Now’s the Time”, it sounds like 1995 again – which, for this band, is a compliment. The song is a groovy one and has an uplifting message of love in a turbulent time. “Good Place to Start” veers pretty close to pop-rock territory but is a catchy jam with an earworm piano riff and chorus. However, the highlight of the record is the minor-key piano of “Them Blues”, one of the finest compositions of Ed’s career.
Key Tracks: “Them Blues”, “Now’s the Time”, “Porch Swing”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/5yKxrYcsL0WxIvNJwLMMJJ?si=t7pgm2XdR7a8XxrgDtrUSw
Fruit Bats – Gold Past Life – 11 tracks / 39 minutes
Eric Johnson is back with another helping of easy listening jams to dance or do the dishes to.
No, this isn’t Absolute Loser Part II, but it is a nice record with a few gems, including the title track with Eric’s snarky falsetto on the chorus. “Drawn Away” might be the best song here, and tells the tale of looking for old landmarks and memories, and is a clever and melodic take on the “you can’t go home again” mantra.
“Ocean” is classic Eric, with a gorgeous finger-picked acoustic guitar backbone and his lovely crooning about somebody who picked him up and drove him to the ocean when he most needed the help. The piano on “Barely Living Room” is so basic and subtle that it allows for the stellar lyrics here to shine through, with Eric telling someone from his past that “I hate you but I sort of feel bad for you too… thinking about some of the things that you did, and it sorta feels like abuse.” This is heavier than it sounds, if you really listen- like much of Eric’s consistently interesting work.
Key Tracks: “Drawn Away”, “Gold Past Life”, “Barely Living Room”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4yyxKPCiD1A7kQkfidacBu?si=71WGTFJHRWKu8PbdygfHsQ
Willie Nelson – Ride Me Back Home – 11 tracks / 43 minutes
Just how prolific can a man well into his 80s be? The answer is very, very prolific.
Willie is back with yet another album, his fourth in the past two and a half years. It would be easy for him to retire, or start mailing it in, but his music continues to impress and be well worth listening to. Yes, he has found his third act sound and doesn’t veer too far from his wheelhouse, but you won’t find me complaining. The title track is a prime example of Willie today: reflective, mellow, with an always recognizable voice and some subtle harmonica and keys behind him.
There are a few missteps here, but they’re far overshadowed by the high points, most notably the sultry “Seven Year Itch”, the poignant and powerful ode to his grandfather “Immigrant Eyes”, and the romp and snark of “It’s Hard to Be Humble” which features his sons Lukas and Micah.
Key Tracks: “Immigrant Eyes”, “Ride Me Back Home”, “Seven Year Itch”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4eIsAOEVirxfsiQpwbhBpP?si=GVj-CdH_Sm6Z9v6Qy6AtXg
Travis – Live at Glastonbury ‘99 – 16 tracks / 68 minutes
This festival recording from twenty years back finds Fran Healy and crew in their prime.
I don’t know much about the Glastonbury Festival, except that it is in England and based on some of Fran’s commentary during this live recording, it is nationally broadcast (or at least was back in the 20th century). I do know this: they got things off with a bang, playing “Blue Flashing Light”, easily the hardest rocking song in their career.
The band sounds tight, and they are coming off of their triumph album, The Man Who. That record is well represented, as half of the sixteen songs are pulled from it. “Writing to Reach You”, “Why Does it Always Rain on Me” and “Slide Show” are among their finest works and sounded quite lovely on this day. In summary, this is one of the best European bands of the last 25 years in their prime, and for that reason alone it is a worthwhile listen.
Key Tracks: “Blue Flashing Light”, “Why Does it Always Rain on Me”, “All I Want to Do is Rock”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2G1MmiyNUY9H4Mw55NjB7l?si=Ej11if5lRgSSIplYZ2lLeg
Boot Juice – Speaking in Tones – 12 tracks / 41 minutes
Although not as captivating as their live show, this album is a solid debut from the bluegrass-infused rockers.
I fell for this sextet when I saw their Boise show about a month ago, and enjoyed the EP they released earlier this year, so I was excited for this proper album. There are hits and misses, but the bluesy vibes of “Save My Soul” and the title track are definite winners. “Drift off to Sleep” is a great song and probably my favorite lyrically, while “Mountain Bound” is irresistible musically and I recalled it from the concert immediately.
Key Tracks: “Mountain Bound”, “Save My Soul”, “Drift off to Sleep”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0DhW1yaZhfBHzfu6IW2OJV?si=gkvPU26ZSX-kCxjbLQihFg