Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

While many folks may see Thanksgiving as just a food-heavy precursor to the Christmas season, I think it really deserves it’s own special minute in the holiday sun. Underneath all of the gorgeous fall colors, football games and mashed potatoes is a moment set aside for thankfulness, reflection and relaxation; in whatever way those look like to you. You might spend the day with friends and family eating entirely too much food, plan your Black Friday shopping strategy or work a few extra hours to help with the Christmas presents. But whatever you do, try not to gloss over Thanksgiving in anticipation of the upcoming Christmas boom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a certified freakshow for “the yearly bacchanalia of peace on earth and good will to men.” But I’ve found that giving Thanksgiving it’s meager due can be pretty rewarding. There may not be as many songs, TV shows and movies highlighting Thanksgiving as much as some other holidays, but there’s certainly enough to help you get in the spirit. Some nostalgic favorites of mine like A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Garfield’s Thanksgiving and Planes, Trains and Automobiles are all awesome choices this time of year. A few sitcoms have turned out great Thanksgiving episodes like The Cosby Show, Gilmore Girls, Roseanne, Friends and the hilariously classic “Turkeys Away” episode from WKRP in Cincinnati. Here’s a couple songs to go along with all the eating, digesting and napping as well:

"Turkey Gotta Gobble" - Reverend Horton Heat

"Thanksgiving Theme" - Vince Guaraldi Trio

From my personal “glory days” of SNL, I’ve always loved Adam Sandler’s “Thanksgiving Song” too. It’s kind of about Thanksgiving and it’s probably the only song to mention Darryl Strawberry, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jimmy Walker and turkey. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christmas With The Puppini Sisters (Album Review)

Although The Puppini Sisters aren’t actual siblings, you’d never know it by the way they sound when they sing together. It’s impressive enough to hear close harmony within a group of family members, but there’s a special talent exhibited when it comes from a group who’s only been singing together for five or six years. The energetic trio of Marcella Puppini, Stephanie O’Brien and Kate Mullins blend their voices and collective sass together to form a sound that is reminiscent of World War II-era swing, while still maintaining a refreshingly modern approach. Their talent and character are both on full display in their new album, Christmas With The Puppini Sisters. This collection of familiar holiday hits takes older classics and newer standards and reimagines all of them through an old transistor radio or a vintage USO tour. Christmas With The Puppini Sisters will transport you to a sepia-toned holiday of yesteryear and also provide a great backdrop to any Christmas party you’re having this year. Just don’t be surprised if the conversation drifts to that new blockbuster Gone With The Wind or Roosevelt’s latest fireside chat.

Although the musical tone of Christmas With The Puppini Sisters has a total throwback vibe, the tracklist contains a few relatively modern surprises. Take the animated album opener for example. “Step Into Christmas” was originally recorded by Elton John in the 70’s, but The Puppini Sisters create a totally unique cover of it by dancing up the rhythm and slapping a big band horn section on it. They personalize it so much it’ll have you thinking Elton’s version is actually the cover. They create the same “recent to retro reversal” feel with the Parisian waltz of Wham’s “Last Christmas” and the jitterbug swing of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas.” The album’s other tracks are all perennial favorites that are both festively familiar and remarkably revamped. The Puppini Sisters will have you dancing along to “Mele Kalikimaka” and “Here Comes Santa Claus,” watching the winter weather to “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow” and cuddling close to “Santa Baby.” Stamping your name on well-known Christmas songs is no easy task, but The Puppini Sisters manage to craft their unique sound without feeling like they are just adding to the holiday noise. Bold, brassy and fun, Christmas With The Puppini Sisters is guaranteed to spike your eggnog and liven up your holiday season.

"Step Into Christmas" - The Puppini Sisters (Christmas With The Puppini Sisters)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Music City Unsigned Family Christmas (Album Review)

Music City Unsigned is an awesome group of guys here in Nashville that work really hard to support local, independent musicians and build a community where good music can be created and promoted. They’re not a label, they’re not a management company and they’re not a PR firm. They’re just that rare breed of organization that exists to help foster creativity and help advance the careers of those that create in a grassroots, hands on way. The amazing part is they do it really well without asking for anything in return from the artists. For the Christmas season, they pulled together some of their favorites to produce Music City Unsigned Family Christmas, a 10 song collection of old and new holiday songs intimately recorded to analog tape. Instead of some overproduced, slickly polished Christmas album of standards, Family Christmas contains refreshingly uncluttered acoustic arrangements with just one or two instruments accompanying the vocals. It’s the kind of album that’s made for a cold, December morning at the coffee shop or a relaxed, holiday evening with friends by the fire. It’s warm, inviting and festive enough that each song will either get you or keep you in the Christmas spirit. The casual way these songs were recorded lend a lot to the feel of the music as well. There’s enough ambiance and space in the recording that you almost feel like you’re in the room with the artists. You can hear chairs squeak, throats cleared and even a stray note or two, which all add to the comfortable, laid back vibe created by choosing to record live to analog tape over digitally processed, overdubbed sessions.

The majority of the songs on Family Christmas consist of just an acoustic guitar or two and a couple of voices. My immediate favorite would have to be Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb doing “This Is The Christ” from her recent album, In Feast or Fallow. Sandra’s modern hymn combines Martin Luther’s lyrics with a melody all her own to create a beautiful Advent hymn that shines out through their voices and guitars. These two have had a stranglehold on my musical heart for years and this track is enough evidence to see why. Another featured artist I’ve listened to for more than 10 years is Andy Osenga and he delivers a great holiday love song entitled “This Year.” Take note guys, play this song for your own Mrs. Claus and you’ll have no problem finding your way to the mistletoe. There’s a few other songs on the album to accompany your holiday hand holding like Amy Stroup’s bouncy “You Make The Cold Disappear” and Aron Wright’s sentimental “When Christmas Is On The Heart.” I’m a sucker for a good acoustic Christmas hymn, so I’m also thoroughly enjoying the guitar-cello duet “Silent Night” by Elenowen, “O Holy Night” by Angel Snow and “Love Came Down At Christmas” by Jenny and Tyler. To spice things up there’s a couple piano numbers sprinkled in as well, including Daniel Ellsworth and Alva Leigh’s pleading “It’s Christmas, I Love You” and Heather Bond and Brandon Ingle’s faithful “Angels We Have Heard On High.” However, the song that garners the most bonus points for bubbling merriment and impeccable usage of sleigh bells is the infectious “I’m Coming Home” from Holley Maher. Family Christmas does a stellar job of both celebrating Christmas and highlighting some independent artists that you may or may not be familiar with. By picking up Family Christmas, you’ll be contributing to the great work that Music City Unsigned does and you’ll be helping the artists who they support. Plus, you’ll be getting some cool, new music to enhance your holiday season.

Music City Unsigned Family Christmas can be purchased via immediate digital download or physical CD (shipped around December 1st) through the following link:

"This Is The Christ" - Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb (Music City Unsigned Family Christmas)

"I'm Coming Home" - Holley Maher (Music City Unsigned Family Christmas)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tumbledown "Empty Bottle" Giveaway

Hot on the heels of Tumbledown releasing their incredible second full length studio album Empty Bottle, the awesome folks in their camp want to give YOU the chance to win one for free. That's right, we're running a good old-fashioned, no strings attached giveaway here for a free Empty Bottle CD! Tumbledown mixes country, punk, Americana and rock into a genre I like to call "alt-punktry" and they do it with as much heart as they do talent. Empty Bottle is chock full of bootstompers and heartbreakers and if you don't already have it, you'd be crazy to pass up this chance to get it for free! If you do already have it, you can still enter and give it to a friend if you win. So here's how it's going to work. I'm going to ask a "Tumbledown Trivia" question and all you have to do is email me at with the answer, your name and your address. I'll randomly pick one winner from the correct responses. Easy enough? Okay, here we go:

Tumbledown Trivia: What three Texas cities are named in Tumbledown's song titles?

Keep in mind, they've got two full length albums, a live album and an EP, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. So again, once you've got the answer, email me at with your answer, your name and your address. Don't worry, I promise not to sell your info to any magazine subscription services unless the price is just too good to pass up. Just kidding of course! My So-Called Soundtrack promises not to sell or give your info to any third party, blah, blah, blah.

***Deadline for entry is Friday, November 26th***

"Barton Hollow" Video - The Civil Wars

A few months ahead of their debut album coming out in February, The Civil Wars are premiering a gorgeous video for their first single, “Barton Hollow.” When I first heard them do “Barton Hollow” back in March at The Basement, I was struck at how beautifully haunting the song came across with just two voices and a dobro. Hearing it fleshed out with just enough sparse accompaniments to give it even more weight and atmosphere has managed to heighten my anticipation for an album that I was already ridiculously excited about. The video has an impressive southern gothic feel and shooting it in black and white just enhances the somber, mysterious tone of the song. The picturesque shots of the rural landscape, flowing creek and little country church contrast perfectly against the disquieting hole being dug and the dirty hands being washed. Oh yeah, Joy Williams and John Paul White are in there as well, both looking dapper as always. This video not only does an incredible job of complementing the song, it makes me want to crack open “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “Their Eyes Were Watching God” for the umpteenth time and get lost in all of the kudzu and muggy, southern air. That, my friends, is a win-win. The Civil Wars are set to release Barton Hollow on February 1st and needless to say, I’m thankful they made this stunning video to tide me over until then.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Norah Jones - ...Featuring (Album Review)

If you haven’t been keeping up with Norah Jones’ career, then the premise of her new album, …Featuring, may surprise you a little. While she’s mostly known for her lulling voice and jazzy piano playing, Norah has shown time and time again that she is comfortable in a variety of genres and can hold her own with a variety of musicians. …Featuring gives a nice overview of some of Norah’s collaborative efforts with other artists over the years and it does a good job of showcasing her unique stamp that she brings to each project. Due to the nature of the record, the vibe of …Featuring covers a wide stretch of the musical spectrum, with Norah’s voice and piano playing acting as the unifying thread. While this may be distracting for some, it actually speaks volumes to her unique ability to find herself within any musical mood and she plays to her strengths in each setting. One sign of a true musician is their desire to enter into a conversation with the musicians around them to do what’s best for the song. So whether that means she’s simply blending trio vocals (“Loretta”) or laying down some jaw-dropping virtuoso jazz piano licks (“Court and Spark”), she does her part to elevate the song without overshadowing anyone. Besides, not many folks get invited to play with such diverse acts as Willie Nelson, Outkast and Foo Fighters, so she must be doing something right.

The songs on …Featuring basically fall into one of three main categories. They are either from Norah’s main records, her side projects or her appearances on other artist’s albums. Her main body of work is represented by “Creepin’ In” with Dolly Parton from Feels Like Home, “Blue Bayou” with M. Ward from her Live in Austin, TX DVD and “Loretta” with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings from her Live in 2004 DVD. Both of her side projects are on display as well with “”Love Me” from The Little Willies, and “The Best Part” from El Madmo. The rest of the songs are comprised of Norah’s guest spots on other records. These tracks show her diversity the most as she effortlessly slides into many different genres. For most, her forays into hip-hop will be the farthest stretch from what she’s known for, but the results are both interesting and impressive. She shines by bringing her relaxed confidence to “Life Is Better” with Q-Tip, “Turn Them” with Sean Bones, “Take Off Your Cool” with Andre 3000 of Outkast and “Soon The New Day” with Talib Kweli. If those tracks aren’t your preference though, there’s plenty more of what her fans have come to love her for. She gets twangy on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Willie Nelson, “Dear John” with Ryan Adams and “Bull Rider” with Sasha Dobson. She gets jazzy on “Here We Go Again” with Ray Charles, “Court and Spark” with Herbie Hancock, “More Than This” with Charlie Hunter and “Ruler of My Heart” with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. She even hangs out with some of her rock friends on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” with Belle & Sebastian and “Virginia Moon” with Foo Fighters. While …Featuring absolutely has a compilation mixtape feel to it, Norah’s presence is strong enough in each track to still give the album cohesion. For the most part, it makes a strong case for Norah being one of the most talented, unafraid and sought after musical chameleons around. While there is a vast amount of impressive musical collaborations involving Norah Jones out there to be heard if you look hard enough, …Featuring combines enough of them into one package to be a great place to start.

"Virginia Moon" (featuring Norah Jones) - Foo Fighters (...Featuring)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn (Album Review)

It’s always nice to see an influential, ground-breaking artist get the respect and recognition they deserve while they are still alive to enjoy it. Country songbird Loretta Lynn released her first single in 1960 and has been going strong since then, still touring and recording now as much as she ever has. Throughout her illustrious career she’s released over 50 studio albums and over 80 singles, with 16 of them going to Number One in the U.S. alone. Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn is the first multi-artist compilation to pay tribute to the feisty singer-songwriter from Butcher Holler and it does an admirable job of showcasing her songs and illustrating her wide-reaching musical impact. With a diverse line-up of tried and true country stars, alt-country songsmiths, a few rowdy rock n’ rollers and even Loretta Lynn herself, Coal Miner’s Daughter turns out a nice collection of covers honoring the iconic living legend.

While it’s a vast understatement to just say that Loretta Lynn made huge strides for woman who wanted to sing country music, her impact can clearly be seen in the female country artists who appear on Coal Miner’s Daughter. From veteran artists like Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Faith Hill to newcomers Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, Loretta’s effect on gender and genre is well represented throughout the album’s 12 tracks. The album is bookended by a faithful rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” by Gretchen Wilson and a new version of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert and Mrs. Loretta Lynn herself. Lee Ann Womack also delivers a loyal take of Loretta’s first single, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.” The grittier, unpolished side of country owes a lot to Loretta as well and Lucinda Williams’ “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missin’ Tonight) and husband and wife duo Steve Earle and Allison Moorer’s “After The Fire Is Gone” makes me really want to hear more raw alt-country and folk versions of Loretta’s songs. As much as it may be a little surprising to see band names like Paramore and The White Stripes in the track listing, both have good reason to be included. Paramore’s lead singer, Hayley Williams, grew up just south of Nashville and Jack White produced and played on Loretta’s 2004 album Van Lear Rose and has been a vocal fan of hers for quite a while. In fact, The White Stripes’ live version of “Rated X” is from 2001 and is the B-side from their “Hotel Yorba” 7” vinyl single. Eventhough “Fist City,” my favorite Loretta Lynn song, isn’t covered by anyone, I really enjoy Coal Miner’s Daughter and I think the artists capture Loretta’s attitude and character really well. It’s a smart idea that no one attempted her more controversial songs like “The Pill,” “Dear Uncle Sam” and “Wings Upon your Horns” because no one could’ve come close to delivering them like she can. But thankfully her unique feminine charm and strong spirit of women’s equality in relationships shines through on tracks like “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “If You’re Not Gone Too Long.” Coal Miner’s Daughter does exactly what you want a good tribute album to do. It provides some fresh approaches to classic songs you already love, while doing it in a way that really makes you want to hear the originals all over again.

"Rated X" - The White Stripes (Coal Miner's Daughter)

"You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" - Paramore (Coal Miner's Daughter)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ronnie Spector - Best Christmas Ever (Album Review)

Is it time to bust out the Christmas music already? It’s never too early if you ask me and apparently I’m not the only one. Girl group powerhouse and all around music icon Ronnie Spector is back in the Christmas music game with her new holiday offering, Best Christmas Ever. With five newly recorded Christmas songs, Ronnie is ready to spread some more yuletide cheer and be a part of your holiday soundtrack once again. I say once again because Ronnie already has a few Christmas classics under her belt thanks to the legendary 1963 album, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. On that album, The Ronettes contributed what would become some of the best loved versions of “Frosty The Snowman,” “Sleigh Ride” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” While those songs have dominated the radio waves, department stores, movies and festivities of the last 40+ holiday seasons, Ronnie is looking to inject some fresh tidings of comfort and joy with the new songs on Best Christmas Ever.

“My Christmas Wish” opens the album and captures that New York rock n’ roll Christmas vibe perfectly with boogie piano, electric guitars, a bright horn section and Ronnie’s signature voice. The bouncy, bluesy shuffle sounds like an E Street Band outtake and will have you mentally strolling through a snowy Times Square in no time. Just like with any other good, rockin’ Christmas number, the wish in question is not for anything material, but a plea for Santa to help bring back a lost love. “My Christmas Wish” will fit snuggly alongside “Please Come Home For Christmas,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me” on holiday playlists everywhere. The upbeat, horn-driven vibe is revisited in “Best Christmas Ever” as well. These two tracks are definitely ready to enter the holiday radio realm and will most likely be heard for Christmases to come. The other three tracks display Ronnie’s creative ability to easily shift between musical genres. “Light One Candle” is an uplifting piano ballad with a nice string section, “It’s The Time (Happy Holidays)” has a groovy bossa nova feel and “It’s Christmas Once Again” is a slow, doo wop flavored track that was originally performed by Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. From her heartfelt vocal delivery to the handwritten letter and childhood picture in the album’s liner notes to the spoken word memories she shares in two of the songs, Ronnie has done a great job making Best Christmas Ever feel every bit as personal as it is festive.

"My Christmas Wish" - Ronnie Spector (Best Christmas Ever)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tumbledown - Empty Bottle (Album Review)

Mike Herrera, one of the hardest working men in punk rock, is back for another round with Empty Bottle, the second full length studio album from his “alt-punktry” band Tumbledown. In Tumbledown, Mike’s songwriting echoes the barroom brawlers and balladeers of the outlaw country scene of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, while still incorporating his own brand of punk aesthetics. Imagine Willie Nelson wearing a Ramones t-shirt or Milo Aukerman in a cowboy hat and you’ll be getting pretty close. Tumbledown’s songs are mainly filled with the well-worn woes of drinking, being lonesome and being on the road. But like Johnny Cash singing, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” Mike does it in such a big persona kind of way that it mostly comes across as a charicature. He takes liberties in creating certain settings and headspaces to get his whiskey-soaked songs across. But don’t worry, eventhough Empty Bottle is absolutely 100 proof, it will entice you to drink about as much as those “Blood on the Highway” videos did back in school. Instead of party all night, pass the hooch, raging kegger songs; these are sad, tear in my beer, faded memory, lost my girl country songs. Oddly enough though, the more sad and lonesome they get, the more I seem to enjoy them.

One of my favorite things about Tumbledown is the fact that whether they’re playing floor-stompers or tearjerkers, they nail the musical vibe of every song perfectly. Mike’s acoustic can chug or cry, Jack’s electric leads pick up where Buck Owens’ left off and the backbeat provided by brothers Marshall and Harley hasn’t sounded this tight since The Tennessee Three. Songs like “Drink To Forget,” “She’s In Texas (And I’m Insane)” and “Not Hung Over” could easily be mistaken as covers of some old Sun Studio records from the 50’s. Even when they’re flooring the pedal on songs like “Arrested In El Paso Blues” and “St. Peter,” there’s enough twang beneath the tattoos to let you know where these boys are coming from. They've also invited some of their musical friends to spice up a couple songs, including Andrew Anderson on mandolin, Ki Anderson on cello, Todd Bean (Lucero) on pedal steel, Louis DeFabrizio (Gasoline Heart, Dear Ephesus) on vocals and Chebon Tiger (New Old Stock) on harmonica. Lyrically throughout Empty Bottle, Mike goes back and forth between drowning his sorrows and playing “Marco Polo” with them. But just like the old “drinkin’ and fightin’” country songs that Tumbledown is patterned after, the alcohol never delivers and things rarely end well. Lines like “Maybe it’s time to face the facts, time to face the morning light” from “Bad News” and “Don’t lie to me, I already lie to myself, I’ll put away my tears and the bottle back on the shelf” from “Drink To Forget” show that Mike is honest about the outcomes within all the suds and shenanigans. I’m really enjoying Tumbledown’s fresh approach to the alt-country/outlaw/rockabilly ethos and unless I wake up with my head on a bar one day, I’ll be pumping them for a long time to come. Besides, I can quit anytime I want to, honest!

"Great Big World" - Tumbledown (Empty Bottle)

Here's a pic of the gorgeous white vinyl version. Only 100 of these bad boys so get yours from End Sounds quick!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Elvis Costello - National Ransom (Album Review)

Just like with last year’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, Elvis Costello again travelled to Nashville for a few days to record with T Bone Burnett for his latest album, National Ransom. He must’ve enjoyed himself the last time he was here because his repeat performance trickled all the way down to using the same cover artist and the same musicians. Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch, Mike Compton and Jeff Taylor were once again called on to produce the proficient, rootsy, Americana-flavored sounds Elvis and T Bone were looking for to frame the new songs. But with National Ransom’s more aggressive, incensed lyrical direction came a need for a little more musical bite. So while all the down-home charm and bluegrass chops of Secret, Profane & Sugarcane are present, some new elements like drums, organ, electric guitar and horns have been added to give these songs the extra weight they need to hold Costello’s scathing lyrics. Touching on governmental irresponsibilities, the recession, floods, religion, shady and/or sympathetic characters and the oft-covered but endless possibilities of love and heartbreak, Elvis Costello delivers another intelligent, clever, verbose, sometimes playful and sometimes distressed view of our times and situations.

Even before you hear the first note from National Ransom, a look at the liner notes will assure you that these songs are in good hands. Elvis’ impressive guest list includes those that show up for just a song or two like Buddy Miller, Leon Russell, Vince Gill, Jim Lauderdale and ex-Imposter Davey Faragher, as well as those that play on pretty much every song like Marc Ribot and ex-Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas. It’s those previous bandmates, including Marc who has played on four of Costello’s earlier albums, that really drive the more raucous numbers. Take the tile track for instance. “National Ransom” is a blazing barnburner led by Marc’s electric guitar, Steve’s Vox Continental, and Pete’s drums. From the first track, Costello introduces the album’s tension by perfectly marrying the lyrical passion with the musical intensity. The same connection can be found on “I Lost You,” “My Lovely Jezebel,” “Five Small Words” and “The Spell That You Cast.” Even when the electrics guitars and organs are replaced with violin, mandolin and dobro, songs like “Stations of the Cross” and “Dr. Watson, I Presume” fit in perfectly with the album’s groove. But Elvis has shown time and time again that he can’t be contained to just one vibe or genre. He goes for a little crooning jazz on “You Hung The Moon,” a country coffeehouse subtleness on “Bullets For The New-Born King” and some Tin Pan Alley vaudeville on “A Voice In The Dark” and “Jimmie Standing In The Rain.” To add another layer to the album’s scope, each song is supposedly set in a different location and era, each of which are outlined in the liner notes. While the extra context isn’t necessary to enjoy the songs, it’s fun to get into Elvis’ mind a little more and he’s easily earned the right to stretch and unroll his ideas and vision in whatever ways he chooses to. National Ransom proves that Elvis’ pen is as sharp as it ever was and that his ear is still one of the best. After almost 30 studio albums, the man not only still has it, I think he’s gaining more of it. My hope is that if he feels Nashville is a good enough place to record in, then it’s a good enough place to tour in.

I'm enjoying this album too much to pick just one track, so here's two to enjoy:

"I Lost You" - Elvis Costello (National Ransom)

"A Slow Drag With Josephine" - Elvis Costello (National Ransom)

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Drain You" 7" Single - Horse Feathers

For their new 7” vinyl single, Portland based indie-folk band Horse Feathers combined their instrumental prowess and laid back aesthetics to cover “Drain You” off of Nirvana’s groundbreaking Nevermind album. Swapping out the distorted electrics and pounding drums for acoustic guitar, strings and banjo, Horse Feathers manage to restrain the intensity of the original, while still perfectly capturing the raw and unsettled mood Nirvana was so great at creating. The end result has a cool ballad feel with an agitated undercurrent that ends with a flurry of sawing strings and banjo strums. It’s easily one of the most engaging and imaginative Nirvana covers I’ve ever heard. The single is backed with “Bonnet of Briars,” an upbeat folk song led by their signature banjo and string sounds. Horse Feathers just released a full length album, Thistled Spring, in April of this year, so it’s great to already see two new tracks of such quality and originality. The art work on the single is gorgeous too.

In case you’re not familiar with “Drain You” and want to be impressed by both the frenzy of Nirvana’s original and the controlled ebb and flow of Horse Feathers’ cover, take a listen to them both:

"Drain You" - Nirvana (Nevermind)

"Drain You" - Horse Feathers ("Drain You" single)

The “Drain You” 7” single will be released on Kill Rock Stars on November 2nd. Physical orders can placed HERE.

The Autumn Defense - Once Around (Album Review)

While John Stirratt is mostly known for his bass work in Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, his side project, The Autumn Defense, shows he’s no slouch as a frontman as well. Together with fellow Wilco member and multi-instrument guru Pat Sansone, they have released three full lengths and an EP. Their latest release, Once Around, is set for a November 2nd release on Yep Roc Records. Once Around is a lush, melodic record that includes all of the best ingredients from the great folk-rock albums of the 60’s and 70’s. Along with the foundational elements of acoustic guitars, bouncy bass, background harmonies, and relaxed drums, there are sweeping strings, flute, piano, violin, organ and more sprinkled throughout the album’s 11 tracks. Beautifully sparse at times and elegantly grandiose at others, John and Pat have taken all of the musical mastery they are known for in Wilco and allowed it to blossom into its symphonic, classic pop-influenced best. Once Around contains singer-songwriter simplicities with classically trained accompaniments, easy listening without the cheese, soft hits with actual soul and Wilco without the signature avant-garde meanderings. All that to say, it’s great songwriting with rich harmonies and instrumental embellishments that always enhance the song, never detract from the performance and impress without showing off.

Once Around opens with “Back Of My Mind,” a piano-driven pop-rocker straight off of 1970’s AM radio. Fitting somewhere between The Eagles and The Beatles, this song has a great melody line with the vocals, bridge, and guitar solo sounding like they were lifted from a lost recording session from Chicago or Bread. However, it only takes the reversed electric guitar sounds in the intro of the second track, “Allow Me,” to remind you how modern The Autumn Defense determines to be in their approach to the throwback vibes. This track is a great example of how they are looking to include elements of the music they grew up on without settling for a straight mimic of them. Acoustic guitars play prominently throughout the album, especially in songs like “Huntington Fair,” “Once Around,” “Step Easy” and “Don’t Know.” Whether it’s finger-picked or strummed, the gorgeous tones of their acoustic guitars really stand out and become something of a sonic anchor for the album. It allows the more ambitious tracks like “The Swallows of London Town,” “Every Day” and “There Will Always Be A Way” to spread out and have a few more elements hung on them. Fans looking for just a lighter version of Wilco will be sorely missing out on The Autumn Defense’s unique instrumental touch and their comfortably complex musical offerings.

Once Around will be released November 2nd on Yep Roc Records and can be ordered from them HERE.

"Allow Me" - The Autumn Defense (Once Around)