Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain't Over (Album Review)

The average age of retirement in the United States is reported to be 62 years old, but don’t tell that to Wanda Jackson. The Queen of Rockabilly released her first single in 1954 and since then she’s put out 30+ studio albums and 70+ singles, toured the world, dated Elvis, carved out a path for female musicians and put her own unique stamp on rockabilly, country, gospel and rock and roll history. Thanks to Jack White and Third Man Records, she’s currently getting a well-deserved career renaissance with a new generation of fans for her latest album, The Party Ain’t Over. Throughout her career, Wanda has always had an electric sass and a powerful energy that cuts through her songs and dares the music to try and keep up. Even at 73 years young, she commands a performance and taps into the primal spirit of rock music like few can. As producer, arranger and lead guitarist of The Party Ain’t Over, Jack proves to be a formidable foil to Wanda’s pure rock and roll gusto. While he does an excellent job creating a musical backdrop that compliments Wanda perfectly, she absolutely steals the show with her sometimes sweet, sometimes growl, but always rowdy, vocals and her fun attitude.

In the month’s leading up to the release of The Party Ain’t Over, Wanda piqued everyone’s interest by releasing two 7” singles from it. First was a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” backed with “Shakin’ All Over” in January of last year. In November, she put out a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Thunder On The Mountain” with “Dust On The Bible” as the B-side. As awesome as it was to have these four songs to spin, Wanda’s raucous and reckless appeal is best enjoyed in a song after song, complete album onslaught and The Party Ain’t Over doesn’t disappoint. Not only does her voice sound full and amazing on each track, the vintage rock ingredients of electric guitar, bass, drums and piano are perfectly balanced between solid and loose feels, the horn section cuts in at the right time, the pedal steel is flavored in nicely and Jack White’s guitar work is downright ferocious. The selection of cover songs is spot on as well. Not only does she transform the Dylan and Winehouse ones from the singles, she also takes a swing at Harlan Howard’s “Busted” (famously done by Johnny Cash), “Rum and Coca-Cola” (usually associated with The Andrews Sisters) and Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #6.” She doesn’t try to take them into any unfamiliar territories, but she absolutely makes each performance her own. She’s surrounded by an incredible cast of contributing musicians including Jack Lawrence (The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) on bass, Patrick Keeler (The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs) on drums, Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket) on pedal steel, Olivia Jean (The Black Belles) on guitar and bass and “The Cherry Sisters” (Karen Elson and Ashley Monroe) on background vocals. While The Party Ain’t Over is steeped in 1950’s rock sensibilities, it absolutely sounds fresh and modern due to Wanda’s enthusiasm and the explosive performances of the musicians. The party is definitely not over for Wanda Jackson and thankfully she shows no signs of sending anyone home anytime soon.

"Dust On The Bible" - Wanda Jackson (The Party Ain't Over)

The Party Ain’t Over can be purchased directly from Third Man Records HERE and like with all of their vinyl releases, there’s a nice color variant. Randomly inserted into 100 mail orders will be a limited edition fuschia colored record.

Here's a killer video for "Thunder On The Mountain" shot here in Nashville at United Record Pressing:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dala - Everyone Is Someone (Album Review)

Canadian pop-folk duo Dala has been building quite the fan base in The Great White North and now they’ve got their eyes set on the United States. Their latest album, Everyone Is Someone, was originally released in Canada in 2009 and it’s getting a push here now as well. Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine sing like sisters who have that innate ability to know what the other is doing and where they’re going. Whether it’s beautiful harmonies, full on duets or subtle background additions, both girls definitely create the heart of what Dala is when they are singing together. Just like with the Indigo Girls, you can hear the distinction in both voices while they weave them together to form an entirely new one. Their acoustic and piano led songs have a heart-sleeved intimacy that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a diary or accidentally overheard a conversation between friends.

It’s no secret that whenever you’re heartbroken, there’s some part of you that needs to wallow in the sadness a little bit. On Everyone Is Someone, Dala offers quite a few musical options to accompany those moments. Songs like “Lonely Girl,” “Crushed,” “Horses,” “Younger” and “Stand In Awe” all have a tender rawness to the lyrics and a somber musical bed that tugs at the heart whether you can relate to the experience or not. Like any good musicians though, Dala compliments those musical shoulders to cry on with some bouncy pick-you-ups too. “Alive,” “Northern Lights” and both version of “Levi Blues” pop through in the tracklist like sunlight stretching through clouds. Although I may not personally connect to all of the lyrical subjects, the honesty in their approach will allow them to impact those who can. Everyone Is Someone is a melodic, nicely balanced, acoustic pop record and I can see Dala doing very well here.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Social Distortion - Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Album Review)

For us Social Distortion fans, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes has been a long time coming. Apart from the new song, new cover and rerecordings found on their 2007 Greatest Hits, the last “new” music to come from their camp was way back in 2004. Throughout that time, Mike Ness and company weathered the passing of a former member, label troubles, lineup changes and constant touring. However, if those issues contributed to the power, emotion and direction found on the new album, I’m sure everyone will forgive the wait. Not only does Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes contain some of Social Distortion loudest guitars and finest vocal performances to date, they even throw in a couple new sonic twists and turns not usually found on their records. While no one could deny that Mike Ness is Southern California punk rock through and through, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes displays a range of influences including their familiar splashes of country, a little blues, straight up rock and roll and even some southern rock elements. But don’t worry, their calling card of huge guitars, snarling vocals and a pounding rhythm section are all over this bombastic and diverse album.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes powerfully kicks off with “Road Zombie,” a driving instrumental full of fiery guitar leads and pulsing drums. Social Distortion has been using this song to open shows for awhile now so it’s a natural fit and a great choice for an album intro. “California (Hustle and Flow)” is up next and immediately lets you know that they’ve got a few surprises in store. The song is based around a bluesy rock riff and is surprisingly enhanced by some soulful gospel background vocals. In fact, it sounds like the Social D boys have been listening to The Black Crowes or even some Lynyrd Skynyrd. The swampy vibe and sassy bgv’s show up on tracks like “Can’t Take It With You,” “Bakersfield” and “Writing On the Wall” as well. They don’t let the background singers have all of the shining vocal moments though as “Diamond In The Rough” impressively showcases some of the best harmonies they’ve ever sang. This one guarantees to be a huge sing-a-long at shows. Continuing in the vein of choosing awesome country covers like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” they turn in an amped up version of Hank Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken” that manages to really tap into the sadness of the song while it chugs along. Those down-stroked power chords that they rip through so well propel the groove of “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown” and “Still Alive” as well. The first single from the album is “Machine Gun Blues” and for all the new ingredients on Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, this one is classic Social Distortion. “Machine Gun Blues” is full of attitude, growling music, a big chorus and lyrics about seedy characters, cars, crime and other noir elements. Social Distortion definitely rewarded fans with a powerful album that proved to be worth the wait.

Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes will be available from Epitaph Records on January 25th.

"Machine Gun Blues" - Social Distortion (Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Amos Lee - Mission Bell (Album Review)

It’s no secret that a great musician should expand and unfold himself more with each new album. When they are able to do that in multiple areas like songwriting, emotion, musicianship and authenticity, you’ve got a special album on your hands. The reflective moods and warm tones of Mission Bell, the fourth album from Philadelphian school teacher-turned-singer/songwriter Amos Lee, are the fortunate results of a year and a half of writing and an unexpected partnership with members of alt-country giant Calexico. With his bluesy folk swagger and unique voice that employs elements of Al Green’s soulfulness, James Taylor’s timbre and a little of Aaron Neville’s warble, Amos Lee has always had an R&B lean to his acoustic-led songs. However, for Mission Bell, he opened up that feel and added some new instrumentation with help from Joey Burns and John Convertino, both of Calexico. There’s no denying that the combined forces married together perfectly as dusty acoustic guitars, jazzy organ fills, shuffling drums, moving bass lines, laid back piano and an assortment of other instruments blend together with wide open spaces to create a depth and airiness for Amos to sing over. Each song maintains that comfortable, cohesive vibe while sounding different enough from the ones around it to keep things diverse and interesting. Mission Bell also hosts an impressive guest list that includes Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Sam Beam, Priscilla Ahn, James Gadson and Pieta Brown.

Although Amos Lee nails the soul-folk vibe as good as anyone else in the genre, Mission Bell shows that his talents run farther and deeper than just that. His ability to sound at home with gospel, country, jazz, blues and even some distorted alternative elements are showcased beautifully throughout the album. Fans of Amos’ first three albums will find much to love in “Windows Are Rolled Down,” “Stay With Me,” “Learned A Lot” and the album bookends of “El Camino” and “El Camino (Reprise)” with Willie Nelson. For those willing to let an artist stretch their wings and show different sides of themselves, Amos definitely has some tasty sonic tricks up his sleeve. The slinky slide guitar and harmonica in “Jesus” and the southern hymn feel of “Cup Of Sorrow” show two sides of his gospel influences. “Hello Again” has a south of the border flamenco groove to it with some incredible nylon-string guitar, vibraphone, trumpets and a bowed saw creating an awesome backdrop for the respectful kiss-off song. He even strikes up a nice alt-country atmosphere on “Out Of The Cold” and “Clear Blue Eyes,” a duet with Lucinda Williams. One of the most lush tracks, and my personal favorite from the album, is “Violin” featuring Sam Beam from Iron & Wine. A touching lead vocal from Amos, an ambient backing vocal from Sam, droning, distorted electric guitars, swelling pedal steel, gentle piano and a lazy drum beat mesh together to become one swaying sonic wave for Amos’ searching lyrics to weave in and out of. This one’s been on repeat for awhile. Mission Bell will definitely bring in a new audience for Amos while continuing to please his longtime fans as well. This is the kind of album that really solidifies the transition from musician to artist for an individual and it will end up being a standout in his catalog.

Mission Bell will be released January 25th on Blue Note Records.

"Violin" (featuring Sam Beam) - Amos Lee (Mission Bell)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now (Video Trailer)

Although R.E.M.’s new album, Collapse Into Now, isn’t releasing until March 8th, they’ve been awesome enough to tide us over and whet our appetites with new songs and videos over the last couple of months. I’m a huge R.E.M. fan and when I first heard that Collapse Into Now was supposed to sound like “classic R.E.M.” I was both ridiculously excited and honestly a tad skeptical. Not only have they managed to stay together for over 30 years but they’ve always exhibited growth as musicians, maintained relevancy and continued to pump out great, fresh, unique music without repeating themselves. So for me, the term “classic R.E.M.” could go either way. It could mean they just revisited familiar territory that they know works for them or it could mean they found out how to summon that raw emotion, jangly guitar, disjointed lyrical direction of their earlier work in a present, new way. After hearing a few of the new songs and watching the teaser video they just released, all signs point to the latter. R.E.M. is still firing on all cylinders with no signs of slowing down or retreading on previous ground. Michael’s voice is crystal clear and his lyrics appear to be as beautifully scattered as ever, Peter’s deceptively simple guitar work shimmers and growls in all the right places and Mike’s bass work and background vocals are still providing that fluid foundation that works so perfectly for their music. I couldn’t be more excited for Collapse Into Now to be released and hopefully they had a good enough time recording in Nashville to revisit us on tour.

Collapse Into Now will be released on March 8th and you can find more info at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Iron & Wine - Daytrotter Session

In anticipation of Iron & Wine's new album, Kiss Each Other Clean, coming out next Tuesday, Sam Beam dropped by the Daytrotter studio and played a gorgeous, stripped down set of some of his new songs. While his hushed vocals and gently fingerpicked guitar playing demands an intentional focus from the listener, he has always rewarded it with beautiful melodies and lyrics full of interesting characters and lush imagery. For this session, Sam debuted three new songs from Kiss Each Other Clean; "Tree By The River," Godless Brother In Love" and "Glad Man Singing." He also threw in "Naked As We Came" from his 2004 album Endless Numbered Days. As a special surprise, singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas joined him on background vocals. It takes a special talent to have a song sound as uniquely rich as Sam's do with just a voice and a guitar. His ability to wrap every note in such warmth and combine them all with such emotion causes each song to easily float in and take hold of you before you're exactly aware of what's going on. Quietly delivered and refreshingly uncluttered, these songs will help you pause and catch your breath. The session can be downloaded for free on Daytrotter's website here and you can also view a cool video they shot of the whole thing. Here's a short snippet featuring "Tree By The River":

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and "MLK" - U2

Who’d have thought that some of the greatest songs written about Martin Luther King, Jr. would’ve come from four Irish rockers? The Unforgettable Fire, U2’s fourth album, was released in 1984 and contained not one, but two songs about the influential civil rights leader. “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” is a hugely anthemic rocker that was the first single released from The Unforgettable Fire. It would easily go on to become one of U2’s most loved songs. Despite the “early morning” lyrical flub (which Bono corrects to “early evening” during live performances), “Pride” stands out as one of the most notable songs to champion Martin Luther King’s legacy. As a bonus, listen out for Pretenders’ front woman Chrissie Hynde on background vocals as well. On the musical flipside, “MLK” is a somber ballad that comes across as more of an ambient poem than a fully realized song. In fact, in concert U2 mostly employs “MLK” as a moving introduction to other songs. “MLK” closes out The Unforgettable Fire with the poignant and sadly still relevant lines:

“Sleep, sleep tonight and may your dreams be realized.”

"Pride (In The Name Of Love)" - U2 (The Unforgettable Fire)

"MLK" - U2 (The Unforgettable Fire)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Personal Favorites of 2010

…and we’re back! After a nice break for the holidays and some nerdy nasal surgery, it’s time for me to get back on the blog horse. What better way to kick off a new year than by working up a year end list. Normally I’m not a big fan of these. Not because I have a problem with looking back over the previous year’s releases or anything, because I do think there’s a lot of merit in that. My problem is that they almost always employ words like “best of” and “most important” or some other pretentious description. Music is so subjective, so personal and hits everyone so differently that listing out what should be considered “the greatest” and what everyone “should” be listening to is kind of elitist. It’s a simple matter of confusing opinion for fact. Most of them just end up becoming a weak “hipster how to” list. So in an attempt to do a year end list in the right spirit, these are some of my own personal favorite albums that were released in 2010 in no particular order. I won’t presume that every one of them will impact you, but they all sure did something for me. To make it even more exciting, I’m going with 11 spots instead of the normal 10 and I’m also creating what I call the “Household Rule.” This rule allows for two separate releases to share one spot if the artists are husband and wife. Both releases would’ve had to have been meaningful enough to end up on the list by themselves as well. Anyways, here’s yet another year end list to add to the ever-growing pile:

The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang: This incredible third album by the passionate New Jersey soul-punks finds them stepping out of Springsteen’s shadow and into their own, well deserved light.

Jenny and Johnny – I’m Having Fun Now: Having uber-talented duo Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice transition from “frequent collaborators” to “intentional band mates” resulted in one of the coolest sounding album of the year.

The Secret Sisters – The Secret Sisters: When you combine two inseparable voices, T-Bone Burnett’s Midas touch production skills and a slew of vintage country covers you end up with an arresting mix of modern solid gold country.

Tumbledown – Empty Bottle: The best drinking songs deal with Saturday morning rather than Friday night and Tumbledown’s great “alt-punktry” offerings are no different.

Karen Elson – The Ghost Who Walks/The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards: “Household Rule” in effect! While the lady of the manor offered up some gorgeously haunting murder ballads and ghostly folk songs, her husband was creating some of the heaviest, greasiest, riff-based rock n’ roll that’s been out in a while.

Jakob Dylan – Women and Country: The second album on the list produced by T-Bone Burnett is a beautiful folk record full of authentic songwriting, rootsy musicianship, meaningful lyrics and stunning vocal performances by Jakob, Neko Case and Kelly Hogan.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs: The most anticipated album of 2010 didn’t disappoint as Arcade Fire delivered a sprawling conceptual record about growing up in the suburbs that challenges and inspires as it gets you thinking and moving.

Sandra McCracken – In Feast Or Fallow/Derek Webb – Feedback: “Household Rule” #2! The Mrs. released another refreshingly reverent hymns album while the Mr. continued to shed his acoustic skin for an electronic instrumental album based on “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues: Despite some of the personal problems Justin encountered this year, he brought together the vibe of his new home in New York with the roots of his old home in Nashville for a soulful, folksy romp of acoustic based alt-country songs.

The Weepies – Be My Thrill: Husband and wife duo The Weepies returned to the music scene in full force in 2010 with a fun, cozy, indie-folk album that is best enjoyed in the company of the one you love.

Agent Ribbons – Chateau Crone: This eclectic trio of ladies and their musical melting pot are guaranteed to get you moving while they have you guessing where they are going to go next.