Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rave On Buddy Holly (Album Review)

Sometimes words like “legend,” “pioneer” or “groundbreaker” can get thrown around a little too lightly and other times they are the perfect words to use. Buddy Holly was absolutely all of the above and his enormous impact on music is clearly evidenced in the newest tribute album in his honor, Rave On Buddy Holly. Having some of his best-known songs interpreted through a variety of voices and genres really highlights the power and originality of his songwriting. While the 19 tracks are lovingly rendered through each artist’s own filter, the actual songs being covered remain the star of the show. One of the things that impressed me the most about Rave On Buddy Holly is the raw passion and energy that ripples through the album. These are not phoned-in, straight shot run-throughs of some sock hop classics. They are brassy, electrified love letters to a man that helped shape rock music as we know it. Buddy Holly’s music may be incorrectly viewed as somewhat tame by today’s standards. But make no mistake about it, underneath the iconic black-rimmed glasses and the hiccupping vocal delivery is some of the most primal, definitive rock music that’s ever been made.

Rave On Buddy Holly hosts an impressive mix of veterans, upstarts and in-betweens. I love that artists like Paul McCartney, John Doe, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Graham Nash and Nick Lowe, who are all worthy of tribute albums on their own, turn in raucous and touching renditions of the songs they grew up on. The “Helter Skelter” vibe of McCartney’s “It’s So Easy” and the laid-back drawl of Doe’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” are equally hair-raising and heartwarming. There's some nice garage rock fuzziness on The Detroit Cobras' "Heartbeat" and Julian Casablancas' "Rave On" and some bouncy, country-tinged rockabilly on Justin Townes Earle's "Maybe Baby" and She and Him's "Oh Boy." Showing that covering Buddy Holly isn't limited to the guys, Fiona Apple ("Everyday"), Karen Elson ("Crying, Waiting, Hoping") and Florence + The Machine ("Not Fade Away") turn in some truly excellent covers as well. Cee Lo Green even shows up to honor Buddy Holly's legacy as only he can with a super quick, super fun version of "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care." It's really astounding what he accomplishes in just a minute and a half. In fact, the short track lengths on most of the songs is the only small drawback to this otherwise phenomenal album. Alot of these songs definitely leave you wanting more. However, that's not a bad thing and sadly that feeling is in line with Buddy Holly's life as well. Passing away at 22 in a plane crash that also took the lives of Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly captured everyone's attention, changed the game and was gone before anyone knew just exactly what he had done. Rave On Buddy Holly does a great job of reminding us all how special his music was and still is.

"Crying, Waiting, Hoping" -Karen Elson (Rave On Buddy Holly)

"(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" - Cee Lo Green (Rave On Buddy Holly)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken - TN EP (Album Review)

From their backyard to our ears, Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken have once again combined their unique talents to deliver another stellar joint album, TN EP. This 7-song EP is beautifully constructed and does a great job of blending together Derek and Sandra’s voices, songwriting styles and musical strengths. Sometimes when two strong singer-songwriters collaborate, the results feel like patchwork that just happens to share a common piece of thread. Lucky for us though, that’s not the case here. The cohesion found on TN EP is more akin to a chemical reaction where the ingredients transform into something completely new and inseparable. Each track is built on a foundation of solid songwriting and is complemented by a variety of organic and non-organic musical elements. Melodically lush and layered, each song unfolds with an inviting ebb and flow that draws you in to the story that is being told. Even at its most ornamental moments, the heart of each song is never obscured or buried in favor of production tricks. Each synthesized sound and computerized beat enhances and expands the songs to create an experience that is more than just a collection of songs.

Within five original songs and two covers, TN EP covers a lot of ground. “From You To Me” is a gorgeous relationship song that tells a little of Derek and Sandra’s story, while still leaving room for you to include your own. I absolutely love the lyric, “God makes a tabernacle from a rock, a rib and our two crooked frames.” There’s also some really tasty electric guitar parts going on in the background of this one. “Last Fool Standing” plays out like the flipside of “From You To Me” with melancholy lines like “Sometimes love doesn’t feel like it should” and “There’s one way to be safe from this mess, lock your heart like a stone in your chest.” Again, mesmerizing electric guitar lines on this one too. The rootsy swing of “We Will Never Have Tonight Again” showcases Sandra’s voice really well and it completely nails the sweet spot that’s created when the two of them play and sing together. “Etching” is probably the most expansive track on the album, both lyrically and musically. Vocal loops, synth lines and distorted percussion swirl around lyrics that tell of the impact a father’s words have on his children. Derek’s caution is clear, “Daddy you’re making an etching that you can’t erase.” The lyrical weight, musical vibe and charmingly eerie bridge quickly made this song my favorite on the album. “Tennessee” closes the album with some brilliant piano-guitar interplay and some Arcade Fire-esque musical sections. Not to be outdone, the two covers they do are pretty amazing as well. Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” pulses along beautifully and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” captures the haunting feel of the lyrics even better than the original does. I’ve heard many, many artists have a go at these songs with varying degrees of success and Derek and Sandra’s versions stand out for their reverence and distinctiveness. Rarely does an album provide such lyrical and musical substance and hold up to repeated listens as well as TN EP does. Throughout the album, Derek and Sandra’s collective songwriting gifts are as impressive as the sonic textures they create. TN EP has enough seed for your heart and sound for your ears to offer something new each time you spin it. Which, believe me, will be over and over again with highly rewarding results.

TN EP will be released independently on June 28th. You can download "From You To Me" from Noisetrade below:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Black Betty & The Moon" (preview) - The Horrible Crowes

It takes something pretty awesome to break the radio silence of my school-imposed blog sabbatical and this definitely qualifies. I’ve been pretty transparent about my unabashed love for Brian Fallon’s work in The Gaslight Anthem and currently he’s got a side project that I’m ridiculously excited about. He started up The Horrible Crowes with Ian Perkins, one of Gaslight’s guitar techs, and they’ve got an album, Elsie, scheduled for a September 6th release on Side One Dummy Records. Self described as “night time music” and a “for me record,” Brian’s creativity and prolificacy has him stretching beyond the Gaslight realm into darker, broodier material. I seriously can’t wait to hear what he’s got cooking up. Always the literary, Brian got the name The Horrible Crowes from an old poem called Twa Corbies and he’s used a Dylan Thomas line to describe them as well, “If you heard those old birds in the night, you’d wake me up and say there were horses in the trees.” He’s chronicled a little of their time in the studio on his personal blog and the stories and the pictures have this stacking up to be well worth the wait. Guitars, piano, drums, strings, accordians, trumpets, loops and programming? Color me impressed. And if you’re worried about Brian going a little too soft, this picture should clear that up for you…

I’ve already gotten into a few cool conversations about my Horrible Crowes shirt (you can order one from Gaslight’s merch store HERE) and hope to get some more folks anxiously awaiting the release of Elsie on September 6th. You can keep up with The Horrible Crowes at the following:
The Horrible Crowes’ blog:
The Horrible Crowes’ twitter:
Brian’s personal blog:
Side One Dummy’s artist page:

To tide us all over, here’s a short preview of “Black Betty & The Moon” from