Friday, January 20, 2012

"This Head I Hold" - Electric Guest

A really cool new band to keep your eyes and ears out for is Electric Guest. Their debut album, Mondo, is coming out April 24 on Downtown Records and they’ve just released their fantastic first single, “This Head I Hold.” Currently the duo (Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton) are preparing to start a Monday night residency at Echo in LA through the end of February and then they’re heading out for a run of shows that will involve an appearance or two at South by Southwest. Oh yeah, Mondo just so happens to be produced by the Midas touch of Danger Mouse as well. There’s good reason that Electric Guest are starting to build up such a buzz and a quick listen to “This Head I Hold” proves they’re worth it. Their snappy, soulful vocals dance on top of melodic flourishes, hooky loops and tastefully programmed beats, all defying you not to move along. Whether you find yourself just tapping a toe or having a full on dance party, Electric Guest is ready to provide the soundtrack.

This Head I Hold by ElectricGuest

Show Dates:

2/6-2/27 - Echo – Los Angeles, CA (Monday night residency)

3/10 - The Green Room – Flagstaff, AZ
3/11 - Santa Fe Sol – Santa Fe, NM

3/13 - Club Dada –Dallas, TX
3/14-3/17 - SXSW – Austin, TX
3/19 - The Lowbrow Palace – El Paso, TX
3/20 - Club Congress – Tucson, AZ
3/21 - Sail Inn – Phoenix, AZ

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Two EPs from Delta Spirit (I Think I’ve Found It + The Waits Room)

(Here's another piece I recently wrote for the fine folks at NoiseTrade.)

So-Cal garage folkers Delta Spirit have a new album coming out March 13 and they’ve got two incredible EPs (I Think I’ve Found It and The Waits Room) up on NoiseTrade for your consumption and enjoyment. Blending together a soulful sonic landscape of greasy rock riffs, sing-a-long vocals and raw energy, Delta Spirit seem to just plug in and go for it each time they play. By cleverly offering the bookends of their first release and their most recent, you’ll be able to get a pretty good gauge of just how special Delta Spirit is.

I Think I’ve Found It came out in 2006 and it was the band’s first ever release. They quickly carved out their own unique place with the Stones-swagger of “Streetwalker,” the punk-stomp of “Crippler King” and the saloon-soaked piano of “French Quarter.” As a debut, I Think I’ve Found It does a great job of introducing the band and showcasing some of their musical roots. By allowing their influences to poke through, without ever letting them overstay their welcome, Delta Spirit smartly offers a simultaneous peek into themselves and their record collections.

The Waits Room was released in 2010 and as cheesily-cliched as it sounds for me to say, it undeniably shows a maturity and an expansion of their sound in a way that most bands don’t ever get to experience. By focusing their passion and attitude into a more nuanced palette of songwriting and instrumentation, the tracks on The Waits Room show Delta Spirit unraveling more layers of themselves in both content and approach. They effortlessly create an intimate atmosphere with steady-strummed acoustics, subtle electrics and storyteller vocals, even throwing in some tasty harmonica as a cherry on top. The folky fingerpluck of “Devil Knows You’re Dead” and the romantic reminiscence of “Bushwick Blues” might have you thinking the boys went all coffee shop soft all of a sudden. But make no mistake about it, this EP is just as brash and beautiful as their first and I’m pretty sure the inclusion of “John Henry” was to remind everyone what can happen when the guys let go. The cracking snare, distorted guitars, and bullet-mic vocals evoke a little MC5 flavor and they do an incredible job of amping up the early 1900’s folk song and making it their own.

Both EPs sound incredible and give you a great taste of what Delta Spirit can do. Their self-titled new album will be released on Rounder Records on March 13 and you can hear the first single, “California,” HERE. As a bonus, if you just can’t seem to get enough Delta Spirit, they’ve got 4 amazing sessions up on Daytrotter, including one that’s made up exclusively of Tom Waits covers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Part-Time Cover: "The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want To Get Over You"

Last week I did a giveaway for The Little Willies and I asked the following question:

Name the classic country cover song (and the album it appeared on) that Norah and Richard collaborated on BEFORE The Little Willies was officially a band.

The song that Norah and Richard covered was Waylon Jennings’ “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You)” and it appeared on the album Lonesome, On’ry and Mean: A Tribute To Waylon Jennings which was released in 2003. Waylon originally released the song as a single in 1977 and it also appeared on the album Waylon and Willie the very next year. Waylon and Willie is one of those legendary Outlaw Country albums that was released in defiance of the schmaltzy, glitzy music that was coming out of Nashville at the time. The album hit #1 on the charts, went double platinum and was bookended by the great “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want To Get Over You).” I love the audible ache in the music and the honest heartbreak in the lyrics. At a time when machismo and bravado were expected from these rough and tumble “outlaws,” lines like “I’m not here to forget you, I’m here to recall” and “Help me remember you, I don’t want to get over you” show an usually softer, more heartfelt set of emotions. Ones that, if even shown at all, are usually reserved for love songs, not the break-up ones. This one’s a total barroom weeper and it’s a great example of that killer musical time period.

"The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want To Get Over You)" - Waylon Jennings (Waylon & Willie)

Norah’s penchant for classic country music led to her being asked to be on the Waylon tribute album and she just so happened to bring in her friend Richard Julian to help out on harmony vocals. No offense to Waylon or Willie, but hands down I love this smoky version the absolute best. While they decided to keep the vibe pretty true to the original, there’s definitely a little more melancholy and soul to the delivery in Norah’s cover. It’s also a really interesting flip to hear the same lyrics sung from the perspective of a female. There’s just something about “Alone at a table for two” and “A fresh roll of quarters” that’s a little more of a gripping image when it’s a female instead of a male. Most undeniably awesome though is the magical blending that always takes place when Norah and Richard sing together. That’s what struck me the most when I first heard this song. When The Little Willies released their debut album a few years later and I had a full album of them singing together, it was definitely a dream come true for me. With the release of For The Good Times last week, The Little Willies are two for two and I truly hope there’s even more magic to be had from them in the future.

"The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want To Get Over You)" - Norah Jones (Lonesome, On'ry and Mean: A Tribute To Waylon Jennings)

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Part-Time Cover: "Dark As A Dungeon"

While "Dark As A Dungeon" was originally written by country legend Merle Travis (the same guy who wrote "Sixteen Tons") in the 1940's, there's no question that its popularity should be attributed to Johnny Cash's live version that he recorded for At Folsom Prison in the 1960's. Although it's looked at fondly in retrospect, at the time Cash's decision to perform prison concerts, much less release one as an album, wasn't met with much enthusiasm from his record label. However, not only did At Folsom Prison essentially revitalize Cash's drug-stalled career, it also allowed him to release another prison concert, At San Quentin, in 1969 that turned out to be Cash's first number one album to hit the Billboard Pop Albums chart. There were two performances that were recorded for At Folsom Prison and the setlists were surprisingly packed with songs about prison, death and sadness. Not surprisingly though, the prisoners ate up every note and lyric and the rowdy responses after (and sometimes during) the songs attest to their approvals. "Dark As A Dungeon" was recorded at both shows and during its first show performance, Cash started laughing at one of the prisoner's outbursts and smirkingly had to remind the rambunctious inmates that the show was being recorded.
"Dark As A Dungeon" - Johnny Cash (At Folsom Prison)

Wall of Voodoo is a band that I've got quite a soft spot for. But like all band-fan relationships, its got its touchy moments. In the early 1980's, they released three albums and an EP fronted by Stan Ridgway, a guy that I think has one of the most unique voices and most adventurous musical spirits in all of the New Wave/Alternative genre. Unfortunately, due to drug use and behavioral problems, Stan and two other members left Wall of Voodoo after their performance at the second US Festival in 1983. The remaining members continued on with a new lead singer, Andy Preiboy, but kept the Wall of Voodoo name. Without Ridgway, the totally unique sound of the band, both vocally and musically, was forced to change and it was nowhere near as magical for me. While I don't really care for the Preiboy-fronted version of the band, there is one song I can pluck from that period that I really enjoy. Their cover of "Dark As A Dungeon" from their 1985 release, Seven Days in Sammytown, is pretty awesome. The monotone vocals, synthesizer and industrial flavored electronic drumbeat combine perfectly to at least hint at the coolness of what the Wall of Voodoo name was known for. I could certainly do without the creepy clown artwork though.
"Dark As A Dungeon" - Wall of Voodoo (Seven Days in Sammytown)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rosie Thomas - These Friends of Mine + "Where Was I"

(Here's another piece I recently wrote for NoiseTrade.)

For Rosie Thomas, an album title like These Friends of Mine is far more than just a cutesy, homespun ideal. When it came time to put together her fourth release, she enlisted the help of some pretty impressive friends and the results are as warm and welcoming as any late night hang-out should be. These Friends of Mine is a beautiful collection of Rosie’s songs that showcases a unique mix of uncluttered instrumentation, bittersweet lyrics and her crystal clear vocals. Add in a list of contributing friends that includes players/singers/producers like Sufjan Stevens, Denison Witmer, Dave Bazan (Pedro The Lion, Headphones), Damien Jurado and Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate, The Fire Theft) and you’ve got the ingredients for an overwhelmingly awesome album. The songwriting is inviting and moving, the vocals are expressive and soothing and the overall vibe is cozy and relaxed. Even the banter and laughter that bookends some of the songs feels comfortable and genuine. One of an artist’s main goals is to make a connection with the listener and Rosie does an incredible job of getting her songs across with an engaging invitation and a quiet confidence. Her fragile, breathy vocals are the perfect vehicle for her lyrics and really help to convey the romantic daydreaming of “All The Way To New York City,” the wistful rememberance of “Much Farther To Go” and the wanderlust of “Kite Song.” When she duets with Sufjan on “Say Hello,” the matched delicateness of their deliveries resonate in a really cool way most that duets never achieve. Even when she’s not singing her own songs, she manages to put her own stamp on some great covers from Fleetwood Mac (“Songbird”), R.E.M. (“The One I Love”) and Denison Witmer (“Paper Doll”). These Friends of Mine is an incredible slice of laid-back indie-folk that’s best listened to while hanging out with your closest friends and holding hands with your special someone. Don’t worry though, it sounds just as amazing when you’re by yourself.

These Friends of Mine was originally released in 2006 on Seattle’s legendary Sub Pop Records and the fact that it’s currently being offered on NoiseTrade for free (or hopefully for a generous tip!) is just plain cool. But if downloading such a great album wasn’t enough for you, Rosie has also included “Where Was I,” a new song from her forthcoming album, With Love. The soft shuffle of “Where Was I” finds Rosie backed by a full band and singing in a richer register of her voice. The cool contrast between the songs on These Friends of Mine and “Where Was I” really spotlights Rosie’s talent, versatility and progression as an artist. With Love will be released on February 14 on Sing-A-Long Records and continues the “friendly” aesthetic as it was produced by Dave Bazan and boasts appearances from Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Blake Wescott (The Posies) and many more. Rosie is also hitting the road in March for a small tour to support With Love and you can catch her at the following shows:

3/15 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ World Cafe Live
3/16 – Vienna, Va. @ Jammin’ Java
3/17 – Chapel Hill, N.C. @ Nightlight
3/18 – Atlanta, Ga. @ Red Light Cafe
3/20 – Nashville, Tenn. @ 12th and Porter
3/21 – St. Louis, Mo. @ Old Rock House
3/23 – St. Paul, Minn. @ Turf Club
3/24 – Madison, Wis. @ University of Wisconsin
3/25 – Chicago, Ill. @ Schuba’s
3/26 – Ann Arbor, Mich. @ The Ark
3/27 – Grand Rapids, Mich. @ Covenant Fine Arts Center
3/28 – Akron, Ohio @ Musica
3/30 – Boston, Mass. @ Cafe 939 at Berklee College of Music
3/31 – New York, N.Y. @ Joe’s Pub

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Little Willies - For The Good Times (Album Review)

When talking about The Little Willies, the term “classic country cover band” is an accurate, yet sorely understated, description. Comprised of five friends (Norah Jones, Richard Julian, Jim Campilongo, Lee Alexander and Dan Rieser) who just so happen to all have successful music careers on their own, The Little Willies is definitely one of the most talented and fun-loving group of musicians who ever got together to play other people’s songs. They released their self-titled debut album in 2006 and for their recently released second album, For The Good Times, The Little Willies once again draw deep from the well of the mid-century classic country songbook. As they reinterpret songs made famous by such “legends on a first name basis” as Hank, Johnny, Loretta, Kris, Dolly, Lefty and their namesake Willie, they also sprinkle in a few lesser know gems that easily manage to hold their own beside the bigger hits. There’s even an original Campilongo-penned instrumental (save for a lyrical shout out) that reminds everyone that they could certainly write an album of twangy tearjerkers if they wanted to. But creating those brand new songs isn’t the main focus of The Little Willies. What was originally supposed to be just a Willie Nelson cover band (hence the name) eventually turned into the more expansive catalog version of The Little Willies we know today. But what didn’t change was their reason for getting together in the first place; to have fun while playing some of their favorites of the songs they grew up on. As a listen through For The Good Times will attest to, they’ve successfully blended nostalgia and now for an incredible album of reimagined classics.

For The Good Times kicks things off with a raucous romp through Ralph Stanley’s “I Worship You” that cleverly alternates between a burlesque-drum chorus and a Texas two-step verse. Jim’s slinky guitar picking, Lee’s walking double bass and Dan’s versatile drumming create a fluid foundation for Norah and Richard to beautifully harmonize over. “I Worship You” is a great choice for the opener as it showcases both the upbeat energies and the quieter powers of The Little Willies, all contained within one song. The feisty spirit that’s found in the verses is one of my favorite characteristics of The Little Willies and it’s perfectly repeated throughout the album on songs like Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City,” Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time” and Johnny Cash’s “Wide Open Road.” In fact, Norah’s flawless channeling on “Fist City” and Richard’s attitude on “Wide Open Road” are two of my most favorite moments on the album. Luckily though, as great as they are on the stompers, they are equally as note-perfect on the weepers. They handle the titular “For The Good Times” as tenderly as the Kristofferson original and Willie Nelson’s “Permanently Lonely” contains a heartbreakingly smooth vocal from Richard, a little barroom tinkling piano from Norah and some beautiful acoustic guitar work from Jim. The hands-down showstopper of the album though is their take on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” With a brooding undercurrent bubbling below Norah’s pleading vocal, all five members skillfully match the fragility and emotion found in the lyrics. With all of these amazing standards, plus a few welcomed surprises like “Fowl Owl On The Prowl” and “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves,” For The Good Times ends up blending memories with freshness and the comfortable with the unconventional, all to outstanding results. If your flavor of country music is more AM than FM, you’d be well served to check out For The Good Times and also keep your eyes and ears peeled for The Little Willies. They’re not always on the road, but like all good music, they’re always around.

For The Good Times will be released on Tuesday, January 10 and can be pre-ordered on CD or vinyl directly from The Little Willies HERE.

"Wide Open Road" - The Little Willies (For The Good Times)

***FREE GIVEAWAY CONTEST: Answer the trivia question correctly and you could win a copy of The Little Willies self-titled debut album on CD.***

Name the classic country cover song (and the album it appeared on) that Norah and Richard collaborated on BEFORE The Little Willies was officially a band.

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 Tuesday, January 17***

Friday, January 6, 2012

Personal Favorites of 2011

I’ve ranted before about my distaste for the plethora of “Year End Top 10” lists and the pretentious haughtiness they seem to carry when they use the “most important” and “must have” verbiage. Someone’s “best of” is rarely the exact same as another’s “best of,” but that never stops us from dissecting and discoursing about the albums that seemed to touch us the most throughout the year. Some lists are based on sales, some lists are based on cool points and some lists just try to be as contrarian as possible. At the end of the day though, it sure is fun just to talk about music that’s meaningful to you. Lists don’t matter at all, but the music absolutely does. So once again on behalf of unnecessary lists everywhere, here’s my “Personal Favorites” list of albums that grabbed me the most last year.

The Horrible Crowes – Elsie: Comprised of Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem and his friend/guitar tech Ian Perkins, The Horrible Crowes is a moody, atmospheric outfit that begs to be listened to in the low light of evening. Each cinematic song is a beautifully unsettled mix of serenity and agony, catharsis and meditation, rumbling with a restrained energy that never bubbles over into excess.

The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow: This Southern gothic folk duo gorgeously combines heart heavy lyrics with harmonious vocals courtesy of Joy Williams and John Paul White. The beauty of The Civil Wars is what they do with so few ingredients. Their two voice, one or two instrument approach gives their songs the illusion of a fragile veneer that gently cloaks their rock solid songwriting.

R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now: When this album released back in March, no one knew that the Athens-based alt-legends would eventually announce their demise later in the year. What initially seemed like a passionate, cranked-up return to the early days quickly turned into a send-off love letter to the masses. For a decades-long fan like myself that hated to see them call it quits, it was nice to see them go out with such power and gusto.

Wilco – The Whole Love: After Wilco caught a little heat for the perceived safeness of their last album, Jeff Tweedy and the boy returned with an album as inspired and ambitious as their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot days. The Whole Love finds Wilco firing on all cylinders and doing what few, if any, other bands could. Whether thumbing gentle acoustic ballads or mixing searing electrics with danceable synth loops, Wilco proves that they are still as uncontainable and untouchable as ever.

Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb – TN EP: As a follow up to 2008’s Ampersand EP, Derek and Sandra combined their songwriting and instrumental talents again for their second joint collaboration, TN EP. When two incredibly strong musical forces try to merge, the results can be oil and water. However, 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 melodically lush and layered, built on a foundation of solid songwriting and complemented by a variety of organic and non-organic musical elements.

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi – ROME: Take two innovative producers, a sprawling sonic landscape and a cast of musicians from vintage spaghetti western soundtracks. Then splash in a little Jack White and Norah Jones into the mix and you’ve got the brooding strains of the ROME project. With 9 instrumental tracks and 3 songs a piece for each guest vocalists, each song blends seamlessly into the next for a trippy 60’s vibe that makes this one of the coolest and most unique albums of 2011.

The Hawk In Paris – HIS + HERS EP: Three college friends (Dan Haseltine, Matt Brownleewe and Jeremy Bose) separately traversed their own successful paths in the music industry and then reconnected to form an amazing electronic trio called The Hawk In Paris. Their debut EP pulls from the synthpop and new wave gurus of their 80’s upbringing and adds in the dance beats and modern advancements of those carrying the electro-torch today. HIS + HERS is a tasty seven song EP and the guys are currently in the studio working on a full-length release for 2012.

Social Distortion – Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes: For us Social Distortion fans, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes was both a long time coming and well worth the wait. Not only does Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes contain some of Social Distortion’s loudest guitars and finest vocal performances to date, but they even threw in a couple of new sonic twists and turns not usually found on their records. 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.

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light: For Foo Fighters’ seventh studio release, Dave Grohl did his darndest to obliterate any final dividing lines between his current and former band. Not only was Wasting Light an incredibly heavy, band-oriented album, but Grohl employed some pretty Nirvana-friendly personnel as well. Butch Vig produced the album, Krist Novoselic played bass and accordion on “I Should Have Known” and Pat Smear officially returned to the fold for his first Foo’s album since The Colour and the Shape. Catchy, anthemic and slathered in guitars, Wasting Light reminded everyone why Foo Fighters has been able to stay on top through the 90’s and 00’s and why they are still going strong.

Various Artists – Rave On Buddy Holly: Tribute albums are notorious for being hit or miss affairs, but this one certainly has more shining moments than duds. Having some of Buddy Holly’s best-known songs interpreted through a variety of voices and genres really highlights the power and originality of his songwriting. While there are some pretty big name artists on here like Paul McCartney, Patti Smith and Nick Lowe, I really enjoyed the offerings from the younger crowd of Justin Townes Earle, Karen Elson and Florence + The Machine.