Mathus has suggested the this twenty-three minute, nine-song EP, gathers errata from his brain; and given the stylistic diversity – Stones-ish rock, second-line stomp, Cash-styled country, garage punk, dark blues and string-backed hollers – he seems to be right. He caroms from style to style, but it’s held together with a soulful looseness that makes the uptempo numbers celebratory and the darker songs more leer than threat. Well, except for the tortured murder ballad “Stop Your Crying,” which is plenty threatening. “Massive Confusion” sounds like Springsteen busting out someone’s well-loved ‘60s B-side, yet it’s a fantastic original, and “Wayward Wind” suggests what Tom Waits might have sounded like had he woken up on the other side of Nashville’s tracks. Mathus is an expressive singer, letting his voice run freely to its edges and pulling back for the confessional “Slow Down Sun.” Several songs fade early, with the cork stuffed in the production bottle as soon as the lightning was captured. The brevity crystallizes the moments of inspiration, but also omits the usual musical resolutions. The songs aren’t as riddled with Southern talismen as earlier releases, but the closing “Catahoula” leaves no mistaking Mathus’ origins. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Dave Insley’s latest album – his fourth – is full of loss and waiting. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for a change of mind. Waiting to feel better. His deadpan delivery is both stalwart and ironic as the boozy night of “Drinking Wine and Staring at the Phone” is as much a songwriter’s document of a protagonist’s lament as as it is the protagonist’s actual lament. Someone else might drown in the heartbreak, but Insley wears his misery as a badge, and the bouncy beat, sliding trombone and barroom piano provide comic ballast. He commiserates with Kelly Willis on the duet “Win-Win Situation for Losers,” but the slightest vocal hiccup offers a crack through which his lack of passion can be seen.
Insley’s pleas are open ended, with the mild protestations of “Call Me If You Ever Change Your Mind” undercut by the title’s second (or likely fifth or sixth) chance. Waiting turns to expectation as “Footprints in the Snow” anticipates memories before they’ve even been made. Memories don’t just linger in Insley’s world, they threaten in advance, and hearts don’t so much break as they ache endlessly. But as much as he describes his pain and loneliness, the wounds are more shellshock than tears. He’s a ghost who can’t bring himself to haunt on “No One to Come Home To,” and the imagined demise of “Dead and Gone,” with a guest vocal tag from Dale Watson, brings forth humor and solace rather than sorrow.
The album departs from waiting on heartache in its latter third, with the family portrait “We’re All Together Because of You,” the philosophical “Just the Way That I Am” and fatalistic “Everything Must Last.” The horns, accordion and trail rhythm of “Arizona Territory 1904” echo Marty Robbins’ gunfighter ballads, while the lyric retells Robbins’ “Big Iron” from the outlaw’s point of view. It’s a good example of Insley’s songwriting craft and understated vocal style, which are backed throughout the album by Redd Volkaert (whose electric guitar on “Call Me If You Ever Change Your Mind” is truly inspired), Rick Shea, Danny B. Harvey, Bobby Snell, Beth Chrisman and others. It’s been eight years since he uncorked West Texas Wine, but the new vintage was worth the wait. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Although these demos were recorded in the mid-70s, their guitar, harmonica and socially adept lyrics reach straight back to Dylan and Walker’s early proponent, Phil Ochs. His nasal voice recalls both Dylan and Arlo Guthrie (and for those who enjoyed mid-70s buskers, Jim Page), but his lyrical voice is his own. His lyrics are less strident than Ochs’, more linear than Dylan’s, and less caustic than Paul Simon’s early work. But Walker has the same knack for turning moments into philosophy, and telling stories whose points are larger than the lyric. He selects his words for both meaning and sound, making his guitar accompaniment all that’s needed.
The title track opens the album with poetic images of a hard ride through sun and wind, to the cool reprieve at trail’s end. Walker returns to nature for “If I Had the Time,” dreaming of elsewhere while remaining rooted in the land, and he essays dreams again in the cleverly titled “I Ain’t Got Time to Kill,” marking his realization that one’s time is finite and should be spent with care. The contrasting scenes of “A Cold Pittsburgh Morning” are chillier than the headline, and the hardship of “The East Colorado Dam” is a box canyon. Walker re-recorded many of these songs with a band for his Warner Brothers albums but the fuller arrangements haven’t remained as fresh as these demos. This is a great find for fans. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
First-ever release of this 1978 live set by Berkeley’s own Psycotic Pineapple. Limited edition of 250 cassette-only copies. See them live June 25-26, 2016 at the Burger Boogaloo in Oakland, California. Also on the bill: The Lyres, Real Kids, Mummies, Flamin’ Groovies, Young Fresh Fellows and more!
If the 1960s Playtone label wasn’t a fictional construct of That Thing You Do, the label’s A&R rep would surely have signed Charlie Faye. Her spin on soul-tinged girl-group pop echoes the pastiches of Diane Dane and the Chantrellines, and in turn tips a hat to the sources from which the film drew. Faye’s soulful roots can be heard in 2013’s You Were Fine, You Weren’t Even Lonely, but the complicated, contemporary posture of that outing is shed as she and the Fayettes explore the romantic travails of the early ‘60s. Faye’s traded her solo spotlight and singer-songwriter stool for vintage party dresses and harmony singers.
A New York native, there’s Bacharach-like sophistication in the melody of “Carelessly,” but her adopted Austin surfaces in the twang of “Loving Names.” The soul sound moves further south with the fluid bass line and Memphis-styled guitar of “Sweet Little Messages.” Faye’s songs are filled with the sort of elemental heartbreak that made the Brill Building famous and its songs so memorable. On the surface, this might seem pedestrian compared to the complex emotions of You Were Fine, but writing 100 universally affecting words is often more difficult than writing 1,000 that are more specific and personal.
Faye’s struck a rich vein of new love, broken hearts and second chances – the sort whose first discovery feels like the end of the world, and whose repetition turns out to be the harder lesson. “Coming Round the Bend” borrows the signature riff and optimistic flash of “Then He Kissed Me,” and the bouncy “Delayed Reaction” nods to Jackie DeShannon’s “Breakaway.” The album stretches beyond the coy boundaries of ‘60s girl groups with the opener “Green Light,” and though “Eastside” could usher dancers down a Soul Train line, its Stax-styled groove and horn chart service a serious look at social gentrification.
Faye’s previous albums didn’t exactly draw a line to this retro set, but the surprise is more in the landing spot than the journey. Faye’s repeatedly proved herself an adventurous artist who is committed to her muse. Her 2009 debut, Wilson Street, honored the Austin community into which she’d knit herself, and 2011’s Travels With Charlie was recorded over ten months of collaboration with artists in ten different cities. She follows her artistic desire, and when that led to the girl-group sound, she banded together with BettySoo and Akina Adderley, wrote a terrific batch of 60s-tinged originals, drew up some choreography, and dove in head first. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Though Tony Joe White reached his commercial zenith as a performer with his 1968 debut, Black and White and its single “Polk Salad Annie,” he’s continued makin music ever since. In the nearly fifty years since that debut, he’s released two dozen albums across Monument, Warner Brothers, RCA, Casablanca, Columbia, Polydor and a host of independent labels. This latest finds his fuzz-toned guitar still slithering, and his vocal growl weary, wary and fully simmered in his native Louisiana. The Memphis funk of his earlier years has mostly given way to darker blues as he sings of magic signs, rural rituals, betrayal and, of course, swamps.
White writes from biographical seeds, pairing with his wife Leann to pen “Hoochie Woman,” and with Billy Bob Thornton for “The Middle of Nowhere.” The latter reignites White’s swamp chug of drums, low bass and percussive guitar, as the lyric takes the point of view of a friend’s highly observational son. The title track is based on a traditional Southern omen, and “Tell Me a Swamp Story” draws upon a harrowing chapter of White’s childhood. The songs are confessed as much as sung, but the revelations engender more mysteries than they resolve. It’s dark in the swamps, and you can’t always be sure of what you’re seeing, but you can be sure of what you’re hearing here, and it’s badass. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
To their credit, the Posies have never abandoned the DIY pop melodicism of their debut, Failure, but neither have they stood still. Their tours of duty with Big Star helped resurrect the iconic band as both a touring entity and recording outfit, and while it may have further informed the Posies, it didn’t turn them into a clone. The enduring chemistry between Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow has seen the Posies through more than three decades of changes, including divorces, relocations and the passing of bandmates. The duo’s melodic and harmonic connections draw a line through their catalog, even as their latest – their first album of original material since 2010’s Blood/Candy – lowers the guitar quotient for productions often driven by keyboards.
Thirty years in, the pair is more musically sophisticated and their studio technology is greatly advanced from the late-80s, but the enthusiasm and freedom of their debut repeats itself here. As the band has pointed out, in many ways this represents a return to the self-produced home studio recordings of their debut. And with the passing of their rhythm section, they are effectively a duo again. There’s a modern tone to the anthemic “Titanic,” as there is to much of the album, but with the warmth of a musician’s humanity that’s missing from most of today’s producer-helmed pop hits. The keyboards are ingratiating, and the percussion deftly mixes electronic and acoustic elements.
It’s a departure, but one that fans will easily take to, and one that’s papered over with the familiarity of the duo’s voices and hooks. The album opens with the call-to-arms “We Are Power,” exhorting collective action over individual passivity. Anti-authoritarianism pops up again in “Squirrel vs. Snake” and “The Plague,” and “M Doll” eviscerates the culture of celebrity marketing mannequins. But it’s not all social critique, as there are several songs of romantic rapprochement, cautiously seeking to engage, resurrect or simply support, and the easy synthpop soul of “Rollercoaster Zen” has a hook that’s hypnotic in its repetition.
Auer and Stringfellow play everything here but drums, which fall variously to Frankie Siragusa and Kliph Scurlock, and add a few guest voices to the backing choruses. Their melodies span from immediately hummable to complex, with several suggesting the minor-key sophistication of the Zombies. Those who have been enamored of the Posies melody-rich music will find it intact; it’s not a rehash of what they’ve done before, it’s a musical extension that breaks new ground while hanging on to the band’s essence. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Two years after their self-titled 1993 debut, the Muffs stripped down to a trio with the departure of Melanie Vammen (less than a week before recording) and the arrival of new drummer Roy McDonald. The result is tighter, punchier and even more ferocious than the first outing, with Kim Shattuck’s songwriting sharpened and her vocals often escalating into howls. The album is a perfect example of pop-punk, marrying the catchy melodies of the former with the unrestrained energy of the latter. Shattuck’s rhythm guitar playing is tough, but her leads have the melodic winsomeness of Gary Lewis & The Playboys records. Even the suicide song, “End It All,” is hummable.
Shattuck notes in the liners that “On and On” was influenced by Freddie & The Dreamers, and indeed the opening riff is lifted from “I’m Telling You Now.” She also notes that “Laying on a Bed of Roses” borrows from the Creation’s “Biff Bang Pow,” and with the transvestite of “Oh, Nina” echoing the Kinks’ “Lola,” the British Invasion connection is strong. Her lyrics can be self-pitying (“Sad Tomorrow”) and bratty (“Won’t Come Out to Play”), but she’s nobody’s fool, easily kicking a cheater to the curb in “What You’ve Done.” The album closes with an unusual segue between the freakout “I’m Confused” and the spiffed-up acoustic demo “Just a Game,” ending in a couplet that encapsulates the yin and yang of punk-pop.
Omnivore’s 2016 reissue adds the UK B-sides “Become Undone” and “Goodnight Now,” and demos of “Red Eyed Troll,” “Won’t Come Out to Play” (with its Buddy Holly roots intact) and “Pennywhore” (which turned up on Happy Birthday to Me). Also featured are demos of “Born Today” and “Look at Me,” neither of which seem to have made it to final form. Unlike the guitar-and-voice demos on the debut album’s reissue, these tracks have basic bass and drums that indicate what they’d sound like as band songs. There’s a taste of Shattuck’s demo of “Become Undone” at the end of track twenty-one, and a hidden backwards CD bonus track at #22, but the demo of “I’m Confused” that Shattuck lauds in the liners is MIA.
The reissue’s 20-page booklet includes numerous photos, liner notes by Ronnie Barrett and Roy McDonald, the latter detailing his second chance at joining the band, and song notes by Shattuck. This is a good upgrade for fans who already have the original album, and the place to start for those who haven’t yet dived into the Muffs. [©2016 Hyperbolium]