Archive for the ‘Free Stream’ Category

The Muffs: Happy Birthday to Me

Monday, March 6th, 2017

“A home run in an empty ballpark” – 2017 reissue w/bonuses

The Muffs 1997 swan-song for Warner/Reprise continued the hook-filled pop-punk of their previous pair of albums, but with an even tighter shock of guitar, bass and drums than the previous Blonder and Blonder, and vocals that wrap emotion in a frock of snotty attitude. Having burned in the trio dynamic on tour, the Muffs were more musically connected than ever before. Shattuck’s production really galvinized the album, and engineers Sally Browder and Steve Holroyd got a ferocious guitar-first mix on tape. Shattuck always wrote openly of her desires, and sings with a passion whose blisters can obscure the candidness of her admissions. She’s keenly aware of herself, whether testing the waters, surrendering to her emotions, standing up, stepping away or squarely laying the blame on her way out the door. And though she doesn’t mince words in eviscerating those who’ve mistreated her, there’s often a shadow of insecurity that makes her songs more than stock kiss-offs.

This 2017 reissue includes seven bonuses: a B-side cover of The Amps’ “Pacer” with “best guess” lyrics, and six previously unreleased songwriter demos. Shattuck’s guitar, bass and drums demos don’t have the sonic force of the album tracks, but they show how the band took her templates to finished product, and highlight her melodies. And her melodies are worth paying attention to, as she wrote great vocal hooks for “That Awful Man” and “Honeymoon,” and crafted a power-pop earworm in “Outer Space.” The commercial failure of Blonder and Blonder lost Warners’ interest, and though given creative freedom to record, the band was dropped before Happy Birthday to Me was released. Drummer Roy McDonald opines, “I couldn’t help but feel like we had hit a home run in an empty ballpark.” Omnivore’s reissue adds a 20-page booklet of photos, liner notes from McDonald and Barnett, and track notes from Shattuck, making for a terrific twentieth birthday present. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Muffs’ Facebook Page

Scott Nolan: Silverhill

Monday, February 27th, 2017

A singer-songwriter balances hope against defeat

There are several shades of weariness in Scott Nolan’s latest album. He’s exhausted by a lifetime of emotional weight on his shoulders, both his own, and that which he’s assumed, and his soul seems worn by having to tell these stories. It’s a tone that effectively brings the listener into both the confidence of the story and of the singer. Nolan sings of emotional dead ends and the positive expectations that make them all the more depressing, drawing fragmented details that reveal a shared picture in the chorus. He opens the album with a canny observation of the dichotomy between temporality and immortality, surrendering to the inevitability of change while still seeking to guide its course. He may feint to fatalism, but there’s a current of hope animating his songs.

Recorded in Alabama with the band Willie Sugarcapps, the tempos are contemplative, almost tentative in spots, as the group discovered the songs live, without rehearsal. The result taps into the slower pace of the South, and turns the session into an intimate performance. Nolan draws on childhood nostalgia for “Fire Up,” but it’s tinted blue by innocence lost. Grayson Capps opens “Curl & Curves” inhaling and exhaling long notes on his harmonica, building up the nerve of Nolan’s quest for love – something that turns hoarse with sleepless expectation on “When Can I See You Again.” The album is beautifully crafted without being overworked, and closes with a pair of melancholy portraits that touch on the moods of John Prine and Neil Young. Nolan may be haggard, but he’s not defeated, and his music harbors a spark of hope. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Scott Nolan’s Home Page

Austin Hanks: Alabastard

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

A country-rock album with a soul singer’s heart

Austin Hanks may set his music in country, rock and blues settings, but at root, he’s a soul singer. After leaving his native Alabama, he had a cup of coffee in Nashville before a writing deal with EMI turned him into a Los Angeles-based expat. But he brought his Southern roots with him, and they shine brightly in the blue soul of the opening “Toughest Part of Me,” as Hanks realizes that scar tissue can patch a broken heart. He lays himself on the line with a cover of James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy,” but he’s more regularly prone to seeking second chances, doubling back on “Delta Torches” and grasping for emotional ignition on the Springsteen-ish “Worth the Fight.”

Hanks doesn’t wallow, but neither does he make starry-eyed pronouncements. There’s self awareness, and perhaps even optimism in “Rise Above” and the blues-rock “Savior Self,” but Hanks is pushing his way forward rather than celebrating his arrived. The album’s title, which abbreviates “Alabama Bastard,” hints at the in-between place of cultural emigrants and the outsider emotion it creates. He turns nostalgic for “Alive & Untied,” with a warm organ intro that develops into a full-blown Muscle Shoals sound, and though there’s a party vibe to the New Orleans roll of “Lakeside,” there’s more here than pickup trucks and beer. Fans of ZZ Top, the Allmans, Skynyrd and Sons of Anarchy (for which Hanks penned “Sucker Punch”) will enjoy this one. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Austin Hanks’ Home Page

Joe Goodkin: Record of Loss

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

A singer-songwriter’s contemplative view of loss

On the second of a planned three-EP series, singer-songwriter Joe Goodkin continues to mine a deep streak of observation and self awareness. The first EP, Record of Life essayed a catalog of loss, regret and memory, rendered in detailed, personal images. This follow-up segues with the emotional fallout of its predecessor, recounting his losses nightly on tour, suffering additional bereavement, and finding that success doesn’t fully fill those voids. This time out he continues to sing of those he’s seen suffer and those he’s lost, but framed as celebrations of the remarkable and eulogies of the beloved, rather than lamentations of difficulty or loss. He’s mindful to appreciate what’s in front of him, rather than lament what’s gone, and to use each loss as an opportunity to refocus on what remains. The powerful closer, “For the Loss,” provides a rarely heard man’s viewpoint on the emotional consequences of abortion. Goodkin’s production, using only a 1963 Gibson ES-125T for backing, is remarkable as well. His multi-miked and overdubbed guitar creates a multitude of sounds, and vocals mixed from close-in and room mics build atmosphere around his singular voice. The third EP in the project, Record of Love, is due Summer 2017, but the first two parts stand strongly on their own and pair nicely as two-thirds of the full project. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Joe Goodkin’s Home Page

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 2 – Pete Jolly

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

1980 Japan-only release reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and now being reissued individually by Omnivore with bonus tracks. The first volume, a double-CD headlined by Sonny Stitt, is joined by this volume headlined by pianist Pete Jolly. Originally issued as Strike Up the Band, the original seven tracks are augmented by two bonus takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues,” one previously unreleased.

Recorded in February 1980 at Sage & Sound in Hollywood, Pepper and Jolly were joined by bassist Rob Magnusson and drummer Roy McCurdy as they worked through a selection of standards from the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Pepper had played all of these tunes in the 1950s, so the value here is what this quartet could do with them on these dates. Pepper and Jolly are melodic and lively as they fly through an up-tempo take on the Gershwins’ “Strike Up the Band,” and McCurdy is crisp as he pushes with his cymbals and fills with his full kit. Pepper’s stretches out on the ballad “You Go to My Head,” bridging the lyrical sections with quick runs and giving way for a reflective solo by Jolly. Pepper and Jolly get more conversational on the chestnut “I Surrender Dear,” with Magnusson and McCurdy vamping the ending.

The album’s lone original is Pepper’s “Y.I. Blues” (named after the session’s producer) a piece that inspires Pepper and Jolly, and gives the rhythm section an opportunity to groove with snappy fills from McCurdy and a short solo for Magnusson. Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” opens with a Latin beat, and though the backing starts out supper-club subdued, Pepper gets more passionate and the rhythm section swings as the song plays out. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and detailed liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Art Pepper: Presents West Coast Sessions! Volume 1 – Sonny Stitt

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

1980 Japan-only releases reissued with bonuses

After a gap in the first half of the ‘70s, alto saxophonist and West Coast Jazz icon Art Pepper returned to recording. By decade’s end he was under contract with Galaxy, and when a small Japanese label came calling, he had to get creative. Unable to record for Atlas as a group leader, he picked session leaders and took credit only as a sideman. The albums were issued only in Japan, previously anthologized in the box set Hollywood All-Star Sessions, and are now being reissued by Omnivore with bonus tracks. The first volume, a double-CD headlined by Sonny Stitt, combines two albums, Groovin’ High and Atlas Blues: Blow! & Ballade, and adds three previously unissued takes mixed from the original multitracks.

Recorded in July 1980 at Sage & Sound in Hollywood, Pepper and Stitt were joined by pianist Lou Levy, bassist Chuck DeMonico and drummer Carl Burnette for Groovin’ High, and pianist Russ Freeman, bassist John Heard and Burnette for Atlas Blues. The former leans on jazz titles from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie Bernie Miller and Morgan Lewis, while the latter takes in the standards “Autumn in New York,” “My Funny Valentine” “Lover Man” and “Imagination” alongside Stitt’s “Atlas Blues” and Lester Young’s “Lester Leaps In.” The quintet swings with quotes from “Rhapsody in Blue” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” but the first session’s rhythm section tends to the frenetic, and Pepper and Stitt sometimes seem to be blowing at each other as much as with each other.

There’s unison playing to kick things off and pull them back together, but the uptempo pieces can feel like a boxing match of jabs and counterpunches. The ballads cool things down, with the quintet finding a tender groove for “My Funny Valentine” and Freeman offering a lyrical solo to close out the set on “Imagination.” The quintet finds a tender groove for “My Funny Valentine” and Freeman offers a lyrical solo to close out the set on “Imagination.” Omnivore’s reissue includes a 12-page booklet of photos, credits, studio diagrams and detailed liner notes from Pepper’s widow, Laurie. Laurie Pepper has kept the flame of Pepper’s music alive through biography, blog and archival releases, and now with this series of reissues, an important chapter in Pepper’s career is revived. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Art Pepper on Bandcamp and CD Baby

Whitney Rose: South Texas Suite

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Superb EP from retro-inspired country singer-songwriter

Crossing paths with the Raul Malo for 2015’s Heartbreaker of the Year appears to have been predestination. Rose’s retro sensibility first showed itself on her debut album, but with Malo providing amplification, Heartbreaker showed off the ways in which classic country and pop sounds can be reborn into new music. And unlike artists who flirt with the past only to heed the siren call of the country charts (I’m looking at you Sara Evans), the sounds that fire Rose’s imagination aren’t a passing fancy. She even offers Brennen Lee’s “Analog” as a thesis statement, with its jazzy style and relaxed tempo lauding the simpler, slower times of a pre-digital world. That said, Rose is also perfectly at home with the advances women have made, declaring her freedom of footwear in “My Boots” as a marker of independence, and lending the spotlight to Redd Volkert for a stuttering guitar solo that certainly would have made Merle Haggard smile.

Her adopted Austin offers both the Tex-Mex flair (courtesy of Michael Guerra’s accordion) and social inspiration for “Three Minute Love Affair.” Rose romanticizes the brief assignation of a spin around the dance floor with a vocal that’s lost in the possibilities of a partner’s embrace. A similar romanticism fuels the crooning on Teri Joyce’s “Bluebonnets For My Baby,” with Erik Hokkanen adding wonderful fiddle lines throughout. As a Canadian ex-pat, Rose was pulled to Texas by country music and the culture that fueled it, making it something more personally fundamental than music that happened to be on the radio. She imagines a hill country pedigree in “Lookin’ Back on Luckenbach,” but it’s the strength of her emigrant’s choice that is the real draw. The EP closes with a rousing band jam that hung so far off the end of “My Boots” that it was given its own track. It’s too short, just like the EP, but with a second Malo-produced album on the way, this will have to hold you. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Whitney Rose’s Home Page

Michigan Rattlers: Michigan Rattlers

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Confessional folk-tinged country-rock

The debut from this Americana duo – guitarist Graham Young and bassist Adam Reed (with guest drummer Mike Avenaim) – pops with urgency and confessional intimacy. Produced by Johnny K (Plain White T’s, 3 Doors Down), Young shares confidences through his lyrics and the exceptionally moving tone of his voice. He sings of midwestern boys discovering themselves and building the confidence to ask for a date, but the story is far from ordinary, as the discovery is bittersweet and the date is with a widower in need of emotional rescue. Young’s vocals are mixed a half-step forward of backings driven by bass and drums, and the lyrical emphasis turns the closing “Strain of Cancer” into a harrowing recitation of a divorcee’s dismantling by a vindictive ex. Relocated from Petoskey to Los Angeles, the duo recorded the EP live at North Hollywood’s NRG Studios, giving the set an energy that’s hard to achieve piecemeal. Five songs, fifteen minutes, great debut. RIYL: Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Gin Blossoms. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Michigan Rattlers’ Home Page

Matt Costa: Music From the Motion Picture Orange Sunshine

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

mattcosta_orangesunshineSuperb evocation of late-60s psychedelic soundtracks

If you were making a documentary on a renegade 1960s LSD collective, Huntington Beach singer-songwriter Matt Costa might not be your first thought for a period-evoking soundtrack. But Costa’s roots in Orange County match those of the Brotherhood at the film’s center, and the seeds of his nostalgic musical constructions can be found in his catalog. The resulting soundtrack for the film Orange Sunshine is the sort of ersatz experience one gained from AIP’s exploitation films – music that is of the era, but doesn’t define it. Costa deftly evokes the ‘60s with fuzzed guitars, hallucinogenic flights, West Coast jazz odysseys, blue funk, folk fingerpicking, ragas and even a touch of strategically placed vinyl surface noise.

The compositions lean to mood-setting instrumentals, but the vocal tracks – particularly the Airplane-styled “Born in My Mind” – are spot-on. What rats this out as homage rather than artifact is the crisp fidelity – something that couldn’t easily be achieved on a shoestring budget in 1968. Most impressive is that Costa wrote, engineered, produced and performed the entire album – especially remarkable on “ensemble” jams like “The Fuzz.” Several of the cuts are under two minutes – often leaving you wanting more – but this works nicely as a standalone album of ‘60s-tinged psych, jazz, soul and rock, and provides a terrific complement to the film. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

Matt Costa’s Home Page

Tim Buckley: Wings – The Complete Singles 1966-1974

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

timbuckley_wingsthecompletesinglesThe singles of an album artist

Though singer-songwriter Tim Buckley flourished in an era in which singles – and the radio exposure they attracted – often led albums onto the charts, he was never a singles artist. His label dutifully released singles from all nine of his albums, placing none of them on the charts, and, at best, only distracting free-form FM stations from the albums they were more likely to play. So unlike artists feted with collections of the original mono singles that listeners remember from the radio (see, for example, recent sets by The Turtles and Buck Owens), the motivation for a collection of Tim Buckley’s singles is more obscure.

Which isn’t to suggest the music is less than magnificent, or the collection unworthy of your attention, but other than the previously anthologized “Once Upon a Time” and its previously unreleased B-side “Lady, Give Me Your Key,” most of these tracks are likely already in the collections of Tim Buckley fans. What the set does offer is a read on the label’s attempt to sell Buckley commercially, both in the US and UK, and a quick read of his nine year arc as a recording artist. It also provides rare mono single mixes for tracks 1-9, improved sound (courtesy of Michael Graves), and an interview with Buckley’s longtime collaborator, Larry Beckett.

Five of the singles turn up on the retrospective Best Of, suggesting that the label (or Buckley himself) had good ears. But with no hits, one’s left to wonder whether the label hadn’t the will to push Buckley on singles-oriented radio, or if his music was simply that of an album-oriented artist. The set’s 16-page booklet includes Beckett’s detailed reminiscences about collaborating with Buckley and the genesis of their songs. That commentary and the unreleased single are the catnip, but the whole set is an interesting view of an artist whose work was too complex to fit between a DJ’s talk up and the next jingle. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

The Tim Buckley Archives