Travis – Live At Glastonbury ‘99 (CD)

Long before their music was co-opted for sappy TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill, the Scottish rock band Travis was churning out brilliant, guitar-centered music that oozed with emotion. No where is that clearer than on the just-released live set from the group’s 1999 appearance at the famed Glastonbury festival.

Out for the first time on vinyl and CD thanks to Craft Recordings, the set captures the band at their creative peak, sailing after the release of their debut, Good Feeling, and on the verge of putting out The Man Who (arguable two of their best three records). Just a few years old at this time, the band had already found a sound that was able to make them stand out among the many of other Post Brit Pop bands, like Keane, Snow Patrol and Coldplay, that were coming out around the same time. Travis, with guitar-heavy songs like the stellar “All I Want To Do Is Rock,” “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” and “Good Feeling,” distinguished themselves with a more bombastic arena-ready sound. Reeling through a 16-song set, that also included a newer song like “Coming Around” and a few slower tracks like the “More Than Us” and “Driftwood,” the crowd was clearly feeling it that day, despite the many references to threats of rain.

Live At Glastonbury is a remarkable snapshot of a great band at its peak.  

Travis – Live At Glastonbury ‘99/16 tracks/Craft Recordings/ 2019 / Facebook / Domain

The Dollyrots – Daydream Explosion (CD)

Just one year shy of their 20th anniversary as a band, and eight albums into it, The Dollyrots have just turned in their best effort yet.

The 14-track Daydream Explosion, their first for Stevie Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records label, is simply pop punk perfection. From the spikey, fast guitars, the gorgeous female/male tradeoff vocals, machine gun drumming, and bratty defiant lyrics, there’s a feeling that The Dollyrots have been building up to this moment all along. There is not a song on this record that doesn’t earn the right to be here – and there are EPs that can’t even boast that (ok, maybe the blushingly goofy “I Know How To Party” should have been left off).

The album starts off with the chiming guitar licks of “Animal,” followed quickly by Kelly Ogden’s tough as fuck vocals, grabbing the listener by the eras and not letting up for close to 45 minutes. It would be easy to dismiss this record, like much of pop punk, as little more than a teenage soundtrack. And yes, this does seem like the perfect dialogue to the frustration of growing up. But many of the themes of defiance that Ogden spits out here are still, sadly relevant a decade or so after you move out. It may have taken nearly 20 years, but the Dollyrots have just turned in the perfect Dollyrots’ record.

The Dollyrots – Daydream Explosion/14 tracks/Wicked Cool Records & The Orchard/2019 / Domain / Facebook

Various Artists – This Is The Town: A Tribute To Nilsson (Volume 2) (CD)

Tribute albums are almost always a mixed bag. And this second volume of Harry Nilsson songs is no exception. The covers run the gamut from incredible (Cheap Trick covering “Ambush” and Adam Matta’s beatbox accompaniment on “Driving Along”) to the quirky (Valley Queen’s peculiar version of “I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City” and Belle-Skinner’s ukulele-backed “Open Your Window”) to the simply uninspired (Invisible Familiar’s trippy take on “Old Forgotten Soldier” which sounds like it was recorded underwater). 

Nilsson is easily one of the best songwriters to come out of the 1970s and to this day still manages to inspire a slew of bands – essentially any group that marries melodies with whip smart lyrics owes a debt to Nilsson. So, it’s not surprising that a wide net was cast by bands wanting to pay tribute to this artist. Despite its occasional flaws, This Is The Town, Volume 2 still serves as a decent bookend to 2014’s first Nilsson tribute album (a record that’s worth owning for the Low Cut Connie and Langhorne Slim covers alone).   

Various Artists – This Is The Town: A Tribute To Nilsson (Volume 2)/14 tracks/Royal Potato Family/2019 / Domain / Facebook

Soundgarden – Superunknown [Vinyl Reissue] (A&M/UMe)

To mark the Soundgarden’s 35th anniversary, A&M and UMe are putting out a slew of re-releases by band, including classic albums in limited edition colored vinyl. So now seems like an ideal time to revisit their best-selling and arguable flawless fourth album Superunknown.  

Initially put out in 1994, at the crest of the grunge movement, Soundgarden – one of the pioneers of the Seattle sound and a band that had already been around years before Nirvana and Peral Jam were formed – finally got their due with Superunknown.

Still boasting the band’s heavy dark sound of previous records, this one found the band expanding a bit on their music, adding in psychedelic (most notably at the beginning of “Black Hole Sun”) and more melodies without sacrificing any of their core sound. It’s on Superunknown that most outside of the Northwest finally keyed into the realization that Chris Cornell possessed one of the best voices modern rock ever had; this album perfectly showcased his range. The 70-plus minute LP, lovingly re-released on 180 gram vinyl and spread over two records for its 25th anniversary, sounds just as revolutionary as the day it was release.

Even in 2019, a time in music where distorted guitars are little more than props for You Tube music videos, it’s hard to imagine a song like “Black Hole Sun” or “Fell on Black Days” wouldn’t propel the band to international acclaim. Here’s hoping this re-release will clue in an entirely new generation to the brilliance that was Soundgarden in their prime.    

Soundgarden – Superunknown [Vinyl Reissue]/16 tracks/A&M/UMe/2019 / Twitter / Domain /

A Picture Made – Heal (CD)

More than three decades in the making, Heal, the debut record from A Picture Made, though ridiculously long overdue, manages to have been worth the wait.

The Midwest kids (though long past being kids) came together in the 1980s and managed to open for some of the best college rock bands at the time, from The Call and The Connells to The Replacements. It’s not clear if it was a case of severe procrastination or life getting in the way, but it took 35 years for Heal to come about (Guns N Roses could have made Chinese Democracy three times over in that time frame). But it’s hard to argue with the results, a baker’s dozen of straight ahead rock songs that manage to take inspiration from some of the underground greats from the ‘80s and ‘90s without coming off like a glorified cover band. The band slips seamlessly from a laid back mellow jam like “Come To Me” to loud power chords on a song like “Locomo Mexico.”

It may have taken awhile, but A Picture Made have turned in a pretty compelling reason for listeners to come back for more.     

A Picture Made – Heal/Gooodspeeed Records/13 tracks/2019 / Instagram / Domain /

Ellis Paul – The Storyteller’s Suitcase (CD)

There’s not much grey area to Ellis Paul’s music: You either like the modern day folkie’s music or you don’t. And if you do happen to fall into former category, chances are you love it. Like John Prine and Gary Clark before him, minus the country/Americana influences, Paul is first and foremost a lyricist, telling a story with each and every song he puts out. The Storyteller’s Suitcase, Paul’s 20th album, is no different.

Whether talking about a family reunion that ends with cop cars and fire engines on “Five Alarm Fire on the 4th of July,” a war vet robbing the local grocery store in his small hometown (“Scarecrow in a Corn Maze”) or the seemingly autobiographical title track, Paul eschews the easy wordplay and clichés for more complex stories and characters. At 13 tracks, not every one here is destined to remain in Paul’s set list for years to come, but the album opener “I Ain’t Jesus” certainly has the feel of a soon-to-be live show staple.

Armed with little more than an acoustic guitar, whispered vocals and a slew of great lyrics, Paul yet again gives his admirers another reason to stick with him.       

Ellis Paul – The Storyteller’s Suitcase/13 tracks/Rosella Records/2019 / Domain / Facebook /

Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real – Turn Off The News Build a Garden (CD)

The title track to Lukas Nelson’s fifth album pretty much sums up the focus of the record; people are generally good, so let’s focus on being kind to each other. And yes, it’s the type of sentiment that gets one branded a snowflake in 2019, but damn it’s good advice. And it sounds even better coming out in Nelson’s lazy, comforting drawl, backed by one of the best bands going today. The song shows up twice on the record, first as a steady, electrified version and again toward the album’s end slowed down a bit with acoustic guitar. Elsewhere there are tracks about suspicious lovers (“Out in LA”) and broken hearts (“Save A little Heartache”), but the overall vibe is “let’s just slow down a bit and be kinder to each other”.

Over the course of nearly a decade, Nelson has evolved from being a decent songwriter with a famous last name to a stellar one, at the same time stepping out from his dad’s long shadow and proving all the attention he has generated recently (thanks in large part to his inspiration and songwriting credits in the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born) is clearly warranted. Along with the title track, the album is crammed with some of the best songs in his already impressive career, from the Roy Orbison-inspired “Where Does Love Go,” to the twangy addictive “Lotta Fun”.

It’s hard to deny we are living in trying times, but “Turn Off the News” is the perfect antidote for sanity, at least for a little while.          

Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real – Turn Off The News Build a Garden/13 tracks/Fantasy Recordings/2019 / Domain / Twitter /

Chuck Mead – Close To Home

It seems pretty appt that one-time BR5-49 member Chuck Mead would head to the iconic Sam Phillips Recording Studios in Memphis to make his latest as few in the Americana world have come across as easily an instant classic as Mead. Even though the band first came out in the ‘90s they had an instant timelessness to their music that you’d have been forgiven for assuming they’d cropped up in the Sun Studios era. And, much like his former band’s output, Mead’s latest, Close To Home, is just as ageless. Crammed with twangy chords, steel guitar, mandolins and Mead’s distinctive, melodic drawl (a Midwestern/Southern hybrid), this record is classic Honkey Tonk for a modern age.

From the opening, charging chords on “Big Bear in the Sky,” Meads and crew reel through nearly a dozen country swing and barroom dance floor jams, slowing the tempo down ever so slightly now and then, but never for long.

The music is superb, but it’s Mead’s subtle, witty lyrics that really take center stage on this record (like all his previous solo offerings). Though there’s hardly a weak track on the album, the closing song, “There’s Love Where I Come From” manages to be both remarkably simply and simply sublime.           

Chuck Mead – Close To Home/11 tracks/Plowboy Records/2019 / Facebook /            

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years By Robert Dean Lurie (Book)

There have been numerous books written about Athens-based R.E.M. dating back to the mid-1990s, but few seem as personal as the latest entry from former Athenian Robert Dean Lurie.

The book strength is also, at times, its biggest weakness. The author, who moved to Athens, GA in the ‘90s, in part thanks to its burgeoning music scene, inserts his own narrative into some of the book. And while it can be a little distracting at times, overall, it’s these personal anecdotes and detailed descriptions of living in that college town that allows it to stand out among all of the other R.E.M. bios that came before it.

Another big advantage, along with having the hindsight to be able to look back on the band almost a decade after they dissolved, is that Lurie focuses a bulk of the book on the band’s founding and first few albums. He ends the narrative in 1987, before the band leaves their indie label for Warner Bros on a track that would bring them global stardom. By focusing on the early years, he can hone in on what made the band so unique at the time. Through interviews with the band’s college friends, many who knew the members before R.E.M. came together, Lurie is able to piece together a detailed, insightful and thoroughly exhaustive narrative of the band at its founding and slightly before.

Begin The Begin may not be the first book on R.E.M., but it’s a crucial read for anyone looking to understand R.E.M. and how they were able to create such a massive impact on modern American music.

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years By Robert Dean Lurie /Paperback, 288 pages/Verse Chorus Press/2019

Bat! – Bat Music For Bat People

Does the world really need another psychobilly supergroup?

Turns out, that yeah, we kind of do. The Bats, a trio made up of members from Nekromantix, The Brains, Rezurez and Stellar Corpses, churn through 20 (20!) songs on their debut, Bat Music For Bat People and the music manages to be catchy enough that hardly a moment drags here. Yes, they dig up the old genre tropes (“Graveyard Girl,” “Cemetery Man,”), but with a rhythm section that would make The Stray Cats sit up and pay attention, the band actually sound like they’re enjoying themselves as they churn through a mix of originals and covers. From the 1960s comic inspired album cover to the bat-shaped masks the band wear at all times, Bat! is certainly not half-assing it on the image front either.  

 Among the covers here are a mix of some obvious ones (Danzig’s “Mother,” The Damned’s “Love Song” and Dick Dale’s “Misirlou), and two left of center tracks (Gloria Jones’ “tainted Love” and Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still”) that work unbelievable well in part because the band manages to completely make the songs their own.

After a 20-song intro it may be asking a lot, but here’s hoping Bat! is more than a one-off side project and a taste of more to come.

Bat! – Bat Music For Bat People/20 tracks/Cleopatra/2019 / Bandcamp / Facebook /