There’s something strangely comforting
about ‘90s lo-fi Indie Pop stalwart Ben Lee turning to the songs of his
louder contemporaries for his covers record. Though
Lee is probably better known for the more accessible pop elements of
that era’s alt rock music, he makes an inspired choice to take on songs
by the likes of more distortion-laden bands like Sonic Youth, Fugazi and
Dinosaur Jr. on
Quarter Century Classix.
The result is a mixed bag. His acoustic
takes on The Breeders’ “Divine Hammer” is impressive, as his original
take on Dinosaur Jr.’s “Get Me.” His cover of Built
To Spill’s “Car” is hauntingly sweet, but elsewhere, Fugazi’s
“Blueprint” is pretty blah and Superchunk’s “My Noise” sounds a little
Lee brings in a slew of collaborators for this one – including Juliana Barwick, Mike Watt, that dog’s Petra Haden and Azure Ray’s Maria Taylor, among others – to help fill out the sound. Ultimately, the record is a mix of endearing classics reworked in Lee’s own style and a few filler tracks here and there.
Ben Lee – Quarter Century Classix /13 tracks/New West Records/2019 / Domain /
It’s sometimes taken for granted just how brilliant a songwriter Tom Waits is. The sky is blue, water is wet, and Waits can write a truly heartbreaking song. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s been making music for more than four decades; Maybe it’s that some just can’t get past his graveled vocals, but sometime all it takes is listening to a fresh take on his songs to realize just how exceptional Waits is as a songwriter.
On Up To The House is
hardly the first Waits tribute record, but it is easily one of the
best. Boasting an all-female cast that includes Aimee Mann, Patty
Griffin, sisters Shelby Lynn and Allison Moorer and Rosanne Cash, among
others, the lyrics are given a fresh perspective in
this mostly stripped down affair. More often than not, the result is
stunning. The opening track, Mann’s take on “Hold On,” or the stark
“Come On Up To The House,” flawlessly covered by Josephine are simply
sublime. While not ever song hits its mark, (Iris
Dement’s “House Where Nobody Lives” is a pretty uninspired effort),
there are more than enough brilliant covers here to keep you coming back
to this record for years to come.
Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits/12 tracks/Dualtone/2019
Drugs, sex, Jesus and a telecaster’s twang. That’s pretty much the Beaumont formula and hell, if it isn’t enough to make your whole goddamn day.
On their first live record,
This Is Austin, recorded appropriately enough at Austin’s The
White Horse, the five Lubbock cowboys turn in a monstrously hilarious
best of compilation in front of a live audience. Whether it’s singing
about Toby Keith (“Toby Keith is the Ugliest Woman
I’ve Ever Seen”), making it big as a new Country bro (“Change My Name”)
or just getting right with the Lord (“If You Don’t Love the Lord”), The
Beaumonts manage to play the best country/Americana music going today.
It also happens to be the filthiest, but
whatcha gonna do?
the middle of the set, frontman Troy
Wayne Delco poses a handful of questions to the audience: “Who likes
drinkin’? Who likes dancin’? Who likes gettin’ high?” Well it turns out
The Beaumonts like getting high too, to quote Delco. And this record
manages to be the perfect record to listen to
while doing all three.
Irresponsible? Sure. Offensive? Possible.
Blasphemous? Likely. But is it worth it? Hell, yeah! Long live The Beaumonts.
The Beaumonts – This Is Austin/12 tracks/Saustex Records/2019 / ReverbNation /
Juliana Hatfield’s 2018 tribute to Olivia
Newton-John, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John
(naturally), was as satisfying as it was unexpected. One of the most
underrated singers of the ‘90s, Hatfield, turned her distinctively
impassioned vocals on songs that for decades had become shorthand
for ‘80s bubble gum pop for many cynical listeners and in doing so, was
able to get across her genuine appreciation for songs that shaped her
as a musician.
it should come as no surprise that
Hatfield brings the same mix of deference and love to this set of songs
by The Police, another one of her big musical influences. This
collection includes some of their biggest hits (“Can’t Stand Losing
You,” “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take”) as well as
deeper cuts (“Rehumanize Yourself,” “Landlord”) and each track here is
essentially a love note to the trio, building onto the foundation they
created decades ago with her own unique style. And while there is not a
single song on this record that should be
skipped past, her versions of “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and “Canary In
the Coalmine” are no less than remarkable.
So much more than a standard covers album or tribute record, Sings the Police obviously comes from a place of joy and respect. Can’t wait to see who gets the Hatfield treatment next.
We previously covered Juliana’s music; visit John’s review for Whatever, My Love from 2015.
Juliana Hatfield – Sings The Police/12 tracks/American Laundromat Records/2019
Ah, the covers album. Once seen as little
more than a stop gap until the band could pull together enough new
material for a new album,
lately, thanks to folks like Corb Lund and Ben Lee’s soon-to-be
released record, cover albums seem to be moving towards a much more
satisfying experimental phase (Americana Lund covering AC/DC, Indie
stalwart Lee covering Fugazi, for example).
And while The Mavericks don’t venture too far beyond their influences on
Play The Hits, the record is still crammed with a mix of good-to-great cover songs.
Among the best is their take on Waylon
Jennings’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and the fantastically
inventive spin on Springsteen’s
“Hungry Heart,” complete with their trademark Tex Mex horns and
accordion. Even on some of the more ho hum tracks here, like John
Anderson’s “Swingin’” (the early ‘80s country song was never that great
to begin with), the band manages to elevate the original
thanks to Raul Malo’s remarkably smooth croon (his voice on Hank
Cochran’s “Why Can’t She Be You” is simply stunning). The band’s stated
goal was to tackle songs that they started playing early on in their
three decades together as a group. That explains why
Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” was in the mix, despite that song having
nearly been covered to death at this point.
Though not as great as their last few albums of all original songs, Play The Hits is still a fun holdover until the band comes back with another record.
THE MAVERICKS – Play The Hits / Thirty Tigers & Mono Mundo Recordings / 2019 / Facebook /
Kim Shattuck, singer/guitarist for the shockingly underrated band The Muffs, died unexpectedly just weeks ago, after a two-year battle with ALS that many outside of her close circle were unaware of. She left a brilliant legacy, with half a dozen near-perfect pop punk records to her name, a dedicated fanbase and a slew of heartbroken, normally jaded music journalists who were charmed by their interactions with her over the years (myself included).
It hardly surprising then that No Holiday, a record that she and the band were in the process of promoting when she unexpectedly passed away, lives up to their already impressive output. At 18 songs (18!), their first LP in five years comes out on Omnivore Recordings, fittingly the same label that recently reissued the group’s first three records and helped remind the world just how brilliant The Muffs were. No Holiday manages to be both remarkably nostalgic, capturing the vibe of those earlier efforts, while also building on their trademark sound, adding in several new musical directions. The taut pop punk rhythms are still there as are Shattuck’s glorious fuzzy power chords and her tough as a slap to the face vocals (probably one of the most undervalued in the punk rock world), but the trio manages to expand on that sound, with some of their slower tempo jams, like “Earth Below Me” with it’s plunked out clean guitar lines and “Lovely Day Boo Hoo,” with its melancholy vibe and acoustic guitars. This diverse collection actually manages to bolster the band’s reputation. They’re a little less sloppy than that solid 1993 debut, but Shattuck’s exasperated scream in the middle of “Late And Sorry” shows they are still very much that band many fell in love with so many decades ago.
Eighteen tracks, usually a sign of a group that could use a little outside help cutting some of the fat, proves that the band was just hitting it’s stride. Eighteen songs and No Holiday still leaves you craving more. Long live Kim Shattuck.
THE MUFFS – No Holiday/18 tracks/Omnivore Recordings/2019
takes a real knack to retell a story that many have likely heard many
times before and still manage to make it compelling. As listeners of the
podcast Disgraceland have already figured out, Jake Brenan is that rare
narrator who can.
true crime podcast focuses on musicians and those connected to them and
the darkness that follows them usually connected to fame, drugs and
(but mostly drugs). The book, appropriately enough sharing the name of
the podcast, uses the same concept and it is equally addictive. Brennan
bookends this collection of stories with a focus on Elvis – fat and
skinny/Elvis on the rise and on his way out.
The most complex story of the bunch, it mixes a fair amount of reality –
his corrupt Con Man manager, his ballooning weight and reliance
on drugs and his obsession with guns – alongside a fantastical, but
wildly entertaining sequence where over the hill Elvis is talking with a
svelte, cool Rockabilly version of what he could
between, Brennan recounts true stories about Sid Vicious in his last
days, Gram Parsons corpse theft and Phil Spector’s bizarre relationships
murder of one of his guests, among many other true tales.
anyone even remotely interested in the more macabre side of rock, most
if not all of these stories are likely familiar. But it’s Brenan’s flair
telling them that makes this book so captivating.
Disgraceland: Musicians Getting Away With Murder and Behaving Very Badly By Jake Brennan/Hardcover, 288 pages/Grand Central Publishing/2019
Who would have thought some of the best
Outlaw Country-inspired music would be coming out of the Pacific Northwest?
Right On Time, their second LP and first since 2015, The Lonesome
Billies pick up right where they left off, but with a little more
groove this time around. Across a dozen tracks of twangy Telecaster
riffs and a baritone that even Waylon Jennings would
envy, The Lonesome Billies prove they deserve just as much attention as
folks like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell for making it safe to
finally enjoy country music again.
like “Sad Old Man” and the so brilliantly,
smartly macabre it could have been written by Johnny Cash “If You’re
Gonna Hang Me” go on to highlight just how sorely these guys have been
missed over the last few years. The general song themes: death,
loneliness and simply not giving a shit also bring to
mind a lot of the punk acts that clearly had as much influence on the
band as the Outlaw Country giants of the ‘70s.
The Lonesome Billies are back and they’ve
brought more hooks and a lot more funk for this go ‘round.
The Lonesome Billies – Right On Time (Vinyl) /12 tracks/Stay Lonesome Records/2019
If Dr. John grew up a punk rocker in the Midwest rather than in the jazz and funk clubs of voodoo-soaked New Orleans, chances are he’d sound a lot like Jake La Botz.
They’re Coming For Me, the Nashville, by way of Chicago, musician
turns in a wildly eclectic, deeply satisfying gumbo of blues, funk,
jazz and even snatches of rock. And despite being decades younger than
the brilliant, dearly missed Night Tripper, you
can hear traces of his influence in both Botz’s music as well as his
fantastical characters. It’s the music that first draws you in, from
haunting guitars, organs and pianos. But’s it’s the characters in the
songs that keep you coming back for more, whether
it’s stories about Sasquatch, (“Hey Bigfoot”) or a song about a guy
trying to fix everything around him with glue… or likely about something
so much more (“Johnnybag the Superglue”). It’s Botz’s knack for a witty
turn of phrase that makes this set so compelling.
Elsewhere songs like “Grace Of The Leaves” and “Without The Weight,”
two of the most stripped down tracks from this collection, manage to be
just as captivating.
They’re Coming For Me, Botz’s sophomore effort, he has manages to
up the stakes considerably thanks to such a strong effort, likely
earning him a slew of new followers and setting a pretty high bar for
his next act.
Jake La Botz – They’re Coming For Me/12 tracks/Hi-Style Records/2019
Nineteen-seventy’s power pop never sounded so
good. Portland-based four piece Daystar may borrow inspiration liberally from
bands like Big Star, Wings and Badfinger, but their songs still manage to smack
of originality. The Complete Recordings is a masterclass in building,
taking the foundation of some of the best post-Beatles bands to ever commit to
wax and then erecting a wildly satisfying modern take on those sounds.
Comprised of veterans of various Northwest
bands, the members of Daystar – despite playing in groups that were previously all
over the genre map – shared a fondness for classic power pop and it shows.
Songs like the beautifully sublime “Warped Reality” and “A Lot Of Love” are
vaguely nostalgic, with a timeless vibe. Elsewhere, the band shows they’re not
afraid of volume with up tempo tracks like “Buttons & Brass.” Chill and
mellow or turn-it-up rock and roll, The Complete Recordings has a vibe
for just about any mood.
Daystar – The Complete Recordings/12 tracks/Self-Released/2019 / Bandcamp /