Jonny Polonsky – Unreleashed: Demos and Rarities 1996 – 2018 (CD/Vinyl)

Although it took Jonny Polonsky more than two decades to put out five records, the LA, by way of Chicago, cult pop artist apparently harbored a bunch of songs none of us were ever privy to. As a follow up to last year’s Fresh Flesh, Polonsky is offering up 21 rarities for his patient fans and it appears the wait was worth it.

This set spans the full 22 years since his fantastic debut, Hi, My Name is Jonny, (an album that sat alone on the merch table for eight long years before Polonsky finally turned in the follow up) and last year’s solid LP.  

Like most compilation albums, especially one with close to two dozen tracks, not everyone here is destined to be a fan favorite, but the record starts of strong with two of his best songs yet, the deceptively dark “Everywhere All the Time” and “Do You Remember”. Overall, the cache here is in keeping with Polonsky’s brilliant marriage of lyrical wittiness and smart catchy pop music.  He also excises some of his quirkier musical impulses here on songs like the Samba/Wah Wah-filled “Black Rainbow.”

Unreleashed is available on a special vinyl gatefold edition, with a limited run of colored vinyl. And while the vinyl version houses 18 tracks, the digital and CD versions include three extra songs. 

 Jonny Polonsky – Unreleashed : Demos and Rarities 1996 – 2018/Jett Plastic Recordings /2018 / Facebook

Deer Tick – Mayonnaise (Vinyl)

Given that Deer Tick turned in two full albums in late 2017, it’s a little surprising just a month in the new year that they already have another LP ready to send out into the world (even if this recent, sudden gift of music was preceded by a four-year absence). But be thankful for small miracles. Mayonnaise, the band’s eight full length is another amazing collection of rock-tinged Americana, made up mostly – I’m assuming – of songs that didn’t make it onto 2017’s two self-titled efforts.

Far from sounding like lesser cast-offs, the songs here are just as worthy as anything off those earlier albums. The music vacillates between more mellow, acoustic fare like “Pale Blue Eyes” and straight-ahead rock numbers like the infections “Hey! Yeah!”. They even flirt with instrumental jazz on the piano/sax-heavy “Memphis Chair”. Pleasantly the band is solid regardless of whatever musical road they head down on Mayonnaise.

Not sure if this latest release, the third in the series, is foreshadowing another hiatus, but hoping that’s not the case as the group is clearly hitting their stride.  

Deer Tick – Mayonnaise/12 tracks/Partisan Records/2019

Michael McArthur – Ever Green, Ever Rain (Vinyl)

Florida native Michael McArthur credits isolation, among other things, for the tone of many of the songs off of Ever Green, Ever Rain, his debut LP. That loneliness can heard throughout each and every track here as McArthur turns in a vulnerable, haunting collection of modern folk that brings to mind everyone from Bon Iver to Iron & Wine.

There is an openness to many of these songs, like the self-confessional “Elaine” that makes the listener almost feel guilty for listening in. Gorgeous? Yes, but it sounds a little intrusive, like listening to a relationship ending at the next table. There is also a vulnerability to both his voice and lyrics that echoes back to decades to folks as diverse as Nick Drake and James Taylor.

Though a dozen tracks of earnest, heartfelt folk can be tough to take in one sitting for some, McArthur manages to turn his isolation and loneliness into a movingly beautiful album.  MICHAEL MCARTHUR – Ever Green, Ever Rain/12 tracks/Dark River Records/2019

Hunt Sales Memorial – Get Your Shit Together

Man, it must get lonely behind that drum kit. The list of musicians who put down their sticks to take center stage seems to grow every year: Dave Grohl, Phil Collins, Grant Hart, Don Henley and on and on and on… Hunt Sales, go-to sideman for Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Todd Rundgren, is just carrying on a tradition with his debut, “Get Your Shit Together.” The album is a beautifully, rough taken on rock, blues and hard living, thanks to a now clean Sales that has turned many of the songs here into vivid cautionary tales. “Sorry Baby,” for example sounds like a horn-heavy pumped up Springsteen until you listen to the lyrics about the singer waiting for dealer and apologizing for hocking all of valuables.

The album is as great as it is confessional, with Sales, who admits to having used heroine for four decades, confessing everything across a dozen tracks brimming with strong guitars, heavy drumming and gruff, well-worn vocals. Songs like “Bitch Done Left” or “Angel of Darkness” could just as easily come off as eye-rolling bravado if they weren’t so honest thanks to Sales distinct delivery.  

Hunt Sales Memorial – Get Your Shit Together/12 tracks/Big Legal Mess Records/2018 / Facebook

Kleenex Wonder Girl – White Lacuna (Vinyl LP)

While not quite in Ryan Adams/Willie Nelson territory when it comes to prolific visits to the recording studio, Graham Smith’s Kleenex Wonder Girl is certainly on a role. “White Lacuna,” was his second full length in 2018, and sixth in less than 10 years. And far from sounding like a collection of cast-offs and B-Sides, the tracks that make up this latest effort can stand strong against any of his other records.

While not exactly a concept album, “White Lacuna” tracks the break-up of a relationship across 10 surprisingly poppy indie rock songs. The theme is pretty much cast with the opening track, “The History of Ice” and is carried throughout on songs like “Hope All is Lost” and “White Witch.”  The album closes with the raucous “Wet Wizard” (at least raucous for Kleenex Wonder Girl), a frenetic closing argument.

Smith has made a reputation off of memorable riffs and great pop hooks, wrapped around witty lyrics and he certainly keeps that rep in check with “White Lacuna”.

Kleenex Wonder Girl – White Lacuna/10 tracks/Reasonable Records/2019

The Posies – Amazing Disgrace [30th Anniversary Re-Issue] (CD)

In 1993, The Posies turned in one of the finest power pop records of the decade with “Frosting on the Beater.” So, it was almost a given that it’s follow-up wouldn’t stray too far from that formula. And thankfully it didn’t. The 14-track “Amazing Disgrace,” was just as accessible as it’s predecessor, if a little less optimistic in tone, likely a result of troubles within the band (drummer Mike Musburger and bassist Dave Fox left before the recording of this one), and disagreements with their label at the time.

Omnivore Recordings has just re-issued “Amazing Disgrace,” the final in a trio of the band’s DGC albums getting the re-issue treatment this year. This two-disc set includes the original record and eight bonus tracks on one disc as well as a bonus CD with an additional 15 tracks, mainly boasting demos and alternate versions of earlier songs.

The album, their last for DGC, is easily one of their best efforts, second only to “Frosting on the Beating.” Though there wasn’t an obvious hit single in the U.S. from “Amazing Disgrace,” the record still managed to become their biggest seller in Europe up to this point. Songs like Throwaway”” and the fantastic “Ontario” compete just as well as most of the tracks off of “Frosting on the Beater,” but the album inexplicably didn’t pay off as well here as it’s predecessor.

This re-issue, just like “Dear 23” and “Frosting on the Beater” serve as a great second chance for people to rediscover these three extraordinary albums from one of the best power pop bands to emerge from the 1990s. And thankfully the band that is just as vital today as when these albums were first released, still touring and releasing new music.   

The Posies – Amazing Disgrace [30th Anniversary Re-Issue/2 CDs/Omnivore Recordings

John has covered The Posies a few times in the past. Take a look at his coverage of Failure and Dear 23/Frosting on the Beater .

Reverend Horton Heat – Whole New Life

The Reverend Horton Heat (known by his parents as Jim Heath) is likely the only musician out there to be name-checked by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, John Lydon and Rob Zombie. But it makes sense, as no band since The Cramps has done a better job of fusing rockabilly with a sharp punk rock attitude. And his latest, “A Whole New Life,” shows he still has a foot planted firmly in each musical camp.

The band is at it’s best when they’re playing ferocious up-tempo tracks, like “Perfect,” “Hate to See You Cry” or the New Orleans-styled “Tchoupitoulas Street” (a song you’d swear was an old standard, but is actually a Heath original). The album takes a brief detour on the Nick cave-ish dirge “Don’t Let Go of Me,” the weakest track here. But the band quickly corrects course for the remainder of the record. They also throw in a great cover of “Viva Las Vegas” on the closing track – a perfect ending to this 30-plus minute nostalgic ride.

This latest effort marks an even dozen albums for the trio and is just as solid as anything they’ve done so far. If you never dug their high-octane rockabilly/cocktail vibe, this record certainly isn’t going to change your mind. But, if you’re a fan, “Whole New Life” will only serve to reaffirm that admiration.

Reverend Horton Heat – Whole New Life / Victory Records / 2018 / Twitter

Glen Campbell – Sings For The King

Only Elvis could get away with having an album full of songs by a rising star recorded entirely for him. But that’s exactly what happened in the mid-1960s, with one of Elvis’ favorite songwriting duos, Ben Weisman and Sid Wayne, convinced an early-in-his-career Glen Campbell to record a dozen-and-a-half of their songs, so they could pitch them to The King. The tactic obviously worked as Elvis went on to record 12 of those songs, including “Clambake” and “Easy Come, Easy Go.” You’ve got to wonder if “Clambake,” one of the most fun songs on this record, was the inspiration for the entire Clambake movie Elvis would star in (and sing this song for the soundtrack) in 1967. Continue reading “Glen Campbell – Sings For The King”

World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story (RPM Series)

You’d be hard pressed to find a recent musical genre that’s been dissected more in the past two decades than Grunge. Countless books, articles, documentaries, and radio and TV interviews dig into the Seattle-based phenomenon and just about every single discussion on the topic eventually comes around to the ground-breaking indie label Sub Pop. So, it’s surprising there was any new material left to report about the label, let alone an entire book’s worth. But, Gillian G. Gaar manages to find plenty to cover in this latest book about the label. Continue reading “World Domination: The Sub Pop Records Story (RPM Series)”

THE GERMS – What We Do Is Secret [RSD Black Friday Vinyl]

The Germs may have only released one proper studio album before frontman Darby Crash died, but you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of more influential hardcore/punk rock bands to come out of that era. Everyone from the Minutemen and L7 to Soul Asylum and Pennywise owe a debt of gratitude to that Southern California band of nonconformists. So, it’s frustrating just how few songs the band managed to record during their four years together. Continue reading “THE GERMS – What We Do Is Secret [RSD Black Friday Vinyl]”