The Messenger: The Songwriting Legacy of Ray Wylie Hubbard

Ray Wylie Hubbard may not be top of mind to casual Country/Americana music fans, but he certainly influenced a slew of the musicians making that music today.

It seems rather appropriate then that Hubbard’s peers and acolytes would come together to explain his musical brilliance in writing. The Messenger, though not the best book to explain the life and career of Hubbard (that one would be his own 2015 memoir, A Life… Well, Lived), it does a pretty solid job of explaining his appeal by those who know him best. Chronicled by Brian T. Atkinson, the book collects an army of interviews from friends, peers and followers; folks like Bobby Bare, Steve Earle, Ben Kweller and Chris Robinson, among many, many others. But the most touching tributes come in the forewords, by longtime pal Jerry Jeff Walker and relative newcomer (at least compared to Walker and Hubbard) Hayes Carll. One of the best stories recounted here is the 1973 live version of Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother,” covered by Walker on his live album with a shout out to the song’s author in the intro, a move that brought a lot more attention to Hubbard’s own work.

The book covers his early years, playing folk music in college as part of Three Faces West, and his evolution to a folk/country singer songwriter on par with Walker, Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark. Like his memoir, The Messenger is pretty frank about his substance problems drawing a clear distinction between his pre- and post- sober career.  A strong book, paired nicely with A Life… Well, Lived, this latest entry in the Hubbard library is further proof of just how influential his music remains today.

The Messenger: The Songwriting Legacy of Ray Wylie Hubbard/Hardcover, 272 pages/Texas A&M University Press/2019

Coffins – Beyond The Circular Demise

When you think of Japan, you think of sushi, manga, anime, bullet trains, and the samurai; what you do not think of is solid death metal. And Coffins are a prime example of why we cannot spend any more time sleeping on Japanese death metal. The death/doomsters are back with their fifth release “Beyond The Circular Demise” an infernal release with grit and teeth.

It is a crime that after four full-length releases, numerous splits and EPs and fourteen years on the scene, the bruisers in Coffins are slowly grinding their way into worldwide stardom. But their approach on Beyond The Circular Demise clearly shows us that they are masters of their craft. There is no mucking about with longwinded intros and ambience that plague many modern death metal releases. Coffins hits you right where it hurts on opener “Terminate by own Prophecy”. Their signature sound mirrors the grimy, unpolished, and almost primal nature that has been popularized in recent times by acts like Tomb Mold, Convulsing, and Pyrrhon. The drums are lumbering, the bass is dripping, and the guitars are thick, gritty, hefty, and illicit a sincerity that the synthetic production of modern records belie.

The riffs on Beyond The Circular Demise are as nostalgic of OSDM but are not without tricks and flourishes buried deep within its chasms. There are flecks of crust-punk inspired chugs and oozing sludgy doom arrangements like those found on Impuritious Minds. These sections are where Coffins do their best work. The vibe is instantly cavernous and monstrous, pummeling, and filled with inevitable dread. Chuggy sections like main riff section of Insane form a perfect backdrop for vocalist (and guitarist) Uchino to summon infernal growls from the bowels of hell itself. A surprising quirk is the occasional use of vocoders to blend the vocal lines into an electronic static sample which is odd and unsettling, and becomes a quick highlight. Album closer Gateways to Dystopia takes a small step towards modern doom with its main riff arrangement and quicker pace set by the thundering double kickdrums and is one of the strongest ways to end a record.

As a Japanese artist, it is understandable that English is not their primary language of expression, so props must be given to the band for trudging on with English titles and lyrics, however the grammatical errors in the song titles feel awkward and take away from the total effect of the record itself. In addition ,being a spoiled millennial I still struggle with the crusty production values, and I firmly believe that Coffins would be better served by modern sonics, but the sound does match the imagery and adds weight to the savage motif so my quibbles are minor. The drums are unquantized, the hits are not always square but are hard, and human.

At the end of the day, Beyond The Circular Demise is a beast of a record. It makes no excuses for what it is: a chunky slab of slow moving, evil, dreaded animal which should not be trifled with.

Rating: 7.8/10

Favorite Tracks: The Tranquil End, Insane, Gateways to Dystopia.

Coffins – Beyond The Circular Demise / Bandcamp / Relapse

Chris Mardini – Retrospective Outlook

On Retrospective Outlook, Chris Mardini is able to blend easy-going pop vocals with a musically intricate, intense sort of composition. With assertive guitars, booming drums, and a spotless production, Retrospective Outlook’s arrangement will stick with listeners long after the song ceases to play. Mardini’s vocals are a part Asher Roth, a part Cake, and (during the chorus) a bit Jonas. With this eclectic approach, Chris is able to make a track that could easily hang with other rotation-worthy singles while having enough meat to sate even the most jaded music aficionados. Check out the video for Retrospective Outlook below and let us know what you think.

Chris Mardini – Retrospective Outlook / Domain /

Michael Costantini – ‘All Because of You’

On All Because of You, Michael Costantini is able to recreate the crunchy alt-rock sound of the 1990s. The song succeeds with charismatic lead vocals forged out of the Rivers Cuomo mold and a fuzzy set of guitars that will appease fans of Soul Asylum and Belly. Michael hits some high notes during his latest single, a move that further increases the depth of the track while showcasing some serious chops. Costantini’s love ode to traditional rock art has a delightful guitar solo that pushes the song’s momentum just enough to have fans sitting on the edges of their seat until All Because of You closes up shop.

Michael Costantini – ‘All Because of You’ / Domain /

Mike Bertini – ‘Those Nights’

Mike Bertini’s Those Nights immediately begins with a soulful set of vocals that links together Jake Owen and Dave Matthews. With a chorus that equally draw from modern country and 1990s jam bands, Mike is able to give a little something to everyone. The track’s inclusion of female vocals towards its half-way mark spins the song in a bold new direction. The dynamism of Those Nights ensures that no two seconds are the same. Bertini’s considerable skill is on exhibited here, as Those Nights could just as easily appease those listening in to pop playlists and those seeking intricate and thoughtful instrumental arrangements from their music.

Mike Bertini – ‘Those Nights’ / Domain /

Plants – ‘Life Until Death’

Plants’ Life Until Death begins with a contemplative effort, Life, that provides listeners with a sedate introduction that gradually leads in to the rest of their disc. Cruze is a taut track that blends together a ropy bass line with ska / psychedelic horns. What ultimately results is a trippy soundscape that is further set to new territories when the vox kick in. Alex’s vocals will set fans upon a journey; the narrative that is established during the early tracks on Life Until Death needs to be focused on; there are a number of distinct fashions that one will be able to enjoy the music that is presented here.

Time is one of our favorites on this disc. The track is uniquely Alex, but the influences that are whipped in here – Pink Floyd, Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, and Muse – moor the effort to a rich psych / prog tradition. The dreamy vocals that issue forth during the middle movement of Time showcase Valenzuela’s ability to simultaneous weave a story while imbuing the composition with further musical depth

We covered Life Until Death’s lead-off single Fervent Devise back in June of this year. The effort should be experienced alongside The Rope; The Rope is a slower, more contemplative composition that includes just a hint of later-sixties Brit pop. The guitar/vox dynamic yields the focal space up to haunting guitars and an overall dreamy demeanor. Ocean speeds things up; the presence of synths here moor Plants to ELO and Styx. There is a bit of heady guitar work here that will appease even fans of Donovan or early Genesis. Life Until Death concludes with the one-two punch of Until and Death. A heavy, chugging sound is fostered during Until that is a callback to grunge while the album’s finale seemingly sets the stage for a deeper dive into the sounds and styles that were touched upon during this release.

Top Tracks: Until, The Rope

Rating: 8.6/10

Plants – ‘Life Until Death’ / 2019 Self Released / 8 Tracks / Soundcloud / Bandcamp

Diesel Park West release 9th release

“Let It Melt”, the first and title track from Diesel Park West’s ninth studio recording, serves notice this venerable UK outfit is showing no signs of slowing down. Thirty plus years in the music world are defined by impressive peaks and challenging fallows, but Diesel Park West kept the flame burning throughout thanks to the bonds of shared experience and a passion for their craft. Let It Melt is their first release on a new label, Dallas based Palo Santo, and the first song announces their enthusiasm for a new start with the same raucous edge often characterizing the band’s strongest material. Vocalist, chief songwriter, and guitarist John Butler commands your attention on this track.

WIKIPEDIA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diesel_Park_West

“No Return Fare” mixes the band’s direct rock guitar approach with acoustic rhythm guitar laying down meaty chords under the surface of the mix. Butler goes in for social-oriented songwriting at various points during the course of Let It Melt, but he never has a heavy hand for such moments and manages to even temper it with a wry appreciation of the difficulties we face in modern life.

“Everybody’s Nuts” has a great title that gets right to its point and the songwriting backs it up all the way. It’s Butler’s bemused and incredulous take on dealing with people but it doesn’t have a nihilistic bent – he finds humor it and the song’s arrangement gives it a dramatic quality that’s sure to engage audiences. The guitar work from Butler and Rich Barton rates among the best on Let It Melt. The humor carries over into the next track “Living in the UK” but, despite centering the song lyrics on what it’s like living in Modern England, American listeners can relate to this track as well. It has a blues influenced tilt, like much of the band’s material, but remains warm and inviting all the while.

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/DieselParkWest/

They turn up the heat to full on boogie with the track “Bombs Away” and Butler’s impassioned vocal more than keeps up with the energetic pace. Barton and Butler are an outstanding guitar team, but the rhythm section of bassist Geoff Beavan and drummer Rob Morris really stand out here. Diesel Park West move much closer to the blues on the album’s ninth and tenth songs, “You Got the Whole Thing Wrong” and “Across this Land” respectively, but there’s more outright humor heard in the latter tune than the former. Harmonica and piano play prominent musical roles in “You Got the Whole Thing Wrong” and it’s another song that seems ideal for live performance.

“Across this Land” has a strong blues influence as well with acoustic slide guitar built into the track and it underlines the strong vocal relationship between Butler and Barton – the whole band is important, without question, but these two seem to share a special musical bond that you hear recurring throughout the release. It’s a bit of a cliché to call Diesel Park West survivors – they have continued all these years because of commitment and talent, not good fortune. You should think of them instead as grizzled and tough. They’ve shrugged off the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and sound as connected to what made them pursue their musical dreams as they did during their long ago 1980’s heyday. Let It Melt testifies to that fact and then some.

DISCOGS: https://www.discogs.com/artist/288121-Diesel-Park-West

Kim Muncie

Hijak “Hola Bonita”

Hola Bonita is a perfect track for the early fall. There is still an ample amount of the island vibes and Latinx styles that will get the dance floor popping, but there’s a bit of chill that is inserted into the track that will get fans vibin’. While the vocal side of things is given a focal point during Hola Bonita, the instrumentation is able to spend a bit of time in the spotlight. The intricate drum sequences make for a full backing instrumentation that add considerable enjoyment to the vocal side of things. Hijak is ble to mcraft a timeless track that contains equal amounts of reggae, R&B and EDM music in a way that the song will remain fresh through the end of the year.

Hijak “Hola Bonita” / Domain /

JTruthPA “Sunflower”

JTruthPA comes forth with a bright effort that straddles the line between pop, R&B and rap music. The production on this single ensures that the lyrical flow is crisp and clear, while the bouncy beat will bury itself deep into one’s psyche. Sunflower will get one out to the dance floor, while JTruthPA’s flow continues to shift and change throughout the cut’s runtime. All together, Sunflower is a perfect introduction to a performer that will garner additional airplay alongside performers as widespread as Post Malone and Trey Songz. Check out the poppin’ visuals for Sunflower and let us know what you think about JTruthPA’s latest.

JTruthPA “Sunflower” / Twitter /

High Key “Aint Cool No More”

High Key is able to blend together the last 40 years of R&B into a cohesive sound that is present throughout the entirety of their new song, Ain’t Cool No More. This three-part act is able to infuse blues, funk, and soul into a three-minute space like no one’s business. The piano / vocal dynamic that bubbles forth in the middle of the song is a sight to behold, as are the multiple-part harmonies that interact with synths seemingly pulled from a Zapp & Roger track. Taken together, these elements make for a cohesive song that will stick with one long after the song ceases to play.

High Key “Aint Cool No More” / Twitter /