Dustbowl Revival – Is It You, Is It Me (CD)

California-based Dustbowl Revival have always been a little hard to pin down musically. There is definitely an Americana vibe to their music, but there are also hefty elements of jazz, swing and pop. Their latest, Is It You, Is It Me does little to dispel that confusion. Across a baker’s dozen of new songs, the band relies just as heavily on their horn section as they do their acoustic guitars for a satisfyingly eclectic mashup of genres.

This new effort builds on the solid foundation of 2017’s self-titled LP, branching out even more so sonically – an impressive feat when you consider how diverse that first album was musically. Though not as energetic as their last album, the band still vacillates from slow build songs like “Sonic Boom” and a smoothed down, mellow jam like “Mirror,” to a joyfully up tempo Dixieland vibe on the song “Nobody Knows (Is It You)”.

The band also opens up to more pop elements with this outing, not shying away from a strong hook and memorable chorus. At 13 tracks, the album stretches on for a song or two too long, but there is more than enough great music here to forgive a little excess.

Dustbowl Revival – Is It You, Is It Me/13 tracks/Thirty Tigers/2020

Simple Minds – 40: The Best Of 1979 – 2019

Simple Minds may best be remembered in this country for the outro song that gets played during the final shot of The Breakfast Club – a track that has almost become shorthand for Generation X rebellion, played at school reunions to this day. But as many in Europe and elsewhere outside of the U.S. realized decades ago, the Scottish band has an exhaustively large cannon of music that pre-and post-dates that mid ‘80s gem. This exhaustive three-CD set of 40 songs spanning 1979 – 2019 is a perfect proof.

Yes, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is here (13th track on the second disc), but it’s surround by dozens of equally impressive tracks, a mix of fast-tempo dance rock songs and slower ballads, that deserve attention. Their other U.S. hits are represented – “Alive And Kicking,” “Sanctify Yourself” and “All The Things She Said”- but long after American audiences relegated the band to the “‘80s pile,” Simple Minds continued to churn out album after album up until 2018’s stellar Walk Between Worlds. Group founders, singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchell, have remained in the line-up throughout it all.

Also included in this set are acoustic versions of “Waterfront” and “See The Lights,” two fantastic performances. Simple Minds clearly deserves to be remembered for more in the U.S. than being a shuffle list nostalgia group. This definitive collection is all the proof you need.

Simple Minds – 40: The Best Of 1979 – 2019/40 tracks/2020/Universal

Olya K – Hollywood

On Hollywood, Olya K is able to create a robust dance track with an infectious beat. The song does well in refreshing dance music from the 1970s onwards. The bit of pop that bubbles through with Olya K’s vocals ensures that the single can garner replay value. Synths and insistent percussion will draw listeners out to the dance floor, while the song’s chorus will reside in one’s brains for months, if not years, after the track’s first play. Olya K possesses a sort of earnest sound that further catapults the track’s prestige when compared to other songs, while the gradual increase in tempo will keep interest high until she closes up things.

Olya K – Hollywood / Facebook / Instagram /

AM Clouds – Tune Me In

During Tune Me In, AM Clouds are able to refresh the alternative rock sounds of acts like Soul Asylum and the Goo Goo Dolls into a vibrant and taut experience. The band is able to link together fuzzy guitars, thick bass, and charismatic vocals into a song that will stick with fans long after the song ceases to play. Particular kudos have to be given to the extended instrumental section that rises up at around the 4:15 mark. The presence of this section provides AM Clouds with ample time to wind things down nicely.

AM Clouds – Tune Me In / 2020 Self Released / Facebook /

Kings County are living up to the buzz

Critics have been getting excited about rockers Kings County since the 2019 release of their eponymous debut, and for good reason – riddled with strong-armed, rhythmic hard rock elements that their peers have mostly abandoned, the group’s sound follows the beat of its own drum both literally and figuratively, frequently bringing to mind some of the greatest entities in the history of the genre. Their guitar parts are studded with texture but sleekly appointed with an EQ that doesn’t over-exploit the distortion. The bass is bulging, but never so much so that we lose sight of its intricate arrangement and the interactions it shares with the drums. From a percussion-lovers point of view, tracks like Kings County’s new single “All That I Want” present a flood of beats that are as important to the integrity of the composition as any of the melodic components are, with the groove meeting the flowing poetry of the lead singer in often perfect unison. “All That I Want” is breaking down plenty of mainstream doors for the group this January, and whether we’re taking in its music video or just the single by itself, we feel every bit of muscle that the band wanted us to.

APPLE MUSIC: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/kings-county/1474035319

The mechanics of the chorus in this track aren’t that different from what we would hear in a pop song, only they come to us filtered through a heavy metal-minded framework unutilized by many of today’s most revered rock bands. Kings County wants us to ascend with them up the latter of an organic harmony in the hook before ripping away our footing and allowing for us to tumble into the groove alongside the drums, creating a lot of additional tension on the backend of what would otherwise be described as a highly cathartic chorus. It’s 80’s-esque but not so removed from the contemporary artistry of underground hard rock that we feel like we’re listening to a cover band, and for a group like Kings County, that’s as important as solidifying a lyrical narrative is (if not a lot more in instances like “All That I Want.”

Kings County are living up to the buzz and then some in their first album and its cornerstone single, and though they’re not getting as much love from the mainstream media as they are the indie press, I don’t think they care all that much. They don’t cross me as a band immersed in the politics of ego, and if they are, they’re doing a great job of setting all of that aside for the sake of their craft in “All That I Want” and the other eight songs included on the Kings County LP. Their sophomore album will tell us a lot more about their longevity and staying power as a group, but until that record arrives, this track is enough for me to stay tuned to this band’s dispatches as a studio act. Florida has produced some incredible rock music in the past, and this crew may well be its most recent export of supreme value.

Kim Muncie

Ready, Steady, Die! “Woebetide”

Woebetide, the new effort from Ready, Steady, Die! is glorious in how it captures listeners’ attention. Beautiful vocals play at the front of the track while the instrumentation gradually reaches a creschendo. Breaking over the song like a weave, the synths and guitars push the aforementioned vocals into a higher plateau. Working towards the same goals, these distinct elements combine into a perfectly-polished piece of drama. The track’s final minute opens up into pure chaos before collapsing into a one-two of organic-feeling strings and industrial-typed noise. A four-minute composition has never been so engrossing.

Ready, Steady, Die! “Woebetide” 

Lila Blue “Half of It”

On Half Of It, Lila Blue is able to call back to the days of performers like Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Strong vocals are matched through confident pianos. While there is a passing nod to the pop of the 1960s and 1970s, a look forward to the work of Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco will draw fans in by the barrelful. Fans will be on the edges of their seats with the narrative that is established on Half Of It. For those looking at the aggregate, the usage of quieter sections during the second half showcases a masterstroke by Blue.

Lila Blue “Half of It” / Domain /

A Permanent Shadow – Radical Change

On Radical Change, A Permanent Shadow is able to blend together new wave and 1980s ska styles into something bold and refreshing. Assertive vocals hand off the reins to Flock of Seagulls-inspired guitar work and luxurious synths. Most stunning of this composition has to be the masterful use of tempo; the slower section in the song’s middle allows for A Permanent Shadow to gradually build things back up into a robust clip. With hints of Blondie and Television that can be heard at the song’s periphery, the band is able to tattoo a melody deep into the minds and hearts of listeners.

A Permanent Shadow – Radical Change / Domain / Facebook /

Ruark Inman releases When You Coming Home

Gusty grooves adorn the string balladry of “Never Apart.” Discordant minor-key harmonies make merry with a happy-go-lucky swing beat in “Never Miss.” Ruark seduce us with a glowing melody in “Naturally,” the staggering “Sick of It,” “Time Wouldn’t Waste Away” and the title track of their new album When You Coming Home with as much ease as they do when provoking thoughts unique to every listener in a contemplative “Sweet Senseless World,” exotic “Dry October Noon,” smothering “Jack of all Trades” and surreal, J Mascis-like “In His Hands,” and while theirs isn’t the only fascinating new folk record hitting shelves this January, I personally think it’s one of the more important on the American side of the Atlantic. When You Coming Home is an LP that challenges us to connect with components of any given track that other artists would just as soon have us ignore, mostly for fear of overexposure, and though I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an incredibly involved listen from start to finish, it’s one I would recommend enjoying this year regardless of the listener’s interest in the genre.

SPOTIFY: https://open.spotify.com/album/6oi4bSAL2lPLtCq7BDhtmB

Lyrics are frequently enigmatic but not self-absorbed in unsolvable riddles in Ruark’s rookie album, with some songs like “Never Apart,” “Sweet Senseless World” and “Naturally” capturing the slightly psychedelic nature of the poetry better than the other tracks do. Virtuosity doesn’t have much – if any – of a role to play in the big picture here, but when you’re experimenting with the harmonies that we find so plentifully in “Jack of all Trades” and “Time Wouldn’t Waste Away,” you don’t need a lot of extra pomp and polish to make a big impact on the audience. There’s a lot of natural texture to the strings and other elements in the band that were left untouched by the meticulous hand behind the soundboard, and even in the mix’s most calculated of moments, we’re never feeling as though we’re being overwhelmed with a lot of unneeded bells and whistles. We’re forced to draw our own conclusions from the music and lyrics in these songs, which isn’t something that can be said about the dreadfully mundane content you’ll hear on three out of four FM stations nowadays.

If When You Coming Home is a decent preview of what’s to come next for this emerging band of deeply talented players, Ruark Inman’s eponymous collective is going to be doing some big things in the 2020s that will leave scores of their closest rivals in and outside of the underground green with envy. There’s definitely a special energy to the music that they’re stirring up together in this first record, and while I think they’ve got a long way to go in terms of rounding out their sound and maturing the lyrical edge they’ve got to be all it can be, songs like “Dry October Noon” and the title track in When You Coming Home present us with one heck of a good start. I’ll be keeping them on my radar through the next couple of years, and I’d tell other alternative aficionados to consider doing the same.

Kim Muncie

Ryan Black – Wake Me Up

During Wake Me Up, Ryan Black is able to call back to the alt-rock of the 1990s. With nods to the Goo Goo Dolls and The Wallflowers, Black will interest listeners; a fuzzy guitar lays bold strokes down while the on-point drumming keeps the composition moving at a solid pace. Ryan’s voice is special here in that it tells an emotion-packed narrative while blending in well with the guitar lines. There’s an organicness to Wake Me Up that represents the perfect counterpoint to the distortion-heavy front side of the song. Wake Me Up’s melodies will stick with listeners long after the track ceases to play.

Ryan Black – Wake Me Up / ReverbNation /