Sunday, May 25, 2014

Week 20

Death Letter Jubilee by The Delta Saints

I don't know another way to say this besides, well, this one is just dirty.

The Delta Saints are a blues/folk rock outfit from Nashville who are making some pretty awesome "bourbon-soaked bayou rock," (to quote them).

Modern blues rock albums are a dime a dozen these days. That's not to say they aren't good, but the sheer number of "blues" artists is pretty astounding. Luckily The Delta Saints have given us something that sticks out. 

The album begins with a Zac Brown meets Stevie Ray tune called "Liar." Its upbeat feel disguises the accusing nature of its content in a feel-good yet edgy dress that is pretty easy to jam to. Solid entry.

Next up is "Chicago." Not a huge fan of this one. It's not that I don't like it, but rather it's just not one of my favorites. If you've ever heard Joe Bonamassa's "High Water Everywhere," then you've got the idea. 

The title track comes in third and doesn't disappoint. This one has some tasty second-line drumming with some pretty cool harmonica licks thrown in. Haven't seen em live, but I can't imagine that this is NOT one of the crowd's favorites. There's more energy here than a family pack of Red Bull!

"Jezebel" follows "Death Letter" and the intro had me intrigued with the first kick. All I gotta say about this one is if you're name is Jezebel, I hope you have a good nickname... 

Next three songs in two words each:
"Boogie" - dance tune
"Out to Sea" - meh ballad
"Sing to Me" - drum breakdown

My favorite tune is the next one, entitled "Drink It Slow." This band may do the blues rock thing, but this one has funk written all over it. Ben Azzi is laying down a supa-funky drum track complete with Stanton Moore-esque cowbell. Once again the combo of groovy bass, edgy effected guitar, and properly proportioned harmonica make this one a standout. 

"From the Dirt" follows "Drink" with its straight-ahead rock feel. This one is the poor man's anthem. Just like all great blues songs, this one nails the experience of the blue-collar man - from work to relationships, it's all there. I can dig it. 

Next up are two songs about water. Kind of. First is "The Devil's Creek." While the energy is amped again, complete with some pretty thick instrumentation, this one certainly has a warning to deliver. This one sounds a lot like it was written write after hearing a North Mississippi Allstars concert. Lots of repetition and a cool accel. to boot! "River" follows and while "Creek" was foreboding and upbeat, this one is much more plodding in tempo yet more gospel-ly in feel and sound. If they ever made a sequel to Oh Brother Where Art Thou, this would be perfect.

Penultimate track is "Old Man." After multiple listens, I'm still not sure what to think of this one. Maybe it's the haunting nature of this tune or the layered crescendo of hi hat and electric guitar or the consistent hum in my tube headphone amp, but I can't not listen to it! Much like a tractor beam, this one just sucks you in.

The album ends with a tune called "Jericho." Bonamassa would give this one his blessing. If Jack Daniels Single Barrel had a song, this would be it. This one also has a little New Orleans style surprise for you at the end, so be sure to check it out!

All in all, this is a solid first full-length release from a bunch of guys who went from college jam band to a serious blues rock outfit basically overnight. Give 'em a listen.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

New Music You May Not Have Heard...

No review this week people. Sorry, feeling a little under the weather. So instead here are some vids to get you started on some groups that aren't exactly mainstream. 

Lake Street Dive

Jesse Fischer and Soul Cycle

Bronze Radio Return

RA the Rugged Man

Chet Faker

Dirty Loops

Get some variety in yo life!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Week 18

Ray Sings, Basie Swings by Ray Charles and The Count Basie Orchestra

This one is smokin'!

I'm pretty sure it goes without explaining, but putting together the master of soul and one of the greatest swing bands ever was definitely a good idea. This one is interesting because it takes live vocal recordings of Ray from the '70s and mixes them with newly-recorded instrumentals by the Count Basie Orchestra. You'd never know if I didn't tell you!

From the soft intimate intro in "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" to the track's explosive horn stabs and tasty organ comping, this one is a great start to the album. I've listened to this record a lot, and its one of a handful on which I always listen to the opening track. Just beautifully produced.

Next up is "Let the Good Times Roll." Another feel good number with some killer organ by one Joey DeFrancesco. Down home shuffle that really shows off what both Ray and the CBO can do.

Third on the album is a Gershwin tune called "How Long Has This Been Going On?" Sexy, groovy, hauntingly bluesy. Like most Gershwin compositions, this one is beautiful in both it's songwriting and melody. The CBO really shows off its versatility here. Definitely one that deserves multiple listenings.

Next up is "Every Saturday Night." Aww yeah, bringing the funk! Just check it out yourself.

"Busted" gets us back to some old school swing/blues. This one is probably more associated with Johnny Cash, but Ray certainly does it justice as well. Definitely a song for a blue collar scholar. 

"Crying Time" is next and this one takes a few listenings. It's definitely got the miserable, sympathetic ballad thing going for it - especially after The Raelettes lay down the backup vocals. I guess at first I just didn't get into it, but with a nice quiet room, a glass of something that burns on the way down, and some nice headphones, this one is actually pretty special. 

Number seven on this album is "I Can't Stop Loving You." This one is another personal favorite. It's got an old school Jackie Wilson vibe that makes me wish I'd been born earlier in the century to hear something like this performed live. The Raelettes sound great on vocals and the pocket's so deep, you'll need a flashlight to find your way out!

Following "I Can't Stop" is "Come Live with Me." This one and "Crying Time" have the same vibe, albeit slightly different messages. Just don't listen to 'em back to back unless you want to tear up...

"Feel So Bad" is next. This one has an older vocal track - you can hear the artifacts from the vocal recording while the instrumental is clean. Still great. Upbeat blues that will have you head-bobbing in no time. 

"Long and Winding Road" follows "Feel So Bad" and it's just killer. I had no idea that Ray sang this one and I'm very glad he did. I'm very reminded of "Georgia" thanks to the plodding tempo and tasty horn voicings. It's enough like the original to easy my wariness of a cover but as per usual, the soul that Ray brings can't be denied and frankly, it's just gorgeous.

Penultimate track: "Look What They've Done to My Song." Three words: Shake ya tailfeather. 

And you know they couldn't have attempted an album like this without doing "Georgia on My Mind." And did it they did. Definitely true to form with this one. Once again The Raelettes make a great contribution, as do the oh-so-sensitive horn players and some great piano licks courtesy of both Ray and CBO's Tony Suggs. This version never gets to a earth-shattering climax like some I've heard, but it's still great. Just a very straight-up version that any Ray fan will appreciate. 

For Ray Charles fans and not, this is certainly an album that most will find something they like. Great playing from the Basie Orchestra and the mixing done to make the decade-old vocal recordings blend with the newly recorded instrumentals is just excellent. Check it out please!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Week 17

Continuum by John Mayer

Say what you will about John Mayer and his off-stage escapades. The man is a very talented musician who's made plenty of great music. Besides, what famous musician hasn't had some sort of shady issues in his or her personal life?

I'll tell you straight up, if I was stuck on a dessert island with a record player and a short stack of albums, Continuum would make the cut. This has been a favorite for a long time and it still isn't stale.

Everyone already knows "Waitin' on the World to Change." Still a favorite of mine after all these years. Yes it has some political undertones, but still a well-written song that deserves a listen.

This record more than any other John has done features a handful of songs that deal with love (or lack thereof) with a twist. When it comes to songwriting, Mayer does something that I think is pretty rare. Instead of writing about love in general, he paints it in a different shade each time he sings about it. Seems very poetic (I promise I'm not a teenage girl). "I Don't Trust Myself with Loving You," "Dreamin' with a Broken Heart," and "I'm Gonna Find Another You," certainly fall into that category. If you've never heard this album, you'll get what I mean even if you don't listen to 'em in succession (they don't come in order). Similar sound, similar delivery, and similar writing. 

Two of my favorites from this one are "Belief" and "In Repair." With regards to "Belief," the entire song is very fresh. Good playing, good harmony, and good subject material. This one continues with the borderline-apathetic vibe of "Waitin'" but I like it nonetheless. Check it out with a good pair of headphones. "In Repair" is another that's just cool. I think this one is largely under-appreciated. Some pretty introspective writing over a simple texture. What is creativity but the ability to take a complex idea and make it simple. Perfect example here.

Aside from the Mayer classics "Gravity" and "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" there's another standout on this one that also is pretty underplayed. He covers Hendrix' "Bold As Love" and frankly I think it's great. Sounds exactly like what I'd expect John Mayer covering a Hendrix tune would. He knows how much of an undertaking it is to try to replicate that song and doesn't mess with it. It's a great song from an incredible artist and other than a few liberties with guitar and drum licks, this one would make Jimi proud methinks.

So. If you've not heard Continuum, I highly recommend it. Since this album, Mayer has taken a detour from his blues-rock game with mixed results. This one definitely shows that John isn't all about writing cheesy love songs for the masses, but instead that he's interested in making quality music. Period. 

Week 16

Half the City by St. Paul and The Broken Bones

Well if there was any question, rest assured that Alabama still has some quality music to contribute to the world. 

St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a seven-piece soul outfit out of Birmingham. Now if you're unfamiliar, do me a solid: imagine Earth, Wind, and Fire. Horn players, drummer, bass and guitar, backup singers right? Lots of afros, funk, and sweat. St. Paul is on par except for one thing: all white guys.

Based on sound alone, you'd never know.

Paul Janeway (singer) has got more soul in his pinky than I do in my entire body. Obviously time travel does exist, because he sounds like he just flew in from soul's golden era. 

"I'm Torn Up" is the record's opener. No messing around here. Deep soulful lyrics that have a very Bill Withers-esque vibe, plenty of growling (think James Brown), and with some tasteful horn parts to boot. Nice to hear that the groups instrumentalists can lay it down too. 

Next is "Don't Mean a Thing." The horn players get to go in on this one, but honestly it's not my favorite. I just don't like the sound. To me it never decides on whether its a shuffling Texas blues soul-ballad or a horn-infused ska-rock-thing. I can't handle the indecision!

"Call Me" comes in as the records third track and it gives you what you want: uptempo soul with honesty and sincerity. This one has Aretha written all over it. From the address to a single love to the repetition in the shout chorus, this one would fit as easily on an LP as the soundtrack for Blues Brothers.

Next up is "Like a Mighty River." This is one of my favs. Dirty, unpolished, funky, soul. One of the best parts about this record is that is doesn't ooze modern, polished, pop. Granted I don't know the guys in the group personally, but the record sounds so honest. This song is no exception. I get the honesty in every trumpet stab, every cymbal crash, and every growl and moan. We talkin' 'bout love ya'll!

"That Glow" follows "Mighty River," and this one took me a while to get into. Similarly to "Don't Mean a Thing," this one almost didn't pick a sound for too long. We're back into swampy shuffle-land, but with a little more consistency. Favorite part about this song? Tambourine. Check it out.

"Broken Bones and Pocket Change" is the closest to Al Green we've gotten so far. Or maybe Bill Withers. Either one is great I suppose. Mellow instruments give Janeway plenty of space to do his thing until the second chorus. Love this tune. This is one where belting it in the car is a requirement - ya know, until you realize that you're not Paul Janeway and you can't do that... Still a great song that wraps up the downside of love in a fun package. A similar track to this one is "Grass is Greener." Both are worth multiple listens.

Track seven: "Sugar-Dyed." This is another one that would be perfect as a Jake and Elwood dance number. Even though the last tune was fun, it was still dark in content - "Sugar-Dyed" is a great contrast. Paul sings that "we can't stop what we got" and I agree. Don't you guys stop for one second!

Next up is the disc's title track. This one has a similar vibe to "Dixie Rothco" (second to last track), and both will have your head/neck/fingers/feet moving in no time. Has a very Gavin DeGraw thing in the beginning (think older Gavin, not the new poppy stuff). Some really tight playing by the instrumentalists in this one that gives the listener a chance to hear what these guys are capable of. Whether it's about Birmingham or not, you'll have to decide, but you can rest assured that this one does our city justice. 

I mentioned "Grass is Greener" already, so let's talk about "Let It Be So." This is the closest to a real ballad we get on this one. Tina Turner would be proud. Soulful crooning leading to some pretty delicious horn parts in the heavy sections make this feel like it's already a classic. 

Last tune from this outstanding record is "It's Midnight." At first listen, I could not believe they'd end the record on a mellow tune, but as per usual, a few extra listens cured my ill. Although this song clocks in under 3:00, there's plenty to hear. As much of a stretch as this may be, this one reminds me of John Mayer's "I'm Gonna Find Another You." Slow, pensive, and for whatever reason, I don't want it to end. 

Overall this record from SPBB is a hit. Top to bottom I'm not left wanting anything at all, really I feel like I got plenty more than I bargained for. Just a killer first full-length effort from a group I'm sure we'll be hearing from for a long time. Stand up Birmingham and check it out!