Cover songs can be a tricky art, especially when it comes to making them into great cover songs. For example, Hendrix did it with Dylan’s “Watchtower”, Jeff Buckley spiritually redefined Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, while Johnny Cash took Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and made the track’s original pain sink even deeper into the flesh. Often it seems like the best way to make someone else’s song your own comes down to finding a whole new way to interpret how it makes you feel, and how that in turn influences the listener.
Lincoln, Nebraska-born singer-songwriter Karen Choi is one of the most current artists I’ve heard truly accomplish this creativity. She recently took on a new spin of the song “Boys Don’t Cry” by English rock group The Cure, and in my mind has delivered a beautifully definitive version. While the original certainly has its merits as a classic Brit-rock bop, Choi and her band strip it down and rebuild “Boys” as a Nashville pedal steel-shimmered, slow-danced ode to the Midwest red rust in the vein of Kacey Musgraves or Emmylou Harris.
In fact, I think this allows Choi’s take on “Boys” to have more of an emotional veneer than the original allows for. While Cure frontman Robert Smith sings it with tears neatly tucked behind his sleeve inside an 80’s rock melody, Choi slows down the tempo to show all her feelings front and center. If this homage to “Boys” is a breakup, all the dirty laundry is coming out and, if I know a good country/folk song, those metaphorical clothes are going right out on the front lawn.
It’s a straight-up take on the track, and shows even if you traditionally think of a song as one way, like a prism its actually much more about the angle of how you view it. Lucky for us as listeners, Karen Choi has provided a perspective that’s absolutely bursting with rainbows of light.
East Palestine, Ohio-based band Third Class has explored a kitchen sink’s worth of twisting, turning, transforming sounds and melodic adventures since their initial formation in 1999, led by frontman Lee Boyle. We’ve talked at length about a few of those prior sonic trips here on OTBEOTB, but I think Third Class’ latest release Haunted Until The Very End might just be a ticket to listen to the best work the trio has done to date.
The LP’s title certainly feels like an apt one, as plaintive organ fills, darting guitars, moments of churning, sludgy production and darker lyricisms are just some of the elements that feel right at home exploring a cemetery on Halloween night, or the darker side of the soul. Ouija board sold separately. And while there are lighter moments (like the airy “Call Me Anytime”, guitar-centric “Happiness Is My Favorite Thing”, and the quiet introspection of “I Own Everything”), the songs feel like the musings of a person reliving a life flashing before their eyes just before the trip to their final destination arrives. Or a spirit as yet unaware that the existence it once knew has already begun to disappear into that mysterious, never-ending voiceless void between the reality of awareness and the drift of permanent sleep.
However, not every moment of Haunted is as deathly serious-minded as implied (no pun intended). The band does take a few pleasantly spacey sci-fi steps in their concept with the song “Holy Alien”, as well as the outer planet radio static rock of the title track. The concoction of the entire LP ultimately settles down right at home in the Third Class catalogue, as Boyle and crew have long been able to expertly weave together songwriting/arrangements that are as much sincere as they can be endearingly tongue-in-cheek or experimental.
Those touches certainly lighten the mood of this sonic journey, though the nagging ominous feeling of exploring the veil between life and the unknown plane we feel as “the Great Beyond” still remains. Look no further than album opener “Watch Our Souls”, which opens on imagery evoking Sunday church service before a burial. I unfocus my ears a bit and almost immediately find myself in the crowd of black-garbed funeral mourners paying last respects, just before a Band of Horses-esque breakdown hints at something more spiritually ethereal in the room; that the dead can’t rest without a few more stories.
Altogether, the portrait of Haunted may seem a tad Dali-esque at times, but the heart at its center is undeniable beneath the acrylic layers.
Check out the new album below and follow the band across social media channels!
When the mood hits just right, blues music has an almost drug-like power of intoxicating promise and persuasion deep within the storytelling of its sandpaper hollowed bones. Take Anne Bennett’s dark, rumbling new song “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me” for instance, which kicks off with an entrancing pattern of assertively arpeggioed acoustic guitar notes. The resulting melody feels like slow surrounding serpentine menace; beautifully engrossing to the eye until it’s too late to see the coils encircling your throat for an unfriendly final squeeze.
That thunder-streaked, ominous fog is the perfect place setting for the backwoods murder balladry of “Hell”, which feels a bit like the love child of Alison Mosshart and Jack White’s Dead Weather side project, or White’s Raconteurs work (think “Carolina Drama”). It’s the perfect vibe as we get close to Halloween to imagine Bennett’s protagonist suffering a grim and gruesome demise on a dark, stormy night…. only to rise again, pulled back by the pursuit of revenge so fiery, swift and terrible even Lucifer himself can only stand back and watch with awe and admiration.
In fact, as the rhythm of the song rises with swirling shades of harmonica, simmering electric guitar heat and chains in the percussion, I suddenly visualize that trademark hand from any horror movie rising from the freshly overturned dirt and dust. Stirred on by the trauma of those sins committed in the deep dark muddy, Bennett breaks free of those chains, her croon as equally unleashed as the ultimate promise of retribution, retaliation and brutal vengeance.
I can’t begin to describe my sheer enjoyment when it comes to the atmosphere of “Hell Couldn’t Keep Me”. Half of the blues is just that, conveying… real blues and making the listener believe that truth. Take one guitar riff, add a pinch of “I woke up this morning”, but you gotta feel it somewhere down deep in your blood and soul. Lucky for us blood and soul is just the passion Bennett pours into this energizing blitz of a track.
Oh, Brandi Carlile. We’re here to discuss her new country/folk rock album “In These Silent Days”, and opening track “Right on Time” just started… it makes me incapable of words outside of Brandi, WOW Brandi this level of power is so special. Carlile has musically graduated by the length of planets compared to the young singer-songwriter trying to break out of her birthplace in Ravendale, Washington.
Not that it took her long to rise, especially with musical compatriots (and guitarist twins) Tim and Phil Hanseroth acting as the heart of Carlile’s backing band. Accolades from the recording booth to the stage soon followed. The bond between the three emerges quickly on other ITSD standouts like “Broken Horses”, Stay Gentle”, “Mama Werewolf” and “This Time Tomorrow”, as powerful harmonies amongst the trio function with the precision of a surgeon’s blade. Even Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in their prime would have trouble making voices sound that clean, crisp and pure; brim-filled with fret-worn emotional storms.
Carlile still has the same Seattle rocker instinct that made the shriek of her voice so filled with intrigue in her 2005 breakout “The Story”, but in the 15 years since she’s taken that power and refined it with both time and experience. As she recently proved during a live gig at The Gorge she’s still as capable of keeping pace with members of Soundgarden singing their hits, but can also slow to a crawl in the next moment for a Joni Mitchell croon on “In These Silent Days” track “When You’re Wrong”.
Since hearing Joni’s “Blue” album with her songbird-like melodies, I’ve felt as though I was witness to something I’d never hear again the same way. But if anyone gets close it’s Brandi Carlile. Just put on the closer of ITSD “Throwing Good After Bad” and that tone comes through loud and clear like gems we thought gone long ago.
I think Carlile hit a definable height with her prior album “By The Way I Forgive You”, and has managed to continue that type of pace here with “Silent Days”. Rightly the praise continues to logjam for her as a result, and in my mind it couldn’t happen to a better person. Especially a musician working this hard not to just get better, but to redefine the art form as we know it.
Check out Brandi and the Hanseroth twins below slaying the SNL stage last night for some added audio magic!
There’s a certain majesty in the many stained-glass hues of an untapped night sky. Constellations and the stars we find as familiar friends dot the territory like a box of overspilled paints coursing down a sidewalk. But if anything it all feels like department store blinds concealing our view of something much more than just a backyard to a quiet neighbor’s house down the street. And the deeper delved, the further the mystery goes… that infinite realm holds so much open space (no pun intended) where many stories can begin to take root within the path of the orbit.
It’s in those cascading waves where we find Jude Shuma’s new trippy audio/visual hybrid project Suzy Space Cadet. The record itself is a hay fever psychedelic, ricocheting mood of thick percussive bridgework, pacing bass/synthesizer lines, and lockjawed guitar fuzz to emulate and characterize the main character Suzy’s descending direction. David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the iconic Major Tom come to mind in Suzy’s tale, though more if ”Oddity” became a short film given time to have access to a relatable emotional center and background.
The visual/comic book side of “Suzy” as well as Shuma’s occasional unsteady lyrical narrator fill in the gaps between the sonic instrumental moods due to their ties together, creating a frustrated feeling of elation that becomes uncertainty, fear, and a loss of everything familiar through the eyes of our space-bound narrator hurtling through the endless void. The drifting arc of this narrative path leads to the question of how far do you spread your eager wild wings without fear of becoming Icarus, a casualty for flying too close to a sun at the edge of the universe.
Moreover, we can easily extend that warning to all humanity itself. In my prior post we discussed musician Andrew Thomases and his climate fears on new single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”. But there’s also the likes of Bob Dylan’s 1983 Infidels track “License To Kill”, in which Dylan laments humanity’s violence and that man’s thirst for colonization included our first step that ever touched the moon.
Humanity has a relationship as raggedly raw as Shuma’s guitarwork when it comes to the realm of space, especially as Earth’s climate issues spark debate of our future trying to survive on other planets. There’s still so much we don’t know, plus the thought that we as a society may only act as a blight to any other place we choose to inhabit. As much as Shuma’s “Suzy” project is meant as light, slightly substance-enhanced fun, it also raises questions as numerous as each of the stars above us.
Get the full immersive experience of Shuma’s latest project below!Visual media features illustrations from German artist Denise.
In today’s fiery think-piece I have for you all, we’re going to explore what I’d describe as my Festivus moment from the TV show Seinfeld. Its currently the Airing of Grievances part of the episode, and as the late great actor on the program Jerry Stiller would say, I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!
Specifically, you’re going to hear about my grievances with country-folk label Bloodshot Records, as well as what digital streaming services are doing to harm the only reason they have money in the first place! Remember that point specifically: the ONLY REASON these companies even exist.
But first up, batter up Bloodshot. There are several publications readers interested should research about this topic, as multiple writers have done some excellent reporting on the heavily problematic, years-long issues with this label. I myself had been drawn back into the organization’s orbit following 2019 allegations of inappropriate behavior leveled at the partner of Bloodshot co-owner Nan Warshaw (who later resigned). But, I hadn’t become aware of shady financial impropriety until Bloodshot co-owner Rob Miller recently departed his post as well.
I can’t pretend to say I’m a fly on the wall inside the label’s operations knowing what goes on, but leaving yourself allegedly thousands of dollars in debt to your unpaid artists who have been dealt a highly-uncertain future through your own sketchy actions is wildly questionable behavior. Leaving those creators in the dark about when or how they might get their master recordings back if the shit hits the fan might be even worse, especially when those in charge start to go and jump ship. And you know why that is?
Because in music, so much remains cyclical. Pick an era and odds are you can fit these same scenarios into some other past creator’s nightmare. I love music don’t get me wrong, but the business is a hellscape that can deny those in its path money, opportunity, and property of their own art for generations no matter how good, “big” or influential they might happen to be. Even those few hypotheticals are just the tip of the iceberg; I know we probably all have our own favorite infuriating “musician getting screwed over” story. The nature of the system never seems to improve for the better.
The overarching point is this: Bloodshot Records, pay your fucking artists who helped you even get a seat at the table of notoriety. Give them the rights and publishing to their music they well-deserve. This week the label was acquired by Exceleration Music, a collective put together by various industry notables. We can only hope that the move means deeply overdue compensation is coming for those that have earned it. Singer-songwriter Cory Branan comes to mind especially (who was quoted as allegedly being owed $10,000 by Bloodshot).
On that note, lets jump over to my complaint for digital streamers Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora. You can read more details here, but suffice to say the three biggest giants on that market would like to propose giving the artists whose work they constantly use an even lower cut of the money generated off their own songs through each stream. Do these decision-makers think we can’t read or understand what these actions mean? It’s like so many other industries in the free market economy, how much more can you push down the smallest person on the totem pole until they push back because they’ve got nothing left to give to you and your greed?
I’ve known and spoken with countless musicians who’ve continuously derided the streaming system as a complete joke that generated them fractions of pennies on the dollar. It reminds me of trying to monetize old Youtube videos I made that qualified for the status, only to eventually realize the site’e monetary program with Google was exclusively designed toward the benefit of a fortunate few. It’s great if you wind up becoming one, but unless the stars are aligned for you odds are video and/or streaming services won’t provide much more than joke checks worth roughly half the paper they’re printed on.
And yet, here we are with these belt-tightened proposals sitting before the US Copyright Royalty Board trying to create an even more skewed deal for 2023-2027. I’m just one lowly writer and I don’t profess to quitting my day job anytime soon, but as a hypothetical musician if I could avoid digital streaming I’d walk over broken glass to do it. Having an online outlet like Bandcamp for those to BUY your work outright is one (problematic) thing, but streamers like Spotify start to feel more like the plain, two-bit prize at the bottom of a Crackerjack box by the day. Like pornographers ready to rob exposure in exchange for a few suspiciously wet dollars while they sit there slicked back in gold Gucci slides.
But that all-seeing hand with its fee-seeking fingers out causes pain in both digital streaming as well as physical releases, where artists often get saddled for the costs to make merchandise, vinyl and CD’s. Inevitably, everyone in the chain wants a piece of the profits, and the pie never equitably spreads out. It’s hard to say when or even if that wobbling table will ever be fixed; there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done.
I wish I could wrap up this rant with a neat, bow-wrapped solution for this entire unwinding set of dilemmas. Unfortunately, its not made for fixing in a single blog post. Its made for plenty of grievances as I wished to demonstrate here, but with any luck over time we’ll also see bigger pushes in the right direction leading to greater industry independence.
Until then, I’ve got my eye on you Bloodshot, Amazon, Pandora and Spotify! We need solutions!
I really enjoy the approach musician Andrew Thomases is using to make his appeal for saving the Earth on new single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”. To quote the singer-songwriter:
“Throughout my life, I have always been concerned about climate change and the impact humans have on the planet. What will the environment look like in a few generations? Will our grandkids be able to enjoy it like we do? I decided to write a song about it, and I write it in the voice of the environment. “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” is a warning and a call to action, as we must act quickly to preserve what have for future generations. Otherwise, they may not even know what they are missing.”
Thomases buoys this concept in on the back of jangly, Pavement-style power chord waves bearing an off-center mellowed honesty that holds no weight back in the choogling punch of its lyrical intents. And while some might lead that “warning” with a fueled, angry venom upon their lips, Thomases has a straight-up approach similar to the likes of They Might Be Giants, John K Samson, a rolled smooth Mark Lanegan or the Crash Test Dummies. Words aren’t a poetically overcooked word mince because at the end of the day the stakes and consequences of the subjects are real not whimsical license, and that’s the type of urgent emotion in play here. It’s not a time for games. No matter how you communicate, it’s overdue to make the important matters heard.
That perspective is echoed and illustrated even more deeply in the official lyric video for “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?”. Issues like severe deforestation, pollution, and rising ocean waters get the top billing as Thomases declares a simple admonishment from the Earth to its people, will you be sentimental when all you knew disappears? It seems like such an obvious question, but as the highest offices/powers in the land go longer and longer willfully without an answer, endgame possibilities start to feel more and more prominent and possible in the months and years ahead.
Music with a message is not only essential for highlighting these matters, but in how it’s meant to stay with the listener once the track has ended. To later ask, how do you see this concern now; did it change your perspective or make you dig your heels down further? In a world with a still-ongoing pandemic the dividing lines between us become easier and easier to discern this way, especially on matters of masks, vaccines, and overall regulations.
But the climate of our world exists outside such black and white perspectives. Good or bad results based on our actions are coming whether we like it or not, and as Thomases points out we’re beyond past needing to start paying attention.
Be sure to check out Thomases and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” across social media and on digital music platforms!
I was inspired to put on Mac Miller’s Circles album today after listening to the re-release of his heralded mixtape Faces (out on physical and digital formats now). Circles came out in a certain life period for me pre-pandemic that was a mixed bag where I needed just what that record was saying. I had chosen to leave media and was doing a different job I was having a tough road accomplishing at the time, there were many dark fall and winter days, and real or perceived I felt very isolated, aimless and out of place in my world.
Often on lunch breaks I’d just go to my car alone and quietly listen to Mac. Not drumming for sympathy, just how I preferred the menu when the pressure was off as a way to decompress. The selection was usually Circles or the equally brilliant Swimming (with some Faces and The Divine Feminine in between). Despite how real and raw that material is, it also had its comforts; often in being so easily relatable through the experience and resilience of human rising and failing. Getting up off the mat even after confessing to the mortal wound lying within one simple phrase: I’m not doing well.
Miller sadly lost his fight through the darkness, but the light of what he left behind still signals to anyone struggling you aren’t alone dealing in it. Music is (or should always be) an all-inclusive playground to those hurting in ways we can and can’t identify. Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon trilogy and Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven LP also speak bluntly on the same pains, and those works are just a drop in the bucket of creators who bare such vulnerabilities. Personally, I hope each beneficial note can aid in the spread of more honest conversations on subjects like mental health and being secure in sharing basic emotions with meaningful people in your life.
Normally OTBEOTB is a blog I keep pretty on the narrow reviewing new/indie music, but I’d also like to mix in more of my honest introspection on the overall art as well.
I reminisce on these moments with Mac as I’m set to be fully healthy and pain free from wrist issues for the first time in years, and with that is coming major change. I’m not exactly sure what yet, but the great thing with Mac, Cudi and every artist that matters on this level… in the digital age they’re never far from me in being any needed support. And in that, I feel some optimism. Despite the many young artists like Mac who should still be with us.
After all, great music expressing you… can make all the difference of a world’s weight.
I recently had full fusion surgery on my right wrist in order to alleviate the consequences resulting from late stage Keinbock’s Disease. The procedure requires dealing with a lengthy recovery time and a slow comeback to semi-normal function, but after going through significant pain and strength issues for years (even while typing) the trade has thus far been a very important one. Plus, it’s a move that finally promises a real and lasting solution to a career-hobbling crutch.
Healing is still ongoing, but I’ve finally gotten to the stage where like a cigarette at the end of a long day I can slowly stub out some words again. The effort to do so takes a bit longer than it normally would, but I found too many music-related words swinging through my brain like fruit on the vine to simply be left unused to go rotten.
So let’s get started with New York City bar-spitter Marlon Craft. The 28-year old Hells Kitchen rapper has been a creative madman in a career still going as young as it is strong. Last time we joined Craft he’d locked forces with producer Yusei on the superb Space EP; today we find his vivid verbal vitriol as the headlining star behind new release HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE Vol. 1.
The mixtape is less standard LP format and more a set of fast-shifting vignettes putting Craft’s sheer level of profound verbal bars in even sharper scope, especially with beats and sampling that frame Craft’s worldview rather than overwhelm it. Tracks like “Lost Faith”, “The Loop”, “Bluffin”, “All We Got” and “Halal” hit with the consistent laser-like efficiency of Steph Curry snipershot threes; a perfect fit alongside HOMECOURT’s SLAM Magazine-basketball alluding cover.
No lyrical topic’s safe here either as Craft puts everything from mental health to the oligarchs in his firing squad line. And in this day and age, it’s become more important than ever to find figures like Craft willing to scream the truths behind the indiscretions, illusions and inequalities of our existence. Too often there are too many willing to be silent or have hushed conversations on those dangers and fears in the hope that will be enough to keep the hungry wolves from breaking down their door.
But life isn’t the power of pretend, purple dinosaurs and pretty faeries. It’s a real, raw experience that deserves equal scrutiny whether its kind, cruel, or a percentage in between somewhere. We must never be afraid to use our voices, and lucky for us Marlon Craft made a trade deadline swap for more full-throated defiant shouts here on HOMECOURT.
Be sure to check out Marlon’s new album and plenty of his other material on everything social media, streaming sites, digital downloads, the works!
Summertime in 2021 has felt more than a bit abbreviated, especially with the weight of an unprecedented pandemic at our backs. Now we’re in September and it’s already become easier to see the day’s light ending earlier on as the season begins to mull its inevitable change.
With that gradual alteration of perspective moods begin to sway as well, and not always for the greener side of the fence. I’ve been in and out of that crevasse many times, but regardless of the moment music has always been a salve for those invisible wounds. Especially when I’ve felt the words and the emotions were speaking directly to my state of mind.
I’ve felt that connection with Andrew Ryan’s new, very appropriately-titled single “Autumn Rain”, which comes out on all things digital today. The song vibes perfectly with a feeling of an upbeat smile hiding deeper, lightning-laced storm clouds of weary discontent beneath the airy surface. The track walks a similar path to “Somewhere Only We Know” from Scottish rockers Keane or prime Oasis, and the contrast pays off with great satisfaction.
Ryan’s impeccable knack for mixing and production also sticks out here as it did with his prior single “Never Let Me Know”. The musician is clearly a drummer at heart as every skillful note falls into place as evenly as Tetris tiles, and the layers bear repeat listening to avoid missing the small details (like the piano notes) brought out especially well through headphones.
As I noted the last time I discussed Ryan’s music, “Autumn Rain” fits like instruments to the background of cinema when I imagine the old days of going to hole-in-the-wall rock show venues. We’ll be able to go back regularly (hopefully) someday, but in the meantime its fun to imagine what might be, soon.
In the meanwhile, check out “Autumn Rain” below, and for more on Andrew Ryan’s work be sure to follow his presence across social media!
Andrew Ryan- acoustic guitar, keys, bass guitar, synth, production, and mixing. Will Walden- electric guitar (StaG), Eric Slick- drums (Dr. Dog). Mastered by Jamie Sego at Portside Sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.