Third Class Gets Real On “Virginia” Double LP


Making a double album is a downright arduous task in modern music today. Lengthy epics from pioneering artists in rock, soul and so many other genres in the decades past have been replaced by one nagging fear:

The attention span of the modern audience. 

In an age where digital is still king while vinyl/physical media churns on in the shadows, the value of an album as a whole has been reduced to singles and sound bites in the modern audience’s ear. And sadly many artists have followed suit, releasing just enough quality for plenty of radio play and iTunes downloads while the material as a complete statement tends to suffer. 

This has worked so well in fact that you’ll often find once overly prolific musicians censoring themselves just to fit into the mold. And while I can understand that in some sense, I think it creates too much overthink and not enough bravery to just create.


Thankfully the lads in Third Class have disregarded this stereotype on their latest LP Virginia’s Playlist. The Ohio-based group has created an unashamedly honest patchwork quilt of subjects on this record, ranging from birth, death, childhood, love (and falling out), simply adorned poetry and the innocence of just experiencing what the world is all about once you move out past your front door. 

Accompanied by spare arrangements of piano, ramshackle electric/acoustic guitar, backing vocals, hand claps and ever-shifting ambiance, lead man Lee Boyle and co. take charge as the musical element in what feels like a many act play. At times on this one Boyle reminds me of Weird Al Yankovic when he appeared on the Ben Folds album Songs For Silverman. Capable of the comedic or what some might expect to immediately be lighthearted, when in fact he’s much much more. 

And much more is what’s needed when you feel so personally embedded into the concept of Virginia. It’s less of an album at times as much as a scrapbook of tapes, aforementioned poetry, personal statements and a woven tapestry of spoken word against song that creates more context than the music alone could ever do by itself. 


It almost feels voyeuristic to the listener in a way without pushing that envelope too far, yet is just as beautiful for all that it reveals. It makes me feel the memories being replayed as though I were there, while almost making me sad that I wasn’t able to truly live them. 

Say what you will about the YouTube/Facebook era of overexposure, I know I would have enjoyed recording on tapes for no other benefit than my own amusement. And there’s something about that type of nostalgia that rings more true than Keyboard Cat any day. 

In short, I give Third Class a lot of praise for this one. They weren’t afraid to make a double album. They weren’t afraid to make their statement regardless of what culture says is the “popular” way of doing it. 


They just made the most true sounding, human mix tape I’ve heard in a long time. That type of humanity could go a long way in a musical world much too hung up on the same dried out process of just earning a buck. 

Do what drives you. And make it as first class as Third Class does here. 

Stream Virginia’s Playlist now over on http://www.thirdclass.net, and make sure to follow the band on social media! 

Snider Emerges With Brilliant “Bulldog” Of A New Solo Album

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Todd Snider has always been a musician who simply seemed to let conventional labels slide off of him like oil to water. He is a folk singer yes, but he’s also been a rocker, a country crooner, a stoned out hippie jam band leader, and a storyteller not expecting to be around long so it’s time to party fast and party hard.

He’s a novelist, a comedian, a joker, a smoker, and a midnight toker. That last bit was just a Steve Miller Band lyric, but you see what I’m getting at here.

The point is, Snider has been around long enough to be able to call the shots his own way. Already this year (back in March) his jam band Hard Working Americans released the superb Rest In Chaos, an LP of nearly all original material. It saw the band evolving from a simple fun-loving cover group into a unit that not only SOUNDED tighter, but felt like it as well. It didn’t hurt that Snider brought along some of his best (and most openly vulnerable) songwriting too following a messy divorce and a lot of personal unrest swirling around in his own life.

Now: enter Eastside Bulldog. It’s classified as the first solo album for Snider in four years following 2012’s Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables, although technically the honors go to Elmo Buzz for this one. Buzz is the alter ego Snider concocted years before to play shows in Nashville when contractual obligations would have otherwise prevented it, while Eastside Bulldog is a band name/now album title that came from the school mascot Snider made up to represent his home of East Nashville.

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If Rest In Chaos was top notch blues/acid rock cut with a fair dosage of levity and wit, Eastside Bulldog is it’s sloppy drunk cousin after finishing a joint and a stack of rockabilly records. It’s Snider at his screwball finest as he and his band of Bulldogs plow through lyrics made up on the spot, all while trying to play in the style of recordings like “Louie Louie” and “Wooly Bully”.

On paper, it’s the type of arrangement that seems almost destined to be a highly uneven mess (or just an all out trainwreck). But this is Todd Snider we’re talking about, and I highly doubt there’s an artist more qualified to not only come up with such a scenario after being given free studio time, but to make it into something worth listening to.

And Bulldog more than delivers on that. With it’s blasts of saxophone, funky Jerry Lee Lewis pianos and party-like reckless abandon, the album is flat out one of the most entertaining pieces of music in 2016. Not because of it’s precision or a lengthy lyrical monologue on the human condition, but just because it’s a damn fun time wrapped into a turbo-sped 25 minutes of stoned out Buddy Holly-esque good time rock n roll.

Bulldog makes you feel like you’re right in the room with a group of people who are just clearly enjoying the hell out of playing music. And honestly, amidst all the Pitchfork reviews and critical album darlings that emerge in this era of music, it’s important to not to forget what makes it all so fun (and not so serious) in the first place.

So sit back, relax and crack open a cold one. It’s time to get down with “The Funky Tomato”, and Eastside Bulldog.

Grade: A

Standout Tracks: “Ways And Means”, “Enough Is Enough”, “37206”, “Come On Up”

Loveless Looks For “Real” On Latest LP

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I always appreciate new female voices in the world of country and rock music. Not because they’re a relatively uncommon staple, but more due to the fact music’s modern standard for talent takes something more to really cement to my ears. There are so many voices struggling to be heard and sold in this internet-heavy age, and it takes patience to sift through what the radio and the music press just won’t tell you about.

Luckily, I’ve been extremely fortunate to hear as well as make friends with some tremendously badass ladies in the industry who’ve not only redefined the bar…. they’ve set it high. And the latest to pole vault those expectations has been none other than young country rocker Lydia Loveless and her latest album Real.

Real is the 5th release for Loveless since 2010, which makes her feel like a well-tread veteran singer songwriter at this point in her career while still only being 26 years old. Despite her age though, the “veteran” label feels appropriate as Loveless is one of those talents who sounds a good few decades older just by the way she sings. It’s a rare pleasure to bear witness to, but worth every second as she makes you feel every mile she’s put on her vocal cords and into every lyric she’s written.

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Take the heartbreaking Real track “Out On Love” for instance. It’s a slow burning flame of a song that never gets above low heat in it’s arrangement, but roars with a terrible, wrenching vocal passion until it erupts in one last final cadence of cathartic release. Loveless channels her best Americana’d Gothic Stevie Nicks drawl here in a way the legendary Fleetwood Mac frontwoman could certainly appreciate, as she’s made tracks like “Rhiannon” timeless for much the same natural ability.

Though Loveless (much like Nicks) doesn’t just dwell in the arena of painful balladry. Real opening track “Same To You” is like putting Jewel and Gillian Welch through a country rock blender circa the Ryan Adams Whiskeytown era, mixing in thumping bass with a hearty hook, and hitting juice. While “Midwestern Guys” is a mixture of The Replacements, toe-tapping 90’s alt-rock, and a raw narrative on people from Loveless’s little town who weren’t lucky enough to make it out of a hectically wild youth.

The production style does hit heavier on the slick, pop side of the fence and is certainly more restrained than prior releases like Indestructible Machine. To me, that feels like both a good and bad thing. There are moments I feel like Real should let things fly a bit further, but it also brings a level of measured maturity that Machine didn’t quite possess with it’s Uncle Tupelo-esque country punk flying by the seat of it’s pants.

Regardless, Loveless excels in a big way here that’s certainly got my attention.

Keep an eye on this girl. She may have come a long way already, but something tells me her best is still yet to come.

Grade: B

Standout Tracks: “Out On Love”, “Longer”, “Same To You”, “Real”

Iron & Wine Goes Down Smooth And Sweet At The Smith

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Ahhh, another evening spent buried in the music at Geneva NY’s Smith Opera House. After my freshman encounter with the 120-year old historical theatre building back in 2011, the Smith has(dare I say it) started to feel like home returning just two weeks after seeing the stick of country-folk dynamite that was The Lone Bellow. This time around Geneva had the pleasure of hosting the masterfully versatile band Iron & Wine with opening act The Secret Sisters, which was a treat not only given their respective accolades but because it was an evening truly fit for feeling like you were out beneath the stars.

That little architectural slight-of-hand aside, the Smith Opera House once again proved it’s strength as an eclectic venue stop last Saturday night. Acoustics rang with an undeniable sheen out into the expanse of high ceilings, deep balconies and the rich smell of so many histories come and gone within walls like those. So beautifully sprung, yet so quickly evaporated before so many hungry eyes. Environment is everything as I see it, and a theatre like the Smith adds weight to every word, gravity to the melody, and beauty well-worn into the palm of each beat.

That steadying presence was put to good use as the evening led off with The Secret Sisters, AKA Alabama’s latest answer to those deceptively upbeat and charismatic singing duos first truly popularized in the 50’s and 60’s. Real-life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers brought a comfortably harmonized yet effusive blend of country, gospel, blues-rock and swampy Southern charm to their opening set. Backed by a full supporting cast, the two wove cheerily between lyrical heartaches, jailbreaks, murder ballads and an overall sense of optimism that was one bridge away from a shot of whiskey followed by a lithium chaser. All in all, quite a way to have 40 minutes pass through the mirror.

By comparison I’m not quite sure what Iron & Wine was supposed to live up to exactly, but as he has since the band’s inception in 2002, lead man Sam Beam makes up the length and breadth of his own expectations. Accompanied by a versatile backing of guitars, banjo, keyboards, accordion, harmonica and electric ukelele, Beam wove well beyond the origin of his lo-fi folk roots into soul, R&B, pop, jazz and a wealth of catalogue-brightening orchestration. Though often his best moments were still the quietest as the band took a break mid-set and Beam stood alone, capo in hand to field a bevy of(suddenly) enthusiastic song requests. And while he did stumble once or twice with older material, songs like “Such Great Heights” and “Naked As We Came” poured outward with a haunting bliss packed so neatly inside pretty guitar lines and Beam’s hushed and yearning vocals.

And although he seemed nervous at times digging through so many of his own songs, Beam was the composite free and easy storyteller both in banter and in lyricisms throughout the night. In a fraction of a moment he’d loosely tease or joke around about how “weird” this was going to get, and in the next he’d fixate the crowd within the capturing rhythms of “Boy With A Coin” and “one for the chair-dancers” with “Grace For Saints and Ramblers”. And while I would have much preferred a crowd that felt a BIT less content to move to the music from their seats, the mood was vibrant, lush, and fun to keep the toes actively in rhythm to.

So while I wasn’t exactly what you’d call an avid Iron & Wine listener going into last Saturday’s evening at the Smith Opera House, their headlining set alongside The Secret Sisters made for one of the top live events I’ve seen so far in 2014. The historical ambiance, casual atmosphere and mellowing sounds made for a night so pleasant that knowing all the words, was certainly no requirement.

 

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