I’d swear some of those dustier hills and valleys down South have a magic woven into their airs to bring forth such defining roots/rock music. Rising like monoliths out from the dirt. Past and present, those we watch thrive who carry the torch of sonic roots from creators moved on… the names big or small are often legendary.
We get a taste of that overall tapestry with New Orleans band Steele Creek and their brand new record A Long Way From Home. Hell, it’s less a taste and more a smooth-sipped whiskey that warms with charm down to the last drop. North Carolinian and frontman Phil Cramer leads the charge with gently haunting, echoing vocals reminiscent of The Head and The Heart or indie folk darlings The Avett Brothers scattered amongst the pines.
The tone is glad company down the path of weary tracks like “Florida” and “California”, the welcome trot of “Around The Bend”, as well as the folky strut walkdown of “I’ll Be There”. Long Way also brings to mind fine memories of one my favorite albums, Elvis Costello’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. Cramer is a strong songwriter equally willing to, like Costello, flesh out the stories in his melodies until each feels like it’s own living, breathing novel.
There’s nothing to be found that’s one dimensional on SC’s new record. Evocative illustration is joined by cascading waves of guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin and piano, creating a mental sense of visual sight as well as sound. Fog, crickets and the shift of wind whispers in the description of a morning dew if you will.
All told, A Long Way From Home feels like wind in the air optimism at the start of a year that really needs it. There’s just a certain uplifting mood that’s impossible to ignore between the lines here. Maybe thats just the feeling that comes with hearing something new that’s really good, but either way… this is good.
I often find in my current stage of life still entering my 30’s that time really does mash down the accelerator once you get to a certain age. And it wasn’t like I was one of those kids who badgered and begged adulthood to appear either. It just…. happens with a snap one day and you’re left wondering exactly where all those minutes went on the way to your current destination.
Entering the final day of 2021 and starting 2022 has brought me into this basement of thought, which is a mixture of both slightly solemn and sobering. Age has a way of doing that to a person the more you notice it. But instead of getting too far down in the dumps, in this moment I prefer to think of rapper Mac Miller and a lyric from his 2010 track “Senior Skip Day”.
“Enjoy the best things in your life, cause you ain’t gonna get to live it twice”
To me that line’s a reminder and mantra no matter how serious things get, its important not to get so caught up in sadness/worrying that you miss out on all the good and enjoyable aspects of this experience. Sometimes that’s way easier said than done, but I can confidently say the best of this year in music at least certainly provided plenty of celebratory moments.
Take for instance…
Brandi Carlile, In These Silent Days
When it comes to Brandi, my jaw has stayed on the floor for her tunes since 2018 LP By The Way, I Forgive You. Despite knowing her music off and on since 2007’s The Story, By The Way felt like a coming out party for a musical vet taking her craft to the next level. The icon stage. Silent Days has only continued this rocketing trajectory upward behind the weight of tracks like “Right On Time”, “Stay Gentle”, and the golden threaded harmonies of “This Time Tomorrow”. Carlile’s bandmates twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth also deserve plenty of praise here as they’ve formed a power trio with Carlile that is a titan both in studio and on stage.
Ultimately though this is Brandi’s world and we’re just living in it, lucky for our listening ears!
Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars, An Evening With Silk Sonic
Arguably the album with 2021’s biggest hype, the end result is a tight 8-track affair harkening back to the best of old school soul, funk and R&B. Mars and .Paak navigate the terrain as deftly as their on-stage choreography, aided in part by P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins and bass wizard Thundercat (who shines on “After Last Night”).
I know there were some who felt Evening didn’t line up with their expectations, but I felt this was a great tablesetter for the collab project. I hope this isn’t the last we see from Silk Sonic as it feels like there are still plenty more chapters yet to be written in Bruno and Andy’s book together.
Marlon Craft, Homecourt Advantage
The rapper from New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen was on a creative tear this past year, dropping EP Space (with producer Yusei), LP How We Intended, and this Homecourt mixtape. The release trio are exceptional, but Homecourt takes the top spot for me behind flows like “Lost Faith”, “All We Got”, and “PACE”, as well as a boundless roving energy.
Not to mention Craft only continues to sharpen his lyrical spearheads with each new work he puts out there. He’s one of a select bunch in the genre using that power of prose to move the needle of social consciousness in the right direction. We need more of that in the world as we move into a collective headspace that’s often more spun on lies than uncomfortable truths.
Rag’n’Bone Man, Life By Misadventure
Rory Charles Graham, AKA Rag’n’Bone Man, had one of the most affecting sound styles I heard all year with this LP. With a baritone reminiscent of a room-riveting Michael McDonald, Graham dominates from first note to last. He excels equally solo (“Breath in Me”, “Old Habits”) as he does in a duet (“Anywhere Away From Here”), which highlights an equally heartstopping vocal from pop singing maven Pink.
I also really came to adore Misadventure because it’s lyrical themes are so true and honest to our basic humanity. Love, loss, sadness, loneliness, fear of inadequacy in the world… these are just a few of our most essential and relatable emotional signposts. We’ve all been in that, and Rag’n’Bone Man feels like he’s right there with us in those trenches.
It means a lot.
Leon Bridges, Gold-Diggers Sound
Since his retro-minded debut Coming Home dropped in 2015, Leon Bridges has melded his old school Sam Cooke vibes with a more pop, contemporary visage. The result is a 20th century R&B feel that is equal parts heart and earworming hooks with tracks like “Why Don’t You Touch Me”, “Motorbike” and the aching “Sweeter”. Sure there’s a bit more production present, but it doesn’t take away from messages like “Sweeter” and it’s ode to the George Floyd tragedy.
Add in stellar collaborators like Robert Glasper, vocalist Ink and musician Terrace Martin and Gold Diggers finds just that, the jackpot at the end of the journey. Much like the Rag’n’Bone Man release, part of the payoff is also in that lyrical relatability. It spoke to me a lot here, and I hope it does for you as well.
May the year of 2022 provide just as great a list of new favorites this time as it did in 2021!
At this stage of the year it begins to feel like December is leaking away through our fingers like so much common hourglass sand. 2021 is quickly and quietly escaping to a close, culminating with the imminent conclusion of yet another holiday season. Perhaps this is a gradual sign of my age, but it feels like this holiday process rolls in faster and faster the longer I’ve been around. Hanukkah, Christmas, pick the time… these celebrations come and go with the presence of a lightning bolt nowadays. At least from where I sit 31 years into my own story.
As you might imagine that perspective brings on the occasional cloud of melancholy about aging, even amidst the bright lights and bulbs currently illuminating the streets and shop windows with their luminescent casts. There’s a battle in me waged internally between having appreciation for the happiness of those shimmering moments that count, and a little wistful sigh at watching them smokily float away with both feet on the accelerator. Uncaring of my wish that they might stick around just a bit longer and delay their inevitable conclusion.
I feel both the sun and shade of those moods within the effervescent vocals of soprano Audrey DuBois Harris on her recent single “Christmas Without You”. The track is a sweetly jazz-smoked ode that is at once as heavy as it is uplifting. That’s all due to the intricately gorgeous timbre of DuBois Harris, who carries emotional layers like the fine gossamer silk of spider’s webs. As beautiful as they are strong. Once dubbed by soul legend Aretha Franklin as her “favorite soprano”, DuBois Harris draws the listener into the stirring heartbreak of existing without the one she loves, while also making “Christmas Without You” into a gorgeously capturing torch song about being with those who matter the most.
Because when it comes to this time of year, the real priorities lie within our connections to others. There are certainly plenty of presents, parties and pretty light strands to be had, but the true gifts dwell within our shared community. That type of gathering becomes a vision that’s more difficult to see during these pandemic times, which makes “Christmas Without You” a rather perfect ode to so many lives right now. But the single also serves as a reminder that even while COVID is ongoing, its still important to check in with loved ones. Make that phone/Zoom call, reach out and don’t leave regrets hanging.
If they matter the effort is forever worth the time.
Last month, we took an unflinching look at the state of our Earth through the lens of humanity with Andrew Thomases and his single “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”. The track is an alt-rocker’s plea to his fellow man to think about the consequences of negative actions against the environment. That’s because we may end up taking a lot for granted that won’t ever come back if we stay on this current path. I think in many ways, we’re already taking a lot for granted that’s already vanished into the stratosphere. It’s a difficult realization to live with, but an important one noted on the song.
This time around Thomases gives us the gear-shifting grit of “Outrun Evolution”, a tempo-bending single showcasing some nasty guitar lines and mankind’s equally nasty poker hand of self-inflicted circumstance. It’s a branch not far removed from “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”, except it looks at humanity’s progress as a Pearl Jam rocker’s edge Icarus fable; destined to burn up in the sun astride trademark wings of white-hot six-stringed wax.
There is certainly a case to be made that our society is doing too much too fast to remain sustainable for the long haul. That progress without care can lead to cataclysm; fable’s long cursive strokes turned into reality’s nightmare. As I said before that’s a level of emotion difficult to confront head-on most of the time, but Thomases is among those creators who force our eyes (and ears) to dwell on the sights we need to behold. They’re often horrific, but they must be viewed. To paraphrase rapper Mac Miller, sometimes we only grow from anguish.
From my own perspective, both of Thomases’ tracks gave me pause thinking about the world at large. There’s a part of my soul buried in my spirit that can’t take the subject because it seems so negatively daunting; that we only stand up to lose a little more ground with the passing of each day. But another portion of me applauds Thomases for speaking out; the great rockers, folkers and raconteurs never backed down from a cause no matter the circumstances.
So take a moment with “Outrun Evolution” and “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone”, and never give in to those odds.
I’m really digging the non-stop electric sizzling tempo of Ricky Mendoza’s new music video for his song “MOVE”. The track (off Mendoza’s album THE NEW HURT) was already an absolute burner to begin with, buoyed as much by the arrangement as Mendoza’s rattlesnake rasping vocals taking assertive center stage. The Mexican-American folk-punker brings out the best of both genres on the single by carrying a Clash-like energy, as well as a folk singer-songwriter’s lyrical sensibilities.
What I mean by that is emblematically displayed in Mendoza’s new video, which finds the artist playing both the pro- and antagonist of the story. In this battle of good and evil, Mendoza stays on the run and just ahead of the representation of his fears and anxieties. As an introvert since childhood, the analogy is a familiar one to me; an ever-constant battle of action versus brain chemistry locked in perpetual duel.
But as this production also shows, you can only flee from those emotions for so long before there must be confrontation. And in true punk fashion, Mendoza decides to square off and run down his foe like a knight mid-joust. At first glance that may perhaps seem like the most linear, straightforward route of response, but in our many potential life situations and dilemmas often the best way out is to wind up going straight through.
And initially, that concept can seem like a scary one. Perhaps even the most feared of all. But Ricky Mendoza’s “MOVE” shows us (as both viewers and listeners) that with a little courage, a dash of grit and a hint of vinegar, we can emerge on the other side better than from where we started.
It’s hard, but the relief at the end is worth the risk of the trek.
For more on Ricky, check him out on Facebook and Instagram, or find out more at his website rickymendoza.org.
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.