“The Great Divide” a Straight Shot of Skillfully Sliced Americana

JD and The Straight Shot’s “The Great Divide” begins on the strength of its title track, which is a catchy, folk-rock anthem incorporating a woozy, 60s-sounding build of a chorus. The band’s got an immediate chemistry for melody and harmony on the track, which makes for a unified contrast against the song’s subject matter of growing division in America. 

That’s a topic certainly-not-unfamiliar to the folk realm, and “Dead Men Tell No Tales” stays squarely in that wheelhouse as a grooving tavern sea shanty throwing a wink and a nod to the classic murder ballads as much as Davy Jones. The Straight Shot’s swivel of vocalists add to the unsettling nature of the track as baritones dwell uneasily against the sultry storyteller like a dark fog heading down to run amok on the innocent scenery below. 

“The Great Divide” functions at its best when it settles comfortably into those rootsy, Americana elements that attack with an acoustic edge. “Invisible” feels like another retro return to an almost Crosby, Stills, and Nash vibe on a classic music revue show, while “Anything But Love” evokes James Taylor within its opening six-stringed pluckings. The music’s arrangement is a well-honed, close up affair, which adds to the intimacy level a record like this needs in order to hit the right notes. JD and The Straight Shot sound as though they’re sitting just around your headphones, different voices arcing and waning in a songwriting circle of different motions and ideas. 

“Walkin On A Wire”, other than reminding me of the Richard and Linda Thompson song, brings to mind latter-day Mark Knopfler and Elvis Costello tacked to a backwoods backdrop. While covers of “Happy Together” and “Jessica” are faithfully interpreted with just enough flair to bring this album home on the band’s own terms. And while I recently learned the JD in JD & The Straight Shot is New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan, I chose to leave that until the end of this review because of that very thing: letting this album speak on its own terms. And in this non-basketball realm, “The Great Divide” does very well in accomplishing that.

The Inoculated Canaries “Who Are You” A Crunchy Good Time

The Inoculated Canaries are a four-piece rock outfit from New York City with influences they describe as including Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Black Keys and Pink Floyd. That Whitman’s Sampler of artists is certainly on prominent parade in the group’s straight up, grass-fed approach to the rock-n-roll realm’s thumping beats and six-string gymnastics. And I found the same to be true with the music we’re talking about next.

As I listened to TIC’s recently-released single “Who Are You?”, I found my mind drifting to that crossover cocktail mixture of famous bands and melodies I mentioned a moment ago. The Nirvana aspect jumped out particularly hard in the case of this track. Not because “Who Are You?” embraces its grunge roots so much as its gleeful joy as an energetic 90’s alt-rock sendup. Sublime’s “Jumper” also came to me in traversing the song’s opening strums, which adds to the single’s overall level of ear-worming foot-tap.

Lead vocalist Mike Rublin adds to that effect with a vocal tone somewhere between Sublime’s Bradley Nowell and the gentle hiss of the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan. That’s a compliment both to the riff-ripping enthusiasm of the era and TIC’s adaptation of it. Because in the end no matter the bands you listen to or emulate its about making the work your own signature in the world, and that’s the case here. “Who Are You?” joyfully chews at the scenery in its lyrical search for identity, while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously in the pursuit of a group growing in its sound.

You can also check out the band at theinoculatedcanaries.com!

Eliza and the Organix present funky-fresh bop on “Road Home” video

Eliza and the Organix is, to quote their website, “a funky female-fronted rock band based in Brooklyn centered around the songwriting of vocalist and guitarist Eliza Waldman”. And today marks the release date of their new music video for the song “Road Home”, which you can take a peek at down below.

The very first thing that draws my interest in this music video is the slap of the car’s wiper blades in the opening scene. A minor detail in the scheme of things, but the that initial, almost metronome-like groove acts like a neat little slide into the ear-worming drum rhythm that buoys this song forward. “Road Home” is a tight, fun bounce of a single that uses plenty of synonyms from the funk handbook. That guiding beat’s soon paired with a slinking guitar line, Waldman’s bluesy vocal, and a pacing horn backdrop that altogether bends the line between jazz and punkish Pavement rock-pogo. This fluctuating tempo creates a layer of tension well-illustrated by the music video, in which our main character (played by Waldman herself) is on the run from deer/panda-headed representations of… time’s ceaseless pursuit? The anxiety of life’s constant obligations? Some combo of both perhaps?

A very serious set of questions to consider. The ending in either case represents inevitability. “I don’t know the road you’re on, I don’t know how much time is gone, how much remains?”, Waldman croons in a well-honed echo of the quiet desperation we have for one of existence’s biggest questions.

But this song doesn’t just spend time mired in its thoughts. If anything it considers those philosophies and decides to greet them with a sly smile and the timeless joy and abandon trademarked in the shape of rock and roll.

Both a song and a video worth keeping in your playlist!

Check out the band at elizaandtheorganix.com!

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”

2012 ARCHIVE: Artist Spotlight 2: The Difference Engine

And here is part two of that archive set from 2012. It’s honestly been overdue to get both of these on here, because despite their age I think they’re both excellent, indicative of where I wanna go and what I wanna do as a writer, and I’m immensely proud of both.

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So as you likely know by now if you’ve seen the videos I’ve posted here or the reviews I’ve done through this blog, I maintain a steady presence in the realm of musical “commentary” as it were. Generally I do coverage on whatever band or artist happens to catch my fancy at that moment in time, and expand my way outwards from there in a variety of little segments(all of which can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/user/ThisDogAteMyVlogs/videos?view=0)

Now on a few rare occasions I’ve gotten to work with smaller much more independent artists who were interested in having me do some sort of review for them after seeing what I’m capable of within my projects. Luckily for me in addition to the video coverage I’ve also managed to snag a written interview before this(with singer-songwriter Jessica Allyn in Spotlight 1), and was able to branch out once more to do the same thing again today with rock band The Difference Engine.

Comprised of lead vocalist Alex Ward, drummer Ryan Hahn, guitarists Jason Thomas and Nicholas Vanderveldt in addition to bassist Josh Cook, these St Louis area newcomers look more than ready to make music fans stand up and take notice with their debut EP “Strange Angles”. It may not be very much on their resume to this point, but at present the quintet is already planning on a full length followup to “Angles” that is sure to impress.

But of course besides the musical review side of things(which you can find in full in my video on “Strange Angles” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0_eWM-FW_I&feature=share), I was as I mentioned also able to ask the band some questions regarding their origins, their musical process, and what the future holds for them going forward. It was a lot of fun and I’m really grateful that they took the time to give some pretty interesting answers!

1. So to start with, what are the origins behind The Difference Engine? I know that the “Strange Angles” EP is your first release to this point, and I was curious to know what the driving factors were behind the formation of this group. 

Alex Ward: The rhythm guitarist(Jason Thomas) and I grew up together. We started off as neighbors, became good friends right away, and have stayed that way ever since. Both of us picked up guitar at an early age while listening to a lot of the same bands. Funny that to this day he is turning me on to new music. At some point we decided to write music of our own and started in. Throughout my bouncing around from state to state and in and out of town over the years, Jason and I somehow stayed in touch and continued, whenever we had the chance, to write and make music together. About nine months ago we were both introduced to Ryan and asked him to record some of the songs that we had written…the wolf pack is now five and we call ourselves, ” The Difference Engine”.

Nicholas Vanderveldt: We all started working together in January of last year. I met Ryan through Craigslist. I moved here in September of 2011, and I was just trying to meet people and play music. Ryan introduced me to Jason, and Jason brought over Alex, and then Josh appeared with bass in hand. Suddenly we were hashing out songs.

Jason Thomas: I’ve had a plan since I’ve been about 8 years old and first met Alex to take over the world with our music. Luckily we finally, after numerous attempts, managed to put together a band with like minded people who share the same passions and a love for music. We wrote some tunes and wanted to give them to the world.

Ryan Hahn: Alex and Jason approached me a year and a half ago about recording some songs and also playing drums on the recordings for them.  We grew up in the same area so we had a lot of mutual friends.. that kind of small town vibe so I think that’s why they contacted me. The driving factors behind The Difference Engine to me, would definitely be the life long friendships that reside within the band between Alex and Jason and with Josh and myself. I’ve known Josh since I can remember… playing in other bands together and growing up together, so there are 2 sets of really great close friendships. I met Nick about a year ago…he’s our transplant from Washington State and our chemistry is really great..its the most important factor I think.

2. Now there are certainly a lot of garage bands out there and musicians that get together casually simply to jam or have fun; what ultimately led to the band seriously deciding that they wanted to get into the studio to make this debut EP? Was it the initial plan going in or did it just gradually get to that point?

JT: Things lead where they lead. I think every band wants to document their sound at any given time. That’s how I view a recording, it’s just a snapshot of a particular point in time.

RH: It just gradually happened. We practiced a lot before starting the whole “recording process”. I live in an old electric substation from the late 1920s and have a recording studio in it. It’s where we rehearse, its the first thing you notice when you set up to practice… so knowing we had access to this stuff there’s no rush or worry about money….or anything so the EP doesn’t sound like we felt rushed or felt we had to compromise artistically too much.

3. To talk a bit more in-depth about the EP, what were the influences behind the style of these songs? In fact what general types of music have had an effect upon the band as a whole? 

AW: Wow, that is nearly impossible to answer, but if I had to name a few bands that influenced my writing I would have to say Naked Ray Gun, anything that Mike Patton has done, Concrete Blonde,The Pumpkins, Fugazi, The Cure, Tool, Radiohead, Supergrass, Guided By Voices, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, Blonde Redhead, honestly the list could go on and on, not to mention the things that creep in while you’re sleeping.

NV: For me the EP is pretty straight ahead rock’n’roll, I tried to conjure up some of the stuff in my head that fit with what we were doing, Funkadelic and Led Zeppelin especially. I’ve always been fascinated by Bebop and free-jazz, as well as ballet music, so I get these little notions in my head, and then I have to figure out how to make them fit in what we’re doing. Sometimes it works great, other times, not so much.
JT: I grew up on punk rock and bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. I think that stuff informs how I write to an extent, but I also love a good melody, just trying to serve a song and make it the best I can. I don’t know if the whole band looks to one particular style; it’s all rock and roll to me.
 
RH: Influences… well I grew up listening to my parents music…Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, Tom Petty….but then I got into newer groups like Guided By Voices, Weezer, and The Pixies. But I’ve always analyzed music… I’m a sucker for a good hook in a song. So it doesn’t matter what I’m playing as long as it helps the song I’m playing sound better.

4. I’ve always been fascinated by the process of recording in the studio, what was that aspect like in terms of writing and putting together this initial album? Was that very much a collective process or did it come together more individually?

AW: The great thing about playing with these guys is how each one of us have so much to bring to the table individually. If one of us has an idea, we listen to the idea and work on it, and other than older songs that one of us may want to rewrite or present as workable ideas, most of our stuff just happens. Someone starts playing something and material forms. If something ends up swerving off in an tasteless direction, we put it to the side temporarily and start something new, keeping the pace and excitement of creative curiosities. We’re still evolving as friends and as a sound, so this new thing has plenty more to produce and I can’t wait to hear where we end up in the next nine months.

NV: Most of the songs were well assembled before we started recording them. We spent a lot of time really playing the stuff, and everybody figuring out how their parts fit in with everybody else’s parts. We do a lot of collective arranging I feel like. Someone has an idea, then we all try and develop it and add our own opinions into it. Sometimes it’s hard, and stuff gets put aside because we can’t give enough to a song… it’s gotta sit on the shelf a bit and age before we can take it back down and see all the merit in it.

JT: Totally collective, there were songs people brought in individually but they really didn’t take shape until we got ahold of it as a band and bashed it out. Going back to earlier, I feel like the EP is just a quick snapshot of the band in its first six months.

RH: I know that Alex and Jason had already written “At The Gates”…. it used to be a lot longer, and from the initial recordings when I met those guys to how we play the song now with The Difference Engine it’s much shorter but much stronger. The other songs were very collective and came together at practice…I think Tattoo and Chicago Machine came out of the air in the same 2 or 3 days. We’ve since refined parts of each song but that’s a great moment.

5. I know that you(Ryan Hahn) produced and mixed “Strange Angles” and have done work for other artists in the same capacity. Does that process or mindset as a producer change at all when you’re also a member of the band you’re working with? 

RH: I try to think about what I’m doing on the drums and make sure I’m not being noticed when the vocal melody or another aspect needs to be focused on. But once the drums are recorded and okay’d I become the whipping boy to some degree haha. But the guys do listen to me if I have an idea, but they also listen to everyone else’s ideas and their own so there’s no special attention that I get haha.

6. Now that “Strange Angles” has been in the can and out since mid-October, what’s coming next for The Difference Engine? Are there any details that can be revealed about a full-length album at this point? And will it be an extension of the EP or a new set of material?

NV: We have a bunch of great new songs. Really, we’ve had a lot more time to develop ideas with one another, and open creative dialogues. That goes miles and miles when you’re all collaborating on music. The EP is a nice little prologue to what’s coming.

JT: I think with the full length you’ll see our songwriting get better and the band grow a little. I feel like the songs we’ve written lately are head and shoulders above what we have on the EP. Hopefully we can just continue to improve as individuals and as a band and make the best record we can at that given point in time. Continue to evolve and grow so while we sound like the same band you never know what we’re going to try.

RH: Yeah I’m excited that we were ale to get this EP finished so quickly and to be proud of it too. We’ve already started recording some new material. Also we’ve been working on a lot of new songs… It’s just a matter of time to get them to develop. Not sure if it will be all new music on the full length or if we will use a few songs off the EP that we all really feel strong about. We’re just kind of letting it take it’s course.

If you want to check out The Difference Engine, you can find their Bandcamp, Facebook and Twitter all down in the links below(as well as my review for their EP), and I definitely cannot recommend it enough. It was a pleasure to be able to interview some of the guys from the band, and again I appreciate the fact they helped me put together what turned out to be a great little Q&A.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thedifferenceenginemusic?fref=ts

Bandcamp: http://differenceenginestl.bandcamp.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/diffengineband

“Strange Angles” EP Review Promo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0_eWM-FW_I&feature=share

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