Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sarah Morris - Hearts in Need of Repair (2017)

Written by Jason Snyder, posted by blog admin

The sprawling title track sets the tone of Sarah Morris 3rd LP, Hearts in Need of Repair.  Coproduced by Morris herself along with her band mates and Eric Blomquist, the gliding acoustic guitar work, tapping beats, deep bass lines, rural-kissed twang and Sarah’s gorgeous, breathy lead vocals weave a web of folk-country influences that reckon of old soul Americana.  Top-tier songwriting crafts noticeable, atmospheric peaks and valleys with the honey in Morris’ voice ringing the most out of every single note, especially that glistening chorus.  It’s an excellent introduction to an album full of brilliantly penned tunes. 

Kicking the pace up a few notches with a tumbleweed-kicking guitar trot, uptempo rhythms highlighted by a walking bass lick and brisk snare taps “Good at Goodbye” immediately snatches up your attention.  Subtle electric guitar flourishes, lap steel and three-part vocals harmonies conjure up a rich, distinctly western vibe that’s peppered with plenty of variety.  The smoky blues of “Cheap Perfume” sinks into a low slung groove with hearty lead vocals, thicker guitar work and meditative rhythms.  This opening part gives way to another uplifting country groove; shaking up the pacing and atmosphere with an unexpected instrumental curveball as Sarah’s lyrics muse on the loss of love while using interesting original metaphors for the subject.  “Helium’s” uplifting wordplay and higher-register vocal delivery offers up a unique contrast to the slow pacing, minimalist rhythms and almost Hawaiian-inflected guitar work (it too expressing much while utilizing only a few notes and chords). 

“Falling Over” is pure country.  The kind of country that they never play on your average country music stations these days.  A gritty, raw vocal performance, multi-tracked guitar licks, tough drumming and knife-edged bass riffs make this one of the album’s best cuts and one of my personal favorites.  Cut from a similar cloth as its predecessor and heavier still, “Course Correction’s” intro could be straight off of the Outlaws’ Hurry Sundown masterpiece.  With the most liberal use of electric guitar on the album, this composition places rollicking country rock n’ roll right up front.  The melancholy “Empty Seat” is on the complete opposite side of the tracks; gloriously embellish laidback, Bob Dylan-style folk influences.      

The grinding, riff-y “Shelter or the Storm” smacks hard n’ heavy in a flurry of driving, smoldering blues.  Alternating acoustic/electric guitars double down on the riffs while Sarah’s sidewinder vocal melodies and the dive-bombing rhythms catch a snarling, nasty 70s swing by the tail.  Morris croons hypnotically on the all acoustic “Nothing Compares,” leaving the album to close with a pair of dark country gems (“On a Stone” and the intricately layered “Confetti”).

 Hearts in Need of Repair thrives on stellar songwriting, varied instrumentation and Sarah Morris’ golden vocal chords.  There’s not a bad track in the bunch and that’s rare with risky songwriting that doesn’t stick to simply one standard and call it a day.  Sarah and her band can make you want to rock out, weep, dance and live.  This is emotionally rich music and well-worth a dedicated listen.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Slow Burning Car - Defection (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

The fourth release from Slow Burning Car, Defection, finds this Los Angeles five piece refining their hard-hitting, varied musical attack in a way that makes clear they are plotting an artistic trajectory intended to carry them for years to come. The band has existed in different incarnations and configurations during its lifespan and the base quartet has a renewed focus for this release that gives it urgency fourth albums from anyone seldom possess. There’s no wasted motion over the course of these ten songs and a fierce intelligence burns within their potent mix of rock, metal, and emo influences. They definitely possess a recognizable sound nodding to tradition, but there’s just as much individuality in what they do that helps these songs come across as fresh and surprisingly original – particularly using two singers, one male and the second female, with powerful results. Slow Burning Car is experiencing mounting success in a competitive indie music scene and Defection poises them for rising into another, much higher level, of visibility.

There’s an inexorable quality their twin guitar attack brings to the opener “Alpha Duplicor” without ever overwhelming listeners. Tony Spiropoulos’ vocals veer effectively from a near conversational style during the verses into full on, highly musical wailing with each chorus and remains convincing throughout. One of the more accelerated numbers on Defection comes with the breakneck power chord riffing of “Soul Crimes” and Spiropoulos unleashes a mighty vocal attack here that commands immediate attention. It’s one of the band’s finer lyrical numbers, as well, and cut to fit the arrangement with lock step precision. Jesse Damon and Tommy Marcel are a hard-hitting guitar tandem, but Spiropoulos; bass playing and Adam Idell’s athletic drumming gives the guitarists a solid foundation to play over. The punky flavor delivered with “Soul Crimes” asserts itself again with the track “Devil in the Room” and Spiropoulos adopts a similar vocal approach to the album’s first song while spinning it in a slightly different direction. The performances on Defection are uniformly pared down to their essential elements and shorn of even a hint of musical fat. Co-vocalist Krista Ray makes her presence felt rather strongly on the track “You Can’t Stay Here” and, despite its high octane tempo, it’s a song providing a nicely nuanced take on a familiar situation.

A very different side of the band emerges with the track “Bedtime” and its acoustic strains are colored with glistening touches of keyboard that never stretch the boundaries of tastefulness. Spiropoulos’ hushed vocal gives the song a moody current that contrasts nicely with the arrangement. This theme continues with the song “Chrysanthemum” and it manifests the same lightly progressive rock sound we heard on “Bedtime”. The vocal is a little wider open here, but there’s much of the same sort of theatricality coming through. The song runs nearly five minutes but never feels like it. Strong guitar returns with the album finale “Clouds” and it alternates between diffuse cathedrals of sound and powerful riffing with a straight ahead, head down quality. Defection is quite a varied release that manages to convincingly touch on a number of genres without ever losing credibility. Slow Burning Car has made an impressive mark with this release and it shows a band with no signs of peaking as an outfit.

Monday, December 18, 2017

J.Briozo - Deep in the Waves (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

Minneapolis based singer, musician, and songwriter Jeff Crandall has earned considerable respect and a bevy of admirers in his role as front man for indie act Swallows, currently in the process of recording a new album, their third entitled In the Shadow of the Seven Stars, but Crandall’s creativity obviously cannot be contained by the confines of his band. His first solo album Deep in the Waves, released under the moniker J.Briozo, is a thirteen track effort that can scarcely be labeled any specific genre. Instead, this is as unique and idiosyncratic of a songwriting collection that you’re likely to hear in 2017 or any other year for that matter. He’s enlisted some members of Swallows to help him realize his musical vision for Deep in the Waves, but the songwriting has its own distinctive character that shines through on each track.

There’s a hazy, reverb soaked presence surrounding the opening number “Blind” and Crandall’s vocal is a model of understatement. His voice has its own presence, as well, and excels through a series of careful modulations illuminating the song’s lyric with poetic suggestiveness and ample sensitivity. “Deep in the Waves” has a much stronger acoustic jangle than the keyboard driven atmospherics of the first song and there’s a clearer, more plaintive quality to Crandall’s vocal. The musical arrangements on this album often have a sketched out, impressionistic quality, but they invariably hang together somehow with a real sense of gravitas tethering them to earth. “Spinning Out” is one of the album’s many songwriting high points and has a slightly raucous guitar driven attack with an acoustic chug running underneath that gives the song added muscle. The lead guitar break on the song embodies the same rave up, brawling sound we hear during the verses and the production really captures the drums quite nicely.

“The Big Parade” has some rough language, there is a “clean” version circulating for radio airplay, but Crandall’s stylish and substantive presentation of the song makes it clear that any potentially problematic turns in the tune aren’t there for gratuitous reasons – they all serve a purpose in conveying what he wants to get over. There’s definitely a strong attitude at the heart of this surprisingly bluesy amble. Acoustic sounds are once again prominent with the track “Catalonia” and Crandall’s vocal explores his upper register to great effect. Harmony vocals are used sparingly in this song, but they have a great impact, and the subtle arrangement leaves a mark on listeners without ever resorting to overstatement. The percussion and guitar work lock in from the first and make the song musically, but there’s other touches coming along the way that set it even further apart/ There’s a strongly individual quality to the song “Camera Obscura” that sounds unlike anything we’ve heard before, but seems oddly familiar anyway. It’s definitely a moody performance but immensely musical and harboring just enough of a hint of the theatrical without ever overplaying that particular hand. Crandall nods to his rock influences for a final time with the slightly chaotic close and it’s further spun with inspiration thanks to his inclusion of a vibrant horn section. It makes for a fresh and rousing closer to one of the most relentlessly imaginative releases to appear this year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Brant Bjork - Tao of the Devil (2016)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

The second album from Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Tao of the Devil, comes courtesy of Napalm Records. The seven song corker swings and blazes with the same gritty creativity distinguishing the first release, Black Power Flower, and builds on the earlier release in important and sometimes subtle ways. Bjork’s hard rock fire has undergone a gradual metamorphosis over the years since his departure from Kyuss. While he can still unleash utterly convincing six string fury seemingly at will, his songwriting and musical sensibilities glow with a decidedly bluish shade.

Tao of the Devil has few songs bluer than its opener “The Gree Heen”. Much of the song’s first half is focused on Bjork’s warm, resonant voice married to a memorable blues melody. His guitar tone has such immediacy it practically serves as a second vocalist in an unique variation on the call and response device. The brash rocker heart powering “Humble Pie” abandons the understated blues vibe of the original in favor of a brawling riff-driven blues driven at a mid-tempo pace. The loping stoner swing pushing “Stackt” out of the starting blocks wraps itself up with a wire-tight blues phrase. Bjork brings genuine soul to these tracks that defy labels. His vocals and music ideally complement each other and it’s frankly quite rare to find artists or bands where the vocals and arrangements are in such total accord.

“Luvin’” is a remarkable rocker that, hand over heart, will make older listeners recall the glory days of seventies hard rock without even a flutter of self-consciousness. Bjork leans into the music with a confident, even leering vocal not completely missing a streak of humor. The guitar sound bears mentioning again. It doesn’t have a studied effect, like they’ve strained to shallowly approximate that sort of retro turn, but instead sounds like a model of simplicity and its authenticity gives the songs some added grit and gravel. The album’s penultimate track “Dave’s War”: is nine minutes and change of elastic and groove-centered guitar heroics. Bjork’s six string work plays especially well against some of the best swinging pocket drumming on the release. His vocals, likewise, reach a peak of sorts here with a passionate, declamatory style full of fiery urgency.

The jagged blues menace of the title song maintains a steady, hallucinatory tension from the first note on and resists ever releasing it while a slight slur in Bjork’s vocal underscores the dark atmosphere surrounding the instruments and arrangement. Black Flower Power ranked as one of the best albums that year and Tao of the Devil is no exception. This is a forceful and well-written collection brimming over with energy from beginning to end.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Thomas Abban - A Sheik's Legacy (2017)

Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin

English born Thomas Abban’s fifteen song release A Sheik’s Legacy is one of the more blazing debut efforts in recent memory. Transplanted to the comparatively alien environment of Minnesota, Abban mines the long history of rock, pop, and its accompanying forms to fashion a collection that boasts impressive musical firepower as well as a clear sense of identity few new songwriters and performers are capable of presenting on an initial release. His vocal talents are equally considerable and he inhabits each of these songs with an amazing presence that’s impossible to deny. A variety of styles get a thorough workout on A Sheik’s Legacy, but Abban sounds comfortable with each one and manages to say something unique while still nodding to his array of influences. It makes for one of the more invigorating listens of 2017 and should offer a firm retort to anyone who dares to think that rock music, as an artistic force, is dead.

The ominous tilt to “Death Song” is difficult to forget but Abban further ups the ante with his impossibly beautiful voice. The contrast between the rather dire lyric and the crystalline beauty he summons with his voice couldn’t be more pronounced. “Symmetry & Black Tar” features more vocal pyrotechnics from Abban, but they aren’t shallow showing off and the assortment of tempo shifts and turns he brings to this song proves he’s quite at home with surprising and challenging the audience’s preconceived notions about song structure. Despite the challenging build of this song, we feel like we remain in familiar territory throughout, but we’re definitely in the hands of an inspired singer and lyricist. He mixes some inventive percussion with bluesy guitar fills and runs on the song “Fear” and the lyric finds a new way of discussing the subject, fear, which nonetheless conveys his point. He unleashes a ferocious stomp just before the song’s midway point that will surely jar anyone not paying attention.

The gut wrenching wail his voice achieves on the song “Time to Think” represents another high point for Abban and the wildly inventive arrangement will entertain many, but Abban may be trying a little too hard at certain points to pack EVERYTHING into these songs. He’s certainly successful at doing so; it just may make some listeners a little dizzy. “Sinner” confines itself to acoustic instrumentation for the most part and eschews many of the breakneck changes in direction defining many of the album’s other songs. There’s a similar muted tone he takes on for the track “Let Me Tell You Something” and a bit of post production effects applied to his voice that further underscores that feel. The guitar work in this song is particularly effective. The eyepopping vocal treatment he reserves for the song “Lord” is another highlight on this dazzling release and it only gets better as the song goes on. The sludge soaked blues crawl of “Uh” has a particularly tortured trajectory and Abban definitely throws himself into the song like a man whose life depends on this performance coming out the way he needs it to. A Sheik’s Legacy is a monumental effort cut to an enormous scale and Thomas Abban leaves no stone unturned in his attempt to wow the audience.