Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stephen Chopek -- Things Moving On Their Own Together

Stephen Chopek's debut album has an impressive story behind it. Chopek is a trained jazz drummer who has toured with a wide variety of acts, including John Mayer, Jesse Malin, Marc Broussard, the Alternate Routes, and the Pimps of Joytime. About six years ago he decided to learn how to play guitar...by busking in the subway for 7 hours a day. If that's not enough risk-taking for you, Chopek wrote the songs on these recordings as he played them.


This technique gives the songs a loose quality, but sometimes that translates into a rough quality. For example, on "Slower You Go," Chopek rhymes "years" with "peers" on the one hand (I'm not a fan of rhyming for rhyming's sake, but that's just me.) On the other hand, seconds later, he busts out with

Every season has a right to life
In spite of suffering
Turmoil and strife
Devil put god in exile
And hungry, poor huddled masses out of style

The ultimate effect is a Dylan-esque stream-of-consciousness style and -- let's be honest -- Bob didn't always hit it out of the park. While Chopek's exuberance is a big part of the album, he's at his best when his pace is more measured, as on "Only Here," or when the urgency best fits the song, like on "Staying." Nevertheless, Chopeks' zest for experimentation will take him far.



Stephen Chopek -- Facebook, Twitter

Monday, August 31, 2015

Joey Kneiser and Kelly Smith -- Live From Standard Deluxe

I have conflicting advice to give you on this one. If you've never listened to a Glossary album before, I'm tempted to see you should drop everything you're doing and listen to Long Live All of Us. If anyone tries to tell you that alt-country is for sad-sack losers who don't have anything positive to offer, you can punch them in the gut and then give them that album. It's a beautiful meditation on life. Even if you've heard the album before, I'll understand if you want to take a break from reading this to enjoy Long Live All of Us all over again.


On the other hand, Live seems to offer an overview of the band's greatest hits. (I'm ashamed to admit I haven't gone further back than LLAU.) Joey and Kelly sing all of these songs like every note is an essence of their soul. It's hard to tell that this is a live album because you can't even hear a pin drop in the background: the effect is captivating even through my headphones.

This album was dropped as a surprise last week -- I wanted to spin it a little bit before sharing it with you. Definitely hie thee to the Bandcamp page to avail yourself of this remarkable performance that's been captured in amber for the rest of us.



If you like what you hear, This is American Music has plenty more where that came from. You can download a free sampler here.

Joey Kneiser -- Official, Bandcamp

Thursday, August 27, 2015

TICKET GIVEAWAY! -- The Cadillac 3, 2/3 Goat, The Grand Central, Lizzie and the Makers

If you made it all the way down here, then you're looking for tickets! The Shop Brooklyn is a new purveyor of fine barbecue and finger alt-country music. They're giving away tickets for this Saturday's show featuring the Cadillac 3 (for the record, they're the only "celebrity" cameo I've liked in all three seasons of Nashville), as well as hometown heroes 2/3 Goat, The Grand Central, and Lizzie and the Makers. You could shell out $20 here, or you can get two for free on us. Here's how:

  • Follow me and The Shop Brooklyn on Twitter 
  • Tweet at BOTH of us telling us you want tickets! Get creative!
  • If more than one of you mopes does this, we'll do a random drawing
  • We'll get in touch with you Friday evening via DirectMessage, then sort out the details
You have 24 hours...go!

Grace Petrie -- Whatever's Left

I wrote about Petrie's previous album a scant two months ago, but she went ahead and released her latest, Whatever's Left, the day before my review went up. (What a scamp.) So she made it back into the rotation.

Really the only thing that's changed since last time is my increased appreciation for Petrie's incisive lyrics and no-frills vocals. Although Whatever's Left comes in the wake of a crushing Tory victory (did I get that right?), the majority of the songs on this album feel more personal than last time around.


Though Petrie has a full band backing on her most of these songs, it's worth noting that the forcefulness of her personality -- though blunted by witty aside and smart musical reference -- shines through. As Petrie herself admits in "Revolutionary in the Wrong Time," maybe what she's saying isn't so original, but goddammit she's going to call at like she sees it. Petrie's plain, commonsense approach allows her political songs and love songs -- which are not necessarily separate ("The Last Love Song" is pretty great) -- fall with the same hammer-like impact. My favorite song, "Ivy," makes me tear up a little every time. If I understand it correctly, Petrie recounts abruptly leaving a folk festival in order to get home in time for the birth of a new relative (niece?) It has all of Petrie's trademark humor and warmth, and her sense of awe rockets from her mouth to your ears. Whether or not you're a British politics junkie, Whatever's Left is urgent, human, and necessary.



Grace Petrie -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Langhorne Slim -- The Spirit Moves AND Ticket Giveaway!

The first time I saw Langhorne Slim and the Law, it was their last show before getting on the plane to Nashville to record this album. I already loved The Way We Move, and I was blown away by the band's on-stage tour de force. To quote an old press clipping about Cowboy Mouth, on a bad night they'll tear the roof off -- on a good night, they'll save your soul. With that being said, The Spirit Moves is a complete misrepresentation of the band's love performance. It's also the most beautiful album you'll hear all year.


That's not a bad thing, depending on your philosophy. For some, an album is (to quote No Depression's Raina Rose) an expensive business card, something fans can use to memorize song lyrics to tide them over between the shows. For others, the album should capture exactly what the band is live. And for still more, the album should put the songs in a different light than can be achieved on stage. Thanks to the helmsmanship of Andrija Tokic, (who has given us the Alabama Shakes, Benjamin Booker, and Hurray for the Riff-Raff, amongst other favorites), Langhorne Slim and the Law are captured in a more intimate setting. The Spirit Moves is in many ways quieter than the raucous, joyful The Way We Move. Though I had been hoping for more of the same, I'm happy with what we've got.

It seems to me that sound mixing should be like makeup: you should never notice it if it's good, but you should notice if it' breathtaking. Whatever magic Tokic worked, it sounds as if Slim is crooning right into our ears even as Malachi DeLorenzo's exuberant drumming propels the songs forward. The songs, I feel, are a bit uneven. Slim cowrote most of the album with producer Kenny Siegal and, honestly, the songs he wrote himself are the strongest (on "Airplane" the pair rhyme the word "defenses" with "fences," which is pretty disappointing from the man who wrote the lush imagery in "The Way We Move".) While I can see Slim was going for an economy of words this time around, he unfortunately missed the mark a few times. However, Slim's delivery brings these sparse lyrics to life in a way nobody else can, thereby making these songs forever his. And they all fit right into his existing setlist.



Langhorne Slim -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Dualtone Records

If you made it all the way down here, then you're looking for tickets! The Shop Brooklyn is a new purveyor of fine barbecue and finger alt-country music. They're giving away tickets for this Saturday's show featuring the Cadillac 3 (for the record, they're the only "celebrity" cameo I've liked in all three seasons of Nashville), 2/3 Goat, The Grand Central, and Lizzie and the Makers. You could shell out $20 here, or you can get two for free on us. Here's how:

  • Follow me and The Shop Brooklyn on Twitter 
  • Tweet at BOTH of us telling us you want tickets! Get creative!
  • If more than one of you mopes does this, we'll do a random drawing
  • We'll get in touch with you Thursday evening via DirectMessage, then sort out the details
You have 24 hours...go!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Burnside & Hooker -- All the Way to the Devil

While many artists are still trying to figure out just what the hell to do with CDs in the streaming age (and in many cases abandoning albums altogether), Burnside & Hooker do not -- in most respects -- give a damn about what's trendy and popular. Their mammoth sophomore effort, All The Way to the Devil, is a raucous celebration of turn-of-the-century American music.


All The Way to the Devil  seems to gel best as a story. The gang vocals and stomps of the bluesy "All The Way to the Devil"/"The Graveyeard" set the stage: a wayward youth straining against her rural background leaves for the big city ("Someday (Gonna Leave This Town)"). As the album progresses and (in my mind) the narrator explores her new home, the songs transition from folk and blues to swing, jazz, and rock'n'roll. Rachel Bonacquisti, a vocal giant, hits her zenith at "Meridian Road" and "Red Betty," both red-hot rockabilly scorchers. But singers shouldn't get all the glory -- the rest of the band keeps up a furious pace, almost outshowing Bonacquisti with their acrobatics and intensity. As the character wishes us farewell in "Goodbye, Louisiana" (presumably she went to New Orleans), she reconciles with her mamma, and heads on back home.

I can imagine the band playing through the entire album as a set, though I wonder if there are enough Red Bulls in the world to make that proposition sustainable for both the musicians and the dancers. Another interesting point to All the Way to the Devil is the fact that it shows how interchangeable all of this  "Americana" stuff is. At the end of the day, all of these genres were meant to help (white) people get down on a Saturday night. The only thing that seems to separate early country and rock is geography. All the Way to the Devil doesn't just take us on a character's journey, it gives us a greater appreciation of this country's cultural contribution to the world.



Burnside & Hooker -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reina del Cid -- The Cooling

A few weeks ago, I observed what seems to be a cresting trend of (female) artists incorporating the melodic verve of '90s rock with twangy flavorings. Reina del Cid divebombs into that wave headfirst, and damn do they make it sound good.


del Cid's lyrics are cutting. Her songs are vividly imagined, but they're brutally sharp. All of her songs are ambivalent: in "Where the Sun Always Shines" her rather persuasive description of Heaven is tempered by the protagonist's suicide. The mischievous "This One's Gonna Hurt" sounds much less fun coming after the first track, "Sweet Annie," which begins as a creepily possessive but sweet love song that is followed to its logical (and tragic) truth. The title track, "The Cooling," confirms that there is no afterlife after all -- just the vague horror as you feel your lifeforce drain out of you. The band has their lyrics posted on their Bandcamp page, and it is absolutely worth a read. If you're looking for examples of great songwriting, look no further. (Also, if you feel these songs are a bit of a downer, I just listened to del Cid's "Nerd Rap" and feel way better about life.)

But the full weight of the album only catches up with you if you listen close. Toni Lindgren's remarkable guitar slinging keeps things light. Lindgren kills it on the rollicking not-so-populist anthem "Of Mice and Men"and the reggae-influenced "Xanadu." Christopher Wiberg's and Zach Schmidt know to step out of the way when necessary, but their subtle bass and drums (respectively) keep these songs fresh and propulsive.

If this is only Reina del Cid's sophomore album, then their future work will truly be something to behold.


Reina del Cid -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Bandcamp, Purchase from Big Cartel