Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Al Scorch -- Circle Round the Signs

Al Scorch brings a whole new meaning to folk punk. At least in my conception. I generally think of Frank Turner's gentle but aggressively frank songs. Scorch, on the other hand, lives up to his name. These songs spit hot fire, as the kids say. Scorch has the delivery of a seasoned Vaudeville trouper, selling these stories with everything he's got. This lends both charm and immediacy to his faster numbers, like the single "Everybody Out."

Unlike other musicians with an affinity for old-time music, Scorch uses these instrumentations as a vehicle, not as the main draw. This gives songs like "Lonesome Low," which feels to me like a historical story song, a piercing immediacy and "Lost at Sea," a deeply personal song, a sense of connection to the all too many people who have experienced fear for a loved one. Scorch may be traditional, but his punk leanings give his music a kick that launches old-time music into the present.

Al Scorch -- Official, Facebook, Bandcamp, Purchase from Bloodshot Records,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

VIDEO: Redcast -- Corduroy

Maybe it's because I've been on a Weezer kick, but Redcast feels like a much more polished version of every 90s weird kid's favorite band. On its own, "Corduroy" would be a fun song, but the music video gives it an irresistible charm. There's something deliciously twisted about a '60s teeny bopper band singing a song about chemtrails.

I'm not sure if the band is still making music (their last Facebook update was in December) but if you've missed Fountains of Wayne, Redcast could be your dreams come true.

Redcast -- Facebook, iTunes

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kaia Kater -- Nine Pin

Kaia Kater isn't just an excellent banjo player. She's a force to be reckoned with. When I started this blog almost five years ago (!) I promised my readers that I would feature artists who sounded like their lives depended on their music. Kater is very much in this category. Kater's first album, Sorrow Bound, established Kater's standing as a faithful scholar of roots music. Ninepin proves Kater's mastery of the form by writing songs whose lyrics are immediate and whose feel is timeless.

Kater's power comes from her delivery. These songs are treated with great urgency -- as they should be, considering their frank discussions of poverty and race in North America (Kater is Canadian, though the music itself is inspired by Appalachia.) Kater's musical accompaniment -- her elegant banjo plucking, muted trumpets, and sparse strings -- give these ballads a somber elegance that is rare to achieve. Nine Pin is unlike anything you'll hear this year, and it should be given the attention necessary to appreciate with as much thoughtfulness as Kater put into creating it.

Kaia Kater -- Official, Facebook, Purchase from Kaia Kater

Monday, May 16, 2016

Simo -- "I'll Always Be Around"

I think you should listen to this before you read what I have to say about it:

I generally don't trust blues rock -- guitar virtuosos tend to be self-involved, the point that their solos become masturbatory in their technical proficiency without serving the feeling of the song itself. So Simo, as a band and JD Simo as their lead guitarist, stand out from a very crowded field. "I'll Always Be Around" is bursting with soul, feeling, and, of course, moxie. Exactly what the blues is supposed to be.

Simo -- Official, Facebook

Friday, May 13, 2016

Girls on Grass -- Girls on Grass

Girls on Grass is possibly the most apt name for a band I've seen. Not in terms of the Girls being on grass (though the band's interpretation of cowpunk is pretty mellow), but it gives you a good sense of the philosophy behind these songs. There's not much subtlety to Girls on Grass' songwriting -- "Drowning in Ego" is a damning indictment of selfie culture and social media. "Pissin Down a Road" is an unambiguous rumination about the life of a musician. On the other hand...is the band name a pun on weed? Maybe it's supposed to evoke freedom? Country music? Is there more to these folks than meets the eye?

Or maybe we just shouldn't care. Girls on Grass' unhurried songs are a chill af combo of country music musings with an aggressively on-the-nose approach to lyrics, and a touch of surf guitar for good measure. Personally, I'm eager to see this band in-person. The songs deserve at least a beer in hand, if not a dance floor and amps cranked up to 11. I have a feeling the pace is a bit punchier live, which I feel these songs could use. Or maybe I should cozy up to a field (or other type of grass???) and let it all wash over me.

Girls on Grass -- Facebook, Bandcamp

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nudie -- Everything's Different in the Night

Two of the more important experiences I had in college were discovering Two Cow Garage and discovering printmaking. When I visited Nashville last summer, stopping by Hatch Show Print was a no-brainer. Hatch Show Print is one of the original print shops that created woodblock prints advertising concerts for country's earliest artists and, eventually, its royalty. It's easily the coolest thing in downtown Nashville. The studio prominently displays its posters, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an advertisement for Nudie's first album, Remember This.

But Nudie's approach to marketing is very much like his music: rooted in tradition. I felt the best songs on Remember This were those that combined Nudie's timeless country voice with 21st-century themes, such as the despairing "Sex Kisses." These songs will jar the listener's sense of time. 

Nudie's second go-round, Everything's Different in the Night, takes a more conservative approach. Other than a reference to smoking weed in "It Ain't Gonna Happen Today," these songs could easily have been written at any point in the last 60 (possibly 70?) years. Nudie reminds us, though, that even with the invention of the smart phones, heartache and loneliness never change. Story songs like "The Royal Tavern" and "Hearts & Flowers" display Nudie's excellent command when it comes to lyricism, but it's the songs about truly intimate moments, like "Everything's Different in the Night," that'll tug your heart strings and jerk some of your tears. 

Nudie -- OfficialFacebookAmazon

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson -- Loved and Free

I was trying to explain my affinity for alt-country music to someone the other day. She thought it was a bit incongruous for a city kid to spend hours of her life writing a blog about alt-country music. I realized that her surprise lay in her perception that country music is all slickly-produced, blissfully ignorant songs about salt-of-the-earth types being happy with what they've got, even if life is hard. I assured her that the music I like most has a working class ethos (which, again, doesn't necessarily make sense I am very much a product of the 1%. But there's no accounting for taste.)

That being said, sometimes alt-country is a fucking downer.

I say this as a bit of a warning: if you like your country with an edge, you're probably not going to like Zack Shelton. It might be fairer to categorize Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson as indie country rather than alt country. Shelton is aiming for radio airplay: these songs are as inoffensive as possible. (While most of the songs on here are innocuous, most readers of this blog will probably want to avoid "If Jesus Ran For Office.")

Overall, Loved and Free, like their debut The Next Chapter, is a spirited, energetic, and sincere batch of country music. The title track deftly combines the best of pop rock with twang. What makes Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson stand out -- nay, outshine -- the rest, is their sincerity. I know that can be overused, especially when it comes to would-be country radio stars, but in this case it sticks. Shelton and his colleagues are committed to these songs and clearly have a lot of fun playing them, something that's lacking in most commercial music of any genre these days. Ultimately, these are songs for kicking back with a beer and celebrating after some hard times, not for crying into one. And that's a refreshing change for sure.

Stream Loved and Free here

Zack Shelton and 64 to Grayson -- Official, Facebook, iTunes