If you peruse the music-themed posts on this blog, it’s obvious that I listen to a lot of oldies, as music that is more than a decade old is frequently labeled. I guess what’s considered “oldies” is all relative, but when I see bands like the Wallflowers categorized as Classic Rock, all I can do is shake my head, wondering not only how people determine these silly categories, but also thinking about how quickly the past couple of decades have flown by. Regardless of labels, I like listening to music from many eras. I love discovering music that was recorded before I was born, and I also try and stay on top of current sounds, buying a lot of albums from newer artists too. Here are some of my recent “new” favorites:
The Duke and the King are a band comprised of Simon Felice (yes, one of the Felice Brothers) and three other musicians. I’ve been playing their second album, Long Live the Duke and King, a lot lately. This is deliciously infectious music, combining soul and country with a dash of good old rock and roll. Felice, who co-produced the album, doesn’t disappoint, but it’s female vocalist Simi Stone who really steals the show on standout tracks like “No Easy Way Out.” There is a definite soul thread woven into many of the songs on this album, but it’s not so contrived or derivative that you think you are listening to Michael McDonald or some other blue-eyed crooner trying to sound funky. The Duke and the King are not shy about acknowledging their influences, but they have a naturally confident approach — and the chops to match —- that helps to make the songs on this album really sparkle.
The Grip Weeds had so many good songs in the bag that they decided to release a double album, Strange Change Machine. Almost every time I play this in my bookshop, a customer will ask: “What is this playing?” When I tell them it’s the Grip Weeds, that doesn’t produce any flickers of recognition, so I let them look at the CD cover and then they usually will write down the name of the band. The Grip Weeds definitely do not sound like most contemporary bands. Depending on the song playing, and the member handling vocal chores (both male and female), the Grip Weeds can sound like a dozen different bands, all of them good ones. I’ve read reviews that compare the music on this album to artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, The Who, the Byrds, and even Yes. None of those comparisons are totally far-fetched, but to my ears the Grip Weeds sound like something from a Nuggets compilation, a thrilling blend of 60s psychedelic rock covered with a 70s pop veneer. They even toss in a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” for good measure. I had never heard of this band prior to having them pop up on my Amazon “Recommended” list, but it turns out they have been together for 16 years and have released four other albums besides this jewel. Time to start hunting for some of those other ones.
Dawes is a California-based quartet, but one that sounds like they cut their musical teeth in the Deep South. Think of The Band, with a touch of Wilco and Jayhawks mixed in. Their new album North Hills is a superbly crafted work; starkly gorgeous vocals transporting songs of depth and clarity. My favorite track keeps changing each time I play this CD; is it “When My Time Comes” or “If You Let Me Be Your Anchor” … or perhaps “When You Call My Name” or “Peace in the Valley”? Damn, these are all great songs, the kind that stick in your head and make frequent revolutions. Honestly, this is one of the best albums I’ve heard in the past year. Can’t wait to hear more from this band.
The Monitor by Titus Andronicus has been called a concept album about the American Civil War, along with a few references to the state of New Jersey to make you wonder what’s going on. That might all sound like a weird mix, but in the context of this album it works. Really. Even if you aren’t a musket-toting rebel, or diehard Springsteen fan, don’t let that dissuade you from giving this album a listen. From the first track to the last, Titus Andronicus (a band, not a person) passionately deliver electric guitar-propelled songs with raw, unbridled energy. Combine their sloppily energetic approach with some very clever lyrics and you have a refreshingly inventive album. The closing track, “The Battle of Hampton Roads,” climaxes in a frenzy of raging guitars — and even some bagpipes — sounding like Thin Lizzy colliding with The Outlaws out in those old cotton fields. “Green Grass and Shamrock Tides” anyone?
Phosphorescent is basically just one guy, musician and vocalist Matthew Houck. I haven’t heard his new album, Here’s To Taking it Easy, yet, but I recently purchased To Willie, Phosphorescent’s 2009 tribute to Willie Nelson. Although Willie Nelson did not write all of the songs on this album, these are all tunes that he has recorded during his long and fruitful career. An all-Willie album might strike most listeners as an odd idea for a relatively unknown indie recording artist, perhaps dooming the project to commercial oblivion, but this is a very nice listening experience. Houck has obviously culled some of the better tunes from the Willie catalogue (“Reasons to Quit,” “It’s Not Supposed to be that Way,” “Pick up the Tempo,” “I Gotta Get Drunk,” “Can I Sleep in Your Arms,” and “The Party’s Over”), making sure that there is not a weak tune in the bunch. Nothing earth-shaking, weird or radical, just good songs performed with reverence and smooth vocals, not unlike Willie’s own style. Even the cover of this CD is a throwback, mimicking Willie’s 1975 tribute to Lefty Frizell; To Lefty from Willie.