EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: August 30th, 2013

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by Chris Familton

Welcome to the inaugural Eight Days A Week column where every Friday morning I’ll round up what caught my ears and eyes over the week, what is coming up in the near future in terms of gigs, new releases, news etc. plus any other goings on in my music dominated life.

This week much of the internet chatter surrounded the flatulence of the MTV VMA Awards where Miley Cyrus got down and dirty in her performance. For my mind it was just a poorly executed attempt at poking fun at the current state of commercial pop and r&b that relies for the most part on sexual imagery and a blatant disregard for intellect and the art of music. Yeah she didn’t pull it off but it was the logical (though unfortunately not the end-point) culmination of what the industry (artists, record companies, PR) has created, plus it probably got more people talking VMAs round the water cooler than recent years.

There have been a couple of new and recent releases that I’ve been hitting repeat on this week and really digging. Austin Lucas, who was in Australia earlier this year doing a solo tour, has released his excellent new LP Stay Reckless and it finds him really coming of age as an Americana songwriter and highlights his superb voice and guitar playing.

Zola Jesus is someone I’ve been a big fan of for a few years now and her new album Versions continues her evolution as an artist, constantly exploring new angles and possibilities in her music. Versions is a collaboration with JG Thirlwell (aka Foetus) who has scored strings beneath a collection of her previously released songs and it works magnificently, amplifying the drama that is always inherent to her work.

The summer festivals are only a season away now and the announcements are coming thick and fast. Big Day Out snared some big names but last week Soundwave Festival trumped it with its mega metal lineup that includes Green Day, Megadeth, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Rob Zombie, Placebo, Clutch, Baroness. Soundwave isn’t generally my cup of tea – I’ve only been once when Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, Sunny Day Real Estate, Anthrax etc played – but it looks like they’ve got a pretty good balance this year between all the different strands of metal. Bluesfest also announced their first batch of acts this week and though it was great to see the likes of Iron & Wine, Devendra Banhardt there, it was outweighed by the beige blandness of John Mayer and Dave Matthews Band sitting on top as two (of what will be many) headliners. Personally I’m hanging to see what Laneway Festival can deliver in 2014…

Speaking of metal/rock I pondered the current state of it on the DS Facebook Page this week saying…

Where are all the great new rock bands?
Looking back at some Lollapalooza lineups (Jane’s Addiction, NIN, Rollins Band, Ministry, Soundgarden, Tool, Alice In Chains, QOTSA) got me thinking about the current state of rock, particularly that sweet spot where brutal riffs, swagger, melody and intelligent ideas all converge. For me the new(ish) bands nailing it are the likes of Baroness, Mastodon, METZ, Pissed Jeans, Protomartyr, Red Fang but it sure doesn’t feel like a deep playing field. Are there any bands of that ilk hitting the mark for you?

On a more personal note, some of you may know that I play bass in the band Charlie Horse. We’ve got a new album out in October with release shows lined up in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane as well as a trip across the Tasman to play a few dates in New Zealand so things are going to get busy with all things band and blogging. Last week we played two support slots for Irish band Ash who were playing their great album 1977 in full. Sydney and Brisbane were a blast and we rounded out the week by playing PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love LP in full at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Seeing as this column is intended to cover everything I encounter musically I figured there may be some interest in the occasional insight into recording, touring etc. so I’ll include some highlights every now and then in the Eight Days A Week dispatches.

If you are a fan of Americana music, whether it be alt-country, folk, rockabilly, blues (or like me, all of the above) you should check out my other blog Post To Wire which looks specifically at those musical forms with reviews, news, videos etc. There tends to be a focus on the Australian and New Zealand scenes but I try to cover everything good that I come across from mid century hillbilly boogie to the latest Texas troubadour.

Finally it was exciting to find out Doubtful Sounds (and also Post To Wire) have been included in the 20 finalists of the music blog category of the 2013 Pedestrian.TV Ultrabook Blogster Awards. This the second year running DS has been a finalist so we’re pretty happy just to be one of the blogs in the running for the award. Congrats to all the other finalists too. We’ll be reminding (hassling) you to throw a vote our way over the next 4 weeks and I’ll keep you informed about how we go.

PTW 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Young & Crazy Horse | Americana

by C. Familton

When news first broke that Neil Young & Crazy Horse were reconvening there was a palpable sense of excitement in the virtual air online yet for many that initial burst of joy quickly turned to apprehension when word seeped out that their first new release was going to be a collection of traditional folk songs, many of which are staples of childhood communal sing-a-longs and to cap it all off they’d recorded a version of the English national anthem God Save The Queen. The good news – and there is only good news with Americana – is that Crazy Horse are well and truly back in the saddle and have taken ownership of this batch of songs with the kind of brutal sensitivity that only they are capable of.

The opening track Oh Susannah was the first taste of the album to make its way into the general public and it gives a fair indication of how the rest of the record rolls out. The rhythm section is solid, plodding and beautifully primitive yet in Billy Talbot’s playing there is a melodic swing that belies the simplicity of the overall feel of his and drummer Ralph Molina’s interaction. The song feels like a loose jam committed to tape very early in its genesis and held together by that magical glue of familiarity and well worn comfort that binds Young and the band.

Clementine was for most of us a song that was akin to a nursery rhyme about the daughter of a miner. We didn’t really know or understand much about her but it was fun to sing along to, cross legged in the school assembly hall. Young takes that innocence and imbues it with tragedy by reinstating more of the original lyrics and indeed the meaning of the song which addresses either a father or lover’s ache for his lost loved one who has drowned in an accident. Young’s guitar adds gravitas to the tragic mood with its dark slashing chords ringing out amongst the words. Crazy Horse apply the same technique to Jesus’ Chariot (She’ll Be coming Round The Mountain) recasting our childhood memories of some lady about to arrive in a chariot drawn by white horses. Ostensibly a tale of the second coming of Jesus the band build a mood of heavy anticipation with Molina’s booming toms and Young’s wailing slide guitar.

Young has always reveled in rearranging and reinterpreting songs and on American he is up to his magnificent tricks all over the place. Both Tom Dula and the brilliant High Flyin’ Bird use arrangements that Young first played in his pre-Buffalo Springfield band The Squires while Gallows Pole utilises Odetta’s version of the folk classic. On that song, as on most songs on the album, Young’s voice is echoed and complemented by the Americana Choir that builds the communal feel of the album extremely effectively. The choir almost becomes the central instrument on Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land alongside guest vocals from Pegi Young and Stephen Stills. For a song that has been sung to death over the years and probably lost most of its original impact Young & Crazy Horse’s treatment brings it to life, stripping off the sepia tone coating and injecting it with technicolor. Reclamation at its finest.

Americana concludes with their take on God Save The Queen that retains a stately anthemic feel with its marching drums and backing vocals. Young explains in the liner notes that the song has its origins in the 17th century and was sung throughout the Commonwealth, including America prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This of course makes total sense in the context of Americana as a conceptual exercise and purely as melodic exercise it works wonderfully with Young’s guitar casting a sonic nod to Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner.

Americana reminds us how visceral, primitive and unique Crazy Horse are as a band when they are paired with Neil Young. Very few other artists could attempt to reclaim archaic traditional folk songs and pull it off so perfectly. If Greendale (the last album to feature Crazy Horse members) felt a little forced and contrived then Americana feels completely natural. Four men with guitars and drums, their voices and the essential ingredients of grit and simplicity as their tools. Crazy Horse rides again.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

 

WATCH: Neil Young & Crazy Horse | God Save The Queen

Neil Young & Crazy Horse have released the fourth video from their new LP Americana which is due to be released June 5th. God Save The Queen casts the English national anthem in a new light with backing choir and that iconic stomping Crazy Horse rhythm section. Though not as good as the first songs we’ve heard (ClementineOh Susannah and Jesus’ Chariot) it is still a damn sight better than the usual anthem fare.

WATCH: Neil Young & Crazy Horse | Oh Susannah [NEW]

Here it is, the first single from the brand new Neil Young & Crazy Horse LP Americana. The album is the band’s first since Greendale in 2003 and and their first with the full Crazy Horse line-up of Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Frank ‘Poncho’ Sampedro since the underwhelming Broken Arrow in 1996. The band sounds fresh and breathing new life into the classic folk song. You can hear Young talking up the groove and funkiness of the track at its conclusion.

Americana is out June 5th, click HERE to pre-order.

REVIEW: RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS – Cardinology

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The ever prolific Ryan Adams has another record for us, the fourth with his band The Cardinals and his tenth since Heartbreaker back in 2000.  Apart from 2006, Adams has released one album per year since the turn of the century and in fact released three in 2005 (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29) and he also produced Willie Nelson’s Songbird with backing from the Cardinals in 2006.

Since apparently overcoming substance abuse two years ago one could argue that his music has lacked the previous emotional depth or sincerity that was a feature of earlier records.  Easy Tiger was a solid but not spectacular release and Cardinology follows that template in structure and style.  The songs are made up of heart wrenching love lost ballads (Stop), mid tempo country shuffles (Evergreen) and angular melodic rockers (Fix It) but the overarching feeling is one of Ryan on remote control.  Not to say that is a bad thing.  On auto pilot he still stands head and shoulders above the plethora of classic americana singer songwriters currently peddling their wares.

The one track that stands out from the rest of the record is Stop which sonically sits next to the Love is Hell album(s).  Sparse and intimate, it features vocals half whispered and an almost lone piano with hints of percussion and strings wafting through. Lyrically there are references to drug addiction and salvation and a reaching out to others in the same boat.  The conviction of Ryan’s confessional style can often be questioned but in this case it rings true with verses such as… “I know a place where the future is denied, I know a hand that twitches inside, for some of us the glass is filled with lights, but if the honey makes you sick, honey, there is a line that must be walked, If you wanna make it stop, then stop”.

At the other end of the spectrum there should be special mention given to the cod rocking travesty that is Magick.  Was this a tongue in cheek inclusion? I suppose time will tell when we see if it is included in live sets.  It sounds like it was thrown together in mere minutes with its MOR power chords and chorus of … “So turn the radio on, so turn the radio up, so turn the radio up loud and get down, let your body move let your body sway, listen to the music play , It’s magick, It’s magick”. Truly horrible and one to skip.

One of the album’s successes is Ryan’s melodic ability.  Via his guitar lines and vocals he still consistently delivers melodies that pull at the heart strings, that lift you up or calm you down like on the lilting Evergreen.  He knows when to harmonise and when to let the voice lay bare.  It really is one of his true talents behind all of the tantrums and dubious decisions (Rock n Roll, messy web releases) and it is what keeps the fans buying his records and sticking with him on his journey through the American songbook.

Cardinology is not his best, it probably will end up sitting alongside Easy Tiger, beneath the holy triumvirate of 2005 and with Heartbreaker still holding firm as his best.

Here is Cobwebs performed on Letterman as a web exclusive:


REVIEW: EARTH vs BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT

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Listening to both these records over the weekend I sensed a real connection and some common threads running between the two of them.  Made from two different environments and perspectives but sharing some of the same sonic aesthetics, they are disparate personalites travelling on opposite sides of the same road, with the same destination.

Earth is a band that revolves around Dylan Carlson, the one constant member since the formation of the band in Olympia, Washington back in 1991.  Their sound has slowly evolved from dense, suffocating drone metal to the more structured grandeur of the last three years.  In this time they have released three brilliant records with Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, Hibernaculum and now The Bees Made Honey

Brightblack Morning Light formed more recently in 2001 and revolve around the New Mexico duo of Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes.  Their first full length was Ala.Cali.Tucky under the name Brightblack, followed by the self titled Brightblack Morning Light and now the new Motion to Rejoin.

Earth operate as a purely instrumental band, using large dynamics, repetition and drone as the constant tools to create an atmosphere.  One that conjures up images of bold landscapes, impending doom and the parched and windswept American desert.  Brightblack on the other hand use a different kind of drone and repetition.  Theirs is a drifting, woozier haze.  Their desert is drowning in the twilight, or shimmering in the glow of the last rays of the day.  It doesn’t quite produce the same feelings of dread or of marching into danger but it is still nonetheless unsettling.

Earth’s evolution has seen the inclusion of a wider palette of instruments.  We hear piano, organ and glockenspiel chiming with and against guitar tones that shimmer darkly.  Tones that have the same depth and grit as those Neil Young conjured up for the Dead Man soundtrack.  The hymnal twang that Carlson creates reverberates and swells through the canyons in almost slow motion.  The sound is mesmerizing in that you feel like you are slowly being led somewhere against your will, towards the end of the earth, it’s a feeling that the space and texture builds up chord by chord.  The one track that perhaps rises above that is Miami Morning Coming Down II (Shine).  Here the mood is more optimistic with a chiming guitar melody rising and falling over a cathedral organ sermon.  The old phrase that comes to mind is ‘behind every cloud is a silver lining’.

Motion To Rejoin also moves through the same canyons but its journey is more intimate and mystical.  The swirling tones and vocal incantations, though often lyrically indiscernable, build a mood of campfire cermonies, mexican potions, smoke and ghosts.  Songs like Gathered Years also trade in the stop start lumbering rhythm but the gospel vibe in their church is a dreamier one of spells rather than brimstone and doom.

I highly recommend checking out both these records if you are curious or a fan of this psychedelic blues strand of americana and other bands such as Dirty Three, Neil Young, Mogwai, Calexico, WovenHand, Spiritualized and Metallic Falcon.

Earth – Engine Of Ruin (song)

Brightblack Morning Light – Hologram Buffalo (song)

REVIEW: BLITZEN TRAPPER – FURR

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The 2007 release (Wild Mountain Nation) from this Portland band was a woolly affair that contained a wide range of stylistics influences and directions.  It is no surprise that this new record follows the same recipe but this time using fresher and better quality ingredients.

Eric Earley has created a fantastical world of kids raised by wolves (Furr), killers plying their trade in the expectation of redemption (Black River Killer) and living the illusion of love (Not Your Lover).  His recurring themes of trains, dust, rivers and moons are the main lyrical links to the the americana comparisons that are so often levelled at Blitzen Trapper but the sense of the album really seems to be about finding oneself, discovery and escaping from something, whether it is day to day life (Saturday Night) or a relationship (the Neil Young tinged Not Your Lover).

Musically, Blitzen Trapper bring all the toys to the party.  Their style is a type of glam americana.  It has it’s roots in storytelling and acoustic instrumentation but they constantly play with the form and add in Roxy Music style vamps and pop sensibilities in the rhythms and bounce of some of the tracks. Love U starts with a Vince Neil style croon before crashing into a spiralling distorted clatter of drums and wonky guitars while War on Machines comes across like Marc Bolan fronting Sloan.  Stolen Echoes + A Rifle could have been lifted from a Drive By Truckers record.

A pastiche of pop, country and art rock it may be but the essence still remains with the melodies, both musical and lyrical that make this a winner for summer days and long drives…