I don’t know what the criteria were or the science behind the poll, but, anecdotally, it seems to make sense. For some God forsaken reason, I’m still on Facebook and I look at it pretty regularly. And I gotta say that lots of what I see coming out of there is less than cheery. I have friends there that are dealing with real struggles, same as everywhere else, but they somehow seem more concentrated in that town. As always, your point of view depends on where you choose to place your focus. I’m not much of a cheerleader myself, but I spend a fair amount of time researching ways to become more peaceful, if not “happy.” Recently, I’ve begun to consider the angle that we should look for ways to make our lives more purposeful rather than making ourselves happy. Anyway, there are, and likely always will be, folks in that area that are doing fun things and emphasizing ways to engage with their community. Downtown Augusta was straight ghostly when I was there. By comparison, it is positively thriving now. T. Hardy Morris escaped to Athens where he’s made quite a national name for himself as a solo artist, and as a member of Diamond Rugs and Dead Confederate. His latest is a full band effort called Drownin (sic) On A Mountaintop. I hope Augusta is proud. I kinda am.
Not that I know the guy or that I’m in any way responsible for his success. I remember seeing him play with a group called Redbelly way back. I don’t know the first thing about Dead Confederate, and the only thing I know about Diamond Rugs is that he plays in that band alongside one of the Los Lobos guys. I call that “making it.” His first solo record was a quiet affair, this one is less so. The instrumentation is cool. Basically, a power trio held together by the addition of a pedal steel. That’s fun, right? The steel kinda serves the same purposes that an organ often does while offering an interesting perspective from atop a wall of distortion. Or a mountaintop. The songs are mostly simple, and Morris’s voice breaks in all the right places with impeccable timing. He’s got that nasally thing happening that white folks have been so crazy about since the Flaming Lips gained traction, but he’s also got power and some range. This collection of tunes seems designed to be enjoyed as a unit. The title track, near the end of the second side, was the first one that jumped out of the fray and grabbed my neck. I know he played some dates with Dwight Yoakam recently, and I’d have loved to have seen that. The fit is not as incongruous as it would seem as Dwight comes from a loud background that most of us never got to hear. I bet he liked T. Hardy just fine. Especially with that pedal steel happening.
This is a single white disc pressed just okay-ly with some crackles and pops. Download card included with a short essay by Patterson Hood. I’m glad Morris and his music made it out into the world. Those with able bodies and minds needn’t shelter in place if they’d prefer not to.
It’s Fruit Bats time again! I’m trying not to overwhelm y’all with my new(ish) discovery by spreading these reviews out over the course of a few months. But I’m not done. Eric D. Johnson is all up on my radar, and there are a couple more to explore. But that’ll be later. This month, we’re listening to The Ruminant Band from 2009. This is another of his Sub Pop titles (along with the previously reviewed Tripper). They’re still available through that label’s site, and they’re great. And they’re comparatively affordable. Get them while they’re hot(ish). You’d be crazy not to.
This one’s a little breezier than Tripper, but with way more electric instrumentation than what was on Glory of Fruit Bats. I thought that Glory… was specific to Record Store Day, and it may have been, but there were multiple copies at my independent retailer when I dropped by last week (to sell some records for store credit in anticipation of this year’s RSD, which has way more full-length must haves than any previous year). This one seems to have a lyrical theme that I have a hard time following despite the printed lyrics in the album’s gatefold. The word “ruminant” pops up outside the context of the title track, for instance. Said title track has a guitar solo on it straight out of Eat A Peach which provides an interesting counterpoint to the more typically Beatles-esque grub that Johnson usually serves. And that is in no short supply here either. If I had to point to what seems like Johnson’s most obvious influence, the Beatles would be it. (The Beatles are always “it,” but that’s not news.) And, why not? I mean, if you have the tools, build the damn house, right? There’s not a more solid foundation to build a popular music structure upon than the one that the Beatles gave us. This is not to suggest that Johnson’s ripping anyone off. It’s in our (my?) lazy nature, I feel like, to look for connections to previously experienced episodes rather than wrestling with the newness of something so grand on its own terms. Fruit Bats have their own sound, and I hear John and Paul floating under its surface sometimes. That’s all I’m saying.
And I give Johnson wide berth, man. I was a little turned off by hearing him sing about the “beautiful morning light” at first. Thought he could have worked a bit more, and come up with something more descriptive and original than “beautiful.” Then, I realized that he’d doubled down and named the damn song “Beautiful Morning Light,” and somehow that pulled me back up on the horse. Dude’s not afraid to risk being uncool, whatever counts for “cool” at this stage of the game. What’s cool to me is that this guy produced an album full of competent playing and great singing, and that there’s more to explore. He folded the band a while back before reconvening it a couple of years ago. I hope he keeps working. I don’t find new bands that I feel this strongly about too often. Once a decade, at best.
This is a single well-pressed, inexpensive record full of jaunty, carefree tunes. It’s like a damn salve for what’s happening around here in 2017. Thanks, Eric.
2017 just got even stranger, if you can believe that. It appears that Robert Downey Jr. made a record of acoustic 12-string Blues tunes. Just kidding. But it really does appear that way because Todd Albright looks just like Ironman. With Robert De Niro’s fingernails in Angel Heart. He named his record Detroit Twelve String: Blues and Rags. Title says it all, really, although I’ve been heretofore unfamiliar with the Detroit 12-string sound, if there is such a thing. Dude acknowledges Willie McTell (Georgia, naturally) and Lemon Jefferson (Texas) as influences so maybe he’s blazing the Detroit 12-string trail. This is a good one, gang. A happy discovery in a time of need. I’ll take what I can get.
This is a one man show produced simply without fluff or fanfare. Albright is fleet of finger, and adept with a slide. His voice is appropriately haggard. I don’t really feel like I’ve been sent back in time when listening to it, maybe because of the recording’s high (enough) quality. Albright’s takes don’t sound like they were cut into aluminum discs with an ocean roaring in the background, but the style seems authentic. The ear test reveals this collection of songs to be a compelling, fun romp through a mostly bygone era. “Rising River Blues” is the standout track for me. Maybe it’s the subject matter. Dylan’s “High Water (for Charley Patton)” might be my favorite of his tunes from the last couple of decades too. Albright’s song involves some tempo changes which create lots of emotional tension so that the choruses really chug and grind against the more leisurely verses. Some might find it jarring, but I say “why not?” I’d imagine its fun to escape the confines of a steady beat on occasion, especially if you’re the train’s lone conductor. Might as well spread out and explore the terrain, right?
I’ve suddenly amassed a pretty cool collection of acoustic Blues tunes that would likely satisfy all but the most strident audiophiles’ ears. I’m thinking of the Analogue Productions titles by Muddy and Lightnin’, as well as the Pure Pleasure Son House (who met his end in Detroit) comp. To be clear, this is not necessarily one of those, but the recording quality is fine for the material, and I’ll likely reach for this title whenever I pull those others off the shelf. This is a Third Man production, but it was not pressed at their new plant (in Detroit). This was pressed by United in Nashville, and they nailed it! Going out with the proverbial bang, I suppose. Go figure.
Todd Albright might have earned my support just for going through the pain in the ass of tuning his 12-string. As is, he earned it by producing a cool little EP with eight good songs on it that costs 10 American dollars. Lyric sheet included. Just watch out for those fingernails. They look lethal.
My Sainted Mother bought me a copy of Dylan’s initial Bootleg Series release on three CDs when I was a junior in high school way back in 1991. I wore it out. I still think it’s the best installment in that series, but that might just be because it was the set that lured me right into Dylan’s hook. I never got away. They didn’t have their system down yet, which is why this set is referred to as Volumes 1-3 (for the three damn CDs?!) rather than just Volume 1. Much like my hunt for an affordable mono copy of the Kinks’ Village Green, I could never find a vinyl copy of Dylan’s set that wouldn’t have required me to plan some unscrupulous heist to get my hands on one. I flipped when I saw a reissue was forthcoming, and again when I realized that all five records in this set are pressed as close to flawlessly as non-audiophile five record sets get. There are legitimately great tunes on each disc, and the material spans three decades. It might take Dylan that long to collect his Nobel Prize, and me that long to get over the majesty of this set. Hell, it almost already has.
As one would surmise, the material herein starts with Dylan’s “Woody Era,” and progresses to his collaborations with folks like Mark Knopfler and Daniel Lanois. I always thought that set closer “Series of Dreams” was from Under The Red Sky, but Oh Mercy is Dylan’s most recent record represented on this set. The real goods are in between. Oh mercy, indeed. There are versions of some of Dylan’s best known tunes (“Rolling Stone,” “It Takes A Lot To Laugh,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues”) that are wildly different than the ones we’re most familiar with. My personal fave is probably an outtake from Bringing It All Back Home called “If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Gotta Stay All Night).” It’s the first song I ever sang live with a band in front of a paying audience, and this version beats the one on The Cutting Edge set according to my ringing ears. The LP-sized book is more detailed than most of the other Bootleg Series liners, which is understandable as this set covers many more years than the others do. I might recommend this set as an entry point for a foundling fan. It worked for me to great effect, and it truly does serve as a sort of Dylan Primer that I can’t imagine being without. Just looking at the larger form artwork after keeping the 3 CD set intact all these years gives me a sense of wistfulness and wonder that hit me square in the chest straight out of the delivery box. These are weird words to use when speaking of some cardboard and reconfigured vinyl pellets, I realize, but they’re also the truth. This set has gravitas, man. Like I imagine it would have felt to see John Gielgud perform Shakespeare. I mean, how much of a badass do you need to be? Save some for the rest of us, gentlemen. Damn.
I could go on for days. If there was a book about this set, I’d read it in one sitting. The Bootleg Series is a miracle in and of itself, and this might be the crown jewel. If they ever release a more compelling one, I hope I’m around to hear it.
I looked for an original copy of The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society in mono for probably four years before I decided to wait for a quality reissue. People were asking hundreds of dollars for it, and I figured someone would do the right thing with it at some point. (There have always been versions available that I didn’t trust.) I didn’t realize how right I was or how much I had to look forward to. The band’s Mono Collection box set was shrouded in mystery when first announced. No one could find any info about the sources being used, but the news was euphoric when it finally came to light. None other than Kevin Gray himself would be twisting the knobs, and he’d be using the original master tapes. That does not necessarily mean that there were no digital elements introduced, but I can’t imagine that it’s ever going to get any better. Seems like a project of this magnitude would put the lid on reputable Kinks reissues in my lifetime. Lord, have mercy. It’s been hard to listen to much else.
And that’s because I was woefully ignorant about the bulk of the band’s work. Which is weird as I’d decided long ago that the Kinks were probably the third most impactful band from the British Invasion. I’ve loved Muswell Hillbillies (not included) forever, and the Lola record (not included) is big on my radar, but this box compiles the band’s first seven studio albums, a live one, and a two-disc comp that I was mostly unfamiliar with. Face To Face (the band’s fourth release) is great, and signaled a shift in the band’s musical direction that would culminate in the Village Green and Arthur albums. Those are the three titles that I knew already. I feel like the Kinks followed a pretty straight trajectory over the course of these seven studio records. Upwards. At the most basic level, the records mostly go from crunchy rockers (“You Really Got Me,” from their eponymous debut) to more melodic, nuanced fare on the later works. “Picture Book,” from Village Green, is about as much fun as you can have listening to Rock ’n Roll music. “Shangri-La,” from Arthur is right behind.
The Kinks kinda set themselves apart from the Beatles and Stones with their humor and focus on British concerns. Not that the other bands didn’t offer observations on their native country, but the Kinks seem a little less influenced by American sounds. And not that the other bands didn’t have a sense of humor, but the only band that I can think of that could challenge the Kinks on that front at that time was the Small Faces/Faces. The Kinks were also really early in the Concept Album game. Their later records often reference themselves as well as previous releases. Barrel of monkeys, man. Trust me on this one.
Of all the records on this set, you can probably skip the live one which involves as much (fake) crowd noise as music. And I don’t think the compilation was sourced from original tapes. The records themselves are extremely well pressed (every damn one!), and presented in a cool box with an okay full-sized book. If you’re a vinyl fan and a Kinks freak, this is your time. The entire set costs less than a decent original Village Green. Have a spotta tea, and rejoice.