Album Reviews

Lilly Hiatt – Royal Blue [album review]

by Woody on April 17, 2015

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From the minute I heard Royal Blue, I couldn’t help be reminded of Lydia Loveless. Both seem to encapsulate the conflict a woman has been brashness and vulnerability. While Hiatt is also steeped in the world of twang, it seemed to veer from that outlaw, bad girl sound that Loveless perfected on Somewhere Else. A few listens in and then you start to recognize the synths more and realize that the daughter of John Hiatt has taken as much influence from 80s synth as she has from Nashville twang.

I wasn’t hip to Hiatt’s last album, Let Down, and in hindsight I am glad I wasn’t. I have to say if I was and had seen that Royal Blue was going to feature synths I would have been less than enthusiastic. But they are far from overwhelming and really add something to music.

Most of the songs deal with a story of broken love. From what I can tell, the songs aren’t auto-biographical as they seem to be short vignettes with different protagonists. One of my favorites is Jesus Would’ve Let Me Pick The Restaurant, a track of a woman tiring of her man’s overly religious ways and hitting the road. Your Choice puts the woman in the role of the heartbroken. Like many before and many since, she wishes for her ex to think of her at every turn of the day. She has a resolute toughness as she croons, ā€œIā€™d rather throw a punch than bat an eye.ā€

Royal Blue is quality playing, writing and execution. I love how she’s taken the classic country sound and added a couple of flourishes to make her own flavor.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Lilly Hiatt is here

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Let’s face it. Brittany Howard is a once-in-a-generation talent. Her voice can bring you to your knees one minute and have you charging into battle the next. And while she may be the star, the fact that she was able to link up with three other amazing musicians at such a tender age is fortuitous, to say the least. Bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson are the backbone of the band. Their playing is absolutely out of this world on Sound & Color. Howard and fellow guitarist Heath Fogg can kick out riffs in their sleep, and the solos are dripping with tones.

From the minute I heard their EP, I knew stardom was on the horizon. Needless to say, I wasn’t alone in my assessment. At our session in 2011, I was chatting with Johnson’s drummer about their ascension. Mr. Johnson commented that the band was starting to get a little overwhelmed by all that was happening and I immediately responded that they better get ready for a crazy ride. And it seems they were. Through a combo of each other, good management and family; the band made it through the craziness in tact and ready for the dreaded sophomore album.

With Howard’s vocal chops, they could have easily just redid Boys & Girls and people would have went apeshit for it. To say Sound & Color is the antithesis of a mailed-in effort is an understatement. Along with producer, Blake Mills, the band dug deep into their influences and pushed themselves to another level. That isn’t to say, the band forgot their roots. That’s clearly evident on lead single, Don’t Want To Fight. The track opens with a nasty riff from Fogg before Cockrell & Johnson kick in a meaty backbeat. At 40 seconds, Howard lets out a squeal that feels like she’s been keeping it bottled up for 5 years. At that point, you know shit’s going to get real on this album.

Give Me All Your Love is the musical equivalent of a sexual encounter. It starts all hot and heavy before easing into a period of foreplay with ups and downs. At about 2:15, the songs stops as Fogg gently strums a few quiet chords. I call this The Vinegar Strokes in homage to The League. Then Cockrell & Johnson take shit over and they deliver a climax worthy of your greatest sexual conquest. Fogg’s solo is thick and meaty like a porterhouse. My only complaint is one that I hear all too often, it ended too abruptly and it didn’t last long enough.

Towards the end of the album, Miss You, does what I can only describe as her best Otis Redding. It slow, sultry and sexy until Howard lets loose. As the band heats up, you can almost picture holding up the fist to have the band stop on a dime, only to rev it back up again. Towards the end, as she howls repeatedly, “I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m yours,” one can’t help but picture her hunched over screaming into microphone, sweat and spit flying; like it was meant to be.

Alabama Shakes had a lot to live up with this album. They pushed and challenged themselves to a reach higher level. While Sound & Color might not have a single like Hold On to dominate the radio but overall it is a much stronger better album – better songs, better production, better playing, better everything. This album kicks ass.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Alabama Shakes is here

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Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp [album review]

by Woody on April 13, 2015

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I was on the fence about Waxahatchee, aka Katie Crutchfield, prior to SXSW. I dug some of the tracks on her prior album, Cerculean Salt, but not enough to really rope me in. So when the SXSW Gods slipped her on to a Tuesday night showcase with Ryler Walker, Steve Gunn, TORESS and Angel Olsen; I figured this was my chance to come to a verdict.

The show was at The Mohawk and Crutchfield was playing solo. Crutchfield had this innocence that kicked off a vibe like she was shocked to be there. At one point, her sister came out to lend a hand on harmonies. It was heartwarming moment as they knocked out a few tunes. In reading this ā€œI think a running theme [of Ivy Tripp] is steadying yourself on shaky ground and reminding yourself that you have control in situations that seem overwhelming, or just being cognizant in moments of deep confusion or sadness, and learning to really feel emotions and to grow from that,” her demeanor really made sense.

To steady herself for her Merge Records debut, Crutchfield leans heavily on the music of her youth {sadly the music of my young adulthood}. It is a varied trip through 90s college rock that is enjoyable as it is challenging. People are always bitching that new music isn’t original, that they are playing the music of their youth. Well, no shit. Good musicians are influenced by people they respect and admire. Hopefully they take that, put their own spin it and come up with something different and/or better. And then they grow from there, becoming influenced by their peers.

Crutchfield has done that with Ivy Tripp. Part of the beauty of Ivy Tripp is that its all over the place. Some slow brooding tunes like the opener Breathless. The second track, Under A Rock, would have been on the radio and 120 Minutes during the 90. I love the way she counts of at the beginning, almost reinforcing the innocence. There’s a little anger and angst that mixes well with my perceived innocence.

La Loose works in a drum machine which will usually draw my ire. But after the thick and heavy track, Poison, it really lends an update pop feeling to the album. Lastly, Air is one of my favorites. Its a slow, deliberate track where Crutchfield examines a fraying relationship. The plodding rhythm section gives Crutchfield plenty of space to really leave her stamp.

Immediately after returning home, I emailed Merge for my review copy. I haven’t stopped listening since. I suggest you do the same.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Waxahatchee is here

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Come Saturdays at SXSW, I am usually hanging by a thread. In addition to exhaustion, this year’s Saturday had the added bonus of a steady rain. So while cuddling up with Jefe in our warm hotel room and watching a Real Housewives marathon was appealing, we set out to see some live music with our first to-do being The Lowest Pair.

The Lowest Pair are Washington-based Kendl Winter and Minnesotan Palmer T. Lee. I had spun their album a couple of times before SXSW and enjoyed it. But after a nice chat with the duo and their set; I haven’t been able to put it down. They play a sparse brand of bluegrass on “dueling” banjos that is so beautiful in its simplicity that it is jaw-dropping to see them perform it live.

The second track, Hogtied, is a highlight. The first two verses has Winter handling the ‘call’ duties and Lee handling the ‘response’ before meeting up for harmonies on the chorus. They switch roles for the last two verses. It is so subtle and highlights how well their voices play off each other. Winter has more nasal twang to it while Lee has this warm, classic feel to it.

A couple of tracks later, Winter takes the reins to herself for In The Durning Of A Moment and knock it out of the park. Next track up, Lee does the heavy lifting on Minnesota, Mend Me. On each track, the other comes in to add some punch during the chorus. Like Shovels & Rope, you really enjoy the time that each has on their own but the knockout punch is always delivered when they join up.

The Sacred Heart Sessions is Americana at its best. They are flying under the radar now but don’t think that will be much longer.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

The Lowest Pair is here

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Porter – This Red Mountain [album review]

April 3, 2015

Porter is the stage name of one Chris Porter. While Porter has been in the business for years working with acts The Back Row Baptists and Some Dark Holler; this the first time I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with his music. This Red Mountain is his solo debut and it is a cracking [...]

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Made Violent – s/t EP [album review]

March 31, 2015

Made Violent are a trio out of Buffalo comprised of Joseph White (bass/vocals), Rob Romano (guitar) and Justin Acee (drums). They’ve recently release their debut EP and subsequently made their was to SXSW. Our crew rolled in for a night set at Maggie Mae’s. While the sound system was “meh”, we all managed to have [...]

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Ryley Walker – Primrose Green [album review]

March 30, 2015

The Grateful Dead are coming to Chicago to play their Farewell shows. I was a major Head back in the day. The Dead shaped my musical tastes and persona like no other musical act over the course of 70 some-odd shows like no other band before and no other band since. But truth be told, [...]

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Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit [album review]

March 24, 2015

I have a misconception amongst friends that I don’t like pop music. I like good pop music just fine. For Christ sakes, The Beatles were pop music and I think they’re pretty swell. The problem with the new age of pop music as well as new TV is that we are force fed a non-stop [...]

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Houndmouth – Little Neon Limelight [album review]

March 15, 2015

A couple of years ago we all became enamored with Houndmouth after catching a set at SXSW. Since then, I’ve seen them another 3 to 4 times here in Chicago which heightened my appreciation for the Americana quartet from New Albany, Indiana – guitarist Matt Myers, keyboardist Katie Toupin, drummer Shane Cody and bassist Zak [...]

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Bee Caves – Animals With Religion (album review) SXSW shows

March 12, 2015

Bee Caves are a band out of Austin, TX and I think they are named after a small town in Texas, called Bee Cave. I stumbled across them in a post about some SXSW party or another. I clicked on them because I liked their name, nothing else. Finally, judging a book by its cover [...]

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