Album Reviews

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For the first time, Trampled By Turtles, stepped outside their comfort zone and spent more than a couple of days recording an album. They brought in Alan Sparhawk of Low to handle the knobs and hit the record button. And while I am not a Low fanatic like some, their ability to meticulously craft beauty rubs off on their fellow Duluth band.

Trampled By Turtles hooked me with their frenetic jams; feeling as if they were lifting you to another realm. With Stars and Satellites and even more with Wild Animals, the quintet continues to refine their craftsmanship. Wild Animals is their slowest album to date, haunting in parts; but still leaves you feeling emotionally drained by its end. Lead singer Dave Simonett’s voice effortlessly blends with the strings throughout as opposed to fighting for its own space. That’s not to say that when the boys release the hand-brake with Come Back Home, it isn’t everything you love about this band. It is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

But while I hope the boys move back towards their up-tempo fare in the future albums, this was the album they needed to make now. And hell, it might even be their best but that’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid. It’s Hank this week, by the way. Simonett had this to say, We all tried to come into this thing extremely open-minded. How can we sound new to ourselves? I feel like the sound has changed and is changing, especially from Palomino to now. A lot of our reputation from even just a couple years ago was that we were this fast band, which we can do, and we do that. But this record focused a little bit more on other aspects of our playing together.”

Wild Animals opens up like Stars and Satellites, like an animal just peering out of its cage. While Midnight On The Interstate was achingly beautiful in its sparse nature (I just listened to it as I wrote this and still got goosebumps); the title track is a haunting number where Ryan Young’s fiddle creeps up and down your spine.

Are You Behind The Shining Star? has many of the same qualities that made Alone such a striking track. Nobody Knows has a back-porch sing-along feel to it. You can see that kicking towards the end of a set with some crowd participation. And the album closes with a tender track called Winners, reminding you of Palomino’s ending track – Again.

But as much as myself or anybody else writes about this album, the only way to judge TBT is by their live show. It has blossomed into a fervent, communal affair with fans singing every word.

Our full session is here

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Trampled By Turtles is here

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Happyness band

Happyness are a three piece of 90′s inspired college rock that came out of nowhere to knock my socks off. Happyness are out of the UK and their album reminds me of Pavement with their quirky lyrics, Grandaddy with the lo-fi delivery of the vocals and Summerteeth-era Wilco with some of the arrangements. I am sure others will hear other influences but for me; those are three tasty influence and they add up to a hell of a debut.

In the press release, Weird Little Birthday is presented as a debut record that’s “not quite a concept album about a boy who shares his birthday with Jesus Christ and eventually is driven insane with jealousy.” So you know you’re going to get some lyrics that are going to make you hit the “rewind button” to make sure you heard correctly. On the opening track; Baby, Jesus (Jelly Boy) lead singer Benji Compston delivers this line, “I’m the motherfucking birthday boy/don’t steal my thunder Baby Jesus,” which I guess could be construed as the chorus. It isn’t delivered with venom or vitriol but rather a defeated acceptance that sets the tone.

Naked Patients opens with the line, “There’s something so funny about a sick body and the things that it does that it shouldn’t do / there’s something so funny about you when you’re bloody, there’s something so funny about you.” Again, Compston’s delivery makes it sound like something Zach Braff would disarmingly say in one of his movies as opposed to being hateful.

I haven’t been overly enamored with many of the British acts that have been inspired by the 90s but these guys are different. Weird Little Birthday is a gem and we’ll all hopefully be hearing much more about them in the States soon enough. They have plans to head over here later this year, presumably for CMJ.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Happyness is here

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sturgill_npr

A couple months or so ago, we got an email from a reader asking us why we hadn’t reviewed the new Sturgill Simpson album. The reader said it was the most important country album in 25 years. Truth is, I hadn’t heard about it until a week before when Oz shot me a text. (Yes Oz is still alive). And then I got busy and he started getting so much great press that I just put it on the back burner.

Well I have had the misfortune of being privy to some mainstream country music recently and that shit is flat out awful. I don’t understand how people can listen to that drivel and be satisfied. It inspired me because if I can get one person to turn off Blake Shelton and listen to Sturgill Simpson; my job is done. And while I don’t know if I have the authority to call it the most important country album in the last 25 years, I will say it is one of the best albums of 2014; country or otherwise.

Oz had sold Simpson as a real honky-tonk motherfucker. Imagine my surprise when the opening track, Turtles All The Way Down, adds a spacey element to the honky-tonk feel. The track examines people’s crutch; whether it be religion or drug-use but wraps up things in one sweet line at the end of one my favorite verses of the year.

Every time I take a look inside that old and fabled book
I’m blinded and reminded of the pain caused by some old man in the sky
Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see
But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life

The next few tracks move into that honky-tonk motherfucker sounds that Oz was talking about. Life Of Sin and
Living The Dream examine subject oft-examine in country music – broken hearts, desperation and resignation. But the combo of the gritty production and Simpson’s rich baritone give these tunes an authentic feeling that pop country could only wish for.

Then as to completely throw me off balance, Simpson includes a cover of The Promise by When In Rome. I had listened to the album a few times and couldn’t figure out why that track seemed so familiar. In all honesty, I hadn’t figured it out until I read it somewhere that it was the tune that ended Napoleon Dynamite which I had just watched a few times with my kids. Needless to say, it is nothing like the original, kind of like Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails.

The title is in tribute to Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, an album generally regarded as one of the most important American albums ever. The importance laid in the blending of so many genres of music that were always kept at arm’s length, if not further. While Simpson’s album might not carry the historical weight of the Charles album, his album is brilliant, ambitious and something to be proud of.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Sturgill Simpson is here.

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Strand of Oaks – HEAL [album review]

by Woody on June 24, 2014

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I was an Indiana kid, gettin no one in my bed
I had your sweet tunes to play
I was staring at the map, feeling fire in my head
I had your sweet tunes to play
I was mean to my dad, cause I was mean to myself
I had your sweet tunes to play
Stealing smokes in my car, with the windows way down
I had your sweet tunes to play
Your sweet tunes to play

That’s how one of the best tunes of 2014 begins. That tune is called JM, part tribute to a musical hero, Jason Molina, and part cathartic visit to growing up in Indiana. The sonic template of this track is outrageous in its ambitions and Strand Of Oaks, otherwise known as Timothy Showalter, nails it. The guitar solo at the end of this brooding, fiery seven minute epic is unadulterated musical genius. I have listened to this track 30 times plus and I get goose bumps every time; something I don’t think will ever change. It is an intensely powerful track.

JM is found on Strand Of Oaks fourth album, the aptly title HEAL. At HearYa, we’ve become friendly with Tim over the years. We’ve had him for a couple of sessions, traded emails & texts and generally just looked forward to seeing him. To have a friend reach such a pinnacle in their field, whether it be music or anything else, is always nice to see. And HEAL is hands down, Tim’s best work (and that comes from an unabashed Strand of Oaks fan).

But as the album states, this is an album about healing and you never want to know that a friend was going through such bad times. And while Tim is far from a close friend that we see all the time, his outgoing and gregarious nature must have been masking some tough times. Listening to Mirage Year, a track about his ex-wife’s infidelity and the struggles of their marriage, is gut-wrenching. While most everybody has turned to music during a relationship’s tough times, for most it has always been out losing yourself in the lyrics of others. Showalter turned the focus on himself with such clear and vivid lyrics as “That winter when you took my love / And that fucker was having his fun / But my hands are worth more than your blood.”

While a more apt title for this album might have been HEALING, as it sounds as if Tim is still working through things. After countless listens, HEAL hammers home what so many of us know already – music is the salve to so many wounds. Whether it be my seven year old daughter singing Let It Go or Tim singing about his youth in Indiana, music is a powerful thing.

Our live sessions with Tim are here & here

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Follow Tim here

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Phox – s/t debut [album review]

June 23, 2014

I got to be honest. I don’t think I would have been that down with Phox if it wasn’t for seeing them open up for Blitzen Trapper last summer. There’s no denying the vocal chops of Monica Martin but I could see the jackass in me easily dismissing it as a pretty girl with a [...]

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Centro-matic – Take Pride In Your Long Odds [album review]

June 19, 2014

Centro-matic are like a fine wine that gets better with age. There’s a line in their bio that sums them up real nicely; “After 17 years, the band is still driven to mine new territories and make a beautiful racket together.” And while I might not be amongst the die-hard legions that have been with [...]

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Spanish Gold – South Of Nowhere [album review]

June 2, 2014

In a piece on Rolling Stone’s site, lead singer Dante Schwebel said the member of Spanish Gold were children of the MTV generation. “The way that the programming crossed genres from R&B to hip-hop, rock, soul and pop music is how we approach records. It’s an album of all those styles — like watching a [...]

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John Fullbright – Songs [album review]

May 28, 2014

I really dislike the Grammys as I believe it to be a vapid soul-sucking exercise that rewards shitty music more than quality. And while decent artists sneak in there every year, I would have never thought in a million years that a twenty-something from Woody Guthrie’s hometown would find himself in the fray with his [...]

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Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Deconstructed [album review]

May 26, 2014

I’ll admit that I was little shocked when Sub Pop signed Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. He seemed destined for New West or Bloodshot. So would the music sound different for the man who brought Texas to their knees? Short answer is no? Deconstructed sounds like a Lee Bains show. Guitars sit front [...]

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Curtis Harding – Soul Power [album review]

May 23, 2014

Photo by Hedi Slumane About 1:30 into the first track, Next Time, was when I knew I was going to love this album. Curtis Harding plays an edgy and grimy version of old school soul music. At that point in the song, the horns come in for the first time and they are oh so [...]

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