Album Reviews

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In 2013, the HearYa crew saw Roadkill Ghost Choir a few times at SXSW, in Chicago and did a HearYa session with them. At every turn, we’d try to disect them. And I think it was during the session, Shirk turned to me and said, “These guys are going to be unreal when they get it all figured out.”

Their PR piece lauds them as a blend of Tom Petty and Radiohead being influenced by Cormac McCarthy. Like their Southern brethren, The Futurebirds, their use of the steel guitar is liberal and a focal point of the band. While Futurebirds use of the steel tends to emphasize their Southern rock roots; Roadkill’s use of the steel guitar provides a ghostly & eerie backdrop.

In Tongues continues the forward progress that the Quiet Light EP began. In a group text between Oz, Shirk and myself we were talking about the stellar batch of new albums coming out and we brought up In Tongues. We were all lauding it as fantastic and a major step forward. While it might lack that single like a Funeral by Band Of Horses to really have them explode on the scene; the online response for their new stuff has been emphatically positive. But frankly as a fan (and this might be selfish) I am glad that they are growing in stages. We all want these bands to explode but, not at the cost of growing organically.

My personal favorite is the 4th track – A Blow To The Head. It subtly works in some of electronica elements that sounds absolutely stunning along with Kiffy Myers’ steel. Lead singer Andrew Sheppard slowly moves through the song before the transition about midway through when things begin to build before the band starts repetitively singing, “start running’ and Sheppard unleashes a blood-curdling scream which leads to a frenetic closing jam.

I read somewhere that Sheppard said a good chunk of this album is about their early struggles of touring to empty rooms and getting paid squat. The more I’ve listened to In Tongues, the more I can picture them playing in much bigger rooms. In Tongues is one of those albums that you enjoy more every time you listen to it and Roadkill Ghost Choir are one of those bands you enjoy the more time you spend with. Get on board early and enjoy the ride. I sure hope they do.

Our full session is here.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Roadkill Ghost Choir is here

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Benjamin Booker – s/t debut [album review]

by Woody on August 13, 2014

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There are acts you see/hear for the first time and you just know. Last time, I felt like this was with Alabama Shakes. Like the Shakes, Booker had booked a set at the excellent club Space in Evanston. And I was determined not to miss that show; solo or with others. In the end, only my buddy Mike attended with me. As we walked out after a blistering hour-long set, I said, “In a few years, we’ll be bragging that we saw Benjamin Booker in a place that small.”

The buzz machine is in full swing the New Orleans resident, and on this occasion; they are spot on. For those who didn’t get hooked by Booker’s lead single, Violent Shiver, he plays a stew of blues, garage and soul. Like Brittany Howard, Booker’s voice belies his age of 21. It is soaked in whiskey and grizzled by smokes. And to see that sort of stage presence at such a young age is special. During that show, he played a slow-burner aptly titled, Slow Coming. Booker would let the music wash over him interjecting his vocals at a whisper, then more forceful at always ; before finishing with a fuzzed out feedback of a solo.

Have You Seen My Son is an explosive five minute jam where Booker pays homage to guitar heroes before him. The transition at about 3 minutes in is simply out of this world. The buildup is gets the hair standing on the backup of your neck before dissolving into a cacophony of feedback. And then like a phoenix, the riff re-emerges. If that doesn’t get the blood moving around in your veins, you might want to make an appointment with your doc.

Where Booker goes from here is anybody’s guess. He’s got talent to spare and you can only envision greatness for him. I consider myself lucky to have seen him play a mere 5 feet in front of me.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Benjamin Booker is here

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Garagicana!!! (pat. pend) I just googled that word and it doesn’t exist. Even double-checked on Google’s whiny little brother, Bing, as well. Nope. Garagicana, the exquisite mix of Garage and Americana. Making up utterly useless words is what happens when the family is away and I sit around drinking cool ones listening to new music.

Frozen Letter is a sloppy, ramshackle, beautiful piece of Americana. We first met up with Spider Bags way back in 2007 during one of our early HearYa sessions. I loved A Celebration of Hunger with tracks likes Waking Up Drunk and So Long A Rope. Founding member Dan McGee has since trimmed the band into a tight trio and they make their way through eight tracks – blasting fuzz on some and ambling along on some.

The album starts off with a couple of tracks that remind me of the tremendous energy that Diamond Rugs brings with their shows in Back With You Again and Japanese Vacation. Both tunes clock in at under 3 minutes and remind you what makes rock and roll so fun. Then you hear a voice ask, “Are you ready? Are you ready Rocco (sp?)? It starts with a kiss man, from me to you.”

At that point things start getting a little weird, Chem Trails and their cover Summer of 79 continue the party. Then Coffin Car kicks in with a six minute aimless wander around, practically lulling you to sleep before finishing with a blast as the original Spider Bag, Dan McGee, howls, “tired over your love…” repeatedly as the band blares away. The Spider Bags then close out this beauty with a couple of 5 minute plus tracks We Got Problems and Eyes Of Death that tie a bow on this true testament to Garagicana.

I loved 2007′s Celebration of Hunger and 2012′s Shake My Head. I think I missed an album somewhere along the line. This is without a doubt their best effort. Little Steven should play this on repeat on his Sirius Garage rock station.

Our 2007 HearYa session is here

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Spider Bags are here

Spider Bags – Back With You Again in the World from Merge Records on Vimeo.

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During SXSW ’13, Christopher Denny had the 8PM slot for the Partisan Showcase. A relative unknown, without a new album out, the club was half-full at best. Earlier that day, I got some of the lowdown on Denny’s troubles with addiction that led to many problems, one being the interminable delay in following up 2007′s Age Old Hunger.

As the show went on, I met Denny’s mother and his wife. They seemed to be viewing the festivities with a mix of excitement, apprehension and protection. On one hand, it must have been great to see him up there but the sobriety is such a fragile thing. Denny put on an amazing set and I met some real nice people, including Denny himself – been looking forward to this album since. As 2013 came to an end with no album, I got nervous that Denny had slipped backwards. I was told all was good; sit tight and 2014 will see the release.

It finally is here and while I can’t speak for Denny; I will say the wait was worth it. It is brilliant – a genuine Americana album that bounces between heartbreaking and uplifting. “The album was inspired by my struggles,” Denny says. “The moments in my life that caused me the most hurt and brought me the most beauty. The songs deal with the self-loathing, fear and thoughts of inadequacy we all struggle with, something I call soft suicide.”

God’s Height views Denny’s feelings of inadequacy and shortcoming as he can’t seem to measure up to his wife/girlfriend. It’d seem that this song was born from those early tough times when Denny couldn’t seem to move his life forward. It’s a wonderfully written track with some astute lyrics.

A few songs later, Watch Me Shine strikes a redemptive tone. While I’ve never had any struggles with addiction, I’ve been figuratively been smacked in the gob a few times. Its easy to get down yourself and wallow. This song is for the fighter in all of us. When the chips are down, and you don’t think you can move one step forward, this track is for that time. Its got a groovy little guitar lick in it and Denny delivers the goods.

It might have taken Denny a while to get this point. I know he has a lot of good people in his corner now, and many others pulling for him. This is another step in the journey. If The Roses Don’t Kill Us is an amazing and timeless piece of Americana. It is out on Tuesday and he’s hitting the road with another HearYa favorite, Strand of Oaks.

Follow me on HearYa at @WoodyHearYa

Christopher Denny is here

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Trampled By Turtles – Wild Animals [album review]

July 18, 2014

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 [...]

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Happyness – Weird Little Birthday [album review]

July 3, 2014

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 [...]

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Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music [album review]

July 2, 2014

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 [...]

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Strand of Oaks – HEAL [album review]

June 24, 2014

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 [...]

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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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