Album Reviews

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CREDIT: Shervin Lainez

A Place I’ll Always Go is the follow-up to 2015′s excellent Dry Food. Led by Ellen Kempner, Dry Food was an easy album to become enamored with. Chock full of 90s riffs and Kempner’s spot-on lyrics; it was and is on constant rotation.

A Place I’ll Always Go is a little tougher to connect with initially but no less rewarding. The album was born during a time of loss and new love. Kempner lost not only her grandmother, but a very close friend; tough at any age but especially so at that bullet-proof part of your life known as your 20s. As all this was going on, Kempner began a new relationship. “The album is also about learning how to find love, honestly, after loss,” says Kempner.

Feeling Fruit is among the best work Kempner has done. It is a gentle ballad where Kempner emerges into the world after a time of mourning. Supported primarily by her able picking, Kempner’s whispered lyrics really pack a punch. If You Met Her is another gut-punch of a tune. Wishing for her deceased friend to meet her new love, Kempner’s lyrics speak to someone wise beyond her years.

Mixed in with the ballads, there are a couple of fuzzy rockers. The lead single Flowing Over is about using sad songs as a coping mechanism. The fact that its a rocking tune really works here (and the video is outstanding as well). Carnations is another winner. Its another rocker but it feels like Kempner is letting is on some secrets as she delivers her vocals in a hushed manner; almost hiding beneath the backing music.

On my review of Dry Food, I said Kempner has the chops to be a force for years to come. If she keeps knocking out efforts like Dry Food and A Place I’ll Always Go, I see no reason that doesn’t come true.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Palehound is here

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Credit: Ben Rouse

Trevor Sensor’s voice and lyrics belies his 23 years of life. His nasally deliver and the biting commentary on his subjects harkens to a time when folk singers were among the loudest voices in social commentary. And while I stick the folk label on Sensor, this is by no means just a man and guitar. Produced by Jonathan Rado and Richard Swift at Steve Albini’s studio the 11 tracks deliver a varied listening experience across the album.

Sensor’s small town roots seem to a theme here. Born and raised in Sterling, IL (about 100 miles west of Chicago), before stretching his legs at Central College in Iowa; pouring over the works of Kierkegaard, Proust, Eggars and Henry Miller. It’s a combo that translates well throughout the album.

Andy Warhol was a man fascinated by pop culture. Sensor mixes that fascination with the plight of the common man throughout the album. High Beams sees the protagonist wanting on the unattainable Hollywood dream from afar. While In Hollywood, Everyone is Plastic sees that dream collapse. Throughout the album, the tunes are fleshed out with a backing band. But he closes the album with just an acoustic (bar a small solo) on the lovely Starborne Eyes.

Sensor’s debut LP gives me the same feeling that Joe Pug’s Messenger did back in 2010. Like Pug, Sensor is a man wise beyond his years.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Trevor Sensor is here

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Thunder Dreamer – Capture (album review)

by Woody on June 16, 2017

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Thunder Dreamer are a four-piece out of Evansville and their latest Capture is an album full of wonderful textures. An expansive album that never seems to move past a slow jog, it always manages to pack a punch. Lead singer Steven Hamilton’s vocals evoke a blend of emo and post-punk. That is typically not my deal and in a vacuum, I’d probably not be a big fan. But it works ever so well with the wonderful and expansive soundscapes that they – Corey Greenfield (drums), Alex Wallwork (bass), and Zach Zint (piano) and Hamilton on guitar – produce.

There are bits throughout the album where I hear the influences of MMJ or Magnolia Electric Co. There’s a great jam towards the end of St. Malo and the intro of the title track that reminds me of one of favorite trait of MMJ, their patience. As far as the Molina reference, I don’t even know how to explain it. There are just certain moments during a tune here or there where the inflection of Hamilton’s voice will give off the slightest hint of Molina and I for one, enjoy the hell out of it.

Capture is a wonderful album; one that will take a listen or two to really sink in. And one that stands up to countless listens. Really want to see these guys live and they’ll be at The Hideout here in Chicago on 7/13.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Thunder Dreamer is here

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Kevin Morby – City Music

by Woody on June 13, 2017

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(photo by Adarsha Benjamin)

Last week I was taking the train home after having a few pops downtown. As I am apt to do, I’ll stand between cars watching the city go by so I don’t nod off. Conceived as “a mix-tape, a fever dream, a love letter dedicated to those cities that I cannot get rid of, to those cities that are all inside of me,” City Music was the perfect soundtrack as we ambled along through the neighborhoods set aglow by the streetlights.

City Music is less expansive than 2015′s Singing Saw. Whereas Morby saw Dylan Mitchell as his inspiration for Singing Saw, City Music steered toward Lou Reed and Patti Smith. That’s readily apparent from the onset. Come To Me Now is a longing love song with some wonderful pump organ. Crybaby sounds like vintage Reed, a dark tune that paints the protagonist as someone to avoid throughout the city.

There’s a nice homage to the Ramones in 1234 as the album moves to the title track, the centerpiece of the album. City Music has a guitar riff that reminded me Blues For Allah era Dead. The song has a 2 minute intro that is simply sublime. Listening to it caused the following happen as my fellow train traveler stared at me in bewilderment. I think I mumbled, “Uh, new Kevin Morby album. Its excellent.”

From there the back part of the album is chock full of gems. Night Time sounds like a tune that Morby would sing alone while in dank Lower East Side club. And the penultimate track Pearly Gates is an ethereal look at what Morby thinks it will be like when the big man calls time on his time here on Earth.

All in all, City Music has cemented Morby’s place among the premier songwriters around.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa or @HearYa

Kevin Morby is here

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Secret Sisters – You Don’t Own Me Anymore (album review)

June 7, 2017

Let’s start off by saying, You Don’t Me Anymore is phenomenal. But my goodness, did they have to go through shit to get to this point. Sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers were on a major label and had released two albums before being dropped. Additionally there was the impending doom of bankruptcy and some legal [...]

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Big Thief – Capacity (album review)

June 5, 2017

The PR pic of lead singer Adrianne Lenker for Capacity reminds me of Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3. Any time I see a woman with a buzz I circle back to one of my favorite characters of all time, Ripley. Her combo of resilience and perseverance among other traits was what made her such a [...]

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Benjamin Booker – Witness (album review)

June 1, 2017

Benjamin Booker’s s/t debut was an album that exploded out of the speakers – full of youthful exuberance, guitars wailing, Booker’s grizzled voice belting out vocals – in what was one of my favorite albums of 2014. But as is wont to happen, people get older and their outlook on life changes. For Booker, that [...]

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Sun Seeker announce Biddeford EP – 7/7/17

May 30, 2017

I first posted about Nasville’s Sun Seeker about a year ago. I joked that while they were signed to Third Man Records, I still couldn’t find a picture of them to include in the post. Problem solved. They’re set to release an EP this July which like Georgia Dust, is a nice blend of folk [...]

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The Black Angels – Death Song (album review)

May 23, 2017

Photo by Sandy Carson A couple weeks ago I tweeted that Death Song had slid in behind Phosphene Dream as my second favorite Black Angels album. Well, I’ve been playing the crap out of Death Song for these past two weeks and I have to say, it is the pinnacle of their career. It is [...]

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Justin Townes Earle – Kids In The Street (album review)

May 22, 2017

Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkens Justin is an interesting guy to follow on social media. I’ve witnessed him fall off the wagon, bemoan the over-building in Nashville and celebrate the World Series title of his beloved Cubbies. Over the last year, it has been nice to hear him embracing married life, await the birth of [...]

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