Album Reviews

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There are certain male/female duos where you feel that they were born to sing together. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole. The Everybodyfields is a great example of this. I like Jill Andrews & Sam Quinn’s solo stuff just fine but when they sang together, man that was just pure beauty and magic. Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent, the married duo of Shovels & Rope, have that magic.

Shwimmin’ Time is the 2nd LP under the Shovels & Rope moniker and 3rd together. And like O’ Be Joyful before it, Swimmin’ Time sees the duo take another leap forward. If there were any worries about a hangover after all the notoriety that O’ Be Joyful generated, that is erased immediately with the opening track, The Devil Is All Around, a mid-tempo ballad about shunning the negative influences in your life. Followed up by darker tracks such as The Bridge Is On Fire and Evil sets the tone for the rest of the album.

There are so many stand-out tracks that is tough to single them out. The doo-wop tune about fighting off drug use, Coping Mechanism, is tremendous. Mary Ann and One Eyed Dan cuts a snapshot of like in the South in the spirit of Kemba off the prior effort. If I was getting married, that would be my wedding tune. And Fish Assassin is an 83 second foot-stomping blast that is sure to be a crowd favorite.

If you hop on their website, you’ll see plenty of water-related photos. If it isn’t obvious from the title, Water is a central theme throughout. No song embodies that theme better than After The Storm. It is a slow-burning number that sees Hearst & Trent treat their vocal chords with no regard as they strain their voices in such beauty that its tough not to get all goose-bumpy.

This is an album by a duo that leaves nothing for chance on the stage. Their live show is out of this world. I can’t stress enough how much I love this album and that you should make every effort to go see them live on this tour.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Shovels & Rope are here

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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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Christopher Denny – If The Roses Don’t Kill Us [album review]

July 31, 2014

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 [...]

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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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