Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Best of 2015

It is once again that time of year where  I go through all the music that I have collected and enjoyed throughout this year and give you my choices for both songs and albums that I think are the best. As you can see at this point it is just me. Larry has been so busy with things in his life right now that he has not had the time lately to write for our blog. He is doing well and will be posting things for the blog in the new year.Once again Larry and I thank you so much for reading our blog. We love having the opportunity to share with you our musical tastes and really appreciate your support of this blog. It makes it all worthwhile when we get notes from people telling us just how much they enjoyed a particular album or band that we have featured. That is exactly why we share our love for music with you. We encourage you to leave us a comment as to what albums or songs did we leave out that you think need to be included.

Fletcher’s Best of 2015 picks
This year for me was a good solid year of music. Some of my favorites put out new music and there were a bunch of really good new bands to the scene. I always love listening to new bands and introducing you to them. I find a lot of bands I write about end up in my favorite albums and songs, but I guess I write about them because I like them so much. I did finally whittle my top albums of the year to six. Make sure you click on all the links of songs for they go to a video of each chosen song.

Top Albums of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)

Courtney Barnett. Sometime I  Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. A fantastic follow up to her last years double Ep’s. Her first full length continues her amazing stories and incredible wordplay. Check out “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best”.
The Damnwells. The Damnwells.  I was so happy that one of my favorite bands of all time put out an amazing new album this year. It was recorded with the original band members which made it even more special. I got to work a few dates at their merch table this year and they are still getting crowds excited. Enjoy “ Money and Shiny Things” and “None of These Things
Lord Huron. Strange Trails- I wrote about this band earlier in the year and am still listening to the album, which contains a lot of strong songs throughout. Here is “Fool For Love” and “Meet Me in the Woods
Jesse Malin. Outsiders- I also wrote about Jesse this year but it was before his new album Outsiders came out. I worked for him and he gave me an advance copy of the album. You can now get it and you should. I think it is his strongest work to date. Listen to “You Know It’s Dark When Atheists Start to Pray” and “Here’s the Situation”.
Nathaniel Rateliff& the Night Sweats. Self Titled. Denver has a great music scene. Nathaniel Rateliff is the latest to make some moves outside of Denver. This rock and soul band puts everything on this album from horns to pedal steel. It all works together.  I came to this record late, and I am so glad I did. Enjoy "Thank You" and "SOB".
Parquet Courts. Sunbathing Animal. This Brooklyn band is what rock and roll should be; straightforward and fun with some fuzzy guitars and attitude. Still listen to this record almost daily. It will put the edge back on!!  Take pleasure in “Sunbathing Animal” and “Bodies Made Of

Top Songs of the Year (listed alphabetically by band)
Birds and Arrows. Ghosts in the Water-My good friends from North Carolina (who will soon be moving out west) put out their best album yet from top to bottom, filled with killer harmonies. I will miss them but wish them my best. Make sure you come back to Baltimore!!
Brandi Carlile. Wherever is Your Heart- She just keeps making solid albums. Her voice is amazing and can show so many emotions. Her songwriting just keeps gets better.
Dawes. All Your Favorite Bands – This band keeps putting out strong music. I'm in love with the lyrics of this song. This band is not afraid to slowly build songs. Love that about them.
Alex Dezen. Other People’s Drugs- The leader of the Damnwells put out a series of solo EP’s the past two years. This is very strong work especially since he was putting out a Damnwells album at the same time. This song is my favorite song of the year.
Kopecky. Quarterback- This Nashville band came back strong this year with a new album. I got to work with them a couple of times and they still bring a strong live show.
Josh Ritter. Homecoming- This is a strong album all the way through. Josh sings about beautiful things and real issues. His strong voice is featured on this record.
Caleb Stine. Time I Let It Go- One of the most influential musicians in Baltimore put out a new album a month or so ago. It is his strongest work to date. He is back recording with his band The Brakemen. It's great to have you back Caleb!!
Letitia Vansant. Step in Line- Letita Vansant is another Baltimore based musician whom I totally adore. It took a while to get this album out, but Letitia did it with a lot of perseverance which proved worth it in the end. Enjoy this amazing country tinged voice. Flawless and beautiful!!

Best surprise: Marah releasing my favorite album ever, Kids in Philly, on vinyl. Not only did they release this best album from first to last songs on vinyl, but they put back together the version of Marah that most people consider the best version to do some shows for the vinyl release. Those shows were the highlight of my year.

Best Musical Moments- No doubt. Marah vinyl release show in Philly. A sold out show (800 Marah crazy people) at the Underground Arts venue in Philly in October. It was truly a magical evening for many of us. People came in excited and left even more excited. Marah put on a 3 hour performance that was both brilliant and oozed rock and roll from its core. This show is what rock and roll is suppose to be. I have touted this band for years as the best live band in the business, They leave everything on that stage. they never want to think after a show about if they gave it their all. They always do and always will as long as they tour as Marah. I have had the fortune of being their merch guy the past few years and that has been the thrill of my life. I do want you all to know that as great as musicians as they are, they are the same greatness as humans.
            I had another great year working the merch tables for a number of bands besides Marah this year. Some new ones included Heartless Bastards, Rubblebucket, and Strands of Oaks. Thanks to everyone who trusted me working with them this year.

Looking Forward to in 2016- I am most excited about Alex Dezen putting out his first official solo album. even though he has put out some EP’s, this will be his first full length one under his own name. Also looking forward to new albums dropping from The Jayhawks, Shearwater, Ra Ra Riot, Freakwater, and Eleanor Friedberger. I’m locally excited about a new album from the Great American Canyon Band who deservingly got signed by a label on the west coast. The songs I have heard so far are very strong!! 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Jesse Malin- Outsider?

One of the great things about working merch for bands is the people that you meet. I have had the privilege of working with the best rock band on the planet-Marah- the past year or so. I have been able to travel around the east coast with them. This has let me meet many more people outside of Baltimore as well as see some great venues and hear some amazing bands. Marah opened for Jesse Malin at the legendary The Stone Pony in Asbury Park N.J. this summer. Not only did I get a chance to see this historic venue that Bruce Springsteen came out of, but I finally got to see and hear Jesse Malin. What a treat.

Jesse was born in Queens, N.Y. and fronted his first band Heart Attack at the age of 12. In 1991 he formed DGeneration which was a cross between glam rock and punk music. They put out three albums before disbanding in 1999. Even though he was known as a punk rocker, he wrote poetic lyrics and was looking for a new direction to take with his music. He teamed up with Ryan Adams, who had been a huge fan of D Generation, and produced Jesse’s first album The Fine Art of Self Destruction which was released in 2003. He has recorded six other albums since then. He has toured internationally many times and is a big draw in England. He has a following from artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, and Green Day.

The uniqueness of Jesse's work is his ability to combine his poetic lyrics with his pure rock and roll attitude. He has things to say. His newest album released this year is New York Before the War. The album focuses on how gentrification has changed the city. Corporations are building huge skyscrapers and to do this are buying up cheaper land and putting people out of their homes. He talks about how NYC has changed since his early days of punk rock and the change isn’t always good. Enjoy “Addicted” from his new album:

“Now they are closing down the bookstore and putting up a condo”. As you can see Jesse has something to say not only about the city he loves, but many American cities. He is a part owner in the Bowery Electric club in NYC. Jesse is trying to keep the spirit of independent music alive with his club. I have been there with Marah. I can vouch for Jesse’s live shows. A lot of energy from a very talented band. Jesse is a very down to earth person. He is kind, courteous and thoughtful. I got to help him when he came to Baltimore and he gave me an advance copy of his new album Outsiders due out in the Fall. Another killer album from this talented musician!!!!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Snarky? Bring It On!

How have I missed this group?  Snarky Puppy, a once Denton Texas based, and now Brooklyn NY based collective jam band of roughly 40 outstanding musicians has been putting out amazing music since 2004.  If you enjoy funk, jazz, a solid groove, and the sound of true joy, their sound is for you.  They are led by the amazing bassist, producer and composer, Michael League.

Their first album, "The Only Constant" was released in 2006 on Sitmom records, while many of the band members were still attending North Texas University.  Between 2006 and 2015 seven more recordings were released.  2014 was the band's breakthrough year.  They received their first Grammy nomination and won their first  Grammy for "Best R&B" performance for Something.  JazzTimes named them “Best New Artist” and “Best Electric/Jazz-Rock/Contemporary Group/Artist” in their 2014 Reader’s Poll.

Snarky Puppy is a group of musicians enthusiastically committed to music education and community outreach. Working with groups like ROAM (Roots Of American Music) in inner city Cleveland and the Music Lab at Jefferson Center in Roanoke, as well as giving clinics at hundreds of colleges, high schools, and middle schools worldwide, the band has made a strong commitment to spreading their love of music and positive outlook to a young generation looking for something real to be inspired by.

This year they released, "Sylva" their first recording on a major label, Impulse!.  On this record the band shares the stage, literally as this is a live album, with the Netherlands based Metropole Orkest. This collaboration is not to be missed.  Check out this video of a complete concert featuring Snarky Puppy with Metropole Orkest.

 I love the mosaic of diverse musical styles and sounds brought about by these artists.  While they have 9 recordings to their credit they are still filled with creative ideas.  We can look forward to many years of hearing what these extremely talented Snarky Puppies come up with.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Lord Huron- Strange Trails

“I get a what?” I asked. “A graphic comic” replied the cashier at a local record store. I had just gone in to purchase the new album from Lord Huron and found out that because I was one of the first people buying it, I also received the comic book. I felt this was a pretty interesting promotion for this band trying to make its mark in today’s indie music scene. I took the comic with me, but was most excited about the new record. I wasn’t disappointed through my many listens.

Lord Huron is a band out of Los Angeles that was originally a moniker for a solo effort by Ben Schneider. Ben grew up in Michigan and had fond memories of his dad playing music as they sat by Lake Huron. He went to college to study art and even spent some time in France. He came back to the States to pursue a visual arts career. He had always been interested in music, but it was more of a pastime or a way to earn a few extra dollars. In 2010 he put together and released his own EP titled Into the Sun. He did his own artwork for each EP. The music started to pick up some traction online and Ben put together a band so he could tour the music. Ben put out another EP and got signed to the iamsound label and released his first full length with a band, Lonesome Dreams in 2012. Ben added some more musicians that he had known from Michigan who completed the sound. They then released Strange Trails this past April.

I got on board Lord Huron’s ship with Lonesome Dreams. Its luscious rootsy style music led me through the path of an old western. Strange Trails continues the bands full and deep sound. It looks into the relationship of man’s loneliness and how it fits into our natural surroundings. It is a very ambitious sound that takes a number of listens to really grasp the depth of the lyrics and sound. It is worth the work. This single  "Fool For Love" is from Strange Trails. Enjoy:

Ben continues to mesh his visual and musical lives together. His visual artwork is on his albums covers as well as the insides. His comic book enhances the mysteries he explores in his music. I encourage you to pick up this new album and get lost in its vast landscape. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Three Friends

While Fletcher and I loving sharing new artists with you, we also enjoy catching up with artists we have written about in the past.  Today I am going to write about 3 previous bands who have put out some amazing new albums in the past few months that I can't stop listening to.

Alabama Shakes first appeared in our Best of 2012 post.  Fletcher selected "Hold On" as one of the best songs of the year while I selected Boys and Girls as one of the best albums of the year. Since 2012 AS has toured the world, grown in popularity and worked on their sophomore album, Sound and Color. Their new album moves in some surprising directions, preventing the band from becoming locked stylistically into the retro sounds of their first album, and establishes the band as one that continues to grow musically and takes risks.  They have not let their sound become boxed-in by their success. Whereas Boys and Girls was clearly influenced by creative classic southern R&B sounds, Sound and Color's musical influences are much greater.  In addition to the classic R&B sounds that defined the sound of Boys and Girls, one can hear the band playing homage to some of the music that they grew up with.  Listing to Sound and Color I hear echos of several psychedelic bands, Led Zeppelin, and others.  Those influences, blended with the sounds that defined AS's debut album, along with the growth of the band's music makes Sound and Color work so well.

Fletcher and I have been fans of The Damnwells for over a decade.  We first saw them perform live at one of WTMD's first ever First Thursdays in the Park concerts when the band was touring for their debut album, Bastards of the Beat. Over the years, the band, fronted by songwriter, singer, and guitarist Alex Dezen, has gone through several personal changes.  One of the many joys of their new album, The Damnwells, is that the original band is back.  The new album used crowd-sourcing by fans via Pledgemusic as a funding mechanism.

The Damnwells first four albums have featured terrific songwriting by Dezen, whose songs are often based on his personal experiences.  This album continues that tradition.  Dezen, who turned 37 in June, composed songs about growing up for this record, and growing up is not always pleasant. While the album's songs are performed by musicians who have recently reunited, many of the stories on this record are about breaking up. For example, Dezen recently divorced as that life experience is shared in this music. While breaking up is never pleasant, listening to this record is. The Damnwells are a great band, one that deserves far more attention than it receives.

The Lone Bellow: Fletcher's May 31, 2013 post turned me onto this terrific band. While I enjoyed their first album, I'm totally blown away by the melodies, harmony, and musicianship of their sophomore offering, Then Came the Morning.  I play this album, in its entirety frequently. Each time I listen to it I find myself feeling refreshed, having a positive outlook, and feeling a profound sense of joy.

So there you have it.  I encourage you to check out all three of these records.  They will add to your enjoyment of your summer.  In a few short week's Jason Isbell's new album 24 Frames will be coming out.  This is turning to be a great year for music.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Parquet Courts/Parkay Quarts-Stand Up/Stand Out

A few weeks ago I was in my favorite record store in the country, Twist and Shout (Denver), looking for some music I really wanted. I love this store because of its expansive selection of CD’s, vinyl, and even DVD’s. I was checking my list I had made of music I wanted to purchase. I knew I was going to have to make a difficult decision when it came to the band Parquet Courts. They had released not one, but two acclaimed albums in 2014 and I was going to have to decide on just one. I knew it was going to be a tough decision. Twist and Shout must have also have also known this, because in front of me I saw that they had packaged both albums together for a great price. What a relief that was and I am glad I did not have to make the tough decision on which one to buy.

Parquet Courts is an indie post punk psychedelic band out of Brooklyn. Their music is layered with screaming guitars reminding me of Television and Sonic Youth. The band is fronted by Andrew Savage and Austin Brown. They formed in 2010 and released their first music on a cassette tape in 2011. They released their first full length album in 2012 called Light Up Gold. My blog partner Larry picked a song from that album as one of his top songs of that year. Way to go Larry!! The album created a lot of buzz and was released to wider distribution on the What’s Your Rupture label out of NYC. They toured relentlessly behind it and because their live show is so good, it created a larger fan base. After the tour they went back and recorded and released Sunbathing Animal in 2014. They were not finished for 2014 because they surprisingly then dropped Content Nausea a few months later as Parkay Quarts. Very clever because it was basically Andrew and Austin who recorded most of it as a sort of side project that caught on. It is a bit more experimental than the straight forward rock of Sunbathing Animal.

It is a pretty impressive thing that a band can release two albums in one year that are both strong and different. They perform songs from both albums when they tour. These guys have a bright future ahead of them as they move forward. Please enjoy “Bodies Made Of” from Sunbathing Animal:

I am so glad that I did not have to make a decision on which album to purchase. They are both fantastic. There is a thread through both but each one is musically diverse and unique in its own way. So run to Twist and Shout and buy the package deal. If you can’t get to Denver then just go to your local independent record store and buy both.

UPDATE: I wanted to let you know of two albums that have come out  from bands we have written about before. The first is the Damnwells self titled album is out and it is fantastic.  It is the first album by the original members in many years. It is both lyrically and musically amazing. Courtney Barnett has just released a follow up to her acclaimed first album. It is titled Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. It again shows her clever wordplay lyrically. Both are amazing albums and in my opinion both are must haves. Run to your local music store and purchase both. you won't regret it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Connecting With The Punch Brothers

Books such as The Big Disconnect, by Catherine Steiner-Adair, lament how we humans are changing as we increasingly connect more to our technology than each other.  Books such as Howard Rheingold's Netsmart give us suggestions as to how to balance our technical connections with our connections to each other.    In the "Phosphorescent Blues" The Punch Brothers take on these types of questions, deeply, thoughtfully, and ultimately beautifully.

The Punch Brothers feature two artists who grew up in professional musical families.  Chris Thile, mandolin, started playing with Nickel Creek when he was 8 years old.  Chris Eldridge, guitar,  is the son of Ben Eldridge of The Seldom Scene.  While, all the musicians in the band are virtuosos at their respective crafts, the Punch Brothers music also features terrific songwriting. Their music, while hard to categorize, is a progressive mix of alternative music, jazz, classical music and bluegrass.  The resultant sound is complex, etherial, and richly attractive.  The Phosphorescent Blues is the band's 4th album for Nonesuch Records.  The production, wonderfully understated, by T-Bone Burnett is terrific.

In my day job I work to help prepare students, who will retire in the late 21st century, for their futures. As such, a fair amount of technology is involved.  I'm passionate about helping young people be technologically savvy while leading balanced, happy, and meaningful lives.  The striving to achieve that balance is the theme of this special album.

Most of the songs on this album ask questions without answers. “How long, oh Lord, can we keep the whole world spinning under our thumbs?” the band warmly harmonizes on “My Oh My,” their voices rising and falling. What a wonderfully important question!

Enjoy the Punch Brother's performing, "I Blew It Off".  As you enjoy this performance pay particular attention to how this song develops and morphs.

The Band is currently on tour.  It looks like their shows should be terrific. You can see their tour schedule here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What a Voyage- Jenny Lewis

A lot of us have grown up watching Jenny Lewis and maybe we didn’t even know it. We tend to think of her with her music career both solo and with Rilo Kiley. She has had quite the career already in music, film, television, and commercials. We will explore some of her voyage up to this point.

Jenny was born in Las Vegas and made her debut as a child actress in a Jell-O commercial. From there she went into television working with Lucille Ball in a sitcom in the late 1980’s. Then onto other television roles and as a teenager was in demand in films. Her most noteable box office success was in Troop Beverly Hills in 1989. At some point in the early 90’s she met another child actor, Blake Sennett and they officially formed Rilo Kiley in 1998 out of Los Angeles. They produced a sound that I would call indie country pop. The signature was Jenny’s beautiful voice and vocal inflections. Rilo Kiley was signed to Barsuk Records in 2001 and they released their first album. They then signed to Saddle Creek Records and released The Execution of All Things in 2002. This is the album I discovered the band. Poignant and personal songs with some great musical stylings and rhythms sold me. In 2004 they released More Adventurous which was distributed by Warner Brothers who would then sign the band to their own label. This album made a lot of inroads and gave them a lot of recognition. At this point after a successful tour the band needed some time away from each other and Jenny toured with The Postal Service to great acclaim. The band got back together and released their last album in 2007, Under the Blacklight. At this point here was a lot of tension in the band and they knew they were all heading in different directions.

Jenny sensing the inevitable went and put out her first solo album in 2006 titled Rabbit Fur Coat using the Watson Twins as her backup singers. This album received a lot of critical acclaim and gave Jenny the confidence that she could do it as a solo act. I was fortunate to see this tour and was really thrilled to see Jenny doing it on her own. In 2008 she then released Acid Tongue totally on her own. She met and has been dating Jonathan Rice and they put out an album in 2010 as Jenny and Johnny. Jenny just released, in July of last year, her first solo album in 5 years titled The Voyager. It shows her journey in personal songs dealing with the breakup of Rilo Kiley and the death of her father. The album is filled with moving and emotional songwriting. It shows her growth as a songwriter in a real positive way. Enjoy this song from the new album “Just One of the Guys”

I hope you enjoy this video that features a look at sexism and fitting into today’s world. If you enjoyed this video I really encourage you to explore some of her earlier work with Rilo Kiley. Despite that Rilo Kiley has been broken up for a few years, I think that their style still sounds fresh today. It is wonderful to see her voyage from child star to incredible musician.

Update: Every now and then Larry and I will update new things about bands we have already written about. I want to give you some Damnwells news. First of all, the new album with all of the original members, will officially be released on April 14. I for one can't wait. In the meantime to tide you over, Alex Dezen produced a series of 4 solo EP's last year. The final one was just produced and I have purchased all of them. The music is stunning and I highly recommend purchasing them. The images and stories are personal and brilliant. Just click on the link to his name and enjoy!!