In This Town You're Owned (Thirty Tigers)
Flaunting the wide reach of Americana in 2020, the latest, next best shot at growing the genre into a much deservedly wider following is based in Liverpool. On his third album, Robert Vincent puts forth a collection of songs that would make Gut Clark proud.
Thankfully ignoring the advice that musicians should avoid politics, In This Town Your Owned is 10 deeply personal songs reacting to everything from the state of global chaos to spirituality. The highlight is "Kids Don't Dig God Anymore." While not taking sides on the religious debate, it's a beautiful, almost mournful observation about a generation that no longer holds faith or feels a sense of spirituality to get them through the dark times. Thanks to painfully honest lyrics and Vincent's hauntingly vulnerable vocals, it's a hymn that even an atheist can sing along to.
Elsewhere, the opening track, "This Town," is just as earnest and powerful and the seemingly out of character "My Neighbours Ghost," an up-tempo singalong, is a pleasant surprise. There are moments in the middle of the record where it drags a bit due to sparseness, and a couple more upbeat songs like "My Neighbours Ghost" would round the record out nicely.
Regardless, In This Town You're Owned is a near perfect modern marriage of folk, country and personal politics.Â
Under Tension (Pirates Press Records)
The Seattle-based four-piece punk band The Drowns manage to somehow sound both assuredly nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. On their latest LP, Under Tension, the band brings to mind everyone from The Street Dogs and the first few Dropkick Murphys albums (sans bagpipes) to Swingin' Utters. The fact that Ted Hutt, one of the best punk producers to come around in decades, oversaw this latest probably didn't hurt. But this is far from being a punk rock jukebox. Over the past few years they've developed their own style and sound.
The vocals delivered with immediacy and voraciousness paired with a wall of distortion help propel these 11 tracks forward with a sense of urgency. The album kicks off on a strong note with 'Black Lung" and "Them Rats," but it's the third song, "Wolves On The Throne," where the band really shines. The vocals are mixed higher than the guitars allowing for the lyrics - one of the sharpest political songs written during the Trump administration - to be heard loud and clear. Despite a relative short, but impressive tenure as a group, "Wolves on the Throne" is destined to be a band classic. Elsewhere, "One More Pint" is a reliable Blue Collar drinking song and "Wastin' Time" is an honest to god love song, though still a punk song at its core, so the sentimentality is still struggling to get over a wall of blaring power chords and machine gun drumming.
While the band's debut showed plenty of promise, Under Tension over delivers on those promises for a remarkably satisfying LP from start to finish.
Is It You, Is It Me (Thirty Tigers)
California-based Dustbowl Revival have always been a little hard to pin down musically. There is definitely an Americana vibe to their music, but there are also hefty elements of jazz, swing and pop. Their latest, Is It You, Is It Me does little to dispel that confusion. Across a baker's dozen of new songs, the band relies just as heavily on their horn section as they do their acoustic guitars for a satisfyingly eclectic mashup of genres.
This new effort builds on the solid foundation of 2017's self-titled LP, branching out even more so sonically - an impressive feat when you consider how diverse that first album was musically. Though not as energetic as their last album, the band still vacillates from slow build songs like "Sonic Boom" and a smoothed down, mellow jam like "Mirror," to a joyfully up tempo Dixieland vibe on the song "Nobody Knows (Is It You)".
The band also opens up to more pop elements with this outing, not shying away from a strong hook and memorable chorus. At 13 tracks, the album stretches on for a song or two too long, but there is more than enough great music here to forgive a little excess.
40: The Best Of 1979 - 2019 (Universal)
Simple Minds may best be remembered in this country for the outro song that gets played during the final shot of The Breakfast Club - a track that has almost become shorthand for Generation X rebellion, played at school reunions to this day. But as many in Europe and elsewhere outside of the U.S. knows, the Scottish band has an exhaustively large cannon of music that pre-and post-dates that mid '80s gem. This exhaustive three-CD set of 40 songs spanning 1979 - 2019 is a perfect proof.
Yes, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" is here (13th track on the second disc), but it's surround by dozens of equally impressive mix of fast-tempo dance rock songs and ballads, that deserve attention. Their other U.S. hits are obviously here as well - "Alive And Kicking," "Sanctify Yourself" and "All The Things She Said"- but long after American audiences relegated the band to the "'80s pile," Simple Minds continued to churn out album after album up until 2018's stellar Walk Between Worlds. Group founders, singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchell, have remained in the line-up throughout it all.
Also includes in this set are acoustic versions of "Waterfront" and "See The Lights," two fantastic performances. Simple Minds clearly deserves to be remembered for more in the U.S. than being a shuffle list nostalgia group. This definitive collection is all the proof you need.
The Real Impossibles
It's About Time (Rum Bar Records)
While The Raspberries and Big Star are almost always the first bands namechecked in any discussion about Power Pop, there were a slew of remarkably brilliant U.S. bands throughout the early-, mid-1980s who picked up that flag and carried it on for a while before getting drowned out by synth pop and hair metal on the radio. Groups like The Plimsouls, The Romantics and Dramarama created some remarkably addictive songs throughout the decade. In an alternate universe, The Real Impossibles would be as well known now as their peers.
The LA band, formed in 1983 got some local radio airplay for their 5-song EP as well as some love in Europe while being ignored by virtually every market in the U.S. Thankfully, the folks at Rum Bar Records are rectifying this slight with the aptly-titled It's About Time, a 13-track LP that captures a lot of music, including plenty of never-released songs by the underrated band.
The album kicks off with "Burned," one of the strongest tracks by the group followed by a solid cover of Neil Diamond's "Cherry Cherry," (a move that was braver in the early '80s than it would be nowadays, but nonetheless enjoyable). "Here and Now," which originally debuted on that early- '80s EP, is simply fantastic; as impressive as any Pop Punk song released that decade (It sounds slightly tinny, but that is easily overlooked once the chorus kicks in). Songs like "With a Girl" (produced by The Plimsoul's Peter Case) and "Is It Love" are almost as equally impressive.
The only downside to this record is the realization that this is likely most, if not all, of the band's music leaving a void just many are starting to discover them.