Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real
Turn Off The News Build a Garden (Fantasy Recordings)
The title track to Lukas Nelson's fifth album pretty much sums up the focus of the record; people are generally good, so let's focus on being kind to each other. And yes, it's the type of sentiment that gets one branded a snowflake in 2019, but damn it's good advice. And it sounds even better coming out in Nelson's lazy, comforting drawl, backed by one of the best bands going today. The song shows up twice on the record, first as a steady, electrified version and again toward the album's end slowed down a bit with acoustic guitar. Elsewhere there are tracks about suspicious lovers ("Out in LA") and broken hearts ("Save A little Heartache"), but the overall vibe is "let's just slow down a bit and be kinder to each other".
Over the course of nearly a decade, Nelson has evolved from being a decent songwriter with a famous last name to a stellar one, at the same time stepping out from his dad's long shadow and proving all the attention he has generated recently (thanks in large part to his inspiration and songwriting credits in the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga remake of A Star Is Born) is clearly warranted. Along with the title track, the album is crammed with some of the best songs in his already impressive career, from the Roy Orbison-inspired "Where Does Love Go," to the twangy addictive "Lotta Fun".
It's hard to deny we are living in trying times, but "Turn Off the News" is the perfect antidote for sanity, at least for a little while.
A Picture Made
Heal (Gooodspeeed Records)
More than three decades in the making, Heal, the debut record from A Picture Made, though ridiculously long overdue, manages to have been worth the wait.
The Midwest kids (though long past being kids) came together in the 1980s and managed to open for some of the best college rock bands at the time, from The Call and The Connells to The Replacements. It's not clear if it was a case of severe procrastination or life getting in the way, but it took 35 years for Heal to come about (Guns N Roses could have made Chinese Democracy three times over in that time frame). But it's hard to argue with the results, a baker's dozen of straight ahead rock songs that manage to take inspiration from some of the underground greats from the '80s and '90s without coming off like a glorified cover band. The band slips seamlessly from a laid back mellow jam like "Come To Me" to loud power chords on a song like "Locomo Mexico."
It may have taken awhile, but A Picture Made have turned in a pretty compelling reason for listeners to come back for more.
Let Me Know When You Give Up (Fat Wreck Chords)
The title of Joey Cape's latest, Let Me Know When You Give Up, is a tad more optimistic that you'd assume. Given the depressing de-evolution of world politics, starting with the election of Trump, the seemingly inevitable march toward Brexit and the growing rise of nationalism across the globe, Cape learned the best way to survive was to turn away from the day-to-day deluge of depressing news â€“ at least a little bit.
That sanity preserving strategy has led to a slightly mellower, but still thoroughly enjoyable LP. While not exactly sanguine, there are still rays of optimism that shine throughout the record, most notably on songs like "Love of My Life". And while there are certainly plenty of intimate folk-punk tracks here, Cape it not afraid to plug in the distortion pedal now and then, like on the driving "Fall Down" or the fantastic "Before My Heart Attack," one of the album's standout tracks. Elsewhere, the slow build on the track "Andalusia" manages to beautifully bridge some of the more introspective fare here with the harder, louder songs.
Title aside, Let Me Know When You Give Up, finds Cape at a place in his career where he has found a solid blend of fighting the good fight, yet still finding a way to also have a little bit of peace of mind.
Superunknown [Vinyl Reissue] (A&M/UMe)
To mark the Soundgarden's 35th anniversary, A&M and UMe are putting out a slew of re-releases by band, including classic albums in limited edition colored vinyl. So now seems like an ideal time to revisit their best-selling and arguable flawless fourth album Superunknown.
Initially put out in 1994, at the crest of the grunge movement, Soundgarden â€“ one of the pioneers of the Seattle sound and a band that had already been around years before Nirvana and Peral Jam were formed â€“ finally got their due with Superunknown.
Still boasting the band's heavy dark sound of previous records, this one found the band expanding a bit on their music, adding in psychedelic (most notably at the beginning of "Black Hole Sun") and more melodies without sacrificing any of their core sound. It's on Superunknown that most outside of the Northwest finally keyed into the realization that Chris Cornell possessed one of the best voices modern rock ever had; this album perfectly showcased his range. The 70-plus minute LP, lovingly re-released on 180 gram vinyl and spread over two records for its 25th anniversary, sounds just as revolutionary as the day it was release.
Even in 2019, a time in music where distorted guitars are little more than props for You Tube music videos, it's hard to imagine a song like "Black Hole Sun" or "Fell on Black Days" wouldn't propel the band to international acclaim. Here's hoping this re-release will clue in an entirely new generation to the brilliance that was Soundgarden in their prime.
Daydream Explosion (Wicked Cool Records & The Orchard)
Just one year shy of their 20th anniversary as a band, and eight albums into it, The Dollyrots have just turned in their best effort yet.
The 14-track Daydream Explosion, their first for Stevie Van Zandt's Wicked Cool Records label, is simply pop punk perfection. From the spikey, fast guitars, the gorgeous female/male tradeoff vocals, machine gun drumming, and bratty defiant lyrics, there's a feeling that The Dollyrots have been building up to this moment all along. There is not a song on this record that doesn't earn the right to be here â€“ and there are EPs that can't even boast that (ok, maybe the blushingly goofy "I Know How To Party" should have been left off).
The album starts off with the chiming guitar licks of "Animal," followed quickly by Kelly Ogden's tough as fuck vocals, grabbing the listener by the eras and not letting up for close to 45 minutes. It would be easy to dismiss this record, like much of pop punk, as little more than a teenage soundtrack. And yes, this does seem like the perfect dialogue to the frustration of growing up. But many of the themes of defiance that Ogden spits out here are still, sadly relevant a decade or so after you move out. It may have taken nearly 20 years, but the Dollyrots have just turned in the perfect Dollyrots' record.