Close To Home (Plowboy Records)
It seems pretty appt that one-time BR5-49 member Chuck Mead would head to the iconic Sam Phillips Recording Studios in Memphis to make his latest as few in the Americana world have come across as easily an instant classic as Mead. Even though the band first came out in the '90s they had an instant timelessness to their music that you'd have been forgiven for assuming they'd cropped up in the Sun Studios era. And, much like his former band's output, Mead's latest, Close To Home, is just as ageless. Crammed with twangy chords, steel guitar, mandolins and Mead's distinctive, melodic drawl (a Midwestern/Southern hybrid), this record is classic Honkey Tonk for a modern age.
From the opening, charging chords on "Big Bear in the Sky," Mead and crew reel through nearly a dozen country swing and barroom dance floor jams, slowing the tempo down ever so slightly now and then, but never for long.
The music is superb, but it's Mead's subtle, witty lyrics that really take center stage on this record (like all his previous solo offerings). Though there's hardly a weak track on the album, the closing song, "There's Love Where I Come From" manages to be both remarkably simply and simply sublime.
Superstition For The Consumer Romantic (Self-released)
Slark Moan, the pseudonym for Nashville singer/guitarist Mark Sloan, has spent plenty of time of late gigging with some of that town's greats, serving as touring guitarist for folks like Margo Price and Erin Rae. But even with that impressive resume, it's still remarkable just how great his latest effort, Superstition For The Consumer Romantic, manages to be.
Across 10 tracks, delivered with airy, soaring vocals â€“ steeped in sweep melody and wrapped in strong, tight guitars, Slark Moan churns out dreamy indie pop that would fit just as comfortably on a playlist alongside bands like Deer Tick and J Roddy Walston as it would with some of the Americana bands he tour with. While there's not a weak track in the collection, the up-tempo "American Middle-Class Disaster" is easily the highlight of the set.
In true indie fashion, he not only wrote and played every instrument on the record, he also produced and engineered the album himself as well. After years spent standing on the side playing someone else's music, Sloan proves that he is more than ready to have his name at the top of the show flyer.
Pulling Out All The Stops (Rum Bar Records & Stardumb Records)
Geoff Palmer, best known for part in New Hampshire's The Connection, proves his record collections contains so much more than old garage rock albums, with his Power Pop/Pop Punk-drenched new LP Pulling Out All The Stops.
Combining the joyfully snotty vocals of The Ramones with the best parts of Cheap Trick and The Knack, Palmer's latest, though brimming with 14 tracks, goes by remarkably quick, thanks in part to the infectious hooks and singalong choruses. With songs like "Everything is Cool" and "All The Hits," the lyrics may not be Mensa-level throughout, but damn are they hard to ignore.
Sometime between the late 90's emo romance and the implosion of Lookout Records, Pop Punk took a disappointingly lame turn and became shorthand for bad teenage love songs wrapped in distorted power chords. But with Pulling Out All the Stops, Palmer manages to pick up the tattered flag designed by bands like The Buzzcocks and The Ramones and once again proudly hoist the Pop Punk banner high.
Live At Glastonbury '99 (Craft Recordings)
Long before their music was coopted for sappy TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and One Tree Hill, the Scottish rock band Travis was churning out brilliant, guitar-centered music that oozed with emotion. No where is that clearer than on the just-released live set from the group's 1999 appearance at the famed Glastonbury festival.
Out for the first time on vinyl and CD thanks to Craft Recordings, the set captures the band at their creative peak, sailing after the release of their debut, Good Feeling, and on the verge of putting out The Man Who (arguable two of their best three records). Just a few years old at this time, the band had already found a sound that was able to make them stand out among the many of other Post Brit Pop bands, like Keane, Snow Patrol and Coldplay, that were coming out around the same time. Travis, with guitar-heavy songs like the stellar "All I Want To Do Is Rock," "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Good Feeling," distinguished themselves with a more bombastic arena-ready sound. Reeling through a 16-song set, that also included a newer song like "Coming Around" and a few slower tracks like the "More Than Us" and "Driftwood," the crowd was clearly feeling it that day, despite the many references to threats of rain.
Live At Glastonbury is a remarkable snapshot of a great band at its peak.
This Is The Town: A Tribute To Nilsson (Volume 2) (Royal Potato Family)
Tribute albums are almost always a mixed bag. And this second volume of Harry Nilsson songs is no exception. The covers run the gamut from incredible (Cheap Trick covering "Ambush" and Adam Matta's beatbox accompaniment on "Driving Along") to the quirky (Valley Queen's peculiar version of "I Guess The Lord Must Be in New York City" and Belle-Skinner's ukulele-backed "Open Your Window") to the simply uninspired (Invisible Familiar's trippy take on "Old Forgotten Soldier" which sounds like it was recorded underwater).
Nilsson is easily one of the best songwriters to come out of the 1970s and to this day still manages to inspire a slew of bands â€“ essentially any group that marries melodies with whip smart lyrics owes a debt to Nilsson. So, it's not surprising that a wide net was cast by bands wanting to pay tribute to this artist. Despite its occasional flaws, This Is The Town, Volume 2 still serves as a decent bookend to 2014's first Nilsson tribute album (a record that's worth owning for the Low Cut Connie and Langhorne Slim covers alone).