Sings the Police
(American Laundromat Records)
Juliana Hatfield's 2018 tribute to Olivia Newton-John, Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John (naturally), was as satisfying as it was unexpected. One of the most underrated singers of the '90s, Hatfield, turned her distinctively impassioned vocals on songs that for decades had become shorthand for '80s bubble gum pop for many cynical listeners and in doing so, was able to get across her genuine appreciation for songs that shaped her as a¬†musician.
So, it should come as no surprise that Hatfield brings the same mix of deference and love to this set of songs by The Police, another one of her big musical influences. This collection includes some of their biggest hits ("Can't Stand Losing You," "Roxanne," "Every Breath You Take") as well as deeper cuts ("Rehumanize Yourself," "Landlord") and each track here is essentially a love note to the trio, building onto the foundation they created decades ago with her own unique style. And while there is not a single song on this record that should be skipped past, her versions of "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" and "Canary In the Coalmine" are no less than remarkable.
So much more than a standard covers album or tribute record, Sings the Police obviously comes from a place of joy and respect. Can't wait to see who gets the Hatfield treatment¬†next.
Jake La Botz
They're Coming For Me
If Dr. John grew up a punk rocker in the Midwest rather than in the jazz and funk clubs of voodoo-soaked New Orleans, chances are he'd sound a lot like Jake La Botz.
On They're Coming For Me, the Nashville, by way of Chicago, musician turns in a wildly eclectic, deeply satisfying gumbo of blues, funk, jazz and even snatches of rock. And despite being decades younger than the brilliant, dearly missed Night Tripper, you can hear traces of his influence in both Botz's music as well as his fantastical characters. It's the music that first draws you in, from haunting guitars, organs and pianos. But's it's the characters in the songs that keep you coming back for more, whether it's stories about Sasquatch, ("Hey Bigfoot") or a song about a guy trying to fix everything around him with glue‚Ä¶ or likely about something so much more ("Johnnybag the Superglue"). It's Botz's knack for a witty turn of phrase that makes this set so compelling. Elsewhere songs like "Grace Of The Leaves" and "Without The Weight," two of the most stripped down tracks from this collection, manage to be just as captivating.
With They're Coming For Me, Botz's sophomore effort, he has manages to up the stakes considerably thanks to such a strong effort, likely earning him a slew of new followers and setting a pretty high bar for his next act.
The Complete Recordings
Nineteen-seventy's power pop never sounded so good. Portland-based four piece Daystar may borrow inspiration liberally from bands like Big Star, Wings and Badfinger, but their songs still manage to smack of originality. The Complete Recordings is a masterclass in building, taking the foundation of some of the best post-Beatles bands to ever commit to wax and then erecting a wildly satisfying modern take on those sounds.
Comprised of veterans of various Northwest bands, the members of Daystar - despite playing in groups that were previously all over the genre map - shared a fondness for classic power pop and it shows. Songs like the beautifully sublime "Warped Reality" and "A Lot Of Love" are vaguely nostalgic, with a timeless vibe. Elsewhere, the band shows they're not afraid of volume with up tempo tracks like "Buttons & Brass." Chill and mellow or turn-it-up rock and roll, The Complete Recordings has a vibe for just about any mood.
The Lonesome Billies
Right On Time
(Stay Lonesome Records)
Who would have thought some of the best Outlaw Country-inspired music would be coming out of the Pacific Northwest?
On Right On Time, their second LP and first since 2015, The Lonesome Billies pick up right where they left off, but with a little more groove this time around. Across a dozen tracks of twangy Telecaster riffs and a baritone that even Waylon Jennings would envy, The Lonesome Billies prove they deserve just as much attention as folks like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell for making it safe to finally enjoy country music again.
Songs like "Sad Old Man" and the so brilliantly, smartly macabre it could have been written by Johnny Cash "If You're Gonna Hang Me" go on to highlight just how sorely these guys have been missed over the last few years. The general song themes: death, loneliness and simply not giving a shit also bring to mind a lot of the punk acts that clearly had as much influence on the band as the Outlaw Country giants of the '70s.
The Lonesome Billies are back and they've brought more hooks and a lot more funk for this go 'round.
Play The Hits
(Thirty Tigers/Mono Mundo Recordings)
Ah, the covers album. Once seen as little more than a stop gap until the band could pull together enough new material for a new album, lately, thanks to folks like Corb Lund and Ben Lee's soon-to-be released record, cover albums seem to be moving towards a much more satisfying experimental phase (Americana Lund covering AC/DC, Indie stalwart Lee covering Fugazi, for example). And while The Mavericks don't venture too far beyond their influences on Play The Hits, the record is still crammed with a mix of good-to-great cover songs.
Among the best is their take on Waylon Jennings's "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and the fantastically inventive spin on Springsteen's "Hungry Heart," complete with their trademark Tex Mex horns and accordion. Even on some of the more ho hum tracks here, like John Anderson's "Swingin'" (the early '80s country song was never that great to begin with), the band manages to elevate the original thanks to Raul Malo's remarkably smooth croon (his voice on Hank Cochran's "Why Can't She Be You" is simply stunning). The band's stated goal was to tackle songs that they started playing early on in their three decades together as a group. That explains why Presley's "Don't Be Cruel" was in the mix, despite that song having nearly been covered to death at this point.
Though not as great as their last few albums of all original songs, Play The Hits is still a fun holdover until the band comes back with another record.