Matt Hammon, “Silver Suitcase”, album review and interview

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Photo by Anthony Rathbun

Matt Hammon is an exceptional drummer, singer and songwriter that has been in the music business for decades. He has played with such incredible musicians as Bob Mould and the band Verbow, and has always been a steady and well-respected drummer. In addition, Matt has always been a songwriter. Over the years he has written and stored away literally hundreds of songs, knowing, somehow, that eventually he would find a way to release those that meant the most to him.

Matt spent some time finding himself and who he wanted to be in this world, and after some personal struggles he overcame, finding some humanitarian  causes he was passionate about and finally, having received and beaten a cancer diagnosis, he realized who he was and what he needed to do in this life. Making this record no longer seemed to be an option, but a necessity.

Silver Suitcase is the result of taking the enormous song collection he had amassed over 20 years, narrowing it down to his top 10 favorites, and then completely re-crafting these songs until he felt they were good enough to be released in a way he was proud of. To say he has accomplished an album worthy of pride is an understatement. Silver Suitcase is a stunningly beautiful album and one that is worthy of all of the years it took to finally come to fruition.

Hammon has written, arranged, mastered and performed every song on this album, giving him complete creative and musical control. This is such an extremely difficult and complicated task that it makes the album even better when you understand the sheer talent this man possesses.

A captivating blend of alternative, americana, pop and straight forward rock and roll, the songs on this album are haunting, melodic and lyrically divine. In addition to that, they are extraordinarily radio friendly and catchy. This is a rare combination and one that deserves a listen by fans of almost any genre. The album encompasses a real story, an autobiographical picture of the artist and his journey through life that really captures your heart, mind and spirit as you listen. The album is not to be taken lightly. It is richly layered, yet incredible melodic, relatable and accessible.

Stand-outs for me, include Pictures, Sleeper’s Town and my favorite, Out Of Touch. That being said, I don’t think there is a song on the album that isn’t worth a listen.

Matt is  currently using the crowd funding resource, Indiegogo, to help him get this album out and promoted in the way it deserves to be. Please help us support our gifted musicians and storytellers. Their voices need to be heard, now more than ever, in this world where we all need a little more beautiful music. The links are at the end of the interview.

J. The new record is really amazing. Can you share with us how you put it together and what your inspirations were?

M.H. First of all, thank you so much for spending so much time with the record! It literally means the world to me that complete strangers are finally connecting with the music after all these years! It’s very encouraging, to say the least. So thank you.

Inspirations? Well, for starters all the records I’ve ever been a part of have inspired me to keep making records. It’s where I feel the most piqued sense of belonging – in the studio with my head between the speakers and a guitar in my hand. Sound itself inspires me, good stories inspire me…opposition inspires me, too. There was a tremendous amount of opposition – both real and imagined – in the making of this album. It’s a definite thread throughout the album, lyrically.

In the lead-up to my daughter being born 10 years ago I really got the itch to finish a solo record and get it out there, not knowing whether or not I would ever have the time and energy to commit to such a self-indulgent enterprise ever again. The record I made during that time kind of ended up being the “demos” of Silver Suitcase. Lots of the same songs but the drums were programmed and the vocals never really got off the ground. I printed up a few copies of 5 songs from that time to sell at shows, but I intentionally never “released” that work. “As A Child” used to be called “Letting Go”, which was on that EP and had some very time-specific lyrics that I just didn’t mean anymore, so I re-wrote most of the lyrics for that one when I was tracking the final vocal on it for Silver Suitcase.

I tracked drums at my friend Jay Snider’s home studio in Houston – I think I traded a compressor for a day of studio time…I tracked the lead vocal at my friend Ty Robins’ home studio. Everything else I did at my place – guitars, bass, keys, harmonies…all of it, including the mix. For “As A Child” I went up to Austin and had my buddy David Rice play bass, Hammond B-3 organ and that haunting electric piano. I think of that song as more “round”, and having David add some elegance to it really helped smooth out the rough edges that I went for on the other tracks.

In general though, I start with a scratch guitar track and a click track and record final drums to that and build from there. It’s very architectural in nature.

J. What is the songwriting process like for you?

M.H. Well for me there have been two different processes that have emerged since I got going as a teenager. One process I refer to as the “purge”, where it all comes out at the same time – the chords, the melody, the lyric, the form…that process always feels more like channeling than writing. The title track, “Silver Suitcase” came to me in like 10 minutes, soup to nuts, so did “Pictures” and “Sleeper’s Town”. The other process is far more laborious – usually sitting around jacking with the guitar and landing on something that sounds new or different and “composing” a piece of music that I then carry the burden of lyrics for over time. “Out Of Touch” was like that – I had really hit a wall with the lyrics on that one but was fortunate enough to spend a week in Santa Fe at a retreat with Over The Rhine…long story short – the two of them really dug the tune but challenged me to dig deeper with the lyric, which I did, or at least I hope I did J. That song went through 3 entire sets of lyrics until I uttered the word “California” in the chorus. I needed a strong 4 syllable word that I could anchor the chorus on…I wrote the first incarnation of that song when my wife took a trip to L.A. to hang with her brother Alex…giving that song a location – California – totally unlocked and focused the entire song.

J. Are you planning on touring to support the record?

M.H. Yes! I am planning on doing some efficient solo acoustic touring this summer in the big markets to help generate some visibility and just general activity surrounding the record and getting myself back “out there” after a pretty long break. I’ll be playing in the TX triangle (Austin/Dallas/Houston) throughout the year. Touring has really changed since I was last at it full-time. It’s a lot easier to get the word out, gas is cheaper, you can stay in 4-star hotels for 2-star prices, there’s espresso and healthy food options everywhere…I’m really looking forward to it.

J. Please tell us about Olivette music and mission? I find it beautiful, what you’ve done with this project. How did it begin?

M.H.  Ok. Here it goes. This is essentially answering the “Where have you been all these years, Matt?” question that I’ve been getting a lot of emails about lately. The short answer is that my wife and I made a trip to Budapest, Hungary in the summer of 2007 that fundamentally changed both of us forever. We saw things that we can’t un-see. We heard true stories that we can’t un-hear. We dreamed dreams we can’t un-dream.

The long story goes like this: We are both products of the Cold War, and I even got a degree in economics and political science that I geared toward post-communist transition in Eastern Europe. I was 16 when the Berlin Wall came down. I was getting my first band going as the first elections were occurring behind the Iron Curtain – I was utterly distracted as the world was changing. However, those images, those newsreels were in my mind somewhere, and something rattled the core of my own sense of generational identity as I pounded the pavement in a previously communist country searching for answers as to why I was told – by the authority figures in my youth – these people hated me because I was an American. It appeared to me that very little had changed in the 20 plus years since the collapse of communism in Europe, and I heard as much from the locals.

So we were in the subway one day and noticed a girl – couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13, a gypsy girl–being gripped by a police officer, flanked by a throng of older men and women trying to sell some homemade wares beside her. I turned to one of my Hungarian friends and asked if he thought that scene looked a little shady… he essentially said that she was likely in the middle of being sold by her family; that it is very prevalent throughout the former communist countries in Europe, especially amongst the Gypsy population who have no protection.

 

I had written papers in college about sex trafficking in Southeast Asia but was under the impression (false) that things were turning around in the former communist bloc in terms of organized crime, etc… I spent the next year absorbing all the information I could about the new Eastern Europe, and we spent 3 months in Budapest in the summer of ’08. In fact we almost sold everything and moved there, but for myriad reasons didn’t.

As time went on we had an opportunity to go to the former soviet Republic of Moldova and visit some orphanages and schools and get a sense of what the Soviet Union was like. Moldova is a country where the vast majority of people were actually far better off under communism, from a simple standard of living / food on the table perspective.

On that trip we met about 1000 kids under the age of 15 whose parents had left them behind as they themselves migrated – often illegally – to Western Europe for work. The stories are horrendous; the parents hardly ever come back for their kids, the orphanage staff often work as brokers for human traffickers, it is the sickest stuff on planet earth…no running water, scattered electricity, food insecurity, physical abuse…and the kids get kicked out when they turn 15 – no education, no money, no family. They’re sitting ducks for traffickers; some even volunteer in some kind of a neo-indentured servitude agreement. The problem is that over 80% of these kids are sexually exploited for years and years, and less than 1% ever escape. Their life expectancy is less than 30 years. 400,000 people have disappeared from Moldova alone since the fall of the communism (10% of the population has been trafficked). Moldova is by far the least developed nation in Europe and other than Afghanistan and Haiti is the least developed country on earth that is not in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was once a major breadbasket for the entire Soviet Union. It should be one of the worlds most prolific wine exporting countries. The people are eager for a better life, but most have given up hope entirely – suicide rates are off the chart, the population is declining at an alarming rate…its questionable whether or not it is even a sustainable country at all…and there’s a civil war going on next door in Ukraine that many Moldovans want the eastern separatists to win. Very complicated stuff. Romania did not want Moldova back after Ceausescu was executed and the Soviet Union fell apart. They call Moldova “a country without a nation”.

All that said, we had this idea to bring awareness of human trafficking amongst the orphan population of Moldova to the attention of ordinary, relatively safe Americans. As we live in the Bible Belt, the churches were an obvious place to get traction for support and that’s where we started.

We were able to raise a significant amount of money for a Moldovan non-profit we had partnered with to provide direct transitional housing between the orphanage and college / career. These people are the new Underground Railroad, saving the most vulnerable of people from literal slavery, and we thought we might be able to help out a bit in terms of putting some American money to work in a tangible human rights scenario.

So we started doing these long-form epic rock shows in mega-churches sounding the alarm at the idea of slavery and the necessity to advance human dignity wherever we can, even on the other side of the planet. We’re talking the ends of the earth here – the southern region of Moldova, where southeast Romania meets southwest Ukraine a puddle-jump from the Black Sea. It’s the middle of nowhere and there’s no reason to care about it other than that we are united with these people by our shared humanity. For us, that was enough of a reason to start Olivette as a non-profit and try to keep some kids out of the orphanage-to-brothel pipeline on the other side of the world.

J. Why do you think we, as Americans, are so uneducated about human trafficking and what can be done to change that?

M.H. In terms of America, we see what we want to see. We have equated ethics with emotions – “I’ll do this if it feels good…I won’t do this if it makes me feel uncomfortable…” The real issue with sex trafficking is the demand, and we all feed the demand for it when we objectify each other and uphold the idea that human beings can be diminished to possessions on par with cars and jewelry. Everything is so over-sexualized…it all feeds into a culture of sexual exploitation, and the most unprotected and vulnerable among us take the hit. There are 30 million slaves generating $150 Billion a year for the brokers who bring together the supply and demand for this horror.

J. You’ve been in the industry for such a long time. To what do you owe your longevity?

M.H. Honestly? I just really love rock music. I am thankful for it. It is a profound force in the world and I feel out of alignment if I’m not always working on a record, always thinking about actual songs and actual guitar and drum parts, always writing lyrics and phrasing vocals. It’s not a general interest – it is a specific application of a deep-seeded need to make rock music that I’ve had with me since I was 12 years old and saw U2 for the first time (Unforgettable Fire tour).

It means something different to me now than when I was a bit younger. Scarcity becomes more real; the clock seems to tick faster than it did. I was never any good at the industry side of being a professional musician. I’m an INFJ (google it), and dealing with people from the biz always made me shrink into a dark hole of inferiority and anxiety, and led to years of heavy drinking (I’ve been sober for nearly 13 years now).

J. You’ve played with so many artists, but never released an album of your own until now. What made now the right time?

M.H. Why now? About 5 years ago – just as we were getting our non-profit going – I was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully it was operable and non-invasive and I did not have to deal with radiation treatment or chemo. Emotionally, the damage had been done though. It was the line in the sand between my adolescence (that had already dragged on far past its shelf life) and full-on adulthood. I had to do a merciless inventory of my life, where I had been and where I still wanted / needed to go.

The immediate need was to find a stable line of work with excellent health care that still afforded long stretches of time off for my other pursuits. So I became a high school teacher, and I absolutely love it.

Teaching is not my “day job”. I consider myself bi-vocational, as in there are two halves to my career: I teach, and I rock, and there are seasons for both (I teach AP and IB Economics to High School seniors). Wendell Berry often remarks about the crop rotation of life – how over-farming one plot of land leads to barren land, and the better option is to have several plots of land that you work at different times, allowing the other plots to heal and regenerate so they are fertile ground when their number comes up in the rotation. I believe in that with all my heart.

The teaching work has taken a lot of the financial pressure off of my music “career”, whatever that is. So, unburdened by the need to make money playing other people’s music I guiltlessly dove headfirst into the record that became “Silver Suitcase”. I have pretty much let everything else go, at a pretty heavy cost, but a very necessary tradeoff I willingly make. I have to be much more selective about the music work I take now because my opportunity cost is more significant these days, with family and school.

J. Now for a purely self-indulgent question! Bob Mould is my favorite artist. Can you tell me what it was like working with him?

M.H. One word: LOUD!

Seriously, though. Bob Mould is a central figure in my life – even had I never met him and never played with him he still would have been a central figure in my life because his music is so meaningful to me. “Hardly Getting Over It” and “Too Far Down” fundamentally shifted my approach to songwriting, and I owe him a great debt for that. I saw him play solo acoustic in 1991 and in that moment I made a number of decisions, decisions that still drive me to this day, decisions about how I wanted to present my music when it was ready, about vulnerability in writing and performing, about truth…

Recording and touring with Bob in ‘98 was like getting a 4-year degree in leadership studies in a few months. There is never any doubt about who’s in charge, but there is a cavernous divide between leaders and managers. Leaders trust, managers don’t. Bob Mould is a leader, and extended to me a great deal of freedom in my playing. I felt very secure playing with Bob; he didn’t micro-manage me. He gave me the room I needed to nail that tour, and I made it to the end, hands in shreds, but a better man – and a better musician – for it.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/matt-hammon-silver-suitcase-full-length-album-music#/

and the website: http://www.matthammonmusic.com

Album review: Clue and the Honkytones: Thrown Thru The Windshield

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Dave “Clue” Chludzinski is an enigma. A man who grew up listening to everything from punk rock to his beloved Elvis Presley, he is far from your average country singer. Clue takes his varied and eclectic influences, blends them all together and comes up with a sound that is uniquely his own. The sound of Clue and The Honkytones can not be described easily. A beautiful blend of rockabilly, country, honky-tonk, blues, and pure unadulterated rock and roll that has turned even this most decidedly “un-country” fan into a true believer.

Clue grew up in Wilton , Connecticut and was a regular attendee of Stamford’s famous punk club, The Anthrax. While this music must have worked its way into his consciousness, it was his Father that may have been the person that influenced him the most musically. Paul Chludzinski, Sr. is an enormous Elvis Presley fan and  one of Clue’s  first musical memories is when he heard “Hound Dog’ for the very first time. Clue , who describes his father as his hero, says hearing Elvis was life changing. He and his Father were able to share a lifelong love of the King, and still enjoy listening to him together.

A true musician and songwriter, the first thing that strikes you about this album is how beautiful the vocals are. Clue is a master singer. His voice is what makes this album shine  way above the norm. This is most evident in the beautiful ballads, Baby I’m Sorry  and Smilin’ All The Time. These songs are not only relatable and accessible, but ones that will stick in your head for hours after hearing them. And while you could listen to these songs, appreciate them and expect the rest of the album to follow suit,  it most certainly does not stick to one particular style.The album turns up the energy to full throttle in songs like Wild Runner and the tongue in cheek Elvis is Dead. These songs will get you  up and dancing in seconds flat.

Clue is the genuine article. A man who takes his greatest musical influences, lets them settle into his soul a bit, and then, almost as if by magic, turns what he finds there into something not only unique, beautiful and enormously entertaining, but true to who he is as a person and an artist. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Do yourselves a favor and take this album out for a spin. You won’t be sorry you did.

 

 

Best albums of 2016

imageI spent a ridiculous amount of time on this list. There were a few that I knew beyond doubt would make it, but I had a tremendous amount of difficulty narrowing  it down to the standard 10.

I don’t expect everyone ( or even anyone!) to agree with this list in its entirety. But I need to choose albums I feel in my soul and in my gut. Ones that speak to me in ways I can’t forget. So that’s just what I’ve done.

10. Corinne Bailey Rae: The Heart Speaks in Whispers.

9. Anders Osborne: Flower Box

8. Nic Cave and the Bad Seeds: Skeleton Key

7. John Doe: The Westerner

6. Sturgill Stimpson: A Sailors Guide to Earth

5. Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker

4. David Bowie: Blackstar

3. Dinosaur Jr. : Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not

2. Bob Mould: Patch the Sky

1.Drive-By Truckers: American Band.

As a side note, My top 3 this year might fit on a list of my top records of the decade so far. American Band most certainly would. If you listen to anything on this list, at least take a real listen to that one. The beauty in it will floor you.

 

Drive-By Truckers, “American Band” album review.

imageI’ll start this review off by saying something I’ve never said about any record before in my life. This album is a social masterpiece. The lyrical content and sound are beyond anything I’ve ever listened to before. To say  that this album is powerful is doing it an injustice. Powerful does not even come close to speaking to what these songs are and the feelings they evoke. Anger, sadness, helplessness,  joy and fear. They are all present and accounted for. While listening to this record I realized pretty quickly that it was an emotional rollercoaster. The feelings it stirred literally gave me goosebumps at every turn.

This album takes a sharp turn from the norm even on its album cover. Instead of the usual artwork of Wes Freed , there is a dark and somber photo of an American flag at half-staff. And the first song, Ramon Casiano, jumps right into the theme the rest of the album will follow. The song  recounts the true story of a confrontation between two teenagers  that resulted in the killing of Casiano by fellow teen Harlan Carter. Carter escaped incarceration. He later worked for the U.S. Border Patrol and became a President of the NRA . Harlan has been credited as the man who transformed the organization from a sporting organization into an absolutist gun rights group. “He had the makings of a leader/Of a certain kind of man/Who need to feel the world’s against them/ Out to get ’em if he can. Men whose trigger pull their fingers/ Of men who’d rather fight than win/ united in a revolution/like in mind and like in skin.”. Cooley is pulling no punches. He’s taken the gloves off without apology and without shame.

Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have always been prolific songwriters. And the content of their songs have always delved deeply into social and political arenas. Sure, there are plenty of songs that are just fun, but the reality of it has always been that these two men write and sing about things that matter. Upon first listen, I knew that the band would face some backlash due to the overtly political nature of these songs. I was correct. Facebook pages and message boards were bombarded by messages from irate fans demanding that the band stop discussing politics and stick to songwriting. Many “fans” said they’d never listen to the band again. Some spewed much uglier rhetoric. The band was accused of hurling a “white guilt” message at its fans for its sympathy towards the “Black Lives” movement. They were berated for “political correctness” and “selling out”. As I sat back and took it all in, it amazed me. This band has always been political. And their politics have quite obviously never tilted towards the right. In the 20 year career of DBT, their songs were always rife with references to social, economic and racial inequality. They have always been quick to derail hypocrisy and southern sterotypes. This album takes these themes to a whole new level. Its songs speak to an urgency, a call to arms about the moral and ethical crisis we are dealing with as a nation. There is no room for subtlety in such tumultuous times, and the band has abandoned all pretense of it. While the large minority of DBT fans may have missed the innuendo of politics on some earlier albums, there is no mistaking it any longer. Cooley and Patterson shoved it right down our throats this time. And the beauty of its brutal truth is astonishing and terrifying at once.

In addition to Ramon Casiano,  some of the other incredibly powerful songs on the album include Guns of Umpqua, about a community college shooting in Oregon as told through the eyes of a combat veteran “And now we’re moving chairs in some panic mode to barricade the doors/ As my heart rate surges on adrenalin and nerves, I feel I’ve been here before/ I made it back from hell’s attack in some distant bloody war/ Only to stare down hell back home.” and the extremely somber yet powerful What It Means,  which tackles everything from gun violence, to police brutality, to racial injustice to the plight of Travon Martin. “And that guy who killed that kid down in Florida standing ground/Is free to beat up on his girlfriend and wave his brand new gun around/ While some kid is dead and buried and laying in the ground/ With a pocket full of skittles” and the even more powerful “And if you say it wasn’t racial/ When they shot him in his tracks/ Well it guess that means that you ain’t black/ It means that you ain’t black/ I mean Barack Obama won/ And you can choose where to eat/ But you don’t see too many white kids lying bleeding on the street.”

Not all of the songs on the album are somber, and Cooley sings some of his hardest hitting rock songs in years, with Filthy and Fried and  Kinky Hypocrite. But even these gems are filled with social and political messages.

The album ends with a beautiful and brave song by Hood that addresses his shock and sadness about the death of Robin Williams. In Baggage, Hood is very upfront about his own daily battle with depression and his heartbreak at the loss of such a wonderful talent because of it.

This album remains true to DBT and its enormous and ever-growing legion of fans. HeAthens, as the most loyal fans call themselves (I’m proud to be among them), are quick to defend this album and its politics. Most of the fans that I’ve spoken to agree with the sentiment of the album and the grave subject matter it faces head on. Most of us understood that these ideals have always been there and is one of the reasons we love them so muchInstead of losing fans, it seems that DBT is expanding its base every day. Even  the fans that I spoke to that didn’t necessarily agree with the political direction the band is taking were quick to defend their right as artists and Americans to do so. If only the rest of the country could follow suite. The ability to agree to disagree and accept that people don’t have to have the same views we do to remain good people. That’s a rare thing these days. Let’s hope the message spreads.

Drive-By Truckers remain one of the most talented and relevant bands around. The fact that 20 years later, their music is even harder-hitting and socially just speaks volumes as to who these men are as artists and human beings. If you haven’t bothered to listen, maybe its time to sit down with a cup of coffee (or better yet, a stiff drink. You may need it!) and really, truly listen. Left leaning, right leaning or somewhere in the center, it speaks to us as human beings. That’s  a rare and beautiful thing.

5 stars.

Album review: Dead City, “The Dead Sessions”featuring Cheetah Chrome.

I’m a punk girl at heart. And although my music tastes are quite diversified at this point in my life (My playlists might suggest a multiple personality disorder to any casual observer!). I love nothing more than to getting back to the music that started it all for me. Some of The bands that really woke me up and began my life long love affair with music were The NY Dolls, The Damned, The Dead Boys and Iggy and The Stooges. I am a fan of hardcore, but there is something that is perfect to me when it comes to the loud guitar, heavy rhythm section and bluesy and soulful vocals of these bands.

Connecticut Hardcore band, Lost Generation is a band I’ve always greatly appreciated and I got to see them many times in my youth. As I dove head first back into music, I began to research some of my old local favorites. Somehow, until very recently, I missed out on  Dead City. This band  came into fruition after Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys) played a few ten-year anniversary gigs with Lost Generation in 1991 and the next logical step was to go into the studio and record together. Lost Generation singer, Joe Dias, joined up with Chrome, and guitarist Pugs (, Iron Cross) to go back to the beginning and record an album with a sound that brings punk right back to its earliest roots. Members of Lost Generation, as well as Todd Knapp (76% Uncertain) and John Munera (Seizure) round out the Dead City line-up this album. It was mastered by current Dead City bassist, Sean Sheridan.

At fist listen  I was immediately transported back to being a 13-year-old girl in Fairfield County, Connecticut and hearing the Dead Boys for the first time. I was babysitting and brought the kids over to the local pet store to see the exotic animals. Little did I know that visit would change my entire life.A guy that worked at the shop was playing this music. I had never had music grab me like that before.( But being that I grew up in a family where Kenny Rogers was about as deep as you got, there was never anything to grab before!!) I began going to the shop every day after school just to hear more. Soon I was completely immersed in the punk scene. Stiv Bators and The Dead Boys were at the top of my daily  playlist. There was something raw and real about this music.I could listen to it daily for the rest of my life and it would never sound dated or out of touch. Even upon first listen, Dead City sounded that good to me. It’s classic punk rock in its most basic and beautiful form. There is nothing fancy or over-polished here, and that’s what makes it so good. These guys understand what classic punk is and what its supposed to sound like, and that unlike the really good hardcore out there at the time, they weren’t ashamed to play songs that allowed you to sing and (GASP!!!) maybe even dance around the bedroom a little .

While I am a huge fan of some of the earliest and fastest hardcore, nothing before or since has ever had the effect on me that 70’s punk did. It defied tradition, but burst forth with passion, energy and a guttural sexuality that had never really been heard before.It was tough while still having a groove. It was raw, but not to the point that you could not sing along.

The Dead Sessions album brings punk back. It’s infectious rhythm and loud guitar riffs, coupled with the soulful singing of Dias, is an album I’d been waiting to hear  for a very long time. It’s not aiming to sound LIKE anything in the past, but to take the influences from a time gone by and incorporate them into something that might sound even better. This album is not to be missed by anyone who loves this genre.

Stand-out tracks for me are “Nothing”, which ranks right up there with the best The Dead Boys had to offer, “Memories”, which is reminiscent of the Stooges, and the hilarious “I Walked With A Zombie.” Do yourselves a favor, and listen. Better yet, come see them live.

Dead City will be playing at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT on 10/26/16 with The Dickies.. Tickets are on sale now.

Stove “Toad in The Rain” review and interview with the band.

imagePhoto by Scott Trojan

Stove is a band with a sound that you can’t quite nail down. Their latest release, Toad In The Rain has a sound very different from their debut album, Is Stupider. Steve Hartlett, of Ovlov fame, recorded the initial album entirely on his own.  Is Stupider relied heavily on loud guitar riffs, lots of distortion and a loud-quiet dynamic reminiscent of bands like Dinosaur Jr..Initially the project was really a continuation of  Hartlett’s band Ovlov. In fact, the songs on the first album were initially meant to be Ovlov songs. On  this new EP, a clear distinction is felt. Stove is no longer Ovlov with a new moniker.Each band has now come forward with their own clear sound and musical identity. And with both bands continuing to play, that’s an important distinction.This EP is filled with a lot more melody, less heaviness and many more layers.Not quite pop, but certainly headed in a direction where melody and catchiness are key.This doesn’t mean you won’t hear guitar heavy songs at all, just an evolution of the band as a whole. The complexity of the sound doesn’t really hit you at first, even though the beauty of it most certainly does. The EP is very aesthetically pleasing from first listen, but the layers of the songs and how finely crafted they really are, take a few plays.

Steve Hartlett is no longer crafting these songs alone. The band is clearly a collaboration of all its members. Mike Hammond Jr., Alex Molini and Jordyn Blakely  all bring nuances of sound to the band that make it stronger.While the initial vision and the lyrics are still the work of Hartlett, a truly gifted lyricist,  the difference in this album may be how beautifully this bands works together as a cohesive unit. Giving up full control of a band when you are used to calling all of the shots can’t be easy. But Hartlett seems to have found a group of people who not only see his vision , but add to it in ways he probably never imagined before.

On this EP there is a fine tuning of each song that makes them sound more grown up and more defined. A melding of musical ideas that can only come from maturity and the willingness to work hard until the exact sound you are looking for is captured. While Is Stupider had a story to tell, it got its point across with a wall of sound that washed over you like a tidal wave. In Toad in the Rain, the approach is more subtle, but just as strong.The range of this band has evolved ten fold over the course of such a short period of time.

Stand outs on this album include the acoustic guitar laden Dumb Phone, in which Hartlett harmonizes beautifully with Jordyn Blakely, and Tiny Gaze, where unexpected blazing guitars  show up after the first verse. While these songs are my favorites, there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. It’s really a great EP, and one that makes you really look forward to what this band will be bringing us in the future. Take a listen. You won’t regret it.

 

STOVE INTERVIEW:

J. Tell me about your influences as a band. I used to hear a lot of Dinosaur Jr. in your older stuff. Are they a big influence on you?

S.H. Yes, certainly they were in the beginning with Ovlov. Definitely melodically, not so much aesthetically.  I was into being as loud as possible at the time. I have a broad spectrum. I really love a band called Disco Doom from Switzerland right now.

J. How about you, Mike? I know your Dad was in the hardcore bands 76% Uncertain and CIA. Did his music have a big influence on you?

M.H. He would take me to whatever shows I wanted to see. Until I was about 14 , he showed me all of the bands that I listened to and then after that we would go back and forth. We’d show each other stuff. But any of the bands who have ever played the Anthrax club ( A punk club that was located in Stamford and then Norwalk, CT in the 80’s) are in my discography. Stuff I listened to. There are a bunch of bands that I liked that I later found out My Dad played shows with. I remember going to see Sebadoh and and they started talking about CIA. I had to go up and talk to Lou Barlow after. It was cool. So yeah, that stuff was an influence.

 

J. Tell me about the writing process for the new EP.

S.H.: I’ve been writing a lot of the new Stove  stuff with Alex on piano. It’s the first time I’ve ever written that way and its kind of changing the aesthetic of it. I wouldn’t even be able to identify what I’m trying to sound like, but Alex is sort of just layering over what I would do. We are working together really well as a unit.

J. Ovlov broke up, but you are back together. Are you planning on keeping both bands together? How is that working?

S.H. Yes, we just got back after an Ovlov tour which was immediately after a Stove tour. I guess for now I’m trying to keep them equal. Work on them equally

J. Steve, your lyrics are really good. Where do you get your inspiration? Do you feel you’re growing as a songwriter?

S.H. I guess from everything bad that’s ever happened to me. Which sounds stupid, because compared to other people they are really just first world problems. I feel like I don’t put a lot of thought into the writing process and then I go back and  re-read them and realize some of them are really nice. I’m in a place where I think my songwriting might have been better in the past. Especially with old Ovlov stuff. I don’t want to let fans down. I want them to be able to hear what they want to hear.Change is inevitable, though. I guess the songwriting will always continue to change.

 

 

J. What are your goals? And when you write a song how do you decide which band it will be for?

S.H. I’ve been writing. I’ll stay at Alex’s place in Brooklyn for  a few days and we try to do at least a song a day. We just keep playing. I don’t even decide which band they are going to go with until they are totally finished. It’s getting easier. Each band has more of a clear identity now. The last batch we wrote, we knew immediately which band each song was for.

There  have been songs that I originally thought would be for one band, but after we begin working on them, so much can change with a guitar line and a vocal melody. Once  you keep working on it you are sometimes surprised that it turns out completely differently than you originally expected.  We really experiment a lot with changing things up. Sometimes we will remove the guitar, or add piano, just continually mixing things up and layering until we get the sound we want. Stove is the first band that we use demos as  a tool.  We usedemos to better things and sometimes change them up completely.

Our music has grown. For a while  I was trying to stick to just 2 guitars and drums because all the band I looked up to were like that, but I don’t know. It’s changing.Realizing how much more you can do. Why would you just limit yourself.

 

Stove will be playing at Shea Stadium on October 27.

Ovlov will be playing on 10/6 at The Space in Hamden, CT and 10/7  at Middle East In Cambridge, MA

Both bands can be found on Soundcloud and Spotify.

 

 

Dinosaur Jr., “Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not” album review

 

imageDinosaur Jr. Is a band that I’ve listened to for thirty years. I was enamored with their music since I heard the first notes of their original release, “Dinosaur”when songs like Repulsion and Gargoyle, felt like I stumbled on the exact songs my soul had been looking for. Dramatic, yes, but for those of us that experience music in a visceral way, it’s the truth.

For long time fans, this band has always made a beautiful, messy, but totally coherent noise that just felt right.   J.’s droning vocals, heavy use of feedback and distortion and incredible loudness always felt slightly off without the rhythm section of Murph and Lou Barlow behind him. Together, the band was infinitely better  when all the original members were included. There was just something innately special about the trio and the sound they made as a unit.

The biggest Dinosaur Jr. fans were elated when the original lineup re-formed in 2005 and our excitement wasn’t for nothing. Over the next decade, the trio has made music equally as good, if not even better than what they made during their first years together. While the first Dinosaur Jr. albums were incredible, there was still something about them that hinted there was even more greatness to come . A maturity level and comfort with themselves and their sound that was just not at its full capacity yet.  Age and maturity become them. This is a feat that’s very hard to accomplish in an industry where bands and artists stop growing and stagnate, either living in the past or refusing to grow. On their newest release, “Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not”, the band proves that stagnation will never be an option.

The album  includes some real heavy-hitters such as I Walk For Miles , that pack one hell of a punch.The joyful noise and hooks of  Tiny are so addictive that you find yourself singing them all day. Mascis still peppers his lyrics with the ever elusive “You” he so often writes about. Whoever this person is, real or imaginary, she certainly takes up a lot of time in his songs. I’ve spent the last thirty years piecing together some kind of story about this person. It makes it all the more enjoyable. Letting her go, finding her, knowing she’s out there, waiting for her, still needing her as a friend. If ever the time comes when she’s missing from a Dinosaur Jr. album, I’m certainly going to miss her. She appears on the album several times, but you really feel her during the beautiful and catchy demi-ballad  Part Of Me. “Come on and be a part of me. Come on and feel if it could be. Broken- hearted, come on I don’t need her to know, when we started, come on and try and let me go.”

A real gem on this album is one of the two Lou Barlow tracks. Upon first listening, the song “Love is…” struck me as so different that it almost didn’t fit with the rest of the album. With its  70’s inspired melody and folky simplicity, challenged by the  bite of Mascis’s guitar,  it’s a track that keeps pulling you back in again and again. And after the fourth or fifth play you realize the beauty of it isn’t just in its sound quality, but in the fact that its more evidence that this band continues to grow and expand beyond what’s expected without apology or compromise. This album is  the most grown up, polished and mature version of Dinosaur Jr. that we have ever seen. But this maturity doesn’t take away any of its greatness. In fact, the ease in which they make music and the clear understanding of how to play with and off each other as band mates has made their unmistakable sound even more real and true. It’s almost as if the band is saying “It’s perfectly okay if you don’t get us. If you can’t then we really wouldn’t want you to.” This sentiment was summed up perfectly by Henry Rollins, a huge fan of the band, who during a recent interview I had with him, answered my question about why the mainstream hasn’t gotten on the Dino Jr. bandwagon,  ” Screw the mainstream and their half-time Superbowl music. That’s cowpen music for box wine listeners. They’d never get anything like Dinosaur Jr.”  Exactly, Henry.

“Give a Glimpse Of What Yer Not” has everything you’d expect on a Dino Jr. album, with a little something extra. It’s an album that defies genre or definition in its total sound, but one that needs no explanation. Only understanding from those of us that get it. For those of us that are real Dinosaur Jr. fans, getting the gift of a new album that will go down in music history as one of its very best, even after all these years, is some sort of small little miracle. One I will continue to be thankful for.

5 stars.

 

John Doe, Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT 6/11/16 (Including a Review of “The Westerner”)

John Doe is a punk rock legend. Together with ex-wife Exene Cervenka,  drummer D.J. Bonebreak, and guitarist Billy Zoom, they formed X. They were a band that literally changed the musical landscape in Los Angeles in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They paved  the way for countless other bands to leave behind the corporate rock and disco mentality that was so prevalent in the country at the time and shake up the music world as we knew it.

John Doe, despite being punk rock royalty, has always had a bit of folk and country in his soul—folk, rockabilly, and country are laced liberally throughout many X songs. John also tapped into these roots with The Knitters, a side project he formed with fellow X band members Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebreak. This group showcases a genre very different than that of X, with original music, covers of country music songs, and acoustic versions of X songs.

In The Knitters, as well as in X, John’s lovely voice and really good songwriting was often overshadowed by the stage presence and exceptional songwriting of Exene. John needed to be on his own for his light to shine as brightly as it was capable of doing. When he released his first solo album, Meet John Doe, in 1990, his brilliance and ability to stand on his own became clear. Over the last 16 years, he has released 11 albums and has continued to grow even stronger in his songwriting, lyrics, and personal style. His star really shines most brightly when performing his own solo music.

When I spoke to John recently at a book signing and live performance at Rough Trade in Brooklyn,  I asked him how difficult it was to be touring with both bands this summer. He looked at me, laughed, and said “Well, somebody has to pay all the bills.” That’s the bittersweet thing about someone who has influenced music so greatly. Their influence can be heard in musicians decades behind them, but their paychecks and mainstream recognition don’t always match up to those following in their footsteps. Like so many artists, writers, and musicians before them, these innovators often don’t reap the benefits of being the ones that changed the landscape. They often have to work their hearts out just to survive in a comfortable manner.

Bandmate and sometimes-opening-act Jesse Dayton recently joked about aging punk stars using country music as “their retirement plan” and how the “alternative country” or “cowpunk” genre  seems to be all the rage, particularly among aging punk and alternative artists. The difference with  John is that he’s  been performing this music since the times it defied classification. This music isn’t something he’s cashing in on. It’s just the music that seems to flow seamlessly from his soul.

John, at age 63, is not slowing down. He has recently released a book of essays about the punk scene in Los Angeles in the late ‘7os and early ’80s called Under The Big Black Sun. With essays from John and other musicians including Exene and Henry Rollins, the book provides an insightful and accurate look into how these musicians lived, what they felt, and the music they made during this time. As a lifelong X fan (My kids knew the lyrics to most X songs from the time they were in diapers), as well as a huge fan of John’s solo work, I was thrilled to read Under The Big Black Sun. As a punk fan from NYC and CT, I’d often been intrigued by how the L.A. punk scene started and what it was like being in the midst of it. This book really brings me there (I will say, however, that as an East Coast/NYC punk, I did take slight offense to John’s assertion that L.A. punks were tougher than New York punks, but I digress…).  The L.A. scene, often overshadowed by the New York and London punk scenes, was just as critical to music. This book really brings that point home.

As if he weren’t busy enough, John has also released a new album, entitled The Westerner. This album was inspired by his time in Arizona, when he was recording and spending time with friend and author Michael Blake (Dances With Wolves), in the hours leading up to his death. Themes of this beautiful and haunting album include the inevitability of mortality and the dark expanse of loneliness, so beautifully exemplified by images of the Arizona desert. Most of the tracks on this album are softer and more haunting than what we are used to if we only know Doe through his work in X. Doe is joined by Debbie Harry of Blondie on one of the albums more upbeat tracks, “Go Baby Go”, but when you are finished listening, the songs that stick with you are beauties such as “Alone in Arizona” and “Rising Sun,” which speaks of friend Blake, “In his dreams he still flies, In his dreams he still rides,” touchingly .

Doe describes this album as “not country, but most definitely western” and that says it all. The Westerner is Americana at its finest.

I was able to see John and his band perform at Café Nine in New Haven on June 11, 2016. The band, with the incredibly talented Jesse Dayton on the guitar and X drummer D.J. Bonebreak on the drums, was excellent. Jesse Dayton is a shining star, and his guitar playing is exceptional. He was the opening act for John, and his talent is clear. Jesse was a guitarist on the late Waylon Jennings’ last two albums, and it’s obvious why a star like Jennings would want to work with Dayton. He is gifted and I expect that we will be hearing a lot from him in the future.

The setlist was filled with classic John Doe songs such as “The Golden Sate,”, but also included X classics, such as “The Have Nots” and “4th of July.” New releases, such as “Alone in Arizona,” really showcased John’s voice and talent. At 63-years-old, his voice remains clear and true and his passion for his music is evident. In this world of one-trick ponies and one-hit wonders, I’m relieved to see that there are still musicians out there with the capability to sing songs that range from hard and classic punk to lovely and poignant melodies. John Doe is a class act. And one with a very long career both behind him and ahead of him.

Album review: WILLIE NILE , “WORLD WAR WILLIE”

Willie Nile is among the last of a generation of true rock and rollers. He’s the guy that you’d love to hang out with at the corner bar listening to his story telling all night because it’s just that good. He understands people, music and how to give his audience the night of their lives. This man just gets it. Fans of Willie include musical icons such as Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Paul Simon, Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams to name just a few. When you listen to his music, you figure out pretty quickly just why this man is so respected among his peers.

Coming just 2 years after the release after his piano album “If I was a River”, which was loaded with beauty, intimacy and reflection, Willie is back to his high energy, driving fast with the top down kind of rock and roll we just don’t see anymore these days. And he makes us remember why we all still need it so desperately.

Willie is the kind of songwriter that comes along only a few times in a generation. His lyrics capture the human spirit and the human condition is a way that squeezes your heartstrings and makes you remember feeling exactly what he seems to be feeling. Nile has an incredible ability to segue from reflective and beautiful into a song that will having you jumping up and singing at the top of your lungs with unadulterated fun and joy. He’s a true classic, but one that seems to be getting even better with age.

At 67, instead of getting soft, his music is getting even more energized. World War Willie proves it.

In a recent interview I had with him, Willie spoke about the fact that he’s never had a true “mega-hit” like so many of his contemporaries and that while many of them are now going through the motions or trying to recreate whatever magic it was that gave them that one hit, he’s never been able to sit back and coast. He’s always had to work hard and its allowed him to never become soft. He believes that maybe never achieving mega-stardom was a blessing in disguise, because his drive, tenacity and energy remained intact. This allowed him to grow as a musician instead of stagnate .

World War Willie shows us Willie Nile at his absolute best. In it we are reminded why so many artists believe that Nile’s inability thusfar to achieve real commercial  success is a travesty. It’s inexplicable that this man isn’t a rock and roll legend to the masses, instead of just those in the know. If you can listen to this album without a huge smile on your  face, then I doubt I’d ever want to listen to music with you. Because musically, you just wouldn’t have a clue. It’s that good.

Willie has joined up once again with his longstanding band-  Guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano and drummer Alex Alexander. These guys know how to play together and they know how to make it feel like a party.

From the opening track, “Forever Wild”, the fun begins. This song, full of piano, classic guitar riffs and the undeniable high energy of Willie and his band, it speaks to all of us about trying to keep a sense of our youth. “Sixteen and crazy, we were achin’ to be, we were livin for eternity,”  Who doesn’t remember that feeling? And who amongst us isn’t doing our best to hold onto some of that youth as tightly as we can? Another highlight is the hilarious and high energy “Grandpa Rocks”  Willie, himself a Grandfather of 4, embraces it . “He wears with black jeans and a Clash t shirt, his combat boots are covered in dirt, when he plays guitar his amps up loud, he ain’t dead yet, he still draws a crowd!”

The album isn’t all high energy. Two of its best tracks are “Runaway Girl” and “Beautiful you.” They are true love songs in every sense of the word. And while the lyrics of Runaway Girl are more traditional, Nile’s songwriting ability really comes through in “Beautiful You”.  “Who laughs inside the raindrops and says just let it pour, who navigates my crazy and parks it at the door. Beautiful you.”

World War Willie emphasizes Nile’s innate ability to showcase beautiful and poignant lyrics on the same record as playful, funny and energetic rock and roll. This is a man that understands the seriousness of the world and its problems in songs like “Let’s all Come Together”  which calls on us all to put our differences aside and make the world a better place, but knows we all need to have a really great time once in a while.

The album also includes a touching tribute to Leavon Helm  and finishes up with a really excellent rendition of Lou Reed’s  “Sweet Jane”.

World War Willie is an album not to be missed by any of his ever growing legion of fans. And if you don’t count yourself among them yet, do yourself a huge favor and get this album as soon as you can. Rock and roll at its finest.

Willie will be playing at Brooklyn Bowl in NY on July 14, 2016. Don’t miss it!

4.5 STARS

 

 

Album Review: BOB MOULD, “Patch The Sky”

Full disclosure. Bob Mould is probably my favorite artist of all time. From his early days in Husker Du, to his time fronting his band Sugar and throughout his many years as a solo artist, his music has always echoed precisely what was going on in my life at the time. Because of this, I’ve always felt an incredible affinity and kinship toward him. Kindred Spirits may be taking it a little too far, but somehow the man always seems to be speaking directly to my soul, and kicking me in the gut while doing it.

“Patch the Sky” is the last album in an unofficial trilogy of albums that included 2012’s  “Silver Age”and the incredible “Beauty and Ruin”, which was released in 2014. The songs in this trilogy have addressed the growth of this man, his failures, heartaches, losses and epiphanies. But what strikes me about Mould is that while it’s clear that he is a man always battling against his demons, he always makes it through to the other side. Bob may never let go of his angst, but he seems to be coming to terms with his life and who he is. He appears to be growing more comfortable in his own skin.

In “Patch The Sky”,  Bob does what he does best. Marries loud guitars and angry lyrics with catchy melodies that seem to take some of the sting out. Joined again by his longtime band, bassist Jason Narducy (Verbow, Split Single, Superchunk) and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats, Split Single), the trio has melded into a perfectly cohesive unit. They just work beautifully together.

Bob is a man that reflects on pain, but always seems to hold onto hope that love and salvation are out there. This is evident on the track Hold On  (“Lovers I’ve lost, friends I’ve abandoned, it’s how I reclaim my darkest fears”). He seems to believe hope is there, even if it requires a pleading “Will you help me, please?”. Hope can also be found in the track “Losing Sleep” where he sings ” I keep hoping, searching,waiting for the sun that shines so bright on everyone”. You may have to dig around for it, but hope is there.

In “Pray for Rain”, the contradictory nature of some of Bob’s lyrics show up again. “I need you, release me, make me feel again.” Haven’t we all had a person in our lives that made us feel that way? I certainly have.That kind of trust, faith and understanding can be the most beautiful thing there is. Despite the darkness. And Bob, as usual, gets it.

The most reflective song of the album may be the opening track. In “Voices in My Head”, we hear a much more mature Bob Mould taking responsibility for the voices he chooses to believe. “Now I’m very conscious of the Voices in My Head, They multiply and amplify the fear. I can play the victim or get on with life instead, by finding resolution as they clear.”

While Bob Mould, at 55, has nothing left to prove, this album is a clear indictation that his guitar shredding and heart ripping lyrics are not something of the past. But coupled with the joyful noise he makes, maybe he’s finding a balance.

“Can I find some truth within the noise?” Mould asks. The answer is a resounding yes.

5 stars.