A few years ago, when rock ’n’ soul shouter Barrence Whitfield first reunited with guitarist Peter Greenberg and bassman Phil Lenker — all original members of The Savages, who tore up the East Coast back in the mid-1980s — my biggest concern was that their excellent comeback album, Savage Kings, might be a one-shot deal.
In Dec. 2013, John Dwyer — the lead singer, guitarist, songwriter, and resident visionary of Thee Oh Sees — said the band was taking a break from the music biz. Some fans, including me, thought perhaps Dwyer was ending the group while it was at its peak. But since then, the group has released two albums: last year’s Drop and now Mutilator Defeated at Last — a rockin’ masterpiece that will please and delight old fans and is bound to win new ones.
The battle over Confederate culture has been fought in the world of music — and I’m not just whistling “Dixie.” Here is a look at a handful of the musical shots fired in the past 50-some years.
Banditos are a big, hairy, Alabama-bred, Nashville-relocated sextet that I’d never heard of until a few months ago. Except for singer Mary Beth Richardson, the band looks like the wild-eyed sons, or maybe grandsons, of Lynyrd Skynyrd. But even though Banditos resemble countless other Southern rock groups that came before them, their self-titled album is, hands down, the most impressive country rock debut I’ve heard in years.
For about a decade after the nation’s independence from France in the early 1950s, before the war in neighboring Vietnam spilled over and eventually engulfed the land, Cambodians joyfully welcomed the outside world: motorcycles, miniskirts, and long hair. They didn’t miss out on the ’60s in Cambodia. They loved the cha cha cha from Cuba. They loved soul music and rock ’n’ roll from the U.S.A. — and from France, England, and wherever else it drifted in from.
“A choke of grief heart hardened I/Beyond belief a broken man too tough to cry.” Those lines, from Brian Wilson’s greatest song, “Surf’s Up,” sum up a good portion of the new biopic Love and Mercy.
Ray Wylie Hubbard’s Twitter feed (@raywylie) isn’t anywhere as essential as his music, but it’s often pretty entertaining. Early in May, after some ticket agency apparently had referred to him as a “country” singer, Hubbard tweeted, “i ain’t country..use ‘cool ol low down dead thumb groove badass folkie halfass blues poet with a young rockin band’ instead.”
You can’t accuse Taos troubadour Chipper Thompson of flooding the market with his music. His new album, O How I Wish My Bad Heart Was True, is his first solo album in about a dozen years. And while the wait was too long, it’s a doggone fine collection of songs. In fact, it might be his best since his 1997 debut, Strange Lullabies. Lately I’m thinking it’s his best, period.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s latest assault, Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, and This Is the Sonics, a brand-new record from a band that’s a living blast from the past are both screaming testimonials to the rejuvenating power of rock ’n’ roll.
Revenge of the Mekons tells the story of how the Mekons came together as students in Leeds in 1977, and how they’ve kept going through the years — with an amazingly stable roster for the last 20 or 25 years — remaining true to their vision and consistently producing inspiring work.
Close your eyes and imagine you’re lost on a foggy night on some uncharted back street off the Reeperbahn in Hamburg or near the port of Amsterdam, where the sailors all meet. From some dangerous little dive you hear music: after-hours blues, off-kilter torch songs, Gypsy jazz, hot Weimar Republic cabaret, “punk noir,” strange tangos, and dark, soulful ballads. But before you can go in, you wake up.
In some alternative universe, some parallel world somewhere over some rainbow, the return of Sleater-Kinney in 2015 with an album as riveting as No Cities to Love is considered to be as big as the return of the Beatles was in 1975. (This is a separate reality, remember.)
Johnny Dowd writes his songs like a sniper aims his gun. Sometimes his songs are like a captured serial killer’s confession. They’re full of regret, shame, venom, horrifying humor, and uncomfortable truths.
A couple of months ago, when I first got my copy of It’s All in Your Head, the latest offering by that “culture jamming” audio prankster collective known as Negativland, I realized that this work, packaged in a copy of the Bible, could offend a lot of people. (A collector’s edition of the album comes in a Koran.)
With humor, grace, and funk — not to mention just enough weirdness to keep it interesting — Jerry Williams Jr., better known as Swamp Dogg, has not only released his best album in years but done it in an amazingly timely fashion.
2014 didn’t produce any new Elvis, Beatles, or Nirvana. But it did bring breakout work by Sturgill Simpson, Benjamin Booker, and the Bloodhounds — plus a lot of cool sounds by old favorites and new favorites who deserve bigger audiences.
Trucks, trains, prison, Mama. And Christmas. These are some of the things that make a great country song.
Did you realize that many of the best-known rock ’n’ roll instrumentals of the ’60s, from “Pipeline” to “Telstar” to “Hawaii Five-O,” actually have words? Neither did I — until I heard the new album by Los Straitjackets, Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits.
A band plays basic, unfettered, rocking blues — closer to gutbucket than to the smooth, tame uptown stuff — cranks it up, and adds a little rockabilly sneer. Yes, it's been done before. And yet, when it’s done right with plenty of spirit, there isn’t much that can beat it. This is the case with a new band called The Bloodhounds.
“A strange voice drew me to the graveyard. I stood in the dark and watched the shadows wave.” That line, which opens the final verse of Dickey Lee’s 1965 hit “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” was one of the first songs to ever truly spook me. When I first heard it at eleven, it creeped me out purely because of the tale it told and — what was then — its surprise ending.
Back in the mid-1970s, probably before I was quite 21, my pals and I crawled into a hopping little honky-tonk way on the south end of Cerrillos Road called the Bourbon & Blues. At least, it was considered way south back in those days. Playing that night was a couple — a blind couple — from deep in the heart of Texas. Nobody I knew had ever heard of them before that night.
The blues and R & B connection to rock ’n’ roll is widely acknowledged, but the influence of gospel often gets overlooked. And that’s despite the church roots of major rock and soul icons like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, and The Staples Singers.
A discerning ear probably can hear subtle references to The Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson, and T. Rex — as well as to others from the realms of primitive rock, raw blues, and gritty soul — in Booker’s music, though, there is no obvious imitation at work here.
These days when I go on vacation, I typically choose my destination based on what bands will be in a town when I’m there. Call me a rock ’n’ roll tourist. This year I chose Portland, Oregon, which was host to four nights of wonderful shows by some bands I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Here’s my report.
Singer Bobby Patterson just released a new album, I Got More Soul!, the latest in a career that goes back decades. It’s a fun and, yes, soulful album by a veteran performer with deep roots in 1960s soul.