But, deeper in the list, down in the compilations was the new RSD exclusive Soul Slabs Vol. 1 compilation of the legendary 7″ R&B/Soul/Funk releases from the Ohio-based Colemine Records. In 2014 Colemine released a compact disc compilation of singles called 20/45 in celebration of their seventh birthday. Soul Slabs is an update of that compilation, bringing the collection up to 2016. There is a pretty big overlap of the two releases, but since this is on vinyl and updated, it really is the more essential release in my opinion. It doesn’t miss the big cuts: Ikebe Shakedown’s “Hard Steppin'” is pretty much an R&B classic at this point– Colemine reissued the single for RSD a couple of years ago and reissued the Hard Steppin’ EP on vinyl. Orgone has been a force for a few years, and the releases on Colemine are an essential addition to their catalog– their release Beyond the Sun is positively breathtaking and should be in everyone’s soul collection. That goes for Durand Jones and the Indications new LP as well. Damn. Colemine started a subscription service of sorts where they email you about new exclusive releases and they give you a chance to buy it before it goes totally public. A lot of those releases are on this comp too: Soul Scratch, The Ephemerals, Kris Lager, Gene Washington & The Ironsides.
1. Jungle Fire – Comencemos
2. The Droptones – Don’t Get Caught
3. The Rugged Nuggets – Yo Todo Tu Yo
4. Dojo Cuts – You Make Lovin’ Real Easy
5. Ikebe Shakedown – Hard Steppin’
6. On The Spot Trio – Suction
7. Monophonics – Like Yesterday
8. Los Sospechos – Jano’s Revenge
9. The Jive Turkeys – The Reggie
10. Fat Night – Things You Do
11. Alan Evans Trio – Authoritay
12. The Grease Traps – Street Sweeper
13. Gene Washington & The Ironsides – Next To You
14. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble – City Heights
15. Kris Lager Band – Money & Loneliness
16. In Motion Collective – Jesse’s Jing
17. Orgone – Do What You Came To Do
18. Durand Jones & The Indications – Smile
19. Leroi Conroy – Remember When?
20. Soul Scratch – Pacified
21. Ephemerals – Things
22. The Gripsweats – Ziggy’s Walk
Here is a YouTube Playlist of all of the tracks. ENJOY!!!
2016 was the 10th birthday of It’s Time to Play B-Sides, as unreal as that seems. This blog started as an offshoot of the regular conversations about music I was having at work with my friends and co-workers. At the time there wasn’t the proliferation of music sites that there are today, and informed or researched information about music was tough to find. With encouragement from my friends, I started this as a way to capture some of the tangents we’d get into at work. It also ended up being a return of sorts to doing a music website after shuttering the somewhat popular website I was running about DJ Shadow. The name of the blog came from the signoff post I made to the DJ Shadow boards and was also a line from “Burning For You” by Blue Oyster Cult which always represented the desire to dig a little deeper into music– to flip the record over and listen to the songs on the B-Side.
The focus of It’s Time to Play B-Sides has morphed a bit over the years, some of it due to the amount of time I have to dedicate to writing on it, some of it is because I have focused a lot of my music writing since 2009 as a contributor to Little Village Magazine. This also explains why this list includes a lot of Iowa artists since that’s what we review. That said, there are some really amazing bands in Iowa and even after I review the albums, they stay in regular rotation for me and earn spots on my list.
As many will note, 2016 was a really strange year for music– sadly, mostly notable for the striking number of losses: Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, and Paul Kantner. The one that really hit me hard was the loss of Prince. Prince represented for me the first artist that I discovered on my own. Most of my formative music taste came from my father and that music is still a big part of the foundation of what I think is good in music. Prince came onto the larger music scene for me with Purple Rain, and from there I followed his career, and bands he worked with closely. I don’t think that we’ll see another artist quite as influential or as boundless in talent and genius again. I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like part of his ability to branch out was due to the fact that he hit it big during a time when the music industry was creating huge stars and he could afford to make some albums that were more daring and experimental.
The list below is in no particular order, but represent the albums that I listened to the most in 2016.
Bon Iver – 22, A Million – Justin Vernon got back on the horse. It really seemed like he wasn’t going to do another record as Bon Iver– he was burnt out of the attention and visibility he got from his Grammy-winning second album. He debuted a couple of the songs at the inaugural Eaux Claires Festival in 2015 with a glorious live show. It took the prodding of his friend Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Polica, etc.) to make him finish (or even keep working on) it. The resulting album seems related to the last album, but the textures and production are unexpected and frankly jolting in comparison, which was exactly his intention, I think. Lots of samples, and heavily affected recording techniques. I expect that this album will influence a lot of artists going forward. At the root of the album is still the perspective of Vernon. His losses and heartbreaks, the stories
Kalispell – Printer’s Son – Kalispell is the name of Shane Leonard’s solo music when he’s not working with other bands like Field Report and JE Sunde. Printer’s Son is a beautiful record, period. From my review on playbsides: “Printer’s Son is one of those rare records that is so completely imagined and executed that when you first listen to it, it seems to drop unexpectedly out of the ether. It’s a record that defies any convenient genre classification. Elements of ambience and folk and jazz come together to help deliver a grippingly emotional and personal album.”
Lissie – My Wild West – Rock Island-native Elisabeth “Lissie” Maurus becomes homesick and moves back to Iowa and self-releases an album based on the experience. Full of hooks, driving and anthemic, it’s a great start to a career back home. Here’s my review from Little Village.
King of the Tramps – Cumplir con el Diablo – A later addition to the list. King of Tramps from Auburn, IA packs a lot of classic guitar-driven rock remniscent of Black Crowes into their latest effort (which comes in a super-cool transparent vinyl version). Here’s my review from Little Village Magazine.
Durand Jones and the Indications – Durand Jones and the Indications – New release on the fantastic Soul and R&B label out of Ohio, Colemine Records. In 2016, Colemine Records started a kind of subscription series where they email you upcoming releases to allow you to opt-in to the special first-pressing variations. This is a much better approach to this idea than the forced-in versions that are the trend today. They let you listen to the releases and you can decide to be part of the drop or not. One of the releases was the debut release of Durand Jones and the Indications on transparent blue vinyl. Fantastic classic R&B in the tradition of Stax/Volt and Otis Redding. Check out the video for “Make A Change.”
Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like A Levee – MC Taylor’s second full-length on Merge started as a project to create musical accompaniment to an exhibition of photographs taken by William Gedney in 1972 of an Eastern Kentucky coal-mining camp. Initially the songs were going to be based on the photographs, but eventually took their own direction. The album is distinctively HGM with Taylor expressing the developing perspective of a man coming to terms with balancing a family life and a music career. I’ve been a fan from before the first release as HGM and eagerly await the next releases.
Steve Gunn – Eyes On The Lines – I found out about Steve Gunn through his connection to Hiss Golden Messenger– a one-off collaboration called Golden Gunn. His 2016 release is his debut on Matador Records. To me, his music is influenced by the great UK guitarists like Richard Thompson and Michael Chapman (whose upcoming release 50, he produced and played on).
William Tyler – Modern Country – Nashville guitar wizard William Tyler, who works with a lot folks including Hiss Golden Messenger and Lambchop, released another album of his particular atmospheric guitar acrobatics. For me, his albums add a wide cinematic soundtrack to whatever I’m doing.
Scott Hirsch – Blue Rider Songs – Scott Hirsch is the silent partner in Hiss Golden Messenger, but for his debut solo album (which has been a long time coming, frankly) he delivers a breezy laid-back album that sounds like JJ Cale’s best work.
Bo Ramsey – Wildwood Calling – Bo Ramsey returns with his first album since 2008’s Fragile. This album, recorded in his kitchen is instrumentals showcasing his distinctive country blues style he is reknowned for. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.
The Pines – Above the Prairie – It’s safe to say that any time The Pines release a new album, it will be on my favorite albums for that year. Their signature atmospheric take on folk and blues has developed slowly over the releases to the point where it is nearly its own genre. I can’t think of any other bands that sound quite like The Pines. Read Matt Steele’s review in Little Village Magazine.
Chrash – Things My Friends Say – Chris Bernat of 90’s alt rock band Tripmaster Monkey released their first album of angular pop rock on Quad Cities indie label Cartouche. From my review in Little Village Magazine: “Things My Friends Say is an album that distinguishes itself in the landscape of new releases by the determinedly outsider approach to songs which, in the end, are damn catchy.”
Freakwater – Scheherazade – This reboot of Freakwater was a long time in the works, but turned out one of the best albums in their catalog. Scheherazade is a more rich and expansive version of their sound thanks to the band, which includes Jim Elkington of seemingly every band related to Chicago. Read my interview with Janet and Catherine in Little Village Magazine (Part 1, Part 2).
Halfloves – (self titled) – The Iowa band The Olympics reboot with the guiding hand of Brendan Darner to create a dark pop record of singular vision and execution. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.
SIRES – Soul For Sale – Another rebrand/reboot of an Iowa band– this time the former Dylan Sires and Neighbors become SIRES and also work with Brendan Darner to create a moody masterpiece (I think I see a trend here). Fantastic record, though– from my review in Little Village Magazine, ” They’ve crafted an album packed with smart, bright classic hooks as well as dark, lusty bombastic rhythms: an impressive juxtaposition in contrast.”
Max Jury – Max Jury – After a run of amazing singles and an EP, Des Moines native Max Jury releases his debut album, and the anticipation built by the singles was justified. Max Jury is a jaw-droppingly solid album. From my review in Little Village Magazine, “a balanced delivery of Spector-esque wall-of-sound and an updated take on early ’70s R&B and soul.” It’s too bad that it’s going to take Jury moving to the UK and blowing up over there before his native country takes notice.
TWINS – Square America – More Sires, please. This seeming dynasty of anyone with the last name Sires cranking out amazing pop rock continues with Cedar Falls band TWINS, whose second album on Maximum Ames takes their guitar rock guns and point them at 70’s big hitters like Cheap Trick and KISS. These guys continue to slug it out on bar stages, but could easily fill an arena with their big sound if given the chance. Read my review in Little Village Magazine.
Devin Frank – The Vanishing Blues – Devin Frank of Poison Control Center releases an album influenced by 60’s psych. “With The Vanishing Blues, Frank has made a refreshing stylistic statement by using a sonic palate derived from psychedelic rock’s dawning era — using bits of Syd Barrett, Donovan and the Zombies. This makes the album a delightfully unique and compelling standout in the landscape of releases this year.” – from my review in Little Village Magazine.
The Multiple Cat – Intricate Maps – This was an album I feel like I waited a long time for. I first heard these songs when Pat Stolley brought the band to Mission Creek Festival in 2015 opening for The Sea and Cake at The Mill. Really fantastic album that is tough to summarize. Lots of vintage tones in the guitar sounds, but not really a retro record, “It’s tempting to suggest that Stolley’s use of these elements makes Intricate Maps somehow retro. However, this stitched fabric of sound is more than the sum of its parts. It is a polished work that both honors the tradition of alternative rock and puts a current spin on it with Stolley’s signature production work.” from my review in Little Village Magazine.
Christopher The Conquered – I’m Giving Up On Rock & Roll – Dramatically bold anthemic rock that can barely be contained in a record. Christopher the Conquered is a one-man tour-de-force of pop, funny poignent and self-aware. Here’s my review for Little Village Magazine.
For me, the early Nineties sent Leonard Cohen crashing into my consciousness thanks to a couple of covers and a couple of soundtrack appearances. The Cohen song “Everybody Knows” was featured prominently in the 1990 Christian Slater film “Pump Up The Volume” both as the original Cohen version as well as the Concrete Blonde cover version. In 1991 we were treated to another in that very 1990’s tradition of tribute albums– this time the I’m Your Fan album, which I bought as a completist of the R.E.M. catalog due to their cover of “First We Take Manhattan.” Other notable covers on that soundtrack were “I Can’t Forget” by The Pixies and Lloyd Cole’s cover of “Chelsea Hotel.” But, the cover on here that would launch a million others was the album closer “Hallelujah” done by John Cale as a stripped down midtempo piano and vocal. According to an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, Cale heard Cohen do the song live and was moved to cover it himself. When Cale asked Cohen for the lyrics, he was faxed fifteen pages of lyrics. Cale edits the song into the version that is best known. From the podcast, “Cale says, that for his version, he took the “cheeky” parts. He ends up using the first two verses of the original combined with three verses from the live performance. And Cale changes some words – most importantly, he changes the theme and brings back the biblical references that Cohen had in the album version.”
This is the version that Jeff Buckley heard and was moved to cover for his debut album Grace, which is pretty much the gold standard as far as “Hallelujah” versions go.
Getting back to Cale’s version, it would also make an appearance on his 1992 live album Fragments of a Rainy Season, described by Trouser Press as an “auto-retrospective” of Cale’s career made up of solo performances from his 1992 tour. I happened to hear it being played in a record store in Dubuque and bought it on the spot. I was a fan of the Eno/Cale record from 1990 Wrong Way Up, (from which the version of “Cordoba” on this album comes), so I saw this release as complimentary to that. It’s an album I played a lot and still dig out on occasion. It’s a good distilling of Cale’s solo career in that he experimented a lot with sound over the years, so a compilation of his studio work to me would be uneven at best, and in the minimal solo acoustic setting, the vocals and lyrics really shine. Admittedly, Cale’s piano playing is rudamentary, and his use of repeating pedal notes can be a bit grating, but the energy and emotion Cale brought to those performances draws the attention away from that and still ranks as one of my desert-island discs.
The 1992 CD version of Fragments of a Rainy Season kicks off with five performances that, for me really set up the energy of the album: “A Child’s Christmas In Wales,” “Dying On The Vine,” “Cordoba,” “Darling I Need You” and “Paris 1919.” For the upcoming expanded reissue of Fragments on Domino Records the track sequence of the album is dramatically changed up for an unknown reason, and as someone who listens to the album a lot, it’s jarring. But, not so much that it detracts, and in initial listens for me seems to also set the performances up. The album proper (not including the bonus tracks) still ends with “Hallelujah” appropriately.
I’m looking forward to having Fragments of a Rainy Season available in vinyl so I can play it in my living room along with other essential records in my collection. The version of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” on Fragments kind of makes it a Christmas-y album a little. The song is a musical interpretation of the Dylan Thomas poem that was originally on his 1989 album of Thomas works Words for the Dying which was produced by Brian Eno.
Limited to one pressing, Fragments of A Rainy Season will be released on triple gatefold 12” vinyl featuring an LP of 8 previously unreleased tracks.On Heavyweight Vinyl With Download Card
01. A Wedding Anniversary (Live)
02. Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed (Live)
03. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (Live)
04. Cordoba (Live)
05. Buffalo Ballet (Live)
06. Child’s Christmas In Wales (Live)
07. Darling I Need You (Live)
08. Guts (Live)
09. Ship Of Fools (Live)
10. Leaving It Up To You (Live)
11. The Ballad Of Cable Hogue (Live)
12. Chinese Envoy (Live)
13. Dying On The Vine (Live)
14. Fear (Is A Man’s Best Friend) (Live)
15. Heartbreak Hotel (Live)
16. Style It Takes (Live)
17. Paris 1919 (Live)
18. (I Keep A) Close Watch (Live)
19. Thoughtless Kind (Live)
20. Hallelujah (Live)
21. Fear (Previously Unreleased)
22. Amsterdam (Previously Unreleased)
23. Broken Hearts (Previously Unreleased)
24. Waiting For The Man (Previously Unreleased)
25. Heartbreak (Previously Unreleased)
26. Fear (Previously Unreleased)
27. Paris 1919 (Previously Unreleased)
28. Antarctica (Previously Unreleased)
Though some would debate this, it’s my opinion that American Idol’s Season 9 in 2010 was the last season worth watching. The winning chemistry of American Idol to me was always a combination of the judges and the talent, and 2010 was the year that Paula Abdul was no longer a judge and in 2011, show creator and longtime judge Simon Cowell was gone. My wife and I– longtime followers of Idol– didn’t tune in for Season 10.. Over the nine years that we watched, there have been standouts in the talent, Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Season Five’s edge-of-the-seat powerhouse of Chris Daughtry/ Katherine McPhee/ Kellie Pickler/ Elliott Yasmin, Jordin Sparks, David Archuleta, David Cook and Chris Allen. One of my favorites for that nine-year run was Ohio native, by way of Chicago Crystal Bowersox. Though most of the highlights of American Idol have been squarely Top 40 types, Bowersox was an honest-to-goodness songwriter who could play and sing. She, with her slightly crunchy hippy personae topped with questionable dreadlocks, came off somehow as an underdog contender that I had hoped would take the top honors, but complications related to her Type-I diabetes (of which she is a spokesperson) cost her the top spot (Though, it could be argued that taking the top spot doesn’t always help your career– I’m looking at you Ruben Studdard and David Cook).
Since Idol, Bowersox has released three albums, with her most recent full-length All That For This released in 2013 and produced by reknowned Los Lobos member and producer Steve Berlin and features guest Jakob Dylan. Notably, she also shed her dreadlocks in 2013. Her most recent release is a self-released 7-track EP titled Promises. It’s difficult to glean what her next steps will be in her career based on her website, but she’s touring quite a bit. I’m certainly interested to see her live. Check out this great performance of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah.”
Crystal Bowersox will be performing for the 2nd time at CSPS this Friday night with a small band. The show is at 8PM (the doors and box office generally open an hour before) at tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door (if there are any left). You can purchase tickets at the CSPS box office or online. Details at the Legion Arts website.
The last two times California Guitar Trio played CSPS they were heralding new eras for the venue. Their October 2008 show was the first show in CSPS since the Flood. They generously donated parts of the proceeds of the show to CSPS. Their 2012 show was after CSPS was re-opened following the substantial overhaul of the venue. So, it is certainly fitting that California Guitar Trio is back playing CSPS in 2016– the 125th year the venue has been in existence. Coincidentally, it is the 25th year of the Trio!
The band has been back in the studio working on a new album– their first since Masterworks, their 2011 album of classical music. The recording is complete, and mixing, mastering and the rest of the release process is left to do, so they’re going to do a Kickstarter to get that funded. Some of the perks from that Kickstarter include a DVD of rare video performances from the band’s archives!
The trio always sounds amazing in CSPS, so this is a show not-to-miss!
Wed Aug 3 2016 – 7:00 pm • CSPS Hall
$17 advance | $21 door
On August 2nd, Bo Ramsey is going to release his first new album since 2008’s fantastic and understated Fragile. Titled Wildwood Calling, the album is 13 tracks of instrumental guitar backed by a band which includes in addition to Bo, JT Bates (The Pines, Marijuana Deathsquads) on drums and percussion, Marty Christensen from Bo’s original Backsliders band on bass and son Alex Ramsey of The Pines on piano and keyboards. The album– which is on Pieta Brown‘s new “underground” record label Lustre Records— was recorded over two days in April at The Kitchen in Iowa City, and was mixed and mastered by BJ Burton, who is house engineer for Justin Vernon’s April Base studio, and also worked the boards on Brown’s Paradise Outlaw and her EP of outtakes Drifters.
I’ll be writing a review of the album for Little Village in the coming weeks. I’ll link to it here when that goes up.
It’s no secret that the guys in Cedar Falls band TWINS are fans of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds and owe a little of their guitar pop swagger to the groundwork Lowe and Edmunds laid down in their various projects as solo artists, together in Rockpile and their production work for just about everyone in the late 70’s and early 80’s (Lowe’s work with Elvis Costello is my favorite period of his).
As a tribute, TWINS have recorded a cover of “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” a song that has been a part of every wedding reception I’ve ever attended. This cover is a bonus download for anyone who pre-orders the new TWINS album Square America which drops on July 1st! Be sure to catch TWINS with Volcano Boys at The Mill on 7/1 for the Square America release show! $8 Cover. Deets HERE.
A bit of trivia: Nick Lowe wrote “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” and the version we usually hear is his 1984 recording. That studio version has Huey Lewis and the News as the backing band, with Mr. Lewis providing the distinctive harmonica honking. The version that TWINS have done is closer to the sped-up one that Dave Edmunds recorded in 1977.
Some of the most special shows I’ve seen at CSPS have been the ones with Pieta Brown. Though Cedar Rapids isn’t her home turf, I feel like in some ways CSPS has become a 2nd home for her– she seems really comfortable with the crowd which is a mixture of Cedar Rapids and Iowa Citians and is capable of giving a very intimate show in the big space.
She’s returning this Saturday night, May 14th with Bo Ramsey opening with a special solo show and then joining her for her set. This show is a CD release show for her self-released EP of outtakes from her album Paradise Outlaw. I reviewed the CD titled appropriately enough Drifters for Little Village Magazine, saying “Although Pieta Brown thinks that the songs on Drifters have “many rough edges,” they provide a picture of what a double album might have been like. She offers these songs as an experiment, launching her own “underground” label imprint, Lustre Records. I’m looking forward to more collections of songs from her archives — Drifters is a great start!”
We’re getting a treat with Bo Ramsey opening for Pieta as he doesn’t do many solo shows. His last show was opening for Pieta at the Englert. I can’t remember the last time Bo played solo in Cedar Rapids!
As part of the week of Grand Opening celebrations for the Brand Spankin’ New Daytrotter HQ in Davenport, Duluth, MN country blues aficionado Charlie Parr is playing a “Four O’Clock Rock” matinee show! Parr’s new album Stumpjumper made my list of “Top 20 of 2015.” Produced by another of my Top 20 recipients Phil Cook, it gives Parr’s signature boogie a much-deserved fleshing out.
The new digs for Daytrotter are a big upgrade over the old location in Rock Island– with its climate control issues and its control and live room dating back to its original use as a TV studio– but that was part of its charm, certainly. The expanded facility now has a live venue in it and I’m sure they brought some of the mojo from the old location with them. I bet that minifridge stocked with PBR is somewhere in the new space.
We’ve made it through another year of music. 2015 was another year of the music industry trying to figure out the future. Heavy hitters like Taylor Swift and Adele removed their music from online streaming services like Spotify– which might be interpreted as an ego move on both parts. Jay-Z’s Tidal enjoyed a bit of press due to Prince releasing two albums exclusively on it, though I still don’t know anyone who is using it. Adele’s last-quarter release of her much-anticipated 25 album has just surpassed 5 million copies sold. There is a lot of debate about the significance of this as it applies to the general health of the industry. Ultimately, though, I don’t think you can use this as any kind of barometer– certainly not an indicator of “rebounding.” One thing is for certain, though, her 50+ date tour in 2016 will be the top grossing.
In other re-warmed news, a reformed Grateful Dead with Trey Anastasio as “Jerry” played some high-grossing shows in LA and Chicago showing that baby boomers and Gen X’ers are willing to shell out lots of money to recapture even a brief glimpse of their youth. The shows seemed like a fitting celebration of 50 years and a kind of closure to the promise of the remainder of the band getting back together. The following “Dead and Friends” tour with John Mayer as “Jerry” has been benefiting from the exposure and in my opinion are an improved version of the Dead. His vocals and guitar work are top-notch and add a real polish to the proceedings.
Looking this list over, it shows that I spent most of 2015 listening to local artists. Iowa has really been stepping up its game for music and we’ve got some of the best music around. There were a lot of notable releases outside of Iowa, but I just didn’t find myself putting any of them on repeat. It says a lot– you don’t have to go far from your back yard to get world-class music.
Looking over other Best of Lists, I see some albums that I listened to and thought were good, but they just didn’t stick with me: The Decemberists – What A Wonderful World, What A Terrible World, Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell, Father John Misty – I Love You Honeybear, Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly, Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color.
Here is the list in no particular order–
Dickie – Self Titled : Dick Prall moved back to Iowa and started a new project with Kristina Priceman crafting a wonderful string-wrapped package of retro-inspired pop rock. Somewhere between the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly sits this collection of autobiographical songs with heart.
Younger – Self Titled : This one from the new Iowa City band Younger was a late discovery for me, but no less brillant. Former members of The Wandering Bears and Emperors Club have put out a Riot Grrl-ish album that people are drawing comparisons to The Breeders and Bikini Kill. To me it sounds more like Pylon and Throwing Muses. In any event, a fantastic record that I’ll be spinning a lot in 2016, I expect.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit : Yep. More edgy Riot Grrlish rawk. On almost everyone’s list for 2015.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Self Titled : I’ve been a fan of Nathaniel Rateliff ever since I saw him on the Daytrotter Barnstormer shows back in 2010 along with Delta Spirit. I’m a sucker for his well-crafted folk albums to date, but his transformation into an R&B powerhouse and seeing the nearly-universal embrace of it is pretty unexpected. Fantastic record and the return of Stax Records!
Holy White Hounds – Sparkle Sparkle : Des Moines band Holy White Hounds are gaining momentum by word of mouth. These guys make some pretty fantastic rock coupled with a great live show. Kind of 90’s throwback metal/grunge reinvented for the new century.
Phil Cook – Southland Mission : Hiss Golden Messenger sideman, member of Megafaun, producer and all-around great guy Phil Cook releases his first solo album with him singing. Due to a stupid security issue at Eaux Claires Festival this year, I missed his set, though it’s on YouTube. Rootsy, bluesy gospel-influenced boogie rock. I could put this album on every day and it puts the same dumb grin on my face every time.
Tom Jessen – Hunting Season : Former Iowa musician Tom Jessen released his first album in years– and that pent-up potential created what has to be the best snapshot of current American dystopia ever. Pretty damn fantastic portrait of how fucked up things are. LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM.
Charlie Parr – Stumpjumper : Speaking of Phil Cook, he produced the latest album from Minnesota retro blues and folk historian Charlie Parr. He was picked up by Red House Records which is a good home for him. This is the first album he’s done with a full band and the fleshing out of his sound really benefits the proceedings. “Over The Red Cedar” gives me goosebumps every time I play it.
Calexico – Edge of the Sun : Calexico tends to swing back and forth between full-on Latin-influenced albums and albums that lean a little more towards Americana-rock. This one ends up being more the latter. For me, I welcome the changes the band goes through– continually pushing the identity of what Calexico is.
Ryan Adams – 1989 : I did listen to this one a lot as soon as it appeared. It’s a really great album, but it seems like it is just an extension of last years self titled release– which isn’t bad at all. I like it, but I just about didn’t include it on the list because, for me anyway, Ryan Adams is a complete musician and songwriter, so I prefer to have more complete work rather than covers. I suppose some of this feeling is due to my relative unawareness of Taylor Swift’s blockbuster album it’s based on.
Dagmar – Afterlight : I can’t say enough about this Iowa duo. Atmospheric and sublime harmonies with unique counterpoint and rhythm. Jawdroppingly gorgeous album– somewhere between Philip Glass and Sufjan Stevens sits this baroque choral folk.
Pieta Brown – Drifters EP : The “lost” tracks from 2014’s fantastic Paradise Outlaw album. Brown is using this to launch her own “underground” imprint Lustre Records. Includes a remix from Justin Vernon!
The Pines – Pasture: Folk Songs EP : A kind of surprise drop from The Pines this year in the form of an EP of covers from Joe Price, Mance Lipscomb, Iris Dement, Mason Jennings & Greg Brown. No new ground broken here, but is a tribute to the songs that The Pines have included in their sets over the years.
Jim Viner’s Incredible B3 Band – COMANGO! : Jim Viner– Iowa drummer extrordinaire– assembled a collection of musician friends to create a retro B3-driven album with influences from The Meters and Booker T and the MGs. A really fun album that recalls the pre-Diplomette-vocals days of The Diplomats of Solid Sound. Destined to be part of the soundtrack to a cable TV show near you!
Kamasi Washington – The Epic – If I have any complaint about this sprawling masterpiece of Jazz, it’s that it can’t reasonably be digested in one sitting. But, if you’re willing to dedicate the time, this album is impressive in its diversity. I consider myself a fan of Jazz, but I don’t listen to much contemporary Jazz as I haven’t found much that really keeps my attention. I hope this signals a new generation of jazz artists who are willing to explore and innovate.
Thundercat – The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam – Thundercat works with Flying Lotus and Kamasi Washington, and all three worked on the Kendrick Lamar album How To Pimp A Butterfly — noted for its adventuresome approach to the music. His short album (16 minutes, but Flying Lotus said it’s an album, not an EP) from this year featured him front-and-center singing and leading most of the music with his jazz and funk bass riffs.
Aero Flynn – Self Titled – Justin Vernon raves about Josh Scott as a songwriter. After a lot of years not performing music, he comes back with Aero Flynn. Atmospheric and swirling it sounds like a distant cousin of Radiohead when they made more straightforward songs (OK Computer, maybe).
Beth Bombara – Self Titled – Beth is back with her most polished and accomplished record to date. She continues her shuffling, pining folk and country. Dusty and awesome.
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free : Brilliant record– literary and scenic songwriting. Isbell continues to impress with one of the great records from this year– almost unanimously agreed.
Lyrics Born – Real People – Lyric Born has never been shy to work with live band. He did one tour with a full band behind him (documented on the Overnite Encore Live album), he contributed vocals to the 2007 Galactic album From the Corner to the Block. His new album Real People includes members of Galactic as well as a who’s who of New Orleans musicians including Ivan Neville, Corey Henry, Trombone Shorty, the Revivalists’ David Shaw and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Typically upbeat and tongue in cheek the album is a funk overload. Great record– not sure why more people aren’t calling it out (see what I did there?).