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The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2016

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 SonKalispell 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.

Expressions Trace A Template of Loss in Kalispell’s Printer’s Son

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Kalispell on the turntable, as The Multiple Cat looks on.

Kalispell is the side-project from Shane Leonard who, among other projects, is part of Field Report. He just released his second album under the Kalispell band name on Davenport, IA label Cartouche Records — home of recent releases by The Multiple Cat, Land of Blood and Sunshine, Brooks Strause, J.E. Sunde, and Daytrotter.com illustrator Johnnie Cluney’s band Bedroom Shrine. Fantastic releases all, and you should check them out, and be on the lookout from releases by Devin Frank (of Poison Control Center) and Chrash in July.

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. The album reminds me another album that slips from the grasp of genre: David Sylvian’s 1987 landmark solo record Secrets of the Beehive. For his second release Sylvian took another step away from the New Wave-ish synthpop of his band Japan. He enlisted some Jazz artists including Ryuki Sakamoto and Mark Isham which gave that album a delicate ambience. Printer’s Son carries a similar jazz folk vibe. Additionally, the dry production of Leonard’s vocals suit the intimacy of the album.

Printer’s Son owes some of its woody atmospherics to the fact that it was partially recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios and was engineered and co-produced by Brian Joseph, who was on the boards for Bon Iver’s 2012 Grammy-winning album. Bon Iver is another album that similarly made beautiful soundscapes out of impressionistic personal stories and accounts. Leonard takes recent painful events and uses them as the basis for Printer’s Son. He talks about this on The Current show Radio Heartland:

I had this wildly unforseen year of just this radical change. I thought I had my path pretty set– music was going well and I was living in Chicago. All within this year, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and his passing forced me– ultimately I think in a really important and helpful way even though very difficult– to reconsider a lot of assumptions I had. And, right after he passed our family dog died and then my dad’s father also passed. It was all at the same time and I was moving and also moving away from a relationship that I had been in a long time. So, it was like the world got turned over and then I just started thinking differently as a symptom of that.

Some albums have stories that we can identify with.  On Printer’s Son, I feel the sentiments, the memories, the connections. Leonard tells his stories and like a good book or film, they become part of the listener’s own fabric. I can picture that canyon climb with the banded walls in “Windfall.” I feel the ghost itch from the overgrowth scratching skin on the fading road in “Parting Ground.”

David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive has become part of my permanent soundtrack. I feel that Kalispell’s timeless tapestry of folk and jazz in Printer’s Son is destined to be another album that I will hold onto.

Listen to Printer’s Son below and be sure to order yourself a copy from Cartouche.

TWINS Cover “I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” Bonus B-Side For Square America

Photo by Michael Roeder

Photo by Michael Roeder

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.

You can read my review of Square America at Little Village Magazine.

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.

CHECK IT OUT:

Pre-order Square America at Maximum Ames!

Check out TWINS first Daytrotter Session. There will be a new one coming!

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2014

Top 20

Looking back at 2014 and what I listened to, it seems I spent most of the year listening to bands from Iowa. Eight of the Top 20 Albums of 2014 for It’s Time to Play B-Sides are either living in Iowa or have roots here. Some of this is easily explained by the fact that my other music gig is writing reviews for Little Village Magazine, but I had the very good fortune of being a writer during a year with the most Iowa bands putting their best foot forward.

This list sees returns of It’s Time to Play B-Sides regular favorites– Hiss Golden Messenger, Ryan Adams, Pieta Brown and Tom Petty– each turning in what should in retrospect be career-defining releases, in my opinon.

Vinyl continued its march of popularity in 2014– out of this list, only three releases didn’t come out on vinyl. The Jack Lion JAC EP came out on cassette, though (representing the resurgence of that physical media), the Surf Zombies album– though the band has been working towards getting that one put out on vinyl. It’s a… THING! was tracked on tape and would be a natural release on black plastic disc and The Sapwoods album.

Here’s the list– not ranked.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers MC Taylor and Scott Hirsh’s post-Court & Spark band Hiss Golden Messenger is back with their sixth or seventh release (depending on how you count self-released titles) and first release on their new label Merge Records. Lateness of Dancers continues the vibe and groove of their last two releases on Paradise of Bachelors but also provides a definitive declaration of purpose. With the association with Merge– a label as big as any independant can be– Taylor and Hirsh are not wasting their opportunity for bigger visibility. It seems like every blog/internet music magazine has declared Lateness of Dancers one of the great albums of 2014, plus the band has been doing some very aggressive promotion landing one of the remaining few musical guest spots on Letterman. 2015 should bring much more widespread touring for Hiss Golden Messenger, which I’m hoping will afford me the opportunity to see the band live.

Jerry David DiCicca – Understanding Land DiCicca is probably better known as the frontman for The Black Swans, which he disassembled after their– pardon the pun– swan song 2012 album Occasion For Song. Under his own name, the solo release for DiCicca continues the very loose country blues vibe he minted in The Black Swans. With some help from some friends including Will Oldham, Kelley Deal and Spooner Oldham DiCicca has made an impressive step away from his old identity as part of The Black Swans. Understanding Land seems to have missed the radar of a lot of places that would normally be championing the kind of quietly beautiful reflective song craft DiCicca has mastered. If you haven’t heard this record, go check it out. I’ll wait here until you get back.

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes To be honest, I’m declaring this a favorite before I’ve had a chance to listen to this as much as the other albums on this list. At first, I was kind of put off by the very calculated concept of The New Basement Tapes: “Hey, we found these lyrics that Bob Dylan didn’t think were worth recording back in 1967 and he still doesn’t want to record them so let’s pull a band together!” The results are very good and the fact that these lyrics were written by Dylan almost 50 years ago doesn’t detract. Though, you probably could have put Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket together in a room without Dylan’s lyrics and would have still resulted in a fantastic album.

The Black Keys – Turn Blue Danger Mouse is paired up with The Black Keys for the third time since 2007’s Attack and Release (if you don’t include Blacroc, the hip hop side project), and we again find the duo recording songs slightly outside of their regular sound. The whole Turn Blue record is solid and really radio-friendly and stands up to repeated listens. At times I’m reminded of the latest Beck record (also produced by Danger Mouse), but more satisfyingly varied than Morning Phase.

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream While this album has been around awhile, and the brilliant single “Red Eyes” has been all over the place, I didn’t listen to the whole album until this month. The album’s general sound seems to come from the mid-to-late 80’s with it’s synths and either electronic percussion or drums so processed it sounds like it. At times it sounds like outtakes from Lindsey Buckingham’s 80’s albums or the more reaching anthemic sounds of Rod Stewart from the same period. A really enjoyable album.

Stanton Moore – Conversations Stanton Moore is the drummer and one of the founding members of Galactic. This is Moore’s first album as a jazz-bop trio with pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton — a style that he has dabbled in live settings but never committed to tape previously. The results are really great and fits in with my regular diet of 50’s and 60’s Blue Note and Prestige sides.

Game Theory – Blaze of Glory (reissue) Normally I wouldn’t include a reissue in this list. But, I’ll make an exception for the reissue campaign that Omnivore is undertaking of the entire Game Theory catalog that is nothing short of a miracle if they can keep it up. Scott Miller, the leader of both Game Theory and The Loud Family passed away unexpectedly in 2013, breaking the hearts of his devoted followers (which includes yours truly). The now-defunct label Alias Records attempted a reissue campaign that underwent some modifications (even re-recorded parts) by Scott Miller who was publicly never satisfied with the original early recordings (of which 1982’s Blaze of Glory is included). Even though I’m a devout fan of anything Scott Miller worked on and consider myself a collector, I did not have Blaze of Glory in its original incarnation (aka the “trash bag” version since the original packaging was a white trashbag with a sticker on it). I had the few manipulated or re-recorded tracks he included in the final Enigma Records compilation Tinkers to Evers to Chance and the Distortion of Glory Alias compilation which also included the two 1983 EP’s Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion. These were also lovingly reissued by Omnivore for Black Friday Record Store Day as colored 10″es.  This release of Blaze of Glory comes from the original master tapes, so unless you had the 1982 trash bag version of the album, you’ve never heard this mix before. The remaster sounds really great and sets the bar really high for the rest of the catalog to come. The album represents the very seeds of the future sound of the band. In some ways the album sounds very much a product of its time leaning heavily in the treble space (though this version brings some of the bass back) and incorporating buzzy synths and stuttering rhythms, but also not sounding like anything else at the time. Scott’s trademark turns of phrase and heartache are already established.

The digital download version includes 15 bonus tracks of demos, songs from the pre-GT band Alternative Learning, live tracks and some really early audio experiments from Scott. Having been a member of the Game Theory online community at large since the late 90’s, I’m very aware of the potential mountain of bonus material available for the rest of the releases coming down the line, so this campaign has few peers when it comes to the archives to draw from.

Teledrome – self-titled I stumbled upon the Canadian record label Mammoth Cave quite by accident as I was searching for an original pressing of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s Saavy Show Stoppers LP (“Having an Average Weekend” is the theme music to the 80’s and 90’s sketch comedy show Kids in the Hall) only to find that Mammoth Cave reissued it! Back in March the label sent out a link for a free download of Teledrome’s debut album (EP?) and I was hooked! Brooding android pop drawing from the dawn of synth pop sounding like Gary Numan or Ultravox. I’ve heard it compared to Ariel Pink as well. 10 track, 20 minutes. The vinyl is a 45 RPM 12″ and I’ll probably wear the shit out of it. Amazing record I can listen to over and over again.

Ryan Adams – self titled Lots has been written about the return of Ryan Adams– the short version is he’s addressed his health issues, gotten clean, opened his own recording studio, taken control of the business side of his art and is re-energized to work and has released an album that draws from his stated influences of 80’s rock. The album draws from the big guitar sounds of the 80’s and sounds a lot like an album that could have come out at that time– the lead single “Gimme Something Good” could just as easily have been on a Bryan Adams album (many have pointed out the similarities of the album art to Reckless). The whole album beginning to end is a fantastic listen and stands up to repeated listens and is a compliment to Love is Hell, in my opinion, which was one of the first albums I listened to from him. So far, there has only been one formal single from the record, and XM has been playing it in regular rotation. I could see a couple more singles making it in 2015. In the meantime, Ryan is also doing a limited edition monthly 7″ single release of outtakes and studio noodling that has turned out some really great tracks as well.

Springtime Carnivore – self titled I wrote about this release here. Greta Morgan of Gold Motel is back under her new solo moniker Springtime Carnivore. It’s everything I loved about Gold Motel– the sunny harmonies and melodies coupled with a darker wall-of-sound production. Be sure to catch some of the videos she’s put out in support of the record, too. Here’s the article I wrote for Play B-Sides about it.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye Petty decides to return back to a driving guitar sound and delivers the first #1 album of his career. In some regards this album is a reaction to his previous album Mojo. I really liked Mojo, but I think that his audience was turned off by the meandering bluesy sound of it. In my opinion Hypnotic Eye kind of uses Mojo and the Mudcrutch albums as a stylistic launching point. No one can argue with the incredible success Tom and the Heartbreakers have had over four decades. It’s incredible to think that he’s had hit singles in every decade of his career. I can’t think of any other band that has pulled that off for as long. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t had some albums that were, well, kind of lacking, and many of those were in this last decade. The Last DJ, Highway Companion and Echo were not great records. Though, I would put Hypnotic Eye up there with the amazing and underrated She’s The One Soundtrack and Wildflowers— the previous Rick Rubin produced albums from 1996 and 1994. Incidentally, both of these albums are getting reissues.

Greylag – self-titled Portland-based trio’s debut LP on Dead Oceans. Dead Oceans is the label for Califone these days, so that’s how I found out about Greylag. Their album sounds like a perfect melding of Jeff Buckley and Led Zeppelin III— which, now that I write it might seem redundant considering Jeff Buckley always sounded like he was influenced by Led Zeppelin III to me. Another album I can play on repeat and never tire of. I can’t wait to see what this band does going forward.

As I mentioned above, quite a few of my top list are either Iowa or Iowa-Related bands. I wrote reviews for Little Village for all of these albums, and I’ll include the link to that as well:

TWINS – Tomboys on Parade The sophomore release from TWINS finds the band tightening up what was already an impressive review of power pop influences. The word is out and they’re already touring nationally as ambassadors for the really exciting music scene that Iowa has recently. In my Little Village review of Tomboys on Parade I said the album has “sublimely polished nuggets of pop, washed in harmonies and falsettos, packed in backbeat and propelled by galloping guitars and sparkling arpeggios. The album is a damn fine slice of pop pie, and the vinyl version will spend a lot of time on my turntable.

The Sapwoods – Peaks and Valleys Another Cedar Falls band The Sapwoods steps up their game with their second album. In my LV review I said, “a timeless, straightforward and no-nonsense approach to songwriting. Guitar anthems go unapologetically for the melodic hook, carrying lyrics that focus on day-to-day concerns of the human condition.” The Sapwoods have a classic midwestern rock sound that is less like Cheap Trick and more like Wilco.

Kelly Pardekooper – Milk in Sunshine Kelly is the next generation of the Eastern Iowa Country Blues tradition– he says his influences are Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown and on his latest album Milk In Sunshine he incorporates both– Bo plays on the record and Kelly covers both a Ramsey and a Brown song on the vinyl version of the new album. The CD and digital download of the album includes all of the new songs that are Milk in Sunshine proper but also include a collection of “greatest hits”– songs that have been licensed for television. If you haven’t bought any of Kelly’s albums to date, you owe it to yourself to pick this release up. You can read my review of Milk in Sunshine here.

Pieta Brown – Paradise Outlaw Pieta Brown was invited to record at Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, WI. The resulting album enhances the atmospheric aspects of her work– an organically beautiful record. Here is my review in Little Village of Paradise Outlaw.

Bedroom Shrine – No Déjà Vu I had the opportunity to hear part of Bedroom Shrine‘s debut album on the American Dust EP, and there isn’t a better way to describe this record than “dusty.” In my review in Little Village, I said, “a window obscuring its songs with a sooty lo-fi patina. At times, the fluttery tape hiss that drags in the middle of the albums’ tracks add to No Déjà Vu’s complex palette of tone and sound.”

Jack Lion – JAC EP Another record I can listen to any time– it’s a great immersive headphones record for me– jazzy trumpet, bass and drums fused with electronics. Kind of like if Miles Davis met up with Four Tet. The band admits that one of its influences is the Norwegian band Jaga Jazzist, with which it shares some similarities. Here is my review for Little Village for the JAC EP.

Lake Street Dive – Bad Self Portraits – 2014 was the year where Lake Street Dive broke onto national awareness starting with an appearance on The Colbert Report and their update on classic R&B. The connection to Iowa is through LSD’s upright bass player Bridget Kearney, but really they are a Boston band. Here is my review of Bad Self Portraits.

Surf Zombies – It’s a… THING! Local guitar legend Brook Hoover released the fourth album from his instrumental surf band Surf Zombies and his 2nd album with members of The Wheelers and The Blendours helping out. As a long-time fan of instrumental and surf rock I look forward to new releases from Surf Zombies! Word on the street is that they’re about ready to release a new album in 2015! Here’s my review of It’s a… THING! for Little Village Magazine.

 

Greta Morgan of Gold Motel is back as a Springtime Carnivore

It was a scorchingly hot– but not atypically so– early August evening at Codfish Hollow Barn in 2010 when I was turned on to Gold Motel.

The barn has a tendency of stockpiling the day’s heat and the best thing you can do is get outside occasionally and look for shade or maybe a breeze. Fronted by the blond siren Greta Morgan, Gold Motel was the perfect execution of retro 60’s girl-band-meets-Debbie Harry jangly pop and by the time they hit the stage any plans I had to get outside for a respite were quickly dashed. I was quickly minted as a fan and within a few months their debut album Summer House came out on vinyl. In 2012, they followed up with their equally-wonderful self-titled album and then that was it from the band and Morgan.

Starting in 2013 Morgan started releasing songs and videos under the cryptic solo moniker Springtime Carnivore. The songs still have the beautiful soaring melodies that we came to expect from her, but the sonics are more wall-of-sound– big roomy reverb washes over everything and the spit-and-polish from Gold Motel has been replaced with the fuzziness and compression of what sounds like tape distortion. The sunny melodies songs seem to also belie a subtle darkness. Maybe that is what a Springtime Carnivore is– something that dares rip its canines into flesh during a time of seasonal renewal and birth.

This new spin on her sound seems to have been influenced by working with producer Richard Swift (also of The Shins, and currently touring bass player for The Black Keys).

Springtime Carnivore Cover Art

Cover Art for Springtime Carnivore

Springtime Carnivore was picked up by Autumn Tone— the label run by the folks at Aquarium Drunkard and will be releasing the debut LP on November 4th. The first single is “Name on a Matchbook” and along with “Sun Went Black”  you have a good sampling o the sound.

“Sun Went Black” reminds me of The Cure (like “Close to Me”).

The leadoff track on the album “Collectors” (if you don’t include the opening short instrumental “Western Pink”) was a 7″ single last year with “Two Scars” on the flipside.

Also included on the album are “Creature Feature” and “Two Scars” which where previously released as videos. They are both directed by Eddie O’Keefe whose soundtrack to his 2011 film “The Ghosts” had a song from Greta Morgan on it.

Springtime Carnivore – Creature Feature from Eddie O’KEEFE on Vimeo.

Springtime Carnivore – Two Scars from Rookie on Vimeo.

Springtime Carnivore will be kicking off a North American tour in support of Fr. John Misty and Jenny Lewis Here are the dates:

SPRINGTIME CARNIVORE TOUR DATES:

May 30 Do Division Street Fest Chicago, IL
May 31 Pabst Theater w. FATHER JOHN MISTY, Milwaukee, WI
Jun 01 Rozz Tox, Rock Island, IL
Aug 01 Town Ballroom w/ FATHER JOHN MISTY, Buffalo, NY
Aug 14 Wild Buffalo w/ JENNY LEWIS, Bellingham, WA
Aug 16 Crystal Ballroom w/ JENNY LEWIS, Portland, OR
Aug 19 Club Red w/ JENNY LEWIS, Bend, OR
Aug 20 Belly Up w/ JENNY LEWIS, Aspen, CO
Aug 21 Fox Theatre w/ JENNY LEWIS, Boulder, CO

You can order the CD or vinyl version through Amazon:

(Upcoming Show) Surf Zombies and TWINS at CSPS – Saturday 4/26

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This Saturday night’s show at CSPS promises to be a rockin’ one! Headlining the show is Brook Hoover’s Surf Zombies who are having a CD Release show for their latest album It’s a… THING!. I reviewed It’s a… THING! for Little Village Magazine last month saying, “another solid slab of sinewy guitars evoking images of busting surfboards, wipeouts and pipelines on a distant glistening beach.” It’s my favorite Surf Zombies record yet!

Opening for Iowa’s premiere surf band is Maximum Ames Records most recent signing– Cedar Falls Power Pop geniuses TWINS! I reviewed their sophomore album Tomboys on Parade for Little Village Magazine this month— “sublimely polished nuggets of pop, washed in harmonies and falsettos, packed in backbeat and propelled by galloping guitars and sparkling arpeggios. The album is a damn fine slice of pop pie…”

I’m pretty excited about the lineup for Saturday night at CSPS– both bands put on great live shows, and we’re lucky to get them here in Cedar Rapids. Oh, and Twins will be bringing vinyl! In between sets DJ Tone Zone will be spinning records.

Sounds like a great night, doesn’t it? See you there!

The Surf Zombies with TWINS and DJ Tone Zone will start at 8PM on Saturday, April 26th. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

More information and ticket purchasing at the Legion Arts Website.

 

 

 

It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2012

Here we are again at the end of another year. 2012 was the 6th year of existence for this little blog. Looking back, it’s been kind of a year of recovery for me. Lots of fallout from being unemployed in 2011 finally came to rest in 2012 and I’m finally getting into the swing of a new home, job and direction.

From a music perspective, for me anyway, 2012 was a year of next-releases from a lot of my favorite bands– possibly signaling some confidence and support for the hard-working and long-touring truly independent bands out there.

Here are my 20 favorite releases from 2012 in no particular order:

The Right NowGets Over You – On my “12 Releases I’m looking Forward to in 2012” post– Chicago R&B powerhouse The Right Now delivered their sophomore release this year. A bit of a disclaimer– these guys are my friends and I helped them put out the vinyl version of their debut album Carry Me Home. The band traveled to L.A. to work with Sergio Rios of Orgone in his studio. The resulting record has a great tape-compressed and raw feel. This band gets better every release.

The Pines Dark So GoldA release I was looking forward to. It’s hard to believe that this is the fourth release for The Pines. Again produced by Bo Ramsey, we see the band really falling into their stride. Same formula, but more refined. Brilliant record from beginning to end. Check out their two Daytrotter sessions here and here.

Samuel Locke Ward – Double Nightmare – Iowa City’s most prolific home taper Sam Locke Ward put out an album that was a few years in the making. I was assigned the duty of reviewing this epic release for Little Village Magazine and I loved it. Recommended if you dig Sebadoh, Guided By Voices, Dead Milkmen.

Red River Dialectawellupontheway – I found out about this band/artist through MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, who played a show with him in the UK. He did an indiegogo to fund the release of this album. More British Folk, with a bit of Smiths thrown in for good measure.

Jack WhiteBlunderbuss – A release that is probably on a lot of lists for 2012. Jack White proves he doesn’t need Meg. This album is better than any single album The White Stripes ever put out, though not better than some of the high points in The White Stripes output. But really damn good.

The Surf ZombiesLust for Rust – Local guitar hero Brook Hoover returns with the third surf instrumental album as The Surf Zombies. This time be brings in a couple of bratty punks resulting in the edgiest Zombies album to date. I reviewed the release for Little Village.

Har-di-Harword(s) of whim/Feudal Kind EP’s – Husband and wife band from Cedar Falls, IA manages to create some really amazing Choral Vocals layered on spare instrumentals. I reviewed for the January 2013 issue of Little Village coming up. A surprise Dark Horse addition to this list. Recommended if you like Renaissance, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and Trip Shakespeare.

Gold MotelGold Motel – Greta Morgan and band returned with a 2nd slice of sunny pop goodness. Saw them play in a barn in Maquoketa a couple of years ago and still carry a pretty big torch for this band. They did a really great Daytrotter session in 2011.

Gary Clark Jr Blak and Blu – It seems like this debut release has been coming for a long time. We’ve been hearing live performances for a while anyway. Brilliant album, though some might argue that it doesn’t stay in one style for very long– is it a straight up blues album or is it an R&B album? He did an amazing Daytrotter session that I had the opportunity to hear streaming live while they taped it.

DynorideWhat You Wanted – Quad Cities band brings the sound of the 90’s best noisy energetic punk. I’m not the only blogger who included this on their top list for 2012. I reviewed this for Little Village. It’s free stupid. Listen to it.

Cheyenne Marie MizeWe Don’t Need EP – I had the chance to see Cheyenne at the Mill in Iowa City a few years ago when she was touring for Before Lately. She did a few songs at that show which showed up on this EP. This was a release I was looking forward to.  Check out her two Daytrotter sessions here and here.

Solid GoldEat Your Young – After I heard Solid Gold at the Gayngs Affiliyated showcase, I was really looking forward to hearing the next album from them. It took them a couple of years to get this release out the door, but what a release it is! Solid Gold still holds on to their 80’s New Wave roots (think later Talk Talk), but I think that the time spent in Gayngs may have helped refine their art, as Eat Your Young is the most consistent release to date. I look for them to get snagged by a larger label.

Polica Give You The Ghost – This was on my releases I was looking forward to, but it was kind of a cheat since the band pre-released this album in December of last year. Another band related to Gayngs. Ryan Olson has the Midas touch, I think. Polica moved from his label to Mom+Pop this year and they opened for Bon Iver’s big show in NYC before I got to see them in Dubuque. They played new songs at that show, so I’m hopeful for another album! Check out Polica’s Daytrotter session here.

Calexico Algiers – With the breakdown of Quarterstick records, I was afraid of the fate of Calexico. Fortunately, they have been picked up by Anti- Records and the band recorded in the flood zone of post Hurricane New Orleans (“Algiers” is a section of the city). Great record– lots of diehard fans are bitching because the album is closer to Garden Ruin than Hot Rail.

Jeff Parker TrioBright Light in Winter – On my releases I’m looking forward to. The main guitarist from Tortoise returns for his third-ish solo album on the mighty Jazz and Blues label Delmark Records from Chicago.  This one spent a lot of time in rotation. Jeff’s a busy guy between all of the projects he participates, in so it’s cool that he returned to his own. I could listen to album opener “Mainz” on repeat forever.

Hiss Golden MessengerLord I Love The Rain – I mentioned this in the releases I was looking forward to for 2012. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I already heard parts of this release. MC Taylor decided to rejigger the “bonus” LP of outtakes that came with the preorders of Poor Moon called Lord I Love The Rain. He removed a track and added some and resequenced to make Lord I Love The Rain an album that could stand on its own. Check out the Hiss Golden Messenger Daytrotter session here.

The Sea and Cake – Runner – With the four-year gap between One Bedroom and Everybody, I’m always a bit nervous that The Sea and Cake will disappear again. But, since 2007, The Sea and Cake have enjoyed a very fruitful and creative period releasing four albums and one split single in five years. A really great follow up to Moonlight Butterfly— in fact they kind of act as bookends to each other. Check out their Daytrotter session here.

Kopecky Family BandKids Raising Kids – The debut album for Nashville chamber-pop band Kopecky Family Band follows two really great EP’s. The band has enjoyed a lot of critical praise and some big festival appearances at SXSW and Bonnaroo. Though this album was released in 2012, It looks like 2013 is when it will get some real traction and buzz. Check the Kopecky Family Daytrotter session here.

Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet – Stellar Pulsations – Mazurek is back with a new release on Delmark with a kind of expanded version of his Starlicker lineup. Nice, kind of subdued album (for Mazurek anyway) really focuses on his playing more than any of his other releases. I love “Magic Saturn”– sounds like a modern Jazz classic to me.

Various Artists – Iowa City Song Project – Compilation of Iowa City artists commissioned by the Englert who was celebrating 100 years ( and, to an extent, The Mill which was celebrating its 50th). Bo Ramsey, Pieta Brown, Greg Brown, Sam Locke Ward, Brooks Strauss, Milk and Eggs, Dave Zollo, Emporer’s Club, and many, many more all lay down tracks inspired by Iowa City. I reviewed the album for Little Village.

Stay tuned for my list of releases I’m looking forward to in 2013!

(Upcoming Show) Surf Zombies “Lust for Rust” Release Show at CSPS 6/16/2012

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I reviewed the latest release from Cedar Rapids Surf Czars The Surf Zombies Lust for Rust in Little Village Magazine last month.

The latest incarnation of the Zombies has bit bit more edge than the previous albums thanks to the production and engineering of Ian Williams (guitars for the Zombies and also in The Wheelers) and lineups, and I think that Lust for Rust is by far the best release from the band to date.

Tonight at CSPS, the Surf Zombies are taking over the big stage at CSPS for their record release show at 8PM. Tickets are $15 at the door. I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to take in the Surf Zombies– galloping drums and bass, gigantic reverbby guitars and a fantastic selection of beer and wine in the recently-opened bar which is operated by the fine folks at Brewed Awakenings.

More details here.

New Single “You Know I’ll Always Love You” From Karyn Paige Released Today

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Bay Area Pop Funk Chanteuse Karyn Paige. Today, I’m happy to announce that she’s dropping a new single to tide us over until she finishes her full length album.

Consistent with her first release, The KP EP (I reviewed here), her latest single “You Know I’ll Always Love You” pays tribute to the Pop R&B heyday of the 80’s with swelling and buzzy synthesizers. Ms. Paige transforms from the sexy fuming diva sitting on the bed in “Stay Away Tonight” to a sunny girl in love that reminds me of Paula Abdul’s great singles.

The smartly spare arrangements, and loping percussion draws us very close to Karyn’s lovely soprano with an adopted affected stuffiness that recalls 1920’s and 30’s jazz singers. Factor in the slightly-kitschy talk box harmony vocal effects and you have one perfect pop song.

I asked Karyn why she chose to release this single ahead of the full length album she’s working on.

“The motivation for releasing the song  ahead of the full LP was simple: Fans who have seen us play it live are constantly asking when we are going to put it out. People are really drawn to it, from music heads to moms. I wanted to give my fans something new to enjoy until the LP comes out. It was written by my co-producer and keyboard player Matt Berkeley, and I’ve always been honored to sing it.”

Listen for yourself:

Then buy it on iTunes!

While you’re there, check out The KP EP, too.

Click Here to visit the Karyn Paige official website where she has some great videos to check out, too.

Click Here to visit the Karyn Paige Facebook Fanpage

B-Sides in the Bins #56 – Mt. Vernon, IA 8/20/2011 – Art Blakey’s Drum Suite

Drum Suite - Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers
My wife had a wedding makeup gig in Mt. Vernon on Saturday and since I didn’t have a lot going on I offered to come along and help her load in and out. I figured I’d check out the antique shops to see what books or vinyl they might have. Unfortunately, there used to be a really great record store in Mt. Vernon above one of the art stores. I guess the father of one of the owners of the store had a large record collection that they wanted to sell, so they ran a store for a while.

After helping Sherry, I parked the car and set out on foot to see what I could find. The former Mt. Vernon Middle School is now known as The First Street Community Center and this is where I found the one record I picked up. The school has been converted into a number of small shops and businesses– most of them antiques and gifts. On the second floor of the building I found a lone stack of  records in front of one of the shops. The stack was marked $2. So, I flipped through them not expecting to really find anything as the records were largely 60’s era ephemera like orchestra, some odd soundtracks and some foreign music titles. One I almost picked up was a University of Iowa title called The Songs of Iowa or something like that and had a selection of music from the various cultures– Mesquaki Indian music, Czechoslovakian, German, Dutch. But, just before I got to the bottom of the pile this familiar collection of African masks was staring me in the face.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Drum Suite (LP, Columbia CL 1002, 1957)($1.00) Wow! First, it is Mono and original Columbia Records “Six Eye” label, so it is an original pressing. The record was missing the inner paper sleeve, but the record itself was in pretty decent shape! It had some slightly incriminating scuffs, but I figured for a record over 50 years old, it wouldn’t be perfect, and the price was right. After a conversation with the nice lady who ran the little shop, and who attempted to just give the record to me, we arrived at $1.

When I got home, I gave the record a wipe with Gruv-Glide II (I highly recommend this stuff!) which did a fantastic job of cleaning out the groove of dust and debris and also provided an anti-static barrier. The record had a deep black sheen and it took some close looking to even see the original scuffs! The record played with very little noise.

Drum Suite is really two recordings. Side One is the three-part “Drum Suite” performed by The Art Blakey Percussion Ensemble which was made up of Specs Wright on percussion, Ray Bryant on piano, cellist/bassist Oscar Pettiford, Sabu Martinez on congas, and bassist Candido Camero. As is frequently commented about this release, it predates Afrobeat music by many years, and considered by many to be quite revolutionary at the time. Listening to it now, I notice how well the ensemble ties standard hard bop jazz with the world beats making it pretty listenable (“never descends into cacophony” was one review I read).

The second side of the record is a selection of songs by one of the many iterations of The Jazz Messengers. While enjoyable, is not in my opinion as strong as other Jazz Messenger releases like my personal favorite Mosaic.

When I heard the middle part of the Drum Suite “Cubano Chant” I found it to be familiar, so I looked into that track further. “Cubano Chant” was composed by the pianist Ray Bryant and included in his 1956 album on Epic Records The Ray Bryant Trio (Epic LN 3279)– which is sadly very out-of-print. The version on Drum Suite has some vocals (“Vamos a bailar la cha-cha-cha!”) where his version (and most other cover versions) doesn’t. Ray Bryant passed away in June at 79 years old. One of his noted contributions to the world of jazz is “Cubano Chant” which seems to be regarded as kind of a standard, considering how many people covered it. I found a pretty cool video of Steely Dan’s touring band from 2003 performing it as a warmup before a concert. I’m not exactly sure where I heard this before, but I guess it could be anywhere– but I’m pretty sure I heard it on “Dancing With the Stars” though I don’t know what season that would have been.

I managed to find a vinyl rip of Ray Bryant Trio (the Epic release, not the confusingly same-titled Prestige album from the same year– although some call that one Piano Piano Piano) on the internet which is pretty cool– but considering the apparent significance of “Cubano Chant” you’d think that they would have reissued this. It’s on my “wishlist”  to get on vinyl.

A bit of a side note: Ray Bryant recorded a single in 1960 called “The Madison Time” which was featured prominently in the first film version of Hairspray (not the John Travolta version, the Rikki Lake one). Here are the instructions for how you can dance “The Madison Time,” too!

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