Tag Archive for 'Charlie Parr'

The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2017

2017 to me felt like a transition year in many ways– personally, politically, culturally and certainly musically. For me personally 2017 will represent the year that my wife and I made the biggest steps away from 2011 when I was unemployed for eight months following a 13-year run in IT middle management. We bought a house after renting for over six years– the house hunt was a crazy one with lots of ups and downs. But we found a house that we love and it ends up being kind of perfect for being a place our grandson can come hang out and listen to records with Papa.

2017 was another year in a troubling pattern of musician deaths. The biggest of these is the unexpected passing of Tom Petty which for me was as big a loss as Prince was in 2016. I discovered Petty in 1986 with the release of Southern Accents. Although I had heard the big singles on the radio up to that, Southern Accents was released when I was searching for music that spoke to me. In that regard I look at Tom Petty as being “my Beatles.” The Beatles were a big part of my musical rearing, but they were already broken up by the time I started striking out on my own musical tastes. Petty was someone whose career set a benchmark for everyone who made guitar driven rootsy rock and roll. Petty continues to be something I can put on at any time and never tire of listening to. I was fortunate to be able to see him during his 40th Anniversary tour this summer in Des Moines and it was kind of full-circle as I was there with my dad and my brothers– just about 30 years after the first Tom Petty concert we saw in Chicago.

As far as new notable albums for 2017, I’m kind of out in left field again. My other writing gig as album reviewer for Little Village Magazine ends up determining what I listen to the most at any given time as I crash-listen to new Iowa-based or related albums and that is reflected again in my list.  That said, these are all really strong releases that hold up against the deluge of new major releases. Albums that others are including in their lists that I probably need to give at least a cursory listen to include the new Foo Fighters album Concrete and Gold, Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Some releases that nearly made the list were the new National album, the new Fleet Foxes album, and the new War on Drugs.

Here’s my Top 20 for 2017 (In no particular order):

Beth Bombara – Map & No DirectionBeth Bombara has been cranking out really solid albums for a while now. She’s a gifted songwriter and musician and her releases are always really strong. With her 2017 album, she has taken her spin on folk, Americana and rock and turned the “rock” knob up a bit putting out a record that is up there with the best releases Sheryl Crow put out. Bombara is kicking off 2018 with her first tour of Europe which will give her more deserved exposure.

Pieta Brown – Postcards – Brown’s latest album is a collection of “musical postcards” which are made up of collaborations with folks like Calexico, Mark Knopfler, The Pines and David Lindley. The resulting album still sounds like a Pieta Brown album which is always a good thing. You can read my interview with Brown for Little Village Magazine here.

Charlie Parr – DogDog is Charlie Parr‘s second release for Red House Records and he’s continuing the full band trend for releases. Dog doesn’t have Phil Cook and friends behind him like Stumpjumper did, but the album still has the same energy and blistering slide guitar and picking we’ve come to expect from Parr.

Crystal City – Bartenderly – Iowa City’s Crystal City is primarily the duo of Dave Helmer and Sam Drella who stylistically occupy an intersection somewhere between John Prine and Paul Westerberg. Their latest album Bartenderly is a celebratory salvo of headbuzz rock for the bruised blue collar. You can read my review for Little Village Magazine here.

Deer Tick – Deer Tick 1 & 2 – This couple of albums from Deer Tick is as close to a #1 as I’m willing to commit to on this list. Aside from John McCauley’s stint in the supergroup of Middle Brother with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit I really hadn’t listened to any Deer Tick until this two LP release this year. The band took a four-year hiatus while the members did things like start families. They came back together and pulled a Use-Your-Illusion two album release this year. The band says that these are not to be considered as one release, but really it would be tough choice to only buy one of them. The band said that they were always kind of two bands: an acoustic folk band or an electric rock band. So, this is what we got, an acoustic album in Vol 1 and a rock album in Vol 2. These records are both full of brilliant songs– no filler (unlike the Guns ‘n’ Roses pair mentioned earlier).

SUSTO – & I’m Fine TodaySUSTO is a “friend of Codfish Hollow” band that’s played there a few times and I managed to catch them during the first GARP Festival in 2016 and was really impressed. They played a few songs from this album, so I was interested in hearing it when it came out this year. & I’m Fine Today is an album that slides around stylistically with ease and comfort making this album musically more interesting than their previous releases to me. This album was on a very regular rotation for me in 2017 and one that I never get tired of spinning. The song that rips me up every time I listen to it is what I consider to be the spiritual successor to “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat : “Gay In The South.” Brilliant song.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah Anyhow – If you’ve been following my Year End posts, it shouldn’t be surprising to see this album on here, since M.C. Taylor has been a favorite of mine since before he launched Hiss Golden Messenger. His partnership with Merge Records and with Phil and Brad Cook (formerly of Megafaun) has created a music juggernaut: touring nearly incessantly and creating four albums in three years of head-nodding rhythm and groove albums which draw inspiration from the golden era of Van the Man and The Dead. Releasing Hallelujah Anyhow so soon on the heels of the double album Heart Like A Levee and Vestapol is counter-intuitive based on the typical album release/tour/album release cycle. Taylor said that when he and manager Brad Cook were talking about wanting to release an album right away, they thought it felt good to do it and Merge was amenable to the idea, and certainly it was the right time because this album fires on all cylinders.

Game Theory – Supercalifragile – Prior to his unexpected passing in 2013, Scott Miller of Game Theory and The Loud Family was working on a new album of collaborations. To be titled Supercalifragile, it was going to be the first album of songs under the Game Theory moniker since the 1988 album Two Steps from the Middle Ages (itself was reissued in 2017 as part of the massive Omnivore Records reissue campaign). Miller’s wife Kristine took the mantle of finishing the album by taking the notes and her memories of what he had planned and called in friends, former bandmembers and collaborators in to finish the album. The songs were in varying degrees of completeness: some had demo recordings Miller had created, some just notes. The resulting album is bittersweet: equal parts official posthumous release and tribute to the fallen songwriter. I find it to be a fitting closure. You can read my post on this site here.

Grateful Dead – Cornell 5/8/77 – When the Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux announced that Cornell 77 was going to be released as a Dead Archives official release, I was really excited (as many were). Cornell was one of the first full Dead tapes I ever heard and was really amazed by how good it sounded– both performance and recording itself. I had pretty much been avoiding Dead tapes due to how much of a mixed bag they were. As luck would have it, one of the early peer-to-peer trading networks (pre-dimeadozen) had the full cache of the Betty Boards tapes, which included the legendary 5/8/77 show. These were early rips of the reel-to-reels done by a close-knit group of Dead fans who bought the contents of the storage facility that she’d let lapse. Eventually the Dead pulled electronic trading of soundboards, but I had the show I cared about downloaded. I managed to snag one of the 5 LP box sets of which 7700 were pressed used on eBay. It had a crumpled box corner, but the contents were in fantastic shape. They did a fantastic job of cleaning up this recording and somehow even fixing the first missing couple of minutes. The bootleg that circulated had spliced in part of an audience recording which created a really annoying transition. The box has has re-energized my interest in the Dead, and I’ve added some LPs to my vinyl collection and I’ll continue to do that, I’m sure.

Ryan Adams – Prisoner B-Sides – 2017 brought the newest album from Ryan Adams titled Prisoner. It was his third release since his signing to Blue Note Records, and second album of original work (his full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 was also on Blue Note). In many ways Prisoner was kind of self-titled part 2. Most of the songs to me seemed like outtakes from Ryan Adams. Pretty good, but ultimately just more of the same 80’s influenced power pop mixed his trademarked Americana. For me, Adams is most interesting when he’s experimenting, and to that end, the massive 17-track collection of “B-Sides” from Prisoner is far more satisfying a listen. He still brings on the Smiths-influence here, but I just like the songs more. The B-Sides were released as a box set of 7-inch singles (that I should consider picking up at some point) and digital download. I’d love to see the 17 tracks released as a 2 LP (hint, hint Blue Note).

Loess – Pocosin – 2017 brought the glorious reunion of Clay Emerson and Ian Pullman as Loess. Their particular spin on electronic music comes from the Boards of Canada and early Autechre diced up and distorted ambient influence. I have loved everything that Loess has put out and Pocosin was an exciting addition for me this year. You can read my article about the release here.

The Right Now – Starlight – Chicago R&B and Soul band The Right Now’s third album came out this year and it veered a bit away from their more classic sound towards a sound very influenced by more recent disco and funk. While still fronted by the signature powerhouse vocals of Stefanie Berecz, the update is a welcome one as the push in this direction has inspired some of the best songwriting to date from the band. All Killer No Filler indeed! Here is my article about the release on this site. Here is an article about a remix from Starlight that has a 60 minute mix of songs that inspired the album, Here is an article I wrote for Little Village Magazine about a show at The Mill.

Gloom Balloon – Drying the Eyes of the Goddess of Gloom, Underneath the Stars and the MoonGloom Balloon is the moniker for Des Moines producer/artist/label head Patrick Tape Fleming. This album ends up being kind of the sonic brother from another mother of Christoper The Conquered’s album I’ve Given Up on Rock and Roll. I love this record– it sits somewhere around The Flaming Lips and ELO for experimentation and bombast at times. My review for Little Village is a good place to start reading about what I think.

Har-di-Har — we will will you – Julie and Andrew Thoreen released their first full length album as Har-di-Har in 2017. They used to live in Cedar Falls, but relocated to St. Paul a few years ago. we will will you is an album that captures a marriage in a precarious state of doubt. The resulting album is a compellingly personal album featuring their signature vocal harmonies and spiderwebby chord and percussion infrastructure.

The Pines – Pasture IIThe Pines returned with a second EP of covers. This time we get covers of a Bo Ramsey and a Pieta Brown tune. Read my review for Little Village here.

TIRES – LP1 – Phil Young is in a whole bunch of bands in and around Des Moines including The Wheelers. His instrumental side project TIRES put out their debut album in early 2017. It comes from the same “emergency rock” post rock space as bands like Trans Am and Cougar and I dig it a lot. The vinyl has a hand-screened cover, which is really cool. Here is my review for Little Village.

Colleen – Vol. 1 – Cedar Rapids synthpop duo Colleen put out their debut EP in 2017. Reminds me of Polica or Portishead. They have a new EP already recorded and should come out pretty soon. Read my review for Little Village Magazine.

NAOMI – Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish – Iowa band NAOMI is named after its lead singer and cranks out “snarky pop rock” which is as apt a description of the proceedings as any. A fun, anthemic guitar driven album that picks up where Avril Lavigne and No Doubt left off in the early oughts. Check my review for Little Village here.

Ryne Doughty – Date Night – Ryne Doughty has been crafting is particular singer-songwriter folk for a few years. I happened to catch him opening for The Pines at CSPS a while ago. He openly admits to worshiping at the temple of Greg Brown and that influence is obvious, but he’s got his own style and really we don’t have enough of the storytelling songwriters around. Read my review of Date Night for Little Village.


The Dawn – WoolyThe Dawn are the jam band ambassadors for the Quad Cities. Their latest album Wooly is the first for Cartouche Records and, I think is a bit of a departure for them. Wooly draws more R&B influences– specifically Prince into the mix which makes this album my favorite of their catalog to date. Here is my review for Little Village.

(Upcoming Release) Charlie Parr Returns With Another Full-Band Album “Dog” Out September 8th

Red House Records‘ recent signing of Duluth, MN blues and folk master Charlie Parr yielded what I think was the most fleshed-out and imagined album in his catalog Stumpjumper. It made my Best of 2015 year end list. Most of Parr’s catalog has focused on solo or very stripped-down arrangements, so Stumpjumper was a departure, and with help from Phil Cook the album was a winner from beginning to end.

This week Red House announced that Parr is back with another album, and this one is also with a band. Titled Dog, it was supposed to be a solo record, but he changed his mind and brought in experimental folk artist Jeff Mitchell, percussionist Mikkel Beckman, harmonica player Dave Hundreiser, and bassist Liz Draper (who according to the Red House PR was asked by Parr to play electric bass instead of her normal upright bass). Parr explains:

“I was going to do it completely solo,” Charlie says. “I was going to go to this barn in Wisconsin, sit there and play my songs. And I was practicing them and I thought, this is devastating. These songs are hard to hear in this format. I would never be able to listen to them again. And then my friend Tom Herbers, he saw something was wrong. We talked, booked time at Creation” Audio, and made a plan to flesh out the album with a backing band.”

The first track we get to hear is the title track which reminds me of a more contemplative version of “Over The Red Cedar.” It’s a real heart-tugger for anyone who ever loved a dog since it questions whether dogs have souls. “How do you know that I don’t have a soul? How can you look me in the eye and tell me ‘no?’ A soul is a soul is a soul is a soul.”

The album shares a couple of songs with the 2016 Record Store Day 10″ EP release I Ain’t Dead Yet. The tracks “Hobo” and “I Ain’t Dead Yet” get a new life on Dog. BTW: copies of the RSD EP are still available from Red House Records for $15.

You can listen to samples of the tracks at the Red House Records page for Dog. Dog comes out September 8th on CD, vinyl and mp3.

Here is the tracklisting:

TRACK LISTING:
1. Hobo
2. Dog
3. Salt Water
4. LowDown
5. Sometime’s I’m Alright
6. Rich Food and Easy Living
7. I Ain’t Dead Yet
8. Boiling Down Silas
9. Another Dog
10. Peaceful Valley

(Upcoming Show) Play B-Sides “Top 20” Artist Charlie Parr at Daytrotter Studios Grand Opening – Saturday 1/23

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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.

Charlie will be hitting the stage at 4PM– doors are at 3PM– on Saturday, January 23rd. Tickets are a reasonable $8, and while you’re there you can try out their selection of Daytrotter Pale Ale beer brewed by Exile Brewery. The new location is at Renwick Building at 324 Brady St. next to the Davenport Public Library.

Get your presale tickets HERE.

Listen to Charlie Parr’s latest Daytrotter.com session, which includes songs from Stumpjumping.

Here is Charlie Parr performing my favorite song “Over The Red Cedar” from Stumpjumping.

The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2015

Top 20

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?).

(Upcoming Release) Red House Records to Release Charlie Parr 7″ for Record Store Day

Charlie Parr - RSD 7B

Although not on the Official RSD list for this month, Red House Records has announced a special release to coincide with Record Store Day (which is Saturday, April 18th this year).

In celebration for their newest label signee, Duluth, MN resident Charlie Parr and the release of his lucky 13th albumStumpjumper, Red House Records is pressing a limited-to-3000 7″ of album track “Over the Red Cedar” b/w his take on the folk standard “Delia.” The B-Side is available on the CD and download, but didn’t fit on the vinyl LP, so if you want “Delia” on vinyl, you need to get yourself one of these!

According to Red House, they will be distributing the singles to record stores to use as a free giveaway (likely with store purchase as other RSD promos have been in the past). It’s a given that the great record stores in Minnesota will carry these, but if you want to get one, you may want to reach out to your favorite store and see if they will be getting these.

BTW: The Current in the Twin Cities featured the A-side of this single back in February. I absolutely LOVE this song– that great hook in the line “it’s outlasting you.” Here’s a solo performance from The White Wall Sessions:

Stumpjumper is coming out on April 28th and will be available via all your favorite ways to get digital downloads and CD/LP’s. I’ve been listening to it for a couple of weeks and in my opinion is the most polished album in his catalog and has some of my favorite songs of his already! Phil Cook of Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger helped produce the record.

The fine folks at Daytrotter recorded a session with Charlie and had the sense to press it up on vinyl with labelmate Dale Watson’s session. Click the picture:

Charlie Parr Daytrotter

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