Will Schube’s favorite keyboard preset is “alien burps.”
Terry Allen– Lubbock (on everything)
Terry Allen released Juarez in 1975 and Lubbock (on everything) in 1979. They went relatively unnoticed upon release, but have eventually garnered cult status. Noise Pollution MVP heroes Paradise of Bachelors re-released both records this year, and Lubbock just came out (again) this past Friday. It’s the stronger of the two records, an album that indulges in more maximal flourishes than its predecessor. Think Townes Van Zandt with less death and more saloon piano. It’s great for a drunken evening or a hungover morning after a drunken evening. If it passes these two tests it’s probably great. It is.
“The Collector (and the Art Mob)” is Randy Newman on an angry acid trip, and “New Delhi Freight Train” is Guy Clark’s “Texas, 1947” from the perspective of an adult, not a six year old kid waiting to get his nickel smushed onto the track. (That song is great, though. RIP, Guy.) Lubbock is the rare 21 song album not the least bit indulgent. Even the cocktail lounge song with pre-set keyboard claves (“Cocktails for Free”) goes hard. If that’s not a sign of greatness I don’t know what is.
Michael Chapman– “That Time of Night”
In perhaps the greatest “student becomes master” moment I’ve witnessed, Steve Gunn is helming the new Michael Chapman record. For the uninitiated: Steve Gunn is a sensational singer and guitar player, part of a new-school Americana pioneered in the ’70s by folks like Michael Chapman, John Fahey, and (later, in the early 2000s) by Jack Rose. Gunn has managed to infiltrate the oft-unforgiving indie music scene with his sincere devotion to a pastoral pedestal for the American land. He’s signed to Matador and made a record about climate change and beauty and destruction. It’s nearly perfect.
Gunn signed to Matador after releasing the aforementioned Way Out Weather on Paradise of Bachelors (I told you they were Noise Pollution MVPs), where Chapman will be releasing 50 just after the new year. The album’s first single, “That Time of Night,” is fantastic. To say it’s way better music than any seventy-six year old should be expected to make is unfair to Chapman, because this track exceeds any sort of qualifier. It’s gorgeous folk rock, anthemic with steel pedal guitar and mumbled, grumbled lyrics—not too dissimilar from Nick Cave’s delivery. It will be interesting to see if Chapman can keep the songwriting at this level over the course of an album, but to expect anything less from this 76 year-old would be unfair, it turns out.
I don’t know a lot about this band, but they sound like what I imagine Alabama Shakes sounds like if we all had unlimited time to care about bands like Alabama Shakes. Priests, led by Katie Alice Greer on vocals, are from DC and their debut LP Nothing Feels Natural is out on January 27th. “JJ” features a ferocious vocal performance from Greer, full of melodic hollerings and other made up musical words. The track is a brief three minutes—punk, I believe the kids call it—but “JJ” packs a plethora of ideas into a short span. And with that last use of plethora, I’ve finally made use of my college degree. Later, blogging.
Hiss Golden Messenger– Heart Like a Levee
Hiss Golden Messenger’s Lateness of Dancers was one of the best records of 2014, and one of my favorite rock records in quite some time. MC Taylor married southern romanticism with the cold punch to the throat punch that is being alive now. It’s an album that occupies the now and the eternal. It’s really, really beautiful.
His newest record, Heart Like a Levee (out now on Merge Records) is somehow even better. It’s more immediately catchy, more instantly heartbreaking. Opener “Biloxi” sounds like “Young Americans” as interpreted by Willie Nelson, and you will never drink a late night porch beer the same way again. “Heart Like a Levee” is all about Taylor leaving his family for an extended period to help provide for that family, and its relatability—without you know, me having ever been on tour with a band to provide for the wife and children I don’t have—speaks to his lyrical preciseness. Perhaps it’s best to take Taylor’s advice. On “Cracked Windshield,” he sings, “If you feel a storm coming, you better shut your mouth.” Heart Like a Levee is the storm. Shut up and listen.
Harvey Mandel– “Snake Pit”
Harvey Mandel played with Canned Heat and the Rolling Stones. He is unimpeachable. He’s making solo music these days, this time with a bunch of folks from Ryley Walker’s band. “Snake Pit” is the first cut off the record and it’s five and a half minutes of guitar solos over funk drums and bass. This isn’t game changing, but it’s brain melting. And that’s more than enough for me.