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Rose City Band – Summerlong

Latest from Rose City Band: Summerlong

I picked up the Thrill Jockey reissue of Rose City Band’s debut earlier this year and instantly became obsessed with it. I have been looking forward to the follow-up.  Summerlong sounds like the second chapter of the same book. That’s OK with me as I couldn’t get enough of the debut. The debut really hit me with its mellow psychedelic Grateful Dead vibe. The debut has a bit of low-fi vibe in its production, whereas, Summerlong is more polished. The debut was meandering and trippy, Summerlong is more conventional country-rock – a microdose of psychedelia vs the full dose of the debut.

The debut’s back story was as murky as the music. There was no back story, it just appeared. After much research, I discovered it was Ripley Johnson, the psychedelic bandleader of Wooden Shjips and one half of Moon Duo.

The new album has a little more PR, but still low profile by today’s standards. Per Thrill City’s website here is the story on Summerlong:

Rose City Band started purely as a recording project, with Johnson’s role mostly obscured for the self-titled debut album. Released with no promotion, in the style of private press records, it was a liberating act, a focus on music without any expectations. Explaining it with a chuckle, Johnson elaborates, “I always would threaten to my friends that I’m gonna start a country rock band so I can retire and just play down at the pub every Thursday night during happy hour. I love being able to tour and travel, but I also like the idea of having a local band … more of a social music experience.” Freedom from expectation and obligation gave Johnson the space to experiment with new instrumentation and arrangements. The introduction of lap steel, mandolin, and jaw harp enhance Johnson’s lean guitar work with radiant overtones, placing Summerlong more overtly within the country tradition than its predecessor.

The debut really captured me because it came out of thin air and surprised me. The new album is just as good, but it does not have the surprise factor of the first. I appreciate the perfection of the sound of Summerlong without it getting too slick. If you like the mellow, but guitar-heavy jams, of Jerry Garcia and J.J. Cale you will dig this album. Although it has a country feel, it is also funky and bluesy at times. This album goes down easy, listen to it with intention – there’s a complexity that is worthy of your attention.

The album is available now on some streaming services (e.g. it is on Spotify, but not on Tidal) and will be available on vinyl June 19.

Jason Isbell – Reunions

If there was an algorithm based on my taste, Jason Isbell would be a top suggestion. However, I wasn’t a fan, but it looks like Reunions may change that.  Isbell checks a lot of my boxes:

  • He is a little bit country, what we used to call country rock or southern rock and today we call roots, Americana or alt-country
  • He is a singer-songwriter
  • He is a great guitarist
  • He is a brilliant live performer (I saw him in a double feature – I was there for Father John Misty)

Somehow, I have not caught Isbell fever, until now. So what happened? Well seeing him live last summer was a good start. Recently I heard one of the teaser singles: “What’ve I Done To Help,” on the radio and it stopped me in my tracks. Then I heard him interviewed by Rick Rubin on Broken Record.  So I gave the new album a receptive listen and I liked it – more than liked it – I loved it. 

What do I like? The album reminds me of the 70s era Jackson Browne – in the lyrics, the country-rock arrangements, and overall emotional tone. He has a unique soulful country voice – a touch of Greg Allman in his tone. He shreds on the guitar, but in service of the song – he is not showing off. He tells concrete stories in his songwriting. He has not turned a corner – I could say this about all his albums (I have been backtracking through his catalog). But for some reason Reunions really resonates with me.  

Reunions has so many great lines and images:

  • Regarding drinking: “It gets easier but it never gets easy”
  • Remembering childhood: “A dreamsicle on a summer night in a folding chair/Witch’s ring around the moon/Better get home soon”
  • Marrying off a daughter: “It’s easy to see that you’ll get where you’re going/The hard part is letting you go”

Now that I have the Isbell bug, I am looking forward to digging into his catalog.  Reunions is going to be one of my summer of 2020 jams.  

EoB – Earth

I have said before that I have a love-hate relationship with Radiohead. Overall I am a fan, but some of their stuff is weird for the sake of being weird. It’s almost like they are trying to scare you away. Ed O’Brien, a guitarist in Radiohead, has made a highly accessible album, Earth, performing under the name EOB.

It is Radiohead-lite which is a good thing for me and Coldplay for others.  There are some Nick Drake pop-folk vibes, U2 (U2 producer Flood produced Earth), and New Order dance music.  There are plenty of guitars (thank you!), surprisingly solid vocals (Thom Yorke hogs the vocals in Radiohead so you wouldn’t have known), and excellent sonics. The album ends with a nice duet with Laura Marling (one of my favorite young artists).

There is nothing particularly innovative here, but I sure like it. If Radiohead lost you as a fan after OK Computer and you enjoy Radiohead imitators, like Coldplay and Keane, then you’re will probably dig this album.

Secret Sisters – Saturn Return

I checked out this album because of Brandi Carlile. I officially became a fan of Brandi after watching her performance of “The Joke” at the 2019 Grammys. I had listened to her before, but not really LISTENED. So when Brandi started to hype this album, I knew I was going to LISTEN.

The Secret Sisters are a singing and songwriting duo consisting of vocalists Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle. Laura and Lydia are sisters from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Their style is Americana and they remind me of the Everly Brothers, mid-70s Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, and of course Brandi Carlile.

The album was produced by Carlile and the Hanseroth twins and recorded in Carlile’s home studio in Washington state.

Per the Sister’s website:

The album is named after an astrological occurrence in which the planet Saturn returns to the same place in the sky that it occupied at the moment of a person’s birth. During this phase, which happens approximately every 29 ½ years, said Laura, a woman “comes into her own and has this awakening in herself about who she is as a person. It can also be a very traumatic time where your whole world just seems to radically shift.”

There is nothing better than sibling harmonies and the Rogers sisters are top-notch. They trade lead vocals song to song and sometimes within the song.

The sisters are great songwriters.  The mark of a great song is that it sounds familiar yet new; Saturn Returns effortlessly embraces that contradiction. They are able to comfortably convey both sweet and dreadful memories with élan.

The album has a gorgeous 70s singer-songwriter vibe. The Carlile/Hanseroth production modernizes that vibe into a perfect folk-pop sound that sounds timeless.

Don’t be deceived by the gentle beauty of this album, this is deep and soulful art.

Lucinda Williams – Good Souls Better Angels

Damn!  Lucinda is pissed, but not without hope. This is an artistic reaction about the devil in our midst. A devil who has leveraged organized crime, political corruption and racism – as Lu says in  “A Man Without A Soul:”

You’re a man without shame

Without dignity and grace

No way to save face

You’re a man without a soul

The album was recorded at long time Williams’ collaborator Ray Kennedy’s vintage-equipped studio. According to Williams website, she and

“…her longtime band – guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton, and drummer Butch Norton – cut most of the songs in two or three takes, with the rhythm section’s rock-solid pulse and Mathis’ versatile sonic attacks backing Williams’ distinctive passion-drenched vocals.”

Musically this album rocks. It is bluesy, swampy, rootsy and at times is out right hard rock. There are raw and gentle moments. The production and arrangements are absolutely perfect.

The band is fantastic and Stuart Mathis guitar playing is otherworldly. His scorching licks are the perfect foil to Lucinda’s drawl/growl.

Lyrically Williams volleys between poetry and slogans. The songs have anger and sadness, but they also have compassion and hope.

Good Souls And Better Angels is good therapy in these troubled times. In an NPR interview Williams says:

I was going to say earlier when we were talking about “Not a good time to put an album out”: Ironically enough, [for] this particular album, this is probably the perfect time for it to come out.

This is a perfect time for the album to come out. In a time when:

Liars are venerated

Losers, congratulated

Cheaters, celebrated

Please compensate it

Vultures satiated

Murders, exonerated

Guilty, vindicated

Innocent, incarcerated

Perfect indeed.

Batch 1 of Wheel Horse Rye

I saw this on the shelf at my local liquor store (Top Ten) on sale for $25 and gave it a try. It is excellent, it is sweet and hot (101 proof). Per the whiskey’s web site:

Wheel Horse Rye is a sour mash whiskey, distilled and matured at O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro, KY. We us a 95% rye (5% malted barley) mash, and distill exclusively in copper stills. Maturation is done in 53-gallon, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Our barrels age in rick houses that have been on the property for up to 90 years. We do not chill-filter our whiskey. We do not adulterate our whiskey in any way.

My first reaction was that it was hot maple syrup. But further savoring has revealed more nuances: vanilla, caramel, and of course rye. It is sweet, but not too sweet. Served neat it burns your nose hairs when you take a deep whiff – got to love the 101 proof! So the sweetness is a nice balance to the heat.

This is an excellent value whiskey. For me it is too flavorful to mix – that would seem like a waste – I like it neat or over a big piece of ice, even my wife likes it neat. Give this new whiskey a try.

Bob Dylan – I Contain Multitudes

Dylan dropped another treat late Thursday night (4/16/20). Bob has never had a more autobiographical song title.

I put this on repeat and walked around the lake. I love it, but I worry. This sounds like the last words of a dying man. But I will remain calm as Bob wears a mask better than any artist I know.

I sing the songs of experience like William Blake

I have no apologies to make

Everything’s flowing all at the same time

I live on a boulevard of crime

The song’s narrator is trying to explain himself:

I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods

I contain multitudes

Like all great Dylan songs, it sets a mood and is a fascinating puzzle.

Musically this is similar to Dylan’s other recent song “Murder Most Foul.” Sparse: an acoustic guitar and a little pedal steel. Again, he is borrowing the croon of his recent standards album. The song is of a normal length.

After nearly drowning us in the great American standards, Dylan is back with a couple of original masterpieces in “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes.” Hopefully, a full album is on the way.