Monday, October 31, 2011

Album Review: Have Gun Will Travel's Mergers & Acquisitions

Have Gun Will Travel - Mergers and Acquisitions (Suburban Home, 2011)

"'Have gun, will travel' reads the card of a man, a knight without armor in a savage land."

In addition to a western show about a gunslinger for hire, Have Gun Will Travel is also the name of a group of alt-folkers from Florida whose new album, Mergers and Acquisitions, comes out tomorrow on my favorite label, Suburban Home. Mergers is their first for SH, third overall.

I have to confess, despite being an alt-folk fan I never really paid much attention to HGWT.  I checked them out around the time their last album, Postcards from the Friendly City, came out, and it didn't really grab me. Mergers changed that, firmly putting HGWT on my radar of bands to watch. The album isn't even officially out yet (though people who pre-order can get an immediate digital version of the album) and already I can't wait to see where they take their music next.

With such a large amount of growth in the genre in recent years, it can be hard to be unique in alt-folk without being gimmicky. HGWT manage it, and despite not really sounding different from other alt-folk albums, Mergers doesn't really sound like any others either. There's a strong bluegrass vibe to all the songs, but none of them are really bluegrass. They don't go for straight bluegrass like their alt-folk contemporaries Old Man Markley, they don't even go for a punk-oriented bluegrass like Tin Horn Prayer. More like folk-rock. It's hard to really put into words what I mean, it's just as close to bluegrass as you can get while not being bluegrass at all. In fact, some songs are more like folk-pop, such as the Guster-esque opening track, "Dream No More."

It's hard to pick out actual influences in the band. For me, that's both a strength and a weakness. I like when I can pick out bits and know exactly where the band is coming from in writing it. But it also means that rather than ripping off other artists or trying to patch together a quilt of influences, the band instead blend their influences with their own style to create something that is completely theirs. The one exception to this is on "Song Of Seven Sisters," which sounds strongly like Bob Dylan back when he started playing with a full backing band. I believe this to be intentional, as the singer trades his usual alt-country twang vocal style with what sounds like a Dylan imitation. It's an interesting track that breaks up the flow of the album, but in a good way.

If you like Dylan or folky rock bands from the 60's and 70's (such as The Byrds), or if you like folk-pop bands like Guster, or if you like modern alt-folkers like Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry or alt-country bands like Two Cow Garage and Drag The River, I think there's a very strong chance you will like this album.

Favorite tracks: "Dream No More," "Freightliners," "Katharine, Don't Fall Off The Wagon," "Song Of Seven Sister"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Nominees 2012

I don't know how I missed this, but last month the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame announced their nominees for induction in 2012. The nominees for this year are:

  • The Beastie Boys
  • The Cure
  • Donovan
  • Erik B & Rakim
  • Guns N Roses
  • Heart
  • Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
  • Freddie King
  • Laura Nyro
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Rufus with Chaka Khan
  • The Small Faces/The Faces
  • The Spinners
  • Donna Summer
  • War

An eclectic mix, as usual. I'd like to see the Blackhearts inducted, especially since The Runaways haven't been inducted yet. I'd also like to see the Beastie Boys, I think they've had a good amount of influence in rock. Same with RHCP and Donovan. I don't really care much for Guns N Roses aside from a few songs, but they're probably likely to get in. Especially since the Hall Of Fame's online poll shows them in the lead:

There are a lot of artists that were eligible this year that didn't get nominated. I would have liked to see the Cro-Mags or Dag Nasty get nominated, but that doesn't seem too likely. Supposedly Joe Strummer was eligible for 2012 induction, but I checked out his discography and I don't think he actually is eligible. There's also a list here of artists that have been snubbed in previous years, and I could probably fill up a few posts listing the bands I'd like to see nominated from that list.

Anyways, any of you have any thoughts on who might get voted in, or snubbed artists you would have liked to see this year?

Future Rock Legends' list of artists eligible this year:
Future Rock Legend's list of snubbed artists:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Album Review - Elsie

The Horrible Crowes - Elsie (SideOneDummy, 2011)

Brian Fallon is apparently an acquired taste for me. When I first heard Sink Or Swim (XOXO Records, 2007), the debut album from his main band The Gaslight Anthem, I loved it immediately. But every subsequent release has taken me time to get into. I didn't care for their 2008 album The '59 Sound (SideOneDummy) at first, but after a couple listens it became my favorite of their albums.

His side band with former GA guitar tech Ian Perkins is no exception. I got it when it came out, listened to it, and didn't give it much thought. It was alright, but didn't meet my expectations based on pre-release interviews. On a whim, I put it back in my car's CD player the other day and realized that, like latter GA releases I just needed to give it another listen or two.

Most of the reviews I read of the album talked about how much it diverged from Fallon's main band, and to be honest I just don't hear it that way. Despite being written specifically for Horrible Crowes, many of the songs sound like they could have been GA tracks. The lead single, for example. As I listened to "Behold The Hurricane," I realized that I could have been told it was an unreleased song from the '59 sessions and I wouldn't have doubted it.

This should not be taken to mean that it sounds the same as GA. Every GA album has had one or two tracks that sound completely different from the rest of the album but still fit in perfectly. For the most part, Elsie is made up of tracks like those. While GA built their sound on New Jersey influence filtered through punk rock guitar sounds, Horrible Crowes put more focus on percussion, organ and piano as well as vocal style and non-traditional rock instrumentations. They also drop the Jersey influence in favor of a variety of other influences, mainly what Fallon called "night-time music" (in interviews, he specifically name-dropped Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Afghan Whigs among others). Horrible Crowes also trade GA's punk poetry lyrics style for a darker, more cryptic style.

The only song that truly sounds unique from GA is "I Witnessed A Crime," which takes on a weird vibe of a lounge act covering Bob Marley. It also has the most present Tom Waits influence, with Fallon's nearly spoken-word vocals taking on an atmosphere like a younger, less rough Waits.

Overall, a great album. Not Fallon's best recordings ever, but it certainly holds up to the rest of his discography so far. It's certainly not a party album, but sounds great on late-night drives through the rain.

Library Punk 2: Revenge Of The Library Punk

Earlier this year, I decided to take a week or two off from blogging to get over a cold and apply to some jobs. A series of events occurred and at the end of it I just didn't have the steam to get going again. Over the past couple months I have considered starting a new blog and scrapping this one entirely. After much introspection and contemplation, I have decided to restart the Library Punk blog. Posts will be slow for a while, but they will be coming.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bon Jovi Hates Steve Jobs For "Killing Music"

I'm in the middle of an unannounced two week break from the blog (as I finish getting over the nastiest cold I've ever had and apply to some more jobs). I wasn't going to post again until next week but I came across something that I felt compelled to post about.

Yesterday, I randomly saw a tweet that contained a quote from Jon Bon Jovi: "Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."Intrigued, I searched the quote and came across an article from the Huffington Post in which Bon Jovi explained how he thinks the Apple founder has killed music:

"Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album; and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it…God, it was a magical, magical time. I hate to sound like an old man now, but I am, and you mark my words, in a generation from now people are going to say: 'What happened?' Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."

So if I understand him correctly, the music business is dying because newer fans aren't holding a physical album in their hands while they listen. And I think that's the dumbest thing I've heard in the digital music debate. Music isn't dying, fan reaction to it is changing. It's similar to complaining that people want individual songs more than albums lately (which is itself something I want to touch on in a future post).

First of all, not everyone needs the physical product. I appreciate the music, not the format it comes in. I enjoy a song the same wether I'm listening to it on a record player, through my car's stereo or through my iPod headphones. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Not many people from my generation even own a record player unless they're vinyl collectors.

Second, not all music is digital. There are a handful of digital-only record labels, but they're still considered oddities. CDs are still being pressed in massive numbers and physical music stores still exist. Even if Bon Jovi wants to complain about CDs replacing vinyls, vinyl is still being made. There are whole companies (Vinyl Collective, for example) dedicated to pressing vinyl versions of albums (in fact, I almost bought the new Red City Radio album in vinyl format just a few weeks ago). And used record stores still continue to do large amounts of business.

Third, how is Steve Jobs to blame? Sure, iTunes is the number 1 retailer of digital music. But that only started in 2003, less than a decade ago. MP3, arguably the most well-known format of digital music, has been around since 1993. Digital music in general as we typically think of it has been around since the 1980s. If you're gonna blame digital music for killing the music industry, you should be blaming the creators of MP3, or Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. Not to mention that it's all about consumer preference. If digital music didn't sell, CDs would still be the dominant form. So really, Bon Jovi is blaming his fans, the people he depends on for his money. Nice move, Jon.

The way I see it, by blaming digital music for the death of the music industry, Bon Jovi is no better than a label exec driving his company into the ground because he refuses to change.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Band Of The Week: Go Glorious

Go Glorious are a band from Buffalo that I first heard of when they opened for Fake Problems at Mohawk Place in December. I enjoyed their set so I decided to check out their EP. I listened to it a few times in my car before I replaced to to relisten to albums contending for my Best of 2010 list. But I recently removed almost all of the CDs from my car to replace them with new music and in the interim time listened to the EP again.

The band play a high energy pop punk with a very active stage presence live. I get a lot of 90's influence from them, especially the punkier second wave emo bands like Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring or the less experimental moments of Bob Nanna's various bands (Friction, Braid, Hey Mercedes, etc). I like the singer especially. Not auto-tuned or overly polished, but not early-punk "bad singing makes it more punk." Just a guy singing as best as he can.

Check out the band's *website, it has links to their various social networking outlets as well as the songs on the EP. They only have 4 songs out now, but they can be streamed, downloaded indivudually or downloaded together along with the insert that comes with the physical version. It's free so really if you're reading this on a computer you have no reason not to check them out. I highly recommend you do.

*BTW, I love what the band did with their website. They registered the domain "goglorio"with the top-level domain ".us" so their url is the band's name, kinda like how used to be It's called "domain hacking" and it's awesome.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Band Of The Week: Jawbreaker

I was contemplating giving Red City Radio another week of being the Band Of The Week, due to their new album coming out yesterday (and it's GOOD, expect a review soon). But that's not really fair to all the other bands in the world. So instead, I chose a band I've been re-listening to a lot lately that deserves more recognition: Jawbreaker.

Jawbreaker was a highly influential punk band that formed in the mid-80's and lasted about a decade (Wikipedia says 1986-1996), at which point frontman Blake Schwarzenbach formed the also influential Jets To Brazil. Jawbreaker played an agressive, rough form of pop punk that helped pave the way for some of my favorite newer artists, such as The Menzingers and Dan Padilla. In the years they existed they put out 4 albums, Unfun (Shredder Records, 1990), Bivouac (1992, Tupelo/Communion Records), fan-favorite 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994, Tupelo/Communion Records) and Dear You (1995, DGC Records), which was a pretty good record but most fans hated the slick production as well as the cleaned-up vocal style.

Jawbreaker have been credited as being one of the bigger influences of the 90's emo revival. Schwarzenbach's heart-on-his-sleeve, confessional lyrical style drew in teenage listeners who heard their own thoughts and emotions in the songs. For example, "Want" from Unfun is a love song that strips away all romantic notions of teenage lust, with Schwarzenbach saying not "I love you" but simply "I want you." Or the non-album single "Kiss The Bottle," long held by fans as one of their best songs. The song romanticizes a drunk who would rather spend time at the liquor store than a lover in need of support.

Despite it's lack of popularity, I would recommend checking out Dear You. Also check out "Want," "Boxcar" from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (which contains my favorite line Schwarzenbach ever recorded: "You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone") and "Kiss The Bottle." There's also a pretty good tribute album titled Bad Scene Everyone's Fault (named from a track on Dear You), and Lucero do a really good cover of "Kiss The Bottle."