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.