The Manly Deeds – Hard Times For The Animal Kingdom

Cover art for Hard TImes For The Animal Kingdom by The Manly Deeds

When I was nine, I got my first minibike, a used Yamaha GT 80. Tellingly, the purchase involved a cardboard box of inessential parts removed by a combination of gravity and vice grips. The remainder of the bike was dented and twisted, with the worst of its bruises covered up by a swell coat of magenta house paint. When you got it running (never a sure thing), the gas tank would rattle between your legs, chattering and shaking. And there was no quiet mode: the damn thing was loud. When you finally let the clutch out, however, you forgot what it sounded liked, what it looked like and just enjoyed the sheer pleasure of the ride.

The Manly Deeds remind me of that minibike. They start themselves up, revving their mandolin far past the red line, the junk percussion starts clanking, the bass drops in, the tension builds and you’re pretty sure they’re going to come apart at the seams. Then the screaming starts and off they go… a streak of joy and danger heading to the nearest watering hole.

Sure, the title cut to their album Hard Times For The Animal Kingdom is an environmental anthem of sorts, but it’s an irreverent one, reminding us that we’re as beastly as the next species:

Well I get high like a bird
and I get busy like a bee
and you can’t buy much
when times are tough
but we can f___ for free

What makes Hard Times stand out from other punky bluegrass albums is that The Manly Deeds know how to mix it up, throwing in a couple of minor key dirges like “Tomorrowland” and “Minnie The Moocher.” They also never let the cacophony obscure the lyrics, which bring interesting twists to old themes. In “St. Paul Girls,” brothers Adam and Jason Aud sing:

Those St. Paul girls are always smiling
always smiling when I come around
those St. Paul girls are always smiling
always smiling when I come around
but those St. Paul girls keep on smiling
when I’m gone

Formerly known as “The Middle East,” The Manly Deeds, hail from Maryland and reference the midwest whenever possible. I’m not sure of their geographical past but let’s just assume they get around some.  And I’m hoping that they get around me soon because I bet they put on a hell of a live show.

Visit The Manly Deeds Website

Stream and Purchase Hard Times For The Animal Kingdom

The Peach Kings

Here’s some audio-visual goodness to get your weekend rolling. The Peach Kings play a down-and-dirty kind of noir rock that seems like equal parts PJ Harvey and Raymond Chandler.  The video for their song “Thieves and Kings” is artsy, sexy and entertaining. Said differently, it’s all of the Lana Del Rey at a fraction of the hype.  Now I like the two songs I’ve heard from Lana Del Rey and I don’t think it’s fair to hold the attention she’s received against her. I also like it when new musicians who make good music get discovered. What I find puzzling, however, is how our music culture turned into such a winner-take-all kind of playing field. In a fairer world — a world where John Peel came back from the dead and was appointed CEO of Clear Channel — The Peach Kings would be receiving a decent portion of that hype as well.

Bonus:  be sure to check out their website where you can download their three-song EP Trip Wop for free.

Derrick Hart – Prodigal Songs

Cover art for Prodigal Songs by Derrick Hart

The term “distressed” gets applied to everything nowadays: clothes, furniture, photos, etc. Usually, the process involves a fast-forward wear-and-tear cycle upon said object in the hopes of applying a quick aura of authenticity. It’s sort of like the spray-on tan equivalent for the school of hard knocks.

But there are also those people who try hard not to let their distress show… who try to wrap their psychic bumps, cuts and bruises in a new coat of beauty because the last thing they want to be reminded of is how those various wounds came to be. Derrick Hart seems to be one of those folks.

Hart’s album Prodigal Songs was begun in 2002 but wasn’t released until Christmas day last year. On his Bandcamp site, Hart explains the nine year delay:

I was addicted to drugs & alcohol for a long time, making very little progress as the next couple years went by. My songs were mostly pitiful junkie autobiographies about things like being up to my neck in hospital bills from nearly dying of drug overdoses a handful of times.

When 2005 arrived there wasn’t much left of my life at all. I was homeless, in my own personal hell of full-blown addiction. My mother convinced me to go to a long term rehab at Denver Rescue Mission in Denver, CO USA. There I stayed for the next year & a half, slowly recovering from the damage done as my spirit began to awake. I wrote songs about my redemption & recorded them on a 4 track well into 2006 right there in the institution.

It’s a dream of mine that this record will be able to pass along a message of hope & to let anyone out there who needs it know that you are not alone.

Musically, the album is reminiscent of Mark Linkous and his project Sparklehorse. It’s a collection of slow acoustic songs mixed with samples, loops, and ambient sound. For instance, the opening track “You’ll Have It All” sets hopeful lyrics against a tragic sounding waltz. Strange noises like a heartbeat filtered through an ultrasound fade in and out. “Sewn In My Heart” takes a similar approach, telling a story about how Hart impacted those around him during his battle with addiction.

The highlight of the album — at least for the optimists of the world — is the album’s closing track, “What A Beautiful World,” and it’s here we should come back to the subject of Mark Linkous. Like Hart, Linkous battled with addiction and had hopeful-sounding titles like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “It’s A Sad & Beautiful World.” Yet Linkous always seemed to be coming at these songs from the midst of his own hell and in March of 2010 he committed suicide. In “What A Beautiful World,” however, Hart sings from the redemptive side of his experience, from the perspective of someone who was able to put his demons to rest. In a voice and tone much like Linkhous, Hart sings “We live in a world of beauty and sometimes it can blow your mind.”

Yep. Even after life has thoroughly kicked your ass, it can still blow your mind.

Stream and purchase Derrick Hart’s Prodigal Songs.

In A Wild Deep – A Small Collection of Folk Tales

Cover art for A Small Collection of Folk Tales

Although I’ve been listening to In A Wild Deep’s A Small Collection of Folk Tales EP since November, I still find myself with brain freeze every time one of the six songs shuffles to the top of my iPod. Which for me, is kind of weird. I may not be able to remember my own phone number but once I’ve heard a band, it’s permanently imprinted in my brain. Thus, the paradox of being intrigued enough to want to know who’s singing the song —  while repeatedly forgetting who sang the damn thing — has me a bit stumped.

Part of my problem may be the complex stew of different styles and influences in the music. The opening bars of “Before the Desert Night Was Cold” are reminiscent of Jim White’s Wrong-Eyed Jesus.  Later on in the album I hear Animal Collective-like textures and a banjo that sounds like it could be from a Sufjan Steven’s album.  Despite the multiple comparisons, there’s something very original going on here, especially in the complexity of the arrangements and song structures.

A Small Collection of Folk Tales is based on a book of stories that was handed down to singer-songwriter Black Reed by his grandfather.  On the In A Wild Deep Bandcamp site, Reed says, “…I can only hope this music lets you feel a little bit of the way I felt reading them over and over again.”  While the production never lets the lyrics and stories come through in a clear way, there’s a very distinctive atmosphere that gets created here… one that is a bit dark but also gentle and compelling.  Consequently, the EP makes a perfect backdrop to the grey days of winter and reminds me a bit of the Icelandic band Slowblow with its layers of strange ambient sounds.

A Small Collection of Folk Tales passes in less than 25 minutes. Since I often find myself wanting more, I usually resort to listening to the EP more than once.  What would be really nice, however, is a full In A Wild Deep album. The news section of their website is rather sparse so it’s hard to say what they have in store for 2012 but with great songs, vocals and arrangements, In A Wild Deep is definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Download A Small Collection of Folk Tales (name your own price)

In A Wild Deep Website

My Favorite Gifts

My Favorite Gifts Cover Art

The Avett Brothers have brought me plenty of joy over the past few years. Their live show is an authentic and raucous experience that exudes a love of both music and people. So this next bit of news from Avett bassist Bob Crawford broke my heart when I read it:

One month ago today my wife found our 22 month old daughter, Hallie, in her crib having a seizure. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital where an MRI revealed a brain tumor approximately one quarter of the size of her brain.

Surgeons were able to remove 90% of the tumor and decided to stop there as her vital signs were unsteady. Following surgery she suffered a stroke. Her condition was critical for the next several days as her brain continued to swell. In an attempt to save her remaining good brain she was placed in a coma for five days.

Since being removed from the coma, Hallie has undergone a second brain surgery, has been waking up, and is doing her best to recover quickly so she get ready for the next phase of her fight against cancer.

The tumor is a Grade 3 Ependymoma. This is a very rare, but deadly brain tumor that effects roughly 100 children a year in the United States. We do not know what Hallie’s next step is in her treatment. Her situation is very fluid and there are a number of complicating factors, but we do know that she is fighting hard every day.

My wife Melanie and I would like to thank everyone for their love, care, and support during the most difficult time in our lives. I would like to thank everyone for their understanding of the gravity of this situation and ask for respect to our privacy. When people ask us what they can do to help, we ask them to pray for Hallie’s recovery. We feel that God has already worked
miracles through Hallie and we pray they keep coming.

Someday I will return to the stage with my brothers. When that will be I can not say. We are truly living one day at a time.

Thank you again for your love and support for my family during this time.

I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Bob Crawford

The experience prompted Crawford to curate a collection of holiday music in conjunction with Ramseur Records. My Favorite Gifts includes contributions from The Avett Brothers, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The David Wax Museum, Wood Brothers, and Jim Avett (Papa Avett). All profits from the sale of the record will go to benefit the Vickie S. Honeycutt Foundation, an organization that aids families battling cancer.

My Favorite Gifts offers a stocking full of new holiday tunes and a means to practice some end-of-the-year philanthropy. For you last minute shoppers, there is always the “gift this album” option at the iTunes store.

Purchase Album

Andrew’s Picks For Best Albums of 2011

Best of 2011

David Wax Museum – Everything Is Saved
The Wealthy Orphans – A Little Piece of the Pie
A.A. Bondy – Believers
Bjork – The Crystalline Series – Omar Souleyman Versions
Case Studies – The World Is Just A Shape To Fill The Night
Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Gold Leaves – The Ornament
Lauderdale – Moving On
Low – C’mon
Chris Bathgate – Salt Year
Scotty Alan – Wreck and the Mess
The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
The Soft Moon – The Soft Moon
The Deep Dark Woods – The Place I Left Behind

At some point during this year, each of these albums was my favorite. It seems like Dawes’ Nothing Is Wrong and Lauderdale’s Moving On are the two that I keep coming back to the most but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be listening to A.A. Bondy’s Believers for years to come. Chris Bathgate came as a surprise to me and so did Bjork. I had heard Biophillia and played around with her new iPhone app but wasn’t really that moved. Then I heard the Omar Souleyman remixes and was blown away. The crazy instrumentation, percussion and riffs that Souleyman infused into Bjork’s songs instantly re-wired my brain. I had no idea that liked that I liked eastern music until I heard it.

The Deep Dark Woods was another album that snuck up on me. Usually after I review an album, I’ve listened to it enough that I’m kind of through with it. In the case of The Place I Left Behind, it still grew on me for another couple of months.

Michigan did itself well this year with some great releases. However, it was only Chris Bathgate’s Salt Year that got much press (and really, in comparison to how fantastic that album is, it wasn’t much). Scotty Alan and The Wealthy Orphans both released outstanding albums that so far, have stayed under the radar.

I wasn’t sure about David Wax Museum. I saw them at the Winnipeg Folk Festival this past summer and didn’t really know what to think. Everything is Saved, though won me over pretty quickly. From the upbeat “Broken Hearted Boy” to the dirgey “Night Was A Car,” they keep things interesting with great percussion, catchy melodies, and harmonies that melt your socks off. Their song “The Least I Could Do,” still destroys me every time I hear it.

It was sad to see The Dutchess and The Duke break up but Jesse Lortz’s new solo project, The Case Studies, is just as strong as his previous work. The song “Silver Hand” seems like it could be a classic 70’s cut from Glen Campbell.

I’ve been a Low fan for over a decade and a year with a new Low album is always a good one. I’m continually impressed how the band continues to evolve.

If you read my reviews this year, you probably know goth music holds a special place in my dark heart. The Soft Moon is one of the more exciting bands in this genre. Their self-titled LP came out early in the year when the earth was still frozen and everything looked bleak, which was entirely appropriate.

It took me awhile to appreciate Helplessness Blues by the Fleet Foxes. The title track is amazing and sounded like it could have come from their first album but the rest of Helplessness Blues sounded a more pastoral with hints of Fairport Convention. I did end up loving this album but first I had to give up wanting part two of their debut.

The Ornament by Gold Leaves is an excellent album. It’s suave. It’s gentle. It exists beneath a haze of reverb, tremolo, and washes of organ like many “it” indie bands like Girls and Beach House. But that’s where the similarity ends, because at its core, Gold Leaves seems more like country lounge music. If Nancy Sinatra had a little brother who was into indie rock, this might be the kind of music he would make.

One genre of music that’s never made much headway with me is prog rock. Despite loving most Decemberists albums, they lost me for a few years while they exercised their inner Rush and Yes demons. So for me, The King Is Dead was a welcome surprise as they returned to their folk and country roots.

Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders – Comes In Nines

Comes In Nines Cover ARt

Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders make me happy. It’s partly their dirty punk rock take on country music and it’s partly because they remind me of an early 90’s punk band called “23 More Minutes,” a group that has always been dear to my heart. 23 More Minutes mostly did the loud punk thing but they also threw in some acoustic numbers which, given the genre, seemed pretty risky at the time.

Comes In Nines is the first full length from Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders and they fit a lot of piss and vinegar into the album’s 33 minutes.  Like 23 More Minutes, this Harrisonburg, VA trio is not afraid of genre bending. In some songs they mix the old Bay Area pop punk sound with more traditional country instrumentation, like in “Jesse Lee and Daniel D” and the title track, “Comes in Nines.” On other songs, such as “Devil’s Blood,” they follow in the footsteps of The Gun Club and inject that lonesome desert sound into the musical stew. The album also has some pretty fantastic cover art.

One of my favorite things about listening to new bands is discovering how they ingest previous forms of music, chew them all up, and spit them out again.  And since we’re quickly coming up on Thanksgiving, I just gotta say that I’m grateful for genre-bending country and western punkers from the east coast.

Uncle Bengine Website

Download and/or Stream Comes In Nines

Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders – Jesse Lee and Daniel D