Matthew Davies – Wish Peak

wish peak

I’ll start by saying I’ve had a particularly difficult time writing my review of Matthew Davies’ solo album Wish Peak. Simply stated, it’s a fantastic album from possibly one of the best songwriters I’ve heard doing his or her thing lately. The fact that this entire album appears to have been recorded by Matthew in his spare time up in his attic playing each part completely by himself seems mind –boggling to me. His work here is truly inspired. If that’s enough for you to skip my review and go directly to the links below to listen for yourself, please feel free to do so. Judge for yourself the truth of my statements. If you want more, you’re welcome to keep reading.

Let me try to explain why I think this review was so difficult for me to write upon further reflection. I listened to the first minute of the first song “People” and had to hit pause. I stopped. I wasn’t sure what to make of what I just heard. “Who does this guy think he is?” I thought to myself. It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE Bob Dylan fan. I own nearly every one of his records (I’ve at least heard them all of course). I’ve had stretches of my life when Dylan was the ONLY thing I could listen to. Suffice it to say I can be a bit obsessive and even defensive regarding Dylan and his music. The first minute of Matthew Davies’ “People” with its simple melodic electric guitar, bouncy bass, strumming acoustic guitar rhythms, subtle tambourine on the 2 and 4, and punchy harmonica blowing a country/folk melody made me immediately skeptical of Matthew and what he was doing. And the voice… holy shit, if that ain’t right out of New Morning era “back-to-form” yet this time road-worn matured nasally Dylan. Davies begins “It’s a dying art, and it’s awfully hard, just living day to day… from the day you first stand, you’re supposed to make plans, it’s off to work and drag your chains… some people go with Jesus, some people put their faith in books, some people give and give, some of us are just common crooks… some people chase after love, some people chase after gold, but I’ll take my chances out on the open road.”  Oh yes he did. And did I mention the slight delayed delivery at the end of the phrase between “open” and “road?” Yeah… yeah… I know… who does he think he is?

I took a break, stepped out of the room, got myself one more cup of coffee for the road (see what I did there?), then sat back down and listened to the whole album start to finish. This was about a month or so ago, and I’ve been listening to this album nearly every day since. Let me assure you Matthew Davies is no cheap imitator. Listen carefully and there’s no doubt Dylan’s had a big influence, but like anyone who truly loves Dylan, we all find our way listening to all the folk, blues, country, jazz, and rock n roll that influenced him. Davies continues down his own path taking the primitive building blocks of the poetic Northern Mid-West of Americana and taking it further on up the road. I like everything about this album, yet certain songs stand out to me as exemplary instances of Davies capturing those essential nuggets from life’s trials and tribulations. There’s the spooky yet reassuring “Nature’s Baptism.” The oddly prescient “Nicole (leave your guns at home),” which obviously points to the seemingly unending cyclical nature of violence. Davies reminds us “if you’ve got anger in your soul, let it go, don’t let it grow.” My personal favorite “Darker Side of Life” leaves me in awe every time I listen. I love “Super Jealous” too with its raw bluesy jangly grit. However, honestly, there’s not a dud on this album. Each song is worth the price of admission. So go check it out for yourself.

Follow this link to the website and click the Music tab to stream or download the songs “People” and “Super Jealous” right now off Wish Peak. The full album will be available when released on January, 11th.

Also, I highly recommend you go searching Matthew Davies’ back catalog via bandcamp to listen to and hopefully buy Highway Specific and Black Phone Mouthpiece.

Matthew Davies tours with and plays with his band The Thriftones, and I believe they’ll have a debut “band” album out soon too, so keep an eye out.


Dee’s Top 10 list of albums for 2012

Kazimierz_Przerwa-Tetmajer_listening_to_radioLet me just start by saying that I’m not a huge fan of ranking artistic endeavors. All this stuff is relatively subjective anyway, right? So with that in mind I’m just offering my personal Top 10 favorites. I put them in order of how I favor each personally, but that just happens to be my current mood as I look back. I tried to be true to my own personal feelings as opposed to trying to conform to some objective belief about their larger artistic value.

Let me also say that I’ve separated out 3 albums by 3 iconic figures whose musical presence in my mind loom so large that I cannot fairly put them in the same category for ranking. They deserve something beyond rank to me. Perhaps ALL albums deserve something beyond rank, but… it is what it is. This ain’t rocket science. I just hope that if you haven’t heard something I’ve listed, that you go check it out for yourself and give it a listen. I think you’ll enjoy it.

3 Albums by 3 Icons:

Bob Dylan – Tempest

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill

Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas

Anyway, with all that out of the way, I humbly offer a list of my Top 10 favorite albums of 2012:

10. Lambchop – Mr. M

9. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – Our Lady of the Tall Trees

8. Will Johnson – Scorpion

7. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

6. Woods – Bend Beyond

5. The Black Swans – Occasion for Song

4. Elephant Micah – Louder Than Thou

3. Simon Joyner – Ghosts

2. Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon

1. Water Liars – Phantom Limb

Goodnight, Texas – A Long Life of Living

Goodnight, Texas gets its name from the town midway between the homes of San Francisco’s Avi Vinocur and North Carolina’s Patrick Dyer Wolf who refer to themselves as a transcontinental collaboration. Their debut album A Long Life of Living is a collection of well-crafted, sweet, thoughtful, and sometimes even fun modern folk songs delivered with precision and heart. To me the music of Goodnight, Texas is what I wish audiences who adore Mumford & Sons would listen to, and who knows perhaps they will. These songs seem just as accessible to a wide audience, yet to me are superiorly crafted both lyrically and musically.

A Long Life of Living begins with the creative play on Bob Dylan’s classic “Maggie’s Farm” called “I’m Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm Forever” where instead of defiance, the narrator this time seems resolved to his fate despite his fantasies of offing the boss and burning the whole place to the ground. The song is deep and sung with dramatic beauty of something reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” I know when a song is particularly well written when I wake up with it stuck in my head. This actually happened to me with two separate songs on separate occasions while listening to this album over the course of a couple of weeks – “I’m Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm Forever” and “Old Saint John.” Both great songs that tend to stick with you. One of my favorites found on this album is the truly beautiful “California You’re a Hole in My Heart.” While the other stand-out for me is “The Railroad,” a slightly dark throbbing rootsy blues drive with haunting vocal group call and response lines.

There’s just a lot to like about this album. Give it a listen and see for yourself.

Buy A Long Life of Living
Goodnight, Texas: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Brothers Lazaroff – Science Won

In the interest of full disclosure, Brothers Lazaroff and I are old friends, so feel free to consider that when reading my review. However, my personal history perhaps allows me a bit of a special perspective and appreciation of context when discussing Science Won, their most recent self-released album. It was originally released in April, but they had an additional “limited vinyl” release just a month or so ago, so that’s why I’m reviewing the album now. It’s also appropriate that our mutual hero (and some may suggest, obsession), Bob Dylan, just released his newest album Tempest this month. To me the influence of Dylan is crystal clear. Brothers Lazaroff are always searching and exploring just like Bob does. They are without a doubt rooted in American song, but they seem to constantly challenge their audience and coax them out of their comfort zone.

For those who don’t know, Science Won is Brothers Lazaroff’s fourth official album though there were a number of early Jeff Lazaroff Band and David Lazaroff solo releases that pre-dated the time when David moved back to the city of his birth, St. Louis, after living in Austin, Texas for a number of years. They are an accomplished songwriting team and particularly adept at enlisting other great musicians to their cause. The band, consisting of Grover Stewart on drums, Teddy Brookins on bass, and Mo Egeston on keyboards along with the interplay between Jeff’s solid guitar rhythms and David’s unique and expressive Robbie Robertson-esque leads make for exciting live shows and extremely creative work in the studio. In addition to superb musicianship and thoughtful lyrics, the band also features familiar lifting harmonies that convey the comfort and trust that only brothers can produce together. Very well known in the burgeoning local St. Louis music scene and to some extent in Austin, they are lamentably less known outside of the area. My hope is that changes.

Science Won continues to expand the band’s catalog of heady Americana. This album finds the guys nearly entirely acoustic and with very limited (if any) overdubs. I suppose you could call it their most “folky” record to date due to the acoustic sound pallet featured here (acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, piano, and brushes on a snare), but the way these songs are constructed and performed — one ear towards pop sensibilities and the other towards exploratory revelry — listeners are pushed past the usual folk boundaries. In lyric, song structure, melody, and instrumental delivery; this album moves with a certain unpretentious bop that owes its demeanor as much to the gracious and adventurous characters of these artists themselves as it does to their appreciation for all the jazz and folk artists that inspired them.

“Where You Going Now?” starts the album  off and despite its rather ominous and accusatory choral tone, the music is sweet, down-to-Earth, and refreshing — perhaps even hopeful. My absolute favorite song on this album is the third song “Under the Tree” (see below for recorded version via bandcamp and an extremely impressive live version via youtube). The lyrics here highlight the sometimes oppressive influence of our past and how as adults we now come face to face with our failings as we stand judged by the ghostly projections of our parents and grandparents and those of whom we may see as greater generations. Yet, the second verse finds a bit more balance in that the singer sees the plurality of judging opinions and in that finds the freedom to plead for his own way and perhaps the rest of our generation in “Can’t we just find our own quiet place under the tree?” It’s beautiful and powerfully redemptive. However, later verses seem to subtly recognize the paradox inherent in pure subjectivity. Here we finally find true balance somewhere closer to respect for our past and each other’s opinions rather than fear or even disdain.

There is a lot to like on this album, and I think it has such a breadth that lots of different people could find lots of their own unique preferences towards different songs for entirely different reasons. “Picking Up Sticks” and “35 Summers” are two of my favorites due to their somewhat darker and stranger tones, lyrics, and structures. I love the acoustic guitar on the truly beautiful “When Light Betrays the Night” with its edgy fret buzz that’s comparable to how a flamenco picker may use it to raw biting perfection. Then of course there’s the seemingly Stereolab-inspired beauty “It’s All Relative” which was such a pleasant surprise when I first heard it. Check it out for yourself and find whatever fancies you in this album and try to figure out for yourself whether you really think Science Won. 

{Special Note: Please check out their kickstarter campaign, which is a collaborative effort between Brothers Lazaroff and Austin, TX rockabilly chick (and current member of the quintessential Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel) Elizabeth McQueen and consider becoming a backer.}

Stream and buy Science Won 
Brother Lazaroff: Website; Facebook; Kickstarter

Denver – Denver

Denver is an excellent six-piece band based out of Portland, Oregon featuring some area players that include a couple members from the band Blitzen Trapper. Denver’s self-titled debut album is a great collection of classic country sounding songs about losing love, moving on, dancing, and looking for positives in life that you just have to dig a little to find.

If there was any justice in the world, this is the kind of country music that would be playing on every mainstream country music radio and television station instead of what I’ve read Vince Gill describe as “you’re sexy, I’m sexy, let’s get in my truck” type of modern pop songwriting that passes for country music these days. Denver’s music is accessible. It’s got that high lonesome sound, but with lyrics that temper your blues with that important ounce of optimism and maybe even a dash of fun in the right spots. The overall sound definitely has an early 70s throwback country type feel with banjo, mandolin, harmonica, pedal steel guitar, bluegrass inspired harmonies, and lifting lead vocals bathed in a classic reverb and southern drawl. To put it simply, it just works. Some of these songs are sweet and slow and others fly just shy of full on honky tonk romps.The band is tight and accomplished and seems like they’d be pretty badass to see live.

Anyone else love The Flying Burrito Brothers? If so, I’m gonna venture to guess that you’re gonna dig this band. Take a listen and see for yourself.

Purchase Denver
Denver: Website; Facebook

The Black Swans – Occasion for Song


Occasion for Song is the newest slow-moving, sorrowful effort from the Black Swans. This album is heartfelt and eloquently delivered. Jerry DeCicca’s almost delicate voice and meticulously melancholy lyrics essentially forces the listener to lean into the music ever so slightly to hear and understand. The end result is engagement by the audience. I don’t think I can explain how important I think that is in this fast-paced, short-attention world we find ourselves in today. You don’t want to miss anything that’s being said, and the payoff is significant when you’ve been able to attend to the moment while truly listening.

This is an Alt. Country / Americana / Folk type collection of songs here with crunchy vibrato soaked electric guitar, banjo, harmonica, and organ. The songs are about the lives of ordinary people in Midwestern towns. Ordinary people who face seemingly inevitable tragedies in one form or another I suppose. I think of the song “Portsmouth, Ohio” as the center or foundation of this record and trying to describe its heartbreaking beauty couldn’t really do the song justice. So I ask you to just listen. There are of course other great standouts as well. “JD’s Blues” and “Where Are You Tonight” are both excellent songs that really grabbed me and pulled me in. The album is sad I guess, but in a way that’s honest and straight forward about how the only real way through is just to keep going. And in that sense I’m thankful for the full 12 songs on Occasion for Song. I want to keep going with this band and exploring the songs as I listen multiple times and appreciate how deeper meanings unfold with repetition.

I don’t want to compare the Black Swans to other artists because such comparisons are never fair and they always seem kind of pointless to me. However, I just offer a few names such as Silver Jews, Smog, and Lambchop for mere reference and varying degrees of relatedness to this kind of music here. Actually, for a slightly strange unexplainable reason, I’m reminded of the Traveling Wilburys as I’m listening to Occasion for Song despite the fact that there’s only one vocalist. Anyway, for people who enjoy those artists, I strongly suggest giving the Black Swans and this album a try if you aren’t already familiar.

The Black Swans: website

You can purchase a CD at Misra Records’ Grandma’s Store

“Portsmouth, Ohio”

Southeast Engine – Canaanville EP

Canaanville is the latest EP from Ohio indie folk rockers Southeast Engine. This collection of four new songs seems to be a continuation of their critically acclaimed album Canary (a must-have in my opinion). Stories of hope and despair in half-abandoned towns in Appalachia and the people that strive to survive harsh new economic conditions. For fans who loved Canary, here’s your chance to get a few more songs that you’re sure to love just as much. For the uninitiated though, you’re in for a real treat as you learn about this great band. I recommend you buy both Canary and the Canaanville EP, and then quickly proceed to checking out their back catalogue as well.

Canaanville is not a collection of album rejects or anything of that nature. These are strong songs. The band’s respect for these songs is palpable in their reverent delivery and for good reason. Adam Remnant’s songwriting shines as brightly as ever and sheds light on the hard lives of hard people. “Great Awakening” and “C&O Railway” stand out to me as particularly powerful songs.

Enjoy and try to catch them live as they tour through your town.

Southeast Engine: website

Buy Canary for $12 and get free Canaanville EP from Misra Records: grandma’s store

“Old Oak Tree”

Michael Chorney and Dollar General – Dispensation of the Ordinary

The self-taught prolific and innovative musician and songwriter Michael Chorney’s most recent effort with band Dollar General  is called Dispensation of the Ordinary.

The album is laid back and beautifully raw. Interesting sounds bubble up from all around, but they seem to all come together coherently. Chorney and band’s use of dissonance throughout is subtle and in my opinion fuels the creativity of each song. The vocals are unassuming and grounded. As he says in the opening song “Bewildered,” Chorney is just “doing his best to sing ‘em true.” The music is pretty, and I mean that in a good way. Truly interesting elements of jazz are weaved in throughout the album. Containing primarily acoustic instruments with syncopated rhythms and swirling instrumentation with the inclusion of a dreamy pedal steel guitar, Dispensation of the Ordinary does just that. It does away with the ordinary.

I like albums that open its listeners up to possibilities, and Dispensation of the Ordinary does that for me. I hear new ideas. I see possibilities previously unconsidered for melody, feel, and arrangement. The music floats like broken pieces of an iceberg on the sea. Songs like “Bewildered,” “Raft,” the truly inspired revision of “Run To My Jesus (For Refuge),” and “What We Call Love” particularly stand out to me.

Take a listen and explore Chorney’s innovative world for yourself.

Michael Chorney: Website

Download the album on Bandcamp

Water Liars – Phantom Limb


Phantom Limb was released in February, but I’m shamefully only now hearing it. It’s excellent, and if you haven’t heard of Water Liars or their debut album, or maybe you’ve heard of ‘em, but haven’t gotten around to listening just yet, you should do so immediately. It’s a beautifully reckless revelation of the vulnerabilities inherent in stark realities. Water Liars will immediately resonate with fans of artists like Jason Molina, Damien Jurado, Jason Isbell, A.A. Bondy, etc.

This is just an excellent all around album. It’s soulful in just about every way. From their mournful harmonies to their slow warm guitar chords to their spacious and deep drum beats. It all seems to go well with a glass or more of bourbon. Ask me how I know.

Phantom Limb begins with a grungy distorted guitar riff that does its job in baptizing the weak of heart and easily distracted into the alluringly harsh realities of the Water Liars’ world. The first song, “$100,” is a rocker with a somewhat sweet melody and harmony. Perhaps a contradiction you may say, but it fits when you consider that the song is essentially a love song about inviting lust and danger by paying for the services of a prostitute that robs the narrator of his wallet and leaves him with a busted jaw. And despite lamenting that he “wishes he had never,” at least he got to feel perfection if only for a short while.

Songs like “Dog Eaten,” “Whoa Back,” “Low and Long,” and “On the Day” are heart breakers. They’ll make you cry if you’re not careful, but perhaps that’s what you need. It’s as if there’s just this dull constant throbbing pain of memories and regrets. Or if you’re in the mood for fighting, perhaps a song like “Short Hairs” is more your speed. You really can’t go wrong listening to this album, so sit back and relax and let some of the other engineering weirdness like feedback and tape hiss and recordings of poet sermons wash over you as you take it all in. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Water Liars: Website; Facebook

Go buy the album from Misra Records’ store

Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands – The Fabled Canelands

The Fabled Canelands is the debut album from Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands, and it is a spectacular debut at that. The album is like a journey that begins moving West up over those Appalachian Mountains into the new frontier and ends where all water travels west of the mountains down the Mississippi River and into New Orleans. While rooted in the circumstances and perhaps myths of the past, this album is very much situated in the now. It expresses longing, and heartache, hope, despair, and wonder. However, perhaps most importantly, it leaves its listener with the sense that she or he is somehow better for having listened and taken in the lessons of those fabled canelands.

Warren Byrom has a fantastically expressive voice that radiates with a deep sense of hope and to some extent even a sense of innocence. Not the kind of hope and innocence that boarders on ignorance, but the kind that comes from having what one might call an “open soul.” You can’t help but connect with Warren and what he’s singing about. The other musicians on this album are excellent. They help stitch together a patchwork quilt into this blanket that covers everything in its warm goodness. The overall musicianship is great. It’s raw, but in all the right ways. It feels comfy. The album is country and folk of course, but what I think sets it apart is its artful use of the distilled elements of Dixie blues and jazz so effortlessly and creatively. The kind of jazz played here that seems to be lost on so many alt-country roots artists these days is the same kind that formed in the musical jambalaya of the Southern frontier before there were differentiations between jazz and blues and folk and country and string band music. However, here, Warren and band don’t fall into the other pitfall that often plagues some roots artists recently in that they never sound like a lost-in-the-past copy cat revival show. The music is influenced by the past while still remaining firmly in the now.

The album opens with “That First Kite,” which is an original arrangement that utilizes a James Baker Hall poem as its lyrics. Warren and band masterfully arrange this hauntingly beautiful song, which sets the mood for the rest of the album quite nicely.

The song “The Fabled Canelands” shows off the band’s more folk rock and alt-country sensibilities, but the increased pace and instrumentation doesn’t cause any loss in lyrical poignancy with lines like, “I feel like a bat, my signal ain’t coming back, it just disappears into the night.” There are a few other rockers on this album like “Heavy Dragoons” that sounds like it could have come off of any of Bob Dylan’s recent albums since Love & Theft or “Song for Jayce” that could easily feel at home on a Wilco record. You should listen to these with the stereo loud. Is it time for a road trip?

There are some other real gems on this album as well. “Home” is a beautifully sweet song about a broken relationship and longing to “put us back together.” It has a gorgeous and sublimely subtle organ part and to go with heartbreaking lines like, “The bird that marries the fish, where they supposed to be living?” Or there’s the folky jazz walkabout called “Sidewalk Kings of New Orleans” delivered with a drawl like a slightly inebriated Hayes Carll busking down on Bourbon Street. There’s the lyrically irreverent and classic country sounding song “Nickel and Dime” equipped with pedal steel guitar. As well as the weary cosmic folk dream called “Sleep.”

Overall, The Fabled Canelands is just a great record. I highly recommend it and consider it essential listening to roots music fans. I expect big things for Warren and band in the future. Check and see if they’re coming to a town near you and see them live.
–Written by Dee Thomas

Stream & Buy The Fabled Canelands
Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands’ Facebook