A little bit of pop trivia before we begin. “Plastic Soul” is of course, a term originally coined by an unknown black musician to describe Mick Jagger. Paul McCartney cited it as an influence on the album title of Rubber Soul. Whilst David Bowie described his excursions in soul and funk with the Young Americans album also as “plastic soul”.
Background Fruit Bats is an American rock band formed in 1997 in Chicago, Illinois. Noted as an early entrant into the folk-rock boom of the early 2000s, the group has had many personnel changes but revolves around singer/songwriter Eric D. Johnson. Two years after announcing the demise of Fruit Bats, Johnson is back with a new Fruit Bats album.
What makes new music worthy of anyone’s attention? Is it merely the fact that it’s contemporary and in a style and fashion that is popular and trendy? The pop music scene prizes glitzy superficiality over substance of any form to such an extent that the very art and craft of songwriting is in danger of withering away and going the way of the dinosaur.
Which is why every now and then, the discovery of a new singer-songwriter that adheres contrarily to the classic formats of 60s and 70s pop-rock is like a breath of fresh air, in a heavily polluted environment. Thus, ladies and gentlemen, in the background set out before, we give you Max Jury.
Jury released 2 EPs in 2014 – Something in the Air and All I Want: The Sonic Factory Sessions – and these seven incandescent songs represent some of the most promising rock ‘n’ roll (in the classic sense of that term) material of the last decade or so.
Songs like “Christian Eyes”, “All I Want”, “Black Metal” and “Something in the Air” uncannily channel the likes of John Lennon, Gram Parsons, Alex Chilton, Todd Rundgren et al through the razor-sharp perspective of a 21 year old American singer-songwriter.
We managed to get in touch with Max and he kindly responded to our queries.
How does a 21 year old get into someone like Gram Parsons who died 20 years before you were born?
I’m fascinated by the story and myth of Gram Parsons. I originally got into his solo work through Ryan Adams. And then I started listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers and his work with The Byrds.
There’s quite a fair bit of country music out there that’s popular but sadly, it’s mostly Top 40 mainstream pop fare that never challenges the mind and instead panders to the lowest common denominator. For something more cutting edge in the country music sphere, we need to continue to look at Alt-Country. Thankfully, that aspect of country music is still thriving (creatively, if not commercially) and one prime example can be found in Sleeping Operator, the sophomore effort from the Montreal-based Barr Brothers (viz. Brad Barr, Andrew Barr, Sarah Page, Andres Vial).
It’s always a wondrous experience when an artistically-minded band blends country with rock ‘n’ roll to produce soulful music that leaves the listener satisfied. To these ears, songs like “Wolves”, “Even the Darkness Has Arms” and “Half Crazy” recalls the likes of Steve Earle, The Jayhawks and even early WILCO – a wonderful evocation of Gram Parsons’ Cosmic American Music. The melodies glide effortlessly and the exotic instrumentation complements the same perfectly to send sympathetic listeners into country-folk-pop-rock bliss!
Australian based Dancing Heals has just releasing the gorgeous track, “Always on My Mind”, and are currently finishing up their second album, that captures more of their live sound and draws from longtime influences such as Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac. The band loves to wave the nostalgia flag and “Always On My Mind” is no different. A sonically raw reflection on the confusing emotions of letting someone go… and never forgetting.
Pony Boy, aka Marchelle Bradanini, puts a seductive, modern twist on the Americana sound with sultry vocals atop twangy, buzzing guitars. “Greatest Unknown” is simultaneously beautiful and eerie, sounding as though it belongs on a Twin Peaks soundtrack. Catch her live show in March and April as she opens for Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rockettes:
3/23: Birmingham, AL @ Zydeco
4/8: Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
4/9: Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
Country music mixed with rock n’ roll seemed like a logical conclusion as the roots of the latter was intertwined with the weight of inspiration of the former. The Flying Burrito Brothers, led by two former Byrds viz. Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, lit the touchpaper for the likes of The Eagles and Poco. Not only that, in-between his time with The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons provided the Rolling Stones with much know-how for the legendary country-folk-blues classics that followed. In the late 80s/early 90s, Parsons (who passed away from a drug overdose in 1973, aged 27) become the godfather of a new movement which brought elements of punk and alternative rock to Parsons’ self-styled Cosmic American Music.
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Christine’s Tune (Devil in Disguise)
So digging this new discovery. Tom Shaner is a singer-songwriter whose music (according to his bio) has been described many different ways, but there is usually a very rooted quality to it. Shaner is readying the release of his new album Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock and Roll produced by Charles Newman (Magnetic Fields) for Mother West Records. This is the official video for the first single, “Unstoppable Hipster” – am loving its Bob Dylan/Elvis Costello vibe. Review to come!
For the first half of this wonderful album, Portland-based outfit Sassparilla (Kevin Blackwell, Colin Macdonald, Ross Macdonald, Naima Muntal, Justin Burkhart and Ben Stewart) parlays the fundamental influences (country, folk, blues and rock n’ roll) into a potent mix. Armed with banjos, harmonicas, slide guitars and decent pop tunes – Magpie lives up to its promise of delivering authentic Beatlesque Americana and channeling the likes of The Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Steve Earle, Tom Petty, (early) Wilco, The Jayhawks and more.
“Another Circle of Fifths” (Off upcoming new album, Are’s and Els)
Okay, I clicked on this link because of the following –
Michael The Blind is Michael Levasseur, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist living in Portland, Oregon. Think Leonard Cohen, but not so low. Elliott Smith, but not so high. Suzanne Vega, but not so female. John Fahey when acoustic, Paul Westerberg when electric. A lyrical style that is both e.e. cummings and Mother Goose.
Now that’s winning copy! And what about that song title – which only music geeks will get? Priceless. The song itself, nasal high register voice, rockabilly rhythms, sawing violins and twang up to the wazoo. WIN WIN WIN WIN!
Country + Rock n’ Roll is still one of the most potent music out there in the modern rock wasteland. Thankfully, bands like Yukon Blonde is smart enough to eschew current obsessions with 80s post-punk/synth-pop and deal exclusively good old fashioned alt-country magic. For one week only, PoP visitors get to check out the upcoming new album – Tiger Talk – streaming in its entirety at Soundcloud. The album is due for released on 20th March. Can hardly wait!
What I really like about Winfred E Eye and its latest LP – Today Was Another Day – is that the band does not sound like it’s really trying too hard to please anyone. Except maybe themselves. There’s a casual, laidback vibe on this collection of songs that is both charming and daring. In some ways, songs like the ethereal “Void” and “Sentimental Junk” might come across like something off Bon Iver’s sophomore effort but it does not take itself as seriously. Know what I mean?
No? Well simply put although there are elements of ‘indie cred’ in Winfred E. Eye’s songwriting, overall the sound is so rustic and homespun, it seems that the band is taking the piss! It’s all very 70s Laurel Canyon most of the time, equal parts Neil Young and James Taylor in approach especially in songs like “Hard Time Comin'” and “Burnin’ Alone”. In fact, on the latter track, the discerning music lover may also find traces of Giant Sand’s so-called Desert Rock agenda. It is spare and uncomplicated, letting the plain folk melody and emotive words carry the power.
All said and done, Today Was Another Day is Americana at its very best – in whatever era you might be listening from, this arcane country-folk-blues-rock transcends mere ‘genre’ to deliver a potent magical strange brew. For want of a better word, this is magnificent alternative country.
Crooked Fingers – Eric Bachmann’s country-folk vehicle is back with another collection of warm rustic songs. The new album is called Breaks in the Armor and was released in late 2011. The wistful tone found on “Our New Favorite” is emblematic of Crooked Fingers‘ overall tone and style – heartfelt without mawkish sentimentality. There is a certain dissonance about the way the verse moves into chorus without interrupting the flow of the song (the angelic backing vocals smoothens things up nicely) that makes “Our New Favorite” particularly appealing.
According to label Merge Records‘ emailer – the video below was “directed and edited by James Fleischel” and “beautifully illustrates the feelings of impermanence and connectedness suggested by the song by capturing and slowing down the fleeting moments of everyday life.” No argument there! Expect a review soon. In the meantime…
Nothing quite like arcane americana even if it’s made north of the US border. This Canuck alt-country outfit revels in all things twangy and you can easily put their music side by side with Fleet Foxes, Jayhawks and Band of Horses. Quite brilliant.
While ah have your attention – check out Fire here.
I love alt-country/roots music/Americana (whatever) but you knew that. Here’s another country-folk chanteuse that will go all rustic on your ass. 24 year old Caitlin Rose has released her debut album – Own Side Now – and this live video of Spare Me finds Caitlin in conversational mood and performing with a crack band on the rooftop. And it’s a breezy number which will chase all your blues away. Don’t forget to check out the little story that Caitlin shares right at the end – worth the wait as well!
By now, regular PoP visitors will know what a band needs to do to be featured here! Psychedelic-country-folk-rock-blues is the ‘genre’ of choice and Parson Red Head fits the bill with two acoustic guitars, harmonica, percussion and gorgeous 4-part harmonies in this ‘live’ video. Burning Up the Sky is a song off new album, Yearling. Sweet! A PoP recommendation!
Regular PoP visitors will know that I am an absolute sucker for good old fashioned honest-to-goodness country-folk-soul music. Add a spine-tingling female vox into the equation and the result is obsession! So here’s Star Anna, who at 25 has established musicians raving over her vocal abilities. Listen to this glorious track off her debut album of the same name and understand why…
I really hate to be one of those cynical reviewers who accuse a band of bandwagon-jumping, but let’s face it: there’s no way Seattle-based outfit The Head And The Heart can avoid the Fleet Foxes comparisons. What do you expect when you ply your trade in rootsy, old-time Americana?
April 10th sees the highly anticipated release of Robyn G Shiels new EP. The Great Depression is released through No Dancing records and is the follow up to Shiels critically acclaimed debut album A Lifetime Of Midnights. The Great Depression focuses on the retrospective, bleak side of Robyn’s catalogue; this isn’t the time for screaming choruses. It is night time and it is dark, after all.
There’s an honesty and truth laid out amongst the sparse percussion, piano and guitars. These are songs of reflection and regret but all the while a melody, suggesting that although things may have been better not occurring, we’ve at least forged a good story along the way.
Release date: 10/4/11 | Format: CD/DD
The Great Depression features 5 tracks and is available as a digital download from iTunes and every main digital retailer, over 60 outlets worldwide. Physical copies are available from select outlets and through robyngshiels.bandcamp.com & www.nodancing.co.uk.
Check out the video for Look What You’ve Done below
MY COUSIN, THE EMPEROR The Subway EPs (Self-released)
“Instead of recording a full album, we decided to record 2 EPs, but to give them entirely different personalities, volume 1 is more folky, country, singer- songwriter music. Volume 2 is more rock, upbeat, and energetic. This band does both of them very well, so I wanted to showcase it’s different personalities across the two EPs.” Jason Reischel
Serious doubts about the concept behind the presentation of one album as two EPs and the mannered self-categorizations BUT no denying that Brooklyn’s My Cousin, The Emperor parlays the perfect mix of country-folk-blues and rock ‘n’ roll music that Gram Parsons envisaged for his Cosmic American Music. I have always maintained that when done right, country-folk-blues can be some of the most soulful music on the planet and thankfully, Reischel and company provide ample evidence of this assertion.
On the 1st volume, Prospect Park West, there are luscious vocal harmonies, lush acoustic guitars and lusty evocations of rustic beauty in songs like Lies End and Burly, Old Coach. A dash of rockabilly informs Southern Nights whilst mournful strings will touch the heart on Annie (The Leevee Song). Volume II, Broadway-Lafayette, ups the tempo ever so slightly – Down N Out is white-knuckled barroom blues, Nothing Left For Us To Find is unapologetically rollicking and Early Morning Show channels The Band and Neil Young with slow burning intensity.
An excellent addition to the country-folk-blues-rock canon. File next to your Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and Jayhawks LPs.
I am sorely tempted to declare The King Is Dead – Portland’s The Decemberists’ sixth album – as the album of 2011. After the steady move into progressive rock territory in the last two albums, critics have described The King Is Dead’s change in direction as “accessible”. Well, not unless it was released in the 80s, I daresay! Is an album that sees Colin Meloy and company basically go country on us a commercial commodity in 2011? In the age of auto-tuned prefabricated pop and groin-directed hip hop?
Lead single, Down By the Water, makes the band’s intentions clear with a harmonica intro, not to mention guest performances from Peter Buck (REM) and Gillian Welch. Commentators have already noticed the songs’s resemblance to REM’s The One I Love (especially the chord progression). Buck also plays on The Calamity Song and is immediately recognizable in the guitar appregios – the track sounds like an outtake of an 80s REM album but it’s a welcome relief to hear such classic songwriting in the new year!
NY-based duo Atlantic/Pacific, aka Garrett Klahn (Texas is the Reason) and John Herguth (House & Parish, The Love Scene) has been likened to the old world charms of Fleet Foxes and post-punk cool of The Smiths. Meaning of course, warm melodies/harmonies and sophisticated arrangements. Songs like the jazzy Patterns, the epic Shore to Shore and the U2-channeling faux-anthemic Let Me Into Your Light provide a counterpoint to the largely rustic country-folk-pop repertoire.
With the Decemberists’ new album – The King is Dead – adopting a clearcut country-folk-blues direction (review to come) and the UK music scene spawning it’s own dedicated 70s retro-country-folk scene (Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, Noah & the Whale, Bombay Bicycle Club et al), it’s almost tempting fate to suggest that there is a neo-country wave coming in 2011. There’s nothing particularly new of course about all this, as we’ve had country-rock bands since Gram Parsons joined the Byrds and convinced to play the Grand Ole Opry and the Band got out from behind Dylan and began making its own brand of wild alchemy at the Big Pink but… I for one will be over the moon if this all comes to pass. In the meantime, here’s a few country-folk-blues gems you may have missed in 2010.
Regular PoP visitors will be aware of my weakness for the gorgeous hybrid of country music and pop-rock that may be variously referred to as country-rock, alt-country, roots-rock, Americana or as the late great Gram Parsons defined it, “Cosmic American Music”. I personally believe that at its best, this country-rock hybrid is at its core, soul music. It’s basic and heartfelt, with words and music that tug at your heartstrings. What more could anyone want from good old fashioned popular rock music?