Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quick Spins: What I'm Listening To, November 2009

I know this space has been filled with hunting, hunting, and more hunting, but I'm no one trick pony, even this time of year.  With all the miles I've put on traveling to various hunting destinations, I've had the chance to listen to a lot of great new music.  Here are a few recommendations.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears -- This cat was born 30 or 40 years too late.  He wails real-deal soul music that sounds straight out of James Brown-era Motown.  And while Black Joe has the pipes to wail, the real stars are the Honeybears.  Unlike most of today's music, in which the guitar is the star, the bassline carries the bulk of the melody.  And the horn section?  They play fat and frenzied, teetering on the border of becoming entirely unhinged.  My only complaint is that his debut full length album, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! only clocks in at 30 minutes or so.  But what a thrill it is.  Call it blues, soul, R&B, or funk -- just get it.  (I'm also terribly pissed I missed them swing through KC last week -- their live shows are apparently legendary)

The Bottle Rockets -- Lean Forward is probably my favorite Bottle Rockets album since the Brooklyn Side.  From the moment you press play, it blows through four or five of the best tracks of the album -- perfect for a keeping you awake and alert during a long drive to western Kansas.  Or Minnesota.  Or Montana.  Or at the office.  And they can do thoughtful, too -- "Kid Next Door" is a sad tale of a kid with a bright future that never made it back home from the Mideast.  These guys are alt-country stalwarts, and I don't think they've ever received the credit they're due.  Check out this album and you'll see why.

The Band of Heathens -- This band formed when Gordy Quist, Ed Jurdi, and Colin Brooks realized that there was strength in numbers.  All three played individual sets at Momo's, the legendary club in downtown Austin.  Soon, they started collaborating, and the Heathens were born.  With all three sharing vocal duties, they blend rock, roots and soul, and I can't help but compare them to The Band.  Their latest, One Foot In the Ether, is the first studio album by them that I've owned.  And it's definitely more polished than Live at Momo's or Live at Antone's, but in a good way.  It's obvious they're stretching their chops, and "L.A. County Blues" even feels like it could belong on mainstream radio.

Robert Earl Keen -- Does this guy know how to put out a crappy album?  Maybe it's his songwriting, maybe it's his incredible supporting band, but REK knows how to make music, and The Rose Hotel is no different.  It's got all the Robert Earl hallmarks, including storytelling ("The Rose Hotel") wittiness ("Wireless in Heaven" and "Village Inn") and a nod to the masters (Townes Van Zandt's "Flyin' Shoes").  In fact, over the past 20 years, Robert Earl Keen has become a master in his own right.  It's been fun to follow his trajectory over that time.

Drive-By Truckers -- I've always been somewhat ambivalent about these guys.  I liked their sound, but too often, it felt like their songwriting took the easy road, with stereotypical lyrics about the seedy side of southern life (uplifting stuff like unemployment, abuse, alcoholism, crystal meth and such).  And to a degree, I still think I'm right.  But their chops have grown, and Blessing and a Curse and Brighter than Creation's Dark are proof.  Even their latest b-sides compilation The Fine Print is worth a listen.  And that's caused me to take another listen to some tracks in their earlier catalog.  Give "18 Wheels of Love" off of Alabama Ass Whuppin' a spin, and you'll understand.  Or you won't.


  1. I've had a hard time with Robert Earl Keen albums since "Picnic", for the most part. Not sure exactly why, his songwriting just doesn't seem quite the same. On the other hand, his live shows are still very good, which wasn't a sure thing once Duckworth left the band.

  2. I would certainly agree with you that nothing beats the Gringo Honeymoon-era REK. Thanks for stopping by and adding me to your blogroll... you've been added as well!