Summer is nearly over for most people, but some of you will have that last hurrah which means you’ll need fresh tunes for last minute road trips. So, load up the iPod with some new releases freshly picked for you.
Colorway, Colorway (Molehill Mountain Productions )
Drunk Stuntmen co-founder/guitarist and Young@Heart Chorus sideman, F. Alex Johnson, is in fine form on this stunning debut. Johnson’s Drunk Stuntmen days were no myth — the singer-songwriter nearly didn’t get out alive and the song cycle here reflects on that period in the partly confessional and partly apologetic songs, “I’m Still Running” and “We Move On” minus the recovery pathos. While Johnson’s songs are introspective and self-reflective in nature (“This Happens to Everyone”), they positively crackle with the intensity of someone who’s survived their own self-destruction and acquired some folksy wisdom (“Go Back to Sleep,” “Live With Me”) along the way.
Backed by veteran western MA musicians, Dave Hayes (bass) and J.J. O’ Connell (drums), Johnson’s guitar playing is agile, ferocious and perfectly paired to his tight rhythm section. Stand out tracks like “A Temporary Occupation” with its gorgeous string arrangements and blissed-out guitar solo, and the philosophical “Everyone Makes the Day” underlies Johnson’s journey into self-discovery (and satisfying Steps 8 & 9).
(Colorway’s F. Alex Johnson along with Drunk Stuntmen mate, Scott Hall, perform as Two Man Guy, August 24, 2013, 7-8 PM, Luthier’s Co-op, Easthampton, MA)
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, What A Dream It’s Been (Cow Island Music)
They may technically belong to Annaheim, CA, but Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys can be considered a Valley band on a minor technicality as their new label, Cow Island Music, is located in Northampton. To celebrate their new label signing and 25th anniversary in the business, the rockabilly/honky-tonk outfit has re-arranged and re-recorded all new acoustic versions of band-favorite tracks from their extensive back catalog. What A Dream It’s Been finds the band taking some sonic risks with their branded sound and veering into new territory. In its original version, “I Know I’ve Loved You Before” was down-tempo and jazzy, here it’s recast in an up-tempo rock-steady style. Likewise on the doo-wop gem, “Baby Baby Me,” the band gives it a ska treatment. Elsewhere, “This Ain’t A Good Time” goes bluegrass, while the rockabilly romp of “Missouri Gal” goes flat out garage rock with some delicious dobro playing. While the band’s been flexing their collective muscles, Robert Williams’ (Big Sandy to you) voice has never been better — soft as butter, this guy is a real crooner as the title track suggests.
Scud Mountain Boys, Do You Love the Sun (Ashmont Records)
In 1997, the Northampton, MA-based Scud Mountain Boys abruptly disbanded, one year after releasing their critically acclaimed record, Massachusetts, on Sub Pop Records. The timing seemed rather odd and there was speculation that perhaps internal discord within the band, known for its intimate live performances and quiet old-timey and traditional country flavored recordings, contributed to their demise. Primary vocalist, Joe Pernice, went on to have moderate success with the Pernice Brothers (formed with his brother Joe, and a slew of western MA musicians) on the Sub Pop label before starting his own label, Ashmont Records, with former Sub Pop A&R Director, Joyce Linehan.
The years may have gone by (17 to be exact) but this record picks up at the kitchen table where the band left off with their late night jams. On the opening title track, Pernice’s golden and forlorn voice is the antithesis of anything remotely sunny as he intones, “Do you love the sun?” All the classic signature sounds of the Boys which includes Stephen Desaulniers (vocals, acoustic guitar, bass and piano). Bruce Tull (electric guitar, pedal and lap steel guitars) and Tom Shea (mandolin, drums) are here — from the lurching “Crown of Thorns” and the weepy “You’re Mine” both featuring Desaulnier’s high lonesome vocals, to the lush instrumental, “Theme From Midnight Cowboy,” to the weepy “Drew Got Shot” with its gorgeous two-part harmonies. The opening lines of “The Mendicant” are fine examples of Pernice’s literary chops and gallow humor, “I ate a chocolate rabbit/And watched Captain Kangaroo/My wife trades her life for money/My kid’s at school.” Do You Love the Sun is satisfying and well worth the 17 year wait.
(Scud Mountain Boys perform September 22, 2013, 7 & 9 PM, Parlor Room, Northampton, MA)
Lloyd Cole, Standards (Tapete Records)
Standards finds Easthampton, MA resident, Lloyd Cole, reuniting with Fred Maher and Matthew Sweet (both played on Cole’s first two solo outings), Blair Cowan (from the Commotions, Cole’s 80’s era band), the Small Ensemble (Mark Schwaber and Matt Cullen), Dave Derby and Joan Wasser (The Dambuilders, Joan as Policewoman) and his son, Will. This is Cole’s 10th solo record and things get comically dark quickly on the fatalistic opening track, a cover of John Hartford’s “California Earthquake” (“They tell me the fault line runs right through here/So that may be/That may be/What’s going to happen/Is going to happen to me”).
Always literate and urbane, Cole shines on the straight ahead raver, “Women’s Studies” (“We were young and we’re stupid/It was fine while it lasted/To complete my education/I had to wake up in your bathtub”) and the Tim Hardin inspired “No Truck.” Cole wears his influences proudly on Standards; Bob Dylan’s biting sarcasm and wordplay (“Diminished Ex”), Lou Reed’s sardonic observations (“Myrtle and Rose”) and musically, the riffs of Television, T. Rex and Velvet Underground (“Opposites Day”) all take center stage.
Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana (Carpark Records)
Northampton, MA upstarts, Speedy Ortiz, have been winning the Internet all summer long with their video for “Tiger Tank” and garnering tons of press and praise for their full length debut. Led by Sadie Dupuis, a MFA poetry candidate and teacher at UMass/Amherst, the quartet’s sound is a proxy to mid-nineties vintage Matador Records: all angular rhythms, chunky and abrasive anti-melodies and naturally, cryptic lyrics. Dupuis’, like Liz Phair circa “Exile in Guyville” vocal style is both coquettish and taciturn (“No Below,” “Cash Cab”) and requires willpower not to make the obvious comparison.