Skyway Man – Seen Comin’ From A Mighty Eye 2017

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To fully appreciate James Wallace (a.k.a. skyway man ), it helps to understand his background. The auteur is the ultimate Nashville outsider having worked with his hometown Richmond, Virginia’s Spacebomb collective and his own alternative — some might say experimental — folksy naked light band among other under-the-radar projects over the past decade. Along the way he’s picked up some high profile fans in the form of Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman Brittany Howard, but in Nashville he can be seen as a provocateur; a guy unafraid to push boundaries that transform pop into art. He continues that endeavor under his newest alias, Skyway Man.
It’s as good a name as any to lead a collective of nearly 20 musicians who have contributed to……his debut under this moniker. By any measure, Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye is an audacious example of what his press release calls “folk futurism.” The song cycle’s concepts are largely too obtuse to easily untangle, but the lyrics are sung in the first person and seem in part to be about living in a dystopian society.

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Wallace’s sweet, boyish voice makes even extended tracks like the wordy, nine-plus minute “Wires (Donny Angel and the Opening Wide)” go down easy, even if inscrutable lyrics such as “And if your sky catches fire ‘cause the tank crushed the car with the family inside/ and you fly from reason like sparks or rocks that you kick down the street with your heels while you’re waiting for the community van that takes you and your bag someplace that you’ve never been before”… phew … are a mouthful to unravel.

Musically, the twisted but melodic tunes encompass a variety of sounds, including but not limited to colorful psychedelic rock, lighter Beatles-styled pop, and a skewed Nilsson/Donovan chamber style that, even with multi-tracked instrumentation, including creative use of horns and string arrangements, stays frothy and generally bubbly. A sunlit prog-folksy instrumental titled “The Dedication of Giant Rock” splits the album in two pieces, giving the listener a break from having to scrutinize the lyrically dense songs.

Those more dedicated to the Wallace cause can spend the necessary effort disentangling the concept, but even for those who take a pass on that task, this is an impressive, bold, and ambitious 53-minute work. Wallace is clearly talented and you can tell he’s referring to himself, and perhaps the creation of this four-sided opus, when he sings “Visions and the sound of my blood/ have been keeping me awake at night.” – American Songwriter

Richmond Fontaine – Thirteen Cities 2016

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The complete Tucson sessions including seven extra tracks.
2007: the snap-pocket shirts, sideburns, literary leanings and pedal steels of alt-country are simply memories from the ’90s. Movement hero and harbinger Jeff Tweedy has led Wilco far from the decade-old roots rock rusticisms of Being There, finding purchase in experimental landscapes dotted with the detritus of modern living. Many have forgotten that Ryan Adams once fronted a marvelous alt-country band called Whiskeytown, as the bedheaded man-child jettisons off into the pop star stratosphere, bouncing from rock to pop to punk to country (again). Not so for Richmond Fontaine, who are led by archetypal old-school-styled alt-country hero Willy Vlautin.

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The intelligent and slightly shaggy Vlautin, who has published a successful novel (and whose voice contains the perfect blend of fragility and gravel for this type of fare), writes smart songs — poetic weepers that ride strains of deep twang and pedal steel and lash sweet pop melodicism to country intonations.

For their seventh album, Thirteen Cities, the Portland, OR band headed into the deserts of Tucson to work for the third time in a row with J.D. Foster, who is known for producing Calexico and Richard Buckner. Calexico pitch in significantly with horns on the euphoric, sprightly pop-country of the opener, “Moving Back Home #2.” Elsewhere, on the busily titled “$87 and a Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse the Longer I Go,” sweet cries of pedal steel trail the mini sketches of Vlautin’s narrator, who witnesses enough suffering and depravity (a near-death boxing match, a tractor-trailer crash, a teenage runaway in a sexual tryst) to spur him into the kind of deeply beautiful and downtrodden existential crisis that was once Tweedy’s stock-in-trade (e.g. “Far, Far Away” from Being There). By the time one gets to “Capsized,” whose down-by-luck narrator drifts, sells his possessions, and estranges himself from all palpable life, you begin to get the sense that the deeper Vlautin plunges his characters into despair, the brighter the twinkle of exultation in his eye. But all would be for naught if he didn’t breathe rare life into these literary tales with melodies that often take breathtaking little turns and swoops.

With Thirteen Cities, Richmond Fontaine employ varnished beauty to exceed the already high-water marks set by 2004’s Post to Wire and 2005’s The Fitzgerald.

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Damage And Joy 2017

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All praise Creation Records founder Alan McGee, for he was right: The Jesus and Mary Chain will return next year with their first new album in 18 years, Damage and Joy.

Due out March 24th via ADA/Warner Music, the long-awaited follow-up to 1998’s Munki was produced by Killing Joke co-founder Martin Glover, aka Youth, who also plays bass on the record alongside JAMC touring drummer Brian Young and Lush bassist Phil King.

The album’s first single and opening track, “Amputation”, premiered on Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6 Music today. Better yet, you don’t really need your ear buds; this one’s pure melody, sounding like something off an indie soundtrack from 1996.

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VA – Let It Be: Black America Sings Lennon, McCartney and Harrison (2016)

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A sequel to Ace’s 2011 compilation Come Together: Black America Sings Lennon & McCartney, the 2016 set let it be black america sings lennon , mccartney and harrison expands upon its predecessor, finding space for selections from the ’80s and even the 2000s (nevertheless, most of these 22 songs are from the ’60s and ’70s) plus songs from George Harrison too. “Something” is indeed here, presented in an expansive, seductive 12-minute rendition from Isaac Hayes, and its presence suggests just how far-reaching Let It Be is. Hayes sits alongside Ella Fitzgerald’s funky version of “Savoy Truffle,” an unexpected combination of singer and song that finds its match in Nina Simone’s moodily elegant “Here Comes the Sun,” not to mention Little Junior Parker’s slow,…

…trippy version of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Such delights are rampant on Let It Be. Only a handful of cuts adhere to the original arrangements, but even those put a distinctive personality on the tunes: Earth, Wind & Fire funkify “Got to Get You Into My Life,” Fats Domino rolls through “Lovely Rita,” and Arthur Conley gives the ska of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” some grit.

More than its predecessor, Let It Be stands as a testament to both the songbook of the Beatles and the imaginative interpretations of black America.

Real Estate – In Mind 2017

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On In Mind the band fine-tunes the winsome songwriting and profound earnestness that made previous albums—Real Estate, Days, and Atlas—so beloved and pushes their songs in compelling new directions. Written primarily by guitarist/vocalist Martin Courtney In Mind offers a mild shifting of the gears, positing a band engaged in the push/pull of burgeoning adulthood. Reflecting a change in lineup, changes in geography, and a general desire to move forward without looking back, the record recasts the band in a new light — one that replaces the ennui of teen suburbia with an adult version.

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sinners and saints – on the other side 2017

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Sometimes you need a friend to laugh with and sometimes you need a friend to cry with. The two-man band Sinners & Saints, from Charlotte, NC, fits the bill for both. Whether they’re crooning about heartbreak or tearing it up with joyful abandon, you’ll feel happier for having listened. Perry Fowler and Mark Baran infuse their acoustic, country-tinged tunes with compelling harmonies and foot-powered percussion on repurposed drums from an abandoned kit.

Since the band’s formation in 2011, Sinners & Saints has been gathering a following of fans who turn to their whiskey drinking, shit kickin’, sweet loving music for a good time but find something more – an irrepressible optimism even in dark times. We’re all sinners and we’re all saints, and we’re all in it together.

The band has shared the stage up and down the east coast with the likes of Flogging Molly, Shovels and Rope, Robert Earl Keen, Daniel Romano, St Paul & the Broken Bones, SUSTO, Sun Kil Moon, Bombadil, and many others.

Sinners & Saints will be releasing their second full-length album, On The Other Side, in early 2017, in partnership with

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Elliott Smith – Either / Or Epanded Edition 2017

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About two minutes into either/or  opener “Speed Trials,” Elliott Smith’s seamlessly double-tracked lead vocal splits into a two-part harmony. It’s a very subtle gesture, and only lasts for a few seconds — but contrasted with the tight, hushed unison of Smith’s prior solo output, it feels as dramatic as The Wizard of Oz shifting from sepia to technicolor. This moment plays out like a microcosm of Either/Or at large, the sound of Smith conjuring something far bigger than himself and coming into his own as a songwriter, arranger, and performer.
The final album in Smith’s catalog before the major label-backed XO and Figure 8, Either/Or marks the last time Smith’s instincts would outpace the studio resources to execute them. It’s extraordinary how he embodies a magical, alchemical mix of……intimacy and bombast.

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By the time Either/Or was released in 1997, Smith was no stranger to the cynical machinations of the post-grunge major label gold rush. A year prior, his former band Heatmiser had been put through that very ringer, an experience captured in Either/Or standouts “Pictures of Me” and “Angeles.” Either/Or sounds like the work of somebody who has zero interest in either conforming to or directly transgressing the “commercial” sounds of the day. It’s too ambitious to read as “lo-fi” and too gritty to read as straightforward pop classicism. Thankfully, this 20th anniversary remaster doesn’t smooth out too many of those rough edges—if anything, it brings the unique sound of the record into even clearer focus.

The sounds and words of Either/Or often conjure very specific images, textures, and situations. And yet, Smith—as with many truly great songwriters—used this specificity as a way to explore emotional themes that resonate both deeply and broadly. Nowhere is this clearer than “Between the Bars,” the closest thing to a modern-day standard Smith ever wrote and covered by everyone from Metric to Madonna. It’s not a love song, exactly, and it’s not a song about addiction, exactly. “Between the Bars” is about the ways in which protecting somebody you love turns into the need to control that person. The fact that Smith was able to build this much emotional complexity into a song that sounds at home in a stadium or at a Starbucks speaks to his irreplaceable gift as a songwriter.

Elsewhere, Smith amplifies his well-honed songwriting chops with more fleshed-out arrangements. “Ballad of Big Nothing” propels itself forward with bubbly McCartney-esque bass lines and background vocals that sound like they might have been string arrangements if there were an orchestra handy. “Angeles” and “Cupid’s Trick” provide a back-to-back study in Smith’s versatility as a guitarist, going from intricate fingerpicked pattern to lopey electric riffs. By the time album closer “Say Yes” rolls around, it’s clear that the solo acoustic approach is a specific and purposeful choice, and no longer Smith’s default mode.

This reissue is framed as an “expanded” edition, and the bonus materials included fit the bill nicely. Rather than aiming for comprehensiveness or definitiveness, the bonus tracks provide interesting glimpses into Smith’s growing strength as a live solo performer (some excellent live recordings of album and non-album cuts), sense of humor (a sketch of New Moon track “New Monkey” that sounds like it was played on a baseball organ), and where he would go with his next record (a formative version of XO cut “Bottle Up and Explode!” that shows just how much thoughtful editing and revision went into the final version). And then there’s “I Figured You Out,” a longtime fan favorite that Smith gave to his friend Mary Lou Lord to record because it “sounds like the fuckin’ Eagles.” “I Figured You Out” would have been the most straightforward and polished song on Either/Or, and its omission speaks volumes about how determined Smith was to find his own voice and chart his own path.

In the years that followed the release of Either/Or, Smith managed to do just that, performing “Miss Misery” at the Academy Awards and releasing an uncompromising major label debut. For some of his fans, Either/Or marked the end of Smith’s career as a direct and intimate folk singer-songwriter. For others, Either/Or marked the beginning of Smith’s career as a one-man classic pop band. In truth, Either/Or marks the one moment in Smith’s career when he was truly both.