No Static At All

Friday, April 27, 2012

Get ready!

For Stacks of Wax!

For Platters That Matter!

For The Top of the Pops!

For the songs making the tooth on the one-armed tone cobra ache because they're Just! So! Sweet!!!


Uh.. sorry. Channeling my inner Top 40 DJ (circa 1957) there... (I know, I know... who hasn't, right?)

Anyway, pull your chair up to the virtual Victrola, kids - it's time to give a listen to the tunes tickling the ear of Cass currently!

(Sorry again. No more patter. I promise...)

Punch Brothers: Who's Feeling Young Now?
The third offering from mandolin whiz Chris Thile and friends. The genre-obsessed tend to file them under bluegrass, a genre in which they are, indisputably, masters. (Check out their cover of Jimmie Rodgers "The Brakeman's Blues" for proof, or their original, "Rye Whiskey.")

But such a label is needlessly restrictive for a band that routinely peppers its set lists with everything from The Cars New Wave classic "Just What I Needed" to Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto" to a jaw-dropping instrumental take on Radiohead's "Kid A" on the new album. 

No need to worry about labels; just sit back and marvel at a young band uber-producer T-Bone Burnett recently called "the best band working in America today." Easily my favorite album of the year so far.

Justin Townes Earle: Nothing's Gonna Change Me Now
Another Americana-flavored entry that has purists scratching their heads. 2010's Harlem River Blues saw Earle fulfill the promise of 2008's Midnight at the Movies, with its intoxicating mix of folk, country, blues, and anything else that tickles his songwriting fancy.

A true artist like his father, fellow maverick Steve Earle, JTE bypasses the easy route of simply issuing More Harlem River Blues. Instead, he followed his muse to explore the gritty horns and taut arrangements that characterize Memphis soul (where he recorded the new album). My only complaint: songs as strong as "Memphis in the Rain" end all too soon.

Delta Spirit: Delta Spirit
Third albums are often when artists characterized as "promising" make the leap to the next level, both commercially and, more importantly, artistically. (Consider Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, Radiohead's OK Computer, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' Damn the Torpedoes!, and U2's War, to name a few off the top of my head.)

Only time will tell if Delta Spirit reach the level of those artists, but their self-titled album is certainly a statement of intent. Like Justin Townes Earle and Punch Brothers, Delta Spirit aren't interested in sticking with the tried-and-true. Accordingly, they expand on the rootsy flavor of their first two albums with new member William McLaren's remarkable guitar sonics and multi-instrumentalist Kelly Winrich's keyboards. But veteran fans can rest easy: front man Matt Vasquez's trademark intensity is intact. So is the thunderous rhythm section of bassist Jon Jameson, drummer extraordinaire Brandon Young, and, again, Kelly Winrich, who, remarkably, often switches back and forth between keyboards and a variety of percussion instruments - including a trash can lid - during the same song.

Having seen them storm the stage at last year's Newport Folk Festival with a blistering, take-no-prisoners set, I can personally attest to their growing reputation as one of the best live bands around. Here's a sample.

Jay Farrar, Jim James, Anders Parker, Johnson, & Will Johnson: New Multitudes
In the late 1990s, Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora launched an ongoing project: she invites sympathetic contemporary artists write music to accompany lyrics from her father's vast archive of unreleased songs. Billy Bragg and Wilco collaborated on a pair of critically acclaimed collections, Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue II, named after the street in Coney Island where he lived in the 1950s, in 1998 and 2000, respectively. (Both albums, incidentally, are getting a much-deserved deluxe reissue later this month.) to get the ball rolling. Folk singer Jonatha Brooke released The Works in 2008, another highly regarded release.

And now comes New Multitudes, a collaboration of Son Volt's Jay Farrar, My Morning Jacket's Jim James (here using the Yim Yames persona he reserves for non-MMJ projects), Farrar's Gob Iron collaborator Anders Johnson, and James's fellow Monsters of Folk alum Will Johnson. Focusing on lyrics penned during Woody's late 1940s sojourn in Los Angeles (although Farrar, who spearheaded the project, had no idea that was the case when selecting material to record), the decision to go for a sound that hewed to the rough-edged folk of Guthrie himself proves to be a wise choice. Each member gets a chance to shine. My personal favorite: Farrar's lovely, lilting "Hoping Machine." They'll be playing a handful of highly-anticipated festival dates this summer; I'm happy to report I'll be front and center at one of them.


There are a slew of other terrific albums released the past few months, but, alas, they'll have to wait for another day. I started a new job a month ago, and have been scrambling every weekend to pack up my old apartment and attempt to find a new place near where I work.

My old apartment is 90 minutes from where I'm currently staying (my parents' house), so I've been up early every weekend to drive down and pack as best I can. Cass's moving tips, should you ever ask, would start with not breaking your ribs beforehand and not doing all of the packing by yourself. Alas, circumstances dictate I ignore my own advice; my (non-existent) Irish butt is dragging as a result, metaphorically speaking.

I hope to have my stuff in storage next weekend, which will let me focus on finding a new place. I've moved (no joke) eight times since April 2009, so I'm hoping this is the last one until I go full-time. I'll be moving then too - far, far away from where I am now - but it will be nice to be settled so I can focus my energy on my transition, where it belongs.

That's all for now - have a great weekend, everyone! Then again, the NHL playoffs and the MLB regular season are both underway; how can it NOT be a great weekend, right?


Oh, and because you can never have too much Steely Dan in your day, one last video, this time for the song I pinched the title of this post from - Steely Dan's "FM."


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