Best Music of 2019 So Far

Many people come to me and say, “Kurt, what are some of the best albums of the year?” To which I reply, “My name is not Kurt and please don’t call me late for dinner.” This rather cryptic response is typically unsatisfying, but to soothe the masses of music seekers I give you a few great albums that dropped in 2019 so far.

StrayCats

You might remember the Stray Cats as the rockabilly revival band that rose to fame during my final years of high school. Forty years ago. Although the band has essentially been broken up forever, each of the members has continued in the music business, often in the greater rockabilly genre pool. On 40, their first new album in 26 years, Stray Cats return to the maniacal gut-thumping sweet rockabilly sounds that they first explored in their self-titled 1981 release. In fact, one might hear the occasional extremely familiar riff or chord progression. But, considering that rockabilly has a fairly limited musical vocabulary (which is not a bad thing; many genres are the same way), this is not really surprising or disappointing.

Brian Setzer is now age 60, which is strangely old for someone playing youth-oriented music, but his voice and guitar have never been better. This guy is about as good as it gets. Give the album a spin or two, maybe put on some pegged jeans, throw back a PBR and indulge in a little delinquency. You won’t regret it. Unless you get caught and imprisoned.

MeatPuppets

Meat Puppets, perhaps one of the best bands you’ve never heard of, started playing in 1980, and, other than a couple of shortish breaks, they’ve been together ever since. Originally known as a punk band, their music rapidly expanded to include a bit of the country and psych vibes. Cowpunk, as the mix of country and punk came to be called, was one of the more exciting subgenres to emerge in that era. It’s never attracted too many practitioners but has definitely influenced current bands including The Goddamn Gallows and Stoned Evergreen Travelers.

If you are a person who likes older Meat Puppets albums, you will probably enjoy their latest, Dusty Notes. There’s no groundbreaking genre-expanding mind-blowing quantum leaps here, just a solid punk rock foundation covered with sweet country crooning and psychedelic sensibilities. Songs tend towards the mellow with guitars a bit more in the background than the front. And the electric harpsichord in Unfrozen Memory? Well worth the wait.

L7

L7 came to prominence in the 90s, broke up in 2001 and returned to the rock and roll limelight in 2014. Although their music resonates with a distinct punk/metal feel, the group is often associated with grunge and its big-name acts. At a time when rock and punk rock were largely male-dominated, the women of L7 went against the norms and created heavy, sleazy punk that made listeners forget all about gender and stereotypes.

2019 saw the release of a brand spanking new album, Scatter the Rats, that picks up right where the band left off. Heavy metal guitar riffage, a pervasive Joan Jett vibe, gritty rock and roll, heavy pop… Lots of variety within the punk genre. But always, that hard metallic edge picks away at your brain brain brain driving you… Well, you’ll just have to listen.

The year is barely half over and there will undoubtedly be many other great albums to hear. But for now, unless you’re a time traveler, check out these and other recently-released albums at Everett Public Library. And always remember the compelling words of Captain Beefheart:

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Some Types of Punk Music!

I have become fascinated with the definition of punk rock. There’s little doubt that the term was first applied to bands of the same ilk as the Sex Pistols, but as time passed punk became a blanket term for a variety of styles.

You’ve got your hardcore, your horror punk, Oi!, grindcore and pop punk just to name a few. And you can’t identify your genre without a scorecard. So, in the interest of Properly-Defined Genre Understanding (PDGU) I give you: SOME TYPES OF PUNK MUSIC!

Punk: ClassicPunk® bands, also known simply as punk bands, play ramped up rock and roll. Not so different from 50s rock, add distortion and politics, shake well, go heavy on the melody and voila!
Group punkHardcore: A response to what was seen as the selling-out of punk. Fast, loud, aggressive and hard-hitting. Rhythm is more important than melody and vocals are typically shouted. The standard verse-chorus song structure, a staple of punk, is not used.
Group hardcoreHorror punk: A highly visual subgenre steeped in horror and sci-fi movie imagery. Elements of goth and punk mix with doo-wop and rockabilly, creating a unique sound.

Group horror

Pop punk: Punk was never commercially successful. Until someone thought to add pleasant melodies to fast and furious music. Hey, that kinda sounds like ClassicPunk®, don’t it?

Group PopPunk

But wait, there’s more! Crust, thrashcore, anarcho-punk, D-beat, stenchcore, powerviolence… It kind of makes a person want to create their own subgenres: sniffletrot, bonesaw-crunch, free retch… Ah, I see a hobby in my future.

But I digress.

My point today, if I do indeed have a point, is that the term punk has shifted in meaning over the years. The original punk bands, i.e. ClassicPunk® bands, are not significantly removed from the mainstream of rock music. Hardcore bands, on the other hand, are an entirely different beast. The aggression, the shouting, the breakneck speeds all combine to form a new type of musical expression. And in my mind, if not in the minds of others, punk has come to mean hardcore punk.

So while I struggled for many years with the label punk being applied to bands like the Buzzcocks, I now realize that their 3 minute songs of teenage angst, love and fast cars are all magnificent pop gems that we simply decided to call punk. And while there may have been but a single flavor of punk for a short time, now there are many. To be entirely clear one must cite which type of punk music one is speaking of.

So be the coolest kid on your block and check out some horror punk or crust or bloodspattergorefest (I made that one up!) from your nearest public library. Remember: Leather jackets are optional but open minds are mandatory!

More Favorite Music From 2017

Welcome to Part 2 of my favorite 2017 albums. Today we explore the varied worlds of punk, country and blues. As always, please do not adjust your sets until the transmission is complete.

Punk, in various forms and incarnations, is alive and well. Whether it be straight ahead, Celtic or post-punk (I know, this is a stretch), it can be found on an album released in 2017.

Group1

Seekers and Finders by Gogol Bordello
Question: What do you get when you combine elements of traditional Gypsy music with punk, dub and other genres? Answer: A passel of fun known as Gogol Bordello. If you’re looking for something unusual and exciting, Seekers and Finders is a good place to start.

11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory by Dropkick Murphys
Speaking of unusual mergers, Celtic music and punk make for a powerful combination. Dropkick Murphys have a catalog of solid albums and the latest does not disappoint.

Life is Good by Flogging Molly
Speaking of Celtic punk… Well, Flogging Molly is another band that creates outstanding music by mixing diffuse and disparate sources. Their emphasis is a bit more on the Celtic end of the spectrum, a reeling and rollicking mix of dancing and drinking tunes.

Group2

English Tapas by Sleaford Mods
Demonstrating a minimalist approach reminiscent of early punk/post-punk groups such as The Adverts and The Raincoats, Sleaford Mods take a traditional punk stance on lyrics. Their groovy, repetitive songs touch on subjects ranging from unemployment to social injustices. For a truly unusual and excellent 2017 album, check this one out.

Nothing Feels Natural by Priests
Perhaps the most unusual of these 2017 releases, Nothing Feels Natural borrows elements of funk, darkwave, post-punk and a variety of other genres. Strongly political lyrics combine with this mix of styles to create a riveting and infectious album.

Country music and blues also flourished in 2017.

Group3

Down Hearted Blues by Eilen Jewell
Eilen Jewell takes her amazing, honey-infused voice and turns it loose on blues and country for her latest album. The tunes, they are great and the performances, they are superb. Sure to please even the most curmudgeonly.

50 Years of Blonde on Blonde by Old Crow Medicine Show
This live tribute to Bob Dylan, served up with a typical OCMS old timey flavor, has a little something for everyone. Whether you love bluegrass or love Zimbo (the internets assure me that this is a Bob Dylan nickname) you are certain to love this album.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm by Robert Cray
Straight from the guitar of Portland blues legend Robert Cray we find a new release filled to the brim with soulful licks and catchy tunes. Cray continues to put out high-quality material nearly 40 years after his debut.

Group4

Northern Passages by Sadies
Perhaps you’re not ready to commit to full-on country music. The Sadies deliver another great platter of alt-country tunes, which is a fancy way of saying music with some sort of country flavor. If you like the band Cracker, this might be just what the psychiatrist ordered.

Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues by Various Artists
Speaking of old-timey, this collection of jug band tunes from the 1920s and 1930s is a must-listen for blues and country enthusiasts. A fine collection of songs presented in their raw and original form.

The Last Shade of Blue Before Black by Original Blues Brothers Band
Including only one member of the Blues Brothers band, the Original Blues Brothers Band, along with many guests from the original Blues Brothers band (get it?), have put together a fine album of, well, blues. Check out this unexpected gem.

And there you have it. Great music never went away, but you might have to hunt a bit to find it. And perhaps, oh I don’t know, Everett Public Library is a good place to start? As always, check it out.

Comfort Music

In times of stress and tribulation, some turn to comfort food. But I find my comfort in music. A single song can change the course of my day for the better. And so today I share with you my Post-Holiday Guide to Comfort Music.

bixOld-timey jazz is one of my go-to genres when seeking comfort. As a former trumpet player I admire the brilliance of Bix Beiderbecke (pronounced Bick Spiderbeck), an extremely influential musician whose heyday was in the 1920s. Bix, as I call him because it’s easier to type, played in a variety of dance bands during his short career (he died at age 28) and left a legacy that persists 100 years later. For your comfort, I recommend Bix Beiderbecke Volume 1, Singin’ the Blues.

bobwillsWestern swing is another source of succor for me, and so I turn to the king of Western swing, Bob Wills. Picture old-time country (you know, the good stuff) combined with big band, except the solos are played on traditional country instruments, and the musical language leans more towards country with a slight nod to jazz… Well, it’s a wonderful hybrid. And for your comfort, try Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: 1935-1947.

yourhitparadeSpeaking of the 1940s (notice the clever segue), I do love me the purdy songs from those post-war years. Your Hit Parade, The Late ‘40s features fantastic jazz and pop from that golden age. Listening to those tunes I can just picture the yuge tube radio in my neatly trimmed suburban home, slipper-clad feet on the ottoman, wisps of fruity smoke climbing eagerly towards the heavens. Sarah Vaughn interprets Black Coffee as only she can, Tommy Dorsey delivers The Huckle-Buck. Comfort for all.

thompsonFor beautiful Celtic/folk/folk rock/rock, there is none better than Richard Thompson. One of the greatest guitarists ever, Thompson is also a superb songwriter and a most excellent singer. Walking On A Wire (1968 – 2009) is a nice career retrospective, albeit nearly 10 years behind now, ranging from early folksy work with Fairport Convention to more recent rockers like my personal favorite, Bathsheba Smiles. His music is intricacy veiled in the guise of simplicity, complicated guitar paired with delicate melodies, tunes that will stick with you for days. Listening to this man’s music is indeed a comfort.

buzzcocksMoving on to music from my college days, Buzzcocks are a British punk band that started in the late 70s, and 40 years later they’re still going at it! Singles Going Steady is a compilation of their early hits from the 70s and 80s. Unlike what you might think punk is, the songs are catchy pop gems, generally not political, often steeped in teenage experiences, and most assuredly wielding a hard edge. So many good memories, much comfort provided.

ecAnd as the sun sets on today’s music-of-comfort we turn to the best of them all, Elvis Costello. I was first introduced to his music at a high school dance, saw him at my first rock concert, have performed his songs and stolen his dry cleaning (well, not really). Stylistically, this guy is all over the place, from country to jazz to power pop to acoustic rock and everywhere inbetween. His first album, My Aim Is True, remains in my heavy rotation even after 41 years. Songs like Welcome to the Working Week, Alison and Mystery Dance are perfect pop masterpieces. Check him out and you too will receive comfort.

We all need comfort at times and music is an amazing healer. Check out some of these titles, or look into your own favorite genres to find nourishment for the soul. Oh, and let me know if you find my dry cleaning.

April New Music Picks

Peru Bravo coverSpring has been a busy time for new releases and reissues. We’ve been keeping busy with great patron requests and staff discoveries alike. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the new arrival highlights from this month. Place your holds now!

Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul, & Psych from Peru’s Radical Decade (Tiger’s Milk Records). Basically what it says on the tin: almost an hour of awesomely funky psychedelic rock. My favorite track on the CD by far is the Jeriko cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” Dim the lights, don some paisley and velvet (or velvet paisley if you can manage), and have yourselves a dance party.

sings-kidjo2Angélique Kidjo Sings (SLC LLC). This album is a delightful fusion of Kidjo’s bold and distinctive vocals with a full orchestral backing. Listeners journey through a rich musical landscape that can be dramatic, dreamy, or festively dancy depending on the track.

Pimp a Butterfly coverKendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath Entertainment). Jazz, hip-hop, funk, spoken word, slam poetry – an entire spectrum of art forms are covered. At times thought-provoking and at others just entertaining; To Pimp a Butterfly is packed full of powerful tracks and is sure to become a classic.

Viet Cong CoverViet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar). A solid post-punk release that grabs you from the first track and holds your attention all the way through the epic 11-minute long final cut, “Death.”

War on Women – War on Women (Bridge Nine) Loud, gritty, hardcore punk with a healthy dose of righteous feminist fury.

2ne1 crush cover2NE1 – Crush (YG Entertainment) K-Pop girl group 2NE1 blends hip-hop, reggae, RnB, and EDM to come up with a great mix of dancefloor-friendly tracks and slowjams.

The Skints FM coverThe Skints – FM (Easy Star Records) Laid out like a day at a London pirate radio station, the Skints make good use of their ska, reggae, ragga, hip hop, dub, and grime roots. FM proudly represents the musical melting pot that thrives on the underground airwaves of the UK.

Let There be Punk!

I’d like to think that one day two or three blokes, one named Harold, were sitting in Harold’s bedroom, bored beyond belief. Nigel (a friend of Harold’s) said, “Right, let’s start a band.” Harold pointed out that they did not play instruments, sing, nor know anything about music. Nigel responded, “Oi, we’d best invent punk rock then.”

The beauty of punk was that anyone could do it. Music of the Sex Pistols and their contemporaries was simple, imprecise, distorted, a shouting match of political lyrics. This guileless mind-set was nearly inconceivable in the context of the highly technical progressive rock that ruled the airwaves in the 70’s. A do-it-yourself movement quickly swelled and punk’s muse birthed a litter of exciting bands.

It’s hard to remember how shocking punk was at the time of its inception. Back in the day, every new song hurtled listeners on a rickety roller coaster of adrenaline towards a certain grisly death. Listening to these bands nowadays seems somewhat like a gentle carriage ride through halcyon fields.

Here in America the Ramones, leather-clad Beach Boys on musical steroids, provided perhaps even more of an easy listen. Songs were simple as can be, three distortion-driven chords with lyrics that might consist entirely of “I don’t wanna be a pinhead no more, I just met a nurse that I could go for.” Yet the Ramones continue to be one of the most influential rock groups of the last 20 years.

If you want to check out some of their contemporaries, try Iggy and the Stooges, New York Dolls, X, The Runaways, Talking Heads and Blondie.

And now punk has run the full gamut, from a rebellious musical revolution to the soundtrack for 21st century commercials. Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, an ode to drug culture, appears in ads for the Royal Caribbean cruise line. The Ramones turn up in a surprisingly large number of commercials, including one for Pepsi. And, most surprising to me, abstract post-punk band Gang of Four features in Microsoft ads. Perhaps not one of the signs of the apocalypse, but still disturbing in its own right.

The point being, punk of the late 70’s is the music of my generation. And some demographic genius in upstate Vermont determined that I have significant purchasing power, passed this well-researched data to swarthy middle-managers on the rise who then implemented a “business plan,” and presto! the songs of my youth became a Pavlovian soundtrack designed to free up some space in my duct tape wallet. Which is an interesting irony, perhaps disturbing to some, but simply amusing to me.

I’m sure that Harold and Nigel are laughing all the way to the bank.

Stay tuned for future punk-related posts. In the meanwhile, meditate on these meaty lyrics from the Dead Kennedys:

My ambition in life is to look good on paper

All I want is a slot in some big corporation

Ron