New Wombats single: “Your Body is a Weapon”

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So okay, “My Body is a Weapon” isn’t the leap forward I’m still hoping the band’s next album will be — e.g., more like this unexpected and emotionally powerful acoustic-strings-and-choir treatment of ‘Anti-D’. Let’s consider this is just a tidbit to keep the dance floors pulsing. No matter, it’s sharply observant and funny. A perfectly enjoyable side-step.

Meanwhile, keep fingers crossed for the full album, due sometime in early (I hope) 2014.

Review of The Shondes’ “The Garden”

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Rolling Stone just published my review The Garden, the new album by the sizzling Brooklyn grrrl-punk-pop band the Shondes. Snappish guitars; bold fiddle runs, bam-boom drums and better-stand-back vocals from Louisa Solomon, who has one of the biggest voices in pop music.

You may not have heard of them before but now you have. so hit the link and stream some hot new tunes.

The redemption of Kasey Anderson

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The U.S. Dept of Justice’s prosecution of Portland/Seattle songwriter, singer and musician Kasey Anderson is winding to a close. Soon he’ll know exactly what it will take to make up for the fraud he committed against a few investors.

If it’s tough to square the Kasey most of us know, either personally or through his music, with the scam he has admitted to running. Chalk it up to his only-recently-diagnosed bipolar disorder. A serious, thought-distorting ailment, and the good news is that he’s finally getting treated for it. The bad news, of course, is the damage the pre-treatment Kasey did to his investors. He’ll earn one kind of redemption when he makes them whole, however long it takes. I like to think that’s a goal he’ll work hard to achieve.

Which brings us to the redemption I was thinking about in the headline: Kasey Anderson’s music.

One thing I have in common with Kasey’s investors — and industry-leading artists including Jason Isbell, Counting Crows, Steve Earle and more — is my admiration for the man’s power as a songwriter and performer. I got a tip to check out The Reckoning just after its release in 2007 and my affection for the album’s piercingly insightful songs –ranging from solo acoustic to full buzz-saw-guitar equipped band tunes — didn’t run nearly as deep as my love for the songs on 2010’s Nowhere Nights, loaded with standouts such as “I Was a Photograph (Blake’s Song),” which ranks among the two or three best songs ever written about the toll of the Iraq war, the sweetly elegaic love song, “Like Teenage Gravity” and the explosively autobiographical “Real Gone.”cover

From there Kasey went on a whole new tear, pulling together his ace band The Honkies (featuring Andrew McKeag on lead guitar and second vocals) and recorded two albums of driving riff-rock and touring widely with Isbell, Counting Crows and on their own. I like that stuff too, but my favorite song from the last couple of years — by anyone, now that I think of it — is “Heavy Heart,” the lyric from You Am I’s hit coupled with an Anderson-composed melody that surpasses the original song by quite a distance, in my ears.

I’m not sure if we’ll be hearing much from Kasey in the near future. But as of this weekend we’ve got a little downpour of live music, rarities and demos newly available on the Bandcamp website. Check out Live at Red Rocks to hear the Honkies at full power. Then take a good listen to Kasey’s quietly gritty side on the mostly-acoustic Live at the Triple Door.

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Whatever led to his brief jag into financial fraud, it happened and Kasey will have to find a way to atone for it.

But it’s just as important to realize that there’s nothing fraudulent about his work as a songwriter and performer. There’s a reason why so many leading songwriters respect him so much. The same reason why I can mix his songs with the likes of Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, Jason Isbell, the Drive-By Truckers and more and feel it clicking in so easily.

Listen to these songs. They’ll pay off for you every time.

Jason Isbell’s ‘Elephant’ is the saddest, greatest love song of 2013

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A guy and girl sitting at a bar. They’ve known each other for a long time but now something new is happening.

She said, ‘Andy, you’re takin’ me home/But I knew she planned to sleep alone/I’d carry her to bed and sweep up the hair from the floor…”

Sense the darkness in that room, the small comfort of the solitary bed and the whisper of the bristles against the floorboards. You can hear it in the direct voice and the unresolved guitar chords, too. The inescapable fact of death coming closer.

“I’d sing her classic country songs/And she’d get high and sing along/But she ain’t got much voice to sing with now…”

Jason Isbell’s album Southeastern (buy it on his site, on iTunes or wherever you buy music) pulled me in about two songs into my first listen on Spotify, but “Elephant” was the song that made me stop what I was doing and turn it up. Something about the pain his voice and the lightly sketched details (e.g., ‘Seagrams in a coffee cup’) rippled my marrow. The elephant that walks alongside all of us. And, if we’re lucky, the loving presence that lights our way into the end.

“There’s one thing that’s real clear to me/No one dies with dignity/We just try to ignore the elephant somehow/Somehow/Somehow…”

The Beatles and the Beasties: All Together Now!

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Yet another mind-blowing mashup. And a killer video to go along. Love it.