It takes stones the size of volleyballs to name an album by prefacing your own name with The Phenomenal, but that’s just what Ruthie Foster did with 2007’s The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster – and damn if she didn’t just about live up to her own advance billing. Now she’s back with The Truth According to Ruthie Foster, a set of songs just as authoritative as its title, and once again, Foster has given blues fans a hell of a feast. Truth was recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios, with Jim Dickinson behind the boards – and if that wasn’t enough, she cut the tracks with a backing band that included Robben Ford, Charles Hodges, and Dickinson himself. The end result is an album that comes as close to the old Memphis spirit as anything has this century, stacked with songs that run the gamut from fiery struts (“Stone Love”) to slow-burning strolls (“Nickel and a Nail”) – and makes room for a cover of Patty Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy” in the bargain. None of these tracks will make you forget the classics they evoke, but they will make you feel like howling at the moon for awhile…or at least knocking back a few mint juleps. Sounds like honesty is still the best policy. (Blue Corn Music 2009)
A Latin teacher turned indie pop road dog, Dylan Connor sounds like a vocal cross between David Mead and Guster’s Ryan Miller, and fans of both acts should find something to love in Connor’s latest release, Breakaway Republic. Eleven tracks of tightly written pop-rock with a classic feel and a dash of postmodern humor, Republic isn’t going to win any awards for flashiness, but it’s still probably one of the sturdier collections you’re liable to hear from an unsigned singer/songwriter this year, and it’s to Connor’s extreme credit that he manages to avoid focusing on the tried-and-true boy/girl dynamic for at least part of the album, spreading his focus to less-trod subject matter like bomb shelters (“Blood Like Fire”) and mortality (“Had a Little Dream”). It’s to Republic’s extreme credit, too, because when Connor does focus on relationships, the results can be a little weak. Case in point: “I Want Everybody to Know,” which tells the story of the night Connor set aside front-row passes at one of his gigs for a girl, only to watch her making out with another guy, and makes all three of them seem pretty shallow and annoying. Still, on balance, Republic is an easy listen, and even at his worst, Connor displays a tighter grasp of songcraft than your average guitarslinger. A worthy diversion for fans of the genre. (self-released 2008)
She rose to prominence as a member of Damien Rice’s band and she’s out touring with Jason Mraz right now, but don’t hold either of those things against Lisa Hannigan – her solo debut, Sea Sew, is far better than her most high-profile associations might lead you to expect. To be certain, Rice fans will find a lot to love here; many of the songs are built on the same delicate acoustic framework that caused such a swoon over O and, to a lesser extent, 9. But where Rice rarely seems interested in much besides plumbing the emotional depths, Hannigan provides a gentler, more tuneful gateway into the world of Nick Drake fetishists – and has the good sense to surround her songs with warmer, more colorful arrangements. The music is fine, but the real star of the show is Hannigan’s voice, which purrs and flutters across Sea Sew’s 10 tracks, lending a coiled sensuality to what could easily have been just another collection of introspective ballads for moody twentysomethings. Hannigan’s presence even lends weight to trifles like “Splishy Splashy,” and keeps the dirge-y stuff (“Courting Blues”) from taking itself too seriously – and when she hits on all cylinders, as on the ethereal, gently driving “I Don’t Know,” it’s awfully difficult not to get caught up in all the hype that’s surrounded her for the last few years. There’s a glut of this type of stuff right now, but Sea Sew proves that, when it’s done right, it can still pack a punch. An extremely polite punch, but still. (ATO 2009)
Coming off like the Strokes’ no-nonsense southern cousins, Lexington, Kentucky’s In Endeavors pretty much do nothing but rock out on their pointedly titled five-song EP. Fortunately though, singer Gerren Reach doesn’t drench his vocals in quite as much sonic gook as Julian Casablancas, allowing his own textures to take center stage. What’s more, when bassist Patrick Meyers’ and guitarist Cliff Meyers’ backing vocals respond to Reach’s calls on “Private Eye,” the result is a small dose of good-time rock n’ roll to diffuse some of the smug swagger native to the territory of coolness. But they turn in their most satisfying combination of the EP’s closer, “I Can’t Run” – rough backing harmonies combine with between-the-beat drumming and shaking tambourine in the chorus for a dynamic, single-worthy entry into the band’s discography. Pretty it up a bit in the studio for radio, and it could be a hit. (Eugene 2009)
Twenty-year-old Cameron Matthews is not much for pop hooks, but he sure has a gift for understated lo-fi beauty, not to mention confident, uncluttered vocals. Playing less like an album and more like a collection of his 15 latest musical loves, green. blue. white. effortlessly glides from the ‘50s R&B style of “Today I Love You,” to a the domestic Dylan exercise “Bungalow,” to the humorously titled but no less seriously excellent “Give You Up For Lent,” and even that “through the telephone” spooky blues effect on “Make it Rain.” The album really starts to approach classic touches by the fifth song and never looks back, culminating in the 6/4 rocker “Mirror” that channels Jeff Buckley filtered through Joseph Arthur in a jam with his bandmates – bassist Patrick Crecelius, drummer Danny Sher and guitarist Nicholas Risler – that breathes with the kind of dynamics one expects from veteran professionals. This talented Midwestern kid sounds like he has an earth-shattering album slowly gestating inside of him, and if green. blue. white. is any indication, he’s well on his way there. The fact that he’s more of a natural singer than most indie rockers will surely work in his favor in the long run. (self-released 2008)
Most compilations are derived from some conceptual design, designed either as a tribute to an iconic artist or outfit, or as a live set showcasing a particular venue. Then there’s wholly ordinary idea of the label sampler which spotlights a group of musicians whose only common bond lies in the fact they all represent the same record company. Sure, it’s self-serving, but when there’s a good cause involved, the added benefit of charitable support makes the opportunity to hear new music an added advantage. That’s the case with Blue Skies Daisy Days, a generous 21-track collection featuring the cream of the Planting Seeds Records roster (as well as notable outside guests) and the promise to donate part of its proceeds to the Keep a Breast Foundation. Granted, one has to look below the surface and do some exploration to uncover the more notable names – the International Jetsetters, for example, feature members of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Ride, while the Primary 5 and the Loose Salute represent expatriates from Teenage Fanclub and the Mojave 3, respectively – but even so, the music alone provides plenty of incentive. The tunes contained herein are as uniformly sunny as their banner implies. Blissful, sweetly ethereal, lush and melodic without exception, the quality is consistent throughout, ensuring any time spent listening is well worth the effort. (Planting Seed Records
Dear Future is one of those bands that right now is garnering a lot of record label attention, and for good reason. It might seem that there are a lot of Radiohead clones out there, and while that’s a comparison that borders on copping out for lack of a better one, the fact remains that Bends-era Radiohead coarses through the collective vein of Dear Future. And that’s not a bad thing at all. These guys from Illinois are back with their sophomore release, Can’t Wait Any Longer, and it’s likely that some label will do just that. Sure, the brooding tenor and moody arrangements are something you’ve heard before, but these guys get that the songs have to be there too, giving them a nice accessibility factor. And there is a nice little roller coaster ride, from the poppy title track to the darker but melodic “Eden” or “You Are Loved” to the bonus piano track, “Twenty.” Hopefully the slopes of the coaster will continue to be fun for these guys and that tons of adoring fans will continue to find them, because in a somewhat crowded genre, Dear Future is a band to keep on your radar. (self-released)
These guys are apparently huge in their homeland of Israel. I’ll be honest, the tune doesn’t do much for me, but this is one of the coolest videos I’ve seen in a long time. Check ch-check check check, check it out.
It’s important to note that none of the half dozen or so ISPs involved has signed agreements. The companies are “skittish” about negative press and could still back out, said the sources. But as it stands, AT&T and Comcast are among the companies that have indicated they wish to participate in what the RIAA calls a “graduated response program.”
Typically, ISPs have stayed away from getting involved in copyright enforcement. The ISPs working with the RIAA will forward take-down notices to network users accused of illegal file sharing and in an unprecedented move, will establish a series of responses for chronic copyright violators.These responses will gradually grow in severity as the number of violations go up and may include suspension of service or even service termination. Each ISP will decide its own response.
There are still plenty of details left to work out, the sources said. The RIAA has yet to address how it would help ISPs make up for the revenue they would lose by kicking people off their networks or who would pay the costs of sending take-down notices. The RIAA may disclose participating ISPs as soon as next month, according to a music industry source, adding that AT&T and Comcast are expected to be part of the group.
If AT&T and Comcast do join, the RIAA will have plenty of muscle to wage a new assault on piracy. The music industry said last month that it would no longer battle piracy by filing lawsuits against individuals. Instead, the big recording companies seek to create a new line of defense at the network level. And at least on paper, the plan is a potent one.
This move has always made sense for the RIAA, but it’s ironic how the ISPs built their broadband business on the backs of music and movie downloaders and now they’re going to turn around and punish their customers for doing just that. There is likely some very negative press once the full list of cooperating ISPs is revealed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few ISP holdouts that use their status of non-cooperation as a marketing tool to attract downloaders (or customers that just want as much privacy as possible).
I’m still confused about the digital music business model. I can buy a hard copy of a CD for around $10 if I go to a discount seller. I can buy a digital copy of the same album at iTunes for the same price. The difference is that the hard copy of the CD still holds value. I can resell it for $3 or $4 if I stop listening to it. That’s not possible with the digital copy. So, to me, the digital copy should be discounted ahead of time to account for that loss in value. Digital albums should be $5 or $6, not $10. There are no CDs to be burned or shipped, jewel cases to be bought or assembled, or artwork to be printed, so the digital copy should be far cheaper to produce and distribute.
Unfortunately, it appears iTunes is actually raising the price of (some) songs to $1.29.
You can pretty much guarantee that any album whose back cover contains a painting of a lynching isn’t going to be a sunny listen – but even if you go into Dälek’s Gutter Tactics expecting to hear some strange fruit, it’ll still shock you with the brute force of its seething, brooding intensity. The album kicks off with the charmingly titled “Blessed are They Who Bash Your Children’s Heads Against a Rock,” built around a hot minute of an impassioned foreign policy sermon from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and descends from there into a woozy, nightmarish world of droning guitars, ferocious beats, and lyrics buried beneath layer after sinister layer of cacophonous noise. It might seem odd for a hip-hop album to shove its MC to the back of the room, but Dälek isn’t like most hip-hop acts – even those who flirt with the post-rock fringes – and Gutter Tactics goes against the grain, demanding to be played front-to-back with rapt attention rather than diced into shuffle-sized bits on your iPod. Listening to it is like watching a pack of rabid dogs rip their dinner apart in a back alley at midnight, and songs like “Atypical Stereotype” and the title track are so dark they make the Roots sound like “Addams Family Groove”-era MC Hammer. It is, in other words, one of the least friendly rap albums you’re likely to hear all year – and also one of the hardest to turn away from. (Ipecac 2009)