As a self-professed anglophile and fiancee to one very cheeky Brit, I certainly appreciate the many aspects of our wry, Founding Fathers. From stodgy meals, statuesque cathedrals and sublime music, England is a nation enriched in all aspects: cuisine, culture and most importantly, creativity.
My most recent English example? Indie/blues/rock/soul/funk mash-up musicians known as The Heavy.
Hailing from Britain’s rain-sopped turf are The Heavy; four very talented lads who emerged onto the music scene circa early 2000s. Their most notable song, “How You Like Me Now?” has been featured in countless adverts, movies and video game trailers (and was the first tune that sparked my fan frenzy).
The Heavy reeks of rawness. They’re uncut and unparalleled artists who perform as well at gigs as they do on VEVO. I would know; I’ve frequented three of their concerts within the past two years, and have yet to be disappointed.
While The Heavy is relatively under-the-radar, their undeniable talent is worthy of high accolade. Take a peek at the ghoulish video for their new single, “Can’t Play Dead,” and let us know your take on this British, bass-heavy/bad-ass band.
It might feel like an eternity since lead singer Skye Edwards left Morcheeba (2003), leaving the brothers Godfrey to experiment on a couple of albums with different guest vocalists. But with Morcheeba’s latest, Blood Like Lemonade, Edwards has returned and it’s like the band hasn’t missed a beat – i.e., the reincarnation of Morcheeba as we knew it is back and better than ever. The trippy, bluesy electronica that put Morcheeba on the map is still mostly the same, but the songs on Blood Like Lemonade are slickly produced and, well, just damn good. Edwards’ voice is plain dreamy, and these songs are the perfect vehicle for that voice to shine. Most of the tracks are the band’s signature marriage of melody and electronica, as in “Crimson,” the title track and “Recipe For Disaster.”
But there are interesting tracks on here that bring Blood Like Lemonade to another level. The acoustic-guitar-with-beat-infused “Even Though”; the stunning guitar/vocal “I Am the Spring”; and the powerful closing anthem “Beat of the Drum.” Oh, and there’s also the uber-funky pseudo-instrumental, “Cut to the Bass,” which is probably best enjoyed in a very loud, dark, club. If you were already a fan or Morcheeba, you won’t find much wrong with this effort – if you weren’t, it’s the kind of genre-defying albums that just about anyone will like. (Pias America 2010)
RIYL: The Plimsouls, Robert Plant, Stevie Ray Vaughn
Peter Case recently had a heart attack that required multiple-bypass surgery, and it brought the founder of the Nerves and the Plimsouls to within an inch of his life. But luckily for Case, and for his family and for his fans, the surgery was successful, and he even received financial aid in the form of benefit concerts that brought Case together with old friends like T-Bone Burnett, Dave Alvin and Richard Thompson. After a recovery period in which he listened to a lot of old jazz, Case’s new album, Wig! was spawned from a few songwriting and jamming sessions with his band. The result is a raw, bluesy effort that features Case’s distinctive vocals, but is almost more straight blues than the rock he’s been making most of his life. The live, direct-to-analog sound is reminiscent of ‘60s or ‘70s-era recordings, and the songs, while very much following a straight line in style, are nice – not great, but nice. In fact, it’s so bluesy that fans of the Plimsouls might not take to this effort as much as, say, fans of authentic blues would. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Case has earned the right to make music his way, and he sounds, not surprisingly, exuberant and full of life on Wig! Standout tracks are the blazing “Dig What You’re Putting Down” and the piano shuffle, “Look Out!” (Yep Roc 2010)
RIYL: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Marc Broussard
Bo Bice will forever be the guy who finished second to Carrie Underwood on Season 4 of “American Idol.” Many were outraged, thinking Bice had the goods and delivered the performances in the finale to merit winning it all. However, America voted for Underwood and the rest is history. It appears now that it was probably the correct long-haul decision, but that doesn’t mean Bice hasn’t made a nice career for himself. Now he’s back with his third effort, aptly titled 3, which is his debut on Saguaro Records, home to the likes of Patty Loveless and Lonestar. If you like straight-ahead country fried Southern rock, there isn’t much you won’t like about 3. It’s ten songs of shuffling, bluesy goodness, right from the first notes and horn hits of “Keep on Rollin’,” to the honky tonk, riff-infused “Coming Back Home” to the pretty balladry of “Wild Roses.” But there are a few tinges of mediocrity, too, most notably “Good Hearted Woman,” on which Bice seems to hover in a register too low for his vocal range; and “Long Road Back,” which is catchy enough but seems to drone on a bit. Still, Bo Bice keeps on rolling, and his songwriting seems to improve with each effort. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want Underwood’s money, but…(Saguaro Records 2010)
Over the course of his career, Todd Snider’s gained a well-deserved reputation as something of a smart-ass, an artist who apparently can’t resist the temptation to mingle his sentiment with satire, much the same as Kinky Friedman, Randy Newman, Shel Silverstein and other musicians known for their humor and chutzpah. Snider’s last effort, the obviously irreverent Peace Queer EP, found that line between sarcasm and sincerity all the more difficult to discern, and even though The Excitement Plan has Snider turning somewhat introspective, its also clear that his tongue is still situated comfortably in his cheek. Even so, Snider seems to be plowing his roots, turning down the amps and relying primarily on acoustic guitar, piano and harp for a steady, bluesy shuffle. The rustic appeal brings to mind more esteemed musical masters like J.J. Cale and Dr. John, but when he opts for a weathered and reflective perspective – as on “Greencastle Blues” and “Corpus Christi Bay” – the music becomes unexpectedly endearing. Happily, Snider’s observations are as wry as ever – borne out by the trippy tale of the ballplayer who pitched a no-hitter zonked on acid (“America’s Favorite Pastime”), an amiable diatribe on the spoils of success (“Money, Compliments, Publicity”) and a rambling lament about a shiftless spouse (“Barefoot Champagne”). Whether or not The Excitement Plan is as energized as its title suggests may be a matter of debate, but there’s no denying the lure of these entertaining observations. (Yep Roc)
When Brad Delp, lead singer of iconic rockers Boston, took his own life in 2007, it sadly marked the end of a musical era. But consider that there were four other original members of that band, and that they were all amazing musicians in their own right. Fast forward over 30 years from Boston’s debut, and two of the original members, guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Sib Hashian, have formed a new band called Ernie & the Automatics. This band was named after guitarist Ernie Boch Jr. and features the lead vocals of keyboardist Brian Maes, but the elements of Boston are there – the big classic rock guitar riffs and pounding backbeat, as well as bluesy elements throughout on their debut, Low Expectations. It’s hard to re-invent the wheel in this genre, and Ernie & the Automatics don’t try to. But even though the songs are less than memorable, it’s the musicianship, and in particular Maes’ Joe Cocker-esque growl, that drives the band. The best tracks are “The Good Times Never Last,” which sounds a lot like Boston’s “Rock & Roll Band,” as well as the driving, bluesy (and quite creepy) “I’m Gonna Haunt You.” (LABEL: Open E)