When Holdfast disbanded about 18 months ago, I feared the worst. They weren’t the greatest band in the world, but they were good and getting better. Now two separate bands, Lamp and Terriers, I think everyone can agree that we are all better off for the split. Danny Cohen and Easton Gruber started the latter, joined by Connor Boyle (a solo artist as well), Nora Leahy, and Brandon Hunt.
Music has been trickling out from Terriers for a while now. They put out a really good single called “Black Hole” in September and “Waste Time” has been available more than a year now. Though both are strong entries in their catalogue, neither is really a precursor for the new album. Working with producer Dan Duszynski (Gold Motel, Any Kind), Terriers have created an album which is impossible to peg down in one genre and exceeds expectations.
The band deftly mixes Pablo Honey-era Radiohead and John Vanderslice on the opener, “I Don’t Care If The Sun Is Shining.” Noticeable immediately is Cohen’s improved vocals. A good voice in Holdfast and on the earlier singles, he’s come into his own as a singer and only gets better with multiple listens.
“New York,” the lead single off the album, is the most mainstream-radio type song on UAS. It doesn’t have some of the elements that I really like on other songs from the record, but it does appeal to a wide range of listeners. Plus it doesn’t hurt that it’s a really well-written song. I love the line “New York, I was once humbled by your greatness but now enlightened by the lateness in your answers. Baby, I have rid you for the better. For Chicago or whoever I may find.”
Getting as far away from that adult contemporary feel as quickly as possible, the next three songs swing from Elvis Costello folk to Earth Wind & Fire funk. “You Belong To Me” comes as a very pleasant surprise. I definitely didn’t expect such a dance-y, fun track to follow up the ballad “Fall In Love,” but they fit together seamlessly. All players do an amazing job of jukin and jivin through this number, especially Boyle on the drums.
The talent stays front and center on the Todd Rundgren-like “You Belong To Me.” As if demanding to not be forgotten, Nora Leahy takes the spotlight on “Like I Always Do.” She delivers a beautiful vocal on the country-tinged ballad that increases the vulnerability already displayed in Cohen’s trill.
“Probability Theory” closes the record and contains what is probably my favorite lyric: “I wouldn’t call myself charming, I’ve got a lot left to learn. But I’m not the worst on this farm team, and I still get spurned.” It’s a well-constructed tune, but the genius comes right at the end. Like Abbey Road‘s “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” you’ll always remember these final words on Mutual Admiration Society, “I guess I’ll count myself lucky for what little I do comprehend. Keep my chin up and stay plucky, cause I don’t want it to end.”
I think after you hear the album for yourself, you’ll have a similar feeling. But, you’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to do that. Terriers will be playing a record release show next Wednesday, May 22nd, at Schubas in Chicago. They’ll also be coming by Handwritten Recording studio to record a Hasty Revelations session with us, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Tonight Josh Ritter hits Chicago, and I’ll be there just like I am every time he plays within 50 miles of me. I’m running through my usual show-day ritual of listening to some deep cuts, and I thought it might be a good time to shine a spotlight on some of the man’s unheralded work. Everybody loves “Kathleen” and “The Curse,” but let’s give it up for the songs that make up the other 90% of his records.
9. In The Dark
(Editor’s note: this video is from SxSw 2011, and I make a brief appearance around the 5:35 mark)
8. Hotel Song
7. One More Mouth
5. Open Doors
4. Long Shadows
2. Morning Is A Long Way Down
1. Naked As A Window
Feel free to share your favorite Josh Ritter song or one that you think deserves more praise below in the comments.
Back in July of last year, I had the chance to see The Great American Canyon Band play a great set at SubT here in Chicago. Their music is haunting, but it lures you in with a strange familiarity. I talked to Paul Masson after they played, super nice guy, and he told me they had a full album recorded and were just waiting for the right time to release it. He sent it to me and it was just unbelievably good. I was asked not to write about it due to the uncertainty surrounding the album. It killed me, but I never spoke about the amazing songs sitting in my iPod waiting to make days and nights better for every boy and girl.
Flash forward nine months, and the band has finally given birth to a four-song EP called Lost At Sea. Three of the four songs on this EP come from the earlier recordings. The band also preceded the release of the EP with the single “Young Lady” in March, which was also part of that album. “Tumbleweed” is the best song on the EP, and maybe the best song I’ve heard by the band so far. Hearing it live is a real treat, so if you have the opportunity to check them out make sure you do so. They recently put out a video for the song, using footage from Jared Varava’s short film TUMBLEWEED!
Paul and his wife Krystal Jean make amazing music together, and I hope the rest of the songs I’ve been loving for almost a year get to see the light of day soon. The lone new song is the title track, and it differs from the rest of the album in almost every way. While the older songs have a feeling of darkness surrounded by beauty, “Lost At Sea” is a little more upbeat. The beginning almost feels like a Hawaiian luau song you might enjoy late at night on the beach after too much poi. It does feature a great guitar solo. If this is indicative of the direction The Great American Canyon Band is headed, I’m all for it.
They’re currently on tour, hitting Chicago on 5/5 for a show at Schubas with Fort Frances. That’s gonna be a great one. For more tour dates and info, check out the band’s tumblr page. You can purchase Lost At Sea from Bandcamp for $5.
Saturday night I took to my first trip to the Tonic Room. I was long overdue to hit this venue, but for whatever reason I’ve never made it. As usual there was a strong lineup for the evening, which definitely brought out a crowd. Tonic Room doesn’t have the greatest layout in the world, but the sound is really good and people tend to stick to their own business and get along cordially.
I got there a little late, so Mike Mangione and The Union were already playing. Upon entrance I ran into my first and only real problem with the bar-the door opens right in front of the stage. Great for bands loading in and out, not so much for latecomers who don’t want to walk in everyone’s way to get to the bar.
The show was running about thirty minutes behind schedule, which is fairly typical for a Chicago show. Nobody seemed to mind as Mangione led the band in a raucous set that I thought might literally bring the building down. Luckily the integrity of the building stayed in tact and the other two acts were allowed to play.
I was really impressed by Alexis And The Samurai. They’re natives of New Orleans, and like Todd Kessler, Alexis Marceaux was a contestant on The Voice season 3. The duo managed to create an extraordinary sound using dynamic shifts and arrangements-if you were listening with your eyes closed you would’ve thought it was a full band.
They played some songs off their 2011 album Orange Moon, and I was shocked that they hadn’t found more success so far. They harmonize brilliantly together, and both Alexis and Sam Craft are multi-instrumentalists who can achieve any sonic trick they can think up. My favorite song they did was actually an old Cajun standard about drinking called “Parlez-nous a boire.” It’s a Mardi Gras-worthy party song that really gets the crowd moving.
Todd Kessler’s band started to set up, and here’s where I thought there would be a problem. In The New Folk there are two guitars not counting Todd, bass, drums, and a keyboard. The stage at Tonic Room is about as long as a Honda Accord and as deep as a Vespa. Somehow they managed to get everyone up there and my concerns were for naught.
I saw Todd play a solo show at Uncommon Ground not too long ago, but this was a better show for me. He seems to be a more confident singer when he has a band behind him and some of the pressure is off. And I’m sure he writes most of his songs on acoustic guitar, but they’re meant to be played bigger.
Highlights for me included “First Sip,” which features Todd and backup vocalist Molly Kirk singing beautifully together, “Oh Brother,” (the lead track on the band’s 2012 release Sea Fever), and the sweet album closer “Put You In My Pocket.”
On top of being featured on a nationally televised singing competition, Kessler and Marceaux have something else in common: they care more about making music than being famous. So many people out there just want to hit the big time no matter the cost to their artistic ideals, but not these two. If you haven’t yet, give them both a shot.
I started listening to Matt Costa back in 2008 when his album Unfamiliar Faces came out. It was one of those albums I just picked up randomly when it was suggested on last.fm as something that people with similar taste liked. Turns out they were right on, because that year it got a lot of play on my iPod. Then my interest waned a bit, only to come back strong a couple years later. There’s a lot to enjoy on that album, but for some reason I haven’t kept close tabs on his career since then.
Only recently did I finally listen to his 2010 album Mobile Chateau, and I didn’t even know he had a new album coming until after it was released (it came out on Feb 12th). I don’t really have a good explanation as to why I wasn’t on top of this earlier. I suppose Costa is just one of those musicians who is really good, but hasn’t broken into that tier of performer that I need to know everything about.
On his new self-titled LP, Costa kicks things off with the uptempo pop/folk that I loved so much upon my introduction to his music. “Loving You” and “Early November” both take a kitchen sink approach-strings, horns, piano, a choir of voices-it’s really got it all! He has an uncanny ability to imbue songs with sad lyrics with a beguiling optimism that is hard to deny.
Things take an intimate turn on the quiet “Eyes For You.” Costa’s voice drops a little lower, and most of the extra instrumentation is left out. An organ, guitar, and female backing vocals are all he needs to make this song just as interesting as the first two.
“Good Times” is my favorite tune on this record. It reminds me of Jason Collett in a lot of ways. I tend to think of music in the way that it would be played live, an this song would be a perfect closer for a show. It’s got a great Mardi Gras parade kind of vibe, even though the lyrics are a bit dark.
“Baby we’re running out of money
Honey we’re running out of dough
I’m turning back to the man that I once was
But it was fun to fool them for a while“
Mobile Chateau was the album where Costa really cut loose and tried some new things. This album is the one where he finds the balance and really comes into his own as a singer/songwriter who creates big songs. He’s a great singer, a strong writer, and with the last two records he’s proven himself to be very good at arrangements.
If you haven’t heard of Matt Costa before, check out Unfamiliar Faces first, then this new one. If you like them you can grab everything else. If you already like Costa, there’s little I could or would do to dissuade you from buying this. It’s a great leap forward in his musical maturation.