The year is now officially half over, and the only thing we have to say here at Rock is the New Roll is that keep your ears strapped on it’s about to get loud. Tours are starting to get announced and cranked up as many musicians have spent the downtime reflecting and writing new music and are eager to share their music with the masses. And we, of course, can’t wait to see what the six months have to offer.
The mighty Night Ranger is back with a boffo new single and video in advance of a record coming out later in the year.
The virtual one-man bad himself Pokey LaFarge is announcing his new record scheduled for release on September 10th with the single “Get It ‘For It’s Gone.”
And, the blazing rock duo The Picturebooks team up with the guys from Monster Truck on a single that will bring to the ear the essence of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”
But wait, there’s more. Here are five records that we are grooving to this week here in the halls of Rock is the New Roll.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It
In these days of online singles released in dribs and drabs in advance of a proper record release, the anticipation of a proper full-length sometimes builds up to an unbearable frenzy. And, for our ears, this is one of those highly anticipated gems. After initially being introduced to the record via the Laurel Canyon-inspired song “Sanctuary,” it was as clear as the ears on our head that we were in store for an exciting listen when the proper record was released.
Holing up in his North Carolina basement at the start of the pandemic, MC Taylor used the current state of affairs as a mood-setter in an attempt to get under the covers of some of the deeper issues behind all of the turmoil swirling around him. With a certain Bob Dylan quality, the record lays bare the fragility of the moment with the gospel-tinged “It Will If We Let It.” “Glory Strums (Of The Long Distance Runner),” a song that could be the distance cousin of a classic Fleetwood Mac tune, and “Mighty Dollar,” telling it like it is. The poor man loses, the rich man wins.
Don’t sleep on this record. This one has lived up to the hype and more and is destined to take up residence in the top ten once the end of the year rolls around.
Vincent Neil Emerson – Vincent Neil Emerson
A quick listen to some of his world-weary lyrics, most notably on “Debtor’s Blues,” there is a sense that if Vincent Neil Emerson was not able to come to grips with his past through the catharsis of his songs he probably would not be alive.
“I spent my whole life/Wonderin’ why I’m down,” Vincent Neil Emerson sings, not long into his new, self-titled sophomore album. “I don’t feel easy if the blues don’t come around/And my face don’t look right without a frown.”
With life seemingly lived in the verses of a country song after enduring his father’s suicide, alcoholism, a brother’s death in a house fire, and homelessness, there is hope rather than despair prevalent with this excellent sophomore release. “Texas Moon” could have been a John Prine Song, “Learnin’ to Drown” is a sparse piano-led stunner that details the singer’s forlorn days sleeping in his car and lays out his life in under 5:00 of reflective and emotional storytelling that would make Townes Van Zant blush.
Produced by his mentor Rodney Crowell, this deservingly break-out record should cement a place for Vincent Neil Emerson in the pantheon of great contemporary Texas singer-songwriters to be mentioned in the same breath as Steve Earle, Guy Clark, and Lyle Lovett.
Amythyst Kiah – Wary + Strange
For virginal ears not familiar with Amythst Kiah one listen to her latest song “Hangover Blues” will have your ears clamoring for more. Somewhat of a genre-bending artist with a voice that floats somewhere between Nina Simone and Tracey Chapman, as a member of the Rhiannon Giddens collective her latest is a highly empowering life-affirming record that doesn’t shy away from addressing the issues of the day most notably on the powerful “Black Myself” and the topic of suicide on “Wild Turkey” that deals with her mother’s suicide.
“Hangover Blues” is as devasting of a back-end of a drinking binge anthem you will find this side of “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” the song “Sleepy Queen” has a bit of a Bill Withers tilt to it, and “Ballad of the Lost” is a gut-wrenching ballad that deals with issues of abandonment head-on.
There is beauty in diversity, and this is a beautiful genre-defying record. Deep Blues meld with Rock, R&B, and Appalachian bluegrass to create an awe-inspiring textured masterpiece. If you listen to only one album this year, it should be this one.
Grateful Dead – Grateful Dead (Skull and Roses)
Mostly worthy of mention here simply because it is one of the best live records ever committed to vinyl, this 50th anniversary remastered edition captures The Grateful Dead at their accessible best.
Known for the lack of sparsity of Grateful Dead songs in favor of some choice covers, the production value on this one is pristine, the vocals are mixed perfectly, and the crowd energy is palpable but does not overwhelm the mix. Highlights include Mighty Merle’s “Mama Tried” and the extended “Sing Me Back Home,” “Johnny B. Good,” and a next-level version of “Me and Bobby McGee.”
Put the headphones on and absorb yourself in this one.
Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader.
As fine a debut record as our ears have had the pleasure of hearing in quite some time, you can pretty much get where the band is coming from when Mia Berrin sings “You should ask your mother what she means, she says Stay away from girls like me.”
Outcast odes aside this is an up-tempo roller coaster ride of on-point songwriting, peppy festival-ready anthems, and highly accessible Indie Rock arrangements from the vantage point of an outsider that has seen what life is on the inside, and is perfectly happy living life on the fringes.
The song “Head Cheerleader” almost has an ’80s fornicating under the football bleachers John Hughes feel about it, and the Joan Jett inspired “Drunk Voicemail” is worth the price of admission alone.
Come to experience the angst, but stay for the Tommy James meets the white rabbit rendering of “Crimson and Clover”