Five Cool Ones: Five New Records Released This Week (November 27, 2020)

Sure, we have to dig a bit deeper as the December freeze-out time for new releases starts to hit us, but heck, we never said it was going to be easy. And besides, we are doing all of the heavy liftings so you don’t have to.

Aaron Lee Tasjan continues to release solid immaculately produced songs.

Icecream Hands are out with a Beatlesque gem with “No Weapon But Love.”

And, an epic version of “Stand By Me ” that features Roger Daltry and Gary Moore has recently surfaced.

Here are five deftly curated gems for your ears to savor this week.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Straight To You: Live

Kenny Wayne Shepherd who, fun fact, is married to Mel Gibson’s daughter, pretty much consistently stood in the shadow of fellow guitar slinger Jonny Lang until recent years. And, with this his the first live concert recording in 10 years, he may now be on top. A mix of covers along with Shepherd staples like “Blue on Black” the band crackles in places and explodes in others. “Mr. Soul” is a highlight with a scorched earth solo, and “King Bee” takes things a bit lower and slower and demonstrates the versatility of the band along with Noah Hunt’s impressive vocals not to mention featuring an off the rails organ riff.

Cats In Space – Atlantis

After settling in with Damien Edwards, the latest new lead singer for Cats in Space, one of the best present-day AOR bands, we are all in here at Rock is the New Roll. With a vocal range that can time-warp back to the early ’80s, the music here is big, bombastic, and over the top in all of the right places. Very much in the Styx or Boston mold, songs like “Spaceship Superstar” and “Listen to the Radio” are pure Pomp-Rock pleasures, and the requisite ballad “I Fell Out of Love With Rock and Roll” is Queen meets Electric Light Orchestra with a side order of early Journey. And, of course, don’t sleep on the Glam wonderment of “Marionettes.”

Kelley Stoltz – Ah!

Guitar Pop Impressario Kelley Stolz with his latest effort Ah! proves once again that he can stand fret for fret with Matthew Sweet for Power Pop supremacy. Combining Power Pop, Indie Rock, Jangle Pop along with moody Post-Punk sensibilities, this record combines everything that Stolz does best. “Never Change Enough” is a bit of a Country Rocker with a bit of an Old  97’s feel, “She Likes Noise” has a Post-Punk ‘My Sharona feel to it, and “and “Moon Shy” puts it all in a blender of cool smoothness.

The High Water Marks – Ecstasy Rhymes

Their first proper release in over a decade, the Indie Rock pairing of Hilarie Sidney and Ole Bratset is still as strong as ever. Wandering just on the outer edges of lo-fi, the title track comes dangerously close to shoegaze, and the cleverly titled “Some Like It Lukewarm” cranks things up a bit. With Sidney as a founding member of the terrific band Apples In Stereo, these guys know their way around an Indie-Pop rock song, just listen to the R.E.M. flavored “The Trouble With Friends” and tell us we’re wrong.

Billie Joe Armstrong – No Fun Mondays
As evidenced by his collaboration with Norah Jones on a set of Everly Brothers tunes, the Green Day main man is not afraid of taking chances and sending us down a rabbit hole or two for the sake of his songs. And, on No Fun Mondays, a set of eclectically chosen cover songs, he does just that.
Fortunately, there are more peaks than valleys on this one, “I Think We’re Alone Now” doesn’t quite stick the landing, but “Manic Monday” delivers, and, if it’s possible for a Shaun Cassidy (sort of) cover song to be cool “That’s Rock and Roll” is pretty hip.

 

 

 

Rock is the New Roll Best 100 Albums of 2020 (1-25)

025. Larkin Poe – Self Made Man

Larkin Poe, a band comprised mostly of sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, whose great grandfather is Edgar Allan Poe, delivers a healthy dose of Southern Roots rock in the Allman Brothers mold. Their latest record, Self Made Man, rocks a bit more than their previous efforts with shades of Southern Rock, Chicago Blues, and even a bit of Americana Country entering the song cycle at unexpected times. The choruses carry a lot of hooks and the guitar work is aggressive and first-rate particularly on “Back Down South” where guest guitar slinger Tyler Bryant does the heavy lifting.

024. Nicole Atkins -Italian Ice

Ever since the release of her excellent 2017 record Goodnight Rhonda Lee Nicole Atkins has been on our radar. Here, with her new record Italian Ice she takes her retro wardrobe to the next level. Recorded in Alabama at the Muscle Shoals Studios with two members of the vintage Muscle Shoals rhythm section, bassist David Hood and Keyboardist Spooner Oldham, this elegant record does a lot of genre-hopping. There are sprinkles of ’60s girl group, plenty of Dusty Springfield influences, as well as splashes of Disco-Lite and Classic Country. Guest turns from Spoon’s Brit Daniels, Civil Wars veteran John Paul White, and Avett Brother Seth Avett take this one up to next-level coolness.

023. 2nd Grade – Hit To Hit

Formed by a collective of like-minded musicians gathered up from the ashes of various Philadelphia area Pop-Punk band, 2nd Grade with their debut record Hit To Hit, deliver an infectious set of Indie inspired Power Pop gems. 24 tightly knit songs in just under 42 minutes, the ride takes you on a gentle roller coaster of jubilance on “Sunkist,” Beach Boys-inspired harmonies on “Not in the Band,” and Replacements worthy energy on the short but extremely sweet “Boys In Heat.” With musical touchpoints, the likes of The Rubinoos, The Replacements, The Greg Khin Band, and Teenage Fan Club your summer Jam just might be here a little bit early.

022. Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You

Albeit a bit slowed down, Bruce Springsteen is back with his entire E-Street band in tow for another set of superbly written anthems. Everything that embodies the boss, and then some, is here including downbound trains, the edge of town, and even a river or two. There are even a couple of three songs that were culled from ’72 demos with “Janey Needs a Shooter” finally seeing the light of day after having been left off all of the early-era albums.

021. Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow

Mark Lanegan has a dark poetic sensibility that brings to mind Nick Cave or Scott Walker. His latest record coming on the heels of the release of his no holds barred bare-knuckle autobiography features guest turns from the likes of John Paul Jones, Greg Dulli, and Ed Harcourt.

020. Cherie Currie – Blvds of Splendor

Perhaps the least famous of the Runaway’s, Joan Jett gets all of the press, Cherie Currie has carved a Glam Rock and Roll path of her own as a solo act along with the likes of Lita Ford and Suzi Quatro. Still in fine voice, her latest record features Guns ‘N’ Roses Slash and Duff McKagan on the supercharged “Mr. X, a highly polished and quite enjoyable take on Nick Gilder’s Roxy Roller that would make Suzi Quatro blush, and a finale that brings together Brody Dalle, Juliette Lewis, and The Veronica’s on the Runaways song, “Queens Of Noise.” Cherie Currie, still rocking after all these years.

019. Elijah Ocean – Blue Jeans & Barstools

Opening for the likes of Dale Watson and Charley Crockett this L.A. based by way of Maine troubadour should very soon be carving his own Outlaw Country niche right alongside Chris Stapelton, Whitey Morgan, and Tennessee Jet. His latest record, Blue Jeans and Barstools will be on the shortlist for Texas-style Hony Tonk record of the year. With highlights like the title track, “Blue Jeans & Barstools” his tribute to Buck and Dwight on “Bring Back That Bakersfield Sound,” and “I Left My One Spot (Back at the Five Spot)” his Outlaw Country street cred passport is stamped, sealed, and delivered.

018. Mapache – From Liberty Street

This one has so many Laurel Canyon vibes wafting all over it the record might as well have been recorded on Joni Mitchell’s couch. This, their sophomore record is a breezy harmony-ladened gem.

017. The Struts – Strange Days

Ears, down our favorite real and true Rock and Roll band in the last five years, Luke Spiller along with his band The Struts are back and as Glam-fastic as ever. Wearing the Queen, Def Leppard, and AC/DC crown with honor, this new record dials down the showmanship and dials up the guitar riffs most noticeably on “Cool” and “Wild Child,” a song that features Tom Morello. This is a band that is maturing before our very ears, heck they even throw in an “Angie” style ballad that is part Rolling Stones and part Black Crowes. Strap your ears on and enjoy. Just start on song number two and skip the title track that features Robbie Williams. But the literal call-in from Def Leppard’s Joe Eliot on “I Hate How Much I Want You” on the chorus is wicked fun.

016. Old 97’s – Twelfth

The Old 97’s, the Americana version of The Replacements, is back and with the leading man, Rhett Miller singing as good as he ever, the band’s playing is better than ever. While the group has fine-wine mellowed (sort of) with age, their core values of singing songs about women, whiskey and life on the road are still intact. And face it, Rhet Miller’s voice alone could melt butter. Highlights here are many, but “Absence (What We’ve Got)” and the mournfully beautiful “Belmont Hotel” are definite standouts.

015. Rufus Wainwright – Unfollow The Rules

When it comes to producing elegant and lush Pop symphonies there are not many artists that do it as gloriously well as Rufus Wainwright. This makes us extremely glad to experience his return to Pop glory after having been distracted by producing his own opera and releasing a record of Shakespeare’s sonnets. This from a guy that uncannily reproduced Judy Garland’s Live from Carnegie Hall almost note for note. With Unfollow The Rules is a set of lush theatrical gems with Pet Sounds worthy production courtesy of Mitchell Froom who has worked with Sir Paul, Elvis Costello, and Crowded House among others.

The daringly beautiful “Early Morning Madness” will certainly stand up as one of his best works, and “Peaceful Afternoon” is a love song for the new millennium.

014. Paul Weller – On Sunset

Whether it is with The Jam, The Style Council, or with his ever-growing cache of solo albums, Paul Weller is always a must-hear. Much like Nick Lowe, Sir Paul is establishing himself as a torchbearer for the old guard rock and roll fraternity. Returning to his old friends at Polydor Records, the label for both of his former bands, on this, his first record since 2018’s True Meanings, Weller has on full display his love for Folk and 60’s Pop in equal measure. “Baptiste” could be a Steve Winwood single from back in the day, and “Old Father Tyme” is a Steve Mariott special.  As is becoming Paul Weller’s M.O., there is a bit of an electronic flair mixed in with the troubadour folk leanings that keeps things contemporary while never losing that Country Squire edge. On Sunset is a surprise around every turn great listen that should, scratch that will be, on our list of record of the year candidates.

013. HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III

It seems that the sisters Este (Guitar/Bass), Danielle (Vocals/Guitar), and Alana (Guitar/Keyboard), collectively known as HAIM, are just getting better and better with each subsequent release. The songwriting is turned up a notch, the Dixie Chicks meet Fleetwood Mac vocal harmonies are front and center delicious, and the overall vibe of their third proper release, Women In Music Pt. III, is cool, melodic, and oozing with confidence. While “The Steps” has more of a Sheryl Crow essence wafting in the air, “Leaning On You” has crystalline harmonies only sibling sisters can generate. This is a great record worthy of end-of-the-year honors for sure.

012. Sam Doores – Sam Doores

With a moody atmospheric vibe that could very well be the soundtrack of some hipster New Orleans dirge after-hours party, Sam Doores uses strings, vintage organs, marimbas, vibraphones, and even an autoharp to create a moody, psychedelic vibe. This eclectic record also includes a stellar guest turn from Alynda Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff.

011. Early James – Singing For My Supper

It almost seems that we are contractually required to like any record that comes from Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound record company, but we have no problem with that. From Yola, Dee Smith, on to Kendell Marvel and beyond everything that they touch seems to turn into ear-pleasing gold. And the new one from Early James, Singing For My Supper, is certainly no exception. From the opener, “Blue Pill Blues” we are treated to a semi-lengthy instrumental solo before the song turns into some sort of 70’s inspired warp zone that floats somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and Jethro Tull. As it turns out, the opener simply opens the door to the time travel portal that is fully realized with “Gone as the Ghost” and beyond.

010. Bye Bye Blackbirds – Boxer At Rest

Trying to choose a favorite song or to cull band influences or genres from the choice morsels presented here on Boxer At Rest, this high shelf booze of a record courtesy of Bradley Skaught and The Bye By Blackbirds would be somewhat of a fools’ errand. There is literally nothing not to like with this album. Sure, there are fairy dustings of Big Star, The Birds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Box Tops sprinkled everywhere, but make no mistake. Lenny, Bradley and the rest of the band aren’t simply riding the coattails of those that have gone before them, they are playing it forward with depth and deep reverence. Just listen to the guitar licks that would make Sun Records and Sam Phillips proud towards the end of “War Is Still Hell” and tell us we’re wrong. On “Watch Them Chime” you might catch the scent of R.E.M.’ or even a Tim-era Replacements vibe. And, on “Baby It’s Still You” the horns are back in just the right spots and the band’s secret weapon, Kelly Atkins, announces herself in fine fashion even though she has been classing up the joint earlier with her elegant harmonies throughout many many of the tracks.

At a nice and tidy 33 minutes and 23 seconds, this one is best savored in one sitting with a nice cocktail in hand, surrounded by good friends, toasting those that are no longer able to join us.

009. Hazel English – Wake Up

Wake Up, the hippy, trippy debut L.P. from New Zealander Hazel English is some sort of wicked hot tub time machine, Austin Powers soundtracking, mind warp blending of a Best Coast, Dusty Springfield, Marianne Faithful extravaganza as produced by Phil Spector. Just listen to “Shaking” and tell us we’re wrong.

008. Margo Price – That’s How Rumors Get Started

After having garnered lavish praise with her 2016 release Midwestern Farmers Daughter, an artistic tour-de-force that drew comparisons to Loretta Lynne and Bobbie Gentry,  with her new record she walks that line between ’70s countrypolitan and present-day Nashville with genius and aplomb. With the realism of the title track and the left-turn of “Heartless Mind,” a song that could have been a Deborah Harry single, her versatility is shown around every corner on a release that will certainly stand the test of time.

007. Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real – Naked Gard

With Lukas Nelson, the Willie Nelson apple certainly doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Straddling Rock, Country, Soul, as good as brilliantly as anyone not named Chris Stapleton, here the goodness rolls on with songs like “Focus on the Music,” a song that sounds like Willie could have written it, and “Out In L.A.” as bellwethers for an album hits all of the right buttons in just the right places.

06. Ashley McBryde – Never Will

As official members of the Ashley McBryde fan club from the days when she was hanging out in “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” we are calling our shot now. Never Will, her latest record will be on many of the year-end best-of lists, genre be damned. Rocking it up a bit more than her prior efforts yet maintaining her 80’s ladies charm, this one will put her right up there with Lilly Hiatt and Margo Price in the reigning queen of Country music sweepstakes.

05. Born Ruffians – Juice

Full of hyperkinetic energy, the latest record from Born Ruffians is full of festival chorus-worthy hooks and punchy Jangle-Pop that will bring to mind Weezer and The Pixies. The epic opener, “I Fall in Love Every Night” sets the tone with a frenzied string-laden piano-driven anthem that pretty much drives everything that is yet to come. Brilliant stuff and sorely needed when we are all in need of a mood-changer.

004. Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

Chris Stapleton is not messing around with his latest record, Starting Over. Returning to the comfortable environs of RCA Studio A in Nashville with Benmonth Tench and Mike Campbell, a couple of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers in tow, he continues to deliver his own brand of Outlaw Country blending Classic Country, Country Rock, Soul, and Americana to create a soul-soothing mix of impeccably written and produced tunes. It would be a fools-errand to cull a favorite track from this package, suffice it to say all of them are the best. The title song is great, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” Waylon by way of Steve Earle, is even better, and “Whiskey Sunrise” is a mournful Country-Noir belter.

003. Marcus King – El Dorado

Proving in full measure that he can step out from The Marcus King Band and show that he is no guitar whiz one-trick pony, Marcus King shows his songwriting chops and his ability to deliver roots-based melodic masterpieces. Blues and Southern Soul is the order of the day and the top of the mark backing band provided by producer Dan Auerbach and his team at Easy Eye Sound is ‘Wrecking Crew’ worthy. What this record lacks in King’s trademark guitar-shredding is more than made up with the emotional depth and heartfelt vintage soul of an artist that will be on our radar for many years to come.

002. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

With his first album of new material since 2012’s Tempest, on this, his latest, Dylan is once again in a fine form combining Blues, Folk, Country, Rockabilly, and Gospel with a bit of protest thrown in for good measure. As we have come to expect, the songwriting on this one is a master-class level history and pop culture lesson with each verse.

There are Road-House Blues on “Crossing the Rubicon,” Jimmy Reed inspired Blues on “Goodbye Jimmy Reed,” and on “Key West (Philosopher Pirate) we are taken on a stripped-down 9:00 journey down the acknowledgment path of mortality. And, the epic “Murder Most Foul” brings us face to face with the Kennedy Assassination for good measure.

This one might be the best album of the year.

001. Jason Isbell – Reunions

As expected, the new Jason Isbell record is spectacular. His band, The Four Hundred Unit is one of the cracker-jack units in the business, and this one might surpass Southeastern as the best album in the Jason Isbell canon given enough listening time. Extra credit to Jason for releasing the album exclusively to independent record stores one week in advance of delivering the finished product to the unwashed masses.

Rock is the New Roll Best 100 Albums of 2020 (26-50)

050. Blues Pills – Holy Moly

It has been almost 4 years since Erin Larsson and Blues Pills shared their retro-tinged blend of Psychedelic Blues with the unwashed masses, and it has definitely been worth the wait. With Holy Moly, their latest release, the third time is definitely a charm as now, three records in, the band has definitely hit their stride with a revamped more rock less blues sound that seems to fit the Janis meets Melissa Etheridge vocal stylings just perfectly.

049. The Waterboys – Good Luck Seeker

After a couple of semi-uneven affairs, the classic Waterboys with Mike Scott at the helm are back to what brought them here with their latest release, Good Luck Seeker. Pieced together by trading files between the various home studios of the band members may tend to make the overall record seem a bit disjointed, and maybe it is, but since each song stands alone as its own excellent entity this minor flaw is easily overlooked. The opener, “The Soul Singer” is a horn-infested stunner and any song that rhymes Dennis Hopper and Steve Cropper has got to be cool, and the song “Dennis Hopper” definitely is. You will need to look past the electronic forward texture of this record to enjoy it fully if you are an old-school Waterboys fan but the Emerald Isle travelogue worthy “Postcard From the Celtic Dreamland” will take you back home.

048. Bootsy Collins – The Power Of One

Beam down the mother ship Bootsy Collins is back, and it’s like he never left. There is no real re-making of the Funky template here, just some friends sitting in on a stress-free funkadelic late-night jam, and we are all invited to join the party. George Benson jumps on in with the title track, Ellis Hall, also known as The Ambassador of Soul, classes up the joint on “Slide Eazy” while big band Jazz front-man Christian McBride takes you behind the scenes to “Funkship Area-51” and co-conspirator Larry Graham lays down the groove on what might be the cover song of the year on this even more funky, if that’s even possible, version of Sly’s epic song “If You Want Me To Stay.” And, make sure that you don’t sleep on the exquisite saxophone of Branford Marsalis on “Club Funkateers” as a palate cleanser after a fine funky new meal the likes of which you haven’t been able to savor in quite a while.

047. Willie Nelson – First Rose of Spring

Depending on how you count them, Willie Nelson has released over 100 albums, and, amazingly enough, he has not put out a bad record in at least a dozen years. His latest, mostly cover tunes, with a few originals sprinkled in for good measure, just because he can, has him singing wistfully about his certain stage in life. Produced by long time collaborator and friend Buddy Cannon doing the knob twirling, the formula is not messed with. Solid, carefully curated song selections with Willies trademark delivery providing the nuance that makes a song you have heard many times sound even more special and at times brilliant.

Jimmy Dean’s “Just Bummin’ Around” is a gentle and meandering walk in the park, Paycheck’s classic “I’m The Only Hell My Mama Ever Raised” picks up the tempo and doesn’t stray too far from the original showing that Willie still has his vocal fastball working, and even “Yesterday When I Was Young” is saved from Charles Aznavour Shmaltz with the Teatro treatment that Willie Gives it Here. “I’ll Be Breaking Out Tonight” is a stone-cold country classic expertly delivered by a master at his craft.

Viva Willie!!

046. Mystery Jets – A Billion Heartaches

This eclectic blend of a band combines Kaleidoscopic Folk, Post Punk, and Indie Rock into an infectious ’60s influenced brand of Rock and Roll. From the earworm-worthy song “Hospital Radio” to the delicately soaring “History Has Its Eyes On You” there is something for everyone on this fine record.

045. Dream Wife – So You Gonna…

If The Go-Go’s were just a bit more daring and out there, they might have been Dream Wife. Heavy Garage-Punk, Party-Pop anthems along with dance-worthy rave-ups are the order of the day. With their sophomore effort, So You Gonna …., the sound is a bit more polished than their debut, but no less fun. Recorded with an all-female recording crew, there is a bounce to these songs that can take on a “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” flair one moment and a Blondie worthy flare-up the next. This one is a layered listen with rewards waiting around every corner.

044. Country Westerns – Country Westerns

Enter into this one lightly my friends. These guys might quickly move to the top of your own personal radar as your new favorite band. A Rock and Roll band with a Country sheen, The Country Westerns deliver a party that is slightly more aggressive than American Aquarium, a notch below the ramshackle energy of The Old ’97’s, and just about right to hang with The Gaslight Anthem. Hailing from Nashville it should come as no surprise that the musicianship is par-excellence and with songs like “It’s On Me,” and “TV Light”  singer Joseph Plunkett offers up a cool and raspy vocal performance that would make Paul Westerberg jealous.

043. Neon Animal – Make No Mistake

As the title suggests, this band of merry musicians loves Rock and Roll. They love it so much that three songs on this scorcher of an album have ‘Rock’ in the title. Picture the most rock of any rock concert you have been to, multiply that by three joints and two six-packs, and you just might have the essence of this band.

042. Sweet Lizzy Project – Technicolor

At first listen, you might find Sweet Lizzy Project and their debut record Technicolor somewhat difficult to wrap your ears around, but when you do it will be an enchanting moment for all involved. This five-piece hailing from Cuba was brought over to America with the sponsorship of Raul Malo and The Mavericks. After moving to Nashville the band recorded the album at Blackbird Studios.

Don’t try to pigeonhole these guys, you would find it a frustrating endeavor, and in this case, that is a very good thing.  Swaying from soaring Indie Rock inflections on the title track to the more rocking “Turn Up The Radio” it makes sense that this band would have found themselves opening for Heart.

“Ain’t Nobody to Call” throws a curveball on everything with an honest to goodness cowbell and a bit of a “My Sharona Vibe.” Things get lower and slower when lead singer Lisset joins forces with The Mavericks on the lilting 80’s Country painted “The Flower’s In The Seed.” The tempo and Genre hopping inherent everywhere on this record makes Technicolor one of the best records to be released in this young year.

041. Best Coast – Always Tomorrow

Hard to believe it has been five years since the release of their highly excellent L.P., California Nights, but this one was definitely worth waiting for. Rocking it a bit more than we are used to from this band, every song is a shimmering gem. “For The First Time” is one of the more buoyant break-up songs you might hear this year and “Everything Has Changed” has a bit of a Joan Jett “I Love Rock and Roll” vibe to It.”

040. Zephaniah Ohara – Listening To The Music

It has been two-plus long years since we have heard from Zephaniah Ohara and in album release years these days, that is a very long time. But fear not, it is clear that in the intervening time since his last record This Highway was released way back in 2017 he has been touring, honing his craft, and most importantly he has been Listening to the Music, the title of his latest release.

With a voice that blends Mighty Merle with Waylon Jennings, this troubadour plays like Lefty Frizell, tells stories like Johnny Cash and Tom T. Hall, and wears the road on his boots like Woody Guthrie. Whether he goes into “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” territory like he does on “Living Too Long” or whether he is lamenting the boarding up more of his old haunts each time he goes into the city on “Riding That Train” there is a purity in his voice that we haven’t heard since Glen Campbell.

39. Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur

The hills of Laurel Canyon are well represented on Dixie Blur, the latest record from Pop artist Jonathan Wilson. From the wistful throwback vibe of “’69 Corvette” to the rollicking Bob Wills inspired “In Heaven Making Love” there is a new gem to be discovered around every turn.

038. The Empty Hearts – The Second Album

When you have four blokes like these with the Rock and Roll pedigree that they have, at worst this record should be worth a listen, and at best it will be great. And it is great. With Wally Pamar, the voice that brought you “Talking In Your Sleep and “What I Like About You” when he was with the Romantics, Eliot Easton from The Cars, Clem Burke of Blondie, and throwing Andy Babiuk bass player for the Chesterfield Kings in the mix for good measure all pogo-sticking throughout the album, you have one heck of a Power Pop Gem in the making. Heck, even Ringo Starr makes another appearance here on the Kinks evoking “Remember Days Like These.” The ex-Beatle is seemingly everywhere these days having popped up on Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest as well as Dion’s. Earworm highlights are everywhere here most notably “The Best That I Can,” “Jonathan Harker’s Journal,” and “Coat-Tailer, a song the beckons the early days of The Who.

037. Robert Jon & The Wreck – Last Light on the Highway

Just from pure listening standards, you would think that Robert Jon & The Wreck were part of the new wave of Southern Rocker hailing from Alabama or South Carolina. In reality, these guys may have Orange County, California in their blood, but they certainly have Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, even a little Molly Hatchet in their soul. Slide guitars, dual guitar solos, gang harmonies, this one has it all.

036. Hello Forever – Whatever It Is

Pay close attention to this band. In an era where it seems to be cool to jump in the studio, cut 12 songs in 3 days, and release a record to the unsuspecting public, this Psych-Pop group tracked their debut record, Hello Forever, over 200 individual recording sessions, time very much well spent based on the pristine production and attention to detail that is on full display on virtually every song of this fine album. The Brian Wilson soaring and background harmony influence is definitely a call-out here as is Vampire Weekend and Electric Light Orchestra. And, the elongated vocal runs courtesy of lead singer and songwriter Samuel Joseph are definitely Freddie Mercurian. If you like Doo-Wop, Soul, Arena Rock, or even West Coast Folk-Rock, then this highly polished record is your go-to jam.

035. The Jaded Hearts Club – You’ve Always Been There

What do you get when putting together a band that consists of front-men from two different bands, Miles Kane (Last Shadow Puppets) and Nic Cester (Jet), along with various members of Blur, Muse, and The Zutons? One hell of a covers, and more band, that’s what. Chock full of semi-obscure Motown covers and semi-known rock classics you will know by ear if not by name, this record will take you on a drive down nostalgia avenue in a convertible with the roof down. Most of these tunes fully stick the landing, most notably the version of The Four Tops “Reach Out “I’ll Be There” and Screaming Jay’s “I Put A Spell On You.” But, speaking truth to power, “Fever” is best left unheard and Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” that starts things out as a sort of introduction weighing in at just under one minute could have easily been left out. And realistically, does anyone want to hear any rendition of “Money, That’s What I Want” in this day and age?

034. Ray LaMontagne – MONOVISION

Returning to his stellar songwriting roots, Ray LaMontagne returns to his wandering troubadour vibe with his latest record, MONOVISION  bringing to the ear the mellower side of Led Zeppelin along with a side order of Cat Stevens and Van Morrison. “Rocky Mountain Healin'” evokes both John Denver and Neil Young simultaneously, and “Misty Morning Rain” catches a whiff of Donovon by way of Paul Weller.

033. AC/DC – Power Up

AC/DC is back, mostly better than ever, and it’s like they never left. The national nightmare that was the money-grabbing Axl Rose tour is long behind us, Brian Johnson is belting the songs out with Back in Black quality venom, the late Malcolm Youngs’ nephew is filling the rhythm guitar shoes quite admirably, and long-time drummer Phil Rudd is back behind the kit after taking a few albums off. Sure, this is reliable ground they are treading, their sound hasn’t really changed since the Bon Scott Days, but in the case of these Rock and Roll Lifers, this one is the welcome adrenaline shot of good old-fashioned, old-school Rock and Roll that we really need right about now.

032. Blitzen Trapper – Holy Smokes Future Jokes

The album has a real comforting ’60s folk fell instrumentally with a distinct George Harrison penned Beatles vibe, most notably on the title track. “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” is prime “Loser” era Beck, and “Sons and Unwed Mothers” is poignantly beautiful.

031. American Aquarium – Lamentations

One of the many bands influenced by Whiskeytown, building on their critically acclaimed album Things Changed released back in 2018, their latest effort is a combination of Tome Petty meets Bruce Springsteen everyman splendor. Lead singer and main songwriter B.J. Barham just might be the best Americana writer that is not named Jason Isbell.

030. Low Cut Connie – Private Lives

One of our favorite bands of recent vintage has released one of our favorite records of the year. Becoming known as one of the bands on President Obama’s personal playlist as well as for their incendiary live shows and over the top quarantine sessions, Andrew Weiner and his bandmates are delivering piano rock to the masses the likes of which we haven’t seen since the early Leon Russell days. Favorites are sprinkled all over this thing with standouts that include the title track, the slow burn of “Help Me,” a song we all need to help us hang in there during troubled times, and the almost Dawes evoking “Take A Little Ride Downtown.” This is a terrific set of tunes that deserve to have more ears sent their way.

029. The Band of Heathens – Stranger

With Band of Heathens, not since The Alice Cooper Band has there been a band that is nothing like the image that their moniker might imply. This time out there is not a lot of straying from their normal template with various brands of lone star Blues, country-tinged Americana, Roots Rock, Southern Rock and good old-fashioned Rock and Roll all on full display. There is even a cowbell front and center on the song “Dare.” With just the right mix of storytelling alongside political commentary it is clear that if the goal was to one-up themselves following their highly excellent 2017 release Duende, then, mission fully accomplished.

028. Bad Touch – Kiss The Sky

One of the more recent additions to our “Rock and Roll is Not Dead” list of bands, Bad touch is a 5-piece Classic Rock inspired band that based on their sound could have easily come from Alabama or Muscle Shoals Alabama instead of across the band in the U.K. where they are actually from.

Drawing inspiration from The Black Crowes, The Faces, as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Touch should be a musical force to reckon that surely will break out in a big way in 2020. “Let Go” is Black Crowes inspired Blues-Rock standout, and the title track “Kiss The Sky” is a bit more of a rocker with singer Stevie Westwood doing his best Glen Hughes impersonation. Covering Kiki Dee’s “I’ve Got The Music In Me” may seem like an odd choice, but here it works quite nicely and serves to show off the versatility of one of the best new Rock and Roll bands to come around in quite some time.

027. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Fresh off her critically acclaimed collaboration on the Better Oblivion Community Center record with Conor Oberst. Phoebe Bridgers is back in short order with her unique brand of Folk-Pop elegance. The record is a meandering beauty with hushed vocals and lush arrangements with lyrics that can be dark at times against a template of sunshine melodies. The mood is pensive in places, especially on “Halloween” and jaunty in others as displayed on the travelogue inspired “Kyoto.” Exquisitely produced as tight as the skin on an apple this is an elegant release with plenty of high points and very few low ones.

026. The Reflectors – First Impression

What a spot-on perfect name for the debut record from one of the best Power Pop bands to cross our ear-paths in quite a long time. Citing the Raspberries along with The Buzzcocks as major influences, the crunchy guitar chords and deceptively timeless lyrics will bring you back to the late ’60s early ’70’s at the blink of an ear. All Killer, no filler, every song’s a winner on this one especially on the Big Star vibing “Champagne” and the Garage Rock banging “U Should Be My Girl.” It will be impossible to be in a bad mood after listening to this record.

Rock is the New Roll Best 100 Albums of 2020 (51-75)

075. Matt Costa – Yellow Coat

There is a pleasant David Gray vibe wafting in the air on Matt Costa’s refreshingly cool new record, Yellow Coat, his second for Dangerbird Records and sixth overall. Highlights abound, most notably on the reverb-drenched and Motown inspired Savannah and the Sam Cook inspired “Slow.” Even on the slower more thoughtful tunes such as “Last Love Song,” a song that could rightly have been a long lost Elliott Smith outtake, Costa manages to shine. With every song carrying a slightly different DNA, this is a record that rewards multiple visits to the well.

074. Elizabeth Cook – Aftermath

Make no mistake, despite her highly popular side-piece gig as a radio host for Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country, Elizabeth Cook, at her core, is pure Rock and Roll. Produced by Butch Walker, her latest effort, Aftermath, is brash, bold, and propulsive in places and lean and mean in others. The opener “Bones” announces her presence in bombastic style, and the closer, “Mary, The Submissive Years” is a talk-sing nod to the late great John Prine. Thank you, Sturgill Simpson, for breaking down the Country, Rock and Roll barriers.

073. Gasoline Lollipops – All The Misery Money Can Buy

Come for the cool band name, stay for thor ultra-cool self-glossed genre, Blending Rock and Roll. From the opener and title track “All The Misery Money Can Buy” with the driving rhythm and Muscle Shoals inspired background singers it is clear that this band is not fooling around. When a sharp turn is taken on “Dying Young” with its “Tuesday’s Gone Feel” and the diversity of the singer is on full display as frontman Clay Rose goes all Raul Malo on the song, the die is cast for us calling shotgun for the rest of the road trip. Rockabilly, Roots Rock, Americana, Jam, this Boulder, Co. based band covers all of the cool bases your ears know and love. This new Gas Pops record is already on heavy rotation here in the offices of Rock is the new Roll.

072. Cary Morin – Dockside Saints

Exploring the musical landscape on the dirty side of roots-based Americana this eclectic guitar-slinger will have you riveted from the opening bell with “Nobody Gotta Know” a voodoo blend of Cajun, Swamp Rock, with hints of Bluegrass that seemingly shares some DNA with Dr. John. With Exception to the Rule” Cory’s sensitive side comes out along with his ear-friendly voice, and on “Prisoner” and on “Tonight” we find out just how the guitar Gods have blessed this exciting new talent.

071. Ray Wylie Hubbard: Co-Starring

Much like the Dion record from last month Ray Wylie Hubbard’s latest, and arguably his best record,  Co-Starring features many of his famous friends on an album that features no-holds-barred storytelling and signature rhymes that can be found nowhere else. Where else are you going to find out that a 392 scat backed Dodge Charger rhymes with a tattoo that says ‘free Sonny Barger’.

The album features Ringo Starr, Don Was, Joe Walsh, Chris Robinson, Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Cadillac Three, Pam Tillis, Paula Nelson, Elizabeth Cook, Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, Ashley McBryde, Larkin Poe, Peter Rowan, and Ronnie Dunn.

070. Kai Danzberg: Rockshow

If you have ever pondered what sort of record Freddy Mercury might be putting out if he were alive today, the question may have been asked and answered with Kai Danberg’s Pop-fastic new album Rockshow. Sort of a magical sandbox of E.L.O, Queen, and Jellyfish with virtually every song on this record stands out as a Power Pop masterclass.

Stand-Out Song: Rockshow

069. Sonny Landreth – Blacktop Run

Besides having the best Eastbound and down the driving song of the year, this one is a swiss army knife of a record with surprises around every corner. “Love Dance With Me” is a Dire Straits worthy shuffle of an instrumental, while “Groovy Goddess” with the ’70s organ riffage driving the song takes the proceedings to the next level of slide guitar gutsy madness.”Somebody Gotta Make A Move” could have been on an early Eric Clapton record.

068. The Bobby Lees – Skin Suit

Commercial, they are not, and this is precisely why The Bobby Lees is set to take over the Garage-Rock hip band of the moment mantle. Taylor made for CBGB’s these guys virtually command you to notice them. Part Iggy Pop and a whole lot of Siouxie Sioux front-woman Sam Quartin commands the stage with a presence we have not seen or heard in quite some time. There is not much flower and a whole lot of power emanating from this band of twenty-somethings from Woodstock, N.Y.

067. Charlie Crockett – Welcome To Hard Times

With this, his 8th album since his 2015 debut,  and his second already this year, to say that Charlie Crockett is on a bit of a roll would be like saying Eric Clapton is good at that guitar thing. Of course, captain obvious. And what a stellar album it is. Expertly walking the tightrope between Classic Country and Americana-Roots music, there is nothing about this old soul crooner that seems past its born-on date. Sure there is a bit of good old countrypolitan in many of the tunes presented here, most notably with the aptly named “The Man That Time Forgot,” but it is on the take me to the honky numbers “Run Horse Run” and “Paint it Blue” where this record really earns it spurs.

066. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

A Heros Death, the sophomore album from Fontaines D.C. may not be as spot-on dangerous as Dogrel, it is still, none the less, an inspiring record that deserves to be in your record collection. Starting from the opener “I Don’t Belong,” a mid-tempo anthem that highlights the gritty vocal of Grian Chatten, the stage is set for this Dublin Band, sort of a Post-Punk U2, to opine on their world view over 11 tracks of intermittent rage and corresponding thoughtfulness.

“You Said” has a bit of a Velvet Underground feel to it, while the title track certainly shares some DNA with Iggy Pop and the Stooges and might just be the most important song to be released this year.

065. Mojo Buford – Mojo Workin’

The classic Chicago blues is bleeding from every ounce of Mojo Buford’s fine new record, Mojo Workin’. Having the distinction of being the only harmonica player to have played with Muddy Waters in the 1950s, ’60s,’70s, and ’80s Mojo Buford was a Blues staple from Memphis to Chicago before his death in 2011. Originally recorded in 1969 this reissue courtesy of Sundazed records features many of his songs included in his live repertoire including “Got My Mojo Working,”  the song that delivered his nickname when every night he would get requests to play the famous Muddy Waters tune.

The sound quality on this release is excellent and Mojo’s self-penned songs stand equally as tall beside Otis Spann’s “Blues Is Botheration” and Sonny Boy Williamson II’s “Help Me.

If harmonica-blues is your jam, you can’t get much better than this one.

064. Ted Russell Kamp – Down In The Den

Despite being one of the more prolific artists on the Americana scene with 12 records in the last 15 years, Ted Russell Kamp is largely an unknown entity in the music scene unless you are a hardcore fan. And, that is really a shame. Having played bass for many of the top artists including Shooter Jennings, Whitey Morgan, Jessi Colter as well as many others, with the release of his latest, Down in the Den, he may have just altered his history from sideman to top of the marquis.

Alternating country-rockers as displayed on the opener, “Home Sweet Hollywood,” a duet with Shooter Jennings, Dixieland on “Hobo Nickel,” and downright balladry as he fights life on the road while trying to keep a relationship going like he does on “Stick With Me” there are no miss-steps on this record.  With a voice that is honest and open with a timbre that as ear-pleasing as it can get, the inherent songcraft and general spirit of this album will bring to mind the last couple of Chris Stapelton records.

063. Liza Anne – Bad Vacation

Bad Vacation is an interesting moniker for an album during these times when pretty much any vacation is a good vacation, but in this case, in the capable hands of Liza Anne, it seems appropriate. On her previous record, Fine But Dying, and in periodicals and various interviews she has given her battle with mental illness has been bravely chronicled in her art. And here she certainly makes no exception especially so on “I Shouldn’t Ghost My Therapist” and “This Chaos, That Feeling” where the loss of a relationship seems to have her spinning in her own mind. Stylistically veering down the track with stops at Power Pop, Indie Rock, Art Rock, and Emo stations, this is a diverse and powerful record that will have you considering your own place in the world.

062. MisterWives – SUPERBLOOM

Once you are hit with the sonic U2 on steroids opening blast, “The End,” curiously placed at the beginning of the record, and Mandy Lee’s vocal kicks in with her Chrissie Hynde meets Stevie Nicks vibe, all bets are off and you will be hooked and ready to listen to the rest of the record. Next up, “Ghost” raises the stakes with another anthemic festival-worthy gem, and things only get better from there. “whywhywhy” slows the tempo down, but only just slightly, until mid-song when a chorus kicks in that would make ABBA rethink their career choice.

Mid-record the soaring pace slows a bit with a couple of ballads thrown on top of the fire but by the time “over the rainbow” rolls around the dancing fiesta is back and in full force. Once you get down to the end of the record, the title track is presented in all its Gospel glory and the glorious ride is about to come to an end. If soulful horns, gorgeous melodies,  gospel-harmonies, catchy hooks, and soulful festival-ready anthems are your jams, then this record will have you fully ensconced in your happy place.

061. Seasick Steve – Love & Peace

It has been a minute now that Seasick Steve has been on the scene entertaining us with his raw and powerful performances, and we as humans are all the better for it. Self-produced, Love & Peace delivers a confident set of Howlin’ Wolf by the way of White Stripes gnarly blues for the common man. The opener “Love & Peace” is a tour-de-force call to arms where Seasick practically commands the rest of us to stop the hatred and get back to love and peace. “Regular Man” is a solid blues stomper where Steve touches around the fringes of the mystery of his backstory, and Carni Days is an outright ballad describing the not so glamourous life of a traveling carnival worker.

Seasick Steve is one of us. Just a regular guy with an unusual gift to be able to touch our hearts and cleanse our soul.

060. S.G. Goodman – Old Time Feeling

The first thing that hits you between the ears is the raw emotion emanating from S.G. Goodman, one of the fresh new voices on the Americana scene. Second up, front and center, is the depth of the songwriting, most definitely trending into Jason Isbell territory. And finally, with a fully formed picture painted with assistance from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James on production duties, there is the realization that this sonic blend of dusty Kentucky back roads Americana is one of the best records we have heard all year. Just listen to the swamp-noir of “The Way I Talk” and the honesty dripping pathos of “Burn Down the City” and tell us we’re wrong.

059. Texas Gentlemen – Floor It!!!

It should come as no surprise that the Texas Gentlemen are one cracker-jack of a band since the group was formed by a bunch of session guys who combined probably have played on every Americana record you have listened to over the last five years including in support for George Strait, Paul Cauthen, Kris Kristofferson, Nikki Lane, and Leon Bridges just to name a few. With their musical chops on full display from jump street as it almost seems like they are just warming up on the first two cuts that are pure instrumentals that have sort of a Dixie Land Jazz vibe in places and Broadway show tune dusting in others. A head-scratching way to get things underway, but it works quite well.

Recorded in part at the FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, each track seems to take you on a different musical journey. “Easy Street” will float the mind into Grateful Dead territory, “Hard Road” sounds like vintage Harry Nilsson, while “Skyway Streetcar” has a Burrito Brothers essence wafting in the air. Throw in “Charlie’s House” that could have been written by Bernie Taupin, produced by Gus Dudgeon, and performed by Loggins and Messina and you have a record of eclectic subtle surprises around every corner that very much rewards the listener with each subsequent listen.

058. Pretenders – Hate For Sale

The Pretenders are back, they actually never left, and are better than ever with their first proper record since 2016’s Alone. It takes only one song, Chrissie Hynde has a few things to get off her chest right out of the blocks on the title track, until we are treated on song number two with “The Buzz,” a song that could have been the centerpiece on any of The Pretenders early records. “Lighting Sound” carries the trademark Ska-Influenced rhythms to updated levels, and the rambunctious “I Don’t Want To Stop” is pure CBGB vintage fun.

057. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers

Aukland, New Zealand based The Beths generate dynamic, propulsive four-part chorus anthems that are tailor-made for the summer festival circuit, if we can ever get back to summer festivals being a thing, that is. Leader and sole Beth in the band Elizabeth Stokes is a twice-nominee for the Taite Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious music award. This, their sophomore record with its harmony-driven sparkling gems that bring to mind The Pixies, The Breeders with a touch of Go Go’s thrown in for ear-measure should be high up there in your summer listening library.

056. Matt Berry – Phantom Birds

There is a bit of a cosmic cowboy Americana vibe thrown heavily into the mix of Matt Berry’s highly likable new record, Phantom Birds. There are more than a few nods to Gram Parsons, most notably on “Where’s My Love” with a subtle lap steel whispering in the background, and, “You Danced All Night” carries the day. If he keeps putting out material like this Matt Berry may be less known as an actor currently starring in the television series What We Do In The Shadows and become more widely recognized as the great singer-songwriter that he actually is.

055. Babylon Circus – State of Emergency

There is nothing like a French Alternative Rock band to perk the ears and move the feet. Hailing from Lyon, France these polymaths cite their influences as The Clash, Toots & The Maytals, Madness, and The Specials, and it shows on every eclectic track. Singing in both French and English, singer David Baruchel leads his group through the exotic landscapes of Ska, Django Jazz, and Gypsy Swing with enough coolness to cleanse the musical palate and send your ears on a journey to the center of your mind. “Monster” is a special foot moving epic that refers to a monster on the dance floor, and “Les Oiseaux de Passage” will have you almost literally strolling walking down the alleyways of Paris in the ’30s. This is mind-escaping stuff.

054. Kurt Baker – After Party

If Power Pop is your jam, and if it’s not you don’t have enough fun in your life, then the new Kurt Baker opus, After Party, needs to be your new weekend guilty pleasure. Taking a break from the more Garage/Nuggets intensity of his Kurt Baker Combo, a Little Steven’s Underground Garage perennial favorite, for a more Jangle Pop sound that brings to mind Elvis Costello of the current vintage and the later day fare of Greg Kihn, The Raspberries, and maybe even Marshall Crenshaw. “Wandering Eyes” is pure EC “Watching The Detectives” energy, “She Don’t Really Love You” is a little ramshackle in the Replacements mode, and the Closer “Outta Site” even has a unique “Jessie’s Girl” vibe to it. Play this one twice and all of the COVID wax will be blown out of your ears and you will be in a better headspace.

053. Jeff Tweedy – Love Is The King

If ever there was a record perfectly suited to spinning with your feet up, a fire roaring with a tumbler of fine whiskey firmly in hand, this would be that record in a perfect place at exactly the right time. Recorded at his studio loft in Chicago and written over a span of 14 days in what became one song everyday writing sessions, this Tweedy solo album started out as a Country record that eventually ended up to be a universal balm to help to heal whatever might be troubling you. “Even I Can See” sounds like a long lost Townes Van Zant anthem, “Save It For Me” has a Dylan by way of Bright Eyes pallor to it, and the title track “Love Is King” pretty much says it all. You may not know it just yet, but you really need this record right now in your life.

052. Arlo McKinley – Die Midwestern

This one is going to be a candidate for the end of the year best-of lists, for sure. From the opening salvo “We Were Alright” where the song “Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)” is namechecked, it is clear why this was the last artist that John Prine signed to his Oh Boy record label.

A hard-worn semi-overnight success McKinley was discovered by Oh Boy record major-domo Jody Whelan after seeing him play the High Watt in Nashville where he was subsequently introduced to John Prine. When you combine his Appalachian drawl of a voice, his age-weary experience at age 40 along with his detailed minds-eye songwriting talent, it is clear that the torch is well passed.

051. The Killers – Imploding The Mirage

Much like Vampire Weekend Las Vegas’ own The Killers seem to go away and return just at the time that we really need them most. Bright, bouncy, anthemic, it’s all here “Mr. Brightside” style. The synths are absolutely soaring and on the Springsteen worthy “My Own Soul’s Warning” you know immediately that the boys are back in town. There is not a dud to be found here, and the collaborations with k.d. Lang on “Lightning Fields” and with Weyes Blood on “My God” come out of left field and are both utterly brilliant. Good, bordering on great and just maybe the album of the year so far.

Rock is the New Roll Best 100 Albums of 2020 (76-100)

100. Hong Kong Wigs – Lois

Austin based Hong Kong Wigs walks the same Psychedelic Rock and Roll trail as White Denim. A Power trio led by songwriter Jon Fichter, their new record, Lois, is poised to be one of the best debut albums of 2020. There are highlights a-plenty to savor here with the best of the lot being “Remember,” with Anastasia  Wright taking over on lead vocals, along with “Discopop!” a song that not for accidental timing could have been the summer smash of the year both standing tall.

099. Helen Love – Power On

Helen Love, a group not a person, artfully mixes the quick hit Rock and Roll power vibes of The Ramones with the Art-Rock ’60s girl-group pastiche of The B’52s pretty much perfectly. These infectious Cardiff, Wales rockers consist of Helen Love on bratty vocals, Sheena, who is, of course, a punk rocker, and Roxy and Mark on Casio keyboards that double as drums. Low-Tech but high energy, “Debby Take Contol of the Stereo” melds “Pump It Up” and even “Shout It Out Loud” bombast with “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” shout outs, and “Sandra Dee” is pretty must The Go Go’s on speed. Glorious stuff, indeed.

098. Teddy Thompson – Heartbreaker Please

It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since Teddy Thompson, son of Richard and Linda Thompson, but with Heartbreaker Please, his seventh album, his tenor sounds better than ever. And, with these tunes firmly rooted in R&B, Soul, and even Country he seems to be a little less produced than earlier efforts making this by a good stretch his best effort to date.

097. The Lickerish Quartet – Threesome, Vol 1.

Anytime that two members of the iconic Bay Area band Jellyfish come together to form a band, color us all in. Here, with Eric Dover and Joseph Manning Jr. coming together with the rest of The Lickerish Quartet it is an event celebrating in Psychedelic Rock heaven even if it’s only an E.P.

096. I Don’t Know How But They Found Me – Razzmatazz

It is ear-boggling to consider that a band that was trying to break-out and reach a wider audience would give themselves a name that is largely confusing and mostly un-googleable. And, that is exactly what this band, known to insiders as the equally ear-scratching monicker of iDKHOW, have done mostly distracting from the fact that this band from Salt Lake City, Utah is one heck of a diversely talented Alt-Pop/Power Pop band of the highest musical order. Their latest record, Razzmatazz has touchstones embedded within it pretty much covering just about every musical genre you can think of including leanings towards our beloved Jellyfish. From the Devo and Talking Heads by way of The Cars and Duran Duran aura of the opener “Leave Me Alone” to the Rufus Wainright by way of Queen beauty of “Nobody Likes The Opening Band” and on to the Marc Bolan Night at the Opera refrain of the most morbid “From The Gallows” there is diversity at every turn that will have you coming back to this one for several more listens.

095. Ron Sexmith – Hermitage

Recorded in his home studio collaborating with his longtime drummer and producer Don Kerr, this set of intimate sounding gems has a bit of a Kinks feel to it that is quite pleasing to the ear. With the typical Sexmith whimsey inherent in songs like “Winery Blues” and “Apparently Au Pair” this one proves once again that the escapism that is generated when music is done well is pleasing to the soul and healing to the heart.

094. Hamilton Leithauser – The Loves of Your Life

After his band The Walkmen disbanded in 2013 it seems to have taken a while for front-man Hamilton Leithauser to find his footing, but with The Loves of Your Life, his latest solo effort, he seems to be well on his way to next-level stardom. Inspired by random moments and characters crossing his path, case in point, “The Old King” written as sort of a Pogues style shuffle about a friend he happened to run into that he had not seen in over 10 years. Each little vignette presented here celebrates extraordinary people leading ordinary lives. This is one of the best records to be released this year.

093. Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War

Nine albums in Shemekia Copeland, daughter of Johnny Copeland, really should be more of a household name than she currently is. Her unique and incendiary  Blues-Rock-Soul style can go belter back of the barroom to Gospel and beyond at the drop of a tonsil. Her newest effort, Uncivil War Puts all of her immense talents on full display, and then some. “Walk Until I Ride” is an updated Gospel number, The Opener “Clotilda’s On Fire” featuring guitar licks that would make daddy proud is an anti-slavery anthem for the modern-day that is about the last slave ship to arrive on our shores long after slavery was declared illegal, and the cover of the Stones “Under My Thumb” takes on a completely new meaning from the voice of someone that has endured domestic abuse on her own home front.

092. The Nude Party – Midnight Manor

Over the last couple of years, Rock and Roll bands like Rookie, White Reaper, and Massive Wagons have announced themselves as one of the torch-bearers of good old-fashioned feel-good Rock and Roll. And, the boys in Nude Party with their latest record Midnight Manor as exhibit A, certainly deserve to be mentioned in that Pantheon. It is not often that a sophomore record can outshine a stellar debut, but here, in this case, the band has definitely stepped their game up several musical notches.

Sure, there are touch-points plenty, The Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, T-Rex, just to name a trio of them, but make no mistake, this band is their own unique animal. The opener, “Lonely Heather” shares some DNA with Mott’s “All The Way From Memphis,” “Shine Your Light” will bring to mind Todd Rundgren, and “Thirsty Drinking Blues” is epic-era Jagger and the Stones. “Pardon Me Satan” even has a bit of a Latin tinge to it to add even more diversity to a record that satisfies at every turn. Don’t be surprised if this one gets some best album votes when the end of the year rolls around.

091. Rookie – Rookie

From the first couple of guitar chords that jump from the speakers on “Hold On Tight” the lead-off track from the band Rookie’s self-titled debut record, you can tell that you are in for a Rock and Roll swagger sort of listen. Part Slade infested Glam, Part Greg Kihn Band with a side order of The Replacements thrown into the milkshake, this Bloodshot Records release is spectacularly delicious.

090.  Jaime Wyatt – Neon Cross

Just when we thought that Ashley McBryde was our favorite bad-ass rocker du jour, Jaime Wyatt jumps into the fray with Neon Cross. Such a bad-ass that she was once arrested for robbing her heroin dealer. Produced by Shooter Jennings, it seems that he is everywhere these days, from the vulnerable opener “Sweet Mess” her whiskey worn voice that falls somewhere between worn-hard era Tanya Tucker and early-era Melissa Etheridge signals that everything about this used to be lost soul is entirely authentic. The title song is a bit of a rocker while “Rattlesnake Girl,” a song that addresses her sexuality, is Country Rock with an emphasis on the country. Having produced 2019’s fine Tanya Tucker record, While I’m Livin’, Shooter Jennings along with Jamie Wyatt has come up with another stellar performance to add to their respective resumes.

089. Chuck Prophet – The Land That Time Forgot

The former Green on Red main man delivers another masterclass in storytelling on this, his 15th solo album. Rocking a bit more than we may be used to from his last couple of outings, this time out he only recorded three of his songs in San Francisco with the rest recorded in a live setting at the Old Soul studios in The Catskills. “Best Shot” has a bit of Roy O. in the DNA, and “High As Johnny Thunders” is about as great a name-check song as you will find.

088. Rose City Band – Summerlong

Back to back years with terrific albums, The Rose City Band blends early-era Poco and Wilco to create a cosmic cowboy sound that never seems dated and is wholly original. The guitar lines with the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, twang takes this record into a next-level listen that is perfect for a summer day walk in the park are a patio listen with a good set of headphones. Listen closely to “Wildflowers” and you will get a distinct and aromatic scent of The Grateful Dead.

087. Dawes – Good Luck With Whatever

Good Luck With Whatever, the latest Dawes record sounds like Dawes and that is a very good thing. The poignant lyrical sensibility mostly about everyday life are front and center, of course, and this record produced by Dave Cobb and recorded at the RCA studios in Nashville is almost a perfect reflection of a band that just seems to get better with every release without straying too far from their core sound.

086. Tennessee Jet – The Country

Tennessee Jet is part of the young guns of the outlaw country movement right there alongside Chris Stapleton, Eric Church, White Morgan, and Cody Jinks. Bucking the trend a bit by moving from Nashville back to his Oklahoma roots, the album was recorded using Dwight Yoakam’s band giving the record that red dirt feel. A fine interpreter of songs, his version of Pancho and Lefty with guest turns from Cody Jinks and Elizabeth Cook is next level, but the bluegrass version of The Black Crowes “She Talks to Angels” could have been left on the cutting room floor.

085. Thorbjorn Risage & The Black Tornado – Come On In

This outfit is 12 records in and, if you are like us, you have likely not heard of these guys until very recently. But, as Joe Cocker would say, “It’s high time we met.” With a unique brand of Blues that includes two guitars, bass, drums, a pair of saxophones, trumpets, and keyboards, the gravel voice of lead singer Thorbjorn is equal parts, J.J. Cale, Ray Charles, Billy Gibbons, and Leon Redbone.

This is an extremely eclectic listen. This Danish band mixes it up on the jaunty “Come On In,” our early candidate for song of the year along with the J.J. Cale by way of Nic Cave somewhat dark “Two Lovers.” This record kicks it with noir-ish jazz, swampy rock, sultry R&B, uptown funk, and house-rocking blues. We are three listens in with this thing and continue to be stunned.

084. Annie Taylor – Sweet Mortality

Much like Alice Cooper, this Zurich, Switzerland is a rock band with a girl’s name, the lead vocalist’s name is actually Gini Jungi.  Their ’60 inspired blend of Psychedelic Grunge has just enough of a Pop veneer to make this one a highly pleasurable listen with shades of The Ramones, The Seeds, and Blue Cheer.

083. Sam Morrow – Gettinby on Gettin’ Down

If Little Feat is your band then Gettin’ by on Gettin’ Down, the latest from Country rocker Sam Morrow is most definitely your groove-laden jam. The eclectic mix of funky licks and swamp rock kicks combine to make this one a delectable comfort food listen. The title track sends out a Lynyrd Skynyrd vibe, “Round ‘n Round” is pure .38 Special, and “Golden Venus” carries with it the spirit of Tony Joe White, great touchstones, all. There is even a bit of Joe Walsh on “Rosarita.”

082. Skyway Man – The World Ends When You Die

James Wallace, the singer-songwriter known as Skyway Man, fully embraces his role as one of the leaders of the Cosmic Country movement on his latest offering, The World Ends When You Die. Self-described as a psychedelic space opera, the record has a mellow feel to it reminiscent of mid-era George Harrison in places, most notably on “Night Walking, Alone” and in other spaces brings to mind The Band front and center like they do on “Old Swingin’ Bell.”

081. Seaway – Big Vibe

With more hooks than an episode of Dangerous Catch Canadian Pop-Funk outfit Seaway offers up an anthemic brand of Festival Rock that is as exuberant as it is hooky. The ’80’s Power Pop influences are floating around this one for sure, but ’90’s Indie-Punk in the Green Day mold may be a better touchpoint.” Still Blue” is a festival-ready, if festivals ever become a thing again, romper, “Sweet Sugar” takes things a bit slower and even has a scent of The Cars, and “Peach” could easily have been an ’80s Cheap Trick tune. This one is the ’80’s Teen movie soundtrack from a film that was never made.

080. Brothers Osborne – Skeleton

As much as I have been really trying not to like Brothers Osborne with the Nashville hits-factory stench we rightly or wrongly associate with brothers John and T.J. Osborne, my ears won’t fail me now and with their latest long-player, Skeleton, they have suckered me back in. Here, on their third album, the Rock and Boogie is amped up a bit more and the Honky Tonk vibe takes on more of an Outlaw Country flavor with a bit of Rock and a little bit of Roll thrown in for good measure. The opener “Lighten Up” is an out and out rocker and should be a terrific festival anthem, “All Night” is a bit of Bro-Country, but when done this earnestly that is not such a bad thing, and the spirit of Mighty Merle even joins the party on “Back on the Bottle.”

Throw in “Dead Man’s Curve,” definitely no relation to the Jan and Dean song, a burning tune of redemption as long as you make it through dead man’s curve, along with the gentle glide of “High Note” and what you have here is a band that blends Country, Pop, Rock, and Americana better than pretty much anyone in the business. And that is a beautiful thing and a feast for the ears.

079. Bette Smith – The Good, The Bad and the Bette

With her career a bit delayed by her father who felt that a musical career outside the church was wrong, Bette was mentored by Squirell Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathis who encouraged her to come down to Mississippi with him to record her debut record, 2017’s Jetlagger. Returning to the scene of the crime with Mathis once again in tow, this time out Patterson Hood and the rest of the Drive-By Truckers were engaged as producers giving a bit of a roots-rock edge to the Country Soul sound. “Fistfull of Dollars” is a mojo in the dojo ’60s romp, “Signs and Wonders” evokes a bit of Tina Turner, and the closing tear-jerker “Don’t Skip out on Me” tells the story of a couple just trying to keep things together. Mariachi horns and all.

078. Cayucos – Blue Summer

The allure of the surf and the sand is definitely calling your name the very instant that you drop the needle down on Blue Summer, the latest Surf-Pop extravaganza from L.A. sunshine band Cayucos. Beach Boys’ touch-points are obvious for sure, but this one goes a bit deeper than that. The tones, textures, harmonies, and knob twirling are varied and all-in ear-pleasing. And the twin brothers at the core of this band Zach and Ben Yudin, never really take themselves too seriously. “Malibu ’79 Long” is a clever homage to “Good Vibrations,””From the Rafters” is full-on “Surfin U.S.A.,” and “California Girl” is most probably the convertible top-down driving song of the year. This is the love letter to summer that you really need right now.

Lydia Loveless – Daughter

Lydia Loveless has always had that perfect mix of country smooth and Rock and Roll swagger. And now, she is back and better than ever with her latest record, Daughter. Clearly wearing her life well-lived heart on her sleeve, this time out she shows a bit more of her vulnerable side most notably on the opener “Dead Writer.” Having made a love-following move from her native Ohio to North Carolina after a tumultuous couple of years since 2016’s Real, Loveless appears to have come out the other side as feisty and no-nonsense as she has been her entire career.

076. Delta Spirit – What Is There

Moving away from his recent burst of solo records, Lead singer Matthew Logan Vasquez is back with his band Delta Spirit with their first proper release since 2014’s Into The Wide. And, it seems, this six-year musical hiatus is just what the musical doctor ordered. Fresh and invigorating in places and dark and semi-brooding in others this is a record that is perfectly crafted for these days living through a pandemic. “How Bout It”  is a murder ballad about gambling addiction, album opener “The Pressure ” sounds like a Dawes song on steroids, and “Better Now” is a modern-love love song. There is not a squeaker on this belter of an album.

Five Cool Ones: Five New Albums Released This Week (November 20, 2020)

We do the work so you don’t have to. Despite the dreaded Christmas releases barraging our eardrums, there were a lot of tasty musical morsels to hit our ears this week. The new (Non-Christmas) record from Garth Brooks is actually pretty good, there is a really cool set of songs from the Elvis in Memphis sessions that was just released, and for the Jimi Hendrix completist there is yet another record out, Live In Maui.

Land Del Rey has released a really cool Pandemic video with a cover of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”

Roger Daltry must be working on a project as he just hours ago released a live solo video of “Behind Blue Eyes.”

And, the fantastic Jellyfish spin-off band The Lickerish Quartet is out front and center with a new single “Snollygoster Goon,” which is a sight for sore ears.

Here are five albums catching our ear-tention this week.

Larkin Poe – Kindred Spirits

The only thing better than being treated to a new record from Larkin Poe featuring the Poe sisters, the great, great, great grandaughters of Edgar Alan Poe, like we were with Self Made Man earlier in the year, is to be hit with a surprise drop of a new record, Kindred Spirits. And, it’s great. A covers album recorded as only the Blues Rock Poe sisters can deliver, this one features eclectically cool renditions of “Nights In White Satin, “(You’re The) Devil in Disguise,” and “Rockin’ The Free World,” as well as a next-level instant cover classic reading of “In The Air Tonight.” With just an electric guitar and a drum set, this one should be on auto-repeat on your stereo.

Hong Kong Wigs – Lois

Austin based Hong Kong Wigs walks the same Psychedelic Rock and Roll trail as White Denim. A Power trio led by songwriter Jon Fichter, their new record, Lois, is poised to be one of the best debut albums of 2020. There are highlights a-plenty to savor here with the best of the lot being “Remember,” with Anastasia  Wright taking over on lead vocals, along with “Discopop!” a song that not for accidental timing could have been the summer smash of the year both standing tall.

Ward Davis – Black Cats and Crows

Often seen, unfairly so, as the younger brother in the pantheon of Outlaw County artists that he shares stages with, a tribe that includes Chris Stapelton, Cody Jinks, and Whitey Morgan, Ward Davis will certainly be heading towards the big time with the release of his latest record, Black Cats and Crows. This, his third album, features Ward’s weathered croon set on a palate of barrel-aged songs that run the gamut from drowned in a whiskey-soaked tear in your beer songs, “Get To Work Whiskey,” to murder ballads with “Sounds of Chains.” The only thing we ask of you Ward is, please, don’t move to Nashville.

Helen Love – Power On

Helen Love, a group not a person, artfully mixes the quick hit Rock and Roll power vibes of The Ramones with the Art-Rock ’60s girl-group pastiche of The B’52s pretty much perfectly. These infectious Cardiff, Wales rockers consist of Helen Love on bratty vocals, Sheena, who is, of course, a punk rocker, and Roxy and Mark on Casio keyboards that double as drums. Low-Tech but high energy, “Debby Take Contol of the Stereo” melds “Pump It Up” and even “Shout It Out Loud” bombast with “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” shout outs, and “Sandra Dee” is pretty must The Go Go’s on speed. Glorious stuff, indeed.

Dave Alvin – From an Old Guitar: Rare and Unreleased Recordings
In this highly cool set of songs, we are treated to the bits, pieces, and scraps of songs from various Dave Alvin records and tribute albums that never made the cut to appear on prior releases. Mixing Alvin originals with eclectically make them his own cover versions, the setlist here includes a stellar version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” the slinky groove of ” (Variations on Earl Hooker’s) Guitar Rumba,” and the storytelling ennui of “On the Way Downtown.” This one is a keeper and not just for Dave Alvin completists.

 

Video of the Day: Elton John – The Last Song

A deepest of the deepest cuts from Elton John released on his 1992 record, The One. The song centers around a father coming to grips with the sexuality of his son who is dying from an AIDS-related illness. This was also the first single released to benefit Elton’s AIDs foundation. Bernie faxed the lyrics to Paris shortly after Freddie Mercury had died.

Five Cool Ones: Five New Albums Released This Week (November 13, 2020)

I don’t mean to be an alarmist here, but this may be the last really good release week until well into January. Stand ready to have your ears insulted with a rash of Christmas releases, greatest hits re-packaging, and, only if you’re lucky, some tasty reissues. But, in the meantime, it is a pretty terrific week of new releases for your ears to savor.

W.E.T – Big Boys Don’t Cry

For those frequent visitors to the Falcon’s Nest or Rock is the New Roll you know that we are big fans of contemporary Melodic Rock in the Night Ranger mold. And, this latest from W.E.T. fits the bill quite nicely.

If you are a Neil Young fan, in recent months you have been having the time of your life with all of the concert releases, archive deep-dives, and artistic videos he is releasing to his public.

And, one of Rock is the New Roll new finds Joyous Wolf is out with a tasty acoustic version of their song Odyssey.

Here are five tasty new nuggets we are enjoying this week.

Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

Chris Stapleton is not messing around with his latest record, Starting Over. Returning to the comfortable environs of RCA Studio A in Nashville with Benmonth Tench and Mike Campbell, a couple of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers in tow, he continues to deliver his own brand of Outlaw Country blending Classic Country, Country Rock, Soul, and Americana to create a soul-soothing mix of impeccably written and produced tunes. It would be a fools-errand to cull a favorite track from this package, suffice it to say all of them are the best. The title song is great, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” Waylon by way of Steve Earle, is even better, and “Whiskey Sunrise” is a mournful Country-Noir belter.

AC/DC – Power Up

AC/DC is back, mostly better than ever, and it’s like they never left. The national nightmare that was the money-grabbing Axl Rose tour is long behind us, Brian Johnson is belting the songs out with Back in Black quality venom, the late Malcolm Youngs’ son is filling the rhythm guitar shoes quite admirably, and long-time drummer Phil Rudd is back behind the kit after taking a few albums off. Sure, this is reliable ground they are treading, their sound hasn’t really changed since the Bon Scott Days, but in the case of these Rock and Roll Lifers, this one is the welcome adrenaline shot of good old-fashioned, old-school Rock and Roll that we really need right about now.

George Bens0n – Weekend In London (Live)

This one should be on the shortlist alongside Linda Ronstadt’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl for the best live album of 2020 consideration. Pristinely recorded at the famed Ronnie Scott’s in London, there is a sense that you are spending some quality time with a person that you really missed and had let too much time slip away between visits. The band is top-notch, the 10 feet from stardom backing singers are belters, and the overall vibe is that he is singing for you in your living room. All of the standards are here, classics all, with “Give Me The Night,” “Turn Your Love Around,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” setting themselves apart as silky standouts.

L.A. Guns – Renegades

If you are a fan of Sunset Strip Rock and Roll, and if you are not, you really are taking life a bit too seriously, you will relish the chance to be transported back in time to the glory years of L.A.’s Rainbow Room and the Whiskey A-Go-Go. In this 2020 line-up, the Steve Riley/Kelly Nickels/Scotty Griffin version, the band that incubated Guns ‘N’ Roses, the original sound from the Cocked and Loaded days is replicated to a Rock and Roll edge that will have long-time fans of the band headbanging in approval and newcomers to the Glam-Rock sleaziness of L.A. Guns will be scrambling to ingest their back catalog.