Sweet Spirit is one of our favorite new bands. And yes, I know we say that a lot. But, we really mean it this time. This Austin based band that features eclectic Pop and Soul driven by frontwoman Sabrina Ellis and company have delivered a next level record with their latest, Trinidad.
Formerly with the band KAATO, founding members Kurt Lowney and Mika Nuutinen have gone duo, relocated from their native Australia, and formed a new band, The Scent. If this is what we can come to expect from these Nash-Aussian rockers, color our ears perked up and ready to rock and roll.
Oceanator is Brooklyn based Elsie Okusami. In this track from her upcoming record to be released in August, she sums up the current state of affairs quite adeptly. “There’s a crack in the world/And we’re all hanging on, hanging on trying not to fall through the void/Sometimes there’s only so much you can do.”
Here, in the Halls of Rock is the New Roll with Jeremy Wren and Nigel Owl on assignment Bernie Sparrow and I are left to fend for our musical selves. And, anytime Bernie is involved there usually is some sort of hot tub time machine mind-altering time warp going on. So, that is what we are listening to.
By pretty much a long stretch, Fanny, Sorry Runaways, is our favorite Rock and Roll all-girl band. They are universally recognized as the first band with no male members to make an impact opening for the legends of the day from David Bowie to Deep Purple. While only relevant for five years between 1970 and 1975 their five-album output represents the best of 70’s Rock and Roll gender be-damned.
A scorching live band June Millington (guitar, vocals), Jean Millington (bass, vocals), Alice de Buhr (drums, vocals), and Nickey Barclay (keyboards, vocals,) all contributed equally to their live appearances that included spots on The Old Grey Whistle Test, The Sonny and Cher Show, American Bandstand, and this one from The Beat Club, Germany’s most famous band show.
Blackberry Smoke – Keep On Smilin’
Long a fixture of their live shows the Wet Willie Southern Rock classic “Keep On Smiling” resonates perfectly in the hands of this real-deal band that is the perfect mix of The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Here, The Smokers are joined by original Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall on a pretty much perfect version of the song.
The Bubble Puppy – Hot Smoke & Sassafrass
Given that he was born and raised in San Francisco it is somewhat perplexing that Bernie Sparrow loves the Texas Psychedelic band The Bubble Puppy so much. Hello, Bernie!!!!! can you say 13th Floor Elevators. In any case, I best not judge, the song “Hot Smoke & Sassafrass is actually pretty groovy, otherwise, I will be listening alone.
Leon Russell – Asylum Choir
Boom!, Bernie. Take this little shot of tuneage courtesy of Leon Russell and his side-kick Marc Benno. First-rate hook-laden goodness wrapped in a blanket of Psychedelic grooviness that was ahead of its time. The record is Flamin’ Groovies one second, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and doses of The Move everywhere else. Brilliant.
Zephyr – Sail On
The band Zephyr is most notable for putting guitarist Tommy Bolin on the musical map. Their early records featured riff-heavy Rock & Roll that prominently featured vocalist Candy Givens, a singer that was gifted with a back of the barroom voice that would make Janis blush.
I am more of a fan of the bombastic “Sail On” from their debut record.
But Bernie, ever the contrarian and avid cover song worshiper calls for St. James Infirmary every time.
As things show signs of getting back to semi-normal, the release front is full of singles to be savored in advance of future releases. Our friends in Cats In Space are out with the fantastically retro “This Is London,” Classic country-inspired duo My Darling Clementine take us back to yesteryear with “Different Finger,” and even Foster The People do what they do best on the anthemic “Lambs Wool”.
Here are five records we really like this week.
Reckless Kelly – American Jackpot/American Girls
Reckless Kelly is one of those Texas hardscrabble road bands that have traveled the country for years, releasing one stellar record after another, but never really getting the recognition that they deserve. Their latest, an ambitious opus of a double album that includes the album American Jackpot along with an extra album’s worth of songs that were written and recorded during the same sessions. With a bunch of stellar guests including Charlie Sexton, Suzy Bogguss, Gary Clark Jr., Shawn Sahm, and Wade Bowen, If you are a fan of Texan Red Dirt Roots music then this is your jam.
Captain Black Beard – Sonic Forces
First of all, here at Rock is the New Roll we are all suckers for cool band names and this one fits the bill quite nicely. Secondly, when we hear a band that so fully envelopes their retro-ness that your ears must do a double-take to figure out what rock era the record is coming from, then we double down and jump into the pool.
The Band Captain Black Beard fits the bill on both points. The one and really only musical touchpoint here is mid-era Journey with a lead singer that actually sounds like a likable hybrid of their current crooner Arnel Pineda and the old-school Journey stylings of Steve Perry. While technically an AOR, album, “Adult-Oriented Rock'” or, if you prefer, “Album Oriented Rock” if you forced us to assign a genre to this band, don’t let that pigeon-holed description stop you from kicking back and enjoying the record in all its retro glory. There are a lot of high points to savor including extended guitar interludes, combustible driving anthems, and an overall vibe that will take you back to much simpler days.
Juicy Lucy – Juicy Lucy
In a rare appearance of a re-release record in this forum, the new 180 gm vinyl pressing of the debut album by Juicy Lucy is definitely worth a mention. Mostly know for their fast and mean cover version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” included on this record, the reality is that this Blues-Boogie band goes much deeper than that. Originally released in 1969 the album includes a curious blend of harder-edged Blues-Rock, Grateful Dead worthy jams like “Whiskey In My Jar” and a scorched earth version of Chuck Berry’s Nadine that sounds like it could have come from the Sons of Anarchy’s jukebox. Their version of “Built For Speed” with the mid-song greasy sax solo will have your ears lamenting the fact that this band crashed and burned far too soon.
The Sleep Eazys – Easy To Buy Hard To Sell
Imagine in your mind’s-ear that Joe Bonamassa formed a surf guitar band complete with a wonky organ that delivers groovy original tunes along with retro versions of secret spy anthems including “Hawaiian Eye,” and “Bond (On Her Majesties Secret Service)”.
Well, that is exactly what he has done. Inspired by his guitar mentor super-session guitarist Danny Gatton, Joe’s side-piece band The Sleep Eazy’s have released what should be the ears-down instrumental record of the year. It is almost pointless to pick out the highlights here, there are so many, but notable nuggets include the chick-a-boom drenched “Polk Salad Annie,” the ventures inspired take on “Ace of Spades,” and the Les Paul vibing final refrain of “It Was A Very Good Year.” This one is out of left field in all the best of ways.
The Teskey Brothers – Live at the Forum
The Teskey Brothers first arrived on our musical radar in 2019 with their most-excellent release, Run Home Slow. Now, with this live record originally scheduled to be released on record store day 2020, we are treated to intimate live versions of their last couple of records along with a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” Recorded old-school style directly to analog tape capturing during their four night stand in their home town of Melbourne, Australia, the brothers Teskey might be the best Aussie export since Foster’s beer and the boomerang.
This live studio video was made way back in 2009. Known for his eclectic choice of musicians to collaborate with Jack White takes the concept to the next level with Ricky Scaggs and Ashley Monroe joining the party.
We are the quarter pole of the year and there have already been a lot of stellar records that have been released. And, we haven’t even yet been able to hear the new John Anderson record or the latest from Jason Isbell. We have likely missed a couple of your favorites, The Drive-By Truckers just missed the list, The James Hunter Six album was pretty great, and Lily Hiatt’s newest effort was pretty spectacular. But hey, after a few more listens this list will likely change. It always does.
20. U.S. Girls – Heavy Light
U.S. Girls is essentially Meghan Remy along with a collective of like-minded musicians who are into the eerie soul of girl group melodrama. For Heavy Light, her latest effort, she combines Disco-Funk, Glam, and 60’s Girl Group Pop on a set of sometimes spooky but always beautifully compelling songs. The song to song cycle features a different sonic palate for each tune with the various textures all playing together quite nicely. The delicate piano ballad that is “Woodstock ’99” morphs into “McArthur Park” right before your very ears. Jimmy Webb would be proud.
19. The Orielles – Disco Volador
Having released in 2018 the best album of the ’90s twenty years too late with their debut album Silver Dollar Moment, now, with their latest record, the band has quite simply outdone themselves. Bright and bouncy in all the right places there are influences of the ’60s as well as ’80s girl group, Bossa Nova Jazz, Funk, and Disco all rolled into a melting pot of what is sure to be one of our best albums of the year.
18. Logan Ledger – Logan Ledger
After just a cursory listen of Logan Ledger’s fine debut self-titled it will come as no surprise that he grew up on a steady diet of Roy Orbison. Picking up where Orville Peck, 2019’s breakout Country-Noir star left off, Ledger combines Hank Sr. Lyrics with Scott Walker by way of Chris Isaak vocal stylings on this mood-setting record that will surely be in consideration for one of the best debut records of the year. Produced by T-Bone Burnett with songs like “Nobody Knows” that is one of the best last call songs we have heard in a while along with “The Lights of San Francisco,” a song from the perspective of a prisoner on Alcatraz island, Logan Ledger is announcing himself as a songwriter to be reckoned with.
17. Honey Harper – StarMaker
It is fair to say that this hard to label record from Honey Harper just might be the debut album of the year. It is part County-Noir, part Chris Isaak, part Scott Walker, and all cool. There is an other-worldly mystical perfume that washes over you when you are listening to this record. His web site pretty much hits on the head when they say that Harper seeks to revitalize country music for people who don’t like country music. Honey Harper is the cowboy angel you never knew you wanted.
16. 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.
15. Terry Allen – Just Like Moby Dick
Having pretty much written the template for Outlaw Country with his records Juarez, and Lubbock (On Everything) Terry is back with a bevy of collaborators with his first album in over 13 years. From the lonesome blues partnership with Folk stalwart Shannon McNally on “All These Blues Goe Walkin’ By” to the extended songwriting grace on the opener “Houdini Didn’t Like The Spiritualists” this is definitely every song’s a story record of the highest order. Just listen to “Death of the Last Stripper” and tell us we’re wrong.
14. 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.
13. A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around
Having been on semi-hiatus since 2004 and with her highly excellent eponymous debut record, Erin Moran, doing business as A Girl Called Eddy is back and better than ever. Been Around, her 2020 record could very well be a classic in the making.
With a chocolaty smooth voice that brings to mind a young Chrissie Hynde, the record ebbs and flows with little mini-orchestral marvels. With Daniel Tashian of The Silver Seas twirling the knobs as a producer, different layers and textures are employed on every track. There is a bit of a Sheryl Crowe by way of Mary Chapin Carpenter going on in places, and in others, this girl called Eddy goes low and slow Laura Nyro style. “NY Man,” and “Two Hearts,” are just two of the stand-out tracks on this one. Sure, it’s really early, but this one is the leader in the clubhouse for the album of the year.
12. 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.
11. Jonathan Wilson – Dixie Blur
Straying ever so slightly from his Topanga Canyon Laurel Canyon vibing previous efforts, Jonathan Wilson headed over to Nashville for his latest record, Dixie Blur. Employing an iconic batch of sidemen including Mark O’Connor, guitarist Kenny Vaughan along with bassist Dennis Crouch and several others to create an angelic soundscape of one stunning song after another. ’69 Corvette is worth the price of admission alone.
10. Gabe Lee – Honky Tonk Hell
Thus none comes from a recommendation from my mate Scott Ashworth from Scotland. After one listen this one already made the top twenty list and could very well move up with a bullet after we send some more time with it. With his second record, Gabe Lee combines intricate songwriting with old school instrumentation to create minds-eye vignettes that include small towns, lovers that leave and men on the run. Look for any of these Honky Tonk worthy tunes to be playing on your local dancehall jukebox very soon.
09. Rookie – Rookie
With their self-titled debut record Rookie, these Bloodshot Record artists don’t re-invent the Rock and Roll wheel here, but they definitely embrace it front and center. Part Glam, part Thin Lizzy with a little T-Tex thrown in for good measure, this one is a great retro listen.
08. Mapache – From Liberty Street
Think Byrds, Geronimo’s Caddilac era Michael Martin Murphey, or Loggins and Messina on this one, a spectacular ode to the Laurel Canyon soundscape.
07. Whyte Horses – Hard Times
This exotically diverse record has glimpses of Psychedelia, Tropicalia, Acid Pop, Lounge-Noir and other really cool genres that we really love. Their version of the 60’s classic “Bang Bang” with an assist from Chrysta Bell is worth the price of admission alone.
06. The Just Joans – The Private Memoirs and Confessions of The Just Joans
This Glasgow based band has been around since 2005 and is still going strong with their original line up that features songwriter David Pope along with his sister vocalist Katie Pope. Their latest record features a wide array of Jangle Pop gems with Their ode to The Ramones “Hey Ho, Let’s Not Go,” “Dear Diary, I Died Again Today,” and “When Nietsche Dies” standing out as highlights.
05. Sonny Landreth – Blacktop Run
Slide Guitar icon Sonny Landreleased has released another backwoods bad-ass set of electric Blues Rock that will curl your spine in all the best of ways. “Groovy Goddess” is a burn your ears off instrumental stunner that could have been an Allman Brothers Duane Allman mid-set solo from back in the day and “Somebody Gotta Make a Move” describes the dance of love perfectly. And if that’s not enough “Lover, Dance With Me” might be the driving tune of the year. Crank this one up!
04. Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
This Southern California Rock duo that consists of guitarist and Multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno and singer Bethany Cosentino are pretty much the poster people for sun-drenched Los Angeles Indie Pop. Their new record tightens up the sound a bit and celebrates the joys of sobriety and standing on your own two feet. “For The First Time” will set the stage for you, but the rest of the record is pretty special as well.
03. Starbenders – Love Potions
The only thing not cool about this fantastic Power-Glam group is that they are from Atlanta, not London, Austin, or Glasgow. Pretty much every song is an earworm. Think David Bowie playing 7 minutes of Rumors era Fleetwood Mac while watching ABBA videos and you would have their blend of androgynous rock and roll power pretty much nailed. The Starbenders are our new favorite band.
02. Blackwater Conspiracy – Two Tails & The Dirty Truth of Love & Revolution
You are unlikely to hear a better straight-ahead Rock and Roll record this year. You can trace the lineage of this band straight back tom The Faces and Exile-era Rolling stones with a stoop on the way back machine to The Black Crowes and The Georgia Satellites. Hailing from Northern Ireland, their latest record full of radio Rock and late-night whiskey-soaked Blues should be the breakthrough that this band richly deserves.
01. Marcus King – El Dorado
It should come as no surprise that Marcus King’s debut album comes from the good folks at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound after all birds of a feather do what they do. A new school record with a vintage sound the subtle goes down instrumentation and the Soul drenched vocal style goes down super smooth like a shot of Pappy’s bourbon. This is a perfect laid-back record to engulf yourself in during these trying times.
The delicate harmonies send out a Southern California Mamas and The Papas vibe.
Adding Future Islands Samuel T, Herring and Laura Groves to this song was a stroke of musical symmetry that only adds to the Scott Walker meets Orville Peck vibe.
17-year-old Cassidy Paris from Melbourne, Australia is already announcing herself as rock and roll force to be reckoned with. Already locked in for 2020 melodic rock festival in her home town, look for her to do big things in the coming year. This one with its catchy refrain has already ear wormed itself into our craniums.