Thursday, September 25, 2008

Summer Album Round-up....

As promised, i've sorted through my recent album purchases to bring you a Late Summer/Early Fall Album Round-up.

Most of the albums considered came from Volume 3 of my Album Release Forecast. One album, Punch, was released back in March, but because of the different billing from Chris Thile's previous releases, i was unaware of the album until recently. Also, Todd Snider's Peace Queer release date was pushed back to October. Not sure yet if i'll do another Album Release Forecast for Fall/Winter, so here are some noteworthy upcoming releases:

Okkervil River ~ The Stand-Ins
This is an album by a veteran band who is obviously very comfortable in their skin, although their dark lyrics may not express the same sentiment. Will Sheff is a pro at taking a deep, personal situation and creating a candid, incredibly catchy tune. While this disc may not contain as many 'hits' as its predecessor, it is by no means any less enjoyable. The only lulls within The Stand-Ins are the three short instrumental 'title tracks' that disconnect the disc from what would be a smooth-flowing narrative.

Okkervil River - Singer Songwriter

Conor Oberst ~ Conor Oberst
Conor proves that even without his longtime musical partner Mike Mogis and the shield of the Bright Eyes moniker, he's still this young generation's most inventive, fearless troubadour. He may even be better without the two - this disc is currently the best album to be released this year. From the start, Conor Oberst is a captivating album filled with original melodies accented with pointed spurts of alliteration. The aggressive acoustic solos are evident of his previous work with Dave Rawlings. While the subject of his songs continue to be spiritually driven, there's none of the religious cult undertones that impaired Casadaga. The first couple tracks i came across from this one seemed only to be a continuation of that last album, but when you hear them in the context of the other stellar tunes, they become a perfect fit. Buy this one.

Conor Oberst - Get-Well-Cards
Conor Oberst - Moab

Old Crow Medicine Show ~ Tennessee Pusher
i heard someone else call this a 'concept album' centered around booze, drugs, partying, etc. While there are many nods to this kind of living (Alabama High-Test, Methamphetamine, and Humdinger are some track names), i don't think The Show had a specific concept in mind. Just look at their previous albums and see if there is any less debauchery in the themes. You already know how i feel about the re-make of Caroline, and the sour-taste that Highway Halo left me with. Old Crow's appeal is their imperfect, whiskey-fueled energy, and Don Was simply tried to harness this into an over-produced, radio-ready album. To sand down the sounds coming from the strings of this band is a crime. The good news is that, while most of the songs Ketch fronts were deeply affected from the heavy hand of Was, no one can make Willie Watson's tenor wail sound anything less than pure backwoods emotion. It's not completely a miss, but i'm already anxious to see what The Show does next.

Old Crow Medicine Show - The Greatest Hustler of All
Old Crow Medicine Show - Crazy Eyes

Carrie Rodriguez ~ She Ain't Me
With her second solo effort, Carrie moved even further away from the Texas dancehall stigma she acquired while playing with Chip Taylor. She leans further toward contemporary jazz with fiddle highlights on this disc. Carrie also took the writing reins here, and proves she can be a successful solo artist. While i don't think she's found her exact sound yet, She Ain't Me will be a stepping-stone she can proudly look back on.

Carrie Rodriguez - El Salvador

Rodney Crowell ~ Sex and Gasoline
Although he's been making music since the 70's, i've only really become a fan of Rodney through his last three records. Political tunes usually turn me off, but something about Rodney's unbiased, regular-joe perspective coupled with unforgettable guitar riffs and melodies made much of his material very pleasing. On Sex and Gasoline, his subject matter remains the same, only none of the instrumentation is as catchy. i just can't get into this one. An occasional political/social commentary song is a good idea, just don't let it be all you do.

Rodney Crowell - I Want You #35

Punch Brothers ~ Punch
Had the pleasure of catching Chris Thile and his band live in Austin a few weeks ago. i went expecting a good bluegrass show but was blown away with not only their combined talent, but also the overall show experience. i knew his years in the spotlight with Nickel Creek would've taught Chris how to play big shows, but the way he handled a crowded room of less than 100 fans was impressive. As far a mandolin players go, Chris is no doubt one of the best around, but i was shown that each of the other players in the Punch Brothers rules their instrument just as well. The album contains four 'songs' in the traditional sense as well as a four-movement piece entitled The Blind Leaving The Blind. Who does movements these days? Real musicians.

Punch Brothers - Punch Bowl
Punch Brothers - The Blind Leaving The Blind: Fourth Movement

These United States ~ Crimes
The biggest surprise and dark-horse for album of the year goes to These United States and their second album of 2008. Jesse Elliot has finally found the right lineup and sound direction for this ever-changing band, and let's hope he keeps it that way. Read more here.

The United States - Susie at the Seashore

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson ~ Rattlin' Bones
This album is everything i expected from reading reviews and from hearing the title track: Kasey and her new husband going back to their musical roots. It's a groovy, folky, uplifting album that centers around themes of heaven and hell. The most surprising aspect is how much i enjoy the inclusion of Shane Nicholson. This album will receive a high place on my Best Of '08 list, and Rattlin' Bones will be a strong contender for Best Song.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - The House That Never Was
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - Sleeping Cold

Click the Album Covers to purchase.


  1. I was surprised that the Connor Oberst was your top of the heap pick--no reason, just thought one of the others was going to be the choice. I have been considering it for a while, but haven't picked it up. You probably just prodded me to get over the whole Bright Eyes cult thing and check it out in full.

  2. It surprised me, too. And things could change (esp with a certain Oct release), but for now, judging by the ratio of great songs to skippable songs - 12-0 - he's currently at the top. These United States don't have any 'skippable' songs either, so some time before the end of the year, i'll have decide on the impact/importance of each album. And let's not forget i'll have to go back to folks like The Felice Bros and Fleet Foxes from earlier this year and throw them in the mix as well.