Stillwater Artisanal Ales – Sensory Series V.1 – Lower Dens

It’s been a few months since I posted on here.  I’m not making excuses with my lack of content.  I definitely sat here on the lower denscouch many nights and could have put more than a few posts together.  Instead I’ve let the blog suffer for sure.  I make no promises this will be the big hop off back into the world of blogging, but I would like to try to re-embrace my attempts to make this blog flourish.  About this time last year I was pumping out a blog every single day.  I’m honestly not sure I could ever return to that former glory, but I’m going to try to do a blog or two every week.

My two year anniversary of this blog has certainly come and gone, but I’m still sticking with the original concept I had when I first started writing a couple of years ago.  Music has been a huge love of mine for many many years now.  The love of craft beer developed slowly after I turned 21; however, it really took off a few years ago, and it was the biggest part of my life that inspired and has driven this blog.  Finally, I feel like I have to pepper a little bit of myself in here now and then.  I have to make it a little personal.  Anyway, I thought the perfect beer to segue back into blogging with would be this bottle from Stillwater Brewing Co.

I’ve reviewed a very small amount of beers from Stillwater on here, but lately I’ve found myself picking up quite a few of their bottles.  I’ve recently been able to find more 12 oz bottles from them, which makes it easier for me to consume on a more regular basis.  Brian Strumke the founder and sole gypsy brewer from this Baltimore based beer company loves to put out Belgian inspired brews, and he does a fine job at it.  Really, this particular bottle stuck out to me for a few different reasons.  First of all, it is called the sensory series and has been brewed with hibiscus.  I’ve had a few different beers utilizing different flowery components which I’ve never been hugely impressed with, but I was curious to see how the sensory aspect would play into it.  As I continued to look into this beer, I realized the Lower Dens aspect was what made it perfect for my blog.  This beer has been brewed with a particular Baltimore based band (Lower Dens) in mind.  In fact, there is a QRL code on the side of the bottle that you can scan and listen to the proper songs the beer was brewed for.  I knew I had to give it a try.

This beer poured a very light golden yellow color.  That was fairly expected, but I was actually interested that it was so hazy.  I suppose the clearly visible layer of yeast left on the bottom of the bottle could have been a hint that the haze was a potential, but I was expecting something more clear.  Not that I’m complaining!  Anyway, there is some very light carbonation visible; however, there is a ton of huge fluffy white head that develop on top of the beer.  It resembled a big cloud that basically never went fully away.  There wasn’t much lacing or sticky reside on the side of the glass.

sensory seriesThe aroma featured some nice light citrusy notes.  It was clear that there was some light orange and tropical pineapple notes at work; however, the yeast is certainly the show stealer.  The big Belgian yeast dominates the nose and basically covers up the majority of the rest of aroma.  It actually had me wondering if there was a little brett in here on top of just your typical Belgian yeast.  The malts don’t seem too overly sweet, and you only get a little bit of that hop aroma.  Ultimately I don’t think I smell any hibiscus.

Flavorwise I would say this beer has a slow start and a big finish.  There is a very light malt intro that features some nice orangey citrus flavors.  These are all a little muted and, if that were the whole beer, you would probably dump it out and forget about it.  However, the very big spicy yeast comes in to kick things up a notch.  The yeast is certainly Belgian in its quality, but it combines with some additional spice on the back half to keep the beer quite good.  The spice isn’t a heat quality, instead it has an almost peppery quality to it.  The pepperiness combined with some faint pineapple notes following the yeast helps to drive this beer forward to its finish.  The spice lingers slightly but in a good way.  I’m certainly not familiar with the flavor of hibiscus, but I read that it can have a slightly tangy flavor.  If that was what I was getting toward the end of the beer, then I like it quite a bit.

The mouthfeel of this one is definitely affected by the yeast and ending spice.  I’d basically describe it as a very active mouthfeel.  Between the yeast, spice, and a high (but not too high) use of carbonation the beer just doesn’t really quit till its gone.  The syrup on it comes in a little at the start, but it is definitely beat into submission rather quickly.

I think this beer took me a little by surprise.  I bought it a little while ago on a whim, and I sat on it never really feeling it.  With the hotter months upon us, it seemed like the right beer after a long day of teaching middle schoolers.  I did try the beer with the music, and I have a feeling the sensory aspect there is a little beyond me, but I still really appreciate the idea.  I don’t promise drinking this beer and listening to Lower Dens will be like Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, but I do promise you’ll get a great beer with a ton of character.  This one really hit the spot for me.

Teacher Grade: A



Mumford & Sons – Babel

It’s been about two months since I’ve written a music review.  It isn’t that I haven’t been picking up new music, it’s just that I haven’t been inspired to write about any of the albums I’ve been listening to.  I may try to sneak in a general summary of the albums I’ve had on rotation lately next week, but I finally found some inspiration in the new Mumford album.

It’s no secret I enjoyed the last album.  I listened to it fairly regularly up until I got tired of hearing it consistently on the radio.  I even saw them live at one of the most frightening concert going experiences I’ve ever had.  This includes being punched in the head at a metal show in college.  Whatever the case may be, I have enjoyed their emotional brand of banjo laden folk rock.  Perhaps that is why I’m surprised at how conflicted I am over the new album and any subsequent albums moving forward.

Generally speaking the last album was met with praise.  It seemed like Mumford was filling a void in the music realm that many thought was lacking.  Sure there were other acts out there more deserving of the honor of being the pioneers of the folk genre, but they were the band that many locked onto.  So, when they went back to the studio to work on their next album, did they think of how they could push the limits and reinvent the genre?  No, they went out and produced an album that the masses would buy.  Not every band is looking be Radiohead or produce St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Some bands are just happy to have fans and keep playing the style of music that got them famous.  There has to be a reason Nickleback is one of the biggest bands on the planet right now.  Regardless, they stuck to their formula.

If you’ve never noticed the Mumford formula you need to put on one of their songs right now.  Most likely it started kind of slow, there are a few that get that banjo going right away, but most likely it started slow.  Some where along the way, most likely before the chorus, there was a big build up of the tempo of the music, the introduction of the banjo, and the song took off at a frantic pace. If the song started slow you thought, “Wow, that was a big emotional build-up.  I feel so alive!”  However, they aren’t done with the emotional roller coaster that is their music just yet.  Somewhere half way through the song, they get quiet again and reenact their previous build-up.  The song may end upbeat or quiet.  Either way, they have taken you through a range of emotions.  The problem there is if you notice the pattern.  Instead of enjoying the ride, you feel the monotony of the pattern.

Sorry I didn’t mean to get off on a rant here.  I did actually intend to review the new album.

The album starts off with the title track off the album: “Babel”.  Although it is certainly a prototypical Mumford song that follows the exact formula I just spoke of, I do like the ferocious beginning.  Perhaps it was taking a break from Mumford for a while, but I found it to be a really fun song.  I do laugh when I hear lead singer Marcus Mumford pronounce babel like table.  I’m not sure if that is a foreigner thing or not.  The next two songs certainly keep moving right on along with the typical Mumford formula. The banjo line in “Whispers in the Dark” makes me smile for sure.  I like the harmonizing and quick pace of the song, but the banjo makes me think the banjo player should be jumping around barefoot with his overalls on at a hoedown somewhere.  Of course, “I Will Wait” has a pretty similar effect with the banjo as well.

“Ghosts That We Knew” is probably the first song on the album that has me thinking Mumford can vary it up slightly.  The song starts off low-key and pretty much stays there most of the time.  It has a much more quiet and powerful feel to it.  I think “Lover of the Light” is probably my favorite song on the album.  The tone and tempo seem different from some of the other things Mumford has tried.  I actually listened to this album while running the other day and this song reminded me of some of the material on the “Into the Wild” Soundtrack.  It has that exploration and west ward expansion feel.  I do get a little disappointed by Mumford throwing their formula into it, but I still really like it.

I think “Hopeless Wanderer” may be the most frustrating song on the album for me.  I want to like it; however, it feels like they try to employ the formula over and over and over again in it.  I do like that is has three different tempos to it, but it seems somewhat disjointed in how they set them up.  It starts quiet, gets somewhat frantic and emotional, breaks into a steady strumming of melody, drops back into a harmonized quiet part, and then breaks into the real breakdown with the inclusion of the quick banjo line.  I can’t help but feel like this song was a cut and paste job.  They wanted to do their formula, but they liked two different emotional pick up parts, so they just used both.

I understand I sound like I’m somewhat bashing Mumford and their ways, and I probably am to some degrees.  I think they produced an album with a lot of good songs on it, I just wish it wasn’t so predictable.  If you think I’m making this up, put on the first three songs on the album.  Each one of them has a part in the middle where they get quiet just to bring it back up to the emotional breakdown.  If you’re like me, you may actual become frustrated when you come to realize that every song follows a similar pattern.

I’m sure I’ll continue listening to this album for a few weeks.  I may even listen to a few songs longer than that, but I just don’t think Mumford can go out there and assume their fans won’t notice this pattern in each of their songs.

Teacher Grade: C (because I’m still a sucker for the pattern at times)

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

It’s been a little while since I reviewed an album on here.  I’m not saying nothing good has come out, but I feel like I have to put a whole lot more effort into reviewing an album than a beer.  Not sitting in front of a computer or working in a place where I could really listen to an album for review makes it difficult for me to fully listen to and appreciate what I’ve picked up recently.  Then an album comes out that I have been looking forward to for months, and I can’t help but find time to listen to it.  Last week, while sitting on the beach, I listened to a few albums nearly every day.  So here comes the first music review in months.

Gaslight Anthem isn’t exactly a brand new band.  Hailing from my home state of New Jersey, this is their fourth album in a career that spans back to their inception in 2006.  Their initial album, Sink or Swim, helped them get their feet under them and develop a following.  The next two albums helped them build a huge following; however, all three albums were on small record labels.  This album has been released on Mercury Records which you will find is associated with Island Def Jam and the Universal Music Group.  Thus, this is somewhat their big album to “make it”.  I haven’t heard them on the radio yet in this area, but I heard them multiple times on some trips to PA this summer.  Of course, this gets the high school version of me mad that they would “sell out”, but I’m just glad they haven’t gone and broken up.

Gaslight Anthem continue in the great tradition of music the forefathers of NJ set out before them.  Bruce Springsteen sang about the life he grew up in and around.  He sang, and still continues to sing, about the life of the middle class factory worker and other people struggling to get by.  Bon Jovi even did this to some extent in some of their songs.  Listen to “Living on a Prayer”.  Anyway, Gaslight comes across with a similar message and sound to their music.  No they aren’t an 80’s glam rock band, but they have a gritty sound meant for hardworking Americans.  Their lyrics also comes across in much the same way.  They sing about people struggling with many facets of life.

The first song on the album, “45”, also happens to be the first single released for the album. It’s an upbeat song that hooks the listener and really gets you singing along right from the start.  It’s also an excellent middle of the road song to introduce someone new to the style Gaslight has been producing for years.  The melodic nature of the band really comes across on this and many other songs on this album.  Although singer Brian Fallon’s voice doesn’t exude the tone of a typical melodic singer, you can tell how the music is an entire package.  It allows for Fallon’s gritty voice to create great melodies that only compliment the music.

Gaslight tends to produce two different types of songs.  They make songs like “45” that are upbeat and get you moving.  But, they also create some really surprisingly good slow songs.  “Handwritten” is another great upbeat song on the record.  Although Fallon actually starts with a little more of his quieter approach on the singing, the upbeat drumming and guitars keep the song fast paced.  “Handwritten” topically follows the same themes as another song on the album.  It talks about the emotion involved with something being handwritten.  “Too Much Blood” is a much slower song, but you can tie the actual act of writing something emotional to “Handwritten”.  The lyrics, “What can I keep for myself if I tell you my hell? / What would be left to take to my grave? / And what’s left for you, my lover to save? / What’s left for only you to take? / If I put too much blood on the page”, help display the emotion of letting it all go through the written word.  Obviously Fallon understands the power of the written language.  “Too Much Blood” does happen to be one of my favorite songs on the album.  The music is quite a bit slower than some of the other songs, which allows Fallon’s voice to really shine through.  He almost sounds like he is in pain about revealing too much of himself.

There are certainly a few other really good songs on this album as well. “Keepsake” is similar in sound to “Too Much Blood”.  The music tones down to allow Fallon’s voice to really take control.  The chorus picks up musically to match the passion in the vocals. I really like both “Mae” and “National Anthem” as well.   “Mae” features some of my favorite lyrics because they have some of the prototypical lyrics for Gaslight.  He sings about both “Betty Davis eyes” and waiting for kingdom come “with the radio on”.  For those of you who aren’t Gaslight fans, they are lyrics that have shown up in previous songs.  While “Mae” is a slower song on the album, “National Anthem” is the slowest one.  The music is completely stripped down to just a guitar and some stringed instruments.  Fallon’s voice is slightly more melodic with only a little hint of grit.  However, it seems to just tell the story of struggling through life.  It’s something really different for them, but it is a great song.

There is really only one song I don’t like on the album.  Gaslight, however, is only slightly at fault for this.  They decided to cover “Sliver” by Nirvana.  Perhaps this speaks a little more to their influences; however, I personally don’t really like Nirvana at all.  I immediately thought it sounded like a Nirvana cover the second I heard it.  The only reason I don’t like it is because it doesn’t feature the same melodic style I’ve come to enjoy from Gaslight.

If you happen to pick up this CD, you should definitely check out their back catalog.  Although they have cleaned up their style a little, they are still sticking to the style that gained them followers in the first place.  Sure, They’ve joined a bigger record label, and I’ve heard them on the radio, but they aren’t looking to lose their original fans either.

Teacher Grade: A

An Ode to Portable Music

I guess I can remember a time when people weren’t consistently walking around with headphones in their ears, but it really seems like something of the very distant past.  Being a school teacher it is certainly a bit of a different time in schools when it comes to distractions.  Kids come into school with their headphones on, they complain when you ask them to take them out or turn it off, they lie that it isn’t plugged in or turned on, and they want to wear the headphones around their neck as a fashion statement.  If that isn’t enough, I have to tell kids to put them away, and I have to watch out for sweatshirts that disguise the headphones in the actual hood drawstrings.  It’s a crazy time period.  Thinking of my other job, I watch kids come in with their parents totally ignoring family time to listen to their music.  I’ve had kids put on their pandora app at the table so they have music they want to hear, and I’ve watched families sit through entire meals without speaking to each other.  It’s a strange new world we’re moving into and, while I may sound really annoyed at the state of the world, I’m loving this new technology.

I am old enough to have owned and operated a Walkman back in the day.  It wasn’t all that long, but I did purchase a few different cassette tapes of my own before I stated in on the new fangled world of compact discs.  I specifically remember making mix tapes and buying a Green Day and Presidents of the United States of America tape as well.  It wasn’t long before I purchased my first Discman. This very quickly led into a world wind buying spree of different albums.  I loved the fact that I could listen to my own music privately and, with the invention of downloadable music and burning cds, I could quickly increase the amount of music I had in my library.  I remember even up through college being obsessed with downloading music.  I would burn CD’s that had two different bands on them or 4 different EPs.  It was an easier way to keep music even though I had to carry all the CDs in my big binder of music.

Then all of a sudden the big binder wasn’t necessary anymore.  I tried to keep myself from buying an Ipod for a little while, but I gave in my Junior year of college.  I have never been a big fan of trying to buy stuff new, so I purchased one off Ebay.  It was a crazy advance in the portable music industry.  I didn’t need the binder anymore, now I could carry hundreds of albums in this compact device.  Of course, with the advance in technology came a different type of responsibility.  Now I had to be much more careful with the device.  I managed to only purchase one Walkman and one discman in my life, but in the span of 8 years, I have gone through 4 different Ipods.

The first one, a bit clunkier version for sure, somehow had the screen smashed and black ink spread throughout the display.  The second one was left on the roof of my car after school one day.  Apparently finding an Ipod on top of a car outside an apartment building means you don’t have to turn it in to the management’s lost and found.  The third one I managed to get them to replace for a price.  I confiscated a powerful magnet from one of the students in my class.  I foolishly put it on the side of my desk.  Not too surprisingly it attached itself to my Ipod as I walked by and yanked a gear inside out of place.  The final Ipod was a shuffle I got from my parents for working out.  I have no idea what happened to that one, but it stopped working after one year.

I bring up all the loss because I may have one more Ipod to add to the list of the fallen.  This of course is the one that brought on this run down of mobile music technology throughout the years.  The final day of school this year I was listening to the Ipod on the way home from school.  I’m fairly sure I got it in the house, but I haven’t seen it since.  It may soon join the long list of Ipods that have come and gone, but I thankfully have a back up Nano that I now use for working out.  It really needs to be updated, but I’m glad I can still carry quite a few albums around with me.

I find it funny that I went through years and years with a discman and never had a problem, but I’ve managed to go through potentially 5 different Ipods in quite a short period of time.  I can’t help but feel we’ve started to sacrifice longevity for a device that can handle so much more data.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy I don’t have to carry around a binder of music to accompany my eclectic taste; however, at $250-300 a piece, I can’t help but wonder if I’d be better off walking around with a book bag to hold all my music and discman.  Hopefully I find my Ipod soon!

where are you!?!?

Jack White – Blunderbuss

I wrote a little synopsis a little while ago of people I thought were one day destined and guaranteed to be hall of fame inductees.  Jack White was right at the top of that list.  I certainly think he has to be considered one of those musical geniuses of our time period.  It’s strange looking at musicians who I have actually seen from their inception to current time becoming hall of famers.  These rock gods are supposed to be people that my parents listened to.  It’s almost like how I hate knowing that half of the best athletes out there now a days are younger than I am.  When did all the cool people stop being people I could also look up to as my senior.  Anyway, I’m amazed at the ability of Jack White to achieve greatness in so many different styles.  The White Stripes was his rock group, the Raconteurs are his folk group, and the Dead Weathers are his punk band.  With him finding so many different niches already, I was really excited for his solo release.  I was quite curious what style it would be in at least.

I was actually quite pleased with the result of this record.  I have picked up every album Jack White has made and, although I don’t really enjoy The Dead Weathers all that much, I would say I really enjoy his ability to create a unique sound with his different projects.  One song stands out as one that would have fit perfectly on this record for me.  The last song on The Raconteur’s album Consoler of the Lonely is called “Carolina Drama”.  It tells the story of some domestic violence, but it has a real folk country sound to it.  I think it’s probably the song that reminds me the most of the type of material White put together for this album.  Thankfully, “Carolina Drama” is a personal favorite of mine.

Back in January White gave his fans a little taste of his upcoming album with the song “Love Interruption”.  I was really interested to hear what his sound was like.  White Stripes had broken up and none of the other acts he has were really putting anything out.  I wasn’t really sure what his inspiration would be like for this album.  The song is probably one of the more quiet songs on the album.  In fact, it doesn’t seem to feature all that many instruments at all.  There is a guitar and organ for sure, but there really aren’t all that many other instruments to accompany it.  I was curious if the entire album was going to be this low key. Also the topic seemed to be really interesting as well.  He recently was divorced from his wife so, like many others, I was curious to know if this album was about the break up.  He didn’t seem all that broken up when they threw a party to celebrate the time they spent together.  I guess there’s nothing like a good divorce party.

Even though I think “Love Interruption” is a great song, I’m really happy that this album has some crazy amount of variety to it.  If you’ve read one of my music reviews before then you know I definitely appreciate an album that keeps me interested.  I can’t hear too much of the same thing over and over again.  Thankfully White’s voice alone keeps things extremely interesting.  “Missing Pieces” is a great song to start the entire album off with.  Once again the music is somewhat subdued and plays second fiddle to White’s voice, but it complements it extremely well.  Jack’s twangy voice and ample story telling will really rope the listener in.  There is a quick little guitar solo in the middle that leads to a nice little musical breakdown; however, the rest of the song is heavy on organ, keyboard, and drums.  Once again it seems like White could be dealing with the break up as he sings about someone taking pieces of him and leaving.

There are plenty of other songs on the album I enjoy quite a bit as well.  “Sixteen Saltines” follows the opening track and it has a much different feel to it.  It opens with a really loud and blaring guitar line.  White’s voice starts with a yelling quality, but he quickly transitions to a falsetto delivery halfway through.  I like how his voice even changes throughout the song.  The song “I’m Shakin'” has a very obvious bluesy quality to it for sure.  One might even refer to this one as his Black Keys song.  He has a very good twang to his voice that is really complemented by the soulful backup singers he uses on this song.  “Take Me With You When You Go”, the final song on the album, may be one of my favorite songs.  It doesn’t have the same big flashy quality that some of the other songs do, but it features a little more of the instrumental aspects and good harmony.  An added bonus, and the real reason I enjoy the song, is the way in which it almost transitions to a completely different song about half way through.  There are some really fuzzy guitar, hefty drums, and very quickly sung lyrics by both White and the accompanying singer.  Before the end they manage to tie the first and second half of the song together to give is great continuity.

There are actually a couple of songs I’m not huge on but, unlike other albums from other artists, I don’t detest them enough to skip them.  “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is an incredibly catchy song that I think I would normally like.  It’s definitely a toe tapper for sure, but I find myself just getting a little annoyed with the song overall.  Plus I keep thinking he is singing Hippopotamus Poor Boy.  I know he was going for that, but I don’t quite get the same enjoyment out of it I’m sure he intended.  “Blunderbuss”, the title song for the album, is another fairly good song, but it just doesn’t do a whole lot for me.  I almost feel like it’s missing something to keep me interested.  I have a feeling this is more of just a personal feeling on these songs after listening to the album a bunch of times.

Ultimately I really like this album, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up on my list of top albums of the year.  I’ll have to see if it has staying power for me.  There is already an album or two I think will make that eventual list.  There are a bunch of other great songs on the album I didn’t mention; therefore, you need to open up Spotify or go get the album and give it a listen.  If you’ve ever enjoyed something White has produced in the past, I think you’ll like this one too!

Teacher Grade: A

Albums in Rotation: Folk Rock Edition

I like to do my Album in Rotation blog when I don’t have a specific band I’m looking to review.  I tossed around, at one point in time, doing an individual review for all of these bands; however, I enjoy doing a blog that lets me knock out a lot of bands in one read.  The last version of these that I wrote ended up doing pretty well, so I figured it was time for another one.  I think I’m going to start trying to figure out a theme or something to name it in addition to just calling it Albums in Rotation.  Perhaps it will give others a better idea of what type of music they will be reading about.  It definitely can’t be a bad thing to think about.  This particular Albums in Rotation features folk rock.  I’m not sure one of these bands fits into that category really well, but I know the other three fit this category pretty well.  Here are the four albums I’ve been cycling through over the past two weeks.

M.WardA Wasteland Companion – The second half of the duo She & Him, M. Ward releases his newest solo effort.  It’s kind of
funny to refer to this as a solo album because he really has been a solo artist for most of his career.  Putting out music since 1999, he really has only started to garner big time attention lately.  M.Ward returns to what he does best on this album.  Although it is slightly more polished than some fans will be used to, technology is getting better and artists are putting out better records.  People need to deal with that.  Anyway, the first single off the album, “Primitive Girl”, has a much bigger sound than a lot of fans will be accustomed to, but Ward uses his deadpan delivery to remind everyone that he hasn’t changed.  There is actually a whole plethora of instruments that end up getting used throughout the entirty of the record, which I think helps to really add a lot of depth to this record.  It almost seems like a slightly more upbeat record at times for him.  “Sweetheart” brings Mrs. Deschanel in for a little guest backup vocals. Thankfully they only do this for a song.  Although I don’t mind She & Him, I want Ward to show that he is his own musician.

Trampled by TurtlesStars and Satellites – M.Ward is a pretty good blend of the folk influenced rock.  Trampled by Turtles ends up being closer to rock influenced folk.  I received a sampler with an old magazine subscription a few years ago.  While I don’t really remember a lot of the songs on it now, I do remember T by T had a song featured on it.  I loved the song, but I wasn’t really down with the rest of the album.  Seeing that they released another album, I quickly got it out hoping I would enjoy it more than their previous effort.  Thankfully I have!  T by T sort of sound like Fleet Foxes, but they don’t almost put me to sleep with their music.  With instruments like the banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, you feel like you’re listening to something that was composed on somebody’s back porch in Kentucky.  However, they have such good harmonies and melodies, you’ll be impressed by their ability to compose great music for a much wider audience.  “Alone” sounds like you could figure out a way to have an entire orchestra accompany them.  Thankfully, they also can get really down home folk as well.  “Walt Whitman” features some really fast banjo and fiddle work, and it has a little country tinge to it for sure.  “Risk” and “Don’t Look Down” are actually just instrumental songs on the album, but they are probably two of my favorite songs on the album.  They make me want to film some coming of age country adventure movie.

LuceroWomen & Work – Lucero is a band that I’ve been listening to for a little while, but they have never managed to really hold my attention.  I would like to predict that this one will manage to do just that, but I do wonder if that is true or not.  I really like this album, but I’m not sure if it has staying power. This is probably the least folk style album in this post, but it can almost be described as rock that has been influenced by punk and country.  You can definitely get a little bit more enthusiasm and attitude out of the lead singer, Ben Nichols’s, voice.  They start this album off with a rock and roll powerhouse song “On My Way Downtown”.  This song has a lot of the blusey rock sensibilities to it, but it also could be used for a killer line dance as well.  “Women & Work” has a slightly more old school rock and roll feel to it; however, the word honkey-tonk does come out in this song, so it also features a heavy dose of country as well.  I’ve said it before on here; I really like albums that are made for driving.  I can put down the windows for this one and enjoy a nice long drive.  Unfortunately it would be straight into traffic around here, but I’ll be keeping this one on rotation all summer.

Good Old War Come Back As Rain – I saved the band I’ve been listening to the most for last in this place.  I found out about GOW from my friend John who has reviewed here before.  He told me he found it using the “similar artists” feature on Spotify.  I’m quite happy he did because I’ve been really enjoying their release as of late.  Having only been around for about four years or so, they have definitely fine-tuned their sound into something that could almost become the next radio friendly Mumford and Sons.  They don’t really have the same sound, but they have a folk centered poppy sound that a lot of people will enjoy.  “Calling Me Names” is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.  They have a very slight folk sound on this song with a lot of pop sensibilities.  I have a feeling this wouldn’t be pure enough for many hipsters, but I’m fine with it.  I don’t need to be an elitist.  Songs like “Loud Love” manage to show a little bit more of their country folk focus.  If you’re alright with a little pop in your folk, then you really need to check this band out!

I think I have a little something for everyone here.  So open up your Spotify and check a few of them out.  Feel free to tell me what you’ve been listening to lately too.

Alabama Shakes – “Boys & Girls”

Some bands you just don’t see coming, and others have a lot of hype surrounding them before they can even release a record.  When it comes to Alabama Shakes I, and many others, saw them coming from miles away.  Different places I go for my music news have been talking about Alabama Shakes for well over a year now.  Even though they have only been a band since 2009, they managed to get together and hone their sound fairly quickly.  Completely blowing up a few festivals here and there, their very first full length album could be considered one of the most anticipated albums of the year.  I think you should open up Spotify, or click on their video at the bottom of this post, and give a listen to them as you read through the rest of this little review.  You’ll be a fan by the end of reading this post.

Alabama Shakes got together in Athens, Alabama back in 2009.  Still in high school at the time, Britney Howard and Zac Cockrell  started experimenting with their sound and musical tastes.  Later they managed to add the remaining members of the band, record some material, and head out with their hopes and dreams.  Now they have been signed by three different record companies, including Jack White’s Third Man Records, and they are quickly becoming one of the fastest rising stars in the music industry.

Alabama Shakes have more than a few things working in their favor.  They have a sound that is both fresh and classic combined into one.  They manage to bring something the music industry doesn’t get a whole lot of.  It’s a sound that goes back to a more classic rock age of music.  They manage to capture a very bluesy grassroots rock and roll soul sound that harkens back to Joplin.  Britney Howard is the clear heart and soul of this group.  Women in lead positions of bands can have it rough.  They may embrace their role as the face of the band, or they may have a rough time accepting this position.  Howard manages to grab the reins and lead the band into each and every song.  She brings both heart and soul to each and every song on the album.  It’s clear these songs weren’t written by some song writing guru a record label has on staff.  Instead, Howard put all of her raw emotions and feelings into each and every song.

The best place to start with Alabama Shakes is their first single/song on the album: “Hold On”.  This is the song that they are performing on late night talk shows, and they have a video for it as well.  As I said earlier, Howard pours herself into many of these different songs, and it definitely comes out in full force on this song.  The song starts off simple enough.  The beat the drums keep, the pretty simple melody the guitars have, and the steady bass don’t deviate much until near the end of the song.  It is really Howard’s voice that stands out here.  She has the ability to sing, “scream”, and put emphasis on things so you can see her passion here.  The lyrics of the song are pretty simple as well, but the power lies in how she sings it.  She seems to be singing about struggling to make it out of some kind of difficulty.  Her lyrics, “Bless my heart, Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it t0 22 years old / Must be someone, up above / Saying come on Britney, you gotta come on up / You gotta hold on”, seem really personal.  I especially like how she throws her own name in there as well.  It’s like she wants you to know she is struggling to hold on.  The emotion she contains in her voice only continues to come out even more as the song breaks into organized pandemonium near the end of the song.  Watch the video below!

There are quite a few other songs on the album where the passion comes out almost just as much as the first single off the album.  “Heartbreaker” is another song of the album that seems to have some deep seeded meaning to it as well.  Here Britney comes across more as a crooner, but her ability to go from quiet reflective crooner to impassioned heartbroken lover really drive the song forward and give it tons of character.  Her screaming/wailing as she sings, “How was I supposed to know you were a heartbreaker” almost come across as a woman in the midst of an emotional breakdown. The circus nature of the keyboards on this one also help to assist in bringing out the passion  “Be Mine” comes across somewhat more cool and collected for sure, but listening to the lyrics and singing help to show the real feeling contained in the song.  The lyrics here almost make it seem like she knows what man she wants, and she is ready to fight for him.  No one is going to tear them apart.  I like the James Brown breakdown at the end of the song on this one as well.

Alabama Shakes isn’t all serious though; they definitely manage to talk about having a good time as well.  “Hang Loose” brings to mind some type of 50’s sock hop song.  I always manage to get the dance scene from the first Back to the Future movie in my head when I listen to this song.  It’s a much more laid back song, and it’s message is simply to take it easy and have fun.  It’s real catchy and much more relaxed than some of the other material.  “Goin’ To The Party” is one of the stranger songs on the album for me.  It  has more of a narrative to it about heading to a party.  They warn or entice you to go because there is going to be dancing and a fight as well.  The tempo of the song is definitely different from anything else on the album, and I do have to be in the mood for it.  I can’t help but think this is a slightly comedic song.  Britney warbles, “Gotta take me home now, know you ain’t drinking water / Gotta take me back, cause I’m still somebody’s daughter”.  The lyrical content and delivery are just so much different from anything else on the album.

There are a few songs on the album that show their very quiet and reflective abilities as well.  The title song, “Boys & Girls”, has a very slow beat, quiet vocals, and easy tempo.  It helps bring a good amount of diversity to it, and it helps show the quiet side to Britney’s vocals as well.  “You Ain’t Alone” follows a similar slow even tempo as well.  There is definitely more emotion and passion to the singing of this one.  It’s a great song that helps continue to show the passion and the emotion of this band as well.

Alabama Shakes may be the first real contender for album of the year for me.  I picked this one up about a week ago, and it has pretty much been the only thing I’ve listened to since then.  If you have never checked out a band I’ve suggested before, you definitely need to look this one up for sure.  I’ll admit to being very opinionated about this band, but I think they have a very good chance of finding a way into your hearts and into your regular rotation of albums.

Teacher Grade: A+