Friday, June 5, 2020

Short Rounds: The Burrito Brothers, Richie Owens & the Farm Bureau, Jon Savage's 1969-1971, Webb Wilder, Lucinda Williams & X (2020

The Burrito Brothers' The Notorious Burrito Brothers
New album releases in 150 words or less…

The Burrito BrothersThe Notorious Burrito Brothers (The Store For Music)
Whether “flying” or not, the Burrito Brothers have consistently evolved as a band since Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman first tried to fuse country and rock into “Cosmic American Music” back in 1969. This newest incarnation follows in their footsteps, the Chris James-led, Nashville-based outfit acquitting themselves nicely with The Notorious Burrito Brothers, the band blending country, rock, and soul with the all-important twang provided by Tony Paoletta’s weeping steel guitar and Bob Hatter’s elegant fretwork. Although James’ voice strains at times, he knocks the Dan Penn classic “Dark End of the Street” out of the park with a soulful reading. The ballads are gorgeous, but it’s honky-tonk jams like “Do Right Man” and “Gravity” that are the band’s bread ‘n’ butter, showcasing their instrumental virtuosity and country-rock mastery. Forget about questions of “authenticity”; these guys are the real deal, cranking out poop-punting tunes in the true Burrito Brothers tradition. Grade: B+   BUY!

Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau's Reconstruction
Richie Owens and the Farm BureauReconstruction (Kleartone Records)
Nashville’s Richie Owens and the Farm Bureau have quietly made some of the best Americana music of the past 20 years, the talented singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist forging an inspired blend of roots-rock and twangy country for albums like In Farm We Trust and Tennessee. Owens’ brilliant Reconstruction is a paean to the classic rock he grew up with and, although he wears his influences well, Owens brings an unbridled enthusiasm and energy to these 11 original tunes that transcends mere mimicry or adulation. The performances are rich with melody and the band’s skilled instrumentation is simply gorgeous, but it’s with tunes like the insightful, guitar-driven country-rock of “Welcome To America” or the hauntingly-beautiful “Stay In My Memories” that Owens showcases formidable lyrical skills as impressive as the musical accompaniment. With a talent equal to current hipster faves like Jason Isbell or Lukas Nelson, Owens is an artist worth discovering. Grade: A+   BUY!

Jon Savage’s 1969-1971: Rock Dreams On 45
Various Artists – Jon Savage’s 1969-1971: Rock Dreams On 45 (Ace Records U.K.)
British music journalist Jon Savage has curated several of these bespoke sets for Ace Records, each compilation album collecting pop/rock tunes from a single year, documenting both the hits and the obscurities. With Rock Dreams On 45, Savage moves beyond K-Tel and into the FM radio era where bands uncomfortably straddled the line between AM pop and FM street cred. This heady two-disc combo offers up 43 über-cool tunes from both well-known rockers like Jethro Tull, Free, the Kinks, the James Gang, Procol Harum, Mott the Hoople, and Velvet Underground, with a song selection that often eschews the hits in favor of the art. More obscure outfits like Steamhammer, the Idle Race, Kaleidoscope, Blossom Toes, Man, and the Flamin’ Groovies fill out a dream playlist of vintage hard rock and blues. Rock Dreams on 45 is the perfect introduction to the often-exhilarating dawn of the classic rock era; highly recommended. Grade: A+   BUY!

Webb Wilder's Night Without Love
Webb WilderNight Without Love (Landslide Records)
Americana legend Webb Wilder’s Night Without Love is a concept album, exploring both the wonder and woe of love and romance. Wilder tackles the heady subject matter with his usual aplomb, his trademark blend of roots-rock, country, and R&B (rhythm and blues) literally built for this sort of artistic exercise. The Big Man doesn’t disappoint, his deep, twangy vocals perfectly suited for tunes like the yearning title track (penned by long-time friend R.S. Field) or the lyrical poetry of “Illusion of You” while a cover of Los Lobos “Be Still” is performed beautifully. Wilder’s original “The Big Deal” is as heartfelt a love song as you’ll hear, Wilder’s earnest vocals accompanied by multi-instrumentalist George Bradfute’s gorgeous strings while a honky-tonk cover of Chip Taylor’s “Holdin’ On To Myself” will have you crying in your beer. Overall, Night Without Love is a perfect showcase for Wilder’s enormous talents and unbridled enthusiasm. Grade: A+   BUY!

Lucinda Williams' Good Souls, Better Angels
Lucinda WilliamsGood Souls Better Angels (Highway 20 Records)
Lucinda Williams has built her reputation as a talented singer/songwriter plumbing the depths of country, folk, and rock music with highly-personal lyrics. With Goods Souls Better Angels she strolls along the muddy Mississippi with as bluesy an album as you’ll hear in 2020. Backed by her road-tested touring band – including stellar guitarist Stuart Mathis – Williams belts out these 12 tunes with the brass of Koko Taylor and the finesse of Etta James. Sure, there’s some twang to be heard in the grooves of songs like “Bad News Blues” or “Big Rotator” but when Williams cuts loose on tracks like “Bone of Contention” or “Down Past the Bottom,” she’s howlin’ like The Wolf, her bruised vocals pouring out emotion like a thunderstorm. Many blues artists try their entire lives and fail to capture the grief and anger that Williams channels through Good Souls Better Angels, the singer’s most powerful album yet. Grade: A   BUY!

X's Alphabetland
XAlphabetland (Fat Possum Records)
The opening notes of Alphabetland, punk legends X’s first album in 25+ years will have you thinking that it’s 1980 all over again. When Exene Cervenka’s distinctive vox jump in and guitarist Billy Zoom hits a nasty razorblade chord, you’re sure of it. Alphabetland offers the band’s original line-up of Cervenka, Zoom, singer/bassist John Doe, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake, reunited for the first time since 1985’s Ain’t Love Grand! and it sounds like it was recorded in a time warp. Each song provides the sort of short, sharp shock that was the band’s trademark on LPs like Los Angeles and Wild Gift, but with contemporary lyrics. The band’s reckless musical chemistry remains intact, X’s magical blend of raging punk, roots-rock, and rockabilly as fresh and startling as it was 40 years ago. Don’t call it a “comeback,” but rather a continuation, Alphabetland an inspired collection of timeless rock ‘n’ roll. Grade: A+   BUY!

Previously on That Devil
Short Rounds, April 2020: Datura4, Dream Syndicate, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, Bryan Ferry, Game Theory & Supersuckers

Short Rounds, March 2020: The Bluefields, Dave Clark Five, Marshall Crenshaw, Gwil Owen, Gary Moore & Watermelon Slim

Short Rounds, February 2020: Beach Slang, The Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Delaney & Bonnie, Mott the Hoople & Television Personalities

Short Rounds, January 2020: The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dana Gillespie, Manfred Mann, Mick Ronson & An A-Squared Compilation

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