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Left of the Dial – D.B.’s Guide to Music that Matters

Left of the Dial – D.B.’s Guide to Music that Matters

It doesn’t have to be a top ten hit to be super cool music, so here are some highlights of newer music, with an emphasis on great songs that should not be overlooked and deserve to be checked out. There is nothing like great music to get through a difficult year. A shout out to these musicians that are churning out great work:

Steve Earle- J.T.
This brilliant new 2021 release from Steve Earle is an album that he wishes he never had to make. It is Steve doing a tribute album of his oldest son, Justin Townes Earle’s songs, after his talented singer-songwriter son tragically passed away in August 2020, from a cocaine/fentanyl overdose, at age 38. All songs were written by Justin Townes Earle, (or J.T., as Steve called him) except the final song written by Steve called “Last Words.” It is one of the most emotionally moving songs you will ever hear. On April 3, 2021, Steve did a benefit with Emmylou Harris at Nashville’s City Winery and said “he loved him more than anything else in the world,” right before singing his heartfelt “Last Words,” with the sad lyrics: “You took a part of me with you, last thing I said was I love you, your last words to me were I love you too.” Just heartbreaking to hear Steve sing this ode to his troubled lost son that he could not save. Steve’s versions of Justin’s songs, with his world weary/gravelly voice, bring out his talented son’s songs and they shine even brighter, like the gems that they are. “Harlem River Blues” is Justin’s highest charted song at #47 but he had eight full albums (and one EP) and was highly regarded in the Americana/Roots/Country world. Personally, I prefer Steve’s versions as there is something about the way that Steve sings that is uniquely his, and makes these songs pop out so raw and genuine. This album makes Justin’s songwriting come to life. Steve’s band, the Dukes, also brings much musically to these songs as well. Absolutely not to be missed for Steve Earle fans and a really great Americana album for any music lover. All proceeds from the album will go into a trust for J.T.’s three-year-old daughter.

Aaron Lee Tasjan- Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!
What a fun new album of pop rock perfection released on February 5th via New West Records. Lady Gaga used to open up for him and now on his fourth full album, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, it seems to finally be his time. He has recorded with Tom Petty, Jack White and Sean Lennon, and done mushrooms with Bono. Now living in Nashville, he really gets around. “Computer of Love” is so incredibly catchy that you will find yourself uncontrollably flashing a giant smile. Watch the creative official video for it on YouTube or their excellent 11/30/2020 session from Paste studios, also on YouTube. It could be from the 80’s or 90’s except for the references to avatars and computers. Sounds reminiscent of the Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty and 80’s artists like Marshall Crenshaw. “Up all Night” is 100% Tom Petty inspired and it works. “Whatever Happened to Sunday Women?” echoes Alex Chilton’s band Big Star. “Don’t Overthink It” could’ve easily been on a Josh Tillman/Father John Misty LP, which is a great compliment to Tasjan since Josh Tillman is absolutely superb. It also has a dash of James McMurtry thrown in and it has a great message to us all. As Tasjan explains, “It’s a song that’s a little about letting go but really about having faith in yourself.” “Feminine Walk” name drops Bowie, Bolan, Jagger and Joan Jett with enough twang and swagger to make it interesting. Sidenote: Tasjan toured as a later member of The New York Dolls, which lends him glam rock credibility. “Another Lonely Day” contains the lyrics “When I woke up today, yesterday was in my way.” Well said! “Got what I Wanted” is Beatlesque but in his own modern way. This is music for now! He is an artist to watch out for who is hard to define, but his talent of combining all these influences together with great musicianship makes him a wizard, a true star.

The Weather Station- Ignorance
Sometimes a band seems to pop up out of nowhere and you have to wonder why you didn’t know about them. That would be this band that is fronted by the lovely Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, who is simply mesmerizing and has such an angelic voice. Since forming in 2006, they have released five albums with their first released in 2009. This latest album is their debut on the Mississippi label, Fat Possum Records. This new release title “Ignorance” is explained on their website as Ignorance being the blank space at the Intersection of hope and despair and can be hopeful if the right road is taken. Seemingly dark lyrics are really lyrics of hope. The song “Robber” is hypnotic and fascinating. Watching the video is highly recommended. In fact, it makes you go back to past videos and 2017’s “Thirty” is another must watch. “Parking Lot” sounds a bit like Kate Bush and Sarah McLachlan meets Joni Mitchell. The Weather Station is a project that has evolved through the years from sparse solo recordings into this latest release being backed by a full band with two drummers, saxophonist, synth, strings, flute, piano, bass and electric guitar. Lindeman is still in complete control but her excellent band complements her vision and raises the project to a higher level, making it impossible to ignore.

 

Brian Lisik- Gudbye Stoopid Whirled
Ohio’s best kept secret can really rock! We knew Cleveland rocks but evidently so does Canton, Ohio. Being so close to Cleveland is close enough for Rock n Roll. After seeing one of his songs posted on a friend’s Facebook post, I immediately fell in love with the sound of his voice. Love, love, love that voice. He a natural rock vocalist in the vein of John Mellencamp, Southside Johnny and Bob Seger. Crank up the volume and enjoy his witty lyrics, crafty tunes and rockin’ vast variety of instruments (acoustic/electric guitars, mandolins, lap steel, dulcimer, heavy metal banjo, organ, 12-string guitar and maracas.) Talented multi-instrumentalist and songwriting partner Steve Norgrove is essential in helping create this most interesting album with Brian that sounds at times familiar, like an old friend, but completely fresh. Retro, yet modern, and all the while appealing. Kudos to Chad Jenson for the perfect percussion and guitars. Contrary to the title, on “Happy All The Time” he laments “Everything went wrong the day I met you. Used to be happy all the time. Now I have to bury it deep inside. There’s no such thing as happily ever after.” There’s the clever Cheboygan, Sheboygan with its bluegrass mandolin/banjo feel that makes you want to get up and dance around the barn. Cheboygan is a city in Michigan and Sheboygan is a city in Wisconsin. Then he shifts into high rock gear on the darker and heavier “(Erebus goes) Overbored” with more of his super vocal performance. And yes, the song is Overbored, not a typo. A nice break with the blasting high-speed instrumental “Call It Liquid timing (Part I)” and ripping right into a melancholy “Death of a Broken Heart.” After the catchy “Mindship” that will linger with you long after the album ends, it concludes with a beautiful sentimental love song “Be There Waiting.” The Ten tracks were mixed to perfection by legendary jangle pop producer Don Dixon (R.E.M., The Smithereens, James McMurtry, Chris Stamey of The DB’s). Dixon summed it up best, “On his new record, Brian has captured the essence of a classic rock album while maintaining all the ragged glory of a home recording. His voice may seem like the main attraction at first, but the songs will get inside your head and stay there. What more could you ask for in an album?

Mary Karlzen- Shine
Another gem from Miami’s own Y & T Music was released on April 9, and this one was a long time comin,’ but well worth the wait. Shine is Mary’s sixth album since her first solo self-titled album on Y & T Music in 1992. After hearing Mary in the highly regarded South Florida rock band Vesper Sparrow, Rich Ulloa of Y & T Music was blown away and determined to help make her into the solo star that he knew she could be. After putting out her first two releases, he was successful in getting her a recording contract with Atlantic Records in 1994 that produced the well received Yelling at Mary. She opened shows for Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne (who also guested on that album), Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams and more. She made her own success by being true to herself and surrounding herself with great talent. On Shine, she does the duet “You Still Belong To Me” with Country legend Radney Foster, and has an almost endless array of talented guest musicians like The E-Street Band’s Garry Tallent, Ex-Mavericks’ Ben Peller, Ex-Wilco Ken Coomer, Kenny Aronoff, Mark Goldenberg and more. Maybe that’s why it sounds so great, along with perfect production by Jansen Press. Her last album was The Wanderlust Diaries in 2006. Mary took a break to raise two beautiful daughters and the songs on Shine reflect what she has learned along the way. “One Step Away From Home,” “Say You’ll Never Go Away Again,” and “I’ll Be There” are Mary’s emotions dealing with motherhood. Any of the 12 tracks could be hit singles. They’re that good. I love on “Dumb Game” when she sings “I am so sorry I took you seriously. I was dreaming how everything could be, everything could be…. but not for me.” Bet Taylor Swift wished she had written that and her delivery is just perfect. On “Try To Find,” she wisely warns that “when you walk a thin line, you’re bound to fall.” The song “Shine” is about acceptance that you may not reach all that you hoped and dreamed, but it’s ok. It’s a beautiful song musically and an emotional vocal performance that makes it so convincing. Shine is a grown-up, reflective album from a musician who was born to write killer songs, sing and play, but also juggle raising a loving family. Mary is a ray of sunshine who shines personally and musically. And brightly she still shines. This star is not going away anytime soon.

Drew Weaver- Sings Country Mood Songs
This six song EP, another labor of love released by Y & T Music, consists of Drew Weaver doing covers of six classic country songs by Hank Williams, Red Simpson, Fuzzy Owens, Merle Haggard, Billy Barton and Harlan Howard. We’re talkin’ another time, another place…. literally. These lost recordings were from a Los Angeles recording session in 1998 and feature a guest appearance by Tex- Mex Queen Rosie Flores who sings a duet on Hank William’s “Strangers in My Arms” and plays guitar on all tracks. She was in original alt country/ cowpunk bands (Rosie and the Screamers and The Screamin’ Sirens) in the 70’s and 80’s before venturing solo into Rockabilly, Country, Swing and Honky Tonk. Produced and Mixed by the ever so talented Jansen Press makes this recording sound absolutely fabulous. Being more of a rocker, I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this. Drew’s a really great singer and the songs are classics because they are such good songs. He does a really great job on Merle Haggard’s “You Don’t Have Very Far To Go” with the classic lyrics, “If you’re trying to break my heart… you don’t have very far to go.” In fact, all six covers are winners.

 

Bryan Ferry- Royal Albert Hall 2020
In early 2020, Art-Rock Roxy Music’s handsome and uber-cool lead singer/founder, Bryan Ferry, released a beautifully packaged live cd Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1974, which was taken from a concert on December 19, 1974. It was 14 tracks and 12 were covers from older classic pop and rock songs that he had released on his first two solo albums along with two of his originals. Long before Rod Stewart released his great American songbook albums, Ferry had already done it. Now, in 2021, Ferry released his 18 track March 2020 pre-pandemic concert that he performed on March 11th and 13th, also at the Royal Albert Hall. 100% of the proceeds go to help his band and crew members who have not been able to work due to the pandemic. While Ferry’s voice has weakened in recent years, it still sounds beautiful and having the incredible guitarist, Chris Spedding, on this album is such a great bonus. Jorja Chalmers on saxophones and Marina Moore on Viola are superb. Ferry always surrounds himself with great musicians. He has always been a suave and classy front man, and, at 75 years old, we are lucky to have him still performing. What makes this set so very cool is that the set list is a nice mixture of some of his Roxy Music hits like “Avalon,” “Out of The Blue,” and my all-time favorite “Editions of You,” but also some songs recorded live for the first time. Other than two Bob Dylan covers (“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” and “Make You feel My Love”) the rest are twelve Roxy Music songs and four solo songs. With so many wonderful songs in his Roxy Music and solo catalogue, he could have chosen 100 tracks but these 18 tracks include some interesting choices: the 1973 single “Pyjamarama,” “Hiroshima Mon Amour” from Frantic’s 2002 (Solo album), “Your Painted Smile” from Mamouna’s 1994 (Solo album), “Street Life” from Stranded’s 1973 (Roxy Music’s album). The set list has such a nice flow and all sound so modern that you forget how ahead of their time Roxy Music really was. Although the CD version sounds just fine, the double vinyl album pops out beautiful crisp sound quality. As usual, vinyl wins. Bryan Ferry rules!

Richard Thompson- Acoustic Classics II
This one is from 2017, but you might have missed it if you’re not familiar with this great English artist. That would be unfortunate, as these acoustic reworked treasures showcase the well-crafted songs of Thompson’s extensive folk and folk-rock catalogue. They are taken from both his solo work and songs as a member of his esteemed British folk rock band Fairport Convention. His extraordinary guitar work is beautiful and very impressive. He is one of the best guitarists alive. His vocals still sound exactly the same…distinctive, comforting and powerful as ever. Production is sparkling perfect, his impressive fretwork upfront and vocals are perfectly balanced. The memorable “Gethsemane” from 2003’s solo album The Old Kit Bag is an absolute highlight. Another highlight is the bitter and biting post-divorce opener “She Twists The Knife Again,” from his 1985 solo album Across the Crowded Room. “Devonside” is a beautiful folk ballad. “Genesis Hall” goes all the way back to Fairport Convention’s 1969 Unhalfbricking album. In 2014, Acoustic Classics was released and this follow-up Acoustic Classics II is a beautiful high quality folk album by this brilliant guitarist and most talented songwriter who wraps it all up with enticing vocals. If you are into acoustic folk, then he is the master.

Esther Rose- How Many Times
You can call her Alt -Country, Folk-Pop, or Indie Rock but whatever you want to call her, you should call her a fabulous singer and a talented songwriter with a tremendous sense of humor. It won’t take more than 30 seconds to figure out that someone very special to her has broken her heart. The title song on her third album How Many Times continues with “How many times…will you break my heart.” In fact, while 80’s power-pop rocker Greg Kihn wrote “The Break-Up Song,” Esther Rose has now released the break-up album. She has gone through a recent heartbreaking break-up but has survived to pour her heart out on a subject that so many people can relate to. It’s her wry sense of humor that makes this album special. The beauty of the music and her vocals seal the deal. Originally from Michigan, she has been New Orleans based and part of the country music scene there. Since she has not been touring, she has been in New Mexico as of late, working on her 4th album and she is quite pleased with this album, which is getting lots of media attention. Old-time classic country to punk inspired (Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Against Me!) with a modern Indie Pop edge, gives her a unique sound. Lap steel, fiddle, upright bass and an unplugged 1962 Gibson ES-120T guitar accentuates the country sound and fits perfectly with her lovely, distinctive voice. All songs were written by Rose and Co-produced by Ross Farbe of the Synthpop band Videoage. Rose credits him with adding a stereo pop glow. On “Songs Remain,” she shows appreciation for her time together with her ex, instead of bitterness. She sings, “to know you is to be forever changed. I am glad that it was you who broke my heart, cause it had to be you who broke my heart.” On “Are You Out There,” she is sitting home on New Year’s Eve and “There is no one I long to kiss but you, are you out there?” Many of us have been there at some time in our lives. The upbeat and danceable “Good Time” echoes Joni Mitchell and was written on the side of the road after her car blew up on a Nashville adventure. She has opened for Nick Lowe and sung on Jack White’s solo album “Boarding House Reach.” Out now on the ultra-cool Father/ Daughter Records in the U.S. and distributed by Full Time Hobby Records in the U.K. How Many times is a timeless treasure to be savored.

Doug Hoekstra- The Day Deserved
For fans of Pavement and Kurt Vile, The Day Deserved, just out April 30, 2021 on Drop Autumn Records, contains the fascinating and addictive “Unseen Undetected,” and “Seaside Town.” Both songs will have you humming them in the shower. “Gavin Geist” screams of Velvet Underground and Lou Reed influences, combined with the relatable lyrics “Everybody’s looking for a better day.” Ain’t that the truth! After releasing eight solo albums, E.P.’s and three books, the time was right for his first album in ten years. Hoekstra described this record as “a marker of the times,” as he elaborates his topical messages in each and every song. More is revealed with repeated listening, both musically and lyrically, as there is a complexity to this intelligent musician’s work. Like a modern-day Donovan, Beck, or Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, Hoekstra knows how to hook you in with his quiet hushed vocals, clever lyrics, and diverse instrumentation of cello, violin, sax, and clarinet added to the basic guitars, keyboards, bass and drums. Originally from Chicago, he was in the Alt-Country band, Bucket Number Six, before moving to Nashville for his solo career. Hope it’s not another ten years for his next one.
New and Noteworthy Singles

Liz Phair- “Spanish Doors”
Super catchy new up tempo single from her first album of new material in eleven years, Soberish, which has vibes of 80’s new wave group Missing Persons’ “Destination Unknown.” As Phair explains, “It’s about the fracturing of a beautiful life, when everything you counted on is thrown up for grabs.” She drew inspiration from a friend going through a divorce but the actions in the lyrics are her own. It’s a great sounding single and out June 4 via Chrysalis. She is scheduled to be on tour this summer with Garbage and Alanis Morrisette.

Lord Huron- “Not Dead Yet”
Like a train rolling down the tracks, this one rocks all down the line. With lyrics, “You look like hell and you smell like death,” combined with their T-Rex meets Elvis Presley sound, make it a real stand out! Who are these guys? Their fourth album Long Lost is out May 21. 2021 via Whispering Pines Studios/Republic Records. Another single, “Mine Forever,” is Chris Isaac and 60’s inspired with the clever lyrics “In my mind you’re mine forever.” Great unique songs! This Los Angeles-based band is definitely a band to check out. Very 60’s retro cool.

The Wallflowers- “Roots and Wings”
It’s not “One Headlight” or “Three Marlenas,” but is still welcome after such a long hiatus. Although there’s a slight disappointment after having such high expectations, this does grow on you. We have not heard the last of The Wallflowers and its leader, Jakob Dylan, and that’s a great thing. Can’t imagine it’d be easy living in the shadows of his enormously and endlessly talented father, Bob Dylan, but Jakob has built his own following, both in The Wallflowers and his superb solo work. Look out for their new album, Exit Wounds, which will be out July 9, 2021 on New West Records.

 

 

 

 

Teenage Fanclub- “Home”
Home sounds good when Scottish alternative rockers, Teenage Fanclub, are back to sing about it. Instantly likeable from their opening jingle jangle Big Star sounding guitar, to the infectious chorus of “I sometimes wonder if I’ll be home again.” A nod to the Beatles, with beautifully blended voices and a vox amplifier in the picture, leaves no doubt that they are fans. Kurt Cobain had once called them “the best band in the world.” Teenage Fanclub were formed in 1989 and have their own more modern take but still reminiscent of the gorgeous harmonies of the Byrds. It’s a real pleasure to the ears and taken from their new album Endless Arcade out April 2021 on the band’s own PeMa Records and Merge.

 

 

 

Rag’N’Bone Man- “All You Ever Wanted”
Rory Charles Graham, better known as Rag’N’Bone Man, is a British singer-songwriter with a deep and distinctive baritone voice. In addition to his powerful vocals, this unique song from his new album really rocks with driving guitars, so he is collecting new fans left and right, on both sides of the pond. The video of this song is pure genius. Another new song, “Anywhere Away From Here,” is a brooding ballad from his latest album, Life By Misadventure, and is a collaboration with the artist Pink. It is making big waves as well. The album was released May 7, 2021 via Columbia. Watch out…his star is rising.

London Grammar- “Californian Soil”
Lately there seem to be a number of woman singers with voices like angels and Hannah Reid is another one with lush and gorgeous vocals. She’s the lead vocalist and lyricist of London Grammar, a modern London trio of Electro-Pop music. Listening to them is like a spiritual/religious experience, powerful and haunting. This title track of their new album is spellbinding, moody and mysterious. The video is intriguing as well. Their cover version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” was used in the trailer for the BBC series Peaky Blinders in 2017. While the band’s 2nd studio album, Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, reached No. 1 in the U.K., they were not as successful in the U.S., but their April 2021 release of Californian Soil might very well change that.

Counting Crows- “Elevator Boots”
The Crows are finally back after a seven-year absence with a 4 Track EP called Butter Miracle, Suite One. Their first single off this May 2021 release is called “Elevator Boots.” Front man Adam Duritz delivers a Van Morrison quality vocal performance, and although the subject matter is nothing ground breaking, about life on the road and the power of Rock N’ Roll, it’s still pleasing to hear them sing anything.

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