#BandcampGold-New American Frontier by The Trusty Snakes
Alright, I don’t like the new Bruce Springsteen album Western Stars. We’re all supposed to. Bruce stepped back into his Country/Folk style this year in a very post-Sturgill Simpson way. The album is better than some of his recent work but the basic problem I have is that it works from the understandng that the old country music was precious and heartfelt. Sometimes it was, but it had more dimension than that. If you want stripped down Folk/Country Bruce find Nebraska because it gives a range of emotions. It’s not afraid to rage and churn and break down. In 2019, I’d rather listen to The Trusty Snakes than The Boss.
They are an Oregon Punk band called The Taxpayers who while on the road listened to a lot of old Country and found lots of common ground between the genres and became The Trusty Snakes. The same forceful propulsion that thrust their heavily political punk forward keeps the characters and scenes depicted in New American Frontier vivid. The lyrics equal the force of the music in boldness. The first song is only one minute and twenty four seconds but in that time we go from first meeting to marriage without wasting any time for a hook or chorus. It’s a sweet song that you’ll need to come back to once you jump into the harsh world of Ain’t Gonna Change. That song starts slow and sorrowful with a first few lines that will grab your attention, “Monday’s it’s beer. Tuesday’s it’s Whiskey. Wednesday’s it’s wine and cocaine, Thursday he wakes up and beats both his kids up. Every damn week it’s the same. Friday’s it’s jail and Diffy posts bail…”
I love that the album carries more than a bit of Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys in the way it seeks to understand the hearts of characters the authors don’t always respect. When Rob Taxpayer belts that some people ain’t gonna change you feel the tragedy in his voice. Next song a dude kills the dude his wife cheats with and beats her up in a diner all while the drums are jumping and popping. The only cover is Can I Sleep In Your Arms? from Willie Nelson’s legendary Red Headed Stranger. While Rob doesn’t have the soulful dimension in his voice that Willie had in 1975 (no shots!) none of us do. The vocal harmonies on this version give the chorus a cool campfire vibe, as if this is a song we all know and can sing together. They integrate trumpet along with guitar and drums to give this a feel all their own.
First time I put New American Frontier on in the car I didn’t know how my wife would take to it. It is folkpunk disjointed, fast then slow then fast, angry then sad then scary but her face lit up. She said “I love Cake and The Mountain Goats so this is my thing.” The tangled lyricism mixed with the high octane fun and sneaky orchestration had finally pushed me into her comfort zone. When I tried to put on Western Stars her face drooped. It was as if one of the greatest to ever make music was desperately searching for something but not finding it. While The Trusty Snakes got together and made up something great organically, accidentally, and thought it was so cool they just kept pushing into one of the years best albums.
Stream or download New American Frontier below: https://trustysnakes.bandcamp.com/album/new-american-frontier
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged #BandcampGold, Bruce Springsteen, Country, Folk, Good Old Boys, Nebraska, New American Frontier, Oregon, Punk, Randy Newman, Red Headed Stranger, The Taxpayers, The Trusty Snakes, Western Stars, Willie Nelson
#Bandcampgold-Texas Piano Man by Robert Ellis
Texas Piano Man is a country album in 2019. It wouldn’t be in 1973. If this album was released in 1973 it would be a part of that oddball singer-songwriter genre Randy Newman, Michael Franks, and Nilsson championed. Conceptually Ellis messes with the audience and knows he has to earn it by refining the process until what he has is something so beautiful you won’t realize he was flicking your nose in the first place.
The first song (Fucking Crazy) is a great example. My favorite college creative writing class had a teacher who was doing it wrong. He was teaching the utter basics and nothing more. I hated it so much that every time he gave an assignment premise I would bust the guts out of it. He hated reading swear words so I made a generational story about strangers on a plane that entirely oriented around the F word. I knew in order to pull off the deed the characters had to be gripping, the story had to be high level, to erase any gimmick stigma. Robert Ellis reminded me of this with Fucking Crazy. It is so beautiful and has so many F words running through it. Some people might think of the song as a tale of a relationship about to go off the rails….for me it’s just how love feels. Getting in deep with someone else you realize they are really off their nut and you always realize it too late. Your already head over heels for their adorable upside. When he croons (at two minutes and thirty one seconds) “I’ve lost touch with reality there’s nothing I can do.” I absolutely get it.
The piano compositions are so impressive; Lullaby is a great example. The chorus is creepy and he says stuff like “You held me like a sea shell in your hand.” Everything is rich lush and a little off a little odd and southern but not leaning into the commercial aspects of Country. In 2019, Country has a heavy drawl and a familiar production style. The only reason Texas Piano Man sits in the genre is because the oddball songwriter genre is bone dry. Robert Ellis is sharp, clear, and crisp but don’t get it mistaken he shares some of the same sensibilities as 2019 Country. Nobody Smokes Anymore throws a middle finger up at the stiffness of a modern age consumed with making the right decisions all the time. It has some extra cleverness to it, I love when he quietly says “I guess I’ll be the only one who looks good in pictures…”
Best thing is the last song is super weird. Topo Chico is a weird Jimmy Buffett curve ball. The vocals on the chorus are fabulous and the track seethes with screwball sounds behind the guitars gentle strum. Do not get it twisted and think since this is a hip hop site I just found this dude. This guy has been on my radar for years now getting better and better. Texas Piano Man is finally the album where he gave us both barrels. I hope he settles into this lane and builds on the laughter this album ends on. Make that the building blocks of his next five years.
Stream or download Texas Piano Man below:
Song of The Year-Sinner’s Prayer by Lady Gaga
I have a lot of important mixtapes to listen to from very important up and coming artists but I would be lying if I pretended to knowing anything musically but Joanne right now. I’ve had the new Lady Gaga album on repeat for days just soaking it in.
I am in the exact opposite position of your average critic. At peak Gaga meat dress time-frame I couldn’t care less. Pop music generates big voiced divas who boom over the same electro-pop , for me at that time, she was just one of that group.
Joanne is the first time I’ve felt close to her music. You can attribute the adventurousness of it to Ronson or Bloodpop or any number of the important collaborators who do great work. Joanne says a lot about Gaga and how intelligent she is.
That classic country sound has incredible malleable warmth to it and smart people get it. Springsteen talks about its influence on The River, Bob Dylan fell in love with it and produced my favorite albums (Nashville Skyline, The Basement Tapes). Joanne is part experimentation part the Gaga you expect. Some critics mourn the loss of their ‘classic’ Gaga while I am listening on a loop enthused by the new path. The big voice, the gorgeous melodies, the well written songs(Sinner’s Prayer is my absolute favorite) and many influences (some great classic soul on Joanne) are evidence of an artist with interesting wings to expand.
This song just hits everything right. It has no fat on it while never coming off as anything but honest and organic.
In a year of dense albums that ache to say everything Joanne feels very self-assured and sleek. Maybe she was always this good and I just sucked at figuring it out? Oh well, anyone who goes around saying she doesn’t pull off what she tries to accomplish on Joanne is wrong and the fact that I’m so protective says a lot about the vivid personality of the album. I’m glad she wore the pink hate on Saturday Night Live. It’s the album; a simple but enduring image that will stick in your mind while not obscuring your path to her.