new from the listening booth

In a nod to good music and the new album from Marc Cohn, I thought a little update from my own personal listening booth for August was in order.  I've been a little out of touch in terms of posting new videos and music reviews, but that doesn't mean I haven't been checking out what's new out there.

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

If there is a better straight-up rock-n-roll band right now than The Gaslight Anthem, I haven't found them.  I have been listening to the American Slang album on repeat for a while and I keep finding new reasons to love it.  The music is straightforward, in your face, honest rock and roll, the lyrics are wonderful tributes to the simple themes of youth, regret, love, and working-class life, and the production is perfectly NOT overdone, letting Brian Fallon's vocals carry the full weight of the songs.

Rolling Stone wonderfully wrote "the band's tough-as-leather rush is as hard as ever, and Fallon howls so hard, he sounds like he's aiming to get a section of the Jersey Turnpike named after him."  For Fallon, who grew up near E Street and idolizes Bruce Springsteen, that's high praise.  I couldn't agree more, but where Rolling Stone finds some chops slightly forced and "reaching for meaning just beyond [his] fingertips," I find yearning songs and stories whose characters are utterly relatable.

You want an album that will make you seriously think about getting that old muscle car back in shape and showing up to your high-school reunion blasting music from the speakers?  This is it.  I caught The Gaslight Anthem at San Jose's Music in the Park concert series in late July and the energy from their show was awesome so if you get a chance to catch them at a town near you, don't miss out.

Elsewhere, as if I (or you) needed another reason to love KCRW, their album previews recently have been off the chain good.  So whomever is selecting them gets major kudos.  Here's a quick rundown on two of the most recent ones that have totally caught my attention:

Jesca Hoop - Hunting My Dress

Tom Wait's former nanny (for his children, not him :)), Jesca Hoop, released her second album Hunting My Dress this past July and after having heard it I have no idea why she isn't more widely known.  Her voice is tremendous in a very Edith Piaf sort of way and her musical inventiveness is pretty sly.  The whole album feels like a strange sort of musical fairy tale, but not a kid's fairy tale - more like an adult Brothers Grimm fairy tale where perhaps the ending is happy but ALSO perhaps there are some unhappy and unfortunate events [read: disappearances, death, spooky evil forests], too.  I mean that in the kindest possible way, though, because the entire album is a beautiful rootsy-folk adventure.

Her grass-roots style songcraft takes center stage on "Whispering Light" and "Feast Of The Heart," while her unfalteringly beautiful voice and penchant for dreamy acoustic guitar riffs carry "Murder Of Birds" and "Hunting My Dress."  The album's highlight, though, is "Tulip" - a song that has incredible power with a stunning mix of driving electric guitars, pulsing drums, Celtic-folk vocal stylings, and a haunting story to match.

Waits described her music as "the equivalent of the swimming in a forest pool under the moon at night" and that is an appropriate analogy for an album that conjures such beautiful imagery and seems more like a musical journey than a collection of individual songs.

Lissie - Catching A Tiger

California (by way of Illinois) based singer/songwriter Elisabeth Maurus' debut album "Catching A Tiger" has been tearing it up in the UK - for good reason - and is set to drop in mid August here in the States.  Of Lissie, the BBC recently wrote “she sounds like one of the greatest female vocalists of a generation, arguably without even really trying.” With acclaim like that from the Brits you've got to suspect she's pretty talented, and yes, her voice is killer.  But her songwriting skills and arrangements are also top notch and what set her apart from other great voices in the music scene today.  She effortlessly switches from rock to pop to country to folk, assuming each with ease while still putting her own unique stamp on the songs.  It's hard to believe this is actually a debut album because her style is already mature and the album is expertly crafted, also benefitting from some wonderful production.

Several standout songs on the album include the opener "Record Collector," In Sleep," and "Look Away."  "Record Collector" is Lissie in a bottle - inventive arrangements (using what sound like tin cans in the drumbeat, a mid-song breakdown that almost feels native american, lazy plunky piano chops), powerful but controlled vocals that easily move between ranges, and a smart sense of songcraft.  "In Sleep" is a wonderful tribute to Fleetwood Mac style 80's rock and Lissie's voice even reminds you of a younger Steve Nicks from "Stand Back" with its smokiness and power.  The guitar work is fantastic and drives the song upward, pushing the tempo as Lissie matches it with increasingly urgent vocals.  "Look Away" has a beautiful, lonesome melody that benefits from spartan brush cymbal beats, steel string guitars, and wistful lyrics.  You can almost feel yourself floating away on the nostalgia and subtle bassline as Lissie weaves her way in and out of the phrasing.  The rest of the album is full of musical gems and you'll no doubt find yourself hitting repeat multiple times.

In short, catch this album and don't let it go.  You can listen to it for about a month on KCRW's album preview page here.

Kina Grannis - Stairwells Springtime Tour

I had the good fortune of catching the wonderfully talented Kina Grannis in a small venue setting in late May at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco with my partner in musical crime, Rachel Nichols.  I've posted several times about Kina and if you get a chance to catch her this Fall on her upcoming Fall Stairwells Tour it's well worth it.  She recently played Lillith Fair in St. Louis and the CBS Early Show to a national audience and is gaining momentum and exposure in the industry on a daily basis.  Her music is innocent, honest, and refreshingly endearing - a tailor-made recipe for truly connecting with the listener - which is why her fan base is among the most loyal, inventive, and passionate out there.

You can read my review of Kina Grannis' album Stairwells on the blog.

I'm off to Playa del Carmen on the Caribbean side of Mexico for a week so stay tuned for an international / Caribbean flavored musical update in several weeks.