Album Review – Waco Brothers’ ‘Going Down in History’

Waco Brothers Going Down in History

Many people are well aware of the rise of pop country in the 1990s that dominated radio and mainstream attention. The likes of Garth Brooks, Lee Ann Rimes and Shania Twain led the charge. But meanwhile a counterculture movement broke out in response to it and that was alt-country. The name most associated with alt-country of course is Steve Earle, but another group who made their name at the same time were the Waco Brothers. The five-piece band is based out of Chicago, unsurprisingly part of the Chicago-based Bloodshot Records. They’re made up of Dean Schlabowske, Joe Camarillo, Jon Langford, Tracey Dear and Alan Doughty. For the first time in 11 years, they’ve released a formal studio album, Going Down in History. And they certainly live up to their reputation of a hard rocking country band who know how to make entertaining music.

You get a great taste of the Waco Brothers’ country meets punk rock style on “DIYBYOB.” It’s country in sound, but punk rock in nature. Being the group’s first studio album since 2005, it’s a nice introduction for new fans who may just be finding out about this alt-country group. The crunchy guitar riffs that rear it’s head throughout “We Know It” will instantly be a crowd favorite at live shows. How could a fun song like this not be entertaining? “Receiver” is a gritty rocker about life and death. The infectious guitar riffs in this song will certainly get you bobbing your head as you listen to it. The same can be said of the following song “Building Our Own Prison.” The song is a commentary on the current state of the country and how they see things playing out. It’s one of those songs on the album where it’s definitely more rock than country, but it’s a reminder of the band’s versatility.

One of my favorite songs on Going Down on History is “All or Nothing.” It tells the story of a man trying to make a woman see his way of thinking and how things could work out between them. He wants “all or nothing,” but it’s not going to happen. I love the gospel-tinged feel given by the organ in the background of the song and adds an almost anthem-like feel to the song. “Had Enough” is one of the hardest rockers on the album. It’s the type of song you want to put on after a long day of work and crank the volume to 11 as you get some anger off your chest. The title kind of says it all. This is followed by “Lucky Fool,” which is about a man who proclaims how lucky he has been to have this woman in his life. But now she wants to walk out and he pleads for her not to leave. I love the sense of urgency in the vocals, really selling how crestfallen the man is to lose this woman in his life.

The album’s title track is another song that tackles life and death. It’s one of those songs where you have to interpret for yourself what they’re getting at, which I can not only say about this song, but many songs on this album. For those who like music with concrete themes, you might not like this song. But for those who want music that makes them think, I think you’ll enjoy this song. I can say the same about “Devil’s Day.” But one thing I enjoy more about “Devil’s Day” is the guitar play, which draws me into the song. Going Down in History closes out with “Orphan Song.” It’s a honkytonking song about camaraderie and friendship. The fiddle play is great throughout, along with the piano play mixed in with the band’s consistently solid guitar play. It really ends the album with a bang and is definitely one of the standouts on it.

The Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History is an entertaining album that may not blow you away in the lyrics department, but most certainly instrumentation-wise. After listening to an album from the Waco Brothers you will most likely come away with the conclusion that they would be best heard live and I would agree. If the Waco Brothers are ever in your area, I would recommend seeing them because I can imagine all of these songs better in a live environment. They’re meant to be heard in a crowd full of people looking for a fun time. The Waco Brothers are the perfect live band, capturing the energy of a rock band and the sensibilities of a country band. Going Down in History is a fun album that you can throw on and connect with from the first listen.

Grade: 8/10

 

Album Review – The Yawpers’ ‘American Man’

The Yawpers American Man

One of the things I love about using the Americana label is it can encompass and mean so many things. It’s the perfect label to put on a band like The Yawpers. Here’s a group that combines the sounds of rock and roll, country, blues and even a little folk to create a unique and fun brand of music. The Yawpers are made up of Nate Cook (lead vocalist), Jesse Parmet (lead guitarist) and Noah Shomberg (drummer) and they’re based out of Denver. Upon first listen of their brand new album American Man, I was immediately hooked. It’s an album that country and rock fans can both love equally. If you love both genres, you’ll enjoy this album even more. But before you listen to it, make sure your ears are ready, as this is a loud and rowdy record.

The in your face “Doing It Right” sets the album’s tone right off the bat. The song starts off at normal volume and slowly increases as the song plays. By the end of it you’ll want to bang your head along with the beat of the music. The frenetic guitar licks are a real trademark of this song and the entire album. The album’s title track is a slowed-down ballad about what it means to be an American and what American life is like today compared to the past. It’s definitely a song that makes you think and I think everyone will take something different from it. Lead man Cook really shines vocally on this song. “Burdens” is The Yawpers take on growing up in a small town and striving to leave that town to realize your dreams. The boy in the song is 17 and already knows he needs to hit the road while he’s young, otherwise he won’t ever get out alive. This song definitely has a classic southern rock/country vibe about it that makes it easy to enjoy.

Gritty would be the best word to describe “Tied.” The theme and the instrumentation are a gritty combination of blues and punk rock that will make this song a fan favorite at concerts. The fast-paced and upbeat “Deacon Brody” follows. This is just a flat-out fun song, as the instrumentation is so weird, yet so great too. While The Yawpers may entertain me with their loud music, they impress me when they slow it down in songs like “Faith And Good Judgment.” It’s a song about finding that constant balance in life between faith and making good judgments. The production in this song is perfect, as it elevates the lyrics and conveys the right emotion in the listener.

“9 to 5” is definitely one of the highlights of American Man. The song is about convincing a drifter to take on the freedom of a 9 to 5 job, as it offers more stability. From the catchy hook to the infectious guitar licks, you’ll remember this song for a while after hearing it. Another standout on the album, “Walter,” is next. Cook’s vocals, Parmet’s guitar licks and Shomberg’s drum play are just so cohesive on this song and combine to make yet another song that is easy to enjoy. This is the kind of song you turn on and crank the volume up to 11.

The Yawpers embrace their bluegrass side on “Beale Street.” As good as they are at rocking out in their music, I would love to hear them do more bluegrass inspired music in the future. Next is “Kiss It,” which is basically just a punch to the face in the form of screaming guitars (in a good way of course). This is another one that will be an absolute thrill to hear live. “3 am” is the longest song of the album, as well as the darkest. It’s about a man dealing with inner demons and hoping for another day of sun. By the end of the song, he thinks about turning himself over to Jesus in hopes that will save him. Sonically and lyrically, it’s the most powerful song on the album. American Man closes out with “The Desert.” It just feels like an appropriate closer to the album, as you’ll know when you hear it. And of course the last you hear in the song is the banging of drums and the licks of an electric guitar.

The Yawpers’ American Man is one of those albums you just need to hear for yourself, as words don’t really do it justice. But it’s definitely the type of music where you’ll either take it or leave it. My suggestion is to take it. If you enjoy country music and rock music you especially need to hear it, as there is plenty of both throughout this album and many songs give you both. The instrumentation is practically flawless and the songwriting is sharp and on point. If you enjoy bands like Blackberry Smoke, Banditos and The Legendary Shack Shakers, you’ll enjoy The Yawpers too. This is a band that has just as much fun making the music as you will listening to it.

Grade: 8.5/10

 

Album Review – The Bottle Rockets’ ‘South Broadway Athletic Club’

The Bottle Rockets South Broadway Athletic Club

Each year in country and Americana new acts emerge that take the public by storm. It’s always exciting to see. But it’s important too to not forget the acts that have built the foundation of the genres and are still rocking after all these years. This is just exciting too. The Bottle Rockets certainly fall into the latter, as this band was formed back in 1992. Founding members still in the group are lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Henneman and drummer Mark Ortmann. The other two members of the group currently are John Horton (guitarist, joined in 2003) and Keith Voegele (bass/vocals, joined in 2005). Just last week via Bloodshot Records they released their 12th album, South Broadway Athletic Club. It’s safe to say this band still has “it,” as this is an album full of great Americana/alt-country.

South Broadway Athletic Club opens up with “Monday,” which is kind of appropriate. The song is about how it feels like it’s always Monday and how the rest of the week goes by so fast compared to that day. I can imagine this is how many of you reading this feel. Kudos to The Bottle Rockets for delivering a relatable theme that the everyday, average person can connect with. Rocking guitar licks play in “Big Lotsa Love.” It’s your standard love song that features some great instrumentation. “I Don’t Wanna Know” is about a man who wonders what his woman does when she isn’t around, but then realizes maybe he doesn’t want to know. Despite all of the rumors he is hearing about her, he just wants to remain blissfully ignorant. Once again I enjoy the guitar play too.

One of the most fun songs on the album is “Big Fat Nuthin’,” a short song about doing nothing. No, that isn’t a slam on the song. That’s what the song is about. It’s about lying around and doing nothing because sometimes that’s just what you need to do. I always like these simple, fun songs that are easy to relate to and I imagine many listeners will enjoy this one. The Bottle Rockets keep it simple again with “Dog.” As you can tell from the title, it’s about dogs. Well particularly it’s about a man’s dog and how much he loves him and how you don’t have to love him too because it’s his dog. For dog lovers, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. Safe to say this is the most bizarre song on the album to me. But it works somehow. “Something Good” is about a man reflecting back on breaking up with his woman and how they had something good going until she ruined it. It’s a solid heartbreak song that I come to like more with each listen.

The song that stands out the most on South Broadway Athletic Club is “Building Chryslers.” It’s about an assembly line worker in a plant who spends his workdays building Chryslers and doesn’t care how they turn out, as he’s worried more about his bills. He also knows his fellow line workers don’t care either, so that’s why he drives a Toyota. Injecting that little bit of humor into a great song about the workingman is a nice touch. Throw in fantastic guitar play and you’ve got yourself one hell of a song.

The Bottle Rockets go acoustic on “Smile.” It’s definitely the happiest song on the album, as they sing about a man enjoying the smile of the woman he loves. The world is a tough place and her smile brings joy to him. The weakest song on the album is “XOYOU.” The instrumentation is top-notch, but it’s the second consecutive love song on the album and the lyrics get a little too corny for my taste. It’s not a bad song, but this is a song that could have easily been left on the cutting room floor. “Ship It On The Frisco” is played in by some earthy guitar licks that sets the tone of the song well. The instrumentation throughout this song and album is really well done and the band should be proud of the sound they create. The album ends with “Shape Of A Wheel,” a life song about going through all kinds of ups and downs. As Henneman sings, he may be many shapes at times, but he’s always a wheel no matter what shape he’s in and will keep rolling forward. Basically, it’s a song about continuing to persevere forward and not giving up. But it isn’t corny and feels relatable. It ties up this entire album nicely.

The Bottle Rockets deliver an album full of variety with South Broadway Athletic Club. The instrumentation is engaging, fun and diverse. It’s something that fans of country, rock and Americana can all enjoy. Most importantly the songs are kept simple in their theme and are easily connectable with listeners. Too many times artists will not put enough into a simple-themed song and will hence feel empty to the listener. But The Bottle Rockets make each of their songs feel full and you don’t have to listen to them several times over to understand them. South Broadway Athletic Club is definitely recommended listening.

Grade: 8.5/10

 

Photo Courtesy: Bloodshot Records

Album Review – Banditos’ Self-Titled Debut Album Blends Southern Rock & Country Brilliantly

Banditos Album

Man am I glad I came across this band! They’re a fairly new group called Banditos, made up of six-members all in their twenties and originally from Birmingham, Alabama. The group formed back in 2010 and includes Corey Parsons (vocalist/guitarist), Stephen Pierce (vocalist/banjo player), Randy Wade (drums), Mary Beth Richardson (vocals), Jeffrey Salter (guitarist) and Danny Vines (bassist). They’re signed to Bloodshot Records and I have to share with you the story of how the label came to sign them, from the point of view of Bloodshot:

Back in March 2014 we found ourselves at one of those fly-by-night, hole-in-the-wall bars that sprout like skunkweed on Sixth Street in Austin, TX during the height of SXSW crazy. The only other patrons were Bud Light-swilling bros watching a blowout college basketball game; the sound system at this place was a painful mix of all treble and reverb; and the noises oozing out of the PA during another band’s set were not unlike the distorted echoes of the soundtrack to Suspiria (and not in a good way). We wish we were kidding.

Then the six-piece Banditos took the stage, and even though they themselves were a little intimidating – all hair, denim, and stoic determination – the sounds they managed to conjure from two overworked speakers were fresh, raw, and spectacular. We were instantly blown away and immediately started concocting ways to lure them into our fold…

That’s a pretty neat story and it’s always nice to hear stories like this where a label gives a band the shot they deserve. Despite being together since 2010, they just now released their debut album, which is self-titled. Previously they had released multiple EPs. The most simple way to describe their music would be a combination of southern rock and country music. But if you dig deeper you realize there’s a lot of genres influencing their music. You can hear influences from 60s blues, garage rock, bluegrass, soul and even some 50s doo-wop. This all comes together to create an absolutely thrilling album.

The album kicks off with “The Breeze,” which gives you a great taste right away of the fusion of southern rock and country music that the Banditos make. It’s fast-paced, rollicking and pulls you right in. Banditos showcase their bluegrass side with “Waitin’,” as a banjo helps play the song in. Mary Beth Richardson takes the lead on vocals on this song and her voice reminds me a lot of Shovels & Rope’s Cary Ann Hearst and a touch of Tami Neilson. Richardson’s voice is powerful, yet has a roughness that gives her voice character. You could pretty much throw any note at her and she could nail it. The next song “Golden Grease” is an interesting song about a man struggling with his inner self and wondering why a woman continues to be so cold to him. It certainly paints an interesting image in the listeners’ heads, making you wonder if the man himself or the woman is causing more pain to him. The instrumentation on this song is fantastic.

Remember before when I said Richardson is a talented vocalist? It becomes pretty clear on “No Good,” a song about a woman with a bad reputation that is beautifully written. Richardson’s vocals on this song are absolutely phenomenal and it’s just something you have to hear for yourself. Words cannot do it justice. This is arguably the best song on the album and one of the best performances I’ve heard from a female vocalist this year. “Ain’t It Hard” features more great songwriting and vocals. What impresses me so much about the songwriting not just on this song, but the entire album is how mystique surrounds each line and you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s especially evident on this song, with the instrumentation helping create a mysterious air throughout it.  

One of the most fast-paced songs on the album and really one of the most fun is “Still Sober (After All These Beers).” It’s about a man who wants to quit his lifestyle of getting wasted every night and waking up with a stranger in his bed after a one-night stand. It all started when he was 17 and it has spiraled out of control since then. Despite wanting to get on the path of the straight and narrow, he continues down the path he’s on. This is definitely one of my favorite drinking songs of the year. “Long Gone, Anyway” is a light-hearted tune about death. Yes, I know this is an oxymoron. But it makes sense. The moral of the song is death can come at any time, so it’s important to live life to the fullest and to not be afraid of death. It’s a short song with a simple point that is conveyed well.

Banditos Band

Richardson takes the lead vocals on “Old Ways,” a song about a woman waiting for a man to open his eyes after a night of passion. She’s hoping that he enjoyed the night as much as her and that he says she stayed until morning. By the end of the song, it’s revealed that the man had a trouble past and that this woman is here to wipe that away. It’s a unique love song that shows a lot of love in the lyrics and the vocals. “Can’t Get Away” is about a man on the road coming home to his love at home. He realizes after contemplating calling up some other girls that he’s already got a girl at home that he loves a lot. The instrumentation is quite catchy on this one and makes it easy to get this song stuck in your head. But this is a good thing!

One of the most country songs on the album is “Blue Mosey #2” and again I’m impressed with the songwriting. It’s a song about a man who has watched his friends move on, is alone and doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do next. Everything in this song works together well to create the perfect mood and feeling Banditos are going for on this song. Just like “Long Gone, Anyway,” “Cry Baby Cry” is a short song with a simple theme. It’s about a man helping a woman through a breakup by telling her all of the stuff she’s going to go through now and how tears will fall no matter how hard you try to hold back. It’s a fun song that is easy to get into. The final song on the album is “Preachin’ To The Choir.” And folks it’s another doozy of a song. It’s about a man who has clearly went through pain and he’s not in any mood to take advice from anyone, as by the end of the song he tells everyone they’re just preaching to the choir. He wants to deal with this his way and no one else’s way. It’s a powerful song and closes this excellent album out with a bang.

Banditos’ self-titled debut album is one hell of a way for this group to introduce themselves to everyone. It’s strong throughout, from beginning to end. It can be really easy to get wrapped up in the melting pot of instrumentation that is so great on this album. But then you would miss out on the best part and that is the lyrics. They are so well-written, but like I said if you don’t listen closely you could miss out on them easily. It took me a few listens to grasp them, but once I did I could feel this album. And it feels pretty damn good. I’m not sure what genre you should put them under, but who cares? This is just awesome music that you need to hear. I’m excited about this group, as I think their future is very bright. Banditos is one of my favorite discoveries of 2015 and you definitely need to check them out.

Grade: 10/10