Calexico: The Thread That Keeps Us [Album Review] 0 371

Calexico: The Thread That Keeps Us [Album Review] 0 372

Calexico
The Thread That Keeps Us
ANTI- [2018]







Fire Note Says: Arizona’s Calexico offers up alt rock anthems and eclectic musical ruminations on the world at risk and the love that will sustain us in “the age of extremes,” on their ninth album, The Thread That Keeps Us.

Album Review: The ninth album from Arizona-based Calexico is yet another artful collection of stories told with the band’s eclectic musicality and a mature songwriting sensibility that shows up primarily in strong, impressive melodies. Rooted in the long collaboration of singer/multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino, and favoring a playful mix of alternative rock, Americana, Tex-Mex Latin and World music influences, Calexico has stepped up on this new effort to create of statement of hope and “love in the age of extremes” (from the song “End of the World With You”), even as they acknowledge that “the world is falling apart” and some are ground “Under the Wheels (of the war machine).”

Something I didn’t expect is how much singer Burns sounds like Neil Finn of Crowded House on songs like “Bridge to Nowhere” and “Girl In the Forest.” And once you hear it there you hear it in the mature pop leaning songs like “The Town & Miss Lorraine” and elsewhere. True to form, Calexico still has it’s mix of Latin musical sounds, most notably here on “Flores Y Tamales,” which is sung by and co-written with Jairo Zavala in Spanish, and features the trumpets of Martin Wenk and Jacob Valenzuela. There’s plenty of the band’s usual sonic experiments, like the mix of jazzy horns on “Another Space,” which is followed by the more traditional Latin folk feel of the brief instrumental “Unconditional Waltz.


There’s a sense of foreboding in the rather apocalyptic world of the opening alt rock track, “End of the World With You,” which turns a painful corner in the harder riff rock of “Dead in the Water,” and the underlying threats to the environment, to the political order, to individuals struggling to get by get the attention they deserve in the album’s most chaotic song, “Eyes Wide Awake.” The bleak reality of a world at risk comes through the lyric “home’s waiting like a motherless child” in “Thrown to the Wild,” which expands musically to embody that sense of loss and dread.

But, as I said at the top, for all the awareness of brokenness and desolation, The Thread That Keeps Us is the hope and love that sustains us even in “extreme times,” which shines through here and there on the record but is crystallized most clearly in the closing track, a ballad written from a father to his daughter, “Music Box.” It contains the promise that “when the world goes dark/I’ll always be close by/to hear your dreams unfold/hold you when you cry,” as if to say that we’ll keep on keeping on, going up against the chaos, if for no other reason than to make sure the world is here for those who will follow us.

Key Tracks: “End of the World With You” / “Bridge to Nowhere” / “The Town & Miss Lorraine”

Artists With Similar Fire: Iron & Wine / Crowded House / Ryan Adams

Calexico Website
Calexico Facebook
ANTI-

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb
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Ruby Boots: Don’t Talk About It [Album Review] 0 466

Ruby Boots
Don’t Talk About It
Bloodshot Records [2018]







Fire Note Says: Aussie country rocker with promise debuts States-side for Bloodshot Records.

Album Review: The second album from Ruby Boots roars out of the gate with “It’s So Cruel,” a cow-punk rocker that recalls the energy of Jason & The Scorchers. But before you get your hopes up, producer Beau Bedford (of The Texas Gentlemen), perhaps eager to display the singer/songwriter’s versatility, offers her up in the big doo-wop wall of sound of “Believe In Heaven,” nostalgic for the early days when Phil Spector was producing girl groups as rock & roll was first finding it’s way into the mainstream. “Don’t Talk About It,” the album’s title track, follows. It’s another ballad with orchestration that draws inspiration from that old school retro-sound.

Ruby Boots (real name, Bex Chilcott) comes from Australia via Nashville and had one previous album on an Aussie imprint before this debut on Bloodshot Records, a journey made by Kasey Chambers and others. Following the first three big production numbers, Boots sounds more at home on “Easy Way Out,” with a chord progression borrowed from the Tom Petty songbook, and the country weeper “Don’t Break My Heart Twice.”


The second half of the album sticks closer to country/rock formulas, with “I’ll Make It Through,” co-written and with harmony vocals by Nikki Lane, “Somebody Else” and “Infatuation,” are set up by punchy rhythms, strong vocal hooks, and solid, rocking guitars and minimal twang. Okay Boots has some twang in her voice on “Infatuation.” On these three, and the closing angry, country kick you to the curb slow burner with bluesy guitar and honky-tonk piano/organ that is “Don’t Give a Damn,” Boots sounds a bit like a young Lucinda Williams as the song heats up like a Rolling Stones’ song.

It’s the nearly a capella, almost hymnic “I Am A Woman,” that exhibits Boots’ voice in all it’s unique purity, in a spiritual song that declares her feminine gifts and her internal strength of being, echoing strength alongside vulnerability. On the whole this is a solid, inviting outing, driven by good songs and equally solid performances. Ruby Boots will be one to watch.

Key Tracks: “It’s So Cruel” / “Easy Way Out” / “Infatution”

Artists With Similar Fire: Nikki Lane / Lone Justice / Lydia Loveless



Ruby Boots Website
Ruby Boots Facebook
Bloodshot Records

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers: Forest Full Of Wolves [Album Review] 1 859

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers
Forest Full of Wolves
Self-Released [2018]







Fire Note Says: Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world.

Album Review: No one is ever going to call singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee an under-achiever. His latest release, a 10 song full-length effort, Forest Full of Wolves is his 78th album by his own count. Mallonee spent the 1990s fronting the Athens, GA-band Vigilantes of Love, shuffling from one label to the next, driving a van from coast-to-coast playing every alternative rock/Americana friendly venue who would let them. Hometown friend, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) co-produced one of the band’s early more-acoustic albums, the Killing Floor. The band’s 1999 album, released on three different labels of the course of 18 months, Audible Sigh was produced by Nashville’s favorite side-man Buddy Miller, and includes a guest vocal by Emmylou Harris, as well as some of Mallonee’s best loved songs. Paste Magazine has named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.

A rough count, say there were 10 songs per release (usually there were more), puts Mallonee’s songwriting output at nearly 8000, and those are the one’s he’s recorded. Now basic logic would suggest that they can’t all be good, and surely not all of them are memorable, but Mallonee’s work, his actual raison d’’etre, has proven especially consistent over the decades, and in the 2010’s he’s delivered a solid album’s worth of tunes each year, with a noticeable uptick in production values starting with 2011’s The Power & The Glory. Last year’s excellent The Rags of Absence was a case in point, with Mallonee especially attentive to his lead guitar parts.

Forest Full of Wolves continues to chronicle the challenges to working class people and even songwriters, as if Mallonee is creating his own musical version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” for what he calls this “new dark age.” “Greed and fear (have) gained the upper hand,” he sings in “Changing of the Guard,” so he’s “grabbed a guitar & a notebook or two… became a phantom with some conjuring ‘neath the moon.”

Musically, Wolves takes the energy of Rags to the next level, with bigger, noiser guitar tones. Mallonee captures a Neil Young jamming with Crazy Horse in the garage vibe throughout, which is likely a lot harder to pull off since Mallonee’s playing all the instruments. Mid-tempo alternative country rock at it’s most earnest and relevant, and against all odds, Mallonee manages to offer a word of hope. “In the New Dark Age” he sings, borrowing the title from a different song that he recording on 2014’s The Winnowing, “the best thing you can do is fall in love.” Of course, “Love Is Always Risky Currency,” but it’s the best chance any of us have of surviving in this “Forest Full of Wolves.”

Like many artists scrambling to make art in the challenging digital marketplace and survive financially Mallonee has struggled to reach out and connect with Americana fans, break ground with new audiences, even though he’s stayed off the road in recent years. As a fan who first heard the singer songwriter live in the early 90’s, and many times over the years, Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world. It’s artists who wear their passion on their sleeves, who keep pouring out their hearts in songs, that make the music that matters. (One reason to order the hard CD copy of this one, is the cover art produced by another singer songwriter, Chris Taylor, from San Antonio, TX.).

Key Tracks: “In the New Dark Age” / “Voodoo Ink” / “Trimmed & Burning”

Artists With Similar Fire: Neil Young / Bob Dylan / John Prine

Bill Mallonee Website
Bill Mallonee Facebook

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Q. Newcomb

Brian Quincy Newcomb has found work as rock critic and music journalist since the early 80's, contributing over the years to Billboard Magazine, Paste, The Riverfront Times, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Brian Q. Newcomb

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