Josh Ritter - Sermon on the Rocks

Two years after 2013's The Beast in Its Tracks, the good news is Josh Ritter is feeling better about things. While The Beast in Its Tracks documented Ritter's often unsettled state of mind after the collapse of his marriage, 2015's Sermon on the Rocks is the sound of a man on the rebound, and while the album is hardly sunshine and cold beer throughout, these songs clearly reflect Ritter's tenacity and spirit rather than the damaged emotions that were front and center two years earlier. "Getting Ready to Get Down" finds Ritter offering a small-town girl some advice to forget Bible college and see a bit of the big bad world, and the tale is told with the swagger of a guy who wouldn't mind showing her a few things himself. And while "Where the Night Goes" and "Birds of the Meadow" can both be read as messages to a former love, they also speak with a confidence and wit that make it clear Ritter is on a fresh road and enjoying the ride (and "Lighthouse Fire" is a more passionate declaration of attraction for someone new on his radar). "Cumberland" is a number that shouts with the joy of new experiences, while "Homecoming" revels in the pleasures of the familiar, and if "Henrietta, Indiana" and "Seeing Me 'Round" make it clear Ritter hasn't lost touch with his serious side, they're both written with sincerity and compassion. Ritter's singing is as strong and expressive as his songwriting, and he and co-producer Trina Shoemaker have given the album a lively sound that suits the album's emotional palette. Sermon on the Rocks is an album where Josh Ritter allows himself to have some fun while showing that his skills as a songwriter have emerged unscathed after his divorce, and it suggests that his future is as bright as ever. ~Mark Deming,

Everyday Music Portland has SIGNED one-of-a-kind posters from Josh! Yours with purchase of his new album on cd or LP, while supplies last. They're rad.



Of Montreal -- Snare Lustrous Doomings

Snare Lustrous Doomings is a 19-track, 90-minute, career-spanning live album from uncommonly dynamic indie stalwarts Of Montreal. Recorded and mixed by frequent collaborator Drew Vandenberg from shows at Portland's Wonder Ballroom and San Francisco's Great American Music Hall in October 2014, it predates Aureate Gloom and instead offers three tunes from 2013's critically acclaimed and Billboard 200-landing Lousy with Sylvianbriar. It also hits their 2007 breakthrough Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? hard, representing over half of that album. Highlights include the rambunctious "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" and the dance party "A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger," which leads into the bass-crazed "The Party's Crashing Us" (kudos to Parins), though the party really only ever pauses for a sultry "Obsidian Currents" and "Honeymoon in San Francisco." The one cover from the set is a spot-on version of Fairport Convention's "Time Will Show the Wiser" with guest Nedelle Torrisi on vocal harmony, and the recording closes with a 13-minute jam of "The Past Is a Grotesque Animal." Nearly 20 years and over 15 albums in, Of Montreal were probably overdue for a live release, and Snare Lustrous Doomings, though not really a singles collection, captures the equivalent of a highly charged night out with the band's best-known material and rollicking showmanship. A must for fans, those who enjoy the group but find their records a bit challenging to get through will want to give this one a spin. It was first available in April 2015 as a Record Store Day exclusive on colored vinyl, and received a multi-format release six months later. ~Marcy Donelson,

Destroyer -- Poison Season

2015's Poison Season marks prolific songsmith Dan Bejar's tenth LP, and it's an intensely wistful, strings- and horns-washed epic exploration of New York city life. At nearly an hour in length, it feels immense, but more so from its unexpectedly cinematic stylings than from playing time -- with rotating, scene-setting arrangements (rock, jazz, chamber music) and beat-poetic narrative vignettes of a gritty reality seemingly from another time, or another mind. The string ensemble arrangements on the sparse opener, "Times Square, Poison Season I," proclaim yet another change in texture between albums for Bejar. It's a dramatically haunting, impressionistic, talky piece that could serve as an opening to an ominous musical, with lyrics like "The writing on the wall wasn't writing at all/Just forces of nature in love with a weather station," and later "You can follow a rose wherever it grows/Oh, you could fall in love with Times Square." Traces of Kaputt's sophisti-pop linger in the horns, piano, and delicate, extended guitar chords of "The River," on the tender "Solace's Bride," and on the sultry, jazzy "Archer on the Beach," but Poison Season stands alone thus far in Destroyer's catalog. Co-produced by frequent Destroyer and New Pornographers collaborator David Carswell, there's no new mastermind involved here, just the bewildering Bejar, and nearly 20 years on, Destroyer is still as surprising and inspired as ever. "I got paid and then I wrote a song. I got paid and then I rode a song into the heavens." ~Marcy Donelson,

Son Volt--Trace

Uncle Tupelo ended in volleys of bitter acrimony between founding members Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, and as most of Uncle Tupelo's final lineup joined Tweedy to form Wilco, Farrar set out to assemble a new band that suited his specifications. Teaming with UT's original drummer Mike Heidorn, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Boquist, and bassist (and Dave's brother) Jim Boquist, Farrar's new group Son Volt started with the deep, resonant sound of his work with Uncle Tupelo and moved it several steps further, and the band's debut album, 1995's Trace, ultimately displayed his talent to better advantage than any album he made before or since. Sequenced to highlight the dynamic push and pull between fierce rockers like "Route" and "Drown," full of Farrar's Neil Young-styled electric guitar, and quieter and more thoughtful numbers like "Tear-Stained Eye" and "Windfall," Trace honored both sides of Farrar's musical personality, and the muscular but unpretentious attack of Farrar's backing band was made to order for these songs. And the mixed themes of freedom, disappointment, and betrayal that punctuate Farrar's lyrics clearly reflected his state of mind as he walked away from one band and into another.

Rhino Records has now marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Trace by bringing out an expanded and remastered deluxe edition of the album. In addition to Trace's original 11 songs sounding rich and clear, the set also includes Farrar's original four-track demos for eight of the album's songs, and though they generally sound like rough run-throughs, the demos make clear Farrar knew just how he wanted the guitars to mesh on these tunes from the very beginning. And a second disc features a cracking live show Son Volt played at New York City's Bottom Line in February 1996; the band is furiously tight and on point, and if Farrar's shyness on-stage is apparent in his minimal between-song chatter, his guitar is as confident and eloquent as you please. While the demos are fine but non-essential, the live disc makes this deluxe edition of Trace a must for anyone who loves this album or this band. ~Mark Deming,


John Grant -- Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

John Grant's third solo album ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans) and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound. Lyrically and musically, the 12 original songs represent Grant’s most ambitious work, fusing lush strings and electronic influences with his singular wit and brutal candor. The album opens in an unsettling swirl of overlapping male voices repeating 1 Corinthians 13:4 in English and Icelandic before dissolving into fuzz, and closes with the same passage read clearly, this time by a young girl. In between, Grant's depth and range are vividly present. "Voodoo Doll" is an ode to a depressed lover, drenched in bright synths and pulsing bass lines, while "Guess How I Know" is a bonafide hell-raiser, its snarling guitar licks layered with distortion as Grant sings about a toxic yet irresistible relationship. Title track "Grey Tickles, Black Pressure" blends swelling strings and choral harmonies with Grant's darkly biting humor, as he tackles his HIV diagnosis with equal parts confusion and clarity ("I'm supposed to believe that there's some guy who'll take the pain away / There are children who have cancer, and so all bets are off / 'Cause I can't compete with that"). ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’ follows 2013’s ‘Pale Green Ghosts,’ which earned Grant a Best International Male Solo Artist nomination at the 2014 BRITS alongside Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars and Drake, and 2010’s ‘Queen of Denmark,’ named Mojo’s #1 Album of the Year. Rolling Stone calls Grant’s music “richly textured, both musically and emotionally” and NPR Music’s Bob Boilen says, “John Grant's songs don't mess around.” Grant recently performed with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra for BBC Radio 6 Music and just wrapped a North American tour with The Pixies.

Dave Rawlings Machine -- Nashville Obsolete

Nashville Obsolete is the second solo outing for ace guitarist and producer David Rawlings, who for nearly two decades has shared the load with creative partner Gillian Welch to become one of folk and country music's most celebrated duos. Like 2009's Friend of a Friend, this seven-song mini-album is billed under the Dave Rawlings Machine banner and features a small ensemble that sees Rawlings and Welch swapping roles in what has become their familiar format. His reedy tenor voice that usually melts so effortlessly with Welch's takes the lead here on a set of melancholic songs that channel tones of Bob Dylan and Neil Young through the Dust Bowl filter that has become his bailiwick. With Welch and former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson supporting him on guitar and harmonies, the group also includes Punch Brothers' Paul Kowert on double bass. Beautifully captured on tape with the mix of spontaneity and professionalism expected from a Rawlings/Welch performance, Nashville Obsolete has something of a brooding grandeur to it with standouts like "Short Haired Women" and the meandering, 11-minute "The Trip" feeling bigger and deeper than the small group of players producing them. Aside from some of the added instrumental ornamentations -- which are all quite tasteful -- this neo-traditional country with a noir bent is familiar territory for Rawlings, and the album files pretty easily into the existing body of work he's made with Welch, regardless of which one of them is at the front mike. More uptempo songs like "The Last Pharaoh" and "Candy" keep things from becoming overly downcast and the album ends on a high note with "Pilgrim (You Can't Go Home)," a song that mixes dazzling three-part harmonies with a bit of the latent rock spirit that always seems to be buzzing at the edge of Rawlings' periphery. ~ Timothy Monger,



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