by Cat Johnson
Growing up in the Rockies, John Denver’s music was woven into the fabric of my life. When “Rocky Mountain High,” was being denounced as a pro-drug anthem, the sentiment of those of us who lived in the majestic mountain range was, “Well, they’ve obviously never been here.”
Denver’s music is sometimes relegated to the realm of adult contemporary-esque soft rock, but it’s full of touching lyrics, beautiful imagery and melodies that plant themselves in your brain for days; the characteristics of timeless, genre-eluding songs.
On the recently-released tribute album, titled The Music Is You, contemporary artists put their own twist on the legend’s songs. Kicking off with “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” one would think that the album would be a singalong of songs that have been a bit overexposed, but props to the artists for digging deep into Denver’s catalog to reveal some of the lesser-known gems. Of course, “Sunshine on My Shoulder,” “Annie’s Song” and “Take Me Home Country Roads” are included but some songs that I’m less familiar with, such as “All of My Memories” and “Some Days Are Diamonds” are also here.
The artists represented are top-notch and their interpretations, except perhaps Train’s straight-ahead version of “Sunshine on My Shoulder,” reveal new layers and textures that I haven’t picked up before. Standout tracks include Lucinda Williams’ version of “This Old Guitar,” Evan Dando’s “Looking for Space” and Kathleen Edwards’ “All of My Memories” but, there’s not a weak track on the album. The closest thing to it is, I hate to say, a kind of syrupy version of “Rocky Mountain High” by Allen Stone. But, we’ll forgive him because it’s such great singalong fodder and a really beautiful song.
Leaving On a Jet Plane – My Morning Jacket
Take Me to Tomorrow – Dave Matthews
All of My Memories – Kathleen Edwards
Prisoners – J Mascis & Sharon Van Etten
Sunshine on My Shoulders – Train
Back Home Again – Old Crow Medicine Show
This Old Guitar – Lucinda Williams
Some Days Are Diamonds – Amos Lee
Rocky Mountain High – Allen Stone
Annie’s Song – Brett Dennen & Milow
Looking for Space – Evan Dando
Take Me Home Country Roads – Brandi Carlile & Emmylou Harris
The Eagle & the Hawk – Blind Pilot
I Guess He’d Rather be in Colorado – Mary Chapin Carpenter
Darcy Farrow – Josh Ritter & Barnstari
Wooden Indian – Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
by Brian Berry
How long does it take to craft a flawless power-pop album? After hearing Researching the Blues, Redd Kross’ 6th full-length album in their three decade career, you’ll find the answer: 15 years.
Over their critically praised yet criminally overlooked career by the mainstream, the McDonald brothers of Hawthorne (the same town that brought you the Beach Boys!) have tested various rock genres from the snotty garage-punk on 1982’s Born Innocent to the proto-grunge classic Neurotica from 1987 (Mudhoney and Nirvana must’ve had Redd Kross on repeat in their formative years). RK’s latest masterpiece is an infectious, stripped down 32 minutes of pure ‘70s-influenced power-pop that stands up to-and often above-the best work by Cheap Trick and Teenage Fanclub. Stand out cuts include the single “Stay Away From Downtown”, the Stones-esque “One of the Good Ones” and “Hazel Eyes,” which closes out the album. There really isn’t a weak track or a wasted second on this though.
Luckily, Merge Records has taken on this album so we can trust Researching the Blues won’t disappear into obscurity like much of Redd Kross’ back catalog. Can’t wait for the next Thermals record? Are your Big Star records warped? Wish Fountains of Wayne put out more than one great record? You should buy Researching the Blues and make sure to crank it up.
by JJ McCabe
Those familiar with Horse Feathers’ previous album, Thistled Spring, may share my surprise through “A Heart Arcane,” the opening track of Cynic’s New Year– its stripped-down, dry, live sound and the absence of strings seems like a curious backward step from the lush, orchestral grace and delicacy of the last album. However, that aesthetic gives way to an Appalachian tinged chamber waltz that builds to a foot-stomping urgency and a more forceful vocal delivery then I’d previously heard from Justin Ringle. This push continues through the rest of the album, culminating in the single “Fit Against the Country,” which evokes early Neil Young filtered through the rustic Americana of the Pacific Northwest.
Much more so then on earlier outings, Ringle here gives the vocal arrangements the same attention that the rightly lauded string accompaniment received on past albums. His delicate Nick Drake-evoking voice benefits from more harmonies and the more driving aesthetic to these songs. I would go so far as to say that this is Horse Feathers’ rock album – which is to say it is still delicate, with gossamer banjo and mandolin plucks weaving through gorgeous violin and cello arrangements, but whereas Thistled Spring at times was so delicate and precise that the songs seemed in danger of collapsing into breathy silence, here a hearty confidence brings a strength to the performances. I was lucky to catch them the last time they came through town at a sold out Crepe Place performance, and Cynic’s New Year definitely captures the feel of their live performance – complex, dynamic yet warm, at times quietly insistent, and always engaging.