The Deep Racks Report: “A.M.”

Originally posted 2009-02-21 20:20:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

We’ve all heard the term “deep track,” used to refer to songs that do not receive much (or any) commercial radio airplay.  This series is dedicated to going deep into the CD racks to bring you brief but focused reports on ALBUMS that have not received as much commercial or critical attention as they should.

RELATED LAPTOP SESSIONS:  Chris – “Box Full of Letters”

A.M. by Wilco

This is an album that seems to get universally hated on.  It is Wilco’s first album, released in 1995 following the breakup of the band Uncle Tupelo.  All of Tupelo’s members except Jay Farrar became Wilco and proceeded to record an album of songs that sound very similar to Tupelo’s work with one significant difference — they sound somewhat more together, less raw than your average Uncle Tupelo tracks.

Reception?  Well, fans and critics alike appear to have agreed that Jay Farrar’s new band, Son Volt, released a superior debut album.  To be fair, I have only heard selected tracks from the Son Volt release and I do understand the inevitability of comparisons between Son Volt and Wilco.  Still, I haven’t been overly impressed with what I’ve heard from Son Volt.  (Please, send your letters and complaints care of Chris at Laptop Sessions!)  Yes, A.M. is a pretty simple rock record.  No, songs like “I Must Be High” and “Passenger Side” aren’t going to win any lyrical accolades with lines like “You’re pissed that you missed the very last kiss” and “You’re gonna make me spill my beer if you don’t learn how to steer,” respectively.  Even Jeff Tweedy expressed disatisfaction with the straightforwardness of the record, and he was among the first to suggest that this was Wilco “treading some water with a perceived audience.”

Okay, but it’s a fun record!  Anyone who is familiar with Wilco’s catalog now knows that, from the second album on, the band became progressively more experimental and interested in making great records.  A.M. is breath of fresh rock’n roll air!  Not until 2007’s Sky Blue Sky would their sound be as compositionally straightforward again, and as much as I love all the albums in between, isn’t the cliche “variety is the spice of life”?  I never skip these tracks when they come up on random and I continue to be drawn in by tracks like the catchy “Box Full of Letters,” the heart-breaking “Should’ve Been in Love,” and the haunting “Dash 7.”  (I’m excited that I finally figured out that “Dash 7” refers to, as Wikipedia states, “The de Havilland Canada DHC-7 [airplane], popularly known as the Dash 7.”)

So, contrary to the press it received, I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of A.M. today.  It’s not their best album, but who cares?  And please, for crying out loud, ignore the genre nonsense altogether —, country rock, rock’n roll, alternative rock??? — and just enjoy the music!

Son Volt’s “Trace” (1995) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-03-21 16:10:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore

RATING:  2 / 5  stars

Although Wilco has since gained more critical acclaim, let us not forget that Son Volt was, at least initially, the more successful of the post-Uncle Tupelo groups.  When I fell hard for Wilco a year and a half ago, I went hungrily about, devouring any relevant music I could find:  Jeff Tweedy’s solo work, Golden Smog, the Minus Five, Wilco demos, and back to the source of it all, Uncle Tupelo.  I had an interest in Trace, but I never could find it in physical form on the shelves anywhere.

It took a devoted member of the Jay Farrar message board community to come across my Deep Racks Report on Wilco’s A.M. (1995) and point out my not-so-subtle dismissal of Son Volt for me to realize I had better get serious and find this album.

A year and several spins of their mediocre 2009 record American Central Dust later, I finally stumbled across their debut release in downtown New Haven, CT.

It’s a striking record, a heartfelt, gritty grind through eleven serious songs, Farrar’s characteristic vocal chords creaking at every turn.  The first word that comes to mind is authenticity.  I can see more clearly than ever that Farrar certainly brought that component to Tupelo.  Still, I could have guessed that from A.M.; I love its lyrical bluntness and boneheaded beauty, but Tweedy seemed to be simply passing through town on the way to more experimental music.

Certainly, Uncle Tupelo pioneered the alternative country genre, Tweedy’s interests clearly moving progressively farther to the alternative and, as Trace confirms, Farrar’s predilections being for more pure country – often distortion-soaked, but country all the same.

At best, Trace is a collection of compelling words and instrumentation that gel around what has become a distinctive Son Volt sound.  Still, with the exception of “Drown,” I can’t shake the impression that listening to a Son Volt song is like examining a heartbeat: within the first several seconds, you can predict exactly what is to come for the duration.

Son Volt's "Trace" (1995)

Son Volt's "Trace" (1995)

“Windfall” is a fairly straightforward number, the harmonies and acoustic work kicking off the album on a calm but serious note.  It was most certainly unintentional, but I find the reference here to AM radio representing a “truer sound” quite interesting, considering the title of Wilco’s debut release six months earlier.

The band takes it up a notch on “Live Free,” introducing electric guitar to the mix.  Even here, though, there is nothing groundbreaking.  It is catchy, to be sure, and there is some strumming that verges on being a riff.

Track three retracts that aforementioned notch, but “Tear Stained Eye” is perhaps the most beautiful song on the album.

“Route” has more raw energy than anything that came before, and the band begins to show a bit of disregard for note-for-note perfection — a welcome change.  Still, there is nothing outstanding about “Route” when taken out of context.

If depression is your game, then “Ten Second News” is your song.  As much as I want to skip it, I do acknowledge that, the reference to cancer notwithstanding, it sounds like it could have come directly out of a traditional ballad written who knows how long ago in the who knows where.

Then comes the flagship of this album.  “Drown” has everything that a great rock song should: raw energy, a catchy riff, cool electric soloing, great vocals with hints of harmonies in all the right places.  If there were more songs like this, Trace would have received an altogether different rating from me.

Even after multiple listens, the songs on the remainder of the album begin to blend together for me.  “Loose String” and “Too Early” aren’t bad songs…  They’re just not memorable ones. “Out of the Picture” and “Catching On” have more substance to them, but I can’t avoid noticing the echoes of A.M. in them.  (Why reviewers extolled Trace‘s virtues while so blatantly disregarding the merits of Wilco’s debut, I may never understand.)

Son Volt could not have chosen a more poignant number than their cover of Ron Woods’ “Mystifies Me,” and their version verges on the quintessential.

All in all, I don’t dislike Trace, but I am nonplussed by the attention it has received.  At best, it is a middle of the road release with a handful of fantastic songs.  At worst, it is yet another reason Wilco fans have to be excited about the Uncle Tupelo split.

Yes, No, or Maybe So: One-Sentence Reviews of 2009 Albums

Originally posted 2010-03-27 12:30:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(Arranged in ascending order by release date)

With so many albums being released every week, what are they all like?  Which are worth your time?  These one-sentence reviews are the answers to those questions!

Battle Studies – (John Mayer) – MAYBE

(November 17, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Battle Studies may not be Mayer’s best work, but as a thoughtfully arranged collection of songs, it’s head and shoulders above Continuum. Top Two Tracks: “Heartbreak Warfare” – “Assassin”

Alter the Ending – (Dashboard Confessional) – MAYBE

(November 10, 2009) Review: About mid-way through, some tracks begin to blend together, but there are some standout songs that are both upbeat and engaging. Top Two Tracks: “Belle of the Boulevard” – “Until Morning”

Sainthood – (Tegan and Sara) – MAYBE

(October 27, 2009) Review: Their best work since So Jealous. Top Two Tracks: “Someday” – “Don’t Rush”

One Fast Move or I’m Gone – (Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard) – MAYBE

(October 20, 2009) Review: Not a breathtaking masterpiece by any means, but there is a hypnotic quality to the combination of Farrar and Gibbard’s sounds and Jack Kerouac’s words. Top Two Tracks: “These Roads Don’t Move” – “California Zephyr”

The Fountain – (Echo & the Bunnymen) – MAYBE SO

(October 12, 2009) Review: Most reviews have jumped to the extremes, and mine is no exception; The Fountain is an outstanding rock album from a band that most major music magazines have essentially ignored. Top Two Tracks: “Live of a Thousand Crimes” – “Drivetime”

Forget and Not Slow Down – (Relient K) – YES

(October 6, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Hands down the best concept album of the year, perhaps the best album of the year overall. Top Two Tracks: “Part of It” – “Sahara”

Backspacer – (Pearl Jam) – YES

(September 20, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: This is the album that may single-handedly be responsible for my eventual hearing loss – it’s simply too much fun not to listen to at high volumes. Top Two Tracks: “Got Some” – “Speed of Sound”

Levitate – (Bruce Hornsby & the Noise Makers) – NO

(September 15, 2009) Review: I try to avoid comparisons to past work, but this new Hornsby album is just a little too far out from the norm for my tastes. Top Two Tracks: “Space is the Place” – “In the Low Country”

A Brief History of Love – (The Big Pink) – NO, PLEASE, NO!

(September 14, 2009) Review: I’m reminded of the Byrds song “Everybody Gets Burned” – if you have any respect for rock music, steer clear of this album and do your best to never consider this band and the amazing debut release of The Band (to which their name alludes) in the same thought. Top Two Tracks: n/a

Humbug – (Arctic Monkeys) – MAYBE SO

(August 25, 2009) Review: The distance between how little I like early songs like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” compared with how much I like this new release is vast; overall, Humbug has a cohesive, infectious, and interesting sound, blending alternative rock/punk stylings with echoes of the Who and the Moody Blues in all the right places. Top Two Tracks: “Crying Lightning” – “Cornerstone”

My Old, Familiar Friend – (Brendan Benson) – MAYBE SO

(August 18, 2009) Review: From “A Whole Lot Better” onward, Benson’s latest release is joyful power pop that borrows generously from the sixties and seventies; it’s a great deal of fun from start to finish. Top Two Tracks: “Garbage Day” – “Misery”

Release – (Sister Hazel) – MAYBE NOT

(August 18, 2009) Review: This album is the perfect choice for background music: it is consistently upbeat without being too frenetic, certainly won’t offend anyone, and yet isn’t likely to inspire or even excite anyone either – the heinous typos in the booklet don’t help their cause. Top Two Tracks: “Vacation Rain” – “Ghost in the Crowd”

Ursa Major – (Third Eye Blind) – MAYBE NOT

(August 17, 2009) Review: There will supposedly be another 3eb release soon titled Ursa Minor, culled from tracks that didn’t make the cut for this album; suffice it to say that Ursa Major gets an “eh” and barely a “Maybe Not” rating with the so-called best songs from their recent sessions, so… Top Two Tracks: “Bonfire” – “Summer Town”

xx – (The xx) – MAYBE SO

(August 17, 2009) Review: This debut release by the xx is a gripping, murky, beautiful collection of songs that won’t fail to draw you in to their world each listen. Top Two Tracks: “VCR” – “Shelter”

The Ruminant Band – (Fruit Bats) – MAYBE SO

(August 4, 2009) Review: Aptly titled after the Fruit Bats took twice as long as usual to release this record, The Ruminant Band is worth all the extra wait time:  still quirky but with a lot more energy, backbeat, and attention to making a great album, rather than just a compilation of songs. Top Two Tracks: “The Ruminant Band” – “Singing Joy to the World”

Strange Cousins From The West – (Clutch) – MAYBE NOT

(July 14, 2009) Review: You’ll have to go back to Blast Tyrant or so if you want original, innovative Clutch; what you’ll find here is confined by the blues parameters the band has imposed on themselves – which is not to say you won’t find largely powerful performances of largely predictably structured songs and a couple true gems. Top Two Tracks: “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” – “Minotaur”

Horehound – (The Dead Weather) – MAYBE SO

(July 14, 2009) Review: The Dead Weather certainly deserve credit for having forged a unique sound and presence – Jack White best described their music as “ferocious” – but the riffing, repetition, and other indulgences can be distracting; overall, as a debut release, Horehound is promising… Top Two Tracks: “I Cut Like A Buffalo” – “Hang You From the Heavens”

Ocean Eyes – (Owl City) – MAYBE

(July 14, 2009) Review: A bit too placid for me, but I can perceive at least part of the reason that this album’s simple, soothing numbers have spread so quickly and been embraced by so many. Top Two Tracks: “Fireflies” – “The Bird and the Worm”

American Central Dust – (Son Volt) – NO

(July 7, 2009) Review: As the title implies, Son Volt’s latest album could have been found buried in a collection of Americana; while it certainly hits high points on certain tracks, the simplicity of the arrangements and even the packaging (no lyrics – really?) confine this album to mediocrity. Top Two Tracks: “No Turning Back” – “Jukebox of Steel”

Leaving Wonderland…in a fit of rage – (Marcy Playground) – MAYBE

(July 7, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Overall, Leaving Wonderland hits emotional pay dirt with the theme of losing love and youth to the ravages of time, and yet John Wozniak’s lyrics and arrangements leave much to be desired in terms of depth and artistry. Top Two Tracks: “Gin and Money” – “I Burned the Bed”

Wilco (the album) – (Wilco) – YES

(June 30, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: An atypically brief release, Wilco (the album) is dominated by a wide range of interesting sounds and ideas all packed into tight tracks that ebb and flow just right; multiple listens are a must. Top Two Tracks: “Wilco (the song)” – “You Never Know”

Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King (Dave Matthews Band) – MAYBE

(June 2, 2009) Review: “DMB” has produced a very strong album that starts off with focused, expressive tracks yet lags somewhat in the second half’s instrumental, repetitive, and nonsensical indulgences. Top Two Tracks: “Funny The Way It Is” – “Time Bomb”

Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane (Elvis Costello) – MAYBE SO

(June 2, 2009) Review: Finally, a stripped-down recording from a rock artist that doesn’t reek of the urge to “jump on the acoustic train”; Costello’s songs here could just as convincingly  have been recorded a century ago. Top Two Tracks: “Complicated Shadows” – “Sulphur to Sugarcane”

21st Century Breakdown (Green Day) – YES

(May 15, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: Another concept album of epic proportions from Green Day:  big, in-your-face power chords at some points, acoustic guitar and piano high in the mix at others, and strong vocals all around – a well-executed album from start to finish. Top Two Tracks: “Last Night on Earth” – “East Jesus Nowhere”

Together Through Life (Bob Dylan) – MAYBE SO

(April 28, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: As per usual, Dylan says it best: “I know my fans will like it; other than that, I have no idea.” Top Two Tracks: “Shake Shake Mama” – “I Feel a Change Comin’ On”

Tinted Windows (Tinted Windows) – NO

(April 21, 2009) Review: I remembered while listening to this that there’s a reason I stopped buying Fountains of Wayne albums since Traffic & Weather, and there’s certainly a reason I’ve never bought Hanson albums. Top Two Tracks: “Back With You” – “Nothing to Me”

Halfway There (Jim Fusco) – YES

(April 7, 2009) – CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: It’s as if all of Fusco’s previous work was only “halfway there” – combining ambitious vocals, innovative guitar parts, and a track listing that boasts eleven great songs, this is easily one of the great albums of 2009. Top Two Tracks: “I Got You” – “Ruins”

The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists) – MAYBE NOT

(March 24, 2009) Review: The Hazards of Love will keep you guessing and trying to piece it all together, but it may not get a lot of immediate repeat listens based on the quality of individual songs; kudos to the Decemberists if only for keeping the concept of the concept album alive and well! Top Two Tracks: “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” – “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”

No Line On The Horizon (U2) – MAYBE NOT

(March 3, 2009) Review: There’s something to be said for Bono’s energy, but it’s not always enough on this record which fluctuates between moments of mastery and moments of mediocrity. Top Two Tracks: “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” – “Stand Up Comedy”

Keep It Hid (Dan Auerbach) – MAYBE

(February 10, 2009) Review: Essentially, what you would expect — gritty, bluesy rock with excellent guitar work. Top Two Tracks: “Heartbroken, In Disrepair” – “My Last Mistake”

Working On A Dream (Bruce Springsteen) – MAYBE SO

(January 27, 2009)  –  CLICK HERE FOR A FULL REVIEW Review: The past three Springsteen albums have been exercises in purposeful songwriting, raw acoustic and harmonica work, and upbeat pop/rock respectively — Working On A Dream has it all! Top Two Tracks: “What Love Can Do” – “Life Itself”