Fans of Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Tom Petty at their hookiest are gonna love the Cerny Brothers’ “American Whore” from their late 2018 release, Looking for the Good Land. Like their inspirational sources, the brothers head a crack band and there’s some pretty amazing playing all over the album, particularly on the boogie piano-heavy “Laugh at the Devil” and the beautiful, moving “Million Miles,” with its light harmonica and banjo touches. But “American Whore” is clearly the centre-piece of the album, with AOR hit single written all over it. Curiously, though the band has nailed the sound and songwriting style of Springsteen and Mellencamp, the song’s message is decidedly different. Internet entertainment magazine PopDust quoted Robert Cerny describing the song as “… born out of frustration. So many people rally against capitalism and consumerism, yet don’t always admit we’re all a part of it. The system is a product of us, for better or worse – not the other way around.” In my trade (social science), this is what we call a logical fallacy. The fact that people work within a system of rules doesn’t mean they are the authors of it. But no matter. You don’t have agree with an artist to enjoy or even learn something from their art. “American Whore” is a great song that bodes well for future releases from the brothers Cerny.
Check out the Cerny Brothers’ website for deets about tours and new releases.
Continuing on a summer theme, seasonal snacking has a musical side too where we seek out a bit of crunch, the tang of a few spicy licks, a selection of sweet treats, and something refreshing to wash it all down. This post delivers a variety of summer-proofed hooks in a sonic ‘bits and bites’-like format. Dip in anywhere.
America’s Pacific Northwest appears to be home to a host of super poprock talent of late, including Tacoma’s Vanilla. The band’s recent Mystik Knights of Tacoma is a testament to the abiding freshness of melody-driven rock and roll, at times channeling Macca or 10cc on tunes like “On a Night Like This,” or midperiod XTC on “Let’s Call it a Day,” or even the Everly Brothers on “Be Not Coy,” or ELO on “Bankside.” The album is flawlessly performed, smooth but not slick. And while you’re here, it pays to reach back in Vanilla’s catalogue for “Twilight” from 2015’s Vanilla 2.0, a real treat!
Super 8 put me on to Space Dingus, labelmates on Subjangle records, and what a great recommendation it was. This is a band with an original distillation of 1960s sounds going on, working in a variety of styles and tempos. “Ronald Raygun” sets the tone right out the gate with hooky bass runs, trebly rhythm guitar, and slightly punky vocals. But then the group effortlessly shift to a spacy jazz Classics IV vibe on “Check the Exits.” On the whole, the album has a rockin’ party feel on tracks like “Haunted Shoes,” “Intrepid,” and “Honey Teeth.” Clearly, this would be amazing live band to see! And then “George” changes the pace again, slowing things down into an electric folky rumination. But the album highlight for me is a song that sounds like a great lost Monkees cut, “Parchment Squire, Paper Knight.” Killer!
I had the car iTunes on shuffle and a sound came out of the speakers that was pure pop rock bliss: Rachael Gordon’s cover of Paul Collin’s “Rock and Roll Girl.” At some point I had picked up her 1999 compilation of the same name which collected various EPs and one-off singles together. But clearly I didn’t really give it a serious listen. Now I had it on maximum repeat! So many great tunes. Highlights for me include her cover of Moe Berg’s “Man’s Best Friend” (sounding like a female Eytan Mirsky – or is he a male Rachael Gordon?), “Goodbye to You,” “Fun at Your House,” the Beatlesque “And Sometimes,” and an inspired cover of the Plimsouls’ “When You Find Out.” Her 2004 release Coming of Spring is also top quality, channeling Nick Lowe on cuts like “Where Are You Tonight,” the Go Go’s and Bangles on “Ariel” and the remake of her own “Fun at Your House,” or folk rock on “Dresden Station.” But save time for the closer, “The Farewell Song,” a galloping, good-time melodic romp. Why haven’t we heard more music from Rachael Gordon? Life’s not fair.
Rock and Roll GirlAnd Sometimes
When Ed Ryan suggests something to me, I run to check it out. He’s a distinguished artist in his own right and has great taste in music. So when he mentioned I’d probably like Jenny and Johnny, I knew it was going to be special. But how special? I was not prepared for how good this was going to be. I’m Having Fun Now is the product of a collaboration between Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her then boyfriend, Johnathon Rice. The record rocks off to a great start with “Scissor Runner,” a track that sounds like it was left off the Plimsouls’ first album. “My Pet Snakes” alternates J and J’s vocals to good effect in a swinging, hooky number. “Switchblade” goes a bit more country all Jayhawks/Blue Rodeo-like. And so on. There’s not a bum track on the album. Personally, I love “Animal,” “New Yorker Cartoon,” and “Straight Edge of the Blade,” but save my greatest appreciation for the delightfully earwormy “Just Like Zeus.” Enjoy this, because the break up probably means there won’t be any more.Scissor RunnerJust Like Zeus
Bruce Springsteen’s new LP Western Stars finds the Boss back in top form, in control of his muse, throwing off hooks shrouded in poprock adornments from the past fifty years. The album has strings, horns, Bacharach and David orchestrations, Born to Run sparkly piano, and Nebraska-era acoustic guitar appegiations. And the songs! Not since Tunnel of Love has Bruce produced such a coherent set of songs, such a thematically clear statement of where he’s at. There’s hope, love, loss and regret – the usual, in other words. But the balance of themes and performance captured here in on par with some of his very best work.
Western Stars is Springsteen’s cinematic soundtrack of a neoliberal America. Where Born to Run captured the insecurity of a boom-time working class that might just lose anyway, Western Stars bookends Darkness at the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s prescient, dark rumination about the beginning of the end of the economic good times for working people at the close of the 1970s. But with Western Stars, the damage is now done, and his various protagonists are just trying to hang on. Or simply hang on to their regret. And they’re still drifting. Songs like “The Wayfarer,” “Western Stars,” and “Chasin’ Wild Horses” all evoke that Springsteen-esque ramble, mixing steel guitar and a judicious dollop of strings. But the thread of possible redemption formerly dominant in Springsteen’s earlier work is much weaker here. With it’s Louisiana Cajun pep “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is the one backward glance at the good times. But compared to the dour mood animating the derelict and overgrown “Moonlight Motel” it can’t help but sound a bit forced.
Somewhere North of NashvilleStones
And then there’s the loss. Because no one does wistful regret like the Boss. The mournful “Somewhere North of Nashville” captures the pain of letting ambition get in the way of love, only to end up with neither. “Stones” is a slow-paced, country dirge-like rumination about betrayal. And then there’s the magisterial “There Goes My Miracle,” a song whose vocal soars with Roy Orbison-like beauty and sorrow. At his best, Springsteen gives feeling to that sense of failure that accompanies a late recognition of life’s poor choices. Still, the record is not completely devoid of hope. The acoustic “Hitch Hikin’” captures the joy of travel and discovery, while the horn and piano-heavy “Tucson Train” celebrates the joy of an imminent romantic reunion.
There Goes My MiracleHitch Hikin’
On this album, as with most of his previous releases, Springsteen provides no easy answers. His work is a series of life sketches, highlighting a nearly invisible working class experience. It exists as a curio for some, a desperate reflection for others. In the end, “Hello Sunshine” has the Boss admitting he may have had a thing for the lonely town, the blues, and the empty road. But now he simply asks for a bit of sunshine. And we’re left wondering if he’ll get it. Or, by extension, whether we’ll get it.
Bruce is everywhere. So check out Western Stars, give it a few listens, live with it for a bit, and see if you don’t agree it’s one of the best things he’s delivered in a long while.
Ah, the heat! Summer is upon us and bevy of singles have arrived all vying to soundtrack the season for us this year. Get ready to roll down the windows and crank the stereo to test these ones.
Sourcing talent from Hollerado and Tokyo Police Club, Toronto-based Girlfriend Material are teasing audiences with just few tunes from their upcoming new album, Cool Car. “First of the Month” launches with a catchy discordant jangle that devolves into a glorious head-bobber, alternating between understated and more punky vocals. Capitalization-averse pronoun is the moniker of Brooklyn-based artist Alyse Vellturo and her new album sounds to me like the poprock album Enya might make. A bit dreamy from the start, the debut single “run” has a killer roll out guitar hook that kicks in and never lets up. The album is i’ll show you stronger and it’s worth a listen, particularly for the perfectly titled “you didn’t even make the bed.” Salt Lake City’s Sunsleeper is often tagged as emo and it’s definitely there in their catalogue but the new record You Can Miss Something and Not Want it Back does hold some surprises. Like “Soften Up,” a more uptempo driving tune than their usual fare. Toronto-based Taylor Knox continues to develop a unique brand of crunchy poprock on his just-released LP Here Tonight. Case in point: “City of Night,” a cool slice of melodic AM radio sunshine, particularly in the chorus.
The great white north is less so on its national holiday, which falls on the sunny side of the calendar. Though I’d steer clear of a dip in any our Great Lakes, which remain icicle cold through most of the summer. Instead, I’d recommend feeling the national spirit with some highly melodious and hooky Canadian content from western Canada’s Northern Pikes. Thirty-five years after their founding and 16 years since their last record, the band is back with a new album, Forest of Love, and a song made for the country’s muted brand of nationalism, “Canada Boy.” The record is as good as anything on their back catalogue – which is to say it’s great! But there is a welcome twist to the overall sound with the addition of the Grapes of Wrath vocalist/songwriter Kevin Kane, particularly evident on the fabulous “Canada Boy,” a song that really marries the two bands’ complementary styles.
The Northern Pikes – Canada Boy
Show your love of country the musical way and check out the band’s website and Facebook page.