This just in from the teletype, my breaking news is not always so ‘breaking’ timewise. Oh well. I’m sure what appears here will be news to someone. Today’s post brings us old reliables and new discoveries, in equal measure.
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe all the great things that Aaron Lee Tasjan is. He topped our 2018 must-have LPs list with Karma for Cheap and I’ve gushed all over everything he’s put out since then. Stylistically, Tasjan has that Nashville rock and roll vibe going: shades of sixties country, more than a little Orbison tenderness in the vocals, and an unerring ear for rock and roll melody. But Tasjan’s new album Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! marks out new territory, pushing his songwriting and performance into new lyrical and sonic geography. Keyboards gain more prominence here. “Up All Night” has Tasjan’s vocal floating over a synth hook whose relentless texture propels the song forward. Lyrically Tasjan’s connects the 1970s gender bending rock and roll of Bowie and others to the present on “Feminine Walk” while celebrating the women of his past on “Sunday Women.” Perky poprock numbers are in abundance here, like “Computer of Love” and “Cartoon Music.” And there’s still plenty of this artist’s warm Wilbury’s song stylings on tracks like “Another Lonely Day” and “Don’t Overthink It.” Elsewhere Tasjan’s not afraid to give a song space to breathe. “Now You Know” ambles along pleasantly, building ever so slowly to the most subtle of killer hooks. “Not That Bad” is another of Tasjan’s beautiful acoustic ballads, melding a bit of McCartney with Elliott Smith. Meanwhile “Got What I Wanted” is so wistful McCartney circa McCartney II. Altogether, this record is a delightful surprise from an artist who regularly delivers the poprock goods.
I first cogged on to Benny Hayes with his The Good Good Things project, particularly the title track of the EP Soundtrack 2000. I loved the marriage of the slightly discordant vocals with his self-described guitar pop style. Hayes is back with a new EP Night Drives that retains the guitar pop but with an overall package that sparkles a bit more. There something very early Everything But the Girl or Housemartins going on here, like Hayes is the punky younger brother turned loose in the studio. It’s there on the opening tune “Authentic Me” with its up front acoustic guitars and in-your-face vocals. “Don’t Make Me Go” has a smoother feel, a bit of acoustic pop soul, with a tasty melodic guitar solo. “Night Drive” harkens back to Hayes more discordant guitar pop past, with another very engaging solo guitar near the end. “Sunshine” sounds like the single to me. Night Drives is mostly a guy, his guitar and voice, but somehow Hayes makes great big beautiful noise that just right for your car radio.
If you’re looking to get caught up with Boston shoe-gazey jangle band 3 A.M. Again then Come Back from the Sun is the album for you. Combining tracks from a number of previous EPs and long-players, the collection is a mammoth 20 track set that is very attractively priced. The record opens with a solid should-be hit single in “I Can Always Tell the Difference,” a song that builds nicely with a lilting swing and breezy melody. Folkie acoustic guitar work defines this album, definitely shading the distinctive feel of songs like “Painted from the Moving Train” and beautiful instrumentals like “Thatcher Road.” But sometimes the tempo picks up a more rocky demeanor on songs like “Bring Me Out” and “No Help When You Were Young.” There’s a sixties psychedelic pop feel to “You Should Let Me Love You” while “Not Willing” exudes California sunshine pop. I love the late 1960s acoustic guitar folk feel and CS&N vocal style on “Does It Help.” This record is the perfect accompaniment to a sunny day out walking somewhere.
I thought I knew Chris Church. I’ve reviewed more than a few of his singles and albums. His guitar work is typically highly finessed with just a bit of grit thrown in, coating but never obscuring the basic melodic strengths of his songs. But Game Dirt is a game changer. Here Church conjures up the ghosts of the mid-1970s California country-tinged rock and roll scene of Warren Zevon or Walter Egan, mingling them with some of the most genre-stretching material of his career. “Learn” opens things up with strong dose of David Lindley/John Fogarty bluesy rock but then “Faderal” shifts gears, an urgent, original dose of poprock that seems to owe more to arty bands like Split Enz or mid-period Squeeze. “Fall,” “Lost,” and “Trying” then sets the tone for much of what follows, a easygoing 1970s westcoast feel, a bit Fleetwood Mac, a hint of the Eagles, even a little Marshall Crenshaw on the last entry. Some signature Church guitar returns on the should-be single “Know” where the guitar hook winds itself around the central vocal melody with propulsive force. Country comes to the fore in a down-home rollicking sort of way on “Smile” while “Sunrise” has a very Jayhawks ambience. Looking for some nice pop hooks and a bit of jangly guitar? “Removed” will fit the bill. Basic takeaway: Game Dirt is a remarkable piece of work from an artist that clearly still has a few surprises for us.
I’m always thrilled to find new artists or old artists scaling new heights. Visit Aaron Lee Tasjan, Benny Hayes, 3 A.M. Again, and Chris Church to get the lowdown on both these new records and their glorious past releases.