Strange but Wonderful Mix of Styles

Magnolia – by Michael McArthur


When I started playing this album on my porch one lazy summer Saturday, I was expecting a good, but run-of-the-mill singer songwriter release with a pleasant name and a few nice songs.  Michael’s voice and jazzy style surprised me right away, and while I wasn’t sure I loved the sound – my curiosity was certainly piqued to check out the rest of the album with rapt attention.  The title track starts out slow, jazzy; with rhythmic guitar and actually a little R&B style that is fitting for the sexy lyrics like “one taste is all it takes, I’m drunk off of you / your chemicals are kickin’ in”.  This song features lots of falsetto, and a chorus that sounds like something by Justin Timberlake – but without all of the flash.

I immediately wanted to know more, so I found Michael’s website to learn about his 2012 debut EP and self-produced 2013 sophomore EP.  These garnered him much positive attention, and the support of a top-notch production team for this new release, Magnolia.  Meanwhile, I was surprised again by the second track – called “Run Around”- that was so completely different from the first:  a slow, strummy song reminiscent of a Jack Johnson tune, in a darker and more minor key.

Enter finger snaps, keyboard, lots of “oooohs” and “na-na-nas” on the intro for “She’s Got It All”.  The simple musical structure and semi-cheesy lyrics are quickly forgiven when the catchy beat hits, and you are sucked into the song!  This struck me as similar to something by Phil Collins like “Easy Lover” or “Sussudio”.  But I still wasn’t hooked until Track #4 – “Clocks”.  There’s a real sassy bassline on this one, and great drums.  It is jazzy like the first track, but with more grit.  This track is almost a dead-ringer for a Maroon 5 song – if you like Adam Levine I think you would definitely like hearing Michael croon “you’re love’s got me spinnin’ like a clock – slow it down!”

I’ve mentioned a lot of other singers to try to give you a feel for what Michael sounds like – but I also want to add that no individual song particularly evokes these additional artists; there is  a sprinkling of these blended styles throughout.  I heard Michael Franti, Daniel Bedingfield, Gavin DeGraw, and even (somehow) Cat Stevens.  Bundle up those musical styles and vocal sounds, and you’ve got the basis for what Michael builds on and makes his own, on this wonderful album.

And yes, by Track #5 (“Lightning Nights”), I considered this a wonderful album.  This is a little bit country-ish, with some sliding steel guitar and smooth, mellow harmonies that still somehow fit in with the rest of the songs on Magnolia. Like you’d expect from a country song, the lyrics are simple – “we’ve got some time – let’s make a little love, and make it right” – but this is the song that made me realize that actually I am really enjoying this Michael McArthur guy!

“Truly, Madly, Freely” starts with a slow, rolling, arpeggio-filled opening that is way stripped-down.  It has a “raise-your-lighters” or “last-song-of-the-night” style that quickly rolls into a full-on waltzing slow-dance that is full of heart and soul.  The next track again is full of sultry rhythm and words, such as “touch like flame – skin like water – get me higher”.  I guess this is all fitting for a song called “Desire”!  The memorable chorus with great backing vocals will have you singing along – with your hands in the air, and major sway in your step.

The album closes with “She’s Got It All (1984 Remix)”.  This is a slightly-corny old-school representation of the earlier song (Track #3) that feels a lot like “All Night Long” by Lionel Ritchie.  Clearly this was not produced in 1984, but this version has all of the great 80s beats and sound effects of the best hits you love from that era.  It is actually really dance-y and cute, especially on the chorus.  I enjoyed this myself, but if this doesn’t style appeal to you I’d worry that you would miss out on the other great songs on this release. I think it is well-placed at the end of the album, so the die-hard listeners can appreciate it – but the more cautious types won’t be discouraged by the sudden 80s party.

The weekend I previewed this album, I was having an overall wonderful time.  Lots of sunshine, summer breezes coming in through my porch – and the music from Magnolia just fit right into the relaxed, positive mood of my surroundings.  Based on the first two songs, I wasn’t really expecting to love this artist, but the album as a whole really made a great impression.  I will definitely keep Michael McArthur at the ready for those days when I really want some groove during my commute.

Note:  Music review by Hannah of originally appeared on on July 26, 2015.

Link to Preview Album on Google Play: Google Play – Magnolia

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon: Amazon – Magnolia

Old Best Friend could be your New Favorite?

Living Alone by Old Best Friend*

Old Best Friend

Living Alone is the debut full-length release from the band called Old Best Friend (let’s say OBF) that just came out in June of this year.  Since you probably have not heard of OBF, go ahead and start with a Google search to find this guy – personally I love the artist’s mini bio on his bandcamp page (  “Mike Comite is your Old Best Friend.  He lives in Brooklyn.  Come over and he’ll cook you a mediocre dinner sometime.”  What a guy!  Mike includes a simple selfie that resembles Jason Schwartzman of “Rushmore” fame, and he also adds the welcome news that he has a live show in Philly coming up next weekend (July 25).  See if you can check him out!  Maybe a little road-trip is in order.

The album itself is 11 tracks of earnestly-attempted music that can be described as a blend of alternative / indie/ emo / songwriter styles, all bundled together in a release with a simple black-and-white drawing on the cover.  I think the image for the album art is a little freaked-out and lonely looking, but I guess that is fitting for an album called (and about, apparently) – living alone.  The song titles and lyrics are cute and clever without being overly intellectual or depressing.  In this way it is kind of a Ben Lee Grandpa Would album for a slightly older set of fans.

“Cold Came With” is an interesting choice for an opening track.  It is a little screamy, dissonant, and a bit, well – maniacal – but it is worth sticking through the reverb and feedback in order to experience some really neat and unexpected moments when a bit more melody pops in  – only to be interrupted again by really raw and fuzzy guitar.

You’ll notice that I have a hard time describing the overall sound of this artist.  Do you remember back in the early 2000s, when copies of “The Perfect Kellulight” by Flick were in the bargain bin at your discount record shop or used CD store?  I have not thought of this artist in nearly 15 years until I heard OBF last week.  Flick is the closest vocal and style comparison I can think of – hopefully they are now not so vague that this reference is no longer helpful!  There’s definitely a little bit of the Shins in there too – imagine a bright, shiny, youthful vocal tone with a little bit of basement -band “reckless abandon” thrown into the execution of each song.

I listened to the album in its entirety, some songs multiple times – and I think that the main reason I wouldn’t have this playing in my car everyday is that Mike’s vocal style is just personally not my preferred sound.  So you see, the whole album in chronological order is a bit much all at once (for me, anyhow).  There are definitely tracks that I really liked – I’m pretty sure that “Pretty Sure” is my favorite song on the album. I’d say it is upbeat and energetic with fun harmonies and good rhythms.  The title track though is a bit more of a downer – but again this is fitting for “Living Alone”.  It includes a sampling of piano that adds to the slightly more emotional effect on this one.

“King of Nowhere” kind of annoyed me with the overly simplified melody – but to be fair it contains a worthy amount of emo guitar complexity in the background, and again, there are the signature cheeky lyrics that are too witty and on-point to discount – “what’s done is done / a setting sun has no obligation to rise.”  The song “Divide your Sleep” is possibly one of the most angsty on the album – Mike reaches almost Linkin Park intensity at times!  Other tracks are a little bit upbeat; some more stripped down and therefore singer-songwriterly – but none seem trite.

I think that the last track (“Now I Don’t”) is a strong a finish as anyone could ask for – listenable, mellow, and thoughtful without being too slow or dragged-out.  You might completely disagree with me about Mike’s vocal style, and therefore just fall in love with this otherwise creative and well-executed debut album.  Another approach to appreciating this album would be to mix in the OBF songs with some other artists for more variety – in this setting the sprinkling of an “old best friend” would be welcome breaks punctuating a playlist of other favorites, and this would highlight well OBF’s fresh approach and enjoyable lyrics.

*Photo not taken by RMC – image copied from artist as shown on the bandcamp site above and also presented on with the original posting of this article, published July 19, 2015.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Old Best Friend – Living Alone – Google Play

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Old Best Friend – Living Alone – Amazon

Wilder About Their Old Sound…

Wilder Mind by Mumford & Sons

IMG_20150715_224100 (2)

I didn’t love this album.  You’ll probably think I didn’t try to like it, and that I am a judgey grouch who hates for no reason.  Honestly, I tried!  “Wilder Mind” was suggested by someone very close to me, in a casual question  –  “Have you heard the new Mumford and Sons?”  Um, NO, and I didn’t plan to, either.  All indie-folk, NYC and craft beer, hipster beards and banjos – I thought I already knew these guys.  “But this one is different – more electric.”  OK FINE; I conceded.

Maybe I was actually biased, and am now being unfair – but I am not really a fan of their first two albums either.  To me their style seems painfully slow, and somehow artisanally crafted to sound “vintage” by using antiquated tools and techniques.  I can appreciate “the Cave” from their debut album, and of course sometimes “I Will Wait” from Babel pops up on the family’s Pandora Station; but I’d rather listen to the grainy voice of Cat Stevens or hear the pickin’ banjo rolls of Old Crow Medicine Show just about anytime.

I’ll admit there’s one thing I learned from the Google Play description that I did not previously know – this band is from England!  I was so convinced they had crawled out from under the Brooklyn Bridge based on their earlier sound, that this new fact surprised me.  Otherwise there were very few surprises for me on this album.

The first track on Wilder Mind  is “Tompkins Square Park” – I actually like the beat, and initially I rather enjoyed the song.  Nothing really objectionable.  OK let’s move on!  “Believe” is musically something that could be on Guster’s recent album – kind of lyrical and slow, telling some sort of story that I don’t have time to appreciate … next!  Track #3, called “The Wolf”, was probably the first one that I really thought was OK; I liked the stronger guitars à la the Strokes (or any other power-chord pop rock group that sounds edgy  – but still accessible at the same time).  However, I think it’s weird that the singer still has his old-man-style vocal wobble on these rock songs – he is just better suited to the moonshine-y mason-jar songs he warbled on during the two previous releases.  He even kind of reminds me of the singer from Passenger at times, with a mountainy twang!

“Wilder Mind” is probably my favorite, if I can say such a thing.  It has a faint twinge of nostalgia and sadness that speaks to me just a bit. A taste of keyboard hones in with tones like a crystal electronic xylophone, before the instrumental solo is taken over by a Boys-of-Summer-esque guitar.  And Track #5 (“Just Smoke”)  is finally a song well suited to the singer’s voice –  it somehow doesn’t sound out of place here as he laments “thought we were done  / young love must keep us young.”   Maybe it is the clapping sound effect that brings us back to enough of a folksy feel to not seem strange.  Otherwise, this piece unfortunately feels like a church song, since the relationship of words to melody seems just too structured and direct.

“Monster” is a song full of quiet attitude – mostly keyboard backing up lyrics like “here is the name that our sons will learn”, and this intrigued me enough to look for the actual words in the liner notes.  Guess what – these “notes” are just a bunch of vanity photos of dreamy musicians!  Checking out helped a bit, but since I’m not good at interpreting poetry I’m still not sure if this song is about cancer, an ill-advised hookup, or someone who left her husband… anyhow, I don’t mind this track!

“Snake Eyes” isn’t totally bad either; it has some cool sound effects that are eerie, screechy and trainlike.  On this song, the singer sort of has that energy-devoid, limp effect of Mark Kozelek from Red House Painters – but without the warm honesty in Mark’s voice.  Next track #8 has a grand title: “Broad-Shouldered Beasts”.  Therefore it seems fitting that it would feel kind of majestic and sorrowful.  It features lots of piano, and gives you that same sad feeling as the bird song from Mary Poppins.

#9 “Cold Arms” was very quiet and stripped down – still electric, but without a ton of guitar or excessive instrumentation. Next “Ditmas” was more upbeat (thankfully), but still just a little anthem-y and very heavy on the poetry.  And “Only Love” again reminded me of something by Guster!  Like their new wave song “Come Downstairs and Say Hello”, the way it builds from almost nothing to something rhythmic is memorable.  This song would probably grow on me more, if I could only this point in the album more often.

The album concludes with “Hot Gates” – just a little hymn-like, opening slowly with piano and multi-part harmonies chiming in almost like a choir.  I looked up the lyrics because they seemed so beautiful and sad, with phrases you’ll never forget like “I can’t be for you all of the things you want me to / but I will love you constantly / there’s precious little else to me”.  The version I bought includes the first three tracks again as live recordings, and also “Snake Eyes”.  This confused the heck out of me the first time I tried to listen to this all the way through – I literally thought “I’m having déjà vu – will this album never end?”

If you are already hugely enthused by this band and you love these 12 songs on Wilder Mind, perhaps you will appreciate the bonus tracks.  I have nothing really REALLY negative to say about this album overall, but honestly nothing grabbed me.  Nothing at all.  Not a single song stepped up and said “love me, sing along to me, I am telling the stories of your heart”.  I wonder if they will go back to their earlier sound?

Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Google Play – Wilder Mind

Purchase Album on Amazon:

Amazon – Wilder Mind

Pre-Release Review!

Mister Asylum – by Highly Suspect*

Mister Asylum Image

Pay attention to this album coming soon!  Highly Suspect is a Brooklyn-Based trio with a big sound – I love the cynical band name, and the paranoid / creepy feeling of the opening track that perfectly sets the tone for their overall style. If you like Fall Out Boy (and you used to like Nine Inch Nails) you will really appreciate this album.  It has the modern production effect of something by Velvet Revolver; and frequently their style reminds me of that early 2000s rock sound brought back by Jet and the Strokes – but with contemporary genre-mixing and overall technical quality that you’d expect from something new.

The title track opens with rumbling, arpeggio-like hard-rock baselines (think “Army of Me”) and heavy, hard-crashing drums – the rhythms alternate intelligently as the vocals go from careful and singerly, to all-out screaming.  Haunting organ sounds back up the singer who is bluesy, gritty, and almost um, rapping at times, as he belts out “when you’re up against the world it shows”.  You’ll be immediately reminded of Kings of Leon, with a slight touch of Third Eye Blind peeking through.  The next track (“Lost”) just freaks out and starts rocking à la Red Hot Chili Peppers, with a baseline (and vocals) reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age, before breaking again into that bluesy, stylized feel.

Track #3 (“Lydia”) is one of the singles you may have already heard, with a reggae-esque rhythm laid down by punchy power-chords, and a lyrical-flow style of singing with enough emotion to carry proclamations like these: “I’ve seen better days, so unafraid in my youth / I can’t breathe, much less believe the truth“.  Plenty of angry swearing and drug references give this already dark song a deeper quality – check out the music video if you want to see how raw and real these guys can be!  At times the instrumentation backs out and leaves the singer alone; voice cracking under the weight of all this song conveys.

Next is “Bath Salts”.  If the video for “Lydia” doesn’t give you nightmares, then these other song titles just might combine in your head for one really creepy dream.  This track feels like Muse’s “Uprising”, or something by Radiohead; with lyrics that plead “these muscle spasms hit me so deep every single night… no one told me which way to go – why can’t I come down?”  This is followed by “23”, which is funky and sort of Rage Against The Machine in style.  There’s finally just a taste of backing vocals on this track, adding just a bit extra. And there’s a weird reverb and echo effect on one of the breaks, right before the itchy and assonant guitar solo.

“Mom” is a weird departure from the other more aggressive songs on this album.  It features major key chords, but with a buzzy reverberant guitar structure, and eerily dysfunctional lyrics that make you feel kinda guilty for listening in on this extremely personal song – “you kissed me on the head and left me out for dead, when I was only one”.  Yikes.  Not a bad song, but uncomfortable as intended. The delivery is full of strength and assurance, just like this line “I stand alone, I stand on my own; and I stand like a man.”  I read a recent post from Johnny on the band’s FaceBook page that this “may be the most difficult song I’ve ever had to release. But, as I’m sure you guys are aware, we only write songs about real sh&t.”

The remaining songs are equally impressive, with moments of fast music but slow singing – not exactly like Gavin McGraw, but like Gavin if he decided to cut his hand with a rusty nail, toss back a shot of whiskey and pick up the microphone.  I think he’d do a fair impression of Johnny on “Bloodfeather” in terms of the raucous, uninhibited way he just throws his voice out of his mouth and onto the mike – “In the name of love I’ll kill for you”.  Wow!  Next is a sassy and sexy song with lots of strong guitar and screaming, over more punky power-chords – basically the rock and roll’s version of a rap song about aggressive, anonymous hooking-up.  The album is peppered with plenty of F-bombs, which seem necessarily part of not just the texture and feel but also the philosophy of this band – you almost need a certain amount of abandon to achieve this level of rock.

Track #9 (“Vanity”) opens with guitars à la Queen, and totally sounds like something I have heard before (in a good way).  There is a shreddy guitar segue as the vocals start to howl – before kicking back into a more controlled interlude; probably one of my favorites on the album.  And this all wraps up with “Claudeland” – drumrolls accelerate through the intro, before vocals pop open with a maniacal laugh and some blubbering.  The style of this is a lot like the White Stripes, giving that classic freak-out feel that will make you want to jump up and down in the front of this show, singing along for sure when the singer yells out – “don’t worry about it – it’s not that bad!”  There’s almost a Diamond Dave performance style here that is really fun.  I love that an album is closing with so much energy on the very last song!

This is an album I strongly encourage you to purchase – and start searching for tour dates! While none of these songs have the major-key, upbeat or fun feel that usually I prefer, the earthy-ness of this album is kind of refreshing. Like a thoughtful darker movie, or an old cracked leather jacket, or a drink that it is too strong.  Seeing this band live on a small tavern stage would be amazing – but it would be equally riveting in a large arena setting because yes – Highly Suspect has a sound that can really hold true and be engaging at any scale.

*Image not created by rockmycommute – album art from Mister Asylum by Highly Suspect used as part of review written originally for and published on July 5, 2015.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play: Mister Asylum – by Highly Suspect

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon: Mister Asylum (Amazon) – by Highly Suspect

Got Twang?

Broken Hymns – by Matt Bradford*

Matt Bradford

Here’s my initial warning – if you don’t like country or bluegrass and you hate that steel guitar sound, then this album is not for you.  It is packed full of whiny twang that many of us just love – so if you are still reading, then you are in for a treat!  With that said, this is not an over-produced Trace Atkins or Alan Jackson album, but rather a more rustic and raw tribute to that Americana sound.

The album opens with “Break Easy”, and Matt immediately sets the tone by launching into a rather broken, cracked-with anguish vocal style – the way he sings is gentle, yet rugged at the same time.  The music follows a simple chord structure, and somehow even though the tempo and instruments are completely different it reminded me of that old song “Operator” by Jim Croce (must be that overall pleasant vibe of the song that creates an instant nostalgia).

I can imagine “Break Easy” being covered by someone like Darius Rucker to popular effect on hit country radio; it is the type of song that almost everybody likes.  I don’t usually appreciate slower songs, but somehow on a rainy summer Saturday night, this felt just about right – it would be fitting for an evening with friends, a date, or just hanging out on your own.

Track #2 is “The Singer”, with a rolling guitar entry that evokes something by the Counting Crows (from back in the “August” days when they were really good).  Lyrics like “put a penny in the jar / open up your heart” portray a singer as a storyteller, in a narrative song about some kind of life-changing traveling troubadour encounter.  The whole story is set over perfectly countrified guitar that feels just so healthy and homey here.

And Matt is back to sweet and slow again on #3!  I would say that “Recognize” has that waltzy “last song of the night” type of feel, followed by “The Worst Goodbye”.  This one isn’t bad, but I’ll admit it gets a little repetitive. I went back to the first track to see if I had different words to describe this song – I would say this one is more stripped down without the organ background and perfectly constructed backing rhythm of the opener.  Here you have mostly just Dobro and vox – which is fine but not really remarkable, with expected country-song lyrics like “I can take the pain, but I won’t take the blame / it’s your love that’s killin’ me.”

But don’t stop listening yet, because then we get Track #5 – “Ain’t Ready To Stop”.  This is the kind of song I was waiting for! There’s a driving train-track beat and some real twang and wail on the guitars, with laid-back lyrics like “cruisin’ though that desert kiss / sure don’t get better than this / I ain’t ready to stop for days”.  If you like the idea of a mix between Ryan Bingham and Old Crow Medicine Show, then you will enjoy this one.  Matt’s skill on the guitar really shines through and there is a lot of that pedal steel sound here too which is just awesome.

Next is “Going to Hell”, which sounds like a hyper-romantic and emotional slow-dance of a song.  Don’t play this on a date though, as the chorus “everything just keeps goin’ to hell” is a bit of a downer.  And I loved the title of the next track “Stronger Than The Song”; but this one was really slow and sobering as Matt sings “there’s lines on his face, the scars of loves lost and prices paid”.

Both of these songs are really fitting for an album called “Broken Hymns”, as you would expect the songs to be slow and simple with a trend towards the damaged, more depressing characters.  A pleasant female vocalist takes over here on Track #7 (as a more mellow version of Carrie Underwood) – adding some energy to the third slow song in a row as both singers harmonize pleasantly together.

Finally we have “Broken Hymns”.  This is a gritty relationship song, utilizing those lovely vocal harmonies again, on this – the title track and the album closer.  The instrumentation is full, and the tempo is upbeat enough to be catchy and memorable while still slow and sad.  The music has to be sad enough to support lyrics like – “I didn’t even say goodbye, just found a place to lay down and die / there’s nothin’ worth hearing in my final words.”  Yikes!

I think “Broken Hymns” is really a strong ending to the album – if this had been the opening track I would have certainly kept on listening.  The artist’s style is consistent, the musicianship is good, and his songs are solid.  Again, if you aren’t afraid of country music or slow tunes – you’ll like most of the tracks on this release.  Check out for samples of the music right on the website!

*Image not created by rockmycommute – album art from used as part of review written originally for and published on June 21, 2015.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Lots to Love about this New Album!

No Cities To Love – By Sleater-Kinney


I don’t remember when I heard that Sleater-Kinney was putting out a new album; I think someone mentioned it in passing, and I was only vaguely interested.  I was only vaguely interested, because I am getting old and I was confusing Sleater-Kinney with Rilo Kiley – still fun but “meh” by comparison.  When I saw the No Cities To Love album on a Pitchfork list a few weeks later, I was super excited to check it out!  So fun to remember an edgier, indier time when Carrie Brownstein was making her own way with a guitar (she is more than just a funny sidekick with a cute haircut on Portlandia).

The musical styling is of course very similar to Bratmobile (Google both bands if you need a refresher on riot grrrl music and culture) with lots of punky rock and nary a slow, gentle song in the mix.  But I also heard the influence of one of my personal female heroes – Patti Smith.  The poetic chanting, sometimes yelling, sometimes singing with a loud and not-so-sweet-yet-seriously-feminine voice is so powerful and so familiar.

The album opens with “Price Tag’, which is of course about the high prices we are paying every day for our modern lifestyles.  There are middle-aged mom references (“I scramble eggs / for little legs”) but good descriptive verses you can feel (“the fabrics itch / the fit’s a little rough”) and no lack of rock.  The vocals here are similar to Gwen Stefani if you need a fairly recognizable comparison – strained and emotional, but still capable of evoking a vibrato.

“Fangless” is dancy and energetic, with upbeat backing vocals that make you feel like this song could really be from any decade.  The guitars remind me of Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes, but of course these gals came wayyyyyyy before those guys!  And track #4 is the type of rock anthem that you’d want to scream along with during a live show – “we win, we lose / only together do we break the rules”.  The title track “No Cities to Love” is something that will definitely get stuck in your head – the vocals are more yelled than sung, with jazzy guitar interjections and a line about a “walk-off” that for some reason conjures images of David Bowie…

I think track #5 “A New Wave” is my favorite, and not just because of the fun name.  The opening guitar is just awesome, rippin’ and wailin’ you into a frenzy of female resistance by rock – “I am raw material / Make me plastic, make me fuel / I can be… I can be all.”  But I also really love the next one, “No Anthems” because it is sorta creepy; sorta minor in key and breathy in voice before launching into the bridge – supported mostly by an aggressive drum break.  “Gimme Love” might seem like a Rolling Stones song title, but I think this is one of the most Bratmobile of them all – abstract guitars and powerful, percussive singing.

“Bury our Friends” is probably my least favorite because I have not listened to it as much as the others (I usually start at the first track when turning on the ol’ Prius) but I think this is also the most Patti Smith in style – you can just imagine her singing along in bare feet with hands outstretched in solidarity.  “Hey Darling” is a little sassy and a little more singerly; again with the Gwen vibrato and flirty-yet-careless breakup song vibe.  The album ends with a song fittingly called “Fade” which also is not one of my favorites, since it is a little slower, less melodic and more esoteric – but still it is hard to complain about 10 songs of welcome rock that hold up not only to nostalgia, but also against anything that is being played and produced this year.

No Cities To Love will not disappoint you – it is of course more polished and better produced than some of the stuff you were listening to in the 90s, but it still is just packed with razory guitars, raucously-belted girl-power vocals, and hard hitting drums.  Every single song took me back to the one time I was lucky enough to see Bratmobile open for the Donnas – and back to the days of thrift store t-shirts, greasy shag haircuts, stapling up band flyers, handing out stickers, and collecting little pins (for your hoodie or messenger bag, of course).  An authentic and fun point in time – for music, art, and good rock bands that are worth re-discovering time and again.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Sitting and thinking about this fun album…

Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit – By Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett’s album came out in March 2015 – I had just seen this out on the Pitchfork list of best albums and decided to give it a try.  Right away I recognized “Pedestrian at Best” on track #2 – I had heard it weeks before on public radio and I loved it immediately because it called to mind a mixture of my three favorite girl-rock songs:  “Kool Thing” sung by Kim Gordon, “Seether” by Veruca Salt, and “Never say Never” by Romeo Void.  Hmmmm, I thought – this girl can ROCK!

But let’s start with track #1.  A great rhythmic start to the album, with a spoken-word style that showcases Courtney’s sarcastic and darkly humorous treatment of semi-dark, sorta jaded, daily disenchantment.  There’s something about the dichotomy of bouncy, upbeat chords against lyrics pleading “don’t’ jump little boy!” that make you stop and think.   Yikes!

Track #3 sounds exactly like a Sheryl Crow song – think of this as Courtney’s updated version of “All I Wanna Do”.  Same swanky beat, complete with a bit of sassy twang.  Next is “Small Poppies” – the “Sleepwalking” doo-wop piece of her album – fittingly hazy and lazy for a song title that calls to mind um, opiates and in particular that scene from “the Wizard of Oz” (where Dorothy succumbs to the doping effect of the pretty poppies), yawn

“Depreston” is fittingly depressing, as it is basically a flatly-described view of the daily hum-drum of domestic life and the mundane history that houses and homes carry with them.  This song is perfect for Courtney’s middle-of-the-road (mostly spoken) vocal style.  And next is another Sheryl Crow-styled song called “Aqua Profunda” – so sassy and fun, while being a little silly at the same time.  Next #7 called “Dead Fox” features an upbeat (almost 80s style) background bass that will have you bopping along, even as you realize the lyrics are a cynical tale of denial about turning a blind eye to whatever you can’t handle at the moment….

I LOVED the name of the track “Nobody Really Cares If you Don’t Go to the Party”. This is exactly the right attitude for handling that sort of self-important indecision that someone may be whining about to you.  Nobody cares!  This is full of the sort of 90s girl rock that I loved from the beginning of the album, with a really amazing guitar solo that is so much fun.

Track #9 – called “Debbie Downer” – could be cut and pasted directly from a Juliana Hatfield album.  Cute structure, semi-sweet lyrics, and lots of girlie attitude.  Perfect for rocking out and singing along in your car!  I thought #10 was the most serious of them all – an environmentally-conscious song told in a mostly poetic, beatnik bass style that is almost too much for this otherwise tongue-in-cheek album.  The CD ends on a mellow note with “Boxing Day Blues”.  I’ll admit it was kind of hard for me to get into this one, when all I really wanted to do was keep rockin’ with the rest of the album.

I tried looking Courtney up on the internet, to see how much of this guitar music she was writing/playing herself – but no matter who is performing the instrumentation on the album, it is nothing really spectacular or noteworthy.  Even on these stripped-down songs what makes each track so great is the combination of music, lyrics, and deadpan Courtney delivery.  Somehow it all really comes together in this great “retro” 90s indie-girl style. Wikipedia for Courtney Barnett says she has released two EPs to date, but that this is her debut album.  What?!  This is AMAZING for a debut album!  Check it out!

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play (FREE Download of Hit Single!):

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

Whoa, We’re Halfway There…

I can’t believe I am halfway through my year of music exploration!  And I have only had one lonely little week without a music review.  I am feeling proud and sad at the same time – in some ways this is going very very quickly, and way too fast.

I missed the chance to put together an April playlist for you on Spotify, so I’ll come up with something a little longer (and hopefully less random) as an April/May retrospective hybrid soon.  No matter how weird it looks, I’m sure it will sound awesome on shuffle!

This week’s news is that I am finally branching out onto INSTAGRAM for the first time – so if you have been missing my clever little home-staged photos incorporating album art, you’ll be able to catch all of them again on a weekly basis.  Now I just need to figure out the hashtag thing…

Finally, I am overdue for a giveaway!  I have just a few CDs still kicking around here, but if you’d like one, please 1) comment on my blog post below, 2) comment on this week’s FB post for the Courtney Barnett piece, or 3) send an email to

Thanks for sticking with me for the past six months!  I hope you are reading and even listening to some of this stuff!


Maritime Melodies and Island Moods

Maritime – Album by Dave and Mandy*

Dave and Mandy

Maritime opens with an elegant, balanced, harmony carried by both confident singers.  This first track is jazzy and full of movement, even while being simple and clean.  Dave and Mandy are actually Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer – no flashy band name for these two!  Their website states that they have “shared the stage” with many acts, including Iron & Wine and Mandolin Orange – and I must say these are perfect pairings.  Mandy’s voice reminds me a little of Mindy Smith, but deeper – and I’m still not sure how to describe Dave’s vocal style.  Gentle like Jack Johnson maybe, but more singerly and sustained somehow?

Dave and Mandy are in the same style vein and able to hold their own alongside these comparable, well-known bands.  This album was recorded on an island, so you’d expect it to have a sharp beach-grass, biting wind, salty air, roaring wave type of feeling; but honestly I think the overall style and feeling takes you to any natural out-of-door place that allows you enjoy music – and your own memories – in a calm and uninterrupted peace.

The second track on the album (“Compass”) is a beautiful acoustic guitar piece, supporting Mandy’s solo voice in a darker minor key that gets both rollicking and wistful.  It is just upbeat enough to have you singing along to the flavorful lyrics – “all these cigarettes and smiles, smell the salt that’s in the air”.  Track #3 is “Carillion”, with music that really doesn’t interfere too much with Dave’s lead vocals – you can really hear each sustained vibrato and therefore feel connected in some way to the singer, as he proposes “I would like to play for you, a song that is my own.”

Track #4 brings in a little energy, with crashing drums and a train-track rhythm that breaks through at just the right moments.  But the next track didn’t impress me as anything novel – even as I enjoyed the brighter feeling and warmer texture of this more upbeat piece aptly titled “Morning Song”, I realized that this song actually plays upon the familiar.  Dave’s voice shares words that pop out individually to tap into your own associations, words like cattails, fence posts, coffee, mason jars.  Even though it is not earth-shatteringly innovative, I have to say “Morning Song” is tied with “Compass” for my favorite track!

Dave’s turn to get jazzy is on #6, a piece called “How the Sea”.  This song really highlights the electric guitar – apparently Mandy played lead guitar for several other bands and her musicianship is well demonstrated here.  The storytelling style on #7 reminds me a little bit of Ani DiFranco – a coffeehouse style song brimming with angst.  Then “Rain on the Rosemary” actually has a, well, rainy feeling that calls to mind the Pacific Northwestern island setting where this record was made.  I just love the name, and again the electric guitar solos sprinkling in and out are just perfect mood-setters.

It might seem hard to have much patience for a song called “Silence”, but Dave and Mandy do a pretty fair job of it.  Slow, bare, and about someone who “can’t stand the silence”, Mandy’s voice is mostly alone on this piece before it ramps up; and she carries a rich strength that compares to one of my favorite singers, Susan Tedeschi.  The melody here leads you to unexpected places which is admirable – but I have to say this piece was probably my least favorite, as it is a more serious than energetic song.

“Tide Moon Ship Horn” (Track #10) is the song that uses words most explicitly to bring out the maritime theme.  In addition to the title that repeats throughout the chorus, you’ll hear other pepperings of salty words including gales, gray, anchor, and sail… that all work to bring you the place the artists want you to see.

The album ends very simply, with a sweet song crooning “I’ve got all the time in the world for Victoria”.  If you love Iron and Wine, Norah Jones, and if you have ever heard of an Ohio group called Over the Rhine… then you will love Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer.  They are certainly talented and intentional – and they have a couple of tour dates coming up in August.  I hope that some of these are outside shows – because this is the kind of music best enjoyed from a blanket in the grass, on a summer night with a bottle of wine.  Dreamy, mellow, and memory-making.

Link to Preview Tracks on Google Play:

Link to Purchase Album on Amazon:

*Photo not taken by rockmycommute.  Image is as shown on on 05/31/2015.