Once again, the mailbox has overflowed like a backed-up sewer and Lonesome Onry and Mean has had to make some space decisions: Does this record go on the shelf (keep it, it's good, but I want to listen to something else now), in the Goodwill box (what were they thinking when they recorded this and, more importantly, why'd they send this damn thing to me?), or in the truck (I want to listen to this over and over)?
New albums by old favorites tend to get a thorough examination based on a certain level of previously built-up credibility. And, yes, in spite of the volume of music arriving constantly, an effort is made to listen to every CD that crosses the transom whether the artist is familiar or not, although admittedly the end of some of those isn't reached before the eject button gets a shove (sorry, Evie Ladin Band, it happened on the first Avett Brothers record too).
So here's a summary of some recent albums, released in the past couple of months, worth putting in the truck.
Davidson Hart Kingsbery, 2 Horses (Fin Records): Of course, one of the true joys of this job is opening a package from a total unknown and having it stick in LOM's cranium. We've been sort of off the alt-country for a while, but this album from Paris, Texas-born Seattleite Kingsbery was something that couldn't be ignored. "Stay Outta My Dreams" was the lyric that grabbed and held, the one that caused us to hit replay. But that's only one ear-friendly lyric on this stylish twanger; "Eyes of Green," "Stuck in Washington" and "NyQuil and Wine" show that Texas dirt doesn't wash off so easily. This guy bears watching.
Jack Saunders, A Real Good Place To Start (White Cat): One of Houston's true roots-music icons, Jack Saunders can be described perfectly in one word: Integrity.
Saunders has been at this so long he cuts straight to the chase. This isn't some over-thought, let's-play-at-folk-rock schtick that numerous young bands have, this is a full-grown pro matching sounds and words -- "I say goodbye to gravity when you come around" -- with all the precision of someone who's been at his craft 40 years. This one is Houston proud. (Note to Montrose hipsters: Put down your Shovels and Rope and go see this local treasure. Hip yourself. There's a reason some guys last on the scene forever.)
Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Jump Start (Alligator): Let's face it: Alligator is the coolest blues label on the planet right now. Blind Pig, Delmark, and Dialtone are doing good work, but Alligator seems to be unable to miss, releasing a string of smokin' discs the past few months. Jump Start is a Chicago big-city booty-shaker from the first note, and Lil Ed's slide guitar is nothing but legit -- he's J.B Hutto's nephew.
The English Beat, The Complete Beat (Shout! Factory): This five-disc box covers essentially every moment these ska revivalists ever spent in a studio. It includes all three of their original studio albums (re-mastered) as well as bonus tracks. Lagniappe consists of two discs of rare and unreleased cuts, three John Peel radio shows and more. There is a separate single disc release also, Keep The Beat: The Very Best of The English Beat that contains only the group's most popular studio material. Considering their gig this Friday at Fitz, the timing couldn't be better.
Elvin Bishop, Elvin Bishop's Raisin' Hell Revue (Delta Groove): People don't go on cruises to be brought down, and blues master Elvin Bishop knows. With a hand-picked band of aces like harp man John Nemeth, Bishop dials up the fun, the funk, and the boogie on this Blues Cruise live recording.
Bishop is one of the most under-rated acts out there (ask Paul Thorn if you don't believe us), and this record hopefully will bring him some much-deserved attention and cash. The best live blues record LOM has heard in a good while -- the laid-back version of "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" smolders perfectly. This one will make a jumping soundtrack to your next house party.
Janiva Magness, Stronger For It (Alligator): Okay, stop listening to your hipster shite and your friend's band that formed three weeks ago and get thee a copy of this complete stunner. Growing up rough and parentless in Detroit foster homes, Magness seems to be working out some serious pain with these songs that growl "I'm mad and I'm gonna hurt you back for that."
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Just when we think there's nowhere else for blues to go, someone drops an album like this and faith is restored. No wonder this one climbed straight to the top of the blues charts and stayed there. A total keeper.
Hacienda, Shakedown (The Collective): This San Antonio quartet's first Dan Auerbach-produced album, 2010's Big Red and Barbacoa, was so stout we feared for the follow-up the bar had been set so high. Fear not: Shakedown is another not-a-minute-of-slack, Dan-Auerbach-directed bacon slab of rock and roll. All the elements that brought us to Hacienda in the first place -- killer harmonies, heady lyrics, great sense of pop hooks, and big, big beat -- are present and accounted for. This one goes in the truck.
Beaver Nelson, Macro/Micro (Freedom): Beaver has always been all over the place, and this is a beautiful 18-track mess of an album, more of a rocker than expected. Nelson has always been one of the coolest creatives hanging around the fringes of the Austin scene, and his freak flag is really flying on this one.
Don't believe it; then let "Your Subconscious Does the Dirty Work" with its Gang-of-Four-ish spoken under-track loose and see what happens to your mood. This album is a joyous surprise in every way.