Songs on Toast


Painters always have great music playing. So do drug dealers, cinematographers, unemployed countesses, bartenders in loser bars, cello players and beekeepers. And maybe Werner Herzog and Phillipe Petit.

Everyone else? Not so much.

One of the reasons I started doing a weekly radio show was that it forced me out of my comfort zone. I need to fill 2 hours of airtime a week -- not all that much given how much music exists in the world, but I like to let more than half of each show consist of new music. Or music that's new to me.

The danger for most of us is that we get stuck in a particular time or genre. For most people it's that moment between college and  A JOB!!! Check out someone's record (or CD or MP3 collection) and, that stray Adele or Buena Vista or Amy Winehouse album aside, you can date them, like rings around a tree, by all those Carole King, Phil Collins, Boney M and U2 albums, all those Keith Jarrett,   Depeche Mode and Arctic Monkeys CDs, line them up and they'd stretch from here to the moon and most of the way back. So climb them like a ladder, if you like, or listen, if you must. But here are some alternatives, if you feel like slipping away from the familiar. Much of this music is available on eMusic ( Some is available on Soundike ( - alarmingly cheap and surprisingly legal). And for some of it.... you're on your own.


Leonard Cohen - OLD IDEAS

How can an album about one's own impending mortality be so cheery, buoyant and fun to listen to. Go figure. His best new album in years.



Django Reinhardt - MUSETTE TO MAESTRO

He had no respect for his guitar. He rarely used a case. If a string broke, he played on 5 strings. If another string broke, he played on 4. If the guitar itself broke, he got another one. Like Jimi Hendrix, he was reaching past the instrument into something else, into somewhere else. Like Hendrix, he rarely played with musicians as good or as visionary as he was. It doesn't matter.




Repeat after me..."The saddest thing in the whole wide world, see your baby with another girl."



Markos Vamvakaris - BAZOUKI PIONEER (1932 - 1940)

Howlin' Wolf goes to Greece, gets drunk, gets in trouble, decides to talk about it.




The leader of The Hold Steady. Can't stand The Hold Steady. Can't stop listening to Finn's solo cd, CLEAR HEART, FULL EYES.  Surprisingly, this isn't a religious song. Not the way you'd think. Inspirational line: "It's hard to suck with Jesus in your band..."


Fridays 10pm - midnight (EST)
Sundays noon to 2pm (EST)


Songs on Toast #161 Playlist

Amen (7:35) - Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas    

Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes - Jon Brion/Beck, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind    

Master's Hands (2:48) - Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM    

La Bamba (3:38) - Milton Nascimento, Miltons            

When I Am Called (4:07) - Shannon McNally, Western Ballad    

Loving You (2:11) - Francoise Hardy, Messages Personnels    

Maroko (Morocco) (3:05) - Markos Vamvakaris, Bouzouki Pioneer 1932-40    

Leskoviqare (6:07) - Famille Lela de Permet, Polyphonies Vocales Et Instrumentales d'Albanie

Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup - Jean Sablon & Django Reinhardt, Musette To Maestro

Darkness (4:29) - Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas    

Give Me One Reason (5:04) - Junior Wells, Come on in This House        

Sportin' Life (3:47) - Dave Van Ronk, Somebody Else, Not Me        

I Need A Hundred Dollars (3:02) - One String Sam, Roots Of Drone        

Ellie Rae (3:53) - John Martyn, Sunday's Child    

Ehad Mi Yodea (3:18) - Music From Putti, When I Wake Up   

(Intro) (0:28) - Blanche, If We Can't Trust the Doctors    

County Line (5:37) - Cass McCombs, Wit's End    

Sweet Honesty (8:02) - John & Beverley Martyn, Stormbringer!    

Sally Go Round The Roses (3:17) - The Jaynettes, 45    

I Am A Pilgrim (3:22) - Aaron Neville, I Know I've Been Changed    

New Friend Jesus (3:12) - Craig Finn, Clear Heart Full Eyes I    

Thou Art Loosed (2:32) - Dry the River, Weights & Measures    

Going Home (3:51) - Leonard Cohen, Old Ideas    

7 Up Swing (2:29) - Abafana Flute Jive, Soul Safari Presents Township Jive & Kwela Jazz

Conch Ain't Got No Bone (2:35) - Blind Blake, Goombay Rock    

Wayowaya (4:08) Menwar, Mauritius - Ile Maurice : Tambour Ravanne Drum            

When You Are Wrong (2:24) The Techniques, Little Did You Know    

Ce Sa Madinina (Biguine) (3:18) - Honoré Coppet, Cé ca Madinina    

Pennywhistle - Django Reinhardt & Les Leiber Armed Forces Radio, 1945

Inhlizyiyo Yam (2:11) - Cowboy Superman & His Cowboy Sisters, Soul Safari Presents Township Jive


The Highway Kind: Spotlight on Americana

The 21 best Americana (more or less) albums of 2011

…that I heard, at least.


By Richard Skanse















The inescapable absurdity of any year-end best-of list — apart from the obvious matter of such things always being a matter of subjective taste — is the simple fact that nobody, no matter how much music they may be exposed to on a regular basis, can ever authoritatively claim to have heard everything. Especially in an era in which DIY albums by resourceful independent artists are becoming more and more the norm and nationally marketed, major-label releases (especially in the Americana field) seem to be coming scarcer by the quarter, the most any professional music critic, blogger or obsessive record-buying fan can hope to hear and really get a handle on is but a mere fraction of what’s out there. Case in point: When the nominations for the 54th Grammy Awards were announced in the fall, a sizable faction of the greater Americana music community got its panties in a wad over the fact that a fairly unknown (OK, almost totally unknown) 51-year-old singer-songwriter from New Jersey named Linda Chorney landed herself a nom for Best Americana Album. The initial furor seemed over the fact that she actively petitioned voters via the NARAS-sanctioned social-networking site, effectively gathering enough support to edge out more “deserving” and/or established artists. But the uglier and more vitriolic (and personal) the anti-Chorney blog and Facebook posts got — with one alternative weekly writer even lambasting Chorney for playing house concerts (in truth, a legitimate and respected avenue for many a well-established, nationally touring singer-songwriter) and demanding she do the “right thing” and forfeit her nomination — the more it seemed like Chorney’s sin wasn’t “gaming the system” and spoiling the vote, but simply rocking the boat. Which, of course, is pretty ironic for a genre movement that still looks back to status-quo-crashing outlaws like Waylon and Willie as its icons. Honestly, folks — are you sure Hank woulda moaned this way?

Now, come Grammy night, I’ll personally be rooting for Lucinda Williams’ Blessed to take home that Best Americana Album prize — seeing as how it was my favorite record of the year across all genres. But I still salute Chorney for shaking up the system in a manner that might just keep the Grammy door open for many another scrappy independent artist on down the line. And for the record, Chorney’s album, Emotional Jukebox, is on my year-end “best of Americana 2011” list — a very late addition, truth be told, because I didn’t actually get around to downloading it until the 11th hour (late January 2012, to be exact). But better late than never; I’d still bet my meager livelihood that the lion’s share of the angry mob that ranted against her nomination never even gave it an honest listen; sampling sound-clips and YouTube videos does not count. One album that’s still not on my list, though, is Gillian Welch’s widely acclaimed The Harrow & The Harvest — for no better reason than that I still haven’t heard it. I know, my bad, and probably my loss, but regardless, it seems to have found a place on enough other year-end lists that I trust my little voice isn’t going to be missed in the chorus of praise it’s received. Every album that did make my list is one that either landed square on my desk over the last year as part of my main gig editing and writing for LoneStarMusic Magazine, or that I paid cold, hard cash for at a record store or downloaded via a lazy, credit-card-draining click of a link in iTunes. In addition to these records, there were a handful of nearly worthy (and very good) honorable mentions, and a whole mess of albums that didn’t even come close. Some of these albums on my list are by giants in the Americana field — as close to “household names” as the niche, decidedly non-mainstream genre allows. Others are regional mainstays down here in Texas, and some (maybe more than a couple) might even be artists you’ve never heard of before. But they all made damn good records in 2011 that I just happened to hear, so here they are.



1. Lucinda Williams, Blessed (Lost Highway) 

Lucinda Williams isn’t always infallible (her last outing, 2008’s Little Honey, was a lot closer to OK than great, and ’07’s underrated West was, to these ears, a welcome return to form after ’03’s overrated World Without Tears); but Blessed deserves top-shelf placement alongside her consensus masterpieces, ’87’s Lucinda Williams and ’98’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. It opens with the ferociously assertive “Buttercup” — far and away the most rockin’ kiss-off anthem of her career — and then rolls from strength to strength through a compelling array of meditations on empathy (“Don’t Know How You’re Living,” “Born to Be Loved”), grief (“Copenhagen”), more grief (“Seeing Black,” “Soldiers Song”), passion (“Kiss Like Your Kiss”) and truths both bitter and beautiful (“Ugly Truth,” “Blessed”). The climax comes with the magnificent “Awakening,” a carpe diem manifesto that moves from simmering slow boil to explosive release.



2. Various Artists, This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark (Music Road Records/Icehouse Music)

You could nit-pick yourself up a list of the Americana notables not on this monumental tribute to arguably the greatest living Texas songwriter, but it’d be a mighty short one. This One’s for Him rounds up nearly three dozen of Guy Clark’s most esteemed friends and worthy disciples for a 30-track tribute where individual egos are checked at the door and everyone plays strictly for the sake (and love) of the songs. Inevitably, most Clark fans will insist (not incorrectly) that nobody does his songs better than the man himself, and others might quibble that the arrangements here stick too close to the originals. But hearing them all interpreted by a distinctly different voice allows each song — from Clark classics like “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” (Willie Nelson) and “Homegrown Tomatoes” (Ray Wylie Hubbard) to more obscure or recent gems like “Cold Dog Soup” (James McMurtry) and “Magdalene” (Kevin Welch) — to stand out on its own like a centerpiece. The women here provide the most illumination in that regard, especially Terri Hendrix (“The Dark”), Suzy Bogguss (“Instant Coffee Blues”), Patty Griffin (“The Cape”) and newcomers the Trishas (“She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”) The men hold their own pretty good, too, though, from Clark running buddies Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle to Kris Kristofferson, Joe Ely, new kid Hayes Carll and, of course, Jerry Jeff Walker. Walker was covering Clark songs long before either artist was anointed a legend in their own time, so he’s given the honor of closing out the tribute with a brand new song, “My Favorite Picture of You.” It’s a worthy addition to the Clark canon that one hopes Clark gets around to recording himself someday. Until then, like every other song on here, it’s in very good hands.



3. Amanda Shires, Carrying Lightning (

Native West Texan Amanda Shires showed heaps of promise on her 2008 sophomore release, West Cross Timbers, but Carrying Lightning marks her true arrival as one of the brightest young Americana artists of the new century. She’s got everything working for her: a fetching vibrato twang; solid instrumental chops (fiddle and ukulele) seasoned by years of road and studio gigs; gorgeously haunting melodies and production; and a novelist’s eye for vivid imagery and smart, intriguing metaphors. Every song here is a flat-out stunner, from the whistle-kissed opener, “Swimmer, Dreams Don’t Keep,” to the stunted-suicide lament “When You Need a Train It Never Comes” to the carnal napalm of “Shake the Walls.” That last one’s easily the second sexiest Americana song of the year — after the same album’s “Sloe Gin,” a woozily erotic paean to the electric charge of palpable passion sparked by round after blissful round of “breathing the same air, at the same time.”



4. Hayes Carll, KMAG YOYO (& other American stories) (Lost Highway)

If the funniest thing about Hayes Carll’s fourth album was its cover photo, the Houston native would still have a leg up on most of his competition. But the sense of humor that pervades KMAG YOYO delivers on the cover’s promise with interest, with song after song capturing the battered-and-weary but still-standing resilience of the American spirit as seen through the eyes of the funniest folk troubadour this side of Todd Snider, if not John Prine. But as winning as the howlers all are (in particular, the cheekily Dylanesque paranoia of the title track and the riotous political-opposites-attract sex romp of “Another Like You”), Carll’s aim is just as true when he plays it straight and goes for the heart (“Bye Bye Baby,” “Grateful for Christmas” and “Hide Me Babe”).


5. Dawes, Nothing is Wrong (ATO)

In a previous incarnation (as Simon Dawes), this Los Angeles outfit skewed a bit more indie-rock. But Nothing is Wrong, like 2009's North Hills before it, is pure Laurel Canyon cosmic-American singer-songwriter gold. The arrangements are full and hearty, suggesting a band that can probably run like a Crazy Horse live (or at least hold it's own backing up a member of the Band, as proved when Robbie Robertson utilized Dawes last year); but the star of the show here is frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s songwriting. Every song on Nothing is Wrong is a beautiful marvel of bittersweet melancholia, with blasts of hope cutting through the gloom like redeeming rays of glorious sunlight. “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” “If I Wanted Someone,” “Coming Back to a Man” and “Fire” (featuring a guest vocal from obvious band influence Jackson Browne) keep things solid from the start, but it’s the magnificent closer, “A Little Bit of Everything,” that will really knock you down. Rarely does a song opening with a contemplation of suicide end up feeling like a triumph of the human heart and spirit.



6. Joe Ely, Satisfied at Last (Rack ’Em)

The title of Joe Ely’s latest may sound like a contented sigh and sign off, but as the antsy rush of the opening “The Highway is My Home” makes clear, the Flatlanders’ resident rocker is as restless and full of kinetic energy as ever. Satisfied at Last is Ely’s first album of brand-new songs in nearly a decade (his twin 2007 releases, Happy Songs from Rattlesnake Gulch and Pearls from the Vault, Vol. 1: Silver City, were both comprised of songs he wrote years ago but never got around to recording). And 35 years after his self-titled solo debut, he’s still the Lone Star State’s most exciting performer and among its most consistently engaging songwriters. Whether he’s tackling cinematic balladry (“Not That Much Has Changed”), swaggering roadhouse blues (“I’m a Man Now”) or roof-raising, rockin’ honky-tonk (“You Can Bet I’m Gone”), everything Ely does best is on full display here — and that goes for his taste in covers, too. The songs by Ely’s fellow Flatlander Butch Hancock (“Leo and Leona” and “Circumstance”) fit him like a glove, and he does just as right by Billy Joe Shaver’s towering “Live Forever.”


7. Rod Picott, Welding Burns (Welding Rod Records)

If all Maine-native Rod Picott had going for him was his Guthrie-esque gift for capturing in writing the soul and plight of the blue-collar workingman, Welding Burns would still be one of the year’s most compelling contemporary folk records. But what really puts it over the top is the fine-grained sandpaper scrape of his voice: husky and course enough to bring out an extra layer of grit and conviction in songs like the desperate-measures-for-desperate-times urgency of “410,” but refined enough to keep just the right amount of wounded vulnerability wrapped around the likes of “Little Scar” and “Jealous Heart.” It’s a voice of total integrity and zero affectation, as lived-in and true-to-life as his father’s work shirts that Picott mentions in “Welding Burns”— the ones with “little holes burned in each one where the good shirts used to be.”



8. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow (Sensibility)

The teaming of singer-songwriters Joy Williams and John Paul White yielded what may be the biggest success story in independent music of the year — and with good reason. The Civil Wars at first comes across as America’s answer to the equally splendid Swell Season (the duo of Ireland’s Glen Hansard and Czech Markéta Irglová featured in the Oscar-winning 2007 film Once), but the quality of Williams’ and White’s songwriting and the exquisite beauty of their entwined voices puts Barton Hollow in a class of its own.  


9. Lisa Morales, Beautiful Mistake (Zairo Records)

Following a long-run in the Houston/San Antonio-based folk duo Sisters Morales, Lisa Morales steps out with an astonishingly beautiful solo debut that is as cathartic as it is devastating in its fearless confrontation of grief (a double-whammy dose over both the loss of a parent and a relationship in apparent dire straits). The whole record is littered with pieces of broken heart, but even when she declares “I Am the Weakest,” “Fool That I Am” or “You Forgot to Love Me,” Morales’ words and voice resonate with strength and resilience. And in “Looking for Something Beautiful,” she storms out of the depths of despair with the most defiant, cheer-worthy cry of stubborn hope this side of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses.”


10. Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain (Nonesuch)

Emmylou Harris has recorded so many albums over the last 37 years — and guested on countless others — that it’s all too easy to take the singular, silvery beauty of her voice for granted. But Hard Bargain, her fourth solo release of the decade — and strongest outing since 1995’s Wrecking Ball— is the kind of sit-up-and-take-notice effort that demands to be heard and appreciated on its own considerable merits. Harris wrote or co-wrote all but two songs on the album, which was recorded entirely by Harris, producer/electric guitarist Jay Joyce and multi-instrumentalist Giles Reaves, resulting in one of the most personal and immediate-sounding albums of her career. It begins, fittingly, at the very beginning, via the uptempo “The Road,” an exhilarating tribute to her late friend and mentor Gram Parsons. Hard Bargain never gets much better than that, but the quality of just about every song after it measures up to the same high standard. And cripes, can that woman sing.


11. Robert Ellis, Photographs (New West)

Houston kid Robert Ellis is barely old enough to drink, but the heartachy, honky-tonkin’ second half of his national debut sounds like it’s been marinated in whiskey, gin and Lone Star beer for as long as George Jones has been singing “White Lightning.” The first half of Photographs, by contrast, plays like the most fragile 23 minutes of music James Taylor never made. How in the hell Ellis makes both sides fit together so damned seamlessly is a mystery, but keep your eye on this one: if this portrait of the artist as a very young man tells you anything, it’s that he promises to have one very interesting career ahead of him.


12. Steve Earle, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive (New West)

T Bone Burnett’s claustrophobic production does its best to smother the record under a muddy blanket, but Steve Earle still breaks through on I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive with a handful of his best songs to date. He covers all of his usual lyrical bases via the scathing “Little Emperor” and the topical “The Gulf of Mexico” and “This City”; but there’s another side to the songwriter revealed here that’s refreshingly disarming. His frank admission of faith in a higher power in “God is God” is startling in its sincerity, and the unashamedly tender “Every Part of Me” proves that he’s not afraid to wear his fearless heart on his sleeve.  


13. Michael Fracasso, Saint Monday (Little Fuji Records)

With apologies to Emmylou Harris, no other artist on this list possesses a voice quite as chillingly beautiful as Ohio-reared, Austin-based Michael Fracasso’s high tenor. His pen and melodies are just as mighty (“Gypsy Moth,” “Eloise,” “Saint Monday”), as is his way with a smart cover: His take on John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” is damn-near definitive.


14. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Here We Rest (Lightning Rod)

To be fair, Alabama’s Jason Isbell wasn’t in the Drive-By Truckers long enough to be called the best thing that ever happened to the band, but Here We Rest proves once again that his show-stealing stand-out cuts during his three-album Trucker haul were no flukes. He front-loads his third solo outing with his biggest guns — the wistful “Alabama Pines,” the defiant “Go It Alone,” the aching “We’ve Met,” and especially “Codeine,” laced with one of the year’s most bittersweet melodies (and sweet harmonies and fiddle courtesy of Amanda Shires) — but there’s really not a bum track on the whole record. Beautiful blue bummers, though, are here in spades. 



15. Robert Earl Keen, Ready for Confetti (Lost Highway)

Robert Earl Keen, the thinking-man’s choice for gonzo-style, singer-songwriter-rooted country, storms back with his most satisfying, freewheelin’ batch of songs since 2003’s brilliant but underrated Farm Fresh Onions. The wonky, carpe diem zest of the title track is irresistible good fun, but the biggest kick in an album full of ’em comes with “The Road Goes On and On,” a gloves-off smack-down aimed at a certain flag-waving, mainstream country yahoo (fans can guess who) that made the mistake of messing with the wrong Texan.


16. Gurf Morlix, Blaze Foley’s 113th Wet Dream (Rootball Records)

Acclaimed producer and guitarist Gurf Morlix (whose credits include Lucinda Williams, Tom Russell and Ray Wylie Hubbard) has recorded a handful of excellent albums of his own material, but he devotes this one to the legacy of his late friend, the enigmatic, Austin-based singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Foley’s been covered by John Prine, Merle Haggard, and Lyle Lovett (and memorialized by Williams in “Drunken Angel”), but nobody alive does his songs better justice than Morlix, whether he’s extolling the virtues of “Big Cheeseburgers and Good French Fries” or staring down the harsh realities of a “Cold, Cold World.”



17. Ryan Adams, Ashes & Fire (Capitol)

Keeping up with the frightfully prolific Ryan Adams isn’t always worth the effort (his 2010 double-CD set III/IV was, to these ears, a tuneless mess), but this beautifully understated, mostly mellow set of achingly sincere love songs ranks as one of his best since his 2000 solo debut, Heartbreaker. “Kindness,” in particular, kills.


18. Todd Snider, Live: The Storyteller (Aimless Records)

19. Slaid Cleaves, Sorrow & Smoke: Live at the Horseshoe Lounge (Music Road)

Live albums that come across as crass cash-ins, stop-gaps between creative spurts and/or as contractual obligations have no place on a year-end best of list — but neither of these double-discers fit any of those disqualifiers. Todd Snider’s Live: The Storyteller captures every ounce of the humor and yarn-spinning stoner charm that have long made his concerts (in particular, his solo acoustic performances) vastly superior to even his best studio albums, while Slaid Cleaves’ Sorrow & Smoke serves as a long-overdue career overview by one of the best singer-songwriters to plant his flag in Austin soil in the last 20 years. Newbies can now be directed straight to The Storyteller and Sorrow & Smoke as ideal starting points to both artists’ respective catalogues, while longtime fans who wouldn’t dream of touching a “greatest hits” collection get something simply irresistible: not the “best of” Snider and Cleaves so much as Snider and Cleaves at their absolute best.


20. Linda Chorney, Emotional Jukebox (Dance More Less War Records)

Thank goodness for the controversy surrounding Linda Chorney’s Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album: had it not gotten so damn ridiculous, I likely never would have heard of her, let alone finally gotten around to buying Emotional Jukebox. It’s a fun, feisty, and impeccably produced gem of a record. Chorney’s voice — as both a singer and writer — is bold and beautiful, as is her stylistic range (folk, jazz, blues, pop, R&B, and even a 10-minute “symphony”). Her own “Cherries” is my favorite pick of the bunch, but she also sings the hell out the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” Zeppelin’s “Going to California,” and the Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper.” Doubtless covers like those won’t help her cred amongst the Americana Nazis protesting her 15 minutes of Grammy fame, but to paraphrase the final verse of “Cherries,” Chorney is too busy embracing love, putting her heart out on a limb, and joyfully singing her favorite Beatle songs at the top of her lungs to give a damn.



21. Wilco, The Whole Love (dBpm)

I’m only sticking this one at the end of the list out of respect to group mastermind Jeff Tweedy, who has spent much of the last decade and change spreading Wilco’s wings and flying far, far away from the band’s post-Uncle Tupelo alt-country roots. But The Whole Love is one of the finest records he’s ever made, and hands down one of the very best of the year — in any genre.





And Other Stuff I Noticed In The Past Couple of Months Or So


The Reverend Charles M. Young 

1) Lady Gaga on the The Tonight Show. Leno asked her, “Have you met anyone in your generation who’s against gay rights?” Civil rights for gays is now so acceptable that it’s passe? Really? Lady Gaga replied that her new single is about giving birth to a new race that has no prejudice. Nice if it happens. I thought the anti-war movement in 1968 was the birth of something new as well. Turns out it was the Young Americans for Freedom who were giving birth to the future, and it’s here. My plea to Lady Gaga: Go to Madison!


2) “Green Fields of France” by Klonakilty. There are so many versions of this song on Youtube that I can’t count them all. I’ve listened to 20 or 30 of them—it may be the greatest anti-war song ever—and Klonakilty did the best. Singer Linda Scanlon gets the right mix of outrage and mourning in her phrasing, while everybody else is too solemn or just doesn’t have the vocal cords. Apparently Scanlon is trying for a solo career these days. I hope it works out for her. Even it doesn’t, this is a perfect 4 minutes and 58 seconds.



3) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Had not been paying attention to these guys at all, but stumbled on last year’s Beat the Devil’s Tattoo during an iTunes browse and, lo, they are good. And full of ideas after being a band since 1998. How does that work? I see them as a machine gun nest in the middle of no man’s land between the Jesus and Mary Chain and Green Day, perhaps because I have World War I on my mind (see Item #2).  



 4) Compilation: Acoustibbets/Elektrobitts/Exotibbets by Steve Tibbetts. So I got a cover letter from Tibbets, saying he’d mastered this 3-CD set from analogue tapes of his 12 CDs and he didn’t know what he was going to do with it. Well, how about selling it and receiving remuneration for your jaw-dropping artistry? I know, I know. In 2011, only Wall Street deserves remuneration for the great service it provides to mankind. Brilliant, one-of-a-kind guitarist/composers should starve with the rest of us. Even so, I think that if the Ventures had gone to the Himalayas right after they first heard Dick Dale, and if they’d learned to play instruments made from dried yak intestines stretched over the femurs of Abominable Snowmen, and then contemplated Miles Davis’ navel for 20 years in a mountain monastery...if all that, then they could have been Steve Tibbetts, and Steve Tibbetts could have had a big hit with“Walk Don’t Run.”


5) Genuine Negro Jig by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. If beauty is exuberance, as Blake said, then the Carolina Chocolate Drops are way beautiful. The antiquity of the music—Piedmont banjo and fiddle tunes, for the most part—has something to do with it. Designed to offer a Dionysian exuberance to people whose lives were relentlessly hard, the music had to make you want to dance without aid of electricity, and it did. And CCD understands that, which is a wonderful thing in the middle of the mass extinction event that we are currently living through. Exuberance is also the sine qua non of proper kazoo playing, and Rhiannon Giddens is the queen of kazoos.


6) Shitake mushrooms. You can buy about five of them for $12 on the Upper West Side, or you can go to Chinatown and buy enough to fill a volleyball for about $8. Soak them overnight (I’m talking dried shitake mushrooms) and pour the juice into your rice or rice porridge the next day. What Hendrix did for the electric guitar, the shitake mushroom does for rice.



The Beast of 2010

Welcome to Lava magazine’s The Beast of 2010. Why The Beast? Well, frankly, with all the worthy music released this year, it’s a beast to try to at least spotlight as much as possible that could be considered The Best. And as well, hey, why not The Beast? We here at Lava are about many things, and a bit of fun and cheekiness are part of the mix, along with a love and reverence for the music, of course. And the same love and reverence for smart, creative, entertaining, informed and authoritative writing about music, which is at the molten core of Lava’s mission and what we will offer readers.

The Beast lumbers out onto the site here in three parts: First, Senior Editor/Americana Richard Skanse looks at 31 notable albums that fall under that wide rubric. Then next comes Executive Editor Rob Patterson, who oversees our reviews, with the albums that caught his ears in 2010. Finally, Editor and Publisher Vic Garbarini weighs in with his Beasts. (And don’t be surprised if The Beast reemerges with more of 2010’s best in the New Year.)

We’re the music magazine of The Mauli Ola Foundation, whose mission is to introduce surfing as a natural treatment to people with genetic disorders. Please pop over to their site and check out the wonderful work they’ve been doing for sufferers from Cystic Fibrosis, and witness the amazingly beneficial effects that surfing has in alleviating its symptoms. The Foundation just won the Surfer Poll 2010 Agent of Change Award, and they, like Lava, have more wonderful things to come. We’re all just getting started here and ready to rock.

We’ve scaled the mountain of getting this magazine rumbling and rocking, and now the peak has burst open and Lava is flowing. Read and enjoy, and y’all come back now, and do so soon and often, okay? Red-hot music writing that sizzles, crackles and glows has a new home here at Lava.


Cool Aural Chick Flicks

for Your Listening Pleasure.

By Rob Patterson


If there is a heaven and when/if I get there, the welcoming voice I expect I’ll hear is a woman singing. I may be a wham-bam rock’n’roll lad at heart, but it’s still cool girls with eloquent and emotive songs that get the muscle in my chest fluttering. And in this post Lilith Fair era where female singers and songwriters are a dime a dozen, here’s four standouts who sing not just for their fellow women—but also we men who love them—and what they feel and experience, have to share with us.


Sara Hickman

Absence of Blame

Sleeveless Records

She coulda been a serious contender, and bubbled just below that point but never quite broke through when she emerged back in the 1990s. And would have made a fine female singer-songwriter pop-rock champ if things had broken differently.

After all, Hickman had and still boasts the goods galore: an ample, agile, dynamic voice that has all the charm and sincerity of your best gal pal and a gift for writing songs built on a rock-solid compositional foundation with alluring hooks and smart twists and turns. Now flying under the national radar after going from major to indie labels to becoming her own cottage industry out of Austin, Texas, she’s made an important and masterful mature musical and lyrical statement that merits far greater exposure than it’s likely to receive in today’s crowded and hinky CD market. Shame, really….

Absence of Blame offers an arresting siren’s call in both meanings of the word. On the one hand, there’s stirring and fervent numbers like the swirling storm of “State of Emergency,” the chugging and punching “Edentown” and the chiming trotter “Last of a Dying Breed” that respectively address such meaningful and pressing issues as the crises and anxiety of modern human existence, poverty and family abuse and the demise of integrity with poetic grace and muscle that are free from the awkward cant and rhetoric that infects most social commentary in song.

Then there’s the simmering flirty lilt of “99%” and a warm, grateful hug on the slinky “I’m So Glad (You Came Along)” that brim with romantic allure. And she also flips the coin of love to make heartache painfully tangible within the electric flicker of “Broken” and captures lonely melancholy with muted painterly tonality on “Before You Change Your Mind.” Plus gilds this collection with its crown jewels of “Last Man in the Water” (which brings a sweet angelic smile to a tale of tragic heroism) and the uplifting choral closer “Love Is There” (penned by Grace Pettis).

Producer Mark Addison strikes a piquant balance between rich musical classicism and imaginative modernism with sturdy yet sparkling arrangements that are note and rhythm perfect in a powerful yin/yang dynamic. And the final irony of this stunning album that laments a better world while giving glimpses of what it could be is that in just that sort of state, Absence of Blame would be widely heard and celebrated as the significant, touching and healing work that Hickman’s early promise always foretold. 


Ann Savoy & Her Sleepless Knights

Black Coffee

Memphis Records

The unique musical place inhabited by Ann Savoy is notable in good part due to how she keeps expanding it from an actual and spiritual Cajun homestead of Eunice, Louisiana to horizons ever more exotic. So of course it makes perfect sense to take her considerable talents as a respected folklorist and handily adept singer, musician and producer—a rare combo that’s nicely combustible when found together—to a Parisian Hot Club. And since she brings along the bayou, Crescent City, delta and Tin Pan Alley, her second revisit to the Continental consciousness and pop classics simmers with that old Gypsy black music plus a delectable swamp-bred mojo.

Her work with husband, accordionist and fellow folklorist Marc Savoy in the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, superb duet disc with Linda Ronstadt, Adieu False Heart, tributes to Cajun music like Evangeline Made and all-female band The Magnolia Sisters all attest to how Ann Savoy has become a musical force of nature. And this swingin’ platter’s prime charm is its warm naturalism that Savoy, fiddler Kevin Wimmer, guitarist/singer Tom Mitchell and accompanying rhythm section bring to Bessie Smith’s “Whoa, Tilly Take Your Time” and “You’ve Been A Good Ole Wagon,” Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” Fats Waller’s “If It Ain’t Love,” Johnny Mercer’s “If You Were Mine,” and her duet with Mitchell on George & Ira Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” With a voice more solid than necessarily stunning, the heart Savoy brings to a landmark song like “My Funny Valentine” hits right where the lifeblood of true love pumps to prove this a set that transcends time and its reference places to achieve cherished stature for anyone who enjoys old school made anew.


Sarah Jaffe

Suburban Nature

Kirtland Records

From first blush it’s bloody well obvious there’s something special and engaging about 24-year old rapidly up and coming Denton, Texas based newcomer Sarah Jaffe. Keep spinning the both aptly and ironically titled Suburban Nature, her second album, and it becomes many things.

Jaffe writes songs that feel like late night pillow talk confessions, kisses to win your heart or say adieu, shared stories of passion or import over hot java, flushes of pique, moans, sighs or shivers. Her singing has a dynamism that can swoop from girlish to womanly — be it assertive, raw, gentle or lusty—and swirl within the complex realm in between. And the chamber folk-pop settings shift from moments of delicacy, repose and reflection to big beat struts with a seamless coherence that supports her singing and what she says within settings that complement and enhance it all with an organic vibrancy.

Her publicity bio calls Jaffe “a truth singer,” and it ain’t no hype. The song here she impressively wrote at age 17, “Vulnerable,” captures that feeling with chilling resonance while also displaying a backbone of strength. The lyrics of “Luv” wittily spell out her words without a hint of artifice or preciousness amidst a filigree of acoustic guitar notes and pizzicato violin. Whether it’s the strum and punch of “Before You Go” or the pre-sunrise ambience of “Stay With Me” or “Swelling,” Jaffe captures vibes and moments with evocative fullness.

Originally hailing from the exurb of Red Oak on the Interstate south of Dallas, Jaffe melds an everywoman emotionality that ranges from plaintive to powerful with arrangements that bristle with urbane sophistication. And for all her musical and poetic gifts, what sets her apart from the crowd is how with every word and note she sings she’s as real as the day and night are long. 


Kim Richey

Wreck Your Wheels

Thirty Tigers

One of a number of Nashville artists once with major label deals who could have defined an alternative (and better) notion of contemporary country, Richey has since upped her game as an indie artist whose smarts, song craft, quality pop/rock leanings and lack of redneck hokum should but never could have pierced Music Row’s weary and clichéd formulas. So even if iTunes shows this album’s genre as Country & Western, it’s something entirely different.

Sure, there’s a pedal steel guitar on the opening title track and “99 Floors.” But the former feels like 1970s Southern Cali country rock updated for the new century and the latter has a seductive pop-jazz sway, complete with flugelhorn that the Music City corn merchants would never let near a recording and doubtfully even know how to spell the instrument’s name. Similarly, “In the Years to Come” and the gently bouncy “Once in Your Life” both have the rolling plunk of a banjo in the mix. But the first matches it with muted trumpet and the other song burgeons into a New Orleans ragtime band mid-song break. Dusky cello graces “Keys” and “When The Circus Comes To Town” references the blues.

So, nope, this sure ain’t your cousin Bubba’s country music, not in the slightest. With a vocal approach that’s best described as effectively plainspoken and direct as she sings about love and life atop relaxed arrangements and tempos throughout, Rickey doesn’t merely transcend genre on Wreck Your Wheelsbut exists quite nicely and charmingly bereft of it in the very best ways. It’s simply damn good music that has grown up and out of stylistic strictures, rooted yet refined, and graced with a maturity that serves both Richey and the listener very well.