I had high hopes for Robert Earl Keen’s new album, Happy Prisoner: The Bluegrass Sessions. My first exposure to REK was 1989′s West Textures, still for me his best work, partly because the acoustic band accompanying him on that is a bluegrass band, even if the songs aren’t. Keen’s style, for me, has never quite suited electricity. Combine this with my love of bluegrass, and surely this would be a no-brainer?

Well, I liked it, but if I’m honest, I only liked it some. Positives first: Keen has the ideal woebegone plaintiveness for this sort of material (think Droopy with a recording contract), as he plumbs death, prison and heartbreak in turn. (Have you ever heard a truly happy bluegrass song?) The band, including Danny Barnes of Bad Livers repute on banjo, underpin his singing with zest and vim, and a plethora of guests add to an agreeable mix. Of these, special mention to erstwhile Dixie Chick Natalie Maines (daughter of Lloyd Maines, the album’s producer), bringing more sprightliness to the oft-covered “Lonesome Stranger” than can be found on some of the album’s other numbers.
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When it comes to Brandon Flowers, there are two types of people: 1) those that like him for his music and 2) those that are so over-the-top infatuated with him that it’s borderline psychotic.  (Think “Deadheads” who shower regularly and have less body hair.)

I only say this because I have multiple family members and friends that fit into the latter category. Continue reading »

Eagle-Eye Cherry came on the scene in 1998.  I was working at a Top 40 station at the time and pretty much the only thing I knew about him was:

  1. His dad was famous jazz trumpeter, Don Cherry (who also co-wrote and performed on Lou Reed’s “All Through the Night”)
  2. His half-sister was Neneh Cherry, who had a huge hit in 1989 with the song “Buffalo Stance”

Still, his debut album, Desireless, went platinum and the first single, “Save Tonight”, went to #5 on the U.S. charts.  Not a bad way to start to a career.  Unfortunately, that was pretty much as far as it went for Eagle-Eye.  He has since released three more albums, but he is what we in radio call a “One Hit Wonder”. Continue reading »

In what serves as an agonizing teaser to their upcoming release, Secret Admirer lets loose a haunting ambient cover of Tears For Fears‘ “Pale Shelter.” Continue reading »

When I say, “Name a singer or band from Seattle”, I’m sure that bands like Heart, Modest Mouse, Nirvana or Pearl Jam might be the first to pop in your head.  Some of you may even think Hendrix or Judy Collins.  I will even give extra credit to anyone who first thought of Kenny G or Queensrÿche.

Let me add one more to the list: Fly Moon Royalty. Continue reading »

1983 was a great year for music. Michael Jackson was riding his album Thriller to levels never seen before or since. Men at Work was singing about Vegemite sandwiches. Even older bands like Toto, The Police, and Golden Earring were making a name for themselves.  Again.

And then there was Mötley Crüe. Continue reading »

Let’s get this out of the way first: Elliott Smith’s songs are not easy to cover. This isn’t necessarily related to virtuosity, but might even be related to the exact opposite. Smith’s voice (squeaky, usually double-tracked, always on the verge of slipping off key) was something that he used as a weapon, tearing right into the heart of his music. Pairing that voice with soul-baring lyrics and melodies that never strayed too far from the Beatles and Beach Boys school of pop music, Smith carved out a segment of the singer-songwriter genre that was all his own.

That being said, Seth Avett (of the Avett Brothers) and Jessica Lea Mayfield have a decent go at it on the informatively titled Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith. Upon first listen, the album’s most glaring problem (for Smith fans, at least) becomes apparent: most of the selections fall very close the originals. “Between the Bars,” probably the most covered song of Smith’s songs (over-covered, if you ask this reviewer), hits all of the original’s beats. “Angeles,” too, is played (albeit a little slower) like a straight transfer of the Either/Or cut. Though, this does raise a question: what’s the alternative? How do you rearrange “Angeles” (perhaps the best candidate for the most wholly representative song in the Elliott Smith catalogue) without losing what makes it special? I imagine these are the questions that Avett and Mayfield asked themselves, too – presumably without finding any satisfactory answers.
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Graduate of Chapman University’s Conservatory of Music and producer to such acts as SZE (TDE), Teri Gender Bender (Le Butcherettes) and Kail (Hellfyre Club), Kate Ellwanger treats us to three strikingly chill covers via her About Us EP. Continue reading »

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