Spinning Discs June 2016

The Rides
‘Pierced Arrow’
429 Music

On their sophomore effort super trio, The Rides, crank up the amps and deliver a tasty bit of grit-laden blues rock that makes their first go around seem like a lazy stroll through the park.

While that effort hinted as to what might be, on Pierced Arrowthe three veterans Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg along with relative new kid on the block Kenny Wayne Shepherd sound like a true band, with fiery guitar interplay between Stills and Shepherd and Goldberg’s sublime keyboards. It’s a mixture of originals, including some of Stills’ best songs in more than two decades, and a lively cover of Willie Dixon’s “My Babe” that defies anyone to not get up and shake their groove thing.

While the new songs are largely composed as a group effort The Buffalo Springfield like “Virtual World” is Stills’ at his reflective rocker best, with the blues rock anthem “Mr. Policeman” not far behind. On “Riva Diva” Shepherd gives ample evidence to his technically brilliant and emotionally deft guitar work (and he’s no slouch in the singing department) but what really elevates Pierced Arrowis the spontaneous cohesion that exists between the principal players. Aided by Stills touring bassist Kevin McCormick and Shepherd alumnus Chris Layton on drums Pierced Arrowis the sound of some storied musicians who, now having two albums and a tour under their belts, are likely scratching the surface of how good they can get. For three times Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Stephen Stills, it’s another highlight in an already fabled career. For Shepherd and Goldberg, it’s a chance to play with one of the greatest. While for the rest of us, it’s a musical treat worth hearing over and again. ****1/2

Pity Sex
‘White Hot Moon’
Run for Cover Records

Mainstays of the Ann Arbor grunge rock scene, Pity Sex make a move forward by taking a step back, eschewing the relatively subdued tone of their first full length album, 2013’s Feast of Love. Their latest is more in step with the full bore propulsion of their 2012 EP Dark World.

Much like that stunning debut White Hot Moonis built around the roughly edged guitar work of Britty Drake and Brennan Greaves, the distorted fuzz tone of Will Yip’s (who doubles as producer) bass and Sean St. Charles pounding the drums as if all hell were about to break loose. Which it frequently does. There’s nothing remotely “professional” about the snapshot production which captures the band at its most gloriously raucous, but the innate distortion of the band is nuanced by an irrepressible knack for melody.

Even more impressive are the songs themselves, finding a comfortable space between quiet melancholy (“Burden You”) and buoyant pop (the gorgeous “Orange and Red”). Like most self-declared “shoegaze” bands (a term I find largely incompressible), Pity Sex’s lyrics meandergloriously from one incomplete thought to another, working well within the margins of the songs but rarely lucid enough to stand on their own. Which is fine, as with most bands of their kind Pity Sex are much more about mood and gesture over logic and structure. White Hot Moonmay not be as immediately engaging as was Feast Of Lovebut in the end I have a hunch it will more fully stand the test of time.

Cornflower Blue
‘Invincible’

I’ve been a fan of this Ottawa, Ontario based quintet since I first stumbled across their second album Running Down the Rails. Interlacing threads of country, folk and rock they easily conjure up The Byrds, Poco, (whom the band readily admits as influences) and others of that genre but, with the shared vocals of Theresa McInerney and Trevor May, backed by a rhythm section built around violin, bass, and drums, I liken them more to the Richard and Linda Thompson era of Fairport Convention.

Anyone who knows my love of that music will recognize this as high praise indeed. The songs, written by McInerney and May, trod familiar heartache, dreams gone wrong (and a few gone right), but it’s the sheer force of the playing and the interaction between band members that never lets the music drag. The barren and frigid winters of their home enter in, most notably in “Cold Snap” and “Way Down Town” (a somber look at the affects of homelessness) as does the alcoholism that is too often a result of such harsh environs, as the lead protagonist of “Catherine” finds solace in the bottle only to comprehend the fallacy.

As for those musical influences “The Ballad of Don Rich and Buck Owens” leaves no doubt as to whom at least two of the band’s musical idols are, even tossing in a chorus of “Buckaroo” for good measure.

So this is a follow up that doesn’t disappoint but rather reinforces my faith in Cornflower Blue and the road they are taking. There’s a certain swing to Invincible, a momentum that keeps things lively throughout the albums dozen songs. Like most really good albums, it’s over before you know it, leaving you wanting a bit more. I for one eagerly look forward to their next offering.

Red Leg Husky
‘My Old Heart’
Dirt Floor Music

Given that I’ve been an active part of our music community for more than 30 years, I keep pretty up to date with the local scene, yet darned if this Asheville based trio hasn’t somehow slipped under my sonic radar.

Having just given their recently released disc a concentrated listen, I’m here to make amends and sing their praises, particularly since they are mining a genre (old time music) that I don’t typically gravitate towards. Yet, they do so with reverence and respect, inspired by but not anchored to the past.

The band consists of Tim McWilliams (vocals, guitars, and banjo), Misa Giroux (vocals, guitar, and mandolin) and Son (bass and vocals). The three are augmented by James Maple on drums and vocals along with Eric Lichter on pedal steel, piano, and slide guitar. As for the music, it’s a breezy strum-along of down home sentiments and subtle joys.

None of it is particularly deep, nor does it pretend to be, but it is hard not to be seduced by such singalongs as “Don’t Go Fallin’ In Love” and “Bottle Full of Felonies” (which gets my vote for song-title of the year). I’ll admit the vocals took some getting use to. They’re a bit too twangy for my tastes but if your preferences for old-timey songs runs deeper than mine, I highly recommend you give My Old Hearta try. I’m further willing to bet, given the good time nature of the songs herein, the band, would be a hoot to see live on stage.

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