Some say he’s the father of country rock. He kicked off his career with The International Submarine Band, joined The Byrds and was a major contributor to their classic Sweethearts Of The Rodeo album. After leaving The Byrds, he formed the Flying Burrito Brothers, and was booted from that band, and then made the acclaimed solo albums GP and Grievous Angel, passing away before the latter was released. His influence can be felt to this day with some alt-country artists. In honor of Gram, get out your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first ten tunes that come up.
Nick Lowe — She’s Got Soul (The Convincer): The Convincer is perhaps the best of the recent Nick Lowe albums, now that Basher has reinvented himself as a mellow rock and roll crooner. The songs are so economical and Lowe’s voice may be a limited instrument, but he makes the most of it on this light R & B track. I could here a modern R & B act turning this into a more up tempo cut.
Happy Hate Me Nots — Nothing Short of Paradise (The Good That’s Been Done): An Australian band that followed in the footsteps of The Saints, with a punky sound that is heavily infused with R & B influences. The playing and songwriting is more controlled and anthemic than the early Saints. The HHMNs have an ability to send a song soaring at the drop of a hat. This song relies on the time tested device of moody verses with bright and shiny expansive choruses. Hope their reunion album comes out soon.
Nothing Painted Blue — Go To Waste (Emotional Discipline): An early NPB cut from the odds and ends compilation Emotional Discipline. While you’d never call Nothing Painted Blue a punk band, this song tends in that direction, as the band pushes the pace on a ragged but intent recording. This shows how early on the band’s modus operandi was established — Franklin Bruno fills verses with dense word play that he crams into a melody (when the song is faster) which ends up in a terse refrain that provides a bit of a hook.
The Viscounts — Harlem Nocturne (Loud, Fast & Out of Control): This comes from a great Rhino Records box set of hot early sides from the ’50s. Akin to Rhino’s Nuggets box sets, a few familiar names are surrounded by lesser lights. This song is moody instrumental that is an excuse for a hot sax solo. This is kind of a cool down from all the hot rockabilly on this set.
Splitsville — Dotcom (Repeater): From the band’s third, and most impressive, album. Splitsville were a power pop band that showed a bit of inspiration from Jellyfish and Fountains of Wayne, but certainly had their own direction. Touches of new wave and psychedelia float throughout their songs. This is more on the psychedelic end, an atmospheric mid-tempo number with a great arrangement and a variety of guitar sounds. This song slowly builds to a pretty bravura ending.
Don Byron — Hagalo (Nu Blaxploitation): This is an inventive genre blending jazz album. On most of the tracks, Byron combines jazz and funk. But this song here has more of a Brazilian vibe, with a lively horn section and some percussive piano playing.
Slow Jets — False Alarm (Worm Into Phoenix): A typical arty indie rock song from a band I discovered through Reckless Records. They are certainly influenced by groups like Wire and Pere Ubu, but also have a lot in common with less studied outfits like Archers Of Loaf and The Embarassment. The hooks here are a bit more subtle, but nothing less than satisfying.
The Raspberries — The Party’s Over (Collector’s Series): One of the original power pop bands. As was often the case back in the ’70s, when not trying to emulate The Beach Boys and Beatles, or singing wussy ballads, a band had to have a few standard issue rockers. This is one of the ‘berries’ rockers, working some basic bluesy hard rock, like a lower key Humble Pie. Credible but not their strength.
Arcwelder — I Hear And Obey (Xerxes): This Minnesota band mixed the melodic punk aspects of Husker Du (and their drummer, who wrote and sang about half the songs, sounded a bit like Bob Mould), with some more dissonant guitar sounds, a la Fugazi and Jawbox. They found just the right balance of edginess and catchiness, especially on Xerxes, their third album. This song works off a repeating guitar figure that could have been nicked from Television and hurtles into a passionate chorus. These guys had such a firm grip on song structure that could take detours and not get lost.
Sloan — I Understand (Never Hear The End Of It): This 30 song album is arguably Sloan’s masterwork. Keeping the song structures tight, this Nova Scotia quartet shows its utter command of ’60s and ’70s inspired pop and rock. Their inspirations are often obvious, but the band has developed a distinctive sound. They aren’t imitating their heroes, they are trying to equal them, and they succeed more often than most of their contemporaries. This is wonderful mid-tempo song in the tradition of Badfinger, Paul McCartney and Big Star, without sounding quite like any of them. Marvelous.