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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

featuring the very best of americana, and roots music
February 14, 2015
Scott Foley

I remember the revelation that was my first glimpse of Brittany Howard fronting Alabama Shakes on a live video of "You Ain't Alone" 2011 in Chattanooga.  A lot can happen in four years, and Howard's band has since been discovered by millions more.  They've been signed to ATO Records, toured hard, been nominated for a couple Grammys and even played SNL.  There's nothing harder than a sophomore record, but our first glimpse of April's Sound & Color is reassuring. 

I have been diagnosed as especially susceptible to supergroups.  I fall hard when somebody from this band joins somebody from that band to form a third band.  Problem is that with a handful of exceptions (think Delines here), supergroups can prove pretty tepid.  Diamond Rugs' 2012 debut fed my monster, offering up a sloppy batch of profane garage rock (plus, one of my favorite new holiday tunes in recent years, "Christmas In a Chinese Restaurant").  Fronted by the restless John McCauley of Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs also houses current or former members of Los Lobos, Dead Confederates, Black Lips and Six Finger Satellite.  Called Cosmetics, the ensemble's second album continues to please, though it seems the sleaze factor has been dialed down a notch or two.  There was a time a couple years back when on a whim the Pogues' Shane MacGowan had his teeth fixed.  He looked curiously broken afterward, and it's my understanding that MacGowan soon abandoned his new choppers.  Point is, sometimes you want your Shane MacGowan in shambles.  Diamond Rugs is best when at least a couple of the wheels are dangerously close to leaving the tracks.  The record's first single, "Voodoo Doll", is driven by Steve Berlin's skronky sax, featured throughout the collection.  With its quirky pogo rhythms, I can imagine Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo playing "Voodoo Doll".  Not the early, punk Oingo Boingo, but the later family friendly edition.  Tunes like "So What" or "Live and Shout It" keep it rough, tracing that magical trail between roots and punk that bands like X or the Replacements originally blazed.  "You're a train I thought that sounded like heartache ..."  The swagger which largely defined Diamond Rugs' debut shows up as well on "So What", wielding the classic refrain, "I love you / So what".  Relative sanity creeps in on some of the pieces, and there's a real sense that the disparate parts of the ensemble have coalesced to produced more complete, more fleshed out songs this time through.  "Couldn't Help It", for instance, comes across like classic Buddy Holly or the Everlys.  Behind a loping beat and a blast of organ, "Killin' Time" is Cosmetics' most unhinged cut, unleashing a litany of ways to spend our days:  "Killin' time / Pickin' a religion  / Killin' time  /  But it don't work  /  Killin' time  /  Watchin' some paint dry  /  Killin' time  /  Having revelations  /  Killin' time  /  Walkin' to the mailbox ..."  The track trips along just perfectly, like the songs Paul Westerberg and co. forgot to record. 

*  Rosanne Cash, "Your Southern Heart"  River & the Thread  (Blue Note, 14)
*  Brandy Clarke, "Pray To Jesus"  12 Stories  (Slate Creek, 13)
*  Dwight Yoakam, "Second Hand Heart"  Second Hand Heart  (Reprise, 15)  D
*  John Statz, "One Way Opens"  Tulsa  (John Statz, 15)  C
*  James McMurtry, "Copper Canteen"  Complicated Game  (Complicated Game, 15)
*  Wrinkle Neck Mules, "Token"  Nobody Told Me It Would Go This Far  (Lower 40, 15)
*  Whitehorse, "Oh Dolores"  Leave No Bridge Unburned  (Six Shooter, 15)
*  Gasoline Lollipops, "Homesick Remedy"  Spokesbuzz Vol 5  (Spokesbuzz, 15)  C
*  Murder By Death, "Last Thing"  Big Dark Love  (Bloodshot, 15)
*  Houndmouth, "Sedona"  Little Neon Limelight  (Rough Trade, 15)
*  Joe Pug, "Bright Beginnings"  Windfall  (Lightning Rod, 15)
*  Natalie Prass, "My Baby Don't Understand Me"  Natalie Prass  (Spacebomb, 15)
*  JJ Grey & Mofro, "Ol' Glory"  Ol' Glory  (Provogue, 15)
*  Son Little, "The River"  Things I Forgot  (Anti, 14)
*  Shakey Graves, "If Not For You (demo)"  Nobody's Fool  (Shakey Graves, 15)  D
*  Andrew Combs, "Foolin'"  All These Dreams  (30 Tigers, 15)
*  Charlie Parr, "Over the Red Cedar"  Stumpjumper  (Red House, 15)
*  Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, "I Follow Rivers"  Sea Songs  (Southeastern, 15)  D
^  Diamond Rugs, "Killin' Time"  Cosmetics  (Sycamore, 15)
*  Alabama Shakes, "Don't Wanna Fight"  Sound & Color  (ATO, 15)  D
*  Butch Walker, "Bed On Fire"  Afraid Of Ghosts  (Dangerbird, 15)  D
*  Cody Canada & the Departed, "Stay"  HippieLovePunk  (Underground Sound, 15)
*  Calexico, "Falling From the Sky"  Edge of the Sun  (Anti, 15)
*  Steve Gunn & Black Twig Pickers, "Cardinal 51"  Seasonal Hire  (Thrill Jockey, 15)
*  Robert Earl Keen, "99 Years For One Dark Day"  Happiest Prisoner: Bluegrass Sessions  (Dualtone, 15)

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