Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Shawl (performed by Doug Burr)

Release Date: 12/9/2008 (iTunes)
Street Date : 1/2009 (physical CD)
Label: Velvet Blue Music

Plugged was one of the first to review Doug Burr's critically acclaimed On Promenade in 2007 and adamantly predicted its success. Burr's heartfelt lyrics, twang-infused folk sensibilities, and somber melodies immediately won him a place in the hearts of those who enjoy Johnny Cash, Dylan, and Wilco.

While not touted as the official follow-up to On Promenade, The Shawl is a project consisting of 9 songs with lyrics lifted from the book of Psalms. Doug Burr is unafraid to push the envelope when it comes to the delicate mix of religion, music, and art. He proves it here by crafting a powerful collection of songs that marries his "grass-roots" musical style to the honesty and transparency of the Psalms. It's a perfect marriage.

Doug's vocals are the most striking aspect of the songs; they are brimming with emotion and purpose, commanding your attention. Musically, this project is noticeably more mellow and low-key as if the focus was intended to be more on the message and not the tune. The arrangements are simply consisting of sparse guitar strumming, very intermittent percussion, and perhaps a sound effect here and there. The words and voice are absolutely the driving force behind The Shawl and I'm sure that's not by accident.

The songs were recorded in Tehuacana, TX in the Texas Hall, built in 1860’s, and is in pretty bad condition but still standing. I'm guessing we get a glimpse of its interior via the cover art.

Such an honest album deserves an equally honest appraisal from me. I'm sure there will be those who will be turned off by the fact that the lyrics are essentially Bible verses describing how the Lord is king, Israel is favored, judgment is coming, the wicked will be repaid, and salvation is coming for the righteous. Typically, these sentiments are not near and dear to the hearts and minds of Atheists and secular-progressives.

All that aside, those who are believers or at least have open minds will enjoy this record for exactly what it is - a brilliantly arranged collection of songs performed by an artist who clearly believes in what he's singing. It's a refreshing thing to hear in these tumultuous and mediocre times in which we live.

~ John Masci

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


L.A.'s Summer Darling caught the attention of indie music fans in 2004 with the release I Know You~I Never Knew You. The band became known for their beautifully somber melodies, poignant pop hooks, and introspective lyricism. About to release its first recording in nearly 4 years, PLUGGED caught up with frontman Ben Heywood to get the latest scoop on what to expect from these darlings in 2008.

PLUGGED: How did Summer Darling start and how did you get the name?

SUMMER DARLING: SD started the way most bands start, I suppose. I met Dan in a restaurant and he said, "Let's jam" and we actually did. Then I got my girlfriend, Heather, to play bass. Voila, a band was born. The name I stole from a friend of mind. We were in a band together long time ago and were thinking of band names. He suggested Summer Darling but we didn't end up using it. I always kinda liked it.

PLUGGED: Why the long interval between releases?

SD: We lived a lot of life in between. "I Know You" came out in April of 04. Heather and I got married in the summer of 05. Heather then went back to school. Meanwhile we started tracking an album at this really upscale studio. We knew a couple of guys who worked there and they would sneak us in whenever the studio wasn't booked. To make a very long saga short, the opportunity dried up before we could finish anything. While all this was going on, we tried tracking more new jams but after nearly completing a few songs the hard drive crashed and we lost everything. We then met Sean Foye who swooped in and took the reins. "Health of Others" are the songs we started but didn't finish at the fancy studio completed by Sean.

PLUGGED: What is Summer Darling going to be releasing in 2008?

SD: We will release 3 EPs digitally through Oragami and collect them at the end of the year on a 12" LP. "Health of Others" is the first one.

PLUGGED: Explain how you think the SD sound has progressed since the debut LP?

SD: Well, we're more of a band now. I used to write most of the parts for SD but since Dan moved to guitar and Loop joined as the drummer all the songwriting is group oriented. I just come up with the words and melodies and the band as a whole writes the music. Its made us more Built to Spill and less Coffee House. We call it "Guitarchestra".

PLUGGED: I heard that you will be recording with Frank Lenz. What's it like working with Frank, and what does he bring to the table for your sound?

SD: What to say about Frank Lenz? He did "I Know You" and he tracked and produced the second EP we'll be releasing later this spring. Working with Frank is like going to a friend's house and making music. Sometimes you drink too much, sometimes the ideas don't work, sometimes you get angry, but at the end you get an amazingly creative record and you're still friends. Frank is our friend.

PLUGGED: What happened to the deal you had planned with Lujo records?

SD: Lujo and Summer Darling had two different ideas on how to handle our music. It's a case where everyone's hearts were in the right place but we couldn't seem to work together in a way that made us all happy.

PLUGGED: Last year you had two songs "Medication" and "Southern Drawl" posted. Where do they fit in, if at all, in the next releases?

SD: "Southern Drawl" is an old song from our first EP. It's out of print so we tossed it up on myspace for a while. "Medication" is a cover of a Damien Jurado song. Neither will likely show up anywhere else.

PLUGGED: Who's in the SD recording lineup and live show lineup?

SD: Me, Heather, Dan, and Loop. We all sort of play everything and anything that needs to be played.

PLUGGED: Name one place you'd like to play where you haven't yet.

SD: Europe. Canada. Japan. Basically, I need some stamps on my passport. Buffalo.

PLUGGED: What albums have you been listening to lately?

SD: Menomena, Midlake, new Radiohead, new PJ Harvey, Via Audio, Band of Horses.

PLUGGED: You have another band called Death House Chaplain that is releasing an album soon. What's your role in that band, and what should we expect?

SD: I play drums in Death House. The songwriting is done by Matthew Holl. He's one of my favorite songwriters and guitar players. Ever. Expect very interesting rock songs with hooks.

PLUGGED: List five of your favorite films of all time.

SD: Heather is gonna field this one, too: Royal Tennenbaums, Reality Bites, Big Lebowski, 16 Candles, The Goonies.I like Wonder Boys, Beautiful Girls, Big Lebowski. Recently I really enjoyed No Country For Old Men and Children of Men. Films about people.

PLUGGED: Ben, thanks for doing this and best wishes for the band in 2008!

Read PLUGGED's review of Health of Others EP.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Summer Darling - Health of Others EP

Release Date: 1/15/08

Label: Oragami

It's slightly ironic that L.A.'s Summer Darling is set to release their first new recording in almost 4 years right in the middle of winter. When I contacted the band regarding the release of their new EP Health of Others, frontman Ben Heyward joyfully exclaimed "Yes, we finally have new shit!"

Health of Others is one of three internet-only EPs releasing this year with all of them included on a single vinyl LP. Sounds cool, huh? For now, the band gives us this fistful of juicy tunes to whet our appetities. The band used the lengthy interval between releases to refine their brand of moody, catchy, indie rock genious.

The blistering guitar intro on "Barren Womb" has the band immediately pushing the boundaries set by their debut LP I Know You~I Never Knew You. The theme of regret runs straight through this tune with an added dose of reality to make you feel you could be listening in on something you shouldn't.

"Blazing Fire" quickly became my favorite with its incredibly catchy vibe that you won't be able to shake off. Brilliant harmonies by Heather (Ben's wife, and lead vocalist for Kissing Cousins) combine with Ben's sweltering, yet disarming vocal style to create a true indie rock treat.

"Thirsty Desert" slows down the pace a tiny bit, but is no less engaging than its counterparts. The atmospheric, slightly fuzzy anthemic ending is a familiar and welcome page from their debut album.

"Open Grave" may be the most gripping song of the EP with lyrics that really demonstrate Summer Darling's ability and willingness to smash through the facade: (I try really hard to think how others think...I try really hard not to have that next drink, 'cause what would people think?").

Summer Darling is back to deliver the stirring melodies, jarring guitar riffs, and thought-provoking lyrics that fans have been craving. Health of Others showcases the band's ability to rock like the big bands, while achieving a level of credibility others cannot.

~ John M.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Grizzly Owls - By Night On My Bed

Label: independent
Release date: 10/2007

I figured this record would be a gimmicky attempt at an americana throwback from the husband and wife team that brought us The Calico Sunset (Jenny and Joseph Andreotti). Still, I was interested to check this out because I did enjoy the (at times) over-the-top, yet feverishly catchy girl-fronted Calico Sunset brand of electro-clash pop. Jenny Andreotti is the vocalist on Grizzly Owls as well, so I thought this would combine for an interesting storm of sugary vocals, experimental gadgetry, and American gothic.

"What's A Girl To Do" is done to the beat of cowboy ballad with the vocals sounding a little too perky. It just doesn't seem to fit at first, but it grows on you a bit. My first impression was "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" movie soundtrack meets The Calico Sunset. This is gonna be the "spaghetti western" of indie rock!!!

"Jeremiah" is an out-of-kilter and unpredictably dark song that works extremely well for Jenny's voice. The addition of keys and sparse guitars accentuate Jenny's breathy delivery to create a somber indie rock sound.

"Rifles and Hemlines" is the culmination of everything that is unique, refreshing, and attractive about this record. The guitars are both crisp and twangy with quirky vocals that are delivered in Jenny Andeotti's own playful style. Interesting lyrics depict cultural realities of the olden days: ("Women keep their hemlines below their knees, after all, no respectable girl wants to be a tease.")

"Oh Good God, How I Want That Man" is clearly the stand-out song here with the use of keys and harmonica adding delicacy to the tone with clever lyrics to sweep you off your feet:
("Could you love me if my breasts were a little bigger...could you love me if you weren't already married... could you love me if you knew if I existed?")

Chorus: ("Oh good God How I want that man; I want to feel his fingers run through my hair; I want to feel his breath as he whispers in my ear; I want to feel his lips pressed against my neck.").

The highly danceable "Twenty-Six" is the most upbeat song on the record and is more familiar territory for those who have heard the Andreotti's music before.

From the cover art and inside photograph of Jenny's ancestors to lyrical references, everything about By Night At My Bed is an homage to the dustbowl era of the late 1800s, early 1900s. Unique, fresh, and infectious - it's fun listening even for the cynical indie music grinch.

If you thought The Calico Sunset was a bit obnoxious sounding, you may enjoy the off-beat, immediately engaging, rhythmically complex, and surpisingly melodic music of The Grizzly Owls. Give this a listen or three before you make a judgement. And remember, we are all children of the Dust Bowl.

~John M.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Kat Jones - He's The One I Need The Most (Christmas EP)

Label: independent
Release date: 12/2007
While being short and sweet, this little 4-song EP is definitely heartwearming and delightful as well. This Christmas EP is Kat Jones' first since her critically acclaimed debut La Rosa, La Calavera in 2004.

Track 1: "I'll Be Home For Christmas". This is a completely redone version of a song she included on a disc of demos a few years ago. This version is Richard Swift-esque, with a cascade of lively keys and horns.

Track 2: "He's The One I Need The Most". The title track is the best song on the disc as it taps into the true meaning of the season, which is a refreshing change in music today. It has a very catchy chorus that is beautifully sung by Kat.

Track 3: "Bring A Torch Jeanette, Isabela". It's a very mellow, stripped down tune with sparse guitar and dreamy vocals.

Track 4: "Without A Sound". This is the not-so-hidden track of the CD, mainly because it is included in the track list and has a title. Hidden or not, this song is worthy of attention. So fragile and delicate, this soft tune almost breaks as the light guitar and gentle vocals sweep you away.

After three years, it's nice to hear some new music from Kat Jones, just in time to make a great stocking stuffer for the holidays!

Friday, December 07, 2007

PLUGGED'S TOP 5 of 2007

Some people celebrate the new year by watching a ball drop. I celebrate by revisiting my favorite music releases of the past year.

5. The Rosebuds - "Night of the Furies"
(Merge - apr/2007)
This album is much darker and moodier than the previous releases, which is why
I like it so much. Listen for hints of New Order and The Smiths in these songs. Also, Kelly is singing more (which is a good thing!).

4. The Dark Romantics - "Some Midnight Kissin"
(Lujo - feb/2007)
Yes, this album was constantly playing in my house and on my mp3 player this year. I never get tired of it. We drove three hours to see a live show last summer so you know I'm not kidding.

3. Doug Burr - "On Promenade" (VBM/Spune - sept/2007)
Who? Do your homework and read our review. He's from Denton, Texas and is a new favorite of PLUGGED. This was the biggest surprise of 2007. Outstanding music.

2. Menomena - "Friend and Foe" (Barsuk - jan/2007)
It's infectious, dark, and off-beat indie rock. This album is the cure for the music doldrums. It doesn't get any better than "Air Raid" and "Rotten Hell".

Best album of 2007.....and the winner is:

1. Richard Swift - "Dressed Up For The Letdown" (Secretly Canadian - feb/2007)
If you haven't heard of Richard Swift yet, then you must not listen to indie music.

Cheyenne - The Whale

Release date: 12/2007
Label: independent

The Whale
is not just an album. It's a hand-clappin', foot stompin' good time that could easily be the soundtrack of a movie set in an old west saloon.

Cheyenne creatively fuses elements of indie rock, country, and folk to create a sound that is a unique and refreshing slice of "americana". This band breaks your heart with a ballad and then a beer bottle with the very next song.

The opening track "The Whale" gets the hands clapping quickly with a sound reminiscent of Wilco's Being There. "Broken English", "The Fashion", and "The Army Marching Past" get the feet stompin' while showing off Cheyenne's indie rock swagger.

"Big Weather" is the best example of Cheyenne's "riding in the back of the pickup truck" brand of indie rock with a big chorus of Beau Jennings singing ("baby one of these days we're gonna send the weather back").

Heartbreakers "Cimarron River", and "The Curtain" are drenched in sincerity and infused with somber vocals, keys, and harmonica. These songs prominently display Cheyenne's folk-country sensibility better than any other tracks.

The Whale
leaves a lasting impression that pays homage to Dylan and Wilco while still creating something brand new for those of us who love catchy melodies that make you think of the heartland.
- John M.