Initial Reactions (2011): The Jayhawks, Blitzen Trapper, VHS or Beta

The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time – (++): Pleasant enough. Leaves you with that peaceful, easy feeling. I might have been indifferent to this, but I enjoy alt-country, and to that point, humble-pie songwriting. I’m a newbie, but this is notable for long-time Jayhawks fans as Mark Olson has returned to the flock. Also, Gram Parson would have been 65 this year. ("Hide Your Colors", "She Walks In So Many Ways")

Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing – (++): Stadium filling antebellum classic rock, except it’s not 1975. These guys remind me of some high school buddies that used to cover Grand Funk Railroad. What I mean is that this is imitative of a bygone era, but it’s also durn well done. "Fletcher" reaches a prodigious groove. I’m pleasantly impressed, and hoping this will grow on me. ("Fletcher", "Might Find It Cheap")

VHS or Beta – Diamonds and Death – (ind): A reboot for this band. Reminds me a bit of the first Tears for Fears album. While there’s a few groove-tastic and even neato moments, it mostly sounds like a couple of kids discovering synthesizers. High point: "Jellybean" sounds like a Police instrumental from the future, but I guess I just can’t get past the silicon taste on anything else. Cool cover bonus points though. ("Under the Sun", "Jelly Bean")


[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Quick Review (LP): Jacksonville City Nights by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Jacksonville City Nights
Lost Highway; 2005

My Rating: B+ (76/100)

Best Tracks: "A Kiss Before I Go", "Dear John", "The Hardest Part", "Silver Bullets", "Peaceful Valley"

A little more lovely, a lot more twangy.


  • For a guy who got pigeon-holed as an alt-country twang-rocker early on in his solo career, this is his twangiest effort by far.
  • Plenty of solid tracks here. Benefits a lot from the pedal steel + violin arrangements.
  • Tracks like "A Kiss Before I Go" and "My Heart Is Broken" fit the cosmic american music moniker well. Gram would be proud.
  • Lovely themes abound. "Peaceful Valley" is gorgeous.
  • There’s a few memorable tracks here, but only a few. The rest of the album sort of passes by in a pretty stupor.
  • It’s not his best, but it is one his better records. There’s life right through it, even when it threatens to get a little drab, as Adams as wont to do. I’m guessing The Cardinals were to thank for that?
  • AMG:  "[I]t’s still hard not to shake the suspicion that Ryan Adams is primarily a pastiche artist, since it’s not only easy to spot influences throughout the album, but because the atmosphere of the record makes more of an impression than the individual songs." Spot on, but I don’t give him a hard time about the atmosphere. It’s one of my favorite things about Adams’ work, something he seems to get better than most alt-country artists, and something that separates him from the pack. Remember Nashville Skyline? “Girl from the North Country”, “Lay Lady Lay”? It’s a nostalgic wash, this.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): This Desert Life by Counting Crows

this desert life counting crows Counting Crows
This Desert Life
DGC; 1999

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye”, “Amy Hit The Atmosphere”, “All My Friends”, “High Life”

The Band‘s influence is still prominent, but what I think of with This Desert Life is Gram Parson‘s cosmic americana. There’s something particularly starry-eyed about the recordings here, with the more epic tracks achieving the sort of prolonged, brilliant focus that Duritz had only come close to achieving on Satellite‘s longer tracks. Standout performances belong to guitar wizard Dan Vickrey (again) and drummer Ben Mize, the former for continuing to channel Robbie Robertson’s humble-pie lead work, the latter for delivering some of the best working man rhythms since Kenny Buttrey’s magical performances on Blonde On Blonde. I’ve already declared my love for “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye” elsewhere, but dozens of listens in it’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard, the divine love child of “Rocket Man”, “City of New Orleans”, and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” And while Duritz got tagged with the “Van Morrison” mantle pretty early on, this record’s “All My Friends” is the track that comes closest to emulating the blue-eyed soul man. This is a wide-open road record, a celebration of classic rock that is at the same time the most focused and well-written in the Crows’ catalog. While it didn’t quite score the big hits, it’s the band’s sleeper, the little known gem that is just waiting to be discovered, by you and everyone else.

Cohesion (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

My review of Recovering The Satellites
My review of August And Everything After
SputnikMusic review
AMG review

Quick Review (LP): Sand & Lines by Venice Is Sinking

Venice Is Sinking
Sand & Lines
One Percent Press; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Sidelights”, “Tugboat”, “Lucky Line”, “Bardstown Road”

Probably best termed dreamy Americana, this band follows the simple song, diverse and pleasant arrangement template. Even though it’s a Mercury Rev song, their excellent take on “Tugboat” seems to be the heart of the album. What it kind of reminds me of is a starrier version of the first Gram Parsons record. Like any dream, it tends to dissipate into a haze rather rapidly, with only a few displaced memories to remain, but that only helps the record in the mystery department. This is excellent rainy day music, and I love the fact that this was recorded on a ceiling mic in an ill-fated theatre. The violin, the vocals, and the drums are my favorite thing about this record. I wish some of the songs were a little bit longer (“Pebble Hill”, “Wurlitzer Prize”), but modesty is a virtue in most cases, and it’s better not to wear out your welcome. Then again, a deluxe edition with outtakes would be nice.

Band Myspace site
Paste review
Pitchfork review
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