Growing up in a tough town just north of Boston, Jeff Rowe (no, not the football player) did not not necessarily have it easy. Without going into detail on his life, I can tell you he was in the punk band BoxingWater, a band that released a couple of albums with ideals that revolved around the hard times and then moved along once the band called it splits.
Rather than continuing moving along with a punk rock sound, Rowe took his guitar and headed out of his hometown and found himself spending time in Richmond, VA perfecting his music that turned more of a folk act. Taking personal experiences he assembled songs over time and released Barstool Conversations an album he recorded in Richmond with Lance Koehler (Tim Barry) before returning home.
I know, I know…another punk rock guy playing folk music? Yes, it has been happening a lot and if you are like me you not only like it, you appreciate it. Recently Barstool Conversations arrived in my mailbox, Rowe’s debut solo attempt. I listened to it upon receiving it and then set it aside until I could actually get a better listen. This past weekend I finally popped it back in and really enjoyed the personal, heartfelt tunes Rowe plays on the album with help from a backing band.
The album started off a little slow with “Passenger”, a quite personal track about leaving and returning. “Kate” sped up slightly and with help from Smoke Or Fire vocalist, Joe McMahon on backing vocals, turned in to a fun jam to listen to. “Bastards Love” might be best heard in a hardly filled barroom in the middle of nowhere. The gloomy track perfectly could compliment any bad day alongside a stiff drink.
Things picked up when “An Album’s Point Of View” played as it was more upbeat than previous tracks. I loved this track because of the lyrics that seemed to have Rowe coming with terms on a tough life and making the best of life. “I’ve got friends that are more than blood,” was one lyric that I can attest to.
One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Dead Authors”, was another personal track, almost too personal, with Rowe talking of family problems and foreclosure. The gentle piano behind Rowe’s raspy singing was the perfect compliment to this bittersweet track.
“Service Of Hardship” was a toe-tapping folk jam that hinted heavy on Frank Turner. “Thinnest Strands” was a very soulful track while “Stolen Songs” begged to be sung along with.
“Glenville” was another track I really enjoyed on the album. This is the kind of song I wish I would write to swoon someone with. “No Place” was another perfect barroom jam with captivating back-up vocals throughout. “Pale Face” ended the album with another slower track that perked up midway with piano and accompanying vocals from a slew of friends including Lance Koehler.
Jeff Rowe does a great job writing songs and playing acoustic guitar. I just wish the album was a little more upbeat throughout as many of the songs he wrote revolved around the tougher times of his life. I would love to see him take a stab at another album with a more positive approach. Rowe definitely has some talent and I can not wait to see where it takes him.
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of reviewing the newest release of Chris McCaughan’s side project, Sundowner. For those of you who are not familiar with McCaughan, he is a guitarist and vocalist in The Lawrence Arms. Having been a fan of The Larry Arms for quite some time I was really impressed with what he had to offer on We Chase The Waves Itstuck to me in a good way thanks to the mellow feel throughout along side McCaughan’s storytelling. It’s been, hands down, one of my favorite releases to date this year.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with McCaughan about Sundowner and just plain old randomness. He was more than kind to answer some questions for me and actually made me hungry by the end of the interview – a first for me.
Let’s do this…
So let’s start things off… How did Sundowner start? Was it something that you wanted to do for a while?
Sundowner started in the attic of my parents house as acoustic songs recorded to an old four track which I posted to a myspace page. Then eventually there were enough songs to actually consider the idea of making a real record. So, it was born out of wanting to share some songs and enjoying playing the acoustic guitar and singing with it. I didn’t start it with the intention of a fully realized project, just a way to create and have fun.
I know mostly it began with just you during your free time but you have some friends as well who chipped in and soon were playing intimate shows in the Chicago area. Who all did you recruit or did they sort of just blend in naturally?
It began as a solo foray but as I prepared for making the first record I enlisted Neil of The Lawrence Arms and Jenny Choi, who is a talented musician from Chicago to play on 4152. Only Neil played on We Chase the Waves. My friend Eli Caterer plays electric guitar live sometimes and adds a really unique element when we have the chance to do that. Now I play solo most of the time but occasionally Neil and Eli join me.
Where did the moniker come from? Why Sundowner? Which sundowner do you refer to with your band name?
It was the original name of a song on 4152 called “Midsummer Classic” but at the time I didn’t want to use my name because it didn’t feel right and I wasn’t certain of where I was going with all this. So I adopted Sundowner and changed the name of that song. I like that the word refers to different things. My initial associations were drinks and sunsets which seemed fitting. If I had to choose the meanings I like the most I’d go with ‘hobo’ or ‘trade wind’ over some of the other references.
Did you ever think that your solo material would make it onto an album, let alone two?
I figured I had one in me but it wasn’t till I was about three quarters of the way through writing the second record that I actually knew I had another one in me and that I wanted to make it. I feel like I’ve just followed where my instincts have taken me and tried to make records that were authentic and genuine. Like I said, I didn’t initially start making acoustic songs as a way to start making records.
Was there any inspiration behind your solo material or was it all you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, man. I know it sounds funny but for me it’s true. I kind of feel like the songs are a way to filter and understand my experience in the world. It seems cheesy but that’s where it comes from.
I totally get what you are saying. So what can you tell me about the new album We Chase The Waves that recently dropped on August 10th?
It’s a collection of material that was written, put together and recorded over the last couple years. It’s a homemade album. My friend Neil Hennessy helped me make and played the bass on. I think it exhibits a progression in sound for me. I think it offers what a lot of fans of the Lawrence Arms have come to expect from me but my hope is that it displays some kind of evolved focus.
Is it true that it was recorded in eight months at someone’s pad?
Yes, totally true. We recorded some of it at my house and a bunch at Neil’s place. It’s what made the experience so unique and different than any record I’ve ever made. Borrowed gear, just hanging out together making a record with the resources we had and no time limitations or deadlines. It was a super cool process. We were trying to capture the natural feel of the songs and felt like making the record in its home environment was a good way to try to make that happen.
Are there any songs off the new album that you favor over others? My favorite is easily “Mouth Of A Tiger”.
If I had to choose I would pick “In the Flicker” “What Beadie Said” and “As The Crow Flies”. Those are the songs that I see as the pillars of the record – that hold it all together. “Mouth of A Tiger” is also a song that I think really illustrates what makes the record new and exciting.
Not that I am complaining, but is there any reason why you did your own rendition of “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”?
I did it cuz it was fun and I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. I like the vintage ditty feel of it. My friend Ryan Suma played the lapsteel on it. It was a blast. I love baseball.
Any offers from the Cubs yet to play that for the fans? I know Dropkick Murphy’s were asked to play “Tessie” in Boston before.
Not yet but I’d love to sing the seventh inning stretch. Of course I’d probably destroy it. Eh, couldn’t be as bad as Ditka and he’s a god in this town. I’d like to see a bunch of drunk old Cubs fan[s] sing it polka style.
Sure. It would’ve been great. He’s a one of kind talent. But I never really thought we’d get him. We did alright in the off season though and just because the Heat are stacked doesn’t guarantee anything. That’s why they play the games.
Do you agree with me and feel that his stupid ESPN decision special was not needed?
It was poorly executed. I think when everyone tells you you’re a king you’re decision making becomes cloudy. He should’ve gone about it the same way all the big athletes do. It was painful to watch and made him look like kind of a self congratulatory dork.
Seems like a lot of punk rockers turn to folk/acoustic projects as age catches up with them. Who are some of your favorites?
Of course Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry do great folk punk. I love Joey Cape’s solo stuff a lot. I really love Jose Gonzales. I like to think this new record of mine isn’t really folk/punk. I don’t know entirely how I’d classify it. I think that’s a good thing.
Do you see that movement as a trend or something much more than that?
I don’t know man. I’m not one for identifying movements and trends. I think time and history makes those judgments.
What about in general? What bands are you currently in to?
I’m not really into a lot of bands. I haven’t really discovered a lot of new music lately. I like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen a lot.
If you had to pick Sundowner or The Lawrence Arms who would you go with?
Picking Sundowner would be quiet, kinda lonesome . . . picking the Arms would be loud, kinda drunk . . . I guess there’s a time for both.
Are you planning on taking Sundowner on the road?
No plans to do any heavy touring but I will get out and play some shows here and there. It’s tough right now to get out for long runs for a lot of reasons but we’ll see how it all goes.
Technically you could open for yourself. Has that happened yet?
Yes. Sundowner and The Falcon opened for The Lawrence Arms in 2007. I think that’s something you only try once maybe. I dunno.
During past live Sundowner shows you have covered Lawrence Arms songs, is that something you see happening again when you do get to play out?
Occasionally I play Arms songs, which is fun. I have a lot more Sundowner songs to choose from now so that all depends on timing. I leave those decisions up to the moment and let that happen as it happens.
Why should someone check out Sundowner?
I think fans of the Lawrence Arms will hopefully find something they already kinda like, although it is very different. I think there is something very universal that music fans may be drawn to, melody, lyrics, themes, sounds. I feel like it’s an honest and genuine record and my hope is all types of people will enjoy it. Cheers.
I have been getting tons of material lately for review consideration so I thought I would try something new and shrink down my usually lengthy reviews. Nothing fancy, just trying to get the word out on some amazing bands and releases. Enjoy.
Sh*t Robot – From The Cradle To The Rave
Marcus Lambkin, aka Sh*t Robot, has taken his time releasing his debut album – literally it has been 20 years in the making. The Irish born punk rocker turned DJ has made a name for himself in the NYC club scene and even though has never recorded an album before has made a huge name for himself by just doing his thing. I should also mention that Lambkin helped build that which is now DFA Records from the ground up.
From The Cradle To The Rave reflects Lambkin’s life as a DJ and more. Opening track, co-written by LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy, “Tuff Enough?” is an electronic anthem of sorts with simple beats and synthesizer that was actually written about an upcoming expectancy. “Losing My Patience” featuring Hot Chip‘s Alexia Taylor was a fun track that I think many of the dance clubs will have no problem spinning. “Simple Things (Work It Out)” was an entertaining experimental dance track of sorts with almost a spoken word feel to it.
My personal favorite cut on the album was “Take ‘Em Up” featuring another musician from LCD Soundsystem, Nancy Whang. This song not only screamed retro 80’s but also heavily reminded me of what would happen if Daft Punk decided to sample a Sonic The Hedgehog soundtrack. Whang’s vocals are perfect for this track more suitable to be played at a roller rink.
From The Cradle To The Rave is proof that sometimes taking your time is a good thing. This release is for all the folk out there that still enjoy the clubs. Full of electronic goodness that reaches back to the days when techno was all the hype in the 90’s as well as hints at some Kraftwerk. The album is solid front to back without over doing it. Where I don’t frequent those types of clubs anymore I still got a kick out of that which is Sh*t Robot.
The Chemical Brothers – Further
Seeing a band like The Chemical Brothers come out with new material makes this guy right here happy. As a longtime fan of the British duo (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons), I was thrilled when Further was released and even more intrigued when I heard that alongside the album would be visuals to accompany each of the songs. While I still have yet to obtain the videos I can tell you that they are available on DVD and iTunes for download.
Further is different from previous releases as it is mostly instrumental with Rowlands taking it upon himself to sing on a couple tracks as well as features Stephanie Dosen (Massive Attack) who lends her vocals as well. I honestly prefer when they collaborate with other musicians on their previous releases but still enjoyed listening to tracks like “Escape Velocity” and “Another World”. “Swoon” was a trip in itself that I could not help but tag along with.
Heavy on the synthesizers and easing back on the drum machines throughout make for a very chill album to listen to. This is one of those types of albums I can see myself not growing tired of anytime soon. For those of you out there that still has a soft spot for the duo who hit the charts with “Block Rocking Beats” back in the day don’t hesitate to pick up Further. The duo still has it and has dropped one great album to dance the night away to or even just sit back and get lost in.
J. Tillman – Singing Ax
Beautiful is just one of the many words that can be used to describe J. Tillman‘s latest release Singing Ax. Not just a member of Fleet Foxes, the folk artist has been very involved in recording material with others as well as himself since around 2004. His latest offering is a vinyl only release that was recorded by Tillman almost entirely by himself in just three days. The result is a calm yet captivating collection of songs that couple compliment any campfire gathering or just a quiet afternoon of solitude.
Opening track “Three Sisters” pretty much set the bar up high for the entire album for me. While listening to TIllman’s singing I could only anticipate on what he was going to sing next and patiently waited the story, backed by acoustic guitar playing and drum machine, to unfold. “Diamondback” continued with a calm retreat of a pleasant tale that had me closing my eyes and absorbing the intimate song. In fact I found myself doing that a lot while listening to Singing Ax. Later on I was treated to the album ending “A Seat At The Table” a song, to me, that almost was a musical rendition of a storm rolling in complete with thundering drumming towards the end of the track.
Tillman dropped an amazing album that barely carried any further supplement aside from his singing and acoustic guitar. Honestly nothing more was needed as the folk chill release was presented perfectly. I can only imagine what a live performance would entail. Luckily for me he is touring with Phosphorescent and is making a stop in Cleveland in just a short couple of weeks. Fans of Nick Drake and even a younger Neil Young I think will really enjoy this album as well as anyone out there that is just looking for a musical form of relaxation.
A sundowner can be a lot of things (a car, drink, plane, type of wind), but in this case the Sundowner I am referring to is an amazing solo project by Chris McCaughan, the guitarist and vocalist of punk act The Lawrence Arms.
We Chase The Waves is Sundowner’s second album and like the first, it is far from punk rock and more of a brush with folk music that brings forth good moods and instant sing alongs. Recently dropping on Asian Man Records, We Chase The Waves might just be the album that gets me through the rest of the summer.
Starting as a side project, McCaughan wrote a few songs in his free time and played intimate shows around the Chicago area taking the moniker Sundowner. With help from fellow band mates and friends the project turned into a band of sorts with Sundowner’s debut being released in the spring of 2007 on Red Scare Records. Just three years later McCaughan and friends decided for a follow-up and recorded We Chase The Wave in their homes, literally, in just eight months.
Passionate and compelling are the two words that describe McCaughan’s wiring styles on the CD. The guy is a natural storyteller and just has a way with words. From the moment “In The Flicker” started off the album I was beyond mesmerized. The song was nothing more than an acoustic jam amongst friends but I was addicted, I wanted more, and before I knew it the ten track album was wrapping up.
Tracks like “As The Crow Flies” impressed the hell out of me even though the song was nothing over the ordinary. The way the song presented itself to the listener, told the story, and ended it on a positive note not only begged for another listen but might have very well inspired a certain someone typing out this review…
“Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” took words from the 1910 poem of the same title by Franklin Pierce Adams telling the tale of the Cubs succeeding over the Giants thanks to a game winning double play (the only way I ever would have known this was by reading the CD insert and Google). As an ode to McCaughan’s beloved Chicago Cubs he did a great job rendition of the classic poem.
“Mouth Of A Tiger” was a stern and ever so low opinionated track with lyrics like “I’m as lucky as a funeral” and “I’m not looking at the glass half full”. I adored the singing style on the song match up with the acoustic and lap steel guitar playing. Full of everyday truth and plain old honest opinions, the song begged to be played on repeat.
We Chase The Waves was an amazing start to finish album with no lulls in between. McCaughan nails it dead on with his catchy melodies and fine storytelling that will grow on you regardless if you are a fan of him, The Lawrence Arms, or not. Don’t look at Sundowner as a side project by a punk rock guy, look at it as a talented musician who has created something that more people need to know about.
After 20 years of fronting well known punk rock act No Use For A Name (NUFAN), Tony Sly continues his passion for music with a different approach by releasing his first full-length solo album. Last month12 Song Program dropped thanks to Fat Wreck Chords who have been associated with Sly for most of his career.
Having teamed up with Joey Cape on the 2004 split release Acoustic this is not a new territory for the seasoned punk rocker but is something that he has wanted to do for a couple of years now. Writing songs in the past that did not fit the NUFAN slot, Sly took recent down time from his band and started recording original material that ranges from folk to pop all with help from his trusty acoustic guitar.
Not going at it all alone on the album Sly received some help from other Fat Wreck musicians/friends including Fat Wreck owner himself Fat Mike as well as Dance Hall Crashers’ Karina Denike who lent her vocals to many of the tracks. The more mature approach was stripped down and not over produced full of many songs that would be perfect for an unplugged show at a local bar. With sing along qualities and in depth lyricism this album has a repeat playability written all over it.
Opening track “Capo, 4th Fret” brought back memories of my obsession I had when I first heard the split album with Sly on his acoustic guitar. The track emulates that of a NUFAN song but of course slowed down and more personable with Sly almost giving reason why he is doing what he does. “I would live for the sake of others so they could do the same” finished the very lonesome track.
The more upbeat “Via Munich” carried along happy tune about feel good relationship while away. Quick and to the point, the track featured Swingin’ Utters‘ Darius Koski on violin. “The Shortest Pier” jumped back to a miserable feeling of hopelessness. “AM”, featuring Fat Mike, was one of the songs that stuck in my mind after hearing it. The song strayed away from sounding like the other tracks on the album with Sly singing at perhaps his most sincere.
“Expired” was an acoustic plucking jam that easily could aid in a drinking problem. Denike’s beautiful voice matched up with Sly’s towards the end followed by a sample taking from Taking Arizona all surrounded with piano. This was one of those tracks that deserved another listen immediately.
“Keira” was a likable whisper of a lullaby written by Sly for his daughter. “Toaster In The Bathtub” was full of witty comparisons to assist in cheering up a certain someone. This is one of those songs that is best sung with friends loudly whether Sly himself plays it or if it pops up on the jukebox.
“Love, Sick Love” was another choice track of mine on the album even if it was about going different ways. I could not tell if it was a flute or an organ but whatever instrument was used in the background just kept a certain chill throughout the song with Sly and Denike’s singing. The lyric in the song “putting out a fire with a flamethrower is strange” might be one analogy I should reference to more often.
Joey Cape helps Sly with vocals on “Amends” and as good as it sounded I was so disappointed with how quick the track was. At just over 2 minutes I was kind of hoping for a more extended cut of this track as I love hearing the two sing together. Honestly thinking about it, that would be my only complaint with the entire album; it was too short.
Closing song “Fireball” showcased Sly singing his loudest and perhaps most heartfelt over the other tracks. The sad song reflected hardship on someone who clearing was without home and had a void in their heart. The singing matched with the heavy strummed acoustic guitar playing made for one powerful song. If only there were more tracks on the album to keep that momentum going.
If you were a fan of the Sly/Cape split Acoustic, you will be a fan of 12 Song Program but if you are looking for an extension of NUFAN chances are you will not appreciate this album one bit. It is a punk rocker making music but to a different caliber.
Sometimes punk rockers who grow up trade in their beat up electric guitars and mellow out for a good reason. It’s not because they are giving up, it’s because they refuse to quit on all the talent they are capable of even if it means slowing down a bit. Case and point with Tony Sly who dropped a really great release start to finish. One needs to remind themselves that this is a personal Sly project full of his likable melodies and will rub off a little more unique than when he is with his band that finds a name not that important.