Connect is the perfect title for Sick Puppies’ third and most ambitious album. The trio is all about connection–with their fans, each other, their own psyches—and each of the dozen songs on Connect–from intense, epic rockers to mellower yet lyrically anguished ballads–is introspective yet also universal. From the first single, “There’s No Going Back” to the band’s most political song, the ironic “Gunfight,” Connect will exhilarate old fans and captivate new ones. The L.A.-based, Australian-bred band struck an elusive musical and lyrical balance of past and future on Connect, as band co-founder/singer/guitarist Shimon Moore explains: “There are two ways to shoot yourself in the foot—never changing… or changing too much.” With Connect, Sick Puppies came into their own, thanks in no small part to five years of touring and a full year of songwriting, finding their musical medium without sacrificing intensity or their trademark, dead-on lyrical acuity and introspection.
Blues music institution Roomful of Blues celebrates the band’s 45th anniversary with a swingin’ new album, 45 Live. RoB guitarist and bandleader Chris Vachon wanted to do something a little different this time out, so Roomful of Blues hosted a three-day party back in March at The Ocean Mist Club in Matunuck, Rhode Island. They jammed ’em in each of the three nights, filling the club to capacity and beyond, cranking out a high-octane set list that pulled songs from across the band’s four and a half decades, each night ending with a roaring ovation.Roomful of Blues’s 45 Live will be released on July 30, 2013 by Alligator Records, and the live disc is a must-have item for every RoB fan as well as any hardcore blues fan who loves swinging, jumpin’, jivin’ big band blues and R&B. Featuring one of the band’s best line-ups – which is really saying something, considering that talents like Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, and Sugar Ray Norcia, among others, have come up through the RoB ranks – Vachon is joined by vocalist Phil Pemberton, bassist John Turner, keyboardist Rusty Scott, drummer Chris Rivelli, and the truly head-snapping brass section of saxophonist and clarinetist Rich Lataille and sax man Mark Earley.
The 20 tracks recorded in 1975/1976 on Heartworn Highways are your invitation to listening in as these troubadours pour earnest confessions through strings and voice. In particular, Guy Clark’s naked performances dominate the collection, his plaintive heartache searing through LA Freeway and Desperadoes Waiting for a Train. Equally moving is the bleak, dusty balladry of Townes Van Zandt on Waiting Around To Die performed in his kitchen. Featuring the very first recordings of Steve Earle, John Hiatt, and Rodney Crowell, and stirring whiskey-soaked performances by Clark, Van Zandt, Steve Young, David Allan Coe, and others, Heartworn Highways raises the spirit of true roots music.
Kelly Willis’s first full-length offering since 1993 is one of the better country records you will hear, alternative or otherwise. She covers tunes by the likes of Paul Westerberg, Nick Drake, and Paul Kelly, and cowrites with the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and John Leventhal. If none of the songs quite rises to the heights of the Steve Earle, Jim Lauderdale, and Joe Ely material on her 1991 masterpiece Bang Bang, it is still solid stuff nonetheless. Any new song by Dan Penn (“Got a Feelin’ for Ya”, cowritten with Chuck Prophet) is already worth the price of admission, but Willis herself penned what may be the best tune here, “Talk Like That,” an ode to the comfort of a familiar accent far from home. What I Deserve was recorded on a tight budget without a record deal, which may be why the backing, though well played (especially by guitarist Prophet), verges on sounding unfinished–or, it may be the alternative-country sound she was intentionally seeking. Either way, Willis’s sublime voice and delivery reside on a more sophisticated plane. If listening to her throaty warbling of Nick Drake’s “Time Has Told Me” or her sultry rendering of the Penn tune doesn’t give you “chicken skin,” it is time to check your pulse.