MUSIC REVIEWS

By John B Moore

Aree and the Pure Heart
Never Gonna Die (Wiretap/Homebound records)
Aree and the Pure Heart may call Atlanta home, but their influences reside several states up north, somewhere along on the Jersey Turnpike to be specific. Layered throughout the band's stellar record Never Gonna Die, you here snatches of Gaslight Anthem, the Bouncing Souls and, of course, the OG, Springsteen. That's not to say the band is simply aping someone else's sound, they've just taken to heart the working class poetry and punk rock swagger of some of the Garden State's favorite sons. At nine tracks, there are one or two moments where the band coasts on lighter fare ("Tiger Champagne" is probably the least compelling track here), but they more than make up for it on more rowdy, driving fare like the aptly-titled "Gasoline Heart" or the fantastic, title track that closes the record, complete with horns! Somewhere on a horse farm in Central New Jersey, Springsteen is nodding along with approval.

This Means War
Heartstrings (Pirates Press Records)
Heartstrings, the debut full length from Belgium punks This Means War, easily proves that the band's self-titled EP wasn't simply a fluke. Across nearly a dozen tracks, this five-piece, teeming with a solid pedigree of influences from Cock Sparrer to the Bouncing Souls, turn in a wonderfully catchy, anthem-ready album that has all the trademarks of a modern punk rock classic. Taking their name from a 2014 Old Firm Casuals record, that influence is also locked down tight, as well here. In fact, they deftly cover the band's "Off With Their Heads" at the end of Side A. The songs each matching the pervious one's level of energy and intensity, hues closely to traditional punk rock themes (We're all in this together; Fighting the Powers that be; etc.) and that's part of the charm of this record. Unlike a slew of modern bands from the genre who seem to think punk rock began with Green Day and Blink 182, This Means War seem to be taking their cues from classic '70s British Oi bands and their American acolytes. Songs like the rowdy "Devil in Disguise," and "Why We Fight" manage to be standouts on a nearly flawless record, but it's the album closer, the sing-along "Forever," that cements this band as one of the most exciting things to come out of the Europe in years.

LUCETTE
Deluxe Hotel Room (Rock Creek Music/Thirty Tigers)
Canadian artist Lucette has surrounded herself with some of the most talented names in modern Americana and country music – working with Dave Cobb on her 2014 debut and grabbing Sturgill Simpson to producer her latest record – but to call her music Americana or country would be a gross misstatement. Yes, there are hints of both here and there spread across Deluxe Hotel Room, but there's also more liberal amounts of Soul, R&B and Indie Pop covering all nine songs. The one constant on each and every track is Lucette's hauntingly beautiful, often melancholy vocals that evoke memories of fellow Canadian artist, the late Leonard Cohen. Few others can emote so much with seemingly stark lyrics and often stripped down music, like the title track and the closing song, "Lover Don't Give Up on Me". Elsewhere, on songs like "Angel" and "Fly to Heaven," she goes full R&B complete with sax, and while not exactly jubilant, she comes off sounding impressive, nonetheless. Given how compelling Lucette is not only as a singer, but a songwriter as well, it's pretty obvious why both Cobb and Simpson wanted to work with her.

Who? What? When? Why? & Werewolves?
Greatest Hits (Self-released)
Philly has a long and storied musical past, from Blue Eyed Soul (Hall & Oates) and legit Soul (Gamble and Huff) to Hair Metal, lost and lots of Hair Metal (Cinderella, Britny Fox, Tangier, Poison…). But Bluegrass is not one of the genres that usually come to mind when you think of Philadelphia. The complicatedly-named Who? What? When? Why? & Werewolves? could possibly change that. On their 7-song debut, Greatest Hits, the band plays an impressively solid mix of Bluegrass and Americana, updated with sly, often laugh out loud lyrics. Comprised of singer Andrew Fullerton and banjo player Matt Orlando - both put in time with the very un-Bluegrass band The Tressels – the group starts off slowly with the mediocre "Bluebird" but then quickly move into more creative territory with the impressive "John Blonde Sings My Eulogy," and then the brilliant "Rattail," one of the best songs yet lamenting awful hairstyles. Elsewhere, "Stacy's in the Army" about a fan of the band who also happens to be a drag queen, highlights the duo's knack for deftly blending a classic sound with wry humor. At a time when the Bluegrass/Americana genre seems to be birthing a dozen new bands a week, a duo from Philly managed to find a way to stand out from the pack.

Drunken Prayer
Cordelia Elsewhere (Deer Lodge Records)
Mainstream Country music has gotten some bad press over the past few years because… well, it's bad, sometimes dreadful. For the most part, it relies on clichés and unimaginative recycled themes and lyrics that appeal to the broadest, most unimaginative audiences out there. But then there's those musicians that live in the shadows of Mainstream Country music – the authentic Americana bands, the Bluegrass groups that don't give a shit about radio airplay and the Outlaw Country acolytes who worship at the altar of Willie, Waylon and Bobby Bare, but wouldn't know a Luke Bryan or Kenny Chesney from either member of Wham! Drunken Prayer (probably best known as Freakwater's Morgan Greer) is one of those musicians thriving in those shadows, turning out one great record after another with little attention from Mainstream Country Radio or the producers of Ellen. And his fifth offering, Cordelia Elsewhere, is his best to date. Across 10 tracks, from the almost jubilant ode to bad decisions and bad luck, "Four Leaf Clover" (easily the best song yet about kids losing their parents to a bear attack), the opening, rock-infused "Into the Water" to the sanguine, surprisingly deep "Time to Go," Drunken Prayer offers one of the best arguments yet for Country fans to turn off the radio and head into the shadows for the good stuff.

Drunken Prayer
Cordelia Elsewhere (Deer Lodge Records)
Mainstream Country music has gotten some bad press over the past few years because… well, it's bad, sometimes dreadful. For the most part, it relies on clichés and unimaginative recycled themes and lyrics that appeal to the broadest, most unimaginative audiences out there. But then there's those musicians that live in the shadows of Mainstream Country music – the authentic Americana bands, the Bluegrass groups that don't give a shit about radio airplay and the Outlaw Country acolytes who worship at the altar of Willie, Waylon and Bobby Bare, but wouldn't know a Luke Bryan or Kenny Chesney from either member of Wham! Drunken Prayer (probably best known as Freakwater's Morgan Greer) is one of those musicians thriving in those shadows, turning out one great record after another with little attention from Mainstream Country Radio or the producers of Ellen. And his fifth offering, Cordelia Elsewhere, is his best to date. Across 10 tracks, from the almost jubilant ode to bad decisions and bad luck, "Four Leaf Clover" (easily the best song yet about kids losing their parents to a bear attack), the opening, rock-infused "Into the Water" to the sanguine, surprisingly deep "Time to Go," Drunken Prayer offers one of the best arguments yet for Country fans to turn off the radio and head into the shadows for the good stuff.

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