By Lee Zimmerman
Rain Perry, a superb singer/songwriter based in Ojai California, offers up her best effort to date with Let’s Be Brave, a steadfast series of mantras which are well worth heeding. From the Bo Diddley beat that propels the album opener “Whitier Street,” to her heartfelt ode to her native state, “California I Love You,” and “Vapor,” an equally affecting shout out to a presumed lover and confidante, Perry sings with an insistence and commitment that’s clearly inspired by her attachment to her environs. She’s aided and assisted by some equally able support players -- Mark Hallman, who produced and played a majority of the instrumentation, acclaimed auteur Chuck Prophet and Jon Dee Graham, courtesy of his edgy rap-like vocal on Bruce Springsteen’s “Rocky Ground.” Perry herself delivers this set of songs with conviction, confidence and an unshakeable determination. Indeed, given its attitude and execution, consider Let’s Be Brave apt advice for our turbulent times.
Jeffrey Halford and the Healers are a gritty bunch of alt Americana outlaws, given a sound that’s defined by their leader’s menacing vocals and the ragged edge and intensity contributed by his erstwhile colleagues, keyboardist Adam Rossie and bass player Bill Macbeath. It’s raw and irreverent, clearly culled from the heartland and given the full flourish that it calls for. The ten songs that make up their new album, West Towards South, paint a vivid picture of a dust blown wilderness, with ample attention focused on shady characters and dire desperados inhabiting the desolate terrain. It’s imaginative and expressive, a compelling cinematic storybook wrapped in a torrent of exacting description and unrelenting determination. Halford and company demonstrate the ability to blend attitude and intrigue, easily engaging the listener with each of its hard-bitten narratives. West Towards South finds Halford and the Healers clearly confident in both their direction and delivery.
The Black Watch, the alter ego of the pseudo band’s mainstay John Andrew Fredrick, has been making music well below the radar for three decades now, going unnoticed except by a faithful few. An academic by day, Fredrick takes an approach that’s as serious and studious as his day job might require, exercising a craft and diligence that makes each of his 16 albums an ideal example of pop perfect proficiency. That said, the Black Watch isn’t simply an exercise in giddy or superfluous intent; as the latest album, Magic Johnson, demonstrates so demonstratively, it’s really serious stuff, with a gravitas that burrows several layers deep. The record’s title comes from an encounter with the legendary LA Laker Magic Johnson himself. After spotting his hero in a restaurant, he went up to him and asked if he’d received the letters Fredrick’s students at Loyola Marymount University had written as get-well wishes when it was announced that Johnson was HIV-positive. “Man,” Johnson smiled and replied, “Did I get ‘em? I’m still answering them!” Also on the bill: a new compilation: 31 Years of Obscurity: The Best of the black watch: 1988-2019. Newcomers are best advised to catch up quickly.
Once half of the boundary-defying duo Foster and Lloyd, Bill Lloyd’s been pursuing a pop purist approach ever since, courtesy of a series of solo albums that have made him one of the most prolific artists of the past two decades. Like Richard X Heyman, with whom he might easily be compared, Lloyd has a natural affinity for writing emphatic melodies that are chock full of indelible hooks and lingering refrains. His latest outing, the aptly-titled Working the Long Game, is no exception, a stunning set of emphatic, energetic songs that create an immediate impression even on first hearing. Songs such as “Satellite,” “‘Til the Day That I Breakdown” and “Go-To-Girl” are so energetic and infectious that it’s all but impossible not to feel inclined to sing right along. Credit doesn’t go to Lloyd alone; his writing partners include a who’s who of pop practitioners, Freedy Johnston, Graham Gouldman, Scott Sax, Aaron Lee Tasjan and Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, among them. Suffice it to say that when the list of the year’s best records are compiled, this one will be among them.
Mention Tennessee and most folks automatically assume you’re referring to Nashville or Memphis. The fact is, there’s a lot more to the state, especially as far as its music is concerned. Knoxville provides a hub for some wonderful singer/songwriters, one of them being Brian Paddock, who recently reemerged with his new band The American Gentlemen. The band’s new album, Love Is Weird, offers another wonderful sampling of Paddock’s easy and appealing vocals and instantly engaging song craft, courtesy of ten tracks of affable country tinged ballads and upbeat reflections on life and love. Given Paddock’s typically calming embrace, songs such as “Still Beautiful,” “Goodbye” and the title track provide initial examples of that supple sound. In fact, there’s not a single song here that doesn’t speak to Paddock and company’s skill and savvy. Love can be weird at times, but fortunately, this album provides all the reassurance needed.
The Yawpers are a boisterous bunch, as evidenced by their latest album, Human Condition. Song after song demonstrates an unabashed enthusiasm that makes little concession to convention or conformity. With their razor sharp guitar licks and double time rhythms, the music they make finds them creating a mighty noise. Suffice it to say, their sound isn’t for the timid, and with five albums to their credit in the last seven years, this Denver-based trio clearly aren’t the kind to hold back when it comes to sharing their own form of cow-punk posturing. Yet even though they come across as brash and belligerent, they clearly maintain an honesty and integrity that finds them spewing their torrid sound with a clear purpose. There’s an unfettered urgency in their delivery, and if they sometimes seem intent on probing the depths of trouble and despair, then it’s also obvious that they’re prone to find some redemption as well.