Lately the Indy newsroom has heard its fair share of Toad the Wet Sprocket. Why is a long story, and not something we’re necessarily proud of, but the upshot is a rash of peppy summertime openness and riding-with-the-top-down appreciation for feel-good pop rock. Thus the sophomore album from Luce was received with welcoming ears.
The Bay Area quintet received some buzz after their 2002 debut, particularly when the single “Good Day” landed on a series of soundtracks: 13 Going on 30, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, “Alias” and the pinnacle of populist ascent, “The OC.” Never Ending doesn’t have a runaway single like “Good Day,” but the Crowded House-esque opener “From the World of the Lonely” and the infectious rocker “Buy a Dog” are worthy of repeated listens, and the album as a whole is more consistently daring than the eponymous debut.
Frontman Tom Luce has a knack for writing intelligent, turn-of-phrase lyrics and matching them well with his band’s robust sound. The latter offers some surprises, including the Latin-influenced “Maria,” featuring Kyle Wheeler on trumpet, Adam Rossi’s well-placed Hammond B-3 on “Worth the Wait” and tight drumming throughout by former Counting Crow Steve Bowman.
Luce isn’t dumbed-down radio fare—it’s smart, upbeat and perfect for a carefree summer. And come to think of it, it’s a hell of a lot better than Toad the Wet Sprocket. (Skylar Browning)
Luce plays Sean Kelly’s Friday, July 28, at 9 PM. $2.
Magnolia Electric Co.
Jason Molina, the heart of Magnolia Electric Co., warbles a little like Roy Orbison and pens anguished lyrics of such sharpness that it’s easy to get sucked into his tales of lost love and past glories. Throughout his latest effort, Fading Trails, Molina recycles a thematic interest in ghosts, the moon and washed-out feelings, leaving the album with an almost obsessive quality. There’s nothing poppy about this recording, nothing flashy or particularly hip. Instead, it relies on fragile sincerity and intermittent dramatics—both instrumental and lyrical—cresting from its otherwise quiet waters.
The album begins with “Don’t Fade on Me,” a cozily slow dance that quickly turns toward a lonesome lament marked by lyrics like “Even Christ stayed until he got run out of town, but you faded on me.” “Talk to me Devil, Again” plays the same refrain, asking, “Devil when I fall, hold out no hand.” But Molina’s silver lining message comes in “Memphis Moon” when he says, “I know that we faded out, but oh didn’t we shine?”
Desperation on this album plays out like an Irish requiem, sadly beautiful and haunting, making it easy to listen to despite the misery that ties it together. (Erika Fredrickson)
Magnolia Electric Co. plays The Raven Cafe Friday, July 28, at 9 PM. Ladyhawk, Oblio Joes, and Travis Sehorn and the Cold Cold Souls of Ghost Folk open. 9 PM. $9.
Imagine a less self-important R.E.M. combined with the former members of Silkworm, and it may sound like Ladyhawk. The Vancouver-based quartet’s eponymous debut has those lingering drum fills and delayed chords so prevalent in Silkworm albums, and a songwriting flair reminiscent of early R.E.M.
“My Old Jacknife” is the catchiest tune, with its chorus of “Always sharp and always ready, and every time they tie me down, I cut myself loose” anchored by upbeat hand claps. “The Dugout” best displays Ladyhawk’s proclivity for detail, including fingerpicking and bass compositions that are interesting rather than merely functional.
Despite its inherent playfulness, the album manages sophistication, especially when titles like “Teenage Love Song” prove to be more than just stereotypically juvenile sentiments. Such surprises also figure into the finale “New Joker,” which begins with acoustic guitar and then cannonballs into electric chords and a bluesy organ. Most surprising is that lead singer Duffy Driediger has the vocal chops to sound authentic no matter what the occasion, be it brandishing spunky garage swagger or affecting more sorrowful tunes.
Ladyhawk’s debut is an intriguing collection—not mind-blowing, but with enough diversity of style to exert a gripping charm. (Erika Fredrickson)
Ladyhawk opens for Magnolia Electric Co. at The Raven Cafe Friday, July 28, at 9 PM. $9.
Mighty Fine BBQ
Los Sonsabitches hail from Lubbock, Texas; their lead singer goes by “Bubba Earl”; and their debut CD is endearingly titled Mighty Fine BBQ. With a lineup like that, any departure from pure red-meat country is a surprise, but Los Sonsabitches’ electric sound and offbeat percussion keep the album from being easily classified.
The five-piece band—self-dubbed as “original, eclectic meta-country rock”—boasts a guitar made for rock, a voice born for gritty bluegrass and a quirky array of accompanying instruments. Didgeridoo and electric guitar back up Bubba Earl’s rough-around-the-edges voice on “Hey-ee-ay” and a harmonica wails away on the high-spirited ode to marital infidelity, “Mighty Fine BBQ.”
But the arrangements and lyrics aren’t keeping anyone guessing. This is simple fun, and Mighty Fine BBQ is only great when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Heavy chord-driven tunes like “Diamonds In Blood” hang up on wince-worthy lyrics like, “My love is finer than a cool clear dawn/Her smile is like clouds/Her hair is like rain.” Ugh. I’d rather Los Sonsabitches just kept it simple and put me in my place with a “Hallelujah/What’s it to ya?” from the title track. (Alyssa Work)
Los Sonsabitches play the Top Hat Saturday, July 29, at 10 PM. Cover TBA.