Happy birthday, America. Ease back as some of country’s finest gals lay down upbeat barn-stompers, heartbreaking tearjerkers and twangy classics.

Aquarium Drunkard Presents: Country Soul Sisters – A Mixtape

I was driving through my neighborhood in New Orleans one evening when Brother Claude Ely came on WWOZ. I had to pull over and shake the goosebumps off, then regain my composure. Known as the “Gospel Ranger”, Brother Claude was the walking archetype of Pentecostal Holiness. He spent most of his life on the road, giving sermons to the ones who needed it most and the ones who didn’t know needed them yet. Using his cowboy hat, department store guitar, Holy Bible, and starched white suits, he knew exactly what his mission was. Sometimes he influenced fellow gospel, rock ‘n rollers, like Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, who have recorded his songs and attended his tent revivals.

Brother Claude would advertise his sermons when first arriving into each town: “Later tonight at 7:00, I’ll have a tent set up in the middle of town, please come out and experience the fire and Holy Ghost”. I immediately picture the scene from Blues Brothers, when Jake and Elwood drive through town with the megaphone jerry-rigged to the Bluesmobile.

With the broken up rhythm and the help off his off beat congregation, Brother Claude Ely gives  the gospel you’ve been looking for, religious or not. The remarkable footnote of his life is the last sermon he gave. During “Where Could I Go But To The Lord”, Brother Claude fell backwards and died of a heart attack in front of his entire congregation. words / m norton

Brother Claude Ely :: There Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold Me


It’s been half a decade since we were treated to an LP from San Francisco’s Skygreen Leopards. Having taken some time earlier this year to collaborate with Ben Chasney (Six Organs of Admittance) as New Bums, longtime collaborators Donovan Quinn and Glenn Donaldson have revitalized their brand of bucolic, jangle-pop via Family Crimes, their first effort for Brooklyn-based label Woodsist.  Despite a lengthy intermission, the duo returns effortlessly to a project that seems entirely unyielding to any standard cyclical pressures created by the music industry.  It is not often you find a group so grounded and determined, yet equally blithe and untroubled.

Ahead of their eighth full-length under the SGL moniker, we spoke briefly with Donovan and Quinn about keeping this band afloat, returning to work with Papercuts’ Jason Quever, and sticking to a formula.

Aquarium Drunkard: Hey Donovan/Glenn. How’s it going and where are you writing us from?

Glenn: San Francisco (while I should be working).

Donovan: Everything is great. About to play at Vera Club in Groningen. Cool place.

AD: You guys are set to release your first LP since 2009. What sparked the writing and recording process again?

Glenn: It’s our goal to outlast every other band and trend. No. Basically, every now and then it’s fun to be creative around the concept of Skygreen Leopards and hang out; other times we get sick of ourselves and put it on hold for a while.

We usually have about a year of harmonious beautiful music making togetherness before we start screaming at each other and making death threats. That’s when it’s time to take a break and rush back to our respective therapists.

carpenterKnown names like Emmylou Harris and Billy Joe Shaver recorded his songs, but Canadian songwriter Bob Carpenter’s work has largely been overlooked, spoke of only by true believers and searchers. As is the case with so many lost records, the trouble was there right from the very start: In 1974 Carpenter recorded an album called Silent Passage for Warner Bros. Records, but the label shelved it during contract negotiations.

One look at the credits list and the move seems unthinkable. Producer Brian Ahern put together a cast including his wife at the time, Emmylou Harris, along with Anne Murray, Lowell George and Bill Payne of Little Feat, and session all-stars like bassist Leland Sklar, pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, and drummer Russ Kunkel to provides tasteful touches to Carpenter’s spectral songs. Perhaps there was some hesitation regarding the album’s tone. Though cushioned by pillowy strings and soft Technicolor flares, Carpenter’s voice is rough-hewed, a wrinkle that even the glossy horns and lite funk of “Old Friends” can’t smooth out. On songs like “Down Along the Border” he sounds scraped raw, and he slurs his way through “Now and Then.” There’s a palpable darkness hanging over the album as well. Many of Carpenter’s peers sang about the road with a wistful longing and romance, but on “Silent Passage” Carpenter seems drawn to it out of necessity or some unnamed dread: “Before the war I had no need for traveling/ indeed I do not know what made it so important to leave.”

The record collected dust for a decade until Canadian label Stoney Plain released in 1984, but it sees its first wide release in 30 years via No Quarter Records on August 19th. Carpenter passed away in 1995, but the record’s mystic country rock vibe has proved to have staying power among the initiated. “I heard of it through Doug Paisley,” says No Quarter founder Mike Quinn. “He played me that tune ‘Silent Passage’ and I was floored.”  words / j woodbury

Bob Carpenter :: Silent Passage

129669-aWhen I wrote about the Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies for this blog six and a half (?!) years ago, the album was ten years old, out of print and the band had sailed into what seemed to be their sunset. Gary Louris and Mark Olson had toured as a duo doing Jayhawks songs, but there was no reason necessarily to believe that the band proper was still kicking. Now, in 2014, we have seen reissues of three of the first four Jayhawks albums, a reunited Louris-and-Olson-led Jayhawks record a new album, 2011′s Mockingbird Time, and this week, the last three Jayhawks albums from their original run – Sound of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music – get their remastered and reissued due.

It’s kind of fun to think of yet again re-visiting a record I consider the Jayhawks’ finest musical moment. Sound of Lies is their most creative and dynamic album, even if it was the first without Olson. The termination of two relationships right around one another – Louris’ creative one with Olson and his romantic one with his then wife – clearly led to some powerful emotional entanglements. And it still stands as one of the brightest musical moments of the 90s alt-country movement, a record that I come back to far and again more than any other Jayhawks moment except, maybe, “Nevada, California.”

Before talking about the reissue itself, I should finish old business from that first review and say that I was wrong about “Bottomless Cup.” I’m not sure why I thought that the song “seems almost out of place amongst the desolate symbolism of the rest of the album.” Now it seems like the perfect penultimate track – a man reminiscing on an earlier version of himself, a wanted reboot to an earlier vision and ideal of himself that existed before all the late unpleasantness. In the middle of a pretty dark record, it’s a bit of light, a smidgen of that great hope inside of us that somewhere we were perfect and we just have to get back there, boats against the current.

The remastering on this record is something that will probably come down to real audiophiles to suss out. Sound of Lies has always sounded pretty immaculately recorded to me and it’s often a struggle to fully understand why albums that are from the (relative) golden age of digital recording ever really need this kind of treatment. But the end results are as sparkling as they ever were.

As for the bonus tracks, there are five here and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. “I Hear You Cry,” originally on the European version of the album, is a true rarity in the Jayhawks catalogue – a song penned solely by bassist Marc Perlman. It’s a pretty good tune, though it’s clear why it didn’t end up on the album proper. It’s a sultry, dark take on the Jayhawks sound as filtered through their soul influences and with its lyrics based on looking out as opposed to inward, it doesn’t fit Sound of Lies‘ overall lyrical tone. “Sleepyhead,” originally a b-side for the “Big Star” single, is a gorgeous, dreamy song that is a great add for the bonus tracks. Again, not something that belonged on the album, but a great rescue for this particular reissue. There is also an alternate version of album track “It’s Up To You” with vastly different lyrics than what would end up on the final version and also lacking the harmony vocals. Same for the rough mix of the title track included here. Minus the harmonies, this is the song at its most bare bones and while neither of these songs will become the new standard version of either, they are interesting for the insight into the writing and recording process.

The only dud here is “Kirby’s Tune,” a rambling instrumental with electric key flourishes. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Gary Louris once where he talked about liking both Neu! and Gary Numan, hearing small bits of those tastes flitter in and out of the song. But for a band that isn’t known for its instrumentals (or for that matter, doing instrumentals at all), it’s a throwaway of a bonus track, a filler.

Sound of Lies is an important album in the Jayhawks’ catalogue because of the clear demarcation it makes in the band’s history. Louris’ songs had been coming more and more into prominence – compare not a single solo writing credit on their self-titled debut to co-writing status with Olson on every single song (except for the Grand Funk cover) on Tomorrow the Green Grass. The trio of albums released by this version of the Jayhawks would each be their own interesting piece of an evolving work, but Sound of Lies is the band coalescing around an idea that they were far from done yet and driving that point home with its finest hour. words / j neas

The Jayhawks :: The Man Who Loved Life
The Jayhawks :: Haywire


Vibes, here. Gal Costa, on her 1969 self-titled lp, covers, amongst other Tropicalia staples, the Caetano Veloso-penned – Os Mutantes-popularized – “Baby.” Costa swaps out the mutant garage-psych for a taste of airy and elegant cool. Gone are the shimmering organ and winding guitar and in their stead we find swirling and soaring strings. The tune starts with a subtle but undeniable bassline, accented by distant drum clicks and laid-back guitar, everything taking its time as the strings slowly glide up to the surface. Costa’s vocals echo out into the atmosphere, lending the song a spacious grace – more than enough room for Caetano Veloso to stretch his vocal chords as well.  He and Costa float around each other, intertwining and then drifting away together into space. words / c depasquale

Gal Costa :: Baby


Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1966 album, Memphis Beat, is filled to the brim with covers ranging from the Louisiana classic “Mathilda” to the country standard “She Thinks I Still Care.” But in the midst of all the mediocre covers, The Killer still manages to deliver two and a half minutes of greatness. Lewis’ sole writing contribution lies buried on side 2 in the form of an upbeat tributary anthem to our late great 35th president. “Lincoln Limousine” walks a thin line between brilliant and cheesy but manages (with the help of hypnotic piano rolls) to sway to the side of brilliance. words / p dufrene

Jerry Lee Lewis :: Lincoln Limousine


The psychedelic cowboy known as Lee Hazlewood was a force unlike any other: his deep baritone, his effortless cool, his expansive, boundary-pushing production and, perhaps most of all, his immense talent for composition. It’s the latter two that, lately, have caused his rendition of Tom Rush’s “No Regrets,” from The Cowboy & the Lady, his 1969 collaborative album with Ann-Margret, to cut deep and true.  From the very first notes, the guitars, layered and emitting a palpable sense of freedom, resonate powerfully. It’s country, in a late ‘60’s free-folk sort of way, but the forlorn harmonica, the soft cooing of the backup singers and those gleaming guitar notes after Lee repeats “no regrets” transform the song into something else– into its own intangible entity. The song sounds like nothing else and Lee’s lyrics are haunting and transient. “Goodbye dry eyes/I watched your plane/fade off west to the moon/and it felt so strange/to walk away alone…” The affirming title and chorus are undercut by the ghost of his former lover, and that strange tension between looking forward and a haunted past lends the song an even stranger, more haunting and near indefinable beauty. words / c depasquale

Lee Hazlewood :: No Regrets


This *might* make it into a film I am presently working on. Regardless, you need it in your life.

Gilbert O’Sullivan :: Alone Again (Naturally)