Sunday, July 29, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I finally return to reviewing some of the albums I bought on my massive west coast shopping trip this past spring. There's still a bunch more, but I'm trying to space them out to keep you all interested. These selections were bought in L.A., Portland, and Seattle. Most are records I knew before purchasing them, others were nice surprises. Another wide range of tastes, so hopefully there is something for everyone. Enjoy.

The Soft Machine - The Soft Machine: The 1968 debut album from the UK psychedelic prog band is not only one of my favorite albums, but I've actually had two separate dreams about buying this on vinyl. So when I found a first pressing in perfect condition at Amoeba in L.A., I was thrilled. Less crazy than their follow-up albums, this is a subtle and beautiful record. "A Certain Kind" and "Lullabye Letter" are two of the best songs of the era.

Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection: After 1971's Madman Across the Water, this is Elton's finest album, released a year earlier. The country blues vibe is perfect on here and Bernie's lyrics are amazing as usual. I found this for only $2 in Portland and though I had it digitally before, it was a needed addition to my early '70s Elton vinyl collection. This album is the one that first got me to rethink that period of his music, and the thanks fro that goes to Axl Rose who mentioned this as his favorite blues album on a GNR forum about six years ago. 

The Cure - Boys Don't Cry: This is the way the band's debut Three Imaginary Boys was released in the US, though it's not exactly the same. The track listing is different, making both necessary. Thanks to another steal price of $8, again in Portland, I now have both on vinyl. These are some of my favorite Cure songs, starting with the title track, "Fire in Cairo," "Killing an Arab," and "Jumping Someone Else's Train." A post-punk masterpiece.

Brenda Lee - Let Me Sing: Released in 1963 when Brenda was still just 19, this is the singer's ninth full length album. I've been a super fan of her '50s and early '60s work for years and have slowly been acquiring them on vinyl as I find them. I found this in Seattle for $3 and it's phenomenal. Her voice is amazing and she infuses these standards with emotion that's all her own. "Break it to Me, Gently" is one of my favorite songs of hers.

The Boggs - Forts: Released in 2007, this NYC indie album is criminally unknown. There's a manic energy on here that reminds me of Elephant 6 bands, but without the sunshine melodies those bands are known for. It's definitely experimental, but also easy to enjoy. I've had this for years but when I saw it on sale in Seattle, I couldn't resist. A great record. If you don't know should.

The Jim Kweskin Jug Band - Garden of Joy: In the early '60s this band pioneered the psychedelic folk sound that would later explode in San Fran...but they did it from Cambridge, Mass. This 1967 album is the band's fourth. Though not as exceptional as 1965's Jug Band Music or 1967's Relax Your Mind, this is still a solid record that fits nicely alongside the others on my shelf. I found this one in Seattle as well.

Bow Wow Wow - 12 Original Recordings: This compilation from the new wave band was put out in 1982 to cash in on their popularity. It includes songs from early EPs like Your Cassette Pet. When I'm in the mood, this band's chaotic energy is second to none. While these songs are sloppier than later efforts, it's still a decent record. Fun fact: a few months back, I had a dream I traveled back in time to discover I was actually the bass player for Bow Wow Wow, we were about to play a bar and I realized I didn't know any of the songs.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Feeling Awkward.

I have a confession to make...I really kind of like Awkward and like it a lot. Now it's been almost a decade since I thought MTV has done any worthwhile programming. Wonder Showzen is probably the last relevant production they put out. Since then, it's been reality trash and scripted disasters. So naturally, I ignored Awkward for the longest time. I'll be honest, I never even considered watching it and probably wouldn't have if the Missus hadn't suggested we give it a try.

Having watched most of the second season, I can officially say this is a really fun show. It definitely owes a lot to YA literature. There are of course elements of the show which bug me, from the point of view of a YA author. I sort of hate the "all-too-clever" dialogue and the endless attempts to coin new slang that nobody would ever say. Also, it seems far fetched the that incredibly cute girl would be the outcast, while the nasty, unattractive girl is supposed to be the most popular. But that's television, I suppose. 

If you were a fan of My So Called Life, this is definitely worth a shot. And if you're a fan of Awkward, then definitely get yourself caught up on My So Called Life

Thursday, July 26, 2012

You Wait There, I'll Be Right Back...

The other day I was thinking about what happens to my characters when I'm not working on a manuscript. Since I've been writing two things at once, I let one project sit for a few days while I finished up the other. But I kept reminding myself where I'd left my two main characters, so that it was constantly fresh in mind.

I'd left them sitting on a bed. I kept picturing them in this state of suspended animation. Like toys set up for a permanent scene. A museum piece, frozen in time. And then I come marching back in and expect to them to just pick up where they left off. 

It's a fascinating thing, this fiction stuff.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Welcome to the weekend! This was another week where I spent a lot of time listening to music I already own. After all, those records need to be listened to at some point. Some of them are albums I hadn't listened to in a long time and figured it was a good time to include them here for those who might not know them. I did manage to squeeze in some new stuff too...because the music never stops. A few surprised me, both in positive and less than positive ways. But even those I didn't quite love, seemed worthy of mention because they were good enough that I know others might like them. It was just a matter of taste. Enjoy.

AZ - Stand Up New York!!: Another mixtape courtesy, my new favorite source for hip hop mixtapes. AZ is one of the legends of '90s NYC hardcore. In recent years, he's popped up on various mixtapes, almost always overshadowing the main artist with his no nonsense delivery and smooth rhymes. This 2009 selection is pretty tight. The strongest tracks easily overshadow the weaker ones. It's nice when an artist is still at the top of his game nearly two decades after it started. Definitely worth picking up for real hip hop fans.

Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf: This is certainly not a new album for me. I've owned it since it's release in 2002, but I dug it out a few weeks ago and have been listening to it a lot ever since. This stands right alongside the band's debut as their best work. The album is loosely held together by fake radio snippets, which are actually making a point about the stale state of music, unlike a lot of other albums which use similar devices simply for laughs. The songs are incredibly well crafted, intense, heavy and often beautiful. "No One Knows" may just be one of the best songs of the last decade. If you don't have this album...get it.

Caribou - The Milk of Human Kindness: Released in 2005, this is the first album to come out under the Caribou name. Having first heard the two follow-up albums, I have to say this isn't my favorite. It's definitely not as focused. The songs are very experimental in nature, very reminiscent of Olivia Tremor Control, but lack some of the Beatles inspiration that really makes the sound click on the later albums. "Hello Hammerheads" is the one real stand out track for me. 

Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls: The debut album from this southern blues rock band, released this spring, has gotten a lot of attention lately, and probably for good reason. Brittany Howard's vocals are truly spiritual. Her gut wrenching delivery reminds me of Janis Joplin in a lot of ways. Musically, it's strictly old school southern rock. A real solid album. I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.

Work Drugs - Absolute Bearing: With their fourth album in last year and half, this Philly band is certainly trying to put their stamp on the indie scene. There's a dreamy quality to most of these songs that helps to soften the dance-pop tempo and arrangements. At times, this is a beautiful record, especially the stand out track "Tourist Heart." But for much of the album, it veers to much into adult contempo for my taste. But certainly worth checking out if you like your indie a little poppy.

Alberta Cross - Songs of Patience: Just out this past week, this is the second album from the Brooklyn, via London, rock band. I've been really loving this album all week. It definitely reminds me of a lot post-Brit Pop UK bands such as Kasabian and The Stands, as well as fellow Brooklynites The Rosewood Thieves. There is a delicate quality to these rock songs, something rough amid all the careful crafting. I highly recommend this one.

The Hives - Your New Favourite Band: Another album that has been in my collection a long time but which I've recently been listening to a lot lately. This is a UK compilation covering the Swedish garage rock band's early EPs and first full length album. It was the first release made widely available in the States back in 2001 when this band was up and coming and so it was the first release of theirs I bought. This album is packed with great in-your-face rock n roll and still can get me going even though I've heard it a million times. "Main Offender," "Hate to Say I Told You So," and "Supply and Demand" open the collection with a full-on assault and the album never really lets up afterwards. The band's newest release, Lex Hives, has the feel of these old songs and really got me back into their back catalog. This is a great place to start for Hives newcomers.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Game of Cat and Mouse

Over the last few days, the Missus and I have frequently found our cat Mitzie staring attentively into the corner. We are familiar enough with her habits to know that meant something was in the wall. Typically only mice will get days worth of patient guarding, and this time was no different.

Last night, while sitting on the sofa, Mitzie pounced, rather noisily knocking over candles and clanging against the firewood tray. At first, I ignored this outburst due to two previous false alarms. But when I looked closer, I saw the mouse hiding behind the very same firewood tray as Mitzie frantically sniffed and searched the other side of it. 

The mouse waited to make its move. Sensing my cat's nature to throw all of her smarts out the window when confronted with excitement, the mouse made a wide turn and raced back into safety. Stunned, Mitzie spun around and was completely too slow to react. Of course, she spent the next hour or so looking for the mouse in the place where it had been hiding, though it was long gone. 

There is no questioning her determination. She stood guard the rest of the night. However, it saddens me to report she was outsmarted by a mouse...and isn't the first time either. It's not easy being the Mitzie.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

Another week and another list that seems to make no sense to me. Looking at the selection of albums I've picked to review this week, there is seemingly no connection. In fact, I would venture to guess that I'm the only person in the world with all of these specific albums in their collection. Not that there aren't lots of people with equally, if not more diverse taste than me, but for some reason this list feels really random to me. That's okay though. I like random. Random is good. Random is your friend. Enjoy.

Scratch Acid - Scratch Acid: This is the 1984 debut EP from the Texas band that would become extremely influential to the late '80s Seattle sound. Featuring David Yow (later of Jesus Lizard) on vocals, this band pioneered the unhinged heavy punk sound that would lead to Tad, The Melvins, and Nirvana. The songs are more conventional and straight-forward than Jesus Lizard yet equally as manic. Yow has a way of tapping into some energetic dark waters and swimming around in them is certainly an experience that I enjoy. A side note: this is the 4000th album cataloged in my never should have taken me that long to get to it.

Stonehouse - Stonehouse Creek: This 1971 album is the only release this hard rock UK outfit ever put out. It's the kind of album that falls into the transition period from blues/country rock into the harder rock of bands like Thin Lizzy. For some, this could be considered one of those lost gems, but that's always been a label I'm weary of. Often I find 'lost gems' to have been lost for a reason. Many of those albums, though interesting, are very flawed and become forgotten for that reason. I feel this album falls into that category. There are some decent tunes on here, "Nightmare" and "Cheater" being the best, which are also the heaviest songs. Much of the rest of the record sounds like a Creedence Clearwater Revial imitation.

The Thermals - Now We Can See: Released in 2009, this is the Portland band's fourth album. It's the same brand of power indie rock that they have been known for since their debut, but there seems to be a greater sense of structure on this album. The punk attitude and spirit is still there, as well as the intelligent observations, but they are placed within a tighter context, making this a slightly stronger album in my opinion. For the first time, they are beginning to remind me of Built to Spill in that regard. A solid album.

The Future Primitives - This Here's The Future Primitives: As I type this, I just literally finished listening to this brief 8 song debut from the Cape Town, South Africa band. It's an explosive psychedelic garage rock album. From the first song to the last, it keeps an intense pace. It reminds me of early Black Lips or Harlem. Good stuff. You can find it for free on their bandcamp page here. (Special thanks to the dANIMAL for the heads-up on this one.)

Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage [Deluxe Edition]: Originally released in 1999, this masterpiece has remained a favorite of mine every since. Part of the Elephant 6 collective, OTC is one of the most ambitious bands of the group, combining experimental soundscapes with beautiful pop harmonies. Last year, this landmark album was given a deluxe reissue on vinyl with an entire album of extras. Most of the extras consist mainly of instrumental noise compositions which fit nicely with the original release. Some live versions of the album's stand-out tracks are also a much welcomed addition. The album is a definite essential. The deluxe edition though is probably only for real fans.

Jean Grae - Jean Grae's Home for Gifted Dragons: This mix tape is a collection of different hip-hop artists from the Philly area which, for some reason, also features a few of Jean Grae verses. Some of her verses are also on Jean's 2011 mixtape Cookies or Comas. Like most compilations of this type, it's pretty uneven, but there is much raw hip-hop here to appreciate. Philly has always been an underrated hip-hop city, which is a shame. It's general style is similar to the Brooklyn down and dirty, hard hitting style. Available on, this real hip-hop worth listening to. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fiction Friday (10)! I haven't done a Fiction Friday since March and I'm not really sure how I let that happen. I've certainly been reading books in that time, I just haven't been reviewing them with any degree of frequency. I think a part of that is my natural tendency to grow weary of reviews in the period after I've released a book. Once subjected by reviews of your own work, one feels a little less motivated to subject others to the same. But as I've mentioned before, I think it's important for an author to discuss what he or she is reading from time. I think authors read books for different reasons than non-writers and that we see different things within the work. 

This week, I'm going to share three different chapter books that I've read over the past two months. I've been working on a chapter book project of my own for the past month or so, and have returned to reading the genre again after some time away. I believe that when writing in specific children's formats such as picture books, readers, or chapter books, it's important to continually refresh oneself to the parameters of the format before diving in. (By I'm the complete opposite when it comes to YA novels. I avoid reading any of them while working on something.) Enjoy.

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child
(Candlewick 2002)

As Clarice's class prepares their utterly important book projects, mysterious things begin to happen. First there is a flood in the boys bathroom, then the winner's cup goes missing, and to top it all off, her best friend has completely vanished. In fact, things are beginning to resemble the events in her favorite book series about Ruby Redfort, a child secret agent. It's hard for Clarice to concentrate on book projects with so much going on around her.

I've always been a fan of Lauren Child's work, not only for her wonderful illustrations, but also for her unbelievable ability to capture the voice of a child. While her picture books have always displayed her artistic genius, this Chapter Book allows the author to showcase her wonderful writing talent.

Clarice is an exceptionally entertaining narrator, mostly because she is unexceptional in almost every way. By that I mean, Clarice is a normal kid and that's what makes the books so endearing. So often children encounter characters who find themselves in fantastical situations, or characters who are so quirky that they are unlike anyone the reader will meet in real life. It's refreshing to meet a character like Clarice who demonstrates that you don't have to be exceptional to be special. All you need is what every child instinctively has: an vivid imagination and a curious nature. 

Billy Bones by Christopher Lincoln
(Little Brown 2008)

A delightful, more middle grade read that has a Roald Dahl meets Beetljuice feel to it, Billy Bones follows a family of skeletons charged with keeping the secrets of the rotten human family dwelling within the house where they live in a secret closet. Of course, not everyone in the Biglam family is rotten, least of all Millicent, the recently orphaned little girl who has been in the care of her most rotten uncle. 

Millicent reminded me of Matilda (from the Dahl book of the same title). She's the kind of character you root for not only because of the unfairness of her condition, but also because of the positive nature of her spirit. She quickly befriends Billy, a young skeleton boy with secrets of his own. From there, the secrets of the house begin to surface in explosive fashion, literally. 

I really enjoyed spending time with this cast of characters and the wonderful illustrations added to the story's appeal. A perfect book for fans of Series of Unfortunate Events.

Little Fur #1: The Legend Begins by Isobelle Carmody
(Random House 2006)

This is one of those books that I was really torn about. On one hand, as an adult, I found it fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing our world through the eyes of Little Fur and her friends. To make the everyday world feel new and strange is a difficult task that Carmody was able to pull off. I also thought the mythical elements of the story were intriguing. I loved 'The Old Ones' and the idea of this innocent creature being their protector. Little Fur as a character is well-formed and the bravery she discovers within herself along her journey is wonderful to see.

Then there's the other half of me that kept shaking my head as I read the book. The environmental message in the book comes off incredibly heavy-handed. That in itself didn't bother me because it played into the character's view of the world. The part that left me shaking my head was the complete disgust presented in the book toward humans in general. Granted, by the end, there was a very slight concession that perhaps not every human in the world was terrible and evil, yet it still left the impression that most were, or at least our lifestyle is. Again, as an adult, I'm not sure I would object too much to that point of view, but as a book for children, it struck as incredibly odd. I really wonder what kind of message it would send to an impressionable child, especially given that most readers are going to be suburban children living in the very kind of place described in the book...not to mention what a dog owner would think (given the way dogs are depicted as willing slaves of human evil).

An odd story with charm whose message goes a little over the top.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Come In, The Door's Open...

At the start of writing any book, there are always certain scenes that you have in mind before the first word is ever written. A big problem new writers have is their impatience to get to these scenes. They rush through things so that they can write the part that is super clear to them. But stories don't work like that...a lot of the time, those scenes need to be built. Some serious groundwork needs laid if they are going to have the impact one hopes for them to have. 

This type of scene can be a blessing...after all, every writer loves to keep a fully formed scene in their pocket to pull out when needed. But they can behave like demons as well, constantly banging on the door and wanting to throw themselves all over the next blank page. It can be a tough task keeping that door shut. The temptation to let them in too early is often overwhelming.

The other day, I reached the point in my manuscript where I could cast that door wide open and work on a scene that had been in my mind from the outset. It was a great feeling taming that demon. The struggle to keep it at bay is always worth it in the end.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup (Best of 2012...So Far)

Rather than cloud the airwaves with even more reviews, I feel like it's a time to take a pause and reflect on the greatness that has already been given to us this year. Given that 2012 is half-way over, I've decided to share with you 10 of my favorite albums of the year so far. There were several other albums that could've made this list, but ultimately I just made some quick edits to get it down to ten. However, over the next six months, some of these are likely to fall off, while some of those edited might creep back on. For that reason, it seemed like an even better reason to share these with you now, since they are all worthy even they don't end up on my best of the year list. Enjoy.

Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself: The newest album by Andrew Bird is on the grande scale one has come to expect from the chamber folk maestro. The album feels slightly more intricate than some of his more recent work and somehow more personal too. There's a solid folk song structure that hangs over the songs, giving them a truly beautiful feel. "Give it Away," "Lazy Projector," and "Near Death Experience Experience" make up the middle core of the album are pure perfection. 
Spiritualized - Sweet Heart Sweet Light: J. Spaceman returns with his first album since 2008, and easily his best since 1997's Ladies and Gentleman... This album really blew me away upon first listen. It captures the desperation that is familiar with all of Spiritualized work, but is more complicated musically than some of the latest albums. It simply soars with heartache, but with the upbeat summer melodies that make it a joy to listen to over and over. 

Guided By Voices - Class Clown Spots a UFO: The new album from the kings of lo-fi is probably their best in over a decade. Reminiscent of their their 90's masterpiece Bee Thousand, this album seems to vary tone and structure with each song, yet they flow seamlessly together. There really isn't a bad track on here, which is impressive considering there are 21 of them, though most are under 3:00 minutes in length. 

The Wooden Sky - Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun: This Toronto alt-folk band has been a favorite band of mine over the past five years, and with this, their third album, they've done nothing to lessen their standing. The songs are well-crafted and affecting. Sung with a mid-western twang, the songs have a country feel that serves them well. "Angelina," "Take Me Down," and "City of Light" are real standouts on a terrific album.

Mars Volta - Noctourniquet: Thankfully I didn't have to wait long between the first single and the full-length. The band's first album in three years is just as expansive and complex as one would come to expect from the true heroes of the new progressive rock movement. It's slightly more focused however than their previous album, with shorter, more aggressive songs. All in all, another excellent album and worth the wait.  

Nacho Picasso - Lord of the Fly: On the Seattle rapper's second album in less than a year, he is once again paired up with Blue Sky Black Death. The previous effort, 2011's For the Glory is nothing short of the best hip hop album I've heard in a long time. This album feels like a continuation of that one. It has the same fantastic spooky beats that Blue Sky Black Death does better than anyone else. Nacho's flow is impeccable. It's a slightly darker record, and while it's pretty incredible, I do miss a little of the fun from the first record.  

Jack White - Blunderbuss: The first solo album from arguably the most influential figure in rock over the past decade. After fronting three bands that all posted bestselling albums, it's about time that Jack White released something that was from him and only him. Upon first listen, the album is solid, though it boasts no real surprises. I'm not sure that's the album's fault or just due to the fact that we've heard Jack do just about everything over the past 12 years or so. Well, I shouldn't say no surprises, because he does incorporate a rockabilly feel to some songs that up until now he's only really favored in songs by others which he has produced. After the initial listen, I finally let myself get caught up in the songs and truly love this record more and more each time I hear it. There's a joy in the making of the music that somehow seems to have been missing for some time. Great stuff.  

Ruby Throat - O'Doubt O'Stars: As regular readers know, my love of all things Katie Jane Garside knows no bounds. Ruby Throat is a side-project by the Queenadrenna/ Daisy Chainsaw front woman. For this, their third album, the release is limited to 500 hand made copies and I was lucky enough to get mine last week. This could be one of her best albums to date. Recorded while navigating the waterways north of London, the album has an isolated feel, combined with the richness of fairy tales and despair. It is absolutely beautiful and easily the best album I've heard in over a year. 

Mount Eerie - Clear Moon: The newest album by Phil Elverum is a fine example of what he is best known for, lo-fi psychedelic folk. This album is a little closer in feel to his former band The Microphones masterpiece The Glow Pt. 2, though certainly without the epic scope, than other Mount Eerie releases that I've heard. The album feels a bit like wandering through somebody's dream, with all the disjointed confusion that would entail. A wonderful record for anyone, who like me, is into this kind of esoteric music.

O. Children - Apnea: This is the London band's second album, following 2010's self-titled. Their sound harkens back to goth greats like Bauhaus, but incorporates the darker, heavier pulse of recent Scandanavian rock bands. They take a big step forward on this record. The songs feel more focused and more complex. It took a few listens before I truly loved this album, but I find myself listening to it quite often now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Glimpse Into an Unwanted Future

Sorry to get all political, but it is the Fourth tomorrow...and politics go together with patriotism like jelly and peanut I decided to share a little gift from the ghost of election future. After the flood gates have opened and corporations have been allowed to exercise their greed without restraint, we will finally know the face of the character David Bowie once sang about.

Enjoy the fireworks!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Weekend Music Roundup

I spent much of this week melting in the ungodly heat of summer. When it's sweltering like this, I find I have little energy to get excited about much of anything. So I confess to having listened to less music than is typical. Luckily I still have a collection of albums from the past few weeks that I hadn't fully digested and was finally able to catch up on them today for this week's roundup. This list is mostly indie and folk stuff, but a lot of nice surprises among them. Enjoy.

mewithoutYou - Ten Stories: Released in May, this is the Philly indie rock band's fifth album. I think it's a step forward from 2009's It's All Crazy showing an greater depth in storytelling. This is one of those albums that you can hear so many other bands within it, yet can never quite pinpoint who it sounds like. While some songs veer a little too strongly toward emo rock for my taste, overall this has been an album I've enjoyed quite a bit lately. Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of moody indie rock or haunting elaborate folk.

Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel is Wiser...: I fully admit to having very little knowledge of Fiona's previous work coming into this record. It's her fourth album, and first since 2005 and I have to say, it's quite exceptional. It is an incredibly complex folk album, much like the work of Joanna Newsom. And like Joanna, it's not something one can listen to all the time, but when you're in the mood for it, it's brilliant. This was a very pleasant surprise for me this week.

Nas - Unreleased & Rare: When I came across this bootleg, I had been hoping to hear some early freestyle work by one of the most dynamic hip-hop artists of his generation. It's not completely that, but there certainly are some raw gems on here. Nas excels when he's just spitting rhymes over a hard beat. Highlights here are "It Ain't Hard to Tell,"  the original demo for "On the Real," and the unreleased "Fast Life." But just as with Nas's catalog, there are a fair number of weaker club tracks. But the good tracks make it worth checking out.

Soap&Skin - Narrow: The Austrian born singer songwriter returns with her second album, another mixed language art pop effort. There's a definite Nico sound to her work. Minimalism combined with high moments of orchestral pomp are all accompanied by the deep sadness of her voice. Then there are moments of electronic chaos reminiscent of Bjork. Individually, each song is interesting, but as an album, I find I have a hard time getting through it. It's definitely something you have to be in the mood for and I simply don't find myself in that mood often enough to truly love this record.

Rocky Votolato - Television of Saints: This is the seventh solo album from the Seattle (via Dallas) singer songwriter and his best since 2007's The Brag and Cuss. There's a country influence to his beautiful style of folk that gives his songs their impact. Rocky reminds me of A.A. Bondy or Jason Molina, but with a more radio friendly structure. There is very little not to like about this album, even if there isn't much to make it terribly unique either. All in all, a solid country folk album.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Americana: The godfather of grunge teams up with his old band Crazy Horse and like hanging out with old friends, it just seems to click. For this album, Neil mines the classic Americana folk songs such as "Oh Susannah," "Clementine," and "Wayfarin' Stranger." His variations on these songs is quite brilliant at times. In his hands, they become contemporary Neil rockers. Easily his most enjoyable album in years, in my opinion.

Amanda Palmer - Several Attempts to Cover Songs by The Velvet Underground: When she's on top of her game, Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls and Evelyn, Evelyn) can be one of the most interesting singers around. She has an amazing voice and a perfect sense of eclectic taste. This isn't a proper album by any means, but still interesting. Taken from a series of concerts, leading up to her husband Neil Gaiman's birthday, she performs a different cover each night for him. Some are better than others. "Waiting for the Man" and "Perfect Day" are my two favorites. There is also a lot of fun banter between songs which adds a sweetness to the concept. Not something I think I could listen to too many times, but definitely an enjoyable experience.