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Entering The Atmosphere: New Margaret Chavez Record Dreams Big

 

Into An Atmosphere, Marcus William Striplin's excellent sophomore LP under his folky Americana project Margaret Chavez, is a haunting, soothing, fully-enveloping record. 

 

Across eight tracks, Striplin pulls few punches. From taking listeners through familial trauma at an ICE detention center in "The Croupiers Unite I.C.E. ("To be a cat licking your paws in front of an ice detention bus") to the power-driven wrestling match in "I Virgo" ("Forever keeper of the past//you use your powers to advance and cripple") the record achieves the evergreen without watering down the present. 

 

Just when the terms of engagement appear to be dictated, Striplin kicks up the dust and unleashes swelling synths and psychedelic guitar textures, making for a markedly different soundscape. ("H O R A" shines bright.) Though occasionally feeling almost sparse or trim, the record has adequate space between the sobering emotional stakes evoked throughout. 

 

For all of its elegance, quiet, and restraint, Into An Atmosphere is also a decisive, dynamic, and effective shout.

 


- Ben Wiese

 

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Jonathan Terrell Releases New Single “Never Makes a Sound”

 

Austin’s Cosmic Cowboy is saddling up for another long haul; as Jonathan Terrell gears up to release his third record, Westward, he’s dropped one last morsel for us to devour while waiting in the wings. “Never Makes a Sound” is the latest single from Westwardand it’s a rip-roaring good time about losing yourself in the search to discover more.

Terrell described the new record as “the stories of all of us” while he’s the vessel, funneling all this celestial energy directly to our ears. Among the many muses guiding him on this journey are Nick Cave, Tom Petty and Bob Seger, each distinctly part of the sonic landscape of Westward and “Never Makes a Sound”, if not without the help of a little Bruce Springsteen.

“Never Makes a Sound” capitalizes on the strength of Terrell’s anthemic storytelling talents and weaves in diligent notes taken from hours spent listening to the masters, even working with some. Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), Shakey Graves and the Band of Heathens contributed as bandmembers during recording, and “Never Makes a Sound” has the defiant attitude of a confidently-composed classic, something that’s been unearthed as a previously unreleased Born To RunB-side.

Terrell’s aim to be the vessel delivering “the stories of all of us” pushes him to craft premium singalong material in the stadium rock tradition. He channels inspiration from his most recent European tour where he discovered a bigger global fantasy of exploring “The West” than what exists in American folklore. In “Never Makes a Sound”, the theme is explored with tales of searching for freedom “where the desert meets the sea” and dancing with the ghosts of elders through the blinding rain.

“Never Makes a Sound” is a whopper that fits right into Terrell’s catalog while standing out as some of his most extroverted work yet. It hurts a little to imagine what this song might look like played at Red Rocks or another storied outdoor venue; Terrell is far from immune to the state of the world and is releasing his record with a livestream listening party instead of a concert. In the closing refrain, though, he paints an appropriately passionate picture of his own Wild West: “Dry lightning keeps on flashing, but it never makes a sound.”

- Mike Floeck 

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Heartless Bastards Release New Single "Revolution"

 

As an American people, we’re reckoning with what the likes of a modern-day revolution will look like. There’s no telling if, when or where - but the Heartless Bastards would like to take this moment to remind you that you control it in your mind. Back with their first release in over five years since breaking through to the Billboard 200 with Arrow, the band has an answer for the moment with their new single “Revolution”.

Clocking at over six minutes, “Revolution” paints a broad stroke of melodic brilliance as it ponders what brought us all to the brink. Name-checking Big Brother is part of bandleader Erika Wennerstrom’s Bowery-via-Americana method of marrying the merits of class-checking punk rock to class-obliterating folk. She catalogs being watched and solicited by the other while fuming about the disparity between the haves and have-nots - it works out like Melissa Etheridge covering a Patti Smith deep cut.

In choosing to return with a call for revolution, the Heartless Bastards don’t abandon any of the cred they’ve built over the last two decades. Instead, they retrain their focus and aim a little higher. Sonically, the tune starts out as typical fodder for musical call-to-arms: languid, easy and slightly psychedelic in the same vein of later Lennon compositions. Then, all hell begins to break loose.

As the lyrics get angrier, the music builds to match. Tension vents like steam as the song gets louder and louder. Lyrics transform to stream-of-conscious blurts, like a folkloric take on the Ramones’ “Ignorance Is Bliss”. The lyrical cadence suits the subject matter and the song extremely well, as rambling about commercialized life, happiness pills and gilded political lies is less a dissociating experience than it is a heartening wake-up call in this context.

After laying down the state of the world as she sees it, Wennerstrom frames her thesis in six words: “The revolution is in your mind.” That is to say, we all control it as much as we control our thoughts and actions. We are the generators of our own compassion and empathy, and we pass our energy along to the next generation after we go. You can hear the longing in the extra millisecond Wennerstrom pauses when she sings, “Do you...remember?” It’s a desire in her for this song to start something new, to gin up some trouble, and to replace fear with hope. And it’s the idea that we’re more than capable of doing so.

- Mike Floeck

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Russel Taine Jr. Releases “Blue Jean Baby” Single

 

If you think mezcal and some brick weed make for a pretty fine summer evening, then Russel Taine Jr. might have a new anthem for you to add into your rotation. The band is back with another song for quarantine summer, this time with the rocking, radio-ready cut “Blue Jean Baby”.

Russel Taine Jr. features Aaron Winston (lyrics/guitar/vocals), Justin Winslow (bass), Brittany Long (keys) and Cory Fica (drums). As the band members continued to record through stay-at-home orders, the longing for summers past crept up in mind. “July 4th fireworks - and a dance and a drink down at the White Horse...a love song for a Texas summer without COVID.” It can be migraine-inducing to reach far enough backward for memories of a carefree August, but the sparkling guitar of “Blue Jean Baby” instantly conjures images of sun-soaked sands and glistening waters.

Right from the jump, Winston’s vocals are situated apart from the instrumental, mixed to give them just enough separation to stand out, especially in the verses. His voice sits somewhere to the left of Jack Johnson - just a little more verve, but still free and easy enough to coast this song through. It’s a smile-inducing melody that’s easy enough to pick up and hold onto, with a smashing singalong chorus.

With many country music acts forced to reckon with the pandemic and protests and alter their release plans, or scrap them altogether (except you, Kenny Chesney), Summer 2020 radio has been drier than usual. We have plenty of indie and alternative-tinged tunes to take away the pain, but when the setting just calls for good times, not too many have been willing to answer this year. Thankfully, Russel Taine Jr. decided to keep recording and releasing at their own pace. This might not be the summer they wanted, but who says they can’t pretend?

- Mike Floeck 

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Bill Callahan Releases New Album Gold Record

 

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” is as startling to read here as it is to hear on the opening of Bill Callahan’s Gold Record. Sparse guitar riffs and faint trumpet notes guide the listener through the Tejano lullaby “Pigeons.” Calahan’s description of the romantic saga is as elusive as his voice:

“Deep in the heart of Texas, life and love go sleepily on,” Callahan writes on his Bandcamp page. “From the wheel of his long white limousine, a man witnesses scenes from many lives. Musically commencing with Cash and rambling to Cohen suggests that whether the wedding rice explodes in your belly or you end up married to the whole wide world, there’s a place for you on this Earth.”

For the past seven weeks, Drag City has released a different single from the album, offering a preview and pre-order for the September release. Callahan offers Gold Record in multiple formats including cassette, compact disc, vinyl and digital. The current releases are as dense as a novel, allowing the listener to pick up on different insights of the characters with each listen.

It’s hard to know how many personal anecdotes Callahan includes with his work, as fictional characters take the place of himself. “Let’s Move to the Country” describes a blossoming relationship, the character leaving traveling behind to settle down and start a family. This may provide a link from Callahan’s characters into his personal life, as he married Hanly Banks in 2014 and became a father, and took a significant break in recording.

The seven released tracks are held together with a cohesive sound, forcing the listener to observe the lyrics. In an interview with Texas Monthly earlier this year, Callahan cited Willie Nelson as an influence for visual storytelling. Though Callahan was describing a line from his previous release Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, the material on Gold Record feels connected to the writing style of Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger.

Follow the release of Callahan’s Gold Recordhere: https://billcallahan.bandcamp.com/album/gold-record

 

-Andrew Blanton

 

 

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