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If it were released on LP as well as CD, we’d put a copy of the new Nooky Jones album in our “Make Out Music” section. The band is playing a two night stand at the Icehouse to celebrate the release of their debut disc, and we recommend you bring someone special if you plan on going — you’ll want to slow dance to closing time come-ons like “You and I” and you’ll want to look lovingly across the table when the band’s star, Cameron Kinghorn, sings in all seriousness lines like “Oh, how can I fall asleep without you there?” and “Girl to me you’re too damn beautiful.”

It’s that sincerity and dedication to form which makes Nooky Jones so surprisingly successful without stumbling into the potential pitfalls of formulaic neo-soul. While the disc has shades of big-name contemporaries like D’Angelo and Thundercat, its warm horns and keyboard sound also recalls eighties soul and jazz. Kinghorn’s sharp elocution is that of a seasoned jazz singer.

It’s in this capacity that he can make a refrain like “I hope she noticed that I noticed her so casually” not only work, but stick with you long after you’ve listened to the last song. Incidentally, you can check out that last one, in the song “Hello,” in a live performance on the Current here. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, but our favorites are the richly romantic “You And I” mentioned earlier, and “Bad Girl,” which contains both the most modern and the most ‘retro’ moments on the disc. The song’s long outro offers a showcase for the band’s horns, who are used with distinct subtlety throughout the album but here are let loose.

Kinghorn was kind enough to drop off a promotional copy of the disc here at the record shop, but it doesn’t include individual credits. If it did we’d be sure to praise the individual performances of the band. It takes a lot of restraint to make such minimal arrangements work so well, and these musicians have made something remarkable in that capacity. In addition to the outstanding horn solos which recall those achingly beautiful late-era Chet Baker performances, the keyboards have a strong foundation in jazz. We thought of Mal Waldron’s European years and in the electric keyboard passages of Ramsey Lewis’ soulful early recordings on the instrument. The whole album is subtly supported by a stellar performance on the drums, which never intrude but often add to the narrative. While Cameron Kinghorn is undeniably the star of the show, the musicianship on this album will knock you out.

Nooky Jones is performing tonight and tomorrow night at the Icehouse. Details on their website here.

In Chris Reimenschneider’s Star Tribune story about the Suicide Commandos new album, out last week, Chris Osgood quipped that the band is “one the one-album-every-39-years-plan. It’s worked well for us so far.” The album’s release also marked a revival of the Twin/Tone label, always a subject of local music lore.

For the Suicide Commandos, who earned more attention for adopting a highway in 2015 than for their reunion recordings on a 10″ split record with the Hold Steady released by the Current a couple years earlier, Time Bomb should merit some much deserved recognition outside of the Twin Cities. Truth is, we might like it even more than that 1978 classic, The Suicide Commandos Make A Record.

The Suicide Commandos were Minnesota’s punk rock pioneers — bands like Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs and the Replacements came in their wake. While the Commandos have said it was the passing of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original Ramone, who inspired their decision to record again, it can’t help but have been influenced by the recent reunions of the ‘Burbs and ‘Mats.

But Time Bomb is everything that Songs for Slim, the hodgepodge Replacements ‘reunion,’ wasn’t. It’s a helluva record you’re proud to put next to those ultra-rare local classics, whereas Songs for Slim is a record you feel stuck with because, well, it was for a good cause. The twelve new Commandos tunes are laden with wry humor and the sort of insight that comes with age, all laid over riffs and hooks most bands would love to add to their repertoire. The trio has been playing occasional shows together for at least a decade, but its still amazing that Time Bomb sounds like the work of a tightly-rehearsed act working a regular gig.

The single was posted on Youtube earlier this year and although it’s not as incendiary as their legendary “Burn it Down” video it sure whet our appetite. And absolutely everything about Time Bomb delivered on the promise.

Any record which cheerfully name-checks the great Dave Ray is going to satisfy us, but its actually the darker descriptions of being in a band (in “Hallelujah Boys” and the small-town bar portrait “Pool Palace Cigar”) which stick to the ribs, if you’ll pardon the expression. The album also offers descriptions of disastrous relationships in Dave Ahl’s brooding “Frogtown,” and the ensemble written “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” (which concludes, naturally, with “I’ll make you hate me”), but its overall impression is sealed by the final two tracks by Steve Almaas and Osgood, respectively.

Time Bomb isn’t an especially political album, but there are unsurprising undertones. Ahl and Osgood performed on the streets during the 2008 R.N.C. protests in St. Paul, after all. The closer, “Late Lost Stolen Mangled Misdirected” is a catchy anthem in the Social Distortion tradition about holding on to some hope even though you may feel all of those things in the title because sometimes “broken things get resurrected.”

Here is “Bayou Lebatre,” the first song from Sabyre Rae’s EP Revel. Ms. Rae will be performing on the stage inside the record shop at our block party on April 22nd, along with Mike Munson, Ben Weaver and Dingus. We’ve posted set times for this stage and also the stage outside here. She first performed here several years ago as a member of Jack Klatt’s backing group, and played with him on his Mississippi Roll album.

Revel is her debut recording and you can hear another song from it on her Bandcamp page. We think her combination of country blues and swamp rock is a particularly unique sound, and we’re looking forward to hearing more recordings from her.

Yesterday’s post featured a new album by Jim Blaha which is a side project from his regular work with one of the most popular bands in the Twin Cities, the Blind Shake. His new Jim and the French Vanilla album is in stores today, and he is working on putting together a band to perform the new songs live. Also available this week is The Art of Not, a first solo project by Mike Blaha (billed as Blaha on the jacket). It’s been a dream week for us as huge Blind Shake fans, because the two solo albums really offer a new look into two of our favorite local musicians.

The “eye-catching” artwork by his brother on the jacket offers a hint to the humor inside, and to Blaha’s ability to balance affirmation with self-depreciation. In its own way, The Art of Not is an extension of “Reasonable World,” the catchy anthem at the core of the Blind Shake’s Celebrate Your Worth which extolls “giant girls [and] lazy boys” to “just figure it out.” It’s also a high-wire act where Blaha impresses us with his abilities and leaves us thinking about what he had to say.

Blaha’s delivers The Art of Not one-man-band style in the tradition of “Superstition,” overdubbing himself on guitar, bass and drums in Neil Weir’s venerated Blue Bell Knoll studio. Its rock and roll stripped to its essentials, but hardly lo-fi garage rock. In fact, there’s even an instrumental at the end of each side which recall the awesome (and lushly produced) album the Blind Shake made with Swami John Reis. The sound of The Art of Not perfectly fits the mood of Mike Blaha’s new songs.

Some of the songs, such as “Lemonade” heard here, move along at the old man’s pace of sixty-five beats-per-minute, almost unheard of on a Blind Shake album. The result is a heightened focus on the clean melodies and clever lines which is sometimes lost in the manic pace of Blaha’s main gig. In one of the catchiest moments on the album Blaha falls in love with loneliness (“Loneliness, I Love You”) with the rollicking humor of Camper van Beethoven.

Other songs are more sardonic, especially “Good Girls,” which opens with a contrast of good girls and bad, but quickly widens its scope:

Good world, I always thought you were a sad world
Sad world, you really opened my eyes

The two different impulses in so many of Blaha’s songs — self-reliance against self-depreciation — are most stark in a song which doesn’t stand out on a first listen but really sinks into a listener’s ears and thoughts. We hope “Frog & Toad” is a reference to the endlessly endearing Arnold Lobel stories, but it may just be another example of how we here at Hymies enterprises misinterpret songs. The song seems to recognize the two different personalities: the cautious, anxious toad and the confident and courageous frog, who are (in the title of one of Lobel’s stories) friends.

Just a song earlier Blaha encourages us to “take a lemon and throw it at life,” and he’s done a hell of a job of that with this album. Like the new Jim and the French Vanilla album featured yesterday, it seems like The Art of Not isn’t as high on the local music radar as a Blind Shake album, and instead stands on its own. The album is undeniably a testament to Blaha’s musical talents, but also his insight. He’s pretty hard on himself throughout, but also in “Lemonade” he sings:

You’re not so perfect, and I guess that I’m not so bad.

In local release news there are two solo records from the always-prolific Blind Shake out this week. After releasing four records in 2015 (which made our “best local releases” list at the end of the year) the band narrowed it down to a single LP last year (Celebrate Your Worth, which would have topped the “best” list if we had made one in December) while working on the two projects which they delivered this week.

In deference to the fact that they’re brothers as well as bandmates, we’re going to separate the two solo records instead of posting them together. While the two new LPs are similar, they definitely represent the different directions the band has moved its music in recent years.

Blind Shake fans here in the Twin Cities are likely to recognize the last Jim and the French Vanilla recording because a couple of its limited run of hundred copies are still kickin’ around local shops. There was a CD-R before than which is presumably even more obscure — all of this is unlikely to be the same fate for this new album, which is being released by Portland-based punk rock powerhouse Dirtnap Records and given a nice and well-deserved promotional push.

Afraid of the House is an altogether different animal from those stripped-down acoustic-ish recordings. In fact, the opening track, “When You’re Down,” will burst out of your speakers with the same focused drive that has made the Blind Shake a live favorite in the Twin Cities for years.

The last time Jim and Mike Blaha recorded together as a duo was on Shadow in the Cracks, a thematic album on almost oppressively pessimistic themes. Afraid of the House is equally fearful if less focused on a specific setting, even though its a more cathartically rockin’ album than most of what bills itself as punk rock these days. The album balances its dark, Black Sabbath-y themes with the spirit of 60s garage nuggets like this one, making it an eerily apt soundtrack to the times. In one of the album’s heaviest-hitting tracks, “Grow Like Rabbits,” Jim captures the uncertainty of the times.

When you turn to rabbits, no one could complain
All the things are backed up and no one takes the blame

We’re not certain what it means, and its hard to understand some of the lyrics on Afraid of the House, but the only one thing which actually complains in “Grow Like Rabbits” is the oceans. And we wondered if we’re hearing a famous rabbit in the chorus of “I Have to Slow Down,” which starts with “I’m late!” Who knows? We here at Hymies Industries are famous for misunderstanding lyrics, but there’s definitely a sense of isolation and uncertainty in both songs.

Jim has enlisted Mike Blaha and Jillian Schroeder of Teenage Moods to bring the full-band Jim and the French Vanilla to the stage, and he tells us rehearsals have gone well. In the mean time, this is an album sure to please long time fans without treading over familiar territory.

Coming up tomorrow: The Art of Not by (Mike) Blaha

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A little over a year and a half ago Pleasure Horse, Minneapolis’ finest cosmic American country outfit, rustled our hearts with a self-titled EP full of big stories from the open plains. At the time, we posted that the disc’s arrangements were “so consistently inventive its impossible to pick a favorite moment on this album,” and we’ve recommended it to nearly every country fan we know. Along the way we also encouraged everyone who’d listen to catch ’em at a show because Pleasure Horse is one of the best live country acts in the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, those shows are few and far between.

And while we celebrated the season of year’s end “best of” lists by writing about how the critics are sometimes downright wrong, we’re pretty enthusiastic about their new disc, too. If you like country music, especially the good ol’ outlaw stuff, you’re gonna like this.

Lost on the Mountain is half the length of that first disc, but doesn’t lose its depth. These five new songs by Tim Evanson frame short stories in catchy riffs and country nuggets. Where the last disc roamed the range from honky tonk to tejano, Mountain is more focused on the classic country-rock sound found in “Poco territory” to great success. Townes van Zandt himself would have been fortunate to be backed by a band which works together this well a little more often. There’s enough familiar sounds from that era, like Celeste Huele’s keys on loan from the brown Band album, to satisfy the outlaw country enthusiast, and enough new ideas — notably guitarist Ben Hahowald’s sharp solos and interplay with bassist Darin Dahlmeier — to expand the range of the cosmic American sound. Best of all, they’re playing a release show for the new disc this weekend so you can hear it all straight from the horse’s mouth.

Pleasure Horse will celebrate the release of their Lost on the Mountain EP with a late show this Saturday night at the Icehouse. Also performing will be Suzie and Fletcher Magellan. Details here.

For a band with an established base of devoted fans, there’s a fine line between maintaining your image and cultivating your sound. Nobody wants their new album to be the equivalent of the Clash’s Cut the Crap or, well, any record by the Wings. The natural desire to grow as an artist has to be balanced against the expectations of the audience.

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This is all the more challenging if you released no less than four records the previous year. Enter the Blind Shake, whose quartet of new LPs in 2015 were each individually solid enough to sustain the trio’s reputation.

Full disclosure: one of those four albums, Shadow in the Cracks, was a side-project, and another, Modern Surf Classics, was a collaboration with underground guitar legend John Reis. Each of those is unmistakably in the Blind Shake oeuvre.

In 2016 the band often regarded as the best live act in the Twin Cities has offered a more modest program of one LP, out this week from Goner Records who released two of last year’s releases. Celebrate Your Worth is their most expansive and inventive album yet, and if any fans felt record collecting fatigue after last year’s onslaught, they won’t regret purchasing this one.

Opening in familiar territory with a song called “I Shot all the Birds,” the new album quickly follows the form of last year’s Fly Right by moving in multiple moody directions. Celebrate Your Worth, surprisingly, contains the most ‘pop radio’ song the band has ever recorded — maybe the Twin Cities’ Current will finally recognize this band after giving “Reasonable World” a listen.

“Reasonable World” is also notable for its vocal clarity, contrasted from the previous track on which Mike Blaha’s vocals are steeped deeply in reverb. This is also the first Blind Shake record to include the lyrics inside the jacket. Jim Blaha tells us this is because they were especially proud of this album, and they should be although we believe they have been consistently compelling since Breakfast of Failures a couple years ago. Not surprisingly, the band is still singing about (alternately) alienation and self-determination.

Celebrate Your Worth also delves into almost drone-y psych rock territory in “Alicante,” an epic for the Blind Shake in that it clocks in at around four and a half minutes. They even expand their sound with the unexpected but absolutely fitting appearance of an organ. This creates one of those moments where the production is so tastefully rich it recalls the massive-budget big name albums of the 70s. “Alicante” is one of those songs that simply sounds so good you feel like you could pick it up and hold it.

This isn’t to say the band doesn’t deliver on what they do best: “Corpse on the Roof” mines the manic and angular territory of their classic sound, and “Broken Racehorse,” which Goner Records debuted last week, feels like a marriage of new wave and post rock. In this same vein the second side provides one of the catchiest moments on the album in “Demox,” which sounds like the evil twin of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.”

We don’t doubt that these three could keep delivering the same old sound and record labels would compete to release the results. While we’re certain we’d still enjoy those records, what we think fuels the devotion of the Blind Shake’s fans is their willingness to experiment. Celebrate Your Worth is a risky album for a group who’s really striven to establish a national name, but the gambit is sure to pay off. It is one of the best records from the Twin Cities this year.

The Blind Shake’s release show for Celebrate Your Worth is this Saturday night at 7th Street Entry. Also performing are Fury Things and Tongue Party. Details on the First Avenue website here.

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