New Arrivals

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We are just five short days away from our Record Store Day block party — all our favorite bands in town are going to be here, and Black Diet will be releasing their highly-anticipated debut album, Find Your Tambourine. A couple of the other bands on the bill are also set to have a new release out in the coming months, or have told us they’re in the process of recording.

poor nobodysOne band with a new album out is the Poor Nobodys, whose record release show for Ink no Ink, their third album, is May 31st at the Cedar Cultural Center (details here). They will be performing here at noon on Record Store Day, and are sure to include some songs from the new record. They were also kind enough to loan us a test pressing of the album so we could give you a little sample.

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“Thousand, Thousand”

If it seems like you’re listening to a movie soundtrack when you hear these songs from Ink no Ink, it’s because the Poor Nobodys have spent much of the past couple years working on film and theater projects, which lends an exciting, dramatic quality to their music. We have written before that their in-store performances here at Hymie’s have been some of the most memorable performances we’ve ever had.

Poor_Nobodys_Capitol_Theater_pic

Although it is a single LP, Ink no Ink has an epic quality, the kind of album you could find yourself getting lost in — we are particularly fond of the quieter passages, where the interplay between instruments you don’t hear together as often in bands around town (cello, banjo, accordion, electric keyboards, and so on) is almost hypnotic. We have listened to it a couple of times here in the shop since they dropped off this copy, and each time people have come up to the counter curious about what they were hearing.

Ink No Ink Art

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“Ink No Ink”

The Poor Nobodys will be touring Europe next month before their release show at the Cedar, but you’ll have a chance to see them on Saturday.

The fact that these two records ended up in the same crate by the time they got here is one of those things that makes this job so interesting.

husbands frustrated housewife

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Selection from Husbands, Love your Wives by Gene Jakubek, S.J.

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“Frustrated Houswife” by Ava Aldridge

“Country music is trauma music, with more booze, drugs and murder than all other pop formats combined. More rubbed-raw emotions. More take-this-job-and-shove-it worker rage, too. For all its alleged reactionary spirit, country-and-western lyrics address the indignities of working life far more than any other pop format. The folk-singing hippies who demonized working white stiffs never copped to the fact that they stole their whole shtick from Woody Guthrie and the coal-mining bards. While the Alternative Nation meows about personal fashion angst, the Appalachian Nation still sings about unemployment.”

- Jim Goad in The Redneck Manifesto

Jim Goad’s Redneck Manifesto is now fifteen years old, but still likely the most shocking, polarizing book about pop culture you’ll read. It will insult you and assault your assumptions, and in exchange you won’t put it down. You might even walk away from the confrontation with — gasp! — an appreciation of country music. Long the lightning rod of elite disdain for working white culture, country music is today as divided as rap was during the East Coast/West Coast wars (though thankfully not as driven to sectarian violence). Hardly represented by, say, the 2013 CMT Awards (where crooner Kenny Rogers seems to have been the sole participant representing an older generation), the big tent of country music ought to include everything from traditionalists and revivalists to the biggest pop stars. It just doesn’t anymore.

Country is the most categorically-dismissed genre in the world of pop music. Trust us, we run a record store and see it all the time. Consider this representative exchange with one of the Twin Cities’ most prominent DJs: Seeing a tall stack of loose 45s on the counter he eagerly began to flip through them. A few inches into what we thought was an awesome collection of uncommon gems (including this Louvin Brothers classic we posted last month) he dismissed the whole pile. “All country?” Pretty much, we told him. “Then don’t waste the sleeves.”

JillianRaeBW950wAll this said, enter Jillian Rae with one of the most satisfying, realized debut releases of the year. On Heartbeat the long-time second-fiddler sounds surprisingly like some of the stars celebrated during “Country Music’s Biggest Night of the Year,” singing through ten tales of heartbreak like she’d recorded them in Nashville — not at all what we expected when she first mentioned recording an album with her new band sometime around the beginning of this busy year. Already in 2013 Rae has lent her voice and violin to the Brian Just Band‘s second disc of lush, 60s-style baroque pop (the effervescent Enlightenment, reviewed here) as well as Corpse Reviver‘s first volume of 20s-era folk and blues covers (which we wrote about here). On that second disc, a favorite around here for in-store play, she belts out Buell Kazee’s 1928 heartbreaker, “Wagoner’s Lad,” with such force that it actually stops folks in their tracks. And just last week Rae was on stage at First Avenue, adding a stunning solo to the Blackberry Brandy Boys‘ cosmic country take on the Replacements’ “Aching to Be.”

There is, to borrow Jack Hawkins’ catchphrase from Bridge on the River Kwai, “always the unexpected.” And we’re happy for the unexpected surprise of Heartbeat‘s successful blend of contemporary country and classic rock. The disc hardly sounds like a debut, given its big and vibrant production (by Matthew DiRose) and Rae’s confidence throughout. Take a listen to “Heartbeat,” which launches the new disc in the high-energy spirit of that combination:

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“Heartbeat”

jillian raeFurther in, there’s tracks like “Chains” and “Don’t Want You Back,” which seems more likely to find a fit on K102′s playlist — nestled somewhere in between Taylor Swift’s “Red” and the latest Keith Urban/Marinda Lambert duet. We’re a little worried, though, that that suggestion is going to cause some of our regular readers to turn up their noses at Heartbeat and miss out on a great album.

K102

The Twin Cities’ biggest country station: You either love it or hate it.

Yep, as much as your average local music fan/record collector around here says they loath “Minnesota’s Country Station,” tons of people don’t agree. Tons of people love it! In fact, K102 has the fourth-largest market share in the Twin Cities, followed by another country station, BUZ’N 102.9 in fifth place.

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“Chains”

Some people just don’t say much about it — Loretta Lynn, who wrote about the same feeling in her 1976 autobiography: “When I’d tell people I was into country music they’d get this look on their faces. People were sort of ashamed of country.” Rae’s bandmate in Corpse Reviver, Mikkel Beckmen, had about the same to say in this interview describing people’s attitudes towards traditional roots music around the time Harry Smith’s Anthology  was released twenty-five years earlier. “It was music people weren’t ashamed of,” explains Beckmen, when talking about the folk and country 78s collecting in Smith’s influential collection.

Heartbeat seems sure to overcome people’s bias — its first singles have already been heard around town on Cities 97 and the Current, and eventually folks will discover “Helpless,” the last track on the album which sounds more like the forgotten rockers on Tom Petty’s Wildflowers (“You Wreck Me,” “Honey Bee”) than anything on the country stations — It’s nice to hear high-energy closer on an album, something not so common these days –and this is a disc that hardly goes out like a lamb! Guitarist Eric Martin co-wrote “Helpless” with Rae (along with another rockin’ track, “Don’t Want You Back”) but they are not the only moments where he gives the album a little bit of rock and roll.

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“Helpless”

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“Don’t Want You Back”

There’s really nothing in Heartbeat that hints at Goad’s Manifesto, or any of the socio-economic baggage that comes along with contextualizing country music — maybe it’s not fair but we’ve been meaning to defend the Taylor Swifts or Marinda Lamberts for a while, even if their music doesn’t sell very well on LP. It makes people happy and some of it’s really good. Besides, we spend a lot of our time over-intellectualizing the records we listen to because that’s what you do in a record store. That and make “top five” lists. Heartbeat should make some local lists, we think — especially if we’re singling out the top female singers in the Cities.

heartbeat backRae’s songs are simple, straight-forward heartbreak stories — the bread & butter of country music. Sometimes the sadness or bitterness in her lyrics is even masked by the big production and her even bigger voice. It’s all a balancing act –”Its funny how something so simple can make or break how you feel,” she sings in one track. “When you’re hanging on the edge of disaster but only two steps from okay.” With one of the softest tracks, “Somebody,” Rae takes a mellower approach that reminds us of another favorite singer from up north, Brenda Weiler (who is sadly retired from music, but now happily running a yoga studio in Fargo). Weiler’s best work was characterized by an arresting vulnerability which sometimes made it feel like she was in the room with the listener. Even in the quietest moments, Rae is larger than life, what you’d expect from a star. The breakups are epic (we feel a little sorry for the hapless loser in “Don’t Want You Back”) and we’ll bet this first disc is just a step towards something much bigger.

 

Jillian Rae’s album release show for Heartbeat is Saturday night at the Cedar Cultural Center (details here). Gallupstar and the Honeydogs will play opening sets. Hope to see you there!

Look what we’ve got here at Hymie’s for a short while — the very last copies of Let it Bleed by the Fuck Knights, which was sold out at the release show a couple years ago and never hit stores here in their hometown! The Italian label Boss Hoss Records put it out, and they were able to snag the few remaining copies while they were touring Europe last month. GD Mills himself carried these copies as his carry-on!

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“Primitive”

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“Bind, Torture, Kiss”

We’ve got a half-dozen copies of Let it Bleed, along with plenty of copies of The Wildest Things in the World Volume Two, a four-band split 7″ that puts the Fuck Knights alongside noise-makers from the far corners of the Earth: Wildmen (Rome), Hollywood Sinners (Toledo, Spain) and the Frowning Clouds (Melbourne).

If this wasn’t enough fun news for local garage rock fans we also heard that the local Four Band Freakout compilation — Featuring the Fuck Knights, Narco States, Mary Ellen and the Percolators and Mystery Date — will be out at the end of the month! Got to hear this the other day courtesy of those awesome Narco States fellas, and it’s a rockin’ party in a tiny package!

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“Buried Alive”

Listening back to Starlings, the home-recorded debut EP from Very Small Animal we tagged as a favorite last year (here), it’s unlikely you’d have predicted the direction this band would take. We posted our favorite track, “Golden,” because there’s a moment that caught our ear, reminding us of a similar solo on another song filed way back in the Vs, the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free.” That was about as heavy as Starlings got.

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“Wolf”

But get just a few minutes into Port of Call, Very Small Animal’s new album out this weekend, and you’ll think it was a different band altogether. Well, you would if it weren’t for the unique voices that had distinguished their debut. Tim Harlan-Marks and Patrick Noonan sound better than ever on these twelve new songs, splitting the lead a little more evenly this time around, but now they’re backed by an electrified version of their band courtesy of some cohorts from the Yes! Let’s Collective: Brian Laidlaw (can’t seem to escape that fella around here lately) and Sean Geraty, drummer for Laidlaw’s Family Trade. These first two songs — the first two on Port of Call — give you an idea of the result of their collaborations.

Rather than sounding like their own version of Laidlaw’s ‘road trip’ rock, Very Small Animal reshapes the sound of Starlings into a fun new creature, faster and louder than expected. Maybe Guy Wagner’s vibrant cover art should have tipped us off. We asked Patrick Noonan about the new sound and he said some of their songs started smaller and more intimate, and grew with the larger band, and that others were written as we hear them on the disc. The second track you’re hearing in today’s post, “Wolf,” was written by Harlan-Marks with its “multi-harmony, sort of choral second half” but picked up its driving backbeat after bringing it into practice session with Laidlaw and Geraty. A little bit of their folksy beginnings survive, and a little of bit of 90s alt-country and indie rock creeps in — The combination is really successful.

vsa-port-of-call-front-cover-guy-wagner Nowhere is this more clear than in Harlan-Marks’ “Korea.” This is the disc’s stand-out track, though hardly suited to be its single. It will be the song you put on a mix tape. It’s big but not bombastic, pairing the sound of Uncle Tupelo with the wearier desperation of American Music Club. Harlan-Marks is captivating, though this is one of several tracks on the disc that buries the lead a little too low in the mix. You’ll strain your ear a little to hear him — filled with conviction one moment and, like the Erickson’s Bethany Valentini, faltering in the fade of his voice the next. Laidlaw and Geraty provide the perfect accompaniment.

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“Korea”

Patrick Noonan’s “One Propeller” and “Baptize Me, Andre” have the more familiar sound of singles. Both are great pop tunes. “One Propeller” seems to glide on air, pushed forward by Noonan’s persistent rhythm and given lift from Laidlaw’s lead. It’s simpler and sweeter sentiment is different from his other songs on Port of Call, point in case the tragic “Baptize Me, Andre,” a great story song with an awesome guitar part, although this is one of the songs which Noonan tells us started out smaller and more intimate before they started arranging it with the band.

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“Baptize Me, Andre”

Very Small Animal has expanded its sound but underneath it’s still very much Harlan-Marks and Noonan. Noonan’s really come into his own since Starlings, his rich voice and phrasing are awesomely distinct — Sometimes brooding, as on the first track, “Buried Alive,” and sometimes crooning, as on the endearing title track where he sounds like a warmer Morrissey. Harlan-Marks, who writes and sings more leads than before on Port of Call, shows surprising range on tracks as different as “Wolf” and “Korea.”

Port of Call was recorded at the same (now gone) Albion Studio in Northeast where the White Whales recorded their exception debut, Lakestate, but it lacks the stunning sound of that disc. The raw, almost ad hoc feel of Port of Call is largely beneficial, lending an unexpected cohesion to the varied tracks, but also distracting. It feels like the up-and-down production of Let it Be, and there’s moments where we wish we could hear Harlan-Marks or Noonan better, or where the ground loop buzz is distracting. This also leads to some pleasant surprises, like the appearance of a weirdly psychedelic trombone in “Shutters Setting Free,” which creates a welcome throw-back sound last heard, around these parts anyway, on Panther Ray’s awesome little EP Daily Season.

In our short write-up of Starlings last year we mentioned there’s an intensity to Very Small Animal’s live performances that gets lost on record — You’ll find a better description in this review of their release show for that quiet EP, written by Andrea Swennson for the Current’s local music blog. This all contributes to our assumption that the release show for Port of Call is sure to be something very special indeed.

Very Small Animal will celebrate the release of their first full-length album, Port of Call, at the Icehouse this Saturday. Red Daughters and the one and only DJ Tickle Torture will be joining them. Details here.

 

 

lyricsThere’s a fundamental disagreement here at Hymie’s about whether albums should have the lyrics written out inside the jacket. One of us find it essential, and looks for them as soon as opening an anticipated album. It’s the fastest way to start singing along. The other feels its cheating and would rather listen to an album until the lyrics are memorized, even if it takes a lifetime to figure out what they are.

Either way, there’s something special about learning the lyrics to a favorite album. It’s part of what makes a record collection so comforting because each of your favorites is so much more than a half hour’s entertainment — it’s a welcoming little world with its own language and customs where you can find escape or solace. Whether its Blue when you’re feeling blue or Get Happy!! on a bright day, you can count on them to be the same as always. It’s you who keeps changing.

In a roundabout way this brings up to Sad Face/Glad Face, Pennyroyal’s first album, which took up a residency in our van sometime this spring when it got a CD player. It’s one of those albums you sing along with, even when you haven’t really learned all the words. And try as you may, it’s hard to sing along with Angie Oase, whose accented drawl exudes confidence throughout. In “Wild Iris” she responds to an unexpected breakup with a dismissal (“I won’t fight in your war”) and then there’s “Burn that Fire,” with its awesome guitar line. At one point we’re not sure what the lyric is — or even if its in English — but we love singing along.

And now they’re back, Pennyroyal, the most under-appreciated band working in the Twin Cities right now. Maybe the best. They’ve got a new disc out tomorrow that we’ve already sunk ourselves into for weeks now, and it doesn’t matter that the lyrics are inside the jacket. We know every word.

pennyroyal lp

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“M List”

Just a couple weeks ago we explored our recollections of Lou Reed’s music and even went against his advice (“I only like nostalgia if it’s my own”) to invite Pennyroyal’s Ethan Rutherford to provide a rare guest-written post here on the Hymie’s blog. We included a favorite quote from Lou Reed that has been widely reprinted recently: “One chord is fine. Two chords is pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” Nobody has the courage to write a song like “Waiting for the Man” anymore but Pennyroyal comes close with “M List,” the high-energy opening track on their second album, Baby I’m Against It.

“M List” is all drive and fervor, but a little larger than the “one chord” song prescribed by Reed. Oase and Rutherford dual harmonicas along the lines of “NOLA (Monday Tuesday),” the standout track from last year’s Places EP which was also on a here-and-gone 7″ single. Opening with “M List” provides more than a indication of the bigger sound the band has created with producer/engineer Ed Ackerson — it feels like a declaration that the album is going to go to places unimagined on Places, the thematic EP we picked as our favorite release of 2012. This new album succeeds because of the surprisingly uncommon marriage of a good story and the means to properly express it.

Nothing in the following eleven tracks returns to the proto-punk feeling of “M List,” but the robust drum sound introduced in its first moments holds the album together as Oase and Rutherford seem to pull it in a different direction with each track. It’s one of the best features of Ackerson’s Flowers Studio. And we can’t think of a better drummer to record there than Pennyroyal’s Jake Mohan, who doesn’t waste a moment or a motion throughout Baby I’m Against It. He seems to work intuitively with bassist William Hoben, whether its the crashing conclusion to “Official Statement” that hints at their explosive, instrumental metal band, Wizard Fight, or the irresistible groove on “Record Machine” that we expect you’ll be hearing on the Current any day now.

Baby I’m Against It does seem “quadrophenic,” if we can imagine that to be a real thing. The album opens with a nod to the Velvets but moves just as easily into the disco side of new wave with “Go Quiet” and “Record Machine” before offering a raucous double-time honky tonk on “Pennyroyal.”

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“Record Machine”

What’s wholly remarkable about the album are the moments you can’t tag with a familiar reference. Pennyroyal’s more confident here than on Sad Face/Glad Face and Places, transcending genres by owning them — that is, “Go Quiet” and “Record Machine” are less new wave than they are Pennyroyal-does-new-wave, and where they touch on VU minimalism or twangy roots it’s on their own terms. This control is really owed to the rhythm section, who lend confidence to songs which are often, ironically, about the search for security, whether in a dead end job or a dead relationship.

Two mid-tempo ballads on that last theme round out the first face of the album on the tender side without touching on vulnerability, first asking if “you really mean it when you look into your heart –”

My heart is heavy
Knows what it can carry, but you –
I don’t think you mean it this time
I’m done with you

– before moving on with the more concise declaration that “the last I had of you is gone.” The two tracks might be handily compared to the Pretenders if Tanya Tucker had taken the lead on Learning to Crawl, or they might be further indication that this is a group that has carved out its own distinctive sound. Hoben and Mohan, having provided a “Lust for Life” drive on “M List” and a joyful dance groove on “Record Machine,” back the second of these tracks with a sensitivity more in line with a nightclub act.

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“Last I Had”

Ethan Rutherford’s appearance at the beginning of the second side is jarring. He’s laid out more on this album than on last year’s EP, but made up his reduced role with intensity. Very much like Lou Reed’s deadpan delivery, Rutherford’s is capable of a remarkable emotional range. “Dallas” also introduces something else stunning: a piano, heretofore only heard on the alternate version of “NOLA” tacked on the end of Place. It gives “Dallas” a deeper and darker feeling than Rutherford’s compelling “Captain” on Sad Face/Glad Face while capturing the same sense of the epic in the midst of small world stories. Rutherford returns to the piano for the title track at the end of the album, leaving us with a strange and uncertain sense of dread.

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“Dallas”

Different sounds give the second side a different feeling. Starting with the searing solo on “Dallas” there’s more guitar, including a great sound to both lead and rhythm on “Broken Wheel.” There’s even an quiet electronic loop underneath “An Official Statement,” a remake of Sad Face/Glad Face‘s “Heroin.” All of it, even the straightforward pop tune “Broken Wheel” (probably the most conventional song they’ve ever recorded) follows the form of the first side — defying the constraints of familiar genre boundaries to carve out that distinct sound. The two recordings of “Heroin” capture just how successfully the band has done that.

Few bands survive “second album syndrome” as successfully as Pennyroyal has. Baby I’m Against It is as near a perfect album as we’re going to get this year, folks. The second side may stumble from the smooth pacing of the first, but we admit we can’t find another way to sequence the album’s twelve indispensable tracks. Some songs are rounded out by lyrical repetition (Consider another controversial Lou Reed quote: “I don’t mind a repetitive chorus; I mind repetitive verse. I mean, it’s the same amount of space.”) but maybe brevity is best. Even “Record Machine,” in all its awesomeness, leaves us wanting just a little more. These are all little things, the sort of flaws that make an album its own special world you can get lost in for a half hour. This is undeniably the best new album a band has brought into the shop this year.

Pennyroyal’s album release show for Baby I’m Against It is tomorrow night at Icehouse. Singer-songwriter Scott Laurent is returning to Minneapolis to perform an opening set. $10, 9:30pm. Details here.

 

November has been a busy month for those creative folks from the Yes! Let’s Collective. Earlier this month Brian Laidlaw released his second disc of the year (you can read our review here), and also brought his band, the Family Trade, to an early evening show as part of the Republic Bar’s new Thursday night Americana series.

Other Yes! Let‘s-ers have been busy too. Oak Ribbons just released their CD after two years of writing (and a weekend of recording) last week with a show at the Bryant Lake Bowl, and at the end of this month Very Small Animal will release a much anticipated second disc that better captures the fuller, folk-rock sound they’ve developed. Hymie’s is proud to be a sponsor of their November 30th CD release show at the Icehouse (details on the Facebook here).

We’re also proud to welcome Brian Laidlaw and Oak Ribbons back to the shop for a performance tomorrow afternoon. Below you can hear certain though I am no garden, the debut disc by Oak Ribbons, who describe themselves as “like your kitchen appliances subtly humming a major chord as you drink your first cup of coffee in the morning.” There’s more than passive energy to the driving dual fiddles that propel “Ghost of Champagne” or the steady building confidence (certainty?) of “Have & Being.” We expect to hear more from this trio than these five songs, since they have described it as coming after “one baby and one hundred songs.” We’d certainly enjoy more along the lines of their lovely “Midnight Prayer.” It seems fitting that the quietest moments on this discs should be the most compelling.

Just a couple weeks ago we described Laidlaw’s new disc, Echolalia, as a “welcoming warm listen for a bitter cold, damn Monday morning,” and if you look a little further back you’ll find this review of Whiskey with Goliath, a six-track disc featuring his backing group, the Family Trade. Its no secret we’re big fans.

Brian Laidlaw and Oak Ribbons will each perform songs from their new EPs tomorrow afternoon here at Hymie’s, starting around 3pm. As with all performances here in the shop it is a free and all-ages event.

We noticed it years ago, when our old rocker friends started borrowing Elvis records. Punk rock is fun but it’s a lot of work to be in it for the long haul — they still had tattoos and tall bikes (and Tall Boys) but over time our conversations were about Bill Monroe and not Maximumrocknroll. We felt a little vindicated, but not really certain it would last. When no less an accomplished traditionalist as Jack Klatt came in with old punk albums to sell, among them Inflammable Materials, we knew there was a sea change at work. We love Stiff Little Fingers, but to Jack’s credit it never really meant much to us be besides the memorable riffs (When I was sixteen I had to look up what an Ulster was before I knew if an alternative was in order).

Still, we haven’t gotten round to purging the record collection of those old punk albums because doing that feels like admitting defeat. Like growing up. In our early twenties we had a neighbor who would clean his above-ground pool while blasting James Taylor’s Greatest Hits — we laughed at him so much back then. Still can’t stomach a little JT, but were feeling a lot less snide these days; truth is, we’d rather listen to something a little lighter on a Sunday afternoon.

Which brings us to Chris Ryba-Tures, whose been a friend of ours here at the shop ever since we first saw his band, Dragons Power Up!, a couple years ago. We posted their last release — as split single with Puppies and Trains – here on the blog in 2011. The Dragons have been largely dormant since around then. When Chris approached us with a new project to open up for the White Whales here in the shop we expected something along the lines of Brace for the Bloom, the last Dragons album, which was a promising, creative mish-mash of post punk sounds. Instead we were surprised by a quiet collaboration between four friends, seated on stage, each singing and contributing lyrics (there’s a Youtube video from this day). Aldine was a warm surprise on what we recall was a cold day at the end of a busy week — they were quiet, they would probably have preferred to play acoustic, and their set invited you to step closer.

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“Summer Hours”

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Another year has gone by and Aldine has an album, Lafond, to release this weekend with another show here in the shop. This one will be acoustic. If the disc is any indication, they’ll pass the instruments around and take turns singing the lead — each of them contributed a couple songs to Lafond. The variations really help the disc around the “too quiet, too slow” feeling that makes some modern folk albums forgettable — We found ourselves going back to hear a first favorite another time, then another track, and on until it has became regular disc to play in the shop these past couple weeks.

Joe Adrian’s nostalgic “Summer Hours” (above) and Ryba-Tures’ steady-building instrumental “Mountain Climbers” feel at times like a lighter Murder by Death — “Summer Hours,” with its moody cello and simple percussion surrounding Adrian’s bright voice, ought to be picked by a radio station, somewhere. It seems like just the right song to come on the radio along some flat highway halfway home. “Mountain Climbers” has a quiet, chamber music feeling, but is also suggestive of an adventure — strange that a St. Paul band would write a moving melody around climbing mountains (but not as strange as the White Whales writing song after song about the sea). Here Rhett Borner takes a lead, establishing the feeling on the piano.

Renee Spillum’s songs, on the other hand, are more introspective and get to the listener that second or third time around. “One to Learn the Hard Way” is really as much a pop ballad (Fleetwood Mac-ish if you want to get down to it) as a rootsy folk song like others on Lafond. Its matter of fact chorus compliments several other songs on the album, even though its hardly sentimental:

or maybe this is no lesson
maybe there’s nothing to gain
maybe this is no lesson
maybe this is just life

It doesn’t feel, to us at least, like this is a bitter response to adversity, just a realistic one. Like that February when Aldine first performed at Hymie’s, the last couple weeks have been really stressful around here — A lot going on and not enough rest, not to mention the frustration of a break-in on Halloween. It’s easy, when times are tough, to go to your thoughtful spot and look for a meaning to it all — not so easy to pick up and move on. We’ve heard John Lennon tell us “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” but that doesn’t really help since he was making those plans in a multi-million dollar Upper East side apartment. It’s refreshing to hear something more honest, open-ended as it is.

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“One to Learn the Hard Way”

It’s easy to hear the “One to Learn the Hard Way” side of Aldine being drowned out by the noise of a bar, and almost impossible to imagine “Mountain Climbers” fitting well. Maybe that’s why chamber groups like the Poor Nobodys are so often heard playing in less-conventional settings. It’s too bad so much of our live music experiences are centered around bars and late-night settings, because it narrows our options and dulls our senses — not just the noise or the beer, but the monotony.

That’s why we’re excited Aldine wanted to celebrate the release of their album with a late afternoon acoustic performance here in the shop. It seems like a good setting for songs like these. If you can’t make it here Sunday afternoon, by the way, they’ve provided you with a soundtrack for another afternoon: You can hear the whole album here in the right order on their Bandcamp page.

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“Poor Six”

Other Aldine tracks are well suited for the honky tonks, however, especially the driven, old time “Poor Six,” where Borner sings lead. There are also two great country feeling songs by Ryba-Tures: “Pale Yellow Rose” carries itself with a fun Jerry Jeff swagger but is as sad as near anything heard on the jukebox from Wynn Stewart’s “Heartache for a Dime.” Without overselling the heartbreak (think Randy Newman’s “Living without You”) he laments a loss and the life led since. “Horses” is a catchy arrangement which reminded us of Jake Manders on a first listen.

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“Pale Yellow Rose”

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“Horses”

We’d guess each of the four members of Aldine could create an album of their own, but the collaborative feeling of Lafond would be lost. It’s not so much a “little bit of everything” collection as a meeting of ideas. Hardly hodge-podged, the album moves back and forth between alternative pulls, which works to its benefit. We’ll make a prediction that these friends continue to compose and perform together, and the next disc carries a more cohesive, distinctly-Aldine sound.

Aldine will play their CD release show here at Hymie’s Records on Sunday November 10th. Sister Species will perform an opening set, around 4pm. This is a free, all ages event.

In February we posted some tracks from Whiskey with Goliath, a new EP by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade, who were our big “band crush” at the time (that post is here). The disc is still on solid rotation here in the shop, and of course a couple months later Brian and his band were invited to open up the 39th Avenue stage at our third annual Record Store Day block party. More recently they played an awesome set during Hymie’s employee Tyler Haag‘s residency at the Nomad World Pub.

echolaliaAnd this past week Brian Laidlaw dropped off a copy of his latest disc, which he recorded with Danny Vitali in Telephone Studio in San Francisco. The five-track Echolalia arrived just in time, a welcoming warm listen for a bitter cold, damn Monday morning. Where Whiskey with Goliath was marked with grandeur — exploring the American landscape, taking us on a trip across the continent in the first track alone — this disc is distinguished by its intimacy. Here the explorations are of the topography of the heart.

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“The Bitterest Seed”

Stripped to simple arrangements as it is, Echolalia still bears much in common with Whiskey with Goliath. Laidlaw’s talent for turning a phrase in often unexpected directions is as sharp as ever. In the EP’s opening track, “The Bitterest Seed” and “Prodigal Son” he turns his insight to themes of aging and family. Both reminded us of songs that John Hartford had written on the same subjects (“In Tall Buildings,” “I Didn’t think the World Would Last this Long,” “Before they Tow my Car Away,” etc). Laidlaw’s take on the heavy stuff is similar; wistful maybe, a little bittersweet, but hardly gloomy. “The Bitterest Seed” builds steadily like the opening track of Whiskey with Goliath, “Drugstore Hucksters,” Laidlaw employing inflection to make up for the lack of a backing band, to good effect. The song’s repetition hits a sweet spot — it seems like a lot of Laidlaw’s songs have you singing along even the first time you’ve heard them.

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“Clothesline”

Funny we didn’t sooner notice a similarity between Laidlaw, left, and Hartford (from the back cover of his 1969 self-titled album) because we love their songs for some of the same reasons. Both can be a little wordy — you’re going to have to listen to most songs a few times to really wrap your head around what’s going on — but both are really writing about simple, down-to-earth feelings. What’s especially loveable about Laidlaw is his singing. We’d like to see one of his songs launch him to a life of luxury and steamboat captaining (or whatever), like “Gentle on my Mind” did for Hartford in 1968, we just can’t imagine anyone else singing “Clotheslines” (or any other Laidlaw song for that matter).

laidlawhartfordNo one else could have sung “Call Your Old Friends” without sounding like a sap — Where Hartford often comes off as sardonic, there’s an aching sincerity to Laidlaw’s honey-sweet voice. How he could write and so movingly perform the role of a father wishing for his son to return to the farm is beyond our imagination, and “Prodigal Son” is surely the saddest song he has yet written. Yep, consider our hearts broken, if only by its final line. Time to call home. And in it (“Every minute that you’re here repays a decade you were not”) we realize the song is not only referring to the parable of the prodigal son, as suggested by its title, but also the parable of the workers of the field (Matthew 20:1-16 if you’re looking for it). We are all so fortunate for the time we have together, whether its with friends of family, and we should be thankful for the grace that has provided it for us rather than looking around to see if life has been fair. If you are not a spiritual person it may just as well the be grace of your mother and father for all they have done for you, or the grace of the friends who have long forgiven you in your worst moments to be there with you at your best.

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“Prodigal Son”

Echolalia lacks the energy of Laidlaw’s backing band, the Family Trade, making it a somber fall-time listen. In that its got the warmth of a familiar favorite already. Singer-songwriter is a tough role to play because so many people expect you’re going to be James Taylor or some other dinosaur shit and compare your every song to “Carolina on my Mind” while forgetting all the filler on 70s albums. Even Tapestry had a dud (“Way Over Yonder”) and if you ask us most James Taylor albums were 1/2 filler. We would love to hear a full-length album where the two sides, the epic feeling of songs like “Drugstore Hucksters” and “State Motto” and the intimacy of this new disc, meet. There hasn’t been a filler track on either EP (maybe that’s why they’re so short!). We’re guessing there’s many more songs yet to be heard. Hard to imagine Brian Laidlaw is ever at a loss for words.

Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade will perform at the Hymie’s-sponsored night of the Republic Bar’s new “American Roots” music series this Thursday, October 17th, at 9pm. Ellie Bryan (Crow Call) will perform an opening set. Our friend Patrick Harison has created the series (below is the entire bill for October) — Hymie’s will be back to spin records on Halloween along with Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers.

The record release show for Echolalia is Friday, October 25th at Icehouse. Details are on Brian Laidlaw’s Facebook event here.

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There’s Martin Devaney, all twenty-one years of him, with a wry nod to Nashville SkylineTony Nelson took this and several other photographs of him for the City Pages‘ first feature (here) on the fella who went on to become the unofficial Mayor of St. Paul and put a half-dozen discs between himself and Whatever that Is. The story was all “new Dylan,” the sort of thing people have been writing about other “new Dylans” since the Boss or before, aptly applied as it is here– find a copy of that debut disc and you’ll hear what I mean. Devaney’s homages to our favorite son from Hibbing are described as “familiar, sweet and clumsy.”

Devaney claims his mother once mistook a framed copy of New Morning for a new photograph of him, and I have to admit I myself saw Devaney in this picture inside the latest “Bootleg Series” collection, Another Self Portrait. It’s not just the fuzzy hair, it’s the way he holds himself.

dylan another self portrait

And last month I found myself writing City Pages’ second feature on Devaney (in today’s paper and online here), listening to Another Self Portrait while talking to my old friend about twelve years of making music, and of his desire to leave his latest album, House of Rust, somewhere in the past. Abandoned as it is even on the eve of its release, Devaney’s sixth full-length album is his most individual, singular work yet — the first, he tells me, where you can’t play the “what was Martin listening to” guessing game. It is as distinctly Devaney as Dylan’s enigmatic Self Portrait was entirely his own, though House of Rust is unlikely to be greeted with the same widespread disdain (“What is this shit?” asked Rolling Stone in 1970). In fact, Devaney has never sounded more at ease, turning phrases with a casual confidence, and — as always — “familiar, sweet and clumsy.”

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“You Can’t Win”

House of Rust was recorded way out at Rich Mattson’s retreat-like Sparta Sound with, he says, friends and girlfriends and dogs all along for the ride. It was the fall of 2011. The entire project coming together with the ease of a lazy breeze through changing leaves — “My girlfriend asked when I had written all these songs,” he explains, because they seem to have come together suddenly, smoothly, in incidental moments like waiting for her to get dressed for an evening out. Another — which became the album’s closer — started with some chords he’d been strumming for years and a couple lines he sang while waiting for fiddler Jake Hyer to head out to a gig. Short and simple, “Fountain Cave” refers to Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant’s 1838 settlement on the Mississippi River — yep folks, the founding of the city of St Paul — as much as to the tranquility of Devaney’s life that fall.

Maybe there was a prescience to the album that seemed to flow so naturally — I wrote as much in a passage I ultimately cut from today’s story in the City Pages. House of Rust‘s lazy opening sets a slightly ominous tone. Devaney described the song as a continuation of “Nashville by Nightfall,” which closed his 2010 album The West End. An amalgam of real and fictional settings on either end of I-35, “Magnolia Diner” hints at a “couple in the break-up booth” with, you guessed it, a sweet, familiar clumsiness.

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“Magnolia Diner”

House of Rust may have been his most domestic work to date — distinguished by “Crosby Block,” a Pogues-y paean to the Prior Avenue apartment where his father’s family first lived when they came to America — but the feeling is tenuous, uneasy. Devaney describes the album as “a spiritual sister to West End,” but it’s more of a sequel, a second act that follows storylines to uncertain conclusions. The outlaws of a song like “Wise Blood” have become bitter — “Sometimes you get the feeling that you can’t win,” Devaney snarls in House of Rust‘s sharpest chorus. He takes an even darker tone near the end of the album with “Keep it Dark,” an intense performance where our “familiar, sweet and clumsy” Mayor sounds less like the Dylan of Self Portrait and more like the Dylan of Time Out of Mind.

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“Keep it Dark”

Throughout these tracks are tightly constrained in arrangements that — contrary to Devaney’s live performances of the past year — are hardly, if ever, guitar-driven. Despite the excellent musicians contributing to House of Rust (including our favorite fiddler Jake Hyer of Pocahontas County, Ol’ Yeller’s Mattson, and a great piano player I feel like I shouldn’t name) there aren’t any extended solos on the album. Taken as a whole it’s a rich ensemble piece, consistently held together by the rhythm section of Steve Murray (bass) and Mick Wirtz (drums). These guys back Devaney’s rockers with jaunty confidence, and the laid back tracks like “Magnolia Diner” with quiet grandeur. Having a backing band this good is one of the benefits of working in the same city for twelve years.

Elsewhere the restless souls of West End return simply resigned, as in the last track on side one, which pulls the album’s conflicting comfort and unease together. In the City Pages story I compared “Weddings and Funerals” to my personal favorite Dylan song, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” because it captures the very same weariness. Devaney delivers some of his best character descriptions in a third verse, and he parts with the past with peace. “It could be one of us next time around,” he sings in the voice panned by one local critic (I won’t say who because I love his writing) as “flat.” I prefer to think of it as “familiar, sweet and clumsy.”

So the short version is that the relationship which had buoyed his life and music two years ago came to an end. I could find you a picture of them singing together at the first Record Store Day we hosted — in the basement of the old Hymie’s. I could write about how worried I was about him the night we ran into each other at the Triple Rock and he said his life was coming apart at the seams, or that it got worse from there. I felt uncomfortable not crediting her performance in the duet “Lowertown,” in the story I wrote about the album, because it was really awesome. There just didn’t seem to be a nice way to say it. It all seems too close to the bone. Devaney says he’s going to release the record and then put it all behind him — but we all know you don’t walk away from the past so easily, especially in St. Paul. House of Rust nearly became Devaney’s own Basement Tapes, and I for one am glad it didn’t. From the first time I heard “Magnolia Diner” in Devaney’s car behind the Turf Club, I argued against shit-canning something so “familiar, sweet and clumsy.” After all, we’d end up visiting it someday in the Martin Devaney “Bootleg Series.”

You can’t just walk away from your past — you’re going to run into it at a funeral, or a wedding, or at the Triple Rock. Somewhere, anyway. If nothing else you’re going to see it every time you look in the mirror — it made you the person you are. This became the unintentional theme of House of Rust, a great album nearly unheard. And since it’s all but certainly never going to be played again, let’s have a listen to “Lowertown.” Thanks for reading — hope to see you at the release show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Friday night (Ol’ Yeller and the Cactus Blossoms will open).

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“Lowertown”

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