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Norm's 2014 Music Reviews and Discussion

With the doldrums of the off-season upon us, we're looking to open WRNL up to a little diversification.

As our little community has grown over the years, we've seen a lot of things outside the world of ISU sports filter into WRNL. So we've decided that providing some off-season outlets to discuss, share, and discover things outside the normal realm would really help pass the time.

First in the series will be my breakdown of the new music of 2014. This is the stuff that I've been listening to, some links to hear it, and what I think about it. Some of the clips included are live, but all of this is available on Spotify. Feel free to use the comment section to comment on it and add what's been tickling your ears for the past 5 months!


Drive-By Truckers have been my favorite band since June 2007, when I bought their album "A Blessing and a Curse" on a whim/recommendation from a music message board.  It's mix of raw, Rollings Stones/Faces inspired rock and roll, classic country, and Replacements raggedness turned me into an instant fan.  Since that time, I've been borderline obsessed with their catalog, pimping them at every possible turn, and attending 10+ of their shows in 5 different states.

In that period of time, they've released 4 albums:  2008's "Brighter Than Creation's Dark", 2010's "The Big To Do", 2011' s "Go-Go Boots", and this year's "English Oceans".  "The Big To Do" and "Go-Go Boots" turned out to be a little lackluster by comparison to their earlier work, but they've come roaring back on "English Oceans", which is in my opinion, their best album since 2006's aforementioned "A Blessing and a Curse".

Since their inception, the band has featured the twin front-men of Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley (and for a few years Jason Isbell) taking turns writing and singing tunes.  Most albums feature more Hood songs than Cooley, but "English Oceans" features Cooley first and foremost.  It shoots out the gate with his piss-hot rocker "Shit Shots Count" which sounds like the Stones and Kiss had a baby.  The album maintains a consistent level of engaging rock tracks that range from the pensive late-era Replacements ruminations of "Primer Coat", the Layla meets Skynyrd breakdown of "Pauline Hawkins", the boozy country waltz of "Natural Light" (not a nod to the site's title, unfortunately) and the epic closer "Grand Canyon" which with it's ringing open chords and soaring lines pays tribute to the band's former merchandise manager, who passed away suddenly in February '13 at their annual Homecoming show in Athens, Georgia.  A return to form for one of the best (and most underrated) bands of the past decade

Drive by Truckers - Shit Shots Count (via Michele Passavanti)

Drive By Truckers "Primer Coat" (via Relix)

Drive-By Truckers - Grand Canyon (via goldentony111)


Vying for title of Norman Underwood's Favorite Band for the better part of a decade has been the Hold Steady.  The Brooklyn-via-Minneapolis outfit has been cranking out loud, nasty, and ultimately moving rock and roll for the past 10 years.  Sonically, they're a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Thin Lizzy, but fronted by a balding beer drinking, sports watching, bespectacled poet named Craig Finn, who has spit out brilliant lyrical fragments that follow the triumphs and tragedies or drunk, drugged out, and dreaming Midwestern kids.  Pretty relate-able shit for most of it.  Oh yeah, and they rock your face off too.

They came out in 2004 with "Almost Killed Me" and proceeded to release 3 more killer albums in the next 4 years with "Separation Sunday", "Boys and Girls in America" and "Stay Positive".  In 2010, they released their first mis-step, "Heaven is Whenever" which featured a couple of great songs, a bunch of mediocre ones, and some terrible production at the hands of lead guitar play Tad Kubler, who was struggling with a heroin addiction.

They've re-emerged with this year's very good "Teeth Dreams".  While the lyrics have shifted away from the specific characters that dominated the earlier albums, they've embraced a more universal audience.  The guitars are loud as fuck too.  The album kicks off with a bang between "I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You" a darker, bracing rocker and "Spinners", a classic Hold Steady party anthem that purports "heartbreak hurts, but you can it dance it off".  The album dulls a little over the next few songs, but comes roaring back in with "Big Cig" and carries the high voltage through "Wait Awhile" (my personal favorite) and "Runner's High" before calming down for "Almost Everything" and re-igniting with the epic, simmering slow build of "Oaks" which ends the album with a casually tossed off duel solo from Tad Kubler and new guitarist Steve Selveridge that would evokes shades of Gary Rossington and Steve Gaines.

The Hold Steady - Wait A While (via samharriswenttoparis)

The Hold Steady - Oaks (via samharriswenttoparis)


A product of the fertile Columbus, Ohio scene which produced the Black Keys and Two Cow Garage, Lydia Loveless has risen fast up my musical rankings since she came out with last year's brilliant "Boy Crazy" EP.  She released her first album in 2010 with "The Only Man" which was pretty much a straight forward honky tonk album rife with lyrics about drinking, fighting, and fucking.  She followed it up with 2011's "Bad Way to Go" which introduced more punk rock and folk elements to her countrified sound.  2013's "Boy Crazy" EP introduced a very strong straight-ahead rock and roll element to the mix.

But it's 2014's "Somewhere Else" which has really brought her into her own as an incredible songwriter and performer.  It perfectly blends booze-fueled classic rock with some classic country elements (most tracks were recorded with stand up bass), leading to a sound that's all blood-and-guts and conviction and frequently evokes some of rock's most elemental moments (there are major shades of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" all over the title track).  She ranges from homewrecker to lost soul throughout the lyrics, as she delivers them with unforgettable melodies over searing guitar licks.  This gal is the real deal.

Lydia Loveless "Really Wanna See You" : CIMU SESSIONS (via Cimu2)

Lydia Loveless - Verlaine Shot Rimbaud (via Gummigrottan)

Lydia Loveless - "Head" (via Emily McAdams)


Sturgill Simpson first hit my radar last year with last year's occasionally brilliant "High Top Mountain" ("You Can Have the Crown" might be my favorite song of 2013), which showcases his classic country chops, including a voice that is nearly a dead ringer for ol' Waylon himself.

He returns this year with the as-of-yet to be released "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music" which is directly out of the Cosmic Cowboy tradition of mid 70's Waylon, Willie, and Jerry Jeff Walker.  Think shit-kickin' classic country infused with psychedelic acid rock, and you have this album.  The whole thing is streaming over at Bandcamp, and I highly recommend checking out for anyone who is into this sort of thing.  I don't have a ton to comment on the sound, because it's the type of thing you've probably heard before, it's just that he does it really fucking well.

Here's his killer track from last year, "You Can Have the Crown".  I look for this guy to keep doing big things to show that A) country music doesn't have to suck; and B) there are still quality artists making it.

Sturgill Simpson - "You Can Have The Crown / Some Days" (Live at Sun King Brewery) (via mokbpresents)


A super group concocted by the incomparable Todd Snider (arguably the leading musical philosopher of the 21st century) and David Schools of Widespread Panic, these guys take on a myriad of obscurish covers that span from the 1950's (Frankie Miller's "Blackland Farmer") to the very recent past (Hayes Carll's "Stomp and Holler"), the Hard Working Americans take a bluesy, swampy, rocking approach to these great, and vastly under-appreciated songs.


Hard Working Americans - Straight to Hell (via sarahebourne)

Hard Working Americans - Welfare Music (via lumaz71)

I intend to keep adding to this throughout the year as more stuff comes out (the upcoming Jack White album, for example), but it's time to open the floor to the rest of you guys.