Album Review: 12 Shades of Brown by Junior Brown – 3 out of 5

Junior Brown 12 Shades of Brown
Title: 12 Shades of Brown
Artist: Junior Brown
Rating: 3 out of 5
Purchase from: Amazon, iTunes

There is very little modern country that doesn’t cause my ears to bleed. I think it mostly comes from a notion that in order to be good, country music must be something more than top-40 pop tunes sung through the nose. An artist that gets this, in a wonderful way, is consummate honky-tonk master Junior Brown. With his signature “guit-steel” (a double neck guitar that combines an electric guitar and lap steel guitar) he combines a classic country sound with both a love of Hawaiian and Surf Rock sounds to make music that is both entirely unique and entirely country

12 Shades of Brown, like many début albums, is a nice introduction to a great artist, but is far from a perfect album. However, this album has some great country gems such as “My Baby Don’t Dance to Nothing but Ernest Tubb” and “Too Many Nights in a Roadhouse”. It also features his first explorations of the island sounds with “Hillbilly Hula Gal” and “Coconut Island”. Unfortunately, this album displays some songs that dive way too far into sappy sentimentality such as “They Don’t Choose to Live that Way” though I can stand to listen to “Don’t Sell the Farm” occasionally. However, Hank Williams tributes such as “What’s Left Won’t Go Right” and just perfect country songs like “Broke Down South of Dallas” more than make up for these slight stumbles.

12 Shades of Brown is an extremely listenable and enjoyable album and a wonderful precursor to Brown’s later, more polished works.

Album Review: 11:11 by Regina Spektor – 3 out of 5

Title: 11:11
Artist: Regina Spektor
Rating: 3 out of 5
Purchase from:Amazon, iTunes

Regina Spektor is a recent pop obsession of mine. I first discovered her from some radio play from her 2004 Soviet Kitsch album. Since then I have amassed all of her albums and remain a dedicated fan. 11:11 is not Regina Spektor’s strongest album, but rarely are first albums the best albums. However, it already demonstrates a strong, quirky songwriting talent and shows off her incredible vocal range.

This is certainly her jazziest album with “Rejazz”, “Marry Ann” and “Wasteland” as good example of her jazzy roots. However, the album also features early examples of her bouncy song poems that she will become famous for. Stand out tracks in this style include “Buildings” and “Sunshine”.

Her most adventurous track is the 7:43 long, sprawling “Pavlov’s Daughter” which is, at different points, a spoken work beat poem, a driving, angry piano piece and a sad, soft mournful ballad.

I still consider Soviet Kitsch as her best album (with What We Saw From The Cheap Seats climbing in my esteem), however, 11:11 is a good album for those who need some fun anti-folk to make their day a bit brighter.

Album Review: 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours by Green Day – 2 out of 5

Title: 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
Artist: Green Day
Rating: 2 out of 5
Purchase from: Amazon, iTunes

From a recent favorite album to an album of my ever-increasingly distant youth. I purchased this album in a small record shop in Boston while visiting Harvard for a disastrous debate tournament my senior year of high school. I’m pretty sure that Dookie had probably already hit the airwaves by the time of the trip or I doubt I would have heard of Green Day considering that my musical diet at the time was a strict combination of grunge and rockabilly.

The surprising thing about this album is how little different it is from just about everything Green Day has ever produced. You can definitely tell that they would definitely get better producers and mixers later on and thankfully they don’t stretch themselves into any melodramatic ballads like “Time of Your Life”. However, you also can’t find any track on this album that contains anything to distinguish it from every other song. Heck, the time signature and tempos are almost identical across the entire album. The closest thing to a musical stretch here is the droning tones on “Rest” and the slightly bouncy dance beat on “Knowledge”. Beyond that it is an astoundingly repetitive and boring album.

The only reason this album gets two stars is that it has somehow survived in my album collection for the last 19 years which is a minor achievement worthy of some sort of recognition.

Album Review: +/- by Buke and Gass(Gase) – 4 out of 5

Title: +/-
Artist: Buke and Gass
Rating: 4 out of 5
Purchase from: Bandcamp

So I do that long rant about reviewing albums that I haven’t heard before and then I start with one of my favorite albums of recent years for the first review. The alphabet can be a real pain sometimes. In any case, Buke and Gass (now Buke and Gase) was a band I discovered through the fabulous NPR show Radiolab. Buke and Gase consists of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez who play their homemade instruments including a Buke which is a baritone ukulele and a Gass which is a guitar-bass concoction. With these monsters of the junkyard, comes a captivating, driving cacophony of fantastic noise.

From the moment I first heard the explosive first track, “Run for You”, on +/-, I was hooked. Many of these tracks appear in a more polished form on their first LP, Riposte, but these first takes possess a raw energy that makes them well worth a listen. Other highlights on this album include “Bundletuck”, “Medicina” and “Outt!”

I keep searching for a genre description for this amazing duo. Folk Metal? Junkyard Indie? Post-apocalyptic bluegrass? It’s this very ability to escape classification that will make sure I keep listening to Buke and Gass for a long time to come.