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Rayland Baxter

Wide Awake

    Thoreau had Walden Pond. Kerouac had Big Sur. Rayland Baxter? He had an old rubber band factory in Franklin, Kentucky, and it suited him just fine. As one of the hardest-touring artists on the road today, Baxter’s spent most of his professional life in transit, but ever since he was a kid, he dreamed of creative seclusion someplace lonely and isolated, somewhere he could sit still and devote his every waking hour to writing without interruption or distraction. When the opportunity finally presented itself in late 2016, the Nashville native pounced.

    “I packed everything in my van and moved to Franklin for three months,” says Baxter. “It was the fist time I ever got to be alone and focus solely on songs like that. All I did was write, write, write all day every day. I was obsessed.”

    By the time Baxter emerged, he’d penned more than 50 tunes and crafted a detailed blueprint for his spectacular new album, ‘Wide Awake.’ Deftly produced by Butch Walker, the record infuses Baxter’s easygoing, soulful sound with British Invasion melodies and rock and roll swagger, marrying lean, muscular songwriting with adventurous, inventive arrangements. It’s a cutting, insightful collection, one that takes a sardonic view the violence, greed, and division that seem to define the modern American landscape. Rather than point a finger, though, the music holds up a mirror, offering a sober reflection of the times thoughtfully bundled in bright, infectious hooks. There’s no judgment here, only keen observation, and Baxter implicates himself as much as his neighbor through it all.

    “This is an album about decision making,” he explains. “It’s about being a human at the crossroads. Do I do good or do I do evil? Do I lie or do I tell the truth? Am I going to be happy or am I going to be sad? All of these questions and emotions are things I see in myself, and they’re the same things I see in everyone else no matter where I go.”

    Baxter’s built a career on capturing those sorts of timeless, deeply human sentiments, bringing colorful characters to vivid life with equal parts humor and pathos. His debut album, ‘feathers & fishhooks,’ was a critical hit praised by Interview for its “well-worn maturity,” while NPR described “Yellow Eyes,” the lead single from his 2015 follow-up, ‘Imaginary Man,’ as “close-to-perfect.” Stereogum dubbed the record “an impeccable sophomore break-out,” and Rolling Stone hailed its pairing of “whimsical narrative with often deceptively complex arrangements.” The music earned Baxter festival appearances from Bonnaroo to Newport Folk in addition to tours with an astonishing array of artists, including Jason Isbell, The Lumineers, Kacey Musgraves, The Head and The Heart, Shakey Graves, Lauryn Hill, and Grace Potter.

    “The six months leading up to the release of ‘Imaginary Man,’ that was the first time I really started playing electric guitar and performing with a band,” says Baxter. “We did my first headline run and toured that album for a year-and-a-half, and the experience really opened up this whole new sound for me. It helped me figure out more of who I was as an artist and a songwriter and a traveler and a human being.”

    It was with that newfound sense of self that Baxter entered Thunder Sound, the abandoned rubber band factory-turned-studio in the cornfields of Kentucky that would become his home for three months of intensive soul searching and songwriting.

    “I blanketed the windows so no one could see inside,” he explains. “I laid a mattress down next to an old Wurlitzer so I had somewhere to sleep. I had a guitar, a desk with a lamp and some paper and pencils, and that was it. For fifteen hours a day, I wrote.”

    When it came time to record his mountain of new songs, Baxter relocated to Santa Monica, California, where he wrangled an all-star studio band that included Dr. Dog’s Erick Slick on drums, Butch Walker on bass, Cage The Elephant’s Nick Bockrath on guitar, and piano wizard Aaron Embry (Elliott Smith, Brian Eno) on keys. A producer and artist equally at home working with massive pop stars and indie stalwarts, Walker immediately embraced Baxter’s vision for the album, and the result is a sunny and altogether charming collection. Scratch beneath the surface, though, and you’ll find it’s populated by a cast of characters who project a vision of the good life as they struggle to keep it all together behind closed doors. On the punchy ‘Casanova,’ the singer reckons with debts he knows he’ll never be able to repay, while the volatile “Amelia Baker” charts the narrator’s descent into near-madness as he pines for a starlet perpetually out of reach.

    “We have this society where we’re obsessed with celebrity and living on the top of the mountain,” says Baxter. “But what’s at the top? Maybe it’s a lonely place to wake up.”

    Late 2016 was a particular tumultuous time in the country, and though Baxter did his best to isolate himself from the outside world while he wrote, it was inevitable that some of the chaos would seep in. On album opener “Strange American Dream,” a chiming piano and spare Motown groove give way to lush harmonies and unexpected melodic twists as Baxter sings, “I close my eyes and realize that I’m alive inside this strange American dream.” Meanwhile, the soaring “79 Shiny Revolvers” finds him reflecting, “you really wanna save the world, man / well, I wanna save it, too / we can blow ’em away / the American way.”

    While ‘Wide Awake’ offers plenty of broad, wide-angle musings, some of its most arresting moments arrive bundled inside deeply personal memories and snapshots. The heartfelt “Everything To Me” is a tender tribute to family (Baxter’s father Bucky, who played pedal steel with Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams among others, contributes to the record), and the laidback “Let It All Go Man” is a reminder that there’s beauty in simply being alive.

    “I actually started that song two years ago on a trip to South America,” says Baxter. “I was sitting on the porch of a house in this little town in Colombia, and I was all alone playing a gut string classical guitar, just staring out at the ocean and the beach in the middle of the night. It made me realize how much unnecessary stuff we hold on to, all the grinding away we do chasing success and money and missing the big picture. It made me realize what an incredibly beautiful gift it is to be human.”

    That empty South American beach may have been a world away from the rubber band factory in Kentucky, but for Baxter, the effect was the same. The solitude offered a chance to observe, to reflect, to grow, to appreciate, and most importantly, to write.

    Jim James

    Uniform Distortion

      The GRAMMY® Award-nominated frontman of My Morning Jacket, Jim James, has announced the release of his third studio album, Uniform Distortion.

      Uniform Distortion was produced by Jim James and Kevin Ratterman at Louisville, KY’s La La Land, with Ratterman also serving as recording engineer. All songs were written by James, who is backed on the album by bassist Seth Kauffman (Floating Action) and longtime touring drummer Dave Givan, with backing vocals provided throughout by Dear Lemon Trees’ Leslie Stevens, Jamie Drake and Kathleen Grace.

      “The name of my new record is Uniform Distortion because I feel like there is this blanket distortion on society/media and the way we gather our ‘news and important information. More and more of us are feeling lost and looking for new ways out of this distortion and back to the truth…and finding hope in places like the desert where I write this now...finding hope in the land and in the water and in old books offering new ideas and most importantly in each other and love.” says James.

      Natalie Prass

      The Future And The Past

        Natalie Prass had her new album written, her band ready, the recording studio booked. Then the 2016 election happened, and out of her despair and disappointment in those results came an impulse she could not ignore: she rewrote the album to reflect these swirling emotions. The result is ‘The Future and The Past’ a stunning snapshot of a musician in a state of personal rediscovery and surging femininity. The celebratory and defiant ‘The Future and The Past’ also signals a significant artistic leap for Prass on the heels of her 2015 breakthrough debut album. It finds Prass tapping into deep, dancey grooves that glisten with 80s pop and 90s R&B, nestled alongside quivering, lushly orchestrated ballads.

        Like her debut album, Prass made ‘The Future and The Past’ in Richmond, VA with long-time friend and collaborator Matthew E. White at his Spacebomb Studios. She added some new collaborations to the mix as well: Blue (Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table,’ Blood Orange, Carly Rae Jepsen) and Michael Brauer (Elle King and James Bay). ‘Future’ is ripe with string orchestrations and piano flourishes, snaking synth lines and fuzzed out guitars.

        ‘The Future And The Past’ is bursting with a myriad of grooves and Natalie’s vocals float on top, light as a feather and tough as nails. “Short Court Style” dials the tempo into 90s R&B territory – punctuated by handclaps, sampled “woos,” and a Dr. Dre-esque whistling synth line. Lyrically she wields a sharp knife as well. The love torn “Lost” begins with: “Turn up the fader, its like a lightning bolt / we can’t be saved, so now I’m listening on my own / Once there was a time when you had me hypnotized / you realized that your finger prints were on my bones.” Funky feminist anthem “Sisters” is an empowering rallying cry: “I want to say it loud / for all the ones held down / we gotta change the plan.”

        FORMAT INFORMATION

        Coloured LP Info: Limited edition rust coloured vinyl.

        In The Rainbow Rain' - produced by Sheff and mixed by Shawn Everett (Perfume Genius, Alabama Shakes, The War on Drugs) - serves as showcase for Sheff's writing and the musical interplay of his new band mates, Benjamin Lazar Davis (bass), Will Graefe (guitar), Sarah Pedinotti (keys) and Cully Symington (percussion) - the same iteration of Okkervil River that joined Sheff on the Away tour. Recalls Sheff of that tour: "It was my favorite touring experience in many years... I felt like a kid again. I realized how phenomenally lucky I am that I've been able to play music for this long."

        Sheff and the band started work on the new album shortly after the end of that tour - and the presidential election. "If December 2016 was good for anything, it was good for writing songs," he says. Galvanized by the seismic events of that Fall and the following year, Sheff, sometimes co-writing with his new band, channeled his outrage and sadness into music intended to be hopeful, healing and uplifting. Inspired by the Quaker meetings he had been attending, Sheff injected the album with undercurrents of spirituality and gratitude. The result is something akin to a modern secular gospel record, and among the best music of his career.

        Highlights include driving, melodic anthems "Love Somebody" and "Pulled Up The Ribbon," and "Famous Tracheotomies," which chronicles notable figures who've endured the titular procedure, including Gary Coleman, Dylan Thomas, Ray Davies, and Sheff himself. "In places, the record deals with heavy things like trauma and betrayal and shame, but, actually, it's supposed to be a good time," says Sheff. "I hope it's something fun, that makes people feel happier

        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: With hints of smooth synthpop mixed in with the usual swooning indie anthems, Sheff has managed to sacrifice none of his original appeal whilst bringing in the considerable talents of his new bandmates, somehow simmering into a cohesive and enjoyable whole.

        FORMAT INFORMATION

        Coloured LP Info: Opaque blue/purple swirl marbled vinyl.

        Jim James

        Tribute To

          Tribute To is a collection of George Harrison songs recorded by Jim after George’s death. “All I had was that eight track at our studio and right after George died I just went up there and sat in a room and played those songs to try and deal with the emotions I felt from his passing and pay tribute to him” said Jim James.

          Spin described the EP as “spare and somber – just that windy Americana tenor against a squeaky acoustic guitar … Many of us remember where we were when Harrison died; now we hear when James began to heal.”


          This re-issue includes a bonus track, a cover of "If Not For You".

          Jim James

          Tribute To 2

            After releasing the politically charged solo album ‘Eternally Even’ in 2016, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James returns with ‘Tribute To 2’, a collection of cover songs that reverberate with hope.

            Unlike his 2009 mini album of songs by George Harrison and the Beatles, ‘Tribute To’, which was recorded on an eight-track, reel-toreel tape recorder in the days following Harrison’s passing, the 11 songs of ‘Tribute To 2’ were recorded over a period of years, in different places, with different gear and varied instrumentation. James explains, “These are some of my favourite covers - songs I recorded trying to bring myself peace during a rough time or trying to make myself laugh or just have fun. I hope others can relate and enjoy the journey during these tough times and hopefully in times of peace and love as well!”

            FORMAT INFORMATION

            LP includes MP3 Download Code.

            Les Claypool and Sean Lennon formed The Claypool Lennon Delirium and combined their imaginative, psychedelic powers to release their debut album The Monolith of Phobos in the summer of 2016.

            They have now returned with Lime and Limpid Green, a covers EP of the music that has inspired their own wild and twisted tunes.

            The EP features four cosmically trippy cover songs – Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”, The Who’s “Boris The Spider”, King Crimson’s “The Court of the Crimson King” and Flower Travellin’ Band’s “Satori”.

            FORMAT INFORMATION

            Ltd 10" Info: Ultra clear vinyl with green splatter.

            Simon Okely is lost in time. Or at least, his songs sound that way: warm, near-whispered indie rock love letters to the 60s and 70s rhythm and blues records his parents would play on family car rides down Australia’s winding West Coast, heavy on nostalgia and even heavier on imagination. “I try not to be too caught up in trends and what’s popular in music now and just focus in on my passions, my influences,” grins the Melbourne songwriter better known as Slow Dancer, whose 2014 debut ‘Surrender’ was a melt-your-heart, Fleetwood Mac-with-Neil Young licks ‘pop postcard’ from another time, another place.

            Returning in 2017 with new album ‘In A Mood’, Okely is aiming even higher on his new material, featuring a “more expansive, more ambitious” sound that’s “less about the stories we tell ourselves when in love and more about the moods that can come creeping over a relationship” at any time. “It’s a little more tasteful, involving new instruments, like drum machines and strings,” says the 31-year-old, whose lush tales of new romance, awkward courting and “scraggly, mangy love that’s fading and waning” have been striking a chord with fans of Mac DeMarco, Tobias Jesso Jr, Connan Mockasin and more.

            Drive-By Truckers

            It's Great To Be Alive

              Drive-By Truckers present a live set recorded at The Fillmore in San Francisco, available in two editions.

              In the band’s own words: “Thrilled to announce that our long awaited live album, recorded over three nights at the historic Fillmore in San Francisco CA, will be released […]! Our long-time producer, David Barbe, acquired the necessary mobile gear to record us and flew out to San Francisco to capture our three-night stand in November of 2014. We hired some horns, sold some tickets and played three special and unique shows. From those shows we have sequenced a sort of ultimate live DBT collection, one that hopefully captures the essence of our life’s work into one cohesive whole.

              “We are releasing two versions... a shorter 13 song version called ‘This Weekend’s The Night’ which provides a Best Of version snapshot of our live show [and] also a larger 35 song box set entitled ‘It’s Great To Be Alive!’ which goes far more in-depth into the DBT catalog and history. Songs and stories spanning thirty years of Drive- By Truckers sequenced to hopefully give as close as possible document of the DBT show.”

              FORMAT INFORMATION

              LP Box Set Info: The vinyl edition comes with six mini concert posters and a bonus copy of the album across three CDs.

              Following the release of 2012’s ‘Women And Work’, Lucero’s new album ‘All A Man Should Do’ contains some of the most resonant lyrics Ben Nichols has ever written.

              Working with producer Ted Hutt (Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly) for a third time at Memphis’ Ardent Studios, the band felt comfortable enough to take some chances with a palette of new tones that sound understated yet powerful, bringing life to the stories behind the lyrics without overshadowing them.

              For the first time the band have put a cover song on a record, with a full band version of Big Star’s ‘I Fell In Love With A Girl’. The track features Jody Stephens from Big Star singing back-up vocals.

              New album ‘We Are Undone’ is Two Gallants’ second full length release on the ATO Records label following 2012’s ‘The Bloom And The Blight’.

              Two Gallants’ Adam Stephens (guitar, harmonica, keyboard and vocals) and Tyson Vogel (drums, guitar and vocals) spent one month recording ‘We Are Undone’ with Karl Derfler (Tom Waits) at Panoramic House in Northern California.

              Of the title track, Stephens says “‘We Are Undone’ was, without being too blunt about it, trying to make sense of this unending pressure to acquire and consume, and usually as conspicuously as possible, that has taken a hold of our culture.”

              FORMAT INFORMATION

              Vinyl comes with CD version of the album enclosed.

              Drive-By Truckers release their new album ‘English Oceans’ through ATO Records.

              ‘English Oceans’, the band’s 12th release, is an elegantly balanced and deeply engaged new effort that finds the group refreshed and firing on all cylinders. “It can go from this chainsaw rock ‘n’ roll to this very delicate, pretty-sounding stuff,” says singer and guitarist Mike Cooley.

              ‘English Oceans’ was recorded over 13 days at Chase Park Transduction Studios in Athens, GA with the band’s longtime producer David Barbe.

              Their fourth album proper and second for a major label, this should be the one that does it for these Louisville longhairs. It's got all their special ingredients; country, lonesome rock with a little Neil, a lot of echo and even more soul - but, with the help of John Leckie (and this time not recorded in a barn in Kentucky!) they've made a modern, otherworldly, dream-rock record that puts them in a similar arena to Mercury Rev. They tap into the very heart of the classic American music we all know and love. This one's slightly more rhythmical and with synths bubbling up, but they still ache and burn. Jim James still pines away, his voice as beautiful as ever. This is a more compact MMJ, but no worse for it. Infact, this may prove to be their most powerful album yet. Rich, as ever.


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