Tyler Ramsey, Noah Gundersen, Pony Bradshaw, The Menzingers and More

We may be hunkered down for a while, folks, so why not check out some music to while away the time? This column features some short recommendations for music to sample. As always, I’ll tuck in a few live links and if you like what you hear, search for more.

 Let’s lead with something special. Tyler Ramsey is the former lead singer of the folk-rock Band of Horses. Take any track from his 2019 projects For the Morning and The Candler Sessions and you will instantly think “Neil Young.” Ramsey isn’t trying to channel Young, it’s just that their voices are eerily similar. Ramsey’s “A Dream of Home” would have fit like a glove on Young’s Harvest LP, including lyrics such as” Oh the year blew past/And there was nothing you could hold/Except for all the things I told you/Were worth holding onto. Ramsey is from Cincinnati and now lives in Asheville, but his songs have the feel of the open prairie. “The Nightbird” is a tender little song about love taken flight, “Your Whole Life” is a tad more country, and “Breaking a Heart” also sounds like early Neil Young. Listen to everything you can from Ramsey. Listen hard, as his voice has Young’s nasality, but it’s much more supple.

Here’s a hackneyed phrase for you: “He came out of nowhere.” Musicians generally haunt clubs for years before they register on our radar screens. Seattle’s Noah Gundersen is a name a lot of people know these days. He’s now 30, but at 18, he left the conservative Christian home that adopted and home schooled him and began moving in very different directions. He began playing at folk and folk-rock clubs, listened to a lot of Neil Young and Ryan Adams, did some TV scores, got inked all over, bulked up, shaved off his long hair, and became a gay icon (though he’s not gay). The constant is that he’s become known because he can really sing and play. Maybe you’ve heard his single, “Lover.” It’s one of many reasons to know his music. For something quite different listen to the tender acoustic version of “Wild Horses.” 

James “Pony” Bradshaw made his debut album at the age of 38, when he got kicked out of the Air Force after 21 years. Small wonder that he has an affinity for outlaw country, especially Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Sudden Opera is a good title for his new record as Bradshaw likes to use full throttle vocals backed by thunderous instrumentation. Try “Van Gogh,” which is an interesting lyrical mix of the poetic and the plebeian. In it, the narrator dreams he’s Van Gogh and his walk-on-the-wild-side girlfriend fancied herself a Rimbaud/Coming out that swamp slow/Her head up in the cosmos/She’s got them absinthe eyes…. “Bad Teeth” is another good one to sample.

Let’s stay theatrical for a moment. Two Door Cinema Club is an indie rock band from Northern Ireland that’s better known in Europe than in the U.S. They did a 3-song gig in New York’s Paste Studio in September of 2019, including “Once,” from their newest album False Alarm. Lead vocalist Alex Trimble can air it out. I usually prefer acoustic music, but their unplugged sound is a bit too indie generic, so you might want to listen to the amped version of “Next Year” and see which you like better. By the way, the band name was lifted from a movie theater.

If your politics list toward the conservative end of the spectrum, the Cerny Brothers are for you. This Nashville-based country/bluegrass/Americana duo claim they’re not selling any ideology, but one of their songs is called “Bullshit” and I’d have to call it on them. Their EP Common Sense is chockful of hyper-patriotism and put-downs of liberals, political correctness, and those who criticize anything about America. The other track names say it all: “America the Brave,” “America This America That,” “Grand Ole USA,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” (Yes, it’s the national anthem.) An older song, “American Whore” is an apologetic for materialism. Although unreflective nationalism makes me nervous, the Cenrys have the right to hold any views they wish. Just own ‘em, boys. And maybe follow the lead of…

The Menzingers. It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the Cernys and “America You’re Freaking Me Out” with lyrics such as: To these sing-alongs of siren songs/To ooh’s and ahh’s/To big applause/With all of my anger I scream and shout/America, I love you but you’re freaking me out. Yeah, I think it’s down-right patriotic to criticize the stuff mentioned in this song: homelessness amidst wealth, monstrous politicians, needless pomp, religious hypocrisy…. Now I’ve got that off my chest, The Menzingers are an excellent punk rock band from Scranton, PA. I like how they can keep their edge acoustically but also jump and sweat through a noisy “Strangers Forever." (The sound quality isn’t great on this clip, check out the energy.)

Chris Knight has 9 albums to his credit, but he’s perhaps better known as a songwriter. He visited Paste Studio in Atlanta to sing three songs off his newest release, Almost Daylight, plus the title track from 2012’s Little Victories. Knight grew up in Kentucky, worked as a mine inspector, and still lives in the Bluegrass State. By his own admission, Steve Earle and John Prine inspired him to write music. You’ll certainly hear Earle’s blue-collar cut-to-the-bone ethos in songs like the hard-driving “Crooked Mile,” an outlaw love song with backwoods survivalist coloring: I ain’t never had nothing/I ain’t never had nothing to hold on to/I ain’t even been living/Ain’t ever been living till I found you. “I’m William Callahan” explores some of the same themes through the eyes of a rambler and a former “Cajun queen” who hopped the rails and never looked back. Knight’s vocals are equally rough-hewn–and honest.

Rob Weir

No comments: