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Five albums I hope to find under my Christmas tree

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Christmas morning is almost upon us and with a plethora of great music unleashed to the public this year, there are some that I wouldn’t mind finding wrapped up under the tree or stuffed into a stocking Wednesday morning. These are some of them.

The Bottle Rockets – The Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side

The Bottle Rockets’ songs are more stories than songs weaving tales about everyday life and everyday people. They have never been a household name and it is not due to a lack of good music. In the early 90’s when Alt/Country got a shot in the arm with bands like Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown the Bottle Rockets were right in the middle of it dishing out country infused rock music with a folksy feel. Their first two albums (The Bottle Rockets and The Brooklyn Side) are a great cross section of what makes their music so damn good. Long out of print, Bloodshot Records has stepped into the way-back machine and reissued both of these masterpieces.

The music sounds just as powerful now as it did back in the 90’s. The two disc album allows Bottle Rocket fans to revisit the first two records and they are great jumping off points for folks that have never had the pleasure of listening to their music. Songs like “Trailer Mama”, “I’ll Be Comin’ Around” and “Gas Girl” sound as fresh as they did when I first listened to them, loaded with plenty of rocking guitars, pedal steel twang and plucky banjo. In addition to the classic tunes the albums are loaded with a boat load of bonus tracks. The 19 extra tracks are a collection of live and demo tunes that sound great. On the Chicken Truck versions of “Coffee Monkey” and “White Trash” you can feel the live energy through the speakers and the acoustic demo of “Building Chryslers” is raw and sparse and the unreleased “Truck Driving Man” kicks ass.

Where most reissues miss the point and either do not offer up anything extra or give the listener a bunch of unfinished tunes this one is spot on. You get a collection of classic Bottle Rockets’ music and the addition of the bonus tracks adds value to the release.

Swimming Pool Q’s – The A&M Years 1984-1986 Deluxe (3cds-dvd)

Emerging from the cauldron of bands that littered the 70’s & 80’s college music scene in Georgia, the Swimming Pool Q’s were considered by many to be one of the best. Possessing a jangly pop sound with a dash of country the band never quite fit in to any classification of music. Their music was loaded with quirky lyrics supported by catchy melodies and booming vocals. They flirted with main stream success supporting acts like Devo, The Police and Lou Reed but never got over the hump, which is something I have never understood. Now the opportunity to relive some of their best music is upon us with the reissue of two of their best records.

The A&M Years 1984-1986 is a collection of the records The Swimming Pool Q’s, Blue Tomorrow and The Pow Wow Hour (b-sides, outtakes and such) that reminds music listeners how good the band really was. Both records sound incredible and stand up to any music that is out there today. Something that struck me was I never realized how well they wrote songs. With musical arrangements loaded with multiple chunky layers the lyrics can be over looked when they really stand out. Listen to “Purple Rivers”, “Pretty On The Inside” or “Blue Tomorrow” and tell me otherwise. The Pow Wow Hour is a nice addition as it does what any outtake album does, offer up a collection of tunes that range from good to so-so. Long time fans will love it; newbies will take it or leave it. A dvd is also included in the deluxe edition which gives a visual look back to their hey day.

It is always good when bands like the Swimming Pool Q’s are brought back into the ears of the music listening public. Too many times bands like them get swept under the rug to never be heard of again when they deserve a lot more. Treat yourself to some killer music and give this one a listen.

Cinnamon Girl: A Tribute to Neil Young (2cds)

If you have not checked out American Laundromat Records then I highly implore you to do so. The small record label is carving their own niche into the music world by releasing tribute albums loaded with tunes that actually pay homage to the original artists and not just a money grab so you can hear bands like Hootie & the Blowfish sing Zeppelin or Garth Brooks belt out a KISS tune. With tribute albums of the Cure, the Smiths, 80’s music and last year’s critically acclaimed Repo Man Tribute, ALR released an epic 2 disc ode to Neil Young, aptly titled Cinnamon Girl.

The 21 song compilation is loaded with so many good tracks it would take forever to list them all, but here are some that stand out. Tonya Donelly starts the record off with a nice rendition of “Heart Of Gold” Acoustic guitars, intermittent accordion and underlying cello frame Donnelly’s distinctive vocals. Veruca Salt delivers “Burned” loaded with vicious guitar licks and Louise Post’s “Sugar Mountain” is beautifully done. Euro-Trash Girls nail the rocking “Cinnamon Girl” and Elk City does justice to one of my favorite Neil songs, “Helpless”. My favorite track is Kristin Hersh’s take on “Like A Hurricane”. With brooding guitars and Hersh’s unmistakable voice she makes it her song.

On each track the musician gives their interpretation of Young’s music while still keeping the heart and soul intact and avoiding a karaoke feel. In addition to a great collection of tunes all the profits go to helping Casting For Recovery an organization that concerns itself with the well being of cancer survivors. American Laundromat has once again delivered a fine batch of tunes.

Southern Culture on The Skids – Dig This

If you have never listened to Southern Culture on The Skids (SCOTS) then you are truly missing out. They have been dishing out their own flavor of hillbilly infused surf rock for quite some time now. The trio of Rick Miller, Mary Huff and Dave Hartman has been singing about mobile homes, false teeth and fried chicken since the 80’s and show no signs of slowing down. With a ton of studio albums, live records and EPs under their belt, it is 1994’s Ditch Diggin’ that seems to be their most popular, and 2013 has seen it reinvented as Dig This: Ditch Diggin’ Vol. 2.

With the record coming up on its 20 year anniversary they got all fancy and have delivered something that is much better than your regular run of the mill reissue. While the songs on the original release stand the test of time they decided to re-record the entire record, minus a couple of covers. Songs like “Too Much Pork”, “The Fly That Rode From Buffalo” and “My House Has Wheels” sound refreshed and rejuvenated, not that they really needed it. When they kick into “Put Your Teeth Up On The Windowsill” you can’t help but sing-a-long. Speaking of singing along, the bonus material allows you to do just that. Instead of unreleased material, demo versions or live tracks they load up instrumental versions of the entire album for your karaoke pleasures.

Dig This reminds fans how good this early album is and is a great introduction to newbies. The karaoke tracks are an original touch and make the record functional as well as pleasing to the ear. Was there a need for them to re-record the record, not really, but you will be glad you did.


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