Bob Dylan has always been, and continues to be, a complete enigma: mysterious and brooding, romantic and charming, dirty and doubting. Dylan is a lover and a fighter, and seems to have found his groove in the blues of old with his newest endeavor, Modern Times. Being called by Columbia Records the third installation of Dylan’s ten-year “trilogy,” (preceded by 2001’s Love and Theft and 1997’s Time Out of Mind) Dylan summons music-makers and poets of old to conjure up a sound that is both ancient and culturally relevant; he mentions Alicia Keys, Hurricane Katrina and alludes to the current state of affairs. Modern Times (who’s title refers to an old Charlie Chaplin film) is a romping mix of sentimental ballads, rockabilly beats and dirty Delta blues.
“Thunder on the Mountain” starts the record out with a bang, but isn’t over the top. Dylan, with a gritty sound only he can deliver, speaks of doubt and redemption, bad luck women, love and work; he’s a world-weary wanderer and an everyman, evidenced on “Workingman’s Blues #2.” (“It’s a new path we trod / They say low wages are a reality / If we want to compete abroad”) “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”is a bluesy rattlesnake rocker (I got troubles so hard / I can’t stand this dream / some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains) and has Dylan and the boys getting down so low they’re on the ground.
“Someday Baby” has a shot-a-man-in-Reno-just-to-watch-him-die nonchalance, (“I don’t care what you do/I don’t care what you say / I don’t care where you go, or how long you stay”) and is a strong and steady freight train. The bass drum beat and sweet lyrics of “Nettie Moore” are endearing, (“I’d walk through a blazing fire, baby / if I knew you was on the other side”) and “The Levee’s Gonna Break” (no Zeppelin here, kids) is an old Memphis Minnie song that just straight up swings. The record ends with the cello-laden “Ain’t Talkin’”, a yearning county-western song. (“I practice a faith that’s been long-abandoned / Ain’t no waters on this long and lonesome road”)
Dylan recently told Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Lethem that the band he’s with now is “…the best band I’ve been in,” and makes mention on “Nettie Moore” that he’s “in a cowboy band.” Produced by the man himself under surname Jack Frost, Modern Times is stripped-down to its bare bones … just a few folks playing some good music in a room. (Kinda like how records were made back in the day.)
There is not much happening in mainstream music right now can be compared to this record. It is, quite honestly, a breath of fresh air in a stale musical atmosphere; Dylan has taken old sounds and resurrected them, made them new. Thus, Modern Times couldn’t be a more perfect title for this record.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.