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Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose

Van Lear Rose is a very personal album. Though it has the requisite themes in country music, it is also an inspired musical journal of home, family, faith, loss and the loneliness that follows.

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Perhaps I am a cynical bastard, but at least I am an honest one. It has not escaped my notice that Loretta Lynn’s new record, Van Lear Roseis receiving heaps of praise from other critics that are pleased to hear collaboration between the coal miner’s offspring and Jack White, a critical darling of the alternative crowd. The promotional copy of the CD that I received was conspicuously plastered with a yellow label stating it had been awarded five stars from another magazine. Would I render myself a human cliché if I too raved about this effort? Would I have to give the record six stars to avoid enduring the psychological trauma of star envy?

Van Lear Rose is a very personal album. Though it has the requisite themes in country music such as love and infidelity, it is also an inspired musical journal of home, family, faith, loss and the loneliness that follows. In the liner notes of the CD, Lynn says, “This is the first time I wrote all of the songs on a record” and after nearly five decades as a singer, it is well that she trusted her considerable talents. No one else could have imparted the story of her life as well as she has, with insight, self-effacing wit and the wisdom of someone who has known great love as well as abject poverty and phenomenal success.

The title track is the story of Loretta’s father; a roughneck Johnson County coal miner that managed to steal the heart of the small town beauty. This lyrically vivid example of storytelling also packs a musical wallop without any polished Nashville veneer, yet powerful in its simplicity. “Portland Oregon,” a duet with White has one of the best psychedelic guitar intros that I have ever heard, lasting nearly a minute and forty seconds. What follows is a masterfully executed track with a pickup truckload of musical dynamics and an ideal union of White’s alternative sensibility and Lynn’s down home insight.

Several tracks on the disc address the subject of cheating but none better than “Family Tree.” The timeless lyrical topic of the scorned wife confronting the other woman is also a quintessential model of traditional country music, with outstanding fiddle playing by Dirk Powell, well complimented by Dave Feeny’s pedal steel work. The simplicity of Lynn’s lyrics almost make her job look easy, yet there is real quality in her ability to convey a story—particularly one you know that she experienced first hand.

The most beautiful track on the record is “Miss Being Mrs,” a movingly sincere tribute to Lynn’s late husband Doo, who passed away in 1996. Her performance needs nothing more than the acoustic guitar that perfectly supports her finely crafted tale of profound bereavement and aching loneliness. This is the essence of talented songwriting, as it is experiential without a hint of pretension. 

At sixty-eight years of age, Loretta Lynn is in no danger of losing her relevance. This record is as ageless as it is innovative. The production is lean, yet superb and there is nothing on it that is frivolous or ill placed. For the players that contributed to this work, the reverence for the traditional country genre is not admired from a safe distance but is fully realized in its purest American spirit. I care not what other writers are saying about this record; but just in case one of them attempts to one up me, I am printing my own yellow sticker with ten stars on it.

(Interscope Records)

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Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

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.

(Hellminded Records)

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Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”

A glorious sound of a time gone by

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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.

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