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Train – For Me, It’s You

For Me, It’s You ranks, in my book, as the best Train record ever.

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The new Train record is most definitely a welcome treat to anyone who was a fan of (the album, not the song) Drops of Jupiter. On Jupiter, Train traded in the grittier side of the roots-rock sound for a more Counting Crows-esque polish to the tracks; and it was most definitely a change for the better. On their follow-up to Jupiter, the abysmal My Private Nation (2003), they kept the sound; but lost something far more important: the songwriting. Excluding lead single “Calling All Angels,” the whole album was nothing more than fillery mush. It amounted to nothing more than a so-so, fully hollow ‘vibe’ type of album.

Now, they’re back. It’s been two years since Nation sucked up record players around the country, and what do they have to say? Well … the answer is a lot. For Me, It’s You ranks, in my book, as the best Train record ever. Beating out their solid debut, and stellar follow-up. Both of those records were good, but flawed. But this one, this one is solid gold.

The song writing is phenominal on the album. Settling back onto simpler song arrangements, and more thought provoking lyrics has proven itself to be a wothwhile formula for Pat Monahan and Co. First single “Cab” really caught my attention, as I first heard it on a hotel room TV, along with seeing the video on VH1. I was brushing my teeth, when suddently I caught myself fully entranced, listening with all my attention to the catchy tune that had so suddenly filled the room whilst I wasn’t even looking. I could tell right off by the vocals that it was Train, but after Nation broke my heart (and bled my ears), I hadn’t really kept up with the band. I was excited, to say the least. Back in the day when it was all shiny and new, Train’s debut album practically lived in my stereo for months. A return to goodness was (literally) music to my ears. I jumped online right there in the hotel, and pulled up the info on the album’s pending release.

Brendan O’ Brien’s production brings back the earthy, Counting Crows-ish sound of their Jupiter-era work, but also with a dash of the rawness from their self-titled record tracks. And, most importantly, something wholly new. The songs, as well as the sound, all feel familiar; but not in that ‘bad’ way. The album feels comfortable, like it’s speaking straight to you. Perhaps the maturation and direction can be somewhat accounted for by the personal struggles Monahan has faced on a personal level; losing a friend to suicide, and a bouncing, tumultuos line-up in the band itself over the past year or so has obviously led to far more introspective song-writing for the group.

Look no further than “Cab,” “I Can’t Change Your Mind”, or the title track “For Me, It’s You” for some of the best songs to be released yet this year. There really isn’t a weak track to be found in the lot, as the whole album fits together like some convulted, storybook of a massive puzzle. The entire thing flows together so nicely that’s it’s shocking that this is the same band that put out such dribble only two short years ago. No out of place tracks here, or any filler material to up the length to be found. Clocking in at 13 tracks, that’s quite a feat to say the least.

I’m about to ramble for a second, but it’ll be worth it, trust me. If you’re at all a fan of The Wallflowers, Train’s older work, the Counting Crows, Better Than Ezra, Will Hoge, Graham Colton, Howie Day, Matt Nathanson, or Ari Hest: you will love this record. It’s one of the best releases yet this year, and sets the bar quite high for the many artists set to follow. I highly recommend it.

(Columbia Records)

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Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die

Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter

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At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.

Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.

The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.

The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.

Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.

(Wiretap Records)

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Fences – Failure Sculptures

Failure Sculptures is a steady outing

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Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.

“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.  

“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.

This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.

(GRNDVW)

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