By Spencer. August is usually a slow month for new releases, so this month’s Consumer is a little more sparse than usual. But don’t overlook some great new material from Seattle songwriter Noah Gundersen, a punk rock opus from Titus Andronicus, and a revealing new record from blues great Buddy Guy.
Noah Gundersen – Carry The Ghost: Last year, Seattle’s Noah Gundersen delivered my favorite album of 2014 with Ledges, a perfect little piece of folk/alt-country songwriting. So needless to say, I dropped everything to listen to last week’s follow-up, Carry The Ghost. The verdict? It’s a gorgeous but challenging record. It admittedly doesn’t have the same transcendence as Ledges, in part because it lacks the overtone of hope that made that record such a reward on multiple listens. Carry The Ghost clearly comes from a darker place. The sadness that has always been a part of Gundersen’s songwriting is now filtered through more electric guitars—giving this album a grunginess you wouldn’t expect. And yet Gundersen still can’t resist layering on those beautiful little touches, like the strings that intrude on the distorted guitar chords of “Slow Dancer” and “Blossom,” or the stunning lyricism of the bare acoustic ballad, “Selfish Art.”
If Carry The Ghost is missing anything, it’s a palate cleanser; the slow pace of every song threatens to become a drag after a while, and could have been avoided by including just a couple more uptempo numbers (the way songs like “Boathouse” and “Ledges” so nicely broke through the clouds the last time around). Still, this is an album that shows an artist who knows how to expand his sound while staying true to who he is, and it’s a work that will grow on you.
Noah Gundersen – “Slow Dancer”
Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy: Titus Andronicus may be a punk band, but the name alone is indication that they’re at their best when they aspire toward grander things. Their 2010 masterwork, The Monitor, was a rock opera about the American Civil War, and like the Sex Pistols performing the score for a Ken Burns miniseries, it showed us that punk rock could be both raw emotion and intellectual statement. But the follow-up, 2012’s Local Business, was a smaller record that seemed conventional in comparison. So thankfully Titus Andronicus have swung the pendulum back toward grandiosity with The Most Lamentable Tragedy, a double-length concept album loosely themed around manic depression. It’s big, unwieldy, and often fantastic. And it also shows the band branching out into new sounds, channeling The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen on “Lonely Boy,” a slower (relatively speaking) track that still manages to rock plenty, or even recalling early grunge on “(S)he Said/(S)he Said” (a song whose breakdown does a vintage impression of Tool, if you can believe it). It’s an expansive, confident album that shows that punk doesn’t need to be small to be great.
Titus Andronicus – “Lonely Boy”
Buddy Guy – Born To Play Guitar: Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy may be an old-timer. But don’t you dare confuse his brand of blues for the more easy-going stroll of stuff like B.B. King or Muddy Waters. This guy can rock, as he proved while opening for Foo Fighters in Washington, D.C. last month, and as he shows in spades on Born To Play Guitar. Why buy new material from a blues great; isn’t it better to go back to their classic material? With most artists, the answer is yes, but Buddy Guy brings a vitality you wouldn’t expect on tracks like “Wear You Out” and “Whiskey, Beer & Wine.” The guitars are tuned down and dirty as all hell, showing once again how Buddy Guy always had a more rock-and-roll edge than his contemporaries. Staying true to the blues, he also makes room for a couple of parting tributes to some of those lost greats, “Flesh & Bone (Dedicated To B.B. King)” and “Come Back Muddy,” that revel in that classic sound. Featuring guest appearances by Joss Stone, Van Morrison, and many others, it’s an impressive effort from an old dog still very much capable of doing new tricks.
Buddy Guy (ft. Billy Gibbons) – “Wear You Out”