New Music for Old People: Sean Watkins, Big Wreck, Mel Brown, Blue Rose and More

By , Columnist

Sean Watkins

This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there.

I also include older items that I felt were obscure originally and might not have been heard back then. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this wonderful music. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD'VE been!

Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.

TMR0406 by Lisa on Grooveshark

1. "Summer's Coming" — Sean Watkins (2:57)

This extremely talented singer-songwriter-instrumentalist is best known as one third of the currently dormant folk supergroup Nickel Creek. This is from a 2006 solo album but sounds like it could have been recorded in 2013. It overflows with non-traditional chord progressions and sounds more like a prog rock single than anything else. And with this title, I had to start this week's column with Sean’s timely lyric.

2. "Sweet Potato Pie" — Block (2:57)

Jamie Block ditched the first name long ago hoping to have a following of Block Heads. He put out an album in 1996 that sold 100,000 copies, but that was not enough for the record company. After he was unceremoniously dropped, he got a straight job to support his family and didn’t look back. Driving to work in his now-fancy car a few years later, he heard a DJ lamenting the loss of his band and called her up. In 2006, we got the album The Last Single Guy and more Block Heads convened. I, for one, fell in love with this quirky track that is closer to hip hop and rap than I have ever gone before. I kinda cling to the banjo in it and that assuages my guilt. Very clever, Jamie... er, Mr. Block, sir!

3. "Broke It, Buy It" — The Honeydogs (2:48)

A favorite Minnesota aggregation of mine, this is their third appearance in this column. This is a track from their current album What Comes After and it’s the first time I’ve heard them incorporate horns into their arsenal. Their entrance is amusing too — immediately following the line "the Devil doesn’t always come ... with horns." A fine purveyor of pop, Adam Levy can always be counted on to provide an equal musical and lyrical journey within each track. And now that he's a music instructor in an institute of higher learning, perhaps some bastard baby Honeydog bands in a few years?

4. "Albatross" — Big Wreck (3:26)

Big Wreck formed at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in 1994 and it took its members right out of the curriculum and onto Atlantic Records in 1997. After a few albums they disbanded by 2004, and lead singer Ian Thornley formed Thornley out of his native Canada and recorded and toured as usual. A get-together with his old collaborator from Big Wreck, guitarist Brian Doherty, in 2011 rekindled their old flame and songs began to fire up. Rushing into the studio to keep the flame bright in mid-2011, their reunion album Albatross was quickly recorded and mixed. It came out in mid-March 2012 but it appears that the concentration is on Canada and it doesn’t feel like the USA is being involved as their current tour is completely Canadian. Don’t let that stop YOU. This is a great band with a great singer.

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5. "Hillbillies" — Hot Apple Pie (2:40)

This is a guilty pleasure. I’m here for the guitar parts and the arrangement. Reminds me of Jerry Reed or Lynyrd Skyknyrd guitar-wise, especially Ed King. Nicely produced but the song is just trimming for the guitars — but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that (this time)!

6. "Better Weather" — Good Old War (2:14)

This is just one of those pick-me-up and feel-good records. Again, well-made and if you use it for what it’s made for, then everyone will be happy.

7. "How We Breathe" — Pinback (2:56)

This is another of my fave bands. I love the sound of their records and the unique sound they get on each track so you can instantly tell it’s them if you’re a fan. I don’t like how they bury the vocal but this is the least buried one in their whole cemetery... er, catalogue. Just funnin’ with ya — don’t stick no pin in my back — I love this band. So let 'em fold their arms if they want — fine with me.

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8. "Ruby Mae" — Mel Brown (4:03)

He’s a legendary guitarist and organist in the blues community and I kinda lost him in the shuffle but I heard this recently and it brought me right back. Great syncopation in the arrangement that causes quite an original groove. But when he unleashes that lead guitar I’m reminded how much he is in a class with Albert King, i.e. a player with style. They don’t sound anything alike, but it’s that style that sets both of them apart and distances them from each other. A wonderful listen for bluesers and cruisers.

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9. "Are You Beautiful" — Chris Pierce (2:37)

I’ve been listening to this for a few years but couldn’t fit it in the right place in the column until this week. Lotta great under-playing here; just a trio behind Chris and a calm but far-reaching vocal with simple but meaningful lyrics. This grew on me and I think someday another artist will take this, make it their own, and it will surely graze the top ten (if there IS such a thing in that time).

10. "My Impersonal Life" — Blue Rose (4:26)

This is decades old and has never been on CD. I nicked it off the vinyl for this presentation but the singer/songwriter/guitarist of said band, Terry Furlong, sent me a wonderful digital copy so it’s updated for you! I have always loved this track. My favorite part is from the guitar solo forward. I love the tone of the guitar and then the enormity of the choir at the end. It’s a great closer for this week and I believe was far ahead of its time in 1972. Three Dog Night covered it at the time, but I never heard that til now and they really didn’t touch THIS version!

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Legendary musician (Bob Dylan, Blues Project, Super Session, Blood Sweat & Tears), producer (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nils Lofgren, The Tubes) and author (Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards), Al is happy to join the staff of The Morton Report in an effort to help his fellow listeners stay in tune!

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