On Election Day, These Musicians Get My Vote

For us Kansans, the presidential election is a reminder we’re flyover territory – if a White House candidate stopped here, it was to refuel on his way to a state that matters.

Pile on millions spent by Not-so-Super PACs and a local ballot issue on water fluoridation, for crying out loud, and it’s enough to make one want to pack it in on this Election Day.

But, thankfully, there’s always some music to rouse my rabble in uncertain times. Musicians follow the news, of course and they’ve got the microphone and the tape to let us know how they feel.

Sunnyland Slim

Setting the tone is some advice from Chicago bluesman SUNNYLAND SLIM, “Be Careful How You Vote.” As a black man born in Mississippi who spent five decades pounding pianos in the joints of Chicago, he likely knew well of what he sang. Good advice, whether you’re in the 1 percent or the 47 percent. Push that voting button with care, but be sure to listen to Slim first.

RY COODER’s been making excellent roots music for four decades now, in the beginning putting his slide guitar and stamp on old blues and country songs and making them his own. For the last decade, though, he’s been writing short-story-worthy albums that tell stories of his native California and its people. It’s music with edge and a strong viewpoint, none more so than the recent Election Special.

Cooder, like many Americans, is none to happy with the state of the nation, and the powers-that-be that be doing it to regular folks. Song titles like “Guantanamo,” “Take Your Hands Off” and the “The Wall Street Part of Town” do more than hint at his displeasure. “Mutt Romney Blues” takes a poke at Mitt from the perspective of his roof-riding dog, and “Brother is Gone” slowly and surely swipes at Wichita native sons Charles and David Koch with its deal-with-the-devil tale.

Also on my mind — and never far from my heart, as he opened my first two concerts in 1979 – is IAN HUNTER. The English-born rocker made his rep with Mott the Hoople of “All the Young Dudes” and “All the Way from Memphis” fame at the turn of the 1970s, and has spent the past half-dozen years in a mighty artistic renaissance. Not that he ever went away, as he’s been kicking out solid to better records for many years, but he’s been writing and rocking with even greater vigor, it seems. Seems this guy of 73 tapped a fountain of youth (fluoridated, one hopes).

Hunter’s spent the past three-plus decades in America, and like any taxpayer he’s got the right to sing what he believes – in his distinctive rasp. Those “Cleveland Rocks” and “Once Bitten Twice Shy” royalties have, I’m sure, kept him in a good tax bracket. His most recent record is When I’m President, and it’s his usual excellent mix of rockers like “Comfortable,” “What For” and “Wild Bunch”; midtempo songs such as “I Don’t Know What You Want” and “Just the Way You Look Tonight”; and introspective, often slower, ones like “Life” and “Fatally Flawed.”

Hunter’s been called a journeyman rocker, which means he’s made a lot of fine records but only brushed the big time. Maybe that’s where the populist streak running through the title song comes from, with lyrics such as “I’m going to lean on the 1 percent, when I’m president” and “Hell you can’t take it with ya, so give a little extra.”

Hunter may have come from Over There, but he’s as true blue and red-blooded when he tells how another election year’s left him feeling: “I’m a stranger in a strange land. I feel like an alien.”

Hear “When I’m President” on YouTube or download it for free here.

Hear all of Ry Cooder’s “Election Special” here.

Too Energetic to be Lazy, Too Ballsy to be Celibate

So how do a punky L.A. band that blasted out 11 records in 20 years and an Aussie hard rock band that last ventured to the U.S. in 1987 get tossed together into one of these way-too-infrequent posts?

Rock ’n’ roll, man, rock ’n’ roll. The Lazy Cowgirls and the Celibate Rifles – a play on the Sex Pistols, get it? – certainly share the mission of this blog when it oozed onto the web more than a year ago: dredging up forgotten bands methinks deserve another listen.

Both bands finally caught my ear earlier this year for their pedal to the metal, swaggering music that crawled from garages into clubs and hearts. Both drew comparisons at times to the Ramones, as much for their hard-charging thunder as any adherence to that singular sound.

The Lazy Cowgirls
The Lazy Cowgirls, started in Los Angeles by Indiana escapees vocalist/songwriter/leader Pat Todd and guitarist D.D. Weekday, bring to mind a bar-band MC5, New York Dolls and Ramones, Radio Birdman and other tight and hard rockers. Todd bellows a bit but unlike some L.A. punks of the day, it’s always clear what all the shouting is about.

It’s hard not to imagine Todd leaning into the mic and summoning from his gut every bit of soul as he insists he’ll “Take It as It Comes” or laments that he “Bought Your Lies.” Both those songs come from 1996’s Ragged Soul, released a dozen years into their career and the last to feature the rip-snorting riffs and leads of D.D. Weekday. That record blasts from start to finish, with other favorites including “Frustration, Tragedy and Lies,” “Everything You Heard About Me is True” and the swaggering “Who You Callin’ a Slut?”

Various Cowgirls came and went after Ragged Soul, but a new lineup solidified around the turn of the millennium, not that it brought any big success. Todd remained the band’s core, though, and the long-present hard country flourishes came more to the forefront. The Cowgirls’ last album, I’m Going Out and Get Hurt Tonight, came in 2004, and it was a fine, fine way to go out. It kicks off with the kick-down-the-door “Burnin’ Daylight” and “Are You Ready?” Just as good is the midtempo – at least midtempo for this racing bunch – “Boerne Girl” and an excellent acoustic updating of the band oldie “Goddamn Bottle.”

That was it for the Cowgirls but Todd’s kept at it, showing no signs of letting up by releasing two albums with his Rankoutsiders, including the great and generous 28-song The Outskirts of Your Heart.

Go to http://www.myspace.com/thelazycowgirls, http://www.myspace.com/pattodd or http://www.pattodd.net to get a taste.

The Celibate Rifles
Australia seems to have a special spot for dark, charged and lean American rock of the Detroit variety – Stooges, MC5 – and the Celibate Rifles celebrated that sound while widening their own over a couple decades.

The Rifles, like plenty of other Australian bands, fueled themselves on the ’70s sounds of countrymen Radio Birdman and early Saints. Most active from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s, the Rifles have released occasional records back home since and still play occasional gigs. They made a bit of a critical rumble and earned raves on a couple U.S. tours, but apparently decided to quit banging their heads against the wall and stopped venturing to the States.

There are plenty of Rifles’ CDs to explore, but favorites are Roman Beach Party (1987) and Blind Ear (1987). Both feature the band’s dual-guitar sound – Dave Morris and Kent Steedman – and Damien Lovelock and his deep Aussie singing.

Roman Beach Party has two smoking but melodic Rifles’ classics, “(It’s Such a) Wonderful Life” and “Jesus on TV,” a charming rip at televangelists. Other favorites: “Dancing Barefoot” and “Invisible Man” and its hard-blowing harmonica.

Blind Ear didn’t hit as hard at first – nothing kicks the head like “Jesus on TV” – but it’s become even more of a favorite. Politics are more overt, with of-the-times songs like “El Salvador and two about the Northern Ireland troubles, “Belfast” and “Sean O’Farrell.”

They have another go at one of their best, with the updated “Wonderful Life ’88,” and also show a willingness to experiment with their sound. “Electravision Mantra” starts with what sounds like a sitar solo before a big, chunky riff kicks in (but the sitar peeks in behind the guitar throughout). “Cycle” uses echoing vocals to open, then slowly builds in volume and electricity. On “O Salvation,” a piano out of the Stones songbook sets up the hooky chorus and guitar.

For relatively small countries populationwise, Australia and New Zealand turn out a lot of excellent rock, and not just from the Detroit school. More on that thought later.

Hear a few from the Celibate Rifles at http://www.myspace.com/CelibateRiflesOfficial.
Plenty of videos up, too, on YouTube, including ones of “Jesus on TV”

Three by Tim Lee (and the Tim Lee 3)

I’ve got this road trip in my head, rolling east to see our nation’s hidden wonders. First stop, Memphis, to see John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives. Full of barbecue and rootsy rock, onward I’d roll to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to catch Glossary. Then, plunge into the hollows of east Tennessee bound for Knoxville, to see the Tim Lee 3. Last, clear the Blue Ridge and head for Baltimore to hear Arty Hill and the Long Gone Daddys.

Hell, sorry Arty, but I might not make it out of Knoxville, not after hearing Raucous Americanus by the Tim Lee 3. Lee’s been around a long time, starting with the jangle-popping Windbreakers in the early ’80s, but this 21-song record from 2010 is the kind of thing that gives you faith in growing old. It shows a singer, writer and guitarist who’s assimilated a world of rock far wider than the Byrdsy Southern pop of the Windbreakers – and he and buddy Bobby Sutliff were damn good doing that alone.

I first heard the Windbreakers in the late ’80s or early ’90s, when I scared up a couple of their LPs from cutout bins in South Carolina. I liked those records but pretty much set them aside until getting separate review CDs from Lee and Sutliff back in 2003. Sold on those CDs, I dug into the stacks and pulled out the Windbreakers again. Enough backstory, as it’s just a long way of saying Tim Lee and his catalog are well worth seeking out. Here are three places to start.

THE WINDBREAKERs, Time Machine (Paisley Pop, 2003) — Loads of electric and acoustic guitar, jangling and cutting , drive the Windbreakers’ addictive pop melodies. Singing along are Bobby Sutliff, he with the higher, lighter voice, and Tim Lee, he with the more straight-ahead rock voice.

Contemporaries of the R.E.M. and Let’s Active, it’s Southern more by location than by anything that makes you go “these boys must be from Mississippi” (they were). It’s timeless pop – harmonies, songs about girls, ringing guitars – that brings to mind the Beatles filtered through a particularly American upbringing. Looking for something to group this with, think Alex Chilton, Tommy Keene, the DBs, Rain Parade or, for Midwest obscurists, the Leatherwoods and Kansan Todd Newman. This collection draws from some half-dozen Windbreakers’ albums, adds two songs from in 2002, and is as fine an introduction as you’ll find (the originals are out of print).

It’s hard to pick favorites but here goes. From the voice of Lee come “You Never Give Up,” a vaguely gospelish cover of Television’s “Glory,” “I’ll be Back” and its squiggly, psychedelicized guitar part, and the fast-paced, fittingly named “Run.” From Sutliff are “New Red Shoes” and its pulsing guitar and plinking piano, “Stupid Idea” and the pretty but sad “On the Wire,” with its sweetly sung kissoff of “for all I care, you can go straight to hell.” Best of all is Sutliff’s “Visa Cards and Antique Mirrors”(“Hanging on your wall, they’re the only thing you ever cared about at all.”). Opening the song and recurring throughout is a big, echoing descending guitar riff, it might be the ’Breakers’ best song and, like the rest, is ear candy of the highest order.

TIM LEE, Under the House (Paisley Pop, 2003) —  Tim Lee always seemed like the more rootsy half of the Windbreakers, but even after adding a few years and subtracting partner Bobby Sutliff, the sound on this record surprised me some. Sparer, darker, more acoustic, more rocking, more country, with vocals that dig straight in.

Released after a several-year recording break and a move to Knoxville, Tenn., from Mississippi, it’s the sound of Lee I’ve come to know and love. It’s more outward-looking – far fewer songs about girls (Still think about them, still look at them, but sing about them all the time? That can get creepy as you get older…). It opens with the quiet and somber “All That Much,” then kicks it up a bit with “Laura” before taking a rocking ride down “Highway 49.”

Lee’s guitar work – a bit Neil Young, a bit John Fogerty swamp, rocking, pulsing, echoing – drives these songs, which seem more Southern, tales of people and place, more straightforward, more adult. “Skating Rink,” for example, is a small-town tale of a young woman’s dissatisfaction – “all the boys she knows just want to play. She’s looking for one that wants to run away. “

Lee’s vocals are direct, plaintive, weary, accepting of life, as he declares he doesn’t want “Any Part of This,” that it’s “Just Another Day” or that he’s been “Everywhere But Here” and that he wants to “break out of here and into the light.” Closing out the record is fitting, statement of purpose “Keep it True;” a listen to Under the House shows Lee’s found the way to do that.

TIM LEE 3, Raucous Americanus (Cool Dog Sound, 2010) — Sometimes I’ll hear an album that just needs an editor. Chop four or five songs, bring it down to 45 minutes instead of stuffing 79 minutes and 58 seconds onto a CD because you can.

Raucous Americanus inspires no such thoughts. This is that rare recording worthy of double-album status. Twenty-one songs, right at 80 minutes and worth every bit of time you spend with it. It’s got a ton of variety: Stonesy rockers like “Salty Tears”; choogling boogie like “1,000 Miles,” “Kerosene/Matches” and “Dig it Up”; bluesy country like “Broken Line Fever”; the jangling “Bigger” and “Hit the Ground.”

That it works so well for so long is largely due to something Tim Lee added to his music a couple years ago: his wife, Susan Bauer Lee, on bass, vocals and songwriting. More than two decades into their marriage, she picked up the bass and joined the band. It’s brought an added dimension and texture to Lee’s music, which already had plenty. The trio rocks hard, and her vocals complement his, whether in a backup role and the many times here she steps out front and takes the lead (often, it seems, freeing him to fire away on guitar).

The result is music, of art, that is – like any good marriage – greater than the sum of its parts. “What I Have Not Got” starts off this record with its declaration of “I want so much more for you and me, babe, but I do not want what I have not got.” I don’t know if Tim Lee’s writing about himself there, but he sure as hell could be. And, though making music sure hasn’t made him rich, it’s made anyone who’s heard a whole lot richer.

Hear the Tim Lee 3 at www.myspace.com/timleemusic

A Sense of Where You Are

Whether it’s the Edinburgh of Ian’s Rankin’s John Rebus mysteries or the high, arid plains of Kent Haruf’s “Plainsong” and “Eventide,” I love writing with a sense of place. The same goes for music. That’s how Glossary and the Dashboard Saviors came to have special spots in my record collection. They first appeared in one of my favorite ways — unknown in a pile of CDs that arrived in the Wichita Eagle newsroom back when they actually had the space and inclination to let me write about these unheard groups.

I’ve continued to follow Glossary, as they gamely keep making fine records because they’re compelled to. The Saviors are long gone except for occasional reunion shows. Each time I feel drawn to write about bands like these, I’ll try to send you to a place you can hear something by them. That might require a little work on your part, but it’s not right to share — for free — a download of someone’s commercial work. This time, though, download away, because Glossary offers The Better Angels of Our Nature free on their website. That’s how I first got it, and loved it enough to later order a copy. So, if you like it, go back and buy a copy from iTunes or Amazon. This band deserves the support.

GLOSSARY, The Better Angels of Our Nature (Undertow, 2008) — “The better angels of our nature,” the final words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, is an apt title for another fine record from Glossary. Lincoln’s address appeals for the best of us to come out, basically asking, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

But we’ll bend only so far, Lincoln declared southward, and the breaking point is when one forces his will upon another. All that may read too much into the words and music of Glossary, but I don’t think so.

The band has been around since the late 1990s, and leader Joey Kneiser and the current configuration have made one great record after another since 2003’s How We Handle Our Midnights. Not that it’s brought them much, except to scramble to pay for that next album, to keep making the art they seem driven to make.

This is guitar rock full of pride and grit. It’s certainly got a taste of the South, but in the lyrics and voice as much as the music. Kneiser sounds like he’s slamming his fist against the wall seeking something better, pounding away demons while pounding out music. It’s ambitious in spirit, like an American U2 without the grandiosity. Guitarist Todd Beene’s riffing and high, slicing guitar just furthers the comparison.

They certainly seem to find redemption in their music, or at least in the chase for it. As Kneiser sings in “Blood on the Knobs,” it’s been “14 years growing up in bars, sleeping on floors, playing cheap guitars. I’m still holding onto rock ’n’ roll, holding onto rock ’n’ roll.” Or as the tale in “Almsgiver” goes: “Momma she done told you. Papa told you too. Them boys with guitars can’t take care of you. They only run and they’re reckless. They live the way they want to. But they’ve never felt freedom. Never wrapped it in their arms.”

They “shout if from the rooftops,” proclaiming “we’re going to live courageously. We’re going to love and not care why. We ain’t looking for any prize at the end of all this. We won with love in our hearts and forgiveness in our fists.” If these boys aren’t the pride of Murfreesboro, Tenn., they certainly should be.

Hear them at myspace.com/glossary. You can download “The Better Angels of Our Nature”
for free at their website, glossary.us. Do that. Then buy something from them.

DASHBOARD SAVIORS, Love Sorrow Hatred Madness (Medium Cool, 1995) — Coming off like some beautiful, weary mix of the Faces, Mott the Hoople, John Prine, Neil Young and a hard-luck honky-tonker, Georgia’s Dashboard Saviors closed out their three-record run with Love Sorrow Hatred Madness and faded away the next year, 1996. They came from Athens, known for music but not for rootsy, hard-hitting rock like this.

The Saviors featured the vocals and writing of guitarist Todd McBride and bassist and keyboardist Rob Veal, driving drummer John Christ and fine guitarist Mike Gibson, who can pick acoustic gracefully or fire the electric with noise and energy. Like fine Southerners from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Driveby Truckers, the Saviors infuse their good, old American boogie with touches of British rock.

What keeps me returning to the Saviors are the stories, their well-observed slices of life in town. “Lori Grew Up” is a moment in time, of running into an old friend who used to “drink more liquor than Jackie Gleason,” who’s now having a baby and lives “in the mountains with her man Neil.” “The Projectionist” tells of the guy at the local theater who eats popcorn for dinner, who can recount lines from every movie he’s ever shown, who “has some delusions about the box office girl. He knows he’s a swine but figures he deserves a pearl.” Telling a more personal tale is “Singing for My Supper,” where the singer pines for his woman — “she might be in Austin smiling on the stage” or “at O’Hare climbing on a plane” — while “singing for my supper, looking for my ball and chain.”

“The One That Got Away” opens with what sounds like a quote from Mott’s “All the Way from Memphis” and marries it to the outlaw tale of a man with guns a-blazing. The rollicking “Preacher’s Daughter” — “passion for God is what her Daddy taught her. What kind of talk is that from a preacher’s daughter?” — shows the influence of Skynyrd enough to share a writing credit with Ronnie Van Zant and Rickey Medlocke.

All the Dashboard Saviors’ CDs are out of print – ignored back then, why should now be different — but at least they’re available on iTunes. Or you can go to twintone.com and have the record company make one for you. Either way, money well spent.

Going, Going, Gone

Nothing’s more disheartening than falling in love with a band and then discovering they’re gone, unable or unwilling to keep slogging along. Maybe they know that when their heart’s been stomped too long and too hard by disinterest, it’s time to split, so they’ll still have a heart left.

Enough Doogie Howser philosophizing, but that’s how I suspect the Lucksmiths might have felt before they broke up two years ago. The strumming Australian popsters put out about a dozen albums during their 15 years. It’s a different story with Jon Hardy & the Public, who have put out several albums and several EPs since 2003. Hardy and band are still gamely at it, but don’t stray far from St. Louis. Would love to see them in person, but will have to be content with the CD, as the only thing worse than driving halfway across Kansas is to keep motoring I-70 all the way across Missouri.

THE LUCKSMITHS, Naturaliste (Drive In/Candle, 2003) — I’m not usually one for stuff this pretty and gentle. Hell, my negative-ass, opinionated self might have heard something like the Lucksmiths at one point and said, “What’s this wispy, navel-gazing crap?” But singing drummer Tali White and his bandmates, guitarist Marty Donald and bassist Mark Monnone, topple my misconceptions and biases.

White has a clear, beautiful voice that, fast or achingly slow, is winsome but not whiny. The songs, written by Donald and Monnone, are literate little pictures of life: The 27 minutes on “The Sandringham Line” train that remind of a relationship gone sour, the decision to skip work and spend a “Midweek Midmorning” with your love, the narrator’s confession that he’s “Camera Shy” while describing the pictures that prove it.

When the Lucksmiths race along, Donald’s guitar sounds like New Jersey’s strumming, jangling Feelies. Bass, upfront and clear, pushes songs along, and nice sonic and vocal touches are all over the place. A horn kicks “Stayaway Stars” up a notch, before the massed chorus flies in. The “ba-ba-bada-ba-ba goes the backing vocal, I’m trying not to be so anti-social” line of “There is a Boy Who Never Goes Out” is just one bit of clever wordplay. This is pop music that really pops. And it’s pretty, too. Maybe I’ll even listen to The Smiths one of these days …

You can hear “Camera Shy” and songs from other albums at myspace.com/lucksmiths.

JON HARDY & THE PUBLIC, Make Them Like Gold (self-released, 2004) — From the cutting, echoing electric guitar that opens “Grand Canyon Meltdown,” Hardy and crew make music as if their lives depended on it on Make Them Like Gold, their first album. His powerful vocals are right up front, and guitar, bass and drums each clearly stake their space. It’s dramatic, even melodramatic, but wholly convincing.

The sound is stark and echoing, country influenced but all rock. Lyrics are dark, cryptic, anthemic, biblical and bit of brimstone. Hardy’s lines burst out and grab:

  • “Mama there’s blood upon my hands and it ain’t mine. Mama I don’t know what I am, but it ain’t kind.” (“Grand Canyon Meltdown”)
  • “Here come the dogs of war. Hear them howl …” (“The Flood”)
  • And, “He’s going to know what it means to be the last man alive,” from “The King of Main Street,” where Hardy stretches the last three words until he pulls all the meaning he can from them, while picked guitar and bouncing bass provide just the right contrast.

Best of all is “Cassius Clay,” with its slow, churchy organ and Hardy and Rachel Huertas sharing the chorus of “Oh baby, I’m like Cassius Clay, but you’re the name that we all say.”. Couldn’t tell you whether it’s about Muhammad Ali, a troubled relationship or both, but vocally and instrumentally it combines for epic rock. Hardy must like it, too, because he recut it for his next CD, Working in Love. Maybe a road trip to St. Louis wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Hear Jon Hardy at myspace.com/jonhardy; download Make Them Like Gold and his others at iTunes and Amazon..

Keeping Up With Your Joneses

If you’re a music junkie, compulsively seeking out that next fix, that band you never heard before, that album by a favorite band which escaped you in the past, then you have to like an underdog. And you likely have a sense of justice that makes you say, first to yourself, then to suffering friends, “Ya gotta hear these guys! They shoulda made it!” Which brings us to Cincinnati’s Ass Ponys and Britain’s Brakes.

ASS PONYS, Electric Rock Music (A&M, 1994) — I haven’t had much luck figuring out just what an ass pony is. Hell, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to. But one has to admire a band with the guts to put such a lovely name on a half-dozen albums, two of them on a major label that must have been swilling nirvana and snorting grunge in the great alt-rock signing frenzy of the early 1990s.

Obstacles to success pile high, as leader Chuck Cleaver’s high, pinched voice tells short-story-worthy small-town tales of a “Little Bastard,” a tween named “Peanut” and a “Wall-Eyed Girl.” But pile it all together and somehow it works, so well that I return again and again to Electric Rock Music and the three subsequent records — The Known Universe, Some Stupid with a Flair Gun and Lohio — they made before giving it up.

Cleaver’s voice worms its way into the songs and your head. It pairs perfectly with his words, which vividly and darkly bring to life the characters that people his weird world. It’s a world of UFOs, spontaneous human combustion and grandmas who make dolls out of socks and craft beer can hats, leading to the eternal question: “Earth to Grandma. What the hell is that?”

It works because of lines like the one from grandmother and grandson in “Little Bastard”: “She calls him Little Bastard, and she says it to his face. He says, ‘Don’t call me Little Bastard, call me Snake.’ ” Because of lines from the man who lost his love to Jesus in “Grim”: “Standing on the highway, pants around my knees. I’d write her name out on the road, but I can’t piss Denise.” And because of the lines of frustration in “Gypped”: “So you figure all along you must have been mistaken. All the things that mattered one by one have been forsaken. And you’re feeling gypped.”

It works because of the music, a sort of twisted take on alt-country. Some songs are acoustic driven, like “Little Bastard,” “Place Out There” and “Live Until I Die,” while others thunder with guitars, like the slamming “Gypped” and opening riff for the ages of “Wall Eyed Girl.”

And it works because it’s all so human, so hopeful and so damn strange that when Cleaver sings “I want to live until I die,” it makes me want to go, “Damn right.” There’s not much of Electric Rock Music but catch a taste at myspace.com/assponysmusic.

BRAKES, Touchdown (2009) — Rocking hard but catchy as hell, it doesn’t seem a stretch to think the Brakes, from Brighton, England, could be playing arenas, and be deserving of big rooms.

It’s straightforward guitar rock and punk pop, bringing to mind a Brit Green Day, but throws in shards of country hoedown now and then, like on “Eternal Return.” The guitar, from Thomas White, comes hard and tight, and the rhythm section of bassist Marc Beatty and drummer Alex White hammers it home.

But at its center is singer Eamon Hamilton, onetime keyboardist for British Sea Power before dedicating his time to the Brakes – who go by brakesbrakesbrakes in the US because another band had the name first. Hamilton’s just got an excellent rock voice, one that can go from an acoustic love song to full-bore rocker to punk shoutalong, all while keeping his distinctive sound and all while sounding every bit the Brit.

Instrumentally and vocally, those strengths give the Brakes a wide range. They pull off fast ones like “Hey Hey,” “Don’t Take Me to Space (Man)” and “Crush on You” as well as gear shifters like “Two Shocks” and “Why Tell the Truth (When It’s Easier to Lie),” both starting slow but steadily putting pedal to metal. “Red Rag” sounds like something from an early 80s punk band, and “Leaving England” is slow and pensive.

The Brakes have a reputation as a great live band, and from Touchdown it’s not hard to see why. myspace.com/brakesband

Exploring the Wall of Brian

You don’t collect 1,300 CDs, 1,200 records, piles of cassettes and hundreds of 45s without chasing a bunch of tangents. Months, even years, spent on jags of listening to country blues, Chicago blues, Motown, Memphis soul, bluegrass, punk, honky tonk, psychedelic and garage rock – anything but opera.

U-turns come with the territory, as you find yourself listening to bands once sneered at. Which is how I find myself downloading Grateful Dead torrents and debating to myself (for chrissakes, I’m not going to do it in public) whether 1970 was better than 1972. And then having no defense when the tolerant woman I married says, “Do you really need another ‘Playing in the Band?’”

“But they’re from different concerts …” ” I pathetically reply, knowing a well-made point when I hear one. Shamed but inspired, I delve into the shelves lining the wall near my desk, pulling CDs and vinyl not often played but mostly well remembered.

Most every album in the stacks has hit me in some way or at some time over the years. Sure, I’ve got my Stones, Doors, Cream, Clash, Pistols, Nirvana and many more that any music fan hears. This blog may cover those if the mood strikes, but music less-often heard will be its main focus. New or old, known or unknown the albums written about will share this: they move me, man. So here are a couple that do just that.

MIRACLES, Colony Collapse (Creative Capitalism, 2009) — Keyboards, drums and bass — who needs anything more when they combine for something this propulsive and throbbing. Synths, from singer Adam Stolorow, kick off most songs, but Baxter Holland’s bass bounces and pounces around the keyboards, with drums skittering and crashing around both. It’s atmospheric and proggy but not celebral and distant.

“Pioneers” begins with a hard, wobbling organ sound, then drums dance in, setting the table for Stolorow’s declaration that “we’ll call ourselves the first ones.” “Two of a Kind” is gentler, with Stolorow’s plaintive voice out front, matching the open spaces of the music and Holland’s Joy Division-like bass. An echoing, speedy keyboard pulse fuels “Hunting Without Heads,” while a droning synth and monstrous bass bring the thunder to “Spells.” Fast or slow, all of it on Colony Collapse goes straight to your skull and down to your feet.

THE ALADDIN RECORDS STORY (Capitol 1994) — History lessons are rarely this much fun. During its 16-year run from 1945 to 1961, the Los Angeles independent label danced in step to — and pioneered — the rhythm and blues of the times. Deep blues, doo wop, jazz, horn-driven big band, sweet vocal groups, the stirrings of soul, racing rock ’n’ roll and more filled Aladdin’s roster as black music moved from big band to small band jump blues and on to rock and soul. This 53-song collection, out of print for years, recently became available by download from iTunes, Amazon and other sites. Here are a few favorites but it’s all good.

Blues: Gatemouth Brown’s sad, swinging “Guitar in My Hand”; Aladdin regular Lightnin’ Hopkins’ stinging “Shotgun Blues”; the sultry “Drifting Blues” of Charles Brown; the ever-smoky sounds of Floyd Dixon on “Telephone Blues” and “Call Operator 210”; and the raunchy delight of Piano Red’s “Dirty Mother Fuyer.”

Jumping R ’n’ B: “Chicken Shack Boogie” by Amos Milburn, “Dad Gum Ya Hide Boy” by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, “Be Baba Leba” by Helen Humes and the Bill Doggett Octet, “Flying Home” by Illinois Jacquet; and “I Got Loaded” by Peppermint Harris.

The singers and vocal groups: The nasally, ever-rocking Shirley and Lee “Let the Good Times Roll” and “Feel So Good”; the Five Keys, smooth and bluesy with “Too Late” and “The Glory of Love” and jumping on “Hucklebuck With Jimmy” and “I’m So High”; Gene and Eunice’s “Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)”; Marvin and Johnny’s “Yak Yak” and “Smack Smack”; and Thurston Harris’ classic “Little Bitty Pretty One.”

Blow, man, blow: Before guitars conquered the world, saxophone was out front leading the charge. So here there’s the “Way Down Boogie” of Jimmy Binkley (with vocals by Harold Burrage); “Rockin’ at Cosmo’s,” a fine slice of New Orleans by legend Lee Allen; and “King Kong” by Big “T” Tyler. Those stand out but saxes rip, snort and wail all over this collection.

Whether by big name or no name, Aladdin’s story is a fine chance to hear what all the honking and shouting was about as the blues had a baby and named it rock ’n’ roll.