Welcome everyone to this month’s Back of the Rack! February’s mix-tape is compiled of mainly love songs, tales of travelers, and in some cases, both. Tune in and hear a New Yorker’s opinion on the devil, the interpretation of a dream from Ray Charles, and a lady who showed up at just the right time, amongst other tuneful tales.
Water Liars – Ray Charles’ Dream
Hometown: Water Valley, Mississippi
We start off this month’s article with a surprisingly dark doo-wop/rock’n’roll song by Mississippi based trio Water Liars. “Ray Charles Dream” is a love song with a painfully aching chorus that keeps the song relevant alongside the obvious nod to the 1950s. An interesting choice of words when he sings, “call to me, in the darkness” because picturing a dream of Ray Charles’ is much more auditory than anything people with sight would be use to, as if between a mix of a dream and a nightmare Charles himself invented this dark indie swing music. The high hat pounds loosely throughout the verse, think Guy Patterson from The Wonders, and the elongated words take you back on a journey to the beginning of leather jacket rock. One can hear Ray Charles the most when lead singer Justin Kinkel-Schuster sings ‘in every cell and vein’ which comes across as the darkest and most honest of all the lyrics. This song sounds like Buddy Holly got drunk, came home, and wrote a killer song that he couldn’t remember when he woke up. Very glad that Water Liars now live in the world of the voice memo.
Water Liars’s “Ray Charles’ Dream”
Mo Kenney – Sucker
Hometown: Waverley, Nova Scotia, Canada
Mo Kenney’s “Sucker” is a song that needs no introduction, it just is what it is. At the ripe young age of 23, the Canadian musician won this year’s New/Emerging Artist in her native country. Under the tutelage of established Canadian artist, Joel Plaskett, Kenney is writing songs that are soundtracks to cloudless days. The guitars dance together expressing a heart broken protagonist’s ramble of beautifully strung together metaphors (‘Clear as a portrait in a frame/Gave me a look that I could taste’) before inevitably blaming herself (‘I’m a sucker for your face). She interjects with questions that are much harder to ever answer: “Why did you have to go away?”, “Why did you leave me in this place?”, and one has to think it is these types of questions – that we all ask ourselves – which will forever keep us listening to songs just like this one.
Mo Kenney’s “Sucker”
Oh, Jeremiah – Happy Now
Hometown: Hattiesburg, Mississippi
“Happy Now” by Oh, Jeremiah is a tale of separation after the fact. It takes place when the dust has settled and there is nothing to fight but the acceptance of closure. The violin is the heartbeat of this song. The scratchy strokes add to traveling montage imagery in the climactic chorus, but the extended plucks also help point out this hopeless romantic’s optimism that never goes away: ‘maybe it could be alright / to see one another again’. Another wonderful use of words are the lines ‘when you found out / that you could be with someone else’ as if it was a secret he was hoping to keep from her. This is a theme song for his lost lover’s journey, wherever it is she is going. And, lyrically, though it seems he is accepting of the situation, you get the feeling that it’s a lie. “I hope you’re Happy Now / Really / I do”. See? Why the second part of that declaration? The Hattiesburg, MS natives, if anything, should be very happy with the outcome of this track.
Oh, Jeremiah’s “Happy Now”
Justin Trawick – All The Places I’ve Been
Hometown: Arlington, Virginia
Authenticity is something that is very hard to fake (“thanks, Captain Obvious”). Justin Trawick deliveries more of a short story than he does a song and it makes you believe you can touch this person he is speaking of. There doesn’t seem to be a bridge of sorts, but the intensity builds and breaks in the fragile vocals. He almost sings the song like the old man he is singing about would, and that is what makes “All The Places I’ve Been” so interesting. Simple, repetitive, and slightly lonely guitar playing bring imagery of overcast days when heavier conversations are taking place. In this case, it is a grandfather who started in a small Oklahoma town pre-WWII. Once he leaves for the army, the timeline story takes us through The Beatles, Watergate, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the MLK assassination, the Challenger, Elvis, Columbine, OKC Bombing, and then ending with 9/11 to which the man’s son was one of those ‘heroes climbing stairs’..
Justin Trawick’s “All The Places I Have Been”
The Lonely H – Singer
Hometown: Nashville, TN
The Lonely H hail from Port Angeles, Washington and their song, “The Singer”, contrary to belief, was released this past year, not in 1972. This song has all the ingredients you need to have a classic rock hit. Memorable guitar licks, nice melodies, and little surprises ‘round every corner that make you happy you listened to it with headphones. For those who are raised on the Gulf Coast it is hard to not associate story driven music like this with guys like Jimmy Buffett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, or even the Eagles. It has a likeability to it like a soundtrack in a Huckleberry Finn movie. Delicate blues harp stands out to me as finished touch for a well constructed song. The “singer” is comparable to a traveler, and are probably one in the same thing. The lyrics tell of a wanderer picking weeds he thought were flowers, falling in love in Arizona, splitting ways in Monterey with a lover, only to return to her, with that ‘too familiar son’ that could have easily been his if he would have stayed. But, alas, he’s a singer, not the foundation of a nuclear family with his hands in local politics.
The Lonely H’s “Singer”
STRNGRS – Subtle Reminders
Hometown: New York City, NY
This ain’t no dog and pony show, kiddies. This, right here, is a grown up rock’n’roll song. The first name one might think when hearing STRNGRS “Subtle Reminder” is Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath. That feedback throttled humbucking tone squishes your face together like an English bulldog. This is a blues-indie crack-of-a-whip that sounds like it was born in a smoky dive bar in New York City, which is also the hometown of the band. The lyrics dangle on the line of paranoia and schizophrenia. He says in one verse ‘disregard that he wears my face / I’m not a clone of the devil’ which could be taken as self dialogue instead of a statement directed toward someone else, either way he seems to not believe it. The bridge has the devil making a ‘subtle reminder’ that we’re blindfolded on this already dark road and none of us know where we are going…. thanks a lot, devil. STRNGRS bring a loose rockin’ and casually insane sound to the speakers reminiscent of the Mississippi Delta. Maybe that’s where they met this devil character..
STRNGRS’ “Subtle Reminders”
Matt Andersen – Alberta Gold
Hometown: Perth-Andover, New Brunswick
When this writer first hear Matt Andersen’s “Alberta Gold”, it was like hearing a song rooted in country twang with soft church organ and a dynamic lead vocal that is booming, soulful, and honest. In one live version, he explains that this is his “going out West” song but the song’s message fits into a larger theme which has to do with leaving home to search out for the promise of a future worth wanting, that Alberta Gold. Two chickin’ pickin’ solos fill in the space between the shiny, gold like, chorus and the heartfelt conclusive verses of living on the road pursuing a dream. Leading into the outro is a bone-chilling wail that will leave you wanting to rewind the song back so you can try and hit the note. Don’t lie, you tried.
Matt Andersen’s “Alberta Gold”
Fawn and Rabbit – We Own The World (Today & Tomorrow)
Genre: Electronic Pop
Fawn and Rabbit lures you in before bass and echoed ‘ooh’s’ make way for a psychedelic indie experience from the solo artist based out of Maryland. The electric kick and snare are the driving force for the generationally themed “We Own The World” that keeps one’s head moving alongside fuzzed bass lines with sprinkles of church bell synths. Ironically, when the chorus arrives and sings the title of the song, it sounds somewhat matter-of-factly, like it is just a known thing and even goes further with saying ‘we’ll figure it out’. One would be willing to bet this song only gets better with the size of venue though. Like most electronic music hybrids, this song is very sound in terms of the architecture of the song and how it hits your ears. After the second hook an ambient nothingness takes place like a surprise landing before, wait for it, the key raising chorus! Nice.
Fawn and Rabbit’s “We Own The World (Today & Tomorrow)”
XVSK – Natalie
Hometown: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
When you hear “Natalie” by XVSK, the first two things you pick up on are cello and percussion and, if only this happened more, these two instruments are the main instruments in this bands sound. The vocals have a theater sized echo effect which brings a little more infamy to the words. Gradual building of additional ticks and noises swirl like fresh paint when lead singer and cellist Trevor Exter repeats the name of his exited lover. This entire song has continuity in the builds of parts, like the drums becoming funkier in the second verse and ukulele is implanted like splashes of hawaiian pineapple. The song seems to try and help with the issue of passing time and, more so, being grateful. The Bethlehem, Pennsylvania based duo keeps things interesting musically while still holding to a true folk sound.
Running Red Lights – Under The Wire
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
“Under The Wire” by Running Red Lights might be the peppiest of the ten songs we have accumulated in this month’s Back of the Rack. The first portion of the verse is the primer for the second in which the band is quickly introduced and carries this very catchy track into the title hook before heartfelt female vocalist and guitar player Scarlett Flynn adds a bit of intimacy to a song in the way that only women can. Lyrically this song is written in the saved-by-a-woman form with a hot and cold aspect which might have to do with how he treated previous relationships. The cold, being addressed to his actual body, and the hot, which seems to be speaking about his own soul was ‘burnt ash/black as coal/.. on my high heeled trampled soul’ until his saving grace came in “under the wire”, or just in time. After all, it’s everything.
Running Red Lights’ “Under The Wire”
Hope to see you for the next Back of the Rack!
(And in case you haven’t yet, you can download the album by clicking below)
Written by Curtis Ford
OurVinyl | Contributor