I keep hearing overtures from critics, pundits and whoever that Rock & Roll is dead. This week begins the first of a two-part installment this month (the 2nd part will run the last week of April) from Ear Bliss Central we are calling Rock & Roll is Not Dead. We begin with two recent releases each of which sure gives us hope that such prognostications are deadly wrong. One album comes from a long-timing waver of the indie R&R flag in the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the band Superchunk. Formed in 1989 by the foursome of Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Chuck Garrison, and Jack McCook and going by the name of Chunk at its outset, the band would soon after add the prefix “Super” and release its first album in 1990, the self-titled Superchunk for Matador Records. Whereas here in 2022 only McCaughan and Ballance remain (and the two would also go on to found Merge Records which is the current label home for the band), here some 30-plus years later now along comes its 12th album called Wild Loneliness. Put simply, it displays the same smart, unabashed passion and energy that embodies both the R&R spirit and the Superchunk mantra since its ’90 debut. Superchunk’s new one is joined by a new EP of digitally released singles from retro rock & roller JD McPherson called Warm Covers. We usually don’t feature EPs in the Ear Bliss pages, nor do we pay much mind to collections of cover songs, but the 4-song Warm Covers is unique for its choices and McPherson’s reinterpretations. Let’s get to it.
There are never any complaints in the Ear Bliss Camp when word of a new album from long-running alt rockers Superchunk is coming down the pike. Well, that album is here and it does not disappoint. It was made during 2021 under lockdown conditions with lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Mac McCaughan working out of his home studio recording separate sessions with drummer Jon Wurster and guitarist Jim Wilbur while bassist Laura Ballance recorded her parts at her own home studio. Titled Wild Loneliness, the album is laced with songs featuring the band’s trademark infectious melodies and driving sound (the punch of “Endless Summer” and “On the Floor” are primo bliss to the ears) balanced by those numbers that substitute the drive for a more melancholy, almost orchestral touch (opening track “City of the Dead” and later the song “Set It Aside” downshift the drive and favor acoustic guitars over electric). Then there are others where the sound collage features some different touches such as the song “Highly Suspect” which features a healthy injection of horns into the mix offset by strings. An album born out of the pandemic lockdown, it is sure hard to tell with such a varied sonic footprint. Helping achieve all that is a cast that includes Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, Sharon Van Etten, Mike Mills of REM fame, Andy Stack from Wye Oak, and Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura. Yet, it is the songwriting that reflects the most on these times, an awareness reminder, if you will, from the rousing “Endless Summer” written just a few months before the world changed with its overtures of the mounting effects of climate change to album closer “If You’re Not Dark” with backing vocals by Van Etten on which McCaughan bemoans the division that seems to more and more be crippling our society. Put simply, Wild Loneliness is a near perfect album in every aspect from a highly seasoned indie rock band, arguably one of the best in the business. Highly recommended. Visitwww.mergerecords.com.
Superchunk is on an album release tour that brings the band to The Paradise Rock Club in Boston on April 14. Later in the Spring, the band will be at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke, MA on June 10.
Warm Covers EP
New West Records
Four songs does not make an album, hence the term EP which stands for ‘Extended Play’ meaning it is longer than a single but shorter than an album. At only four songs in length, what the new digital-only Warm Covers EP from the retro rock & roller JD McPherson lacks in tracks sure than makes up for in eclecticism in song selections (all covers) and the creative spark he injects into them. What better way for the Oklahoma native McPherson to kick off this collection by paying tribute to his home state via a cover of fellow Oklahoman (and McPherson hero) Big Al Downing’s “Just Around the Corner.” Known best for his country music career in the late ’70s and ’80, Downing’s piano-rockin’ primal early sides from the late ’50s have enamored him to rock & roll and R&B aficionados, such as McPherson. The send-up given by him and his tight supporting unit is rock & roll in all its essence. He and band give the same treatment to Art Neville’s “Let’s Rock” which McPherson heard for the first time a decade ago courtesy of drummer Bobby Trimble of Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys fame. Whereas these selections are form-fit to McPherson’s musical palate, it is the remaining two selections where the creative juices truly flow, covers of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life/Sixteen” and “Manta Ray” by The Pixies. Says McPherson regarding the “Lust for Life” cover, “This one was tricky, extremely tricky. I’m sure this cover will offend a lot of people even before they hear it. Who in their right mind would cover “Lust for Life”? It’s a daunting task, to resolve to cover an iconic song such as this. I had this little open-string, drone, fingerpicking lick that I couldn’t stop playing. A, to E, to G, to D, E, and back to A. It felt great. Then I realized, it was the chord pattern to “Lust for Life”. I couldn’t get over that it was that song, because I really wanted to use it in something. It finally became apparent that I had to try to turn it into a cover.” McPherson shouldn’t worry as he casts the song in a whole different light turning it into a thing of restrained R&R beauty that I dare anyone who listens not return to again and again. Same for “Manta Ray” on which McPherson drapes a “50s rock & roll blanket over the song and bashes it out with abandon. Think of the Warm Covers EP as that afternoon espresso burst. Short, but oh so sweet!
On the South County front, surf music-and-then-some will be part of the music menu at The Ocean Mist in Matunuck on Saturday night courtesy of the band The Derangers whose sound harks back to the gnarly sounds of early ’60s California. The band headlines a bill also featuring Greg Allen’s Fringe Religion and The Bickersins. Pump House Music Works in Peace Dale (164 Kingstown Road) has recently begun a new series called Wednesday Night Lounge hosted by Matt Fraza and Danny Bermm with doors at 5 pm. Coming up this weekend, the URI Big Band is at the Pump House on Friday night. On Saturday, it’s Eclipse with Casimirs Telos and the weekend closes with Live Band Karaoke hosted by Eden Casteel on Sunday. At The Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston, Steely Dan tribute band Hey Nineteen returns on Friday evening and on Saturday night it is the Michael Jackson Experience featuring Joby Rogers. The tribute acts keep rolling with next weekend with Tom Petty Tribute Won’t Back Down on April 15 and James Taylor Experience – October Road the following evening. At the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich on Friday evening it is Jill Sobule of “I Kissed a Giel” fame with special guest Antje Duvekot. Coming up on April 16 is legendary vocal group The Drifters. Blues and R&B is on the menu at The Narragansett Café in Jamestown every Sunday afternoon with Robin Lynn Hathaway & friends performing this week beginning at 1 pm. Down Westerly way, The Knickerbocker Music Center (35 Railroad Ave) has a big show on Friday evening featuring the Knickerbocker All-Stars with special guest Dana Fuchs at 8 pm. On Saturday evening, it’s the Molly Maguires with very special guest Big Lux, also at 8 pm. To the North, Chan’s Restaurant in Woonsocket (267 Main Street) presents Florida-based bluesman Selwyn Birchwood on Friday evening. Vermont-based blues guitarist Dave Keller graces the Chan’s stage on Saturday night. The Stadium Theater in Woonsocket presents Tapestry – The Carole King Songbook featuring Suzanne O. Davis on Friday evening and Joanne Shaw Taylor with Roomful of Blues performing on Saturday night. The Blackstone River Theater in Cumberland (549 Broad Street) returns to action on April 16 with a performance by Kim Trusty backed by a full band. At The Met Café in Pawtucket on Friday night, it’s Bella’s Bartok and Kendall St. Company with Pressing Strings in the opening slot. American Rush tribute band Lotus Land is at The Met on Saturday night. A great tripleheader in store at Askew in Providence (150 Chestnut Street) on Saturday night with Boston rocker Will Dailey, The Quahogs and Bonsai Trees. A busy weekend in store at the Columbus Theater in Providence (270 Broadway) with Spirit of The Beehive with special guest Deeper on Friday night and Club d’Elf with John Medeski on Saturday night. Also, on Saturday evening in downtown Providence The Strand presents Sublime tribute band Badfish on their 20th anniversary tour with Dudemanbro and You Rock School of Music opening. Finally, the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River features Marc Broussard on Friday evening and the return of Cheryl Wheeler with Kenny White on Saturday.
Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.