Monday, May 13, 2013

Semi-Twang: The Why And The What For

About two years ago, I blogged a review of Semi-Twang's second release, Wages of Sin. I recall being a bit stunned - but very happy - that the band's release of their second album when their debut one was released about two decades earlier.

Fortunately, another 20 years wasn't needed to get a third release from the band from Milwaukee, WI. A couple of months ago, Semi-Twang released The Why And What For.

Before I provide a semi-unbiased opinion on many of the songs, I'll give you my bottom-line analysis right here, right now --

You should not semi-consider the purchase of this album. You should commit 100% do so. Purchase your MP3s at regular haunts such as iTunes or Amazon - or you can buy the CD directly from the band via their website and your PayPal account.

The Wrong Side of the Tracks - The lead-off number is a solid one. Forget hearing a mamby-pamby, minor-chord, melancholy ballad. Wrong Side includes many of the musical complexities found throughout the rest of the album: a great tempo, John Sieger's vocals that have changed little in twenty-five years, a solid rhythm section, horns and sax, and a lyrical cliche or two that actually work.

52 Jokers - I'm still somewhat perplexed by the overall message of this song, but it does include what may be my favorite stanza on the album.

Best man’s weaving — he’s half in the sack
The band just tried to murder Paint It Black
Oh 52 Jokers — Cut you down to size

The More She Gets the More She Wants - OK, I'm not a fan of this one. There, I said it. Though I enjoy this album taken as a whole, this one compels me to reach for the next track button. But hey, doesn't every album include at least one or two of those kinds of songs? But I will give ST bonus points to raise the grade for this one to a C+ simply because of the song title.

You Love Everybody - Although I'm not crazy about The More She Gets..., advancing to the next song lands me on one I truly do enjoy. The band makes frequent and an interesting use use of vibrato with guitar, vocals ... and stereo channels. Plus, the addition of of a prominent horn section gives the song a bit of a Ray Charles feel musically.

Contents Under Pressure - Now we're talking! This track is among my favorites of the album. First, the jangly guitar riff of the first few seconds took me all the way back to 1990 or so. I needed about a half-dozen listens to the opening riff before I could recall a similar opening to a song. Finally, it clicked with me the opening reminded me of the lead track, Let It Go, by a one-album band called The Peregrins. (Obscure reference, sure - but hey its my review, right?) Within a couple of of seconds, however, my flashback was gone as the maturity of John Sieger's vocals began. A couple of stanzas resonate with me as (1) an observation of our world today and (2) a thorn in my flesh that flares off and on throughout my life.

Sign on your head — contents under pressure
Someday you’re gonna blow sky high
People gonna point and say my my
The one that blew he was the quiet kind

Saying you won’t budge — contents under pressure
How can you hold a grudge for so long
It tears you up — it brings you down
The gauge on your head it’s spinning round

Making Everybody Cry - Sieger submitted a solo performance of this one to Couch By Couchwest and garnered several "likes" and the mopping of tears with tissues by many.

Miss Watson - As the band begins the final third of the album, they kick it up a notch with a great, rollicking, boogie-woogie number. Though I've never had the good fortune to see Semi-Twang live, I suppose this is the song in their setlist that jolts people out of their seats to bust a move on the dance floor.

Elementary Miss Watson
Let’s discuss this in my Datsun
You want love I believe I got some
Elementary Miss Watson

A Handsome Man - In what I hope was a genius, bullseye-planning song arrangement strategy for the album and for live performance set lists, the rocking Miss Watson is followed by this down-tempo number. I have to belief the no-inhibitions dancing with Miss Watson then moves to a slow dance with this one with thoughts of where to go after the show ends. With that said, the lyrics to this one don't exactly convey happy ending. Hopefully, the dancing couple won't fully realize this until the next morning over coffee.

The reason why I’m walking ‘round
Without a bloody trail
A handsome man
A handsome man
A handsome man can’t go to jail

Take a look at your average con
He’s ugly without fail
A handsome man
A handsome man
A handsome man can’t go to jail

Foghorn - The closing track has an appropriate title and somber tone. The overall feel of it reminds me somewhat of Blue Rodeo's Jokers Wild way back on their the way back on their Outskirts debut - albeit with a slower tempo.

As this entry posts, the band doesn't have many of the new songs on YouTube as official videos or fan-submitted ones. Until more emerge, you can sample the songs at Amazon. But don't overthink it. Hopefully these comments have given you enough of the why and what for to make the decision to get this album.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

2013 National Train Day

During my commute Thursday, I heard the host on Nashville's Lightning 100 radio say it was National Train Day. I've never heard of it, but with a day set aside for something as cool as trains I had to look into it once I got to the office.

TMC Great Grandfather standing between engine and tender
As it turns out, Thursday was not NTD. Today is - Saturday, May 11, 2013. My jaded mind believes most faux holidays were created by Hallmark or American Greeting simply as a cash grab and get guys in trouble with their significant others. But in this case, Amtrak of all folks started National Train Day in 2008.

Based on the day's Wikipedia page, Amtrak established National Train Day to commemorate the anniversary of the driving of the golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad. The pattern for NTD was established to fall on the Saturday closest to May 10. This year, therefore, NTD falls on May 11, 2013. By the way, if you aren't familiar with the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad AND you enjoy reading - immerse yourself into Stephen Ambrose's book Nothing Like It In The World. A fantastic read.
So what would National Train Day be without some quality train music, right? I'm not about to drag this post out to the n'th degree with a boocoodle of train songs. But I thought I'd include a six-pack to fire your boilers and drive your diesels today.

Fresh off their award-winning performance at Couch By Couchwest in March this year, Uncle Leon and The Alibis are my lead-off track with the infectious Beer Train. (Or maybe I was supposed to remind folks you can catch an infection from them. Hmm.) Oh never mind. Just grab your favorite brand of suds, rally some friends, crank this number, (attempt to) designate lead and backup vocals, and Vine the results on Twitter.

TMC against the wall waiting for my train to come in
With Amtrak having established the train's most deserving day, its only appropriate to include a song named for Amtrak. Scott Miller simply cannot do anything but a rock-solid performance of the Amtrak Crescent - whether he is singing solo or with his band, The Commonwealth. (For the record, Scott also performed at Couch By Couchwest although not on a train like Uncle Leon.)

Sounds of Roger Miller in the house is one of my favorite childhood memories. Daddy had a Zenith fold-down turntable with fold-out speakers covered in avocado-green woven fabric. He played Miller's Golden Hits LP on most Saturdays.
My sister, brother and I enjoyed some of Roger's funny, bouncy songs at first: You Can't Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd, Dang Me. But one of Daddy's favorites -  Engine Engine #9 - soon became one of mine along with many of his other underrated songs. My dad  was (and still is) a pretty stoic man. But when the stylus began the opening to this one, he'd sing along and keep a beat by tapping his pocket. You'd hear his change and keys jingle kind of like a tambourine.

Will Kimbrough - Another Train - Slide on a dobro guitar, harmonica, and a bluesy vibe from one of the most talented and versatile musicians and lyricists around. I believe Another Train from Will's album Americanitis seemed to fit this theme to a T.

The first train I recall riding - Fair Park, Nashville TN
Todd Snider's eulogy to his friend Skip Litz in Train Song from his album, East Nashville Skyline is truly an honest but haunting song. I'm pretty sure it was the first song I played a second time - and then a third and so on - after buying the CD.

After getting really introspective with Roger Miller and Todd Snider, how about I stoke the firebox and end this post with some just flat-out, greasy, Southern swamp rock courtesy of Blackfoot.