Below are a handful of albums to give a listen. Some are from national acts or regional favorites, and a newcomer making a quick name for himself on the scene. All of which keep the fire of creativity and sound burning bright. So, with that said, I hope you immerse yourself in these albums, where you find as much relaxation, empowerment and sonic discovery as I did.
Drive-By Truckers — “English Oceans”
Seemingly a Mike Cooley love letter to the world, the Truckers have given the reigns to their six-string ace cohort on what is (after numerous listens) amounting to the finest record the southern rock outfit has unleashed onto a flawed, yet beautiful world. Always the lyrical champions of those without a voice or forgotten by society, the band seems to take a more humble, slow-burn road in the selections.
With the founding core of Cooley, Patterson Hood and Brad Morgan comprising a tightly held rock juggernaut, one can keenly pick up on the keyboard tickling of Jay Gonzalez and playful bass strolling of Matt Patton. The tone of the record is seamless, more comfortable, where you’re hearing a band as confident and full of purpose as ever before. Add in a horn section, some sharp guitar licks and a variety of avenues the instruments take, and you quite possibly have the Truckers answer to The Rolling Stones’ sacred “Exile on Main Street.”
You almost get this “licking their wounds, dial it back a notch” feeling, and for good reason. Between sudden lineup changes, unforgiving years on the road, and the passing of their dear roadie/musical brother Craig Lieske (“Grand Canyon”), the group is hitting their stride as a finely aged act that goes into the studio knowing exactly what they want to put on the album — honesty, heartache, hard times, with a head up to the heavens knowing that tomorrow is another day, another day.
Key Tracks: “Shit Shots Count,” “When He’s Gone,” “Pauline Hawkins,” “Grand Canyon”
Beck — “Morning Phase”
A shooting star across a diluted music industry, this album is an awakening of sound, of intent, and of universal proportions from the iconic singer/songwriter. The melodies constantly straddle the line between being awake and asleep, which tends to conjure the question of what conscious or subconscious state we’re actually in when we carry on into our day. The composition is a modern-day masterpiece, where Beck has plugged into the cosmos, only to bring down the glorious message from above for all to hear.
Key Tracks: “Morning,” “Say Goodbye,” “Blue Moon,” “Waking Light”
Aaron Lee Tasjan — “Crooked River Burning”
The Nashville troubadour is making a much-needed splash up and down the East Coast with his acoustic numbers layered atop a rich rock-n-roll foundation. Tasjan’s words are soaked in spilled whiskey, misunderstood tears and dusty memories. Each number seeps into the cracks of your troubled soul, where names like Paul Simon and James McMurtry come to mind when trying to nail down this record.
Key Tracks: “Don’t Walk Away,” “Drugs and Junk Food,” “Number One”
Sleepy Sun — “Maui Tears”
The San Francisco outfit takes psychedelic and hard rock music, then smashes it to pieces with a hammer of dueling guitars and percussion. And emerging from the heavy fog of sound surrounding this band is singer Bret Constantino, whose voice mesmerizes the listener, sending chills down the spines of the curious. One part Dinosaur Jr., one part Black Sabbath, with a pinch of Led Zeppelin and a dash of Jane’s Addiction.
Key Tracks: “The Lane,” “11:32,” “Thielbar,” “Maui Tears”
1: Humps & The Blackouts will perform at 9 p.m. March 14 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva and at 10 p.m. March 15 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill in Waynesville.
2: Artist t.e. siewert will hold an encaustic painting demonstration from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at Gallery 86 in Waynesville.
3: Country music’s legendary “Gentle Giant” Don Williams will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin.
4: Acclaimed comedian Gabriel Iglesias will perform at 7:30 p.m. March 22 at Harrah’s Cherokee.
5: The Winter Pickin’ in the Armory will be at 7 p.m. Friday, March 21, at the Canton Armory.