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Ear Bliss spotlight shines on two very different sounds this week

March 22, 2013

Allah- Las

The band Uncle Tupelo came along at the mid-point of the indie punk era. Hailing from East St. Louis, Ill., they played a high velocity brand of punk music inspired as much by the likes of the Carter Family and Buck Owens as the punkers that preceded them and relying more on melody than thrash. It’s two late teen principals at the outset were Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. By the time of their breakup in 1993, the band was hitting its stride merging those punk beginnings with its love of country and roots icons from Lefty Frizzell to Doug Sahm. They went their own ways, Farrar forming Son Volt and Wilco for Tweedy. Whereas Wilco has evolved into pop wunderkinds, Farrar via his Son Volt outpost has been more restless. The new Son Volt album is knee deep in country, drawing from the wells of everywhere from Bakersfield to southern Louisiana. Some may see it as a mellowing of Farrar. If so, he’s doing it well. On the flipside, Allah-Las is a new entity mired in a different tradition, 1960s California surf and garage pop, and nailed it on its debut recording. Let’s get to business.

Son Volt
“Honky Tonk”
Rounder Records

It begins with the sweet sounds of twin fiddles playing Cajun style. Close your eyes and you can picture a big dance hall with sawdust strewn on the wood floor and couples waltzing their way in circular fashion around the room in time to the tune playing. If one is going to call an album “Honky Tonk,” this song titled “Hearts and Minds” is a sure fire way to begin such a record. Such is the case with this latest recording from Son Volt. The band has dabbled in country in the past going all the way back to leader Jay Farrar’s swan song album as one half of the seminal alt country act Uncle Tupelo and most particularly the first two albums under the Son Volt moniker. For this new one, Farrar and his Son Volt mates take the deep dive into the old school honky tonk with a sound heavy on those aforementioned twin fiddles and pedal steel guitar all wrapped around a collection of tunes heavy on the heart songs and fully in the spirits of giants from George Jones to the Bakersfield cats ala Owens and Wynn Stewart. Farrar’s world weary voice is as pure as ever as he comfortably traverses the American honky tonk landscape in song with supple backing from his like-minded group of Son Volt cats. Visit www.rounder.com.
See them live:
Son Volt performs at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston on June 13.

Allah-Las
Self-titled
Innovative Leisure Records

What do you get when a bunch of surfer dudes/ex-record store geeks who also happen to be musicians, not to mention pals, get together to mix their muses to make music together? In the case of the Los Angeles-based band Allah-Las, you get a striking debut recording with all its feet (eight, to be exact) deeply sunk into the 1960s California surf-pop garage sound. The record store was L.A.’s lone remaining giant, Amoeba Records. Retro is all over the self-titled debut from this foursome. To these ears, think of them as a West coast counterpart, albeit in its early stages, to East Coast legends of somewhat the same ilk, The Fleshtones. Knowledgeable of pop history, what is inherently obvious is that these guys who comprise Allah-Las must’ve been perusing the retro sounds filling the massive Amoeba records stacks in a big time way and taking all the aural knowledge and boiling it up into the cool sounds that make up this dozen song affair. In other words, Allah-Las are not reinventing the wheel as much as drawing up the best aspects from the old wheel in delivering a record that has tempting sounds aplenty. Compared to the synthetic modernity of today’s sounds, for those looking for something a bit different this self-titled debut is as refreshing to the ears as a piece of ice cold red-flesh watermelon to the taste buds on a stifling hot day. Visit www.innovativeleisure.net.

Live Shots:
While it began as an edgy alt country/punk band with crowd surfing aplenty at its live shows, Memphis-based Lucero, over the last few years have discovered the sounds of soul what with the injection of horns into its sound and front man Ben Nichols songs taking a decidedly introspective stance. Rhode Island is always a favorite tour stop for Lucero and it touches down at The Met Café (1005 Main St., Pawtucket) on Saturday night. Joe Fletcher & the Wrong Reasons, who just may be the hottest band in the Ocean State at this moment, are in the opening slot.
Sundays mean acoustic music, oft-times of the bluegrass variety, at The Wood River Inn (1193 Main St., Richmond). The fun gets going about 6 p.m.

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of “The Boudin Barndance,” broadcast Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.)

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