AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: THE MOUNTAIN GOATS/IN LEAGUE WITH DRAGONS

The Mountain Goats don’t seem like a band that celebrates anniversaries. However, if they did, they’d be celebrating their 28th year of existence in 2019. Let that sink in – 28 years! Singer/songwriter John Darnielle formed the Mountain Goats in 1991, the very same year as Operation: Desert Storm, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and the death of Freddie Mercury. Time has marched on and, just like our lives, The Mountain Goats have evolved, matured, and experienced many changes. A lot of talented folks have passed through the Goats’ ranks as members or collaborators – including Kaki King, John Vanderslice, Annie Clark, Franklin Bruno, and many others – but Darnielle has remained the band’s only constant member. And like all of us, he has changed throughout the years. Much like every small town in any Smalltown, USA, the core foundations of the Mountain Goats’ sound remains the same while everything around it has changed. That is what we call life…

Initially from the college town of Claremont, California, Darnielle and the Goats ended up in Durham, North Carolina. With a stable line-up that includes Peter Hughes, Jon Wurster and Matt Douglas, this is a band that has continued to grow a dedicated fanbase while somehow remaining independent in almost every sense of the word. Bathed in the glow of critical success but dancing just out of reach of total world domination, Darnielle has the luxury of doing things his way and avoiding getting caught up in the trappings of the big music business machine. While Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes, Bonnie Prince Billy, and loads of other bands have fallen in and out of favor on a regular basis with critics and absent-minded hipsters, the Mountain Goats have managed to continue doing what they want without losing any of their credibility. When it was rumored – and later confirmed – that the Goats’ next album would be inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, the nerd-centric role-playing game, nobody was surprised. Instead of eye-rolling and trolling the internet, the Goats’ fanbase immediately warmed to the idea and eagerly awaited the finished project. To have that amount of trust and respect from his fans, Darnielle must be doing something right.


IN LEAGUE WITH DRAGONS is the band’s 2019 release and, as promised, it is inspired by the previously mentioned role-playing game. However, it is something more than that. With warmth and intimacy, these are songs that might dip into reality more than you think, using the game as a metaphor for this troubling role-playing world of social media that we currently live in. Then again, it could literally be about Dungeons & Dragons. While Darnielle knows the truth, the listener will ultimately decide on what the album means to them. IN LEAGUE WITH DRAGONS is remarkably tender at times, often using haunting and spacious arrangements to enhance Darnielle’s intelligent wordplay. Other songs push those lyrics forward with a jaunty Americana-influenced glee that mixes timeless music with timely messages. Songs like “Possum By Night,” “Clemency For The Wizard King,” “Doc Gooden,” “Done Bleeding,” “Cadaver Sniffing Dog,” and “Waylon Jennings Live!” are highlights from an album that meets and exceeds all expectations. That is, if you had expectations. IN LEAGUE WITH DRAGONS is a thoroughly modern release that invites the ghosts of John Denver and Jim Croce to drink at the same bar as any of Darnielle’s Indie and Alt-Rock influences. A soundtrack to our role-playing lives, IN LEAGUE WITH DRAGONS is a triumph.

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
IN LEAGUE WITH DRAGONS
(Merge Records)

4.26.19

AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JADE BIRD/JADE BIRD!

The definition of a solo singer/songwriter has gone through many transformations throughout the years. Typically, one might think of a singer/songwriter as a lone troubadour/trobairitz armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a catalog of sensitive, self-penned Folk-influenced songs that he/she is eager to share with their audience. From Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, singer/songwriters were proof that you could converse with your audience through music and teach them something in the process. As music has evolved, we have come to realize that a singer/songwriter cannot be defined by a genre… or an instrument. Thanks to social media, singer/songwriters can reach well beyond their local coffeehouse. From South Korea to North Carolina, anyone with a computer or smart phone can have instant access to musical messages that just might change their lives forever.

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BREAKIN’ soundtracks revisited and reviewed!

Nobody expected the 1983 motion picture BREAKIN’ to be a hit. At the time, breakdancing was quickly becoming a worldwide craze, rising from the urban neighborhoods and spilling into white-bread suburbia. Since Hollywood always loves to capitalize on current trends, TV commercials suddenly incorporated breakdancing and movies like BREAKIN’ and BEAT STREET (amongst others) were quickly put into production. BREAKIN’ was first out of the gate. The film was a commercial – and financial -success and was followed a year later by BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. Highly entertaining some 35 years later, both films were light on plot and acting ability but heavy on music and fun. Regardless of how lightweight the films were, the soundtracks served up a healthy selection of R&B, Soul, and Funk music that was surprisingly light on the more dangerous sounds of Rap/Hip Hop. Regardless, the music introduced young movie goers to a sound and culture that they may not have experienced otherwise. The BREAKIN’ films were like extended versions of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video – every problem can be solved by a dance-off! And what is wrong with that?

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REO SPEEDWAGON/The Classic Years 1978-1990 (box) review!

Back in when I was a teenager, I thought I knew the difference between good and bad music. In my twisted late ‘70s teenage way of thinking, I thought that bands with skinny ties and Rickenbackers were the good guys and bands with moustaches and mullets were messengers of the devil. Yeah, like any 14 or 15 year old, I thought I had a clue. It wasn’t until I was 18 that I realized that I had been wrong about a lot of things – especially music. And since 1981, I’ve tried to make up for my discretions by choosing to search for the lost chord, investigating new artists and styles while revisiting the bands I once scoffed at.  For example, I once thought that AOR (AKA Stadium Rock and/or Melodic Rock) was predictable and repetitious. I thought it was simply rock-by-numbers and that none of those bands could write an original song or riff to save their lives. But then, I took a hard look at the New Wave and Power Pop that I was listening to and realized that many of my favorite bands were at least partially guilty of the same thing. And then I looked at Country, Jazz, Folk and every other genre and was overwhelmed by the fact that what I had initially heard as derivative was actually just updating and carrying the music forward for a new generation. And with that breakthrough in my thought process, I was able to enjoy – and often love – bands like Journey, Foreigner, Survivor and REO Speedwagon. But don’t get me wrong – I’m still fully devoted to the Power Pop and New Wave I’ve loved since 1977. I just like to think that my tastes are much more varied than the casual music fan. OK, I’ll admit it – I’m a ‘music nerd’. Whatever that is…

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AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: JACKIE EVANCHO/THE DEBUT

Being a ‘child star’ is a blessing and a curse. Initially, the ‘blessing’ offers the young performer early stardom and adulation. However, the ‘curse’ revolves around the child star growing older and losing their innocent charm. Sadly, the pressures of maintaining your popularity AND experiencing the trials and tribulations of your teenage years and young adulthood is a very difficult task. Some child stars cannot handle the pressure and spend a good portion of their lives drowning in a sea of drugs and alcohol. Thankfully, there are exceptions to the rule and some of those ‘former child stars’ manage to grow older gracefully while staying out of the tabloids. Some of them leave the business while others turn their attention to other aspects of entertainment (directing, writing, etc.). And then there’s Jackie Evancho. Not only has she survived child stardom, she has succeeded beyond all imagination.

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AMPED™ FEATURED ALBUM OF THE WEEK: THE INFAMOUS STRINGDUSTERS/RISE SUN

When tracing the history of American music, Bluegrass is still a relatively young genre. Hollywood may have added a decade onto Bluegrass’ age by using it as the soundtrack to Bonnie & Clyde’s exploits in the 1967 film, but the truth is that the genre didn’t exist until long after the duo’s 1934 death.  While variations of the sound most likely developed a few years before it became mainstream, Bluegrass became a phenomenon in the mid-‘40s and is one of the few styles of music that has continued to progress while also remaining true to its roots –  the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even though modern Country Music bears little to no resemblance to the Country & Western of the ‘40s, Bluegrass is still Bluegrass – honest and pure.

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