Words by Art Jipson
Every month Off Shelf contributor and Your Tuesday Afternoon Alternative host Art Jipson brings you the best singles of the month and puts together a playlist for your enjoyment. Below you’ll find nine highlighted songs that stood above the rest, which is followed by the entire playlist. Please follow our Spotify account so you don’t miss any future playlists!
Richard Canan – ‘When I Get Back Home”/’Sometimes I Feel’ (self-released)
Imagine a song that is part Pavement, part alt-country and full of melody. Canan’s almost laconic delivery allows the listener to relax and allow ‘When I Get Back Home’ to wash over you in a Cosmic Country-Byrdsian jangle. The doubling of vocals adds texture and depth to the song. The lyrics reminds one of the pull and comfort of home even when you have failed to do everything you promised, even when you do not want to do that at all and you just want to sleep for just a little while longer. This single is backed with another A-side quality song ‘Sometimes I Feel’ that has a driving rock and roll arrangement that just grabs you. The idea in the lyrics of this song recognize that sometimes you feel things in spite of yourself and the surroundings around you. Both songs were recorded and co-produced by Seth Canan (of Seth Canan and The Carriers) who just happens to be Richard’s younger brother. Highly recommend both of these terrific songs!
The Stan Laurels – ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘There is No Light Without The Dark (Big Stir Records)
John Lathrop who records under the name The Stan Laurels returns with an excellent record that reminds one of the best of indie-based power pop with a dash of shoegaze and a full helping of dynamic rock and roll. This record (and single) are the first offerings from The Stan Laurels courtesy of the excellent Big Stir Records label. This album is Lathrop’s latest since 2018’s outstanding ‘Maybe’. ‘Tomorrow’ is one of several excellent songs on this collection of twelve terrific melodic tunes. The jangle pop of ‘Tomorrow’ meshes with the optimistic yet guarded melancholic lyrics. Lathrop sings about waiting for tomorrow and what you wait for may never appear. This song delivers the classic feel of music from The Stan Laurels – well-balanced composition with both rough fuzzy guitar and ringing guitar that complement solid and wistful vocals. The song creates a faraway narrative with a chorus that brings the song to perfect closure. Also, recommend ‘Lost & Found’ and ‘Of Love, Wine and Song.’
Dayglow – ‘Close To You’ from Close To You Single (Very Nice Records)
‘Close To You’ seems plucked from the ‘80s in a way that is fresh and pensive. There is a glowing electronic wall of sound around this song. The arrangement of the instruments conveys an optimism, a positivity. The syncopated synths swirl and weave around the vocal by Sloan Struble who records as Dayglow. The song will sound familiar because the arrangement is clearly a clever homage to danceable synth-pop of the 1980s. Moreover, when the falsetto is added to the chorus, one can imagine having heard this song in a John Hughes movie while Molly Ringwald was dancing around a room. Grabbing and effectively using an upbeat cascade and emotional image is a rare trait that works superbly on this song. Then as the track winds down and Struble repeats, “I won’t to be over-thinking when I am close to you” – you will swear you heard this song in a movie.
Jeffrey Dean Foster – ‘Tell Somebody’ from the forthcoming ‘I Am Starting To Bleed EP’ (Angel Skull Records) The EP will be released on Record Store Day
The criminally underappreciated Jeffrey Dean Foster roars back with an incredible indie rocker, ‘Tell Somebody.’ From the moment the song kicks off with an incredible guitar hook, you are tapping your foot and nodding your head. Foster is in great form on this song. The drums and bass propel the song yet it is Foster’s voice and guitar that take the listener into an out of this world musical experience. The lyrics explore the need for all of us to tell the people that we care about that we love them and see them in our dreams. The single – and the record – were produced by Don Dixon and Mitch Easter (whose stellar production credits are too length to discuss in this column). Foster played most of the instruments on the record himself. The Vinyl EP will be released by the Record Store Day group as they experiment with regional releases that benefit local non-profits. It will be a limited run and all proceeds from the vinyl sales will go to The Shalom Project. The record will be released after Record Store Day on CDs from Angel Skull Records. For more information on The Shalom Project, visit https://theshalomprojectnc.org/.
Lucero – ‘Back In Ohio’ from When You Found Me (Liberty and Lament)
This rocker is an incredibly strong rock and roll record from Lucero who is known more for their alt-country wistful songs like ‘Nights Like These’, ‘Drink ‘Till We’re Gone’ and ‘Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles.’ The interplay of the guitar hook, pounding drums and playful keyboards lands this song into a crescendo of emotion. The lyrics of the song are actually about William Morgan from Toledo, Ohio who fought in the Cuban Revolution and was eventually executed by Fidel Castro. The song explores the story of Morgan who led a colorful life as an ex-paratrooper, ex-convict, ex-circus performer and more who joined rebels in Cuba and died in that effort. The chorus expresses Morgan’s sealed fate: “They will miss you back home in O-hio.”
Jeremy Porter and The Tucos – ‘Dead Ringer’ from Candy Coated Cannonball (GTG Records)
Jeremy Porter and the Tucos recorded this record in March of 2020 at a converted 1895 church before the world changed. I have to say at the outset that the chorus will stick with you for days and days and you will be unable to avoid it. You will find yourself singing along “She’s a dead ringer for a pop singer, I fell in love with on a record sleeve, she’s a dead ringer for a pop singer I fell in love with on TV.” Singing with a Westerbergian exasperation that is evocative and attentive, Jeremy Porter provides a gravity that is undeniable in his expressive voice. Porter sounds like a mix between Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and the aforementioned Paul Westerberg. The arrangement of the tune is direct and unassuming which serves it quite well. There is no need for unnecessary frills and extras – the guitar, bass and drums hold this catchy record together extraordinarily well. Also, recommend ‘Put You on Hold’, ‘What Could Be in That Box’ and ‘October Girls’.
Dolph Chaney – ‘Now I am a Man’ from Now I am a Man (Big Stir Records)
Normally remaking a song from your past catalog is more forced and fiction then remaking a song. I could not be happier to say that is not what is happening here. Dolph Chaney had originally recorded this in 2008. The production – courtesy of Chaney and producer/instrumentalist Nick Bertling – have crafted a rocker that seductively hides the lament on the challenges of aging, grey hair and the inevitable prostate exam. In addition, Chaney is even able to comment on getting a vasectomy. This song lies on crunchy guitars, Chaney’s powerful vocal and the amazing backing vocals of Lindsay Murray (Gretchen’s Wheel) that launch the inquiry “Am I man enough for you” with a sarcastic swagger and a wink. Excited about the full length ‘This Is Dolph Chaney’ coming out February 20, 2021 on Big Stir Records.
Pearl Charles – ‘What I Need’ from Magic Mirror (Kanine Records)
Pearl Charles captures the 1970s in a way that is so reminiscent of music of that era that it is downright eerie. Her voice is perfect in this song in a way that reminds one of Linda Ronstadt and other vocalists of that decade. Her deliberate and intricate singing only draws the listener’s ear into the refrain even more strongly. The slow grove of ‘What I Need’ is built around a drum/percussion and keyboard/piano melody that brings out the highlights of the vocal. The almost jazziness of this track is a welcome interpretation. Also, recommend ‘Imposter’ and ‘Slipping Away.’
Widowspeak – ‘The One I Love’ from Honeychurch (Captured Tracks)
The best covers are those that sound nothing like the original and show other layers to the song. Widowspeak’s version of R.E.M.’s ‘The One I Love’ is exactly like that. This version reveals musical and lyrical layers that makes the song more haunting and alluring. The original was primarily a straightforward rocker, Widowspeak have cast a net into darker water with this pensive almost disturbing interpretation. The reverberations in the vocal and the second vocal line creates a dissonance that shakes the listener. The almost southwestern arrangement provides a different texture to the experience that reworks the original version that demands attention. Also, recommend their cover of The Dire Straights’ ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Finally yet importantly, one that got away from us…
Oceanator – Hide Away from Things I Never Said (Polyvinyl Record Co.)
Elise Okusami has been a musician and writing songs since the young age of nine. Combining elements of grunge, alternative and indie music, Okusami’s solo project she entitled Oceanator in ‘Hide Away’ explores a darker tone than in some previous work. The lyrics are about hiding while the world ends and watching everything falls and disintegrates around us. The track is incredibly powerful with a jumpy bass and guitar line that complement the distressing lyrics as fire destroys the land, air and water while praying for rain and watching it all from a distance while hiding away. The distressing theme seems less concerning given the musical arrangements. Also, recommend ‘A Crack in the World’ and ‘Heartbeat’.
If you have recommendations for future editions of this column, please contact Dr. J at email@example.com. Remember the brief before you contact us, the music either needs to be released in the particular month or is a song that should be celebrated as a “missed” catch. You can find Dr. J on social media on twitter and Instagram at drjytaa.