DBT english oceansFor Those Who Like: Early R.E.M., The Black Crowes, Neil Young

Eighteen years since their formation, the Drive-By Truckers have slowly trudged along, riding a wave of acclaimed albums in the early years to their more recent peaks and valleys. But with English Oceans, the quintet band from Athens, Georgia has climbed to the summit with a remarkable 13-track album of searing southern rock.

Known for their energetic live shows and as a great group of guys, co-leaders and co-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, bassist Matt Patton, keyboardist and occasional guitarist Jay Gonzalez, and drummer Brad Morgan have produced their best album  since 2008’s Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. There was a time, though, where some wondered if DBT, as they are affectionately known by their fans, would produce another great album.  From 2007 to 2012, the band had hit a rough spot. In that timeframe, they lost key band members – including co-songwriter Jason Isbell in 2007; bassist Shonna Tucker, who left in December 2011; and guitarist John Neff, who departed less than a year later –  and Cooley was experiencing a songwriting dry spell, where his creativity was sapped. The band was also constantly touring, leaving them exhausted. Yet, between 2010 and 2011, they released two albums, which weren’t among the best of their vast discography (but ironically, their most successful albums to date). The band were in dire need of a break.

After a little time apart that saw Hood and Cooley write solo albums, the band got back together and were reinvigorated. In January 2013, they commenced work on their latest album. Now for their loyal, hardcore fans, DBT have delivered an excellent album that has the band returning to its roots – from the clever and visionary storytelling of Hood and Cooley to the southern rock jams the band has long been associated with to the subtleties in their ballads.

The album opens with Cooley’s rocking “Shit Shots Count” followed by Hood’s mid-tempo rocker “When He’s Gone”. The album slows down a notch on “Primer Coat”, where Cooley recounts the story of a man reflecting on his daughter’s departure from the home and her growth as a woman. “Pauline Hawkins” is a song about lust that is not found, and the song ends with a 75-second jam, which could reflect the heartbreak of the suitor.

There are more great tracks on the album (“Till He’s Dead and Rises” is a personal favourite with its southern twang-iness), but the highlight is the finale, the epic “Grand Canyon”. Hood is at his best when he’s writing about those closest to him, like on “18 Wheels of Love”, which was recorded on the 1999 album, Alabama Ass Whuppin, and tells the story of the unlikely romance between his mother, Jan, and her co-worker, Chester. On “Grand Canyon”, Hood writes about another important figure to the band and him – Craig Lieske, the long-time. DBT merchandise manager who died of a heart attack after a DBT show in January 2013. Using the landscape and sites of the Grand Canyon and the dessert, the journey from sand to sea, the “cascading lights” and the rumble of the road beneath, Hood may seem to be telling the story of any touring band, but the scenery around the band and him is the ever-present spirit of their lost companion. It is with this humility, imagery, and empathy that has drawn thousands of fans to DBT and what makes English Oceans a must-listen for any music fan.

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juan-wauters NA PoetryFor Those Who Like: Mac Demarco, Real Estate, Rodriquez

Juan Wauters is living the American dream. The Queens, NY resident immigrated to the US from his native Paraguay in 2002, at which time he joined his father and worked in a factory. A few years later, he helped form garage-rock-folk band, The Beets, who have released a couple of albums and a single dedicated to Howard Stern.

This past February, Wauters released his first solo LP, North American Poetry – 12 songs of subtle indie-folk songs along the lines of Canadian indie-folk hero Mac DeMarco, although with a Latin flair. So not surprisingly, the album’s strength lies in Wauters’ candid storytelling and quirky lyricism. Tracking in at just over 28 minutes spread over 12 tracks, the album is a reflection of Wauters’ twelve years in the US – from the chaos and self-absorption of today’s generation (“Lost in Soup”) to his own struggles of self-identity (“Water”) to finding friendship and love (such as on “How Do They All Do” and “Continue to Be You”).

It is not an album that will bull you over with beats or ambient textures, but instead one that might have you remembering your own experiences growing up or visualizing what it is like to be a newcomer in a foreign place.

You can purchase North American Poetry on iTunes and other respected downloading sites. Wauters will be touring in March in support of his solo LP, and he will also join DeMarco on several dates at the end of March and throughout April, including a stop at The Blacksheep Inn. Tour dates can be found on his website.

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 Juan Wauters

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