Staff Trax: Shawn Chrystopher, Autolux, Drew Kennedy, Karen Elson, The Gaslight Anthem, Great Northern and The Psychedelic Furs.
Shawn Chrystopher -- "All The Other Kids"
I'm not really sure what it is about summer that always--always--brings me back to hip-hop, my first musical love. Figure that one out for me and I'll buy you a Coke. But I digress. Maybe because I've been looking, I've suddenly found myself overwhelmed by the amount of impressive songs out there from young, talented MCs. Need a hip-hop infusion in your life? Check out Freddie Gibbs, Wiz Khalifa and Big K.R.I.T., not to mention the new Big Boi album. But if you just need a song--just one song--then you need to give the above track, "All The Other Kids," from California's Shawn Chrystopher a spin. I haven't been able to delve too deep into his catalog, but this song, which takes a sample from Foster The People's similarly 2010-released single "Pumped Up Kicks," is maybe the best single to rise out of all of those rapper's crops. It's a ridiculous earworm of a hook built around the sample, but the rhymes, with their nostalgic bent, hit home just as hard. Download this song immediately and throw it right onto your pool party playlist. Because, c'mon, you know it belongs there. Hell, it's like this song was made specifically for that purpose. --Pete Freedman
I'm a sucker for really tasteful drumming--not obviously flashy or bombastic, but good time-keeping with subtle flourish. Those of you that ever got into early Dire Straits might recall the jazz touch of original drummer Pick Withers on the first three albums. No? Well, next time you hear "Sultans of Swing" on the radio, give the drums a listen. Anyway, a few years ago I heard a drummer on some Joe Henry albums that got my full attention. The drummer was Carla Azur, and she's one of those players that shows up on recordings by very respected, not necessarily mainstream musicians: PJ Harvey, Sam Philips, T Bone Burnett, etc. Azur went on to form a band called Autolux that released an album, Future Perfect, back in 2004. With minimal industry support, it still managed to make an impact on a lot of people. A series of unfortunate incidents related to personnel situations and the industry meltdown led to a six-year delay before their sophomore release Transit Transit dropped just this week. After a few listens I'm really thrilled with it. No videos yet, but here's the video for a single off Future Perfect. I suggest you make plans to see them at The Loft on September 10th. --Doug Davis
Drew Kennedy -- "Room #27"
For those who may not be aware, Drew Kennedy is as engaging of a talker as he is a singer. As a traveling, Texas-based troubadour, Kennedy falls into the lineage of Guy Clark, more than say, Pat Green, and his albums, specifically, Dollar Theatre Movie and last year's excellent An Audio Guide to Cross Country Travel, contain ample amounts of wit and plain ol' common sense conveyed in very uncommon ways. His rich, nasally twang is distinctive without distracting, and it only adds to the rest of what makes Kennedy stand-out in the crowded river of Lone Star State singer/songwriters. Kennedy, who can write a compelling story to go along with telling and singing them, has been ahead of the artist-blogging curve for while now. Finally, he's joining the ranks of those who release well-done videos. It's hard not to really dig red high heels, isn't it? --Kelly Dearmore
I've always been a fan of murder ballads. Nick Cave's "Henry Lee" (featuring the haunting vocals of PJ Harvey) is probably my all-time favorite. And in that same theme of "unrequited lover = stabby lover," the beautiful and beautifully-piped Karen Elson offers up the title track of her debut release (which also features hubby Jack White as drummer and producer). It's a little '70s psychedelia and a little alt-country, but really it just makes me wonder what would've happened if ol' Henry had survived that pen-knife attack and went all Lifetime Movie on his attacker. Which is totally a compliment, by the by. --Merritt Martin
The Gaslight Anthem - "The Spirit of Jazz"
The Gaslight Anthem put out a new record earlier this year entitled American Slang, and even though the band has the drive and power of a great punk band and a singer who sounds influenced by the best parts of Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springsteen, I've yet to be as taken with this album as with their previous effort, The '59 Sound. Maybe it's the main riff of "The Diamond Church Street Choir" that's casting a bad omen over this record. That said, I really dig "The Spirit of Jazz," which sounds like a sonic cousin to The '59 Sound's glorious title track. --Eric Grubbs
It doesn't really matter where I'm at or how many times I hear this song. I turn it up on whatever I happen to be listening to it on. But, you can't but really help to do that with an anthem like this one. --Lance Lester
By 1987, the Psychedelic Furs were a long way from the band's golden days as the perfect combination of David Bowie and The Sex Pistols. After the release of Midnight to Midnight, the Furs were making loads of money while producing the most lifeless music of the band's career. Singer Richard Butler knew it, too--he called Midnight's music "hallow, vapid and weak." So the band brought back original drummer Vince Ely and got back to basics produced the single "All That Money Wants," the only new song for the compilation album All of This and Nothing. "Money" is classic Furs, raw and stylish at the same time. Although the following full-length efforts, Book of Days and World Outside, could not compare to the greatness of 1981's Talk Talk Talk, they were at least genuine to the band's original vision. Anyone who saw the band recently at the Granada Theater can testify that the music of the Psychedelic Furs still holds up. I don't think "All That Money Wants" makes it into the band's current set lists, unfortunately. But it should. --Darryl Smyers