Now that we’ve named our favorite albums, EPs, and songs of the past 365 days or so, let’s march right into 2015 with this batch of recordings. –– Anthony Mariani
Various artists’ Safely Down: The Songs of Jason Jackson
When Jason Jackson took his life in 2011 at the age of 35, he left behind a young daughter and dozens of songs. To help that girl, Isabella, financially and to preserve the legacy of the singer-songwriter who’d played in multiple Texas bands, some of his friends and ex-bandmates committed his material to wax. Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis with Grammy-winning producer John Hampton, Safely Down: The Songs of Jason Jackson is a fantastic tribute.
The album serves as a kind of prism through which Jackson’s life passes, coming out the other side as chords and lyrics that add up to an honest and vulnerable yet troubled creative force. The pop of The Matthew Show’s upbeat, swinging version of “Magic Mary” disguises Bukowski-esque apathy: “This Southern Comfort is gonna get the best of me,” frontman Matthew Broyles sings in his masculine voice. The familiar rock of Talley Summerlin’s “Circus Freak” also has a dark heart. As he brightly sings the chorus (“because I’m the Elephant Man”), he’s joined by a mournful violin that creeps in from out of nowhere. It’s like Uncle Charles said: “You have my soul, and I have your money.”
The styles on display are as various as the contributors’ tastes. Aimie Lovett offers a little doo-wop (“Simple Little Love Song”), Shotgun Friday performs a hoedown (“Riverside”), and Ed Rogers serves up Wurlitzer-powered, sentimental playfulness (“Excuse Me”).
The sad country on the album is actually sad (as opposed to merely maudlin). On Doug Kwartier’s “Let Me See You in the Morning,” soft acoustic strumming is backed by a female choir: “When the light is shining through your window / I’ll pack my things up and leave you here / But for now, let’s put that thought to bed / Let me see you in the morning.”
But Safely Down has its share of lightheartedness. On Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell and Stefan Prigmore’s rowdy rendition of “Pretty Grrlz,” Jackson writes: “And if I had a dollar / For every pretty girl I’ve met / I’d load up every jukebox / With Pop-A-Top and Tennessee Jed.” It certainly helps that Russell and Prigmore infuse the material with a lot of levity and chutzpah.
(The best lyrics are probably on “The Lesbian Song”: “I got a mirrored headboard / Martini-sunrise breath / I don’t know why I want to live alone / I bore myself to death.”)
That Safely Down exists makes it more than an album. It’s a form of public service for which we should all be grateful. –– Joey Keeton
Lindby’s Gingerbread Rock
The Fort Worth nerd-rock quintet known as Lindby –– guitarists and vocalists Nick Spurrier and Nick Goodrich, vocalist and keyboardist Ali Grant, bassist Kyle Claset, and drummer Logan Bowers –– have set up an awesome annual challenge for themselves: to release a Christmas EP that is sweeter, catchier, more free-spirited, and more genre-diverse than their last yuletide outing. With 2014’s four-song Gingerbread Rock, they’ve done it.
The old standby “Merry Christmas, Baby” is usually rendered as a naughty blues number, but singer Grant and guest vocalist Leon Bridges have turned it into a tight soul-pop duet with a hypnotically perky Casio riff and with Bowers’ percussion turning heavier and rockier as the song progresses. Rapper Doug Funnie drops “rhymes so funky, they make the whole place stink” on the hip-hop excursion “Christmas in Hyrule,” which features shiny plastic industrial-rock touches over the pinpoint beat. “Skating with Debussy” is a gorgeous, shimmering keyboard instrumental decked with plush billowing keys that halt, mid-song, into a nice melancholy nocturne. “It’s Christmastime!” features a rousing, cider-pickled singalong chorus from the band and guest vocalist Zach Mayo, embroidered from beginning to end with 1980s-style classic-rock synths that I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard since the glory days of Styx.
Gingerbread Rock is a jack-in-the-box of gleeful nerdy virtuosity, jumping out to give you a big hug every time you take it for a spin. –– Jimmy Fowler
Denver Williams’ Hood Cream
Featuring contributions from local heavy hitters such as Vincent Neil Emerson and Luke McGlathery, Denver Williams’ Hood Cream is a drug-induced odyssey that lurches in and out of reality. On the lucid side is “Kick This Heavenly Feeling,” full of slap-strummed acoustic guitar and off-kilter (and sometimes off-tune) steel guitar lines. “Honey, it ain’t hard to spot,” Williams sings in his airy, cranky voice. “It’s just hard to come by / Harder to let it go.” On the trippy tip, “Bunk Shrooms” is a little jaunt with a fast hip-hop beat and single, atonal synth line. The lyrics consist entirely of “bunk shrooms” repeated a bunch of times by different voices with various emphases. “Makin’ Sammiches for You Know Who” is a buoyant mid-tempo number about how to properly prepare a sandwich. When Williams’ voice rises, it has a lovely strained feel. Along with a guitar on the track, the singer is joined by the unmistakable sound of a man peeing into a toilet. –– Edward Brown