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April 2018

Liner Notes by Brian Chozick

Former Drive-By Trucker pulls off the road into El Paso

The Plaza welcomes a genuine trucker to its theatre, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the transportation industry. This is all about former Drive-By Truckers’ member Jason Isbell. It’s been over 10 years since he sat behind the wheel with his former mates, but he hasn’t lost that Southern soul. In that time he has released six proper albums and a couple of live collections. He has also scooped up several awards along the way. He is touring behind last year’s “The Nashville Sound,” which reunited him with his 2011 band “The 400 Unit.” The night will be very deeply rooted in Americana with his low, raspy-tinted vocals on some sparse and dark cuts, moving through some acoustic folk, and always taking time to sip on some twang. Jason spins a tale with such detail and clarity, he takes the art of storytelling to an entirely new level. As a bonus the legendary Richard Thompson will open the show, a man who started his career with Fairport Convention in 1967, about a dozen years before Isbell was even born. He has amassed an impressive catalogue with more proper releases than I have fingers and toes, and countless live collections. So whether you drive an 18-wheeler, a Smart Car, a Schwinn, or will simply be hoofing it, be sure to make your way to the Plaza Theatre April 26.

Texas trio circles back to town

It was just back in September that this lil’ ol’ band from Texas visited us, but that was a greatly abbreviated set in the Sun Bowl as an opener for Guns N’ Roses. If you had a less than stellar seat, you probably didn’t even see ZZ Top on stage or screen as they were shamefully given about a quarter of the jumbotron. Everything will be completely different April 18 at the Plaza Theatre. Wherever you set up camp the show will feel up close and personal and we will be treated to a complete show. Their last official disc of new music was “La Futura” over six years ago. But even without a waterfall of new material they have plenty of hits to keep us happy, and they have been known to go deep into their catalogue to fish out some tasty blues. ZZ Top hopefully will continue their trend from 2017, with some choice covers including Buck Owens, Elvis Presley, and Jimi Hendrix. A belly button-length beard may not be in your future, but a chance to see one incredible concert is.

Grant Lee Phillips, “Widdershins,” Yep Roc

It’s rare that someone can be 30 years deep into a successful career and put out the best record of their life. Yet Grant Lee Phillips, the voice behind the band Grant Lee Buffalo, continues steadfast on the solo road and breaking new ground. “Widdershins” means moving counterclockwise, with connotations of spiraling backwards. This is the completely wrong way to describe this magnificent release. The CD showcases his airy warm vocals and rich melodies that move effortlessly between rock, alternative folk, and, new to his arsenal, an almost punky attitude. The entire collection has a more urgent feel that begs immediate attention, maybe due to the fact that it was recorded over four days in Nashville. If you are a fan of his softer, more laid-back side, there are still a couple cuts that haven’t steered too far from that familiar course, but the new accelerated direction is a welcomed addition to his repertoire. The band is primarily a simple three-piece of drums, bass, and guitar, but each song manages to fill the room. “Widdershins” this is not: It is an absolute triumph that only makes me anxious to see what he can do from this point moving forward. 
Buffalo Tom, “Quiet and Peace,” Schoolkids Records

I don’t think they’ve been roaming the Great Plains for the last few years, especially since they call Massachusetts home, but they’ve been missing since 2011. Buffalo Tom has just celebrated 30 years together, but these long absences skew the numbers a bit. No matter how you do the math this is their ninth proper album and brilliance still courses through their veins. They have now taken up residency with Schoolkids Records, a smaller label from North Carolina, which has proved to be a fantastic fit. The latest is “Quiet and Peace,” but for much of the 11 cuts they are closer to “loud and disruptive,”and that is really when they are at their absolute best. Although it is important not to dismiss their quieter times, especially when it comes to their amazing rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Only Living Boy In New York” (which adds a new member to the band in the form of band leader Bill Janovitz’s daughter Lucy contributing some vocals). Let Buffalo Tom wander around your sound system, and you will bring an end to peace and quiet once you wrangle in their entire heard of discs.

Collectibles: It’s the most wonderful time of the year

That very magical day that happens once a year arrives this month. This day has nothing to do bunny rabbits or even shamrocks. This is all about the gods of the music industry unveiling their ultra-limited editions for the glorious annual Record Store Day Celebration. The wallet-emptier falls on April 21, and with the amount of releases pressed for the occasion now entering the ludicrous phase, I will mention only a few. Going straight to the most bizarre award, not surprisingly, is the Flaming Lips who have teamed up with Dogfish Head Brewery and have created 100 translucent 7-inch records filled with actual Dragons & YumYums beer. Not to worry they’re not all as ridiculous as that. Staying on the subject of 45’s, there are submissions by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Fleet Foxes, Elvis Costello, and MC5, to barely scratch the surface and of course all will offer some form of unreleased material. Full-length vinyl records will also have a strong presence with many titles appearing on wax for the very first time, in the form of the B-52’s, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Ben Kweller and even superstar Taylor Swift is getting in on the action, to name a very few. Multi-disc sets also come in with staggering prices, but you know you need Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead and former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson. Lastly just to challenge how far to push the envelope there is a repressing on cassette of the AC/DC classic “Back in Black.” So say goodbye to that car, new home, or retirement, it’s time to buy some records.

Brian Chozick is owner of Tumblin’ 
Dice Music. Drop him a line at