Tegan & Sara Make Changes…For The Better

teganandsara

The Quin sisters have been releasing music for a while now and it has traditionally been indie-alternative songs. Over the last couple of years, they have been dabbling with synthesizers and dance tracks and today they release their 7th album, “Heartthrob,” and I’m happy to report that this album is an awakening for this twin duo. I’ve always liked their sound but as they went along from album to album, it seemed not so much that their sound was getting stale as it was simply stagnant. At it’s peak, their 2004 album, “So Jealous,” was the epitome of their sound with classics “Walking With A Ghost,” “So Jealous,” and “Where Does The Good Go” hitting the airwaves as well as television, with some songs being selected for shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The L Word.” Since then though, I found their albums, 2007’s “The Con” and 2009’s “Sainthood,” to be a lot of the same thing. Not that there is anything wrong with that…if you’re good at something, sometimes it’s good to stick with it. But in T&S’s case, I wasn’t as impressed and started to lose interest.

Then came this morning. I knew changes were in store when the duo teamed up with Tiesto in 2009 for the awesome track, “Feel It In My Bones.” This peaked my interest in them again and then last year they released “Closer” and I was excited to see what they came up with for their new album that was released today. Needless to say, I am not disappointed. So refreshing to hear when a band takes its essence to a higher level and that is what Tegan & Sara have done here. They have added more synthesizers (who ISN’T these days?) and made their sound more radio-friendly with tracks such as “Love They Say,” “I Was A Fool” and “Goodbye, Goodbye.” Most of these tracks could have come straight from the late 80’s, each one has a refreshing pop sound that is missing from so many alternative acts these days.

Needless to say, I’m sure “Heartthrob” will be burning up my Ipod for the next few months. I imagine a couple of these tracks may even end up as my favorites this year but it’s early. For now though, this album will get me through the winter doldrums and I can’t wait to see where T&S take it from here! Considering how much they’ve evolved to this point, the ceiling is very high for this Canadian sister act!

My Top 10 Favorite Albums Of 2011

As much as I hate to admit it…I’m not as into buying albums as I once was. It’s so much easier now with ITunes and other music outlets to simply pick & choose singles and a lot of times I would rather spend a dollar or two on a couple of songs rather than spend $12 on an entire album online. Shopping for music isn’t the same as it was 5 years ago and that is unfortunate. I used to really enjoy shopping for CD’s at the local music shop but those days seem to be gone now. It takes too much time and I haven’t got a few hours to waste going through bargain bins and racks of $20 CDs. So…I am sad to say that I don’t buy as many albums as I used to. But there were a few this year that I made the trip out to the store to get because I wanted the physical copy of it and so…without further adieu…here are my Top 10 favorite albums of 2011!

10. Teddybears – “Devil’s Music”
This Swedish band knows how to make you move your butt. From the opening track, they hit you with techno beats and silly lyrics that are just fun. And with a slew of artists making appearances (from The Flaming Lips to Cee Lo Green), they leave no beat unturned.

Favorite Tracks: Rocket Scientist, Devil’s Music

9. Foo Fighters – “Wasted Light”
From the opening track, David Grohl & company hit you with solid left hooks and slamming guitars and they have made another incredible rock album. It’s almost to the point now where you would think Grohl would phone in an album or two but when it comes to rocking out, there’s no one that can put together the melodies with the metal like the Foo.

Favorite Tracks: Bridge Burning, Rope, These Days

8. Social Distortion – “Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes”
7 years came and went between their 2004 album “Sex, Love and Rock N Roll” and this one but it was worth the wait! With their bluesy rock still as fresh as when they rolled it out of California in 1983, Mike Ness leads the way on this jam packed album. Solid from start to finish, it’s kind of refreshing that my favorite track on the album is actually a slower song.

Favorite Tracks: Bakersfield, California Hustle & Flow, Machine Gun Blues

7. Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part 2”
If ever there needed to be a return to their roots, The Beasties picked the perfect time. After a few overproduced albums and one cancer scare, Committee is a return to the glory days of chest thumpin’ and party bumpin’ of “You Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party)”. Hooks and wicked beats pepper this album and it’s hard not to get motivated when you got this album boomin’ in your system.

Favorite Tracks: Here’s A Little Something For Ya, Don’t Play no Game I Can’t Win, Make Some Noise

6. Blue October – “Any Man In America”
I don’t know what to say about this album other than it is honest in every way. With his marriage falling apart, lead singer Justin Furstenfeld dove into his art and came out with one of the most curious and angry albums I have ever heard. The key is listening to it in its entirety as it goes from the beginning to the end of the relationship and where it stands, we’re not sure. But it sure is a fascinating journey.

Favorite Tracks: The Honesty, The Follow Through, You Waited Too Long

5. Gotye – “Making Mirrors”
Not gonna lie…I haven’t had this album very long. It came out in August but I just recently discovered it when it appeared on ITunes as a “selection I might like.” And man…I really do! It’s quirky and poppy and has all kinds of loops and whisperings and…well…you get the point. Wally De Backer is a unique talent and this album showcases his ability to find the perfect hook to go with his unique style.

Favorite Tracks: Eyes Wide Open, Save Me, No Easy Way Out, Somebody That I Used To Know

4. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
The half of Oasis that is known for writing the music continues to do so and he does it so well. This album is chock full of soaring guitars, Beatle-esque hooks and the famous Gallagher attitude.With brother Liam leading the charge for the rock band “Beady Eye,” Noel stays true to his roots and puts together a classic that I’ll be listening to for a very long time.

Favorite Tracks: Record Machine, AKA…What A Life, (Stranded On) The Wrong Beach

3. David Nail – “Sound Of A Million Dreams”
If there is one thing I love about country music, it’s that it can be familiar and yet new all at the same time. Taking a page from the Glen Campbell handbook, Nail has that smooth country croon that makes everything he sings about seem like it could be happening at this very moment. It could be love, it could be heartbreak, it could be a fleeting moment in time. But whatever it is, it grabs my attention and I can’t stop listening, wondering what will happen next. This will undoubtedly be one of my favorite country albums of all-time. Granted, only time will tell. But I enjoy ALL of the songs on this album and it’s damn near perfect in it’s pop country way.

Favorite Tracks: She Rides Away, That’s How I’ll Remember You, Let It Rain, I Thought You Knew

2. Black Keys – “El Camino”
There’s not a hotter rock band in the world right now than these guys. Straight outta my neck of the woods (Akron, OH is maybe 2 hours from my hometown), The Keys have won several Grammys and this highly anticipated 7th release was everything I hoped it would be. With fuzzy guitars and thumping drums, this album can only be played loud or it’s just not being played correctly. And the fact that it sounds like it’s straight from a 70’s porn flick gives it all that more street cred.

Favorite Tracks: Lonely Boy, Gold On The Ceiling, Money Maker

1. R.E.M. – “Collapse Into Now”
My world was rocked when one of my favorite bands of all-time called it quits earlier this year…but I totally understand. They’ve been together for almost 30 years and each member has other interests outside of the band so it makes sense. And it is only fitting that they call it a day with this album. Sounding almost like a collection of greatest hits that spanned their careers, this album, the 15th studio album in their collection, is far and away one of their best since drummer Bill Berry left the band in 1997. I am hoping that there are hundreds of new tracks in a vault somewhere that will be released over time however if that’s not the case, then this album is a classic that R.E.M. should be very proud to leave us with.

Favorite Tracks: It Happened Today, Oh My Heart, Discoverer, Mine Smell Like Honey, That Someone Is You, Blue

David Nail’s “The Sound Of A Million Dreams”

I don’t know if it’s because lately I’ve been making so many trips to Nashville lately or what but I’ve been listening to quite a bit of country music and I have been waiting in anticipation for this sophomore effort from David Nail. Not so much a pure country album as it is great pop with country influences (Nail has called it “California Country”), this album has so many personal touches and so many familiar themes that it’s hard NOT to like it.

From the gospel tinged “Grandpa’s Farm,” which has a southern rock funk sound, to the soaring arena rock anthem, “She Rides Away,” this album has something for everyone. The first single, “Let It Rain,” was released earlier this year and peaked at 11 on the Billboard Country Top 100 List in September. Now, with the release of the album, I have to imagine there are gonna be a slew of hits coming from this relatively new artist. With a little help from his friends, including band members of Lady Antebellum, Lee Ann Womack, Phil Vassar and Johnathan Singleton, Nail has packed this album with stories of love, regret, life struggles and longing and there’s not a song on here that doesn’t hit it’s mark.

One of the many highlights is the title track. Written by Phil Vassar and Scooter Carusoe, Nail’s vocals take this above what could have very easily been a Marc Cohn retread. Nail has said that he loved the song from the first time he heard it and was fearful that someone else might cut the song if he hadn’t jumped at the opportunity. After listening to it several times, I have to believe that, although he didn’t write it, this song was tailor-made for him.

There are so many quality country tracks on “Dreams” that I have to wonder what his label will do with them all. I would say this album is a mixture of Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban and classic Glenn Campbell. It’s quality music that focuses on the hooks and the lyrics both without sacrificing either and it’s about as entertaining as any album that I have listened to this year.

If I were to recommend songs to download, I would wholeheartedly recommend “Let It Rain,” “I Thought You Knew,” “She Rides Away,” and “Sound of A Million Dreams.” But you can’t really go wrong buying the entire album. It’s worth every penny.

Blue October’s “Any Man In America”

Hailing from Houston, TX, this alt-rock band is one of my favorite bands to listen too when I’m feeling down or in a bad mood. This might sound like an odd statement, but if you’ve ever heard Blue October’s music you know why. In 2006, they released their 4th studio album called “Foiled” and it is a classic. So many great songs but the biggest was the hit, “Hate Me” which made a splash on the alt-rock charts, getting as high as #2. Following an album that is so great is always a test and I felt that their follow-up, “Approaching Normal” was, by comparison, nowhere near as good.

Then came this album.

I’ve read several reviews of “Any Man In America” and some find it to be an honest yet harsh epic. Others have said its a regression from where they were once headed. I stand somewhere in between. I can see both sides of the reviews but I have to tell you, not since Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” which was based entirely on the Boss’ feelings about 9/11, have I heard an album as centered on one situation as this. “Any Man” is essentially a breakup album. And not just about breakup but about the entire process of a relationship completely falling apart.

If you are a person who has ever been through a hard relationship, a divorce or separation, you will find something in here for you. Lead singer Justin Furstenfeld is the man behind the writing on this album, tracing his relationship with his ex-wife and the custody battle he had to go through to be with his daughter, Bluebell. And it is pretty much a step-by-step process as Furstenfeld takes us through the process from the beginning to the end. It’s not always fun listening, as you can tell by some of the song titles (“Drama Everything”, “The Getting Over It”, “The Worry List”), but every song has a hook and almost every song is worth repeated listenings.

The album begins with a short soundbite of a phone call from Furstenfeld’s ex-wife. And that pretty much sets the tone for the first track “The Feel Again (Stay)”. With lyrics that suggest uncertainty and frailty in the relationship, Furstenfeld sings starkly about wanting the relationship to go on even though things have obviously started to fall apart. Furstenfeld, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has often written about his life and has said that writing has helped him through some of his most difficult times. At one point in his life, he was admitted to a mental institution due to his illness, but he has since said that he is no longer a danger to himself anymore. While listening to this album, you have to hope that this is truth because there is a lot of anger on this album. Following “The Feel Again (Stay)” is “The Money Tree,” where he sings about the fact that he has paid off all of his ex’s bills singing…

With two houses, both cars,
I paid off your fucking credit card debt,
Did you already forget? Huh?
You threaten, threaten, threaten, threaten, threaten, huh
Just fucking leave,
Find a man who will put up with this

We both know who we are
And I’m not changing a thing,
I’ve never changed before
If lovin’ me is workin’ or a job to take
I think we’re headin’ for the crazy-making heartbreak

He cries for support from her and understands that his job has taken him away and caused a split in their relationship. It’s these kinds of lyrics that make this album such an interesting listen. And if you’ve ever been in a harsh relationship, you can understand the depth of the lyrics in all of these songs.

As you can imagine, the rest of the album follows the breakup timeline from there and with each track, Furstenfeld delves deeper and deeper into the dark side of their breakup. Like I said, this isn’t a “Feel Good” album at all so for many, it might come as a downer but I argue that something like this is almost therapeutic for those of us who HAVE had rocky relationships. In a twisted way, it’s good to know that we are not alone and the title of the album hints that this could happen to any one of us.

On the title track song, “Any Man In America,” Furstenfeld sings…

Like you don’t know.
You act like you believe it.
That you’re in control.
It’s just your legal system though
They don’t think about you
No they don’t care about you.
Now every man in America take back your control.

This kind of lyric permeates the entire song as Furstenfeld tells how the courts have taken his daughter from him and goes into a step by step account of the situation. Most of this song (except for the refrain above) is spoken and I’ve read some reviews that say this is almost sacrilege but I disagree. I find it to be very effective and I don’t know if I would call this a “song” per se because it’s actually more of a dialogue. It’s like he’s having a conversation with me. He’s angry and despondent and he is telling his story. He swears and screams and basically goes through so many emotional waves that this is easily the most autobiographical track on the album and when he wraps it up by saying “Any other man in American can get screwed just like me,” you know he’s not kidding. At the end of the song, an unknown rapper recites the most biting lyrics and I’m not sure why Furstenfeld chose to do that, but it’s effective and takes Blue October into an entirely different direction.

My personal favorite track on the album is the final song called “The Follow Through.” This is the most hopeful track on here and, as you can imagine, leaves you with the feeling that whatever war Furstenfeld and his ex are in, they will make amends in some way and find a way to raise their daughter in an amicable manner.

And everything I ever want to be
The only one I ever need to know
I’d wait for you till time lay down to sleep
And I’d sneak across the world to let her know

And as it falls down into night we run away
And once again divided
But each one knows just what we have to do
We do
We have to…follow through

Hold my heart
Patiently
Take my hand
Walk with me
Cause when the evening comes
We’ll set the world on fire
And I was wrong
Let me help you live on

There are so many reasons to listen to this album in its entirety from start to finish but the thing I like about it is you don’t have to. As heavy as the material is, I don’t consider this to be any different than an album from artists such as Eminem or Bruce Springsteen. This is an album that is grounded in reality and the reality of it is that sometimes relationships crash & burn. How we handle it individually is up to us, but in listening to “Any Man In America,” you get the sense that this is how one man took the pain and made it his own, creatively using his gift as an outlet. And as far as I’m concerned, this is a classic album from a band that has found its niche. It’s not for everyone but it definitely serves a purpose and that makes this a “Must Listen” for anyone who likes alternative rock with a sharp psychological edge.

If you’re looking to download certain tracks, “The Chills” is the hot song right now but I would also recommend “The Follow Through,” “Drama Everything” and “The Honesty.”

Hell Or Highwater’s “Begin Again”

So I was heading to ITunes to download the new Kanye West/Jay Z collaboration called “Watch The Throne” figuring I had just enough in my budget to get the full album but after listening to all the tracks I thought, “Ya know…maybe there’s something else out there?” So I downloaded a couple of tracks and went exploring. Lo & behold, I discovered a band I had never heard of. Just this past weekend a friend and I were talking about how there wasn’t any “fun” rock anymore. All the hair bands have disappeared or have been forced to hide behind all their 80’s hits and no one wants to hear anything new from them. Well…then I began scanning new music on ITunes and found Hell Or Highwater. And it occurs to me that maybe hair band rock ain’t quite dead yet.

Apparently this band is a collaboration of band members from Atreyu (singer/drummer Brandon Saller) and Good Charlotte (guitarist/keyboardist Billy Martin) and it’s obvious to me that they know what rock music needs. It needs to be fun and loud and kickass and they do a pretty good job of delivering the goods. This album clocks in just over 40 minutes and all the songs are under 4 minutes in length. Unlike some rock bands these days who seem to have to bludgeon you with heavy guitars and even heavier lyrics, this band could have been around in the mid-80’s during the heyday of Skid Row or Quiet Riot. Ok…maybe they aren’t THAT pop oriented but they are still a fresh breath of air in what has become, for me anyways, a stale genre. With bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Nickelback & Daughtry not really delivering anything new or unheard, Hell Or Highwater take the path well travelled and deliver an album that will remind you of when you were a kid, cranking the latest Scorpions or Ratt album and cruising the town.

Right out of the gate, they hit fast and hard with “Gimme Love” and the rest of the album just follows right along. With a fast beat and rocking guitars, Saller’s vocals grab you and don’t let go. He’s got a great voice and he shines throughout this entire album. Slow rockers such as “Rock Waters Edge” and “When The Morning Comes” remind me of classic Bryan Adams songs. With soaring choruses and simple guitar chords, every track on this album takes me back to a day when music was a lot simpler and a lot lighter. Songs about love (“Hail Mary!”), war (“We All Wanna Go Home”) and finding yourself (“Come Alive”) all remind me of my youth. It’s just classic hair band rock n roll and it’s ALL good. Is it gonna recharge the music industry? Absolutely not. There’s nothing “new” here. But for what its worth, sometimes doing old stuff the right way is the BETTER way of making music. And for me, every track rocks and it is well worth the $5.99 price!

R.E.M.’s “Collapse Into Now”

I went to buy the new R.E.M. CD at Best Buy on Tuesday but when I saw “The Walking Dead” on Blu-Ray and after hearing the first tune called “UBerlin” as a freebie on ITunes, I decided…”Eh…it can wait.” Then I read some reviews and decided I should have gotten it. And so, off I trudged BACK to Best Buy to get it and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Many reviews of this, their first album in 3 years, have been split. Some are hailing it as a return to form while others are finding it to be a lot of the same. Well…depending on your opinion of R.E.M., they are BOTH correct. “Collapse Into Now” is every bit a return to form AND it is a lot of the same, as long as the same is the late 80’s/early 90’s R.E.M. And THAT is a very good time for them to return to.

It was in that 80’s/90’s time frame where they released “Green” (1987), “Out of Time” (1991) and “Automatic For The People” (1992). As much as I love those 3 albums, I also enjoyed the following 2 albums that really got the band rockin’ with “Monster” (1996) and “New Adventures In Hi Fi” (1996). This new album is like all 5 of these rolled into one disk. And the best part is that it’s all the best parts of all of those albums!

Starting at the beginning, “Discoverer” comes roaring in with lyrics that you’re not gonna hear out of any other more modern bands these days. I have to be honest, a lot of Stipe’s lyrics are more like poetry and I can’t even begin to understand them in their musical form. With its repetitive refrain, this song seems to me to be about a relationship that is maturing over time, but only the author knows the truth behind these words…

That just the slightest bit of finesse
Might have made a little less mess
But it was what it was
Let’s all get on with it now
Discoverer

“All The Best” issues a firing shot at newer bands who are looking to replace this band that has been making amazing music for over 25 years. R.E.M. is the definition of alternative rock and when Stipe sings the following, you know he’s looking for his foothold on the genre itself.

I hold the mirror off
You tell me what is what
You tell me which part of my story baby stuck, stuck, stuck
I’m in a part of your trees
That you don’t even understand
It’s just like my need to overstay my welcome man

Let’s sing it a rhyme
Let’s give it one more time
Let’s show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine

The above mentioned “UBerlin” is a much better song when heard in context with the rest of the album. Honestly, “Losing My Religion” has never been my favorite R.E.M. song, even though it is one of their most popular and this track reminds me of it. It drips with sentimentality and is one of the mellower songs on the album, but I find it growing on me more with repeated listenings.

Then we start getting into the meat of the album. Like I said, this album is almost a “Greatest Hits” of songs you’ve never heard. “Oh My Heart” is possibly the most beautiful song on here with the return of the mandolin and reminds me of the best tracks on “Out Of Time.”

The kids have a new take
A new take on faith
Pick up the pieces
Get carried away
I came home to city half erased
I came home to face what we faced

This place needs me here to start
This place is the beat of my heart

Track 5, “It Happened Today”, has Stipe doing some vocal gymnastics that doesn’t involve lyrics at all. Although this is an uplifting track, it’s when he simply starts humming and singing at about 2 minutes into the song that makes this track soar. I can’t but help cranking this one up whenever it comes on. It’s one of those songs that just gives you a sense of hope and is so amazing that you HAVE to turn it up.

“Every Day Is Yours To Win” is an odd little song because at the offset, the lyrics are simple and sort of jangly. But the more I hear it, the more it makes sense. It’s another uplifting song that transcends the lyrics. It’s not my favorite song on the album, but compared to anything else out there, this is amazing stuff…

With the brilliance (brilliance)
and the light (light)
with the sting (sting)
and the hide (hide)
and the road ahead of you.

I cannot tell a lie
It’s not all cherry pie
But it’s all there waiting for you
Yeah you

Possibly my favorite track on the album is “Mine Smell Like Honey.” It soars and rocks and is one of the greatest songs R.E.M. has in their vast library. Honestly, I have no idea what the lyrics mean (which is a typical of Stipe and company) because it’s all very cryptic, however I love the riff and it reminds me of the better parts of “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” which is one of my favorite R.E.M. albums!

I would dare you, but I know I don’t need to
You’re going to do just what you want to
You’re going to take the leavings here at the fairground
You’re going to sing the praises of your fruit

Mine smell like honey, uh!
Mine smell like honey, uh!
Mine smell like hu, hu, hu, hu, honey, uh!

Dig a hole, dig it deeper, deeper!
Climb a mountain, climb it steeper, steeper!
Dig a hole, dig it deeper, deeper!
Track a trail of honey through it all

The next track, “Walk It Back,” has been touted as the best song on the album by several reviewers and I can’t argue. It truly is a great song. As a matter of fact, it’s possibly the one that speaks to me the most, especially at this point in my life. Here it is…

I don’t even know what to say about the next track. Seriously…it’s almost like they just decided to be goofy. “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is right up there with “It’s The End Of The World” in it’s delivery with Stipe & Peaches singing and reminds me of when Kate Pierson joins Stipe on “Out of Time” on “Me In Honey” except this could have easily been a B-52’s song. It’s bouncy and catchy and will drive you nuts once it gets stuck in your head!

The next 2 tracks are short & sweet. “That Someone Is You” is a straight ahead rocker (reminiscent of their early 80’s work) while “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando And I” is almost a concession speech which makes me wonder what Stipe is trying to tell us when he sings…

We live and dream about our heroes
I listened closely and I said
“I’m not sure where to place myself here, friend.
I might pawn the gold rings instead.”

The winners write the rulebooks, the histories and lullabies.

The final track, “Blue,” is eerily similiar to “E-Bow The Letter” from “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” with Patti Smith once again joining Stipe with her haunting vocals and the music even sounding like a direct reference. However the lyrics, once again, take this song above and beyond. This is really more of a poem written by Stipe. Is it a love poem? Is it a look at himself? Is it his cry out for acceptance? What do these lyrics mean? Maybe we’ll never know. But I love how they go…

I like you, love you, every coast of you.
I’ve seen your eddies and tides and hurricanes and cyclones.
Low ebb tide and high, full moon.
Up close and distant.
I read you.
Look, the sky, the sea, the ocean, the sun, the moon.
Blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue, blue blue, blue, blue, blue, blue.
Naked and blue.

Breathing with you. Touch. Change. Shift. Allow air. Window open. Drift. Drift away. Into now.

I want Whitman proud. Patti Lee proud. My brothers proud. My sisters proud. I want me. I want it all. I want sensational. Irresistible.

This is my time and I am thrilled to be alive.

Living. Blessed. I understand.

“Collapse Into Now” is the final album the band is contractually obligated to do for Warner Brothers. It’s also their 15th studio album. With music becoming more & more disposable, you have to wonder if a poet like Michael Stipe will continue to try to appeal to the masses. With R.E.M.’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, they really have nothing else to prove. Critics railed them for their post-Bill Berry work (“Reveal” & “Around The Sun”) and they came back with “Accelerate” and now this classic. With no tour scheduled and with the knowledge that Stipe, Peter Buck & Mike Mills have made their mark on rock & roll history, will they continue onward? Or will this be their swan song? It seems fitting that if this is their final album, it is a complex return to what made them so successful at the height of their careers and is every bit as good (if not better) than those albums all put together.

Social Distortion’s “Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes”


I wouldn’t say I’m a die-hard Social D fan but I have followed their career from a distance, enjoying quite a few of their classic songs (Bad Luck, 99 To Life, Down On The World Again). After checking out THIS early nominee for Best Album of 2011, I might need to pay closer attention. I realize it’s only January, but I HAVE to imagine this one is gonna be burning up my CD player (yeah…I STILL have one in my car) for quite a while and I hope it gets some respect next year at the Grammys!

If you’ve never heard the bluesy rock of Social D, it’s what you’d expect from a band with the name “Social Distortion.” Hard rockin’, hard rollin’, blues rock from…California? Yep…and it’s damn good blues rock too. Lead singer Mike Ness’ gravelly vocals and heavy guitars have been the sound of this band since 1978, and they haven’t changed much. The one thing that has changed is the insightful lyrics that have infiltrated this album. Living the rock n roll lifestyle is never easy (or so they say), and Ness and the boys aren’t necessarily living the dream. But what they ARE doing is making some great old fashioned rock that has always been straight from the hip, and this album is no different.

They lead off with the album with an instrumental track, “Road Zombie”, that rocks with a driving beat and a guitar frenzy and from there the album never really lets up. You have instant anthems “Machine Gun Blues”, “Far Side Of Nowhere” and “Still Alive.” And you have rockers like “Gimme The Sweet Lowdown” & the Hank Williams cover of “Alone & Foresaken.”

For me though, the real treat of “Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes” are the rock ballads that speck the album. You can feel Ness’ pain when he sings about the end of a relationship in “Writing On The Wall” and the beautiful “Bakersfield” is the highlight of the album, with it’s slow jam, smoky bar feel. And when Ness sings to his girl (he’s stranded in Vegas and she’s millions of miles away), you feel for him. And I can understand that feeling…which might be why I love this song so much.

The only track that doesn’t really stand out for me is “Can’t Take It With You,” which is a little repetitive in the chorus and grows old after a while. But even that isn’t a detriment in what is a stellar return from a band that has paid its dues. 7 years has been WAY too long to wait for this new edition to their collection but trust me when I tell you…it fits right in perfectly and might very well be the classic album that we’ve always known they had in ’em.