Deena – Rock River (Ear to the Ground Review)

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Bloggers note:  I wrote this review a couple of months ago – already long past when the album was released and too long after I received it.  I saved it, looking for the right time to post it, but you know what.  There isn’t a right time.  I just re-read what I wrote and it’s all true (as I see it).  So, late-ish on a Tuesday night in early December, I am posting this and I will post links on my Facebook and all that, and I really hope you read it, but more importantly, I hope you will give this record a listen.

Ear to the Ground reviews Rock River the most recent album by Deena.

Review after the jump.

Let’s start with the facts (from the artist’s bio):

Deena began her music career as co-founder of The Cucumbers, a leading band in the 80s indie pop scene in Hoboken, NJ, with reviews in Rolling Stone and People Magazine and videos on MTV. 
Deena‘s songwriting has been called “direct and artful,” by the New York Times, her voice “…incredible: kidstuff and wisdom merged,” by the Village Voice. Her songs have been recorded by Jackson Browne and Dar Williams and featured in films and on network TV.

Regular readers of Ear to the Ground will know that we have included songs from this album in our shuffle for some time now, and that I greatly enjoy this music.  Just for full disclosure:  I didn’t know any of the facts from the bio when I first listened to this album. If at all possible, I like to listen to new music with out expectations or bias.

Although I have written a fair amount about some great New Jersey artists, I will admit to be lacking some basic knowledge of New Jersey musical history, and so I had missed out of The Cucumbers (although hearing it now, I quite like it).

So onto Rock River.  The cover suggests a playful artistic spirit, and I was looking forward to finding out if the music lived up to that promise….

The interesting thing about coming into this album as free of expectations as possible is that in many ways this album is all about defying and confusing expectations.  New Jersey Indie Pop icon with Folk music credentials – you can guess what this is going to be like  right? Right! and Wrong!

Don’t get me wrong, on the surface Rock River meets all of what one might expect, and I was immediately drawn in by the unique voice of Deena Shoshkes and the catchy melodies.  The first song “My Own Advice” is a catchy Folk tinged Indie Pop music with a hook to die for.  The rest of the album moves freely and comfortably between catchy Indie Pop, jazzy rockers, and pedal-steel pushed Country music, with the quirky but beautiful voice of Deena serving as the unifying theme through-out.

The themes are familiar and the humor is subtle.  In less experienced hands, Rock River could easily fall into a sentimental nostalgic trap baited with sugary syrup.  But Deena has been in the music game for a while, and her quirky pop vocals have been seasoned with a depth that really only comes from time and experience.

 “My Friend Superman”  begins with horns and a jazzy back-beat and tells of a Man of Steel who needs a chance to relax after a hard day of fighting crime.

My friend Superman/Says his wife just doesn’t understand/Why he missed the Sunday dinner with her folks/He was too tired to laugh at the old man’s jokes/And besides, her mother smokes/He says, I can survive a nuclear blast, But do you know how long those dinners last?

“Always Tomorrow” is a heart-breakingly beautiful Country song about heartbreak that pulls the listener into the life of Tommy. A life filled with tainted memories and a broken-down but still functioning sense of hope.

Sugar-coated memories
Watered-down lies
He lost a lot a long time ago
In the backdrop of her eyes

 “Heartful of Now” is a toe-tapping/hook-filled Pop gem that may just hold within it’s lyrics one of the secrets of this album.  Music that avoids sentimentality by remaining firmly grounded in the present reality filled with all of it’s contradictions. 

And a heart full of now, heart full of now/No future no past/Don’t want to ask/Heart full of now, heart full of now/Doesn’t really matter why or how/When you’re all filled up with a heart full of now

So we go back to the cover art.  Swimmers – a boy waving.  A trip to the river filled with joy. Nostalgia tells us of idyllic summer days filled with wonder and joy and free of problems and fear. Truth is that our lives have always been complicated and joy has always been tinged with sadness.  But we go on.  After my initial listen to Rock River, I did read up on Deena and one thing I read was that she has written music for children.  That knowledge provided an interesting perspective to me.  The best music for children is simple, direct, and honest.  So I’m left with this idea in the back of mind… maybe Rock River is a wonderful Children’s album written for adults.

Rock River is available through Deena’s website and some of the usual download and streaming sites.

Wednesday Morning Music Shuffle – Turtles, Roses, and Kisses Mix

I failed to post a shuffle yesterday – I listened to a shuffle and it was a good one, but time didn’t allow me to post – so the songs go back into the hopper and will come out in some other interesting combination.

Truth be told – life is unpredictable and pretty darn right amazing when you stop to pay attention to the seemingly random occurrences which are going on around you every day. Truth be told – I would never have placed my self voluntarily in the situation in which I currently find myself, but since I’m here… I have to say…. I’m right in the place that I am supposed to be…

A pretty sweet evening/night of music on both side of the river in Nashville on a Tuesday in October.  Saw a song swap featuring two of my musical heroes from my college days – Bill Lloyd and Webb Wilder along with the always amazing Tim Carroll.

Crossed the river for some Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie and a Pint of fine beer to check out some amazing music including: Drew Kohl, Julie Christensen and her band, and the Dan Montgomery Band.

Let’s do this shuffle thing – okay?

“Threads of Measure” by Brown Bird from Fits of Reason

The first of three great songs by this amazing band.  The death of David Lamb was a great loss to the world.

“Turtles All the Way Down” by Sturgill Simpson from 2014-05-13 – Grimey’s Records – Nashville/Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

One of my favorite songs from the latest Sturgill Simpson album – done live at a Nashville record establishment.

“And Roses And Roses” by Victoria Williams from Sings Some Ol’ Songs

Victoria Williams doing a song made famous by Andy Williams.

“Something in Blue” by David Olney from When the Deal Goes Down

Another incredibly great song from this awesome album – co-produced by E2TG favorite Mark Robinson.

“Distant” by Heather Powell from Believe it to Life

I am so impressed by the incredible variety and volume of music being produced under the True Groove Record label.  Kudos to Tomas Doncker and Marla Mase – along with everyone else involved.  If you haven’t, check out all of the True Groove artists out… there isn’t a bad place to start so start right here.  The video I picked for this song features the amazing Heather Powell performing with the True Groove All-Stars.

“Road to Joy” by The Grimm Generation from The Big Fame

One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums by some of my favorite people. It’s a Grimm season – so get Grimm.  The Road to Joy is paved with… something.  Heck, I don’t know.  But this song is great!

“Comes With Kisses” by Deena from Rock River

This wraps up the Rock River album, and it ends with this cool song.  I will be publishing my review of this album soon – so stayed tuned to Ear to the Ground.

“Seven Hells” by Brown Bird from Fits of Reason

#2 of the day from Brown Bird from Portland, Maine.

“Goldfinger” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings from The Wolf of Wall Street Motion Picture

Let’s see… James Bond theme cover? check.  From a Leonard DiCaprio movie? check. By Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings? check.  Yep – this is cool!

“Abednego” by Brown Bird from Fits of Reason

And then there were three.  A new axiom: you can never have too many Brown Bird songs in a shuffle.

“If You Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving” by Justin Townes Earle from NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Session/!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=”//”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);The Good Life

And, we close out the day with a live recording of Justin Townes Earle recording on the east side of his hometown which happens to be the city where I live.  This song goes back to his 2008 album.


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Monday Morning Music Shuffle – Fight the World Mix

So, Americana Music Fest week is over, and Nashville can go back to being this cool city with live music happening every single night all over town….  Even with being an official attendee at AMA, I managed to see some amazing music, saw a bunch of old friends, made some new friends, and discovered some new music which will be showing up on E2TG soon…


The End Men @ The Basement 9/21/2014

More pics and commentary coming up.

Let’s shuffle…

“Ratking” by The End Men from Odds and Ends

Look, I really swear – the shuffle function picks the songs! Really!  But… but! How appropriate to start things off with The End Men who made a rare Nashville appearance, shook up The Basement, and helped to wrap up AMA Week as part of a Post-Americana fest all-day show.  Also, today is Livia Ranalli’s birthday – so please wish this amazing drummer an awesome day!

“I’d Fight the World” by Jim Reeves from Gentleman Jim

In honor of Matthew Hendershot’s nervousness about the significant lack of Twang in The End Men’s sound compared to most of the other awesome acts on the bill (hint: nobody cared), I thought we would follow up The End Men with Country Music legend, Gentlemen Jim Reeves. (Except, I didn’t decide – see it really is the shuffle function).

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Moving on with this great song from Dar Williams.  The video is a fan-made mash-up of the audio of the song with scenes from the Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop. Please don’t ask me…

“Crawdad Song” by Pork Chop Willie from Love is the Devil

Pork Chop Willie doing the American standard.  Our video playlist features another Pork Chop Willie performance plus a version of this song by Woody Guthrie.

“Someone to Love” by The Dirty Guv’nahs from Hearts on Fire

“Slow Down Easy” by The Dirty Guv’nahs from Hearts on Fire

Two in a row from this enthusiastically awesome Knoxville band.

“All She Wrote” by Deena from Rock River

Another great track from the most recent album by the former The Cucumbers member.

“Promised Land” by The Style Council from The Singular Adventures of The Style Council/Non-Album Single

A late period The Style Council single.

“Blind Melon Morpheus (missed the train)” by Tomas Doncker Band from Moanin’ at Midnight: The Howlin’ Wolf Project

And, we close things out with the one and only Tomas Doncker and his band from the stunning Howlin’ Wolf tribute album.  Tomas is wrapping up work on his follow-up which is going to be ground-breaking and freaking awesome.


Wednesday Morning Music Shuffle – Ear to the Wall Mix

Life is a balance of patience, hard work, dumb luck, and the occasional moment of happy coincidence. Or so it seems from this particular moment in my existence. I was thinking about the two recent reviews I wrote, and the circumstances that lead me to having the opportunity to write those reviews.  In 2011, when I started Ear to the Ground, I was trying to find a blog platform that would be easy to use and be visually interesting.  I came across Posterous which seeming fit the bill.  Through that site, I came into contact with Howard Rabach and his enigmatic band Ubiquity Machine.  We became Facebook friends, and now Howard plays bass for The Grey A, and he sent me their new album to review.

About six months later, around the time that I decided that Posterous could not do everything I wanted to do*, I happened upon a cool band from New Jersey called Those Mockingbirds. That band lead me to Don Ryan, Popa Tunes, The Dead Exs, The End Men, and my whole fascination with New York/New Jersey/Connecticut bands and artists which continues to this day.  Through all of that, and I think through a direct recommendation from Don Ryan, I became familiar with a band called Big Wilson River – a cool band which featured Darrin Bradbury who put out Motel Oatmeal, the other album I reviewed last weekend. 

Just thought I’d share… I don’t know what it all means…  The End Men have taught me the idea of saying yes to almost everything, and so far that philosophy seems to be working out okay.

Well we have a shuffle to put on… so enough musing…

“The T.G.V.” by Tim Carroll from Opening Up/Always Tomorrow

“Great, great speed. Oui, Oui!”

“Take Another Look” by Little Village from Little Village

You take Jim Keltner, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, and Ry Cooder and you put them together in one group – what could possibly go wrong.  Absolutely nothing!  Just wished it had lasted a bit longer.

“What’ll We Do ‘Til Then” by Tim Carroll from Opening Up/All Kinds of Pain

This and the first song of this shuffle are from a live album called Opening Up which was recorded in Atlanta (I think).  Both tracks feature intros of a sort from Elizabeth Cook. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Tim do these songs over the last few weeks, and maybe I’ll hear ’em again tonight.

“From Now On” by The Features from Old Familiar Melodies – 2008-2013/The Twilight Sage: Breaking Dawn – Part I Original Motions Picture Soundtrack

That’s right I said Twilight Saga… Edward, Jacob, Belle, vampires that don’t act like vampires… the features are a cool band from Nashville who make some really catchy music that a bunch of people really like.  They’ve released a kind of best of… sampler on NoiseTrade.

“This Thing That I’ve Found” by The Autumn Defense from NoiseTrade Eastside Manor Session/Fifth

I added began adding a bunch of The Autumn Defense music to my list after seeing them play live at last years Americanarama deal at Grimey’s.  For now, this is the last of those tracks. This is part of their Eastside Manor Session – recorded in East Nashville for NoiseTrade.

“Heart Full of Now” by Deena from Rock River

Two days in a row, we have songs from Deena’s remarkable album Rock River.  For pure fun, this may be my favorite song.  After I hear it, it takes quite a while to stop singing it.

“Cry for Me” (live) by The California Honeydrops from Honeydrops Live

Also two days in a row for The California Honeydrops, and this two is very fun and funky song.  Groovetastic!

“(She Was A) Hotel Detective” by They Might Be Giants from First Album Live

“She’s got her ear to the walls and she’s tapping the calls
If you’ve got a secret, boy, forget about it”

“Puts The Sugar On” by Tim Carroll from Always Tomorrow

Why not three from Mr. Carroll?  He played this one last week during his Happy Hour at The 5 Spot.  If you’re in Nashville, he’ll be back at The 5 Spot this Friday for Happy Hour with his crack band featuring Bones Hillman (Midnight Oil) and Steve Latanation.  Tonight you can catch Tim solo at Logue’s Black Raven Emporium at 8:00 opening for Greg Garing and later at Fran’s Eastside with Darrin Bradbury opening up.

“Sad Saturday Night” by David Olney from When the Deal Goes Down

Speaking of… what? The Five Spot Happy Hour? Artists we featured yesterday? Nashville? Whatever, David Olney is back in the shuffle today with another from his When the Deal Goes Down album.  He will be at The 5 Spot tonight from 6-8:30 with his crack band featuring Sergio Webb, Dan Seymour, and Justin Amaral.  The video from this song is kind of new, and features some awesome Nashville locales.

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Tuesday Morning Music Shuffle – Blue Rainbow Mix

ICYMI (Labor Day Weekend Edition):  

We created an E2TG Facebook Page – so like it please maybe?

We posted a couple of album reviews over the weekend.

1.  Darrin Bradbury – Motel Oatmeal –  on E2TG and cross-posted to No Depression (go visit both sites if you have time)

2. The Grey A – My Country – on E2TG and cross-posted (and currently featured!) to No Depression.

Shuffle to follow:

“When the Deal Goes Down” by David Olney from When the Deal Goes Down

I had the good fortune to see David Olney at The Five Spot joined for the night by Ear to the Ground favorite Mark Robinson.  Mark also co-produced this Olney’s latest album, and it’s a good one.

“Valse de Balfa” by Linda Thompson from Evangeline Made: a tribute to Cajun Music

From the Cajun Music tribute album, the always incredible Linda Thompson.  The video is another version of this long.  Linda you may remember made a few of the best albums of all-time with her then husband Richard Thompson. 

“Pastorale” by Clocks and Clouds from The Creation of Matter

A gorgeous addition to my morning drive from the classically inspired Clocks and Clouds.

“Les Flammes d’Enfer” by Richard Thompson from Evangeline Made: a tribute to Cajun Music!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=”//”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

Speaking of Richard Thompson – he is also on that Cajun Music tribute album I’ve been listening to of late.  The video here is of a version of the song by Jo-el Sonnier who previously covered Thompson’s Tear-Stained Letter.

“Over the Rainbow” by Victoria Williams from Sings Some Ol’ Songs

Victoria Williams recorded an album of classic songs.  This is her stunning version of the song Judy Garland sang in The Wizard of Oz.  I couldn’t find a video of her version of this song, so I’ve included a performance of her song “Crazy Mary” where she is joined by the late Lou Reed.

“Carolina Peach” by The California Honeydrops from Like You Mean It

Once again, Popa Tune’s turns me on to a band, and once again I have a new band I like. 

“Why so Blue?” by David Olney from When the Deal Goes Down

Another great track from the new album.  In the video playlist, we’ve included the latest edition of Olney’s video newsletter so I don’t have to try to write about all of his goings on -which are many and all awesome.

“When in Roam” by Delta Spirit from Lost and Found

I saw the Delta Spirit at Live on the Green a couple of years ago.  They were incredible live.  This one is from a 2006 EP.

“Astronomy” by Chris Stamey from Lovesick Blues

Another great track from Chris Stamey’s 2013 album.  Last time I posted some songs from this album, I failed to mention that a couple of years ago (the same night that I saw Delta Spirit at LOTG in fact, I saw Chris Stamey along with Jody Stephens and an all-star band performing songs of Big Star as part of the Americana Fest.

“My Own Advice” by Deena from Rock River 

And, we close out our shuffle with this song from Deena.  As the recent reception to my album reviews has been so overwhelming, I am reminded of some long overdue reviews I have to get to soon.  Including this album from the former member of The Cucumbers.


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Monday Morning Music Shuffle – Toddler Superman Mix

Monday – and as usual I’m short on time so let’s jump into the shuffle:

“Toddler Hiway” by They Might Be Giants (with The Avatars of They) from First Album Live

Another from the Live album version of TMBG debut album.  This one features the sock puppets known as The Avatars of They with the shortest song on the album.

“My Friend Superman” by Deena from Rock River

Another great track from the Rock River album.  I tend to dig songs that mention superman, and this is no exception.

“In Remembrance” by The Grey A from My Country

My Country by The Grey A will be released in less than a month.  Nashville readers, there will a CD release show on September 12 at The Stone Fox.  The show should include appearances by many of the Nashville artists who appeared on the record.

“Riverside Blues” by Year of October from WDVX Blue Plate Special 4/12/2014

Pre-Orders for Golden Days, the new Year of October release have begun.  This is the second track on the album. 

“If I Gotta’ Die (murdered by someone I love)” by Darrin Bradbury from Death in My Left Ear

Death in My Left Ear is no longer the most recent release by Darrin Bradbury, but it’s a good one, and this is one of my favorite songs of his.  In the video playlist, we have a track from his latest release Motel Oatmeal.

“Their Finest Hour” by Clocks and Clouds from The Creation of Matter

More orchestral goodness from Clocks and Clouds from their album The Creation of Matter.

“How Bout” by Taco Land from Home Sweet Home

A sweet, sweet song from our friends Taco Land from their latest album.

“Liquid” by Gumshen from Progtronica

Our final track from Gumshen’s Progtronica album is a good one.

“The Mechanical Motion of Dying Stars” by aCr from ghost note manifest!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=”//”;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,”script”,”twitter-wjs”);

window.amznpubstudioTag = “eartothegro00-20”; And, we close out with a song from aCr.  aCr is Alvaro C. Rodriguez who is the guitarist and vocalist from Liquid Casing – a band we featured heavily last year. This is a new project just released August 12, and it sounds great.  This was my first listen as this is fresh from my inbox to blog in about 18 hours.


Monday Morning Music Shuffle – Backup Plan Mix

I don’t have anything particularly clever or important to say today.  Just that we have an awesome mix of music that continues a Blues theme from Friday and which features not one, not two, but three examples of why Nashville is Music City and not Country Music City.

Get to the mix after the jump:

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“Just Keep on Rockin’” by Roomful of Blues from Alligator Records: 21st Century Blues and Roots/45 Live (Original version on Standing Room Only)

The long-running Rhode Island Blues/Swing band Roomful of Blues with a live version of a song which was originally on their 2005 album.

“Find the Love” by Deena from Rock River

Another great track from Rock River – the newest album by New Jersey Indie legend Deena Shoshkes from The Cucumbers.  Delightfully wistful and delightfully free from empty sentiment.

“Out to Sea” by The Delta Saints from Death Letter Jubilee
The first of three Nashville bands which round out this Monday Shuffle.  The Delta Saints bring a little taste of the Mississippi Delta to what they call Swagger Rock.

 “Backup Plan” by Mark Robinson from Quit Your Job – Play Guitar

A song from Music City Blues Guitarist extraordinaire and a good friend of this blog, Mark Robinson from his 2010 album.

“Tennessee” by Great Peacock from Single
We close out this shuffle with one of my favorite songs of the last year or so.  They were the 2013 CXCW Best Dressed award winners – the year they covered The National and then teamed up with Wess Floyd to do an absolutely kick ass version of the Alabama Shakes’ “Hold On”.  This is a song that has been getting quite a bit of attention locally and hopefully elsewhere as well.
So, the week gets off to a roaring start… come back all week….

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