Social Distortion: ‘Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes’

On the band’s seventh studio release and first new material since 2004’s Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll, Social Distortion burst back onto the music scene with all the ferocity of a handful of lit dynamite. Their Epitaph Records debut, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, is the culmination of four years of writing (lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Mike Ness penned 10 of the 11  tracks, with the only exception being a rocked-out version of Hank  Williams’ “Alone and Forsaken”), and it was well worth the wait.

Within seconds of the opening riff of the rocking instrumental “Road Zombie,” it is more than obvious Ness’ instinct to produce the album himself was the right decision, which pays off in abundance. His straight forward, no-frills production style matches his excellent songwriting, without masking the thought-provoking lyrics found throughout this set’s 46 minutes of pure musical bliss.

“I was born babe with nothing to lose/but the black man taught me how to sing the blues/take me on down the line,” Ness proclaims in “California (Hustle and Flow).” Ness’s storytelling lyrical approach is often akin to Dylan and Springsteen, but is delivered in his own unique vocal style, which at times sounds like an amalgamation of Tom Petty and Richard Butler.

In the slow but powerful ballad “Bakersfield,” Ness’s desperately heartfelt lyrics illustrate his longing to reconnect with an absent loved one as he confesses, “I can’t seem to get you out of my head.” These lyrics are poignant and fitting for this irresistible song that is near impossible to erase from memory. Then there’s the catchy, upbeat “Far Side of Nowhere.” With its anthem-like chorus, “put the pedal to the metal/baby turn the radio on/we can run to the far side of nowhere/we can run ‘til the days are gone,” it’s destined to become a set list staple as well as an instant favorite among Social Distortion fans. The album draws to a close with “Still Alive,” in which Ness declares “remember when we were young/and you said that I was done/I can handle what comes my way/just give me another day.” Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes is a well-rounded and excellent addition to the band’s body of work.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Levi Massie: ‘Sunrises and Cigarettes’

Sunrises and Cigarettes

If you think death, longing, heartbreak and coming to terms with one’s own mortality sound like bad things, think again. All of these subjects are explored with great depth on Nashville singer-songwriter Levi Massie’s superb new album Sunrises & Cigarettes. Although this description may sound bleak, Massie manages quite successfully to underscore these issues with a surprising amount of hope and optimism.

Hailing from Springfield, Ohio, the guitar-playing vocalist must have been born an old soul in order to be capable of writing such dark and introspective lyrics found in the 10 tracks offered here. Throwing his hat into the acoustic/folk/country genre, Massie brings to mind a modern-day John Prine and Kris Kristofferson with a little of Bob Dylan’s influence thrown in for good measure. These songs, which were recorded in Nashville, are presented in a stark, bare-bones, acoustic setting, which allows listeners to feel as if they are eavesdropping on private conversations.

While legendary Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy’s excellent harmonica work is featured prominently throughout the set, Massie’s haunting lyrics command center stage during the album’s entirety. A perfect example of this is the accordion-soaked, “In My Time, Dear,” which is pure poetry set to music. “So if you should wonder when love may come your way/remember true all the places you’ve been,” Massie sings eloquently.

The chilling, introspective confessions of “Wounded Bird” is beautifully augmented by the previously mentioned McCoy, as Massie reveals “I’m gonna find myself a wounded bird and probably give him my name/maybe it’ll teach me/I’m not flying too good/I’m not that well/I’m too weary and filled with shame.”

The compelling “Grey Old Cloak” finds Massie in fine storytelling form as he sings “son do you pray/’cuz I know God better than you/and all those other stiffs I’m afraid to say,” that brings to mind Kristofferson’s classic, “Why Me.”

Also noteworthy is “Smooth Sailing,” which is a heart wrenching, yet affectionate tribute to Massie’s grandfather that tells the tale of the naval sailor’s death. “I never saw that man/no not once/ever back down from a storm/and I heard when he thought the ship was going down/he said don’t worry boys I’ve got it/it’s smooth sailing now,” Massie caringly reminisces.

The title track “Sunrises and Cigarettes” closes out the album with such heartfelt and profound lyrics as “we all want more/but more or less/we settle for our second best/sunrise again over me.” This song provides a fitting end to this collection, and sounds as if a beautiful painting has been appropriately captured in words and music. Peter Young’s organic production style perfectly enhances the material without overshadowing Massie’s masterful lyrics. For those who are in need of a refreshingly honest, laid back musical fix, Levi Massie’s somber, yet reeling Sunrises & Cigarettes may be just the thing your ears have been anxiously awaiting. This is great songwriting in its purest form.

Essential tracks include “Wounded Bird,” “In Time, My Dear” and “Sunrises and Cigarettes.”

Copyright ©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse



Sharon Van Etten: ‘Epic’


Former Middle Tennessee resident Sharon Van Etten’s voice is a pure delight on her latest musical statement epic. The singer-songwriter, currently based out of Brooklyn, recorded the seven-track EP at Philadelphia’s Miner Street Recordings, which is currently available on Ba Da Bing Records.

The subdued, yet intense emotion contained in the set’s lead-off track, “A Crime” immediately defines Van Etten’s musical identity when she declares, “I will write these songs of things I’ll never say to you again/but you know why/never let myself love like that again.”

“Don’t you think I know/you’re only trying to save yourself/just like everyone else,” Van Etten urgently repeats in the exquisite, mid-tempo masterpiece “Save Yourself,” which is easily the EP’s standout track. Here, Van Etten sounds vaguely reminiscent of Kim Richey and Aimee Mann’s most powerful songs.

There are also subtle hints that bring to mind the folk-country stylings of Patty Griffin, which can be heard throughout the abstract and slightly experimental numbers, “DsharpG” and the set’s final “Love More.”

This collection of highly personal songs, takes the listener along on a cathartic musical journey of heartbreak and healing, which is told from a distinctly female perspective. Although this genre of music may not be for everyone, Sharon Van Etten’s epic, is definitely worth exploring. There are moments of sheer brilliance displayed here, and that bodes well for what lies ahead for this talented and promising artist’s future. Learn more about this compelling performer and her music at

Copyright ©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse