Aaron Earl Short
During the last two decades, Aaron Earl Short has quietly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Iowa roots sound. From The Creek Dwellers to his family band The High Crest to his other family band, Eastside Brothers, Short has shown real growth in his performance style and songwriting. With “Watchlist,” we get Short in his most stripped down and purest form, and it’s another leap forward creatively. In the 11 tracks of “Watchlist,” Short gives himself room to stretch and touches on a variety of topics ranging from a straightforward look at childhood (“Backyard”) to political screeds (“Eminent Domain,” “Governor’s Boy”) to examinations of alcoholism (“Pour it Down the Drain,” “The Devil’s Bar”). It’s a lot to cover, but the songs are grouped in such a way that everything flows nicely, without the scattered feel you might expect from such a variety of topics. Without his brother, wife or child sharing the songs, Short seems to have turned his focus inward for “Watchlist.” It’s a strong musical showing and proof that Short is in the enviable position of having a wealth of material to draw from. Let’s hope that well never runs dry.
Joyful Noise Recordings
In the last two years, the Florida band Surfer Blood has lost guitarist Thomas Fekete to cancer and bassist Kevin Williams to a day job. “Snowdonia” is the band’s first album since the lineup changes, but rather than dwelling on the negative, Surfer Blood has kept things fairly light and easy-going on its new release. The band fuses surf music with the psychedelic to create timeless-sounding tunes like “Matter of Time” and “Diamond Jay.” The addition of new bassist Lindsey Mills on backing vocals for tracks like “Matter of Time” and “Snowdonia” provides added depth and harmony to Surfer Blood’s sound. After years of OK to good work, things seem to have finally clicked into place with “Snowdonia.” After a few dark years (including a 2012 arrest for domestic abuse by frontman John Paul Pitts), Surfer Blood seem to have moved beyond letting personal issues bleed into the music like they did in 2013’s “Pythons.” “Snowdonia” feels like a fresh start for a talented band that hasn’t always lived up to its potential. ♦