10 Albums to Listen To Before Going To Bourbon & Beyond, Louder Than Life and Hometown Rising

A wide variety of bands and musicians are performing at what’s being referred to as the Trifesta, the back-to-back-to-back weekends consisting of the country festival Hometown Rising (Sept. 14-15), the classic rock-leaning Bourbon & Beyond (Sept. 20-22) and the hard rock/metal focused Louder Than Life (Sept. 27-29). There’s classic rock royalty. Country favorites. Local punk bands. A member of Led Zeppelin. A member of NWA. To prepare you for the myriad of acts, we wrote about 10 albums from 10 different bands/artists playing at the three festivals.


ZZ Top — Tres Hombres (1973)

Growing up, there was no greater bond between father and son than the music of ZZ Top. And while I came to age with Eliminator and Afterburner making waves, there is perhaps no greater representation of their power than their 1973 album Tres Hombres. From start to finish, this album rips. Their seamless blend of blues and rock posturing with more than a hint of Texas swing is on full display. Multiple tracks fade out on a guitar solo, like the greasy strut of “Jesus Just Left Chicago” or the party anthem “Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers,” illustrating their defiance of traditional ABAB pop formatting. The band often settles into a sultry groove and mines their riffs for every possible nuance. It’s here that ZZ Top shines as more than just a vehicle for Billy Gibbon’s unimpeachable guitar work — they’re a band that puts atmosphere and groove at the forefront of their craft. Tres Hombres is topped off with barnburner tracks like “Precious and Grace” or the dirty-old-man anthem “La Grange,” songs that are durable to time.
—Syd Bishop

ZZ Top plays Bourbon & Beyond on Sunday, Sept. 22.


Led Zeppelin — III (1970)

When Robert Plant takes the stage (with his Sensational Space Shifters) to close out night two of this year’s Bourbon & Beyond festival, it will quickly become apparent to anyone who didn’t already know that, as an artist, this quintessential rock god is a complex amalgamation of influences. Led Zeppelin III showcases that fact better than any other studio album that Plant made during his decade-long tenure in that band. Here, the group’s distinctive blend of heavy blues riffs and soaring vocals are folded into something resembling traditional folk motifs. But don’t let the presence of pedal steel guitar, banjo and mandolin fool you into thinking that this 1970 recording was an unplugged project. “Celebration Day,” “Out on the Tiles,” and the thundering opener, “Immigrant Song,” for example, are all-out raucous affairs. To bring it on home, so to speak, the beautifully strange and unusual lyrics throughout are populated by tragic characters that the then-21-year-old Plant dreamed up for the occasion: crooked executioners, blue-eyed girls, plundering Vikings, forsaken lovers and so forth. The primary reason that this LP is your best bet for a pre-game soundtrack is that Plant is still circling backwards and forwards around these musical themes to this day. —Kevin M. Wilson

Robert Plant plays Bourbon & Beyond on Saturday, Sept. 21.


Ice Cube — AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)

Less than a year after leaving the groundbreaking rap group N.W.A. in 1989 over contract and royalty disputes, a “crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube” initiated a solo career that created one of the most solid four-album stretches in hip-hop history. Starting with AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, he subsequently followed with the classic (and near-classic) albums Death Certificate (1991), The Predator (1992) and Lethal Injection (1993). “From 1990 to 1994, Ice Cube was unquestionably the best rapper in the world,” comedian Chris Rock once said. “[W]ithout peer.” That’s a contentious claim — but quite possibly correct. And out of that incredible quartet of records — and despite the latter three containing his more iconic songs — Most Wanted remains his best. Among other reasons: It contains a perfect melding with another seminal hip-hop assemblage, New York’s Public Enemy. In one of the earliest and still most significant pairings of the East and West Coasts, the Compton-based rapper enlisted P.E.’s production arm, the Bomb Squad, to produce the LP. The result: an album that not only brought together the best bits of the gangsta-rap genre Cube helped create, but also crucially adding parts of the needed, socio-political consciousness Public Enemy became known for. Sonically and lyrically it’s brash, astute, self-aware, and, in the end, a nearly 50-minute, constant punch to the face. When Ice Cube, along with N.W.A., were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the rapper ended his speech for the group by asking, “Now the question is, are we rock and roll?” His rightful retort: “I say, goddamn right we rock and roll.” The genre is a “spirit” rather than a type of music, Ice Cube added. “It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock and roll, heavy metal, punk rock and, yes, hip-hop.” If that’s the case, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted caught and continued that spirit, that unholy idea, perhaps first laid down by the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, rock’s holy ghost.
—Eric Allen Been

Ice Cube plays Louder Than Life on Saturday, Sept. 28.


White Reaper — The World’s Best American Band (2017)

They write riffs that burn into your brain. And lyrics that make you want to quit your job and pretend that you’re young again. The rhythm section is steady, powerful and clever. The keys are engaging and unpredictable. Those are the constants with White Reaper. But, what’s maybe most impressive about the punk-infused, hook-heavy rock band is their agility. Slowly, over the last half decade, they’ve given their songs more room to breathe, going from two-minute Ramones-style burners to charged and enormous arena-rock. The latter is in full force on the Louisville band’s last release, The World’s Best American Band, straight from the self-titled opening track: It’s a full-blown anthem. Crowds are cheering, pills are crushed, the drums make you want to stop what you’re doing and clap in rhythm, while the ringing guitar riff is in no hurry. It sets the tone for what’s their most patient and rewarding record, that still, in true White Reaper fashion, clocks in at 31 minutes, keeping it lean, with un-skippable songs and a no-frills attitude. Everything that drew you to them initially is still there, but it’s evolved into something bigger, bolder and better. —Scott Recker

White Reaper plays Bourbon & Beyond on Sunday, Sept. 22, and Louder Than Life on Sunday, Sept. 29.


The Flaming Lips — Oczy Mlody (2017)

On the highly-praised 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the song “Do You Realize,” frontman Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips declared the first of many brain-expanding verses of philosophical thought: “Do you realize, that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize, we’re floating in space?” The band’s 14th album, 2017’s Oczy Mlody is a more matured, somber party of rainbow glitter and unicorns. But, make no mistake, it is still one trippy dream, with help from guest artists like Miley Cyrus and comedian/musician Reggie Watts. The album begins with lyrics describing a mystical drugs’ side effects, detailing unicorns with purple eyes and dayglow strippers from the Amazon. Among the whimsical and romantic world Coyne depicts, there is also a melancholy thread that all things die. “The Castle” was written in response to a friend’s death by suicide: “The mushrooms and the bumblebees, told the flowers how it happened, she was lost in the invisible war, fighting in the battle.” The combination of spacey synths with delicate keys and hip-hop beats provides a satisfying chill vibe, culminating with the epic chorus of closer “We a Family,” where Coyne sings: “Jesus and the spaceships comin’ (down, down, down, down).” —Julie Gross

The Flaming Lips play Bourbon & Beyond on Friday, Sept. 20.

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Joan Jett — Album (1983)

The first The Runaways record was a proto-punk masterpiece, and, as we all know, Joan Jett went on to have a very long and successful career as a solo artist. But, sometimes we focus on the hits, overlooking her albums as a whole. The album, Album, is a cohesive, raw record that epitomizes the visceral style that made her an icon. It’s a consistent and polished release that stands the test of time: When a slew of classic rock giants were turning into mush in the ’80s, Jett sounded as tough as ever. “Fake Friends” was a hard-nosed fuck-you to unreliable frauds, while a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s jaded call for unity, “Everyday People,” perfectly fits into the paradigm of the record. Album is wild and free and unfiltered, with buried gems like “Had Enough.” It contains more original material than its predecessors, and that was a strength, magnifying Jett’s distinct voice.
—Scott Recker

Joan Jett plays Bourbon & Beyond on Friday, Sept. 20.


Guns N’ Roses — Use Your Illusion I (1991)

As far as your average Guns N’ Roses fans go, Appetite For Destruction is generally the end-all-be-all. But, for all its greatness, it’s still a mostly one-dimensional album, a one-last — albeit transcendent — hurrah of the glam-metal scene. For the uninitiated Guns N’ Roses fan, 1991’s Use Your Illusion I is a must-listen album. Illusion I had Guns stretching their wings, evolving their song-writing and reaching beyond the more simplistic nature of their debut. The result: an amalgamation of punk attitude, revved up blues, ’70s rock anthems, Stones-y swagger and larger-than-life rock star ego. From the speed-punk opener “Right Next Door To Hell” to the epic, 10-minute, what-the-hell-is-this closer, “Coma,” every song strives to differentiate itself from the one before it, while maintaining the signature Guns N’ Roses sound. We got ballads (“November Rain,” anyone?), acoustic campfire sing-alongs (“You Ain’t The First”), muscled-up jams (“Dust N’ Bones”) and the strange and otherworldly (“The Garden,” featuring Alice Cooper). And while I’ll never in good conscious be able to condone “Live And Let Die,” I will admit I’ve yet to ever hit skip when it comes on. —Tyrel Kessinger

Guns N’ Roses plays Louder Than Life on Saturday, Sept. 28.


Dwight Yoakam — This Time (1993)

A golden-voiced, honky-tonk revivalist, Dwight Yoakam plays a brand of country that’s as breezy as it is gritty, walking the line between being radio-ready and perfect for a smokey dive bar from a bygone era. This Time is a gleaming example of that, with songs like “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” and “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” which have undeniably catchy aspects, but they also have depth and backbone, unlike a lot of contemporary, chart-topping country. In some regards, he carries on the traditions of Bakersfield and outlaw country, but he’s sort of his own Frankenstein creation, which gives him mass appeal and mass respectability. The guy was friends with Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, he’s been nominated for 21 Grammys, winning several — to put it simply, he’s a walking legend. And This Time is his masterpiece. —Scott Recker

Dwight Yoakam plays Hometown Rising Saturday, Sept. 14.


All Them Witches — Sleeping Through the War (2017)

All Them Witches practice sorcery, using the dark arts of rock and roll to build an ominous, sludgy sound that can trace its family tree back to Black Sabbath. The band’s 2017 album Sleeping Through the War begins with “Bulls,” a slow and sleepy track. Without patience, one could easily pass over this song, but then you would miss a unique, aggressive, atmospheric interlude that is hidden halfway through, which sets the tone for the rest of the album. This is the magic of Sleeping Through The War — there’s an unpredictability that makes it a roller coaster ride. After “Bulls,” All Them Witches lay down two heavy jams until “3-5-7,” where they slow it back down, unwinding their more brutal side, and zapping you back into a more trance-inducing, focused groove. Is this a sleight of hand? A clever trick? No, this is an invitation to follow the band through the rest of the album, which pulls you up and down, expertly manipulating the tension. Sleeping Through The War gives you a good idea of what you can expect from a set you shouldn’t miss. —Nik Vechery

All Them Witches plays Louder Than Life on Friday September 27.


Jenny Lewis — On The Line (2019)

“Heads Gonna Roll” — the opening track from this year’s On The Line — is one of the most poetic and winding songs from Jenny Lewis’ discography, with imagery that vaguely recalls Dylan, although with a vintage Laurel Canyon feel to it. Throughout the album, her voice glows with a Steve Nicks-like combination of power, mystery and sadness, which makes the lyrics seem even more immediate and cutting than usual. Lewis — who began her career as a child actor, before moving to music — has released four solo full-length records, as well as five more with her band Rilo Kiley, but On The Line features her strongest songwriting, which is detailed, evocative, nostalgic, honest and zany in the best of ways. She transformed her folk-forward pop-rock into something that grapples with the past, and you can expect to see it appear on most of the 7,000 best-of lists that will plague us this holiday season. —Scott Recker

Jenny Lewis plays Bourbon & Beyond on Saturday, Sept. 21. •

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