We’ve faithfully covered NC’s Michael Rank in the past, so we’re certainly not going to break our streak now—particularly since we are huge fans of (and friends with) the erstwhile Snatches of Pink frontman, now on his umpteenth solo album. The new Another Love is just dropping, and it is a whopping THREE-CD set, this time a gorgeous collection of silky soul jams and throwback funk that departs considerably from his trademark Americana.
We’ll have an interview with Rank shortly. Meanwhile, check out the new video for album track “Satellite,” below. The clip was directed by Daniel Andrews and Rank, and features Zoe Power, Brian Dennis and Tim Smith. It’s the followup to “Be Alright,” which we premiered here at BLURT a few months ago.
The Upshot: Scuzzy garage, classic punk, and blazing surf that’s drenched in more echo than you can shake a distortion pedal at.
BY FRED MILLS
Better late than never: Though the latest album from Charlotte, NC, scuzz/garage-core appeared last fall, yours truly must admit to being rather late to the table—something hereby rectified.
A no-nonsense guitar/bass/drums outfit, Paint Fumes describe themselves as “panic attack punk,” and that’s pretty apt, as one hears plenty of Sympathy, In the Red, Goner, Burger, and Get Hip panic scattered throughout these tidy ten songs. (That they currently call Get Hip home is no accident; they also previously recorded for the Slovenly label, if you’re sifting for additional clues as to what makes ‘em tick.) The set kicks off with “Bad Rituals,” a kind of Dead Boys-revving-into-overdrive number, and that’s quickly followed by “Brick Wall,” which is cut from vintage Nuggets cloth (think The Litter’s “Action Woman” rammed through a bank of distortion boxes). Things really get moving, however, a few tracks later on “Puddle of Blood”: following a twangy Latin-guitar intro, the band erects a massive wall of sound, equal parts surf-rock and punk-blooze and drenched in so much echo you’d swear that the aforementioned sonic structure was constructed with the express purpose of permanently walling Phil Spector and Martin Hannett into the crawlspace behind the living room.
Elsewhere there are nods to the Ramones (the rifftastic “Weird Walking”) and classic hardcore (thrash along with “Tunnel Vision”), plus more Nuggets worship (on “Planetary Plans” vocalist Elijah von Cramon perfects his punk-‘tude sneer, additionally channeling the late Stiv Bators once again). All in all, If It Ain’t Paint Fumes It Ain’t Worth a Huff is the best party-starter – and stopper, because the neighbors will definitely be calling the cops – I’ve heard all year. Bonus points for the awesome Stiff Records logo and title homage.
Consumer Note: It’s also available in “puke swirl” colored vinyl. You know you want it.
DOWNLOAD: “Puddle of Blood,” “Brick Wall,” “Planetary Plans”
The Upshot: Pure pop for ‘tones people: intricate, compelling rock and psych as pioneered by the masters.
BY FRED MILLS
Andy Partridge and Paul McCartney walk into a bar, and… Hey, it could happen. But why await a report on that fantasy summit when we have the real-life equivalent, the fifth Jamie & Steve record (and followup to 2014’s Circling). Anyone who’s followed the two North Carolina rockers will already know that the Partridge and McCartney nods aren’t random, for as one-half of the Spongetones, Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel have been responsible for some of the best Brit-flavored pop and rock to come of of The States for nearly four decades.
The XTC vibe kicks off the record, in fact, with the cinematic psychedelia of “Sword of Love,” a swirling, kaleidoscopic, nigh-on immersive cornucopia of sounds and textures. That’s followed by “It’s All Because of You” which, with its peppy ukulele (possibly mandolin) riff and sweetly-textured vocal crooning, could be a long-lost outtake from Sir Paul’s second studio album, Ram (unless I miss my guess, there’s a direct nod to that record’s “Ram On” that pops up in “IABOY”). The stomping, raucous “In a Little Tango” aims to catch the listener off-guard via a succession of stylistic twists, one moment a Bonham-type thump, then a sizzling guitar solo, and then a neo-baroque flourish. And finally, “Cry” cues up, an utterly infectious contemporary take on multi-part doo-wop as filtered through the pair’s signature Merseybeat lens—the Spongetones caught in joyous reverie down on the corner under a streetlight’s glow.
All six numbers are immaculately-crafted tunes, all, bringing together influences both disparate and expected while demonstrating an uncommon mastery of the arrangement process. Sub Textural amounts to an aural feast that reveals its intricacies and mysteries over multiple spins, the kind of record destined to intrigue and inspire fans and musicians alike. Perhaps in a record review at some unspecified point in the future, a writer will be inspired to pen the phrase, “Jamie and Steve walk into a bar….” Hmmm?
The Upshot: North Carolina trio fully justifies its album title with a freewheeling set of blues, rock, and boogie.
BY FRED MILLS
There’s some history here. Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a small but potent psychedelic scene popped up in, of all places, Charlotte, North Carolina, foreshadowing the rise of the jambands that, nowadays, we take for granted as part of pretty much every local scene. This is a point that cannot be overstated: Groups such as The Inn, the Trees, the Ravelers, The Other People, and the delightfully-named Sloppy Joe & the Random Rhythm Section (not to mention The Inn’s in-house record label, Third Lock) were way ahead of the artistic curve – remember, this was the same period during which Sub Pop was ascendant, the post-Nirvana era would soon find the planet awash in grunge, and soon enough you could get your ass kicked just for turning up at a show sporting a tie-dye or sandals. And while the proto-jammers weren’t really able to capitalize, financially, on their musical prescience, they could at least sleep easy at night knowing that a lot of folks in the Queen City were digging ‘em. As I was living there at the time, I count myself among those fans.
So: Bert Wray Blues. The good Mr. Wray, on guitar and vox, got his start in the aforementioned Sloppy Joe gang, and drummer Mitch Cooper headed up the also-aforementioned Inn, and as accompanied by ace bassist Dave Ball, they cook up a good ol’ greasy cauldron of slide-guit boogie and down ‘n’ dirty blooze. Gut Bucket Radio, as a title, is instructive. Right from the get-go, with the slinky harmonica-and-slide-powered “Midwood Blues,” that band serves notice it’s willing and able to slot into classic electric 12-bar mode while still bringing a contemporary twist to the music—in this instance, instead of heading down to the crossroads, Wray’s celebrating driving down Central (with his rider by his side, natch) to the Charlotte neighborhood known as Midwood via Central Avenue. (To those of you reading this who are not familiar with Charlotte: you’re welcome for the translation.) “Like Johnny Winter Did” is up next, building on a tried-and-true John Lee Hooker motif (as filtered through the late Winter, with a touch of ZZ Top) to great effect. And both “Got the Tennessee Blues” (a kind of modified boogie, with a distinctive Southern-rock twist) and “On A Misty Morning” (haunting and eerie, with overtones of the way Led Zeppelin was refining its approach to blues tropes around the time of III) demonstrate how agile Wray, Cooper, and Ball are at working multiple influences into individual songs. (The sound of a turntable stylus crackling against vinyl at the beginning of “Whisky In My Coffee Cup” is a nice touch, too.)
There’s some additional history here. Charlotte, and the surrounding North Carolina Piedmont area, has a strong blues tradition going back decades; in fact, until just recently one of the most respected blues venues on the East Coast, if not the entire nation, was Charlotte’s Double Door Inn. It closed, sadly, this spring, but there are still plenty of midnight howlers and backwoods growlers in and around the city ready to blow a mean harp lick, lay into a Chicago shuffle, and unleash a vintage Elmore James lick at the drop of a plectrum. Count the guys in Bert Wray Blues among the players who tap into the tradition while bringing their own early musical roots — let’s not forget that the Dead, which loomed large among the psych bands mentioned in the first paragraph above, was steeped into the blues — to the table, and with powerful results.
Ultimately, that album title is more than just instructive—it’s a friggin’ imprimatur. Get down.
DOWNLOAD: “Midwood Blues,” “On A Misty Morning,” “Just Like Johnny Winter Did” (link to live version here)
The Upshot: A cause for celebration among fans of quirky, charming indie pop.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
In the span of just 20-minutes, Chapel Hill’s Nathan Oliver (aka Nathan White) manages to remind fans that his lo-frills solo project is still very much alive after a nearly decade-long hiatus.
His re-emergence is cause for celebration among fans of quirky, charming indie pop, but also a little puzzlement that he only pulled together six songs with this long-time-coming offering. Bringing to mind everyone from early Ben Folds to Pavement’s more mellower stuff, Head in the Sand is a welcome addition his two previous efforts.
Some are the songs here are downright great, like the EP opener “Marbles” and “The Exquisite Wait.” But the addition of the droning “Little Belle” drags the record down a bit.
It may not be a flawless comeback, but it’s a solid start.
The Upshot: Childers is authentic and unaffected when it comes to his lack of pretense and posturing. Indeed, one can’t help but get the feeling that this guy is the real deal.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
It’s ironic that David Childers launched his career late in life, but given the fact that he cites some literary influences – Chaucer and Kerouac among them – he appears all the more seasoned even despite his relative obscurity. A son of the South, he resides in Mount Holly, North Carolina, a former high-school football hero with a humble demeanour befitting one with such humble origins. Yet it’s not that he isn’t accomplished; a poet and painter whose love of music extends to jazz, opera, and folk, he practiced law before turning his focus to following his muse.
Come to think if it, it’s actually too bad that Jimmy Stewart isn’t still with us. He’d be a natural if Hollywood ever chose to cast someone to star in Childers’ life story.
As it is, Run Skeleton Run finds Childers effectively holding his own, thanks to some star-studded assists from Don Dixon. Mitch Easter and Scott Avett of Avett Brothers fame. Even so, it’s Childers’ home brewed blend of rural wisdom and rambling rhythms that establishes his traditional country cred. Songs such “Manila,” “Bells,” “Collar and Bells,” “Goodbye to Growing Old,” and “Belmont Ford” cast him in the role of a wizened down home troubadour, ready to impart hard-learned lessons with a fiddle and frenzy. The dark narrative “Radio Moscow” and the snarling boogie of “Run Skeleton Run” mix things up to a certain extant, providing a cantankerous side to his otherwise good old boy mentality. But no matter. Childers is authentic and unaffected when it comes to his lack of pretense and posturing. Indeed, one can’t help but get the feeling that this guy is the real deal. Honest and authentic, Run Skeleton Run ought to put him on the fast track to some well-deserved recognition.
Yes, more, Mr. E! Tune clipped with love from upcoming full-length by the Tarheel rocker.
By Blurt Staff
Full disclosure: BLURT is a North Carolina-based journalistic empire, with one foot in the Triangle and one foot in Asheville (and, we hasten to add, just recently, we’ve added a vestigial limb actually located in Dublin, Ireland). So we gonna support the home team, okay? This means that the August 4 release of a new album from John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeans No Mas!, titled The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas!, has got us feeling pretty good.
Let’s cut to the chase and give all the rest of you room to cheer. Take a sonic spin with “We Waited Five Years”:
Now, you are already saying to yourself, “Hmm, what’s with those David Bowie allusions?” And indeed, as Elderkin points out, about the album, “It plays like some sort of weird sequel to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.” There’s even a track called, tellingly enough, “Give Me Your Hands”, not to mention the overt tribute to the late icon, “Song For David Bowie.” It’s a concept album from the veteran Tarheel rocker, who has enlisted a who’s-who roster of fellow Carolinians, including co-star/vocal foil Danielle Howle, Don Dixon, Robert Sledge of Ben Folds Five, and members The Old Ceremony, Pressure Boys, Sex Police, Dillon Fence, What Peggy Wants, The Temperance League, Hobex, National Symphony Orchestra, Popes, Spongetones, Hindugrass, Satellite Boyfriend, and the Coolies.
North Carolina band continues to reach for the stars – and grabs ’em.
By Fred Mills
A few months ago we announced that legendary Tarheel shoegaze/dreampop auteurs The Veldt had signed to our sister business, Schoolkids Records, and were prepping a new EP for a June release, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation. Meanwhile, they also released the four-song “Sanctified” in early April as well as a limited edition 7″ single for “Sanctified” that arrived on Record Store Day. We’ll keep you updated on the band, which also has been touring steadily, including shows with Modern English and Brian Jonestown Massacre.
In the interim, then, if you’re a Veldt fan you will enjoy this. Below, watch a pair of live clips from March of this year in Chicago – the audience-shot video quality is just average, but the audio is outstanding. After that you can check out the official video for the son “Symmetry.”
“An emotional bond there.” (—Jody Stephens): A new concert documentary and accompanying live album document a key Big Star’s Third performance, bringing both catharsis and closure to a long grieving period that’s ultimately transformed into a celebration.
BY FRED MILLS, MICHAEL TOLAND & JOHN B. MOORE
It is, in a very real sense, a culmination. The new DVD/2CD release Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live… and More (Concord Bicyle Music), that is, and a culmination of many things—the trajectory of the troubled (at times near-mythic) third Big Star studio album, originally recorded in 1974 but not released until years after the band had splintered; the subsequent Third (aka Sister Lovers) revival as pushed by Alex Chilton acolytes of the Amerindie ‘80s underground, chief among them members and intimates of The dB’s, whose Chris Stamey had also worked with Chilton; an eventual reunion of Big Star in the ‘90s, with two members of the Posies drafted to bolster Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens in the absence of bassist Andy Hummel and late guitarist Chris Bell—a reunion that came to a tragic end in 2010 when Chilton passed away from a heart attack on the eve of the band performing in Austin at SXSW, thereby ensuring that no one would ever get to hear Chilton himself perform Third; and of course Stamey’s ambitious Big Star’s Third live project, initially mounted at the tail end of 2010 as a concert tribute to the memory of Chilton, and going on to be intermittently staged in numerous cities and countries over the course of the next six years, to much acclaim.
So Big Star’s Third Live brings with it a whiff of finality. Clearly I don’t mean that there won’t be any more artifacts excavated from the vaults; for example, as a recent, exhaustive nine-disc bootleg collection demonstrates, there are a number of tracks that remain officially unreleased, even though the diligent archivists at Omnivore have done some impressive vault-digging themselves as regards material from the Third era. Nor am I suggesting that there won’t be any more live performances of Third or tribute concerts or even potential get-togethers between Stephens and Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer; all that and more is far more likely than not to go down in the future.
No, by “finality” I mean closure for all of us, a means by which to collectively grieve and celebrate, even for those not able to attend one of the live shows. Channeling both those emotions for us, Third Live mainstays Stamey, Stephens, Mitch Easter and Mike Mills—along with string players and a slew of guest vocalists that have included, since 2010, everyone from Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock and the two Posies, to Stamey’s North Carolina collaborators Brett Harris, Skyler Gudasz (both pictured above), and Django Haskins—brought the music vividly alive at the appropriately named Alex Theatre, in Glendale, Calif., almost exactly one year ago (April 27, 2016), for the camera lenses of director Benno Nelson. As you’ll read below in our tag-team review treatment, it’s a cathartic home-viewing and –listening experience for any fan of Chilton and Big Star—and, I should add, Chris Bell as well, as Stamey (pictured, below) was mindful to include—and sing, with a gorgeous, emphatic grace—Bell’s timeless “I Am The Cosmos” in the Third Live performances.
As Stephens told Rolling Stone not long after Chilton died, “I can’t see us going out [now] as Big Star… But I would hate to compound the loss of Alex by saying, ‘That’s it’ for Ken and Jon, too. I can’t imagine not playing with them. There’s so much fun—but an emotional bond there too.”
And for us too, Jody. It’s been a long—though not unwarranted—grieving period, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up again multiple times while watching the concert film. Now, though, let’s celebrate. —Fred Mills, BLURT Editor
Thank You, Friends: The CDs. You’d be hard pressed to find a band more beloved by fellow musicians and music writers while being wildly underrated by the record-buying public, than Memphis-based power pop band Big Star.
With a name that is savagely ironic, seeing as how none of their albums ever sold well on initial release—their debut was even called #1 Record!—and with the deaths of frontman Alex Chilton, guitarist Chris Bell and bassist Andy Hummel, drummer Jody Stephens is the only surviving founding member. In the decades since their three-record lifecycle from ’72-to-’78, the band has grown immensely in reputation, managing to become desert island album must-haves to many who now namecheck the band.
Given their place on the Mount Rushmore for fellow talented artists, Thank You, Friends come off more as a genuinely impressive love note to a favorite band rather than a cynical cash grab.
This two-CD set accompanying the concert documentary DVD includes a slew of Big Star fans, like members of Yo La Tengo, Wilco, R.E.M., Semisonic, the dB’s (notably Chris Stamey, the impetus behind the project) and Let’s Active, not to mention Robyn Hitchcock, joining Stephens on stage for an April 2016 show in Glendale, California, highlighting the band’s album Third/Sister Lovers. There are also some fantastic newcomers on the stage, like North Carolina’s Brett Harris and Skylar Gudasz, among others. The set also includes a handful of covers from the band’s first two records, like a beautiful take on “In the Street” and “September Gurls.” (Interestingly, the track sequence for the audio portion of the DVD/2CD package is a good bit different than the video, and it also includes “Back of a Car,” which does not appear on the DVD.)
Big Star may never have truly got the respect they deserved with the first go around, but Thank You, Friends is helping to right a few wrongs by bringing Big Star’s music to a broader audience. —John B. Moore, BLURT Senior Editor and Blogger
Thank You, Friends: The DVD. Though Big Star’s Third Live is no stranger to stages around the country, it’s still not a project seen by a whole lot of people. Thus the DVD portion of Thank You Friends affords many of us the first chance to see this mini-orchestra in action. And the band does not disappoint. No matter who is at the mic, whether relatively big stars (no pun intended) like R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Robyn Hitchcock, cult favorites like the Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins and bandleaders Chris Stamey and Mitch Easter, or up-and-comers like Brett Harris and Skyler Gudasz, everyone lets their love of the material shine through.
There’s no doubt how much the music of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell means to them—it’s right there on each and every face. Singer/songwriter Dan Wilson—late of Semisonic and probably the wealthiest person on the stage, thanks to co-writing Adele’s “Someone Like You”—seems particularly moved to be there, putting aside fame and fortune to pay beautiful tribute with “Give Me Another Chance” and “The Ballad of El Goodo.” Even Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who surprisingly looks like he’s out of his depth, still manages to inject, if not passion, as least conviction into “Kizza Me” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me.”
But some of the less well-known names are responsible for the best performances. Mills may have gotten “September Gurls,” surely Big Star’s most famous song, but Gudasz delivers an absolutely lovely “Thirteen,” while Haskins brings the perfect amount of tension to the intense “Holocaust.” Harris, whose old-fashioned singer/songwriter pop springs directly from the Big Star legacy, handles “Kanga Roo” with a perfect balance of passion and vulnerability, looking like he might explode at any moment, but never actually doing it. Gudasz and Harris also serve as utility players, providing extra instruments and a ton of harmony vocals alongside nearly everyone else. Continuity with the Chilton era comes from Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, who served in the revived Big Star in the ‘90s and ‘aughts, and original drummer Jody Stephens, who takes his turns in the spotlight (“Blue Moon” and “For You”) but otherwise stays with his drum kit, keeping perfect time on these songs he knows better than anyone.
With backdrops and lighting cues kept minimalist, the focus is purely on the performances, and that’s as it should be. Chilton and his band weren’t big on production numbers, and neither is this ensemble. So it’s only appropriate that, a few frankly inconsequential interviews aside, director Benno Nelson concentrates on capturing the music as it happens. No filter, no effects, nothing between the audience and this timeless rock music. —Michael Toland, BLURT Senior Editor & Blogger
Below, watch the official film trailer.
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