Category Archives: North Carolina Music

Track Premiere: Chris Stamey “Greensboro Days”

North Carolina indie rock godfather serves up a gem of a flashback. (Photo credit: Daniel Coston)

By Fred Mills

As North Carolina’s Chris Stamey quips, “Here it is, the followup to my first single, ‘The Summer Sun’—after only 41 years!”

The songwriter/rocker/producer is talking about “Greenboro Days,” which we here at BLURT are honored to be able to present to our readership. I’ve been a fan ever since the mid ‘70s, when he emerged as one of indie-rock’s earliest movers and shakers with his outfit Sneakers. Since then he’s consistently delivered the sonic goods, and this new track is no exception, so check it out:

The folk-pop tune’s available now at Spotify as well as Amazon. It was produced by Chris and Jeff Crawford and features Dan Davis (drums) and Jason Foureman (acoustic bass), plus John Teer from Chatham County Line on fiddle and mandolin, and Peter Holsapple from The dB’s (who also has a new record out, the Omnivore-issued Game Day album) on harmony vocals. (The tune will tweak the memories of longtime Stamey/Holsapple watchers who have the pair’s Mavericks collaboration from the ‘90s.) According to Chris, “’Greensboro Days’ is a folk-rock lament about traveling from summer into autumn, on steel wheels.” Those steel wheels can be viewed in the accompanying lyric video, which is considerably more than just a typical “lyric video”:

“Greensboro Days,” then, makes for a fitting followup to Chris’ “Summer Sun” single from ’77. It’s released on Stamey’s recently reactivated Car Records label, which released some true gems in the late ‘70s from Holsapple, Stamey and The dB’s, Big Star’s Chris Bell, and Sneakers. It’s more than appropriate, considering the back pages Chris recently thumbed through in his A Spy in the House of Loud musical memoir. The city of Greensboro is just a few miles from where Chris grew up, in Winston-Salem, and it played an influential role during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the North Carolina indie scene—and Stamey himself—was establishing its musical footing. And speaking of the Car label: He also has plans to release a new solo album, The Great Escape, via Car in early 2019, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Incidentally, fans wanting to dive a bit deeper into “Greensboro” can snag a free download of Chris’ sheet music for the song at THIS LINK that he kindly provided. The sheet music is from his songbook New Songs for the 20th Century.

 

 

 

 

SPIDER BAGS – Someday Everything Will Be Fine

Album: Someday Everything Will Be Fine

Artist: Spider Bags

Label: Merge

Release Date: August 03, 2018

www.mergerecords.com

The Upshot: A trip over to Memphis to record their new album was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the N.C. band. (Vinyl fans will also want to know that it is available on eye-catching purple wax—check the photo, below.)

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

The notorious Spider Bags have been rocking the Tar Heel state for a dozen years, led by (doesn’t appear too) ‘Dangerous’ Dan McGee. After a four-year drought of fresh Spider squeezin’s—go HERE to read our review of their 2014 gem, Frozen Letter—we’re blessed with a deluge of juicy tunes, perhaps their tastiest to date. Boy howdy!

Recorded and mixed on vintage equipment at Bunker Audio in Memphis, rejecting new-fangled editing software, and purposely try and create a danceable, roots of rock ‘n’ roll record, which is what you do in Memphis. According to McGee, “Rock and roll just sounds better there. I swear.” The trio now features Steve Oliva on bass and Rock Forbes drumming, but, being in Memphis means having lots of other talent on hand to incorporate. Helping fan the flames are Matt Hoopengardner of the Golden Boys, Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus, Jack Oblivian, multi-instrumentalist Seth Moody, and most of the Memphis Dawls. On top of this gaggle, a Moog and an old synth modulator guitar pedal were liberally used throughout, providing a fresh flavor to their sound. It’s been said that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit. There is no bullshit to be found here.

The Moog is skillfully brought to bear in the kick-off number, “Reckless,” a heady, mid-tempo rocker, a perfect taster of stuff to come. Classic ‘Bags velocity is achieved next with “Oxcart Blues,” followed by “Alligator.” Good, pounding beats, showing you how it should be done.

You can lose your heart in “Burning Sand,” prominently featuring the aforementioned synth modulator noodling around and embellishing the number to great effect. “Cop Dream/Black Eye (True Story)” is sheer sharp-stick-in-the-eye punk, lasting an entire minute. Much fury is unleashed. Shorter-faster-louder! Another drastic shift in tempo brings up “My Heart is a Flame in Reverse,” a throwback to some early twangers like “Waking Up Drunk” and “So Long A Rope,” dripping with regret and remorse.

“Tonight, I Walk On the Water,” is another quick-but-efficient head-banger. “Ninety Day Dog” whips up a frenzy with an electro-hoedown, replete with wild fiddling and soaring pedal steel that could raise Gram Parsons. Probably my favorite cut. Striking out in rather new direction, “Apocalypso” plods slowly along as in a syncopated dream sequence. An impressive departure from what they’ve done previously.

Like it started, the album ends with an equally impressive piece, “Rollin’ With the Flow,” a great closer, where lots more synth is utilized in the outro, to walk it out the door. A damn tasty song on what is most certainly a very scrumptious record.

It’s obvious that a trip up to Memphis was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the band. Of course, the chemistry imbued by the helping hands and producer were significant to the end product. Let’s hope that McGee doesn’t require four years to produce the next one, but, he’ll know where to go to make it happen.

DOWNLOAD: “Ninety Day Dog,” “Apocalypso,” “Rollin’ With the Flow,” “Burning Sand“

 

Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams & Whiskeytown, by Thomas O’Keefe with Joe Oestreich

Title: Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Alt-country’s Brilliant Wreck

Author: Thomas O’Keefe with Joe Oestreich

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

https://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/

Yes, all those stories about Adams WERE true: erstwhile tour manager for the band delivers a crucial fly-on-the-wall memoir.

BY FRED MILLS

With the late, great alternative country Tar Heel band Whiskeytown, it was always a Gumpian prospect: Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never knew what you were gonna get. Not due to design, of course; the band itself was a brilliant assemblage of talent, and they busted their asses night after night and created some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest records. But when you have a frontman as mercurial and erratically-behaving as Ryan Adams, there’s only so much you can do; by some accounts, Whiskeytown must have been eerily like Trump’s White House at times, given the chaos Adams could create.

Okay, that’s unfair. We are talking rock ‘n’ roll, traditionally repository of rebels, weirdos, eccentrics, misfits, and outright psychopaths. So I’ll amend the above statement to simply characterize Adams’ bandmates as “long suffering.” And they clearly got something out of the deal, particularly violinist/co-vocalist Caitlin Cary, who seemingly stuck by Adams pretty much to the bitter end, weathering the frequent roster departures of others and, if appearances are accurate, helping serve as a semi-stabilizing force during those times when Adams went off the rails.

Speaking of those rails, we have Waiting To Derail by, full disclosure, my old friend Tom O’Keefe, who I had known pretty well during the ‘80s and early ‘90s while living in Charlotte and hanging out often with Tom and his bandmates in Queen City punk legends ANTiSEEN. In his new memoir, O’Keefe recounts how he subsequently became Whiskeytown’s tour manager circa 1997 through the band’s 2000 split. I would hesitate to also characterize him as “long suffering” because he signed up for the (paying) gig knowing, at least partly, what he would be getting himself into, something the band members themselves aren’t necessarily privy to when they first get together to make music en route to a full-time excursion into codependency. Plus, O’Keefe can legitimately say that in addition to the teeshirt, he got one hell of a story to tell the grandkids. Here, he’s joined by co-author Joe Oestreich, a journalist and author of several books as well as a professor of creative writing at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina.

Waiting To Derail kicks off, prologue-style, in colorful enough fashion, with Adams half-passed out and surrounded by EMTs and police, vitals being carefully checked and rechecked. As the incident finally winds down and the EMTs pack up their gear, one of the policemen turns and speaks to O’Keefe: “Goddam, son, I wouldn’t trade jobs with you for anything.” Whew. When a copy says something like that, it’s saying a lot.

Appropriately enough, the book’s first section is titled “The Sheriff of Whiskeytown,” recounting how O’Keefe got the job by (a) having had some prior experience handling tour manager duties and appearing to be moderately stable (admittedly, a very relative term in rock ‘n’ roll); and (b) because he was living in Raleigh, and as Whiskeytown had just finished cutting their major label debut, Strangers Almanac, for Outpost/Geffen, his Austin-based management desperately needed, as O’Keefe puts it, “somebody on the ground to shepherd Ryan and the band through their next touring cycle.” A lot was riding on Whiskeytown, deemed the blossoming alt-country scene’s number one rising star but, thanks to their frontman, already had a bit of a reputation. Writes O’Keefe, “During Whiskeytown’s most recent string of shows—on the No Depression tour, sharing the stage with the Old 97’s, Hazeldine, and the Picketts—Ryan and the band had been woefully inconsistent. They would play a tight set of stellar songs one night and then be drunk and sloppy the next.”

From there we follow Officer O’Keefe as he does indeed shepherd Adams across the musical landscape, from seeing that his charge is awake and lucid enough for scheduled interviews and getting to band rehearsals on time, to carefully doling out the daily per diems so the musicians won’t blow all their dough the first night and ensuring Adams doesn’t get completely hammered before going onstage. Among the memorable scenes:

–A booking at a sports bar in East Lansing where, with many of the patrons preferring to watch the Detroit Tigers on TV, a drunken Adams grows frustrated and belligerent and deliberately starts playing sloppily. A back-and-forth of “fuck yous” between audience members and Adams ensues, and the singer eventually storms offstage, resulting in a rock- and beercan-throwing altercation in the parking lot. “Ryan would hold a grudge against East Lansing for years,” writes O’Keefe. (Presciently, it seems, as many years later, as a solo artist based in New York City, Adams would take umbrage at perceived slights by former associates in Raleigh and vow never to play his old homebase again.)

–Another show, in Aspen, where, in front of a couple hundred people, among them actor Kevin Costner, Adams, who’d decided that Whiskeytown was not “a ski town band,” yanked his amplifier to “11” and, with wall of noise blasting, dropped to his knees and lay flat on the stage for 25 minutes.

–A promotional appearance at a radio station that had been airing the band’s “16 Days” and had requested that they perform it live in the studio, culminates in Adams repeatedly refusing. (O’Keefe: “It was a standoff, and I felt like a UN negotiator.”) The back and forth continues, and finally Adams blurts into the mic, “I don’t have to kiss some guy’s dick just because he wants to hear the single”—at which point Whiskeytown is summarily ejected from “the most important AAA station in America.”

–A late night scare, after a show back at the hotel, where a very fucked-up Adams, upon inspecting the balcony overlooking the 12-story atrium, declares to O’Keefe and the others, “I can fly,” and proceeds to climb up on the railing, “faking like he was going to do a half gainer,” and has to be swiftly grabbed by the waist and dragged down off the railing.

In between his colorful, sometimes-soberly related/sometimes-hilariously spun anecdotes, O’Keefe offers up a series of helpful expository tutorials—Adams’ and Cary’s pre-Whiskeytown background; how the alt-country movement was born and evolved, as well as how North Carolina’s Triangle area—and Raleigh in particular—embraced the scene; the jealousy backlash that a number of locals unleashed on Whiskeytown after the band began wowing the critics and gradually became the most prominent act to emerge from the city. (In that regard Waiting To Derail is an able companion to a previous book about Adams, 2012’s Losering, written by Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi; fans of either volume will definitely delight in the other.)

But of course, as this book is an insider account, you’ve come primarily for the behind the scenes stuff and not the history lesson, right? And O’Keefe does not disappoint. His memory is remarkably clear, his insights into Adams’ personality and motivations profound. Anyone who’s ever worked as a tour manager for a rock band will tell you that they have to be a cat wrangler, a den mother, and a psychologist in addition to taking care of mundane stuff like making sure everyone gets their per diems and the club owner doesn’t stiff them. Waiting To Derail, then, is the type of book that any fan of rock ‘n’ roll—and of course all fans of Adams— will devour precisely for its fly-on-the-wall qualities and how it provides a sharp-lensed view of what goes on after the lights come on and the gear is packed up.

In 2018, Thomas O’Keefe is a music industry veteran with a hugely impressive resume, having worked with the likes of big names like Train, Third Eye Blind, Sia, and, currently, Weezer. Undoubtedly his years spent with Whiskeytown served him well—if his early stint as bassist for “destructo rockers” ANTiSEEN was his rock ‘n’ roll boot camp, then think of his three years in the trenches with Whiskeytown as his tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering all he had to deal with, he deserves a freakin’ purple heart.

 

Peter Holsapple (dB’s) “Game Day” Album Almost Here; Watch Trailer

New album arrives this week.

By Fred Mills

Given the enthusiasm we’ve heard for NC’s The dB’s over the ten years BLURT’s been around, we suspect that more than a few of our readers will be ready to snap up longtime member Peter Holsapple’s new solo album, Game Day (Omnivore Recordings), coming this Friday, July 27. Fans and friends got a kind of advance taste last year when Peter released a terrific 7″ single, “Don’t Mention The War”; read our review elsewhere on the site: 

“A richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.”

And then check out the trailer for the new album. This man’s a Tar Heel treasure… an a national treasure, too.

 

GEORGE TERRY & THE ZEALOTS – Jawbone

Album: Jawbone

Artist: George Terry & the Zealots

Label: self-released

Release Date: July 27, 2018

www.thezealotsmusic.com

The Upshot: Asheville visual and musical artist serves up a memorable rawk ‘n’ roll platter that is perfect for the times we find ourselves in. One of two records the prolific Terry is releasing.

BY FRED MILLS

A classic slice of Tar Heel rock ‘n’ roll arrived in 2013 titled Open Season, a hi-nrg slice of twangy, Americana-lined garage/power pop by Asheville-based outfit George Terry & the Zealots. As I noted at the time, in my review of the album, “Throughout, Terry casts an alternately jaded and hopeful gaze at the humanity (or occasional lack thereof) that surrounds him, sometimes also finding fault with himself, his motivations, and his actions, but always discovering, in the end, a reason to believe.”

On his new Zealots effort, Jawbone, Terry reaffirms that mandate and then some, serving up a musical buffet of remarkable range. He recorded primarily with Southern Culture On the Skids’ Rick Miller at Miller’s Kudzu Ranch studio, along with Matt Williams (Eagle Room studio), and Michael Hynes (Nomatic studio), with musicians including Hynes, Aaron Price, Woody Wood, Caleb Beissert, Lyric Jones, and SCOTS’ Dave Hartman. The band traverses folkish, mandolin/fiddle-powered alt-country/folk (opening track “Wide Open Spaces”) and tingly indie pop (the surf-flecked “Chameleon), to classic/anthemic late ‘70s-styled power pop (“Somebody’s Gotta Pay,” a natural radio cut, plus “The Cruel Truth,” a darker, Morricone-esque slice of cynicism made even darker by the socio-political times we find ourselves in)—and also to just straight-up-blazing, in-your-face, rebel-riff-rawk—the angry slide guit licks populating “Ceases to Amaze Me” mirror Terry’s lyrical outrage and indignation. It’s a 2018 album, start to finish, but one that balances Terry’s lyrical now with a sonic classicist’s broader perspective.

As with his previous releases—ditto Terry’s upcoming solo album, Plow, under the nom du rawk George Trouble, also recorded with Miller, mixed by the legendary Mixerman (Asheville-based Eric Sarafin), and featuring a number of the same musicians—the striking album art is self-created: Terry is an accomplished visual artist, something yours truly has verified on my numerous visits to his RAMP Arts studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. (Go HERE to check out his RAMP page and plenty examples of his work. He’s not shy about dipping his brush into contemporary politics, either.) I’d reckon that whether you discover the dude through reviews such as this on, or happen upon his studio while visiting Asheville, you’ll find yourself utterly charmed by him in one context or another.

Me, I’m just happy to get the whole picture each time out.

DOWNLOAD: “Ceases to Amaze me,” “The Cruel Truth,” “Samson”

 

BURNING BRIGHTLY: American Aquarium

The world seemed like it was on fire. His entire band quit on him. He was contending with being a new dad. So B.J. Barham decided he was up to the challenges—literal, existential, logistical, emotional—and created the album of a lifetime.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Last year BJ Barham, frontman for the North Carolina Americana outfit American Aquarium, was set to head out on the Lower 48 Tour – a wildly ambitious trek that would see him hitting up at least one show in every state (sans Hawaii and Alaska). And then his band quit.

Every single member. And all at once.

He understandably felt blindsided. What was the point now?

But just a few weeks after absorbing the psychological blow of having all five members of his band walk out at the same time, his wife gave him some frank advice: “You can either bitch about it or you can change it.”

And that statement become the overarching theme of Things Change, his latest record and easily, with little room for argument, his best collection of songs to date. (Amen. That goes for everyone else here at BLURT, too. – Ed.)

Oh, and he did embark on that exhaustive tour, solo, a little over a month after the dissolution of that version of American Aquarium.

Just a week before the June 1 release of Things Change, with a brand-new band and a new baby at home, Barham was kind enough to talk to Blurt, revisiting the great exodus of 2017, discussing the new record and the politics and optimism that are woven into the new music.

BLURT: I’ve been looking forward to interviewing you for a while now and thought I lost the chance when it looked like the band was broken up. So, I guess, thanks for keeping it together?

BARHAM: Ah, man, I am way too stubborn to give up.

Let’s talk about what happened with your band. You’ve said that everyone just left. Was that a surprise to you or did you see it coming?

It was a surprise because I didn’t expect it to come when it came, and it all happened at the same time. I’ve had over 30 members of this band since 2006. It’s been a lot of turnover, but I’ve been pretty lucky to keep a core of the band for the last eight years, but I’ve never made the same record with the same band back to back; every record has had either someone quit, or someone replaced, so I’m used to turnover. If it had been one person, it would have been a regular day at the office. If it had been two that would have been a little harder… but, I had five guys walk into a room and all quit. It was a mutiny aboard the ship. All the signs were there, I just ignored them. It was just general unhappiness.

We all started this band when we were in college. We wanted the same things, we wanted to tour everywhere, we wanted to play music for a living. We believed in this awesome plan, but over the course of nearly a decade people’s interests and people’s lives change and they go in different directions. What they used to be in love with they no longer care for and what they used to believe in has changed. By the end of that Wolves tour, it got to be that the show was the least important part of the day to those guys. They were worried about what they were going to do before the show or after the show. Those 90 minutes on the stage, that I still wake up in the morning for and live for, became an afterthought for them. And when they quit, I had about two or three weeks of sulking and then my wife said, “You can either bitch about it or you can change it.” And that’s one of the central themes of the record.

I went out and I got lucky. I was on the Lower 48 Tour and ran into a mutual friend from Austin and he said “Hey man, I heard about the band quitting. Can I put a band together for you?” I said, “Sure man, whatever,” and he put together just a crack band of guys that have been doing this for 10, 20 years. I fly into Texas for that first rehearsal and everyone knew every single song from start to finish. We took this thing on the road last fall as a trial run to see how we do with each other and it went gangbusters. It was amazing. We went to the studio and made a record together and things went great. (Below: the smoke-colored vinyl LP version of the album.)

This new record, the first track (“The World is on Fire”) grabs you right away. You didn’t waste any time getting in to what you wanted to discuss with this album.

Every artist says this about every new project because we’re vain immature children, but I feel like this is the best thing I have done so far. And a lot of friends who are honest with me – the ones who would tell me “this one sucks” or “good luck trying to get this one going” – everyone has been super supportive. I think creatively and musically we took a step forward with this one and I think that’s all you can ask for as an artist; make the thing that you put out better than the last thing and I think we did that this time.

As a father, “The World is on Fire” really struck a chord with me. You realize whatever is going on right now doesn’t just affect you, but your kids as well.

Exactly. That’s where that third verse really came from. That song was such a progression of 2017 for me simply because I wrote that first verse the day after the election, just anger fear and I had so many questions. I had no idea how to explain what I just watched. I put it aside because I didn’t want this record to be about fear, to be about hate because every other thing that has changed in my life since Wolves (his 2015 album) has been pretty positive so I didn’t want to write a record around this. I wrote the second verse after I had been on tour for a while and talking to people at the merch table after the shows – people from the left and the right and people who didn’t vote – and I regained a lot of faith in humanity. I realized not everyone is a bigoted, misogynistic hatemonger, but some people are in just desperate situations and the right has done nothing for them and the left has done nothing for them and they voted for a wildcard. I started to become a little more empathetic and just to listen to others instead of just pointing my finger at them and telling them why they were wrong or why they were right. I think this last election is the result, the epitome of people just wanting to be heard.

I had no chorus and two verses at this point and just sat on it for a while. During that tour me and my wife realized we were having a child and that just immediately changed my perspective. No matter how much my generation does to fuck things up, we’ve still got hope in that next generation. As long as a majority of us teach (our children) to be good, honest people we have nothing to worry about and that’s where that third verse came from. Don’t just bitch and complain about change, do something and inspire that change. Once we finished that song it was a no brainer that it would lead off the album. Some records warm you up, but this one gets it going right out of the gate.

Jason Isbell’s last record was probably his most political one so far. The same with Superchunk and just about any band that’s known for thoughtful lyrics putting out records since the last election. Was there any part of you that was nervous about alienating fans by talking about these issues?

Of course. I think anybody would be. You’re talking about alienating up to half of your audience, so you have to approach the topic intelligently; you have to approach the topic conversationally. You can’t come out and say you are all a bunch of fucking idiots. They’ll turn the radio off and throw out your records and say, “fuck that band!” But if you come at it with the attitude, “Hey man, we both love NASCAR, we both love fried chicken, we both love college football. I just want to know why you feel this way about this thing.” Letting folks know we’re the same people, we come from the same places. We disagree on this one thing, so how can we have an open dialogue about it. If anybody listens to this record and walk away thinking, “man, he’s way too political” then they’re missing the point. That first song isn’t about politics at all. It’s about finding hope in dark situations.

I don’t care what area of life you want to apply that to, but it should affect every American right now. And the third song, “Tough Folks,” if you walk away from that thinking, “Man, that’s just about his politics, he lost it,” then you’re not listening to the song. That’s a song about perseverance, hard work; that’s a song that says no matter how bad today is you can work yourself out of it. I think people from both sides should be able to get behind both of those themes that run through this record.

So, have you thought yet about how you go about introducing these songs from the stage yet?

Yeah, of course. We’ve played them live a few times and I just let everybody know this is a song about finding light in darkness, this is a song about not giving up hope, this is a song about either complaining about your situation or changing your situation. This whole record is a living tangible testament about a guy who was at rock bottom last year when my entire band quit. I could sit at home and complain about it, writing mean songs or I could pull my bootstraps up and keep this thing going and try to be positive, try to fix this fracture in our country. To a lot of people who listen to these records, politics may just be the one thing that’s different. I just want to make people aware that we may be way off base on this one thing but think of the hundred other things that we are right beside each other on.

There are a lot of mainstream country artists that aren’t speaking out and I can understand that because for the longest time I didn’t speak out because I thought people would judge me for it, but I think I’m approaching this record with almost a humble approach. We all grew up the same, I’m just trying to figure how we all grew apart. That’s the hope of this record, that people hear it and try and start a dialogue about it. Try and heal a fracture.

There does seem to be an optimistic thread that runs throughout the record. And I don’t know if that’s because you’re a new dad.

You know, I spent years of my life complaining and blaming all of my problems on other people and this record, more so than any I’ve written before, is me saying most of the problems I’ve seen in my own personal life, I’m going to take responsibility before and write just as honestly about how I’ve messed up my life just as much as I think others might have. It’s harder to take blame than to just put it on someone else. I think it’s a mix of me being married, me having a new child and me just growing up.

I just turned 34 and I’m looking at where I am now compared to where I was three years ago when we recorded Wolves. It’s night and day.

American Aquarium are currently on tour. More details at their Facebook page or the official website.

Incoming: New Solo Album by Peter Holsapple of The dB’s/Continental Drifters

Much-anticipated followup to his 2017 single is due in July via Omnivore. Watch the album trailer, below.

By Fred Mills

When we get word of activity stirring in the Peter Holsapple camp – could be some dB’s- or Continental Drifters-related news, or a new project that he and his fellow Winston-Salem expat Chris Stamey are cooking up, or a session- and side-man gig he has in motion, or even the release of last year’s wonderful 7-inch 45 “Don’t Mention the War” (reviewed HERE; ask me about the private thrill I got on Memorial Day when I heard the song coming over the airwaves from the local community radio station doing a Memorial Day-themed program) – we genuinely get excited here at the BLURT hostel. Pretty much everyone on the staff counts him- or herself a fan of the gentleman and his instinctive approach to hook-filled pop, and that appreciation of his music goes way, way back indeed. (Ask me about The H-Bombs sometime.)

So when the news arrived, out of the blue on social media, that a new solo full-length from Peter, his first in over two decades, was coming in July via the Omnivore label, it was welcome word indeed. As I commented last year about the “DMTW” single, “Holsapple recently [said] that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays.”

Obviously, he decided that the short-attention-span syndrome was worth challenging; ditto Omnivore, which has steadily carved out a spot for itself as one of the most respected, eye-for-detail, indie record labels on the planet. (Just check out its Big Star-related catalog of releases.) The release date of Game Day is July 27, and Omnivore describes it thusly:

Game Day contains 13 new tracks, a bonus track, and two “super bonus tracks”—Holsapple’s critically acclaimed single “Don’t Mention the War” b/w ”Cinderella Style,” originally released in 2017. [Holsapple explains], “After putting the single out on my own last year, I made the decision to put out an album. Some tunes are brand new, some have been in rotation for a bit, but all are worthy. My ‘middle-aged Pet Sounds fantasy’ is real, with the issues of middle age put to memorable melodies. The old guy at work in ‘Tuff Day,’ watching my parents’ place get cleared out in ‘Inventory,’ a decades-late thank-you note to a college girlfriend in ‘Commonplace’—they’re all a part of the present-day me.”

Game Day is prime Holsapple, whose recording career spans nearly five decades. It contains all the hooks, clever lyrics, and deft instrumentation one would expect. As he paraphrases Jeff Beck in the packaging, “Today, with all of the hard competition in the music business, it’s almost impossible to come up with anything totally original. So I haven’t, but I had a lot of fun making Game Day, and I hope it comes through when you hear it.”

Peter elaborates at his popular blog, noting that he did it completely by himself in his home basement studio in Durham, NC, and calling it “absolutely the record I wanted to make. People will undoubtedly hear it and scratch their heads and say it sounds weird and eccentric, at least I hope so. I can’t say I’m a professional producer or engineer, and indeed, a lot of stuff went down on the album by necessity or lack of fundamental tools. I was not going to let those things or any ineptitude or lack of skill stop me from getting this done, so you’re getting a shank of my mind and soul, trussed up to look like an album of songs… It doesn’t sound like records or bands I’ve been involved with before. In past instances, I’ve allowed the opinions of my work to twist my emotions into rattails, but this album is different: I own it all. Every note. Every flub. Every effect on every guitar. It’s my pleasure, it’s my fault. I feel completely at ease with it, something I’ve never felt with a record before.”

He adds that plans are afoot to take some of these new songs – titles can be viewed at the above link for Omnivore – out on the road as the Peter Holsapple Combo with dB’s drummer Will Rigby and bassist Glenn Richard Jones, who he’s been playing with for some time in the Kinks/Ray Davies-centric outfit Well Respected Men. They might even work up some primo dB’s and Continental Drifters material, along with “choice covers” (I’m voting for The Move and The Nazz—maybe even the stray H-Bombs number) for the live shows, so you, gentle readers, have been warned.

Game on, Peter.

 

 

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

Album: Years

Artist: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: April 06, 2018

www.bloodshotrecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

With their unapologetic debut Sidelong, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers established themselves as rowdy, forthright rebels who made it clear they wouldn’t be intimidated by the fact that they were competing for attention with artists who were far better known and possessed a far more substantive pedigree when it came to petulance and tenacity.

Nevertheless, Shook and company showed no remorse in executing their reckless and rebellious sound. Naming a song “Fuck Up” was clear indication that regret wasn’t a word that fit well into her vocabulary. On the other hand, titling a song after Dwight Yoakum did show a certain reverence regardless. Indeed, the fact that the music sticks to a well-worn template — all rootsy, rocking, upbeat shuffles that underscore their barroom bravado — suggests a certain devotion to a timeless template. Consequently, Years, the band’s able follow-up, shows the same grit and sass that they bowed with on their debut. “I didn’t meant to stay out drinking…believe me it just happens this way,” Shook concedes on the tellingly titled “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down.” Likewise, songs named “New Ways to Fail,” “Damned if I do, Damned If I Don’t” and “Heartache in Hell” suggest Shook’s more or less committed to the fact she’ll remain an outlaw and an outcast as long as it serves her songs.

Granted, Waylon and Willie, Kris, Cash and Bobby Bare have all ploughed this path before. Nevertheless, Shook’s unerring insurgence and commitment to the cause are admirable traits, proof that edge and attitude never go out of style.

DOWNLOAD: “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down,” “New Ways to Fail,” “Damned if I do, Damned if I Don’t”

Steep Canyon Rangers – Out in the Open

Album: Out in the Open

Artist: Steep Canyon Rangers

Label: Ramseur

Release Date: January 26, 2018

(www.ramseurrecords.net)

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Suffice it to say, the Steep Canyon Rangers are not your typical bluegrass band. Or your typical anything band for that matter. Nor are they simply another populist outfit that draws audiences with their dazzle rather than their dexterity. Indeed, it’s their combination of astute songwriting and deft instrumental interplay that make categorization within any single genre all but impossible.  Their music veers towards a stylistic intersection where folk, country, rock and even jazz find clear compatibility.

Out in the Open, the band’s latest opus, is the band’s most fully realized offering yet, a seemingly improbable feat considering the excellence of so many of the albums that preceded it. Mostly on the soothing side, it’s populated by easy, rambling narratives boasting resolute yet sentimental sensibilities, and easily some of the finest songs Graham Sharp, the band’s primary tunesmith, has ever delivered. The tunes are of such a high quality in fact, that a rugged cover of the archival Dylan classic “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” finds an easy fit, as if it was penned along with the originals.

While the band’s instrumental dexterity still remains at the fore, the vocal harmonies supplied by every member of the band, save departed bassist Charles R. Humphrey III, have never been as prominent as they are here and now. While Sharp’s rich, resonant voice consistently comes to the fore, the vocal blend that illuminates such songs as “Out in the Open,” “Roadside Anthems,” “Can’t Get Home,” “Best of Me,” and the aforementioned Dylan tune play a prominent part in the mix. Producer Joe Henry manages to capture every nuance in the band’s multi-faced performance, creating something that ranks as a near classic of the genre, regardless of whatever genre the band delve into. Out in the Open defines the undefinable and gives it a new name… Steep Canyon Rangers.

DOWNLOAD: “Out in the Open,” “Can’t Get Home,” “Best of Me”

 

Superchunk – What a Time to be Alive

Album: What a Time to be Alive

Artist: Superchunk

Label: Merge

Release Date: February 16, 2018

www.mergerecords.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s one thing to be a prolific musician who fronts a band with a 25 year long career and eleven groundbreaking albums to their credit. It’s quite another to found a successful record label that’s become a bastion to other indie artists. So credit Superchunk singer/guitarist/helmsman Mac McCaughan for accomplishing all that and more, including undertaking several side projects and mentoring other artists with similar designs. It’s a legacy to be proud of, and one that continues to unfold with every new undertaking McCaughan and his crew are involved in.

Their latest results, as embodied in Superchunk’s new album What a Time to be Alive, is similarly inspired, a steady, insistent set of songs of unceasing intensity and punk-fuelled passion. One wouldn’t expect such an intensive effort at this stage in the band’s career, but indeed, a single listen to songs such as “Lost My Brain,” “Break the Glass,” “Dead Photographers,” and “Erasure” offers the impression that they’re still the upstarts they were in the beginning, unrepentant and undeterred in their determination to make a frantic noise. An apparent commentary on our times (“…the scum the shame the fucking lies”) and its insidious origins (“Reagan youth/Taught you how to feel/Reagan your/Showed you what was real”), it’s an album that repudiates the half-truths and tactics of fear and suppression that seem to have become part of our national calling. The music seizes on those dire designs with spit and ferocity, –dark, defiant and fully roused.

Ultimately, Superchunk deserve credits for having not been tamed by success or their great degree of respectability. (This is the same group whose earlier album  once opined “I Hate Music.” An album flush with both vicissitudes and vitality, <I> What a Time to be Alive <I> resonates with its resolve.

DOWNLOAD: “Lost My Brain,” “Break the Glass,” “Dead Photographers”