Category Archives: North Carolina Music

New Track Alert: NC’s Temperance League “All There Is”

TL

Tarheel rockers prep fifth longplayer for 2017 release.

By Blurt Staff

Hoist a pint and down a shot in honor of Charlotte, NC, combo the Temperance League, who you might remember from our previous coverage—such as last year’s Day of the Dove album, of which we noted thusly:

 “[The band’s dedication to] rock ‘n’ roll, whatever the long acclaim odds, and whatever the shrinking rewards, says as much about the art form’s pull as it does its Quixotic practitioners. With producer Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Pavement) overseeing recording at his Fidelitorium studio, Temperance League has slightly reframed its earlier references—which have ranged from working class Springsteen anthems and rebellious Heartbreakers’ singalongs to Ramones fuzz and the Byrds’ jangle—into a work whose sonic depth matches that of its lyrics.”

So frontman Bruce Hazel now lets us know that the group’s fifth platter—presumably destined to be on vinyl, and colored wax at that, if past efforts are any gauge—is in the pipeline, called Space Aquarium, and they are chuffed to give everyone an early taste. Check out first single “All There Is”:

Hazel, commenting on the track, tells us, “I think ‘All There Is’ was the first song I wrote for this project. It’s a perfect first sample of Space Aquarium. The lyric and sound of this track epitomize the meaning and feeling of this album. Once again we worked with Mitch Easter at his Fidelitorium.

“Each time we work there I feel we have evolved. This record has a different tone than any of our previous releases. We reached for something and I think we achieved our goal. The vocals are warmer and more honest. This is a big step for us. I’m proud of this work.”

Boy howdy to that. More details to follow. You can read/hear more about/from Temperance League simply by plugging their name into the little search box at the BLURT homepage. Don’t forget to check out our 2013 interview with Hazel conducted by his fellow Charlottean and longtime supporter John Schacht.

Can’t wait for the full-length, gents.

STRAY OWLS – A Series of Circles

Album: A Series of Circles

Artist: Stray Owls

Label: Potluck Foundation

Release Date: February 17, 2017

http://www.potluckfoundation.com/

stray-owls-2-17

The Upshot: Dandy duo from North Carolina conjures sonic imagery both past and present via an eclectic, melodic, adventurous collection of memorable tunes.

BY FRED MILLS

Though still relatively young as a band, with two EPs released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, Mebane, NC (near Chapel Hill), duo Stray Owls seem old at heart, with an expansive, inclusive sound that dips back years, if not entire eras. That the Chapel Hill/Durham PotLuck Foundation label they are releasing their debut longplayer on bill itself as a label for “music nerds” doesn’t seem entirely coincidental. The fact that A Series of Circles was produced by veteran Tarheel studio maven Jerry Kee (Superchunk, Polvo) doesn’t seem to be random, either.

As the album unfolds, sonic ghosts of everyone from Nick Drake, Syd Barrett, and Elliott Smith seem to hover benevolently in the ether, as layered acoustic guitars and close-mic’d vocals conjure a profound intimacy, one which is also tinged with sufficient amounts of sonic looniness to prevent the listener being lulled into complacency. For example, the sing-songy folk that is “Franklin Borough” bears the tap-tap of a typewriter at one point; “Ok, Ok” incorporates some creamy mellotron lines and a momentary xylophone melody; and “Cut & Paste Time Machine” lives up to its title via a succession of tempo and tonal shifts that include, variously, fuzzed-out guitars, trilling, Andean-style flutes, choirlike harmony vocals, and a synth-strafed sonic collage.

One also imagines that contemporary avatars such as the Flaming Lips and the sheer bloody-mindedness that informs Neil Young have also informed the Stray Owls’ aesthetic. The brilliant, nearly six minutes-long “Ruin is Formal” seems to be a culmination of sorts, at once wispily anthemic yet strummily unhurried, with producer Kee’s drumming providing a jumping off point from which Scott Griffiths and Matt French can aim for the kosmiche horizon. It’s psychedelic as hell, but richly folkish, at once expansive yet ruminative, and followed as it is by the stomping, distorted, whacked-out closing track “Red Flags” (also close to six minutes), you ultimately are not just observers of the pair’s journey, but part of it.

Add to that “old at heart” notation listed above—wise beyond the years. If these owls are strays, you’ll no doubt be eager to take them in and offer shelter and sustenance.

DOWNLOAD: “Ruin Is Formal,” Ok, Ok,” “Red Flags”

Incoming: New EP from The Veldt; Signed to Schoolkids Records

theveldt2017

N.C. outfit also opening for Modern English in April, with more national dates t.b.a. soon. Listen to a key track, below.

By Blurt Staff

A couple of weeks ago we dropped the news that respected indie label Second Motion Records was changing its name to Schoolkids Records, which (not so coincidentally) is also the name of the North Carolina indie record store chain that’s the BLURT magazine sister business. Now comes the official announcement of ‘90s shoegaze legends The Veldt signing with us and prepping a new EP for a June 2 release. Titled The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation, you can check out the track “Sanctified,” below.

The Veldt will open for Modern English at several shows in April; dates below. Meanwhile, here’s what you need to know about the band — and to our friends in The Veldt, welcome to the Schoolkids family. Plenty of good memories from all those shows in the ‘90s, and even some contemporary memories, too.

skids-logo

The band formed in the late 80’s in Raleigh, North Carolina amongst the royalty of the legendary North Carolina music scene, including bands such as Superchunk, Archers of Loaf, The Connells, Dillon Fence, The dB’s, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ryan Adams and many more

Initially signed to Capitol Records in 1989 and eventually finding their way to Mercury Records, The Veldt embarked on a musical journey that changed their lives. Soon, they were in the studio with dream-gaze guru Robin Guthrie, playing American concert halls with Cocteau Twins, and opening for The Jesus and Mary Chain in England. They worked with leading producers Lincoln Fong of Moose on their debut album Marigolds and Ray Schulman (Bjork, Sugarcubes, The Sundays) on Afrodisiac.  The Veldt were a sensation from the start as they became a part of a movement of innovators, who came of musical age at a time when rhythmic rebels were reflective, gritty and wild. Their sound inspired future generations of alternative artists, including TV On the Radio.

Apart from Robin Guthrie, they have collaborated with TV On The Radio, Mos Def, The Jesus & Mary Chain and Lady Miss Kier (Deee-Lite), and most recently A.R.Kane. They have shared the stage with The Pixies, Throwing Muses, Echo & The Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, Manic Street Preachers, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Oasis and Living Colour, among others.

The band reformed in 2016 and immediately received incredible enthusiasm upon their return.  Their new EP started to make the rounds with a vinyl release via Leonard Skully Records last year, resulting in significant press attention, including an outstanding feature in The Guardian (UK), who wrote “the new songs invite paradoxical praise: serenely assaultive and vertiginously soothing.”  The band participated in an East coast mini-tour with The Brian Jonestown Massacre this past spring, embarked on two central Canadian tours, and continued to tour Europe last summer, in addition to playing multiple festivals in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, USA, Sweden and Denmark.

***

THE VELDT supporting MODERN ENGLISH

April 10: Washington DC – Rock & Roll Hotel

April 11: Philadelphia PA – Johnny Brenda’s

April 13: Boston MA – Brighton Music Hall

April 14: Brooklyn NY – Rough Trade

 

PETER HOLSAPPLE – “Don’t Mention the War” 45

Album: “Don’t Mention the War" b/w "Cinderella Style"

Artist: Peter Holsapple

Label: Hawthorne Curve

Release Date: February 03, 2017

http://halfpearblog.blogspot.com/

holsapple-45

The Upshot: Against richly melodic backdrops, the dB’s member offers up character studies of poetic intent. Oh, and by the way: Support the home team, folks.

BY FRED MILLS

Despite being one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected songwriters, Winston-Salem ex-pat (and current Durham resident) Peter Holsapple actually hasn’t released that much under his own name. There was early 45 “Big Black Truck,” a primal slab of psychobilly punk garage, released in 1978 at the tail end of his stint with the H-Bombs and serving as a segue into his lengthy tenure with the dB’s; a limited edition Australian-only cassette titled Live Melbourne 1989, which documented a solo radio station session; 1997’s gorgeous Out Of My Way CD; and let us not overlook his 1991 collaboration with dB’s songwriting foil, Chris Stamey, nicely titled Angels, and several accompanying Stamey-Holsapple singles.

Longtime Holsapple watchers, of course, know simply to scour record credits if they want to unearth a wealth of Holsapple material, from the dB’s albums and EPs (include, in this tally, the Chris Stamey & Friends Christmas Time album) and his work with the Continental Drifters, to the very early Rittenhouse Square album and the (possibly apocryphal) Great Lost H-Bombs Double EP 10”—not to mention a number of online-only tracks he’s slipped into the digital realm on occasion.

All of which is to say, a new Peter Holsapple record makes for a special event, one which we fans don’t take lightly. The fact that the new item is a mere two-songer potentially allows each track the kind of proper consideration that might’ve been elusive if placed in the context of a full album. The A-side, “Don’t Mention the War,” finds Holsapple joined by Mark Simonson from the Old Ceremony on drums and acoustic guitar and James Wallace (Phil Cook’s band) on piano and drums, plus tuba textures courtesy Mark Daumen. Holsapple handles guitars and organ while spinning a 6 ½ minute tale in which the narrator observes and comments upon a beloved uncle’s return home and subsequent battle with PTSD (“he sweats and he shouts and he turns white as a sheet… he opens his eyes, he’s still seeing the dead… he hasn’t picked up a guitar in nearly three years, I can scarcely recognize the same man”). Midway through the song the drum pattern turns overtly martial, underscoring the implicit tension in what’s otherwise a richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.

Meanwhile, “Cinderella Style” has a gentle, nocturnal vibe primarily wrought by Holsapple’s acoustic guitar, bass, and organ, with Simonson adding delicate touches of vibraphone and Skylar Gudasz contributing flute flourishes. “Love can mend a dress,” he sings, going on to describe the creation of a physical garment of calico, gabardine, satin, silk, and velveteen while hinting at the metaphorical implications of the act. The tune is relatively brief, deliberately restrained, and perfectly poetic in its imagery.

Holsapple recently told me 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. Fair enough. But the critic – and yeah, the fan – in me think he’s underselling himself. I told him as much, too. All that music mentioned at the top of this review (not to mention his contributions to other artists’ work, such as R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish) comes stamped with the Tarheel TMOQ, so I have no doubt whatsoever that we fellow North Carolinians would be first in line for a Kickstarter-type campaign and any resulting record store product. People vote with their wallets, after all.

And while I’m loathe to invoke any electoral notions considering what we’ve all gone through recently… could I nominate Peter Holsapple for Minister of Music? Poobah of Power Pop? Raconteur of Rock? Hmmm…. why the hell not?

DOWNLOAD: The vinyl 45 comes with a free download code, so your choice is obvious. Incidentally, you can check out the video for the A-side here.

 

 

FAREWELL TO… Game Theory’s Gil Ray

gil_ray_1985

1956-2017 R.I.P. Ace drummer also manned the kit for the Rain Parade in recent years. Above photo by Robert Toren.

UPDATE 1/29: Gil’s wife Stacey wrote a moving comment on Facebook, noting that she struggled all week to find the right words. Ultimately, she found the perfect words.You can read it HERE.

By Fred Mills

This one, for obvious reasons to anyone who visits the BLURT site on even an irregular basis, hurts more than most. Gil Ray, erstwhile drummer for ‘80s power pop legends Game Theory, passed away on January 24 following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was only 60, and he leaves behind an extended family of fans, friends, and fellow musicians that, even as I write this obituary, is grieving as heavily and publicly as any artists I can think of from the recent past. Just one visit to Gil’s Facebook page will confirm the outpouring of sorrow, accolades, and remembrances. Many have also posted pictures of Gil from over the years, and one friend also posted an image that I’m taking the liberty of reposting here, because I think it sums the man up in ways I could never match:

gil-drawing

I suppose you can peruse his overall bio readily enough at his Wikipedia page, which summarizes his long career, which started in Charlotte, NC, in the late ‘70s, hit an early peak in the mid ‘80s on the West Coast after he joined Scott Miller’s band Game Theory, and after a spell resumed, as drummer for Miller’s subsequent outfit, the Loud Family. He also embarked on several side projects, additionally cutting a wonderful solo album in 2006, I Am Atomic Man!

Then in 2012 he was tapped for kit duties in the Rain Parade, and enjoyed renewed fame alongside his fellow Paisley Underground alumni. BLURT’s own Jud Cost documented a particularly memorable 2013 concert in San Francisco that featured the Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, the Three O’Clock, and the Bangles.

On a personal level, I feel compelled to add that I’m eternally grateful to have reconnected, if on a long distance level via Facebook, with Gil during the past six months. Whenever I got to see Game Theory back in the day, he and I would chat and catch up on North Carolina goings-on, especially about Charlotte since I was living there at the time. (He was clearly the hometown hero when GT came to Charlotte, with old friends coming up, hugging, asking him what he’d been doing aside from the band, etc.) As it turns out, Gil had seen some of the Game Theory coverage that yours truly and fellow GT fanatic Michael Toland had been diligently publishing here at BLURT. Among those clips:

Dead Center” album review, 2014

Nighttime of The Season” feature, 2015

Lolita Nation” bonus track MP3, 2015

Unreleased Live ’88 track” MP3, 2015

The Big Shot Chronicles” album review, 2016

Then there was a piece written last year by Jason Cohen and featuring exclusive photos by Robert Toren. It concerned the band during its Big Shot Chronicles period, and for some reason I decided to title it “This Band Could Be Your Life”—yes, a nod to the classic Michael Azerrad book about the alt- and college-rock era in the ‘80s—because Game Theory seemed so emblematic of what a lot of us, from fans to writers to musicians, experienced during that time. Below is one of Toren’s photos that he so kindly shared with us.

gtthetaxi2-450x288

Gil seemed particularly surprised and proud that his old band commanded such reverence among both his fans and his peers, and he expressed his appreciation to me for remembering him and his bandmates so fondly.  And after we had reconnected after all these years, he popped in from time to time with an observation, comment, or anecdote regarding something I’d posted at BLURT. A passage from the Cohen piece involving Gil now stands out in my mind, and by way of tribute, I’m going to repost that section here. Meanwhile, to Gil, all I can say is—you are already deeply, permanently missed, and while I know this is a cliché that gets uttered all the time, at least we still have the music and the memories. As I type this, I’ve been spinning GT music for the past hour. I never get tired of it. Please say hello from all of us here to Scott Miller when you run into him…

By Jason Cohen, from “This Band Could Be Your Life” article: In the fall of 2012, The Rain Parade announced that they’d be getting back together to join the Tim Lee 3 at an Atlanta benefit show for Lee’s Windbreakers compadre Bobby Sutliff, who’d been in a bad car accident. The Rain Parade’s Matt Piucci posted on Facebook that they needed a drummer, prompting both Lee and Dan Vallor (the other co-producer of these reissues) to send separate Facebook messages to Ray, who hadn’t played live in 12 years.

He got the gig. “It was one of the best things a 56 year-old guy could have dreamed of,” Ray says. “We were meant for each other. Some of the best shows I have ever been involved with were the Rain Parade shows. The fact that I was a former member of Game Theory made it even more special. Worlds collided in a fabulous way.”

I’d gotten to know Tim and his wife, Susan Bauer Lee, both on the Internet and IRL, when they started playing in the Tim Lee 3 around 2001. When the Sutliff benefit was first announced, I tweeted that I wished the Dream Syndicate and the Rain Parade could follow that up by playing SXSW with the Windbreakers and Game Theory. When the Three O’Clock reunited to play Coachella 2013, I fantasized out loud on Twitter about Game Theory following suit (and more than once). So when the Lees heard from Gil about Scott’s death, Susan knew I’d be almost as heartbroken as she and Tim were, and sent me a Twitter DM.

Losing Scott in the social media era–balancing public virtual grief with private grief–was “one of the most messed up things I’ve had to deal with, ever,” says Ray. “I did not know how to process and handle my loss, his family’s loss, and his closest friends’ loss…on Facebook.” This was especially true in the days before Miller’s death became public knowledge. That ended up happening during the Three O’Clock’s April 17 show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, between the two Coachella weekends.

“I knew it was going to be a very emotional night,” says Ray. “Before the band went on, Matt showed me his phone. It was now public knowledge. We hugged each other and cried. I looked up and a large part of the audience were staring at their phones. I will never, ever forget that. It was the most emotionally charged moment of my adult life. This was the new world. This was social media. This was fucked up. But I made it through somehow.”

Then the Rain Parade came to Texas to play Austin Psych Fest. It’s a show I wouldn’t have missed in any case, but now it was also something of a wake. It was where I needed to be to feel Scott’s loss, but also to temporarily fill the void. And it was where Ray and his Rain Parade bandmates needed to be to expel their own grief at high volume. A show of strength. An offering to the rock’n’roll gods. One more for St. Michael.

“The audience knew,” Ray says. “They gave me great respect, and we played what Matt called ‘our most punk rock’ set ever. It was healing, for the moment.”

Below: Gil and Suzi Ziegler performing at a 2013 memorial for Scott Miller. Via Wikipedia: By Lwarrenwiki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34079211

game_theory_reunion_2013_gil_suzi

NC-based Second Motion Label re-launches as Schoolkids Records

skids

We ain’t just fishin’ around…

By Fred Mills

The rumors were true: Stephen Judge, our esteemed owner and publisher, who also operates indie label Second Motion (Bettie Serveert, Church, Tommy Keene, Swervedriver, etc.) as well as the three-store North Carolina record store chain Schoolkids Records (yes, where yours truly worked from 2012-2015) is relaunching Second Motion under the Schoolkids imprint. The move coincides with Judge additionally opening an office in Dublin, Ireland, where he is currently living.

The newly-christened record label’s first signing is Chapel Hill’s Happy Abandon.

Full details tba – for the time being, you can read the official press release at the Schoolkids website. Gonna be a party, everyone!

Watch New Peter Holsapple Video, Listen to 45

unnamed1

The “power-pop powerhouse” is interviewed at the Indy Week, too.

By Fred Mills

Not long ago the news arrived that Peter Holsapple from the dB’s (and Stamey/Holsapple, and Continental Drifters, and R.E.M., and Hootie & the Blowfish, and – what the hell – Rittenhouse Square) was dropping a new 45 on Feb. 3.  Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style will arrive on his own Hawthorne Curve Records, and you can previews both tracks at YouTube and SoundCloud, respectively. Check ’em out, below – the A-side in particular is additionally illuminated with this accompanying video.

Incoming: New Peter Holsapple (dB’s) Single

unnamed1

Is a full length in the offing? As the artist himself notes, “I thought it might be easier to only give people a couple things to chew on, just to get my name around again. Hence, a 45.” Um, we keep your name around, so don’t worry about that, brutha!

By Fred Mills

What would you say to a new record from Peter Holsapple? Maybe you’d think, “Awesome! I love the dB’s!” Or possibly even, “Awesome! I love the Continental Drifters!” Or maybe you’re kinda like yours truly, and the rest of the North Carolina-based braintrust of BLURT, and you simply say, “Hell yeah, support the home team!”

Our fellow Tarheel and Durham resident (not to mention Winston-Salem ex-pat) Holsapple is self-releasing a new vinyl 45 record, “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style on his own Hawthorne Curve Records. The single drops Feb. 4, and while we presume you will be of a vinyl inclinations, the songs will also be available for purchase as digital downloads at the usual online kiosks.

ph

The details, courtesy the Holsapple camp:

“Don’t Mention the War” is a poignant look at one man’s post-traumatic stress syndrome and how it affects his adoring nephew. With low, somber brass (Mark Daumann on tuba) and echoes of battles past, this is another engaging Holsapple story-song, steeped in dark emotions and vivid character assessment.

“Cinderella Style” doesn’t sound like a typical Peter Holsapple song, but then again, is there such a thing? This delicate tune visits a darkened sewing room for a look around and a quick reminisce. Rising star Skylar Gudasz lends her flute to the recording, and the whole thing is light, clean and just a little foreboding.

Joining Holsapple are James Wallace (Max Indian, Phil Cook) and Mark Simonsen (The Old Ceremony). They had convened in Simonsen’s studio last year to record “hi-fi versions” of tracks the songwriter had previously put out on the Radio Free Song Club podcast. “James and Mark were willing to take the plunge and make this record with me,” says Holsapple. “They brought years of recording and arranging experience to the project, and we’re all well pleased with how the songs turned out.”

Boy howdy to that, sir. We’ll be making space on our record shelf beside the P.H. “Big Black Truck” 45 and “dB’s In A Can” album come Feb. 4. Meanwhile, let’s review:

 

BJ BARHAM – Rockingham

Album: Rockingham

Artist: BJ Barham

Label: self-released

Release Date: August 19, 2016

http://www.bjbarham.com/

bj-8-19

The Upshot: A sonic and lyric revelation from the American Aquarium frontman, and the type of album that, in the past, might have drawn critical hosannas along the lines of “new Springsteen.” Watch the video for the title track, below.

BY FRED MILLS

To these ears, an instant addition to my 2016 Top Ten—and there’s a degree of serendipity at play with American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham’s solo debut, because it is, in all likelihood, the last 2016 new release I’ll have heard prior to compiling that list. Talk about a welcome addition to the playbox. See, although Rockingham was released months ago, I’d only heard it in bits and pieces until now, owing to it not being available at any of my local stores—they consistently sold out, testimony to Barham’s popularity as frontman for American Aquarium and having a fanbase that instinctively trusts his music. When I finally tracked down a copy last week, Rockingham was more than just a musical pleasure—it was a sonic and lyric revelation. Barham, joined by such stellar Tarheel players as Phil Cook and Brad Cook (both of Megafaun; Brad also produced the album), and Whit Wright and Ryan Johnson (from American Aquarium), has crafted a minor masterpiece that seems destined to do more than just make people sit up and take notice. It’s going to endure.

On the surface, the record was inspired by Reidsville, North Carolina, Barham’s small hometown that, like other small hometowns across the South, has seen the American Dream gradually dissipate with the shuttering of textile mills and the decline of the tobacco industry. (Ironically, Barham’s decision to employ the name Rockingham as a stand-in for Reidsville caught me off-guard: I grew up about 20 miles from the actual Rockingham, NC, another town to whom the modern era has not been kind; and where Barham sings of Rockingham/Reidsville being situated “right there on the River Dan,” my Rockingham is located beside the Pee Dee River, which I also know quite well.)

As such, most of the songs here, though more or less fictional, are written in first person narration style, Barham singing through the eyes of his protagonists. They include the tobacco factory worker who works his “fingers to the bone/ Just to have a little something I can call my own” (“American Tobacco Company,” which lends sonic credence to the singer’s optimism via chipper banjo and Dobro lines and a reassuring organ hum). Elsewhere, there’s the man who reflects upon growing up in and getting out of the aforementioned small town, where he’d worked at an auto parts place while trying to raise a family at “twenty-eight years old [and] feeling twice my age,” but is now contemplating moving back there because it’s permanently in his blood (the Whiskeytown-esque “Rockingham”). And then there’s the farmer whose farm failed and subsequently got repossessed by the state, forcing him to turn to other means of survival (the stately-yet-solemn “Water in the Well”). This song’s lyrics bear repeating here. Singing in a weathered tone of resignation and regret, and with more than a tinge of desperation, Barham conjures images of both The Band and Nebraska-era Springsteen:

Dear heavenly father, I come before you now

A bottle’s in my left hand, a pistol’s to my brow

The preacher says salvation will cleanse all my bad deeds

But I could never forgive myself for failing my family

What will I do when all else fails?

What will I do when no water is in the well?

What will I do when there is nothing left to sell?

 Oh what will I do? Only time will tell”

Indeed, like Springsteen, Barham has an instinctive and empathetic understanding of the working class. That may come from growing up amid humble, small town roots; one can’t help but sense that while these songs are character driven, Barham is still drawing psychologically from personal experience, or from the experiences of those around him, creating characters that ring true to him emotionally. (The CD cover and the lyric/credits booklet feature numerous vintage snapshots and Polaroids of a young couple and their kids, possibly images from his own childhood.) It also may come from that classic songwriter reflex wherein one perpetually views the world through the lens of storytelling, and even the merest of glimpses or briefest of anecdotes can trigger an avalanche of nuance and detail. Probably both.

Barham is among a latter-day crop of gifted songwriters and rockers working within the Americana field that includes Jason Isbell, Patterson Hood, and Sturgill Simpson, artists who can create believable images and write in plain-spoken terms that still have a poetic, at times ballet-like, elegance. We’re fortunate to have these folks operating in the present era, keeping us honest while inspiring the next generation of young artists.

And Americana is a funny genre, when you think about it. Some of the most cringe-inducing songs on the planet have been authored in its name—those standard-issue strum/twang confections dotted by lyrics like, “Got up this morning, looked around the empty house, poured a cup of coffee, and wrote this song about her.” (Then he rambled on down the road, natch.)

But some carry an uncommon emotional heft and back up the lyrics with alternately luminous and adrenalin-charged arrangements guaranteed to have you shivering with recognition one moment and pumping your fist the next. Barham—solo or with American Aquarium—is the type of artist that falls in to the latter category. He’s the real deal.

DOWNLOAD: “Madeline,” “Water in the Well,” “Rockingham”

Chris Stamey Launches Holiday-themed Radio Special

stamey

On hand are Branford Marsalis, Nnenna Freelon, Marshall Crenshaw, Don Dixon, Skylar Gudasz, Django Haskins, Millie McGuire Kirsten Lambert, Eric Hodge, Walker Harrison, and Presyce Baez.

 By Blurt Staff

Longtime NC music scene aficionados already know the term “Occasional Shivers”: it’s a song penned by Christ Stamey (The dB’s) and released as part of a Christmas single in 1986. More recently, it has a new context: a “brand-new old-fashioned radio play airing this holiday season on public broadcasting” that Stamey has newly composed and produced.

os2

The play features the above artists (Marsalis is the host) plus a jazz band featuring the likes of Bill Frisell, John Brown, Scott Sawyer and Will Campbell, and is a “one-hour musical drama tells the story of two young lovers who meet at a pair of Christmas parties…. With characters such as society hostess Birdie McDavenish (“I Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love with You”), famed composer Paul Carter (“Intoxichoclification”), and aspiring songwriter Will Cassidy (“Manhattan Melody [That’s My New York]”), the play harkens back to an era, after West Side Story but before the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, when jazz had gone from hot to cool and it looked like rock and roll was on its last legs.”

It premiered live in September in Chapel Hill at UNC’s Kenan Music Building, and the broadcast is now going to be available as an expanded “director’s cut” starting Christmas Day via iTunes and Amazon. Below, watch a couple of versions of the trailer. Happy holidays, everyone!