Jason Isbell + Richard Thompson 5/8/18, Knoxville

Dates: May 5, 2018

Location: Tennessee Theater, Knoxville TN

Isbell and his 400 Unit team up with the British legend at the Tennessee Theater.

By Lee Zimmerman / Photos by Alisa B. Cherry

Though some members of the audience might have had some reservations about a 50 year musical veteran like Richard Thompson playing a solo opening set for a comparative newcomer like Jason Isbell and his band the 400 Unit, the commonality in terms of their songwriting styles helped ensure a seamless evening.

Thompson, armed with only his guitar and his subtle sense of humor, was consistently communicative with the audience, albeit in a self-mocking manner. “Some say that my music is almost devoid of emotion,” he joked. “Can you believe that? It may be depressing but it varies from slow depressing to medium depressing. Now here’s some fast depressing,” and with that he launched into an uptempo take on “Valerie.”

“I’m quite old, at least compared to you frisky young people,” he wryly remarked, before catching a glimpse of the mostly middle aged crowd and causing him to correct himself. “Oh I take that back,” he joked. Nevertheless, a touching take on “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” written by and dedicated to Fairport Convention co-founder Sandy Denny brought some sobriety to the proceedings, before being upended by the rousing “Feel So Good,” one of the most rollicking tunes in the Thompson repertoire.

Introducing his classic “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” Thompson credited Del McCoury for turning the song into a hit on the bluegrass charts, while also noting that though he originally referenced the rolling hills of England in the lyric, the imagery could just as well have referred to East Tennessee.

Nevertheless, it was evident that the crowd was there to see Isbell and his crew, and the recognition that greeted his hour and half- long set — much of it drawn from his remarkable new album The Nashville Sound — was both rowdy and receptive. Isbell showed off his skill on lead guitar, but it was his sheer presence alone – an image that suggested a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle – that had the most riveting effect. A journeyman musician of the working class variety, his songs evoke both persistence and pathos, and when the band went full throttle on songs such as “Anxiety,” “Hope the High Road,” “Last of My Kind” and “Something More,” they did so with a ferocity that was absolutely anthemic in proportion.


That said, Isbell kept his comments to a minimum, thanking the crowd for coming, introducing the band and noting his admiration for his surroundings — no surprise considering the historic theater’s regal environs. Mostly, he dug into the melodies, extracting every bit of energy and intensity he could ply from his delivery. By the time the band reached the second offering of the two song encore, he was content to simply ply some emotion. The tender and touching “If We Were Vampires,” a song about the fleeting time span of lifelong romance, ended the set on a thoughtful note, a compelling contrast to the intensity he and his bandmates exuded earlier.

Contact photographer Alisa B. Cherry:




The Cheer’ly Men, 1916 & CRAIC 4/14/18, Pittsburgh

Dates: April 14, 2018

Location: Pittsburgh

Bringing A Bit Of Irish Influence To Pittsburgh


1916, a band from Rochester, New York, brought their Irish punk music to Hard Rock Pittsburgh. This was a great show from beginning to end. When I think of Irish punk automatically Dropkick Murphy’s come to my mind, but what people do not realize is that there is a more than one band that does this style of music. No matter what you want to call the music itself, it is a great music scene to see. What 1916 does is very different than today’s pop music or even punk for that matter. It is actually in my opinion, completely undefinable, and that is what makes it great. Any way you want to explain the music style or genre is fine, it is just uplifting good music.

This night is especially cool because I had never seen them live. This was exciting for me. The night began with The Cheer’ly Men (pictured above) and there is a theme of modern Irish influenced music throughout this line-up tonight. They are a local band in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Cheer’ly Men formed in 2015 and continue to play throughout the area and other parts. They are a talented and fun band to see live. They are a shanty band and play rowdy and bawdy bar songs that anyone will know an enjoy. Their music is inviting to the audience to participate in the fun of the music and song. I liked them. Anyone can tell that there is a lot of talented musicians in this band. A good way to start this night of music.

1916 took to the stage with an enthusiasm that is electrifying. Anybody in the audience could tell this is going to be special. The passionate way these musicians play their instruments is electrifying to say the least. They are genuinely having a good time on stage performing their music. This is refreshing to see. This is not saying other bands don’t enjoy themselves on stage, it is just a difference on how an audience can perceive a performance. The band is energetic and has a good way of composing music. This band has performed with some notable names which includes The Street Dogs, Flogging Molly, and New Politics. The interesting diverse of the band is made up of Bill Herring, Steve Ladue, Jon Kane, and Ryan Hurley. They are 1916.

Ordinary Man is a song that had the audience roaring. This Celtic modern punk band is one of the best punk bands to see a live performance from. The Hard Rock Café Pittsburgh is a good setting for the band. The bands addictive hooks and all around good playing of their instruments is what makes this band unique. Their bass player is interesting with the standup bass which has spider webs on it. The crowd was into it and once the song For Whiskey was played you could tell how much love for music was in the room. A great performance by 1916.

The last band of the night was CRAIC. The term CRAIC is Gaelic and it means interesting banter and good company including music. This is just what seeing them perform live is. It was a good show all the way around. The audience had fun, the bands had fun and I had fun. This is what good modern Irish punk rock is all about. If you are looking for a good live show go check out this show. Until next time rock on!



Album: Blue Book

Artist: Lisa Mednick Powell

Label: Cicada Sounds

January 01, 1970

The Upshot: Ten remarkable, and timely, tunes that chart the gifted singer-songwriter’s personal history while applying universal truths to the world we currently live in.


In a stroke of serendipity, the arrival a few weeks ago of the latest album from singer-songwriter Lisa Mednick Powell very nearly coincided with an interview I did in early March with some college journalism students. (The record was officially released this past November.) Their topic was songs about North and South Carolina, and they tapped me for my knowledge of contemporary musicians (a couple of professors had been their sources for pre-British Invasion artists); had I heard Blue Book prior to the interview, I surely would have included Powell’s haunting “Smoke Over Carolina,” the album’s opening track and the third in what she calls her Civil War trilogy, although it was specifically inspired by a news story she heard about a deadly fire at a chicken processing factory in which the workers were trapped inside. “I’m leaving today,” her protagonist sings, “there’s fire in the trees, and smoke over Carolina,” With harmony vocals from Powell’s husband Kip and Victoria Williams (the tune was recorded in Joshua Tree, where Williams lives), and against a backdrop of bass, drums, spectral organ, and Greg Leisz’ guitar and mandolin, Powell beautifully evokes that not-yet-forgotten era, deftly echoing an earlier song about the South, The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

It’s a rich, contemplative album, from the gentle country-folk of “Pieces of Your Soul” (observes Powell, “Some things we carry/ Some things we must let go,” uttering a simple-yet-sage truism too many people fail to heed) and the honky-tonk-tinged “To the Wilderness” (which was produced by hard-twanging guitarist Tommy Malone in New Orleans), to the eerie, Tom Waitsish sonic collage of “Crow,” to the show-stopping anthem that is “Give the Guns to the Girls,” which unfolds in suite-like fashion, part rock, part Americana, part cabaret jazz, and wholly political. It may have been inspired by the Boko Haram abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls, but considering the current climate in the United States, it’s as timely a song as you’ll likely encounter right now.

Blue Book is Powell’s third album, and considering it’s been nearly 16 years since her previous album, 2002’s acclaimed Semaphore, the obvious question becomes, why the delay? Part of the reason is that she was busy getting a Master’s degree, but really, the answer resides in these ten remarkable tunes: She was taking the time to live her life, learn its many lessons, and turn those experiences into songwriting gold.

DOWNLOAD: “Give the Guns to the Girls,” “Smoke Over Carolina,” “Highway Prayer”


Album: NRBQ

Artist: NRBQ

Label: Omnivore Recordings

Release Date: March 16, 2018


Fifty years later, NRBQ’s eponymous debut remains a remarkable feat even now. A stunningly ambitious blend of styles and sounds, it comes across as an amazingly adventurous, exploratory mix tape that was far beyond any kind of expectation in 1969 and remains so even now. A remarkable record for the time — and all times really NRBQ can still b e viewed as a dazzling achievement, an example of complete creative control taken to its most unexpected extremes.

Never before re-released, the wait was well worth it. The band seamlessly shift from one genre to another, segueing effortlessly from a loose and limber take on Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” to the avante garde expressionism of Sun Ra and Carla Bley (as represented by “Rocket 9 and “Ida,” respectively). That’s only the beginning, as the group veer from an otherwise orthodox version of Bruce Chanel’s classic “Hey! Baby” to the abnormally indescribable closer, “Stay With Me.”

Despite this eclectic overreach, the group take their task in stride. Recorded all in one take, they opt for spontaneity and it shows. NRBQ is indeed a bold statement, one that makes any attempt at categorization wholly superfluous.  With the releases of last year’s Happy Talk EP and the sprawling five disc retrospective High Noon it’s clear that legacy continues.

DOWNLOAD: “C’mon Everybody,” “Hey! Baby,” “Ida”

WRECKLESS ERIC – Construction Time & Demolition

Album: Construction Time & Demolition

Artist: Wreckless Eric

Label: Southern Domestic

Release Date: April 06, 2018


An early signing to Britain’s infamous Stiff Records label — the same stable of artists that originally introduced Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Ian Drury — Wreckless Eric created a persona that was odd, irreverent, and flush with pure attitude. His initial appearance on the label’s initial sampler, A Bunch of Stiffs, quickly established him as an artist to be reckoned with, but it was his subsequent single, “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World,” that made him a star and quickly established his originality.

Eric eventually grew disgruntled with Stiff and ventured out on his own, but despite a variety of different guises — The Captains of Industry, The Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electrique, The Hitsville House Band and his given name, Eric Goulden. — he never found the subsequent success he was looking for. Relocating to upstate New York — where he currently resides with his significant other, singer/songwriter Amy Rigby — he relaunched his career, with Rigby and on his own, slowly regaining his footing and capitalizing on his earlier credence.

Eric’s new album Construction Time & Demolition is all the title implies, an erratic set of songs that’s decidedly left of center but boasting the ebullience and energy that’s so critical to his motif. Some of the songs are straight on — “Gateway to Europe,” “The Two of Us,” Unnatural Act” and “They Don’t Mean No Harm” in particular — but others are slightly askew and oddly off-kilter. The woozy “The World Revolved Around Me,” the claptrap rhythms that underscore “Flash” and the eerily erratic “40 Years” give the sense that for all Eric’s enthusiasm, there’s something that’s decidedly out of sync.  It’s odd but intriguing, but in ways only Eric can imagine.

Still, Wreckless Eric wouldn’t be nearly as wreckless if not for his quirks and curiosities. Like everything he’s procured in the past, Construction Time & Demolition is a reminder of those heady days when punk and pop found common ground.

DOWNLOAD: “Gateway to Europe,” “The Two of Us,” Unnatural Act, ”They Don’t Mean No Harm”

Shaky Knees Festival 5/4/18-5/6/18, Atlanta

Dates: May 4, 5, and 6, 2018

Location: Atlanta, GA


Above: Courtney Barnett kicks out the jams. All photos copyright 2018 by John Boydston; many more photos of each band up on his website. /

Day 1 – Friday May 4th, 2018

This year’s Shaky Knees Fest was located on 4 stages in Atlanta’s Central Park area – with an amazing array of musical performers from the two large Stages (Peachtree and Piedmont) and 3 days of generally more indie-rockers on two smaller stages (Ponce de Leon, and Criminal Records, both of which provided for shade, the former with a tent and the latter with trees, so these were a ‘cool’ place to be always.)  Photos in no particular order except by performer, and no day is an all-inclusive photo collection – couldn’t get to all stages.  People were forced to make tough choices, which is probably a good problem to have at a festival, but you could generally see some of anyone you wanted if you were up for the walk.


David Byrne – Peachtree Stage

Courtney Barnett – Peachtree Stage

Brian Jonestown Massacre – Criminal Records Stage

Japandroids – Ponce de Leon Stage

Waxahatchee – Ponce De Leon Stage

Ghost of Paul Revere – Criminal Records Stage

LA Witch – Criminal Records Stage

The Frights – Ponce de Leon Stage



Day 2 -Saturday May 5th, 2018

Greta Van Fleet –  Peachtree Stage
Prediction – Jimmy Page sues this band to prove paternity, panicked GVF attorney settles out of court, band agrees to tour with Page as often as he wants as part of the settlement. Page could do a lot worse. All Zep issues aside, this band rocks and it was fun to hear such a young group cranking out such a big-sounding and joyous thunder. Huge mid-day main stage crowd. Heard several people say this band made their weekend.

Broncho – Piedmont Stage.
A newish indie-rock band many people were excited about and Broncho did not disappoint after getting a late main stage upgrade. They are original and quirky enough to be be huge.

Bully – Peachtree Stage
Nashville melodic pop-rockers carried the big stage like they were born to be there.

Andrew W.K Ponce de Leon Stage

Circa Survive – Ponce de Leon Stage.
The fans were ready.

The Distillers – Peachtree Stage.
Crowd digging ‘em before the band started.


Day 3 – Sunday May 6th, 2018
Tenacious D – Piedmont Stage.
Gotta start with a few the D –  They could headline festivals like this all summer. Tenacious D’s loyal followers showed up for this fun in the Funday fest. Sorry I didn’t get the full-frontal Jack Black jump. Most of us were heading out of the photo pit when he surprised us with 3 of these classic D moves.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Ponce de Leon Stage
Menzigers – Criminal Records Stage
We’ve got another jumper.
Basement – Criminal Records Stage
Basement crowd – on that well-shaded and breezy Criminal Records stage.


LORD HIGH ADMIRALS – Lord High Admirals

Album: Lord High Admirals

Artist: Lord High Admirals

Label: Futureman

Release Date: April 20, 2018

The Upshot: Clever lyrical wordplay and a delightful melodic sensibility make this Atlanta band’s debut a subversive gem.


Though somewhat obscure outside their southern homebase, during their ‘90s heyday, Atlanta-based mavericks Big Fish Ensemble were beloved in so many ways they now seem uncommonly prescient, musically speaking. Their shift-gears-on-a-dime mélange of rock, improv-tilting psych, bluesy folk, and proto-Americana essentially forecast the then-incoming jamband scene, and their freak-flag-flyin’ style of inclusiveness lyrical wit and marked them as genuine regional ambassadors; yours truly saw them perform a number of times while living in Charlotte, NC. (Must-hear early music: 1992’s Field Trip.)

Fast-forward to the present, and we have Atlanta’s Lord High Admirals, headed up by guitarists Paul Schwartz, from the aforementioned BFE, and erstwhile BFE producer Rob Gal; their partners-in-agitation here are bassist Joanna Steed and drummer Cayce Buttrey. And agitate they do on this delightfully twisted album—as one might expect of a group that has songtitles like “Horny Teens Waiting For Your Call” and, er, “The Year That Paul McCartney Was Living In Our Shed,” not to mention a delicate ditty (actually, a powerhouse blues-psych stomp) called “Who Killed Kentucky” involving gums, gals, cannibals, caskets, chicken nuggets, Mitch McConnell, devil black teeshirts, and the KKK.

With additional highlights ranging from a Pixies-go-garage dance instructional called “Rickshaw” (as in, “here’s how to do The Rickshaw”—The Pony and The Monster Mash ain’t got nothin’ on this one) to a power pop gem masquerading as a Camper Van Beethoven-styled rocker (“Nivian”) to one of the sweetest throwbacks you’ll hear all year (“Orbit” is an unlikely collision of Beach Boys and Jonathan Richman, with everyone contributing “ba-da-ba-ba” harmony backing vocals), Lord High Admirals revels in compelling rhythms, insistent pop melodies, and cleverly subversive wordplay. If you need additional encouragement to check it out, just gaze at the cartoon-y sleeve art, lovingly rendered by Schwartz to, one presumes, depict how the band appears in his imagination. That was my take, too.

DOWNLOAD: “Orbit,” “Rickshaw,” “Who Killed Kentucky”



Album: Weep

Artist: Great Sadness

Label: self-released

Release Date: April 20, 2018

The Upshot: Heavy-ass distorto blooze and sensual distaff trance-rock from a staggeringly powerful guitar/drums gal/guy L.A. duo. Check out their GoFundMe campaign as well if this review piques your interest!


Although Cathy Cooper and Stephen McNeely stake a claim, on their debut longplayer, for single-word nouns, adjectives, and adverbs (much like they did on their 2015 official unveiling, an eponymous 5-song 12” EP) as a songwriting M.O., the view from above definitely suggests a multi-hyphenate approach to music-making for the L.A. blooze-skronk power duo. The album, Weep, is populated by minimalist, cipher-like numbers, ranging from the Gun Club thud-boogie distorto-blooze of “Blind” and its more straightforward trance-rock counterpart “Tonight” (in which Cooper’s slide guitar steadily rises, in tandem with her haunted vocal, from a drone to a squall; think Nirvana covering Junior Kimbrough); to the yipping, yowlping, flanging, crashing “Never” (here, McNeely’s kit pounding eggs Cooper on to the point of mania), and the appropriately horrific, protracted sonic blood-letting that is “Suicide.”

It’s a breathtaking performance, no lie, equal parts deep-roots, slide-guit, electrified folk-blues, and latterday dissonance-mongering as perfected early on by the Birthday Party and the Lydia Lunch-powered Sonic Youth. Cooper is positively possessed throughout 150% of these 10 songs, somehow managing to find space to wield her guitar and lap steel amid quavering/quivering/howling extemporaneous flights at the mic, while compatriot McNeely thumps ‘n’ thuds with the dystopian, brontosaurian aplomb of a young John Bonham. The only contemporary outfit that I can reliably compare The Great Sadness to is Australia’s legendary, nigh-unapproachable feedtime. (By way of relevant contextual background: Cooper previously performed in Beaver Trap, Touchcandy, and The Shotgun Of Khando, prior to making some solo records and working as a sculptor; McNeely had cut his teeth in hip-hop and dance music, and after moving to L.A. from Colorado in 2011, he met Cooper through his sister, who heard Cooper was seeking a simpatico drummer.)

For all you record collectors in need of some kind of psychological respite from this mammoth wall o’sound: Weep arrives as a gorgeous milky/cloudy splotched white vinyl edition, housed in a gatefold sleeve with a staggering inner mural reminiscent of legendary underground artist S. Clay Wilson. Don’t blame me, however, when you drop the needle onto the platter and your visual reverie is gets shattered to pieces. (Preview and order at the band’s Bandcamp page.) Need you any additional urging?

DOWNLOAD: “Tonight,” “Suicide,” “Enough”



Album: Modeling is Hard

Artist: Scruffy And The Janitors

Label: self-released

Release Date: March 02, 2018

The Upshot: Hailing from St. Joseph, Missouri, the garage rock trio serves up a solid, smoking record.


 The vibe is alive in Scruffy and the Janitors. Steeped long in the garage rock pool; combining influences such as The Sonics, Cage the Elephant, The Strokes, The Hives, Nirvana and Mudhoney, Scruffy have refined the sound they’ve been building on since the independently released, recorded on a boombox triumph that is Pino.

 The elements that made Pino and the follow-up ep Anglo such winners: aggression, smoldering blues, rock solid drums and blazing guitar work, are front and center on the band’s latest Modeling is Hard.

Three years in the making, the time spent recording shines here; Scruffy took their time on this one and it shows.  The extra time recording appears to have given Scruffy (bassist/vocalist Steven Foster, drummer Trevin Newton and brother/guitarist Teriq) space to find out who they are as musicians, what they wanted as a band and what it takes to make a mostly solid, smoking record.

“Eraser” starts out Modeling is Hard like a kick in the teeth; both aggressive and melodic, a Nirvana-esque crunchy riff with a nod to the 80’s greatness that were The Cars dominate a song that would have fit in perfectly on the airwaves circa 1993.

“You Got Hit” is straightforward guitar/bass/drums rock n roll that’s as catchy as an STD but a lot more fun. A few spins of this burner and it played in my head for the better part of the afternoon, couldn’t shake it, this is a single.  If not, it should be.  “You Got Hit” is better than 98% of the “alternative music” played on the radio today.  Does radio matter anymore? Perhaps that’s a story for another time.

Not all is perfect with Modeling is Hard (some overlong guitar solos and repetitive lyrics) but it’s damned close. Modeling is Hard is the record I’ve wanted from Scruffy, the record I knew they had the ability as a unit to make, an undeniable rock record.

If you’ve followed Scruffy and the Janitors since the beginning, watched them change and grow as they’ve stomped through rock and roll, garage and psychedelia, then you will love Modeling. If you haven’t, if you are not blessed to live in the splendid Midwest, then it’s time, it’s time to stop caring about BS and to start paying attention to Scruffy and the Janitors.

DOWNLOAD: “Eraser,” “You Got Hit”