Monthly Archives: September 2016



High concept alert! The impossible-to-pigeonhole Santa Cruz outfit—are they Americana? Punk? Indie rock?—enlists a stellar casts of guests for their new covers album and lives to tell about it.


Over the course of four studio albums and a decade and a half on the road, The Devil Makes Three has managed to bring together punk rockers and the cowboy booted set, bluegrass devotees and folk purists, Americana hipsters, and even the occasional jam band fan. Despite—or more likely, because of—the Sisyphean task of trying to categorize the trio, they have managed to attract fans of all ilk.

Pete Bernhard, the guitarist/front man for The Devil Makes Three, is just as surprised by their appeal to all kinds, as he shared in a recent interview with Blurt. Surprised, but still stoked by the reaction they get from fans of just about every genre out there. On the eve of the band’s latest release, Redemption & Ruin (New West Records), a concept covers album, Bernhard talked about the record, the stellar lineup of guests on the record (which include Emmy Lou Harris, Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Darrell Scott, and guitar great Duane Eddy) and their inexplicably broad appeal. (Bernhard is joined in the band by Lucia Turino and Cooper McBean.)


BLURT: I didn’t realize at first that this was a concept album, I just thought you had a lot of songs about weed. How did you come up with the idea of not only doing a covers album, but having it revolve around a concept?
BERNHARD: It’s sort of a two-pronged thing: it’s a way for us to pay tribute to all the people we admire and also a way to let people know about the influences on our band. That’s why we decided to do a record of covers. A lot of time we’ll do interviews and people will say, “You don’t sound like any other band.” This is sort of a way for us to show the roots of the band and where we got our inspiration from.

As far as the concept is concerned, we thought it would be really fun to do something where the concept hinges on two separate sides of the record; so you have Side A being “ruin,” and Side B being about “redemption”. So one side about weed, drinking, heartache, and sort of screwing up your life, and the other side of the record is all gospel songs and about trying to piece your life back together. Gospel is another big influence on the band, especially the rhythm of gospel music; it’s such fun music to play. Everybody in the band is big fans of vinyl so we really liked the idea of two different sides of the record.

This does seem like the ideal record to buy on vinyl.
Yeah, we all have pretty substantial vinyl collections. I guess in a way, too, it’s also a way to inspire folks to buy it on vinyl. I like the way you have to pay attention to what you’re listening to on vinyl. You have to put it on and when the side ends you have to turn it over. I think it’s the exact opposite way people tend to experience music these days: throwing on an infinite mix and listening to it all day.

The cover art is also pretty compelling on this record.
Thank you. The cover art is from a Santa Cruz artist who we’ve known since we started the band. Her name is Janinia Larenas and she did a bunch of artwork for us over the years. She’s done t-shirt designs, she’s done stickers, but this is the first time she’s done an album cover for us. We just love her work and most of the art work we’ve done with this band we try and use artists we know and most of the art work is from Santa Cruz.

 Was it easier to find songs for one particular side of the record (Ruin vs. Redemption)?
The whole thing was actually pretty hard to find songs for. This is the first time we’ve done a whole record with a concept behind it and it became hard to find songs that we liked, that fit the band and that fit the concept. It was a lot harder than we thought it would be. We’d find a song and then realize, “Oh, we already have a song about smoking pot or about heartbreak. We need a song about being suicidal now.” Or, “We already have a really upbeat gospel songs, what about a slower one?” So it was a lot harder than we thought it would be. We probably started with 40 or 50 tunes, they were all great songs, but we started to demo them and some were great, but just didn’t click with the band. When we finally got into the studio with the songs we wanted it was really easy and fun.

 With only three members of the band it’s got to be easy to be democratic about it.
Yeah, it really is. We all have been doing this long enough that we know pretty quickly when something clicks with the band. And like you said, it doesn’t sound like a record of covers and that’s what we were going for to try and pick songs that suited the band. We wanted to pick songs that sounded like something we would play and that showcase our influences. Some of the songs are really obscure, some are in public domain, some are traditional songs, some are more popular, but we felt that each one clicked with us as a band.

 You also have some pretty solid guests on this one. Did you ever have a moment of intimidation playing with any of these musicians?
Yeah, we did for sure. One of the things that was really fun about this is most of the recording we did was live, so we would have the guest come in, we’d sort of work on the arrangements and we didn’t really have them set in stone, because they were all really good players, so wanted them to add their own things to the songs; so we’d record it right afterward, which is definitely intimidating… It was really fun, and because we were playing with really great people we all wanted to do a great job, so I think it put a lot of pressure on the record, but in a good way. It was really a lot of fun. I hope to do it again that way. In a way, these musicians kind of co-produced each track – we’d all sit down and talk through the ideas.

 Had you met most of these folks prior to showing up at the studio?
We had not met Duane Eddy, Darrell Scott, and a couple of the other guys. Most of the people we had already met, like Mickey Raphael, who’s the awesome harmonica player for Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Douglas, Chance (McCoy) from Old Crow Medicine Show, we’d met a lot of these people because we’d opened for a lot of them before or played shows with them. We said to a lot of these, “If we ever record in Nashville would you play on a song?” and that’s what happened. It was also a record of songs by some great artists which I think attracted a lot of people, like Emmylou Harris doing a Townes Van Zandt song. We’ve been keeping a list of people we wanted to record with in our back pocket.

Below: no pigeonholes allowed.


 The fact that you guys are hard to pigeonhole – some call you punk, others Bluegrass or country – has that led to some odd tours or pairings?
Most definitely and it almost always worked, with a few exceptions. We’ve played with Social Distortion. That is a weird pairing and it worked. We’ve played with the strangest combinations of bands. We’ve played with Flogging Molly, we’ve played with Willie Nelson, we’ve played with Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, it’s really been all over the map. We’ve also played with some Grateful Dead inspired bands – like the Yonder Mountain String Band—that are way into the jam side of things and we don’t really do that at all. The Dead or cool, but we are more inspired by the early version before they really became a jam band.

Do you see that as a challenge?
Yeah it is a challenge, but I really like to see what happens and how opened minded people can be. I really like doing that. We’ve sort of decided we’ll try anything once. If someone wants us to play a jam band festival, we’ll do it; if someone wants us to play a punk festival, we’ll do it or if its bluegrass. And we don’t really fit into any of these genres necessarily, but with a few exceptions, they tend to work out pretty well.

(The band is touring. Duh. Check dates at Below: watch the band in a live studio performance from last year)

Photo Credits:
Blurt homepage: Live NYC 2016 by Vladimir (via Wikipedia/·  CC BY-SA 2.0)
Top of this page: By Piper Ferguson


WHY MACRO WHEN YOU CAN MICRO: The Mortal Micronotz Film


With a compelling back catalog newly available for a digital generation, let’s take a closer look at what the time-honored Kansas work ethic can produce when it puts its hive mind to it. Money-back guarantee.


They formed in Lawrence, Kansas, in 1980, and improbably enough—given that to this day Kansas continues to be voted “State least likely to produce a classic punk band”—turned into a punk band that anyone who was around back in the day surely will describe as “classic.”


That would be the Mortal Micronotz, peers of New Wave kings The Embarrassment and Get Smart!, and for their initial 1980-86 run, fanzine writers, college rock DJs, and disaffected suburban youth loved ‘em dearly. Bar/None Records recently decided to reissue the Micronotz’ five albums in digital format, and now there’s also a good quality film of the band recorded live in Minneapolis, July 29, 1985, at the venerable First Avenue club. We’ve been given permission to, er, “broadcast” the show here at BLURT, and it’s a distinct honor. Hey, why sift through all the detritus at YouTube when you can simply tune in to Channel B, ya know?

We are advised, of the band’s origin story, “The year 1980 was a rough time for three teenagers who had been friends since grade school to be coming of age. The future looked bleak with fears of nuclear death and an economy gone nuts. The dawn of the Reagan years added more confusion to this pre-MTV generation.  Amusing themselves with punk rock music at a time when the media had declared punk rock dead, guitar playing filled a void. Music absorbed their time, energy and spirit. What naturally occurred was that John Harper, David Dale and Dean Lubensky formed a band with Steve Eddy, a drummer in the marching band, and awkwardly adopted the posturing of musicians, a task not necessarily easy for 14 to 16 year olds. Their tenacity opened new doors in those early days that lead to early years of acclaim….”

Ain’t it ever the truth. Cue up gigging, road tripping, and recording, a scene repeated over and over across the Amerindie landscape of the early and mid ‘80s.



For more info on the band, you can inspect the Wikipedia page, or head over to the band’s section on the Bar/None site, which has a succinct bio and plenty of opportunities to nab some tunes. Ye olde Blurt editor F. Mills, who claims that he not only used to write for a Midwest fanzine called The Offense that was a staunch champion of the Micronotz, he also owns the band’s records on cassette, hastens to add for ye olde readership, “Seriously, how you gonna resist a band with a name like that? Check ‘em out, and if you don’t dig ‘em, I’ll give you your money back. Or at least take a listen to your band, okay?”


TEAR DOWN THE WALLS: Viv and the Sect


An interview with the Mexican garage rockers, whose debut album arrives this week via Get Hip. Above photos by David Barajas.


Ed. note: A month or so ago we here at BLURT got righteously dosed and premiered a smokin’ track from Mexico City’s Viv and the Sect, whose album This Will Pass arrives September 30 on America’s premiere garage rock label Get Hip. Not to push the whole “wall” metaphor excessively, but we still think that rawk ‘n’ roll is intended to bring folks together, not separate ‘em, and these four young men make excellent sonic ambassadors. Will someone in Washington, DC, please get these dudes a permanent work visa before November 8? Because after that, it’s possible that the only way to make American great again will be for us to start tunneling under that goddam barrier into Mexico and sneak musical talent like Viv and the Sect back under the border. Meanwhile, just to make this whole trans-cultural mashup-cum-garage-melting pot even weirder, our resident Viv fanatic, Jonathan Levitt, currently lives in Beijing, China, a locale not exactly known for its fuzz, distortion, wah-wah pedals, snot, and sneers. But as the saying goes, roll over Chairman Mao, and tell the Party the news. Take it away, Comrade Levitt… [Check out the band at the Get Hip site and online at their Facebook page:  – and below, you can watch part of a recent live clip. Following the interview, there are also videos of a Mexican television appearance the band made last year.]

BLURT: Tell us how you all met.
VIV & THE SECT’S RHO MORAN: Hi There! I’m Rho I play the drums on Viv and the Sect. I first met Aleph [at] a gig of his first instrumental-surf band called “Terror Waves”, he and Israel were friends before.  After a couple of months Israel had this idea to [form] a new band influenced by ‘60s bands like The Pretty Things, The Crawdaddys, etc. So we met together and started practicing some covers. This was [early] Viv and The Sect. I met John [at a] party, then when Israel left the band I asked John to join the band as a singer and he said yes, we played some gigs as a power trio until John introduced us to Mario, they met [at] school.  We needed a bass player so John invited Mario to play with us, and that’s how Viv and The Sect [got] together.

Is there a healthy garage psychedelic rock scene in Mexico City?
RM: A few years a go there was a couple of bands doing some garage rock, but about garage psych there weren’t too [many] bands.  These days [there] are so many garage and psych bands, the scene is getting bigger and bigger. There are gigs with international bands, like The Mystic Braves or The Night Beats, something that you didn’t think could happen five years ago.

ALEPH AGUILAR (lead guitar): The scene is getting bigger and it’s because all this music now is [viewed] as a new form of expression, it’s not just a Pink Floyd or Sgt. Pepper’s revival. It’s about [experimenting] with music, visuals [the total] psychedelic experience.

How did you guys manage to get on Cynics/Get Hip Records Impresario Gregg Kostelich’s radar?
RM: In 2012 we opened for The Cynics [at a] show in Mexico. Ernesto Fuzz [is a] friend we had in common. He is the one who made [that] gig possible. We are very grateful with Ernesto and with Gregg because he liked our stuff. Michael [Kastelic] knew us before Gregg I guess because [of] the song “I’m so Excited” this song is [on] a Spanish compilation called Mundo Salvaje [on] Rabia Teen Records.

Do you guys use any vintage gear?
RM: In Mexico [it’s] very difficult to get some vintage gear, but we are trying to get some real cool stuff, I have a ‘70s A Constantinople crash ride, it’s a rare edition, because it was only produced in the ‘70s. I also have a ‘70s Premier snare drum.

AA: Luckily we have been acquiring vintage gear. I have a ’63 Silvertone 1448 and a ‘70s Bush amplifier, which is a Mexican brand. On the record we used a lot of vintage gear, the producer had a lot of [vintage instruments], we used a ‘70s Ludwig, Burns guitars, a ‘60s Bass Fender Mustang.

Regarding the album This Will Pass, go into some detail if you could about the genesis of the record.
RM: When John and Mario started on the band the four of us began work on new stuff beside covers, when we had like 10 songs, we recorded a demo with some of them to see if [people would like it] and luckily, people loved it! So we decide to record an LP; we [were] looking for the right place because we [wanted] to sound like old stuff. One day we received a message [on] the [Viv fan] page [inviting] us for a gig. Then this guy told us that he had a home studio, we went to see it and we loved it! It was amazing to see all that vintage gear. [Hugo Quezada is a] well known producer here in Mexico. So we decided to record there.  Gregg [hooked us up with] Jim Diamond to [cut the] master.  [We love the sound] we got on the record, and are pretty sure that you guys will love it to!

My favorite track is the opener “Bleserone”—tell us how that track was born?
RM: John brought the first idea, and then we began to improvise; some ideas come up and we started to work on them. With these ideas we all imagined the path the song had to take. [We all began to work on] some ideas, and we tried every one of them, we all decided if those ideas worked or not. So the songs starts to sound like we wanted.  The funny thing here is the name: Aleph imagined a song title that doesn’t have a real meaning in the dictionary or stuff, so next to the rehearsal room we saw graffiti written in some weird type [saying] something like “Bleresones” but we couldn’t remember what the exact phrase was. It’s our favorite and people love it!

AA: I remembered more of the history of the song, jajaja. I remember that I was with Rho in our rehearsal room, John was in Guerrero. We started to jam and make some riffs until the main riff was created, then we decided to do an aggressive part as an intro. We imagined how [we] could sound [like] the steps of elephants, so the first time we started the song like that. We thought that part was so aggressive at the beginning so Aleph suggested something different, something The Electras would do, soften [the] intro [with] more melody. So we started more melodic and later we exploded the song with those “Elephants Steps” to get the guitar solo. [That’s] what I remember, was at the beginning until we [arrived at the] song [that appears on the record].

Is the album only available on Get Hip or will it be released on a different label in Mexico?
RM: For now, it’s only available on Get Hip.  In Mexico [it’s] hard to be heard by record companies, even for indies. We’ve been lucky because some of the indies media and underground media [have] listened to us and [liked] our stuff. We are trying to [promote our] music in [as many places as we] can.

Who designed the cool cover art?
RM: Vikki Vaden. Gregg thought she was the best choice [to] do it and when we saw her work we also thought the same. The picture on the cover was taken by a very talented photographer and a friend, David Barajas.

How under the radar are you guys in Mexico City? What are the crowds like at your shows?
RM: Now we are trying to get to some new public, is nice to go to gigs and see all our friend’s faces enjoying our music. Some of the bands which we used to play with are [no] longer playing or they are [on hiatus]. So [we’re] trying to play more gigs with bands that play punk, shoegaze, surf, etc.

AA: We like that our music can fit into many musical tastes in the city. Although we don’t know if we [have] a mainstream sound, we can say that our music is more easy to be heard [by] all people with [a variety of] musical tastes.

Can you tell us about some other bands in Mexico City that you feel are worthy of mention?
RM: There are a lot of new bands that deserve to be listened. My favorite bands are Los Selvaticos, Bang Bang Bang y los Espectros, El Shirota, The Cavernarios, Telekrimen, Los Explosivos, Los Mustang 66, Electric Shit, Moon Moon, and more.

Will you all tour for this album? If so, what are some of the bigger shows you have slated?
AA: Surely we [will] organize some gigs [across] Mexico to promote the record, but [there’s no concrete tour as of yet].

 Any big garage music concerts in Mexico City?
RM: Recently there are some festivals down here in Mexico. Wild’ O Fest or Dark Zone gigs, [that] is where we met Gregg and Michael. And recently Mirador, they are doing more psych gigs with bands like The Mystic Braves.

Besides Mexico City are there other regions of Mexico that are into rock and roll? Juarez? I happen to be from El Paso, Texas.
RM: Yes! Beside Mexico Shitty (city) there are places like Aguascalientes or Puebla that began to make some noise in the scene, and lots of other places, I think Tijuana is one of the best places because [it’s] near the border and they do lots of festivals and the bands [that go there find it easier than travelling all the way down to] Mexico City.

How have Greg and Get Hip mentored you all as a band?
RM: We all think it’s amazing to be on Get Hip, because without [their] support we couldn’t have worked with cool people like Jim and Vikki. And it’s amazing to be a part of the Get Hip Family [with bands] like The Paint Fumes or The Maggie’s Marshmallow, they are amazing, and of [course] The Cynics.

Now that this album is out there what’s next for the band?
RM: Conquer the world!

AA: To be heard in all [parts] of the world, play in festivals, and be able to leave the country to go around the world.

LIFE’S A RIOT: Chicago Riot Fest ’16


At the Windy City’s Douglas Park, the gathering of the tribes included Dillinger Escape Plan, Meat Puppets, Social D, the Hold Steady, Julian Marley, Smoking Popes, Hives, Descendents, Bob Mould, Fitz & the Tantrums, Andrew WK, Bad Religion, Deftones, Julie Ruin, Dee Snider, Chevy Metal and – pictured above – the Misfits!


Everyone was saying you couldn’t get more perfect weather in Chicago than we did this weekend for the 2016 Riot Fest in its new home, Douglas Park. The sun was bright, the breeze was light, and there was so much to see. Here’s what Blurt caught this year:

Day 1

Dillinger Escape Plan: Blurt started Day 1 with the screamy and thrashy hardcore intensity that is Dillinger Escape Plan. They’re wrapping things up as a band next year, so be sure to see them when you can.

The Meat Puppets: We segued from hardcore punk to the swampy country-punk of the Meat Puppets. The Kirkwood family and drummer Shandon Sahm play that psychedelic twang that’s covered in sludge and still shines bright. Watching guitarist Curt Kirkwood’s fingers fly across the frets so effortlessly was like trying to see a hummingbird’s wings in flight.

Julian Marley: Taking things down a notch, we saw Julian Marley, son of Bob, covering his dad’s classic “Exodus” in full. Given the political climate that “Exodus” was originally recorded in, and the topics of change, politics, and sex that it covers, it was a perfect choice for our current day landscape. Marley and his two female backup singers did it justice in a glorious way.

Jimmy Eat World: We had to wrap up the first day early, but managed to wrap things up with the more pop than punk sounds of Jimmy Eat World. (Anyone who ever thought this band was of the emo-variety obviously never heard of The Raspberries.) They played tracks from their forthcoming new record, but the best crowd head bobbing point was during “The Middle,” as you might expect.

Day 2

The Smoking Popes: Day 2, Blurt started with those Chicago natives, The Smoking Popes. The Popes have been around the block or two now, but their stuff is still infectiously catchy.

The Hold Steady: Playing the seminal “Boys & Girls in America in full for its 10th birthday, and with keyboardist Franz Nicolay back on the keys, this set was definitely one of the most anticipated for this year’s Riot Fest. The crowd was buzzing with excitement even before the band walked out to a Spanish version of David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose,” and once on stage, it was like no time had passed. Lead singer Craig Finn locked in with the crowd immediately and the joy both onstage and off was beautiful to witness. Special guest Jessica Louise Dye, lead singer of the NYC surf-rock band High-Waisted, joined Finn and Nicolay for the vocals on “Chill Out Tent,” and the combination of Nicolay’s keyboards, and the guitars of both Tad Kubler and Steve Selvidge made a tremendous wall of sound. We ran into Selvidge later, and he said, “It’s been really exciting having everyone back together. And the chance to be onstage with Franz has been great.”

Bob Mould: Bob Mould is like a fine wine, a good friend, or the sun coming up in the morning, he never lets you down when it comes to a great music and a solid live show. Saturday was no different.

The Hives: “The Hives are back in Chicago. You now have two wishes left,” said The Hives lead singer Pelle Almqvist as they started their set. Still a complete force of nature live, Almqvist was non-stop with high kicks, stage scaffolding scaling, and sashaying between barricades, while the band behind him played loud enough to shake leaves from the trees. Let’s all be glad ACDC didn’t take him up on his lead singer offer earlier this year, and break this tight unit up.

Fitz and the Tantrums: Two big voices, non-stop energy, songs for some serious ass-shaking, and horns-Fitz and the Tantrums takes awesomeness to a whole new level live.

Descendants: Next to Misfits t-shirts, and a few Minor Threat ones, the award for the band whose t-shirt was most prominent at Riot Fest Chicago was the Descendants. Lead singer Milo Aukerman still sings his ass off. It’s a safe bet he inspired every dad in the crowd to start a band on Saturday, and made everyone else aspire to be as cool as he is when they get to be his age.

Social Distortion: Another set many were looking forward to at this year’s Riot Fest was Social D playing White Light, White Heat, White Trash in full for its 20th birthday. Sadly, the sound wasn’t great: Was it the mix? Was it Ness’ voice? Something was just not right Saturday night. I’m going with a weird alien invasion no one knew about.

Morrissey: No one can diva it up quite like Steven Morrissey. On Sunday, Twitter lit up with the news that Morrissey had banned meat from being sold by Riot Fest food vendors from 8 pm-10 pm, which shut some vendors down even though they still had patrons in line. Twitter posts were also about how he showed videos and hit the stage 45 min late. But when he finally did show, and launched into the perfection that is “Suedehead,” all grudges were forgotten. The Pope of Mope’s voice rang clear throughout Douglas Park for the next hour or so with 16 solo tracks and one Smiths song, “What She Said,” to wrap up the night. “‘As you know, as you must know, it’s a great privilege to be here,” he said at one point. And you believed him. Because while you just hate the Mozzer’s diva ways, you also can’t help but love him for the rest of what he brings.

Morrissey only approved a handful of photographers, of which Blurt was not one, so no photos were captured of his set.

Day 3

Dee Snider: Day 3, Blurt kicked off Riot Fest Chicago with Dee Snider. Included in his set was a serious cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole.” Now, while we aren’t necessarily fans of his glam past, we do have to give props where they are due- Dee Snider can still bring the rock better than most half his age.

Andrew W.K.: One interesting thing we learned this weekend? Andrew W.K. is a motivational speaker, which sounds kind of bonkers. However, once you see him live, you get it, because you can’t walk away and not be smiling-the dude knows how to have a blast. Apart from the Misfits, we saw no other set this weekend that whipped a crowd into such an intense frenzy.

Chevy Metal: For a few friends who were so disappointed in the Social D and Misfits sets, they said the Chevy Metal set saved the weekend for them. Chevy Metal is a 70s rock cover band, but one that includes the killer talent of Wiley Hodgden (Birds of Satan), and Taylor Hawkins and Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters). Juliette Lewis joined the guys on lead vocals for a white hot version of “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” by Van Halen. (“What the fuck do you do after that?” said a clearly stunned Hawkins after the song.) Dee Snider popped up for lead vocals on “Mississipi Queen” by Mountain and “Tie Your Mother Down” by Queen. Sometimes being a cover band is boat load of fun, and boy, did that show on Sunday.

Bad Religion: Security only clears a photo pit when the crowd surfing gets to be so much that they can’t keep the photographers safe. The photo pit was cleared during Bad Religion’s set because how can you not crowd surf during Bad Religion?

Julie Ruin: We’d like to think there a direct correlation between the longtime positive pro-woman message espoused by Julie Ruin’s lead singer Kathleen Hanna over the years, and the massive amount of young women we saw crowdsurfing with gleeful abandon throughout the course of the weekend. Looks like Hanna’s message definitely got ingrained along the line in more ways than the obvious.

Deftones: The sound wasn’t great, and lead singer Chino Moreno kept going off-key. But the Deftones live show is one that is so energetic and powerful, you still get swept up in it and could care less.

Misfits:  Riot Fest seems talented at making the impossible reunion possible (see: The Replacements), and, 33 years in the making, the Misfits reunion was the main reason so many bought tickets for Riot Fest this year. Places anywhere near the stage were staked out well in advance, and once the Deftones set finished,  there was a mad push forward to be willingly packed like a sardine for the next 75 minutes. How was it depends on who you talked to: we heard “it was the greatest thing ever” to “it was so bad that I literally had tears in my eyes because I’d waited for this for so long.” The bad seemed to be due to bad sound and lead singer Glenn Danzig out of breath so often that there was surprise an oxygen tank wasn’t onstage with him. But for the most part, it’s probably a safe guess that just seeing Danzig, bassist Jerry Only, and guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein on the same stage again was enough for most, regardless of what they sounded like.


DAY 1: SEPT. 16

Dillinger Escape Plan









Jimmy Eat World



Julian Marley (doing Bob Marley’s Exodus)





Meat Puppets




DAY 2: Sept. 17

Bob Mould



Fitz & the Tantrums






Social Distortion

















Hold Steady








Smoking Popes





DAY 3: Sept. 18

Andrew WK






Bad Religion








Chevy Metal








Dee Snider
(also above photo, with Chevy Metal)











Julie Ruin















15 QUESTIONS FOR… Darla Records’ James Agren


 And… here’s the fifth installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go HERE for entry #1 (Slumberland Records), HERE for #2 (12XU), HERE for #3 (Saint Marie), HERE for #4 (Trouble In Mind), HERE for #5 (Fort Lowell), and HERE for #6 (Chunklet). (Below: 2008 photo of the staff; go HERE to read the Detour magazine article it originally appeared in.)



On the web:   /

When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

August, 1993 when I received a DAT tape master from Grifters. “Holmes” b/w “Junkie Blood” with cover art by Grifter, Trip Lamkins. I absolutely loved this band. Still do. I asked to do a 7″ single because they were unique and strong enough to stand apart. The single was released October, 1993. I’d intended to do my own label since 1985 (age 22) when a friend who worked at Virgin said, “Y’know what you should do? You love music so much. You should work in the music business.” A light bulb literally went on at that moment. Like duh. Of course. Before that it may have occurred to me abstractly but it was her suggestion that literally set me in motion. I just wanted to learn as many aspects of the business as I could first. So, I was the Energizer Bunny on the path then. KUSF, I-Beam, BMG, RCA, Geffen then Darla. I have always had my head immersed music and surfing. When I was 13 I’d skateboard around Laguna Beach garage sales on Saturday morning, buy records for .10 cent to .25 cents, then skate with an armload downtown to The Record Shed and trade in or sell (what I didn’t want to keep) for $1.00 or more. I started building my collection then and learning. On day the owner, Sam, asked me if I knew how to make change and left me with the cash register drawer open because we didn’t have time to learn me how to work it and split for lunch for more than a half hour. I worked for Sam at The Record Shed on weekends that Summer. What I do now is a natural extension of that first start. I should have been a professional surfer though!


Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

I did it myself – freehand with pen and ink. Appropriation was big in the early 90s y’know. The primary Darla logo has elements of two classic American labels from the golden age of stereo, lovingly appropriated. The spiky frame is from the Jubilee Records logo. The D is from the Dot Records logo. There’s a secondary logo, which we haven’t used as much in the past 10 years – the Darla girl in the little black dress dancing on a record. She’s appropriated from the Hula Records logo where she has on a grass skirt, lei and hibiscus. I just changed her clothes. I love classic record label logos.

What was your first release?

Grifters – “Holmes” b/w “Junkie Blood” 7″ (Darla: DRL001).

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

Oh yes. So, many. Capitol, RCA, Editions EG, Rough Trade, Beggars Banquet, 4AD, Factory, Creation, KLF Communications, Touch & Go, Sub Pop, Merge, Matador, TeenBeat, Simple Machines, Kranky, SST, Dangerhouse, Posh Boy, Frontier, Slash, Alternative Tentacles, GNP Crescendo. Endless list y’know.

If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by who
would it be?

Neil Young. I’d love to work for soul daddy. The Beatles and Neil Young are my top two all-time favorites. Fela Kuti if he were still with us.


What has been your best seller to date?

My Morning Jacket – At Dawn (Darla: DRL111) by miles, however, Darla does have a strong, active catalog of over 300 titles now.

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your
label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?

No, however, I do have a concept album in mind to make one day…

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Oh yes. Every day. Required now y’know.

Is the Southern California/San Diego music community supportive of the

Yes. Amoeba is good about stocking titles! Our #1 distribution partner AEC is in Irvine and they seriously are the best ever. Whenever I meet local music people they share stories about their favorite releases on the label & etc., however, we’ve always looked globally more than locally. We didn’t emerge with a roster of local talent exclusively. We are supported locally but California-wide as we began in San Francisco and still have strong ties there (Sweet Trip and MCM And The Monster), then moved to Sacramento where we have a ton of good friends we don’t see enough (Holiday Flyer, The California Oranges, The Sinking Ships, Avaleya and the Glitterhawks). And in LA: Lowlights, San Diego: Maquiladora, Tijuana: Static Discos, Fax. So, that’s the big picture locally speaking…

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

Very, very significant. More significant since digital overtook physical by a hair in Spring, 2015. Digital sales have grown steadily since while physical sales continue to shrink, for everybody.

Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?

Yes, however, we still see more CD sales by far. Mucho mas.

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

CD. Reasonable profit margin. Practical.

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

Serein, Carpe Sonum, American Laundromat, Saint Marie, Elefant, Les Disques du Crepuscule, Orange Twin, Factory Benelux, Deep Space Recordings, Essence Music, Seksound, 12k, Aloha Got Soul… Always someone new.

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

Yes. Every day.


What releases are upcoming?

Corky Carroll – Blue Mango CD/DD. Corky is my hero. The California sound with a core crew of stars in their own right who’ve been his band for decades. So stoked on this project.

MCM And The Monster 2xCD/DD. San Francisco’s ultimate party band (80s/90s) retrospective including the demos and an unreleased third album.

Peyton Pinkerton – Rapid Cycler CD/DD. Guitarist/songwriter from New Radiant Storm King, Pernice Brothers.

Momus – Scobberlotchers CD/DD. It’s actually on his own American Patchwork label manufactured and distributed by Darla. Nick Currie’s perspective/world view/filter is my absolute favorite of all artists today.

In closing…

The label is me and Chandra Tobey, my wife and partner of 26 years. I couldn’t do all that we do alone and it is A LOT. In addition to the label we provide physical and digital distribution service to over 150 labels. We manage a digital catalog of over 15,000 songs. We provide publishing administration for a small handful of Darla artists. Chandra does all the bookkeeping, accounting, receivables/payables. I do the creative and marketing. As physical distribution declines for all, I look forward to focusing more on the label as I enjoy that part most of all.





EMBRACE THE SKY: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds


Born of tragedy and catastrophe, the latest album from Cave is nevertheless dotted with beautiful moments amid the dark anguish.


“What happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change?” Nick Cave asks in the trailer for One More Time with Feeling, a documentary film that presents the songs from Skeleton Tree in the context of the nearly unthinkable change that shaped them. The catastrophic event, in this case, was the accidental death of Cave’s 15-year-old son. The songs written mostly before, but recorded afterwards, commune with this tragedy with a numb, hardly-there desolation that is as hard to look at as it is to turn away from.

Skeleton Tree further darkens the somber, restrained palette of 2013’s Push the Sky Away, relying on piano, strings, ghostly electronics and Cave’s hollowed-out, sleep-walking voice to carry it. Because the lyrics were already done before Cave’s life split in half, the songs do not directly refer to the son or his death. Still, words’ meanings change under pressure. There is no denying the anguish in “Jesus Alone,” as a buzz and whistle of feedback imply unbridgeable distance, solitude and loss. “With my voice, I am calling you,” Cave sings, in between visionary intervals of poetry, and you know who he is calling for and how unlikely an answer is. Later in “Girl in Amber,” he murmurs, “Some go on, some stay behind, some never move right on,” and though he may not have written the line about his lost child, it has surely become about him, the “little blue eyed boy” who moves with him down the hall.

Strings in Skeleton Tree are spare but necessary, as long-time collaborator Warren Ellis stirs up agitated dissonance in “Jesus Alone” and plumps up soft, soothing layers of sustained sound in “I Need You.”  Backing vocals curve gently around fragile, haunted melodies “whoa-oh-oh-ohs” in “Rings of Saturn,” sighing “ah-ah-ahs” in the interstices of “Girl in Amber.” The piano, too, is integral, though quiet. It stands in for wordless rumination, in lingering, melancholy chords that hang like memory over empty vistas. There is a solace in these sounds, a solace that is absent from the lyrics, which reject religion and cliché to look hard at the bald fact of loss.

Skeleton Tree has some painfully beautiful moments, none more harrowing or lovely than “Distant Sky.”  Here Cave enlists the lovely soprano voice of Else Torp, a Danish classical singer known for her interpretations of early and baroque music. “Let us go now, my only,” she sings with a high crystal clarity, a shaft of light piercing this dim and mournful vista. Cave’s voice is a shadow beside her, worn nearly through, exhausted, and gorgeous, too, in its way, because it sounds so true.

The album ends on an upswing, in the title track, the steadiness of rhythm bracing the tune in a way that has been, up to now, mostly absent. Cave’s voice wobbles as he finishes in a chorus that goes, “and it’s all right now” to the fade, and who can blame him? He does go on, though, as one does. Skeleton Tree is a testament to his art, his flaying honesty and his persistence in the wake of devastating loss.


FREE FALLIN’: Petty Fest in L.A.


On September 13 a who’s-who of young songwriters convened at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles to celebrate the music of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Among the luminaries: Norah Jones, Dhani Harrison (pictured above), Jakob Dylan, Cory Chisel, Lissie, the Pierces, Big Black Delta, Cage the Elephant and Kristen Wiig.


Tom Petty’s relationship with Los Angeles is a long and storied one, hence the many fractured fairytales of the city he’s written.  He once revealed that he and the Heartbreakers fell in love with the city within an hour of their arrival, and the affection remains wholeheartedly mutual. The Mad Hatter of Malibu has come a long way since his days as a new world boy on the old Kings Road, chronicling the good (Ben Frank’s), the bad (Century City) and the ugly (the Chicken Shack) of his adopted provenance. With the final eclipse of the year a few days away, the BestFest scene was ripe for full moon fever.

February’s Fleetwood Mac Fest in their rearview mirror (and also reviewed at Blurt), the masterminds behind the concert series changed course for PettyFest Los Angeles. Petty, now celebrating 40 years with the Heartbreakers, has become a BestFest staple as of late; Chicago, Seattle, Nashville, Austin and San Francisco have all hosted related events. Returning players Danny Masterson, Elvis Perkins, Emily Armstrong and the indispensible Cabin Down Below Band, which emceed the proceedings and provided accompaniment for the performers. Thirty songs were performed in total, and for the beneficiaries of the night’s festivities, the non-profit Refuge Foundation for the Arts in Appleton, Wisc., the sky was the limit.

There’s a new generation of tenants at Wilbury Manor, namely Dhani Harrison and Jakob Dylan, who came together to lively effect on “End of the Line.” Dylan’s amp crapped out in the middle of “Rebels” and Harrison delivered a devastating rendition of “Don’t Come Around Here No More”…

The eternally-adorable Norah Jones teamed up with actress Kristen Wiig (an adept singer, she!) for “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Time to Move On”… Eric Pulido (“Don’t Do Me Like That”) left the rest of Midlake to their own devices for the evening, but they’ll reconvene for the next PettyFest in Denton… The always-dulcet sister act the Pierces brought a touch of sweet-home Alabama to “Wildflowers” and treated the audience to an impromptu folk dance …  Hot off the heels of their appearances at Reading and Leeds, Cage the Elephant‘s Matt Shultz and Matthan Minster powered through “Breakdown” and “American Girl”… Courtney Love, who traumatized ticketholders at Fleetwood MacFest, was off terrorizing New York Fashion Week and thusly absent from the festivities…

The Shelters covered “Listen to Her Heart,” and you’ll soon find them on the road with Band of HorsesAdriel Denae sang  “Angel Dream” while her better half, Cory Chisel, strode onstage in his lesbian grandmother’s scarf for “It’s Good to be King”…  A hefty bottle of Jameson was observed circulating among the members of the Cabin Down Below Band, and we’re positively miffed that they didn’t share… Performing sans the Northern Lights, Jonathan Tyler broke us in two with his rendition ofYou Wreck Me”… After the ensemble took the stage for “Free Fallin,’” the Cabin Down Below Band bade all goodnight, and the book closed on night one of PettyFest Los Angeles. And they all lived happily ever after


Adam Busch


 Adriel Denae


 Big Black Delta


 Big Black Delta w/Dhani Harrison


 Brett Dennen






Cory Chisel


  Elvis Perkins


Brandon Boyd (Incubus)


 Emily Armstrong


 Eric Pulido


Jakob Dylan


 J. Council


 Jonathan Tyler


 Justin Warfield


 Kristen Wiig




 Cage the Elephant: Matt Shultz, Matthan Minster



Nikki Lane


 Norah Jones


 The Pierces



The Shelters



BACK WITH A VENGEANCE: Hopscotch Music Festival 2016 Post-mortem


It happened September 8 thru 10—were you there? No? Are you square? A two-part (technically, counting the photos, a three-part) love letter, from one veteran and one newbie, but both trusted men-on-the-ground for your friendly neighborhood BLURT. Guarantee: No record store clerks were harmed during the making of this article. [Above: Baroness]


Hopscotch is now turned another year older and as we go back to our mundane lives, Blurt takes a look back at the three fourteen hour music filled days.

Our sister company, Schoolkids Records had their annual day parties to kick off the festival. Each day curated by yours truly. First day was dedicated to Americana/Rock N’ Roll with bands billed from Porch Light Apothecary to local legends The Connells. As the bands started to play the store filled up and draft beers were flowing.

From Schoolkids we went onward downtown to catch the epic City Plaza shows that are held in downtown Raleigh. Opening the festival was Merge records own, Wye Oak. Blending dream pop with blistering guitar parts they had the crowd moving and swaying. After their set we went over to Slims to secure a spot for The Hell No. Raleigh’s own great punk band with a brand new album out in October 27th with the help of Corrosion of Conformity’s Mike Dean.

As Slims was packed from door to door it was time to our make our way over to Nash Hall where the A/C was blasting and there were seats. Not comfortable seats but seats nonetheless. We caught four brilliant saxophones artist that go by the name of Battle Trance. Their name simply states what kind of music they play too. Music that you could easily ride into a battle that could put your enemies in a trance. I would say if you are fan of John Zorn, check these guys out.

Hopping from venue to venue was key for the first night. Seeing as many bands as you could just in time to get ready for what I would say was a very exciting performance in Memorial Auditorium by Sneakers and Television. Now I have come to find out many are not familiar with Sneakers work, but they were a great project by Mitch Easter and Chris Stamey in the 70s. Think Kinks meets the Beach Boys. A perfect opener for the likes of Television.

As we closed the night we went in a completely different musical direction from the acts we saw earlier in the day and that was with Massachusetts own, Converge. With expecting a packed house the crowd was only about ¾ of the way full. From most of the people I talked to this was their first time catching the band live. So with not much moshing or hardcore dancing the venue just stood there and completely stared at the band in awe.

After getting a much needed 5 hour nap we went on to the second day of our Schoolkids day parties where we had a blend of college rock. From the Nevernauts that opened the party to Happy Abandon who left the crowd with their jaws on the ground. Seriously though, if you haven’t listened to these guys yet and do yourself a favor and check out their music. Especially If I Stare.

The second day party ended and we made our way down to City Plaza once again to catch the main attractions Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals alongside Beach House. Anderson Paak is a new wave of blending genres from hip-hop to rock N’ roll to soul music. Half of the time behind a drum kit while he does vocals. The other half running back and forth across the stage exploding with energy. Beach House was the next act to play on City Plaza and I will say I was not very entertained. From the singer mumbling most of the lyrics to the band looking like they didn’t really enjoy what they were playing I left City Plaza and headed to Deep South to see Al Riggs. Al Riggs is a musician that you should watch out for. As he has already put out over 20 albums. Al has started to make a name for himself here in the Raleigh area. Blending elements of singer/songwriter style material to large thought out pieces like Young Hegelians.

From there on I traveled past Red Hat where Erykah Badu was delayed due to flight complications and went straight on to Memorial Auditorium to catch Young Thug aka My Name is Jeffrey aka Thuggers. Where he too was also delayed for about an hour. Probably for no reason too. As the DJ played “banger” after “banger” the crowd got so hyped once Young Thug came out on stage you could literally feel the walls shaking from the bass and the floor jumping up and down. You could definitely call Young Thug a performer cause he had the whole crowd at the palm of his hand. After I had left Memorial Auditorium I wanted to catch any other band before Big Freedia closed the night at Lincoln Theatre but because of delayed set times I was stuck with making my way over to secure a spot. Which my spot led me to the front row where I got to witness Big Freedia bring up about 40 women on stage to ‘twerk’ on stage. Besides the women crowding the stage, Big Freedia is a terrific entertainer.

From there I went on to go head home for another 5 hour nap to get ready for the final of Hopscotch activities. The last day party was filled with metal bands that lit the Schoolkids stage on fire. From new industrial heroes Roseclouds to thundering performance of Wailin Storms. Exhausted from the past two days I made my way downtown for last City Plaza show with local juggernauts Sylvan Esso. Boy oh boy did they deliver. Playing most of everything off their first huge self titled album to a couple new tunes that had the crowd in awe. I left City Plaza to find salvation in Neptune’s Parlour for the rest of the night as I was too tired to walk anymore and wanted to make sure I got a spot for Youth Code in the low capacity room. From Housefire to Bodykit to Container had all festival goers eyes locked on the stage. Youth Code went on to crush the night. From the brilliant vocalist, Sara Taylor, grabbing audience members and screaming at them to kicking over a table near the stage. Truly one of my favorite performances of the festival.

Now that we are all back at our normal jobs and we will look back at the sixth annual Hopscotch festival was a success. Cheers to next year!


















A First-Timer’s Journey Through Music, Crowds, and Sprites…

 About 8 years ago, Greg Lowenhagen moved from Austin Tx back to Raleigh NC.  He and Grayson Currin (of the area’s alternative weekly newspaper The Independent) realized Raleigh had grown big enough and had a strong enough music scene to support it’s own signature music festival. A lot of brain-storming and hard work ensued and in 2010, The Hopscotch Music festival was born. Broken Social Scene and Public Enemy headlined the inaugral festival. This pairing was indicitaiove of the duo’s vision….bringing different genre’s of music to the masses in an easy-to-digest pakage. 3 nights of music, 130 bands, 10 different venues. All within walking distance. Get yourself a schedule and highlight the bands you want to see. Spend the evening ‘hopscotching’ from venue to venue. In the following years Drive-By Truckers, The Flamng Lips, The Roots, and Jesus and Mary Chain have all taking turns headlining.

In 2011, before the 2nd edition began, some of the local venue/bars had a great idea. since the festival began around 5PM, why not fill the day with live music as well? With that, the Hopscotch Day Party was born. Hang out, drink a little, nibble on some grub. Rock out all day, then rock out all night. What could be better?

Fast forward to 2016, and I find myself working at the legendary Schoolkids Records in Raleigh NC. Although I consider myself to be a music fan, and open to all varities of music, I have never had the opportunity to go to Hopscotch. A 2nd job, family issues. Something alway blocked my path.  This year would be different. A 3-Day VIP pass. Not only was I going, I was VIP-ing. No waiting in lines for this guy! The organizer released the performers list a few  months ago. People would gather at the record store to discuss the line-up & who we wanted to see. A few weeks later, the actual schedule was released. We spent hours highlighting who we wanted to see, and figuring out how this gig might interfere with that one, who took precedence. To add to all this excitement, the store’s resident madman, Daniel Matti, assembled an  amazing string of 3 day parties. I honestly believe Schoolkids Records Day Parties were amongst the very best in Raleigh. Finally, all the weeks of planning, highlighting and discussion had come to fruition. Sept 8 had finally arrived.

Got to work around 1PM that day. Ourt first day party went very well. The hedlining band was the legendary band from Raleigh, The Connells. I have seen them at least 10 times in their career, and now here they were……jamming at the record store! My day could not have started any better. After the bands finished up I left work and caught the free bus into downtwon Raleigh.  Camera? Check. Schedule guide? Check. Bottle of Sprite in my back pocket? Check.

Wolf Parade and Wye Oak were the headliiners that evening. The headliners played to big crowds at the City Plaza. My mentality was that the bands headlining, since they were more well-known, would probably be back in the area at some point. I wanted to spend my time finding that gem. That small band playing a small club. The band with that certain something. Catching a band before they blow up is always cool.

Stop one was meeting up with Matti at Slim’s Bar. Got a tip from a guy that we HAD to check out a hard-rock combo called The Hell No. Great female-fronted band featruing a powerhouse drum machine named Dave McDonald. Check the schedule….time to go. Off to Nash Hall for the avante-garde saxaphone quartet Battle Trance. 4 instrumentalists paying at the same time. All 4 heading in a different direction, then meeting up later. Amazing. Could only stay for 30 minutes because we had to hopscotch down to the Lincoln Theatre for metal maniacs Grohg. Loud, heavy and lots of hair.  Check the schedule….Televison begins in 10 minutes!  Have to walk over to Memorial Auditorium to see this legendary band. Grabbed a Sprite and head into the auditorium. Got there just as lights dimmed. Never in my life did I think I would be at a Television concert, but there I was, grinning ear-to-ear. The band finished up and I was off. Back to the Lincoln Theater.  The hall was packed to see Converge. A band I have never seen live. I knew they were loud and aggressive on record, but I was not ready for the energy of this band. Absolutely amazing. Off to Slim’s to catch the last of A Giant Dogs set.

One of my favorite things about this was hearing the following conversation about 30 times-

Guy- Did you see Al Riggs? He was amazing.

Guy2- No, we went to see S.E. Ward. Are you going to Big Freedia?

Guy- Oh yeah! See ya there!

I was amongst a few thousand people who love what I love. Dark nightclubs, hanging with friends, discovering new music. It was well after 1 am, so I caught the free bus and finally made it home at 1:45 after 14 hours of live music. I got home far too wired to go to sleep. I was comforted in knowing I had 2 more days of this. 2 more day parties, and 2 more nights of live music downtown. On my plate was Young Thug, Carseat Headrest, Big Freedia, Boulevards, All Dogs, Eric Bachmann, Andrew Bird, Youth Code, Stooges Brass Band and Konvoi.

Me-Did you go to Hopscotch this year?

Guy- Yeah! Do you think you’ll go next year?

Me-Oh, yeah! See ya there!!

BRIAN ONLY KNOWS: Brian Wilson Live


Return of the king, and his world-wide wrecking crew. No Mikes allowed.


Dear BLURT – here’s my gallery from the brilliant Brian Wilson Live show at The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta, on Friday September 9th.  I don’t have much copy to add on this except to say I remember when seeing The Beach Boys was more about a sloppy beer-soaked sunburned day than about the music.  But seeing Brian Wilson live these days is not a Beach Boys concert.  It is experiencing the genius of Brian Wilson, as he leads a new hand-picked Wrecking Crew through most of his greatest songs, including all of his acclaimed “Pet Sounds” LP in its entirety, which turned 50 this year, all with the elegance, grace, wit, and top-class musicianship you would expect.

Sorry for all the wide-angle shots but the stage was so full of players; it’s what was going on, so I tried to capture some of that.  Even in the widest of shots I don’t think you can see all 11-players up there in a single photo.  Al Jardine is part of this ensemble, and carries so much of this show I was amazed to learn how much of the Beach Boys sound he is responsible for.  And Al’s son, Matthew (back row, right), takes over the vocals on the songs where Brian can’t hit the falsetto parts, and does so flawlessly.

Just a brilliant performance by all, fun to watch, fun to hear, fun to experience.  Tour dates through September and October are at

PS – the Fox Theater was packed for this show – and I didn’t hear anyone say – “I wish Mike Love was here.”  #Mikewho?

Sincerely, John Boydston [Who can be found on Instagram as @rockdawgphoto so visit there and follow if you like pics of everything great.]















For a lesson on what went right in the ‘70s prior to punk and hip-hop, you won’t find many LPs as successful at recapturing the diversity of those rich aural playgrounds as the songwriter’s new album Mangy Love, released via Anti-. View tour dates HERE. (- McCombs’ tour starts this week.)


Let’s call Mangy Love, Cass McCombs’ eighth release, and his first for tastemaker label Anti-, an additional bit of welcome revisionist history. In certain quarters, the prevailing wisdom has been that the ’70s were a musical wasteland overseen by record labels too willing to indulge every rock star whim, sonic or otherwise. Punk and hip-hop, the storyline continued, rose up out of the gritty streets and saved us from a future of overcooked Foghat riffage, more Frampton double-live LPs, and symphonic rock excess. It was a reductive dramatization in the first place, but McCombs’ expert mining of the era for inspiration on these dozen cuts puts the lie to the mythology.

The singer/songwriter embraces a broad swatch of ’70s staples here, including Philly soul, Laurel Canyon twang, Norcal psychedelia, Steely Dan cool, blues rock and even a dash of reggae. McCombs is the constant through line, but the songs remind us that, for one, a lot of great music made it onto wax back then; they also remind us that McCombs has the kind of singular songwriting voice that can revive the sounds without turning them into nostalgia exercises. And, of course, those lyrics—McCombs pulls off his usual compelling quotidian-blend (Netflix, Cheez Whiz, and cortisone cream all show up) in substantive meditations on topics including race, the spell of womanhood (and the patriarchal stereotypes thereof), violence, home, truth-telling and spirituality.

The most striking addition to McCombs’ musical quiver are the tracks where he’s come under the spell of early ‘70s soul, blending elements of Curtis-era Mayfield, post-Motown Marvin Gaye and Gamble & Huff’s orchestrated Philly soul. “Laughter Is the Best Medicine” builds slinky guitar licks, Memphis-style horns and organ fills into an irresistible hook and groove, freeing  McCombs to riff on the notion of self-medicating through “tantric,” “cellular,” “outlaw” and “freaky” means (among a handful of other escapist adjectives). “Opposite House” tilts more Mayfield, with dreamy guitar riffs embedding in swooning strings and Angel Olsen’s backing vocals drifting above on the backs of the choruses. It’s a perfect setting for McCombs to question cultural preconceptions, chief among them that American life is comprised of binary choices only: “The opposite of white isn’t black, but rainbow blood/this house is too narrow, and made from endangered wood/Oh, why?”

The rich arrangements and sonic pleasures of those songs—veterans Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith) and Dan Horne, take a bow—are a welcome mat for the rest of the LP’s style-hopping. With help from a couple of the Beachwood Sparks crew, McCombs turns in a pair of classic ’70s Laurel Canyon twang numbers, on “Medusa’s House” alternating a soul-rending falsetto—”help me to remember to forget/to forget what hasn’t happened yet”—with a slide guitar line that floats off like a hang glider over ocean cliffs. And at six minutes, “Low Flying Bird” belies its title and glides to even greater heights on tinkling piano and guitarist Blake Mills’ tasty runs.

Only slightly less compelling are a couple of wah-wah guitar and synth-accented tracks that bear a Becker/Fagen feel (“Switch” and “In a Chinese Alley”), and lead single, “Run Sister Run.” The latter is a cantering, syncopated state-of-womanhood dialog complete with Tonto-era synth burbles. The song never builds beyond its repetitive titular chorus, but with McCombs calling into question patriarchal norms from the current supreme court back to biblical times, the repetition serves a thematic purpose.

That cut works, but if there’s a minor beef with McCombs, it’s that the prolific word-play occasionally comes at the expense of developing some songs less fully than others. Few writers, after all, can pull off lines like “What Fresno tweeker’s ashtray you crawl from under?” (“Rancid Girl”) alongside cutting comments like, “I saw him in the cold street, lying dead/oh, please tell me, you academics/how do you wake up from a non-dream?” (“Bum Bum Bum”). But both tracks are little more than extended riff-scaffolding for McCombs’ meditations. The former, in particular, is a droning blues-rock stomper that never goes anywhere and is a conspicuous—and frankly Foghatian —sonic outlier.

McCombs isn’t the first talented lyricist to pound a chord sequence or guitar riff into the ground (looking at you, early Dylan), and he won’t be the last. But since his songs tend to skirt easy hooks in the first place in their search for richer sonic tableaus—”no more cliché songs,” he sings on “Cry”—the droning riffs and repeated mantras can leave one longing for the resolution of a cathartic hook over the course of a whole LP. But for a primer in what went right in the ‘70s prior to punk and hip-hop, you won’t find many LPs as successful at recapturing the diversity of those rich sonic playgrounds as Mangy Love.

Photo credit: Rachael Pony Cassells. McCombs kicks off an extensive North American tour on Sept. 13. Go to his official website for a list of all the dates.