Monthly Archives: February 2017

WAITING FOR HENRY – Town Called Patience

Album: Town Called Patience

Artist: Waiting For Henry

Label: Mighty Hudson Music

Release Date: August 26, 2016

www.waitingforhenry.com

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The Upshot: Jersey band produced by Mitch Easter, offering independent rock with purpose, stressing intelligent songwriting and solid musicianship, and raising goose bumps in just the right measure. The band’s second release, this guitar and voice-focused home-run incorporates all that makes independent music gloriously free of tags and categorization – because it’s only goal is to take you prisoner. Nothing matters more.

BY ERIC THOM

For those who prefer real meat on the bones of their power pop, look no further than this second release by under-the-radar, Jersey-based band, Waiting For Henry. Real meat, cured, seasoned and prepared with love by no less than Mitch Easter, fans of whom know exactly how much he can lend to anything he touches.

Yet, as even Mitch would say, any producer can only polish talent that already exists and Waiting for Henry has it in spades. Spades. Each of the 12 tracks on Town Called Patience stirs the listener in record time with serious hooks, harmonies and enough tough and/or melodic guitar sounds to stir your inner rock star. Influences abound. Early Matthew Sweet, R.E.M. and Replacements come to mind – yet these solid-rocking mini masterpieces have little else to do with anything beyond the musical vision shared by lead vocalists/guitarists Dave Slomin and David Ashdown, bassist Mike Chun and drummer Rob Draghi (give or take Easter’s touches). Rich vocals distinguish each track and the band offers somewhat of a dual personality through its two main singers. Slomin and Ashdown champion their own compositions from two slightly different perspectives, lending the band a wider personality.

Compare Slomin’s tough, yet melodic paean to witnessing a Steve Wynn/Gutterball show in Copenhagen. Fast and furious guitar work, replete with rich harmonies, the song is further charged by Slomin’s smooth, comparably commercial-friendly voice that fits the track perfectly. Contrast this with Ashdown’s “Hangnail” – a raspy-sounding recollection of a spent relationship, the singer sounding somewhat hung-over, softened and sweetened by the song’s waltz-like pace and full-on Eagles-esque harmonies, painted against a grey backdrop of pain-gone-by. These are not competing influences to the band’s sound. Indeed, the two mesh perfectly across each carefully-crafted original making it a challenge to identify who’s doing what – the ultimate in band statements. Slomin’s delicious “Matter Of Time” might be the disc’s high point based on its unerring ability to burrow into your brain and play back for weeks to come. Or Ashdown’s rough ’n’ ready “Palms”, its battered, Westerberg-edged acoustic intro giving way to a chorus that turns a negative thought into a celebratory anthem,­ complete with vibes. The vibrant “Parsippany” gallops forward with a pop-like sense of urgency that transforms the name of a forgettable New Jersey town into an epic recollection of something more special, buttressed against a ringing, stinging wall of aggressive guitars and bank of harmonies. Likewise, “Could It Be” sits Ashdown’s raggedy vocal atop smooth guitars, Chun’s plucky bass and those hard-selling backup vocals. Like “Flipcock” before it, the title track’s upbeat attack recalls both Tommy Keene, if not the Bodeans, for each song’s ability to generate a more reflective, less aggressive perspective as vocals become lead instruments. Ashdown’s “Angel On The Run” is pure rock, an impassioned tribute to a fallen friend that brings out the animal in the band. “Wrong” is simply a hard-working rock track built around distant B3 and still-fiery, glistening guitars, Slomin’s addictive voice and a cascading chorus making the most of the band’s stand-out harmonic powers. Closing with the gentler, kinder approach of “In The End”, there’s little left to say and do – except marvel at Waiting For Henry’s ability to mine all the tenets of a category of music that, quite simply, remains timeless in its appeal.

Funny how Waiting for Henry has been categorized as alt-country, Americana roots-rock – even twangy country-rock. I simply don’t hear it. These are 12 spirited, power-pop masterstrokes conjuring a dark edge, yet tempered by a world-weary maturity to keep things hopeful and upbeat. Propelled by the raw energy of chiming and/or crunching guitars, a taut rhythm section, near-perfect vocals and sky-high harmonies, Waiting For Henry seems more than capable at holding forth the age-old promise and potential of Saturday nights, broken hearts and – in this case – making the most of life.

DOWNLOAD: “Musconetong,” “Matter of Time”

 

 

Lydia Loveless 2/10/17, Denver

Dates: February 10, 2017

Location: Lost Lake Lounge, Denver, Colorado

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The Upshot: The Americana rocker sells out a two-night stand at Denver’s Lost Lake Lounge.   

BY TIM HINELY

It’d been about three years since Lydia Loveless had visited Denver. That last time was in that lucky year of 2014 or so when she and her band did a tuckered out set at the Hi Dive over on S. Broadway. That night the band seemed lively, but Lydia looked wiped out from too much touring. Energy-wise she made up for it tonight.

This time she played the equally a tiny Lost Lake but she was playing two nights here. We opted to catch the first night and it was sold out which had a lot of slackers who didn’t bother to get tickets early all bummed out; one middle-aged woman was freaking out, yelling and cussing.

Missed the opener but did catch a few songs by middle band Angelica Garcia and her band who are touring with Lydia and they were a mix of folky weave plus country-inflected tunes and jam band bore. Not bad but really my thing.

Lydia came out as the clock struck eleven pm with Ben Lamb on bass, Todd May on guitar plus drummer and pedal steel player. Lydia had cropped all of her hair since the last time I saw her and was a lot more lively this time. Joking with the crowd an she generally seemed in good spirits.

They opened with “Really Wanna See You Again” off of 2014’s Somewhere Else and proceeded to play a few other cuts off that record (“To Love Somebody,’ “Verlaine Shot Rinbaud” etc.) but the set was mostly from her latest album 2016’s Real (both records are on the venerable Chicago country-punk label Bloodshot). The set was solid and well-paced.

Loveless gets lumped in the with the alt country crowd and , as previously mentioned, she did have a pedal steel player and is on the Bloodshot label but she is not so easy to pin down. Loveless herself has a punk sneer while guitarist May ground out feedback like he was in Robeert Pollard’s stable and bassist Lamb could easily tour with any working metal band out there. It’s Lydia’s show though, she is the sassy one with smart-ass comebacks. Regarding our current President  (“Come on people four years really isn’t that long…it’ll go by quickly…hell it’d been three years since we’d been to Denver”) or when she blurted out something about her sexual exploits (I’d write it here I’d blush).

For encores she came out and played a few songs with just she and her guitar (including “Clumps”) before her band joined her for a few numbers (including “Head’) and called it a night. The hard-to-pin-down thing is all Lydia. She probably wants it that way and who can blame her, most musicans want to keep you guessing, the good ones do, anyway and she’s one of the good ones.

Photo Credit: Ellis Abbott, via Loveless’ Facebook page.

 

 

MY DAMAGE: THE STORY OF A PUNK ROCK SURVIVOR, by Keith Morris (with Jim Ruland)

Title: My Damage

Author: Keith Morris, with Jim Ruland

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Publication Date: August 30, 2016

www.dacapopress.com

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The Upshot: An exhilarating read, so much so that you can almost feel yourself diving off the stage at The Whiskey in ’81.

BY TIM HINELY

As most of you know, Keith Morris is/was the singer for a few legendary punk bands, namely Black Flag and the Circle Jerks More recently he’s fronting throwback bands OFF! and FLAG. The guy is a Southern California lifer and he has a helluva story to tell and does so with aplomb in MY DAMAGE. He started out as a small kid (who am I kiddin’; Keith is still small), the son of a bait and tackle shop owner in Hermosa Beach, California. Not liking school he got in with the wrong crowd and eventually, after high school, began hanging out at an abandoned church in Hermosa Beach where other like-minded folks hung out. Those folks were in bands like Black Flag, Redd Cross (before the K), The Last, Descendents and a few others.

Morris eventually joined Black Flag but their practice schedule was too stringent for the fun-loving Morris, so upon meeting Greg Hetson and Keith “Lucky” Lehrer at a gig, they formed the Circle Jerks, eventually meeting bassist Roger Rogerson, who is a whole other story. Through the book Morris comes clean about his love for booze and cocaine—he eventually became clean and sober over 20 years ago—and friendships and rifts with band members, and he also falls out and then falls back in again with his dad before his dad died. In addition he also became an A & R guy in the 90’s while also forming the oddball band Midget Handjob as well as working at a small diner in Silverlake (a pal told me once years ago that “I went to this diner for breakfast and Keith Morris served me coffee!”) and discovering he’s a diabetic which led to cleaner living (mentioned above).

As generic as this might sound, the guy truly is a survivor—from his hedonistic early years to being grateful, for not just being alive, but for the opportunities he’s been given and the important people in his life. If you’ve seen OFF! or FLAG recently you’ll often hear Morris from the stage saying things like “Hey everyone, take care of each other out there.” Coming from a guy who’s now in his sixties, a guy who’s literally been there and done that, MY DAMAGE isn’t an outsider’s view, even though the author would consider himself to be an outsider. Morris was right there in the mix the whole time. An exhilarating read, so much so that you can almost feel yourself diving off the stage at The Whiskey in ’81 while the Circle jerks rip through “Deny Everything.” Whew! 

 

 

LONELY BOY: TALES FROM A SEX PISTOL, By Steve Jones

Title: Lonely Boy

Author: Steve Jones

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Publication Date: January 10, 2017

www.PerseusBooks.com

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The Upshot: A rock memoir joins the crowded Pistols and punk shelf, and it was well worth the wait.

 BY JOHN B. MOORE

 When those graying punk rockers raise their fists at younger bands and scold them for selling out, they always point to the late ‘70s genre founders, bands like The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks and inevitably, The Sex Pistols, to make their point. They talk about punk rock as the great equalizer – where there was no separation of fans from bands; anyone could play punk music regardless of skill level and they didn’t need big money record deals to do so. They lived, as the argument goes, just to play their form of loud, sloppy, screw-the-man rock to like-minded listeners and that, my friend, is what mattered.

Those arguments have been trotted out time and time again over the past four decades, so it’s even more gratifying to hear Steve Jones – guitarist and co-founder of The Sex Pistols, a giant in the world of British Punk Rock – pretty much address those arguments with a snarled “fuck off” in Lonely Boy, his memoir.  Tackling those two fallacies about halfway into his book, there was no pride in playing sloppy (though he does admit throughout that the Pistol’s second bassist, Sid Vicious, could barely hold his bass, let alone play it). As any student of Never Mind the Bollocks will tell you, Jones was a great guitar player (and thanks to speed he spent hour upon hour practicing); and like his longtime friend and fellow bandmate, drummer Paul Cook, he put a lot of effort into writing and playing the music.

He also bristles at the assumption that selling out is bad. If someone is willing to pay you a lot of money to play your music, take it! As he describes throughout the book, he, Cook and others in the band grew up poor and didn’t plan to stay that way.

Lonely Boy is a fascinating read, in part because Jones is a brilliant story-teller, but also because he’s got plenty of stories to tell. He has no problem delving into personal demons, like his long battle with drugs and in frank, matter-of-fact terms talks about an incident of sexual abuse from his stepfather. Though hard to read, Jones chalks it up to just an act by an old pervert that didn’t scar him.

In lighter tones, Jones also details the long list of famous musicians he stole from when he was still an unknown with a penchant for kleptomania. Instruments were a big target for Jonesy and he showed no mercy, even to the bands he was into the most growing up, taking, by his own admission, a guitar off of Mott The Hoople’s Ariel Bender and one off a member of 10 cc’s, a bass amp from David Bowie’s band, cymbals from Woody Woodmansy (also with Bowie’s band) and a leather jacket from Keith Richards – though in Jones’ defense, he believes Richards may have nicked the jacket from Mick Jagger first.

As anyone who’s listened to Jones long-running radio show (Jonesy’s Jukebox) knows, he can be wildly entertaining. It should come as no surprise then that his memoir is just as compelling. It’s been a long time coming, considering how many books have been devoted to Jones and his former bandmates over the years, but Lonely Boy was well worth the wait.

 

Phantogram 1/14/17, Rochester, NY

Dates: January 14, 2017

Location: Main Street Armory, Rochester NY

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Onstage at the Main Street Armory in Rochester, the indie band thrilled the crowd and had a flawless sound.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY APRIL S. ENGRAM

Seven years have quickly passed since Phantogram’s debut album Eyelid Movies; the 2010 release attracted media attention and garnered fans for their ability to balance pop, hip-hop, electronica and dreamy shoegaze all into one. The New York duo, Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, has come a long way since their formative days. After their catchy music caught the ears of industry veterans they’ve collaborated with acts such as hip-hop maven Big Boy and the eccentric alt-rock group Flaming Lips; further proof of their sonic chameleon abilities.

Perhaps this independent band is on the cusp of transcending the label “independent”; until then, Phantogram continues to tour extensively and made a stop in Rochester, NY while promoting their aptly named third LP, Three. Joining a long night of music, Phantogram was one of five bands performing at Main Street Armory. The roster included a mixture of alternative, pop, folk-rock with bands such as Bleeker, Judah & the Lion and headliner Grouplove; but, this biased BLURTer set her sights solely on Phantogram.

A sizable venue, Main Street Armory was the perfect venue for an indoor, winter festival. Able to hold a large audience concert-goers either milled in front of the stage or flowing about the outskirts drinking or smoking profusely while scores of music goers assured their spot centerstage. Billed to perform before the last act Phantogram played a slightly shorter set and had one hour to command the stage; they did just that.

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Touring with Nicholas Shelestak on effects and keys and Chris Carhart on drums, Phantogram’s sonic elixir enchanted their fans as the audience cheered, danced and jumped along to the music. Every song they performed sounded great as Barthel threw her hands in the air to pump up the audience during songs and fans happily joined her. Playing songs from their three LPs and EP Nightlife, Barthel and Carter played mostly high octane tracks to the delight of the crowd.

Opening with older songs first, Phantogram didn’t waste time getting the audience excited with the danceable “Black Out Days,” “Don’t Move” and “Fall in Love.” Early hits “When I’m Small” and their first big single “Mouthful of Diamonds” were met with loud cheers and hands thrown into the air. A multi instrumental band Barthel switched between her keyboard and bass while Carter played guitar and effects. Even the slightly mellower, ballad-esque “The Answer” from Three, sung by both Carter and Barthel was a thrilling performance as the bridge of the song gives way to an explosion of guitar and drums; the drumming was exciting to see live as Carhart feverishly and methodically banged on his set.

An exciting band, Phantogram sounded flawless live. Only room for improvement, if only they were not part of a music festival this night and could’ve played a longer set.

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Setlist:

Black Out Days

Don’t Move

Fall in Love

Same Old Blues

Answer

When I’m Small

Mouthful of Diamonds

Howling at the Moon

You’re Mine

Cruel World

You Don’t Get Me High Anymore

THE STANDELLS – Dirty Water + Why Pick on Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White + Try It

Album: Dirty Water + Why Pick on Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White + Try It

Artist: Standells

Label: Sundazed

Release Date: February 17, 2017

www.sundazed.com

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BY BILL KOPP

From one point of view, The Standells were opportunists. As that story goes, they got their start as a smiling, suited pop group, only changing their sound and collective demeanor once they took a new reading as to which way the pop culture winds were blowing. Moreover, that argument goes, they weren’t even from Boston, so how possibly could the city of “Dirty Water” be their home?

But all that misses the point. Listening to their debut 1964 LP, In Person at P.J.’s (revised and reissued two years later as Live and Out of Sight), it’s clear that from the group’s start, they were a garage-rocking combo, albeit one with better than average vocal and instrumental proficiency. Sure, they were a cover band in those days, but so was pretty much everyone. That only began to change after February 1964 when the Beatles wiped the slate clean.

Still, it’s true that when The Standells made their celebrated television appearance on The Munsters, they came off closer to Marilyn than Eddie. But they soon simultaneously sharpened and roughed-up their image, and in the two dozen months between the start of 1966 and the end of ’67, made three very good albums.

I know what the three or four Standells scholars reading this are thinking: “Aha! But they made four albums in that period!” You’re correct. I said they made three very good ones. The outlier is The Hot Ones!, a collection of covers that – while arguably of a piece with In Person at P.J.’s – isn’t especially durable or relevant. It’s interesting for completists, but the rest of us – a group that should include the most ardent garage-rock fetishists – can and should be satisfied with the other three.

Those three records – Dirty Water from ’66, Why Pick On Me / Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (also ’66) and 1967’s Try It – have all worn quite well in the half century since their original release. Now (and thanks to Sundazed) on CD with bonus tracks and in glorious back-to-monaural sound, they’re well worth re-investigating.

The distorted, feedback-laden minor guitar chord that opens “Medication” lays out a vaguely dangerous, slightly sinister vibe for Dirty Water. Heck, they’re clearly singing about drugs, kids! All the sonic elements that made The Standells special are right there in the record’s first two minutes: study, propulsive bass lines, sneering vocals and close backing harmonies, vaguely proto-psychedelic fuzztone lead guitar, insistent drumming, and keening combo organ.

Sure, the bass line that serves as the foundation of “Little Sally Tease” is a nick from The Strangeloves’ “Night Time,” but who cares? The rest of the tune stands on its own. Fun fact: the tune is a remake of Don & the Goodtimes’ original, penned by Jim Valley, a fine guitarist who was for a time known as “Harpo,” Drake Levin’s replacement in Paul Revere & the Raiders.

The covers are well chosen, the group originals are strong, and there really isn’t a weak track on Dirty Water. A slightly pilled-up (well, at least sped-up) take on the Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” doesn’t add much to the original, but it’s fun and well done. (Presumably it wasn’t in the band’s live set on the tour in support of the album, seeing as they were opening most nights for the Stones.) The CD’s bonus cuts are of varying quality. The Batman theme is fun in a cheesy go-go kind of way.

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On the heels of the success of the “Dirty Water” single, another album was put together, and that clumsily-titled album was built around a song that had already appeared on Dirty Water. “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” is perhaps the Standells’ most perfectly realized track; it has the feel of an anthem, and it rocks. A subtle dig at drug culture is woven into the song’s lyric. Elsewhere listeners will find suitably inventive covers of the Stones (“Paint It Black”) and Love (“My Little Red Book”). Overall the audio quality is an improvement over Dirty Water, and the organ flourishes on the otherwise punky “Why Pick On Me” are positively exotic. A group original, “The Girl and the Moon” straddles garage rock and Phil Spector arrangement aesthetic. The gritty “Mr. Nobody” is the best deep album cut.

The group would capitalize on the banning of the admitted sexual come-on of “Try It.” A Texas radio programmer found it suitably naughty to drop it from playlists. Overall, the Try It album boasts yet another improvement in sound quality, and the performances warrant the extra care. Everything about “Can’t Help But Love You” suggests a leap forward in professionalism.

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Even a cover of the well-worn “Ninety-nine and a Half” shines here, as does a much older tune, “St. James Infirmary.” The garage aesthetic is dialed back in favor of something a bit more upscale, and horn charts are sprinkled atop several of the tunes. Piano and strings on “Trip to Paradise” take things even farther afield. All those studio decorations did, however, have the effect of blunting The Standells’ garage-rock cred.

Happily, the second side of Try It focuses on the group’s grittier side. The faux-eastern vibe of “Did You Ever Have that Feeling” lifts it above its derivative chord progression. “All Fall Down” is as close as The Standells came to psychedelia. Not very close at all, but fascinating nonetheless. And the classic film theme “Riot on Sunset Strip” makes purchase of the album mandatory.

By 1968, The Standells were all but over. Though of course various lineups would re-form in later years, these three albums would form the core of the band’s essential output. Also of interest is Live on Tour 1966!, an archival Standells release reviewed in these pages in 2015 (along with Shadows of Knight; included are some audio and video tracks) as part of BLURT’s “Garage Chronicles” series.

THEO BLECKMANN – Elegy

Album: Elegy

Artist: Theo Bleckmann

Label: ECM

Release Date: January 27, 2017

http://ecmrecords.com

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The Upshot: Jazz vocalist takes the concept of the human voice as instrument to new and shimmering places. 

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Theo Bleckmann has garnered a solid reputation for his distinctive interpretation of jazz singing. He’s not a belter or crooner, but a sort of ambient dreamweaver. So it’s no surprise to find that Elegy, his latest solo album and first for natural home ECM, is definitely not a set of genuine and faux standards. Working with equally forward-thinking guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Shai Maestro and a rhythm section, the German native and NYC resident mostly uses his voice as an instrument, avoiding actual words in favor of syllables. Sung in the same timbre as the bowing of a violin, Bleckmann bobs, weaves and soars over the backgrounds Monder et al provide him, imbuing songs like “The Mission,” “Wither” and “Cortegé” with an almost spiritual urgency –  without saying a word. Monder often matches him with impressionistic waves of ringing single lines or feedback-ridden swells – the title track finds the pair of artistic soulmates in ecstatic harmony.

Bleckmann does do some songs with words, of course. “To Be Shown To Monks in a Certain Temple,” with lyrics taken from The Poetry of Zen, becomes a tone poem in this company’s atmospheric hands, while “Take My Life” slyly leavens its pop tones with rambunctious rhythms and a burning Monder solo. “Fields” hews closer to traditional jazz singing, but in an elongated form that allows Bleckmann to alter his phrasing as he sees fit. The most recognizable song here is undoubtedly Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight,” from the musical A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, but even it gets filtered through Bleckmann’s unique sensibility, given a new vocal melody and slowed waaaaay down, yet with a lightness that keeps it from being a dirge. Though fettered by libretto, Bleckmann shows as much imagination with these songs as he does with the others.

A lot of jazz records with wordless vocals can be too sweet for their own good – cf. the Pat Metheny Group’s late 80s work. Though he avoids dissonance for its own sake, Bleckmann amazingly never descends into treacle, nor does he indulge in the usual nonsense syllables of typical scat singing. Instead he forges his own distinctive path on Elegy, taking the concept of the human voice as instrument to new and shimmering places.

DOWNLOAD: “Elegy,” “The Mission,” “Comedy Tonight”

 

Steve Gunn / Lee Ranaldo / Meg Baird 1/12/17, Winooski VT

Dates: January 12, 2017

Location: Winooski United Methodist Church, Winooski, Vermont

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The holy altar of the Winooski United Methodist Church proved to be the perfect setting for the three guitarists’ metaphysical musical mantras.

BY JENNIFER KELLY / PHOTOS BY BRITTAIN SHORTER

Three guitar players — two known primarily for acid folk, a third a veteran of noisy alternative-nation skree — convened in a blue-lit church off the main drag in a scruffy-but-gentrifying Vermont town for a night, and it was magic.

Meg Baird started off, seated on a stool, cool and unmoving as she played her eerily beautiful acoustic tunes. No hint of the Heron Oblivion keener here, nor of the battering drums of Watery Love, she stuck largely to material from 2015’s Don’t Weigh Down the Light, limpid, lucid cascades of guitar coursing like water through the air waves, her clean, high voice soaring effortlessly towards the rafters. “I Don’t Mind” came first, folky jangle intact, but minus the spectral slide of the record. It was gorgeous anyway, its soft vocal melodies curving flute-y arcs in the air and closing in a whispered, “When the night reaches out, I will be there, I don’t mind, no I don’t mind.”

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Baird dipped back further into the catalogue for agile, light-fingered “The Land Turned Over,” which intersperses bluegrass-y twang into its guitar architecture and a country warble into Baird’s phrasings. “Mosquito Hawks” wandered closest into rock, with its slow, baroque finger work, punctuated by booming chords and strident, dissonant runs, while “Don’t Weigh Down the Light,” was, as you might expect, luminous with swelling light, guitar notes dropping like rounded beads of water into the stillness, Baird’s voice soft but piercing, exactly the way you’d expect a shaft of moonlight to sound if it sounded at all.

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Lee Ranaldo went next, also bringing an acoustic guitar but putting it to louder, more anarchic use. Loops, pedals and, in the first song, a bow, elicited squalls of thunder from a succession of unassuming wooden instruments. Close your eyes, and it might have been Sonic Youth. Ranaldo played songs from an album he’d just recorded with novelist Jonathan Lethem writing lyrics, so none of the material was familiar. The first cut, the one with the bowing and massed (and massive) overtones, was a Lou Reed-ish spoken word travelogue type of thing redolent of open highways and mind altering substances. “Let’s Start Again” felt more like conventional rock (the opening guitar bit reminded me of Neil Young’s “Old Man”), but it blossomed through looping and layering into a powerful, transforming racket. You wanted to check to make sure it was just one guitar still. (Though not always the same guitar. Ranaldo was the only one of the night to bring a rack of instruments and a guitar tech to keep them in tune.)

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There were a couple of other new songs, one called “Circular” about the repetitiveness of daily life, another called “Electric Trim” with some more impressive feedback, and a composition called “Uncle Skeleton,” which moved from goofy country to blistering noise and, somewhere in there, broke out that “face bone is connected to the neck bone” ditty. Overall, the new material seemed a bit less indie rock, a little more sound experimental than his last solo album. I only wrote down R.E.M. once, and I had just jotted down Velvet Underground (bullshit reference, by the way, all it means is rock with some buzz around the guitars) when he closed with a cover of VU’s “Oceans.”

***

Steve Gunn closed with a low-key but wonderful set that seemed both effortless and really difficult. Only when you watch him do you realize how much he’s doing with his long elegant fingers, how quickly and precisely he moves them though complicated chord changes, bends and pull-offs. When you listen, it all sounds supremely laid back and day-dream-y, but as Yeats said about something entirely different, “we must labor to be beautiful.”

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It was “Night Wander” right off the bat, Gunn executing the glittering runs of Television-like notes in between terse verses about black cats and nocturnal rambles. Gunn seemed to be in a contemplative mood, as he introduced “Old Strange” (from 2013’s Time Off) as a song he’d written when an old friend disappeared; he was just as lost now, he admitted, on the eve of the Trump inauguration. The song is a slow, drone-y blues, a remnant of days when Gunn was primarily known as a guitar picker, but it had an undercurrent of angst as he played, the sharp starts of guitar like yelps when someone pokes a bruise. “Milly’s Garden” may have also had a Trump-ish undertone. When I interviewed Gunn a couple of years ago, he explained that it was inspired by a religious neighbor who kind of freaked him out. The line, “Your faith is savage, and your mind is damaged, you’re halfway home,” resonates in an eerie way now. Two songs from the new album, Eyes on the Lines came after, “Ark,” breaking its chiming chords and murmured folk jams for some guitar shredding and even a little bit of wah, and “Park Bench Smile” with its spiraling, baroque guitar figures, the song that welcomes you in, then pins you there, eyes pin wheeling to the psychedelic patterns that you see.

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Perhaps because he was in a church, Gunn got to reminiscing about the last show his father had attended before passing away, at what sounds like the chapel at First Unitarian Church in Philly. Gunn went over to say hi, and noticed his dad had a beer in his hand and asked how it felt to be drinking a beer in church for the first time. Mr. Gunn countered, “This is not my first time.” And with that, Gunn launched into “Wildwood,” a song at least partly about summers on the Jersey Shore, and sad and sweet and folky as the story he told.

I was a little disappointed that the three artists didn’t get a chance to jam together, as they did at other venues, certainly Chicago, later in the tour. But maybe the thing to remember is not that their show at a little church in a little town in Vermont shut down early, but that it happened at all.

Photos courtesy of Brittain Shorter of Winooski’s Section Sign Records – a big BLURT thank-you! www.sectionsignrecords.com / www.soundcloud.com/sectionsignrecords

Link to the concert promoter: https://www.facebook.com/WakingWindows/

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ERIC AMBEL – Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1)

Album: Live @ Livestock 2016 (Roscoe Live: Vol. 1)

Artist: Eric Ambel

Label: Lakeside Lounge

Release Date: February 03, 2017

www.ericambel.com

eric-ambel

The Upshot: Rousing, rowdy, rockin’ concert disc from last summer that finds the guitarist showcasing his Lakeside album, plus surprises.

BY FRED MILLS

Let’s state this up front: Any artist who opts for a Swamp Dogg cover as a set-closer has a seriously big set of huevos, and better be prepared to deliver the musical goods.

I have it on good authority that erstwhile Del-Lords/Steve Earle & the Dukes guitarist Eric Ambel has long been in possession of the aforementioned danglers—this is based on interviews I’ve conducted with his peers, reviews I’ve read that my own peers have authored, and a few random one-on-one encounters I’ve had with the dude. As to the latter, well… the guitarist, songwriter, producer, and cyclist known to most of us as just Roscoe wraps up his August 27, 2016, set at Livestock with nothing less than a positively torching version of tha Dogg’s already-incendiary “Total Destruction to Your Mind”—as in, he’s gonna apply his sonic-psychic wrecking ball—and between him, fellow axeman Mo Goldner, bassist Keith Christopher, and drummer Phil Cimino, there’s not a riff left unriffed, a beat left unthumped, a vocal note of exuberance left, um, unexuberated.

This is rock ‘n’ roll unbridled, folks. Small wonder that Ambel’s “Roscoe” logo that people may be familiar with from his website or production work is a silhouette of a Stetson-waving cowboy astride a bucking bronc.

Ambel, then, here ushers in what promises to be an ongoing series of live releases, with this 2016 performance spotlighting material from his most excellent album from spring of that same year, Lakeside (reviewed HERE, incidentally), which was produced by his friend Jimbo Mathus. Among the standouts: twangy, swingin’ honky-tonker “Here Come My Love,” penned by another Ambel pal, Del-Lords bandmate Scott Kempner; the brooding, psychedelic “Don’t Make Me Break You Down,” which features some ungodly, nasty, lead fretwork that would earn a salute from Neil Young; and beautiful choogler “Have Mercy,” intro’d by Ambel as his “disco song,” but to these ears is midtempo power-pop-meets-John-Fogerty.

And let us not overlook Ambel’s adroitness at plucking choice covers from the musical astral plane. Here, the brilliant Gillian Welch/David Rawlings-penned “Look At Miss Ohio,” a standout on Lakeside, gains gravitas in its transition from studio to stage (wait’ll you hear the guitar duel); and of course there’s that Swamp Dogg number lurking in the wings to wrap things up.

As the “Vol. 1” designation simply affords we fans a comfortable “to be continued…” alert, I’ll leave my commentary until the next installment. After all, this Roscoe dude, he ain’t selling out—he’s buying in!

DOWNLOAD: “”Have Mercy,” “Look at Miss Ohio,” “Total Destruction to Your Mind”

 

PERFECT ENGLISH WEATHER – Isobar Blues

Album: Isobar Blues

Artist: Perfect English Weather

Label: Matinee

Release Date: November 25, 2016

www.matineerecordings.com

weather-11-25

The Upshot: Popguns members serve up an electric pop album that’s very cool.

BY TIM HINELY

It had been a while since there were any Matinee releases, and I was getting worried. This indie pop label, based out of Santa Barbara for the past decade or so, had offered up some of the best jangle pop releases of any label anywhere. This band is the duo of Simon and Wendy Pickles, both of the band The Popguns and hailing from Brighton (if Pickles is their real last name, well, I’m jealous). Apparently they were just planning on having these songs be much more minimal and striped down affair, maybe just acoustic guitars, but one thing led to another and you’ve got an electric pop album—still lots of acoustic guitars, though.

The opening cut “The Sweetest Feeling” was just okay; a bit Motown-ish, and I love Motown but didn’t love this cut. But track number two, “Hit Town A.T.H.E.N.S.”, is much more upbeat—it has Wendy singing the line “Tell me when you get kicked in the balls”)—and then “Try a Little Harder” is a real low-key, pop groove that’s real easy to swallow. Later on down the line the band offers up the gorgeous acoustic tune “English Weather’ (love Wendy’s vocals on this one), while “Spirited Away” kicks the tempo up a notch and has some cool organ.

Not sure what The Popguns are doing these days but hey, we get a bonus here as side projects can be a really good thing. It is this time.

DOWNLOAD:  “Hit Town A.T.H.E.N.S,”  “Try a Little Harder,” “English Weather”