Monthly Archives: June 2017

THE APE – Give In

Album: Give In

Artist: Ape

Label: Bang!

Release Date: January 27, 2017

www.bangrecords.com

The Upshot: Psychedelic blues and atmospheric rock from the twisted mind of Tex Perkins, who ain’t monkeying around.

BY FRED MILLS

Spain’s Bang! Records has never been shy about its affinity for the darker, bluesier, garage-tilting side of Australian rock, and Give In, the second full-length by Melbourne’s The Ape, is a perfect example. The group is headed up by Tex Perkins, who over the years has had more than a few moments of commercial prominence, most notably the Cruel Sea; early on there was also the indie rock supergroup Beasts of Bourbon, the scuzzy Butcher Shop, and the bluesy/rootsy Dark Horses. He’s joined by several veterans of the Oz scene who’ve played in bands like the Drones and Magic Dirt, and while the Seventies-tilting The Ape has clear echoes of Perkins’ previous outfits—in particular, his edgy vocal howl/sneer—it also charts new territory for this rock ‘n’ roll lifer. He’s not monkeying around.

With just six songs, Give In might be viewed as a mini-album, but the tunes are all pretty lengthy, especially the atmospheric, haunted, droning title track, which suggests classic Funkadelic’s more psych-tinged side (think: “I’ll Bet You” and “Maggot Brain”). “Chug” is more minimalist, all pulsing bassline, taut lead guitar licks and chanted vocal incantations. “Snort” is a dissonant, robotic soundscape that’s essentially an instrumental (the nominal vocals are more like distant wails than actual singing). And the dirge-like “On My Way” is just plain hypnotic, a trudging slab of psychedelic blues that could pass for a slowed-down Black Sabbath cover.

Throughout, Perkins commands the mic as if he’s a condemned man given a recording session as his last wish: resigned to his fate, he sonically slips his neck into the noose and reaches for the lever himself. As a compelling new chapter in the Tex Perkins musical journey, The Ape is the real deal. (And yes, we know we are at least a half-year behind with this review, release date-wise. But it takes awhile for vinyl to find its way across the ocean from Australia to Spain, and then from Spain to the United States. You don’t think we are gonna review some wussy digital stream or something, do ya? This is Tex Perkins we’re talkin’, not John Mayer!)

DOWNLOAD: “Give In,” “On My Way”

MOHAMA SAZ – Negro es el Poder LP

Album: Negro es el Poder LP

Artist: Mohama Saz

Label: Humo

Release Date: March 10, 2017

www.somoshumo.com

The Upshot: Spanish experimental cosmonauts fuse gypsy, Arab, Turkish psychedelia and western funk for what has to be the most unlikely mashup to date this year.

BY FRED MILLS

Although a Spanish translation program would be of great assistance, I ultimately eschewed that in favor of simply sinking in to this rich, cocoon-like sonic quilt of disparate ethnic and geographical sounds. I do know this much: Mohama Saz feature guitarist Javier Alonso, reedsman Arturo Pueyo, drummer Adrian Ceballos, and multi-instrumentalist Sergio Ceballos (along with a number of guest players, including a flautist, trombone player, and a temptress of a female backing vocalist). Who are Mohama Saz, and what is Negro es el Poder? They hail from Spain, claim primary musical allegiance to Turkey, and insist to be viewed as a rock band.

Based on this, their second full-length, I’d say they have earned the right. Each of these nine songs holds up on its own merits, from the rippling, almost tumultuous “Hueso y Luz” (which recalls, in places, African artists such as Ali Farka Touré and Bombino), to the galloping, surf-psychedelic swirl of the title track, a tune just itching to be picked up by an American jam-band (listen for the left-field wah-wah guitar), to the hypnotic, sensual (and femme-voiced, emphasis on Middle Eastern trance) “Manana en las Montanas.”

Fans of Robert Plant’s excursions into sonic eclecticism, take note: the singer has a new backing band waiting in the wings, should he decide to delve even deeper into exoticism.

It’s a beautifully designed package and pressed on 180gm vinyl (also on CD). You can sample it at the group’s Bandcamp page.

DOWNLOAD: “Negro es el Poder,” “Manana en las Montanas”

Cory Branan & Jon Snodgrass 6/22/17, Denver

Dates: June 22, 2017

Location: Hi-Dive, Denver CO

Live at the Hi-Dive!

TEXT BY TIM HINELY/ PHOTOS BY JEFFREY WEBB DAVIS

It was my first time seeing Jon Snodgrass but I really have no excuse as between solo gigs and his band Drag the River he’s always taking one stage or another here in the Mile High City (or his home in Ft. Collins). And the guy is like a folk hero around here too. People love him. He cut his teeth in the 90’s in the band Armchair Martian (think Husker Du) then continued on in a more country direction with D.T.R. and his solo material. He’s a lifer.

On this night armed with an acoustic guitar and a ton of stories to tell, Snodgrass kept the mostly full Hi Dive audience rapt with longtime fans/friends shouting out songs they wanted to hear, knowing his catalog a helluva lot better than I do (or maybe better than Snodgrass himself). The guy’s got plenty of talent and enough charisma (helluva sense of humor, too) to deliver and he did indeed deliver. Toward the end of the set Branan joined him on stage for a few songs and all was (more) right with the world.

Bloodshot Records guy Cory Branan has played Denver at least a few other times and I kept missing him but I made it a point to be there on this Thursday night. Plus this tireless gentleman just got off the road as he spent all of March/April  hitting most of the American south (the guy is part machine, I think). He didn’t disappoint. Like his buddy Snodgrass he was armed with only an acoustic guitar an playing a barrage of songs off  all his records (including his brand new one Adios, on the venerable Bloodshot label…I loved his last one, 2014’s No-Hit Wonder).

On stage the Mississippi born n’ bred songwriter  is a bundle of energy, half Joe Strummer and half John Prine and it appears that he has a serious love of both, country and punk rock. He’s a hard hitter on that acoustic guitar of his, slamming the string downs (he broke a few during the night) and he was no less reckless when his pal Snodgrass joined him on stage. Blasting out a Warren Zevon cover (“Excitable Boy”) while from Adios we heard “I Only Know” and the politically-charged “Another Night in America.”

Elsewhere from No-Hit Wonder we heard “Missing You Fierce’ and “All the Rivers in Colorado” (which got lots of hoots n’ yelps from this hometown crowd) and a whole bunch of songs in between (including the excellent “Prettiest Waitress in Memphis”).

Not a lot of people out there can entrance an audience when all you have on stage is your acoustic guitar and your voice but Branan is no ordinary songwriter (as I said, part machine) he sings from his heart and intelligently of the human condition (he even stated that his latest album “mostly songs about death”) and he handles these topics with grace and aplomb. If I haven’t made it clear yet the guy is the real deal, don’t miss him.

 

One Less Reason 6/17/17, Jackson TN

Dates: June 17, 2017

Location: The Bassmnt, Jackson TN

Live at The Bassmnt, vowels optional.

TEXT AND PHOTOS BY MARK JACKSON

Fresh off of their Rock On The Range and Rocklahoma appearances, One Less Reason returned to their roots and played a homecoming show in Jackson, Tennessee, at the Bassmnt live venue. Although lead singer Cris Brown has called Memphis home for some time now, he hails from Jackson and that’s where his first band Lap Dog was born. The band Lap Dog didn’t start out as expected as their first gig was a night club in Jackson called Spinakers that allowed them to play on the outside patio. Halfway through the band’s set the manager actually paid them one hundred dollars to stop playing and load up.

If you have heard One Less Reason in the last twelve years then you already know they have defiantly gotten better. The nine albums since forming One less Reason has had several member changes along the way, but the constant has been Cris’s vocals and writing. With a controlled soulful voice that can go from soft heart touching all the way up to screaming rock that will have you jumping in the aisle.

One Less Reason’s first radio hit was back in 2005 with the single “Favorite Color” and have had a great underground follow ever since. With the release of The Memories Uninvited in 2016 the band has scored yet another hit with “Break Me” and even toured with Sick Puppies before landing not one but two Festival spots so far this year. The current line up seems to have come together as a whole firing on all cylinders and every member has mastered their instrument with the best stage presence to date.

Cris had a surprise in store for the hometown crowd and brought out ex guitarist Jerry Bailey for a couple acoustic songs, it was a great and touching moment for those of us who have been long time fans. Another highlight of the evening for me was when OLR played the song “uneasy”. Cris announced this was the first time he had played the song live. Cris brought up Anne Cline, an up and coming artist with his record label Tattoo Millionaire Records, to sing the female part originally sang by Blair Simpson.

If you are tired of the trend of the screaming heavy metal or the rap/rock acts that start to sound like one another, I encourage you to download some of the One Less Reason albums and make rock great again.

To see and follow more of Mark’s concert pictures follow @markjacksonphotography1

 

Skillet 6/6/17, Memphis

Dates: June 6, 2017

Location: New Daisy Theatre, Memphis TN

Live at the New Daisy Theatre, in music city Memphis.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY MARK JACKSON

Skillet and Devour The Day (below) played the Famous New Daisy Theatre on June 6th and both bands brought their A game.

This was a special night for Skillet’s lead singer John Cooper who formed the band back in 1996 in Memphis, TN. John took this opportunity to invite his family and close friends to come out for a hometown show. John took time to acknowledge them and even stated that his dad was excited to experience the show since he had good earplugs in! There was another friend and celebrity who came out to support the band, none other than Zack Myers guitarist for Shinedown who is also a Memphian. I had the good fortune to see and photograph Skillet just two weeks before at Rock On The Range in Columbus Ohio where they had a great set, but this performance was ten times better. Maybe it was due to the smaller venue, the full stage setup which included hydraulic pedestals for guitarists (wife) Korey and Seth that allowed them to rise above the stage almost reaching the ceiling, or maybe it was because John had his family and friends in the house. Whatever it was this was this Christian rock band put on a stellar performance that left everyone wanting more!

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit + Amanda Shires 6/18/17, Raleigh

Dates: June 18, 2017

Location: North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh NC

Eyes as big as stars, all under a starry night at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY TODD GUNSHER

I think it can be easily said that the coolest dad in Raleigh this past Father’s Day was Jason Isbell. On the second date of the tour supporting his latest record, The Nashville Sound, he put on one hell of a rock and roll show to a sold-out crowd under a starry North Carolina night.

Coming out of the gate with “Cumberland Gap” and “Stockholm,” Jason and his longtime band The 400 Unit signified, as always, that they mean business. Unlike many songwriters who hire different musicians whenever they hit the road, the fact that Isbell goes out with the same players brings a consistency that strengthens the music. While the songs are Isbell’s, on stage this is a band, not a singer with some supporting players. Jason clearly thinks highly of the guys, Sadler Vaden, (guitar), Jimbo Hart, (bass), Derry DeBorja (keyboards) and Chad Gamble (drums), introducing each of them multiple times throughout the night, often with a dryly delivered one-liner. Joining the 400 Unit on fiddle and vocals was Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires who, with her own band, also opened the show (below).

You can find reviews of The Nashville Sound elsewhere (it’s already got my vote for the album of the year), but Jason is obviously proud of the work as eight of it’s 10 songs made up nearly half the set. Great songwriters transcend genre but must also continually work at their craft, and Isbell’s work over the years puts him in the upper echelon of great songwriters. Throughout the night, all the songs, whether “Outfit” (complete with a Father’s Day dedication to his dad) and “Decoration Day” from his Drive-

By Truckers days, or the most recent songs like “Tupelo” and “White Man’s World” all fit alongside one another and all seem equally familiar.  I was really glad to hear “Something To Love” which became a favorite upon my first listen, and judging by the response of the crowd I’m not alone. Not only was it a setlist with with no filler, it’s near impossible to even find a throwaway line, he is a true craftsman. And then there’s his guitar playing, which is not only great, but played on a stunning collection of instruments that I’m sure didn’t go unnoticed by the other guitar nerds in the audience.

The band ended the set with the quiet of “Cover Me Up” followed by the heavy riffing of “Anxiety.” Returning to the stage for the encore, they slowed things back down with “If We Were Vampires,” a beautiful song off the new record that already ranks up there with the best of his material. To close out the night, Jason said they were going to play an Allman Brothers song, to the obvious delight of the southern crowd. Remembering Gregg Allman, Jason told of how Gregg had correctly predicted that his and Amanda’s baby was going to be a girl and the band then hit the familiar riff of “Whipping Post.” True to the Allmans influence, this rendition definitely hit the note with soaring solos by both Vaden and Isbell and was a perfect way to send us home.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit have a full schedule of dates lined up so catch them if you can, they definitely don’t disappoint.

 

Setlist:

Cumberland Gap

Stockholm

Hope The High Road

Something More Than Free

Decoration Day

White Man’s World

Tupelo

Codeine

Alabama Pines

Last of my kind

Something To Love

24 Frames

Outfit

If it takes a lifetime

Cover Me Up

Anxiety

 

Encore:

Vampires

Whipping Post

SHANNON WRIGHT – Division

Album: Division

Artist: Shannon Wright

Label: Vicious Circle

Release Date: February 24, 2017

http://www.viciouscircle.fr/en/artiste/shannon-wright

The Upshot: Another challenging and rewarding LP from an overlooked American songwriter getting her due in Europe.

BY JOHN SCHACHT

Shannon Wright is precisely the kind of artist the Internet Age crushes underfoot—which is as much our cultural loss as it is her career’s. When Wright began her solo career in the late 90s after the break-up of her band Crowsdell, there were still viable record label homes for eclectic songwriters and performers; the good folks at Touch & Go/Quarterstick would likely still be championing her had not the bottom fallen out of the industry for them in 2008, a year after Wright’s fifth release (2007’s Let In the Light).

Now, nearly a decade and four more fantastic—and fantastically obscure—records later, Wright still releases indelible, soul-scouring music. Only she does it (this time) through a French label, and against the wash of Internet noise. She also releases it in an ever-declining U.S. music market where even hipster “indie” outlets are too busy covering pop music to review her LPs. More’s the pity, since Wright’s adventurousness grows more compelling as time goes by.

Witness her latest, Division, a haunting album recorded in Rome and Paris. The eight songs introduce sampling and glitchy beats to layers of Wurlitzer, Hammond and piano, pushing Wright into new sonic territory. But whether she’s coaxing balladry from a toy piano or wielding her Jazz Master like a cudgel, Wright remains a wholly distinctive songwriter of raw, excoriating honesty.

Her previous releases, 2014’s In Film Sound, harkened back to her Touch & Go era, where working with producer Steve Albini first pulled something primal from her guitar playing. But with the exception of the explosive, fuzzed-out riff on the fiery title-track on Division, Wright has tamped down the guitar attack in favor of a host of keyboards.

There’s no drop-off in intensity, though. Whether she’s whispering pleas for relief or howling away demons, Wright’s songs mainline into dread, confusion and division but emerge from their trials graced by beauty. Album highlight “The Thirst,” a swirling lullaby about obsession and self-delusion, is both tangibly desperate and transcendent—”It’s my thirst, the thirst for your hand, vast as the sea,” Wright cries, her looped vocals wrapping over each other like layers of a shroud. On “Iodine,” trebly guitar lines embroider sinister organ fills as Wright laments all our “bloody crimes” and concedes that “desire won’t release, won’t be tamed or let me be.” As with much of Wright’s music, the song become its own salve.

Elsewhere, Wright incorporates select electronic elements to strong effect. She sets her vocals in contrast to toy piano and radio static on the pleasingly disorienting “Seemingly,” and uses film samples and offbeat percussion against a piano motif to jack up the tension to creepy levels on “Soft Noise.” That track eventually cracks into one of the record’s few turbulent crescendos with the help of drummer Raphaël Séguinier and violist David Chalmin. “Lighthouse (Drag Us In),” closes the album on a suitably eerie ballad, as Wright’s impressionistic piano (think Satie) conjures ethereal specters that call us to our stormy doom in the song’s final minute.

If you’ve been following along in the post-Quarterstick era, Division probably slots closer to the semi-polished grandeur of 2009’s Honeybee Girl  than it does the mercurial (also guitar-centric) Secret Blood (2010) or In Film Sound. It reads more experimental, as well. But it still captures the urgency that defines Wright’s incandescent live gigs, which are more ritual purging than rock show—the line between Wright the Performer and Wright the Songwriter is so thin as to show, ironically, no division at all. And the world, wired up or not, could always use less artifice and more honesty of that ilk. If only they could find it…

DOWNLOAD: “The Thirst,” “Accidental,” “Soft Noise,” “Iodine”

 

THE FATHER FIGURES – Heavy Lifting LP

Album: Heavy Lifting LP

Artist: Father Figures

Label: Slope

Release Date: April 14, 2017

www.sloperecords.com

The Upshot: Classic post-hardcore politic-punk that true believers will instinctively embrace.

BY FRED MILLS

Phoenix-based vinyl-only label Slope continues its AZ-punk documentation, this time the fourth LP from the Father Figures: Michael Cornelius (ex-JFA) on guitar, Tom Reardon (Hillbilly Devilspeak) on bass/vocals, and Bobby Lerma (Jeff Dahl Band) on drums. That impressive collective musical resume, however, is scant preparation for the sheer sonic whomp that Heavy Lifting wields.

“Might makes right, but so does acting right/ Don’t you know? Even children know!” are the first, barked, words you hear from the band, against a bold backing of staccato rhythms and sinewy leads. Following “Ego vs Ego” there’s “Medicine Ball,” which, in similar declamatory, solar plexus-punch fashion, asserts “This is the ghost of your mind/ Keeping your thoughts at home/ They wander aimlessly,” as if to say, you’re being controlled, people. Toto, we’re in politi-punk territory.

And with that Fugazi-meets-Dead Kennedys welcome, Father Figures embark upon their album-length screed with aplomb. Visions of Minutemen (“Nigerian Prince Crossing”), early Wire (the dissonant “Kennebago”), and even Black Flag (“Hotel San Pedro”—speaking of the Minutemen—has that angular, pre-Rollins vibe, although the fretwork from Cornelius is far more inherently tuneful than the Flag ever was) all zoom past at different points. And it’s worth noting that not a moment is squandered, for each song is fully in the service of impact and inspiration, from both a musical and lyrical point of view. Almost as if the three men are going, here’s what we were trying to say back in the ‘80s, but we didn’t quite yet possess the complete toolbox—now we’ve got the chops, the experience, and the confidence to translate it for a new era.

Ultimately, it’s the kind of classic post-hardcore punk that true believers will instinctively embrace. No heavy lifting required. (Consumer note: The 180-gm. record arrives housed in a sealable outer plastic bag, and the inner sleeve is poly lined. These may seem nominal touches to some of you, but it’s the kind of stuff I (and other record collectors) notice. In terms of protecting both the jacket and the vinyl itself, they represent the efforts of a record label that genuinely cares about its product and wants to give its customers as much value as possible. Download card included, too. Thumbs up.

DOWNLOAD: “Nigerian Prince Crossing,” “Hotel San Pedro,” “Ego No Ego”

MOUNTAIN MOVERS — Mountain Movers

Album: Mountain Movers

Artist: Mountain Movers

Label: Trouble in Mind

Release Date: May 05, 2017

http://www.troubleinmindrecs.com

The Upshot: Whacked out jams, more melodic short ones, and a lot of fun.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Mountain Movers’ sixth, self-titled album starts and ends with extended whacked out jams, both “I Could Really See Things” and “Unknown Hours” stretching out in free-form, jet engine roar that swells and builds and falls apart into dissonant, amp-buzzing detritus of sound. The New Haven, CT-based four-piece — that’s Dan Greene singing and playing guitar, Rick Omonte on bass, Kryssi Battalene on guitar and Ross Menze on drums — has pursued an increasingly heavy, psychedelic groove, and this one, coming nearly a decade into the band’s run is evidently enough of a distillation of their aesthetic to carry Mountain Movers’ name.

In between these two monoliths, a trio of shorter, more melodically focused songs (plus one short, instrumental interval) nestle, the Sonic Youth (or really Lee Ranaldo) evoking “Everyone Cares,” the spun-out and trippy “Angels Don’t Worry” and the lone anthemic punk song, “Vision Television” which clocks in at 2:15 and punches like a Swell Maps song, with only a little psychedelic entropy at the bridge. It’s the best thing on the disc and the least like all the others. It’s not that the long drones aren’t worthy, more that they make you appreciate concision.

DOWNLOAD: “Vision Television”

 

KRIS GIETOWSKI – Three of a Kind

Album: Three of a Kind

Artist: Kris Gietowski

Label: Fruits de Mer

Release Date: May 26, 2017

www.fruitsdemerrecords.com

The Upshot: Polish artist summons fond memories of Egg, Arthur Brown, Atomic Rooster and… Stereolab!

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

So, the story goes that Fruits de Mer head honcho Keith Jones was one day just surfing YouTube and came across works by Polish musician Kris Gietowski. I can only imagine the sheer joy and excitement that must have coursed through Keith’s veins upon such a unique discovery. Kris happened to have not only recorded his version of British prog band Egg’s first album, but Atomic Rooster’s as well as Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s first records as well. I admit I’m new to all three, although I did look the music up in YouTube to get up to speed. I may have heard a Crazy World of Arthur Brown track many moons ago from his Strangelands LP released on Reckless Records.  Fast forward to about 3 weeks ago, I open my mailbox and there’s a package with Kris’ 3 cd’s, I go for a ride and pop in the Egg album and my jaw drops, the music is jazzy, with an almost Jimmy Smith vibe informed with elements of Transient Random Noise Bursts with Announcements type sonics. Extremely catchy to the point where you feel you’ve known this music a lot longer than the cd’s hour length. I swear I can hear in Kris’ versions some shades of the German band Can.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown cd I feel is probably the most difficult album that Kris tackles simply for the fact that Arthur Brown’s operatic vocals are missing. It’s my least favorite of the three cd’s because the music feels a tad flat. The Atomic Rooster CD on the other hand is incredible for how closely Kris mimics Vincent Crane’s organ sound. “Before Tomorrow” is a killer workout, and the best case yet to show off Kris’ immense talent. Here he takes the original 5-minute song and condenses it to about half that. Economy without losing any of the grandeur of the original. It’s an audacious move to have covered these three albums just for the pure pleasure of it, and for the most part the results are startling. Kris is a stellar musician whose virtuoso performance beguiles at every turn, and since Fruits de Mer are only pressing up 300 sets you better hop to it!

DOWNLOAD: “The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous” “Movement 4” “Spontaneous Apple Creation” “Before Tomorrow”