Category Archives: North Carolina Music

Just Out: Tracy Shedd “The Carolinas” Album

By Fred Mills

Way back in 2013 we enthusiastically covered NC-by-way-of-Arizona songwriter Tracy Shedd, who had just released her remarkable album Arizona. (Additionally, check out a review of it here.)

Shedd’s new one, The Carolinas, her sixth, has now officially dropped via NC’s Fort Lowell Records as of yesterday, Sept. 20, and it a dreampop delight. (Yes, folks, it’ll be available on vinyl as well courtesy Science Project Records.) I’ll save the review-style verbiage for later, but here are a few salient details the label has kindly supplied… First, though a couple of tunes… aw hell, let’s make it three tunes… for your sonic edification:

After having Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth sit in on drums for Tracy Shedd during a US tour, Shedd began writing songs for The Carolinas in her new home of North Carolina; combining her indie rock roots of 20-years with recent electronic experience from Band & The Beat.  The Carolinas is Shedd’s most playful, yet proficient, album to date, celebrated by the inaugural release of “Kissing and Romancing”: the superfun and fuzzy shoegaze single with its supercute and funny stop-motion video – followed by the second single “Holding On”: a classic indie pop dance hit in the making, accompanied by an engaging performance video.

Looking forward to some live dates from Shedd? Us too, no kidding!

DOOM PUNKS: George Hage (Jack The Radio) & Nick Baglio

With their new Doom Punks rec storming both the indie rock and comics dimensions, let us investigate….

BY JOHN B. MOORE

George Hage, on top of being an incredible guitar player for the New Reveille and Jack The Radio (the latter for which he also sings for), is a pretty stellar artist, whose recent book, Daydreaming: The Art of George Hage, impressed scores of reviewers, including our editor here at BLURT. When he’s not touring or recording, he’s designing posters, shirts, album covers, beer labels, hell even drumhead logos. So, the fact that he would one day marry his two passions into a new project was simply a given.

Along with longtime friend and fellow musician, Nick Baglio, Hage created Doom Punks, a comic book-themed punk rock band.

The duo recently put out their debut EP, so now seemed like an ideal time to catch up with Hage to discuss the Doom Punks, his latest venture into the comic world and the status of his other bands. (Useful links follow the interview.)

***

BLURT: Can you start out by talking about the idea behind Doom Punks?

GEORGE HAGE: Doom Punks started as a pie in the sky idea to combine my love for comics with my love for music. I imagined some of my favorite indie comic books were transformed into their own Saturday-morning style cartoons and our songs were their theme songs similar to what The Ramones did with Spider-man.

The past few years led to something more. We were able to create a song for a very talented friend of mine, Skottie Young’s comic Middlewest, and put an ad with a link to the song at the end of the comic, which created a whole new dimension to the comic book experience. This is something I haven’t really seen or heard before and hope that our music provides the comic reader with an enhanced experience much like the score to a film does.

Had you written these songs before you got together with Nick in 2016?

I had starting writing some of the songs for myself, just for fun. I initially never thought they’d see the light of day. After sitting in on guitar for some shows with my longtime pal, Nick Baglio, we got to talking and I threw the idea out there and he was in to bringing the songs to life with his immensely great drumming.

 

How did you connect with Image Comics?

I primarily worked with Skottie Young and Jorge Corona directly to create the song for their creator-owned comic Middlewest with Image Comics. It was exciting to see Image create the animated promo video for book with the song as the score for the video. It will be exciting to see if we can find more ways to collaborate on future projects.

Obviously, you have a passion for comics. Do you remember how you first got into them?

I remember being 9 or 10 and seeing comic books for the first time at the grocery store. Around that time Death of Superman was happening and Jim Lee’s X-men number one was exploding everywhere. My parents would give me a small allowance for doing stuff around the house and I would use that money to pick up the comic books. Eventually they started taking me to local comic shops, Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find being one of them that I still go to when I’m in Charlotte.

 

Given your love of comics, it must have been pretty cool to work on that print for NC Comic Con. How did that come about?

Creating the art for the NC Comic Con Oak City print was a real treat. It’s been great watching that convention grow from a small shopping strip to a multi-town convention that’s now held at the convention center. It’s a con that I started going to as a fan year and years ago. Over the years I’ve lucky enough to connect with the great folks behind the scenes at Ultimate Comics and they have supported my art and have been kind enough to include me over the years.

You’re a pretty talented artist – have you thought about creating your own comic based around songs?

I’ve always wanted to and still do want to create my own comic book and had plans to do something with the Jack the Radio character. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do that yet. The good news is sequential art takes a lot of skill and the longer I wait the more I get to practice and study up. That’s what I tell myself at least, (laughs).

 

Do you see this as a Doom Punks one-off project or any plans for more Doom Punks albums?

Nick and I have talked about it a bit and we definitely want to do more songs going forward. I’d love to connect with more comic creators and publishers to collaborate on the songs to create something that adds to the comic book experience and is something that can be used in promoting the books.

Have you and Nick played any of these songs live yet?

We haven’t played any of these songs live yet, however I go down with some of the Jack the Radio guys every year to Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC to play some music at their annual Drink N Draw event with Team Cul De Sac, which raises money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. We might have to break out a song or two there.

 

Anything new happening with Jack The Radio?

Jack the Radio has slowed down a bit in the past two years with some line-up changes due to jobs, family, etc. but we are gradually working on another record at Warrior Sound in Chapel Hill, NC, which is where we’ve recorded our past studio albums. With a different line-up the sound is evolving, which has been an exciting process.

 

Growing up, did you imagine you’d be able to make a living by playing music and drawing?

Honestly, no. Growing up no one in my family really played an instrument and no one drew. We didn’t know anyone that did either for a living, nor have anyone in my family in the biz so it didn’t cross my mind it could be a way to make a living. It was always something I loved and that I did for fun. I was a pretty introverted kid at times and it really helped me build my social skills and confidence. Music specifically challenged me to overcome any fears of talking or performing in front of people. I think it gets overlooked a lot, but music and art is a great way to meet people and I’ve made some great friends through both.

 

What’s next for you – what else have you got going on?

Musically I’m focused on tightening up my live show and pushing myself to grow as a songwriter. Artistically I have a lot of projects going on with businesses, bands, festivals and more that I’m looking forward to sharing with folks. Most recently I was able to work with a great designer and art director, Landon Elmore, on some illustration work for the 2019 World of Bluegrass fest branding produced by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA). It’s one of the largest, if not the largest street festivals around. Also be on the lookout for some artwork for Foo Fighter guitarist, Chris Shiflett. And if you’re in Raleigh feel free to check out my latest art installation at Transfer Co. Food Hall downtown.

***

Links for your edification:

www.doompunks.com

www.george-hage.com

www.nickbaglio.com

 

 

 

WELCOME, ALL: The 3rd Lake Logan, NC, Cold Mountain Music Festival

Taking place Friday and Saturday of this week, May 31-June 1, in Canton, North Carolina, it features a slew of diverse artists—among them, Calexico, Milk Carton Kids, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Kat Wright. We talked to one of the festival organizers about its origins, its intention, and its overall success to date. (Above photo the official festival photo; image below, by David Simchock www.davidsimchock.com / courtesy CMMF)

BY FRED MILLS

The summer festival season begins anew—having already been sufficiently primed/goosed by numerous pre-summer festivals, which seem to occur earlier and earlier each year—with festival-goers and musicians alike fairly frothing at the mouth over, respectively, the ensuing fun-potential and the ridiculously easy paychecks.

One relatively young event is the two-day Cold Mountain Music Festival, May 31-June 1, occurring in Canton, North Carolina (specifically: 25 Wormy Chestnut Lane, Canton, NC 28716). Canton is about a half-hour west of Asheville, already renowned for its thriving music scene, and the hills of Western N.C. are similarly alive with the sound of music (to paraphrase a great philosopher). And as we pointed out not long ago here at BLURT, it’s to be “a tasting board of artists ranging from the folk, funk, Americana, bluegrass, and post-rock worlds, with highlights including Grammy-nominated alt-rockers the Milk Carton Kids, critically acclaimed “desert noir” duo Calexico, crowd-favorite jamgrass ensemble Yonder Mountain String Band, fast rising troubadour J.S. Ondara, “soul queen” Kat Wright, the equally Stax-worthy Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics, and improvisational genre-benders Driftwood, among others.”

There’s an interesting angle here, too: the family-friendly camping festival, now in its third year and located in Pisgah National Forest at the wonderfully scenic Lake Logan, is put on by the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina in order to support the work of the ministries of the Lake Logan Conference Center and Camp Henry. Doesn’t exactly sound like your garden-variety sex/drugs/rock’n’roll gathering, where topless girls get hoisted upon the shoulders of their E-gobbling boyfriends and frats on leave from campus slam beer-bongs in between actual bong hits, eh?

I posed that question, or at least my somewhat toned-down version of it, to Lake Logan Conference Center’s Development Director Michelle Robinson, as I was curious to learn if the festival organizers have ever encountered raised eyebrows when informing someone about potential looming collisions between Dionysian youth practices and Faith-based church cultures. I got a firm “LOL” from her…

“We haven’t seen any of that,” chuckled Robinson. “I hope it’s respect for the place we are in and for those around us. If we are to continue to have this festival, we can’t have issues like drugs destroying the vibe. Christians are not excluded from liking good music, be it rock ‘n’ roll or any other. And we count it as a blessing that we have very poor Wi-fi here—people aren’t walking around with their faces in their phones. Instead, they are connecting with their neighbors and enjoying nature. It’s amazing to watch.”

In our conversation, Robinson professed to be a big fan of music festivals in general, adding that she has prior experience with large such events. She always had a hunch that the Lake Logan setting would be an ideal one for such a gathering, and explained that while the venue had always been used primarily for summer camp and church groups, “the festival arose as a thought between a few long-time supporters of Lake Logan and myself—I knew we could make it happen. My best friend is married to one of the Steep Canyon Rangers, so she was very helpful, as were the Rangers, with getting the first one going. We knew the location was perfect for it! It took a lot of work that first year from the entire planning committee, the Diocese staff and Lake Logan staff—I’m always afraid our head of facilities will retire! We have great people at Lake Logan and in the Diocese office in Asheville. Everyone works hard to make this a success.

“And there is a great deal of organization to it. I work for Lake Logan and Camp Henry, with support from the Episcopal Diocese of WNC. And Bishop José McLoughlin has been our strongest supporter. He understands our goal [is] to bring all people together in this place where all are welcomed. He lets us do the job and trusts us to make good decisions.”

Good decisions, indeed. Early on, the festival organizers determined that strategic partnerships would be key, and by the second year they had brought on well-respected and -connected Asheville concert promoter and talent buyer Jeff Whitworth, of Worthwhile Sounds, to help line up performers, along with Chad Stewart of Asheville’s Sound to coordinate the lighting and sound systems. (Robinson: “He’s the best, so that was an easy choice.”) Also in the mix now: Haywood County’s weekly newspaper the Smoky Mountain News, the Haywood Tourism Development Authority helping out with some of the talent costs, and the Haywood Sheriff Department for festival-related security and traffic control (not to mention accompanying bureaucratic hoops). Plus, plenty of participation from local breweries, food trucks, and regional merchants—crucial for probably every kind of music festival on the planet.

Robinson adds that another crucial element in mounting a solid festival is lining up sponsorships in order to cover the costs of the booking budget. “We have been successful financially so far,” she says. “It isn’t a huge profit yet, but we keep growing. We have many generous sponsors who come back year after year to help us make this happen. And the Haywood TDA gave us a grant this year that has been a huge help for getting great talent. In terms of genre, we stress that this festival is not a bluegrass festival. We love bluegrass and we have it on the schedule, but we don’t stop there. We want diversity in the music and in the musicians. This year, we have some great soul acts, Americana, folk, country, and bluegrass—and some that I’m not sure how to categorize, but it’s good music.”

And she’s quick to point out that the Cold Mountain Music Festival is intended to be more than simply musically inclusive:

“This festival sort of announced to the community that Lake Logan is open for all. We are not a private campus and we welcome all. You don’t have to be Episcopalian to be here. We host artist retreats, family reunions, private retreats, dancing, and the list goes on and on. Last year, our new-ish Executive Director, Lauri SoJourner, opened Lake Logan for annual memberships. That has been a huge success with our neighbors. People can come out for the day to enjoy the lake or to fish.

“We really do welcome all.”

***

For further reading about the festival, check out my interview with Joey Burns and John Convertino, of Saturday evening headliner Calexico, along with don’t-miss featured performer Kat Wright, who plays late afternoon on Saturday.. – FM

***

Check out the festival line-up and visit www.coldmountainmusic.org for tickets, festival tees and more info — with The Milk Carton Kids, Kat Wright, Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics, Joe Lasher, Calexico, J.S. Ondara, The Travelin’ Kine, Yonder Mountain String Band, Logan Ledger, Out of the Blue Peruvian Fusion Cuisine, Noble Cider – Taproom & Cidery, Hit the Pit BBQ Co., Driftwood and Mo Pho Pho Sho.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopscotch Festival 9/6 – 9/8/18, Raleigh NC

Dates: September 6 - 8, 2018

Location: Raleigh, North Carolina

At various downtown venues, the nationally-touted indie music festival brought the noise and demonstrated why it is, indeed, “touted.” Go HERE to view a gallery of some of the weekend’s performers.

BY DANIEL MATTI & CHIP KLOSS

Another year of Hopscotch shakes up Raleigh as the festival marks its 9th year in a row. From City Plaza to Red Hat Amphitheatre to bouncing around the other 10 venues in play, it became another year of running around to catch a favorite band or stumbling into one and discovering something that you might not normally see.

From the first night, where H.C. McEntire, Real Estate, and The Flaming Lips rocked City Plaza, to the tons of conflicts at 11:30pm with the tough choice in seeing Sleep, U.S. Girls, Kilbourne, Waxahatchee, Deaf Wish, House and Land, Yawpers, or Everything is Terrible!, I was able to catch three acts (Sleep, Waxahatchee, and Everything is Terrible!). Because that’s all my legs could muster up that night.

Second night started off with a somber note as Thundercat took the stage and dedicated his set to his friend Mac Miller who passed away earlier that morning. From someone who has seen Thundercat a couple times you could tell he was affected by the passing of Mac since most of his set was a freestyle jam of most of his songs—which ended up being one of the greatest sets I’ve ever seen during this annual festival. After leaving City Plaza I got to catch local cello-core greats, Gown absolutely destroy Slims, and then The Revolution turn The Basement into a sing-a-long dance party that went on late into the night. After so much dancing I managed to get into the Pour House to catch the tail end of a stunning set from Swearin’.

The final night had me dragging my feet, as there was not much that I was completely dying to see, I actually ended up gathering energy and catching more acts than a usual final night of a festival—from Chic and MC50 putting on some of the best sets of the weekend of the big stages, to Sarah Shook and the Disarmers and Negative Gemini waking you up with their stunning performances with late night sets.

Now that Hopscotch has finished another chapter, I look forward to next year. It always brings its warmth with every band, not to mention every friend in the area who comes out to see their favorite band and mostly to discover a whole lot of new ones. —Daniel Matti

***

If you live in Raleigh, September means two things: (1) When the hell is this heat going to end? (2) Hopscotch Music Fest.

Raleigh’s premier festival chugs into its ninth year with three days of music and good times. Having attended before, I understand the steps leading up to the event. Things begin months before the festival with Innuendo, gossip and rumors of who will be appearing. Weeks later comes the official headliners announcement, followed by support announcements. Next up is the release of the official schedule.  Hours spent highlighting the bands you want to see, grumbling about the timing conflicts. Can I make it from Slim’s to the Lincoln Theatre in time? The final step is abandoning the highlighted schedule and just winging it. Going from venue to venue, taking chances on bands you have never heard. One of the greatest joys of Hopscotch is you will always walk away digging a band that 3 hours ago was unknown to you. Perhaps my favorite part of the Fest is running into friends. This year I ran into people I have not spoken to in years. That alone is worth the price of admission. Life sometimes gets in the way, relationships falter a little but music is the element that always brings us together. Regardless of your political, religious or spiritual beliefs, with Hopscotch you are always surrounded by non-judgmental people who are there for the same reason you are….the love of the music.

Thursday

I felt this year’s fest was a little light on both the metal and hip-hop artists. The bulk of the metal shows were Thursday at The Basement. A cavernous open space beneath the Raleigh Civic Center, The Basement held simply a stage and a mixing board. The venue was the size of a few football fields and most likely lived its life as a storage area the rest of the year. But for now, it was Heavy Metal Central. Raleigh metal masters Bedowyn began the evening with a blistering 40 minute set, bolstered by the lead shredding of Mark Peters.  As the band finished I was greeted by some friends who were goIng to see The Flaming Lips. My plan was to stay in The Basement all evening, but who can pass up seeing The Lips? We made our way to City Plaza, packing a few thousand people. I am not the biggest Lips fan, but I do enjoy their theatrics. As usual at a Lips show, the crowd was entertained by batting giant balls and balloons around. I pushed my way through and slapped a balloon as well. I think that makes me an Official Flaming Lips fan. I headed back to The Basements and caught the remaining 2 songs of the set from Grohg. A few minutes of roadies, and a few more people pushed up towards me (I was in the front row against the barricades). The band Skeletonwitch then took the stage. This band has had its share of issues. They booted out their original singer in 2016 and replaced him with Adam Clemans. Not many bands can replace the singer and come out it bigger, badder and louder.  The show they put on was amazing, a lesson to any young rockers in the crowd. I knew I had a lot more Hopscotch to go, but I knew this was going to be one of the best performances.  I was completely enthralled by this band. Simply a phenomenal show. They eventually yielded the stage to the legendary Sleep. This may have been the loudest show I have ever attended. Front row was far too brutal of an assault on my ears, so I made my way to the back of the venue. That did not really help, so I went to the stairs leading to the venue, a good 200 feet from the stage. That was a lot more comfortable, and is where I rode out the rest of the band’s set.

Friday

The afternoon began with the news of the untimely passing of rapper Mac Miller. The headliner at City Plaza that night was Thundercat, who was very good friends with Miller. There was a buzz around town that perhaps ‘Cat would cancel his set. He did not. Instead he gave an incredible, inspired performance. He invoked Millers name several times, each to a roaring applause from the crowd. It was a sad day for the music community, but Thundercat definitely provided an electric eulogy. I hung around City Plaza for the beginning of the Grizzly Bear show. They are not really my thing, so I went venue hopping and caught Vacant Company, Lightning Born, Gown and Swearin’. Bands I knew little about, but that is the spirit of this festival. I really dug a couple of these bands and was glad to have found them.

Saturday

MC50. The 50th anniversary of the classic “Kick Out the Jams” LP. Wayne Kramer (MC5), Kim Thayill (Soundgarden) Billy Gould (Faith No More) Brendan Canty (Fugazi) & Marcus Durant (Zen Guerillas).

They were loud, rude, and obnoxious. Everything you want in a band. Seeing that much talent on the stage was mind boggling. Even more so when the band invited Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) to rip some solo’s during the set. After the band wrapped up I hung around City Plaza hoping to spot Kim Thayill. I did not. So I hoofed over to the Lincoln Theatre where I planned on camping out of the rest of the evening. The evenings soundtrack was Zepheniah Ohara’s old school country, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers’ outlaw country and the headliners The Jayhawks.  I decided to leave The Jayhawks show a little early and head to the Pour House. I had gotten a tip there was an artist I had to see. I reached the venue, but the artist I was there to see was not on. Everyone on the bill had been late going on, so I was lucky enough to catch the last 15 minutes of a band called Combo Chimbita.  This world music band was the perfect ending to my Hopscotch experience. I had no clue of who they were, but walked out of the Pour House wanting to own every piece of music they have ever made.

Overall highlights? Skeletonwitch, MC50, Combo Chimbita, seeing a gaggle of friends at City Plaza—and getting to rest on Sunday. —Chip Kloss

SMARTEST THING HE’S EVER DONE: Peter Holsapple

Rather than stay in bed, the Tar Heel power pop icon got up, hit the recording studio, and put in some serious sweat equity to craft what is destined to be one of the year’s most enduring, endearing releases. Visit Holsapple’s blog to check out his personal musings, details on live dates (he’s promoting the album with a handful of dates as the Peter Holsapple Combo), and future plans. Incidentally, he’ll also be releasing The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton in October via Omnivore.

BY FRED MILLS

Last year, with the release of the “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style” 45, North Carolina rocker Peter Holsapple set in motion a domino effect set of expectations among his fanbase—most of whom had been following the songwriter since his power pop dB’s days (and some of us since his prior tenure with Chapel Hill garage outfit the H-Bombs, or his even earlier high school bands in Winston-Salem). It had been quite some time since Holsapple had issued anything as a solo artist, yet at the time of the single, he opted to demur when questions about a full-length cropped up. As I subsequently wrote in my review of the single, “He told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays.”

But it would appear that the good Mr. H was indeed eyeing the long game. Ergo, Game Day (Omnivore), his first full-length solo rec in over two decades, a bakers-dozen worth of tunes, plus a bonus track and two “super bonus” tracks. Indeed, it has been 21 years since the release of the wonderful Out of My Way, although he hasn’t exactly been a recluse in the interim, having teamed with his old dB’s pal Chris Stamey for 2009’s Here And Now (a kind of belated followup to the duo’s ’91 album Mavericks) and a pair of singles; released several titles with the Continental Drifters; and of course reunited with the dB’s in 2012 for the Falling Off the Sky album and Revolution of the Mind 12” EP.

Still, this new album marks a welcome re-emergence precisely because Holsapple’s musical choices over the years have always been studied and deliberate, never random, and certainly not in the service of simply getting some “product” into the bins. (Peter, here’s the point where we can hear you saying, in your best John Cleese voice, “What’s wrong with putting product in the bins?” –Tar Heel Ed.)

He states his intentions at the beginning, in “Game Day”:

“My horoscope read,
‘You oughta stay in bed.’
My doctor said,
‘It’s all in your head;
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll;
It’s not getting old;
There’s no reason to quit;
So you better get used to it…’”

Indeed, Game Day is a deeply personal album, rife with self-scrutiny and autobiography, from that title track (a thrumming, anthemic number that also references times spent in the van with fellow bandmembers) and caustic garage rocker “In Too Deep” (a kind of self-j’accuse alluding to a litany of unspecified personal sins); to a strummy, insistent confessional called “The Better Man” that at times brings to mind midperiod Ray Davies, and the remarkably naked—speaking of confessionals—“Yelling At Clouds,” whose deployment of a waltzing, elegant, almost baroque arrangement can’t disguise the songwriter’s insecurities and frustrations. And dB’s devotees will cheer the arrival of “Not Right Now,” a spooky, shimmering slice of psychedelic-tinged power pop that sounds like it could have been plucked from the group’s early ‘80s repertoire. Listen closely and you’ll also hear sonic and lyrical echoes of “Sealed With a Kiss,” a 1962 hit single by pop artist Brian Hyland, and a tune that Holsapple undoubtedly heard as a kid scores of times on AM radio in the early ‘60s.

It’s a mature, songwriter’s songwriter album, although not one so deliberately omniscient and wise-beyond-the-years that you would call it Dad Rock. Instead, it’s the logical extension of such memorable Holsapple moments as the deeply moving “The Child in You” (from the aforementioned Mavericks collab with Stamey), the frustrated/self-effacing “Spitting In the Wind” (on dB’s 1984 album Like This), and the downcast “We Were Happy There” (1981’s Repercussion).

Over the years Holsapple has typically nurtured his lyrical introspection, as befits a fan of such iconic navel-gazers as Alex Chilton and Todd Rundgren, often mounting a buoyant sonic arrangement to soften his concurrent natural cynicism, and always managing to achieve the perfect balance upon the sonic/emotional tightrope he toes. Game Day is rife with musical gems—it includes both sides of the 2017 single mentioned above (as the “super bonus tracks”) along with a rowdy cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes”—guaranteed to charm even the most cynical indie rock devotee down out of their tribal treehouse. It’s also a solo record in the truest sense of the word, Holsapple having cut nearly all of it by himself (at, ahem, the popular “Bill Ding Studio,” proof that the guy’s no blockhead at the mixing desk), with only a handful of assists from friends ‘n’ family.

The closing track “The Smartest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” a terrific slice of indie rock rich with vocal harmonies and twang/surf guitar, serves as a kind of musical mini-memoir for the songwriter, who flips through the pages of his mental photo album, pausing here and there to reflect on some of the missteps he’s made over the years. Sings Holsapple, in an off-the-cuff, semi-sarcastic manner:

“There is no sense in what I say, what I’ve done, or what I try to do;
It took a good long while to get me here, standing here in front of you.
I travel, live, and learn, giving back the ways I could—
Sometimes that sounds pretty good to me.
And there is no reason to rejoice, I was just born without a voice;
The words spill out from my mouth, so to sort the meanings out.
And I’ve been told a thousand times by people better than myself
That this was not the smartest thing that I’ve ever done.
No, not so smart—I agree!”

And with that, he ties together everything that he set in motion 12 songs earlier, in deeply satisfying fashion, a guy who enjoys what he does and who’s apparently pretty damned comfortable in his own skin—which is more than a lot of people are willing to accept or admit to. Which is also one of the qualities longtime fans have always prized about Holsapple, both as a songwriter and as a person; we probably surrendered our objectivity many moons ago, and that’s okay. When the artist suggests, in his liner notes, that maybe we can “find a small place in our heads” for the album, he clearly underestimates what his four-decade-long contributions to the proverbial great rock tapestry truly represent to us.

We’ve reserved a place in our hearts, too.

Above live photo of the Peter Holsapple Combo (L-R Holsapple, Will Rigby, Glenn Jones) borrowed from his Facebook page.

Track Premiere: Chris Stamey “Greensboro Days”

North Carolina indie rock godfather serves up a gem of a flashback. (Photo credit: Daniel Coston)

By Fred Mills

As North Carolina’s Chris Stamey quips, “Here it is, the followup to my first single, ‘The Summer Sun’—after only 41 years!”

The songwriter/rocker/producer is talking about “Greenboro Days,” which we here at BLURT are honored to be able to present to our readership. I’ve been a fan ever since the mid ‘70s, when he emerged as one of indie-rock’s earliest movers and shakers with his outfit Sneakers. Since then he’s consistently delivered the sonic goods, and this new track is no exception, so check it out:

The folk-pop tune’s available now at Spotify as well as Amazon. It was produced by Chris and Jeff Crawford and features Dan Davis (drums) and Jason Foureman (acoustic bass), plus John Teer from Chatham County Line on fiddle and mandolin, and Peter Holsapple from The dB’s (who also has a new record out, the Omnivore-issued Game Day album) on harmony vocals. (The tune will tweak the memories of longtime Stamey/Holsapple watchers who have the pair’s Mavericks collaboration from the ‘90s.) According to Chris, “’Greensboro Days’ is a folk-rock lament about traveling from summer into autumn, on steel wheels.” Those steel wheels can be viewed in the accompanying lyric video, which is considerably more than just a typical “lyric video”:

“Greensboro Days,” then, makes for a fitting followup to Chris’ “Summer Sun” single from ’77. It’s released on Stamey’s recently reactivated Car Records label, which released some true gems in the late ‘70s from Holsapple, Stamey and The dB’s, Big Star’s Chris Bell, and Sneakers. It’s more than appropriate, considering the back pages Chris recently thumbed through in his A Spy in the House of Loud musical memoir. The city of Greensboro is just a few miles from where Chris grew up, in Winston-Salem, and it played an influential role during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the North Carolina indie scene—and Stamey himself—was establishing its musical footing. And speaking of the Car label: He also has plans to release a new solo album, The Great Escape, via Car in early 2019, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Incidentally, fans wanting to dive a bit deeper into “Greensboro” can snag a free download of Chris’ sheet music for the song at THIS LINK that he kindly provided. The sheet music is from his songbook New Songs for the 20th Century.

 

 

 

 

SPIDER BAGS – Someday Everything Will Be Fine

Album: Someday Everything Will Be Fine

Artist: Spider Bags

Label: Merge

Release Date: August 03, 2018

www.mergerecords.com

The Upshot: A trip over to Memphis to record their new album was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the N.C. band. (Vinyl fans will also want to know that it is available on eye-catching purple wax—check the photo, below.)

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

The notorious Spider Bags have been rocking the Tar Heel state for a dozen years, led by (doesn’t appear too) ‘Dangerous’ Dan McGee. After a four-year drought of fresh Spider squeezin’s—go HERE to read our review of their 2014 gem, Frozen Letter—we’re blessed with a deluge of juicy tunes, perhaps their tastiest to date. Boy howdy!

Recorded and mixed on vintage equipment at Bunker Audio in Memphis, rejecting new-fangled editing software, and purposely try and create a danceable, roots of rock ‘n’ roll record, which is what you do in Memphis. According to McGee, “Rock and roll just sounds better there. I swear.” The trio now features Steve Oliva on bass and Rock Forbes drumming, but, being in Memphis means having lots of other talent on hand to incorporate. Helping fan the flames are Matt Hoopengardner of the Golden Boys, Patrick Stickles from Titus Andronicus, Jack Oblivian, multi-instrumentalist Seth Moody, and most of the Memphis Dawls. On top of this gaggle, a Moog and an old synth modulator guitar pedal were liberally used throughout, providing a fresh flavor to their sound. It’s been said that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit. There is no bullshit to be found here.

The Moog is skillfully brought to bear in the kick-off number, “Reckless,” a heady, mid-tempo rocker, a perfect taster of stuff to come. Classic ‘Bags velocity is achieved next with “Oxcart Blues,” followed by “Alligator.” Good, pounding beats, showing you how it should be done.

You can lose your heart in “Burning Sand,” prominently featuring the aforementioned synth modulator noodling around and embellishing the number to great effect. “Cop Dream/Black Eye (True Story)” is sheer sharp-stick-in-the-eye punk, lasting an entire minute. Much fury is unleashed. Shorter-faster-louder! Another drastic shift in tempo brings up “My Heart is a Flame in Reverse,” a throwback to some early twangers like “Waking Up Drunk” and “So Long A Rope,” dripping with regret and remorse.

“Tonight, I Walk On the Water,” is another quick-but-efficient head-banger. “Ninety Day Dog” whips up a frenzy with an electro-hoedown, replete with wild fiddling and soaring pedal steel that could raise Gram Parsons. Probably my favorite cut. Striking out in rather new direction, “Apocalypso” plods slowly along as in a syncopated dream sequence. An impressive departure from what they’ve done previously.

Like it started, the album ends with an equally impressive piece, “Rollin’ With the Flow,” a great closer, where lots more synth is utilized in the outro, to walk it out the door. A damn tasty song on what is most certainly a very scrumptious record.

It’s obvious that a trip up to Memphis was just what the doctor ordered, as it most certainly has injected a new, creative energy into the band. Of course, the chemistry imbued by the helping hands and producer were significant to the end product. Let’s hope that McGee doesn’t require four years to produce the next one, but, he’ll know where to go to make it happen.

DOWNLOAD: “Ninety Day Dog,” “Apocalypso,” “Rollin’ With the Flow,” “Burning Sand“

 

Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams & Whiskeytown, by Thomas O’Keefe

Title: Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Alt-country’s Brilliant Wreck

Author: Thomas O’Keefe with Joe Oestreich

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

https://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/

Yes, all those stories about Adams WERE true: erstwhile tour manager for the band delivers a crucial fly-on-the-wall memoir.

BY FRED MILLS

With the late, great alternative country Tar Heel band Whiskeytown, it was always a Gumpian prospect: Like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never knew what you were gonna get. Not due to design, of course; the band itself was a brilliant assemblage of talent, and they busted their asses night after night and created some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest records. But when you have a frontman as mercurial and erratically-behaving as Ryan Adams, there’s only so much you can do; by some accounts, Whiskeytown must have been eerily like Trump’s White House at times, given the chaos Adams could create.

Okay, that’s unfair. We are talking rock ‘n’ roll, traditionally repository of rebels, weirdos, eccentrics, misfits, and outright psychopaths. So I’ll amend the above statement to simply characterize Adams’ bandmates as “long suffering.” And they clearly got something out of the deal, particularly violinist/co-vocalist Caitlin Cary, who seemingly stuck by Adams pretty much to the bitter end, weathering the frequent roster departures of others and, if appearances are accurate, helping serve as a semi-stabilizing force during those times when Adams went off the rails.

Speaking of those rails, we have Waiting To Derail by, full disclosure, my old friend Tom O’Keefe, who I had known pretty well during the ‘80s and early ‘90s while living in Charlotte and hanging out often with Tom and his bandmates in Queen City punk legends ANTiSEEN. In his new memoir, O’Keefe recounts how he subsequently became Whiskeytown’s tour manager circa 1997 through the band’s 2000 split. I would hesitate to also characterize him as “long suffering” because he signed up for the (paying) gig knowing, at least partly, what he would be getting himself into, something the band members themselves aren’t necessarily privy to when they first get together to make music en route to a full-time excursion into codependency. Plus, O’Keefe can legitimately say that in addition to the teeshirt, he got one hell of a story to tell the grandkids. Here, he’s joined by co-author Joe Oestreich, a journalist and author of several books as well as a professor of creative writing at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina.

Waiting To Derail kicks off, prologue-style, in colorful enough fashion, with Adams half-passed out and surrounded by EMTs and police, vitals being carefully checked and rechecked. As the incident finally winds down and the EMTs pack up their gear, one of the policemen turns and speaks to O’Keefe: “Goddam, son, I wouldn’t trade jobs with you for anything.” Whew. When a copy says something like that, it’s saying a lot.

Appropriately enough, the book’s first section is titled “The Sheriff of Whiskeytown,” recounting how O’Keefe got the job by (a) having had some prior experience handling tour manager duties and appearing to be moderately stable (admittedly, a very relative term in rock ‘n’ roll); and (b) because he was living in Raleigh, and as Whiskeytown had just finished cutting their major label debut, Strangers Almanac, for Outpost/Geffen, his Austin-based management desperately needed, as O’Keefe puts it, “somebody on the ground to shepherd Ryan and the band through their next touring cycle.” A lot was riding on Whiskeytown, deemed the blossoming alt-country scene’s number one rising star but, thanks to their frontman, already had a bit of a reputation. Writes O’Keefe, “During Whiskeytown’s most recent string of shows—on the No Depression tour, sharing the stage with the Old 97’s, Hazeldine, and the Picketts—Ryan and the band had been woefully inconsistent. They would play a tight set of stellar songs one night and then be drunk and sloppy the next.”

From there we follow Officer O’Keefe as he does indeed shepherd Adams across the musical landscape, from seeing that his charge is awake and lucid enough for scheduled interviews and getting to band rehearsals on time, to carefully doling out the daily per diems so the musicians won’t blow all their dough the first night and ensuring Adams doesn’t get completely hammered before going onstage. Among the memorable scenes:

–A booking at a sports bar in East Lansing where, with many of the patrons preferring to watch the Detroit Tigers on TV, a drunken Adams grows frustrated and belligerent and deliberately starts playing sloppily. A back-and-forth of “fuck yous” between audience members and Adams ensues, and the singer eventually storms offstage, resulting in a rock- and beercan-throwing altercation in the parking lot. “Ryan would hold a grudge against East Lansing for years,” writes O’Keefe. (Presciently, it seems, as many years later, as a solo artist based in New York City, Adams would take umbrage at perceived slights by former associates in Raleigh and vow never to play his old homebase again.)

–Another show, in Aspen, where, in front of a couple hundred people, among them actor Kevin Costner, Adams, who’d decided that Whiskeytown was not “a ski town band,” yanked his amplifier to “11” and, with wall of noise blasting, dropped to his knees and lay flat on the stage for 25 minutes.

–A promotional appearance at a radio station that had been airing the band’s “16 Days” and had requested that they perform it live in the studio, culminates in Adams repeatedly refusing. (O’Keefe: “It was a standoff, and I felt like a UN negotiator.”) The back and forth continues, and finally Adams blurts into the mic, “I don’t have to kiss some guy’s dick just because he wants to hear the single”—at which point Whiskeytown is summarily ejected from “the most important AAA station in America.”

–A late night scare, after a show back at the hotel, where a very fucked-up Adams, upon inspecting the balcony overlooking the 12-story atrium, declares to O’Keefe and the others, “I can fly,” and proceeds to climb up on the railing, “faking like he was going to do a half gainer,” and has to be swiftly grabbed by the waist and dragged down off the railing.

In between his colorful, sometimes-soberly related/sometimes-hilariously spun anecdotes, O’Keefe offers up a series of helpful expository tutorials—Adams’ and Cary’s pre-Whiskeytown background; how the alt-country movement was born and evolved, as well as how North Carolina’s Triangle area—and Raleigh in particular—embraced the scene; the jealousy backlash that a number of locals unleashed on Whiskeytown after the band began wowing the critics and gradually became the most prominent act to emerge from the city. (In that regard Waiting To Derail is an able companion to a previous book about Adams, 2012’s Losering, written by Raleigh News & Observer music critic David Menconi; fans of either volume will definitely delight in the other.)

But of course, as this book is an insider account, you’ve come primarily for the behind the scenes stuff and not the history lesson, right? And O’Keefe does not disappoint. His memory is remarkably clear, his insights into Adams’ personality and motivations profound. Anyone who’s ever worked as a tour manager for a rock band will tell you that they have to be a cat wrangler, a den mother, and a psychologist in addition to taking care of mundane stuff like making sure everyone gets their per diems and the club owner doesn’t stiff them. Waiting To Derail, then, is the type of book that any fan of rock ‘n’ roll—and of course all fans of Adams— will devour precisely for its fly-on-the-wall qualities and how it provides a sharp-lensed view of what goes on after the lights come on and the gear is packed up.

In 2018, Thomas O’Keefe is a music industry veteran with a hugely impressive resume, having worked with the likes of big names like Train, Third Eye Blind, Sia, and, currently, Weezer. Undoubtedly his years spent with Whiskeytown served him well—if his early stint as bassist for “destructo rockers” ANTiSEEN was his rock ‘n’ roll boot camp, then think of his three years in the trenches with Whiskeytown as his tour of Iraq and Afghanistan. Considering all he had to deal with, he deserves a freakin’ purple heart.

 

Peter Holsapple (dB’s) “Game Day” Album Almost Here; Watch Trailer

New album arrives this week.

By Fred Mills

Given the enthusiasm we’ve heard for NC’s The dB’s over the ten years BLURT’s been around, we suspect that more than a few of our readers will be ready to snap up longtime member Peter Holsapple’s new solo album, Game Day (Omnivore Recordings), coming this Friday, July 27. Fans and friends got a kind of advance taste last year when Peter released a terrific 7″ single, “Don’t Mention The War”; read our review elsewhere on the site: 

“A richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.”

And then check out the trailer for the new album. This man’s a Tar Heel treasure… an a national treasure, too.

 

GEORGE TERRY & THE ZEALOTS – Jawbone

Album: Jawbone

Artist: George Terry & the Zealots

Label: self-released

Release Date: July 27, 2018

www.thezealotsmusic.com

The Upshot: Asheville visual and musical artist serves up a memorable rawk ‘n’ roll platter that is perfect for the times we find ourselves in. One of two records the prolific Terry is releasing.

BY FRED MILLS

A classic slice of Tar Heel rock ‘n’ roll arrived in 2013 titled Open Season, a hi-nrg slice of twangy, Americana-lined garage/power pop by Asheville-based outfit George Terry & the Zealots. As I noted at the time, in my review of the album, “Throughout, Terry casts an alternately jaded and hopeful gaze at the humanity (or occasional lack thereof) that surrounds him, sometimes also finding fault with himself, his motivations, and his actions, but always discovering, in the end, a reason to believe.”

On his new Zealots effort, Jawbone, Terry reaffirms that mandate and then some, serving up a musical buffet of remarkable range. He recorded primarily with Southern Culture On the Skids’ Rick Miller at Miller’s Kudzu Ranch studio, along with Matt Williams (Eagle Room studio), and Michael Hynes (Nomatic studio), with musicians including Hynes, Aaron Price, Woody Wood, Caleb Beissert, Lyric Jones, and SCOTS’ Dave Hartman. The band traverses folkish, mandolin/fiddle-powered alt-country/folk (opening track “Wide Open Spaces”) and tingly indie pop (the surf-flecked “Chameleon), to classic/anthemic late ‘70s-styled power pop (“Somebody’s Gotta Pay,” a natural radio cut, plus “The Cruel Truth,” a darker, Morricone-esque slice of cynicism made even darker by the socio-political times we find ourselves in)—and also to just straight-up-blazing, in-your-face, rebel-riff-rawk—the angry slide guit licks populating “Ceases to Amaze Me” mirror Terry’s lyrical outrage and indignation. It’s a 2018 album, start to finish, but one that balances Terry’s lyrical now with a sonic classicist’s broader perspective.

As with his previous releases—ditto Terry’s upcoming solo album, Plow, under the nom du rawk George Trouble, also recorded with Miller, mixed by the legendary Mixerman (Asheville-based Eric Sarafin), and featuring a number of the same musicians—the striking album art is self-created: Terry is an accomplished visual artist, something yours truly has verified on my numerous visits to his RAMP Arts studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. (Go HERE to check out his RAMP page and plenty examples of his work. He’s not shy about dipping his brush into contemporary politics, either.) I’d reckon that whether you discover the dude through reviews such as this on, or happen upon his studio while visiting Asheville, you’ll find yourself utterly charmed by him in one context or another.

Me, I’m just happy to get the whole picture each time out.

DOWNLOAD: “Ceases to Amaze me,” “The Cruel Truth,” “Samson”