Saturday, December 1, 2012

When Musicians Go Indie, The Whiskey Starts Singing (and other video fables)

You know why people think music is dead?  I don't either, but maybe it has something to do with all of the weak links in a business sinking in quicksand of its own making.  Maybe it has to do with consumers looked at as consumers and not people whose worth goes beyond their pocketbooks.  Maybe it has to do with a media so heavily dug in that they think they cannot move without losing the battle and the war, thinking (not unlike Romney) that they have things under control, until the annual figures are tabulated.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that there is so goddamn much music available today as opposed to even yesterday that people cannot negotiate their way through the mountainous mass.  So they sit and wait.  They don't even try while wailing and beating their chests and bemoaning the lack of good music while being surrounded by and, in fact, buried in it. 

It isn't the music that is dead, friends, but the hearts and souls of so many music lovers.  They spend so much time looking back that they have no idea that there is a present or a future.  They wallow in the same old, and I get that, to a degree.  We all, when we reach a certain age, look back.  It is in most of our genes.  But to look back and make comparisons of then and now is a fool's task unless you actually know the now.  And what the media is telling us is now, musically, is such a small portion of it that it boggles the mind.

I could go on a rant, sure, and I have done so a few times, but that would defeat the whole idea of the now, wouldn't it?  That would also fall on deaf ears.  I know out of experience how hard it is to get people to listen when they don't want to (and mostly, they don't) but I also know that when given a chance, on their own, many will.

That's what this post is about.  I'm giving you a chance.  I have done most of the work for you here.  I have picked some of the best and most intriguing of the Indies for you to peruse, by video.  All that's left for you to do is read my little introductions, click on the videos and listen.  Here we go.....


A few months ago, I got this package in the mail from one Lianne Smith.  We evidently share a friend in Brian Cullman and Cullman had suggested myself as a possible reviewer of her new album,  The CD package is beautiful and when I listened I found the music to be the same.  Whilst taking time off from writing to surf the Net a few weeks ago, I noticed a video from Ms. Smith.  Well, not Ms. Smith as much as from animator  Marianne Petit, who captures the very essence of Lianne's song.  Since seeing and hearing this, I cannot separate the song from the video.  Sometimes the simplest is really the best.


Vinnie Zummo, for those who don't already know, played guitar for Joe Jackson once upon a time.  Since, he has taken solo to a whole new level, working on and producing not just songs and albums but videos to promote his incredible mass of work.  Prodigious, that's the word I'm looking for  The guy is a machine, always working, but the difference between Zummo and others is that he does not lose his spark.  He retains that creative edge which makes his songs and whole projects fresh.  Take, for instance, this video.  Not only is it a tribute to Ringo, it is a musical statement about the importance of The Beatles in Zummo's life.  An amazing song in itself, he, along with first-time director Paolo Marchica,  has turned it into an amazing video.  If you like The Beatles at all, you really should watch this:

TOM HOUSE/Whiskey Sings Like Angels---

I wish I could put my finger on why the listening public accepts one bit of music and rejects or ignores another.  I mean, why did Dylan become such a huge success when so many others from the Bleecker & MacDougall days did not?  Sure, you could go with the general acceptance that Dylan was more talented, but I think it goes way deeper than that.  We as a public, I don't think, have an ability to accept or reject on our own.  We need others to accept something before we "waste our time".  After hearing Tom House's The Long Winding Road album, let me assure you that sometimes it is not a waste but a joy to find music which flies above others.  This video was put together by two people who not only believe in the album but in House himself:  Lance Smith and Keith Morris.  Both musicians themselves, they set about the task of putting video to music because they felt the need.  In this day and age, House is somewhat unique in that he tosses aside the precepts and goes for the soul.  You'll understand when you see and hear it.  And if you're at all interested in my take on the Tom House's of the world, here is a column I wrote some time ago.  House is toward the middle.

THE SAMPLES/When It's Raining---

I confess to not having heard The Samples when I was turned on to this video and, in fact, not having even heard of head Sample Sean Kelly.  Thanks to friend Michael Adams, I not only found a great song and video but a huge catalogue of music which I am still working my way through.  Kelly, I found, is one hell of a songwriter and has a voice to match.  His solo work has gems which in the past would easily have been hits but, alas, hits are a mere ghost of what they once were.  The music, hit or not, is there, though, and Kelly's puts many of the stars of the day to shame.  One day soon, I am hoping to interview Mr. Kelly and write a large piece detailing his brush with fame and the reasons it was not fully realized.  Until then, I suggest you watch this.

CRAIG ELKINS/Tumbleweeds---

He was a member of Huffamoose at one time, was Elkins, but when he went solo not a moose was to be seen.  Craig Elkins is a strange one, indeed, in that he writes in a style few have even attempted--- this rambling stream-of-consciousness lyrical debate with music.  Musically, he lives in his own world and when that world sloshes over into our own, we go through airpockets, the music outstanding and the lyrics at times unsettling.  His current album, I Love You, is packed with the kinds of songs people way ahead of the curve are hearing now.  There is a good chance that, in six months to a year, you will be listening too.  Check out the video closely.  If I don't miss my guess, that is a very young Oliver Reed portraying his own scene within a scene from maybe Reefer Madness.  I mean, it is uncanny in its retro-ness.

RED RATTLES/It's a Shame---

Charlottesville is a hotbed of music.  You can quote me.  That city is, without a doubt, per capita, the heaviest of the heavies.  I have found too many bands and artists within throwing distance of Charlottesville to deny it.  So when friend Stuart Gunter sends me a list of artists I need to check out, I check them out.  Awhile ago, Red Rattles was on that list.  Two man rock, it is--- guitar and drums--- not unlike New York's Crushed Out (formerly Boom Chick).  Killer rock with flashes of the raw fifties-edged rock 'n' roll of the past.  Check out this video and you'll understand (unless you know nothing of fifties music, of course).

CRUSHED OUT/Weigh You Down---

Okay, I admit to having a crush on Crushed Out's Moselle Spiller.  Not only is it cool to see a "chick" (as in the former band name, Boom Chick) wail on the drums, but Moselle is just such a cool name, know what I mean?  Two people--- guitar and drums.  Not unlike Red Rattles, but in their own dimension.  I saw these guys live.  I hope to again.  They were just plain fun!


I've got Charlottesville on the brain today and that works out for you.  The Fire Tapes are one of a handful of bands which straddles the fence between psych and a handful of other styles.  They space, they rock, they jam and they do it so well that they're packing places out all over the East Coast (or so I understand).  Understandable.  Their one album, Dream Travel, is an outstanding mix and well worth hearing.  If you like psych at all, you have to give these guys a listen. Outstanding video, too.

ELEPHANT REVIVAL/Quill Pen Feather---

Colorado's Elephant Revival are freaking me out.  I'd not heard of them until I stumbled across an excellent video of one of their songs, Rings Around the Moon, some months ago but have heard so much of them since that I believe they are in charge of their own destiny and are doing it right.   They work as hard as any band I've been acquainted with and are fast building a national rather than just regional presence.  I would normally put the Rings video here, but they have just released a new EP titled It's Alive and this video to support it.  One of the few acoustic bands that I really, really (really) enjoy.  

WRINKLE NECK MULES/Central Daylight Time---

You know that Geico commercial in which the gecko dances a little toe shuffle to country music?  Turns out the band playing that music is none other than the aforementioned Stuart Gunter's own band, Wrinkle Neck Mules.  So they went into a studio to record this live version and filmed it and, sonofagun, here it is.  Cameo by the gecko.  Music by the Mules.  Dancing courtesy of--- damn!  I forgot to get her name!

I think ten is enough to start with.  You guys do have lives, right?  I will be putting together more of these little columns designed specifically to point to videos of bands worthy of your attention, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, check out the videos and if you like them, check out the artists.  You don't have to buy remastered Beatles to get your musical kicks.  These do right nicely.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Xenat-Ra: Bombs Away!!! Live in Corvallis

The Bombs Away Cafe was the road less traveled this past Saturday night in Corvallis, the Oregon State Beavers game with Cal taking the spotlight, but Xenat-Ra made that road as palatable as it could have been.  Misery steered clear as rhythms and a whole lot more shook the very foundations of the small and cozy restaurant/lounge/music venue and wowed an all too small crowd, considering the quality of the music.  More than once I asked myself if anyone in Corvallis and indeed the whole Willamette Valley knew what they were missing and surmised that they did not.  I expected a larger crowd.  Xenat-Ra is a band worthy of a larger crowd.  They are major league worthy.

Of course, I didn't know that when I walked eight blocks through the rain to the Bombs Away.  I could hear the loud cheers from the football stadium and saw the fireworks which evidently heralded a score and could hear the incredibly loud foghorn which succeeded it.  I looked up only when I had to, the rain carried by gusts directly into the eyes when it was not streaming down the back of my neck.  My shoes were getting wet, my eyes blurry from the rain, the puddles making my walk longer with each one I had to circumvent.  Still, my spirits were not dampened.  I had listened to Xenat-Ra's new album numerous times over the previous days and, truth be told, was overwhelmed.  I was anxious to see if they could pull it off, Science For the Sound Man having an intense drive and an other-music-worldly sense of non-direction.  If that confuses you, imagine my confusion when I first sat down at the computer expecting a bit of prog and was swept up into a whirlwind of jazz, hip-hop, rock, third world rhythms and, yes, prog, though it was prog like I had seldom heard.  It looked to be an interesting night.

Unlike most other times I go out to hear live music, I sat down to a cold glass of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and opened my notebook and started writing right away:

"It is a cold and rainy night in Corvallis," I wrote, "and the Beavers are playing Cal and the Bombs Away is as empty as I have seen it at 9 PM, weekend or not.  Usually, the tables are filled with patrons wolfing down one of the many excellent hot dishes that smell so good and which I have yet to try.

"Whether the Beavers win or lose is not a subject here tonight, the main question being when Xenat-Ra will take the stage.  There is a possibility that they will wait for stragglers from the game, hoping the cover charge might cover gas, though if the crowd stayed this small it would cover little else.  Although maybe that is overstatement or even completely off-base.  The band is here and setting up and seem amazingly happy, having been comped on food and drinks, but more because they like being together and, more important, love playing before a crowd.

"I expected a young bunch in their late twenties but they are older, ages ranging from early thirties to fifty.  I am taken somewhat aback because the music I have been listening to demands an incredible amount of focus and energy.

"No, what they play is not hip-hop.  Not totally.  They incorporate jazz and prog and hard rock and many others influences, but when there are vocals, it is hip-hop.  At least on record.

"They do have a record.  A real honest to God piece of vinyl, in fact, or should I say pieces.  It is actually a double album packaged in two single album packages, 150 grams worth, by God, and the drummer, JD Monroe, seems quite proud of that fact.  'Not 180,' he apologizes, as if apologies were necessary.  'We pressed it on vinyl for the warmth,' he said, before launching into a lengthy comparison of formats.  Just the smile on his face explained it.  No words necessary.

"There are six in the band and I end up talking with two--- JD and fellow percussionist Joel Hirsch.  The topics of conversation ranged from food to technical aspects of music to musical background.  JD had grown up in Corvallis.  Joel lived in L.A. and New York before finding his way here.  They obviously are glad to be here.  They are obviously happy to be playing music.

"They head to the stage, one at a time, for a sound check.  It is going to be a long night, I think, as the room seemed to shrink with each piece of equipment brought on stage.  Still, even if the sound is ear-splitting, it is already worth it, having learned the basics of Math Rock, a term I had heard but had never had defined.  I learned the importance of sound, the technical aspects, as the band's sound man floated around the room discussing it.  I thought that the sound man's goal might be impossible to reach, the room so small and packed with equipment.  How little I know.

"The band members spent the last ten minutes before starting moving tables and chairs off the floor.  It seemed a lot of work but they were determined.  When they finally took their places, JD's bone-shaking thumps on the bass drum and the low notes of the keyboards and electronics shook the very soul.  I regretted not bringing earplugs.  I prayed that the sound man was as good as his talked because he certainly talks a good game, but you never know until the music starts.

"I frantically scratched notes, making sure I noted that it took two years for the album, start to finish.  Most of it was recorded in three days two years ago, live, and they worked in it over the next year or two while gathering funds to press.  Not much, he said.  Just the occasional dub.  Like the congas and percussion of Joel Hirsch.  That's how he joined the band.  He sat in on the sessions and it worked so well that they asked him to join."

That's as far as I got with my notes.  I would have written more but for the thumping bass drum and syncopated rhythms as JD started things off and when the band came in, one instrument at a time, thinking was out. It was an odd cross between the Allmans and The Dead, this jazzy rambling start to the evening, an old trunk with popped clutch, the rhythms starting and stopping as the engine struggled to engage and then.....  And then all hell broke loose.  Xenat-Ra did exactly what I was afraid they might not be able to do--- rock the house.

I started smiling about halfway through the first song (if song it can be called and I say that in the most positive manner possible) and I already knew it was going to be a long night.  Not because the music was bad but because it was so good that my face locked in that smile and my face started to hurt.  It reminds me of the night I saw Tom Waits in this little basement on San Diego State's campus.  I laughed so hard the first fifteen minutes that I couldn't really enjoy the rest of the show.  It just hurt too much.  Well, here I was again, face muscles clinched and headache on its way.  Again, not because the music was bad but because it was so goddamned good!

This is not the kind of music I would take home to my mother.  It is intense, riffy, jazz-heavy and prog'd out.  You probably either love nit or hate it.  The people that night loved it, from the headbangers (there were a few) and the body shifters (with different music, they would have been dancers, but how can you dance to music which changes time signatures at the drop of a hat).

Indeed, Monroe and Hirsch worked their asses off working the beat(s) and the band, individually and together, was right there with them.  Monk Metz, the vocalist/rapper who spewed words faster than a woodchipper on acid, and not just words but the right words.  I had listened closely during his sound check and the guy has a way with vocals-as-percussion as well as lyrical poetry, which this was.  Not only that, but he had a stage presence which was both confident and inclusive--- his fist pumps and tense poses for the music and not the vapid air guitar poses most of us strike, thinking we look cool when we really don't.  No, Metz has it down, right down to practically disappearing in stage when the instrumental side of the band took off, kneeling on one knee, head down and bobbing to the beat.  He was listening--- not for his cue but to the music.

Guitarist Mark France mirrored that odd duck lieutenant on Monk, the TV show--- smiling when listening but eyes glued to the frets when his fingers, at times twisted like tentacles, worked their way up and down the neck.  The music was a challenge to him as much as it was to each member of the group, but France made it look like work.  The results were at times magnificent (especially when he dropped to the floor to mess with his foot pedals while launching electronic missives straight out of Robert Fripp) and always spot on.  And when he wasn't doing that, he plucked chords or strings as if he wasn't even paying attention at all while watching the soloist or ensemblist of the moment take their turn.

People who weren't following the music could easily toss saxophonist Matt Calkins onto that heap pile of instruments-added-for-effect (God, but I've heard statements like that too often in my life), but those would be the ones who didn't get the importance of Jack Lancaster to Blodwyn Pig or David Jackson to Van der Graaf Generator.  When Calkins wasn't supplying the musical link while the others ran amok, he was adding to the percussion.  He is the utility infielder necessary to bridge the gap during times of madness.

Dave Trenkel.  What to say about Dave.....  The quietest of the bunch.  Not on his keyboards, which he played to absolute perfection, but in presence.  He watched and smiled and made the sounds coming from his amp seem so easy to produce.  His full beard snaked out of his wool hat--- if there was anyone on that stage who personified the plaid-wearing lumberjack, it was Dave--- and made him the friendly sasquatch.  He was cool.  No, he didn't act cool.  He just was.  And he played the different keyboards with the mastery of a Gregg Rolie dipped in electronic sauce (I mention Rolie because a couple of times I heard that magic organ sound of Santana, helped along by those superb conga rhythms emanating from the jungle master, Joel Hirsch.

I know.  It sounds like I'm giving them major league credit.  I am.  They deserve it.  No other band in the prog/jazz (and now, hip-hop) vein has impressed me as much except maybe Ticktockman, a Seattle steam engine of a band I cannot stop talking about.  And I'm digging it.  Now I can compare the two bands and hopefully make some points.  That sometimes music is played for music's sake.  That music can be infectious.  That staying within your "safe" zone is not good.  I mean, sure, Led Zeppelin has recorded some good music.  Excellent music.  But surrounding yourself even with the best can be extremely limiting on more than just the musical level.  It can cause brain rot.  And rotting brains smell.  Hence, the walking dead.

Well, these guys aren't dead.  They are, in fact, very much alive.  Alive and driven.  Driven by the rhythm.  Driven by the music.  Just plain driven.  And if you don't believe me, please follow this link to their Bandcamp page.  Listen.  Then, if you are of a mind, purchase their double-LP package or a CD.  Either comes with free download and I'm telling you right now, this album is at the top of this generation's collector's item list.  That's Science For the Soundman.  And while you're there, why not check out their Xenat-Ra Live album.  Right now, it's name-your-own-price and, what the hell, you can stream it to hear what you're getting. 

Speaking of the sound man, he was the seventh man this night.  He mixed the band so well that the sound, loud as it was, was perfectly balanced.  I've been to shows in small rooms and come home with ears bleeding.  When I left the Bombs Away, they didn't even ring.  I didn't get your name, pal, but you deserve an award. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Game Played Right--- A Night at the Bombs Away Cafe

It was my second go-round for Albany, Oregon's The Game Played Right and I expected a good night (and it was) but two Los Angeles bands got in the way and by the time TGPR made it to the stage, I was wiped (thanks to two schooners of the ambrosia they call Gilgamesh Copper Ale and an early start to my day).  While this review is specifically about TGPR, I must step to the side to address the surprises which were 100 Onces and Marshburn.

They had played Olympia (Washington) the night before, had cruised into Corvallis in their van and parked in front of The Bombs Away Cafe north of the Oregon State campus and stayed there.  Nowhere to go.  Not much to do but set up equipment and hang out.  So they did.  By the time I got there, guitarist Barrett Tutobene was strolling around with his white Les Paul Jr. (?), hair held back by some sort of plastic strip, the hair obviously just long enough to get in his eyes.  Nick Van Meter (bass) and Richard Ray (drums) moved from their seats in the cafe to the van and back on a constant basis, maybe to tweak the stage setup but more probably to alleviate the anxiety of waiting.  Nothing was happening nor was going to happen until 10 PM and it was 8:30, LPDT (Lethargic Pacific Daylight Time).  What talk there was was of a bantering variety--- jokes which were only occasionally funny and talk for talk's sake.

The members of Marshburn were there as well.  Both bands had signed on for a West Coast swing and what better way to handle the budget than to travel together and, surprisingly, share equipment.  One look at the stage said this was going to be a minimalist night.  One guitar amp with footswitches--- a short, fat amp with a futuristic slant to the front.  One bass amp, pure and simple.  One set of drums--- basic.  They had arranged them on a small stage. The room itself was small, maybe 20 X 30, and the stage took up from five to eight feet of it from side wall forward and continued ten or so feet from the window in.  Huge PA speakers were stacked to the side, a bit similar to but not technically the old Voice of the Theater stacks one used to see at the bigger concerts in the seventies--- one stacked upon another.  Two gigantic 20- to 24-inch speakers were caged in thick wire and there were vents, front and sides, for sound distribution.  The real PA speakers, though, hung from the ceiling--- two large Radian modules.  Plenty big enough for the small room.  Still, my eyes kept coming back to those monstrous boxes during the evening, remnants of concerts past and a delight to see.

After an hour and a half wait, 100 Onces took the stage and planted me against the back wall with what I can only describe as manic intensity.  On their pages, they call it Math Rock, but I only found that out later that night after the gig while searching the Web.  It fit.  Loud, precision rock steeped in pounding bass and sharp, cracking drum sounds.  Stop-on-a-dime stuff.  Intricate but hardly delicate.  No vocals--- just guitar, bass and drums.  Vocals would have gotten in the way, actually, but I didn't realize that until they were halfway through a blistering set of movements (calling them songs would misrepresent the intent of the music) presented with knife-like precision.  It was a race to keep up, the guitar spewing runs and sharp grunts and groans between the occasional letups--- the soft rain between thunderclaps, if you will.  Math Rock, indeed.  I would have called it Progrock, but have to admit that it was more--- more amphetamine-driven, more manic, more chord-and-rhythm than music at times.  Was it good?  I'm still mulling that over.  It was certainly adrenaline-inducing.  You couldn't help but feel your pulse race faster, the rhythms almost forcing the blood through your veins.  Yes, it was good.  But I'm an old man.  I thanked the gods for a short set--- maybe 30 to 45 minutes--- because I was beginning to fail.  The vision was blurring, the nose was running (I had to check once to see if it was blood) and, yes, it was good.  Not exactly what one expects at a small cafe/bar.  But good, nonetheless.

Talk about the perfect touring mates.  The setup time between 100 Onces and Marshburn was minimal--- the only changes, the guitar footswitch and slight adjustments with the drums.  But what a difference in musical styles!  From Math Rock to a mish-mash of progrock and psych with a metal-driven engine.  The guitarist played what looked like a Telecaster, though it may have been one of those newfangled guitars that Country Dave Harmonson (Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers) now plays.  I walked up to Country Dave after a gig at the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove, Oregon one night and asked him if he was playing a Telecaster because he got sounds out of it I had never heard from that particular guitar and he said, no, it was some guitar/amp combo (I have forgotten the name) that he had found and, boy, couldn't it make the sounds.  Well, Bill Ritter (Marshburn) was getting those sounds too.  And they were full and impressive.  He looked like Cowboy's Scott Boyer in his early days, beard and long curly hair, but sound-wise, they are about as far as they can be.  Boyer always has that country blues sound.  Ritter is neither country nor blues.  Add the extraordinarily powerful drums of mutant James Corsini (who played left-handed and technically should not have been able to play the sometimes downright perplexing riffs that he did) and solid bass of Vince Hill and you have the core of seventies psych meets metal.  Lay the demonic voice of Shayan S. on top and I wasn't really sure what to think.  Lanky and looking like Phil Lynott back from the dead, he shimmied and shrieked his way through some of the damndest songs I had never heard, putting the Saint Vitus Dance to good use.  Downright scary, he was, falling to knees and twisting body into various pretzel shapes to make a point.  Sad thing is, the room was too small and the PA not able to capture the vocal nuances.  It was intriguing.  I would have loved to have seen them in an arena setting or on an outdoor stage.  They really worked their set.  By the time they were done, I was done too.

I have to give the boys a huge amount of credit regarding their professionalism.  As soon as the thank you's ended, guys from both bands started packing up and moving the gear offstage.  It was 11:30 and they were well aware of the time limits in venues.  Less than fifteen minutes separated the last note of Marshburn and the preparatory kerplunks and "testing"s of TGPR.

TGPR is what I'd come for.  I had blasted them in a review of their first ever appearance.  I say "blasted" because I pulled no punches, not because I meant anything negative by it.  I dug in and told them what I thought they needed to know.  I was brutal, in a sense, but I did not mean to be.  I meant to be honest.  I meant to help them see and hear themselves and not just be bent by friends and family members who undoubtedly would wrap themselves up in the emotional rather than the honest.  Blow smoke up their skirts.  You know how it is.  How can you tell your best friend anything but, boy, you guys were great?  They weren't, but it wasn't the music.  It was everything but.  So, yes, call it a blast.  I saw five musicians onstage who sweat talent through every pore but who need to harness that talent to make it the best it can be.  First time out, it was understandable that they didn't meet my standards, let alone theirs.  They are too good to accept that.  I only wanted to make sure.

So here's the update.  They had played at least one live gig between that one and the one I was about to see.  It made a difference.  The band which took the stage the other night was a different band.  Here is how and why:

No messing around.  They set up quickly and efficiently, tuning and testing mics in short order.  They listened and adjusted.  In fact, during the set, singer Anah Manoukian roved the front of the stage, listening.  At one point, she asked the crowd if adjustments were needed  (and seemed surprised when people suggested that her voice needed more volume--- it did).  Drummer Kyle Zinserling and bassist Brian Edwards were solid, as they were the first show, but guitarist Nathan Dozler was in the midst of it all, turning toward both Zinserling and Edwards for, uh, inspiration, maybe?  And metalhead Joseph Maxwell stepped out of his bubble, shredding when necessary and supportive always, a step toward the band and its onstage mission.  This was an aware band, an attentive band.

The key to the band, as I hear them (and at the moment), is Manoukian.  Her move to the front of the stage was needed and she has taken up the challenge.  Her voice is necessary to bridge the gap for the average listener--- to bring sense to the progrock tendencies in their music.  You can hear it on a couple of the songs--- guitar breaks which fly over the heads of a portion of the audience until Manoukian brings them back with her at times Ann Wilson-like voice.  Like it or not, most bands need that bridge (unless they are satisfied playing to the ten hardcore prog fans they would have otherwise).   They need that diversity.

The other key is stage presence.  I have seen them twice now, each time on a stage small enough to restrict movement.  I would like to see them on a bigger stage to see if they can expand their presence.  I want to see the guitarists interact.  I want to see jams with all four wrapping around the drums.  I want to see Manoukian pounding beats or playing air guitar and I want to see smiles and laughter.  They are closer to that than they realize and hopefully will, without even knowing it, have that moment where everything coalesces.  I would love to be there.  It is a magic moment I have seen only a couple of times, when all members of a band are on the same page.  I would assume that it blocks everything else out, that the rest of the world goes out of focus.  They're not there yet, but they're getting there (and quickly).  With as much talent as is in this band, progress is inevitable.

There was talk of an EP from TGPR.  I knew they were recording but had no idea it was for an actual release.  It will be interesting.  The band onstage and the band on record will undoubtedly be quite different, at this point.  I'm looking forward to it.

As for 100 Onces and Marshburn, there is recorded music.  One of the guys was packing a bunch of Marshburn CDs around, trying to scrounge up gas money to make it to the next town.  Stupidly, I passed.  I have since listened to their new Miss Spelled For Emphasis album and was dragged back to the early seventies and that period's harder psych music.  I like it.  In fact, I plan on listening again tonight (my day will be full of writing) and a few nights--- maybe many--- thereafter.  Click on the album title and give it a try.  100 Onces' Tuttobene made the comment that the band had an album on bandcamp, but it wasn't much good and I would have liked to have slapped him across the face.  Perhaps he was not that happy with what was there, but you have to give a potential listener the right to make up his own mind and when you make such comments, he/she will more than likely go into it with such statements in mind.  Here is a link to their new Famous In Japan release, one that Tuttobene seemed okay with, and the album to which Tuttobene made his negative comment:  100 Once Is.  I listened.  Sounded pretty good to me.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alcoholic Faith Mission - From Denmark, With Love

Only last Friday, I was introduced to a band which renewed my faith in music and the music business.  Alcoholic Faith Mission are from Denmark, a country you do not hear from all that much when it comes to the rock world.  When I headed up to Portland's Doug Fir Lounge to catch their live show, I really didn't know what to expect.  I had not conducted any searches, had not tracked down any of their music on the Net.  I went up blind, expecting something worth seeing (they came highly recommended by friend Cam Carpenter who had seen them the previous week in Toronto) but not expecting what I saw.  And heard.

First off, the venue was smaller than I'd imagined, ready to seat three to five hundred at best, shoulder to shoulder ("seat" is the wrong term, as the only seats lined the walls--- the floor was open and empty).  The stage was small but with enough room for six Danes and their surprisingly small amount of equipment.  The sound system adequate, but I had no idea how much so until I heard the music.  I could not imagine sound emanating from so small a stage being as large as it turned out to be.

I walked away from that show convinced that I had just seen one of the best shows I had ever seen.  The sound was excellent and huge and the music way beyond my expectations.  Alcoholic Faith Mission is one of only a few bands I have seen which was actually better live than they were on record and I say that knowing that had I heard the music first, I would say it anyway.  Their new album, Ask Me This, is terrific, but there was no way they could recreate in the studio the power and cohesion that they had that night.  It was wall-of-sound incredible in places, flowingly moving in others and flat out an experience I will never forget.  Rather than waste my time on words, I shall instead take you on a little Youtube journey through the music in which I have so much faith (and, yes, I am on a mission--- no, it does not include alcohol).  Keep an open mind and open ears and you will hear just a portion of what I recently heard--- a band on the way up and confident in its mission.  May you enjoy the journey (and may they gain fans, as they so much deserve).

What can I say?  The music says it all.  Yet another band added to my "must follow" list.  And the hit's just keep on comin'.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thoughts On Tom House... Get Him While You Can.....

I sit here listening to Tom House's 'til you've seen mine and jesus doesn't live here anymore and my mind is racing and my heart pumping because I know House (his music) and I know Woody Guthrie and Jim Ringer and Ralph Stanley and a whole host of musicians who have and do play music in the styles of yesteryear and I'm wondering why it takes a movie like O Brother, Where Art Thou? to make us pay attention when it is right in front of us. And I'm wondering why all the respect for the blues and not so much for the mountain music (although recent years have been kind to the genre) which is also part of our musical heritage and in fact parallels the blues in so many ways. How can you separate the trials and tribulations from one section of the country from another, whether they be African-American or Backwoods, when both are so closely related in terms of poverty and social caste and isolation from what was once termed “mainstream” America? And I'm wondering why I have not seen this before. Perhaps I was trapped by the electric syndrome (for years, if it wasn't electric, to me it wasn't guitar) or perhaps I was so plugged into my white middle class upbringing that I saw everything through rose-colored glasses because I have to tell you, things could not have been much better for me in spite of the injustice and heartache which must have been there but I ignored. I am talking music here--- specifically music--- because I have always seemed to have seen the world from that perspective, but isn't it strange how my little world of music ran and runs parallel to the real world?

Is there a difference between the jazz and blues which emanated from The South and Chicago and the music which came from the mountains and the prairies? As I age, I hear it less and less and it makes me think that there is something wrong with a world which makes minor distinctions major and ignores that which is held in common. Ha! Listen to me. “Things”. If anyone said that to me about music, I would probably punch them in the nose. To me, music at its worst is a living organism. At its best, it is a miracle.

But back to House. While I'm not at a loss what to type into the computer to find information about him, I wonder why everything has to be so word-oriented. I mean, sure, I could type in “folk” or “mining songs” or “mountain music”, I suppose, though they probably wouldn't help much (although with the addition of his name, they might). Words are okay and in some instances show their worth, but wouldn't it be better if we could search by culture or a string of musical notes or even a feel? I hear so many things on the two albums I am limited to and they are limiting in themselves as well. Thirties and forties--- depression and war. The descent into panic for survival and the panic of war. The rise of the middle class and the rise from poor to middle. Barn dances and barnstorms. Moonshine and liquor and the descent into a hell of denial. The joy of being alive and the accompanying gloom.

Life. That's it. House writes and sings about life. That's what the old songs were mostly about, those that came from the roots. Life and death and everything in between. Or maybe living and dying because life is life and death is death and they are final by definition. Living goes on and dying goes on way too long, sometimes.

House serves up his songs on the two albums I am hearing in the cloak of backwoods and old-timey. He jumps forward and backwards in time like one of those cloggers I used to watch on TV broadcasts of The Grand Ole Opry, this time out of the backwoods of the thirties and the next time out of the fifties folk scene and the next almost current and embedded in the relatively new Americana culture. And occasionally, he breaks out and does something that doesn't fit anywhere, like Down In the Hole, a song ready-made for a string of bands like The New Pornographers or The Raconteurs to drag into their midst. Or maybe rockers like Ireland's Minnows or Riptide Movement or Canada's Redgy Blackout.  Surely, any one of those bands could make something quite impressive out of it.

Do you see what I'm saying? Of course, you don't. I am under a spell here and you're still thinking The Beatles. Or Woody Guthrie. Or Bob Dylan. See, this is what House does. He drags you out of yourself and forces you into another time (and, just maybe, another dimension). I mean, if you're yourself when you listen to Down In the Hole, you just flat out are not listening. And when he deedle-deedles and di-de-di's, he has a reason. I mean, House tells stories, even when the stories don't have a beginning or end.

Down In the Hole... You know what I hear? I hear Kaleidoscope (the American band from the sixties) doing Oh, Death. I hear a deeper-voiced Tim O'Brien reaching deep and singing about troubles and woes. I hear Cumberland River serving up deep-fried mountain music straight out of TV's Justified. I hear backwoods music with more than a touch of the blues. Or I hear it as a modern rock classic: a little acoustic plucking beneath short bursts of electric slide over a bedrock of bass and Hammond organ and beneath-the-beat drums. Any number of groups could do it and do it up right.

Of course, Tom House has already done it up right.

You know what I think is really cool about House? Most people who hear this would say he was born out-of-time, that his music is of a different era. House doesn't care. He is doing what he does and genre-be-damned, and therefore it is not out-of-time. It is perfectly in-time.

But why take my word for it? Here is a link to an old article written by none other than Greil Marcus with whom I only occasionally agree but with whom I agree on this. Take it away, Greil!

Oh, and if you want, you can listen to him here. I recommend that you do.

Friday, March 23, 2012

These Are Videos (and Music) You Don't Want To Miss.....

Man, I've been so busy trying to keep up, I got further behind.  Musicians are cranking out excellent stuff so fast that computers can't even keep up.  (Remember when we thought that would never happen?)  Well, I can't catch you up, but I can sure as hell give you a leg up on the good stuff.  And there's plenty, trust me!  So let's stop this palaver and get on with it, starting with.....

VINNIE ZUMMO/Ringo..... 

I know that few of you have heard of Vinnie, but what if I told you he was a former guitarist with the Joe Jackson Band, would that help?  What?  You don't know who Joe Jackson is?  What are you, twelve?  Anyway, Vinnie was knocking around on his own the whole time he played with Jackson and has put together some very adventurous albums (and songs).   Vinnie himself just turned me on to what I thought was a brand spankin' new video of a track titled Ringo, except it wasn't new at all.  It has been languishing on YouTube for three years!  Doesn't make a nevermind, though, because it is one killer track reminiscent of, say, that foursome from yesteryear?  Think white--- very white.  And set yourself.  Don't get confused.  Those guys all over the screen are, in fact, Vinnie, cloned especially for this tribute to... Ringo!

And we've only just begun!  Here's someone else you need to meet.....


You gotta love a band which slogan is "Rawk with the Hawk!" and I do.  They are hard rockin' Sons of Virginia and get my vote for one of the best hard rockin' bands out there.  Right up there with Era For a Moment.  A couple of years ago, they put together this video, a both dark and light look at night life and the dangers which lurk.  The first couple of times I saw it, it weirded me out a little.  It was the girl's eyes, I think.  They are so big and beautiful.  And.....  but I won't give it away.  You have to watch it to see what I mean.  Just know that whatever you think when the song starts, it all works out in the end.  Ladies and gentlemen, let's Rawk with the Hawk!

Shade/The Llynn and Jane Show.....

Shade is one of the best of the unknowns.  Jane Gowan a year or two ago headed to Toronto from Vancouver BC but kept the base of her band together--- herself and Tim Vesely, formerly with Rheostatics and a recent find of mine, The Violet Archers.  After completing their second album, One Last Show of Hearts, Gowan and Vesely put together this little masterpiece reminiscent of what Neil Young did on his first solo album.  A light instrumental which is better than it really should be.  I love these guys!

Terri Tarantula.....

I can't think of a bigger Walkabouts fan than Gary Heffern, so when he tuned me in to the new album, Travels in the Dustland, I listened.  I liked the band back in the old days, when they were trying like hell to separate themselves from the bottle-necked Seattle scene.  They are even better now.  More mature, more mystical...  just more.  Gary also plugged me in to Terri Tarantula, maybe better known as Terri Moeller, of whom I had no concept at the time.  Well, I do now.  Moeller is drummer with The Walkabouts, but she is all Tarantula on her own.  She released an album back in  2009 (self-titled) and is readying a new one as I type.  Here is a video I had to share with you because while I dig what The Walkabouts have done, I am really intrigued by the direction of the Tarantula.  In fact, if I was fifteen years younger and she was fifteen years older, I'd stalk her.  For the music, of course.....


Not to be confused with the (I assume) French band of the same name.   These guys are from Florida and the creation, basically, of one Joel Piedt, who assembled a very good lineup of musicians and singers to help him put together what they label "dream-pop/folk", which is a fancy way of saying spacey and melodic, I guess.  Well, they are Pop, that's for sure, and they have that spacey edge, but where they excel, at least on this track, is in the creation of a composition the center of which is... for lack of a better word...  a composition.  Piedt obviously has an aurision (the aural side of vision) and is intent on bringing it to life and does so very well here.  Here's the deal on the video. though.  The video is split-vision, one side run forward and the other run backward.  I haven't quite figured out what they're doing, but I am now obsessed with doing so.  If you find the magic combination, please let me know.  And check these guys out!   (Listen to more here)


Remember a few videos ago where I pointed out Rheostatics and The Violet Archers?  Well, Tim Vesely was the core of those bands and here is one of many videos I have found of the best known one--- Rheostatics.  These guys were major label good and actually got their shot.  Was Claire a hit?  In Canada, I would assume, but I have no idea if they made any dents in the US.  They should have.  This is smooth Pop from a guy (and band) I am gaining more respect for every day.  From 1994, for Chrissakes.  Like I said, I'm getting further behind.....


When I heard these guys, I was floored!  The seventies- and prog-leaning sound knocked me to the curb.  Very powerful band driven by a drummer possessed.  Whenever I hear bands like this, I immediately point to musicians, for they are the ones who appreciate musicianship.  These guys have it in spades.  Don't let what I've said stop you from hearing what I think is one of the best bands to come out of the Pac Northwest since The Sonics and The Wailers.

Kink Ador.....

When my buddy Joe Lee (NinenOut) told me I would like Kink Ador back in what seems like the Stone Age, I figured I would like them.  Joe has never really steered me wrong.  What I didn't know as how much I would like them.  Since the first blast of Animal hit my ears, I have been tethered to them practically umbilically.  While they have a new "three-sided single" ready for you to download for free!!! (and it's a good one), I keep going back to this song.  Perhaps it is the semi-Marvin Gaye intro or maybe it's the cool video, but I absolutely love this!  After watching this, you are probably going to want to download the free single.  I heartily recommend that you so--- before buying the first two albums, of course.....

Poor Young Things.....

It seems like most of what I listen to these days is Canadian, don't ask me why.  Maybe it's because they have a soul unlike others or maybe it's just because they're nice people--- or so the generalities demand (makes for some good comedy, eh?).   Well, Poor Young Things fill the bill nicely.  This straight ahead acoustic rocker comes from what I have labeled "The Stairwell Sessions".  I have a feeling they will be affording major studio time soon.

Hannah Miller.....

I know.  I've posted this before.  But you have to understand that I live in my own world and she is prominent in that world.  Is she in the real world?  I have no idea.  Reality sucks!  In my world, Hannah is a star, as this video attests.

Susan James.....

Man, I learned a lot watching this video---  that Cops and boy scouts need an upgrade on their uniforms, that cars could fly (hmmm, wonder why they can't now?),  that I need girls in miniskirts and minidresses dancing the frug to really make me happy, that that bus is one really cool looking mobile, that I need to go to California (even for just a bit and to see my friends, of course) and that Susan James is a sweetheart in spite of the many restraining orders she's had delivered to me.  It also makes me wonder what we're doing to this country.  That is some beautiful footage, especially at the end.  From Susan's fine, fine album, Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home.  Watch this, then buy it.

Dave Gleason & The Superlatives.....

I have no idea what connection Gleason has to the band, but he would appreciate that I gave them credit in the header because he's that kind of guy.  He supports as much as plays, is always ready to lend a hand and will pick a guitar at the drop of a hat.  Dave is a West Coast boy transplanted to Nashville, probably because he likes to eat, which both sucks and doesn't.  It sucks because the West Coast is denied Gleason's twang except through his recordings or the occasional visits he can afford.  It doesn't suck because Nashville has the resources for Gleason to do what he loves doing--- playing live.  He is one hell of a picker and writes excellent tunes (Blue Side of the World is only one from an album worth of solid tunes, that album being Turn and Fade, his latest).  This is only one side of Gleason, who can rock with the billy and out-twang many of the better-knowns Nashville (and other places) has to offer. 

Tom Mank & Sera Smolen.....

With help from friends Kathy Zeigler and Amy Merrill (Tom would never forgive me if I didn't give credit).  I could tell you about Tom Mank.  I could tell you a whole lot.  I could tell you that Mank will be better known after he is gone, though he certainly has no intentions of going anywhere anytime soon.  That is a sad statement to make because he is just now coming into his own as a musician and, as far as I can tell, most people are too busy to slow down and hear what he has to say and play.  As a songwriter, he is world-class, and I have to give part of that credit to wife and world-class cellist Sera Smolen who gives Mank enough room to create the stunning songs he does.  This video comes via The Netherlands, one of the few places which appreciates the music and the man.  From Mank & Smolen's last album (and it is a killer), Paper Kisses.  And, sure, this is live and not a full-blown Hollywood (or Bollywood) production, but I offer no apologies.  Mank can't afford something like that.  Chances are, when we meet, I will have to pay for the beer.  Won't bother me a bit.

Laurie Biagini.....

There are few musicians out there who work as hard as Laurie Biagini.  She is always writing, constantly networking and recording and everything else you should do to promote yourself.  It has gained her a fairly large following and deservedly so.  She writes and sings straight out of the sixties, wrapping her songs around beach blanket surf and Beach Boys with a side of Annette.  Her music is up and her attitude the same.  I suggest, in fact, that you turn this up.  Might want to sprinkle a little sand in the kitchen for a little dancing as well.  From her latest album, A Go-Go Girl In the Modern World.  It's groovy.

Gary Heffern.....

I'm ending this little piece with a video I didn't want to include among others because it is, frankly, one of immense depth.  I know Gary Heffern and I know what some songs take out of him and I don't think there has been a song which has taken as much.  It is both dark and light, past and present.  It is beautiful and yet stark in a why-is-this-enlightened-world-so-unforgiving kind of way.  I think this is probably the best thing Heffern has ever done and may be, after we all are dead and gone, what he will be remembered for.  Set yourself.  And watch and listen closely.  This is something else.

You know what sucks about posting these things?  I feel like I'm always leaving something or someone out.  It's like hanging up the phone only to remember something you should have said or remembering that concert you just couldn't miss the day after the show.  No matter, though.  I will find those videos and post them later.  I hope.  Until then, enjoy these.  And keep the faith.