Weekend of local rock volume 66

(As opposed to Order 6-D6, a long-defunct local group I really liked.)

I’m not going to stretch the definition of local too much with this much more brief look back at the Autumn Wine Festival, but it will do a lot of bending to the rock part. Here’s the six-band lineup over the two days.

We  got things underway with alex&shiloh, who perhaps were the most conventional acoustic group there insofar as style and playlist. I think they have done the bar stage at the Good Beer Festival, which is a handy measuring stick for that sort of thing. You’ll have to deal with the sun-splashed photos – the stage faces more or less northwest so the sun is behind it most of the day.

They yielded to the familiar local strains of Randy Lee Ashcraft. He’s been around long enough to become a legend around these parts by being not quite country but not so much rock, either. Just good listening, I guess.

Last up on a pleasant Saturday was Front Page News, which cranked out a number of familiar tunes.

They had the biggest crowd of the weekend.

Sunday started with its perennial opening act, the Backfin Banjo Band. They always start out with standards and take requests.

Instead of playing the middle on Saturday as they did last year, Such Fools played their unique style on Sunday.

We wrapped things up with the danceable On The Edge, and we needed something to dance to just to stay warm as the temperature struggled to get above 50 and we endured a couple brief showers while they were up.

Originally I thought the Sunday lineup was exactly the same as last year, but upon further review I found Such Fools switched days. Still, out of six bands three were holdovers from 2014. In fact, it seems like the turnover for the event is shrinking, and the last non-local act they took a chance with was Tim Reynolds and TR3 two years ago. Certainly I’m the first to support local music, but variety is the spice of life and the AWF used to bring in some interesting acts – onetime Bad Company touring bassist Paul Cullen played here a few years back, as I recall.

By design the Autumn Wine Festival features many of the same Maryland-based vineyards year after year. But does it have to keep the same bands, too?

monoblogue music: “Inky Ovine” by Jas Patrick

I have no idea who or what “Inky Ovine” is, but whatever its inspiration was to musician Jas Patrick I want to see more of it.

There are only six songs on this EP, which is sort of a shame. But the first three are 15 minutes and 29 seconds of a musical ride that takes you from the sassy blues mashed up with a heaping helping of Southern rock that is Harpy to the more melodic power pop of Party Line (Classified) before letting you off with the reggae-flavored title track – yes, there is a song called Inky Ovine.

But take about five minutes and tell me Harpy doesn’t go down smooth like fine whiskey. The video, by the way, is also Patrick’s creation. (It’s more than a little strange, though.)

On the homeward side of the EP you have the sweet ballad Little Bug before the collection takes another musical turn into the effects-driven Didn’t Ask – a rare rock song where a pedal steel guitar feels in place. The cool thing about the song is the changeover in its second half, which reminded me of the technique often used on the early albums of prog-rockers Yes.

Perhaps the song with the broadest appeal, though, may be the closing track Snow Day. It’s the finale of the 6-song collection, but the good news is that Patrick is working out eight more for an LP release at an unspecified time.

As the story is told, Patrick was so disappointed in his last EP (“Tributaries,” released in 2012) due to the lack of studio time he could afford that he scrimped, saved, and finally outfitted his own home studio before turning to the actual music-making. Patrick plays everything on this EP except the bass and pedal steel guitar, which makes me curious about what he does for a band while touring.

And speaking of touring, Patrick is on the road quite often in the Midwest and South. In looking up his schedule, I noticed he has an upcoming show in Eaton, Ohio. While it’s been 30 years since I’ve been to the seat of Preble County – it was usually the last town I went through on my way to college down U.S. 127, and seemed to be a respectable little place – I have to say that if this guy can play in Eaton he can definitely play in Salisbury and I would look forward to it.

Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself and enjoy.

Weekend of local rock volume 65

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, and what once was a monthly (or sometimes weekly) feature is down to two or three a year. As a guy I know would say, that’s a shame.

I also know it’s unusual to have WLR on a weekday, but this weekend I’m going to take a break from politics and do an all-music weekend – WLR today and Sunday sandwiching a music review tomorrow. Next week you may get the treat of two because I have a backlog of music to review. Besides a somewhat humdrum municipal election, it’s a quiet political time right now.

I’m starting with an event that’s become somewhat of a musical dynamo thanks to its two-stage setup, the Good Beer Festival. It featured twelve acts, with the bar stage primarily hosting acoustic acts while the main stage had full bands.

Bear in mind I also work the event so I don’t get to hear every song. Some of these are more detailed than others, but I always like to lead with the schedule to help keep track.

So I begin with the acoustic stylings of Phil Portier, who opened up on the bar stage. I will say I knew the Joe Jackson song he opened with so I could insert the “where?” at the proper place.

On the other end as Phil wrapped up was Paper To Planes, an acoustic duo hailing all the way from Kansas City.

I believe Don Adler was playing the GBF for the second or third time. But I didn’t get to see him play the unusual instrument at his feet.

Sam Birchfield was the first group where I noticed the merch table.

The Coteries at the bar stage also had merch. The New Jersey-based trio was disappointed they didn’t get to enjoy more of the event because of New Jersey traffic. They have several shows set up, which you’ll see if you look closely.

Wrapping up things on Saturday were local favorites Uprizing.

Having a local group to close in the prime slot was a little unusual. Previously they had reserved it for an up-and-coming band touring the region. I’m not sure if this will be a trend, but I liked the old approach better.

Whiskeybelly got Sunday started with an acoustic/electric combo – and a couple broken strings, which they laughed about.

On the other side, the GBF went country with the local group Haleytown – population 5. (The sign is a neat touch.)

Chris Diller set CDs and stickers at each table, and hoped people would fill the guitar case.

It always intrigues me how a guy can play so many instruments at once – needless to say, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

On the main stage was the group I thought stole the show, Sub-Radio Standard. It was the group I would have expected to close out Saturday.

Ken Wenzel was the headliner, if you will, of the bar stage. He played songs off the CD.

The Will Overman Band did their country best to wrap things up. I wish I had slipped around backstage to get a photo of “Big Red” – a 1970 Chevy Suburban they tour in.

So I was a little loose with the definition of “rock” in this one. Next year may be the year to just put the rock bands on Saturday and the country stuff on Sunday, since it seems to be getting about equal billing now.

On Sunday I look at the music from the Autumn Wine Festival.

monoblogue music: “The Minstrel” by Nemo James

If I were to simply judge this record on the storytelling quality of its lyrics, this would be a winner. Nemo James weaves a number of pleasant tales as a good minstrel would in a 17-song epic which runs over an hour.

Alas, I have to judge on the package as a whole and musically this effort falls somewhat short. I suppose if you’re looking for pleasant, innocuous background music for listening to the stories Nemo weaves it’s a fair enough composition, but after a run of reviewing several good albums in a row this one didn’t seem to have what it takes. Every so often you would get a little bit of brass or some strings within a track but it seemed like they were added for effect rather than integrated into the whole. At this point it’s worth pointing out that James’s album notes only credit him as guitarist and drummer Chuck Sabo, with remaining instruments credited to James and “software.” That perhaps explains the very flat texture.

That description seems to be missing a little bit, though. Pride works reasonably well as a duet between James and a female vocalist, while I Wonder has a nice bluesy feel to it. I also liked the more upbeat feeling of Little Tin Box with its witty lyrics about the age-old problem of having more month than money.

But those highlights aren’t enough to save an album which has more than its share of annoyances. For example, I couldn’t tell whether the drummer or the production was at fault for the little clicking noises that plagued some of the songs.

At the end of Forbidden Fruit, James sings, “This song has no ending/It just goes on and on.” I hate to say it, considering Nemo did “The Minstrel” after an extended break from the music business, but somewhere around track 10 I was beginning to feel the same way. Aside from the lyrics, these songs don’t challenge the listener to find nuances or stray far from a comfort zone. Simple arrangements are one thing, but they still demand a good performance – how many groups have made it big on just a few chords?

I think James would have been better suited to release the strongest five of these as an EP to whet the appetite and work on providing more beef to the other twelve. In this era of .mp3 the old ideal of a 2 1/2 hour magnum opus like Guns n’ Roses did with “Use Your Illusion” (taking an example from my own CD collection) is outmoded like the Commodore 64. A lot of those songs are great, but out of 30 songs G ‘n R did there are a handful that shouldn’t have made the cut – so the case is here. But your thoughts may differ, so I encourage you to listen for yourself.

monoblogue music: “Miracle” by Andy Evans

If you are looking for something bluesy with soul, you won’t be disappointed with this effort by Texas-based Andy Evans. “Miracle” isn’t a long album as it’s barely over 30 minutes long, but the nine tracks feature a pleasing variance in the guitar-based sound Evans puts out.

You may find Intro a little strange, but it’s only the prelude to the mid-tempo, sort of jazzy title track where we are introduced to the guitar effects Evans employs in a full-length song. It gets a little more mainstream on 45, but that song is saved by the lyrics and storytelling Evans employs.

Lesson Learned gets off to an acoustic start, but it’s a nice enough ballad with an abrupt end that caught me off guard. Also catching me unawares was the horn-infused Shape Of Love, which also features a lot of tasty guitar.

For me, one of the two best tracks was the sixth selection, called Judas. It’s foreboding open and distortion lead up to some serious ripping through the bridges. It leads into a pair of slower and more romantic songs, with I Wish She Was Mine opening with Evans singing acapella for the first thirty seconds before it transforms to a slow rocker. Elemental is also slow, but has a well-written chorus.

The final song is the other of my favorite pair, as Make It takes distortion, some scorching organ, and a good slow fade to create a finale worth the wait.

Now for the bad news: the album doesn’t come out until January. (This is why there’s no cover art – no .jpg of it exists.) It’s unusual to get one so far back in the process, as it’s obvious the tracks are ready. (Of course, this leads me to wonder if the project will be beefed up by a couple songs upon its release.) So this is a case where you’ll have to trust me that if you crave something a little bit different, this may be worth checking out after the calendar turns.

monoblogue music: “Burnt Blue” by J Burn

Today I review a four-song EP by the San Francisco-based guitarist J Blue. When this EP came out in late June, it was billed as the lead-in to a full-length effort by the band, which boasts two members of Bob Weir’s band RatDog. The EP was even recorded at TRI Studios, which Weir owns.

Of course knowing that bit of backstory helps to explain a little bit about this record, but what I can’t lay my finger on is why I didn’t derive as much enjoyment out of it as I have some others. Freight Train is a nice little story song that sets the tone, although we have heard the theme of wandering around like an old-time hobo many times over the years. The piano-driven Old Time Heroes is a good addition, too.

But something about the second song, Memory Lane, and the finale Our Song Shared just didn’t sound right.

One theory I came up with was something I think of as density. The average rock song isn’t just continuous instrumentation but has brief, sometimes noticeable interludes. Take a classic song like (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction where the opening guitar lick has that quick little pause in it. That makes it a little more hummable and accessible.

With J Blue the songs are unusually dense, with little bursts of violin or piano within the melody. It’s unusual to hear songs like that outside the classical realm, and even those have rests to go with the layering of instruments.

On the flip side, I got the impression he was trying too hard instead of letting the music and lyrics flow. The vibe I got from the set was similar to that of bluegrass music, which is generally simple in arrangement because it’s often performed acoustically. Granted, I don’t write songs for a living so I don’t have a professional opinion as much as I do a layman’s with no dog in the fight, just an advisory role. (This is why I invite people to listen for themselves when I can. You may love something I’m not enamored with or hate my new favorite.)

I think this is a case where the songwriting process would have been fascinating. I’m imagining these tunes done as a three-piece combo of just guitar, drums, and bass and thinking that would be an improvement. Given this is a stage before a longer full-length release, maybe they have time to do some revision and keep things simpler.

monoblogue music: “City Blog” by Gideon King & City Blog

Sometimes there is a natural marriage between modern jazz and rock music. While the two genres don’t often meet and create commercial success, it doesn’t mean those with an appreciation of both styles don’t stop trying. Such is the case with guitarist Gideon King and the New York-based cast of studio players he’s selected known collectively as City Blog. (An interesting name, to be sure.)

There are a couple things you should know about this collection of ten songs. It borrows heavily from the improvisation jazz is known for, with ten songs running a total of almost fifty minutes. The longest, Down, runs over seven minutes and looks askance at the modern music scene; meanwhile, the shortest is the final track Broken Noise. That’s not so much a song as a mashup of different takes of three of the preceding songs.

In the rock world they would classify this as a jam band, and City Blog fulfills those elements with the additional instrumentation traditional to modern jazz.

Additionally, there is a cynicism in much of the lyrical content, a world-weariness reflected best in the lyrics of songs like the title track, Friendship Cliche, and Dirty Bastard. “City Blog” stands out, however, as a group with multiple singers: Elliott Skinner of the band Third Story handles City Blog and Dirty Bastard, Marc Broussard provides the vocals for Down and New York Is, Saul Kurtz does See In Double, and Grace Weber does What Say You and Glide. Carolyn Leonhart of Steely Dan fame is credited with background and lead vocals on several tracks as well. To me, Weber provided the vocal highlights in making her two songs stand out a little from the rest.

Overall, for the number of players involved, King does an excellent job of putting together a relatively seamless whole. There’s more than enough variety in the tracks to hold the aficionado’s interest.

“City Blog” certainly has the sophistication to appeal to those who have attained a certain station in life and live in the Thirties or Forties, but it’s good for the rest of us, too. If broadening your musical horizons is a goal, this is a good choice – and if you’re reading this on this last Saturday in September, you can get in on the ground floor because “City Blog” drops today. Here’s the self-titled lead single so you can judge for yourself.

monoblogue music: “You Said” by Tumbler

Oftentimes when I do a review, I listen to the music first then read up on the backstory to fill in details. In the case of this fresh release by British-based Tumbler, the story behind it explains in large part why the album is a gem, a bit of a throwback in an era with Autotune and bands that stress rhythm over harmony and acquiring bling over musicianship.

Instead, Tumbler’s album is a woven tapestry of simple songs that show a number of musical influences. For the most part it’s performed by two guitarists: Richard Grace and his eighteen-year old son Harry – one of Grace’s half-dozen – who the elder Grace called “music-wise, the most ambitious of them all.” They have a few guest musicians along the way for spots of percussion and piano, but the father and son perform most of the musical work.

Knowing now that the songs were primarily written by a guy who’s achieved a certain age and station in his life explains a lot. As Richard Grace put it:

The songs on this album come from a cave full of stuff written over the years and played together in crowded kitchen concerts where guitars are everywhere and everyone knows the chords.

That note gave me the “ah ha!” moment to explain the subtle David Bowie sound in the opening song Moments (she reappears) and the Beatles influence I detected in Don’t think twice (she says), the bouncy pop tune that follows it up.

Given the circumstances of the writer, it’s easy to see how many of the ballads have a poignant message. You almost have to be a parent to truly get Sleepy bananas are cool or Flowers and miracles, which seem autobiographical in nature.

Romance is also a recurring theme in “You Said” whether it be the opposites attract message of London girl, the duet Call me sentimental, the opening track Moments, or the closing ballad Rowan tree. Even sweeter is the lengthy ode Dennis and Jean, which celebrates a long sixty years of marriage in a old-fashioned relationship.

Yet the elder Grace has a sense of humor, too. For some reason the rocker Businessman blues makes me think of Donald Trump (but doesn’t everything make you think of him these days?) And Dead man’s bones made me laugh out loud. Who knew an autopsy could be funny?

As I said above, the elder Grace wrote ten of the twelve songs on “You Said.” Son Harry wrote tracks seven and eight, Bueller and Break or fall. These two venture a little more into a pop influence, but Bueller still has the touch of romance that comes along with the happiness of happenstance falling just right. Break or fall takes a string buildup and morphs into a hook-filled song that seems to be the lead single.

Realizing that these songs were written over a number of years as just something Richard Grace enjoyed doing, perhaps he is leaving a pair of legacies: one is the obvious message behind the songs, but the other is getting his “most ambitious” son a head start in the music business.

As a whole, this was one of the best I’ve heard this year because it was songs already honed to a sharp edge combined with someone who detailed them just right. Most likely this will land somewhere in my annual top five, but if you don’t want to just take my word for it you can listen for yourself.

Maybe there’s some more in that “cave of stuff” for a round two.

monoblogue music: “Learning You By Heart” by Stephen Inglis

Have you ever heard of Hawaiian Slack Key guitar? Me neither, but Stephen Inglis has been playing it for years and his talents are featured on his latest collection, which came out in June.

So I was interested in not just listening to the album but learning a little bit more about the difference between the old standard guitar and Hawaiian Slack Key. Long story short, it began when the guitar was introduced to the islands in the 19th century and involves loosening the strings to create different chord patterns and a unique technique of playing, rather than the standard blues-based progression.

The genre seems to have a devoted fan base, though. Later this month Inglis will be playing Tokyo at a festival featuring the guitar form, but he also has a date this fall in Texas at a regional folk gathering. Stephen already has a brief tour set for October out west.

Nor will he won’t be out of place there. Inglis borrowed from other forms of music to put together his latest release. For example, the mandolin on Cold Sunday gives this song a bluegrass feel with its prominence.

h

Yet despite the different techniques and the number of instruments involved, I found the album suffered a little bit from a lack of memorable songs. Usually in a review most of the songs will stick out at me for something like Cold Sunday did, but in this case there were only a few. I liked the lyrical storytelling of Maria Luisa, Our Younger Days, and the title track, and the opening song Blind With Haste was a good introduction.

On the other hand, the one track I really didn’t like was the duet Don’t Postpone Joy. The voices didn’t seem to mesh well, so it perhaps should have just employed one of the two.

Obviously Inglis comes from a unique musical direction, but there is only so much you can do with acoustic music in a popular sense. There’s not the breakout capability here like you had with Bob Marley for reggae or Bob Dylan electrifying folk (and being booed for it by the purists.) “Learning You By Heart” is a nice enough album, but may not be the vehicle for broader appeal.

Then again, any musician appreciates gaining fans – even just one at a time. When I can, I always invite you to listen for yourself.

When we on the east coast think of tropical music, we gravitate to reggae or Caribbean songs, but you may just dig this island sound of a different sort.

monoblogue music: “Smokin’ Voyages” by Space Apaches

As the summer comes to an end this Labor Day weekend, the time for throwing the car windows open and cranking out the tunes is drawing to a close. That’s why it’s sort of a shame that this album won’t actually drop until October 9, when the days are starting to turn cooler. Once you get through the brief intro of Entry, the song Sunrise begs to be turned up.

I’ve seen the group described as a psychedelic version of the Eagles, and I suppose that conclusion could be drawn from the pairing of Empty and Desert Life on the first part of the album. Empty is a slower, more melodic tune than Desert Life, but both evoke that California sound with some additional keyboards.

Space Apaches is a group of studio musicians hailing from the Asheville, North Carolina area. As such, they play with a number of different performers and that may explain the interesting selection of covers they chose to include as some of the fourteen songs on the album. At least they added “Fox” to the “CBSABCNBC” chorus of the Larry Norman Vietnam-era song I Am The Six O’Clock News, also selecting the Mickey Newbury-penned chestnut from that era made famous by Kenny Rogers, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).

They also took their time to stretch their musical legs on the almost jazzy instrumental Breakin’ The Ice. It leads to the song they selected as the first single, Smile. The song is a little bit repetitive, but serves as a good intro to the group’s sound.

I think the second single, the keyboard-driven In My Mind, will be a better song for them. It will come out September 16.

Once they took care of the country-tinged and mirthful I’m On My Way To Feeling Fine, I detected more of a southern rock influence on the latter part of the collection. The rockin’ blues of Love Should Come Easy and Maybe use the piano to great effect, driving the back end of the album. That part of the album also has my favorite song from it, A Song For The Rest Of My Life, which I liked because the guitar riffs have the sound of classic Molly Hatchet to them.

Wrapping up the CD is another song made famous to many by a southern band. Although (Ghost) Riders In The Sky dates from the 1940s, most rock radio aficionados remember it as an Outlaws song. Space Apaches does it as more of a keyboard-driven tune, which is a nice twist to an old song.

Taken as a whole, “Smokin’ Voyages” was just a fun album to review.  If you like that country rock or southern rock, you may want to circle October 9 on your calendar so you can check this out.

monoblogue music: “A Rainy Week in Paradise” by Elessar Thiessen

Oftentimes when I review a musical work, my mind tries to categorize it into something that it sounds like. But the recent release by Winnipeg’s Elessar Thiessen eludes that pigeonholing; traversing the territory of adult contemporary music with ease.

Whilw he begins with the rain and brief acoustic number Another Love Song – which seems to serve as an extended intro to the romantic I Need A Woman – this rainy week in paradise generally manages to produce an acoustic feel with a blend of guitar, drums, piano, and occasional organ.

There are a few highlights on the early stages of this one: the buildup to a tasty solo on Lover Dear leads into the upbeat I Don’t Wanna Go. Later on the track that veers most toward rock, When The World Ends, quickly and almost imperceptibly becomes the song Without Him through a spoken word bridge. There’s a hint of something different (perhaps Western swing?) in the shuffling track Truth.

Among that sextet which makes up the middle of the album, though, is a song called You Girl that features vocalist Alexa Dirks as the girl in question. To me, the song was a little off-putting and I think it may have been what I thought an unusual rhythm or just the drum track in general. Others may hear it differently, of course – here you go.

Even though the thought of a rainy week in paradise may seem depressing, Thiessen makes it hopeful and optimistic in the title track. Wrapping up the 11-song effort are an ode to his sibling called Sister and another song that well conveys the acoustic/electric dichotomy, The Perfect Bloom.

Having walked back through Thiessen’s effort in my mind’s eye, I still can’t really put it in a specific genre. I suppose this is one where I can definitely encourage listeners to judge for themselves; after all, they will determine whether Thiessen remains a secret to those outside his home area or broadens his appeal.

monologue music: “This Book Belongs To” by The Liquorsmiths

After hearing the upcoming release by this West Coast-based band, it’s no wonder they have a deal in place with Inhesion Records and have opened for several more established groups: The Liquorsmiths have the talent and the unique niche to break through within their chosen folk-country genre. (I really like the cover, too.)

The six songs on their forthcoming EP (set for release August 21) have a nice variance to them, from the upbeat opening track Coy With Me and snappy lead single Get Well Soon to the slower Iris’ Song, which has a nice tone to it.

On the latter half of the six-song EP, Thief starts out mellow but then picks up, Devil I Do is almost bluesy in its feel, and Day By Day functions well as a final song. It could be the final song of anything: it’s the longest track on the album and builds up to a final chorus that begins to drown out the lyrics – and just might in a live setting as the audience gets to know the tune. I was almost expecting a “thank you, good night!” at the end of Day By Day.

Musically and lyrically, “This Book Belongs To” comes across as a very polished, well-done effort. I think the lightning rod for criticism (or praise) will be in how much lead singer Drew Thams reminds people of Bob Dylan. It was the very first thought that popped into my head once he started singing. That kind of comparison can be flattering but dangerous at the same time, so The Liquorsmiths moving forward will have to be careful about pigeonholing themselves. So far they have done a reasonable job with being fresh and original.

The Liquorsmiths have put together an album that is very simple and basic, as there aren’t long lists of guest players or a host of hokey studio tricks here. People who appreciate this sort of honesty and follow that area of music where acoustic folk runs on a tangent with elements of country in it should really enjoy it and I encourage then to take a listen. Since the album isn’t out yet there’s not a full stream to sample, but the lead single I link to above turns out to be a good representation.

Their marketing strategy is good as well, as they’re including five bonus acoustic tracks with the “Deluxe Edition” of “This Book Belongs To.” They’re not outtakes of the songs already on the EP but instead the quintet of songs are described as Thams and his guitar in front of a couple mikes, done during recording breaks for the main EP.

Could this be the breakout for the Liquorsmiths? Only time will tell, but a group which is familiar to the West Coast may have reason to see this side of the country.