Friday, October 24, 2008

Blues: The Next Generation

By marty

To be honest, when the clerk at the Cat Head blues shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi suggested the brothers-sister blues act, Homemade Jamz Band, I was skeptical.

There is a solid precedent regarding sibling bands - Osmonds, Hanson, and the omnipresent Jonas Brothers - for my skepticism.  Also, the band's name, with the bubble-gum Jamz with a "z,"  was also another warning sign.  It seemed like just another gimmick.

However, the clerk persisted and I finally slipped that well-worn cynicism off like an old coat and picked up their debut album, Pay Me No Mind.

Now count me among the converted.  The Perry siblings from Tupelo, Mississippi are fronted by lead guitarist and vocalist 16-year-old Ryan.  His brother Kyle, 14, fills in on bass and baby sister, Taya, 9, plays a very solid drums.  Together, they play a fresh, but traditional, brand of lip-smacking, finger-licking Delta Blues.

Make no doubt about it, guitarist Ryan is a great talent to be watched and savored.  He plays the blues with a smooth and sometimes dirty style in the great tradition of Mississippi bluesmen.  Even Ryan's voice carries far more weight than one would expect from a teenager. He growls. He teases and shouts.  

Perhaps, best of all, Ryan plays one of the great looking guitars of all time.  Constructed by the band's father,  the guitar is made from Ford automobile parts, with the body coming from a muffler.  Simply, its bad ass.

It's not surprising that the band garnered a second place finish in the 2007 International Blues Challenge and was named, this year, as New Artist of the Year by the Bay Area Blues Society.  

This is so much more than a gimmick.  It is the next generation of American blues and that is quite reassuring in times like these.

In the video below, B.B. King gives the band some deep love by saying, "In my 82 years, I've never seen something musically so remarkable as these young people."  If B.B. says it so, it must be the gospel.

Download: Who Your Real Friends Are by The Homemade Jamz Band (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Download: Voodoo Woman by The Homemade Jamz Band (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bees in the Tree

By marty

I have bees in my tree.  

A crapload of bees in my big, beautiful mango tree.  A barrel-size hive/nest/Death Star of bees dangling precariously on a limb 35 feet above my Thinking Spot - my quiet little seat to smoke too many cigarettes, listen to good music and solve all the world problems.   

Now my Thinking Spot is in danger.  Literally looming overhead.  Even more disturbing than the mental image of 2,000 newly-awoken bees landing on my lap when I finally crack that cheap fuel problem is the realization that the hive has been growing exponentially and totally unnoticed for many months.  

It is an apt metaphor for our current stress-filled, economic times.  An unknown danger growing so large and so close.  Is the ceiling starting to cave?  Not yet?  But when?  Better keep busy.

Contacted a bee remover through the internets (Thank you, Al Gore).  My own little bailout plan. In the meantime, I am keeping my head low with an eye to the sky.  And keeping busy as a .... well, you know.

Download: I’m A King Bee by Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Download: Honey Bee by Cassandra Wilson (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Download: Birds And The Bees by The Bird and the Bee (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lemon Demon: View Monster

By Ian Minor

Lemon Demon’s newest album is what you might call a reinvention. With a noticeably different style from Dinosaurchestra, his last album, Neil Cicierega is growing into his artistic skin. 

The album boasts 16 tracks, with transition tracks between them. This is a idea that Neil played with in earlier albums but goes crazy with here. The album has some of Lemon Demon’s best stuff. Two tracks, “The Ocean”, and “The Machine” are the best on the album. The latter a story of a boy who builds a giant machine that doesn't do anything, yet is labeled a menace of the state. Many other songs manage to pull of this new style. “Gadzooks” is the one of the best with great fan-mocking lyrics and with weird rhymes such as “Gee willikers, you’re all mentally illikers.”

But, as with all experimenting, some parts are going to fall flat. The first song he released for download was “Knife Fight” and it works okay as it’s own song, but when put into the album it seems out of place. A happy, peppy song between two of the slowest songs cause this song to trip the album up. In fact, some of the bonus songs would have worked better in the album. 

Oh yes, I mentioned bonus songs. Pay the full price for the physical CD and you’ll get sixteen extra songs. Most of them are instrumental pieces, but there are gems. My personal fave, “Ben Bernanke” a weird monologue by the Head of Finance to a man named Spencer. “Modify,” a song about mutilating yourself for fashion also does well by itself.

Lemon Demon has managed to shed the shackles that has haunted him and other bands like They Might Be Giants and Talking Heads. They play rock music, but because it has a much weirder subject matter, it’s labeled wacky or novelty. Lemon Demon at first embraced it, but now he has transitioned to his own style of rock. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Download: Ben Bernanke by Lemon Demon (mp3)(cdFreedom)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Welcome Home, Chrissie Hynde

By marty

After 35 years of living the exile's life in London, Chrissie Hynde has returned home. The irascible, 57-year-old Hynde now has an apartment in hometown Akron, Ohio and has opened up a vegan restaurant there

As a house warming present to us all, Hynde has given us the best The Pretenders album since 1984's Learning to Crawl.  The recently released Break Up The Concrete finds Hynde blasting out rockabilly-tinged rockers and mournful pedal steel weepers.

With Eric Heywood on pedal steel on nearly every song, you can hear more than a passing resemblance to Lucinda Williams. However, with drumming legend Jim Keltner providing the bottom, Hynde and her new collection of Pretenders reach a level of songwriting and musicianship thought lost to her days on vinyl.

The first single and lead song on the album, "Boots of Chinese Plastic," Hynde finds that elusive Pretenders vibe of old.  Always a mystical person, Hynde starts the song with the Buddhist phrase of "nam yo ho ren gay kyo."  Hynde has explained that the phrase means "every drop that runs through the vein always makes back to the heart again."  

Hynde has combined this spiritualization with the more familiar lament regarding bad and lost relationships - a theme that carries through the album. For all those who tend to fall for the wrong person, Hynde has been there and sings, "Illusion fills my head like an empty can, I spent a million lifetimes loving the same man."

Along with "Chinese Plastic," The Pretenders rock on through bluesy burners "Rosalee" and the title track, which features a solid and welcome Bo Diddley beat.  Another particular favorite is the spacey,  almost woozy, "Almost Perfect."  

With this new album, Hynde reclaims her rightful position atop rock's pantheon. She's the one leaning against a column, smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.  The coolest one in the room.

Welcome Home, Chrissie.  We are so glad your back. 

Download: Boots of Chinese Plastics by The Pretenders (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Just Like Going Home: The Reclaim Festival

By marty
For The Felice Brothers, the rustic environ of the Reclaim Music Festival was the perfect antidote to the parade of fast food joints and strip shopping centers found on the road.  

The festival site, down a gravel road to a reclaimed strip mine outside Rutland, Ohio, reminded the brothers from upstate New York of their rural upbringing.  Even before the show, the band commented on how the hilltop festival was already a favorite. 

From the stage, drummer and vocalist Simone Felice (there are three actual brothers in the group) announced to the crowd that the band was happy to be amongst fellow “hill folk.”  This familiarity lead to a wonderfully-enthusiastic, raucous set at the day-long music festival.

Actually, it was a big, sloppy, wet kiss.  A performance full of loose-fitting harmonies and playful exuberance.  At times, it was magical.

The band mixed in front-porch Americana stompers with murder ballads and other somber tales of tragedy.  Lead singer and guitarist Ian Felice’s achy phrasing elevates the band’s folk revivalist songs well above the typical fare.  Highlights include Ian Felice’s take on “Ruby Mae”  and the crowd-pleasing, foot-stomping “Frankie’s Gun,” which is about a drug deal gone bad.  Ian’s superior songwriting skills and stage presence bodes well for the future of the group. 

The third brother, accordion-playing James, appears to be the center of the band’s swirling sound and stage antics. This was particularly evident with James’ solo take at the beginning of the spooky “Goddamn You, Jim”  and the raucus “Whiskey in my Whiskey,” both of which are from the group’s latest self-titled album. The brothers are joined by Farley (yes, just Farley), the washboard and fiddle player, and a mysterious bassist named Christmas.

Most observers like to compare the brothers to Bob Dylan and The Band during their Woodstock, N.Y. years, or an American version of The Pogues.  Such comparisons, although flattering, paints the band too far into a corner.  They are much more.  In addition to these influences, the group incorporates aspects of bluegrass, zydeco and mountain music into their songs.  It is true American music.

At a venue reminiscent of their upbringing, The Felice Brothers made everyone feel at home. 

Download: Goddamn You, Jim by The Felice Brothers (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


Opening up for The Felice Brothers was the pride of the burgeoning Athens, Ohio music scene - Southeast Engine.  The locally-based quintet forged a powerful mix of underground rock and American roofs music during its one-hour set. 

Reminiscent of a latter-day Wilco, Southeast Engine rocked through a solid performance of songs filled with angst, self-doubt and redemption.  Lead singer Adam Remnant comes off as a potent mix of a Jeff Tweedy disciple and a countrified Beck backed by a retro 80s political rock band.   

Having just recorded their third album in a drafty, abandoned 1800s high school auditorium,  the band relied heavily on these new songs from the upcoming From The Forest To The Sea on Misra Records.  The new record is set for release in early 2009.   

Download: Ezekiel Saw The Wheel by Southeast Engine (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


At all good festivals, there is at least one surprise.  For the Reclaim, Pokey LaFarge takes the cake.  First of all, Pokey has one of the great names out there. Also, ragtime guitarist LaFarge plays a mean kazoo and likes to wear a snappy bow tie.  But those are only incidentals to the true Pokey, who plays rambling jug band music with a manic preacher’s bellow.  One couldn’t help but smile. 

Originally from Louisville (the birthplace of jug band music) and now based out of St. Louis, LaFarge opened his enjoyable set with the bluesy “Mr. Nobody” from his recently-released Beat Move & Shake album. 

LaFarge mixed in an occasional country heartbreak song with the ragtime and jug music during the set.   At one point, LaFarge slyly said was going to sing another song about a sad girl, but he said he would “leave that to the Avett Brothers.”  A funny comment to be sure about the sometime-too-serious band which has become the face of the folk-punk, grunge-grass music scene.
But be sure, Pokey is the real deal.  A traveling musician playing new songs in an old style.  And doing it very well.

Download: Mr. Nobody by Pokey LaFarge (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


It is always refreshing to see an established musician grow and push his limits. Woody Pines headlined last year’s Reclaim Festival with his pleasing brand of lo-fi Americana roots music.  Sort of a cross between an early Tom Waits, the Squirrel Nut Zippers and a playful Dylan.  

This year, Woody brought along clarinetist and sax player Ted Harris, who provided a definite jazz tint to the set.   That was immediately reflected in the selection of “Candy Man” and the classic “Minnie the Moocher” to start the performance.  

Under his steady hand, Pines lead his band through a solid and pleasing show. However, the highlight was Pines trading licks on his National guitar with Harris’ clarinet.  Pines and his band used the show to expand traditional roots music to include its southern cousin, jazz.  

Download: Candy Man by Woody Pines (mp3)(iTunes)(Amazon)


Having the unenviable task of following The Felice Brothers, Wheels on Fire delivered with a hard-rocking set that kept the Reclaim crowd on its feet.  The current hot band on the Athens scene - hell, they even have a pizza named after them - performed their brand of college rock for an appreciative audience. 

Displaying the passion of their youth, Wheels on Fire sounded like an angry, early Elvis Costello backed by Texas blues or an occasional Bo Diddley beat.  How could one not enjoy that?


Actually, J.D. Hutchison deserves his own post.  This 67-year-old country/bluegrass/folk singer/guitarist is the godfather of the Athens music scene.  He is the professor - the one the rest point to as the alpha dog.  
Hutchison, a classic songwriter whose songs have been recorded by dozens of musicians, is an accomplished entertainer.  One enjoyable example was a story about the scorn of a former lady friend, who happened to be a Quaker.  “Quakers are not supposed to hate,”  Hutchison intoned to the laughter of the crowd.
After playing some songs from his extensive collection along with covers from artists like George Jones, Hutchison ended his set with a moving a cappella tune that ended with the chorus of “Ready on the left, Ready on the right, Ready on the firing line.”  

Although the word legend is usually overused,  Hutchison meets all of the requirements and exceeds the expectations that accompany it. 


The last-minute replacement for A.A. Bondy, Chris Biester started the festival with his unique brand of country folk.  Currently a popular singer in the Athens bar scene, Biester was a founding member of the gloriously-named country rock ensemble Appalachian Death Ride.  

Download: St. Anthony by Appalachian Death Ride (mp3)(iTunes)