The ultra-mag indelibles in some futuristic craziness and an ocular feast for the ages. Don't sleep, the sleaziest and the most mysterious laying it down in some fashion. Kool Keith forever, NJ doo....
An 82-year-young man and his harp backed by a crew of crack Louisiana musicians, a couple guest spots from some heavy hitters, and a horn section to blow the wings of an angel is the secret recipe for the latest funked up soul blues of the legend himself, Bobby Rush. His debut release on Rounder finds “The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit” as spry as a hoppergrass with a dozen songs destined for the juke joint, car stereo, or goodtime at home—move the furniture to the lawn and have at it.
Firing things off with a warning shot of sorts with album opener “I Don’t Want Nobody Hanging Around”, the shuffle shows off Rush’s harmonica blowing with a fervor. His creative word play is always entertaining, but the funk seals this deal with the five piece horn section all but throwing a match on gasoline. Moving swiftly into the title track finds us a laid back groove to set back into, fancifully bedazzled with more brass and the catchiest chorus from a blues record since Rush’s own golden 1971 ditty “Chicken Heads”: “It’s like porcupine meat / Too fat to eat, too lean to through away.” Rush waxes poetic on the phrase, “If a lady won’t treat me right, but she doesn’t want anyone else to have me, that is hard to digest.”
Rush’s blues revel more on the soulful side, propagating a laid back edge well versed in R&B and the country blues I worship out of the hill country of Mississippi. What’s left is refreshing and left of center. No driving one-chord melodies relying on the fat strings as a bass line, no, Rush’s blues are cleaner, a layered symphony of simple sounds meticulously rolled into one common groove. The definition of keep it simple, stupid. Even guest spots on lead guitar by the great Dave Alvin and Keb’ Mo’ and, dare I even type this, Joe Bonamassa are tastefully procured. A tasteful job of incorporating solos from two of the best in the game and one that has no business being mentioned in the same sentence as Bobby Rush. Bonamassa does appear on a personal favorite, “Me, Myself, and I”, so maybe I should let my guard down a little—or not.
Rush has come a long way since building his first guitar as a country boy growing up in Louisiana. He’s worked with what reads like any blues aficionado’s dream list—Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, and Little Walter—no doubt lifting some harp licks from the latter and making them his own. Rush even held a residency at the Jackrabbit during a tenure of residing in Little Rock, AK with the great Elmore James playing guitar in the band. Emmet Ellis, Jr. adopted the stage name of Bobby Rush in honor of his preacherman father, although much was not made about the blues being the so-called “devil’s music”. “My daddy never told me to sing the blues, but he also didn’t tell me to not sing the blues. I took that as a greenlight.” Thank the good Lord for that in spades.
Chock full of delicacies, Porcupine Meat is a succulent record. “Catfish Stew” and the title track aside, morsels like “I Think Your Dress Is Too Short”, “It’s Your Move”, “Standing on Shaky Ground”, and the endless head nodding to the schizophrenic build-up of the penultimate track “I’m Tired” leaves you just that, like you’ve just sweat out all the bullshit of the work week in the last 57 minutes of record—true story. A throwback for the ages, long live Bobby Rush and his funked up soul blues.
Perhaps it’s growing up mere miles away with the same nascent mood altering seasons amongst the same years, worshipping at the altars of Big Star and the ‘Mats, an outsiders view yet being a part of the inner core too. Maybe being in the same plane of adulthood adds to the mystique, young toddlers and wife at home yet a hopeless need for rock-n-roll. Whatever it is, it’s here and I’m bitten. James Alex carries the weight of the voiceless and frustrated thirty and forty somethings, still drunk on gutter punk and guitar rock searching the record bins of shit for a hair of the dog that bit.
There are more people swept up in the undertow of Beach Slang by the day, and deservedly so. Hailing from Philadelphia, a mere 62 miles from where I sit, James Alex, Ruben Gallego, Ed McNulty, and former drummer JP Flexner set out to unabashedly add to the onslaught on the heels of their debut long player, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, guitars, drums, bass, copious amounts of hard time tapestries and loner lingo in the form of hopelessly unforgettable pop punk. Not ‘90s alternative radio junk but pressure cooked love songs, reflective poetry, and theme songs for the hapless come hopeful -- all systematically delivered with one common thread, keeping the art simple yet bedazzled in a spectacle of luscious rock-n-roll and emotional fortitude, or a lack thereof.
The voluminous gushings of Alex and company are heavily addictive. Transient of age, race, or usual musical threshold, Beach Slang records have a way of catching toddlers and jaded rock critics. If there were a way to bottle a 2 year old’s taste in music it would make for the world’s greatest rock critic. They’re simply not caught up in anything but rhythms and melodies, and of course decibels, glorious decibels. That said the Slang delivers on all fronts and I've a two and four year old to back me up.
Obviously drenched in Westerberg’s style but there’s a great deal more to the band than a nod to the Replacements. How rare is it to see a band skyrocket with the pure rashness of two, realistically 3 EPs and a single full length? Take a listen and it’s quickly figured out. Twenty perfect songs spread out over two records and another eight floating around on two stellar EPs, and another handful of covers and rarities released as a mix tape. Whatever it is, it’s great, and I’m thankful.
The release finds the band drummer-less with friends and cohorts filling in for live shows before the spot is filled permanently, I’m sure no shortage of names pleading to be tossed in the proverbial hat. Seemingly a positive move for the band with an, at least, publically amicable separation following a near on stage break-up that lasted literally hours before being quelled thankfully. Beach Slang could have easily ended up another hard luck band that simply couldn’t get their shit together. On Loud Bash the poop is grouped and molded into a perfect ten song offering of glorious stripped down punk fury, with a quasi-shy smirk from the background in a Big Star hoodie or a tuxedo shirt with a littered one inch button collection to rival your favorite TGIF waitresses’ upon the lapel of some thrift store gold.
Guitar, bass, and drums played loudly is becoming more of a commodity then the norm, rest assured that wax ammunition will flourish as long as the Beach Slang boys are banging on instruments, brain waves, and microphones. One of the best records of 2016, gavel down and broken – A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings out now onPolyvinyl. We’re still here and we’re getting pissed.
(No Depression 9/30/16)
The experimental, garage/art/folk of the Low Anthem is one that never ceases to saunter past prediction. The band follows no cleared trail, yet obtusely does well to cover it up so no one else can find it. Eyeland pars that course. It’s a record best described as 13ghosts’ illegitimate lovechild with Captain Beefheart, replete with horns often surfing the “key” of the songs or lack thereof—a psychedelic ride down the log flume of spacey folk music with Here Come The Warm Jets and The Very Best Of Woody Guthrie jostling for PA dominance.
The record runs the gamut of ’80s video-game soundtrack to the greatest song ever written about legendary shortstop Ozzie Smith and his backflips, making use of turntable DJ tricks in the middle of the most riled-up song on the record only to turn it on its ear with an out-of-tune horn section takeaway. True story.
(MAGNET Magazine, printed issue #133)
Just over a month ago to the day saw the release of the latest Chris Robinson Brotherhood effort,Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel, on Silver Arrow. The record a stout eight songs deep clocking in at 13 minutes shy of an hour. The meld, a landscape of sonic brilliance, touching on just about every ‘genre’ the gang of four may have resounded to at the on start of their own musical awareness.
Shedding his black feathers for the crown of improvisational psych band deluxe, Robinson, virtuosic guitarist Neal Casal, Adam McDougall on all keyed instruments, and Tony Leone keeping time, have delved in deep on this offering. Richly lathered in the spirit of the Grateful Dead, the unending well of soul and r&b that resides deep inside Robinson’s soul, transient rock-n-roll, and just plain fun songwriting are the secret sauce to Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel. The addition of longtime Levon Helm compadre, as is Leone, Jeff Hill has been given the nod for touring duty on bass guitar for this run and hopefully the long term.
This, as I’ve said before, is where Robinson clearly feels at home in this ‘scene’, in this band, in this mindset. The songwriting mostly handled by Robinson and Casal saw new light with McDougall’s first co-write with Chris in the album opener, “Narcissus Soaking Wet”. A slowly building funked up number with a chorus to die for, handsomely reminding the listener of easily one of the best voices in rock history. The record itself is cloaked in '70s AM Gold, easily improvised vehicles of psychedelia, with a fresh and uplifting feel.
A genuine party for your ears with some of Robinson’s finest harp solos caught on tape and an overall vibe of solidarity in a vast melting pot of musical tastes and styles, no genre left untouched or scathed. It’s free game as long as it’s dreamt up by the CRB. Even an experimental jaunt into some drum and bass electronica with McDougall holding down the melody to Robinson’s inaudible vocals drenched in layers and layers of effects, would bode well in the discotheque and your favorite local live music venue. A welcoming point of non-contention and a far cry from the controlling and unfortunately ultra-corporatized stance he felt within the walls of all things Black Crowes. This here is a true Brotherhood of like-minded souls making the music they want for the people who want it. Be it 2 0r 20,000 in attendance CRB brings it in fine fashion. I’ve been a guest of the band twice in the past two years with both shows stellar -- even a choice Dead cover or two to cull my slightly under control obsession at this point.
I had the utmost luck and bucket list check off of catching up with Chris Robinson via a phone conversation whilst he gazed upon Vermont’s usually white tops and I the green foothill mountains of rural New Jersey. I had all intentions of taking quotes and making a fancy production about the whole conversation and putting into paragraphs and periods. After several listen backs and enlightenment to the CRB’s modus operandi, the conversation needed to be captured in typical interview format complete with full questions and answers. Without further verbosity, take a minute to read what one of the most definitive frontmen in rock-n-roll history is up to now and why I’m of the thought that this is where he ultimately wanted to be the entire time, making this music, with these people. Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel, ain’t that just grand:
SZ: You’ve spanned many a gap genre-wise in your career and clearly the Chris Robinson Brotherhood is a hash of all that, specifically the AM Gold, and Psych rock of the ‘70s, with an affinity for the Grateful Dead. Was that the idea behind the band or did it just sort of grow that way organically?
CR: I think the architecture of it is these songs, these images and melodies with the music. So it’s not the same blues based heavy Vox trip. That’s where it’s born, from that. I was sitting on these songs and Adam and I are compatriots in that sense, my subtext tends to be on the hokier side of things, so it’s like if we have dusty cowboy boots, instead of just ol’ plain Western dust it should be moon dust! Our initial concept was like you said, we love punk and electronic music and bluegrass, we’re into music, man, there’s no genre stopping us. We joked that we should sound like is Buck Owens and The Buckaroos if they sat in with Gong, or David Allan, how do we make our covered wagon have a warp drive to sort of go from these rootsier earthy elements to these interspace driven sort of things, and have it all be cloaked in something that again that were interested in. Roots music is the basis of where I come from, but as times goes on and your tastes change and you allow more things into your life, you custom fit your thing and just having that freedom to express yourself in a lot of different colors is unbelievable.
SZ: It’s almost an old school way of thought with genres and such since there's so much transcending anymore. I always blame over creative journalists who devise these sub-genres when in reality it's just folks playing with differnet sounds. That said, you’ve been there for the 'glory days' of the music business and then its basic demise to the current fiscal landscape. What’s your take on the state of music as a business?
CR: It starts with business, when you start to be able to make records to sell to black people, rural white people, you know, or immigrants. Genre specific stuff comes about through Capitalism, before we consider a corporate scenario it was called the music business. I play music, and then there’s people in the music business. I think people that can find a way to make money off of somebody only adds to that end. You’ll never have to convince someone who plays music to play music. Only rich people can make music now anyway and I’m sure they all have savvy parents, with lawyers at their disposal, I mean like “we knew it was a bad record deal but no one else gave a shit, what else are you gonna do?” sort of shit. It was a machine. It’s a system is what it is. If you’re in a town that’s not LA or NY and you like music and your friends are into some weird stuff and you want to write songs, you can start getting it together yourself. Make something happen yourself, don’t rely on a corporate machine that can only see you for what they can make you to make them more money. And that’s totally cool if you want to go that route and be in showbiz, but I’m just the type of person that got into music because it was something that couldn’t be manhandled or controlled, it was the closest thing to living your life by your own poetic nature in a romantic sense. Poetry wasn’t important to people in the ‘80s and it isn’t now, so what’s the closest thing. It was a way to travel and it’s about weirdos and scenes. Then all of a sudden, ka-ching, ka-ching, your life is different because your coin fit the right slot if you will. But underneath the whole trip there’s no problem with labels, and managers, and the band and all that, my problem is me. I’m just fucked up enough to have never thought I’d be savvy at my career. I’m not gonna be cavalier or ignorant about it, part of my life and where the CRB is now, this is a time and experience and wisdom and devotion. All of us are together in this band and we’re working hard at making music, writing these songs and making these recordings and making these decisions and playing these types of shows. We’re devoted to our muse and our muse dictates us. What if you were creeping around the woods and found this crystal clear spring, don’t confuse success from the outside looking in, true success lives within the work and whether you’re happy with the work and nothing more than that to the artist.
SZ- Are you having the most fun of your career with this band?
CR- I am. We play 115 shows, so that’s 3 hours a night, throw in some sound checks, and writing sessions, studio time and you start to see the hours spent with each other. We’re lucky because this is an exercise in trying to be here now as much as we can, to be in our moment and be present in our music. We don’t have a temple of nostalgia, we don’t have a temple of hit record and success that involves other people’s identities and emotions involved. We don’t have that cause CRB is completely born from another thing. Even our live experience is something different from day to day. We kind of have the loaded dice where we can change our vibrational realities by playing our music and doing our thing, by the way without having to be in the showbiz thing, with the light show, and the running around shaking hands, and the “Hello Cincinatti” kind of shit. We’re committed and it gets a little bigger every tour and we’re in no hurry. Our scene is hip because it’s small. If other people come it will still be hip and cool, but again we’ve done all this by keeping our heads down and focusing on the music and putting out our vibes. This is a scale and a pace that we’re all very happy with. We’re just overjoyed to be able to get on a stage and be able to play. We’ve always been deeply rooted in early ‘70s Herbie Hancock sort of era, again like I said that’s where our band started. Having piano on this record is a first for us. It’s an ever expanding palette and you get to utilize what you…we’re hunter gatherers we’re surviving off of what our environment gives us with this group of tunes and the specifics, everyone’s focused, we don’t sit around and listen to records and say. ‘oh we should have something like that’. At this point it all is one giant cauldron of stuff. Between us we’ve written hundreds and hundreds of songs, played thousands of gigs, and done hundreds and hundreds of sessions. When you’re 22 it’s like that but not when you’re 50. When guys have spent the last five years, eating, sleeping, playing, and living together on a bus, this is what you get. A place where hopefully your musical dialogue is dynamic and soulful and interesting, ultimately that’s what you’re looking for.
SZ- How do you bottleneck your creativity writing wise from a visceral undying Black Crowes song to a Chris Robinson Brotherhood arrangement?
CR- It’s not the same at all. The Crowes were way more precious and controlling as to what a Black Crowes song was supposed to be which to me was always really a bummer. This band anything goes! If you’ve heard our records there’s not a lot of conventional wisdom to the songwriting. On our first couple records I don’t think there’s a song under six or seven minutes. It is what it is, Donald Fagen said if a song isn’t six or seven minutes you can’t even get something going. I love Hank Williams too and Bob Dylan has some two minute songs and some eight minute songs, again it depends on what’s in those minutes that counts.
SZ- “Leave My Guitar Alone” is one of the best rock songs I’ve heard all year, is that you and Neal trading solos at the end? You seem truly comfortable and at home when you’re strapped into one of your Vox guitars, how’s that transition coming along? And how did Jerry Garcia’s famous ‘wolf’ guitar come out to play?
CR- That’s Neal, I’m just playing the rhythm but yeah, I wrote that song, and he took a lot of time doing those dueling solos over himself but it turned out rad and we couldn’t be happier with it. It’s like anything else I’ve been on stage with Jimmy Page through whoever, whatever, playing guitar I’m kind of coming up from the rear but I didn’t sit around playing Clapton licks at a young age which is a plus, I was writing melodies and lyrics, and producing records and stuff, but in the last five or six years I’ve been playing guitar daily and even the greatest guitar player in the world learns something new every time he plays so I’ll just step on the conveyor belt and take my knowledge as it comes and get into it. It’s about what you can do as far as expression and that’s all that’s really happening. A friend of mine has access to ‘wolf’ and brought it to the show one night. Neal was in heaven, we all were really. There’s magic in that thing.
SZ- You’ve mentioned tracking and writing this record as your best time ever doing so. Describe why.
CR- I just wanted to write songs. That’s what I wanted to do and I wanted to get out and play them with people who wanted to do something. It’s really just that simple. When all your shit comes together, be there. Be here now, in the moment. We work hard, we’re humbled to have the opportunity to go into a beautiful studio in a beautiful location and focus all of our energy on what we want to say with our music in an emotional and psychic and human level. You try your best whenever you have the opportunity to do that. It’s all about seizing and appreciating unique opportunities and not taking them for granted.
-Amen. Thanks for your time, Chris.
(No Depression 9/6/16)
Music For Outcasts is a belying non-leaver of my truck’s CD playing universe for nearly the entirety of summer 2016. Albeit fast fed upon injection with not much thought, if any, behind it, the record has devoured my subconscious and usual deterrent to holding on to lyrical wordplay. Nick Loss-Eaton and his cavalcade of assumedly Brooklynite musicians have mounted said task in spades.
Owing as much to Dead Boys as The Smiths and as much Rolling Stones as Tom Petty, that seemingly strange correlation is a recipe for audible treats, big fluffy biscuits worth with smart-ass lyrics like sawmill gravy with a fresh gelatinous film atop. Not smart-ass in its ostentatious form, yet rather in creative wordplay perhaps channeling many an emcee who’s claimed or come up in the mighty Brooklyn borough. Loss-Eaton’s tell stories like Aesop’s Fables for weirdos, embellishing outcasts and the lone wolf mindset -- mental anguish that’s both empowering and debilitating, sinewy and tragic, the very essence of a double edged blade. Snotty roots music at it's best.
Witty and left of center, juxtapose from the norm, some fresh and fun genre-bending rock-n-roll. From the snappy first chord of the opener and it’s zombie-tinged end of the world storyboard. By “Greyhound From Reno” Loss-Eaton and company have firmly implanted the canine incisors, blood and flesh ripped, ears akimbo. The deadening blow a mere 3 songs in with some “Radiator Sabotage”, you’re now in service of the groove as he swiftly turns gears to a sad sack indie vibe and has me obsessed with the word ‘sanguine’ in “Studebaker”. Then a swift about face to a near perfect country number, and so on and so forth. I’ll save the unabashed for your own interpretation. The point being Loss-Eaton is a songwriter’s songwriter, languid stories and never short on style. Music For Outcasts is sequined with copious amounts of snotty indie rock and bottomless country blues inflicted creativity, there’s something for everyone to sink their proverbial teeth into.
A tried and true summer soundtrack for yours truly, simply a record you can’t grow not fond of. Each track a small ride to a cool destination, in the end we all want to be cool, don’t we? Isn’t that the plight of man, realistically? Whether lucid or subconscious, we all long to be cool – even us outcasts. And if you find that nonsensical, that’s the point, it’s the artistic version of the Mason-Dixon Line, for better, or for worse. We’re all an outcast in something at least once a day, if not you’re simply not doing it right. Start now! Cheers to originality and a killer record.
(No Depression 9/9/16)
Back in the day, Avirex made jeans to match its Butter Softs, backpacks and headphones, and Pumas were the daily uniform of choice to help carry the torch through the underground. The Impossible Kid is a throwback to heady lyrics over space-age, handcrafted beat mining by Aesop Rock himself with a little help from his friends in the form of MAGNET’s hometown Philly-reppers, the oft-sung, self-described blisscore band Grimace Federation. Writing of bliss, Aesop Rock has blissfully, if not accidentally, stumbled into a 20-year indie hip-hop career amassing a legion of not so much fans as rabid maniacs ready to feast on even a fart of his that might hit wax. (Audibly, that is; sorry for the visual.) From blunted bedroom nights with a drum machine to two decades down the line releasing one of the finest true hip-hop offerings since Moment Of Truth. Always listen to the Weathermen.
(MAGNET Magazine, printed issue #131)
One third of the eternally awesome Black Diamond Heavies and akin to personal favorite the Immortal Lee County Killers, John Wesley Myers aka James Leg returns with his 3rd solo effort on the great, Alive Naturalsound Records, Blood On The Keys. If you've ever heard a James Leg record or better yet have never seen the man perform live, blood is the last thing to leave on the keys of that Rhodes piano, everything else has been poured out by record and/or shows end. Not a terribly big man in stature but fire up the PA and set him on a keyboard stool and you're best to find the nearest bomb shelter. Stacked high with voracious punk blues with his piano at center stage, Leg stands 90ft tall and rising.
Recorded yet again at whats become homebase recording-wise, the Masonic Lodge in Dayton, KY with engineer/producer deluxe Jason Soda at the helm, Blood On the Keys picks up where Leg's last effort, Below The Belt left off. Chunky, rowdy, classy come clanky piano progressions with Leg's satanic howl bouncing around the mix like Howlin' Wolf's third white cousin. The tracks are fleshed out with plenty meat on the bone for this effort, fiddle fills and strings, guitars aforementioned, and copious if not deadly doses of gravel punk rock. Polarized by soul numbers like "I'll Take It" and jumpy blues the likes of record closer, "Should've Been Home With You".
Leg sounds like no one, and writes like no one. That's his beauty. If you're looking for a soundalike pack it in and head home, you're clearly barking aside the wrong tree. If you're a fan of gunnite gypsy punk with a rocksteady back beat, James Leg is your eternal ediface. There is nothing like a Leg record and there never will be, no one plays like him, no one growls like him, and certainly no one rocks like him. He's a world travelled stalwart and will be forever a gem in the Blues crown. Enough waxing poetic, here's the premier of "Hugging The Line" in all its clanky glory. Blood On The Keys is available on September 30th here, don't sleep.
(No Depression 7/29/16)
Gainesville, Florida’s Big Shoals is back with an impressive radio friendly sophomore long player,Hard Lessons. A trio I hold in high regard not only as solid dudes but steeped in spotless production and Howell’s headier than most lyrics come hard poetry. When I first felt the need to put my thoughts on records on record, I stumbled upon Lance Howell over the socialwebs via the ‘Lucero circle’ where I’ve met a great deal of awesome folks whom I regard as friends at this juncture. Howell (vocals, guitars), Jacob Riley (bass), and a former drummer at the time were set to release their debut effort Still Go On with Howell asking if anyone, known or unknown, was interested in reviewing their record. Having one whopping live show review under my belt, I reached out to Lance and threw my proverbial hat in the ring. I heardStill Go On and was floored. I cried, I rocked, I relished. That still holds true for Hard Lessons.
Big Shoals should be in equal plane with the Isbells and Stapletons, it’s Americana’s Americana, even if I can barely muster to type the hack term that immediately sends mental pictures of corny floppy hats and even floppier records. Howell, Riley, and new ace drummer Michael Claytor are the antithesis of all the current Americana bullshit. They are not in it for style, competition for tighter jeans and ironic outfits are not the stalwart. Emotional evacuations and real feeling fuel Howell’s songs, not an urge for the camera or a fresh pompadour with too many corny turquoise rings and a new found glory for John Prine…suckers.
The band has cleaned up its sound on Hard Lessons. Gone are the flashes of punk sneers, traded in for story telling transient numbers, well-crafted and posthumously aimed at the new found hope in adult contemporary interest a’la the aforementioned Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson ships – 3 of the best nonetheless, but three of the best well before garnering any attention from the so-called experts. Howell has had a new baby boy, Riley has moved away from Florida, but this band is stronger than ever with the addition of Claytor on drums, who’s a crack song writer himself. I can only imagine that may come to light on the next record. The addition of some sultry pedal steel runs pepper Hard Lessons like the sprinkles on the boys dessert sundae, Hard Lessons is a treat, indulge yourself accordingly -- Available here, now.
(No Depression 7/29/16)
This article was originally published in a now defunct magazine back in 2014, but I feel it no better time to celebrate the band I still love with every inch of my heart and soul than the day before Independence Day, 2016. It's time this piece had a forever home in the No Depressionannals. Thanks Mark, Matt, Scott, and Will. Centro-matic forever...
Denton, Texas quartet Centro-matic has recently announced their farewell tour following the release of 2014’s stellar, Take Pride In Your Long Odds. The announcement rippled the indie rock world and its numerous sub-genres akin to seeking out releases from prolific singer, core songwriter, and guitar slayer, Will Johnson and Co. Closing in on 18 years this coming February (of 2015) and 14 records together as Centro-matic, Johnson and bandmates Scott Danbom (piano, violin, backing vocals), Matt Pence (Drums, Engineer Extraordinaire), and Mark Hedman (Bass, Guitar), have decided to call it a proverbial day.
“I think from the outset in March of ’97, there was something very necessary about everybody’s musical voices in the band. It didn’t take me long to realize that no one was expendable for this particular endeavor”, states Johnson. Adding, “Something early on about the way we communicated musically and non-verbally, the way we’ve chosen to care and look out for each other and that chemistry that developed immediately told me that no one’s expendable. If someone has to go then we’ll end the band. Everyone’s voice is important and it’s ‘our’ band, not my band. If it got to where someone departed, we end the band with respect to the 4 of us.” It’s refreshing the reluctantancy “front man” Johnson carries, in my opinion that’s been the key ingredient to the Centro delicacy -- four humble yet brilliant artists and musicians all for the sake of the song. “I don’t think it’s theEND of us necessarily, it just might not happen for a long time. Centro-matic might not ever happen again, there’s more to it than just the name and the people. It was and is something we all believe in, I just think it needs a break”, added Scott Danbom.
Centro-matic has always been an artist’s band, a muse to the creative. A band of brothers who make the music they want, with little outside influence beyond the “core four”. A band that’s defied genre labels and pigeonholes, just when you thought you had them figured out, the next record comes to fruition and you’re back to the drawing board. A trait that was has been as much on purpose as it has been accidental. The only band that can take Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long”, and turn it flipside to a sad bastard country-tinged number, complete with ghostly pedal steel fills and haunting percussion. Fast forward to 2014’s first single from the Take Pride In Your Long Oddsalbum, “Salty Disciple” and you have what should’ve been last summer’s indie crowd’s party jam - entrancing synth with industrial percussion and thumping bass line coupled with Johnson’s harmonious off-beat vocals.
“We’ll out rock you, out sad you, and we’ll out freak you out. That’s just what we do”. -- Scott Danbom
They’ve been the backing band for the Drive-by Truckers’ Patterson Hood on his solo tours, toured with Anders Parker as Varnaline in support of his nearly perfect, Songs In A Northern Key album. Scott and Will toured with late, great Athens, GA singer/songwriter, Vic Chesnutt as a couple month side project entitled The Undertow Orchestra. Not to mention Johnson’s other “side projects”, the much acclaimed trio record with Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Conner Oberst (Bright Eyes) aptly coined, Monsters Of Folk. And a phenomenal Woody Guthrie project titled New Multitudes, the “super group” featuring Anders Parker, Jim James yet again only this time as Yim Yames, and the ever elusive personal favorite, Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt). A commemorative record celebrating Woody’s 100th birthday with songs set to music by the quartet from the note books of the great Woody Guthrie himself.
The brainchild of Johnson’s post drumming music career started in Denton as a solo project in the mid 90’s. First teaming with blossoming sound engineer Matt Pence and then enlisting violin work from another soon-to-be bandmate Scott Danbom, Redo The Stackswas born. They recorded 30 songs and settled on 23 to be mastered. Mostly filled with under 3 minute indie-pop punk songs, the album has gone on to surge a life of its own and was recently rereleased with the other 7 original songs as bonus tracks. Completing the rhythm section with Mark Hedman and a strong desire to play the record live, Centro-matic was born. No one was ever asked to join per se, the band organically fell together into what became the first live show in February 1997. The party hasn’t, and won’t, end until the culmination of the farewell tour on December 21 in Denton, TX, the last show of a 3 night stand at local venue, Dan’s Silverleaf -- 11 studio albums, 3 EPs, a bandwide alter-moniker South San Gabriel, plus 2 full length solo albums and an EP from Johnson…not too shabby.
Both Johnson and Danbom cite the 2005 South San Gabriel album,The Carlton Chronicles as their most memorable and favorite session to date. The moniker given to their slower, typically sadder pieces: releasing two full length LPs, the aforementioned Carlton Chroniclesand Welcome, Convalescence as well as two, double albums with Centro-matic, the stellar, Dual Hawks and then 2010’s on-line only offering, Eyas.
“No one in the band as a collective had heard a note of any of those songs coming in, and we had about 2 weeks to put that whole thing together. It was sort of like being at camp with your best friends. We’d cook out every night and sort of came up with these daily traditions. We put that session together, and no one had even heard the skeletal form of the music two weeks prior. That wound up being a super cool, memorable session”.
Danbom also added that The Carlton Sessions were not only his favorite in how they collectively tracked and recorded the record, but also overall as a finished product.
For what it’s worth, Fort Recovery and Dual Hawks are my two favorite Centro-matic albums. Johnson agreed, in describing the sessions, “It was early fall and we had all been apart doing other things for a while and touring mostly as South San Gabriel a big chunk of that year. It felt like we were ready to just flip the switch and start playing loud guitar rock again, just turn everything up and have fun. There was something very comforting and fun about those sessions at the end of some pretty hefty European South San Gabriel touring. I definitely enjoyed the Dual Hawks sessions too, in that we got together for six days for the Centro-matic session, real spur of the moment, just see what comes of it. In those six days we more or less got the entire Centro-matic side of that record put together except for maybe one small session. It was real fun just due to the uncertainty of it all, not knowing how it was going to turn out. There was a sure ‘sink or swim’ kind of feeling which is very exciting for our band”.
Citing the “American underbelly of music” as his influences, Will Johnson worshipped at the alters of Westerberg, Mould, and D. Boon for the punk/DIY ethos and as inspiration that anyone can get their skin in the game and have a go at this music thing; pair that with a steady diet of Dylan, Neil Young, and Elvis Costello, and you’ve just decoded the Centro-matic sound file. Danbom credits Neil Young, Brian Eno, Harold Bud as influences, also proclaiming himself a Robyn Hitchcock nerd. “Hitchcock was my Dylan”, he added, also massively groomed in early New Order, Husker Du, REM, and early blues. That’s only half the band’s input and there is the reason for the critical acclaim Centro-matic has reached in its nearly 2 decade career. They can reach such a broad base of musical tastes with just one brush and a four man palette.
The silver lining in the dissolving of Centro-matic, is the fact that, reading between the lines, they’ve never mentioned this is the end of South San Gabriel. True fans will be on edge for new music from that side of the Centro-matic beast, knowing full well there’s no way the foursome can stay far away from each other musically for any long period of time –at least one can hope. In talking with Will, he has a new solo record due out this coming winter and ever the prolific, “maybe a couple more (solo albums) in the next year or so”. Mentioning a couple other mystery collaborations in the works, I promptly pitched a Jay Farrar/Will Johnson album, hopefully in the fashion of the perfect Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co.) and Johnson collaboration from 2009 -- sadly the second to last record Jason Molina released due to his tragic and untimely passing, succumbing to the beast of alcohol addiction -- truly one of the greatest and unheralded songwriters in history. Danbom hopes to continue his five plus year run with Denton singer/songwriter, Sarah Jaffe. In our conversation there definitely seemed a chance of a future Scott and Will project, but for fear of muddying the waters, I’ll leave that right there for y’all.
I’m left with a heavy heart knowing that the two Centro-matic shows I’ll be attending will most likely be my last. I’ve grown up with this band. Their first album, Redo The Stacks, was released the year I graduated high school. I was ensconced in the glory of Dual Hawks as I was gearing up for and marrying my beautiful wife of four years back in 2010. Candidate Waltz was a weekly played record as I was approaching the birth of my first son in 2012, just as Take Pride In Your Long Odds was as my second baby boy joined this world just three months ago. That’s what I’d like to thank Will, Scott, Matt, and Mark for. Thanks for the soundtrack to those memories and more to come. Thanks for being true to yourselves and your fans, and thanks for being true to the music most of all, that’s your legacy and it’ll never burn out in the ether of rock-n-roll. Cheers, gentleman and thank you from the bottom of my heart for the memories that’ll never die between those record grooves. Catch them while you can on this farewell tour (it's long since over, but you can see the penultimate show below in it's entirety thanks to Jack Pier!)
(No Depression 7/13/16)
Birmingham, Ala., indie psych/folk mainstays Through The Sparks are anything but predictable. Tapping a vein equal parts New Order to at times Jerry Garcia sitting in with Captain Beefheart, it’s spotless to say the band follows no sonic road map or even direction, for that matter, sonically. Ambivalent-yet-graphic lyrics set to catchy rock ‘n’ roll spawned in no cookie-cutter mold. Hell, the band even trades instruments both onstage and in the studio like its first groupie; once a song is conceived, whatever noise maker is on hand hits the tape, be it your favorite or mortal enemy. Transindifference, the band’s first release since the ultimate demise of constant label companion and hometown stamp Skybucket Records, finds the band at the top of its game. As wholesomely weird as it is satisfying, it spans the gap from bad boss video-game music to early-’60s garage rock high on Pete Seeger’s ethos.
(MAGNET Magazine 7/7/16)
Seattle trio Lonesome Shack has 14 new songs in their custom-honed, primitive yet eerily confidence boosting boogie beats, sexed up Hill Country trance blues, and peppered with an unwavered northwest garage sound. The Switcher is slated for a June 24th exit to the edifice of the record industry abyss, released for all to soundtrack their summer dance party or lack thereof – a backdrop for the pool and the pity party, if you will.
The band brings something for the self-effacing introvert and self-disgracing extrovert, sinful rhythms for the scantily clad, and suicide dirges for the third eye blues, even a few to lift you from one foxhole and safely back to the other. That is, after all, what we humans long for; something to be sad about and something to be conversely happy about, when simplified to the congruent denominator. When there is neither, enter boredom, and we all know idle hands are the devil’s playthings.
The Switcher is a record that can hold equal audible weight in 1965 as 2065. The timeless clank of Ben Todd’s chordal offerings and misgivings go hand in hand with Kristian Garrard’s at times ‘Bo Diddley-esque’ beat mining and slick rolls and fills. The latter edition of bassist Luke Bergman for the band’s last two records, the live one-take recording of 2012’s City Man and 2014’s stellar More Primitive, has the band in its best shack shackin’ permutation.Todd’s lyrical flourish waxes poetic well beyond his years. One imagines a sweat soaked southern black man, aged in endless work and worry, clinging to his guitar like you should the seat cushion in a watery plane wreck, God forbid. Quite the opposite, Ben Todd was steeped in New Mexico and is now enjoyed from Seattle, Washington although the band is no stranger to a big time Mississippi blues festival or few. Todd chimed this in on the new record, "This album is the culmination of several years of work recorded mostly live one day at Dandelion Gold, Johnny Goss's home studio in Seattle. The songs draw from experiences of traveling, losing friends, finding love, dancing, picking apples, failing, succeeding and switching."
Ladies and gentlemen, I premier to you…The Switcher in its entirety (and a video to boot)…Rock-n-roll forever and ever, Amen: (No Depression:
To amass 20 years in one cauldron or genre in this fickle mess of a music business deserves high praise in and of itself. And to do so with critically acclaimed music spanning 10 records—with perhaps their best effort to date arriving via longtime hometown stamp, Chicago’s own Bloodshot—is simply enigmatic. The optimist in me believes that we’ve crossed a path into a thirst for real music as a society again. Going Down In History could be the soundtrack—or at least the guitar-driven backbone—of the crotchety frontline. For those of us with age lines and scars from championing an unsung-yet-burgeoning motif for 40-plus years: Can this please be the end of witless bro-country and pop robot music?
The country-tarnished/garage/indie/glam-rock edge of this collection of 10 tracks has not one disappointment. Acid-washed in the classic Waco Brothers recipe of three chords and a fire in the belly, it’s all filtered through a pedal that’s equal parts Waylon and Cash, Strummer, Bolan and Weller. Eight carefully vamped rock songs concocted with ease and fervor, rounded out by an incomparable Jon Dee Graham (True Believers) cover of “Orphan Song” and a Small Faces cover where Jon Langford lays it all out lyrically for “All Or Nothing.” You can hear and feel his emotional distress over the loss of friend and sometime co-conspirator Ian McLagan in the gospel-esque choral build-ups.
(MAGNET Magazine, printed issue #129)
The freshly indelible duo of the ol’ general, Hezekiah Early, and Robert Lee (Lil’ Poochie) Watson sparkle bright on their latest release on Broke & Hungry Records, Natchez Burnin’.Borrowing its title from the great Chester Burnett song if you added the ‘g’ to burning or perhaps the Greg Iles novel, either way Natchez Burnin’ is not light on flame, in fact it’s nearly as hot as any performance Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett might have set off in Memphis or otherwise.
Robert “ Lil’ Poochie” Watson’s swampy guitar licks guide the record like the single beam of a cross country steam engine headlight with ‘Kiah Early laying the rhythm on his drum kit like the propulsory clickety-clack of steel and treated wooden rails, all the while adding supple layers of harp and a couple songs on his very own homemade guitar. Watson comes out of the gate like a caged junkyard Rottweiler raised heavy on Hill Country licks and backyard boogie, quite the contrary to his nickname, like a fat kid called slim or a short kid called stretch. Simply one of the best REAL blues records in years, the type you put on for a spin and get through 3 times before you’ve even realized it. A true tin-type snapshot of pre-war blues captured live in a matter of days by Jeff Konkel and company at Broke and Hungry, clinging onto smatterings of r&b, brick house funky soul, and true-blue rock-n-roll in true Natchez, Mississippi fashion. Side note: check out Jeff Konkel’s web series “Moonshine & MoJo Hands: The Mississippi Blues Series”
Natchez legend Hezekiah Early is a decorated drummer, singer, and harp blower. Starting out as Hezekiah and the Houserockers and moving on to another (at one time) dynamic duo with the just passed, late, great Elmo Williams – they released a beautiful record on Fat Possum Records titled Takes One To Know One and were staples on the blues festival circuit up until the latter handful of years or so, for reasons I’m unaware. Watson, also an Elmo Williams friend and frequent collaborator, was always in the mix one way or another and deemed only a natural progression to partner up for a real studio record. Poochie boasts a voice as smooth as butter on your cornbread and licks as jangly as a forked steel wind chime. You can’t tell whether he’s coming, going, or turning around, and that, my friends, is the pure perfection…get involved! (No Depression: 6/3/16)
Adam Klein's fifth long player titled Archer's Arrow saw no heralded reviews or new found backing. Which is tragic to me, although I suppose I could've been the one to do so initially...and so it goes.
Sometimes a little imagery set to prose and melody is just what the doctor odrdered by way of making a splash in the uniformly leveled playing field that is the music industry circa 2016. To that end comes "Mine War", and unreleased track from the Georgia native between said release and the new record he has in post production Low Flyin' Planes tracked at the legendary Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, MS.
The video finds it imagery from the awestriking locale of a West Virginia National Forest by friend and co-conspirator, filmmaker, fellow actor, and student, Braeden Orr. The pair selected the solo acoustic track for the film project and both directed and produced the video. Klein has a budding acting career to boot, having had roles in multiple commercials, independent films and pilots. He appears as the Band Leader, and can be heard singing an old jazz number in the recent Amazon pilot, "Z: The Beginning of Everything", featuring the beautiful and talented, Christina Ricci. Klein adds, "I’ve traveled a few times to Pocahontas County, West Virginia,” says Klein, “and played at an intimate venue between Hillsboro and Marlinton. It’s a gorgeous area and an eclectic group of folks gather for the show, including young AmeriCorps volunteers and others intent on documenting the oral history of the Highway 219 corridor and Monongahela National Forest region. I always gather snippets of local lore, history, and tales, many of which are related to coal mining. It’s an inspiring community and I have a certain reverence for the area. I’ve written a handful of West Virginia-themed songs for a later album or EP, including “Mine War"." (No Depression: 5/17/16)
Riot Fest successfully pulls off the impossible...again. First it was personal, ultimate garage band heroes, the Replacements, and now it's my home state horror garage punk icons, the Misfits. A band I've never even thought to see since I've been of age cause if not for Danzig, there was/is no Misfits. No disrespect to the others but lets be honest, do you really crave for any "records" from a post Glenn Danzig Misfits? No, never...ever.
However,this line up with axe/weight room shredder Doyle Von Frankenstein and probably my long lost uncle handling the drum portion of the backline promises to be a reverse spike scream. Congrats to Riot Fest and the REAL Misfits (chiefly Jerry Only and Glenn Danzig) for finally burying the hatchet before walkers, canes, or better yet, the nursing home. Satan is watching you horror freaks. Cheers to two, sometimes three chord punk rock and Lodi, NJ!!! (words :: scott zuppardo)
If there’s a code for frontal-lobe permeating infectious melodies under the guise of indie pop/rock, Pete Yorn has cracked it. Not necessarily in the sappy, sweet context immediately thought of, although there are a couple or three stabs in that general vicinity on Yorn’s latest offering, his seventh studio album.
Yorn rejoined producer R. Walt Vincent for the magic touch he provided on hopelessly infectious indie-rock staple Day I Forgot, a solid runner in the race for 2003’s album of the year and the second of the so-called “trilogy” that saw Yorn rise from Montville, N.J., unknown alternative/indie rocker to the power-pop genius on full display with ArrangingTime, albeit with a tad more electronica influence and ambient sound.
But fear not, the unforgettable choruses and custom Yorn finger-strum pattern are abundant. “Roses” could be a hidden b-side on Day I Forgot, a gorgeous ballad with its ambient stack of strings, guitar and piano, complete with a spooky baritone croon capping off the chorus and evening out the harmonies: instant classic. Album opener “Summer Was A Day” builds again on Yorn’s acoustic loop with a chunky bass line and a synthed-up spacy resonance; “Lost Weekend” screams top-40, but once the record is spun, the careful selection of moods is masterfully executed by Yorn and Vincent. Perhaps a new time shrouded “trilogy” is on the horizon.
(MAGNET Magazine, printed issue #130)
‘Georgia, sweet Georgia’. Hailing from the great peach state and holding arguably one of the finest forenames dreamt up by those who threw up the first middle finger and sailed over yonder to start anew, the very first outlaws, if you will...comes the great, Scott Low. That said The New Vintage is the newest invader of my stereo system, hot damn if it ain’t a hootenanny in disguise, fancy chickin’ pickin’ solos with a driving backline to keep it all in line. Best described as slowing down to hurry up, in other words, saying more in a few bars than most folks do in long winded, all-weekend planned water cooler story. Less is more in this game, say it quick with fervor sans overthought wordplay or risk coming off like styrofoam balls on a holiday tree. The impression is in the message and its delivery; chords plus truth, tall tale or brute truth, “no one sings like Elvis anymore”.
The New Vintage is too country for folk, and too folk for country; too dumb for New York City and too ugly for LA. Pressing on all audible pressure points, the ten song record, available June 17th on 10 Foot Woody Records, sports gripping solos on both guitar and lap steel by the jazz trained guitarist Low. Not to be overlooked are the songs themselves, there’s meat on that bone, stories needed to be told to those heady enough to actually listen. There’s some jangle pop like “Little Nicky” and “Kiss You Again” that can easily hold weight on real country airwaves (they may exist somewhere), plenty Hayes Carll-esque headscratchers that hit the listener on the treadmill or perhaps a walk to fill another cup of coffee, and plainly a grand collection of wholesome genre-bending songs crafted in the hazy North Georgia mountains.
Pre-order kicks off as soon as you’re done reading this and as an extra bonus you get an immediate download of a live show to satisfy your inner attention deficit disorder as soon as you purchase your copy. Scott Low is clearly keyed into The New Vintage, prepare the dustbuster and moth balls, flowbies and zubaz pants or at least that dusty slip mat and cold speaker coil, there’s a lesson to be learned. Country music is alive and more well then ever, brace yourselves' for the premier of the album’s second track, “Mr. Gold & The Jesters”…(No Depression: 4/11/16)
David Sickmen and Ferd Moyse are the Hall & Oates of theHackensaw Boys Appalachia-soaked bluegrassy, punk soul blues, penning songs both anecdotal and full-fledged snake oil salesman tall tales all in one handsome ten song offering. A curmudgeon’s Old Crow Medicine Show, or simply a kick ass band, embodying a slew of influences but it’s the simplistic that permeate, as if they pull from the underlying footings of all the above nuances from a rusty ammo crate, add locomotive fiddle as a special sauce, tasteful banjo offered as it should be by Jimmy Stelling, and the backbone of Thomas Oliver’s upright bass and mando chops, backed by Brian Gorby’s minimalist percussion and ‘charismo’ mastery –- the hobo musician’s homemade drum kit/flak jacket, complete with soup cans, a washboard, and whatever else your charisma might can dream up that’s easily held fast in one way or another--also serving as the album’s namesake and front cover art.
I saw Larry Campbell play as one of Phil Lesh’s friends back in 2005 and have been mesmerized by not only his musicianship but penchant for the producer chair as well. He captured this one in Levon’s barn not too far from Big Pink in upstate New York. Prodigious ditties are abounding on Charismo, exploding with life lessons, songs of failure and triumph, hardships and friendships, love and love lost. “Happy For Us” and it’s chugging fiddle fills is a pure love song, dusty and lusty. “The Sweet” and “Wolves Howling” each highlights in their own right, back to back in running order and emotion espousing --the former earning a lesson in the ‘grass is always greener’, the latter questioning luck and lack thereof by way of superstition. Campbell’s captaining has assuredly steered the Boys into a fine early spring effort, hands down an immediate addition to your soundtrack of green things growing and allergy pill popping. Happily coming to us from Free Dirt Records on April 15th! (No Depression: 4/5/16)