Friday, May 27, 2011

Tally Ho!

Tally ho, faithful friends!  Been away too long, but hope y'all have enjoyed a break from our normally (and nominally) rambling posts.  Today's gonna kick yr sweet tuckus.  Guaranteed.

Today is another round of our series (random, as they are) of The Greatest Song Ever Written (At Least For Today), where we highlight a song, for the sake of the song.  No wordy exposition.  No Mountainesque rambling.  The song is the star.  Of course, we always encourage folks to support the artists' (or their legacies) involved.

It's no secret that we're obsessed with, well, a variety of things.  Country, Truck Drivin' music, Greasy Blues, Trash'n'Sleaze, etc.  But did y'all also know that  we worship at the altar of New Zealand?  Particularly the nascent Flying Nun releases?  Well, now you know.

The Clean are, most likely,  almost as influential as The Velvet Underground.  Brothers David and Hamish Kilgour and Robert Scott crafted  some of the greatest, swirling, droney pop ever laid to wax.  We could spend paragraphs singing their praises.

But, as we said, we're gonna let the song speak for itself. organ-drenched, sun-spackled slab of surging Kiwi ecstasy.  And all done under 3 minutes.  The greatest song ever written (maybe for all time)! 

The Clean: Tally Ho (mp3)

Please support yr local, independent drone pop rawk'n' roller!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Damn Old Sun

It's a well known fact we love us some one-man band action 'round this side of the eternal mountain.  And today we've got a madroad driven skull fuck of a record to turn ya all the way up on.  Kick on yr black light, and assemble yr gatefold lp appropriately.

Feller goes by the name of Chicken Diamond, and he hails from North-East side of France (what is it with France and great one-man bands?).  He's got a slab of burnt tire vinyl comin' out on Beast Records, and stompin' our ass into powder.

It's a loud record.  Really, really loud.  In a glorious, fuzzy, xpressway to yr spine kind of way, rattled and raw.  Chicken's voice, a bastard child of Tom Waits and James Leg, wails "sinners in the hands of an angry god"-syle salvation, 'til yr ears are hoarse and yr throat is parched gasping water, lord, water from the sacred well.  Brutal throbbed kick drum pounds sex beat degenerate lust.  And some of the filthiest fuckblues guitar, drowned in a swamp and emerging covered in the goo goo muck of creation.  Tribal, pulsing, very, very evil.  The kind of guitar slime that gives you bad thoughts, reeks of white lightning, and scrapes, scratches and claws at yr soul.

This is not a record yr parents will like.  Not a record the guitar shop dude who likes Stevie Ray and BB King is gonna like.  Not one bit.  This isn't a nice record.  It's a dirty record, mud encrusted with evil intentions, to be played while doing bad things.  Hellfire and damnation.  Sleaze and sin. 

The record is mostly a full on blast of punk blues jet fuel, particularly on tracks like "Bones", "Damn Old Sun", "Factory Smoke", "Damn Old Sun", and "Me and My 44".  You also get some seriously psyched-out droners a la "Come Home", "Power of the Ancient People", and a transcendent cover of "Sister Ray"

Ultimately the track "Bones", which Chicken Diamond was kind enough to let us share,  is the culmination, a nasty bit of frenzy and hollerin', greased pig running wild in a yard full of naked heehaw honeys, digging up the skulls of Junior K. and H. Wolf, and humpin' 'em silly.

The record comes out in JuneYou can pre-order it at Beast Records.  They're only pressing 500 copies of this fucker, so grab yours now.  That way you've got bragging rights down the line when Chicken Diamond conquers the world.

Don't take our word for it...listen below.

Chicken Diamond: Bones (mp3)

Please support yr local, independent one-man bands.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Stop Stompin' On Me

Hooo, boy.  Here's our fourth and final installment covering the artists playing this Saturday's Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Hootenanny at the Abbey Pub, in mighty Chicago, Illinois. We're a co-sponsor of the show, along with Black Oil Brother, and Hellhound Trail Booking maestro, Tony Manno, so we're biased.  But it's gonna be a helluva show, and even better party.  Oh yes!

Today is all about headliners The Black Oil Brothers and Bethany Saint Smith. We've covered the Black Oil Brothers a few times in the past, and we're gonna have a feature on Bethany Saint Smith by her lonesome coming up soon.  So, we're gonna re-post our review of the fantastic album they did together, American Honey. 

It's well worth yr time to read the following, and certainly check out the record, and the show.  Here we go...

Last year we covered a record by The Black Oil Brothers.  Here's what we said then:

"The Black Oil Brothers create an amalgam of Country and Blues not beholden to contemporary "alt" whatever, forging their sound from a deeper well, stripping away the trappings of contemporary naval-gazing to find a purer sound. Strapped to the concrete acreage of the big, big city, the Black Oil Brothers find the wide open spaces of beyond, and the smallness of life lived in overgrown yards and back porches lit by fireflies.  Regret and bad choices made in the midnight hour, then. The kind of Country Blues record we love so dearly."

We didn't focus enough, of course, on the Delta Blues aspect of their sound, and with their new EP, American Honey, featuring the astonishing vocals of Bethany Saint-Smith (or here), The Black Oil Brothers tromp and stomp further into the muddied bottom, sinking their acoustic strum'n'snake oil holler into a midnight last call desperation, dancing loose-stringed and meditative with sex and whiskey running slow and fast, the final nod, the heavy lean, the sweep-me-off my feet, I'm lighter than air and these planked floorboards can't keep me steady.

While the Black Oil Brothers (Tony, Tony, and Timmy) do that voodoo that they do (and it is a hypnotic voodoo)...this new EP introduces  a new element in one Ms. Bethany Saint-Smith.  I'm gonna let one of the Tony's (Manno) tell you how this came to be:

"We met Bethany when we went to NYC for a string of shows a few years back.  She was running sound at Niagara, a bar in the Lower East Side, that we played the first night out there. She took to us immediately, and literally called a bunch of friends while we were playing and packed the place halfway through our set.  We became fast friends and her and her gang followed us around to our other shows that weekend. We ended up jamming at one of the shows, and realized that she has one HELL of a voice pretty quickly. So we kept chatting and chatting, and finally she flew out here last year and we fired through a bunch of tunes in my apartment over a weekend of doing nothing but smoking and drinking a lot of Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey American Honey (hence the name).  We got around to fixing up the tunes, adding some percussion, and decided to put it out.  Bethany has a band out in NYC called Bethany Saint-Smith &the Gun Show, and she also sings for a Rockabilly band called (shit, I forget the name at the moment-she just joined).   She's a firecracker of a chick, and has become a close friend of mine.  We went out there to play with her last December and did a few of these songs, and that solidified our relationship. "

He's right.  Saint-Smith has got a voice equal parts straight-no-chaser whiskey and  straw-dry huskiness, low-murmured and deep, deep soulful, the voice of yr loss and the consequences of yr bad strayin' self.  She's got you in the wee small hours.  Of the night, and of your slow sun risin' morning regret.

Together, the Black Oil Brothers and Bethany Saint-Smith create a burning ember of a torched rickety shack, hard stomped, dusty caked, risin' flooded porch Blues. 

The Black Oil Brothers with Bethany Saint Smith: Stop Stompin' On Me (mp3)

The Black Oil Brothers: Wednesday Afternoon (mp3)

The Black Oil Brothers: Robert From Hibbing (mp3)

Please support yr local show promoters, and the bands they love!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Illinois John Fever

Well, now!  Day 3 of our coverage of the bands playing the Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Bash at the Abbey Pub, here in beautiful Chicago!  Sponsored by our very selves, along with Tony from both  Hellhound Trail Booking and The Black Oil Brothers.  The whole damn nights gonna be a stomping party, dontcha know.  Y'all miss it yr own peril!  Hell, we've got an Amtrak station round these parts.  Git yr tix now!

Today's all about Illinois John Fever,  straight outta Iowa City, Iowa.  They call themselves "...canoe draggin', banjo pickin' music", and that's just about right, consarnit!  Oh, and they've got this description too..."Mix unequal parts hill country boogie (Fred McDowell, Bukka White, R.L. Burnside), early 70's RnR (Stones, Zep, VU), mixed with the in-yr-face variety of American punk (DK, Circle Jerks, Big Black) then splash with vampy craziness inspired by Willie McTell and Eazy-E.".  

Well, hell yeah!  They've been one of favorite bands since seeing them play The Deep Blues Festival a couple years ago (in which they played an iconic moment...see below), and we're super keen on finally gettin' 'em down Chicago-way. 

We're re-posting a previous interview with Illinois John Fever, but with some bonus new material The band was kind enough to add a few extra questions to the interview, and plenty of updates!  So read on!

A BRCM Interview with Illinois John Fever

BRCM: What is yr current incarnation? How has yr sound changed over the last couple of years?

Illinois John Fever:  Sean Genell on acoustic guitar and vocals, Donnie Knight on lap-slide dobro, Bobber Hall on drums. We were taking the same approach two years ago with a different dobro player. Then we uplugged the amps and ditched the drum-kit to explore the pre-Blues origins of our style, stripping it back to raw and rural. We didn't know why at the time but there were a lot of strong indicators that this move was essential to our connecting with the origins of Blues and Americana music. This exercise helped us recognize the importance of subtlety and dynamics, two elements that are greatly diminished when playing at louder volumes, and by engaging the past we hope to manifest that original spirit in the music we play today.
BRCM:  Is this yr first Chicago show? If so, what hopes and dreams will be fulfilled by playing here?  
IJF:  Hells yes and we're mighty proud. Chicago is our real hometown: Sean grew up on the South Side where he waded into the mire of mainstream Chicago Blues looking for its roots. But that old thing had long faded with Maxwell Street, and with the old clubs down south Michigan Avenue and Cottage Grove. Frustrated by the gaudy pantomime of commercial Blues he kept searching, looking back into the source of this music and what its influences were, getting back to it's origins. And that was the true beginning of Illinois John Fever.  So on a very personal level we feel like we're bringing the sound back to where it all broke out into the open. Putting something back in the wishing well, as it were. And that said, out of our hopes and dreams we hope to establish a permanent relationship with that long-standing tradition of great music the city of Chicago has brought to the world.

BRCM: At the Deep Blues Festival, you were part of an iconic moment, providing guitar backing and rhythmic flourishes to an impromptu performance by T-Model Ford. Tell us about that moment. How did it come to pass? 

IJF: It's easier bringing the music to the people than it is bringing the people out to the music. We also recognize the roots of this music come from casual settings—from the field, the porch, the afternoon picnic, from the tobacco barn, the living room, the street, etc.—and the importance of experiencing the music that way removes the imaginary line between performers and observers, encouraging the spontaneity of the moment for everybody. So we work hard staying versatile, playing everywhere between the club and the couch, and we came to Deep Blues ready to play as often as we could, wherever we were. That said, the first night was winding down and we'd grabbed our gear to busk in front of the Cabooze, but the manager put us in the beer garden instead. As for T-Model coming to check us out and then asking for a guitar, we were just doing our thing in the right place at the right time, and we're grateful he took us along for the ride. And there's a whole line of people to thank for setting that all up, starting with Chris Johnson. In a larger context, we all experience the inevitability of tradition—that the torches will pass onto those willing to bear them—and that this is really what Chris set into motion by creating the Deep Blues Festival, and in bring all of us together. That man is making history-in-action, you just watch.

BRCM: You're based out of Iowa City. Whence comes the name "Illinois" John Fever. Who is John Fever? Are you feeling ill?

IJF: For the record, none of us goes by John Fever. He’s an archetype, a spirit conjured up. His real name is John McKinney, and we make space for him the way some folks set a place for Elijah, which is an appropriate comparison. As for the ILLINOIS, Lute Tucker earned that growing up in Chicago. But we use it in the tradition of setting bluesmen apart—not through personal nicknames but as regionally distinguished remarks in recording catalogs. So in his full suit, ILLINOIS JOHN FEVER reminds us that we aren’t authors of anything, that we are just transmitters of certain ideas, mere observers of the music.

BRCM: Where do you draw inspiration? Who are your influences?

IJF: Scenes of carnage and fiery revolt are a good place to start. Severed fingers marked with voters’ ink. We celebrate just about anyone righteously standing up in the face of violence. We embrace the totality of the world despite being infinite souls trapped in limited bodies. We listen to a lot of Fred McDowell, Booker White, and Willie McTell, but we’ll listen to everything. This very moment, it’s the Pussy River Bawlers. We like John Jackson and stuff out of Virginia, and Georgia. “Monologue on Accidents” is a vibrant recording of John Lomax grilling Willie McTell on whether he’s ever recorded any “complaining songs.” At Parchman Farm, Lomax’s son Alan recorded D.W. ’Bama Stuart singing “I’m Going Home.” We’re struck by these. But we also love Funkadelic, Royal Trux, Violent Femmes, Big Black, and any afrofunk. Lute Tucker suggests everybody read anything by Chester Himes. Our favorite movie is REPO MAN, and we think sushi is delicious.

BRCM: You're all relatively young, at least so far as Blues musicians go. Some would argue that you have to have lived a "full" life, whatever that means, to really understand the Blues. Do you feel that this is true, or do you find a universal in the form that can appeal along a broad spectrum of ages and experience?

IJF: Understanding the blues is about understanding human emotion. And it’s not so much having experienced one thing or another, but how you respond to the world as it presents itself. With the blues, this becomes personal expression. There’s other details—technical proficiency, adept lyrics, bad-ass street cred. But as with most matters of survival, the ability to respond to the on-going situation is most important. Playing live therefore becomes a living metaphor, and we can appreciate that as well as anybody.

BRCM: What kind of audience do you hope to draw? What will it take to bring your brand of Blues to the masses?

IJF:  Hippies with trust funds. As for the masses, David Geffen would have to put the $15-million on that horse.

BRCM: What is the band's drink of choice?

IJF: In order of volumes consumed: water, coffee, PBR, any proper whiskey.

BRCM: How many roads must a man walk down? And which roads should he take? Is there really a crossroads, or is it just a fork in the road?

IJF: There are as many crossroads as you are able to recognize. Our only problem on the road is our inability to recognize the multiplicity of the crossroads.

BRCM: You're playing the Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Bash at the Abbey Pub. What does Robert Johnson mean to y'all, if anything? 

IJF:  His music is a driving force in the evolution of the Chicago Blues. He is an icon both self-made and commercially speaking, and in that regard he's the most enduring figurehead of the Blues. We strongly identify with the many influences--musically, historically, and spiritually--that Johnson drew upon. So truly it is an honor to be invited to perform at such an auspicious event.

BRCM:  What's next for Illinois John Fever? Did I hear a rumor that there's a new record in the works? Is there a tour planned? Can we get ya'll back to Chicago?

IJF:  For those fans who are hard of hearing, you-all will be happy to hear we're back to writing new material in the amplified acoustic guitars/drums format, and that's going blessedly well. No plans to record right now but we always know when it's time. That said, we've also let go of finishing the 100%-acoustic recording we'd been working on. It was probably going to be called "1927 AD," or something like that, and someday we'll have a hell of a retrospective album to share if anybody ever wants to hear it. Meanwhile, two of us are working extra-hard to hit bottom while the third is still mired in the taxi business. None of that can be bad for the band. Upward, onward. And hells yah: We can't wait to get back to Chicago. It's home sweet home.

After all that, wouldn't you like to hear some tunes?  Well, we've got something special for y'all.  We've got one of our favorite songs by Illinois John Fever, followed by two exclusive tracks, from their upcoming album. Oh, yes, indeed.

Please support yr local, independent floor stompers and string dusters!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Honest Man Blues

Howdy, folks.  Here we go with another installment focusing on the artists performing at The Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Celebration we have the honor of being a part of, this Saturday at the Abbey Pub, in beautiful Chicago!  The show features Me And The Devil, Illinois John Fever and The Black Oil Brothers with the mighty Bethany Saint Smith. 

In addition to those killer bands, we're pleased to present another feller on the bill, Woodrow Hart, who travels the roads of Americana with a singular vision, and an alternately haunting and stomping style. 

Here's what he's got to say for himself.  It's a fascinating read.  Almost as fascinating as the tunes he plays...

The BRCM Interview with Woodrow (Woody) Hart

BRCM: Tell us about yourself.  What is it that you do?

Woody Hart: Well, my name is Woodrow Hart from Chicago.  I’ve been writing songs and playing them for anyone that would listen since I was a kid.  These days, I play them on my guitar or my banjo and I sometimes have friends play along.

BRCM: Who are your influences?

       WH: I am influenced directly or in spirit by lots of folks.  As a writer especially, the influences are from all over the place.  The great American songwriters like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt and Jimmie Rodgers that seem to have a song or two for any and every moment in your life you might need a song; and also seem to balance between being a product of their time as well as being timeless.  I think that is important.  I like the writers that are too clever for their own good like John Prine or John K. Sampson.  And I relate a lot to restless writers with multiple personalities like Tom Waits, Dylan & Neil Young.  Beyond that, I look to folks that dig deep into the weird and low down side that some of us have; like Tom Waits, but also bands like the Mississippi Sheiks, The Rolling Stones, the jug bands like Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band, Johnny Cash, Wilson Pickett, Jimmie Rodgers, Common, Howlin’ Wolf and the whole Chess Records movement, Bo Carter, Jay Farrar, Tommy McClennan, Merle Haggard, etc. I like some of the singer/songwriter types floating around these days too, like Cory Branan, The Felice Brothers & Charlie Parr.   I like a lot of the punk rock that has come out of Florida and the Midwest in the last 15 years; a few of the hip hop and indie rock movements of the last 30 years.  I could go on, but really, I’m influenced by most anyone that I can personally relate to that has craft and soul.

BRCM: Are you a banjo player or a guitar player?  And what's up with the trumpet?
WH: I’m a guitar player.  That’s my language.  But, I am working on becoming multilingual with the five-string open back banjo as well as playing around on my mandolin and few other things.   As a player, I tend to bang on the thing like Neil Young or Robert Petway or like how Hank Williams would with some of his smaller bands.  For what picking ability I have, I tend to look to the great state of North Carolina; Doc Watson, Blind Boy Fuller and Bascom Lamar Lunsford.
As for the trumpet.  That’s my pal Graham.  He sorts out the chaos.

BRCM: Your first name has an interesting pedigree.  Care to discuss?

WH: My folks give me different explanations for the name.  My mother tells me Woodrow, or “Woody”, is after Woody Guthrie.  My mom played a lot of folk records when I was growing up.  So, folk music, especially great mythical figures like Guthrie, Seeger and Leadbelly were an influence in my life long before I could play anything.  And she says that at the time, she just liked the ring of “Woodrow Hart.”  My Father tells me it’s a good baseball player’s name.  I like both explanations.

BRCM: What is your drink of choice?  

WH:  Old Grand Dad Bourbon & any coffee my lovely wife brings home.  She’s got good tastes.

BRCM: Are you more comfortable as a solo artist, or with a band?  

WH: I was in bands for years and years, which is a fun way to play and travel.  These days, my friends and I are all more comfortable keeping things open ended.  I love to have friends accompany me on stage and on recordings, but I’m just as comfortable on my own.  I’ve got songs for both occasions.

BRCM: You've spent some time away from Chicago.  How does the rest of the world compare to the "Chicago" experience?  Where do you find the most receptive audience?
WH: Small towns make for the best audiences.  There are less distractions and more personal interactions in all aspects of life in a small town, so of course that translates to performing.  Chicago is a great town too.  It’s filled to the brim and overflowing with stories and characters.  Some good musicians too.

BRCM: You have a strong Country/Folk element to yr music.  Where does this come from, and do you find that these elements combine well with the Blues as part of the fabric of American music?

WH: Absolutely.  It all comes from the same place.  As I’ve traveled around the country and come to know the American songwriting and performance traditions, I find it harder and harder to separate anything without using instrumentation, time period or race as reasoning.  Bob Wills does a great version of the Sheiks’ “Sittin’ on top of the World,” Louis Armstrong played on a Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel #9”, Hank Williams first learned guitar as a kid from a local bluesman, Ray Charles recorded more than a few Country albums, the Delta blues players followed their audience to the Midwest during the war and invented Rock n Roll and then the young country boys all became rebellious rockers.   I could go on and on, but to answer the question, I feel America is big enough and fortunate enough, even today, to call a lot of different styles of music uniquely American or “Folk Music,” and it’s no trouble to change an instrument, a time signature or song structure when it all comes from a similar place.  I like picking it all apart and putting it back together as a listener, but as a writer and performer, it’s all the same.

BRCM: It's 2:00 AM.  Yr on a back road in the country, travelling miles.  What are you listening to?   

WH: In my scenario, I’m on Doggett Road, turning onto 150 in Guilford County, North Carolina.  It’s 2AM, and I’m looking for a foot stomper.  Probably the great string band with North Carolina roots, Old Crow Medicine Show… “…if I die in Raleigh, at least I will die free…”

BRCM: God or Satan?  

WH: Both.  I love a good rivalry.  

BRCM: You're playing the Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Bash at the Abbey here in Chicago next weekend.  What does Robert Johnson mean to you? 

WH: Robert Johnson is the great instigator.  From what I’ve heard and read, he was just as fickle and moody and mythical to his peers as he is to historians.   His legend, his recordings, and his 1961 reissue, instigated a lot of the great music that came after.  But I think all that overshadows just how clever of a performer and songwriter he was. My favorite thing about Johnson is that due to circumstance (or perhaps to perpetuate his own myth) he only gave us a handful of songs from his catalogue, but he gave us 2 versions of most of them.  As a songwriter, I can relate to his decision making and/or his lack there of.  Like I said, he was moody.  Also, I think the remarkable thing about his legacy is that it’s only been 100 years since his birth.  That’s nothing. We are all a lot closer to this music than we realize.

BRCM: What's next for you?  You've been doing some recording.  When can we expect a proper record from you?

WH: Well, I’ve gone into the studio three times in the last two years.  Two sessions in Chicago and one session in Alamance County, North Carolina.  Through all of that, I have what I’d call a proper album ready, which should be available sometime this summer.  From those sessions, I also will have an EP, or perhaps a few EPs, that will be available at some point as well.  These are interesting times for recorded music.  More people are hearing more music than ever, and yet it’s all but lost it’s retail value.  So, whatever the medium, it will be available at my shows as well as the internet shortly.  That and shows and traveling; that’s what’s next.  That’s what is always next.  Music is a great excuse to travel and meet people.

You can check out Woodrow (Woody) Hart here and here.   You can also check him out live at The Abbey Pub, this Saturday, when he plays the Robert Johnson 100th Birthday Blowout! 

Woody Hart: Honest Man Blues #3 (mp3) 

As ever, please support yr local, independent guitar slingers and hard luck troubadours.