December 2013

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2013.

House of Rust by Martin Devaney

house of rustWhat can we add to our review of Martin Devaney’s sixth album, House of Rust, which we posted in October? We love this guy. To a certain extent its difficult to separate our friend Martin from the singer-songwriter, the local music mainstay, the sometimes Mayor. He’s been talking about giving it up or doing something entirely different (maybe reviving the Crossing Guards) all year, but we don’t see it happening. Martin can’t help but write songs like “You Can’t Win” anymore than he could will his curly locks straightened. It’s in his blood.

you can’t win“You Can’t Win”

Also this year: The Cactus Blossoms released their Live at the Turf Club album, which is the closest thing you’ll get to seeing them there on a Monday night anymore. The album features several new originals as well as some of the standards they made their own during their long residency there (we posted a track last month here). An excellent companion to that one would be Jack Klatt‘s solo album, Love me Lonely, which showcases his fine guitar pickin’ and warm voice on original songs and a few forgotten classics. One other album we’d recommend is Number One Contender by the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, from the awesome Duluth label Chaperone Records.

Barnswallow by Charlie Parr

and

Volume I: I’ll be Rested when the Roll is Called

by Corpse Reviver

barnswallowBack in February when Charlie Parr released Barnswallow, we joined him to spin some blues and gospel records between the sets of his two night stand at the Cedar Cultural Center. After both shows Charlie shook hands with what seemed like at least half of the sold-out crowd, posing for more pictures with fans than we could have counted. When things finally settled down, he came back up on stage with an impish grin. “Look at this,” he said, showing us a photograph someone had given him — there was Charlie, beaming, next to “Spider” John Koerner. “I’m going to frame this,” said the man who’d just had his picture taken with dozens and dozens of his own fans.

Barnswallow is book-ended by tributes to Charlie’s heroes, Dave Ray and “Spider” John Koerner, and there’s shades of those foot-stompin’ West Bank legends throughout the eight tracks in between. It’s some of the best original material Charlie’s written — sounding alternately like an old coot (“Motorcycle Blues” and “True Friends”) and sentimental (“Badger” and “Jesus was a Hobo”). Charlie’s reliable backers, Mikkel Beckmen and Dave Hundreiser, are in top form, especially on the old coot numbers. Beckmen expands his unique percussive range on the album’s strangest track, “Henry Goes to the Bank,” adding a thumb piano that adds a spookiness to Charlie’s latest murder story.

Motorcycle Blues“Motorcycle Blues”

True Friends“True Friends”

corpse reviver cdBeckmen is the driving force behind Corpse Reviver, a unique tribute band whose repertoire comes entirely from Harry Smith’s legendary, influential Folkways compilation albums, the Anthology of American Folk Music. Beckmen described how the project began at informal jams at the old Viking Bar in an interview here and how he and Charlie talked about hosting a single show, then something regular, to pay tribute to the Anthology that is widely credited as reviving traditional music in America when it first appeared in 1952. We posted the original tracks and a little about the Anthology way back in May when they sold the first few copies at Trampled By Turtles’ three-night stand at First Avenue (here).

And while the trio that eventually evolved — Beckmen, Adam Kiesling and Jillian Rae — often invites guests to join their regular sets at the 331 Club, they chose to go it alone for their first album (Charlie performed with them at their September release show at the Cedar). Volume One: I’ll be Rested when the Roll is Called combines songs from the three original Anthologies with songs from the 2000 Volume 4 created using Smith’s notes, which allows for songs that have since the seventies become more familiar standards (“How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times” and “No Depression”).

A couple tracks showcase Jillian Rae’s incredible pipes, especially Buell Kazee’s 1928 ballad, “The Wagoner’s Lad.” Where Rae, on vocal and on fiddle, is captivating, Adam Kiesling’s understated performances fills the album with wry wit, although sadly missing is his hilarious stage banter. The whole project is one of the most well-captured traditional records of recent memory — Mark Stockert, who recorded and mixed the album at his Underwood Studio, captured the warmth and humor of Kiesling’s voice, the awesome range of Rae’s performances and, especially, the unique sound of Beckmen’s washboard and djembe percussion. While we never really understood the audiophiles who listen to records for their sonics rather than their content, we do appreciate that is is a really great sounding album.

Also: Chaperone Records reissued Charlie’s 2005 album Rooster in April, and put out a soundtrack to the documentary Meeting Charlie Parr in September. They also released great new albums by Southwire and Actual Wolf we recommend. Corpse Reviver’s Jillian Rae released her stunning first solo album, Heartbeat, just last weekend (our review is here).

Fans of all these records are likely to also enjoy Meg Ashling’s album (here). Meg’s performance this year at the Ritz Theater was one of our favorite live sets of 2013.

The Wild by the Ericksons

wildThere was a Priest at our Church named David, who I have not seen in years but have never forgotten. He was young then, handsome but very short. And he was one of the best listeners I have ever known. “You have no idea,” he once said in a homily, “the kind of pain the person sitting next to you has been through.” I remember looking at the faces around me — old people mostly (it was church, after all) — for some sign. Some kind of evidence. I had no idea.

Two decades later and I understand all too well. People are capable of carrying enormous burdens — sometimes it consumes them, but for others it becomes the fire that fuels their passion for work, for art, for their highest achievements. We came to be the owners of this little neighborhood record shop through a tragedy — a series of them in fact, which left us briefly wealthy but poor in spirit. For a time wandered without direction, utterly lost and walking wounded — I have no doubt that this record store saved us as much as we did it.

Were it not for tragedy I would not have the opportunity to be writing these words you’re reading now. I may not have had the joy of meeting Bethany and Jenny, the sisters from the Ericksons who are not, in fact, named Erickson. And it may be that I would not understand the Wild for what it is.

The Wild“The Wild”

“Come to the wild with me,” sings Bethany Valentini on the album’s title track. “Face first and you will see that it’s not easy.” Where most pop music will promise you everything will be okay, Valentini has the courage to to tell you the truth. “It won’t be pretty, no it won’t be pretty.” With the release of this, the Ericksons’ third disc, she’s talked more about her own loss, telling the Current’s Andrea Swennson about the band’s roots and inspiration.

Gone Blind“Gone Blind”Find Yourself a Lover“Find Yourself a Lover”

We balked when the Current’s Andrea Swennson called “Gone Blind” the Ericksons’ best song to date in the story we linked just above — it couldn’t possibly be better than “Monster,” the song which gave their second disc is peculiar title, Don’t be Scared, Don’t be Alarmed. We’ll leave it to the ages to decide which is best, but will add that at their release show in January “Gone Blind” was extended into stunning depth with pedal steel player Ben Lester adding eerie noise and effects to an intense coda.

The Wild far exceeds their previous disc (which we picked as a favorite two years ago) no matter how the individual tracks stack up. Check out “Where Do You Dwell,” which takes the soft guitar rolls and breathy vocals of Don’t be Scared and builds a robust arrangement, shuffled forward by drummer Dan Kapernick. Its as though the vaguely morbid “Box of Letters” has taken flight — The Wild is unabashedly dark (again, “It’s not pretty”) but so lush as to welcome you with open arms. “Runaway” and “The Wild” are stunning siren songs, two of the most seductive songs the Ericksons have recorded.

Dirty Dishes“Dirty Dishes”

Our original review compared this disc to Astral Weeks. singling out Dan Kapernick’s accompaniment in particular. His playing is entirely unique, often adding to the emotional weight of the songs (as on the title track and “Dirty Dishes”) — This is not to say that the sisters’ guitar playing isn’t short of remarkable. Valentini, in particular, is an inventive and original guitarist. Ericksons sets are often characterized by the two, heads bobbing towards one another, pushing a melody into growing intensity on two guitars.

Jenny Kapernick is expecting a baby any day now, so they’re not playing a lot of shows. We hope you’ll get to see them perform someday because everything about the Ericksons is even better in the here and now. The Wild, for what it is, brings a little of that — our only criticism of their last album was that it lost the intensity of their sets. This album doesn’t. It’s almost too much — not an album about grief or loss but about the life that follows. When tragedy strikes folks from everywhere will lend a hand or a shoulder, your fridge will be filled with casseroles. Eventually, weeks or months later, everyone will accept the new normal, and you’ll be looking at a sink full of dirty dishes.

Also this year: Enlightenment by the Brian Just Band got edged off this list (if only this one went to eleven!). Our review of is here. It’s pretty hard not to love this band.

 What You Gonna Do?

by Crankshaft & the Gear Grinders

crankshaft Most Hymie’s regulars know we live here in this neighborhood, which by the way is the best neighborhood in the Twin Cities. Absolutely everything we could ever want is within walking distance of our house: Record store, liquor store, Indian restaurant, comic book store, library, grocery store.

The only down side is that getting to the grocery store takes us past a bar that my brother used to call “a Star Wars bar scene” — we’re even a little scared of getting stabbed for writing about it.

So we’re both impulsive, and love to cook; this combination sends us walking to the grocery store several nights a week, often for a single essential ingredient some time in the evening. Walking by, we hear the bands playing there often. Cover bands, mostly: There’s a lot of Bob Seeger, a lot of Creedence. Once we heard the Shangri-La’s “Out in the Streets.” None of it is really well-rendered, and it’s no wonder “bar rock” has gotten such a bad name in the Twin Cities (it’s just a step above “wedding band”). Ironic, when you consider this is the hometown of Willie Murphy, Doug Maynard and the Replacements.

So the point of all this is that Alex “Crankshaft” Larson might be the guy who could save the once noble notion of Minneapolis “bar rock” — If he keeps it up he’s going to belong right alongside those local legends, if only for forcing us to answer some questions: What if you enjoyed the music you heard in dive bars, rather than endured the over-noisy sounds of a distorted jukebox that keeps asking us to “Cheers!” another round of tragic misinterpretations? What if you actually went to the bar to hear it?

How will he do it?

Boomtown“Boomtown”

Step one: The Gear Grinders aren’t a cover act. What You Gonna Do? features a dozen riotously fun originals you’d swear were songs you’d heard before, probably on a George Thorogood album. You’ll be singing along the second time you play this album.

Kingpin“Kingpin”

Crankshaft is hardly pinned down to the bluesy rock genre, however. “I Wanna Play” hints at Dr. John’s light-hearted treatment of standards, and other tracks (“Fill it Up,” “Barking up the Wrong Tree”) have a rollicking southern rock charm — the best moments on What You Gonna Do? are an alchemy of these complimentary influences. Listen to “Waiting for You” and you’ll hear a fine new standard being born. Everything on this record fits perfectly with the familiar stuff in your folks’ records — the ones they wouldn’t let you have after they sold the Beatles albums in a garage sale, the odds and ends like Leadbelly and James Luther Dickinson and Tony Joe White. One of Crankshaft’s most memorable, fun songs, “Kingpin,” calls to mind Jim Croce’s “Roller Derby Queen” far faster than you can keep a box score by hand.

Waiting for Me“Waiting for Me”

Step two: Crankshaft’s the real deal. He’s one quarter honky tonk, one quarter rockabilly, and one quarter rhythm and blues. The last quarter is pure fucking awesome. When he sings “there won’t be a dog asleep in this town” there’s no reason to doubt it — His act is filled with swagger and smarm in just the right proportions. What You Gonna Do? leans a little towards the hotel lounge acts from the seventies we love to feature here on the Hymie’s blog when their records turn up (Jon David’s Mood, Dave Major and the Minors, etc) mostly in that it tries to showcase a wide variety. The thing is that Crankshaft is one of those old fashioned showmen who can actually deliver — want a little heavy blues? Gotcha. Want to hold your sweetheart for the next number? Gotcha (check out “Waiting for Me” for a little closing time pull at your heartstrings). Want to hear a song about a guy filling up a Cadillac with cement? Gotcha.

Yeah, there’s that too. Who else could write “Fill it Up,” probably the funnest song to come out of Minnesota this year — and then produce and direct an even funnier video?!

Step three: Crankshaft’s not done. What You Gonna Do? begs a bombastic follow-up. There’s too many sublime moments of joy — the handclaps and vocals that drive “Boomtown,” the punchy brass on “Kingpin,” absolutely every moment of “Earthquake” — for this to be the last of it. There’s more to come, and it’s going to be incredible.

Also this year: Walker Fields finally released a full-length album of their manically fun slide-guitar blues, although they haven’t put it up on their Bandcamp page. The Southside Desire/Black Diet split single left us wishing for more from these two great bands (and both have new recordings in the works) and the recent series of singles from Secret Stash Records included new songs by Black Market Brass, Sonny Knight and the Lakers and the Valdons

Whiskey with Goliath by Brian Laidlaw

and the Family Trade

and

Light Lunch by Heavy Deeds

whiskey with goliathThe thing we’ve been telling people about these two records all year is that the only thing wrong with them is that they’re too short.

We fell in love with Brian Laidlaw the moment we met him, even getting a little gushy in our review of his first release of 2013, the six-track Whiskey with Goliath. In October Brian released a second EP, Echolalia, recorded back in his home-state California with a friend, Danny Vitali. Along the way Brian and his drummer, Sean Gearty, joined Very Small Animal pushing them from a mellow folk group to a full rock band. Their first full-length disc, also out back in November, features some really great work from Brian and Sean backing the great original songs by the group’s founders, Tim Harlan-Marks and Patrick Noonan. As if all this weren’t enough, Brian is now working on Amoratorium, an album of poems and songs about Bonnie & Clyde. It’s been an extraordinary year!

Whiskey with Goliath is a perfect addition to the music you’ll pack on your next roadtrip, unless you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck with one of those people who’d rather talk the whole way (in that case you’ll want to check out “The Setup” below). All seven tracks are filled with fine playing and, especially, Laidlaw’s honey-warm voice. He turns a phrase like an old con rolling a quarter over his knuckles — and every now and then, when you least suspect it, he hits you in the belly with something so sentimental, so sappy, you’re left without a response. “Call your old friends,” begins the chorus of the last track on this too-short EP…

Tell them you love them
tell them no one knows you like they know you
Call your old friends
tell them you love them
and you will love them whatever else they go through

There’s a line on Brian’s first album, Wolf Wolf Wolf, about “former poet laureate Robert Frost” that no one else in the world could have written (“He was a frat boy and a drop out and his life was a train wreck, but he knows what to do when you’re lost”) — it got us to learning a little (“What the hell is a poet laureate?”) and we found out that Minnesota is one of the six or so states that has its own poet laureate. We’d like to nominate Brian to succeed Joyce Sutphen in that position.

01 drugstore hucksters“Drugstore Hucksters”the setup“The Setup”
05 used to have a mountain“Used to Have a Mountain”

light lunchThere’ve been times when I’m feeling so tall
I can look anybody right in the eye
But I won’t forget my friends, they helped me when I fall
When I was wondering how I’d ever get by without encouraging words
Everybody needs ’em, encouraging words
Just count on me

– from “Encouraging Words” by Black Sheep (an early 70s band featuring Foreigner’s Lou Gramm)

Chris Rose, the Vampire Hands vet who seems to be at the helm of Heavy Deeds, is very different from Brian. He’s shy and soft-spoken, but just as awesome and we love him just as much. Light Lunch, the too-short Heavy Deeds EP, started with Chris in the lead but became collaborative — they describe it as a “family band.” A big family, including folks from all around town — Polica, Pony Trash, Robust Worlds, Web of Sunsets. Even a couple folks who’d never been in a band. Maybe it’s this combination of unique backgrounds, maybe it’s the atmosphere of recording in Neil Weir’s Old Blackberry Way the studio where, yep, our #10 choice was recorded, too.

Something went right because there’s a magical quality to Light Lunch. In the middle of the title track you can hear a little back & forth and laughter at just the right moment — the song is about to swell to an ensemble chorus and someone is offering some encouraging words to singers Sara Bischoff and Molly R. Hilgenberg.

Encouraging words. This album is filled with encouraging words. Skip the player below ahead to “The Great Believers” and you’ll hear what we mean:

Stay loose, stay wild, stay free
Be the great believer in everything that you are

In an interview Chris describes Light Lunch as a “roll-your-windows-down-and-cruise-the-street album,” although that might be tough to do in this weather. Our own review of Light Lunch, posted back in May, had a similar response — we wrote it was “as rejuvenating as a sunny afternoon in your garden.

We think these two records will leave you wistful for warmer weather and an old sedan with open windows. A long stretch of Minnesota highway lined with red pines would be nice. We’re also pretty sure, unfortunately, that the other thing they will leave you wanting is more music by these two bands.

Also: Laidlaw’s understated second release, Echolalia (reviewed here) and the Very Small Animal disc, Port of Call (reviewed here). Heavy Deeds’ Chris Rose also released an album as Robust Worlds on De Stijl Records. And you may find the debut disc by Aldine (reviewed here) a nice companion to these records.

Old Blackberry Way, launching its own record label this year, also released great new albums by the Chambermaids and Gospel Gossip. Put it all together and you’ve got a great afternoon of music — you could probably close your eyes and pretend it’s spring!

Promises to Deliver

by Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band

a0427943772_10 Yep. You can see a Hymie’s sticker on the cover of Promises to Deliver, the first album by Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band — its on the back door of the Turf Club, where they played their release show in June (we’ve been known to spend a little time there ourselves, and Nato once paired our shop with the Turf Club in a lecture as his alter ego, “The Professor” during an in-store performance). We were so excited to finally have an entire album of Nato’s awesome rock & roll joy that we didn’t notice the sticker — we were too busy rushing to get it on the turntable!

And we knew from that first listen that Promises to Deliver was going to end up on this list.

There’s an aching sincerity, almost naive, and a timeless sense of optimism to the nine solid rockers that make up Nato’s Promises to Deliver — it invokes the larger narrative Greil Marcus found in Rolling Stones‘ original review of Born to Run, published around the same time Nato Coles was born (presumably wearing a ball cap and a pair of crisp Chuck Taylors) in Milwaukee:

Springsteen’s singing, his words and the band’s music have turned the dreams and failures two generations have dropped along the road into an epic — an epic that began when that car went over the cliff in Rebel Without a Cause. One feels that all it ever meant, all it ever had to say, is on this album, brought forth with a determination one would have thought was burnt out years ago. One feels that the music Springsteen has made from this long story has outstripped the story; that it is, in all its fire, a demand for something new.

Where journalists turned Born to Run into an almost indecipherably intellectual metaphor for the rebellious spirit of rock and roll — Dave Marsh stretched the narrative into an entire book of sometimes laughably laudatory praise in 1979 — nobody took up the cause with the same passion.

(we’ll leave it up to you if its worth the time to struggle through the rest of Marcus’ review, archived here)

Springsteen himself turned into an awkward anachronism at the peak of his Born in the USA fame — the fact that it was “Purple Rain” that kept his highest-charting single from hitting #1 is both ironic and fitting, considering the movie’s plot. The “epic” Greil Marcus found followed in Born to Run became a side-show to American pop culture, not its main attraction — You can get a sense of all this in the bitter moments scattered throughout Promises to Deliver, especially in “Late Night Heroes” and “Rudes and Cheaps.” The second of which is about the most vulnerable Nato Coles has ever been on record.

 

You’ll also get a sense of the optimism that over-rides it all by the end of nearly every song. Rock and roll is, after all, the music of optimism — listen to “Play Loud,” an early single by the Blue Diamond Band (we posted it here) for a perfect example. It’s the same sentiment from a hundred rock and roll classics — “C’mon Everybody” by Eddie Cochran,  “Stay Free” by the Clash, and so on.

Most music journalists are helpless to answer the only truly relevant question when it comes to what is essentially working class art — is it any good? Or, as Opus the Penguin asked in 1988:

ous and hodge podge

(Click to enlarge)

“Does it kick butt?” Here is where the Blue Diamond Band really delivers — where we recently praised the Piñata Records bands for their post-punk approach to their respective retro styles, Promises to Deliver does the same with classic rock. Every track on this album has a driving riff, a sing along, fist-in-the-air chorus and enough guitar licks for a KQ “commercial free rush hour” (three cheers for Sam Beer!). Catch this band live and the entire thing becomes, almost unbelievably, even better! Nato Coles turns an average night at the bar into a revival meeting in moments. His band will leave you loving rock and roll like you hadn’t for years, and when they’re finished the only thing you’ll want is just a little more — and thankfully they finally made an album.

 

 

Bruce Springsteen, even at the height of his Born in the USA fame, was something of an anachronism — it’s telling that the single that kept the Boss from scoring a #1 hit on the Billboard chart was “Purple Rain”

it left us, by the middle eighties, unable to

No one had the courage to yearn.

 

Nato’s an old punk rocker down to his Chuck Taylors, but all twelve songs on Promises to Deliver could be slipped into a KQRS playlist and the only reason anyone there would notice is that people would start calling to request them.

 

 Lakestate by the White Whales

14321“Yes, right. Right.

What is the use of having right on your side

                         if you have not got might.”

The line above comes from Henrick Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People. In it Doctor Thomas Stockmann discovers that the town’s baths — soon to open and become an attraction bringing much-needed tourism — have become poisoned by a neighboring tannery. Believing he will be welcomed as a hero, the Doctor approaches the town leaders — even his own brother Peter, the Mayor, only to be rebuffed. He is pressed to acquiesce in the interest of the community. Later, in his pleas to the townspeople, the Doctor delivers a famous speech against their tyranny, in which he asserts that he is “in revolt against the age old lie that the majority is always right.”

The doctor’s protests are unsuccessful, but Ibsen’s play — a response to criticism of his views on Victorian morals in Ghosts — survives to inspire individuals such as ourselves. So we come to recognize that for years now many of our favorite local albums have not appeared anywhere else on year-end lists. Are we an outlier, or simply goddamn wrong? We’re just a neighborhood record shop and never felt ourselves in any position to assert with anything anywhere near authority — the thing is we think there’s something they’re missing.

“I’ve always been there, waiting for you,” sings Matthew Shuffman over the electronic introduction to “Skeleton,” on the White Whales overdue debut album. In a just world we wouldn’t have to tell you Shuffman is the Twin Cities own little Morrissey, an enigmatic songwriter whose best work is surpassed only by the steady fervor with which he delivers it. His band is the most satisfying new wave band since, well, the wave was pulled back to sea — capable of invoking not only the Smiths, but the Cure, REM, New Order, you name it — sometimes all in the scope of a single track and always while retaining a own distinct sound.

Lakestate takes the weary water themes of the Whales EP, Third Coast, to new distances, buoyed by vibrant production (it was recorded and mixed by Eric Frame and produced by Chris Spetcher at the now disappeared Albion Studio in Northeast). We have played the hell out of this disc since it was released in August and are still finding new reasons to love it.

Shuffman, whether cooing, crooning, shouting, is warm even in the darkest passages. With the first line of “Transfiguration” he takes the role of soothsayer, eerily calm while delivering the often uncomfortable news of daily life (“Throw your paycheck in a landfill,” “Marry your boss, fire your wife,” etc). Crashing cymbals often accent his rise and fall. Drummer J. Eagle is awesome throughout, though his snare is occasionally overwhelming (we’d encourage people to have their work mastered by someone outside the original recording project). He and bassist James Tschida, who gives some of the disc’s most driven tracks a sense of drama and suspense (as in the middle of “Fake History”) keep everything anchored. The Whales’ use of keyboards gives everything gravity, whether its the river hymn organ of “Babe the Blue Ox” or the drum machine and synth that introduces and drives “Skeletons.”

Lakestate balances slow burners like “Babe the Blue Ox” and “Riverbeds” with straight ahead rockers (solid pop tunes that merit airplay) like “Flowers” and “Grappling Iron” — it’s a great album in the classic sense because it’s a pleasure to play in its entirety, rather than for scattered singles. There’s a flow that keeps pushing forward, even into the building finale of “Do Not Let Me Go,” the album’s last track.

In spite of the theme of alienation which runs through Lakestate, the White Whales are a band that’s really come into their own, packing the 7th Street Entry for their release show this summer and captivating audiences whenever they performed here at Hymie’s. We’re disappointed this disc didn’t get more attention, but not discouraged. If just one person reading this clicks on the player below and falls in love with this album as hard as we did, it will all be perfect.

« Older entries § Newer entries »

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.