Earlier this month the folks at Third Man Records released a 7-inch of two new songs recorded by the Blind Shake in their “blue room.” They asked the guys where they’d like to debut the single, and to our surprise our favorite local band chose us! At the time, the blue vinyl of the singles were delayed and they’re finally here. So if you’re a colored-vinyl freak and you were waiting to hear these killer live takes of “I Shot all the Birds” and “Tar Paper,” today’s your day!
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Okay friends, you’re likely growing weary of our posts about the Blind Shake, whose various solo projects we featured (here and here), but we’ve got more news from the Twin Cities most awesome and prolific trio.
They recorded two songs at the famous Third Man Records last year, and those songs are now available on a 7″ single. The folks at Third Man were gracious enough to ask which record store should debut the single, and here we are.
Our only complaint is that two songs doesn’t really capture the band. They’re so much bigger than a 7″ single. But we’re honored for the opportunity to debut this little slice of rock and roll magic.
You can see Jim and the French Vanilla — a Blind Shake side project — every Saturday in March at Grumpys Bar here in Minneapolis.
Early last year we welcomed Fletcher Magellan‘s debut disc Became a Stranger as ” an inventive pastiche of the country tradition” and added it to our regular rotation of local favorites to play here in your friendly neighborhood record shop. In that post we wrote, in part, “there’s a sense that Became a Stranger is a labor of love — not just for the settings of its eleven songs, but the great arch of country music from its early roots in string tunes like Kelly Harrell’s “Charles Guitteau” recorded in 1927, to its revival as “Americana.”
And we invited Fletcher Magellan to join a much less historic tradition, our in-house label’s series of traditional American music at 45rpm. The two new songs out this weekend join singles by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade and Tree Party, as well as a growing collection of LPs by local artists we have released.
The ‘double A side’ single includes a song which would have fit nicely into Became A Stranger last year, as well as this song, “Lady Tarantella,” which has shades of Fletch’s earlier work as a member of El Le Faunt and his Traveling Circus. The picture sleeve drawn by Whitney A. Streeter are in the style of classic storybook records.
We thought “Lady Tarantella” felt like a sort of a photo negative of the Stones’ “Spider and the Fly,” and likewise features a shared lead but instead of two guitars weaves an electric guitar part with a distinctive singing saw. Fletcher Magellan’s band has grown since releasing the CD last year, and they have become one of the Twin Cities must-catch Americana acts. We’re thrilled to add this single to our catalog!
Fletcher Magellan’s release show for the new “Lady Tarantella” single is an early matinee this Sunday at the Icehouse. Details on their website here. Our old friend Ross Fellrath will open with his famous flamenco guitar.
Yesterday’s post featured a new album by Jim Blaha which is a side project from his regular work with one of the most popular bands in the Twin Cities, the Blind Shake. His new Jim and the French Vanilla album is in stores today, and he is working on putting together a band to perform the new songs live. Also available this week is The Art of Not, a first solo project by Mike Blaha (billed as Blaha on the jacket). It’s been a dream week for us as huge Blind Shake fans, because the two solo albums really offer a new look into two of our favorite local musicians.
The “eye-catching” artwork by his brother on the jacket offers a hint to the humor inside, and to Blaha’s ability to balance affirmation with self-depreciation. In its own way, The Art of Not is an extension of “Reasonable World,” the catchy anthem at the core of the Blind Shake’s Celebrate Your Worth which extolls “giant girls [and] lazy boys” to “just figure it out.” It’s also a high-wire act where Blaha impresses us with his abilities and leaves us thinking about what he had to say.
Blaha’s delivers The Art of Not one-man-band style in the tradition of “Superstition,” overdubbing himself on guitar, bass and drums in Neil Weir’s venerated Blue Bell Knoll studio. Its rock and roll stripped to its essentials, but hardly lo-fi garage rock. In fact, there’s even an instrumental at the end of each side which recall the awesome (and lushly produced) album the Blind Shake made with Swami John Reis. The sound of The Art of Not perfectly fits the mood of Mike Blaha’s new songs.
Some of the songs, such as “Lemonade” heard here, move along at the old man’s pace of sixty-five beats-per-minute, almost unheard of on a Blind Shake album. The result is a heightened focus on the clean melodies and clever lines which is sometimes lost in the manic pace of Blaha’s main gig. In one of the catchiest moments on the album Blaha falls in love with loneliness (“Loneliness, I Love You”) with the rollicking humor of Camper van Beethoven.
Other songs are more sardonic, especially “Good Girls,” which opens with a contrast of good girls and bad, but quickly widens its scope:
Good world, I always thought you were a sad world
Sad world, you really opened my eyes
The two different impulses in so many of Blaha’s songs — self-reliance against self-depreciation — are most stark in a song which doesn’t stand out on a first listen but really sinks into a listener’s ears and thoughts. We hope “Frog & Toad” is a reference to the endlessly endearing Arnold Lobel stories, but it may just be another example of how we here at Hymies enterprises misinterpret songs. The song seems to recognize the two different personalities: the cautious, anxious toad and the confident and courageous frog, who are (in the title of one of Lobel’s stories) friends.
Just a song earlier Blaha encourages us to “take a lemon and throw it at life,” and he’s done a hell of a job of that with this album. Like the new Jim and the French Vanilla album featured yesterday, it seems like The Art of Not isn’t as high on the local music radar as a Blind Shake album, and instead stands on its own. The album is undeniably a testament to Blaha’s musical talents, but also his insight. He’s pretty hard on himself throughout, but also in “Lemonade” he sings:
You’re not so perfect, and I guess that I’m not so bad.
In local release news there are two solo records from the always-prolific Blind Shake out this week. After releasing four records in 2015 (which made our “best local releases” list at the end of the year) the band narrowed it down to a single LP last year (Celebrate Your Worth, which would have topped the “best” list if we had made one in December) while working on the two projects which they delivered this week.
In deference to the fact that they’re brothers as well as bandmates, we’re going to separate the two solo records instead of posting them together. While the two new LPs are similar, they definitely represent the different directions the band has moved its music in recent years.
Blind Shake fans here in the Twin Cities are likely to recognize the last Jim and the French Vanilla recording because a couple of its limited run of hundred copies are still kickin’ around local shops. There was a CD-R before than which is presumably even more obscure — all of this is unlikely to be the same fate for this new album, which is being released by Portland-based punk rock powerhouse Dirtnap Records and given a nice and well-deserved promotional push.
Afraid of the House is an altogether different animal from those stripped-down acoustic-ish recordings. In fact, the opening track, “When You’re Down,” will burst out of your speakers with the same focused drive that has made the Blind Shake a live favorite in the Twin Cities for years.
The last time Jim and Mike Blaha recorded together as a duo was on Shadow in the Cracks, a thematic album on almost oppressively pessimistic themes. Afraid of the House is equally fearful if less focused on a specific setting, even though its a more cathartically rockin’ album than most of what bills itself as punk rock these days. The album balances its dark, Black Sabbath-y themes with the spirit of 60s garage nuggets like this one, making it an eerily apt soundtrack to the times. In one of the album’s heaviest-hitting tracks, “Grow Like Rabbits,” Jim captures the uncertainty of the times.
When you turn to rabbits, no one could complain
All the things are backed up and no one takes the blame
We’re not certain what it means, and its hard to understand some of the lyrics on Afraid of the House, but the only one thing which actually complains in “Grow Like Rabbits” is the oceans. And we wondered if we’re hearing a famous rabbit in the chorus of “I Have to Slow Down,” which starts with “I’m late!” Who knows? We here at Hymies Industries are famous for misunderstanding lyrics, but there’s definitely a sense of isolation and uncertainty in both songs.
Jim has enlisted Mike Blaha and Jillian Schroeder of Teenage Moods to bring the full-band Jim and the French Vanilla to the stage, and he tells us rehearsals have gone well. In the mean time, this is an album sure to please long time fans without treading over familiar territory.
Coming up tomorrow: The Art of Not by (Mike) Blaha
Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was famously idiosyncratic, and controversial in the classical world to the last. His records remain very popular however, and are among the first things to sell out of classical collections like the one we put out on the shelves this weekend.
His interviews were carefully scripted, as evident in this 1968 album. He was four years into his retirement from the concert stage at this time, and devotes much of his remarks to his problems with the “blood sport” of classical performance.
Maybe this is what it will sound like when the rise and fall of a romance is reported in the business section. Private Interests is the new project for Johnny Eggerman and Cam Soojian, reflecting a blending of their previous projects to produce a leaner, punker version of the former’s power pop trio, Mystery Date. Owing to a little insider trading the duo is backed by Southside Desire’s rhythm section on their debut, a six song cassette driven by the sort of irresistible hooks one expects from Mystery Date and the fervent energy of Soojian’s Ruggs, or of new label-mates (on Forged Artifacts) What Tyrants.
That trio, along with Distant Husbands and Star Child, will be opening for Private Interests on Friday at the Eagles Club. Expect more than six songs from the headliners, who have been playing since early this year and will also be appearing at a nine-act Replacements tribute at the Turf Club next month. In the meantime, you can check out another song, the ‘official’ single from the tape, on their Bandcamp page here.