These past couple days we have been re-running some favorite music about winter weather. Here is the title song from a disc by Caitlin Robertson that we always enjoy around this time of year.

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“If It Takes All Winter”

A couple years ago Caitlin introduced us to another songwriter from up north named Barbara Jean, and we absolutely loved her debut disc, The Great Escape. There was a lot of Minnesota flavor to that album, including in this snowy tune.

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“Snowfalls”

barbara jean cdBarbara Jean has a new album out next week called Darker Than Blue, which features collaborations with an impressive list of favorite Minnesota musicians. It was produced by Erik Koskinen at his RealPhonic Studio — his solo album, American Theater, is one of our favorite records of 2014 (we first posted it here). From what we can hear in the promotional video below, we expect we’re going to enjoy Darker Than Blue as much as we have her first album.

The release show is a week from this Saturday at the Icehouse. Details can be found here.

 

tree party flyerWe are re-running some favorite posts about winter weather this week while we look for a replacement for the Hymie’s computer (the poor guy just couldn’t hang on any longer…) and this one from February is a favorite. Tree Party’s record release show for Iced Over was a great evening, with opening sets by our friends Jack Klatt and Ben Weaver. It’s a really great album which we listened to here in the shop last night. Here’s our original review of it…


 

Last week the city of Atlanta was shut down by a two-inch snowstorm. Also last week, the Twin Cities shivered through a couple days of sub-zero temperatures, and just after the Atlanta storm heaved another six inches of snow off our walks. All in a winter’s work.

We’re tough folks up here in the Northstar State, and don’t let a soul tell you otherwise — Not only that but this has got to be the best place in the country to run a record store. There’s so much awesome music, both in our past and being made right now, that we wouldn’t even know where to start to introduce someone to it all.

largeWe’re a state of innovators and creators — maybe it’s because we’re stuck inside all winter. Minnesota gave the country scotch tape, the stapler, and post-it notes — Also the toaster, the water ski, Spam and Bisquick. It was the University of Minnesota that performed the first open heart surgery and sent the first enlisted man to serve in the Second World War (Pfc. Milburn Henke of the 34th Infantry Division, who was photographed by the press landing in Dufferin Quay, Belfast, on January 26, 1942).

Private Henke was hardly our first of firsts or of lasts — in the winter of 1861, Minnesota, the newest state in the Union, was the first to offer troops to its defense. Throughout the Civil War, Minnesotans played an important role, no less than at the Battle of Gettysburg, where the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry saved the Union position at Cemetery Ridge, and perhaps with it the Union’s cause, with a courageous charge against a Confederate brigade nearly four times its size. After the war, Albert Woolson, the last surviving Union Army veteran, lived in Duluth until he passed on at the age of 109.

njv copy 1On a lighter note, Minnesotans have set a variety of goofy world records, from our famous twine ball, to the largest cheeseburger, to the largest gathering of zombies (recently lost to some fuckers in New Jersey) and of people with mustaches. Even though Longfellow’s Hiawatha and Minnehaha were fictional, we are surely a state filled with history and colorful characters

And today we want to share a record we’ve been really enjoying. It’s sort of chicken soup for the Minnesotan soul — something to make you feel a little proud of getting to work, or to school, or just to the mailbox on those cold days.

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“Helmer Aakvik –¬† The Old Man and the Inland Sea”

Helmer_AakvikThat’s the first track on Iced Over the new disc by Tree Party — the song’s eponymous hero was awarded the Carnegie Award for Heroism after surviving twenty-eight hours on a handmade wooden skiff during a rescue attempt. His neighbor, Carl Hammer, was lost in a November storm on Lake Superior in 1958, and Helmer set out to find him. He lost two toes to frostbite and never found his neighbor, but forever entered Lake Superior lore, finishing an egg sandwich and a pint of coffee before he could be taken to the hospital.

iced overYou can learn all about Helmer Aakvik and other true Minnesota legends on Iced Over — there’s even a map of the state that gives each story a setting, from our southern prairies all to the northern border where we meet Dorothy Molter, the “Root Beer Lady” of the Boundary Waters.

iced over 2We don’t want to spoil the whole thing for you, so we’ll share just one more track. It’s the story of John Smith, or Gaa-binagwiiyaas. Most folks knew him as Wrinkle Meat, “the oldest man in the world,” who remembered the Leonid meteor shower of 1833 and walked the woods and prairies of Minnesota well over the age of 100 carrying a blanket for his bed. Hotels welcomed the beloved Chippewa Indian of Cass Lake without charge, but he still slept on the floor, for the beds were too soft.

meteor_shower_1833bThe train to Duluth allowed his passage without fare, and he would sell his portrait to passengers for a nickel so they could prove they had met him.

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“Wrinkle Meat — The 137 Year Old Man”

For Tree Party the tale of Wrinkle Meat is a cool shuffle. Even with two great discs behind them, the band has never sounded so confident as when swaggering through the story of Minnesota’s oldest man. On Iced Over the quintet skates gracefully across genres as needed to fit the feel of each of the album’s characters, matching Wrinkle Meat’s grandeur as perfectly as they capture the despair of Chris E. Herschberger, whose ghost haunts the Calumet Inn in Pipestone.

Many of the details in “Wrinkle Meat” came from this chapter in the recollections of Paul Peter Buffalo, an Ojibwe who in the 1970s recorded an enormous personal history that also documented the history, customs, and beliefs of his people. His autobiography is archived today by the University of Minnesota Duluth, made accessible to all through the web.

In the notes to Iced Over, songwriter Joey Ford notes that “Minnesota is well taken care of, with historical societies spread across the state that strive to keep the conversation between past and present alive.” The thing is, we have to do our share or it’s no longer a conversation — the historical societies and museums throughout Minnesota merely hold history until we arrive to thaw it out.

We had never heard of any of the characters featured in Iced Over until Tree Party brought us a copy of this disc last month. Learning about each (the album is so much more fun when you’re familiar with the stories behind each song) lit in us the pilot fire of pride for our Northstar state heritage. Mocked as we often are in the media, for so many imagine our Minnesota as one big Frostbite Falls, we might well be the awesome-est state in the Union.

Joey Ford received a 2013 Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and we think they couldn’t have made a better choice. Ford took the opportunity to travel the state asking about local folklore, meeting old timers in diners and scholars in museums and historical societies. He wrote songs based on the true life legends he heard, and brought them to Tree Party. The band had already discovered its flair for the theatrical with their second album, The 7 Shot Symphony, a collaboration with Live Action Set which produced an amazing touring cowboy show (check out the video trailer) which won a 2011 Ivey Award for Best Overall Production.

A few years back Sufjan Stevens wrote concept albums for two states — Michigan and Illinois — and we offered our own entries a while later (Minnesota and Ohio). We’re still working on Iowa. Iced Over might actually be the first concept album about Minnesota. The 32nd state has produced its small share of concept albums, from Zen Arcade to the Honeydogs’ 10,000 Years (surely their best) to Grant Hart’s long-labored, awesome adaptation of Milton and Burroughs, The Argument. As rich as Minnesota history is, the closest we’ve ever come to center stage may be in Paul Kennerley’s The Legend of Jesse James, where the shootout at Northfield, narrated by Charlie Daniels, was the highlight of the record (we posted it years ago here).

On Iced Over the rhythm section — bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Marc Bohn — adapts itself deftly to Ford’s vivid narratives. A listener can close his eyes and hear the frigid waves crashing against Helmer Aakvik’s wooden skiff, the calm waters lapping against Dorothy Motler’s Isle of Pines, or the crack of John Beargrease’s whip as he drives his dog team to deliver the mail to Grand Marais.

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A little like the dog sled race named for Beargrease, Iced Over is a tour de force for a troupe of top rank musicians — Guitarist Travis Bolton grounds the disc in the very best of doo wop and early rock and roll. Just listen to that short solo in “Dorothy Molter” — it almost takes you back in time to a soda fountain where Molter had her first root beer. Jenna Wyse, whose own group, the Poor Nobodys, specializes in exciting theatrical music, provides vocals that help set Dorothy Molter’s story in a black-and-white memory as well as give other stories their epic sense of adventure. She also performs the accordion and violin, giving a genuine Minnesota flavor and even a polka romp to celebration of World War I hero Byrl Sylvester.
On “Byrl Sylvester — Plainview’s Greatest Hero” the band is joined by a robust brass section. One can almost imagine the celebration of a hero, not unlike the annual accolades our leaders still offer to the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.

Joey Ford didn’t waste anything with such a band at his back — he wrote each of the songs on Iced Over with Tree Party and got the best out of them, as well as himself. He takes his trademark yodel to soaring new heights on the disc — sometimes it’s silly. Throughout he approaches the stories with due reverence, while balancing the lighter side of local lore. He approaches Wrinkle Meat with a little wry wit and Chris E. Herschberger with an aching sense of loneliness. At his very best Ford is a cowboy singer worthy of one of our all-time favorite records, Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. At his worst he’s over-the-top (we’ve been playing Iced Over a lot lately, and folks always take notice of “John Beargrease — The Fearless Mail Carrier”) — We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Well, that’s not true. Iced Over seems to be hitting it stride with that last track, where the band is joined by an evocative cello and the brass heard on “Byrl Sylvester.” We’re ready for another story — that’s the thing about history, it’s sloggy at first and then you find a reference point, a place where you can put yourself in the story. And then you want more — but that’s where the disc ends. The band runs around the state in “Careless Hap — The Minnesota Romp,” a light yodel-driven instrumental and calls it a night.

We’re already looking forward to the sequel.

 

A re-run for this snowy morning. We first posted Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphonia Antartica during a bone-chilling cold spell back in January — hard to believe we were walking to work when it was twenty below!

The Hymie’s computer is out of commission for a short while, so we’ll be re-running some favorite posts this week.


 

Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.

–Robert Falcon Scott

sinfonia antartica

Today’s record is fitting for the remarkably cold weather in the Twin Cities this week. Irene the shop dog had to stay home today, since it was (according to the bank sign here on East Lake) twenty-one degrees below zero. While at home we discovered that bubbles freeze at this temperature, and that throwing a pot of boiling water into the cold air is super cool.

And we listened to some awesome records. One of them was this recording of Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica, a 1952 work that started as the score to a film about Robert Falcon Scott’s disastrous 1911 expedition to the South Pole.

Early performances included recitations from the Book of Psalms, Shelly’s Prometheus Unbound, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Scott’s journal, discovered by a search party a year after his death during a second expedition.

Williams composed for the distant Antartic continent the same way Holst approached the unfathomable planets in the sky — combining mythology, mystery and magic. His work eschews the controversy that historians have since given the expedition, capturing instead the heroic Scott celebrated throughout England at the time.

It’s also a fine soundtrack for an extreme-cold walk, say ten blocks, to a record shop and back. Irene would agree. We hope, however, that you can enjoy this music in the warm comfort of your home.

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“Prelude–Andante maestoso”

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“Scherzo–Moderato”

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“Landscape–Lento / “Andante–Sostenuto”

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“Epilogue–Alla marcia”

Lego Hymie’s

After two weeks of construction, Dave and Gus have finished building a detailed Lego model of Hymie’s. Its in the shop at one of the booths this weekend for you to take a look.

photo 1

Wild Hands

Oh, River by Wild Hands is one of the most impressive, fully-formed debut records we’ve heard in a long time. They’re an awesome country/rock band from Hymie’s hometown, Minot. We had a few copies prior its release in September and played ‘em like bananas, even posting this same Bandcamp player last summer. We’re already sold out of the LPs, but will see if we can get some more copies tonight while they’re in town.

Looks like their Turf Club show tonight with good ole Charlie Parr is sold out. Maybe you can hitch a ride to Minot with the Roe Family Singers, who are playing with Wild Hands tomorrow night.

 

Prince on SNL

Rather than the standard two appearances for a song each, Saturday Night Live let Prince have eight uninterrupted minutes last weekend to play songs from his two new recent records. Prince packs a little of everything into the performance.

And since we’ve had several people ask, we’ll let you know that Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum (by 3rdEyeGirl) will both be released on LP as well as CD, and we’ll have both when they ship out to stores the last week of this month. The CDs have already been released — we’ve never understood why this happens sometimes, but we’ll bet it may have something to do with the challenges of pressing vinyl these days, even Prince has to wait an extra couple weeks sometimes! The cover for Art Official Age features Prince in his trippy three-eye sunglasses!

 

One of our favorite new LPs this fall appeared on record shelves without much fanfare, and the band never had a special record release show for it. That last part is especially unfortunate, because they are one of the most fun and exciting rock acts working in the Twin Cities right now. We’re talking about Narco States, of course — the five-piece garage band we’ve been telling all our friends about for a couple years. They were one of the first bands we invited to shoot a video in our “Practice Space” series (there are nine more of these in post-production right now, by the way!)

…and we told the whole state to check ‘em out when we were invited to join MPR’s Art Hounds last year. They’re one of our favorite bands in the Twin Cities and their first LP, Wicked Sun, is something we’ve been eagerly anticipating for a long time.

narco statesWicked Sun revisits the track recorded by Brian Herb’s Mother of All Music for the “Practice Space” shoot here in the record shop, as well as the live track at the end of their debut EP from way back when, but the album take the band into awesome new territory. They lean further into the bluesy psych rock vein visited with “My Only Sin” on that first EP.

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“Lost in Time”

Their core sound of gooey Jefferson Airplane-y guitars topped with delicious creamy organ riffs is entirely intact, just more expansive throughout Wicked Sun. Yep, Wicked Sun is like a really good candy bar, not like one of those fucking Milky Ways still at the bottom of the kids bag the Wednesday after Halloween. At times you’d be sure this tasty treat is some lost Bay Area treasure like that mind-blowing¬†Crystal Syphon album unearthed by local label Roaratorio a couple years ago — for sure a Butterfinger-quality record. Narco States never leaves you with that disingenuous aftertaste you get from 00s retro-garage records (thanks Jack White for somehow taking all of the fun out of rock and roll) — nothing on Wicked Sun sounds like last year’s candy.

That’s because Narco States puts the organ back into a dual-lead role with the guitar, a balance post-punk garage records don’t always manage well. Folks have really enjoyed this LP when we played it in the shop, and often remark about the role of keyboardist Aaron Robertson — old rocker dudes usually say something about the Doors, but Robertson reminds us more of guys like Alan Price (who gives the Animals’ “House of the Rising Son” is heft or fourteen-year-old Frank Rodriguez, who played those sweet fills on “96 Tears by ? And the Mysterians. Of course the Doors’ Ray Manzarek and these fellas all played similar Vox Continental keyboards.

Robertson is tearing it up on a Farfisa and a Wurlitzer 7300, both instruments with their own awesome legacies in garage rock, like the Swingin’ Medallion’s “Double Shot” for instance — but where he and the rest of the band push it out of retro territory is in the explosive arrangements that don’t rely on a single keyboard riff the way the Doors sometimes did (“Light my Fire,” “Love Her Madly,” etc) — In fact lead guitarist Nate McGuire is the #1 reason this record rewards repeated listening. Some of his work is in the classic Kaukonen/Cipollina psychedelic form, but he shifts into overdrive without the slightest lurch, as in “Invasion,” a track Quicksilver Messenger Service would have stretched to a full side.

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“Invasion”

The organ/guitar interplay is most original in “Amputated,” especially as the two meet at the end and support drummer Justin DeRusha’s manic pounding. The band couldn’t get away with blending party rock style garage with psychobilly fanaticism if it weren’t for the solid base DeRusha and Nick Sampson build. These two are one of the best parts of the band’s explosive live sets, simply because they carry that center-of-the-storm calm with such class, whether its in the wild rockers like “Amputated” and “Lost in Time” or the blues-infused, dark and driving title track.

Frontman Michael Meyers makes those explosive live sets, alternating between playing rhythm guitar and swaggering and strutting with the mic stand as a prop. We’ve watched him swing from the ceiling, climb the walls and roll on the floor — but on the record all this energy comes out in his voice, somewhere between the Iggy Pop and Lux Interior frenzy and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ genuine madness. His delivers the darkest lines in the brooding “Jekyll Meets Hyde” and “Wicked Sun” with drama, and the rest of the album with a veteran showman’s flair. We didn’t believe a record could capture all the excitement of this band’s live performances, but Wicked Sun succeeds.

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This album went through a series of pressing problems unrelated to its content, and it never received the attention it properly deserves. It was quietly added to the shelves here at Hymie’s a couple weeks ago, but has been played loudly ever since.

Narco States are playing a couple shows out of town later this month (In Sioux Falls and Green Bay) before returning to Minneapolis for a show at 7th Street Entry on November 16th. A proper record release show is planned for December. Details for the 7th St Entry show are here.

 

 

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