Friday, March 27, 2009

Show Review: Gambling the Muse

Christy dancing

The Pinhook, Durham
March 21st, 2009

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The night started off right when I ordered my first beer and was asked, "Do you want a tall boy?" The dazzle in my eye was responsible for the hesitation in my response, like a cpu trying to calculate too many inputs, yes, I would like a tall boy thank you. The Pinhook's Saturday night show billed "Jonny Cash's Birthday Celebration" featured Bull City, The Pneurotics, Gambling the Muse, and The Tender Fruit and getting there a tad bit early I think I finally put my finger on why this bar is so amusing to me. The interesting art and soft lined decor of this space does not create the atmosphere, it's a frame for it. The warm deep red interior of this couch populated half-lounge, half-stage room bar on Main St in the Durham downtown loop is decorated with old vinyl, vintage images and a 20 ft floor to ceiling pop art collage mural, but as I chatted with strangers and made jokes with the bar tenders, I realized that the focal point of this picture is the folks inside of it. This place is the newest adopted home for Durham's music community. The girls behind the bar, the guy sitting next to me, the dude working the door, and the faces in the crowd, looking around it was hard to find a person who didn't either play guitar or spend the better part of their time supporting those who do and their chill laid-back demeanors encased in artful surroundings make this an entirely enjoyable haunt.

Two acoustic guitars, two microphones, and two super talented voices opened the night. One voice, that of The Tender Fruit's mountain girl down home alt country Christy Smith, was an anticipated rush of authenticity and sublime blue notes but knocking me off my feet in surprise was the crisp elevated register of Staci Sawyer whose eloquent harmonies delivered chills on their Journey cover and the reimaged originals which usually find her stamping out the beat behind a kit instead of icing a microphone. The Tender Fruit continue to win audiences in surprise-attack new and interesting ways. Troika, get these girls on the bill!

Speaking of covers, this was after all a Johnny Cash birthday celebration, and no cover I saw was as remarkable as The Pneurotics singing Cash's "Ring of Fire." Lead singer/guitarist Rich McLaughlin drew in the essence of the man in black, channeled it through steel strings and vacuum tubes, and illuminated the room with its eerie specter. If I haven't said this out loud yet, let me clear my through, ahem, Rich is a guitar player and a half. This man has some chops and the dance party they incited right next to the stage shows which half the Durham kids like to get down to.

Judging by the vast download of my digital pic's, Gambling the Muse caught the majority of my camera flashes and with as interesting and amusing ensemble as they bring to the stage, I'm not surprised. One doesn't have to read their self-classified genre listings on their myspace to understand that this is an Americana roots band. Their instruments vary as widely as the nature of the musicians who play them. Strapped over the neck of the southern gentlemen known as Doc was a southern gentlemen's instrument, lap slide guitar which is the least common of slide guitars and one of the most enjoyable and unique to see played. Jason Butler and the eye catching Katy Harris combine for Gambling the Muse's acoustic lead and rhythm guitars. How often do you see an acoustic lead guitar around Durham? About as often as you see women playing rhythm guitar without being the lead vocal. The unique supporting cast back drops for a one-of-a-kind vocal from lead singer Daniel Snyder who’s crooning halloo calls out with Southern authenticity, drawing the eyes and the minds to the stage.

Saturday night was a meaningful show for me. Aside from making some new friends and finding an affinity for The Pinhook, I heard new music from a couple of bands that I was already down with and I discovered some timeless old-fashioned music in Gambling the Muse. Sleep deprivation took it's toll on me a little after midnight so I missed the last few songs of The Pneurotics and all of the headlining Bull City, but I left remarking to friends that Durham's music culture continues to put excellent talent on the stages of packed houses. These are exciting times and good solid performances like those we saw Saturday night continue to build the anticipation for them.

View Gambling the Muse's profiles: Gambling the Muse Gambling the Muse

More Images from the show:

Gambling the Muse
Gambling the Muse

Katy Harris
Katy Harris, Gambling the Muse

Joe Caparo (left) and Daniel Snyder
Lance Westerlund, Gambling the Muse

Doc playing lap steel
Doc playing lap steel

Christy Smith (left) and Staci Sawyer - The Tender Fruit
The Tender Fruit

The Mural at The Pinhook
The Mural at The Pinhook

Thursday, March 19, 2009

MAX Indian: You Can Go Anywhere, Do Anything

MAX Indian cd

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Growing up my four sisters and I were huge fans of Columbia House and BMG Music clubs. We took every opportunity to tape a penny to an ordering sheet and select the thirteen cassette tapes we wanted. We must have ordered hundred of albums and the funniest thing is we never "fulfilled" the commitment by ordering any at full price. Having placed the orders outside our mother's knowledge, every time she got a bill, she would reply with an excerpt of state law indicating the unlawfulness of soliciting minors. The accounts were deleted and the cycle continued all the while us thinking we were getting the albums for a penny. Completely oblivious to what was going on, by 1990 we had literally hundreds of free albums, and you might say we pioneered stealing music. Not limited by money since we were obviously only paying a penny for thirteen albums, we were still limited by how many we could order at a time. There were five of us and we had to come to a reasonable agreement on which albums to order. We shared everything growing up including our oldest sister's JVC dual cassette deck boom box which was the sole listening device for the albums. We had to order albums that all five of us would enjoy. We developed a rule of which we became stewards for and it guided us into "buying" only the good albums. The hard fast rule was that we would not order an album just because it had one good song. Past mistakes such as Toni Basil's album with "Mickey" lead us to see the error in this these ways. We only pasted the album sticker to the ordering sheet of those albums that we would listen to front to back, over and over. The songs on Phil Collins No Jacket Required became memory, Fleetwood Mac Greatest Hits had to be replicated onto blank tapes due to the wear and tear it received by constant plays. Our system became the law for music selection.

The tapes have long since been boxed up to dissipate away into the attics and garages of our adult lives and the late nights spent taking turns playing favorites on the JVC now translate to a smirk and a chuckle at how calculating we were in ripping off the music distributors. But the principal to seek out albums that are solid from front to back remains. Practicing on this principal learned long ago, these days I spend money on albums that will play for weeks at a time in my car CD deck without the notion to skip a track or adjust the volume in any direction but up. Finding myself steadily increasing the volume track after track and week after week on MAX Indian’s You Can Go Anywhere, Do Anything, I am reinforced that this is the best twelve bucks I've spent in a long time.

Tracks like "Heaven Help Us" and "What Ever Goes Up" are a fun listen and provide the staying power to keep the cd turning in my car's deck, but the intrigue that has me looking deeper into the album is it's cultural relevance to this town. As I listen to the tightly sprung guitar hitches and trackable rhythms I can't help but think that this is what Tom Petty would sound like if he were making indie Piedmont Southern rock in Chapel Hill, NC today. I feel the sense that this album is a re-invention of Southern Rock in a re-invented Southern town. Durham and the Piedmont were a landmark for blues and roots music long before Chapel Hill became a destination for Indy and in You Can Go Anywhere, Do Anything, MAX Indian successfully draws upon the heritage of the region and less so the gleaming alt music foundation of the town. Southern rock has always expanded upon the roots music of the town its inspired in, and a truly great album like this is just the kind of thing that could spur a resurgence for it here.

But I say re-invented because we hear very few blues elements in this album, the bright and encouraging messages in "Together At Last" and "Oughtaghettachamra" are delivered with a stompable beat and are more liken to indie than the down cycling of blues. The traditional Southern rock influence is bold however and can be noted in the spongy tightness of their guitar tone and layering of vintage sounding keyboards. The immediately relatable "Now I Know" illustrates the pure ability of Carter Gaj and Nick Jaeger on guitar and leaves you understanding the MAX Indian style. Tongue-in-cheek titled "Oughtaghettachamra" meets the grand tradition of Southern Rock mixing its own dialect into the music and proves the ability for this album to create emotions on positive material. In an album full of sharks, the one that will bite the hardest and hold on the longest is "Heaven Help Us." This is my "hook" track, the song I heard first when given to me on a mix CD and the one that led me in. Its slow rolling jam and story driven lyrics invite nostalgia.

In a music town founded on alternative, Max Indian has accepted a more distant heritage and produced great Southern rock album. With a local music culture stirring with talent, the spark of influence can ignite a movement. With MAX Indian out front and a host of talented musicians keeping pace, it will be entertaining to watch where this goes. Meanwhile I'll keep turning up the knob on "Heaven Help Us" and carefully deciding which albums I want to spend my penny on.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Show Review: The Dirty Little Heaters

Local 506, Chapel Hill
March 15, 2009

the dirty little heaters

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I get a call from Franklin Street Fighting Man who had just been awarded free tickets to Let's Wrestle at The Local 506 via Glenn's stampede style monthly ticket give away. With the offer of a free ticket on the table, I was probably 75% in at this point. I hung up and nav'd over to the 506 page to find a click through to their myspace and have a listen. When I saw that The Dirty Little Heaters were also on the bill, I rapidly nav'd back to my mobile phone and upgraded my interest in the free ticket to 110%.

I had seen The Dirty Little Heaters perform once before at Chaz's upstairs room before a punk show caved the floor in and forced the venue to re-lo across town. It was epic and I recall vowing to see them perform again, a vow which has gone wholely broken until last night. As of today, I can re-avow however, what a show. A couple of songs into the set we heard "Mexico Way" which I had been listening to all afternoon via myspace. Witnessing it live last night in front of the thousands of watts the 506 PA pushes was confirmation that this song and this band is the spirit of rock. This music doesn't inhabit a sub-genre that needs comparison to explain and describe, it's simply straight forward, four piece, vintage rock.

The custom Fender wielding tube powered Reece McHenry fronts the band with one of the strongest vocals you can hear around town. I confidently state this not only from my own impression, but from jury of peers. Reece opened a show at The Pinhook recently playing a solo acoustic set and blew the roof off with her range. Standing next to Anne Gomez (Cantwell Gomez and Jordan), I remarked on Reece's voice. Anne turned to comment, "Reece has the best voice I have ever heard," and she wasn't talking just locally. Her's is a well respected talent.

Wall to wall people at 506 is every band's goal so I risk insensitivity in confessing that nights like this with around 50 people sparsely arranged in the stage room are the most enjoyable for me. With a little atmosphere between warm bodies, everyone becomes a pinch self aware and zips the lips. It turned into a listening party and for the indie die hard’s that braved a cold rainy Sunday night to hear some rock, well that's just the kind of party we were looking for. None to dull between songs however, the lethargic crowd gave Reece and bass player Rob Walsh an open opportunity to fire away with the witty banter. Our chargeless yes/no answers barely responded to their prompts but their sincerity was engaging and superbly rounded out the performance.

The door may have been less than what The Dirty Little Heaters deserve but on Selection Sunday with the thermometer dropping faster than the rain I say take it and run. The Dirty Little Heaters have a spring schedule affording everyone who missed this show some make up dates. I highly recommend that you do.

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More images from Sunday Night;

Reece McHenry, lead guitar/vocals
Reece McHenry

Doug White, keyboards
Doug White

the dirty little heaters

Let's Wrestle
let's wrestle

let's wrestle