Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Album Review: Brett Harris, Man of Few Words

Brett Harris Man of Few Words

Brett Harris Music, 2010

Too often songwriters whose sensibilities have been nurtured by the audible hiss of cheap mic’s and tape machines stumble upon first sight of the space and power of a pro studio. Given the keys to the proverbial gear closet, they prove either too sheepish or too greedy in deciding what to pull out of it. So it’s a welcome change when one of these basement troubadours takes an accurate measure of his material and emerges from the big desk with something sparkling and seamless. That’s the happy case with Brett Harris's Man of Few Words, the Durham songwriter’s first full-length studio album, and one that fulfills the spry promise of his two earlier EPs. With Man, Harris and producer Jeff Crawford have created a sound that can be big without bullying and arrangements that are lush though never overbearing.

The giddy opener “I Found Out” serves both as harbinger of a bright new beginning for Harris as well as a multum in parvo for the album as a whole. An anxiously strummed acoustic guitar quickly gives way to 12 string electrics, blond organs, pianos, tympanis, string arrangements and brassy horn sections that expand and contract along with Harris’s flights of fancy. Throughout Man, Harris’s compositions benefit mightily from the supporting cast he’s assembled, which includes Crawford on bass and a murderer’s row of local musicians familiar to fans of MAX Indian and Luego. As they did on their own debut last year, Indian’s Nick Jaeger and Carter Gaj prove here again that a well-crafted guitar fill can be every bit as revelatory as a blistering solo.

For all the help Harris gets from his friends, however, Man’s punch lies in the frontman’s vocal performance. Lithe but limber, Harris’s voice plays equally well as solo instrument or stacked in one of the album’s many rich, midrange harmonies, In the past, Harris has earned comparisons to Elvis Costello and Jeff Buckley, but in its phrasing and texture, Harris’s delivery on this effort often evokes more ethereal singers like Phoenix’s Thomas Mars or Sukilove’s Pascal Deweze, euros from whom the 80s blue eyed soul phenomenon was a less problematic influence than for Americans.

It’s a little ironic then that Man’s lone weakness comes with what Harris has to say. While his lyrics tend to satisfy the concept of the songs, they also at times suffer from a lack of ambition, especially compared to a number of the songs on his previous EPs. The album’s title notwithstanding, Harris is not a man of few words by any means, but the surface sheen and polish of the sentiment often makes it difficult to judge depth. In these cases the result is expression that is comfortable rather than particularly memorable.

Not coincidentally, the album’s two best cuts – “Perpetual Motion” and “See the Light” – find Harris developing a sustained lyrical conceit that informs and intercedes with the arrangement and the melody, rather than simply floating over the top. In “Perpetual Motion,” for example, the feverish rejoinder, “gotta keep on movin,” plays call and response as a piano signature bounces like a gypsum ball across Charles Cleaver’s roulette wheel organ.

After the light and embraceable pop of the album’s A side, “Perpetual Motion” and “See the Light” seem to promise a more introspective turn on the way out. Although what follows doesn’t quite bear out this promise (later cuts such as “Wish” and “Over and Over” feel more like genre exercises than compositions that reward what Harris does best), Harris certainly proves that he’s not just another open-mic strummer with an ear for a catchy hook, but a serious songwriter with big ideas and in full control of his material. --Hidden Tiger

View Brett Harris' myspace profile: myspace

Brett Harris will celebrate the release of Man of Few Words at Nightlight in Chapel Hill on Friday April 2, 2010 at 10 PM. Opening will be Raleigh's Bright Young Things and Durham alt. country rockers Luego.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two Free Passes for Jer Coons/Matt Duke at Local 506 Tonight

jer coons

The first legit day of spring in these parts (that in which it isn't raining or annoyingly sunny but still cold) is today and raise your hand if you agree that calls for heading out. Tonight, The Local 506 may be hosting the archetypal show for just this type of a day...brightened up, silver tongued, shiny acoustic folk pop. That is, the Jer Coons tour swings through Chapel Hill tonight with opener Matt Duke leading off at 9:30...just right for a blue cup at He's Not before the show. Am I right? Tiks are $8 at the door and I have two that I can give away right now. In lieu of a creative way to award these passes I'm going to default to the first person to e-mail me at carrboro.ninja (at) gmail dot com.

Jer Coons myspace: myspace

Matt Duke myspace: myspace

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spider Bags: Dog in the Snow

Dog in the Snow

Spider Bags' newest release Dog in the Snow is putting plenty of heavy fuzz on the table for those hungry for unrefined garage rock and God bless Durham, they didn't forget to pour some anti-folk sugar on top. Much coarser than their purposefully refined Indy rock equivalents, these tracks boil with marching heavy footed commotion. There is a very physical and complex drum kit versus guitar donnybrook trading punches on this two-song 7" and the resulting aftermath is a salt-of-the-earth analog rudder that drags and plows its way from the beginning of side A to the end of side B. Amidst the blitz however, Spider Bags offers a jesting, rascally, and playful narration. The lyrics skate across the turned up ground like a quick witted jack rabbit...whimsical, loose, and hip. Presented as pulp thought free of resolution, Spider Bags employs undeniable rock and roll rhythm with draw-your-own-conclusion anthem shouts to paint the picture of this album. In this sense they are not telling a story, the imagery these songs create between the heavy and light characters shoves you into a dramatic dream scape where you create your own.

Pressed into five-hundred good old fashioned vinyl records by Chaz at Bull City Records, Spider Bags will celebrate the release of Dog in the Snow Friday April 2 at The Pinhook in downtown Durham alongside The Dry Heathens . You can pick up the record and the record's ipod friendly download code at the show or at Bull City Records 1916 Perry Street Durham, NC. --Carrboro Ninja

blog roll
poster art by Steve Oliva

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Troika 2010 Band Submissions Open

Proving that this lifetime bears no rest for the weary nor the inspired, 307 Knox and their fearless volunteer mercenaries have just again cranked the gears on Troika. Band submissions are now open and November 5, 6, and 7 of this fall will mark the sixth year that this three-day, 10 venue, 70 plus band local music festival has animated the Bull City with local rock denizens frenzying from venue to venue in desperate attempt to maintain their planned festival schedules.

The Troika band submission process is utterly simple and open right now through June 15 by following this link: http://troikamusicfestival.org/submissions

You won't have to wait till November for your first taste of Troika however, the annual Troika fund raiser event known as the Pin Projekt http://troikamusicfestival.org/pin-projekt is scheduled for May 28th at The Pinhook. This open to the public event auctions bowling pins which have been crafted by local artists into original works of art and raises capital for the not-for-profit Troika to ramp up to the event.

Images from Troika 2009:
Troika 2009 Day 1
Troika 2009 Day 2
Troika 2009 Day 3

Images from The Pin Projekt 2009
2009 Pin Project Results and Images

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Love Language Debut New Line Up

Broad Street Cafe, Durham
March 12, 2010

This is the most fun I’ve had at a show in a while and credit the crowd. Awesome folks turned out for Reese McHenry's benefit Friday night at The Broad Street Cafe and it truly felt like a celebration. Rat Jackson bass thumper Rusty Sutton has assumed the role of booking the recently night-club ordained Broad Street and has had an immediate impact on the energy of its shows. Flipping Broad Street's dinner and a show two-band-bill-only policy into traditional rock club three and change line ups, this is the third time in as many weeks that Rusty has promoted four or more bands on a weekend night and Friday was six. This was a benefit that easily would have gone to 506 or The Pour House and it felt just as welcome Broad Street.

On stage with The Pneurotics, Mimi McLaughlin said it best, "We love you Reese" and indeed it was a big night for the girl whose friends turned out in force to lend a helping hand with doctor bills. Reese wasn't the only one there who was having an important night however. Headlining the event was the storied The Love Language performing their very first show with their new line up and their very last local show before the eyes of the galaxy glance upon them this week at SXSW.

A new line up indeed, everyone knows the story; The Love Language bass, drums, and organ/synth players Josh Pope, Thomas Simpson, and Kate Thompson formed The Light Pines at the exact same moment in time that Stuart McLamb wrote his album of heart break which would spawn The Love Language. Josh, Kate, and Tom then, in a near unfathomable degree of selflessness, placed their legit glory on hold to help a friend become successful first. From crowds of ten people at Nightlight three years ago to Merge today, Josh Tom and Kate can count this as a job well done and they deserve all the pay dirt that a super charged karma engine can rev up for The Light Pines. Gathering no further moss upon The Light Pines, they are now in tour mode and are no longer part of Stu's band. Stu wasted no time and spared no lemons in making lemonade out of the entire situation. But will it be as sweet as what we have come to expect?

Before we even take a sip there is a bit of "the biz" that just might be vigilant here. As a few of The Love Language folks went in other directions, Stu didn't replace them one-for-one. In fact, The Love Language is no longer the seven piece ensemble which included two key board players and stacked drummers, but rather a five piece rock outfit. This seriously enhances their ability to take care of business. The Love Language is a demand product and has to give as much as everyone wants to take. A leaner meaner Love Language will hit the road quicker and stay out longer. But with every give there is some take and removing two people from the stage means hollowing out on that extra shaky stompy rattling super sonic wall of sound vibe that has been paralyzing audiences since the beginning and replacing master level experts like Kate on synth and Tom on the kit will be no picnic.

The trademark Love Language sound is the stompy marchy big drum bombardment that beats on your head like a mallet breaking the ice away from your inner dance machine and who among us thought that this energy could be generated by any other means than Tom Simpson's flailing arms, legs, and hair? This is the question that gave me a "What the..." look on my face when I heard the news of the line up change. That look changed to a "huh, wow...ok" on Friday as we got the answer in the form of a possessed Jordan McLamb trading in his nearly-inaudible-anyway acoustic guitar for the sticks and basically reissuing a carbon copy of their drum signature. Jordan had been super handy with the shaky things and thundered with energy at the front of the stage but based on his near perfect replication of The Love Language stomping drum beats on Friday night I've got to call this move a net even.

The role likely absorbing the biggest blow is Missy Thangs who ran the piano opposite Kate Thompson's synth boarding. Those two people are now one and the wall of brown sound goodness that Kate's synth brought us is now on Missy's shoulders to continue blasting. Friday's trials came and like a Zen master kung fu artist, Missy transferred the blow with an array of stomp boxes and wattage to keep the wall standing. New recruits BJ on lead elec and as Stu joked "Justin from craigslist" on bass, both proved themselves and all in all the sound hasn't changed. If anything it has opened up a bit allowing more space for Stu's golden ticket vocals.

Alas, Stu isn't out of the woods yet. I've long felt that it isn't just a brilliant album that creates a beloved group. The path to actualization is littered with the hollowed out corpses of brilliantly arranged bands who maintained every element of success except the one that loosed the arrows upon them...chemistry. There was a remarkable charisma with the original group. Together they were strong yet vulnerable, approachable yet mysterious. Their stage presence was magnetic and from the go with the flow chill of Junis Beefmonth to the riddle wrapped in an enigma subtlety of Tom, as individuals they were just as endearing. Hollywood has a name for people like this, they are called stars. I met BJ and he's cool as shit and Justin seems equally as interesting as any of the original line up and so the challenge will be re-establishing and re-selling the character and charisma of The Love Language. I know there is at least five people dedicated to that challenge and they all got in a cold van on a rainy Sunday morning and began a long trek south by southwest, towards Austin, Texas. --Carrboro Ninja

Profiles and Pages related to this post:

The Love Language: myspace
The Pneurotics: myspace
Rat Jackson: myspace
The Light Pines: myspace
The Dirty Little Heaters: myspace
The Travesties: myspace
D Town Brass: reverbnation
The Loners: The Loners (Label Page)