Thursday, August 26, 2010

Album Reviews: Gasoline Stove, Vultures on the Mainframe & The Brand New Life, Brand New Life

Gasoline Stove will appear at the Station in Carrboro today, Thursday, August 26th.
The Brand New Life will celebrate their Chapel Hill release party at Jessee's in Carrboro Friday, September 3rd.

The first album from Gasoline Stove, songwriter Scott Morgan’s new acoustic outfit featuring the nucleus of his seminal country rock band Memphis, feels like the cool Sunday morning following the latter group’s hot Saturday night. And while you might therefore expect to find plenty of regret and sober reflection on Vultures on the Mainframe, Gasoline Stove also know that Sunday’s in the South are often days of celebration and hopeful rededication.

One of Morgan’s best attributes as a songwriter has always been the trust he places in the listener to stay with a song, even if it (gasp!) doesn’t dive into a hook within the first minute. On the album’s opener, “Streamline to Memphis,” for instance, Morgan and wife Shannon sing over an anxiously strummed guitar that continually threatens to break into a furious chorus but never quite does. The effect is one of increasing tension as the haggard voice of the narrator delves deep into his memory in attempt to connect past with present. The song is a suitable primer for the album as a whole. Whereas much of Memphis’ work was built around soaring instrumental jams, the pared down approach of Vultures allows Morgan to go long form with his lyrics. Songs like “Miss Purcell” and “Sunny Day Suicide” read more like lost character notes from a William Gay novel than the glib or scrubbed down image making you generally expect to find in this genre.

Of course, Vultures has a number of more polished radio ready tunes as well. The two songs at the thematic center of the album showcase Morgan’s songwriting talent in more conventional terms. The infectious, call’n’responder “Snakes!” features Morgan’s sly eastern philosophizing masquerading as a stomping spiritual, and the lovely, bittersweet “Love and Rockets” is both a love song and a prayer to be made whole.

Gasoline Stove introduces local musician Anthony Lener to provide upright bass and features Memphis alum Pete Lucey on piano, organ, and accordion. Lucey again figures as Morgan’s alter ego here, adding strokes of color and light to Morgan’s sometimes stark arrangements. As you might expect from a married couple, the Morgans’ intertwining vocals hint at secrets and unspoken understanding even as the songs themselves seem to lay bare so much shared wisdom about love, trust, and forgiveness.

A very different but no less welcome debut comes from the young guns in Greensboro’s free form funk septet the Brand New Life. Their self-titled release is big and lively, balancing balls out bluster and finely turned craft to create a sound that impresses immediately and deepens with repeated listens.

Musical collectives that excel at improvisation can sometimes feel small and cramped on record, but BNL does a fine job here of translating the energy and imagination of their live shows to wax. Most of the members of BNL developed their musical identities playing alongside one another in informal musical projects in Greensboro, so they’re generally able to make their complex arrangements feel like a seamless fit and create the necessary space for each other to shine.

The album begins with the tropicali yawp of “Ra!” before settling into a funky middle section that glides with the irrepressible cool of a 70s era stakeout film. The rhythm section – consisting of bassist Seth Barden and percussionists Daniel Yount and Evan Frierson -- is bold without ever being showy, while guitarist Ben Rayle’s sidewinder phrasing adds an otherworldly air that serves as an effective counterpoint to the horn sections’ muscular lyricism. Lovers of horn driven music will find much to enjoy about the dueling partnership of saxophonists Casey Cranford and Walter Francourt, who provide BNL with its essential voice. Vocalist and tuba player Jared Mankoff plays alternating roles as a devilish shaman who wrily unsettles the more structured works and as a boisterous ringmaster who conducts the raucous six-ring circus swirling behind him.

To call Brand New Life a promising debut album is to mistake the product for process. The young musicians here already possess the singular voice and sound of a seasoned band. Whatever transformations their musical expression continues to take on will owe more to creative exploration than a refining and polishing of talent. --Hidden Tiger

Post Script
Gasoline Stove will appear at the Station in Carrboro Thursday, August 26th.
The Brand New Life will celebrate their Chapel Hill release party at Jessee's in Carrboro Friday, September 3rd.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Album Review: The Honored Guests - Please Try Again

The Honored Guests Please try Again Front Cover
Artwork by Jerstin Crosby

With many of its most intricately exciting moments revealing themselves in deep tracks and late within them, The Honored Guest's Please Try Again fires in defense of the increasingly battered and shell shocked full album release as a worthy endeavor for a band. Album is the dieing king of artist presentation and its borders are being beat back by the energy efficient single and cost conscience EP, the unfortunate casualty is precious narrative which unravels an artist's body of work track by track. Please Try Again is just that sort of response...a start to finish listen which becomes a more meaningful understanding of The Honored Guests with every listen.

From the sepia hued nostalgia textures of it's opening track "Paper Trails" to the built-in falsetto hooks on the outtro tracks, Please Try Again is an epic sweep across the timescape of influence, meandering through seventies pop rattle, alt country sway, and Brit indie coolness all branded heavily with the signature Honored Guests aridly hot electric guitar riffing. A ninety-nine cent dl of what will probably be this album's most celebrated song, "Talk, Talk, Talk"...will invoke chemical tears of happiness with its visceral rush of emotion on the jaw breaking lead guitar refrain at 1:49, but a front to back listen of the entire album will fully lift your feet from the ground for 40 minutes.

Offering an alternating pallet of easy and hard, the album maintains engagement throughout it's journey. The soft and distant haze of the opening tracks comes to focus with a rattling and shaking feel and are first to introduce the album as an intensive study on rhythm section, gears are shifted at song three "No Holy Ghost" and we are reminded that the Guests are a rock band first and they are writers of hooks before that. A full album listen with cuffs on your itchy "next track" index finger will reward you at song five with a gushingly euphoric adrenaline delivering instrumental-only track which inconspicuously begins but ends with you trying to get the last little bit of volume out of your player...twisting it and pushing it like an accelerator pedal infused to a right foot and nailed to the floorboard.

Mid album tracks on Please Try Again are a thrill and worthy of repeated spins, but pure magic awaits deep within. With a guttural low reaching lead riff and grit-filtered vocal mic, "Last Time Next Time" casts an altered hue on it's own little spectrum of the disc and waltz's with an alt country rollicking through the better part of a love sick confession before a dramatically fulfilling outtro plants a heal and delivers a minute and fifteen seconds worth of one of the most beautiful, mystical, and amazing moments in the past five years of indie music, a lofty angelic crooning refrain with otherworldly chiming guitar play. Not to be ignored, "Opportunities" at track eleven provides us with one of the best one-liners of the day, "bar tenders and waitresses with feelings that it can't fix"...reminding us of gravity and pulls the toes back to earth with a deep breath.

Throughout its lyrically masterful eleven song parade of metaphors and tears, the ebb and flow of intensity and dreamscapes on Please try Again render it an album with purpose and may well be The Honored Guests most accomplished work. --Carrboro Ninja

post script
The Honored Guests will celebrate the release of the album at The Local 506 in Chapel Hill on August 28th 2010 at 9 PM with local celebrities Calico Haunts and Schooner.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Show Review: The Whigg Report, 2702 Lawndale House Party

The Whigg Report at 2702 Lawndale

The Durham underground rock sub-culture has an energy infusing movement within its roots which braces the broader fruit bearing branches at campus edges, downtown spaces, and everywhere else troika takes us. Not easily detected in motion and leaving very few traceable signs, the d.i.y. house party rock and roll phenomenon in Durham is quietly extending a meaningful impact on the sub-culture as a whole. Bringing forth excitement and yielding buzz, the movement is rising from the realization that when a music culture is grown by the hands of those living among it, the sense of ownership and pride feeds its growth. With a spade in one hand and a half busted PA in the other, seeds have been sewn in living rooms and dining rooms across town and rock shows are springing up for the harvest.

Nicked "The Layabout", one such back forty is being cultivated at 2702 Lawndale and turning the earth is it's primary resident, DJ, and show promoter Criag Powell who is turning the lights down and amps up a few times a month. Clearing tables and chairs and making b.y.o.b. space in a bachelor's fridge is the formula for The Layabout's show prep and steady stream of new friends is the crop. On Friday last week, the sweet and salty anti anti of The Whigg Report report poured an aestival shimmer on The Layabout with their jazzed up one-horn rhythm section, tore down garage rock drum kit and show-you-how-its-done acoustic-through-a-tube-amp crunchiness. Representing all good time bands for a good time rock and roll show, The Whigg Report may indeed be a perfect billing for a hot summer Durham house party. The whimsical and fun chasing nature of their song writing pairs up with dead serious musicianship for unanticipated magnetism and charisma, but its was their ability to engage the audience playing off kilter and unique anti-folk or by chatting up between songs that kept the mood house-party on Friday.

"The Layabout" opens the front porch screen door for another open to all rock show this Sunday August fifteenth at eight PM, this time hosting local hot rock Pink Flag and two out of towners Eux Autres and Byrds of Paradise. --Carrboro Ninja

The Whigg Report at 2702 Lawndale

The Whigg Report at 2702 Lawndale

The Whigg Report at 2702 Lawndale

The Whigg Report at 2702 Lawndale

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Album Review: Rat Jackson - Midnight Get Right

Midnight Get Right cover art

It’s now a matter of shared faith among all of us – tweedy Chomskyites, Oprahfied eat-pray-lovers, Farm Town enthusiasts – that we can uncover vast regions of the individual psyche simply by boiling life down to a couple of choices between two related but dissimilar items.

You know the ones. Is my stepsister’s new boyfriend going to take her on a six state killing spree? Hey there, Aldo, Beatles or Stones? Do I really want to plan a surprise birthday party with my fiance’s grandmother? Would you say you’re more of a boxers or a briefs gal, Joanne?

But can all this weighty Column A’ing and Column B’ing actually take us to the heart of anything meaningful?

Rat Jackson frontman Tad Jackson faces just such a choice in the opening moments of “Sexy Waitress” when he’s asked if he’ll be having the chicken or the steak. But as anyone who’s witnessed Rat Jackson’s balls out live show over the last few years knows, Rat Jackson will never worry about food when there’s a waitress to be had instead. And that choice does, in fact, tell us all we need to know about the Rat Jackson Rock’n’Roll Band.

Whether they’re dealing with sex, love, rock, sex, booze, sex, or sex, much of what feels exciting and fresh on Rat Jackson’s new debut record, Midnight Get Right, comes from their dead-eye focus on what really matters in love and music: making the heads bob and the knees shake. True to form, there’s no foreplay here. The band kicks off the covers in mid stroke with the call and response screamer “Holler and Jump” before stepping out into the swaggering back alley braggadocio of the title track, pursued by the wild dog slide guitar of lead guitarist Steve Oliva.

Although Get Right’s best track is probably “Summer Hummer” (a staple of the live set and the perfect showcase for bassist Rusty Sutton and drummer Chester Jackson’s skillful interplay of dance party rock), it’s a newer composition “Motorcycle Horse” that really warms up with repeated listens. As a love song to an imaginary chariot of female procurement it exchanges the more comic book dimensions of White Zombie’s “Black Sunshine” for the inspired trapper keeper fever dreams of a ninth grader in biology lab. But even at the heights of their most adolescent fantasies, Rat Jackson always manages to throw out the telling detail that keeps things grounded, as here our hero lothario promises to ply his new woman with round of cider and erotic photohunt.

We’ve known from our cradles that rock is at its best when it’s loud, fast and about fucking. But we tend to get caught up in thinking the answer lies somewhere on one side of an either/or divide. While other local rock bands are busy trying to figure out a clever angle or a new way to dress up to their craft, Rat Jackson walks up wearing nothing but an ascot and a jock strap and gets on with getting it on. They’ve built an aesthetic around the ability to recognize and eliminate these false choices that sometimes blind us to what we really want. And what we really want is a half motorcycle half horse. --Hidden Tiger

Post Script:

Saturday August 7th, Rat Jackson pulls together Red Collar, Aminal, and Reid Johnson at Broad Street Cafe for the Midnight Get Right album release party. Broad Street owner/promoter John Hite comments;
As a warmup for this event, the Broad Street Cafe will be tapping a special cask of of Triangle Brewing's Imperial Amber at 6pm! This strong amber ale has a strong malt presence that holds this brew together. IBUs of around 90 balance the brew which is dry hopped to add an invigorating citrus and floral aroma that linge...

Broad Street Cafe
1116 Broad Street
Durham, NC

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Midnight Get Right Release party details