Saturday, December 31, 2011

SCNP's Top 15 Song in 2011

Counting them up and counting them down, the local squeeze box kept Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill in the comfortable style, pulling in and pushing out hits throughout 2011. Here is this blogger's summation of the best fifteen songs from this year's releases.

name 15. Only One of Me
Greg Humphreys
People You May Know

First I was to say thank you to Greg for this song...its a classic feel good tune. Tongue-in-cheek hilarity, wise cracking hipness, and solid pop sing-a-long goodness give us plans for a song which could have only been drafted my a master songwriter. Greg Humphreys is a local treasure and a few coins were stolen from the chest on this one.

name 14. Empty Bottle
Slingshot Cash
From Aftermath to Exile

I am a sucker for a song with deeply drawn imagery and with the sorrowed plight of the song's fallen protagonist now fully understood after the somber telling of the first line "hello empty bottle, I've missed you" ...we are left to enjoy the rollicking jangle of Slingshot Cash's country rock.

name 13. fight/flight
I Was Totally Destroying It
Preludes - Greyday Records

"fight/flight" is an epic which spans massive builds and monuments crashes, souring choruses and bottomed refrains and it defends a little more ground for the power pop I Was Totally Destroying It upon the predominately alt-country, indy rock local battle field.

name 12. Time Alone
Birds and Arrows
We're Gonna Run - 307 Knox

"Time Alone" is a full frequency face time with the lovable voice of Andrea Connoley. This recording features a few more sounds than we'll hear live...namely a feedback dialed electric guitar and a stretchy organ...for a studio version which amps the energy to match Andrea's shimmering vocals. Quality in the studio also gives the song's fit and finish a time capsule retroness with depth and intrigue.

name 11. Blue Moon
The Moaners
Nocturnal - Holidays for Quince

"Blue Moon" is a raspy fragile eeriness that showcased lead singer Melissa Swingle's most interesting talent; playing the saw. The song's gentle pushing and pulling rhythm is accentuated by the spooky haunting whisper of the saw and creates an other-worldly effect in which to become lost. Found on an album which could have been farmed for several best-of songs, "Blue Moon" is a run-away favorite of 2011.

name 10. The Road to Mocharabuiee
Sinful Savage Tigers
Last Night of the Revels

Songwriter Seth Martin has a witty pen and mind for beautiful metaphors, band mates Andrew Marlin and Seth Barden are ringers on the mando and upright. The Road relates the up's and down's of love in terms that are easy on the ears and interesting for the mind.

name 9. Pills
You Are Invisible

A band loved for their pretty songs sneaked in a blush worthy ep early this year and "Pills" was likely the track that spent the most time in front of the mirror. Boldly made up with the Wembley trademark harmonies and laced with Neven's art crafted guitar riffs, "Pills" gives us more reasons to stare.

name 8. A Day Without Fairies
Bitter Resolve
Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning

This song is rock purity. Starkly emotional and charged with the lung collapsing push of amp speakers being driven to limits and the primal scream of drums being beaten to death. Its built around the desire for rock to be drenched in its own loudness and the effect is honesty and truth channeled through a volume knob cranked to the right.

name 7. The Pony Express
All That The rain Promises - Ramseur Records

Bombadil came back in style in 2011 with a new release brimming with their quirky old fashioned pop goodness. "The Pony Express" is a story teller track that is so interestingly arranged that it hits the replay button very easily.

name 6. Jam Up and Jelly Tight
The Moaners / Jennyanykind Split7 - Holidays For Quince

This song represented a white-hot resurgence of one of Chapel Hill's most charismatic rock bands. Jennyanykind shared a hand in carving Chapel Hill into the greater independent rock map in the nineties and "Jam up and Jelly Tight" delivered one of the best hooks of the current decade. It's hip and confident rock and roll kept the summer moving strong.

name 5. Heartbreak, TX
Magnolia Collective
Ghost Stories

Magnolia Collective's most sincere effort to tell a love or lose story that would be felt in the heart by Americana strings and folk rock guitars turned out a country hit. "Heartbreak, TX" was found unassumingly in the middle of their debut EP but it quickly found its way to the top of my play list.

name 4. Come With Us
The Light Pines
Into The Night

Chilling and dramatic, enticing and suspensful. The Light Pines were pure granulated talent and "Come with Us" was the flame under the spoon. Watching it performed live was an intoxicating breath of beauty and deftness. Alas, after a half-decade long exercise in expectations, Josh Pope broke up The Light Pines and cancelled their headliner spot in The Independent's Hopscotch Music Festival, leaving and empty spot on the roster, and an empty spot in our hearts. "Come With Us" remains one of the best songs released this year.

name 3. I Would Say
The Huguenots
The Huguenots

The Hugueonots are another band break up story that broke hearts. Calling it quits shortly after the release of the self titled "The Huguenots" left us without a benefactor for the gorgeous "I Would Say" ...a timeless pop gem that was dipped in fun and rolled in summer.

name 2. This Goes On
Once and Future Kings
Dead Lions

OFK packages their 2011 album Dead Lions in ocastraic swells lifting front man Jess Henderson's falsettos to angelic heights. "This Goes On" provides the album's best example and does it in a memorable way. Light and poppy key strokes dazzel with poignant guitars and heart spoken poli-sci lyrics for a chest heavy anthem that rewards each listen with satisfying clarity.

name 1. Lament
Mount Moriah
Mount Moriah - Holidays for Quince

This high stakes loving and leaving tale replayed its way to the top of my list for the sheer draw of it's impossible harmonies and engrossing lyrics. In Lament, heather and jenks reason on a higher level with a lucid melody and elgant hooks to deliver an instant classic, and IMHO...the best song of the year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Magnolia Collective - Ghost Stories

Magnolia Collective Ghost Stories

If I were to describe the songs of Ghost Stories on a margin equal to how I listened to them it would read as if "Heartbreak, TX" is the only track on the album. From the moment of the first spin his song has played back and forth, up and down...and heard differently in each direction. The dark, heavy, and sublime melody is the song's first habit forming trip. It pulls and pushes, lets you fall and jerks you back up...a struggle that resolves only with an inevitable submission to the current. Drowning in it's thick and opaque textures may just be the first listen. Sink a few spins deeper and the mesmerizing grip of a hauntingly strummed banjo delicately weights the senses and hastens the fall. Weeks later you may, as I did, become enraptured with the song's provocatively visceral electric refrain that claws with emotion following a thorough vexing of the song's spirit stealing antagonist. Which ever element of this song is heard, Magnolia Collective is completely owning it. This is a Southern rock outfit expanded with a full accompaniment of Americana strings and they've pulled them all down from the wall to fix this song with surly smooth and tantalizingly moody textures.

No shortage of poets found in this seven person cast, every song is penned from a quill inked in the blood of a broken heart and the pages of their album bleed with the memories of lovers past. "Stolen Car" sets an early pace and coins the Magnolia Collective playing style as upbeat Americana rhythms, slinky C&W electric leads, and breezy harmonies. It also testifies for Magnolia Collective's urge to dive deep into the emotions of break-up's, make-up's, and fuck-up's. "Willow Tree" continues the knack for the deeply drawn plot with a sobering tale of the human condition as experienced by those who have loved and lost. MagCo hits stride for a big finish on "Owls" ...a charging waltz that swells and crashes on a grand scale. But I beg of you, don't let this be a six song EP, scratch for the seventh, there is a love song hidden within this album and you'll hear it if you dream steady.

You'll get this album with the eight-dollar ticket for Saturday night's EP release party at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, and Magnolia Collective will be in form for a raucous night of tight Southern rock. When you get to a disc player, go ahead and start on track four. That's "Heartbreak, Texas" and its not the only killer song on the album, but its the one that kills elegantly. --Carrboro Ninja

EP release party details:
Saturday 12/3 at Local 506 with The Moaners and Stag. $8 buy tickets on etix

Magnolia Collective Ghost Stories
Magnolia Collective Ghost Stories

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bombadil - All That the Rain Promises

Ramseur Records

All That the Rain Promises marks Bombadil's welcome return to the studio following their extended hiatus in 2009–2010. For those of us who have loved and evangelized their first three releases – Bomdadil EP (2006), A Buzz, A Buzz (2008), and Tarpits and Canyonlands (2009) – Promises provides yet another album’s worth of baroque ballads, neo-pub canons, and trapper keeper torch songs to keep us warm through the cold winter. Expect standout tracks such as the anthemic indie rocker “Laundromat” and the twilit “Short Side of the Wall” to begin popping up on “best of” lists and year-end mixtapes.

As beautifully crafted as it is, however, Promises gives the distinct impression of a band in transition. As you might reasonably expect of a band returning from a long and uncertain layoff, there are moments here when the talented four piece sounds somewhat unsure what to keep from their past work and what to let go. The overly nice “Flour Water Sugar,” for instance, initially recalls Tarpits’ “Kuala Lumpur” but never quite manages the latter’s romping descent into anarchic joy. So too the near-twee confessional “A Question” is the kind of musical meet-cute that the band should probably put behind them.

That said, Bombadil’s commitment to lighter fare has always worked to clear away emotional space so that their heavier material can hit with greater impact. Longtime listeners will think of Buzz’s “Three Saddest Words” or Tarpits’ “Matthew” as songs that are all the more devastating given the sweetness and light that surrounds them. Reviewers have rightly pointed to Bombadil’s impressive use of vocal dynamics to create depth
and space (the arranged vocal harmonies on Promises, as ever, are rich and surprising), but too few have noted this dynamism at work in their lyrical themes as well – an initial childlike wonder often lays the foundation for a later sobering heartbreak. In a departure from previous releases, however, Promises’ opener “I Will Wait” plays the part of the emotional heavy here. A beautifully spare hymn that calls out for spiritual strength and perfect understanding, “I Will Wait” challenges the listener with a raw humility and divine frustration not often found outside of John Donne’s holy sonnets. It’s an immediate call to attention and establishes a powerful theme for a collective that has been forced to confront – in a way that many others have not – their own musical mortality. All of which must make the rebirth that the rain promises seem all the sweeter. --Hidden Tiger

Post Script
Bombadil will celebrate Promises with a release show this Saturday Nov. 12 at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. The Future Kings of Nowhere and JKutchma open. 9 PM $12 advance/$15 door. tickets

Monday, October 10, 2011

Prevue: Carter Tanton, The War On Drugs - Kings Barcade 10/11

Carter Tanton carrying on like he ain't got a care in the world, and who knows...maybe he don't.

When Kings Barcade reopened last year in the fabled Martin Street upstairs space, the skeptics voiced concern over the spot's lack luster history as a rock venue, having opened and closed under three different names since 2004...but the wise voiced reason that Kings' ability to attract solid out of town headliners will be the difference that stops the name game for 14 West Martin Street. Tomorrow's line-up stands as evidence that the wise were right. Ex-Tulsa front man Carter Tanton tours through town in support of his first solo album Freeclouds which gives us plenty of reasons to make it out on a Tuesday night. Tanton's is a refreshingly talented voice and this performance will be a excellent option for the bar hopping acoustic singer-songwriter crowd who is ready for something more upbeat and original. Freeclouds possesses a David Gray softness with delicate and sophisticated instrumental refrains, but the powerful harmonies are the album's real show. The War on Drugs headline with their signature stripped-naked indy rock loosely covered by a fuzzy ambient blanket. --Carrboro Ninja

Per King's; admission is twelve dollars the day of the show, or ten dollars in advance. Doors are at 9:00 pm, show at 9:30. buy print-at-home tickets: etix

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Album Review: Greg Humphreys - People You May Know

Greg Humphreys - People You May Know

The first couple tracks on Greg Humphreys People You May Know are a delightful journey to a long forgotten era when humor was as big a part of performance as was enjoyable rhythms and a comfortable voice. These songs look back to the smooth and steady bump and thump of acoustic bass, softly brushed drum kit, a tickling of the ivories and a sultry voice crooning into a ribbon microphone for a slowly waltzing room of flapper dresses and pin stripe suits. Humphreys succeeds in a very delicate and elegant style here. The album's lead off song "Only One of Me" is a classic finger snapping waltz possessing fun Christmas song-like cheer which is kept in check with a few quick witted one-liners. The devilish grin in his eyes is evident in the recording and it translates to an amused smile for the listener. And where the former is a devilish grin, the second track "Must Be the Moon" is an evil little wink. Humphreys cleverly orchestrates the ol' one-two as the song's helplessly romantic protagonist leads us away with a chorus singing "must be the moon," just to bring us back chuckling on the ending "...shine," ...an unexpected hilarity within the context of a golden age lost-in-love piece.

From here, Humphreys slowly evolves the album through the free love decades and into modern singer-songwriter territory. "Oo La La" (I Love You) is a shimmering tale of chance encounter resulting in sparks, long walks on the beach, and lots of "I love you's" all wrapped in the haze of a 60's pop ballad aesthetic. "Low and Meddlesome Sound" is the soulful telling of a deep South blues story, beginning with heartache, ending with pain, and recounting sins for all involved. One after another Humphreys leads us through the remainder of the album's softly spoken ballads, each heavily accentuated by experience and brought to life by his smokey voice. --Carrboro Ninja

The album can be streamed and purchased at the artist's Bandcamp page: greghumphreys.bandcamp

Greg Humphreys performing at The Cashbah in Durham on September 18th 2011.
Greg Humphreys
Greg Humphreys

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Show Review: Monarchs, Anna Rose Beck, Jordan & the Sphinx

Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
The Cave, Chapel Hill
Sept 29, 2011

As I walked down the middle of the dark and gritty ally that serves the seedy rear entrances to the four-hundred block of Franklin Street diners and pubs, I noted the mild weather. "Could have brought a jacket tonight." I thought. The heat had finally begun to lower the flag of Summer. It's foot soldiers just days before had gathered in force at every corner of Chapel Hill. Humid, cloaked in vapor, and standing steadfast, they peered over the tops of the tin covered flat roofed buildings skirting the length of Franklin Street and glared down upon the oppressed who traveled in groups from bar to bar quietly protesting the occupation with cut-offs and tank-tops. On this night however, the soldiers of the heat were in retreat and their grasp loosened. A soft breeze rustled the first fallen leaves across cool pavement under my feet was I walked. The streets were soon to be reclaimed and those who diligently maintained life and culture performing during the hottest of days on sweaty out door stages and sticky narrow rock clubs now celebrated out loud with smiles and new found energy. My night was spent with such folk, at The Cave in Chapel Hill where alt country songstress Anna Rose Beck gave redux of her July performance at a sweltering Nightlight and soulful Southern Rock young sons Jordan & the Sphinx emerged from shelter to pick up their smoldering guitars and perform a controlled burn on stage.

Jordan & the Sphinx embody blue collar rock and roll. This is a husband and wife fronted band and together they work hours which I doubt either have, or will ever, count. For seven days a week they punch out late from work only to wearily pick up guitars and punch out rock and roll even later. Playing shows, hosting shows, running sound at shows, going to shows... no matter how tired, they earn their life back after dark and revel with its creatures. At front, Jordan Dupree is a vastly underrated entity. The only thing better than the sweetly formed crunch of distortion from his Peavy tube amp is his deft and skilled maneuvers on his vintage six string. Thursday night's set however, was a stripped down acoustic and percussion performance. Jordan on the guitar, Robert Cantrell slapping the cajón, and Adrienne Christina was shaking a tambourine, laying down Motown-esque R&B harmonies, and for one killer moment....ripping hearts out with a harmonica. The sparse arrangements gave Jordan & the Sphinx opportunity to showcase their best instrument; Jordan. He is vocally set, no need to change a thing. Gravelly yet piercingly clear, commanding range yet happy staying close to home. His louds are soft and his softs are emotional. He is an eyes closed singer...its being drawn from within.

Up second was Anna Rose Beck who is both fun and mysterious to watch. Her arrival to the gigging circuit of the alt country Americana scenes Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh, NC was hastey. Her transition from a senior at Duke having just picked up guitar and plucking it sparingly at open mic, too head lining her own cd release party was the course of a short year and a half, time which consistently moved her forwarded and has resulted thus far in creation of a well known and appreciated brand. There is mystery to observe in Anna Rose Beck's lyrics also. Born in the twilight years of the decadent eighties, her cheeks still glow with girlish youth under the lights of the stage, but her lyrics sing of experiences matured well beyond her years. Mysterious also in her confidence. So comfortable in her approach to a microphone and so underscoring with her hushy middle soprano intensity that you will seek explanation for how one so fair can reach so far.

With youth in one hand and car keys in the other her approach to what ever is next is being sought with just as much fervor. West to Ashville, east to Greenville, and points as far south as Georga have been recent drives for solo appearances. Midway through the set Anna also made mention that she was flying out to Austin in the A.M.

Speaking of the devil...Thursday's eye opening headliner, Monarchs, is on tour out of Austin and breezed through with a fresh and exciting indie rock-a-billy meets vintage swing mash up sound that I fancied is probably what's cool in Austin right now...and if so then they are probably the band which made it that way. Monarchs is fronted by the magnetic Celeste Griffin, a working man's Jenny Lewis...just as talented but likely will work harder just to proove her salt in smaller clubs. This is not to say that Monarchs are a poor man's Rilo Kiley however, if they finish out this tour with the same dazzle and spark displayed Thursday night, then they could be moving onto that block...might be moving into that house.

This is how the streets were taken back from the Summer heat Thursday night. We emerged from The Cave to a vacant chill and walked freely through the darkness up Franklin Street to find the day's last toast. Victory was celebrated at The Station and the mercury was still dropping as we drifted homeward well after last call. --Carrboro Ninja

click to stream:

Monarchs "Arm's Length"

Jordan & the Sphinx "Too Bad, So Sad"

Anna Rose Beck "Begin to Sing"

Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin
Monarchs, Celeste Griffin

Jordan & the Sphinx
Jordan & the Sphinx
Jordan & the Sphinx
Jordan & the Sphinx

Anna Rose Beck
Anna Rose Beck
Anna Rose Beck
Anna Rose Beck
Anna Rose Beck

faces in the crowd
Chris Jones (left) being his normal cool self with Slingshot Cash band mate Jon Ackley

The Tornado pumping cool outside air into The Cave

Anna Rose Beck violinist Omar Ruiz-Lopez poses with Christina Kestler (left) and Jessica Stein just minutes before midnight and his b-day which was observed at The Station after the show.