Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chapter Twenty Three: "Save it for the Birds: Recordings in 2011."

"Save that bullshit for the birds."

That's what Joe Rothman says to Lou Ford in Jim Thompson's 1952 noir novel "The Killer Inside Me."

Year-end lists can be bullshit. I guess my issue with them is that the idea of rating things, putting them in some kind of order, is stupid. I've never been a person that can really participate in the arguments that center on ranking music or bands. When music nerd arguments surface - "who's a better guitarist: Jimi Hendrix or Brian Causey?" -  I tend to lose interest, back away, roll my eyes. Music isn't a contest, and its always a roll of the dice with semantics and opinions, which have nothing to do with facts.
Year end lists do serve the beneficial purpose of reviewing the year and all the happenings and releases. So for that reason, I'm officially going to attempt mine. It's a blog, and I feel a certain responsibility as part of the Universal Blog Organization of the Universe. My budget does not really allow me to purchase a large amount per year, so I missed out on a lot of releases I will probably pick up in 2012. About 99% of these are regional releases, with a few outsiders thrown in here and there. 

The one thing I've heard several writers and opinionated folks hark is that 2011 sucked as far as new music goes. I can't go along with this at all. Every year there is a ton of new music that comes out that floors me. I can't keep up with one percent of the things I want to hear. These were just the releases I managed to get a hold of; I missed a lot I'll have to buy retrospectively, and I apologize to the bands/artists I didn't fit on here that deserve it.  

In no order whatsoever...

*Eleanor Murray  - "Thunderling." (Talking Helps Records): I became familiar with Ms. Murray's music in a very roundabout way, but I'm glad all the pieces fell into place the way they did, because I've grown to love this record. I booked a show for visiting musician/friend J. Marinelli (another member of this list) at The Rudyard Kipling, paired him with locals The Teeth and was told by the restaurant that Murray needed a show that night. We were happy to have her, and I'm so glad we did. Her show was pretty damn amazing. This album is wonderful and I plan on A) bringing her back  and B) buying more. "Thunderling" is a collection of live material from her 2010 album "Oh Thunder". Murray's songs are hauntingly aggressive in their own melodies, and show she is definitely creative as hell. "The Whale," "Scream" and "When a Heart Becomes a Heart" kill me.

[editor's note: have no idea why this switches back and forth from double to single spaced. just go with it.]

*J. Marinelli - "Pre-Skankery Sessions" (Commodity Fetish Analogue): Since meeting and seeing James Marinelli at Goodfolks Fest, I've been a fan. When he moved to Lexington from West Virginia, I was super-excited, and even more excited we became good friends. And he's a prolific motherfucker. Besides playing in Arcane Rifles (another pick here), he continues to crank out lo-fi wonderful solo one-man-band recordings that blow my mind with their naked songwriting and irremeable sound. I believe this was officially released near the end of 2010, but its goodness carried over into 2011 easy. Marinelli has a new recording heading our way in '12.


*Dane Waters - "Dark Waters" (Self-Released): Brilliant winter music from a very involved member of various facets of the Louisville music scene. I just reviewed the album, so check that out for a detailed look into this disc. And GO SEE HER LIVE.

Dane Waters
*Tropical Trash - "Acts of Reversal": It was in '11 that I finally became aware of the feedbackings of Tropical Trash of Louisville. Like the aforementioned Ms. Waters, two members of this trio are from the anchor band Sapat, and have created some powerful music mixed with experimental sound structures and improvisation. Their live shows are intense (as discussed here and here and here). "Acts of Reversal" is the second collection of recordings the band released in 2011, the first being "Docetic Necro."  These two documentations of what I consider one of the best bands in town, and can be downloaded at their blog site, along with another EP and live recordings. The rumor mill chunked out the possibility of a cassette release soon.

Tropical Trash

*Natives - "Loose Secrets" (Rad Tantrum): I walked into Cahoots to see the noise rock duo Lightning Bolt making a rare appearance in town, and stumbled onto a loudness that I think I liked even better. Natives are Louisville natives, and although I couldn't see the band perform, I was impressed by their set, and was happy as hell to hear they would later open for own of my all-time fave bands Man Or Astroman? later in the year. Their debut album plays at 45rpm and is a pitch perfect platter of heavy thoughts and sounds. Them peeps have a future. The album sounds like aloof anger in the forest as a swirl of guitars shelter the vox in an over-cover of reverb. If you don't want the vinyl, go download it.  

*The Seedy Seeds - "Verb Noun" (Eurodorable Recordings):  The Seedy Seeds come from up there in the North in a mysterious town called Cincinnati. I first became aware of their perfect pop selves back circa 2009 during a brief run I had as a part-time sound guy at the The Rudyard Kipling. Of course, I fucked up some of Margaret Darling's vocals because of  a mic error on my part during part of the show. Yet, they still played a set that somewhat set me on my ass, and I've made it a point to see every live show they've played here since. After the show, I apologized to the band, and they scolded me by handing me a tour EP featuring tracks from their 2008 release "Count the Days." In February 2011, the band released this beautiful full-length follow-up. Vocals are shared by multi-instrumentalists Darling and Mike Ingram, and the tracks are swoony pop. Some make you want to dance, some cry, some smile, which is what pop music should do. Check out their bandcamp site to hear and purchase.

*Bosco - "B is for Bosco" (Sound Workshop): Another EP I reviewed in a previous chapter, Bosco started up in Marchish 2011 and have already released two recordings, the first being "Basura Blanca" in June, and "B Is for Bosco" on cassette/online in November. Originally a three-piece, the band has grown into a four or five piece (depending on the show) and create some of the catchiest,scratchiest punk-country here in Louisville. I still can't get the chorus to "I'm Not Sorry" out of my head. Both albums are available here


*Louisville Is for Lovers Summer 7" Series: These were all winners. Well, OK, I admit, I accidentally missed the Bad Reeds/Workers split due to work. The colored vinyl 45s released by curator John King and friends over the summer months contained some of my favorite tracks by some of my favorite bands in the River City. The series leaned toward pop sounds made by Louisvillians and I spent many a late night flipping them over and re-listening through the whole group. Besides the one I failed to grab, the other bands include the Deloreans, Second Story Man, Scott Carney, The Gallery Singers, Adventure and Whistle Peak. All of them were really great, although I'll admit my favorite two were Whistle Peak's "Ribbons" and Adventure's "The Green Is Always Greener," which might be my favorite love story set to song. I know both Adventure and Whistle Peak have full-lengths being released in 2012.

Scott Carney

*Arcane Rifles - "Green Eye Will Save You" (Louella Records): Alright, alright, alright, alright...if I have to admit a numbero uno for me this year it was this seven inch from the shiny city up 64 called Lexington, a former hometown for me. Aforementioned one-man-bander J. Marinelli plays the percussion with both arms here, which bucks and kicks like a wild horse. One of my guitar-singer-songwriter heroes Ben Allen plunges through with the smell of feedback that breaks into an irreligious fight with his guitar. It's fast riffing that's lacerated by Phillip Farmer's mountainous bass. No angularities or footing around and through the genre; this is fast noisy rock. Allen's voice calmly screams at you to "Get Up and Off It" as though that was what you were supposed to have been doing all this time anyways, and I did and do every time this thing was put on my turntable this year. Fucking wonderful. Word I hear is they are currently recording more, which makes 2012 already awesome.

Arcane Rifles

*J.Glenn - "Magick Eagle Ate the Magic Snake" (Position High): I've been pals with one-man-band J. Glenn since I moved back to this city in 2005 and have been a fan of his music since then, as well. His 2010 album "Long Time No See" is one of my favorite recordings from this state, and this follow-up is pretty amazing, as well. It's got KENTUCKY written all over it, and features some of the most introspective songwriting out there. Lo-fi DIY psychedelic banjo-keys-guitars-drums that stab at the head and heart like a backwoods basement toothpick. Favorites include "Laws" and "Old Friends Make the Best Enemies," which to me sounds like a lullaby for a stabbed brain. Hopefully there will be some local shows.    

*Phantom Family Halo/Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "The Mindeater" (Sophomore Lounge): I missed out on earlier incarnations of Phantom Family Halo. At this point, the band almost seems like a supergroup of Louisville musicians: Dominic Cipolla (Dead Child), Neal Argabright (Sapat/Natural Geographic), William Benton (Lucky Pineapple), and Alan the Egyptian (softcheque). The first official release from Phantom Family Halo following the move of half the band to NYC, 'The Mindeater" plays like a beautiful and spooky concept album based around madness its relation to loneliness, which made me like it immediately. Will Oldham leads the vocals on all songs, and is joined by Slint bassist/Wild and Woolly Video-owner Todd Brashear harmonizing on a cover of the Everly Bros. tune "I Wonder if I Care As Much." Side Two of this creation blows my mind a little. A record that can make any moment of the day feel like 3 AM. The Phantom Family Halo has a new full-length recording due in February. 

*Ma Turner and Weepjoy - "My Wheels Are Your Wheels and Your Wheels Are Fire": Ma Turner's latest project Weepjoy plagues my mind with its pointed colors and shifts in songwriting. Turner, also the brain behind Warmer Milks and the guitars of Cross, is a prolific one, grinding out gold and silver psychedelia like a hostile millstone. He's taken to releasing music nearly every other month or so. These are some of my favorite tunes he's put out there so far. The melodies lean into an almost virtuous pop realm, but stray along a contoured line that puts it into sadness and joy on some crumpled map he's following. I swear he touches late 60s country-rock on parts of this album. "Tonight" makes me almost cry.

These are the 2011 recordings I found myself listening to over and over. Definitely looking forward to 2012. Besides those mentioned above, there is word of new music coming from The Bottom Sop, Cross, Old Baby, Kirk Kiefer, and Alcohol Party, and a whole lot more my mangled mind won't let me recall at this sitting. 

Buy stuff. Listen to it. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chapter Twenty Two: "Dane Waters - Dark Waters."

Dane Waters has released an album I've gotten hooked on.

I first saw Dane perform a couple of years ago with the Louisville experimental/bang/boom/everything band Sapat. I've been racking my brain trying to recall which venue it was I saw her first perform with them. I believe the first show I saw Sapat perform at was the now defunct Swan Dive circa 2008ish? Or it might have been at Club 21? My memory can fail me often, no matter how much I scold it. I do remember, whatever venue it was, at whatever date it was, being already blown to pieces by the massive sound Sapat creates. Sapat can get loud once the band heads toward a coup of its own songs and all members begin to chime in for a working finale. The performance, I recall, suddenly swerved left as the band abruptly backed off and there was a voice that hit high notes that somehow towered above the rumble the band had created, making the piece they were performing become a plume of operatic vocals before the group resumed. It basically knocked me over to hear the contrasts together.

It was at Lisa's that I once, in a hurry, walked into a softcheque show, Dane's own band. I only caught minutes of the show and couldn't decide what was really happening, lost in the midst of the thick crowd at the back of the room. I had no idea it was the same person until I saw her perform with softcheque a second time at the Rudyard Kipling with Montag. And it was there that I finally understood the magic of softcheque (as well as the magic of Montag) and their performance and sound and creativity with structures and notes. It was impressive.

I didn't officially meet Dane until the summer of 2011 when we performed together in The Childish, a Billy Childish cover band. It was at this point that I slowly assembled two and two and realized that she was also an opera singer with Kentucky Opera, as well as a prolific singer-songwriter-keyboardist. There was a party one night when we sat in the backyard and compared notes on our love of opera, which in turn led us into a conversation about why opera is so good. We talked the big themes: Love, Lust, Corruption, Evil, Violence, Betrayal, Jealousy and Death. While I can obsess over a song that itself obsesses over a miniscule picture of a moment in time, the Big Themes are my own favorite points of interest in art.

Dane's first solo recording, "Dark Waters," is just that. A complete atmospheric immersion into the Big Themes. Atmosphere is a key word. She creates heavy swirling escapes into moods and the illusions that make up reality. Each song explores different streams of imagination and thought, gathering up and setting down ideas and feelings through lyrics that touch on those Big Themes and their simple truths: Death; Love; Longing; Lies; Absence; Dreaming; Loss; Devotion; Fate; The Chasm of Disagreement. It's all there, like some antique handbook missing on a shelf in a made-up library closed in winter.

Dane relies mostly on her skill at the keys, approaching every song with its own unique sideways soundscape. Lowe Sutherland's guitar appears sparsely but wonderfully in the mix, such as on the opening of "Push," which begins sadly and beautifully. Speaking of the mix, Warren Gray's approach purses Dane's voice with the various sounds into a deep and warm listen, giving the CD a powerful place. Both he and Dane have created a blend of complex moments for each minute of the recording. "Key" begins as a quiet sense of voices singing sadly until the boom of percussion brings the pound of an organ through Dane's voice, which ends it all with the proclamation "And trust banished terror." "Blue" provides a cold piano as what sounds like scraping metal and chains peruse the background, making loneliness sound scary. Which it is.

Dane uses her voice as much as an instrument as the lead melody, overlapping her skills, which are much. If you've never heard Dane sing you need to probably immediately go to her shows. She was definitely born with and has developed something that seems to be able to do anything. Too many adjectives would be needed to describe all the places it goes. She can sing dark; she can sing beautiful. She underlies the ethereal electronics on "Winter" with her voice providing an underlying vocal metronome while she sings of the season and the ocean.

One of my favorite tracks is "Inoperable." Led by a hermited pulse, a stark piano pounds a shooting melody. And of course Dane tears it away with her vocals. "Rappelle" remains ethereal as she mixes French and English, bringing to her style extracts from Jacques Prevert's poem "Barbara."  "Teeth of a Bear" shows the intensity the album goes into, as the synth rises into the listener's ears loudly while she experiments with the dynamics of her own voice and the melodies that can fit within the song. Without a doubt, my favorite point of the album comes with the final acts as "Dream Again" lands as one of the most beautiful places, only to culminate with "Agelessness," a disconcerting psychedelic space cabaret. Based on these two pieces, I can see Peter Berkowitz's mermaid reference to her sound in his interview with Dane.

Perhaps the thing that really grabs me about "Dark Waters" is that is sounds like an album to be listened to in its entirety, which I can really respect at this point in history when many musicians/bands have subscribed to the Digital Age idea of capping together a group of songs that stand alone for download only. Hearing "Blue" follow into "Inoperable" follow into "Rappelle" sounds like a story that should be written down somewhere. And I guess it has been.

Dane with Warren Gray on drums.
Dane's live show is just as intense as the recording, remaining stark, with her center stage, managing electronic sounds and keys with a variety of multi-tasked gadgets. Her voice is so strong, I wonder if she even needs the microphone. I mean, I saw her perform in a production of Bizet's "Carmen" at the Brown Theatre without augmentation; I imagine she could handle a club. Although, live in the club, she mixes the intricacies of her voice with looping and other effects to bring "Dark Waters" to life. When I saw her at Zanzabar on Friday, December 16, I joked with her that she makes it hard to photograph her performances when armed with such a shitty camera as I have, performing completely in the dark. She joked that she should probably have used some lights. I personally thought the darkness added to and fit the music pretty perfectly. 

"Dark Waters" can be purchased at Better Days, Underground Sounds and through Dane's bandcamp site.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chapter Twenty One: "No Fear of Rejection: A Love Letter to Creative People."

In 1998, cartoonist J.Todd Dockery and I sat in an abandoned house on Virginia Avenue in Lexington, Kentucky, and drunkenly recorded a cassette tape of acoustic songs that would later form the basis for our two-piece rock band The Smacks!, an endeavor that would see highs and lows (well, maybe we saw mediums and lows) and last as a live act for over a decade. The Hasil Adkins/Violent Femmes-inspired songs were almost completely improvised and mostly comprised of my bad post-college/post-marriage poetry performed on a hardwood floor in an empty room onto a 1970s recording device used by the late TV broadcaster/news anchor John Lindgren in the early days of his career as a roaming radio announcer. I banged out riffs spontaneously on a series of random acoustic guitars that had been left in the house by our friend Jeffrey Scott Holland, while Todd banged out rhythms literally using kitchenware - a couple of wooden mixing spoons and a plastic strainer and a large metal pot, I believe.

The recording session had been instigated, if memory serves correctly (which is usually not the case, but we all have our realities), in an effort to soothe Mr. Dockery's broken heart, as he was having a particularly bad evening dealing with certain striferies of life that night. Drinking deep from the well of inspiration, and the well of bottled beer and Kentucky Bourbon, we closed the bars down in the Downtown of "The Horse Capital of the World" and planted ourselves in a house neither of us would ever really see the insides of again. The session was a wave of therapy for both of us as humans who lived in a perception of seemingly consistent kicks in the teeth on all fronts at the time, both as musicians, as writers of fiction, as visual artists, as eligible bachelors, and as just plain lonely people who wanted something more than passing out with beer on our stomachs and waking to go to work the next day.  

The next morning I began to cobble together the recordings into a mixed batch of sound bites that were semi-workable as songs, and created what would be our "debut" cassette EP. I titled the "album" a phrase that I attempted to live by back then: "No Fear of Rejection." After years of having a fatalist attitude toward the pursuits of my biggest dreams - playing original music and writing fiction - that time period, and that night especially, has always been an important one for me. One in which I feel like I snapped in the head and decided I would follow those two little dreams I had caught hold of when I was a kid because they were the things that made me happy. And I wasn't going to let a lack of financial support or approval by friends, peers, or lack of career in the arts deter me.

It's a point I sometimes need reminding of.

December marks the official six month anniversary of this here blog, but more importantly for me as again, another swift kick in my own teeth, it marks exactly a year since I stopped writing and submitting fiction. There have been a few pieces of flash fiction I've written, all of which were encouraged by my good friend Marie Direction, host of the local radio show "Keep Hearing Voices" on Crescent Hill Radio, itself a hub for creative writing. However, last December, while in the middle of a short story I had been kneading at for months, I stopped three fourths of the way through, and semi-retired myself.

Part of my decision to do so, I had to admit like a sad sack, was due to heaps of discouragement based on a consistent amassing of rejections. Every week for years, I mailed short stories in various forms to the beyond, waiting for months to hear what the verdict would be. This wait eventually become a guess of what style of rejection letter I would receive: standard form or personally written. I mostly laughed at the amount I would tend to receive per week, and would congratulate myself with the thought that the more letters that came in self-addressed envelopes in my mailbox, looking crumpled and dejected when I found them after work, the more it proved I was still trying and still aiming for a goal I had had since I was a kid.    

It took me a while to come to a halt, but I have to admit that after years of hearing "no" for pieces of work I had put everything I had into, my soul and drive ground down a bit and the tower that I had attempted maintain as a confidence in myself at doing this sort of "art" began to shift and fall apart. I definitely had moments of thinking, "if I just hear one 'yes' I'll be good for another ten years."

That was part of the reason. The other part came from the introduction to "A Miracle of Catfish," by Larry Brown. Like I've expounded on before here, Brown is probably my favorite author at this time; one who has become heavily influential on me. I had started his book in December of 2010. It was the last book he worked on before passing away in 2004 of a heart attack. At the front of my copy of the book, there is a short piece called "Larry Brown: Passion to Brilliance," written by Brown’s fellow Mississippian author and friend Barry Hannah (whom I've since become of a fan of, as well). The chapter basically seems to collect tidbits and asides Hannah wrote of his personal memories of Brown. As I moped over and questioned my skill at the craft I wanted to succeed at the most, I read this line from Hannah:

 "He [Brown] told me and the class that he was disheartened by teaching at colleges and summer workshops he was invited to...He loved talking about stories well enough, but he could not stand working with those who were not given over totally to writing, as he was."

I didn't take this photo. Hubert Worley Jr. did.
In a way, it’s almost a slightly snide comment Brown is sliding under the door there. "You don't love it as much as me." But given my state of mind at the time, my shaky confidence began questioning my own motives and thoughts about writing. Maybe I had not given myself over totally. I work two jobs, play music, watch music, and mix in other extracurricular activities and the even the desire to possibly be around other people in at least some attempt at a social life: the hours can wear away during the day, and the time I did have at the keyboard, I was often unfocused and droopy-eyed. I felt my writing had become lackluster and diluted and that I was not dedicated to it enough. So, I quit. It wasn't a snap decision that I declared to the gods and muses one night in a sad moment drenched in beer, but whenever I sat to finish that story, I managed to talk myself out of it, until I just never re-approached it.

It seems silly to talk about, and this entry isn't actually about my writing. But I have wondered how and when that happens to artists; that point when they suddenly hang it up. Years of rejection, years of trying and not rising to another level at what they do. I know many more musicians than I do writers, and I see this happen in the music scenes often. "Whatever happened to Bill?" or "I wonder why Sam isn't playing around anymore."

I think for many people (many of those people possibly being parents), they chalk up artistic pursuits as "phases." Do the band thing for awhile, but eventually you have to "grow up." This is just an attitude I never have understood. Maybe it's because music and fiction and creativity just mean too much to me to give up. I mean, there are people who do seem to stop at a certain age, but am I supposed to stop yearning to play and sing and write songs at the age of 30 (or 40 or even far beyond) to "grow up"? Just because I've not fashioned a paying career in the field of the arts and make my money at it, I can't seem to ever consider liking it less and not needing to pursue it.

But the rejection can weigh on a person who does take what they do seriously. It's not necessarily a matter of money, although the job factor, I think, can have a smothering and slowing effect, and that I do understand. The pressures of paying rent usually come down to needing something other than the art, which can make the artist push things aside slightly in order to survive. That coupled with perhaps having a family, and time can just become too limited. I do know many artists that have found ways to make this work, but it can be an influence. Work can alter the mindset and sometimes exhaust attempts at trying. I mostly sit at a desk in front of a computer for 8-9 hours of the day; some nights, coming home, it can be a struggle to sit back down in front of a computer and start typing again to dash out a masterpiece.

I also know several people who have given themselves to the pursuit and given up on dealing with the financial support. And this I completely respect, although I’ve never become one of those people. Many of my friends have, and I wish I could dedicate myself that wholly, but fears of homelessness and lack of survival have scared me from it. And I’ve been criticized for that.

Or is that because I haven't given over totally to writing? Makes me question my motives and dedications.

I can only speak from my worldview. When I go through periods during which I've done nothing music or writing-wise, creativity-bound, I feel, well sort of rotten. A little lost. I've often made the joke (especially after a slew of rejection letters or a few bad shows in a row), "well, I can always just quit trying and get all of my entertainment and emotional needs satisfied by watching some basketball on TV." The idea, though, of settling for the routine that has to be settled on sometimes of getting up, going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching some TV, going to bed, getting up going to work coming home eating dinner watching some makes me break up a little.

And I badger myself when I find myself complaining of the job and the exhausted time left over at the end of the day; I feel lucky to have a job and to be able to support myself. And there are millions of other people who struggle with the same thing. So ante up and work at it and stop whining, brine. 

A musician friend of mine recently found himself jobless and made the age old comment to me over the phone while talking about his feelings concerning the whole debacle: "I just wish I could make music all day and not have to go to a job I can't stand, spending my hours there instead at a table writing songs." It’s a feeling I suppose everyone who has ever pursued art in anyway has struggled with (unless they really love their job).
The lack and pressure of time can also maybe coupled with rejection, whether it be in the state of a form letter from a publisher or from an unrespondent crowd. Or even worse, from a vicious crowd. A couple of weeks ago I witnessed the attack of the Sick City Four (that night performing as a trio) by an unruly group of basketball fans who had flooded the bar the experimental jazz group was performing at. My review of the show was posted here. I briefly discussed the crowd's reaction to the band, but learned of other insults that were hurled at the musicians during their set. Another review of the show that expands on some of this (and has the same opinions as I) by is here. Grown men and women making slashing and choking gestures at the group; outright mocking of the trio as they played their way through some amazing jazz, a rarity in Louisville. Some of the University of Louisville fans became vocal and started grabbing microphones to vocalize their disapproval. One woman approached Heather, the trumpet player, to explain to her that the drummer couldn't keep a beat (very untrue; Bart was amazing; he just wasn't playing 4/4 time for everyone to (easily) dance to) and asked them to please stop, then continued to rant and rave outside when the band played on.

Sick City Four

I had witnessed a similar incident occur a few weeks earlier when the post-game patrons entered, chanting "C-A-R-D-S" and expecting to hear the sweet sounds of Shania Twain while they performed their victory chants and talked about whatever fans of sports talk about post game: awesome dunks? car washes? house insurance? I don't know. Instead of a top 40 dance party in red, they were greeted with the twisted but amazing tunes of singer-songwriter The Kentucky Prophet, eventually leading one slurry Cards fan to rush the stage, grab the mic, and yell, "you have the worst voice I've ever heard."

The Kentucky Prophet

Don't get me wrong; I can handle heckling. I enjoy it, and I often respond well. This was far beyond that. And also: it wasn’t the establishment’s fault. I applaud their idea of local music on a night that might be crowded with a variety of folks. To me, that’s the best idea that still exists in America: different groups and cultures colliding.

But, I'm with the Prophet on this one: fuck that guy. And fuck that attitude. I'm not pinning this all on basketball fans, but these attitudes and behavior toward someone attempting to entertain are insane. I personally abhor...let me stress basketball games. The only thing I hate more than college basketball games are sitting with people watching college basketball games. However, if I walk into an establishment and people are screaming at a game on a screen, I don't take my annoyance over to them and demand they quit. I either deal with it, move on, or ignore it. I guess my parents raised me that way; you know, to not be a selfish asshole that lives in my own head. The culture that these people come from makes me think they never "grew up."       

That was a slightly off-tangent rant, but a deserved one.

To get back to my elongated shifty point: to lose focus or even worse, to lose confidence in oneself as an artist, can irrefutably take a chunk out of your being if it’s something you’ve been striving for your whole life. Ill-attended shows or mounds of rejection letters should never wear one down to a point of quitting; nor should lack of time. And it’s a point I didn’t forget, but didn’t listen to in the back of my head. This point was approached and discussed fruitfully at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda this year, as I sat with J. Todd and artist Tom Neely. Sitting in the shadow of the death of comic artist Dylan Williams, owner and runner of Sparkplug Comic Books (friend of both Neely and J. Todd), we ended a long weekend noting how Williams was a man who pushed others to strive, create and continue on, despite the let-downs and drop-backs that can occur in one’s life and head. We all agreed at that time that pursuing the creative plate on our backs was the best thing we could do in the short amount of time people have in this life.

There are slippery slopes and tunnel-visions that can ruin attempts at creative output, and often those things can win over the mind. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a massive amount of creative folks in my vicinity (including my brother Derrick and some of my closest friends who might be embarrassed or mad at me if I name them here) that remind to continue on, to never give up, to maintain target, and to dig out of ditches and ruts. I feel like this entry has been some bland pop-psychology at work on my part, but its bland pop-psychology that was needed for myself. Louisville and Lexington and the surrounding regions provide a swirl of support that I’m happy to yell exists big and loud. Just because some folks at a bar after a Cards game become antagonistic, well, they don’t get it. But there are lots of people that do. And sometimes they’re quieter. But so much more powerful.

Thanks for being my therapy session. I’m finishing that short story. I’d like to sit and list everybody that comes to my mind that I’d like to thank while typing this, but the list would be too lengthy. But everyone who has ever made a collage, recording, writing, photograph, drawing, painting, sculpture, chapbook, onstage joke, played a show or just supported: you folks are amazing.

Besides, I should have read an earlier quote from Hannah in the same chapter in Brown's book last December:

"Fail again. Fail better."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chapter Twenty: "Bosco - 'B Is for Bosco'"

My Mother has chided me often as not being a fan of country music, knowing me mostly for playing and listening to rock and its thousands of cousins. I've tried to make her understand that while I mostly despise top 40 country music made after 1980, I'm a pretty huge country music fan, but with parameters and standards. My taste for Country & Western run old, back when it was called Hillbilly Music, when parts of it jaunted like a piece of cheekbone out of the side of Bluegrass and when it added a bit of Blues into itself, as OK'd by Jimmy Rodgers. Back when it was one of the first, along with Blues and Jazz, to grow up as real, true American Music. Back to the Carter Family, Hank Williams, up into Roy Acuff. Basically, the 1920s through the 1960s there was country music that was, in my opinion, real music. I'm even a fan of the Cowboy tunes of Gene Autry, and if you like punk but don't acknowledge honky-tonk and rockabilly as its origins, then you may not actually really like punk. 

Of course, I'm a John Cash fan, and have listened to so much of him I've almost put him on a shelf for a few years. But the outsider, trucker country tunes of the late 1960s and 1970s are where I get stammery and slobbery. Yeah, Cash and the Sun Records folks before it went from rockabilly to rock and roll; Willie Nelson's retreat from Nashville to Texas to make his own sparse folkish country with attitude, and Kris Kristofferson's "fuck you I'm not leaving so deal with it here's another song" mantra have created some of my favorite albums of all time. Well, and then there's John Prine and then there was the whole No Depression rivets that occurred and and and...gets my fanboy blood rising. I could go on and on. My point is, these songwriters were just that: songwriters, not just song buyers. And for me to enjoy some country music, yeah, I like the sorrow, the heartache, the flirtin', the fightin', the mud the blood the beer. Those elements need to be present. C'mon now and dance all night with a bottle in your hand...

Louisville and Lexington both have always had a good stir of country music-influenced bands brewing and simmering. As always, things run in what Willie Nelson called Phases and Stages; sometimes there are more than other times, and sometimes the country's thicker, sometimes the rock's thicker, sometimes there's folk infused in there somewhere, sometimes you can call it Americana. Lexington birthed a billion such as acts, going back to bands like the Blueberries and beyond. Just in recent years Louisville has seen country music run through its roots in such acts as Yardsale, JGlenn, Scott Mertz, Robbie Cox Band, Health & Happiness Family Gospel Band, Waddy Peytona, Adventure...and these are just ones in the past few years that come to mind immediately.

Two newer acts have been playing about town this last year that I've definitely come to enjoy. One would be my brother Derrick's latest band The Bottom Sop, which I reviewed just a few days ago right here. These folks take their influence from that 1960s and 1970s era, performing duets inspired by the likes of John & June, Porter & Dolly, and George & Tammy. They also head into their own originals with the songs of living and hurt I described above. Definitely an act to check out live. A recording is in the works, too.

While attending one of my brother's shows, I was approached by a former a co-worker from my days at the Comedy Caravan. I hadn't see seen Sam St. Samuel in years, and ended up buying a cassette from him of his new band, Bosco.

Bosco started up sometime earlier this year. I asked Sam when, but I soon forgot; I warned him that might happen after I finished that Pabst I was drinking at the time. The band has two EPs - "Basura Blanca" and "B Is for Bosco" - both available through that link on their name. Both EPs were recorded by Mike Notarro in Bloomington, Indiana, at Sound Workshop Records. Sound Workshop has built a pretty impressive cache of cassette-based recordings, all flooding out of a cardboard box at Bosco's show Sunday, December 4, at the Mag Bar. I got hungry to buy more, and will be getting in touch to hear some of the other groups he's been recording. It reminded me of the cassette-based label freesound back in the late 1990s in Lexington's noisy/experimental scene.

I listened to "B Is for Bosco" on the 1980s double "cassette mechanism" I acquired from my Grandma's attic last year after she passed away. Sam told me I could use the card inside the cassette to listen to the free download instead, but well, fuck that. I like tapes. Out with Michael Schenker Group, in with Bosco. The player is in the kitchen, so I usually do my cassette time making some bizarre attempt at a meal. Bosco, chicken stew, beer, PLAY.

It's a four song EP that I have to admit I was a little wary of at first. I see a lot of bands and get a lot of CD-Rs and while there are several country/folk/whatever artists that I love, there are some that lean in directions I can't really go. There are styles of folk music that people will call country, and are too self-aimed and self-serious for me to really get into. The EP started with a rolling solo piano and my first thought was that the wrong tape had been put into the sleeve. Then fading in and over-top the piano was a pretty, sparse, plucked guitar, and I got confused. Maybe it was the music, maybe the beer, maybe the stew: confusion. The piano faded out, snare slowly slid and lumped behind the guitar, with bass being provided by a cello. And this really beautiful female voice sang slow and sad words about past baggage. And I was into it.


First impressions can mean something, although I don't think they mean everything. This first song - "I'm Not Sorry" - wasn't what Sam had described the band to be to me when I bought the tape from him while we were at a loud bar. He alluded to punk and country and rock and roll and a sense of humor. These words were great; sarcastic, but a little bitter and I pretty much fell in love with whoever was singing it. If the song had stayed at this level, I would have still loved it. The cello roamed up a bit in volume and the singer sounded mournful and while I was prepared for drunk country music, my first impression was to be impressed at what the song was doing overall, instead. Then after that second verse, it got even better. That mournful voice suddenly seemed to get a little bitter, and as the snare started building and quickening, the voice went irefully into almost laughing disdain at whoever the lyrics were directed at as the band kicked in. For the next minute and a half, "I'm Not Sorry" did become a country band that fucks things up and doesn't care. Mud, blood, beer, stew.

The chorus on that first song takes a quality Bosco throws up well and often throughout the EP. As the singer on "I'm Not Sorry" moves from sorrowful confession to a callous and unsympathetic sorted kick in the face, the band began a catchy call-out along with her: "I'm not sorry I'm not sorry I'm not/I regret it I hate it and it hurts a whole lot/ but I won't take it back just because I got caught." That singer, Mary Kate Craig (Sam's sister, and the cellist on the recording), well, fooled me from the start, sounding innocent and sad then unremorseful and made me like it even more. I almost apologized to her for falling in love with her for those three and half minutes when I met her at the Mag Bar, but that would have been confusing, made no sense, and just been weird.


The rest of the tape maintains the energy and attitude "I'm Not Sorry" ended with: an unapologetic catch-all that is honest about bad behavior and loneliness. And that's what I look for in actual country music. Some heartbreak, some losing, some fucking up, and a lot of drinking. It's why I always feel like country music and punk are such close bed pals. Sam takes the vocals the rest of the album, leading Bosco along with Trey Oswald's snare and voice backing him the whole way. "Momma Said" cuts at a gone relationship and just sounds classic. Between every track that rolling piano reappears, rearing in the dancing slap of the songs with some underneath melancholy, which country should have. "The Goose and the Gander"  sounds great led by Peter Bolton's steel guitar and Trey's sticks and has all the elements in place: "I don't walk as much as I meander...and I just can't tell the grass is always greener/but it's still just grass and the money's always cleaner/but it's still just cash and I can't save a dime to save my life." That whole song runs like one big payoff chorus, with Trey and Sam never really pausing for breath.

The tape ends with probably my favorite tune, "I'll Be OK," which patches along with the cello and snare taking the lead and the opening verse setting the tone with "I wake up every morning and wish my demons well/and they just look at me and roll their eyes and tell me I'm in hell." Yup. And goddamn those choruses; they get too hard not to sing along with. Would Dropkick Murphys having breakfast with the Skillet Lickers be a weird comparison? If so, I guess the band can tell me to fuck off when they see me at their next show.          

Bosco's show at the Mag Bar was a good rowdy event. I showed too late for the opening band, and never knew who they were. Apologies. Next up was Pete Stein and Black Tiger Fire, a three piece from Colorado that played its own nicely styled mix of honky-tonk-country with some folk leanings here and there.

Pete Stein and the Black Tiger Fire

This is Jonathan. I bought honey from him. So should you.

I ended up purchasing some homemade honey from the stand-up bassist/bee-keeper Jonathan McCarthy. Don't tell my Mom; it's a Christmas present for her. Made by a real live country musician.

Bosco opted to play on the floor, except for the steel guitar and lead guitarist, who both took over the stage behind Sam on guitar/vocals, Trey on vocals/snare/bass drum, and my pal Sheila on bass guitar. No cello in the live setting. There was the pressure from management that their set needed to end by midnightish to start karaoke, which seemed a little silly to me. Karaoke is fun and all; live music is funner.


It was pretty energetic. The band knocked through a few songs I had never heard, hitting some of the tunes on the "B Is for Bosco" tape. They lined their backline with about 17 PBRs, took shots throughout the set, and nailed the songs. There was some tension as the clock ticked and they tried to cram as many tunes in as they could while the crowd yelled and danced. But that's country. And punk. And rock. And live music. And why it's so good.

Bosco is playing at Baxter's on Monday, January 16, with Trophy Wives and Late Ones. If I understand things correctly, The Bottom Sop should be on the bill, as well, making it even more awesome.

This has been my first record review on this blog. I need an editor.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chapter Nineteen: "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music: Sick City 4. Opposable Thumbs. The Bottom Sop."


Apparently after Cropped Out Fest in November, I decided to take a vacation from writing here, and within that vacation, I got lost somewhere in time. I've been to what feels like a thousand shows, but between the minutes of personal life and the zany idea that I can maintain two jobs, as well as engage in other extra-curricular activities, American Gloam got slow on its upkeep.

The original idea of the Gloam concept was to cover and feature local writing, as well as underground/independent and/or regional music and film. Lately, I seem to have been fixated on music more than anything else. The balance gets heavy on one end often. I plan on offering an essay on my current position towards my personal relationship with "writing fiction" soon; until then, my head is still stuck in a bar watching a band. And I don't consider that a bad thing.

That being said, my addiction to live music is still liberally strong. I've been to more shows than I've been able to document here, but since I consider this a place to record happenings that I see and hear, I'll start with What I Did This Weekend, and move on from there. Instead of logging a massive amount of shows at once, as I've done in the past, I plan on trying to capture smaller amounts more quickly.

I feel like I'm writing my own mission statement to myself right now. It's rainy and The Cold is setting in, so my mood and mental capacity can be slightly on the run. Plus, the onslaught of holiday seasons always play tricks on my brain and time.

Besides all that, I fed my addiction well this past weekend, and it will resonate into two entries. Here be the first.

Sick City 4 Minus 1. Opposable Thumbs @ Harley's Main Street Tavern. Friday December 2.

Friday fell into an unfortunate routine that I sometimes develop; exhausted from working all week, I came home in a rainy rush hour, looked at the Internet for too many minutes, and crashed on my bed until about 8:30pm, only to wake up, realize I had slept too long, feed my cat, and rush out the door to catch the events I had planned on attending.

Morning-bleary-eyed at 9:30 in the evening sort of sucks, but I was fully awake when I realized that Harley's in Downtown Louisville was surrounded by blocks of cars due to the University of Louisville basketball game being held at the Yum Center. Not being a fan of either basketball, basketball fans, or the Yum Center's idea of parking, I finally found a spot on Fifth, several blocks from Harley's. I was almost hit by a Giant SUV backing its way up a block for some Very Important Reason, I'm sure. Seems pretty common for visitors into the Downtown area to make up their own road rules, so I was able to swing with this and avoid being crushed or dying.

I've attended a show at Harley's before during game time. The interaction between bands, band fans and U of L fans is interesting. Until the game ends, Harley's resembles a sports bar; people who did not pay to watch the game live at the Yum Center crowd at the bar or at tables scattered throughout watching and yelling, booing and clapping at the TVs. Everyone is decked in red, sporting their best new Cardinals sweatshirt. Being that Harley's is located almost immediately across the street from the Yum Center, it and every other establishment on that block of Main St are deluged with Cardinal fans following the game. The streets actually become extremely crowded and almost difficult to navigate, which makes Louisville seem like a bustling bigger city at 10pm, and while I don't swing with the sports crowd, I enjoy the crowding of Downtown.

In a sense, despite not really enjoying sports fans obsessions (I can cite reasons why, but that would become a longer unrelated essay), I dig the scene Harley's has begun to maintain. The strange mix of culture that has occurred at the two shows I've been to is pretty priceless and I've appreciated it at both shows I've been to so far, and look forward to future shows there. The space becomes swamped with folks at that 10pm hour with two different crowds: the basketball fans and the music fans. I've always like the weird social scene that can be created with the mix of different interests and crowds, and witnessed this for the first time at the Epic Wish Show staged by The Kentucky Prophet, The Frequent Sea and Madame Machine on November 11, 2011. The mix was just as fun as Sick City Four took the corner and began on December 2.

This incarnation was actually billed as Sick City Four Minus One, as guitarist Chris Willems was unable to attend. I realized I was completely unfamiliar with Sick City Four, and ashamed and disappointed for that. Upon my moving back to Louisville in 2005, I had really hoped to find some jazz in the city. There were jazz elements in many musical projects I've seen, but Sick City Four represent a band I've been wanting to see for years now. Bart Galloway on drums, Dan Willems on sax and Heather Floyd on trumpet, wonderfully performing various forms of free or experimental jazz. Galloway's drums swung everywhere from loud quiet loud followable beats to rhythms that were complicated explosions. This combined with Willems' strong sax piercing through and Floyd pacing herself into certain refrains, supporting only to then take the lead, and then both horns sliding off of each other...I was in a few minutes of heaven. I haven't seen live jazz since visiting New Orleans in January.

Sick City Four Minus One

I listen to a lot of jazz and love jazz, but am not good at describing jazz, so I know any attempt at a particulars on my part would not do the group justice. Afterwards I asked both Heather and Dan when they might play again, because I definitely want to be there to see/hear it.

The quartet started in 1987 in Bloomington, Indiana, and relocated to Louisville in 1995. I'm not aware of any available recordings, but the link above leads to some live downloads that are pretty amazing.
A fan dances?
As Sick City Four played, the odd contrast of an experimental jazz trio and the bar packed with U of L fans became glaring. Some seemed interested, some left in disgust when they realized this was the type of entertainment Harley's was offering them. But that's what makes a city interesting; I'm sure two or three bars down, there would be some type of entertainment some might find more to their taste. Some stayed and listened to this music as it poured out the open door onto the sidewalk. The reactions were intriguing.

It was during this set that one basketball fan walked up to me while I snapped pictures of the band.

"You gonna post those on the Internet."
"Not sure. Maybe," I said.
"You should. Maybe some kid in Africa will learn what jazz is in Louisville. How else would he know if you don't post it?"
"I guess you're right," I mumbled, a little confused.
"But, I have to say, the thing that is capturing my attention more than anything are the huge tits on that girl over there in the red sweater."
"Hm. Maybe you should ask her out instead of telling me about it."
"You think? Maybe you're right. They're like huge cherry bombs. Good advice, thanks!" And he patted me on the back and gave me a thumbs up as he walked in her direction.

Sexist? Yes. Fucked up? Yes. Again: a weird mix of peoples.

A summation of the crowd's behavior that night is pretty dead on here at The Death of Everything.

Opposable Thumbs are a five-piece punk band based here in Louisville featuring members from several other bands of the past that I've been fans of for years. Eric Supplee, guitarist from Activated Peat, Whiskey Dick and more recently Bad Blood, described the band to some open-minded basketball fans outside as "a rock and roll band that can play 10 or 12 songs in 20 minutes...yeah, it's fast rock and roll."

Opposable Thumbs

The band recently added Andy Matter on drums, someone I've known and played music with for many, many years, and can definitely bust the drums. It's great to see Terri playing bass again. The band has an interesting sound with Bill Montgomery on synths, used to give some driving effects to garagey-punk in the songs. Eric was right: good fast rock and roll, led by vocalist Jeremy, who jumped and whooped and hollered out into the tables while the band played on.

I'm not aware of any available recordings from the band other than those on the site linked above. They have a show coming up January 7, 2012 at the Rudyard Kipling with the Vibrolas and Technology Vs. Horse.  

The night ended with less U of L fans and more music fans leftover.

The Bottom Sop. Katie Martin @ The Taproom. Saturday December 3.

Saturday night was special for a couple of reasons. It was the 26th Annual Bardstown Road Aglow, which takes place in the Louisville Highlands every year in the holiday season. The event starts at dusk, and features art openings and (as usual) live music scattered throughout the Highlands area in an effort to lure shoppers to the local businesses located in the district.

It also happened to be my Dad's birthday, who was out and about watching some music with my Mom, and kicking the asses of twentysomethings foolish enough to challenge him in a game of pool in the backroom of the Taproom.

A family affair all-around, my brother Derrick Manley's country band The Bottom Sop played three sets during the event at the Taproom. Each set saw a different crowd, as shoppers and revelers stopped, sat, drank, watched and eventually danced and/or sung along.
The Bottom Sop

The Bottom Sop mix country music from the 1950s through the 1970s with originals. It's definitely a straight-country music outfit, with the vocals being led by Derrick and Lindsay Brooke Anderson. Many of the songs are duets, including such covers as "Jackson" by Johnny Cash and June Carter, and "Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man" by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. One of my favorites they perform is the Conway Twitty tune "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music." Pretty perfect rendition of it, too.

The band also features Nick Beach on drums and Jackie Railtrain on bass. Kenn Allday plays lead guitar, although he wasn't able to make the first two sets that night.

Listening to The Bottom Sop makes me feel like I walked into a honky-tonk circa 1973. I get the feeling most of the crowd watching that night had not seen them before, and many sat humming along with the songs, or clapping in rhythm with the band. If there's one thing my brother knows, it's country music, and he and the whole band can deliver. Lindsey's vocals matched with his unfold into each song so well, they almost match old recordings. I overheard several people in the crowd bring up how beautiful their voices were together, as well as how tight the band was. They shoot for an era of country that is one of my favorites, with songs about flirtin', drinkin', and heartache. And they do it well.

Plus, they got my Mom and Dad to cut a rug, which I don't think I've seen in years.

The Bottom Sop were handing out live recordings on CD-R. I believe they have plans to record a full-length studio album soon. They are the new house band on Monday nights at Baxter's, and often play Derrick's open-mic night at the Taproom on Wednesday nights.

Traveling musician Katie Martin also played two solo acoustic sets that night. I haven't seen anyone work some acoustic fingertapping-harmonics so well into songs since, well I don't know. Martin mixed folk and blues and rock and solo into her guitar and voice. She's from the South, via Alabama and Georgia, and added some nice diversity into the set.
Katie Martin

That was Friday, and that was Saturday. Next: Sunday, and my first real record review! Hold on to your hats.