Show Review: David Lowery and Johnny Hickman Live on Java Blend 5/27/11

Ben Kieffer, David Lowery & Johnny Hickman
In the middle of a run of dates with Cracker and some shows as Cracker Acoustic Duo, Lowery and Hickman managed to sneak in a Daytrotter session and a performance at The Redstone Room in Davenport as well as a Java Blend show in support of Lowery’s first solo album The Palace Guards. Erik and I got to Iowa City well ahead of the 1:30 start time to grab some Jimmy John’s for lunch and stake a good vantage point for the show. I didn’t think that the taping would be a full room since it is in the afternoon, but I didn’t want to take a chance.

The show almost didn’t happen! The guys got to town in their Suburban and towed gear trailer and couldn’t find a place to park near the venue. After a few frustrated laps around Iowa City’s one-way streets they managed to find a temporary spot big enough for them to load in and then they ended up taking their stuff over to the IPR station, so the taping got off to a late start, but for the devoted who stuck around, they were treated to one of the best performances I’ve seen in the series.

Typical Java Blend shows are around an hour and the taping takes a little longer than that. While these are live performances, they aren’t aired live so the artists can have false starts and IPR can choose to edit things if they want. According to the show page, this taping will air on the weekend of June 17th and the video also show up on UITV that week and later in re-runs.

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With both Lowery and Hickman performing, it was more like a Cracker Acoustic Duo show than a solo Lowery show, but this made it all the more fun. I didn’t realize that Hickman was going to be there– Erik and I were joking that we were going to request that Lowery perform the buddy duet “Friends” solo, which meant he had to play both parts! As it was, we got a duet with Lowery and Hickman doing it, so that was really great and reminded me of when I saw the Duo play the Mill Restaurant in November of 2005.

The show featured a few songs from Lowery’s new album and a bunch from Cracker plus a nice Camper Van Beethoven nugget. Kieffer did his usual great job coaxing some stories from Lowery– which, although the music portion of the show was amazing, these stories from Lowery were funny, detailed and a little bit on the rambling side. Lowery warned Kieffer that he feels compelled to answer every question completely, and we got complete answers from a variety of topics ranging from the mathematics to stock trading! “You can edit some of this out,” Lowery said after a particularly deep dive. The interviews remind me of how well-spoken and smart Lowery is and how much I enjoy following his blog 300 Songs, which I recommend anyone follow.

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The music performance was great as you’d expect from two guys that have been performing together since the late 80’s. Hickman’s electric guitar serves capably in the role of the missing rest of the instruments on these stripped-down arrangement. Hickman is the consummate sideman for Lowery– great guitar solos and ambience to accompany Lowery’s lead vocals and classical nylon string guitar. While it’s Patterson Hood who duets on “Friends” on Cracker’s last album Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey, every time I’ve ever heard it live it is Lowery and Hickman and that is how I always hear it in my head.

Well I’ve got the dirt on you.
Hey, I’ve got plenty on you too;
So I pray we stay together all our days.

One of the great buddy songs since “Poncho and Lefty” in my opinion.

Setlist:

I Sold the Arabs The Moon
Raise ‘Em Up On Honey
All Her Favorite Fruit (CVB)
Around the World (Cracker)
Deep Oblivion
Dr. Bernice (Cracker)
The Palace Guards
Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now) (Cracker)
Friends (Cracker)

Death Ships – Maybe Arkansas EP Released – Upcoming Show at The Mill 9/17

Dan Maloney of Death Ships

Last February I reported about former Iowa City band Death Ships– a show at the Mill and a new EP that he was going to release on iTunes. Titled Maybe Arkansas, it was a 4-track EP of some really great guitar rock. I said that it was, “a flat-out charmer– hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testament to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity.”

Over half-year later, I still feel this same way about the EP. Since Dan sent me the songs in order for me to review it, I was one of the fortunate few to get to hear it. Well, except for some tracks he gave to some blogs to post and all of the people to which I excitedly played it.

Last week the EP made it to iTunes and you can download it for $3.96 or Amazon for $3.56.  On a post frontman Dan Maloney made to his MySpace page, he announced the EP going to iTunes and also said that there will be a limited CD run of the EP. He also announced that they were going to start recording a new album next month.

Dan is bringing his Death Ships back to the Mill on Friday, September 17th opening for Ha Ha Tonka. In an e-mail to me this week, Dan said that they had a bunch of new jams he was excited to try out at this show.

I saw Ha Ha Tonka back in September of 2008 opening for Backyard Tire Fire and the then-Picador in Iowa City. They put on a really great show. You can see the pictures here. Since I saw Ha Ha Tonka, they have been signed to Bloodshot Records and released a new album in 2009 called Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South.

Also opening is Iowa City musician Brian Johannesen who performs as Grand Tetons.

Maybe Click to buy Maybe Arkansas by Death Ships on iTunes

Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.

Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.

Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session

Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band

Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP

California Girl Karyn Paige is Feeling Minnesota With The KP EP (Review)

Karyn Paige isn’t the only California Gurl who is turning a golden state disposition into sunny pop this summer, but her debut EP The KP EP is a solid challenger for my soundtrack.

I posted about Karyn’s debut single “Want To” back in July which kicks off her 5-song EP (self released on August 31st and available from her website). I said that “Want To” recalls Prince as well as Jam and Lewis.

Paige, assisted by Jazz Mafia compatriots Joe Bagale and Matt Berkeley, has continued to wear her affinity for the Minneapolis Sound. The electro stew of instruments includes buzzy synths, funky, percussive distorted guitars and frantic 808 beats on the uptempo tracks like “I Still Want to Believe” is clearly influenced by the work done at Paisley Park and Flyte Tyme. “Stay Away Tonight” is stripped down to a rattling drum loop, piano and chorus and takes advantage of Karyn’s vocal prowess during its soaring chorus– in an earlier time she’d fit in with the stable of strong female vocalists that His Purpleness liked to surround himself with.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to let you believe that the EP is out standing in a purple rain, however.

On “Feel Alright, Be Alright” slows things down a bit with gorgeous chiming synths, snapping clave and blue-eyed backing vocal harmonies that remind me of the best moments of 80’s synth pop greats like ABC or Spandau Ballet. When Karyn sings “Everything will be all right, feel alright… no frustration…” we are already smiling and nodding along. The quick and soft flow of Karyn’s rap that recalls Bahamadia is a great touch to this song and shows skills we could stand to hear more of.

The EP closer “Big Top” takes a snap-step-and-spin Motown rhythm and adds a pumping Talking Book electric piano to Karyn’s soaring circus warning. “Look out! There’s a Big Top up ahead.. Remember everything the ringleader said… you know you want to run away with the circus… don’t look back on yesterday…”

You can download this little bit of sunshine from Karyn Paige’s website for $4.95.

Click Here to listen to “Want To” by Karyn Paige from The KP EP as well as her upcoming full length  Hola Mademoiselle.

Click Here to visit Karyn Paige’s website and sign up for her mailing list

Click Here to visit Karyn Paige’s Facebook Fanpage

Click Here to visit Karyn Paige’s MySpace Page

St. Louis Indie Folk-Rocker Beth Bombara Wants Your Support for a Vinyl Release

One of my favorite indie releases from 2009 was an EP by St. Louis singer/songwriter Beth Bombara titled Beth Bombara and the Robotic Foundation. The six-song self-released CD by Beth was a stylistic switch from the pop-folk of previous solo effort Abandon Ship by pulling in some indie rock distortion and edginess that recalled Bettie Seveert. In particular, I love the harmonies on the track “Lights” which ended up on a bunch of my roadtrip mixes this past year. You can listen to “Lights” in the player below.

For her next release which will be a full-length, Beth is taking a slightly different approach describing her folk and blues pastiche as “Jenny Lewis Meets Muddy Waters.” I raise a questioning right eyebrow at this, however you can judge for yourself as she’s included some of the tracks-in-progress in the ReverbNation player below: “Lately” and “Can’t Win” at the top of the list are in a more country-influenced vein. I’ve been playing “Lately” a lot. I like the slightly off-key and off-time darkness about it. “Can’t Win” is a fiddle-adorned honest-to-goodness country two-step! She’s also giving away a another new track titled “Rainbow” in exchange for an e-mail address that continues some of the country-tinged feel, and I think vocally draws a very pleasing comparison to Natalie Merchant.

Beth wants to release this next album on vinyl and has done all of the math to determine she is going to need around $2,000 to get it done. She feels that a vinyl release of her new album is really important.  So, Beth put together a Kickstarter drive to raise the money needed to get the project done. A month ago she asked for some video of people talking about why they like vinyl records and she put these clips in the introductory video on the Kickstarter page. I gave her a clip which she used as well (which would be the first time I’ve put any kind of video of myself on the Internet!).

When Beth isn’t recording her solo music she is half of the duo known as Cassie Morgan and The Lonely Pine. In this duo, Beth plays everything from percussion to toy piano and glockenspiel in addition to adding some really gorgeous harmonies for Cassie. Their album Weathered Hands, Weary Eyes came out earlier this year and they are soon kicking off a tour through the Midwest where Beth will be performing some of her own songs. Watch this blog for more details as the firm up.

Please check out the samples in the players below, sign up for her mailing list and if you feel as moved as I am by her music, consider throwing some support to her Kickstarter Project. She has many different tiers for donation with a number of different “bonuses” from the vinyl release at $20 all the way up to a private show at the $300 and $500 tiers! While you’re at it you can see my contribution to her video. (Be gentle!) She’s got less than 24 days left in the campaign and is less than halfway to her goal. I’d hate to see her have to go back to square one.


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(Upcoming Release) Antibalas – Who Is This America? Reissued on 8/17

I became aware of Antibalas around the time that I was working on a review of the very cool Scion Daptone Records Remixed compilation where I mentioned that Ticklah who is credited with the remix of “How Long Do I Have to Wait” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, is David Axelrod who, among other things, has been a member of the Brooklyn, NY Afrobeat and funk ensemble since 1999.

Antibalas was formed in 1998 and modeled after Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band and continues to maintain connections with members of Fela’s bands. In 2008 the band was involved in the off-Broadway and on-Broadway musical of Fela’s life titled Fela! The musical is based on the events of his life and particularly his politically motivated music career and oppression from the Nigerian government.

Antibalas’s influence from Fela Kuti extends further than just their afrobeat style, they also choose to make their music the platform for sharing their political views. No where is this more evident than their third album Who Is This America? which was released in 2004 on Ropeadope records. The band and label felt that their political and social statements on the album are as relevant today as they were during the Bush-era, post 9/11 period they were conceived in.

The re-issue of Who Is This America? will be on CD and digital download with a new bonus track “Money Talks” and with an iTunes-only track “Paz.” Notably, Ropadope is choosing not to release this album on vinyl. As luck would have it, Daptone Records released a vinyl version back in 2004 that seems to still be available on their site for $20 and has the “running man” cover artwork. Daptone also has Antibalas’s 2007 Anti- Records release Security on vinyl as well. Security was produced by John McEntire of Tortoise, incidentally. Ropeadope will have a special edition package that includes the CD, a download and a reprint of the “Running Man” teeshirt ($27.99). You can get just the teeshirt, too.

Click Here to download “Big Man” from Who Is This America?

Click Here to pre-order Who Is This America? from Ropadope.

Click Here to order the original (no bonus tracks) Who Is This America? 2 LP from Daptone.

Click Here for the Antibalas website.

Click Here for the Antibalas MySpace Page

Click Here for the Antibalas Facebook Fan Page

(Upcoming Release) Pezzettino – LubDub Kickstarter for Vinyl EP

Margaret Stutt who goes by the nom d’cordion Pezzettino has collaborated with Milwaukee-based producer LMNtylist on her follow up to her 2009 release Lion. Titled LubDub, it is a 10-track EP of, well– I guess they are love songs. Well, maybe not all of them are love songs, but certainly they are related to love and appear to be roughly arranged in a timeline of a love affair that is having some fits and starts getting off the ground.

Originally the follow up to the moody, serrated toothiness of Lion was supposed to be a kinder, gentler album to be titled Lamb. In December of 2008 she posted the track listing for both releases on Facebook. When Miss Pezz blew through the Midwest last Fall it would appear that she had already moved into the mental space of Lamb in preparation for recording that album. By that time she had recorded the lead track for Lamb– the insanely catchy “You Never Know” which kind of took on a life of its own with its joyous video and vinyl 7″ release– each with a custom cover done by Milwaukee artist Dwellephant. For that Fall tour she’d already been performing “You Never Know,” “Hunting Season,” and “Falling Down” all songs that seemed fully formed and ready for the album. She also played a new song that was a quick favorite for me– “Where’d Ya Go.”

Anyone who knows Margaret well knows that she is constantly catering to her muse– typically recording inspired fragments of song anywhere and anytime they show up– many songs were written behind the wheel of her now-departed Civic on the long drives between the gigs on tour. It was a collection of these fragments that she gave to Milwaukee HipHop producer LMNTylist who was interested in trying his hand producing some pop songs. When she stopped through Cedar Rapids in January she played me the rough mixes that she had just received. I was at once shocked and excited at what I’d heard– the lead off track for LubDub “Replay” was pretty much cemented at that point as was “Cold Hard Chick.” This was a dramatically different direction for Pezzettino– she had given over to the production and the resulting songs still showed the fun and humor typically found in her music, but now had rhythm and were… funky!

The album pulls from a number of different influences ranging from the Reggae/Dub of the title track, to more the Jazzy “Only One” and “She Deserves” to the DooWop spin of “Replay” to a more “classic” Pezz piano track in “For You and Your Headaches.” Here is a video Margaret shot of a street mural painter that uses “Only One” as its soundtrack:

So, maybe it is fitting that the more mild-mannered Lamb would be quickly replaced by a more determined and immediate electronic release in LubDub. I guess the chops of Lamb will get to spend some more time slow cooking.

LubDub will be available for download on September 7th and on 12″ colored vinyl later this fall. Pezzettino has a Kickstarter drive going to attempt to raise the $1000 needed to press the vinyl. After an impressive week, she has raised over half of the funds and, at the time of this writing, still has over 30 days to go! Donations range from $1 to $1000 and have varying levels of perks at each level. Any donation over $15 gets you some copy of LubDub with pledges over $20 getting you the vinyl and the CD version of it along with four bonus tracks. Other levels get you things like cookies, her dress from the “You Never Know” video, private performance, or the ability to determine the next cover songs in her popular cover series. Click on the kickstarter widget below to see what your options are to help get this great release out.

The fantastically appropriate album art (shown above) was done by LittleTinyFish.

There are two release shows– one in each of her hometowns:

Milwaukee: September 11th at Turner Hall with Mondo Lucha, 8PM
Brooklyn: October 14th at Cameo Gallery, 9PM

In the middle of these shows is a quick run of the Midwest that includes stops in DeKalb (9/12), Iowa City (9/15 at The Blue Moose Tap Room), Omaha (9/16), Des Moines (9/18 at Vaudeville Mews) and Boulder, CO (9/23). Visit her MySpace Page to keep up to date on this tour. This tour is going to be the first time in a while she has toured with a small band– so I’m looking forward to these shows!

Track Listing for LubDub:

1. Replay
2. She Deserves
3. Cold Hard Chick
4. Only One
5. Intermezzo I
6. Lub Dub
7. Where’d Ya Go
8. Intermezzo II
9. For You and Your Headaches
10. I Did Not Use Those Words Yesterday

Click Here to download “Replay” from LubDub

Click Here to visit the Pezzettino Web Site

Click Here for Pezzettino’s Facebook Fan Page

Click Here for Pezzettino’s MySpace Page

Click Here for Pezzettino on Twitter

Click Here for LMNTylist’s MySpace Page.

Upcoming Show: Cheyenne Marie Mize at The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City 7/29

If you haven’t heard of Cheyenne Mize before it is probably because her work tended not to be in the forefront of the bands she was in– at least not until recently. Hailing from Louisville, Cheyenne has been firmly entrenched in the folkie scene there. Supporting bands and artists like Arnett Hollow, Maiden Radio, Ben Sollee, Saredren Wells, Thomas A. Minor and the Picket Line, Joe Manning, The Health & Happiness Family Gospel Band, Ben Sollee & Daniel Martin Moore touring band for Dear Companion. (Thanks to Question the Pop interview with Cheyenne for that list).

Last year Cheyenne partnered with Louisville’s reknowned son, Bonnie “Prince” Billy aka Will Oldham on an EP of duets titled Among the Gold. Among the Gold is a collection of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century standards like “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” Louisville indie label Karate Body pressed an insanely-limited edition (250 copies) 10″ colored vinyl pressing of it and only made it available at shows and at their online store. It is available for digital download from Cheyenne’s Bandcamp Page. The EP certainly demonstrated Cheyenne’s talents and beautiful soprano but really didn’t show her songwriting abilities. Cheyenne will be releasing her first solo record titled Before Lately on September 28th and it will be on another Louisville label sonaBLAST! Records.

Where Among the Gold was steeped in the old-time standards it was made of, Before Lately is more contemporary mix of ingredients. The album is drifting and dreamy– introspective, really.  The album is a very stripped-down affair with very little percussion and utilizes all of Cheyenne’s talents: vocals, violin, guitar and piano. The songs move between ethereal shoegazer-ish production on tracks like “Path” and “Lull” and more direct singer-songwriter style tracks like on “Doctor” and “Not.” Before Lately made an impression on me right away and tugs my disappointment that it isn’t available right now!

Cheyenne is currently on tour and will be making a stop in Iowa City on Thursday 7/29 at The Mill Restaurant opening for Portland, OR band Archeology. This will be the late show, which starts at 10PM and is a 21+ show. Tickets are $6. I’ll be interested to hear how these songs translate to the stage. You can listen to the whole album via this nifty player:

Here is “With(out)” from Before Lately.
With(out) by CrashAvenue

Cheyenne Marie Mize on Tour:
Sat Jul 24 – The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase – Denver, CO
Sun Jul 25 – The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase – Denver, CO
Tue Jul 27 – Czar Bar – Kansas City, MO
Wed Jul 28 – Vaudeville Mews – Des Moines, IA
Thu Jul 29 – The Mill – Iowa City, IA
Fri Jul 30 – Uncommon Ground on Clark – Chicago, IL
Sat Jul 31 – White Rabbit Cabaret – Indianapolis, IN

Click Here for Cheyenne Marie Mize’s website

Click Here for Cheyenne Marie Mize’s MySpace Page

Click Here for Cheyenne Marie Mize’s Facebook Fanpage

Click Here for Cheyenne Marie Mize’s page at sonaBLAST!

Click Here for Cheyenne Marie Mize’s Bandcamp Page where you can listen to Among the Gold and Before Lately.

(Free Download) Karyn Paige – “Want To” from Hola Mademoiselle

When it comes to HipHop I tend to favor the musical pastiche typically purveyed by the Bay Area. Some of this is because I really cut my HipHop teeth on the seminal Bay Area label artists on Solesides (later Quannum) including Lateef, Lyrics Born, DJ Shadow, Blackalicious. In some respects California HipHop is considered a second generation from the early New York days of HipHop and rap, but it might be this distance that makes California HipHop more of a converged sound with funk. Of course these days, Left- and Right-coast isn’t so much a discernible distinction. These days there are still stylistic differences between, say Jay-Z and Snoop but beyond that there has been a lot of cross-pollination so it is difficult to make the same comment about today’s HipHop and rap.

Still, the last releases from Lyrics Born, The Gift of Gab, Blackalicious and DJ Shadow really show a very wide view of their art and I think shows them pushing the boundaries of what defines HipHop.

It’s this cultural and musical diversity in the Bay Area that fosters artists like singer Karyn Paige who, after several years of working and performing with various bands and musicians including the Jazz Mafia collective as well as Lyrics Born (who also worked with the Jazz Mafia Orchestra “Brass Bows and Beats) and Chali 2na (of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli), is ready to release her first solo record titled Hola Mademoiselle which will come out fall of this year. Prior to that she will release a digital EP this summer titled The KP EP.

The releases promise to be a “diverse blend of pop, R&B, New Wave, Soul and Funk” and this is certainly delivered in the first single being offered as a free download titled “Want To.” “Want To” was co-writted and produced by Joe Bagale and Matt Berkeley of the Jazz Mafia with Karyn and to me really recalls the purple funk heyday during Prince‘s reign in Minneapolis– the funky analog synths and beats that were the signature of Mr. Rogers Nelson and the production duo of Jam and Lewis. It is a super-catchy track  and has already made it to two of my car mp3 mixes! I can’t wait to hear the EP and album when they come out!

Do yourself a favor and grab this mp3.

Click Here to listen to “Want To” by Karyn Paige from her upcoming release Hola Mademoiselle.

Click Here to visit Karyn Paige’s website and sign up for her mailing list

Click Here to visit Karyn Paige’s Facebook Fanpage

Click Here to visit Karyn Paige’s MySpace Page

Hiss Golden Messenger Transforms Country Hai Tracks on Vinyl as “Root Work”

When I heard that the next Hiss Golden Messenger release was going to be made available on vinyl I was pretty excited to hear it. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t going to be new HGM songs but an EP to be titled Root Work based on a live radio session in August recorded by Irene Trudel on WFMU. I’d had the tracks that would make up Country Hai East Cotton since 2007 and the album proper came out last year. I was getting pretty hungry for some new material from MC and company!

In appreciation for the general love that playbsides.com gives Hiss Golden Messenger, MC Taylor sent me the mp3’s of Root Work to peruse in April.  “At first, I wasn’t sure about commercially releasing this material as it appears on Country Hai,” he said in a later e-mail, ” but it sounds so good– through no fault of mine, really– that I thought it would make a really nice  limited-edition vinyl release. That particular lineup of the band was special, in that we only played together three times (this  recording was the second time), and it all came together.”

The lineup for Root Work is Slim Diamond (MC Taylor) on vocals and guitar, on bass and lapsteel is regular HGM member Scott Hirsch, Yair Evnine on guitar, Terry Lonergan on percussion, Robert Stillman on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Crowmeat Bob on horns.

The resulting six-track recording is less a re-hashing of Country Hai East Cotton than it is a re-imagining of the source. I think this is partially a product of the chemistry of the musicians as well as MC and Scott benefiting from a perspective two years after the original album was recorded. The fresh perspective seems to allow the band to exercise some light improvisation.

“John Has Gone to the Light” goes from an almost five-minute track to an almost nine minute song. The band spends more time riding the loping dub beat before succumbing to the double reggae-time chorus.

“Lion/Lamb” actually gets edited from the epic Traffic-ish “Lion” on Country Hai down to a just over three-minute stripped down folky strumming guitar and mandolin.

“Resurrection Blues” was a cursing post-death two-beat march on Country Hai. On Root Work it becomes a bluesy sax-driven gospel swagger. The call-and-response makes me think that the Blind Boys of Alabama should cover this version!

“O Nathaniel” is stripped and slowed down to reveal the rich palate of the vocal melody at the sacrifice of the more pronounced double-time Fleetwood Mac glissando payoff at the chorus on. But, on the Root Work version of this song we get a really great guitar solo as the song wraps up that would make Lindsey Buckingham take a second notice.

“Isobel” doesn’t vary much from the original version, but it is clear that MC is comfortable hanging on notes in his vocal making the whole song a more relaxed and bluesy experience. The new mix of instruments and in particular the piano riffing is a welcome development to the song.

“From a Lincoln Continental (Boogie Interpolated)” I thought this Tim Rose cover from Country Hai ended up sounding a bit like a “Digging In The Dirt”- period Peter Gabriel due to the clockwork approach to the instrumentation. On Root Work “Boogie” gets a welcome extended swampy blues workout. The song ends up sounding a lot more like the original Tim Rose version this way.

I caught up with MC last week and the pre-sale is up on the Heaven & Earth Magic Company website. Heaven & Earth Magic Company is the record label MC and Scott Hirsch started for their projects. Their first release was Country Hai East Cotton. The vinyl release of Root Work is a frighteningly limited one-hundred records– each numbered with covers designed by Brendan Greaves and hand screened by MC! The record is $15 (around $20 shipped) and comes with a digital download from bandcamp so you can get 320Kbps mp3’s or FLACs (or just about anything else actually). This is a steal, frankly. If you’re not into the vinyl thing, you can just order the download for a very reasonable $6 or you can pick individual tracks for $1 apiece.

The debate over the versions of the songs between Country Hai East Cotton and Root Work is akin to debating the merits of red versus white wine. Either is appropriate depending on when you’re drinking. I’m looking forward to drinking in the subtle tannins and liquorice notes of the vinyl pressing of Root Work.

Click Here to listen to tracks from Hiss Golden Messenger’s Root Work and to order digital download or vinyl pressing with digital download.

Mike Droho & The Compass Rose – And The World Makes Sense Again (Review)

If you’re looking for some live music this Memorial Day Weekend, a good way to kick things off would be to catch Madison group Mike Droho & The Compass Rose. Winner of the Project M “Reality” Songwriter Competition hosted by 105.5 FM “Triple M” last year (playbsides favorite Anna Laube is competing this year and is still in the running!), Mike’s blend of acoustic pop rock draws easy and frequent comparisons to other guitar-toting singer-songwriters like Brett Dennen and Jason Mraz. Armed with his band The Compass Rose (Ida Pajunen on violin and Anthony Lamar on “vocal percussion” aka “beatboxing”), Mike’s songs on his latest release And The World Makes Sense Again are built on perfect vocal harmonies, surrounded by a delicate layer of strings and propelled with the unique “urban” rhythm.

I find Droho has a very strong sense of the pop hook and the songs stick in my head for a good while after listening to them. The album has a breezy upbeat spirit about it (even if the topic of the song isn’t)– not particularly confrontational– although not particularly edgy either. The songs are well-balanced and structured with great melodies. I think the standout track on the album has to be “It Was Not Me” with its opening horns and foottapping rhythm and strumming. In fact, it was upon hearing this track on Droho’s website that I wanted to hear the rest of the record. This song is available to stream from the Music page on his site. I recommend checking it out. Other songs that stand out for me are “Shame on You” and “Jesus Louise.” There is something about “Shame on You” that reminds me of the pining pop songs of the 80’s (in fact, the chorus reminds me of Star Search-winning band from Minneapolis Limited Warranty). “Jesus Louise” sounds like it might have escaped from a Barenaked Ladies album.

One criticism I have with The Compass Rose as a backing band might be that– at least on the album– the beatboxing isn’t featured enough to be a key part of any of the songs and the beats could just as easily been accomplished with a drum machine. In my opinion if you’re going to use  “vocal percussion” you should showcase it. Where are the Fat Boys-style breaks? On “What Holds You Down” the beatboxing really limits what could have been a song that builds to a driving rhythm. The intro has a stripped down guitar and vocals and you get a sense of building energy up to :58 and damn if I didn’t want a fill and a driving backbeat for the rest of the song, but it doesn’t deliver that promise.

I think that And The World Makes Sense Again shows the potential of what Droho can achieve as a musician and songwriter. This album has some strong songs on it that I bet really sound great in a live setting. The album falls short in some respects, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I think he’s a strong songwriter and one I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Mike Droho and the Compass Rose will be recording a session with Iowa Public Radio’s Java Blend radio show with host Ben Kieffer today. This show is slated to air on the weekend of 6/18. After that show, they will be playing at Gabe’s Oasis tonight. The show starts at 9:30PM and tickets are $7.

Click Here for the Facebook Invite for Mike Droho at Gabe’s Oasis Friday Night

Click Here to visit Mike Droho’s MySpace Page
Click Here to visit Mike Droho and the Compass Rose Facebook Fan Page
Click Here to visit Mike Droho’s Website

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