Sunday, January 29, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW: Cowboy Mouth -- BB King's, New York

So here's something that's going to make all of us feel old: as of this August, I'll have been a fan of Cowboy Mouth for exactly half as long as I've been alive.

I think if I were to talk about how much this band has affected my life (definitely for the better) it would turn into a memoir. I tried to address it here, but it was pretty rambly. The short version is that I am who I am today because of them.

Cowboy Mouth was the first rock concert I ever went to, and I've been thoroughly spoiled every since. How many concerts do you go to where the drummer/lead singer climbs up onto somebody's table while they're eating (why would you eat dinner during a rock concert? Or sit at a table? These are things Cowboy Mouth has taught me not to understand) and harangue the audience into dropping their guard and not being afraid to act like total goofballs?

This little spiel is especially important in the Northeast, and particularly in New York City. None of the cool kids want to dance at concerts these days. 

These are the two big takeaways I've learned from Cowboy Mouth concerts over the years:
  • Standing with your arms crossed over your chest and nodding your head to the music is not an acceptable way to appreciate rock music. (HIPSTERS.)
  • You don't need to be drunk to have yourself a great fucking time. Don't forget that I've been going to these things since I was 12. And that's why I never get drunk at concerts.

BB King's is a good home for Cowboy Mouth, and Fred and the gang seemed please that we were all old hats when it came to the Cowboy Mouth experience.

Fred LeBlanc on vocals and drums -- the human dynamo.

There's not much I can say about a Cowboy Mouth concert that hasn't been said before. The band combines their songs of hardship and woe with powerful life-affirming messages, call-and-response, sing-alongs, ritualistic practices like hugging the stranger next to you at the beginning of the concert, and throwing red spoons at the stage during a certain line of "Everybody Loves Jill" (though that last one is more of a fan tradition.) In other words, I think we should all be glad that frontman Fred LeBlanc chose to write music instead of stumping for a megachurch; his gift is too powerful to be used for the forces of evil. 

And after 22 years of playing 300+ shows per year, it's always refreshing to see that Fred and Griff (the remaining founding members of the band) still have it. To my gratitude, they opened the concert with a medley of the crowd-pleasers from their newer material: "Kelly Ripa" and "Glad to Be Alive" stand out to me here. "Kelly Ripa" is probably the most insipid song known to this side of Top 40 radio, and I was relieved that I didn't have to listen to the whole thing. Once they breezed through the newer stuff (as if to remind us that it exists) the band settled down to the material in their catalog -- new and old -- that was worth our attention. 

Really, the only thing they could have done to make it my dream set-list would be to add "Tears Toward Heaven." I know you guys are gonna read this, and you know I've been requesting it for the last ten years. Just do it already.

Bassist Cassandra Faulconer and rhythm guitarist Matt Jones

As always, I left the concert feeling great. It seemed like nothing could bring down. And, as always, I'm suffering my 24-hour withdrawal. But for that one-and-a-half-hours on Friday night, I got in touch with my twelve-year-old self again. I was like, "How's it going?" and she was like, "I'm glad you're not too cool to hang out with me!" and then I was like "That's never gonna happen. Just wait until Adventure Time comes out."

I took a really blurry picture of lead guitarist John Thomas Griffith. Just for you. 

So really, you should keep an eye out for this band. I made a little playlist in the older Cowboy Mouth entry so you can get a feel for their music. I will champion this band no matter what, and I've been doing that since I was 12. I named this blog after one of John Thomas Griffith's songs. Cowboy Mouth might not be edgy, or dirty, or rough, or mean, or tired, but how many of those bands do we really need? (Lots, because that's who I mostly talk about here.) Life is serious, but that doesn't mean we have to be. So keep an eye on those tour dates -- I promise they'll be near you at some point sometime (as long as you're in the continental US) -- and go to one of their concerts. If you don't feel happy and re-energized I will refund your ticket. (No! Really!) And then I'll suggest you seek counseling.

Cowboy Mouth Official ...and you know where to find the rest.

(New readers! Please help me get to 50 "likes" on Facebook by March! Thanks for stopping by!)

Friday, January 27, 2012

FREE MUSIC: Thee Shambels

I don't really get Southern gothic stuff. There are a few reasons for this: 1) I'm not a Southerner, 2) I may be a little cynical (I mean, I'm from New York City forcryinoutloud), but I'm not morbid, and 3) I had a lame ex who was really into Murder by Death.

And then Thee Shambels, a Brooklyn-based, self-described "folk noir" band landed on my doorstep.

Pictured: Doorstep.

What I'm saying is that their music is really awesome -- awesome enough for me to get past my silly prejudices, and spellbinding enough for me to talk about them here.

And you can get four songs for FREE until midnight of the 31st. All for the price of your e-mail address.

"Baby's Bones" is a fairly typical ballad about burying a lost loved one in Ye Olde Pioneer Times. "The Girl at the Bottom of the World" is a whimsical tune. I mistook it for a love song at first, but I should have known better. "The Road To Hell" actually is a love song (I think?) but the narrator's trouble with the law dooms it to fail. "Jenny Come Back" is my favorite of the bunch -- just because one should always be armed with compelling reasons to abandon the West Coast for the Best Coast (that's this one.)

So what was it about this EP that really grabbed me? For one, I think it's the stylistic diversity among the songs. None of the four sound exactly alike, and that keeps Thee Shambels from becoming too heavy-handed. Also, singer Neville Elder's voice. It sounds like Bourbon and cigars and class. It's enough to make me wish I was a 40-year-old Englishman.

So drink up that Kool-Aid. And if you have any more "folk noir" to suggest that, like Thee Shambels, is not overburdened by gimmicks, send 'em on to me.

Thee Shambels Official, On Facebook

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Even if you don't like bluegrass (who are you?), it's hard to resist The Creak's charm. I mean, look at them. They're so dapper!

The San Francisco-based quintet plays as if they're of one mind. Their humorous lyrics remind me of early Roger Clyne/The Refreshments: beneath those sharp one-liners is some deep pathos. But don't worry about that. They're nice guys. They'll see all those hard times through. Fans of Greenland is Melting should definitely take note of The Creak. Like Greenland is Melting, The Creak incorporates punk elements into their songcraft...and they have a song about zombies. 

That being said, the five of them clearly take their songcraft and musicianship seriously. When I listen to their songs, I find it hard to believe that they're not of one mind. Give 'em a listen.

The Creak OfficialBandcamp

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Concert Review: Jo Wymer -- Parkside Lounge, New York

I've seen too many criminally under-attended concerts in New York and Philadelphia. It's enough to make me want to move to New Orleans, where people actually appreciate music for music's sake.

But then I wouldn't get to see Jo Wymer play live. 

Steve Romanowsky (guitar), Gene Boccia (bass), David Halpern (drums), Jo Wymer (vox)

The band played to a small room of about fifteen people -- four of whom had just played a show at the bar down the street. I wish I had found out their names, because if their music is as fun and awesome as they are, then they deserve to be up here. It didn't help that the Parkside Lounge -- the self-proclaimed champagne of dive bars -- treated its back room as an actual lounge. My first concerts were Cowboy Mouth shows, so the concept of sitting down at rock concerts is pretty alien to me.

But that's not to say they didn't play their hearts out and that we didn't have a great time. I should've known better than to hope I could capture the Steve Romanowsky's serene joy and the Gene Boccia's grins with my little camera. (You can kind of see it in the shot above.)

As a group, the four musicians were extremely tight and, when it came down to playing solos, gracious to each other. (Jo left the stage during the Marc Ribler's skillful solos.) However, they seemed most energetic when performing covers: a smoking version of "Moulin Rouge" and a heartwrenching rendition of "Stormy Mondays." It seemed to me that they were willing to be more spontaneous and playful with these songs than Jo's original material. I expect that as the band continues to play live, they'll build even more confidence while playing Jo's work. And then they'll really be an unstoppable force.

Don't worry if you missed the concert. They'll be playing at The Alphabet Lounge on March 10. And hopefully there won't be any of that weird table service stuff.

Jo Wymer OfficialFacebookG+Buy Living With Scars (which you can do on basically every platform except Spotify)

Please "like" my Facebook page and help me get to 50 likes by March!

(Edit: Added everyone's names proper-like, corrected concert date.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

FREE MUSIC: Soviet Bear and Foul Weathered Friend

An early entry and more free music! This 5-track split, Fool's Gold is brought to you by Tim Browne (Soviet Bear) of the Fort Collins, CO-based punk band Elway, and Steve-O (Foul Weathered Friends) of The Holy Mess, from my adopted hometown of Philadephia. It's available for free from Death to False Hope Records.

Though the two are veteran punkers, Fool's Gold shows their acoustic sides. Alternately contemplative, peaceful, and solemn, both songwriters allow themselves to break free of the two-minute anthem format and stretch out. But that doesn't mean that either of them have broken free of punk altogether. As Mike Ostrov observes on Ninebullets, this collection inhabits a peripheral zone between punk, rock, and your average singer-songwriter-type introspection. And it ain't half-bad.

Therapy (Foul Weathered Friend)

Elway on Facebook, Spotify
The Holy Mess on Facebook, Bandcamp, Spotify

(Press that "Like" button on the right and help me get to 50 "likes" by March!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

FREE MUSIC: Empty Orchestra

In case you haven't noticed, SOPA and PIPA are dangerously close to becoming a reality. Here's Bryan Childs of Ninebullets' explanation as to why stopping SOPA is important. If you haven't had a chance to sign a petition or five yet, now's the time.

And now, on to some free music. Which you probably wouldn't be able to obtain if SOPA/PIPA are enacted.

The first thing that'll grab you when you listen to Empty Orchestra is Stephen Wisniewski's killer opening lyrics. I had a hard time picking the songs to feature in this entry – all of them are great, and you can download it here – but I hope these songs are testament to Wisniewski 's skill.

According to their website, Empty Orchestra is a musical collective from Flint, Michigan. Though many of the background players change throughout this album, the brilliant musicianship is constant throughout the album. Wisniewski's vocals – alternately desolate and hopeful – anchor the songs so that each one sounds as if it's produced by one, cohesive unit.

In terms of subject matter, many of the songs focus on displacement and isolation – except for the defiant “You Should See The Other Guy.” Not exactly cheerful, but if you can't identify with that emotion that it's either been a long time since you were young, or you haven't pushed yourself far enough yet. So give these songs a listen – stream, download (it's FREE, remember?), whatever – and give these folks a home in your heart, and maybe they can find a place to rest on the road.

Empty Orchestra -- Official, Facebook, Spotify

Don't forget to be a champ and "like" my page! (Button conveniently located to your right!) Help me get to 50+ readers by March!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

State Champion -- Deep Shit

First things first. Housekeeping notes: I realized that my Sonia Tetlow post marked the one-month anniversary of this blog! Things have been going great so far and I'd like to thank you all for reading. However, I'm really serious about turning this blog into A Thing and in order to do that, I need to be able to brag to artists and record labels that lots of people from lots of places read this blog. So, if you're new: welcome! If you're not, welcome back! Regardless, please like me on Facebook. I'd love to get to fifty "likes" by March. 

For those of you keeping score at home, this album was featured in my top 3 of 2011 post. I'm excited to tell you more about it now.

But I dunno. Maybe you should just listen to the songs first? Because they're fucking amazing? OK? OK.

Bottom of the Bleak
Old Green Room
Red Dog and Black Brick

This album is honestly the best six dollars I have ever spent (I got the digital download.) Everything about this album is breathtaking. Everything. The lyrics are astonishing, the music is emotionally charged, and Ryan Davis's vocals (leastways I'm pretty sure that's who's singing) are simultaneously desperate and hopeful. When I first downloaded Deep Shit, I listened to the entire album on loop for three hours and didn't get tired of it. Even now, I have to listen to some songs a couple of times in a row. Mostly because I don't want the song to end. Ever.

It's excruciatingly difficult to pick any one lyric to showcase their lyrical prowess. I always hear or discover something new when I listen to these songs. So for now I'll just give you the first verse of "Old Green Room." (Any mistakes are mine.)

Mamma lost a friend over something like God
What his last name is and what he wears on the job
Daddy lost a friend over something like a crime
Or something like nothing, but a dark spot on the mind
And my baby
Sister lost a friend over something like an invitation
That's why I tell her to hold on to the good one's that you're making
Brother lost a friend over something like just kinda fade away you know
But I guess it gets harder and harder changing colors day after day
And I think I been feeling blue
I been feeling pink and yellow, green and golden, too
I'd take a submarine, aeroplane, thousand red balloons
Just to get me back to feeling black in that old green room

What does it mean? I have no idea. And that's what appeals to me...State Champion's music, in case you haven't figured it out, is irresistibly mysterious. And maybe if I just listen to it one more time, I'll finally get it.

Also, their fans are really fucking entertaining but you're not gonna get any of those jokes until you buy the album, so do it.

Though they're based in Louisville and Chicago, State Champion will be making its way to the Northeast in late March/early April. I hope we're all prepared.

State Champion -- Official, Facebook, Buy Deep Shit on Amazon

Don't forget to get me to 50 "likes" by the time State Champion gets here!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jo Wymer -- Living With Scars

I first heard Jo Wymer's music around the same time I first listened to The Alabama Shakes, but it's not for nothing that the two are so close in my mind. Jo Wymer's voice is every inch as clear, soulful, and beautiful as Brittany Howard's, and both ladies know how to play guitar.

But where the Shakes sing songs of Christian redemption, Wymer's subject matter is about the journey she's been through, and how she's just not going to take anybody's shit anymore. Really, it's a rare vocalist who can pour his or her heart and soul into every note, and Wymer is that singer. However, I think where Wymer really displays her singing and songwriting talent is her capacity to explore different emotions. This is not just an album about defiance, injury, healing, love, or lust. It's about being human, and that means living through a number of different experiences.

Fortunately for me (and I suspect most of you,) Jo Wymer is based in New Jersey. She plays there frequently and is starting to break into Philly and NYC. She's playing at The Parkside Lounge in Manhattan next Friday, January 20th, from 9 to 10 PM. Admission is only $3 (THREE), so I'll see you there!

Dirty Secrets
Come On Baby
I Can Tell

Exciting news tidbit number one: John Moreland has a tumblr. Not only is it a tumblr, it is a tumblr with a new song every week. And if you haven't liked the Adobe and Teardrops page on Facebook, get your patootie over there to get the link!

Exciting tidbit number two: As you can see, I've figured out how to embed a real mp3 player onto the blog. Smell ya later, Grooveshark. (Except for those Mixtape Mondays.)
Jo Wymer Official, Facebook, G+, Buy Living With Scars (which you can do on basically every platform except Spotify)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Concert Review: Theo Katzman and Charlene Kaye -- Mercury Lounge, New York

The headliner for this afternoon concert was a band called Shoot the Freak. I wasn't too impressed and, unlike the majority pre-teen audience, I had homework to do. But what that band (a competent attempt at trashy 70s glam rock), Theo Katzman, and Charlene Kaye all have in common is that they're Darren Criss's college buds. I don't particularly care about Darren Criss -- in fact, I don't even really know who he is. But none of the three performers would let us forget about their connection to him, so it seemed worth mention here. It would be unfair to say that Theo and Charlene are riding on their friend's coattails, but they're certainly milking it for all it's worth to their younger fans. Some friends of mine were in town from Germany and were super stoked to see them, so off I went for my first concert of 2012.

Theo Katzman: Preteen dreamboat.

Theo Katzman, who opened the concert, brought a whole lot of charm and energy to the stage. His backing band was amazing (more on that later.) Katzman's lyrics are sincere and heartfelt, his stage persona is goofy, and his music is completely palatable. I don't have much to say about his music: it's pretty basic suburban dude rock music. File under easy listening, Ben Folds. But while he won't exactly reframe the way you think about music, Katzman is adorable and relentlessly optimistic.

In that sense, the concert taught me a thing or two. Your music doesn't have to be groundbreaking or angry to make it "real." Not a bad lesson for my first concert of 2012. I definitely recommend seeing Theo Katzman live -- he's having a great time and you'd have to be an ogre not to leave one of his shows without a smile on your face. Also, his bassist, Tomek Miernowski is a powerhouse. As you can see in the above picture, he was completely thrilled to play a power-pop bassline. Someone needs to give the man his own rock band. Unfortunately (for me) his strengths tend to lie more heavily in some really interesting jazz improvisations.

For some of Katzman's unrelenting optimism, treat yo'self to this:

Charlene Kaye also taught me a thing or two. The first time I saw her was at the Tinderbox Music Festival in Brooklyn. And, to be honest, I thought she was incredibly disappointing. Just another woman with like a million keyboards. Maybe it was the fact that there were actually people at this concert (why weren't you at Tinderbox, exactly?), or the superior backing band (Theo played bass and Tomek switched to guitar) but I was blown away this time. So there's something to be said for second chances.

It's hard to describe Kaye's music. Like Katzman, it's inoffensive. But what really distinguishes Charlene Kaye is the imagination behind her songs, and the worlds she creates in her songs -- for example, a particularly poignant love song on her upcoming album (mixed and produced by Tomek) about a lonely narrator searching for her soulmate...which eventually presents itself as an alien (really.) Only one other song stood out to me, and if you've already listened to the Monday Mixtape then you've already heard it. That being said, it's all pretty great and I'm glad I got to see her perform in a more optimal setting.

But for your convenience, I'll stream it here:

Mad Tom of Bedlam by Charlene Kaye on Grooveshark

Theo Katzman: Official, Bandcamp, Facebook
Charlene Kaye: Official, BandcampFacebook

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sonia Tetlow -- inRetro

The tagline for this blog is "music like your life depends on it." As I pointed out in my first post, the only music worth paying attention to is made by people who live to create it -- regardless of genre. But sometimes, our lives depend on the music other people create. And that's my relationship to Sonia Tetlow's work.

She released a retrospective on December 21 (on 12:21, heh heh) and it's FREE and you should really download it. Right. Now. (PS - I can see which links you go to from this page, and if you don't at least click on this one you'll legitimately hurt my feelings.) In addition to music that costs ZERO DOLLARS you can also download a beautiful artist's statement which is highly recommended reading, music nerd or not.

Turn that frown upside down and download me!

I first encountered Sonia Tetlow as the bassist for Cowboy Mouth (roughly 2004 to 2007, I believe.) I was just getting into riot grrl at the time, and the combination of some serious sister power with my favorite band was a godsend (I was similarly excited about Sonia's predecessor, Mary Lasseigne.) But it turned out that Sonia had an extensive catalog, which I eagerly devoured.

 Her first album, Spit, isn't like anything I've heard before or since. A lot of folks out there compare her to Patti Smith, but I feel like she stands in a class of her own. She came out swinging and hasn't stopped since. Spit is represented on this album by "Anti" and "Beggar, Queen, and Thief." Her second album, Swerve is another manifesto of raw energy and carefully exercised talent. 

That being said, her music from this period is not easy listening. There are some songs, like "Green," that still scare me a little. The intensity of emotion presented in these songs is startling. So you might not like all of her songs at first, but I promise that if you keep listening you will. 

Since my discovery of Sonia's music coincided with my later teenage years, it shouldn't be surprising that I was facing some rather tumultuous times. And that's what I mean by depending on music for survival. It's pretty obvious from the music that Sonia has been/was going through a lot, and the booklet (read it. Really.) attests to that. Without digressing into the personal too much, I was going through my own series of trials. I heard "Open" on a bootleg of an acoustic concert with Cowboy Mouth guitarist John Thomas Griffith and then-guitarist Vance DeGeneres (yes, her brother.) Music really does have the power to save, and the second that song was over I knew it was time to accept myself and come out to myself.


I've taken Sonia (or her music, at least) with me to college, on airplanes, to lonely mountain roads in Japan. When I need to listen to something that helps keep me sane, it's her work that I turn to. 

The two photos on the album cover were taken ten years apart, and I think the differences in the photos are indicative in the changes in her music. To conclude, here's a track from her current project, the "alterna-grass" supergroup Roxie Watson. 

Oh Magnolia

If you slogged through this far, you should really download this CD. All you need is a Google account. And then you'd better read that album booklet. It's as eloquent a testimony to music as I've ever read. Even though we're a week into the new year, I bet that reading it will give you the resolve to chase your own dream, just as Sonia has. So here's to 2012, a year of fulfillment and serenity. Thanks, Sonia.

(And special thanks to Bryce for the tech support!)
Stay updated on this blog and get a link to your very own Monday Mixtape on Facebook!
Hoo, boy. There are a lot of links to dump on you here...

Sonia Tetlow - Facebook (unofficial), Myspace (inactive), CDBaby
STB (Sonia's first two albums) - CDBaby
Herman Put Down the Gun on MyspaceCDBaby
Roxie Watson - OfficialFacebook, CDBaby

Friday, January 6, 2012

Musical Tarot Cards

Hey, gangbusters,

(That's you.)

I'm still trying to figure out how to set a few things up for my next entry, but I still want to stay on schedule. So I'm going to go ahead and steal from today's Ninebullets post and go for some musical tarot cards. I hope they're in my favor...but given the subject matter of most of my music, I'm not too optimistic.

1. "Science Fiction/Double Feature (Reprise)" -- Rocky Horror Picture Show

Who needs lyrics, anyway? I guess 2012 will be a life-changing (and sexually liberating?) adventure!
Science Fiction Double Feature by Various Artists on Grooveshark

2. "This Town Tonight" -- John Moreland

Screw frustrated ambitions. You have to live like you mean it. And as grad school and my grueling student teaching schedule amps up again, I'm glad I have John Moreland to tell me that.

3. "Angel in My View" -- Rachael Sage

I'll forgive the bastardized spelling of a great name. Duly noted: tell my lady I love her.

4. "See Willy Fly By" -- Graham Parker With the Waco Brothers

Okay, 2012. Teach me I need to keep believing in the impossible.

See Willy Fly By by Graham Parker with The Waco Brothers on Grooveshark

5. "God Makes the Rain" -- Cowboy Mouth

And a friendly reminder to avoid negative people and influences.

God Makes the Rain by Cowboy Mouth on Grooveshark

Hey! That wasn't so bad! Maybe 2012 will beat the odds as well.

How's your year looking?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Gum Creek Killers -- Coat of Arms EP

Hey! Did you pick up your Monday Mixtape yet? Also, free music below!

Just in case John Moreland and Shane Sweeney weren't accessible enough for you, here are the Gum Creek Killers.

The band is from Birmingham, AL and is fronted by Duquette Johnston. And if that isn't a southern name, I don't know what is.

My first impression of their EP, Coat of Arms, is that it's highly-polished Americana. After reading this article, I learned that the band is a supergroup of local indie musicians. This influence is most evident in the third song, "Los Angeles," written by singer Janet Simpson-Templin, the "indiest" of the bunch. And that's fine -- after such powerful pieces as "The Shot" and "Tonight," we can all use a break. At the end of the day, what makes Gum Creek Killers really stand out from the pack is their truly passionate, heartfelt vocals.

Gum Creek Killers brings just the right amount of indie sensitivity to alt-country. Their songs are certainly radio-friendly. And I sure wouldn't complain if they write more songs like "Tonight." I dare you to download their FREE EP and not hum that song the day after you listen to it.

Show me some love on Facebook!

Gum Creek Killers official site, Facebook