Stray Local: Debut EP Review

Karmic Fury Records reviews Stray Local's first release

Stray Local, the amazing three-piece featured in a recent KFR show review, just released their debut EP. We got our hands on a copy in anticipation of their official CD release show this coming weekend at Ted’s in Wilmington.

The artwork is light, featuring a blue acoustic guitar on the front and a purple mandolin on the back, both placed on a bright yellow background with very little text. These two instruments are actually beautiful paintings by vocalist Hannah Lomas, similar to paintings and handmade artwork displayed at shows. The design is simple and captures the band’s unassuming vibe.

The EP itself is very much a representation of what the band sounds like live – polished, no frills, unadulterated folk music that isn’t buried under effects. So often a band releases a recording that does not do them justice, and we were relieved that this very much wasn’t the case with Stray Local. The music comes across as a slightly cleaner version of what is already an excellent live performance, stripped of background noise but not of the organic energy of the songs themselves. It is a credit to both the band and audio engineer Jeff Reid for recognizing what the band does well and not ruining it with studio bells and whistles.

The six songs included on the EP represent the band well. “Invisible Man” is the upbeat leading number, featuring guitar, mandolin, percussion, and harmonies in the traditional bluegrass style. It’s a rousing number about a rambler, “in his own town but never at home…the one you ignore as he walks past your door.” Vocalists Hannah Lomas and Jamie Rowen harmonize throughout, including an a cappella chorus, while percussionist Nick Simon keeps perfect time on the snare and tambourine.

“Pretty Little Setback” describes a tempting yet toxic relationship featuring strong and sassy vocals from Lomas, killer blues guitar riffs from Rowen, and a funky beat on the cajon from Simon. It’s here that we get to hear some of the intricacies in the instrumentation that are often lost in a loud music venue. In fact, we lamented that there was not an extended jam with some hot blues guitar from Rowen and some vocal jazz riffs from Lomas, with perhaps even a cajon solo thrown in at the end. When something sounds this good, two short minutes just isn’t enough.

“Perfect for You” is a lilting mid-tempo number that speaks of an unrequited crush and sounds sweet and tender, despite the fact that Lomas laments, “Why don’t you see me, I’m standing right here?” Rowen’s backing vocals are gentle and show off his higher range. He also contributes a solid harmonica solo halfway through the song. Lomas shows the ease of her vocal control here as well, while Nick Simon carries the song with a clean brushed beat on the bassy cajon.

The EP continues on in the gentle vein with a wrenching ballad called “Let You Go,” another number that shines in subtlety on the recording. The balance between Lomas’ and Rowen’s voices is absolutely perfect and they both expertly convey an air of soul-crushing heartbreak. It’s the most somber of love songs, both believable and beautiful, with lines like “You gave yourself so honestly and always loved wholeheartedly…If I could let you go, my dreams would be empty.” If people still made break-up mixtapes, this song would be on it.

Luckily, the tears dry fast once the band launches into “All In,” a fun foot stomping love/gambling analogy. Although the song comes across a bit less raucous on recording than it does live (as it should), it’s still an incredibly fun song that will get stuck in your head. Listen to it and try not to find yourself tapping your foot and singing the catchy chorus to yourself afterward, “Go all in, I’ll double down, I’ll wager something high, you’re the girl I’ve been waiting for, I’ll be with ’til I die.” We dare you.

“Shutdown Shakedown” is a good ol’ fashioned banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and washboard instrumental that is the perfect closer for this well-rounded EP. Stray Local is a band that plays their instruments well and knows exactly who they are. Their debut is well done all across the board and we can’t wait to see what they deliver next.

Stray Local is holding their CD Release Party in conjunction with the Third Birthday Celebration for beloved acoustic music haven Ted’s Fun on the River on Saturday, February 1st from 7-9pm. Check out the Facebook event here.

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KFR Live in Wilmington #7

Featuring Stray Local and Chasing Opal at Orton's

When some of our staff members were putting up flyers for an event in October, there were posters for a band called Stray Local in every store or restaurant window. We’d never heard of them but they already had gigs all over town. A few months later we met another group we’d never heard of called Chasing Opal, and then they too were suddenly everywhere. The two bands shared a bill at Orton’s this past weekend and we thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to review two of the newest – and hardest working – bands in town.

Stray Local began when UNC Greensboro alums Jamie Rowen (vocals/guitar/harmonica/banjo/fiddle) and Hannah Lomas (vocals/mandolin/shaker) reunited in Wilmington to pursue their mutual love of music. They became a trio with the addition of local percussionist Nick Simon. In just 6 months they have played some of the most popular venues in town including an opening slot at Ziggy’s by the Sea and a coveted slot on WHQR’s Soup to Nuts Live, in addition to recently winning Hourglass Studios’ free EP contest. The EP they recorded with Jeff Reid (of Beat Magazine fame) has just been released and can be purchased at shows or select Wilmington stores.

Stray Local at Orton's - January 4th, 2014

We’ve seen them play before and they didn’t disappoint at Orton’s. Lomas and Rowen’s harmonies were tight and sweet sounding, and the trio was obviously well-practiced. In addition to vocals, all three members handled their instruments expertly; Rowen exhibited skilled fingerpicking on his 1946 vintage Gibson and also played some nice harmonica solos, Lomas performed expertly on mandolin and shaker, and Simon was the jack of all rhythm instruments as he jumped back and forth between cajon, handheld snare, and an upright acoustic bass made from a washtub which the band has christened “George Washintub.”

The band plays mostly original songs with a few covers thrown in, and their performance runs the gamut from folk to blues to country. Our favorites were the haunting “Wilderness Hymn” and the sassy blues number “Lucky Card.” These hardworking and skilled musicians put on a great show and it’s obvious that they love what they do. Catch them in the smaller venues while you can, because it’s only a matter of time before Stray Local takes the rest of the nation by storm just as they have done in Wilmington.

Chasing Opal recently arrived in Wilmington by way of Utah and, although they’ve only been in town since April 2013, they have already caught the attention of the Star News and venues all over the Cape Fear region. It’s not hard to see why. Whitney Blayne has a breathy but sweet voice and strums her Takamine acoustic guitar with passion. Steve Seguin manages the cajon with what can only be described as grace, vacillating between percussive solos and gentle rhythm, often throwing up a foot onto the drum to further sculpt the sound.

Chasing Opal at Orton's - January 4th, 2014

While Blayne and Seguin are both skilled musicians, their onstage chemistry and banter is what really makes them fun to watch. Their set was roughly half cover songs and half original songs. While we at KFR prefer original songs, we can’t help but tip our hats to a band that makes Sublime’s “Santeria” sound like a light and airy love song. Besides, Chasing Opal can hold their own when it comes to original songs just as well. “Bad Seed” is a catchy folky number that could easily find its way onto a TV show or commercial and “Six Feet Under” is a delightfully morbid song inspired by Blayne’s love of CSI and the resultant nightmares. The beachy and summer-sounding “Fun” was true to its namesake; the duo threw in some audience participation during the choruses which sounded especially sweet due to the number of musicians who happened to be in the audience. Chasing Opal hands out demos at their shows and you’d be a fool not to take one. Also be sure to check out their forthcoming EP.

In addition to the obvious talent, it’s worth noting that both bands are just plain likable. They work hard but they also support other musicians and their community. They make it a point to attend other bands’ shows even though they’re busy with their own schedules. Hardworking, talented, charismatic, and gracious to boot: these bands are definitely on their way, and we’re glad they’ve come through Wilmington.

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Karmic Fury Records in Encore Magazine

Journalist  published an excellent article about Karmic Fury Records in the latest Encore Magazine. There’s a great photo and a full interview!! Go out immediately and get yourself a copy or read it online at http://www.encorepub.com/welcome/live-local-live-small-136/