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 #2

KFR reviews Brandi Carlile at BAC, Taylor Chadwick Bryan & the Songwriters’ Showcase at TheatreNOW, Axiom at Projekte, Black Hellatones & The Hufton Brothers at Orton’s - three nights of reviews


Karmic Fury took in shows three nights in a row last week (artists: Brandi Carlile at Brooklyn Arts Center, Taylor Chadwick Bryan & the Songwriters’ Showcase at TheatreNOW, Axiom at Projekte, Black Hellatones & The Hufton Brothers at Orton’s) and we could have gone to more! There was just too much going on!

We are also proud to introduce the video companion to the text review. Check it out and read the full review below!!

Wednesday night we hit the Brooklyn Arts Center on 4th Street for the Brandi Carlile concert. It was a packed house. Local musician Mike Blair opened (without the Stonewalls), followed by Andy Hull. Despite our initial disappointment over the lack of a female opener, Carlile’s show was fantastic, much more rockin live than her alt-country recordings.

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile at Brooklyn Arts Center

The show started with an old 78 playing on a gramophone, followed up dramatically by a wall of noise. This show was big. Songs went from soft, nuanced singing to huge, epic escalation. The sound quality alone was amazing. We’ve never heard better sounding drums, and drums that weren’t amped too loud! Brandi switched from acoustic guitar to electric guitar to piano. At one point the band quieted the audience and did a full song completely unplugged, nothing amped, no microphone, just upright bass, acoustic guitar, violin and vocals. It sounded fantastic. During the encore, the crowd went wild for the new single “That Wasn’t Me,” the twins kept on smiling, and Brandi tipped her hat to us at the side of the stage.

Thursday night we went to the Stone Soup Songwriters’ Showcase at the new venue TheatreNOW. The showcase, held on the second Thursday of each month, is the brainchild of event organizer and local musician Susan Savia. We arrived at the show a couple of performers in; while most shows say they are going to start at a certain time and then start at least an hour later, this show starts  promptly at 7:30pm, and anyone who attempts to talk over the music will be shushed just as promptly. It’s a rare delight to walk into a crowded room where everyone is paying attention to what is happening onstage, and you know you won’t be sitting around for hours waiting for the music to start.

TheatreNOW is a brand new building that sticks out in the rough-around the edges neighborhood on 10th Street. Already home to dinner theatre and a gospel jazz brunch, as well as movie screenings, this is a space we can see hosting a lot of community-oriented events. Equipped with tables throughout the room, bar seating, and a balcony all pointed in the direction of an impressive stage, the room was filled to capacity (45-60 people).

The showcase featured three song sets of original music from local artists Mike Adams, David Pell, Skylar Smith, and Brent Stimmel, as well as Paul Obernesser who closed out the evening with a set of his own despite working behind the bar all night. The featured musician was Taylor Chadwick Bryan (also known as Chad Taylor), a 20-year-old college student and country singer.

We enjoy most kinds of music here at KFR, however neither of your capable reviewers would describe ourselves as being “into” country. So we were a little unsure whether we’d be able to give a country singer a fair review based on our own personal tastes.

Taylor Bryan

Taylor Bryan at the Songwriters' Showcase

However, Bryan could have been singing any genre of music and it wouldn’t matter. Several things were immediately apparent: he loves music and the joy he gets from performing is mirrored by the joy the audience receives listening; he can sing, and he’s not afraid to go for it with a big note; and he can write catchy radio-friendly songs. Bryan took the stage looking every part the modern cowboy in a large hat and boots with tight jeans. He sang songs that most 20-year-olds growing up in the south would relate to – songs about girls, driving around, and a homage to “homemade wine and good times” on which he was joined on harmonica by Clayton Cole. Bryan’s acoustic set also featured superb leads by acoustic guitar player Anthony Lowery. The addition of the second guitar gave the set depth and fullness, and raised the music to the next level.

Cammeron Batanides

Artwork by Cammeron Batanides

The showcase wrapped up around 10:00 and we were ready to call it an early night, until we drove by Projekte and saw there was a three-piece band playing to a decent-sized crowd. Projekte is an art gallery/bar/coffee house at the corner of 3rd and Castle that recently re-opened under new ownership. The band, Axiom, was engaged in an epic jam of world music as we walked in. We were immediately distracted by the vivid paintings adorning the walls. The pieces had underlying music themes, integrating guitars and keyboards throughout and invoking the idea of sort of an Alice in Wonderland with musical instruments. The stunning display was created by local artist Cammeron Batanides.

Axiom

Axiom at Projekte

After taking in the artwork, we turned our attention back to the band, who had just finished what seemed to be a 10-15 minute song that featured congas, bass, and solos on both melodica and acoustic guitar. Lead-singer Perry Smith looks every bit the everyman, but he managed to sing in Spanish while juggling improvised solos on multiple instruments. Axiom is a trio comprised of Smith on vocals/guitar/melodica, Diana Zaccaria (Dr. Z) on bass/vocals, and Matthew Waltenberger on percussion. We’ve seen Smith and Zaccaria play before as part of Cosmic Groove Lizards, but we especially enjoyed them as part of this trio. All three members are seasoned musicians and they riffed and improvised off each other for the duration of their set. We also spent some time talking to Waltenberger afterward and he noted that he will be giving Middle Eastern drum classes at Projekte.

Friday night we set out for recently renovated and reopened Orton’s Underground (formerly Orton’s Pool Hall, which has been referred to as America’s oldest pool hall). Entering through a narrow opening on Front St. we were expecting a tiny little room at the bottom of the stairs in which we’d be battling claustrophobia all night. What we found was a huge underground club with tables and chairs, pool tables scattered throughout, and a fairly large bar that seemed to be much too big for the lone bartender to handle. The fact that such a huge place lay in the catacombs of downtown is absolutely amazing. The start time for the show was listed as 9:00, and we found ourselves walking in the door just before 10:30. A few minutes later, the first band took the stage. The opening band was supposed to be Black Hole Jets, but ended up being the Black Hellatones, minus lead singer Kelly Dickson. Guitarist Storm Castañeda launched right into some serious guitar riffs right off the bat, and he was then joined by his brother Kazz Castañeda who was just as lively on the drums. With fearless guitar solos and a larger-than-life stage presence, Storm is not just another guy with a guitar. We were watching the next generation’s Hendrix; powerful yet effortless, Storm played and danced and sang without once missing a beat or playing anything that could be considered ordinary.

Black Hellatones

Black Hellatones at Orton's

At 11:15 the Black Hellatones from Jacksonville officially took the stage, with the brothers continuing on guitar and drums and Kelly Dickson taking over on vocals. Each member of this experimental/progressive rock band is active on stage and not afraid to get loud and in your face. In fact, Dickson spent just as much time off stage dancing around as she did on. The lyrics may have been hard to understand, but the band’s freedom and energy was infectious. Storm jumped around the stage without missing a note, his long hair flying about. Kazz grinned with pure joy as he wailed on the drums.

The Hufton Brothers

The Hufton Brothers at Orton's

This feeling continued as The Hufton Brothers, also a three-piece band with a full sound, began their set around 12:45. The Hufton Brothers brought their share of energy, with brothers Jesse on vocals/guitar and Justin on bass/vocals, joined on drums by Shane Soles. From the sound of their recordings, the band would fit snugly in the genre of americana with some jangly bluegrass undertones. Live, however, the band rocks. The Huftons unleash on their instruments, and the sound coming through the speakers is more punk than country.  The Brothers showcased new songs, which were well-received by the crowd, and they also had a videographer filming the show. From what we saw, it looks like The Hufton Brothers are gearing up for something big, and we can’t wait to check it out. When we left at 1:30 am, the boys were still rockin’.