Click titles to see reviews on separate pages.
The core of Brothers Egg consists of brothers Jamie Eggleston (vocals, guitar, piano, banjo) and Hunter Eggleston (mandolin, vocals), and Suzanna Crist (violin, vocals). The three are joined by a cast of solid musicians, including their father Dave Eggleston on drums. Both Eggleston brothers began as drummers before leaning toward string instruments and expanding musical styles that lead to the founding of Brothers Egg.
The title track, “Bleeding Slow,” is probably my favorite track, featuring Hunter Eggleston’s steady mandolin riff weaving throughout, along with harmonica that sounds like a train whistle, driving bass, and banjo. Lead singer Jamie Eggleston delivers his lines with passionate urgency, assisted by some nice harmonies throughout. The instrumentation on “Bleeding Slow” is lush and as close to rock as one can come armed with mandolins and banjos.
“Moonbeat” highlights a catchy fiddle/mandolin melody and three part harmonies, with a lilting beat like ocean waves. The lyrics are based on a poem written by Jenny Eggleston, mother of the Eggleston brothers, who also did the album artwork.
“Dance With Me” is a sweet serenade that could be the first dance at a picture perfect North Carolina wedding. Jamie Eggleston’s voice is passionate even as he almost whispers some of the lines, sweet and earnest. The band’s musicianship really shows about halfway through, when violinist Suzanna Crist takes the lead and kicks the tempo into high gear with a full on bluegrass jam. If you aren’t convinced to dance by the five minute mark, you must really hate dancing. The song changes again at around the six minute mark, easing into 3/4 time. At first I thought it was the beginning of another song and I was a little bit disappointed that it wasn’t, because I would have loved to hear where that beautiful melody was going.
“After All”, the only song on which all three members of Brothers Egg share writing credits, addresses love within the context of mortality: “After all is said and done and washed away/We will fall back to mother earth from which we came.” The musical arrangement is a stark one, consisting only of two voices in harmony accompanied by guitar and violin. The stripped down nature really allows emotions to shine through, showing that sometimes simplicity is the right choice.
The band moves into a more creative and experimental space on “Dreamer,” which alternates between a dreamscape feel on the verses and a rockabilly groove on the choruses. Andy Blair steps in for some nice guitar licks, adding a different texture to the song without being overbearing.
“Take a Chance on Me” is straightforward, simple, and sweet, a heartfelt plea to convince a woman to take a chance on the “wild card,” a sort of bluegrass version of the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes.” There is a great fiddle solo after the bridge, and a bonus banjo jam at the end by local folk/bluegrass legend Big Al Hall.
The final track on the album feels very much like a group of friends hanging out in a living room having fun and playing music, complete with a “1,2,3!” lead-in, a typically bluegrass bass line, a hoot/holler or two, and some call and answer harmonies. “Carolina Wren” is a short song, based on another Jenny Eggleston poem. The music itself ends abruptly just after the two-minute mark, and the CD ends with almost a full thirty seconds of an actual wren singing, which I appreciate as a nature lover as well as a lover of unconventional album endings.
Bleeding Slow is solid folk with some well-done creative embellishments, a showcase for Brothers Egg’s musical talent and ambitions, and a suitable choice for a Carolina-bound roadtrip. Learn more about Brothers Egg and get a copy of Bleeding Slow at https://brothersegg.bandcamp.com/album/bleeding-slow.
The album opens with title track “Walking Blind.” The instrumentation is gorgeous, right from Luke Wilson’s first drum beat into Nicole Mancini’s violin intro. The song itself is catchy and Lynch’s voice is emotional but controlled, a task she makes seem easier than it is. The pop soul melody sets a nice tone for the rest of the album.
“Butterfly” starts with a slow jazz guitar riff from Michael Buckley and builds into chromatics that actually simulate the idea of flying. Lynch’s voice soars and benefits from backing vocals that invoke vintage girl groups like The Supremes. The butterfly imagery is effective in describing a relationship that continues to pull her back in, even as she pleads, “Give me the nerve to fly.”
It’s probably appropriate that an album emphasizing self-worth and being true to yourself would follow an easy breezy song with the immediate sound of a rap verse. “Courage” works because the lyrical rhymes of Danny “Louis.” Thomas bring out the hip hop leanings in Lynch’s voice. The lyrics are a simple but effective homage to self-sabotage: “Courage won’t enter me and I know why, ’cause I won’t let it.”
“Glow” is the song that should appear in whatever happens to be the next girl power movie of the year, meaning that this is what young girls (or women, or really ANYONE) should be singing along to. “Girl, get your shine on…let your inner beauty show, and glow.” It doesn’t hurt that the song itself showcases some beautiful vocals, including some fantastic backing harmonies.
Lynch gives a nod to her adopted home in “Carolina.” The song is the most folky-sounding song on the album, an appropriate vehicle for ruminating on how moving to the south has changed her. As a fellow Yankee transplant, I can definitely relate to her lyrics expressing heartfelt love for her new home. “North Carolina has given so much to me,” indeed.
“My Flower” is adventurous musically in a way that seems to really bring out the rich emotion in Lynch’s voice, even as she navigates back and forth across a (very effective) time change. She flexes creatively on this song and her band follows suit. The motown sound throughout segues into a guitar solo at the end that downright blazes.
The ballad “Two Men” is so rife with sadness that the feeling of loss is palpable right from the beginning, thanks to a stirring piano intro by Dylan Linehan aided by some emotional violin playing from Mancini. When Lynch’s voice finally does float above the instruments, she allows herself to be vulnerable singing, “I’ve been told I’m a pillar of strength/ Well they don’t see me when I’m all alone.”
Nothing pulls a listener out of a sad funk like…funk. And the next two songs are downright funky. “Strange & New” has a beat and a bass line that, combined with Lynch’s outstanding vocals and harmonies, perfectly capture the lustful fun of a new love affair. The chorus really makes me want to dance, and there is a killer bass solo from Taylor Lee. “How Dare You” continues the dance trend while also revisiting the theme of empowerment. Lynch’s voice is powerful and full of feeling as she repeats the line “How dare you,” folding herself into what sounds like an old-school soul jam. Buckley swoops in at the end and delivers an exceptional guitar solo.
Lynch smartly ends on an upbeat note, but one that also showcases her creativity. “Shouldn’t Let Me Go” starts out on an upbeat note and then takes a turn into a dark and spooky bridge in the middle. Just when I think I’m going to get sucked into the piano-and-violin-heavy scary dark place, the sunny guitar and vocals rescue me and place me gently back into pop bliss. The song is catchy lyrically and melodically, and is a great finish to what is a strong debut album.
Vanessa Lynch has delivered some great music that is very much its own sound, a rarity in today’s over-homogenized market. After being up-and-coming for the past few years, Lynch has shown that she’s ready to arrive. Vanessa Lynch doesn’t just shine, she glows.
Walking Blind is available online on iTunes, Amazon, and all other major digital retailers, as well as locally in Wilmington, NC at Gravity Records and Steele Music Studios. You can keep up with Vanessa Lynch online at http://www.reverbnation.com/vanessalynch and https://www.facebook.com/vanessalynchmusic.
Best known locally for being half of the duo Upstarts and Rogues (we talked about them in KFR Live #8), this is Eden’s first solo recording effort. The songs are mostly instrumental, usually with melodies layered over rhythmic plucking. The beauty of songs without lyrics is that the listener is free to go wherever she or he chooses, to interpret the music based on the emotion it invokes, with no verbal guidelines from the creator. I recommend listening to this album when you have time to let your mind wander and go on an adventure, undistracted by the “real” world.
In the Key of J opens with “Cascades,” a good introduction to Eden’s style of sonorous melody layered over percussive plucking. The second track, “Spy vs. Spy,” might be my personal favorite. Eden cleverly utilizes her instrument for a variety of effects, from resonating knocks to sneaky slides in and out of some of the notes. I really got a sense of mystery, tiptoeing around, the possibility of danger. “Morning Glory” stands out as the brightest and most cheerful song on a largely brooding album, invoking images of gardens, meadows, and the fresh dew of a new day. “Faye’s Voyage” is another example of great effects, including some nice scratching noises. There’s a sense of symmetry, with effects at the beginning and the end, and dual melodies interlacing throughout the body of the song. I sort of felt like I was on a boat, which made the segue into “Whales” make a lot of sense. The plucking fades in and out like the pulsing of sonar, with a strong and smooth melody layered nicely over it. Eden gives this song space to breathe, with an easy melody that doesn’t feel forced to cover too much ground. “Witness” is a short and sinister-sounding track with no background plucking, implying a singular voice carrying a lot of emotion and possibly some trauma.
I suppose “Canon” might technically be considered to be a cover song, since it is based on Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” However, Eden gets a ton of points for creativity. I expected multiple layers of cello, which is what happens eventually. Totally unexpected was Eden’s sultry yet understated voice added into the mix, the only time she actually sings on the album. Her two instruments are layered like a musical lasagna: Cello, cello, vocals, vocals, cello, vocals, etc. The breathy vocal harmonies interwoven with the cello melodies really make this arrangement different from any heard before. By the time the song reaches its crescendo, the effect is that of a choir of singers on one side and a choir of cellos on the other. The wild ride wraps up with a solitary cello. You’ve heard this song before but you haven’t heard THIS song before.
“La Ramblas” sounds like the soundtrack to someone getting ready for a duel or a mission or at least walking down the street meaningfully, possibly on a hot day. “Something in the Way” is a brooding interlude that marches deliberately. In “The Seafarer” Eden uses reverb and delay to make the cello actually sound like water. When the dual high and low melodies kick in, I do feel like I’m on a journey on the sea.
The album ends with a cacophonous head trip of a song called “Catalyst.” This is the only other time Eden’s voice appears on the album, this time with spoken word. I’ve always enjoyed her lyrical freestyles performed live and don’t think a Jude Eden album would be complete without showing off her poetic prowess. There is so much going on in this song that I had a hard time deciding what to listen to. On the one hand, there is a whole toolbox of cello effects, from the sound of dripping water to a traffic jam of beautiful noise. And on the other hand there is Eden’s voice, both ominous and playful, echoing amid the futuristic orchestra. Among the lyrical gems are lines such as “Darkness is the catalyst for my creative catharsis.” The line she repeats as the song and album comes to a close could be a tagline for the album itself: “A new way into the same old day.”
Pick up a copy of In the Key of J at Eden’s live show or order online at inthekeyofj.com.
We at KFR embrace all kinds of music and this Friday night we found ourselves in two very different concert atmospheres, just to mix it up.
First, we caught Upstarts & Rogues at Fermental in the Ogden area. Fermental features live music in the beer garden every Friday and Saturday night. The great thing about this venue (in addition to the free Friday night wine tastings, great selection of craft beer, and the awesome outdoor seating area) is that they do live music early. By 8:00, the show is in full swing and they usually wrap up around 10 or so, plenty of time to get out to see other bands or get home at a reasonable hour.
Upstarts & Rogues consists of Jeff Sanchez (of local jam band The Clams) on guitar and Jude Eden on cello, with both members contributing vocals. Their voices complement each other nicely, and the beautiful guitar/cello combination is something that isn’t seen everyday in the Wilmington music scene. Their live performances are an even balance of original songs and covers. Eden is known to launch into loop pedal cello improvisation, sometimes accompanied by her own style of spoken word poetry. One of the great things about this duo is that they don’t hesitate to do their own thing. They improvise, they jam, they banter, and it somehow all makes sense.
Upstarts & Rogues released their studio debut “Twain Shall Meet” in 2012, with both members showing off their own style of songwriting. The recording is a good representation of what they sound like live, with a few additional instruments and studio effects thrown in.
One of the songs on the album that U&R performed live was “Micha’s Song,” a bluesy ode to friendship that transcends the sentimental and ruminates on the global effects of love: “I’m gonna write a song that sounds like what you mean to me…Cause if everyone had a little bit of what we have, there would be no war (and I’ve been to war), there would be no strife. I’m tellin you.” Eden’s soft and soulful voice delivers the lines in an understated way that exemplifies the meaning without forcing it.
We weren’t able to stay for the whole set, but we’re sure a few more of our favorite originals were in there. “Thought We Had a Deal” is a tune more in the classic rock vein in which Sanchez bemoans the failed promises and implicit understandings of a relationship and “Rebuttal in Blue” is Eden’s take on relentlessly trying to make a relationship work when it’s not meant to be.
Eden and Sanchez are both busy with other projects; Sanchez is in the middle of a busy season with The Clams and Eden is finishing up her first solo cello album, tentatively scheduled for release this fall. Catch one of Upstarts & Rogues’ rare live performances if you can, but in the meantime you can pick up a copy of “Twain Shall Meet” at upstartsandrogues.com.
The second part of the night took place across town at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern, a bar tucked away off Oleander Drive in midtown. From the outside, the bar looks like it might hold 20 people. However, the inside is actually quite vast and features several pool tables, a long bar, and a room with a stage for live music. We decided to check out a rock show to finish off our night. Doors were at 9pm, but we knew from experience that a rock show is only truly rock if it starts an hour past the time listed. We were right…ish. The first band took the stage well past 10:30. The bill featured 3 bands: Bully Pulpit from Charleston, SC; Richard Baccus & The Luckiest Girls from Raleigh, NC; and Ironhead from Wilmington. We admittedly came to review our hometown band but were glad that they played last, as we were treated to excellent sets from the first two bands. Rock and metal shows are harder and harder to come by in Wilmington, especially since the closing of beloved music venue The Soapbox in 2013, so it was a real treat to see three very talented bands really bringing it on a Friday night. If you’re into heavier rock or punk music, Reggie’s is one of the few places in town that really lets loose.
Ironhead consists of husband and wife badasses Johnny Yeagher (guitar and vocals) and Angela Yeagher (bass and vocals) as well as new drummer Mickey “Blue Eyes” Lewis. This band has been rocking since 2003 and it shows in the way they play — fearless, yet polished. They came out swinging on “Devastation Blues” and kept the energy high through the entire set. “It’s Self Destruction” featured intense lyrics such as “I’m drowning in a sea polluted. No one will rescue me…salvation’s not for me” while the instruments thundered in choreographed chaos in the background.
Lewis (of famed local band The Needles) is a fairly new addition in 2014, replacing Brad Ellington who is taking a break due to a new baby. Lewis is confident and charismatic and, with Angela Yeagher, forms one hell of a rhythm section. Yeagher’s bass playing is a lot of fun to watch and listen to, and this was made especially apparent when several fans yelled out and motioned for her to crank up her amp. She did, and it rocked. Johnny Yeagher is a skilled frontman, not just because he can spit out intense lyrics while playing intricate lead guitar licks, but because he does so in a way that makes it look easy. As musicians, we can attest to the fact that what he does is NOT easy. His guitar solos are clean, creative, and masterfully executed. We can’t wait to hear more from this band, and we won’t have to wait long. Ironhead has been busy in the studio laying down tracks for their third full length album, set for release in 2014. In the meantime, you can purchase their past releases via their Facebook Music Store or CDBaby.
Whatever music style you’re into, be sure to get out and support live and local music!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Currently there’s a regular event called “The Longstreet’s Underground Songwriter Showcase” every Thursday night. Longstreet’s pub is located underground, down the same steps as Orton’s on Front Street (stop by on your way to Cape Fear Wine and Beer which is right next door). It’s a small historic pub with a nice vibe perfect for small solo or duo acts with an acoustic lean. We stop in here frequently to enjoy various musicians, and on July 11th, we captured a clip of Sean Thomas Gerard playing a brooding Jeff Buckley-esque original tune. Gerard is a stellar songwriter as well as a prominent member of the Wilmington music scene known for both his solo performances as well as for his work with the nationally acclaimed band Onward, Soldiers.
For something completely different (we know no boundaries), on the same night we headed over to the new venue Ziggy’s by the Sea for a hip-hop/rap show. Although this location has had high turnover, we’re hopeful that the Ziggy’s name will make it work. It already looks nicer inside and they’re busy booking a ton of acts. We came to see national rap/rock band REHAB. Ever since hearing the song “It Don’t Matter” on the radio over a dozen years ago, we’ve had a soft spot for this band. They didn’t disappoint. The show had great energy (despite the strangely tame crowd), singer Danny Boone wailed, and the band played new songs along with their hits, even that really annoyingly catchy one that we won’t mention here.
Opening up for REHAB was a rap band called BNMC (both bands are originally from Georgia). Watching BNMC was like watching an aerobic workout video. They’re all over the stage, jumping around, full of non-stop energy. They’re really nice guys too. We chatted with them after the show.
Last month, James Ethan Clark hosted his CD release party at Brooklyn Arts Center in support of his debut album Southern Hotel. After well-known local openers Sean Thomas Gerard and Mike Blair & The Stonewalls, Clark played his new record in its entirety from start to finish.
We’ve seen James Ethan Clark play numerous times in town, including many times at solo acoustic shows. With a band backing him up, it’s a whole different experience. Not The Renegades we’ve seen before, but a new line-up featuring a couple members of the Stonewalls. In fact, Stonewalls’ guitarist Michael Graham nearly stole the show playing amazing guitar riffs and emanating pure joy as he played. The Stonewalls’ Keith Butler, Jr. and Tripp Cox of Onward, Soldiers formed the rhythm section, on drums and bass respectively. The set also included guest appearances by a violinist and pedal steel guitar player.
While Southern Hotel consists of several mellow tunes, it also includes some raucous americana-influenced rockers and the crowd at the Brooklyn Arts Center went wild during these songs in particular. “Destination” and “Anna Mae” filled the venue with raw rock energy and it was easy to see this impact the crowd. Speaking of the crowd, it was like a who’s who of the Wilmington area music community with Rio Bravo, Justin Lacy, and Graham Wilson among the crowd, just to name a few.
Pick up a copy of Southern Hotel at Gravity Records and then head out to catch the energy of James Ethan Clark and The Renegades live in person.
Pericardium is best viewed as a companion piece to Linehan’s live performance. The album is beautiful yet restrained. In order to appreciate the work that went into capturing her emotional energy in a medium like this, like a great Broadway musical, you really must really see and hear the live performance. The Broadway musical analogy is especially apropo, as Pericardium sounds like the soundtrack for a theatrical production. Linehan has scored student films and is also working on the score for a feature film with her father, Terry, and this sense of an underlying story is apparent on the album.
Pericardium opens with a thundering piano leading into “Tazmanian White”, a different kind of love song about a free spirit. The dramatic chorus will get stuck in your head, as it’s been in ours since we popped in the CD several days ago. The drums and well-placed backing vocals really flesh out the arrangement, which is pushed along by strong piano riffs throughout. Linehan’s vocals sound a little bit thinner than we’re accustomed to, one of the unfortunate side effects of studio compression, but the emotion shines through, especially when she really unleashes near the end against a backdrop of piano, electric guitar, and shouted background vocals. One part in particular reminds us of Kate Bush.
A hauntingly beautiful 25 second vocal interlude segues into our personal favorite track on the album “For Us”, which is probably also the song most likely to appeal to the mainstream sector. From beginning to end, the arrangement is breathtaking, with percussive, yet soft strings adding a lightness throughout the song that perfectly accompanies Linehan’s sweet vocals. The light pop song is simple and delicate and could easily make its way onto a movie soundtrack. By the time the song ends in a decrescendo of vocal harmonies and strings, we’re completely enamored. We can’t get enough of this song.
“Oh Fixation, Please Fix Me” starts off in a similar vein, before launching into a full out rock opera in the chorus, complete with passionate backing vocals and electric guitars. The lyrics pack a punch too, with lines such as “You won’t remember me, I’m just a happy memory for someone else to find.” Linehan keeps her verses sweet and subtle and then exudes force and fury in the choruses, her technical and emotional ranges both apparent as she addresses addiction. There is some nice electric guitar work in this one as well – the riffs are clean and effective without being too much, in addition to some more excellent string work.
The next song, “Fireside”, begins with a piano riff and big chorusy vocals that remind us of one of the more tender moments of a Tim Burton movie. Even at its sweetest, the song has an undertone of dark drama. In the bridge/chorus, a beautiful low cello helps escalate the song into a more upbeat but no less sweet apex before tapering off into an absolutely lovely and soft conclusion. “Forever I’m yours, and you’re mine”, indeed.
We have hardly a moment to recover before being launched into a slow cello solo that sounds downright sinister. Not exactly what one would expect from a song called “BFF”, the bitterness oozes out of every note in the first few slow lines before launching into full rock opera territory with help from more guitar and drums. She really lets loose on the vocals, too. “You could have treated me right…Is this what you wanted? You wanted a fight? Well now you got what you had comin’!” Zing.
At this point, the album shifts away from full band arrangements to more bare bones instrumentation, where it stays through the remaining songs. When we asked her about this transition, Linehan answered that it was indeed a deliberate decision intended to strip away the layers in order to get to the origins of it all, the “music within the music”. With only her voice, piano, and occasional subtle strings, “Carry On” is a tender testament of Linehan’s attention to emotional nuance. The perfectly executed vocal phrasing, sometimes almost a whisper and then rising to a plea and back again, is extremely effective. While Linehan sounds great with the band, she knows when to let the music speak for itself without any frills.
“Another Day Like Sunday” is another piano/vocal showcase with some nice theatrical lines that are almost playful and sing-songy if not for the underlying cynicism. She plays some great classical/theatrical piano in this song. By the final refrain, the song becomes a funeral dirge and the heartache in Linehan’s voice is apparent.
Luckily, we’re rescued from despair with the sweet sounding “Coupon Book” about the excitement and trepidation of a new love. Even here, however, Linehan and her piano don’t rest easy. “I could give you a coupon book for all the things I’d do for you, But we both know I only give favors on paper, It’s only ink in navy blue,” she whispers as the song winds down.
The album concludes with the funhouse carnival piano masterpiece that is “Medusa’s Zen Garden”. Over seven minutes in length, the piano work in this song is downright impressive. She also has some nice expressive vocals that escalate into what we can best describe as a “whoop”. The parts where she speaks the words in between echoing vocals make us feel like we’re at the crucial conclusion of an epic theatrical masterpiece. The urgency in both vocals and piano is apparent and effective. The lines, “I am not the girl I used to be. There’s a cage around my heart, you’ll never find the key!” are a fitting end to the album as a whole.
Pericardium is by definition a tough double layered membrane which covers the heart. This is the metaphor that ties all of the album’s songs together as Linehan allows her questions, emotions, stories, and music to flow through punctured holes in her pericardium. In her own words she explains: “In every song, there is the challenge of breaking through a wall, posing the questions of how we use our bodies as the ‘pericardiums’ for our souls. How do we hide our pain? How do we cope? How do we thrive and break down our walls of fear? Why do we build our walls to begin with, and what are they made of?” With her unique and theatrical style, Linehan can’t help but pierce through the pericardium of each listener. By the conclusion of the album, beware, for your heart may lay open and exposed.
For more information about Dylan Linehan, visit her website at: http://dylanlinehan.com
Musicians on Pericardium include:
Dylan Linehan: vocals and piano
David Easton: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar
Joe Ristaino: drums
Lizz Gay: viola
Hillary Flowers: cello
Preston Luce: cello on “Carry On”
Lydia Meadows: violin
Vanessa Lynch: backing vocals
Dylan Fowler: backing vocals
We were pretty excited about this show – we’ve been fans of headliner Rio Bravo for a while, and after listening to the supporting bands online we were sure we were in for an awesome show.
We arrived around 9pm just as Greenville based opening band Myself & I had begun their first song. We were easily and immediately impressed by Myself & I’s live show. Clearly they were tight, focused, and connected with each other and the audience. The singer looked out over the crowd while the keyboardist asked the audience how things sounded. They played a trick on us though. They said that this was their third show ever. We shook our heads thinking there’s no way that was possible. We weren’t surprised to later discover that they had been in a prior band called The Fear of Falling, a band that had achieved national exposure no less. Read our notes if you don’t believe we weren’t fooled.
Myself & I’s sound is reminiscent of The Fray mixed with Yellowcard or Dashboard Confessional. Our intern Katy said she was thinking Cartel and maybe The Ready Set. This is always a matter of opinion and used just to get the general idea. They’re five guys (singer/guitarist, guitarist/backing vocalist, bassist, drummer, and pianist/keyboardist) who play emotional, melodic rock songs with prominent piano; songs about the angst of life and love. Listen to their music online, watch the video, and go see a live show for the real deal.
Lyrics: The song “Losing My Balance” explores life in a small home town with “I’m just looking for an easy way out of things. What’s the point of staying here for the answers when there’s no where to go.” Perhaps the most striking of their songs “Moving On” includes the highly memorable lyrics “I’ll be there when you wake up. And I’ll be there when you grow old… You said you should let me go. Let me go.”
Other notables: We noticed the keyboardist playing backing vocals on the keys. Interesting. Perhaps even more interesting, it appeared that the guitarist was playing a Straight Six Stratocaster. This is unconfirmed, but a single pickup, single knob guitar is a rather interesting choice.
Burden The Hand came out with guitars blazing. Their first handful of songs was an all-out onslaught of hard rock/metal/screamo. They sang and screamed their hearts out.
Burden The Hand is five guys from somewhere in NC, maybe Benson, maybe Smithfield, consisting of two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and lead vocalist/guitarist. They have a lead vocalist, but everyone sings in this band. The bassist shared the most lead, followed by one of the guitarists (who sung lead on one song in addition to regular backing vocals). Speaking of the guitarist, he played some nice tapping work on the song “Burden.”
There was an interlude toward the end of their set by the bassist, who talked about how they consider themselves to be normal guys who love Jesus, and Jesus loves everybody. “We just happen to be Christians in a band… I love Tarantino movies and I love Jesus.” This was followed by a slow, ballad-like, explicitly religious song with the often repeated lyrics “I’m just a man and I feel used,” including an a capella portion. We thought the announcement may have been because they’d gotten flack for being Christian in the past. There was no reaction from the crowd either way, positive or negative. They, like us, were probably just there to hear some awesome rock music, which Burden The Hand did deliver.
After the show, all three of us went on and on about the drummer. Throughout the show this guy was flailing about, spinning sticks, and showing off his obvious talent with ease – all done on a kick ass wood-grain Crush drum kit. Clearly this guy stole the show for us.
Noteables: Every member of this band was wearing earplugs. Hallelujah! Also, the lead vocalist had good control over his voice, hitting the high notes without straining too much. This is important particularly with this type of music so you don’t lose your voice.
From the floor The Capital‘s lead singer reminded us of Rivers Cuomo with his short hair and fitted shirt. He was charismatic, cracking jokes, making fun of himself, giving shout outs to Wilmington as well as to the other bands, especially Myself & I. We also noticed that he was playing a nice brown and tan striped Tom DeLonge signature Epiphone guitar. This makes sense since The Capital’s music is clearly reminiscent of Blink-182.
The Capital plays rock songs, full of power chord fury, with positive messages. One song explored how “beauty is on the inside.” They said they hadn’t played a show in two months, but we couldn’t tell.
Sumerlin brought a big arena-level show to Soapbox. They were sweaty and confident with great stage presence, professional gear, stage lighting, in-ear monitors, and by far the best, most balanced sound we’ve ever heard at Soapbox. The lead vocalist, Dan DiGiovanni, was charismatic, getting the crowd to come closer and dance and sing along.
Wilmington’s own Sumerlin is pop/rock at its finest. (How Soapbox wasn’t packed to the rafters for this band is a total mystery). They’ve got huge power choruses and a strong singer to get the audience to sing along to them. He crouches down and gets intimate with the front row and then jumps up and forward toward the crowd to get them into it. The bassist was equally as energetic, despite being behind a bass guitar and microphone. Speaking of being behind an instrument, the singer is also a good guitar player although he didn’t play at all during this show. This came as a surprise to Kim who had seen DiGiovanni playing guitar around town, including performing and recording with Little Miss Sabotage and the Cornflowers a while back.
Lyrics: Clearly the catchiest song was “Illuminate” with the F.U.N.-like lyrics “Here we are tonight singing. Here we are tonight singing. Woah. We are young-un-ung.” Actually there’s some debate about those lyrics. Live it sounded like they were singing “we are young” but on the CD we picked up we think it’s “we are yours.” Either way, you get the idea behind their lyrical power choruses.
Noteables: Katy appreciated that they introduced each song. Also, although they are an explicitly Christian band, they are clearly enjoyable and incredibly fun to watch regardless of affiliation.
We’ve seen Rio Bravo two or three times before and they are without a doubt one of our favorite local bands, and this was definitely their best show to date. They’ve got a great, unique sound, mainly due to the lead vocalist and the sweet, catchy melodies he produces on his Telecaster.
Rio Bravo opened their set by saying “this is our new sound” and then launching into a cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” This was hilarious to both the crowd and the band. The singer was laughing quite a bit, and it was really very funny. They pulled it off very well and if there was anyone there who hadn’t heard Rio Bravo before, they were immediately smitten.
They followed up by the songs we know and love from their album Fences and their latest release Unbelievable Lie. These are epic songs, slow at the start, with an emotional and instrumental build-up, resulting in the listener feeling transported by the music.
Clearly Rio Bravo enjoyed themselves on stage. Their camaraderie with each other is obvious and infectious They smile a lot and genuinely take pleasure in playing their music. That’s why we were shocked to learn that, after one more show, they’re calling it quits. This is one of our favorite bands and that’s it, no more. It’s a tragedy that the world should be deprived of their music. Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but it’s the truth. To the band it’s no big deal. We stopped the guitarist and he said that it’s not a bad thing, they’re just moving on to other things. Even our intern Katy (who had never heard of Rio Bravo before) was truly heartbroken.
Editor’s Note: After we posted the review, we received a response from Rio Bravo clarifying their decision to split up. “…[C]alling it quits is a big deal to us. We had dreams of world tours and doing this for the rest of our lives but due to multiple things we weren’t able to make it happen. We’ve all gotten to the point where we had to keep jobs to support ourselves and now our jobs have taken #1 priority. We are all best friends and will always play music together though. -Christian Black, Drummer, Rio Bravo
We have been meaning to check out the Brooklyn Bar, so we were pleased at the prospect of visiting the Brooklyn Arts Center’s more casual side while catching a bonafide hard rock show at the same time. While the BAC is known for hosting large acts (check out our last review on Brandi Carlile at the BAC), they’ve recently begun opening up to host local bands, open mic nights, and other cultural events. On these nights the back bar is moved onto the floor of the main hall, a few high top tables and chairs are placed throughout the room, and cornhole boards and beer pong are set up along the sides.
We arrived as the first band was getting ready to start their set within minutes of the advertised start time (hooray for a show starting on time!). Clarity for Ransom is a brand new rock band (this was their very first show), but the musicians are all seasoned experts, and all but lead singer Laura White have been in touring bands before.
White has an amazing voice with a lot of power behind it, and she hits the notes effortlessly without getting lost in the wall of sound behind her. Paul Heiber is a solid guitar player who played his parts well without overshadowing the vocals. The band’s backbone was the completely in-sync rhythm section of Nic Martinez on bass and Holly Fucili on drums. Fucili’s playing was aggressive but clean, and she and Martinez kept a steady pulse throughout. Clarity for Ransom played a mix of slow and fast hard rock, a full set of dark, brooding songs, with titles such as “Succubus.” This band is only going to get better and better as they play more; the talent is there and, as they get more comfortable with the music and with each other, they’re sure to be a force to be reckoned with on the Wilmington rock scene.
Dirty Dakotas was the second act to take the stage. Dirty Dakotas have been a staple on the original rock music scene for years. The band has been a revolving door of sorts for guest musicians and members who play when they can, which keeps their sound fresh. Anchored by husband and wife rockers Stephanie Hart (vocals/guitar) and Chris Hart (bass) who also perform as a duo, the Dirty Dakotas are one of those bands that will rock anytime and anywhere just because they love it. On this particular night, we got to see their new drummer, Will Evans, in action. While Steph Hart’s vocals are always full of passion and intensity, Evans’ drums, coupled with Chris Hart’s work on bass, added depth and a new level of heavy rock flavor to the performance. Frequent guest guitarist Steve Rossiter completed the night’s line-up, throwing in leads while blending nicely with the rest of the band.
The next band, Interrobang, was all youthful bravado, as lead singer Chris Vickery shredded on his guitar and sang with gusto while wearing nothing but a kilt and sneakers. They made a lot of noise for a three-piece band, but it’s a good kind of noise that fills your ears with riffs and melody rather than just trying to fill the room. Drummer Garrett Ward and bassist Logan Greeson both sang backing vocals without missing a beat on their own instruments. The songs were rockin’ and the whole band threw themselves into the performance. Interrobang is fearless when they perform and their larger than life stage presence kept the crowd engaged.
Open Wire was the final band and technically the headliner. It was obvious that this band is very comfortable together, with all members actively headbanging and engaging the audience. Comprised of Daniel Wescotty on guitar, Phillip Milligan on drums, Eric LeRay on bass, and Matt Thies on vocals, Open Wire is a cohesive unit and it’s surprising that they’ve only been together since 2011. Thies led the band and the audience through a raucous set that produced some of the heaviest songs of the night. Wescotty performed killer guitar work while the audience pressed up against the stage and lifted their beers in the air.
The night was an awesome cup full of hard rock and despite sound issues, you really can’t beat getting to see four great bands in such a great venue for $5 (cheaper than a crappy mixed drink), all while playing cornhole at the same time.
In typical Soapbox fashion, Saturday night’s show got off to a late start. We’ll always wish this wasn’t the case because we’ve watched folks leave rather than waiting around while it gets later and later. Maybe we’re getting old or something. Luckily we were able to stay until last call because Saturday night was the best night of music ever!
First up was Dylan Linehan, a brand new musical phenom who seemingly came out of nowhere. Linehan was incredible, truly captivating the audience from her first song to her last. She launched into a style of music that could only be described as a blend of theatrical, rock opera, classical, a sprinkling of pop, and a whole lot of “wow” thrown in. These were original songs that didn’t sound like anything we’ve heard before, and that excites us to no end because it just doesn’t happen very often. Linehan’s voice can go from a subtle whisper to operatic bellowing within a single phrase, all while her hands deftly navigate the keyboard. Her piano playing is exceptional, and it’s wonderful to see a singer this good not sacrificing her musicianship for the sake of vocals. Linehan’s music is pure jaw-dropping magic.
It’s difficult to interact with the audience when you’re sitting behind a piano, but Linehan easily manages to be captivating and welcoming – there was an audible gasp of surprise when she admitted that this was her first opening gig as a solo artist. On “Another Day Like Sunday,” Linehan eased into what seemed like a mellow ballad, then brought it up to intense rock opera level, and back down again. One of her songs, “For Us” is featured in an upcoming movie. We’re not surprised. We also weren’t surprised to hear that she’s currently writing a rock opera. The final song of her set was a vaudevillian carnival of a piece where she sang in between tricky piano riffs that brought the house down, “White horse you fill my thirsty dreams…Brand you with this love of mine, don’t give up on me.” When Linehan finished her set, the crowd was hooting and hollering on their feet, demanding an encore. But she is humble, and she didn’t even think about cutting into the other bands’ time. With a kind personality that can light up a room and lyrics that are as strong as her performance, we can bet that Linehan is going to be quite successful. See her now – she plays one Wednesday a month as a solo act at Costello’s and also performs frequently as the newest member of local cover band Velvet Jane.
Next to take the stage was the The Nightmare River Band, the only out-of-town band to make this review. The New York based group delivers high energy punkabilly music with songs that are catchy but not formulaic. They easily change pace from frenzied americana/rock to a slow but determined groove and then back again, all while staying completely together as a band. Lead singer Matt Krahula transitioned from song to song with comedic banter in between, and his band mates were sure to jokingly rib him and remind the audience that it was his birthday. One song featured the tagline, “Built a house, when all you need’s a home,” while an honest ballad about getting a DWI noted that “It’s rain without a cloud in sight….life just stops…hold me tonight as I’m falling from grace.” Their sound was reminiscent of Flogging Molly as they launched into what sounded like an Irish drinking song, before coming out the other side with a song that mentioned both Jeffrey Dahmer and “Frederick Douglass staring at the drugless.” The Nightmare River Band put on one hell of a show.
The final band of the night was D&D Sluggers, who have been a favorite of ours since their inception. Although Tim White and Dustin Overcash both got their start in more traditional bands (we met the guys several years ago on the acoustic open mic circuit when they were both in other projects), they found their true calling when they mixed their love of music with their love of video games. The result is danceable and fun music that is part of the up and coming chip-rock movement.
D&D Sluggers always put on a great show, but they really outdid themselves this time. After filling the stage with purple and teal balloons (the unofficial D&D colors, although much like the band-designed cartoon activity pages that were put out for fans to color, they don’t really follow the rules when it comes to branding or anything else really) the show began with “It’s a Party” and indeed it was. The crowd continued to dance and party through their entire high voltage set. They performed two new songs, including a song called “Bad End” featuring Stingesque vocals from White and Nintendo-style fighting at the end. Overcash and White are masters of theatrics as well as music – Overcash never fails to impress us with his ability to engage in a dance-off while wielding a pretty big keytar. At the crowd’s insistence, they played two encores. The first was a rendition of “Real Lovers” that involved members of the crowd holding up signs on stage while the crowd spell-chanted “D&D S.L.U.G.G.E.R.S!” Yes, one of us got on stage as one of the signholders, and yes, there are pictures. It was a great way to involve the crowd, who demanded a second encore which turned out to be – what else – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song.
The night was an impressive array of talent and camaraderie. Although the three acts were probably the most diverse we’ve ever seen share a bill, every band’s fans stayed and rocked out to the other acts. It was an atmosphere of mutual appreciation, among both bands and audience members alike. D&D Sluggers sang, “It’s a party, you can dance if you want to.” And we did.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
We decided that a scorching summer evening would be the perfect time to venture out to local venues to catch some live music. Here, the result of last night’s quest, is the first in the series of Karmic Fury live music reviews.
We started the evening at Coastal Roaster in Carolina Beach. Tucked away in a small strip mall, the small external storefront doesn’t do justice to the coffee shop’s charm and size. The inside is large-ish for a coffee shop (although they also serve food and smoothies and recently started carrying beer and wine), but the placement of couches and tables throughout the room lends it a cozy feel. This is exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find local folker Jim Ashley. Jim is a soft-spoken storyteller with a lot to say, and he delivers his sentiments with just the right amount of self-deprecating humor. The feeling is that of being in the living room of an old friend having a conversation, rather than being talked at by someone with a microphone. As we took our seats with two very reasonably priced craft beers, Jim delivered an anecdote about the Olympics and his own lack of athletic prowess, noting, “When I was a little boy I had aspirations to be in the Olympics. If that seems ridiculous now, it would have seemed really ridiculous then” before continuing on about similar aspirations to be a genius. The story was a perfect set up for “If I Had a Better Brain”, a song about all that would be possible if – you guessed it – he had a better brain.
The solo acoustic set was a treat for people who come to shows to actually listen. The songs ranged from somber (“The Last Days of the Pony Express”) to nostalgic (“Paradise”) to frank and funny (“The Oprah Winfrey Blues”). The latter was a highlight of the set, largely due to Jim’s expert guitar work leading into the song itself. He dabbled in some Spanish flamenco for a little while and then somehow segued gracefully into blues riffs which led into a humorous song about the dangers of watching too much Oprah. Although he threw in a few Jim Croce covers by request, Jim stuck to mostly original tunes and played them in a way that connected with the audience. And that deserves our applause.
With the night still young, we decided to stop by a house concert on our way downtown. Hosted by two local musicians, it was a chance to jam and talk with like-minded people. The Harts are a husband and wife who literally rock in a bevy of Wilmington bands including Dirty Dakotas, and are fellow zealots of original music. We came in to find a handful of people bobbing their heads to a jam already in progress in the next room. The Harts (Chris on bass and Steph on vocals) improvised alongside an expert drummer and an adventurous guitar player and it was evident they were all having a blast. We’ve been to the Harts’ house concerts before. Last time the Black Hellatones from Jacksonville were there – Kelly Dickson, Storm Castañeda, and Kazz Castañeda. Their jam was nothing short of soul-riveting.
The Harts host these parties regularly and attract a variety of musicians and people who love music. Where else can you talk and jam with strangers (strangers who are musicians and/or music lovers), listen to The Police on vinyl, and watch a cello player doing Metallica?
We made it downtown around 11:30, with the Wilmington bar scene in full swing. The crowd at Duck and Dive on Dock Street was no exception, with the tiny British pub full of people talking and dancing to the music. There was a three-piece band crammed into a corner making sure they were heard. The drummer is a friend of ours whose skill on the drums is matched by his enthusiasm – we’ve never before see someone play the drums with a mile-wide grin on his face literally the entire time. We were happy to see so many people there listening to original music, rather than the usual onslaught of cover songs. It was a perfect counterargument to those who insist on booking cover bands because “nobody comes out to listen to original music.” Well, they do.
Starting to feel a little weary, we made our way a few blocks uptown to the Goat and Compass on Fourth St. in the Brooklyn Arts District. Another British pub, the Goat (as locals call it) was pretty lively for a place considered to be somewhat off the beaten path. They have a large back yard area with picnic benches and cornhole, and a lot of open space. The back might be bigger than the bar itself, which is a smattering of randomness; a deer head on the wall, a “W” on each bathroom for “Watercloset” (which led some drunken patrons to confusedly wonder if there was no men’s bathroom), and a large drunk guy sitting at a tiny Ms. Pacman video game demanding we play with him. The crowd was just as random, with college kids and touristy-looking baby boomers, locals rolling their own smokes, and a healthy helping of blue-collar beer drinkers. When we walked in, Vision Vine, the duo of Clay Crotts on acoustic guitar/vocals and Michal Oliver on percussion, had the crowd swaying and moving to the music. We’ve seen Clay before and he always brings an abundance of positive energy to the stage, and last night was no exception. Michal added a vital boost with his skilled percussion work. When Clay broke a string, most people didn’t even notice as they were too busy marveling at a well-executed impromptu conga/djembe solo. Perhaps the flow from jam to song with little time in between is why the people who were obviously bopping along and engaged didn’t clap, but you got the feeling the guys were there just because they love to jam. Although they did do a mix of covers and originals, it is a credit to them that it was difficult to tell which was which. Their original songs are upbeat and catchy and their covers are performed in Vision Vine’s upbeat acoustic reggae style. We arrived not long before a break in the set and didn’t stay as long as we might have if we’d come there earlier in the evening, but it was a fitting end to a night that proved that yes, people do like original local music. They like it a lot.