Posts Tagged ‘asheville’

Hungry Hearts: Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats Release New Album

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

“I meet some people, and they say, ‘Oh, you’re a musician? You’re never going to eat,’” says the singer-songwriter/guitarist/namesake of Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats. He recently finished a record that responds to the starving artist stereotype: “Like the title of our album says, we all stay hungry. And we’re happy about it.”

Initial tracking for We All Stay Hungry took place in Asheville at Sound Temple Recording Studios, with the bulk of recording, overdubbing, mixing and mastering completed at Eagle Room. A single, “The Best in You,” featuring a guest vocal by local sensation Lyric, was released on April 1. The full record debuted at a release party — a free show — on Friday, April 17, at Highland Brewing in Asheville NC.

Photo by Jim Donohoo Photograhy

There’s a story leading up to that release. In early 2012, Scotchie started a busking duo on the streets of Asheville. “We had always played electric music,” he says. “But [acoustic] busking was my way to get back to the core of everything.” Through the process of interacting with other musicians, “we just met a lot of people who wanted to play.” The plugged-in version of Andrew Scotchie & the River Rats eventually formed around a nucleus of lifelong companions. “Eliza [Hill, drummer] and I have always been friends,” Scotchie says. Eliza’s brother Asher Hill joined on bass and keyboards.

The resulting trio created an original sound that at times suggests a scaled-down Drive-By Truckers. It was that lineup that recorded the band’s first album, Soul and Sarcasm. The group booked plenty of live dates, earned radio play and even got rotation of one song on a Nashville-based cable TV network.

Onstage, the trio was sometimes joined (“for a couple of songs near the end of the show”) by a pair of horn players, Alex Bradley and Kyle Snuffer. Scotchie recalls that the pair came to him at one point and said, “Hey, we can play the whole set. Just give us the opportunity.” So two more longtime friends rounded out the group: “We [had gone] to school and Boy Scouts together,” Scotchie says.

Having a five-piece band changed the way that Scotchie wrote songs. He would start thinking, “I’ve got the chords; I’ve got the words. What are the horns going to be doing?” The result was a more deeply textured brand of music than before. “A lot of people think rock ‘n’ roll is simple,” Scotchie says. “But so many different elements can go into it: jazz, fusion and even big band.” His newer songs highlight the funkier elements in his songwriting.

And though Scotchie is the leader, the band arrangements grow out of collaboration, out of live performance. “A lot of the horn parts are things that Alex and Kyle came up with on the spot,” he says. “Right onstage. They’d try something, and we’d all say, ‘Yeah. That’s the one.’” The collective showcases its cohesive strength on We All Stay Hungry.

And the band is committed to music as a lifelong pursuit. “I want to be busy, I want to have a schedule, and I want respect,” says Scotchie. “Looking back at this time last year, I’m really happy with where we are now.”

An edited version of this feature was originally published in Mountain Xpress.

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The Broadcast Will Continue Touring After This Important Local Message

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

“We can jam, but we are definitely not a jam band,” says Caitlin Krisko, vocalist and songwriter of The Broadcast. Her band’s albums feature shorter songs because “we write songs; we’re songwriters.” Krisko and guitarist Aaron Austin are co-writers on all of the group’s music, which is as tight and concise on record as it is soulful and exhilarating live onstage.

“My favorite artists are storytellers,” Krisko adds. “I think that it’s really important that we continue to tell stories about our lives,” she says, describing music as a means to create “a sense of oneness between artist and listener.”

Coming out of a tumultuous year that saw two of its founding members depart, Asheville-based (though originally from Brooklyn) The Broadcast is gearing up for what looks to be its busiest year yet. The buzz around the group’s set at 2014’s Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam led to an invitation to perform at an Allman Brothers Band tribute event being planned for this summer. And while preproduction for a second studio album is well underway, The Broadcast scheduled a local performance (Saturday, April 11, at The Grey Eagle) before returning to the road and then to the studio.

 

Photo by Jenn Ross Photography

“So much has changed since last year,” Krisko says. “I am really proud of the core members who were able to make it through this transition,” and now the band is “committed on an even deeper level.” Krisko and Austin and percussionist Tyler Housholder remain from the original lineup. Observing that making music for a living is not the easiest path, Krisko believes that “you have to be willing to lose everything for it.”

The Broadcast’s members are savvy users of modern technology as a means of building relationships with fans and potential fans. While acknowledging the advantages of that technology, Krisko believes that instant, accessible quality also disconnects the listener from being able to discover new music. That means in order to break through, a band has to be better and then market itself better. Krisko is optimistic and determined: “Touring on the road has given me a sense of hope that there still are people who want to come together, connect and share in a joined experience.”

Krisko focuses on two important components of the band’s overall strategy: “The live performance emotionally grabs people; the vibrations literally have an effect on their bodies.” And the album is a souvenir, a package that concertgoers can take home to relive the experience of the show. “You can’t completely capture the live experience on an album,” Krisko says. “Where a great producer comes in is being able to capture that energy.”

For The Broadcast’s first album (2013’s Dodge the Arrow, recorded at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios), the band worked with producer Eric “Mixerman” Sarafin. “We were so blessed to have one of the most positive first-album experiences,” Krisko says. But the musicians came away from that experience knowing what they would do differently on the next album. For their second recording, Krisko and Austin wanted a producer who truly understood how to record a female-fronted band. They wanted someone like Jim Scott, who produced and engineered albums for the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Wilco and other big names.

“So I emailed [Scott] last November,” Krisko says, “and when I woke up the next morning, I had an email from his people. I screamed!” Scott said yes. And with a large catalog of new material from which to choose, Krisko is confident that The Broadcast’s upcoming album (out early 2016) will please longtime fans while earning new ones.

An edited version of this feature was previously published in Mountain Xpress.

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Concert Photography in a Local Light: “Front Row Focus”

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

In 2015, nearly every concertgoer carries a smart phone with a built-in camera, so snapshots of the onstage performers aren’t exactly a rare commodity. But there’s a long and proud tradition of legitimate concert photography, and it’s no hyperbole to call it an art form. Some of the most iconic images in music have come from the lenses of such giants as Elaine Mayes (her Monterey Pop concert shots of Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix are classics), Mick Rock, Jim Marshall, Anton Corbijn and Jenny Lens.

 

Avett Brothers Halloween 2014 Photo by www.DavidSimchock.com

Avett Brothers Halloween 2014 Photo by www.DavidSimchock.com

Asheville has its own modern-day exponents of concert photography. You’ve likely seen these characters at any number of local venues; they’re the ones who not only understand the rules (no flash photography, “pit photography” allowed for the first three songs only), but have a keen and discerning eye. Concert photography is about so much more than snapping the shutter at the right moment; it’s about synthesizing what’s special about a performer – someone who deals in sound and movement – into a still and silent visual image that captures the essence of that performer.

Three of the finest Asheville-based concert photographers have created an exhibition of their best work, on display now through April 15 at The Green Sage Café (Westgate). “Front Row Focus” presents arresting images from the cameras of Nick King, David Simchock, and Frank Zipperer. Though all three travel on assignments, “Front Row Focus” is drawn from the best images documenting local performances. Curated by Paul Rollins, the exhibit features dozens of color and black-and-white photos.

The works of the three photographers are displayed throughout the Green Sage’s airy, open space; while the room is well-lit after dark, the photos are seen to their best effect surrounded by natural light. Zipperer – a photographer whose tastes run toward jazz – presents his concert photos primarily in black-and-white format; that format allows the photographer to make visual statements about his subjects through controlled use of contrast. The shots are often up close and personal, and always lead themselves to contemplation and close study.

Much of Simchock’s work displayed at “Front Row Focus” features rich, deeply saturated colors that lend the images an almost three-dimensional quality. The hyper-realism and stunningly sharp focus creates a you-are-there ambience. Nearly all of Simchock’s photos document performances in Asheville; the few exceptions – photos taken in New Orleans and Philadelphia, for example — are so breathtaking and remarkable that their inclusion makes sense.

King’s work is superb in its capturing of those just-right onstage moments; though dealing with subjects who are constantly on the move, the photographer’s documenting of a split-second slice of the performance somehow captures and conveys all of the movement. And it does so with astounding clarity. Though he, too, sometimes works in close-up, King’s wide-angle lens brilliantly and effectively captures the stage as a whole.

All of the photos on display at “Front Row Focus” are available for purchase, but it costs nothing to view them at the exhibit. The photography installation is open for viewing during Green Sage’s normal operating hours (daily 8:00am – 7:00pm).

Who: “Front Row Focus” featuring the work of Nick King, David Simchock, and Frank Zipperer
Where: Green Sage Café (Westgate), Asheville NC
When: Now through April 15, daily 8:00am – 7:00pm
Door: Free, and prints are available for sale.

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Interview: Aaron “Woody” Wood

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Though it’s in many ways an informal affair, Warren Haynes Presents Christmas Jam has been growing in a deliberate fashion. Thanks both to concertgoer demand and the long line of musicians wishing to be involved in this fundraiser event, the festival – now in its 26th year – expanded to two nights a few years back, and has added extra events downtown.

The Christmas Jam By Day presents musical artists – many of whom are local and/or regional sensations – in smaller, more intimate settings. The acoustic jam, hosted by Drivin’N'Cryin‘s Kevn Kinney – has been part of the festival since the beginning. Its newer, more plugged-in counterpart takes place just down the street at Asheville Music Hall and its downstairs annex, The One Stop.

Guitarist-vocalist Aaron “Woody” Wood has been a fixture of the Jam By Day for the last several years; usually the organizers contact Wood and ask him to participate. “This year, I kinda reached out to Kevn Kinney through Facebook,” Wood says. “I asked if I could play again this year. I never heard back from him. Next thing I know, it’s in the paper!” Wood is as well-known nationally as he is in his longtime hometown of Asheville; as a member of The Blue Rags, Custard Pie, Sufi Brothers, Hollywood Red and a solo artist, Wood’s brand of music incorporates Piedmont blues, bluegrass, soul, and good old fashioned rock’n'roll.

For this year’s Jam By Day event, Wood will appear at both Asheville Music Hall and Jack of the Wood. For the latter, he says, “I’ll be playing some newer stuff that I’ve written. The crowd there…you can hear a pin drop.”

Wood’s Asheville Music Hall set is with his pick-up band of musical brothers, Trouble. The group is an ongoing collective of well-known and in-demand local/regional players who convene for the occasional gig. Trouble also features Jay Sanders on bass, keyboardist Ryan Burns, Shane Pruitt on guitar, and drummer Frank Bloom. “We go together like red beans and rice,” Wood says. Trouble builds spontaneous jams out of well-known songs. “The best way to hear songs that I really, really love,” Wood says, “is to play ‘em.” He likens each song to “a ‘face.’ Then we start playing, and that’s how we put ‘eyebrows’ on it.”

Trouble has been together in one form or another for as long as Wood has been playing the Jam By Day. “I think what we do is really in line with what happens on Saturday night, at the main Jam,” Wood says. “Musicians who love to play get together with people they really love to play with.” That informal approach encourages players to just hang out and do what comes naturally, with the added features of a huge crowd of fans in attendance, and fund raising for a good cause. For the last several editions of the festival, proceeds have benefited Habitat for Humanity. The whole event “has a real family type of feel,” says Wood.

Advance tickets for the Jam By Day at Asheville Music Hall are available online for $10. The AMH lineup includes Blue Bop (Bela Fleck Tribute), The Broadcast, Jahman Brahman, Love Canon, Lyric, Marcus King Band, Ed Williams’ RumpelSteelSkin (ft. Andrew Campanelli, George Gekas & Michael Girardot of The Revivalists) and Trouble.

The Jack of the Wood acoustic jam lineup features Ray Sisk, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Aaron “Woody” Wood, Laura Reed, Bobby Miller & The Virginia Daredevils, Red Honey, Josh Daniel – Mark Shimick Project, Leigh Glass, David Earl, Jamie Dose & Dorsey Parker, The Pond Brothers, Ian Harrod and Michelle Malone. Tickets are also $10, but advance purchase is not available.

VIP pass holders get admittance to both Jam By Day events at no additional charge.

Wood explains his perspective on the jam aesthetic: “You can get a bunch of musicians together – people who have never played together before, and who might not play together again – and play songs they all know: ‘What key would you like to do this in? A major? Okay.’” And in that sense, Wood contends that all of it – no matter what style of music each player comes from – is really folk music. “Because all the folks know that shit, y’know what I mean?”

This feature originally appeared in print in Mountain Xpress.

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Morelouderfastermore: The “Cacaphony” of GWAR

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Anyone who’s ever viewed the 1982 film classic This is Spinal Tap will recall the famous “eleven” dialogue between filmmaker Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest). Tufnel proudly displays his prized amplifier, kitted out with control knobs that all go to eleven. A puzzled DiBergi asks him, “Why don’t you make ten a little louder, make that the top number and make that a little louder?” Tufnel pauses and blankly replies in a manner that makes clear he believes that he’s putting the question to rest, “These go to eleven.”

GWAR starts at eleven and then goes from there. This Virginia-based collective of artists and creative types set out to create the most outrageous, over-the-top spectacle known to music, and it’s clear that they decided the only way to achieve that goal was to devise a show that incorporated all elements in their most absolutely extreme, and then use that as a starting point.


click on image to view larger version

The visuals are arresting: everyone onstage – musicians and actors alike – is clad in costumes that combine those silly Frank Frazetta paintings that one finds on Molly Hatchet LPs with shock-horror elements that might score them points on Syfy Channel’s Face Off. When a character lumbers onto stage, and he (or it) is eight feet tall, the audience just knows what’s going to happen. The fact that a character sneaking up behind him is wielding a medieval armament makes it even more obvious: that head there, it’s comin’ off.

And when the axe swings and the head flies, the audience knows two more things. One, the exposed cut will reveal lot of sinewy, stringy gore. Two, and far more integral to the experience that is a GWAR show, copious amounts of liquid – fake blood or simulated ooze of another variety – will forcefully emanate from the wound. And the villain (or hero) with the axe, he’ll helpfully bend the beheaded creature forward so that the ruddy stream will soak those crowd members foolish (or calculating) enough to have positioned themselves up front. (The merch table doesn’t sell white t-shirts for nothing, I’m here to tell you.)

The thing is, this little vignette isn’t the climax to a performance; no, it’s pretty much how a GWAR show gets underway. It certainly was the night last week that I witnessed the group. And said show ran nearly two hours. On viewing this mock beheading, I wondered to myself (after making sure to duck clear of the spewing liquid, no easy task), “how will they sustain this, much less top it, over the course of an entire show?”

The answer, as I discovered, was simply morelouderfastermore.


click on image to view larger version

When you begin at your most extreme, there’s really no place to go. But it’s fair to note that neither GWAR nor the audience packed into Asheville’s Orange Peel (Wednesday, December 3, 2014) seemed to mind. The roar of the metal never subsides, the pace never slows, and the spectacle never stops. There are occasional between-song bits of banter, part of a carefully-choreographed story line based around the quest to find their “lost” member, Oderus Urungus (known offstage as Dave Brockie). As the band sings (well, shouts, really) during the interpolation of Jim Carroll‘s “People Who Died” inside of a Pet Shop Boys cover, “Oderus, died, died.” So they never really do find him, but they destroy multi-breasted minotaurs (or something) and hapless security guards along the way.

A non-musician member of the troupe leaps endlessly around the stage, clad only in a leather bondage mask and matching jockstrap, often wielding a weapon that reminds me of nothing so much of a giant, studded version of a pizza wheel-cutter. There is in fact at one point a routine based around pizza, but in general this fellow – Bonesnapper, I think he was – uses his weapon on other “pretenders” to the lead vocal spot in the group. One of them looks like a nightmare version of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Another one reminds me of a maniacally laughing Brian Blessed, albeit decked out in antlers and blood-spewing, um, udders.


click on image to view larger version

As I mentioned earlier, nobody in GWAR does what most people would consider singing. They shout or scream their chanted lyrics – few of which the uninitiated would be able to discern amongst the din – but hey, if you’re there, you pretty well get the ideas the band is trying to convey. Take the theatricality of The Tubes‘ notorious live shows (albeit with a bit less simulated onstage sex), add a soupcon of Venom‘s relentless metal roar, and use the cartoon kabuki theatrics of KISS as the kernel of an idea, put ‘em all together and – yes – turn it up to eleven, and you’ve got GWAR.

One person I spoke to pre-show confided that although she had seen GWAR onstage no less than five times, she couldn’t make serious claim to actually knowing any of their songs, and doesn’t particularly like their music. At first, I was dumbstruck: then why is she here, I wondered? Once the performance got under way, I understood. More than perhaps any other contemporary concertgoing experience, a GWAR show is all about being there. The spectacle, the volume, and the songs about death and hate. It’s all so ludicrously outrageous as to be funny. Very funny, in fact.


click on image to view larger version

To those who’ve never attended a GWAR show, think of it as sort of a cartoonish dark-side answer to a Flaming Lips show. Instead of having Wayne Coyne up there spouting heartfelt feel-good messages about peace and love, you have instead Pustulus Maximus or Bonesnapper screaming to the audience (affectionately known as scumdogs) something or other about bloodbaths. And instead of Steven Drozd chirping “thank you” in a high-pitched voice, you get the lovely Vulvatron, complete with prosthetic mammaries that – you guessed it – squirt high-velocity red liquid upon the supplicant scumdogs.

In print, I should think this all reads as pretty horrible. And indeed it is; other than a ringing in my ears (even with heavy duty earplugs), I have no distinct sonic memories of the show beyond a ceaseless cacaphony. And that word I used advisedly: on many levels the music was caca, and the violence and mayhem was all phony. Would I go to another GWAR performance? Probably not: one and done, and it’s marked off of my bucket list. But am I glad to have gone? Absolutely: it was all good clean filthy fun, and there really is nothing else quite like a GWAR show.

Here’s some audience video of the show I attended, shot by a brave fellow scumdog. It’s decidedly NSFW, by the way.

 

Note: I had been set up with a photo pass, and given the standard admonition (“first three songs, no flash”). But I had been given an additional warning, that I should operate my camera from inside a clear plastic bag so as not to see it damaged. In the end I opted to leave my photo gear at home. Instead I proudly and gratefully present samples from the evening courtesy of an honest-to-goodness professional photographer – and a brave one at that – Patrice Kennedy-Murillo of Indulge Images. Forget about bowing to the gods of metal; I bow to Patrice’s peerless photography work, a small sampling of which accompanies this review.

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New Crest on an Old Wave: The Dave Mason Interview (Part Two)

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: This current tour [coming to Asheville's Orange Peel on Nov. 8]  is billed as Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam. From what I’ve read, it seems that you’ll split the show between versions of material that we know from farther back, and the other part is newer material. Tell me a little bit about how the show works.

Dave Mason: I thought it would be kinda cool to put something together where I could revisit things from the beginning, from the Traffic work forward. Essentially what the show becomes is a sort of two-hour travelogue, I guess, of all my music up until this point. We start out with early Traffic stuff, and then after we take a break – though sometimes we do the show straight through, depending on the venue – we come back and I focus on stuff from my own career. From Alone Together to Let it Flow through what’s on the new CD, Future’s Past.

I wasn’t planning on putting out a new CD, frankly. It’s a compilation of things I had been working on at home, playing around with. So there’s some new songs on there, and as you say I revisit new versions of “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” a completely revised version of “World in Changes” from Alone Together, and a live performance of “As Sad and Deep As You.” That’s included because it turned out so wild that I just felt it had to be on there.

Another thing about the show is that it includes some pictorial stuff, and I tell a few stories and things like that. It’s kinda fun, and it’s going over really well.

BK: I believe that I read that the album that became Future’s Past started out as an EP…

DM: Originally, I was just going to put four tunes out. But I had stuff at home, because I’m always futzing around in the studio. And then it was, “Oh, let’s put that one in.” and, “Let’s put that one in, too! That’ll be good.” It ended up being nine songs.

BK: 2008′s 26 Letters 12 Notes was your first album of original material in many years. And now in 2014 there’s this new one. These follow a steady stream of live albums. It seems that in some ways you prefer the stage to the studio; is that true?

DM: The bottom line is now, that it’s truly all about live performance. Frankly, it’s…I don’t want to say the internet killed things, because it’s just another delivery system, but the big flaw is that there’s no radio any more. There’s no way for people to know that there’s something new out. So that’s, to me, the really big problem. In the days of FM, you’d hear some great, mixed-up stuff. Some great music. And for a start, there’d be somebody there deejaying! But as a national format, it just doesn’t exist any more.

The other problem with the internet is that it’s just destroying intellectual property. And the problem there goes to writers [journalists] as well as songwriters. Because everybody’s just taking everything…

BK: There was a time when music journalists could make a living!

DM: Exactly! And that’s the down-side of the internet. I could go on and on, be then it becomes…as people could say, “oh, you’re just bitching.” But I’m not. Because it’s my livelihood. As it would be for a journalist or anybody else.

And so it all circles back to the point that yes, it’s all down to playing live. Which is where it all started, anyway.

BK: The way I look at it, in the days of radio, you had broadcasting; nowadays, it’s narrowcasting. Back then, you’d turn on the radio, and you might hear a hard rock tune followed by a pop sort of thing, followed by something else; kind of all over the map, based at least in part on the whims and tastes of the real-live disc jockey. So people were exposed to different things, some of which they’d like, and some they won’t. Today we’ve got things like Pandora, which to some extent operate on the opposite idea: “So you like this song? Well, here’s something a lot like it that you might enjoy.” So the listener’s focus gets narrower.

DM: Yeah. The focus groups killed everything! [laughs] Everybody gets pigeonholed, tagged. It’s a shame. Because music is much more diverse than that. FM radio was diverse. And not only that: when they played something, they actually told you what it was!

BK: Now there’s an app for that.

DM: But we soldier on!

BK: When I go to a concert featuring artists who came to fame in the 60s or 70s, I’m always interested to look around the room. For some of them, the demographic is simply people in their fifties and over, full stop. For others, it’s more balanced, with younger people in the crowd. Have you noticed, which is it for you?

DM: The bulk of my core audience is 40s up to…hmm…late 70s. But I see younger people being there, for sure. And younger people who come – who are, let’s say, hearing my music for the first time – they come up to me afterward and are like, “Wow! That was incredible!”

Everything gets so categorized, and formularized, pasteurized, homogenized – “it should be this” and “it should be that” – but the bottom line is this: if something is good, and especially if it has the ring of authenticity, then I don’t care what age you are. You’re gonna “get” it.


Mason notes also that signed copes of Future’s Past may be ordered from davemasonmusic.com, and the individual tracks are available for download/purchase. And it is also available on vinyl. — bk

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New Crest on an Old Wave: The Dave Mason Interview (Part One)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Dave Mason was born in Worcester England, halfway between London and Liverpool. A few years younger even than The BeatlesGeorge Harrison, Mason came up in the sort of second wave of British rock acts, first gaining fame as a member of Traffic. Alongside Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood, Mason was a major force in the band, most notably on their second LP, 1968′s Traffic, on which half of the ten tracks were Mason compositions or co-writes.

But Mason’s relationship with his bandmates in Traffic was always problematic: he had appeared on their debut LP (writing several songs for it as well) but had left by the time of its release (the American LP used a photo of the band that didn’t include him). His on-again, off-again status in Traffic yielded some excellent tunes – “Hole in My Shoe” (an early hit single), the original version of the now-standard “Feelin’ Alright?” and others – but ultimately he found himself on the outside of the group.

By 1970 Mason began a solo career. He also collaborated with Cass Elliot on a well-received album, and thanks to both his skills as a player and his well-connectedness in the rock community, he picked up a lot of high profile session work. If you’re a fan of rock from the late 60s though the mid 1970s, you’ve probably got a good bit of Dave Mason in your collection, whether you know it or not. He’s on albums by The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix (that’s him on acoustic twelve-string on “All Along the Watchtower”), Paul McCartney and Wings, Stephen Stills, Delaney and Bonnie and more. He was even – for a time in the mid 1990s – a member of Fleetwood Mac.

As a solo artist, Mason enjoyed several hit singles, including “Only You Know and I Know” (1970), 1977′s “We Just Disagree” and several others. These days, Mason concentrates more on public performances than studio work – as we’ll see in a moment – but he’s touring now in support of a new album called Future’s Past. Alongside new songs, the album – and its accompanying tour – takes an encompassing look at Mason’s musical career, most pointedly back to his earliest days in Traffic. In advance of his upcoming Asheville date (Saturday November 8 at The Orange Peel), we chatted about the new album, music old and new, and the state of what used to be called “radio.” The first thing I noticed was that – to my great surprise – having moved to the States decades ago, Mason has all but lost his British accent.

Bill Kopp: On the early Traffic albums – especially the second, self-titled one – your songwriting was a key component of the band’s sound. Did you bring those songs to the band, or did they develop out of group jamming to which you eventually applied lyrics?

Dave Mason: No, they were already written; that’s how I work. Which was sort of a conflict with the rest of them in the band, really. But I usually have a pretty good idea of what the song’s going to be, before I even walk into a studio. Other than how the other musicians might interpret it, the song itself is finished.

BK: Judging by the versions of old Traffic-era songs on Future’s Past, some of the arrangements are often quite different from the versions that Traffic recorded…

DM: Yeah, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” – which is not my song anyway – the original is in a major key. I put it in a minor key, and added a few more chords. I didn’t change the melody, but I changed it musically, adapted it. I don’t see the point in trying to reproduce what was already done.

BK: It seems that after your work with Traffic, Delaney and Bonnie, Cass Elliot, Derek and the Dominoes and a number of highly regarded guest spots on some of my favorite early to mid 1970s albums, you largely made a decision to work with your own bands. Is that an accurate characterization, or did it just sort of evolve that way?

DM: Well, there really was no [laughs sardonically] – it’s hard to put it into the right terms – there was really no place for me in Traffic any more. That’s why I went on my own. And then at that point, rather than staying in England, I thought it was time to pack a bag and come to the land where it all originated.

BK: Do you find fronting a band more appealing than, say, a more collaborative approach?

DM: [Lengthy pause while he mulls the question] I never wanted to be a solo artist per se. I always liked being part of a band; I thought that differences were what made things stronger. It sort of just turned out this way, I guess. And then I had to sort of [chuckles] learn to stand up there in front and “be the guy.”

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Concert Preview: Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Shine a light into some of rock history’s less well-lit corners, and you’ll discover some strange yet intriguing detours. Among the most remarkable of these is the conceptual mash-up: combining not two different songs, but two different musical sensibilities. The results can often be noteworthy.

Take, for example, the one-off music film clip made for early 1990s Australian television by tribute group The Beatnix: their reinvention of Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven” as a Meet the Beatles-era raver is inspired beyond description. And speaking of Zep, the group Dread Zeppelin had a high concept of their own: a rotund Elvis Presley impersonator fronting a reggae band, covering Led Zeppelin. And so on: Hayseed Dixie got a surprising bit of mileage out of their inspired and hilarious bluegrass readings of classic rock songs by the likes of AC/DC.

The one quality that all these examples share, of course, is humor: in all cases they’re playing it for laughs. But the conceptual pastiche doesn’t have to be a joke. The latest (and perhaps the best) example of we-mean-it-man combining of styles has to be Brownout. The idea of wedding a Tex-Mex horn section and a soulful/funky heavy lead guitar to the songs of Black Sabbath might read like some sort of cosmic joke, but it doesn’t sound like one.

This Austin TX band describes their music as “hardcore Latin funk,” and this outfit – a spinoff from Grupo Fantasma — has long been folding other elements into their signature sound. And they do in fact have a sense of humor: how else to explain the creation of an instrumental that sounds like it could have come out of a Mexican ripoff of the Shaft soundtrack, and the titling of said tune “Brown Wind and Fire.”

The group’s third and latest album is called Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, and it’s exactly that: clever and inventive reimaginings of seven classic-era Sabbath tunes. Three tracks from the debut album by Birmingham’s metal masters, three more from their 1970 followup Paranoid, and one from Masters of Reality make up the disc. (This leaves at least three – possibly five – Ozzy Osbourne-era Sabbath LPs to cover on a potential followup disc.)

And while when one hears these tunes, a grin is likely to spread across one’s face, it’s really about much more than humor. The uber-heavy dropped-E riffage of Tony Iommy is recast by Brownout as peppy horn charts that owe as much to Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass or early Blood, Sweat and Tears. And the melodicism of Sabbath’s group-penned music – a quality that didn’t always shine through on Black Sabbath albums – comes through loud and clear in the hands of this eight-man group.

As tasty as the album is, seeing the group live promises to be an even more attractive prospect. And if you’re in or near Asheville NC, you’ve got the perfect opportunity. Brownout will appear onstage at the Asheville Music Hall – as eclectic a venue as you’ll likely encounter – on Saturday, October 25. Advance tickets are a mere $12 ($14 at the door), and these Austin Music Awards winners will take the stage at 10pm. I’m going; if you make the show, find me and say hello.

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Honeymoon Hundred-word Reviews, Part 5

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

I’m on my honeymoon this week, so I thought it would be a good time to offer up some backlog-clearing entries in my occasional series of Hundred Word Reviews. And though the musical styles are all over the map, there’s a theme of sorts this time: each of the acts reviewed has been covered previously, either via review or feature/interview.

The series wraps up – for now – with looks at new music from American artists.


Steve Wynn – Sketches in Spain
This Omnivore Recordings collection isn’t exactly a reissue: the albums from which the 19 tracks are drawn (Smack Dab and Australian Blonde) were released only in Spain. Sounding like a cross between Television and Gang of Four, Smack Dab prominently features Linda Pitmon‘s thundering bass. The even-earlier (but released later) Australian Blonde material is surprisingly poppy, shimmering ear candy that may come as a shock to those familiar with Wynn’s other work. Some unexpected and thematically linked covers (Three Dog Night‘s “Never Been to Spain,” Los Bravos‘ “Black is Black”) showcase Wynn’s latent skill at interpreting the work of others.


Alarm Clock Conspiracy – Harlequin
Back in early 2012 I championed their first album, but on Harlequin, this Asheville NC-based quartet has seriously raised the bar. Thanks in large part to the songwriting prowess of two very different composers (guitarists Chris Carter and Ian Reardon) the album is a near-perfect balance of powerpop, Southern rock and progressive-leaning rock. Reardon’s title track hints at what “modern country” could sound like if the genre didn’t, y’know, suck. The soaring yet understated harmonies on Carter’s “Thinking Of” are delightful. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this album picked up by a larger label and reissued. Buy this disc.


The Squires of the Subterrain – s/t
As on the last outing from this “group” (Christopher Earl and occasional guests), this disc – either self-titled or called Stereo – feels like a lo-fi update of The Beach Boys, SMiLE era. That said, its most modern corollary might be Olivia Tremor Control; Earl and those Elephant 6 guys share a common aesthetic vision. Ba-ba-ba vocalisms rest comfortably aside jangly guitars and intentionally gauzy production. With its chirpy horn section and chiming backing, “History” weds Sgt. Pepper stylings to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. With his deft way around a melody, Earl could be labeled America’s Martin Newell.

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Bonus Weekend Feature: 101 Runners

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

I’m getting married today! And I’m so happy about it that I have a gift for my readers: an extra, weekend piece. This is an edited version of a feature that ran a couple of weeks ago in Asheville NC’s local altweekly, Mountain Xpress. — bk


New Orleans is rightly acclaimed as the birthplace of jazz, that most American of art forms. But the city’s rich, multi-ethnic heritage gave rise to an even earlier musical style. Though Mardi Gras Indian funk doesn’t enjoy jazz’s high profile, the lively and expressive form is kept alive through the music and performances of groups like 101 Runners. Recently in Asheville for two shows, Sep. 13 and 14, and featuring War Chief Juan Pardo, the group is an exemplar of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, renowned for pageantry and reveling at Mardi Gras carnivals in New Orleans.

Band leader Chris Jones characterizes Mardi Gras Indian funk as the musical product of “a magic, mystical, spiritual and ancestral tradition” dating back to the late 1800s, a time during which “local Indian tribes and formerly enslaved African Americans had commonality.” These ethnic groups had common problems, and helped each other in many different ways. Centered around New Orleans’ Congo Market, they interacted freely and often, trading goods and mingling bloodlines. Jones points out that the oral tradition of singing, chanting and drumming that developed among the combined cultures is “relatively undocumented,” though some recordings by artists such as Jelly Roll Morton showcased the developing style. The first tribe debuted in the 1880s, calling itself The Creole Wild West; they remain active today. Jones considers the Mardi Gras Indian tradition “one of the most incredible subculture phenomena” in America: “two of the most oppressed peoples of the time were able – through craft and song – to form a bond that helped them weather the storm.” And that strength has helped the tradition continue to this day. “There’s a lot of mystery” to that tradition, Jones says. “A lot of things, they keep close to their vest.”

Asheville’s Goombay festival, then, is an ideal showcase for 101 Runners. The deep connection between Native Americans and African Americans is explored in the group’s percussion-centric music.

Perhaps the most well-known major group exploring the style was The Wild Tchoupitoulas; produced by Allen Toussaint, their 1976 album brought the style to national prominence. They added “a foundation of funk organization” to traditional tribal drumming. 101 Runners build on that style, further exploring the music’s African percussion roots. “A lot of the music starts with the chants and percussion, then the music comes in,” Jones explains. “Then we go on the musical journey together.” He laughs and sums it up as “organized chaos.”

The band’s pair of Asheville dates – an “official Goombay after party” at New Mountain, and a parade and show to close out Goombay on Saturday night – featured African dancers and the flamboyantly dressed Mardi Gras Indians. 101 Runners widened their musical vision further to include a number of local Appalachian musicians who joined in. Jones has experience in this area: he conceived and produced the BlueBrass Project, a series of recordings that paired New Orleans and Appalachian musical styles. Asheville-based musicians Jay Sanders and Woody Wood are veteran members of the loosely-knit 101 Runners collective. Asheville concertgoers experienced a unique mashup of cultures and roots music styles. By focusing on that – plus the African elements highlighted in the Goombay festival – the group could “cross-pollinate.”

“They originally wanted us to play 45 minutes” at Goombay, Jones says. “That’s like two tunes for us!” 101 Runners negotiated to play longer. But Jones stresses that the dance-oriented, partying Mardi Gras Indian funk is about fun; it’s not “deep and trippy and jammy.”

Jones says that War Chief Juan Pardo “spends countless hours” creating his outfit; the result is full of beads, feathers, rhinestones and other colorful ornamentation. There’s nothing like a 101 Runners performance, promises Jones. Onstage, 101 Runners are “never the same thing twice. In ten years, we’ve had two rehearsals. And one of them was terrible!” Jones observes that the ancestral nature of the music – paying tribute to so many American traditions – can often “wake up some of the ones who came before. One thing I learned really early was not to put any confines on it. We let the music take us where it goes; it’s moving artistic expression.”

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