The Humidors

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There are many more ways to get funk wrong than there are ways to get it right. Funk is seemingly simple but in reality it’s a complex dance of contradictions. Like any tributary that flows from jazz, it requires chops BUT it simultaneously demands organic looseness, ass-activating swing AND clear-eyed discipline measured out with intuition and crowd-reading sensitivity. Funk is often best served up on stages, fueled by the heat of bodies and the sweat a band wrings from the audience BUT the best purveyors of funky stuff know how to deliver the goods in the studio as well (see just about every 60s/70s James Brown album as proof). Funk also asks musicians to blur genre lines in a most conversational way, groove being the underlying unifier but growling rock, saucy Latinismo, belly fire blues and more tilt the music in all sorts of directions. It requires players to straddle several realms simultaneously AND still make folks move, and similarly, the lyrical content of good funk needs to be both streetwise-philosophical AND nuanced to accentuate hip grinding movements.

Debut Album

Debut Album

So, with so many moving parts and so many places to slip up, it’s a real pleasure to come across a funk-soul debut like the self-titled inaugural release from San Francisco’s The Humidors. This young, hungry band just gets funk right. Things are tight when they need to be and voluptuously flexible when that’s the right thing. The Humidors play as a unit, and even as single instruments float into foreground – the solos are lean models of how to do this shit without wasting time or showboating – it’s the overall group feel that ensnares one.

From the first rushing notes of “Fat Cakes” – there’s something pleasantly old school about their song titles – it’s nakedly obvious this band is after “it” – the big groove, some truth, a good time, etc. – and they pursue their goals with breathless, focused intensity. Sharpened in Bay Area night spots, this is the refined version of The Humidors’ hopping, downright humid live shows. “Gospel of Funk” and “Funk You to Death” are suitably scorchers, and they show some darker hues on “Filthy Laundry” and “Treason” as well as Latin swerve on “Feel Me Now” and an Ethiopian pop feel permeates“Lust For Life.” Unlike a lot of their soul-minded peers, this band writes memorable tunes with enough flexibility to continue to evolve in concert. It’s one thing to play well – and they do – but to put one’s talents to work on worthwhile material is so much better.

The Humidors

The Humidors

They know their funk history and there are juicy echoes of early Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, 60s Blue Note Records, Tower of Power, and Gary Bartz Ntu Troop. Lead singer Joseph Carter offers a highly appealing mixture of authority and panty-dropping smoothness, and the rhythm team of Eric Podolsky (bass), Junichiro Shimamura (drums) and Justin Abee (congas, bongas, percussion) are an ideal funk line – always where they need to be, riding in the music’s muscles but peppering things with interesting touches that reward the listener for tuning into individual elements. The front line of Bryan Weinberg (guitar) and Benjamin Carrie (keys, Hammond) sting mightily, and the horns are both a strong presence felt and just the right amount of brass interjection. Flow and variety are the hallmarks of the album, and like the best first offerings, it gives one the sense that this band is going to continue to evolve and sharpen their game with enjoyable steadiness.

Though a fairly new group, The Humidors, based on the evidence of this debut and their strong live presence in the SF area, are comers, a band capable of holding their own against established touring circuit/festival acts like Pimps of Joytime and The Monophonics, and it’s to be hoped that forward minded bookers snap them up as a surprise as the band begins to expand beyond its home base this year.

The Curtis Mayflower

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What makes you tick, darling? What makes you sick, darling? Clockwork hearts have broken parts but there’s a fix, darling.

Debut Album

Debut Album

Feel can’t be manufactured. A lot of other stuff can be faked or Pro-Tooled these days but feel, the essential intangible to really good music, only occurs naturally. It’s the thing that makes one’s hair stand up long before one understands why. Feel is what makes us hit repeat and gush apostolically about a band’s merits to friends. Central Massachusetts-based The Curtis Mayflower oozes feel from the first bubbling notes through the last moaning chords of their excellent debut album Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack (released January 28), which vibrates with immediacy, all hot breath and focused attack on this 11-song, live off the floor collection of one-takers.

The Curtis Mayflower by Marc Blackmer

The Curtis Mayflower by Marc Blackmer

The Curtis Mayflower play rock ‘n’ roll of the best, broadest kind – Duane-era Allman Brothers and Delaney & Bonnie and the Butterfield Blues Band in their prime spring to mind – delivered with a confidence, manly aura and sure-footed skill that’s downright seductive, a sound with a wide appeal to electric blues nuts, jam band kids, Muscle Shoals enthusiasts, and perhaps Black Keys fans looking for something deeper and more subtle. Pete Aleksi (guitar, backing vocals), Duncan Arsenault (drums, percussion), Jeremy Moses Curtis (bass, backing vocals), Brooks Milgate (keyboards, accordion, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Craig Rawding (lead vocals, harmonica) get after it with a sincerity, rugged tenacity and earthy vibe. In other words, there’s the unmistakable sense that these dudes are after IT in a most tenacious way all over their debut.

All veteran players with resumes that include stints with Levon Helm, Booker T Jones, Jim Carroll, Mark Burgess and others, the combination of personalities and talents in The Curtis Mayflower is evident real deal chemistry. Together these guys swing, hard and long, and their pleasure and purpose infuse the music. And while they can rock the hell out (“Crawl No More,” “Carry Your Burden” and “Ben The Destroyer” growl and howl convincingly) it’s when they slow it down during the early album sequence of “Last Kiss,” “Punchline” and “Paraselene” that it’s most obvious this band knows what it’s doing, reining in and releasing its power with effective intuition. This sequence is also where the deep soul of Rawding’s lead vocals really emerge, a powerhouse cousin to Frankie Miller, Robert Palmer and Warren Haynes (there’s actually a fair amount of kinship with Gov’t Mule with this whole band). One can easily imagine the closed eyes and clenched fists as he drags out all the feeling inside him and launches it at the listener with walloping force.

Studio Working

Studio Working

Everybody can play in this band, like down in the cut, got that groove by the teeth musicianship, and the Impound is knocked out by the flowing, muscular rhythm team of Curtis and Arsenault, the shifting, sexy keyboard work of Milgate (who brings to mind a merger of Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright and young Gregg Allman), and the way guitarist Pete Aleksi burns hard in the right measures but shines equally well when he embeds himself in the sinews. There’s not a ton of solos and the preference for textures and ensemble playing intensifies the feeling of a group effort. Cool little touches abound on Everything Beautiful Is Under Attack, including some sweet baritone sax from Dana Colley on “Clockwork Hearts”.

The Curtis Mayflower joins the growing ranks of what Dirty Impound calls the Real Rock Revolution. It ain’t happening on video channels or most commercial radio stations but something bred in the bone and birthed from Classic Rock’s soil is emerging, and these cats join Dead Boots, Ghosts of Jupiter, Futurebirds, Powder Mill, Rose Hill Drive, The Steepwater Band, Lions In The Street, Go By Ocean and a handful of others uninterested in catering to industry tastes but utterly committed to forging tough, craftsman-wise and gut level true music. It’s also a fair guess that if one is partial to what the Tedeschi-Trucks Band is laying down these days they’re going to find a lot simpatico in The Curtis Mayflower – savvy blues fest organizers take note.

Bottom line, this band is in it to make music that means something to them. There’s zero hint of market planning or demographic catering, just music for the beautiful, life-affirming sake of it, suffused with heart and skill, ready to soundtrack the working weeks and long hours folks face every sunrise.

Fruition

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”I ain’t got no problem just being where I’m at. Well, I guess I could be somewhere else but I don’t care about that.”

New Album

New Album

“Git Along,” the opening cut from Just One Of Them Nights (released July 30), the damn fine new album from Portland-based Fruition, is akin to hearing “Wagon Wheel” or “The Weight” for the first time – by the chorus you feel some of the heaviness of the Human Condition lifted as one realizes they’ve gained another tool for getting through the bumps and bad turns on life’s road. In fact, the road – literal and metaphorical – figures prominently on Just One Of Them Nights. These are gypsy musician gunslingers, pure highway denizens missing home but never quite at home with a fixed address, a wedding ring, or days spent without a fresh horizon looming through the windshield.

An appealing sense of adventure, including its dangers to heart and limb, infuses Fruition’s music. It comes through loud and clear in their live presence, too, which the Impound saw on exceedingly charming display at this year’s High Sierra Music Festival where the band knocked out folks both in their own sets and their many enthusiastic, attention grabbing sit-ins.

Fruition

Fruition

Talent and charisma aren’t things this quintet lacks. Jay Cobb Anderson (vocals, lead guitar, harmonica), Kellen Asebroek (vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Mimi Naja (vocals, mandolin, guitar, piano), Keith Simon (upright & electric bass), and Tyler Thompson (drums, banjo) are about as gifted, confident and eager to please a bunch of players as you’re likely to find in 2013, but what truly separates them from the herd is their terrific songwriting and empathetic interplay. It would be one thing to offer up emotionally rich, widely appealing ditties but the nuances and overlap of their singing and picking gives everything that lil’ extra nudge that tells one they’re witnessing the gestation of a band that’s gonna be absolutely great one day, a real contender in the long term game that understands that building the right foundation makes all the difference.

It’s not a surprise that they’ve already engendered a fierce following that exceeded the Kickstarter goal that got Just One Of Them Nights made. When one feels close to artists that are a blast to take in AND have some ontological heft too, well, it’s natural to want to fuel them if one really cares about music. This album works from beginning to end, offering real diversity but a DJ-esque sense of build and flow in the sequencing and arrangements, one minute sounding like a new millennial answer to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks (“Mountain Annie”) and the next rockin’ lustily like Fairport Convention’s youthful U.S. cousins (“Blue Light”).

There’s a lot of forebears one might point to while listening to Just One Of Them Nights but the one that resounds most powerfully for DI is Goose Creek Symphony, where there’s just the right amount twang, unabashed rock ‘n’ rollin’ and mountain lilt blended for something distinctly American in the rootsiest, best sense. Whether offering a ragtime dappled salute to their home base (“Portland Bound”), conjuring “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” Merle Haggard (title track) or raising goosebumps with their close harmonies (“Come On, Get In” – someone needs to hip these kids to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross if they aren’t already in the know just to see what a more pronounced jazz influence does to their already meaty stew), Fruition’s latest effort and the band in a broader sense are on the rise. Consider yourselves served notice to wade in now before it gets a lot harder to ride the rail with this kindred spirit to fellow comers Elephant Revival, Dead Winter Carpenters, and The Felice Brothers.

Fruition are currently opening for DI Super Faves Greensky Bluegrass, playing tomorrow night, November 8, at The Fillmore in San Francisco before heading to Los Angeles (11/9), Solano Beach (11/10), Flagstaff, AZ (11/12) and then up to Utah, and Colorado. Check out their full tour schedule HERE.

Bosnian Rainbows

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Spring kisses all my thoughts/ These strands of memories invading us throughout life.”

Bosnian Rainbows

Bosnian Rainbows

Bosnian Rainbows is like nothing else Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Teri Gender Bender have done in the past, but what would one expect but innovation and honest musical curiosity from the pair that brought us The Mars Volta and Le Butcherettes? Given the resurgence of 80s sounds it makes vaguely perfect sense that they’d run their sticky sonic fingers through the best recesses of that decade to scoop up music that makes the many imitators and style monkeys trolling the same era look as lazy and unoriginal as they are.

cool echoes abound!

Animal Party

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Baby_Animal_Album

Sometimes things that are really good announce themselves without much fanfare, sidling up with an extended hand and a quiet smile, to whisper, “Howdy, I’m some of that good shit you’ve been looking for and didn’t even know it.” This is how charm operates, particularly in the musical realm, where a careful balance of newness and well-established winning moves is required to leap over the hurdles of familiarity and rote and still hit a communal sweet spot. San Francisco’s Animal Party makes that leap with dexterous grace, sure footed through some of the most charming pop splashed rock to emerge this year.

The band’s recently released debut album, Walk On Stars, flows from crunchy, high energy rockers through old school love songs and more, an assured, hungry trio – Kiyoshi Foster (vocals, guitar, songwriting, keys), Mark Calderon (bass) and Evan Bautista (drums) – putting their shoulders into it. There’s the feel of prime 70s killers given a contemporary polish, the direct, muscular sound and general vibe akin to Cheap Trick’s Heaven Tonight, Peter Frampton’s marvelous 1975 self-titled record, or Aerosmith’sRocks, where the full-throated powerhouse singing, consistently strong songs and studio-elevated but live-on-the-floor feel actively scoop one up – music of great embrace and no shortage of grip once it gets a hold of you.

Baby_Animal_Band

The guitar work is sexy as hell with Foster getting a skilled hand from DI fave Sean Leahy on four tracks where the pair run their fingers through your hair and rifle through your pockets. In short, you feel it when these two lay it down. Other guests include Turi McClain (violin), Tea Leaf’s Trevor Garrod (piano), Forrest Day (sax) and more, each turn smartly placed, each a flavor that accentuates the positive by serving the songs in appealingly focused ways. A chunk of the album’s sonic success goes to co-producer Jeremy Black, who once again exhibits his ability to pull out the best in artists without leaving undue fingerprints. Everyone blowing their kid’s college funds on Jacquire King and Ethan Johns needs to get hip to Black and his cool Oakland lair Coyote Hearing Studio.

Animal Party proves adept at forceful, pleasantly snarling rockers (“The Sun Will Rise” has a grinning, rowdy bite worthy of Arctic Monkeys), bouncing pop-rock (the song “Animal Party” could be the greatest Split Enz tune not written by a Finn brother), soaring, gently exploratory anthems (the title cut and “Easy Wave” are genuinely transporting listening experiences), and further widens their scope in the album’s second half with the vintage Motown skip of “One Soft Kiss” and radio-ready “Your Heart (Needs To Be Free),” which is kind of the ballad Jack Johnson has been trying to pull off his whole career but not nearly as successfully – seriously, Foster completely sells a line like, “Sweet is the fairy of the summer on my tongue” with loverman skill. More than any specifics, it’s the overall feel of Walk On Stars that works at casting a spell that draws one out – out of their head, out of a bad day, out of the shadows. It’s a charmer through and through and as pleasing a first outing as the Impound has encountered in recent years.

Tea Leaf Trio

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Download the first volume of Tea Leaf Trio interpretations for FREE right over HERE

Baby_TrioVolOne

A good cover version of another’s composition entails more than pulling on the original costume and waving one’s arms. A faithful rendition can be a pleasing homage but what truly elevates an often pedestrian action to a ghostly collaboration is a healthy mix of respect and disregard for the original work. To inhabit a tune not of one’s own invention requires a lover’s touch that pushes as much as it pulls, a few scratches left behind so there’s no doubt someone has been there and gotten the job done and well. And there are lovely rosy fingerprints and happy bruising to the wild ride Tea Leaf Trio generates on 13 captured-in-one-night covers on Volume 1 [click on title to download for FREE, y'all!]

Tea Leaf Trio

Tea Leaf Trio

The trio is three-fifths of Tea Leaf Green distilled down to the (positively) nasty, distortion dappled bar band at the Restaurant at the End of The Universe. Trevor Garrod (electric piano, vocals), Cochrane McMillan (percussion) and Reed Mathis (bass, vocals) crackle with live wire energy as they singe and sizzle in heartfelt improvisation, tasting what Mathis calls “one of the sweetest fruits on the music tree.” Nothing is worried over too much, inspiration and instinct leading the way, the vocals both oddly beautiful and a nicely ragged, a bit woozy in pleasantly tipsy ways in spots, soaring and intertwining unexpectedly in others. The playing is engaged and active, busier than most TLG, anxious and a little off-kilter like Dylan and company on “Highway 61 Revisited,” the noisemakers implied in an atmosphere of edgy possibility, each member integral to the overall feel but free to try whatever pops into their noggin. It is the most playful studio set to ever emerge from gentlemen never short on playfulness.

As for the springboards the trio has chosen a revealing, nutty assortment that includes late period John Lennon (“Grow Old With Me”), Fred Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin’”), The Beatles (“Mother Nature’s Son”), four from improviser-arranger extraordinaire Bob Dylan (“Standing In The Doorway,” “Time Passes Slowly,” “Just Like A Woman” and “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”), Rufus Wainwright (“Out of the Game”), Bob Weir (“Mexicali Blues”), Simon & Garfunkel (“America”), David Bowie (“Star Man”), Jimi Hendrix (“Electric Ladyland”) and the traditional (“Peggy-O”). The mixture of well known classics and deep cuts creates a nice tension, and always expectations and memories of the originals are smartly warped in the trio’s schema. To pour over any individual track would be to rob the listener of an essential aspect of this exchange – his or her own interpretation. This album demands a reaction, each version here too bold and distinct to be ignored, but also sure to engender vastly different reactions from each person.

Volume 1 is a rock answer to John Coltrane’s Ballads, where vibrant improvisers swing on familiar strains, freed up by the material to weave and jab with easy grace and no little measure of fancy footwork. More simply, Volume 1 is an unexpected knockout filled with conversational excellence, sonic sparks, exhilarating but consciously unpolished musicianship and a record lover’s heart. One hopes we won’t be long in waiting for Volume 2.

Lesser Bangs

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”I like the way it sounds/ Like aliens are playing in the band/ Playing dive bars deep in outer space/ And pushed out of the clubs by common droids/ Playing with noise.”

Lesser Bangs

Lesser Bangs

When folks talk about chemistry in music they mean something less scientific and more palpably intangible – feel, connective lines of unspoken communication, and more simply, a collective vibe that makes folks tingle. Musical chemistry is what lets us know we’re encountering something new, the faint whiff that makes our sonic nostrils flare. It’s what tells us that for all the elements we recognize and can explicate with references to bands past there’s still something new to be said, some new presence we haven’t met yet holding out a hand, ready to shake us with all its might. Portland’s Lesser Bangs has enough chemistry working to get a whole lot of folks buzzed and smiling.

Their boffo debut release, Alamo Basement (released August 27), launches with a Tom Petty-esque rocker that begins, “All my friends are addicts & lovers. None of them get it for free.” Things continue to thicken quickly with “Droids,” offering the first inkling of the group’s subtle, weird humor, which is reminiscent of early Steely Dan. That sophisticated touchstone is one of several that stroll around Alamo Basement, which feels resolutely modern but totally aware of Pink Floyd, Phish and other archetypal ancestors that don’t start with “P” like The Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips.

Baby_LesserBangs_Alamo

The hiss ‘n’ spark of this machine age is ever-present but balanced by warming classic rock elements – the pure tone of the wicked and tender piano work, the yearning raggedness of some vocal passages, well sculpted choruses, a facility with non-boring jamming, a knack for knowing when a simple repeated line is more effective and emotionally impactful than a stew of words. Blasted loudly from midget tall speakers, the album sounds fantastic, a callback to a bigness and boldness that marked earlier eras in rock.

Float around in Lesser Bangs’ ocean for a spell and one begins to see they’re special, the sort of band that becomes “the” band for a dedicated core flock. They remind us of some of DI’s most beloved cult greats – God Street Wine, Citizens’ Utilities, Perpetual Groove and Soul Coughing – sharing those bands peculiar swirl of strong musicianship, undisguised weirdo tendencies, and a put-their-shoulder-into-it gusto for songwriting, production and performances that’s goddamn winning as hell.

Willie Sugarcapps

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Willie Sugarcapps is playing shows in September and October. You can catch them this weekend in Jackson, MS (Fri, 9/20), in Nashville, TN at the Americanarama Festival (Sat, 9/21) and in Silverhill, AL (Sun, 9/22). Check out their full itinerary HERE.

Willie Sugarcapps by Catt Sirten

Willie Sugarcapps by Catt Sirten

”Now, pick up a guitar and sing us a song about the people you’ve seen and the places you’ve gone. Tell us all the news from across the land. Show us all the calluses you’ve got on your hands.”

Really good tunes offered up with living room/back porch bonhomie is what the inviting debut from Willie Sugarcapps is all about. Comprised of a super talented but less-well-known-than-they-should-be quintet of Will Kimbrough (vocals, acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, banjo, mandolin & more), Sugarcane Jane’s Anthony Crawford (vocals, acoustic guitar, kala u bass, kick drum) & Savana Lee (vocals, acoustic guitar, tambourine), Impound favorite Grayson Capps (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, shaker) and Lost Cause Minstrels’ Corky Hughes (electric guitar, lap steel), this homey and professional, experienced and delightfully fresh, and simply some of the best roots tunesmithing happening today, top tier folk music that retains a dusty, lived-in feel that Woody Guthrie would likely have dug a great deal.

Baby_Sugarcapps_Album

Woody is name checked on the opener for the group’s self-titled album (released August 20 by The Royal Potato Family) but he’s not the only quality forebear in the air. Leadbelly, John Prine and Buddy & Julie Miller are kindred spirits, not to mention the stompin’ country side of Ronnie Van Zant era Skynyrd – Willie’s “Mr. Lee” and titular theme song are relatives to “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” i.e. scuffed up, Southern touched primers for sipping and swaying. Every singer has character and savors the words in ways that endear them to the listener with a sure swiftness, all the crackled, feeling marbled humanity missing from this over-produced musical age. A palpable mood of smiling camaraderie infuses the album, which has an uplifting lilt even when moving through bittersweet territory like the Kimbrough-penned “Gypsy Train,” which muses, “Most days I’m flying, living my dream/ Some days I’m falling apart at the seams.”

This strikes one as a mutual admiration society, where the members have brought some of their shiniest, sturdiest wares to show off and allow the others to buff to even greater glow. Co-produced by the band and longtime Capps cohort Trina Shoemaker, this set doesn’t fuss with things overmuch, keeping the loose jam session vibe intact while using the rise and fall of faders to highlight a keening line reading, a stirring harmony, an emotional string cry, and other small, lovely touches. You can play this album loud or soft and it works well in either setting, ideal for ruminatin’ with a drink or belting out with hoot-ish vigor.

Close your eyes, ease into it, and this debut will carry you off like a gentle stream that takes you somewhere that feels like home even though you know you’re a guest. Such is the welcoming, unforced atmosphere, and it’s to be hoped this Folk Voltron assembles with some regularity based on the stealth knockout they’ve delivered first time in the ring.