Ghost Owl

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”When you wake in the night do you feel alone? Like the time that you had is already gone? Can you feel the light? Can you feel at all? I can see it in you. Can you see it in me?”

Ghost Owl

Ghost Owl

Rock can be split into two major eras – Ground Zero-based Rock derived from Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Beatles and other pioneers of the 60s/70s and Post-Radiohead Rock. It’s a gross oversimplification but the underlying principles of each camp define the major musical characteristics of adherents, particularly the shift from song-centered proto-rock to the more amorphous, textural vibe prevalent after Thom Yorke and Co. (and many others like Blur, Pavement, and other boundary pushers of the 90s/2000s not to mention the rise of electro wizards like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Squarepusher). However, one occasionally finds a band comfortable straddling this divide, dragging their fingers through varied traditions to scoop out their own sand for the hourglass.

Athens, GA’s Ghost Owl is both resolutely modern – a hum of technology rides a bright current that just feels bloody contemporary – and steeped in stage-won, long practiced instrumental aptitude and well-sculpted song craft. Adam Perry (bass, lead vocals, songwriting), Albert Suttle (drums) and Matthew McDonald (keyboards, guitar, vocals) are seasoned musicians after more than a decade with Perpetual Groove, which announced an indefinite hiatus in 2013. But, Ghost Owl is no derivative of PGroove. There is something more expressly engaging and effusively alive about the trio in this new, swiftly evolving incarnation. Where before the “jam band” tag may have applied – to a degree – what’s emerging in Ghost Owl is EDM wise and much closer to the gleaming slipstream of modern rock innovators Simple Minds and Ultravox as well as contemporaries like Foals, Rubblebucket, and The Flaming Lips. The cerebral, emotionally prickly undertow of a lot of Perpetual Groove’s catalog is replaced by a direct inducement to breathe in, breathe out, and dance in the sunshine.

Debut Album

Debut Album

After less than a year of experimentation and exploratory gigs, Ghost Owl has released its first official salvo, Say Goodbye To Finland [listen to it above, at bottom of this article or on the band’s Bandcamp Page where you can do the right thing and buy a copy!]. From the first gentle murmurings on through many bright bursts, the album is invigorating, a rush of tentative positivity.

Ghost Owl never offers puffery, readily acknowledging that “American dreams are dying” but displaying a spirit that says they’re not letting them fade without a fight. Amidst crooked hues and widescreen performances, Ghost Owl, by example as much as anything stated outright, offer something viscerally enzymatic, a sonic push to get up and get into it while there’s still something to get into, an invitation to run into the night and tear down the walls that keep us apart.

Guitars flutter in, adding mood and spice, but it’s the interlocking rhythms and pulsing electronics that dominate and provide a perfect chrome sparkle for Perry’s husky, liquid voice to flow over. Unlike a lot of electronica aware rock, Say Goodbye To Finland keeps every track lean, never overworking a groove or belaboring a point. They get in, get the job done, and jet while one still wants more – something that bodes well for the live progression of these tunes in days ahead. The sequencing is spot-on, too, culminating in a pair of tunes, “Clouds Will Lift” and “Sun Will Shine,” that are genuinely healing, digitized jubilation that clears away the grit from eyes to reveal new horizons where we’ll be okay despite all the evidence to the contrary.

We snagged Ghost Owl for DI’s signature questionnaire and here’s what the boys had to say.

beef jerky and the joy of children!

Johnette Napolitano

Concrete Blonde

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Johnette Napolitano

Johnette Napolitano

There’s something delightfully, foundationally rock ‘n’ roll about Johnette Napolitano. From the moment Concrete Blonde burst into the world with their bang-up 1986 debut album, Napolitano has conducted herself with sensual integrity, stalking the music in ways that remind us that Elvis was both “Jailhouse House Rock” and “Love Me Tender,” remind us that rebellion and rabblerousing carries the greatest verisimilitude when powered by great heart and some measure of romance and vulnerability.

Since reactivating Concrete Blonde in 2001 and as an increasingly interesting solo performer, Napolitano has refined her strengths and expanded into new realms. Her Twitter profile states:

recording artist/writer/designer/lover of animals, my dogs, sewing machines, radio, late checkout, clay, dance, drawing, laughing, wine & the sunrise.

DI_Johnette_RoughMix

The Joshua Tree, CA resident published her first book, Rough Mix, last year, offering poem and, insights into her music and creative process. One passage is particularly helpful in unlocking the lusty immediacy that roils in her songs:

”I’ve always maintained that song lyrics are not poetry, or certainly don’t have to be, and formal poetry not meant to be song. At least not since the invention of the written word. Great rock and roll does not demand literary genius. ‘Tutti Frutti’ may not be poetry to everyone, but it’s definitely rock and roll.

This tension between formal art and rock’s unruly canvas infuses Napolitano’s work. Filled with blood, desire and other juicy subjects, her tunes mingle street level things with ethereal beauty. It’s a heady combination, and always most definitely rock and roll.

Napolitano returns to the road again in June (tour dates), and in the meantime she tackles DI’s namesake questionnaire.

ghosts and deserts beckon

Mike Dillon Band

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The Mike D Band is currently on tour out West. Check out dates here, including some special round-robin shows with fellow DI favorites Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.

Mike Dillon Band

Mike Dillon Band

Not a lot of new music is honestly thrilling. The general output of the early 21st century is more concerned with style and texture, concept and cleverness, wearing well-worn uniforms well than it is with forging into the dark lands for undulating new forms. However, there are glorious exceptions like the Mike Dillon’s Band of Outsiders. When this wildly gesticulating, ferociously competent quartet launches into action the air crackles and hair stands up on one’s arms, something fresh and vaguely untamed entering the room. What veteran mallet master Mike Dillon (electric vibes, marimba, xylophone, tabla, percussion, vocals), Carly Meyers (trombone, vocals), Patrick McDevitt (bass, vocals) and Adam Gertner (drums, vocals) conjure is both alien and accessible, a grand cluster-cuss of tradition mud wrestling esoteric demons, wild hairs, and punk-addled energies. Put more simply, this shit is goddamn exciting.

New Album

New Album

After 400-plus shows and countless miles in the tour van in just the past two years, the Mike D Band delivers their lovely-jittery sonic manifesto in Band of Outsiders (released April 1 on the ever-excellent Royal Potato Family label). By turns charmingly nuts and surprisingly sophisticated, the album is equal measures vintage punk rock, small group hot jazz, boundary-less experimentation, and freak show house band. While Dillon has been involved in a huge number of projects (Critters Buggin, Dead Kenny G’s, Garage A Trois, Malachy Papers, Hairy Apes BMX), the Band of Outsiders allows the full spray of his imagination to run and root around. Chasing the Great Lake’s tuna and tossing folks in bonfires, Dillon and his talented, exuberant gang remind us that everything hasn’t been done, that genuinely original music is still possible if one combines the vast DNA available into non-standard helixes.

We got the entire Band of Outsiders to dig into DI’s signature questionnaire, and as you’ll see, they’re as fascinating as the sound they stir up.

shake the hand of God!

Jimbo Mathus

Tri-State Coalition, Squirrel Nut Zippers

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”Take me to your sweet solution. Bathe me in your absolution.”

New Album

New Album

Dark night of the soul. It’s a loaded phrase, full of touchstones in literature and religion, a collective acknowledgement of the lowlands that exist in every life and the universal desire for light, a new dawn, safe passage through the worst of it. In a yearning, slightly cracked voice riding solitary barrelhouse piano, the new salvo from Jimbo Mathus & The Tri-State Coalition is the ideal rock ‘n’ roll companion through this troubled, expectant terrain – muscular, confident, battered but persevering music to bolster and uplift when shadows and doubts gather. Dark Night of the Soul, the band’s third outing, is what one throws on when they’re leaving behind a bad life with just a suitcase of essentials, a full tank of gas, and nothing but miles of possibilities ahead, both a torch against the blackness and a spark that reminds one they shine like a diamond even if they feel like coal.

Jimbo Mathus

Jimbo Mathus

In a just few years, the latest band for long time musical instigator Mathus has developed into a well-oiled, classic rock conscious, blues powered unit with their leader revealing more and more of his rowdy side. Mathus is a busy dude – modernizing old-timey sounds with Squirrel Nut Zippers, putting some fire under Buddy Guy in recent years, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with heavy hitters Luther Dickinson and Alvin Youngblood Hart in the South Memphis String Band – but in many ways the Tri-State Coalition feels like his most personal work to date. Dripping with Southern echoes, the Tri-State Coalition’s sound is a balance of tough and tender, descendent to the Dickey Betts end of the Allmans, prime 70s Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings, and the slinky, country-tinged side of classic Muscle Shoals.

The new album cranks up the guitars and there’s even a touch of greats like Robin Trower (“White Angel”), rowdy Crazy Horse (“Burn The Ships”), and Procol Harum (“Butcher Bird”). Mathus is the epitome of a musician’s musician, and in the Tri-State Coalition – whose current release features spark-tossing electric guitar from The Del-Lords’ Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and longtime Mathus foil Matt Pierce as well as Mathus (acoustic, guitar), Eric Carlton (keys), Ryan Rogers (drums) and guest bassist Matt Patton (Drive-By Truckers) – finds the man at his most engaged, grappling with fundamentals and shaping music that grabs one readily and delivers them somewhere better than where they started.

We asked Jimbo to tackle DI’s signature questionnaire, and here’s what he had to say.

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T. Hardy Morris

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Listen to the album here and check out the official film for the title cut and more below.

T. Hardy Morris by Cory Llewellyn / Transistor Six

T. Hardy Morris by Cory Llewellyn / Transistor Six

Shooting straight, most solo albums from established frontmen are either a watered down version of what they do in their main band or so leftfield and self-indulgent that most fans perplexed and frustrated. Luckily, there are wonderful exceptions like the solo debut of T. Hardy Morris, which pares things back for the greatest tenderness, long-view musing, and appealingly exposed singing yet from a young artist that seems thoroughly comfortable twisting himself into different shapes.

Audition Tapes (released July 30 on Dangerbird Records) isn’t the head-buzz guitar reverberation and bloodied knuckle charge of Dead Confederate or the raunchy, whore ‘n’ drunkenness salutin’ rawk of Diamond Rugs. Here Morris holds his heart out to inspect the scars and poke around in its fluctutations. The atmosphere is charmingly wistful and thoughtful as a good lean-in conversation where one picks through life’s debris to find the scraps to form a small, sturdy ball of hope and happiness to bounce off the pavement and roll between one’s fingers.

Audition Tapes

Audition Tapes

The accompaniment of The Outfit is sighing empathy, utilizing nudges where Morris might employ more pushing and jarring with his other projects. Matt “Pistol” Stoessel (pedal steel), Thayer Sarrano (keys, vocals), Adam Landry (guitar, bass, drums), Justin Collins (acoustic guitar, drums), Julian Dorio (drums), Conor Lynch (drums), Mass Vasquez (keys) and Ian St. Pe (guitar) move with the fluidity of softly rustling tall grass, music filled with moving air and open skies filled with interesting clouds. Moments, notably “History’s Hoax” but also the general vibe, evoke the bittersweet John Lennon of Help! and Rubber Soul. Audition Tapes insinuates itself into one’s consciousness and heart slow as one’s dry ground soaks up its nutrients filled with rare, uncomplicated wisdom and soothing lilt.

We asked T. Hardy Morris to tackle DI’s signature questionnaire, and he kindly obliged.

read on for greater decibels

Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers

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Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers by Jen Siska

Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers by Jen Siska

There’s an easygoing confidence permeating the new self-titled album (released August 27), from SF Bay Area darlings Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers. While they might not sound exactly like prime Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks, what this dedicated, gut level satisfying band and their exceedingly charismatic leader are doing cozies up nicely to the enduring quality fare that built and sustains these established greats. Rather than trying to compete with the Katy Perrys and Gagas of today, the Gramblers are crafting music for the long game, steadily building a very solid catalog and picking up new fans from town to town on their seemingly never ending tour.

New Album

New Album

Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers is the sound of a band beginning to hit their stride, enough miles and mistakes under their belts to be figuring out all the fundamental stuff that needs to work if one is going to make a career of it.

The results are a broadly appealing assortment that shows off a wider range and more focused oomph than Bluhm’s previous two albums and finally gets all her road mates – Deren Ney (lead guitar, songwriting), Mike Curry (drums), Steve Adams (bass, vocals), Dave Mulligan (acoustic guitar, vocals) and hubby Tim Bluhm (keys, guitar, vocals) – into the studio for a winningly recorded set with Tim and the ever-on-point David Simon-Baker behind the boards. It’s an album that grabs one immediately, opening with a bit of back porch wisdom sure to appeal to nearly everyone:

It’s not how you swim, it’s how you hold your breath
It’s not about playing fair in this life, it’s more about cheatin’ Death
You don’t like getting old? Well, you’ll hate the other choice I’m told
‘Cause it’s a little too late to die young

This group is easy to like, and only growing more so as they do the heavy lifting of building a fan base the old fashioned way, one show and one solid album after another. In the process, they’re creating music with a universal vibe dappled with just enough natural, untutored grace to let one know they’re experiencing something real.

We snagged Dave Mulligan and Deren Ney for DI’s signature questionnaire and here’s what the lads had to say.

gramble on!

Forrest Day

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DI_ForrestDay_album

There’s a clockwork intelligence to the carefully careening music of Oakland’s Forrest Day. Everything’s in its right place yet the songs still fly at one with a visceral immediacy, punk rock energy harnessed to strong singer-songwriter chops, lean, funky & utterly efficient musicianship, and dark, smart, funny observations. While a few quality ancestors peek from inside the notes – Ben Folds Five, Soul Coughing/Mike Doughty, Buck 65, Tom Waits, ALO, Blackalicious – it’s hard to place Forrest Day, which is both the bandleader’s name and the group’s moniker. Pointed and quirkily wild, the band’s new album, The Second bares its teeth with snarling confidence, greeting the world’s mess with a “Don’t Tread On Me” attitude that extends to the author’s own psychosis – though one wonders how successful anyone is at barking down one’s own demons. The energy and skill on this album gathers one up and focuses one’s attention, head nodding one’s way into a serious of cool observations and quality profanity. In other words, good shit through and through.

Forrest Day performs next at The Independent in SF on November 20th when their hip-hop friendly ways will open for Latyrx (Lyrics Born & Lateef). Find their full tour schedule here.

Forrest Day himself agreed to tackle DI’s signature questionnaire and here’s what he had to say.

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Kylesa

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Kylesa

Kylesa

Ultraviolet light is invisible to normal human sight, but it’s there all the same, radiation we feel in our roasting flesh and a revealer of hidden things when we power up special lamps. It’s a fitting metaphor for the sixth album from Savannah, GA’s Kylesa, who’ve forged an album in Ultraviolet (released May 28 on Season of Mist) that grapples with layered complexities – musical, societal, personal and otherwise. This set explodes the dumb “sludge metal” tag that’s hung around Kylesa for too long with a commanding, totally diverse array of hard rock and metal strains poured into the band’s unique mold.

Ultraviolet confirms this band’s place in the progressive-mimded rock realm alongside kindred spirits Mastodon and Baroness, though Kylesa feels a good deal more old school in a way Sabbath and Motorhead fans might vibe with, a primal kinship with the genre’s foundational figures that also neatly plucks from vibrant psychedelia, heavy atmospherics akin to Pelican, and even Pink Floyd-ian melodic growl (Drifting) and Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys-esque pummel (Exhale, We’re Taking This). The combination is heady and engulfs one beautifully, a sustained but varied spell that’s full incantation takes time to emerge.

ultraviolet-cover

With two skilled singer-guitarists in Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants riding the steadfast, gut level drumming of Carl McGinley, the album sweeps one up in a flowing way, the whispers and cries gaining full body over time, the depths and darkness of this song cycle clear only if one lives with it attentively for a peace. But there’s also the option of just riding its undulating, crunching waves of sound because Ultraviolet, produced by Cope, is a speaker rattling pleasure all by itself without all the semiotic spelunking (check out haunting mood poem “Unspoken” and its way cool animated video below to see what we mean – embrace the swirling throb, children).

Phillip Cope was nice enough to tackle DI’s signature questionnaire.

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