Showing posts with label Features. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Features. Show all posts

Jan 16, 2020

Possessed by Paul James is Back and Thankfully So

By Robert Dean

Do you remember those old ads for Miller beer where they used the old idiom, “pure as the driven snow?” The tagline was meant to offer a sense of balance, provability, that no matter what, this beer was something you could count on as a taste of humility, of home – no matter where you were. A lot of people bought those beers and toasted in dives or over campfires. If there was an artist who elicits that sensibility, that ode to “home” as a function of being rather than a tangible object, it’s Possessed by Paul James. 

For years now, it’s escaped me how Possessed by Paul James isn’t a household name. He’s one of those artists who does what the Avett Brothers or even The Devil Makes Three does, but with a sense of darkness that’s palpable, infectious, but always feel believable, feels true. 

Back in 2013, his record, There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely, scored major critical points gaining praise from outlets like NPR, The New York Times, CMT, and MTV, it even reached the Billboards.

On his new record, As We Go Wandering, PBPJ doesn’t stray from the path, it’s his classic sound complete with odes to moving forward through the fires of our personal lives, but also how to be a better human despite it all. With his day gig being a Special Education teacher, Konrad Wert, as he’s known in professional circles, is a champion for justice in education, and it’s no question these batch of songs reflect that quality. There are moments of hope, despair, and longing to see humanity through a lens that isn’t hateful or ugly, which is something we can all arm ourselves within 2020 and moving forward. If Possessed by Paul James is a symbol of the positivity that could linger through the ether this year, let’s get behind him, the record, and that feeling. God knows we need it more than ever. 

As We Go Wandering will be available wherever the good stuff is found on January 31.

Sep 26, 2019

The Melancholy Sounds of Chris King and The Darkness 

By Robert Dean

There’s “Texas Country,” and then there’s Texas Country. The Lone Star State pumps out an impressive number of bands and artists, that absolutely change the game, but there’s a lot of stuff that sucks beyond words, too. We’ve got the red dirt and the outlaw thing down to a science, but ho-lee-shit, the pop stuff people try to pass off as legit ain’t exactly what someone would call a “good time.” Texas is a prominent place in the country music lore. There are a lot of conflicting ideas of what the state should sound like - we’re overrun with dorks in an oversized dress shirt and a bad cowboy hat try to get people excited about tailgating in a field. Because we’ve not heard that scenario in song form over a bazillion time. 

Thankfully, we’ve got a healthy center of gravity with acts like Scott H. Biram, Dale Watson, Black Eyed Vermillion, and Chris King holding it down.

On Chris King’s new record, Lone Rats, the central Texas singer-songwriter taps into some of the tried and true Texas themes while keeping far away from the tired bullshit. The songs are stripped down, honest, flawed, and raw – precisely what one should expect from a solo singer-songwriter. These songs tackle those issues we think about lying in bed, wondering where we fucked up, how it all went wrong, and in those fantastic, and rare cases, what we did to make it go right. 

Lone Rats is all over the place, it’s got some uplifting tunes about flowers, and it dwells a little long in the darkness, it’s a lot of colors, but that’s what makes this collection fun. King recorded it in the back of the furniture shop he works at with a bunch of other musicians in the middle of the night, in the dark. Which is a fitting vibe for the sound of the songs. King also played all of the instruments on the record, which also gives it an interesting flair. 

If you’re in the mood to experiment, check this collection of jangly Texas tunes. Give Chris King a listen or at least talk shit to him on Twitter about college football. Whatever road you take, get him on your radar. There might be a little mud on the tracks, but they ain’t some high-dollar Nashville bullshit. 

Lone Rats is out October 4.

Aug 6, 2019

(Finally) New on Vinyl: Bloodshot Releases Robbie Fulks’ Masterpiece, Country Love Songs

By Kevin Broughton

The mid 1990s will always be the golden years of alt country. Son Volt and Wilco showed that Uncle Tupelo might have been greater than the sum of its parts. Steve Earle was out of prison, sober and not yet insufferable, having released Train a Comin’ and I Feel Alright in quick succession. Whiskeytown pushed out two phenomenal albums, Faithless Street and Strangers Almanac, foreshadowing a lead singer’s prolific and meteoric career. Heck, a trio of hippies from Mississippi, Blue Mountain, made the second-ever cover of No Depression magazine. Heady days indeed, for alt country.

But in the middle of all that, one album emerged that made it okay to listen to pure, unadulterated country music. Only one man, in retrospect, could have made country music cool, way back in 1996. Robbie Fulks’ Country Love Songs was everything the genre had been lacking. And mind you, this is back when lovers of true country thought Garth Brooks was the worst bastardization that could ever happen to the name “country music.” What else could save country?  

It took a wordsmith like Fulks. It took his bracing high, whiny tenor. It took his sense of humor. And his assemblage of musicians – how about Tom Brumley, steel player for Buck Owens? On a song about a Buck Owens, no less! 

Since 1994, Chicago’s Bloodshot Records has defied convention as the home of genre-bending misfits. As long as there’s been a thing called “alt country,” there’s been Bloodshot. And Robbie Fulks is the label’s MVP. Fitting, then, that they’ve gotten around to releasing Country Love Songs on 180-gram heavy vinyl for the first time

The two-time Grammy nominee touched all the bases on this, his debut album – and to me, his eternal masterpiece. 

And here’s how the man himself pitched it to the label, nearly a quarter-century ago:

"Thirteen original country songs with an early 50's production aesthetic (hot vocals, robust bass, live instrumental tracks) and arrangement, reviving certain types of songs long abandoned by mainstream country music. Likewise in retro spirit, these songs will frequently violate current country songwriting trends which hold as taboo themes of negativism, forceful expression, and points of view uncongenial to the prevailing ideology of fatuous feelgoodism; they will instead reflect a modern sensibility in their emotional graphicness, vigorous iconoclasm, and sense of humor. In composition and presentation the music will honestly reflect the heart and personality of its author/singer, and in its fundamental sincerity will stand resolutely against the poisonous tides of camp." 

There’s not been a better songwriter in Bloodshot’s storied history, nor any other label’s, since that time. Country Love Songs is an album for the ages, and it is to Robbie Fulks’ credit and a testament to his enduring influence that Bloodshot has made this masterwork available on a classic medium. There is something for all country music lovers on this record: Drop-dead, now-classic honkytonk gems like "Every Kinda Music But Country," "The Buck Starts Here," and the sing-a-long fave "She Took A Lot Of Pills (And Died)." Foodies will love "The Scrapple Song," duet fetishists will adore "We'll Burn Together." 

It’s impossible to pick a favorite on an album without a weak cut, but his humor always seems to win out. Having had the chance to chat with Fulks for FTM a couple years back, I loved his response to this question:

Over the course of your career, you've done songs that embrace and celebrate everything traditional and pure about country music; and often on the same album you might have a couple that are essentially self-parodies or caricatures of the genre. Discuss this continuum. (That sounds like a high school essay question, doesn't it?)

Too much Mad Magazine as a youngster. If I love something I put it under the light.

And because America just bade a final, sad farewell to Mad, I’ll pick a favorite from Country Love Songs: The final cut, “Papa Was a Steel-Headed Man.”



It was two years after the release that I discovered Robbie Fulks. Like so many other artists of the early-to-pre-Internet age of alt country, I stumbled across him on Austin City Limits. It was a musical game-changer for me.

Jun 7, 2019

From Amtrak to The Misfits: How I Made it To Chicago

By Robert Dean

Chicago is a place with a lot of memories. It's the city where I was born, and where I'll always cite as home, no matter where I live. It's a complicated, working-class city that takes zero shit. Humble Midwestern town, Chicago ain't. 

When the bat signal went into the sky that the Misfits were playing a show in Chicago, I went numb. They'd played two years prior at Riot Fest, but the impending birth of my second son, Luke prevented me from hopping on a plane to witness Glenn Danzig, Doyle and Jerry Only play together for the first time in forty years. Because our child was on his way, within a matter of days, I watched via live stream in Target. My fellow shoppers were not impressed with my shrieks of joy upon hearing "Skulls."

This time around, a Misfits ticket was my Christmas present. 

Because I lucked out on a cheap flight home, I pulled a few freelance gigs out of the ether. Going up to Chicago from Austin, I took an extra day and booked a roomette on Amtrak. I'd fantasized about writing on a passenger train; I didn't know what to expect. 

Amtrak is not what you think it is. It's ramshackle, a lot of weird, and the experience leaves you to think about the mortal coil. One thing I immediately learned: you're at the mercy of freight trains. I was five hours late getting to Chicago thanks to long haulers clogging up the tracks. 

As the Texas Eagle pulled into the station, I was ushered into my room. While not the most up to date accommodations, the room was clean, and the porter was genuinely pleasant. Whatever millions Joe Biden secured for Amtrak, that cash hasn't funneled down to Texas. 

Riding by train as you might expect is steeped in tradition rather than expectancy. It's not for anyone in a hurry, but instead, is meant to spend the time watching the American landscape whip by from a window while sipping coffee. 

In the dining car I was seated with two older gals from somewhere up in the nether regions of Wisconsin. It’s a pleasant experience mixing it up with complete strangers, people you'd never met in any other circumstance. I had the burger and was surprised at the quality. 

There's something romantic about a sweeping conversation with strangers about love, politics, and our future as collective when you've already forgotten the names of those you're riding with. It becomes less about the pretense of the subject matter and more about honesty. While a steady sound of Motown rocked the car back and forth, the meal was one of the most honest experiences I'd had recently. 

Throughout the trip, I'd stumble my way to the observation car where people talked over hands of low stakes poker, old men chatted up anyone willing to sit down for a cup of joe, and I met an old trucker who told me I was 'cockblocking' him because I was reading and working, but the young stripper who'd just got out of jail wanted to talk to me about what I was reading. "I got my rubbers, and I'm gonna fuck, youngblood.”

I massaged his ego for serving in the infantry and finished my one beer. I gathered my books and laptop and split. Something about a guy who brings crackers and mini-bottles of gin for a train ride doesn't seem like the kind of dude you want to argue with over intention as you're inching somewhere in the middle of a murder dark Arkansas in the rain. 

I met a lovely couple from Belgium, finishing their cross country odyssey through America, sampling our endless supply of meats covered in cheeses and salads topped with fried chicken. 

The more meals I took in with the dining staff, I was entertained by their lack of fucks. As soon as we broke past St. Louis and picked up new passengers with every stop toward Chicago, they grew less and less patient. Requests for tape, (does this look like Home Depot? Why would I have duct tape in a dining car?) or something free to drink (there's a little store full of chips, sandwiches and plenty to drink. If you're not sitting down for a meal, you can shop there for ten Cokes.) As a whole, though, the Texas Eagle staff were wonderful and accommodating, at least to me.

Waking up in my roomette, my anxiety was in full bloom, I missed my family. Laying there, watching a fog hover over craggy hills of nowhere, Missouri, I battled with existentialist, "what does life mean" moments. Dogs roamed property unchained, staying far from the muscle of the roaring train. People sat behind the wheel of rusted out Toyotas, annoyed they caught the train, but thankful our small convoy wasn't hauling freight. Reaching Union Station in Chicago hours late, I was happy to see the skyline.

Chicago was a hurricane. I had one healthy meal while visiting. In preparation for the Misfits, Preston, my best friend and our friend Ben from New Orleans ate with little scruples in regard to our well-being. We had sloppy beef sandwiches at Al's, hot dogs at Superdawg, along with pizza standing with our friends celebrating the opening of Rocket Tattoo. I chowed down on breaded steak sandwiches with my great aunt at Ricobene's. And I successfully avoided Malort. 

We hit Rainbo in Wicker Park, witnessed the awful yuppification of one of my oldest watering holes, Tuman's. We downed cold ones with my editor Jacob in Bob Inn, listened to the classics at The Exit, and paid homage at the wondrous Old Town Ale House. If there's anything you need to know about Chicago, we appreciate a good tavern. 

Pre-gaming around Wicker Park, we took the EL train to the venue out in Rosemont, but two stops away somewhere near Harlem Avenue, those tall Old Style's needed an exit strategy. Racing off the EL through the one-day "only in Chicago snow-cum-sleet" we ran to a Wendy's bathroom for a three-man race to the finish line pee in two toilets.

Because my brothers, friends, and other randoms were all in the house, we didn't go in till just before Fear took the stage. While I love Fear, Lee Ving and Co. didn't translate well into the room full of onlookers dressed in black, ready for one thing: to hear Glenn Danzig belt out the hits.  

When the Misfits came out at 900 MPH, complete with Jerry Only coming from a fucking coffin, it was one of those few times in life that when you want something so bad, to see it actually deliver. It's was a transcendental moment, the songs I'd loved since I was a boy, hearing them, "20 Eyes", "Who Killed Marilyn" or "She" – I've still got the setlist saved in my phone. I was so happy with the performance, the vibe in the room, that it wasn't a bunch of corporate dudes there to drink beer and sit in the suites, I cried. I was that happy. 

Relentlessly, the Misfits delivered. Danzig sounded a little beat up when he spoke to the crowd, like the throat pipe might burst, but as soon they counted off in their signature “1-2-3-4,” Danzig didn't miss a beat. It actually looked like he was enjoying himself, like sure, I'm making a fuckload of cash happy, but a legitimate joy that I hadn't seen in any of my times catching him previous. 

Spending the $150 for the tickets felt like a fair exchange to hear all of my favorite songs in a row as the encore, including my all-timer, "Hybrid Moments," followed by "Attitude" and finally, "We Are 138." 

I accidentally punched the guy next to me in the face, and Preston's glasses were knocked off and we spilled a few beers. Anything is possible when you're high on seeing Jerry Only do a bunch of power slides across the stage. I mean, those shin guards have to serve some kind of purpose, right? 

Despite my utter joy and later elated drinking with my friends at the Exit, the significant moment of the trip came from the bond between myself, my brothers, and Preston. 

My brother Brandon was tight on cash since finding out he was becoming a dad, Preston stepped in and bought him one, which facilitated him and his girlfriend Katie attending. That was a class move so he could be there with me and my other brother Bryan. 

Bryan, like me, is a huge Misfits fan, we both have crimson ghost tattoos. When I rolled into the show, I had my eye on one of the posters. At $30 a pop, it was a pricey piece of memorabilia. I ponied up the cash and bought one, but immediately following found out, they had signed ones for a cool $100. Being that I was already on vacation, spending that extra $60 seemed like a bad idea. I went without. My brother and his wife Samantha knew how much the show meant to me and bought me the signed poster. When they gave it to me, I was touched by their act of kindness. They didn't have to do that. So, by accepting the gift, I gave my $30 unsigned poster to Brandon. 

And now, sitting in my office, I have that poster framed on my wall. It's a reminder that while yes, I had the best time at the show, the bonds with my brothers are unbreakable, despite living across the country. Getting to share that experience with them and Preston and Ben will be a highlight at the end of my movie. A guy can only be so lucky, devil lock or not. 

“In hybrid moments, give me a moment.”

May 20, 2019

Get Creepy at Nosferatu Festival

By Robert Dean

If you’re going to be around lovely Austin, Texas around May 31st- June 2, one of the coolest festivals (among the many we have) will be taking a bite out of the Capital City. 

Local horror + music + girls covered in blood magazine Gore Noir is throwing their first annual Nosferatu Festival, which celebrates the 90th anniversary of the U.S. release of the most influential silent horror films of all time — Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

If you’re a weird horror nerd like me, this gives my soul a boner. Of all of the iconic figures in horror, Nosferatu remains one of the creepiest still. Whatever the combination of the black and white, the way Max Shrek pulled off Count Orlak, whatever – it’s still 100% viable almost a century later. 

The festival will have a whole load of shit to do: screenings, music, burlesque, games, costume contests, vendors, and photo ops.

“Nosferatu is a film that unites the community; whether you’re a punk, or a goth or just a fan of horror films,” says, Mitch Rafter of Gore Noir Magazine. “The film brings people together.” Mitch is also the creator and producer of the Nosferatu Gore Noir Edition.

(Spoiler: I’ve seen it, and it’s sick. If you don’t believe me, go look at the Nightmare on Elm Street special edition. I wrote the spread for that issue.)

Here’s what information was leaked from the crypt: 

The kick-off will be at Kick Butt Coffee on Friday night followed by 2 full days at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op. Somehow, they managed to dig up three different versions of Nosferatu, including one with live score by the Invincible Czars, and another that will be the “Gore Noir Edition” with an all-new soundtrack by Austin composer/musician Steven Canham.

And the other fun stuff includes sideshow performers, burlesque (wouldn’t be a fest without that, now would it?), live tunes by the skate punk band Nosfera II, and of course, Nosferatu screening all night. There’s also a coffin race, a costume contest and a whole bunch of other nerdy things that go bump in the night. 

If you see me there, say hey and I’ll buy you a beer.

Tickets and VIP packages are available now at

Apr 5, 2019

All Hail Country's New Queen of Evil, Karly Driftwood

By Robert Dean

Like a gasoline-flavored Sour Patch Kid, Karly Driftwood is your new favorite country singing antihero, you just don’t know it yet. On her debut record, Too Mean To Die, Driftwood is everything you don’t want her to be: a reckless savage with long red hair and a pretty face that will cut you with a broken bottle and leave your sorry ass to die in the gutter. But, while you're bleeding to death, she might leave you a smoke for one last moment of joy - she's sweet like that.

Too Mean to Die is laced with elements of horror, allusions to hard drug use, long nights out, and sin – all of the things Driftwoods male counterparts are allowed to build careers off of. Without sacrificing integrity for a cheap thrill, Too Mean To Die is relentless in that Driftwood took plenty of lumps, slumming it in the Nashville dives to get the tone, the feel, and the vibe right for the record; it’s got equal parts Kacey Musgraves, Stevie Nicks, Lana Del Rey, and Elvira all wrapped up in a tight blunt with weed powerful enough to kick the ever-loving fuck out of you. 

The songs aren’t dreary, in fact, they’re bright and sunny, the subtle nuance lives in the DNA of how razor sharp the lyrics are. Driftwood, aptly named after Rob Zombie’s murderous Devil’s Reject’s clan doesn’t hold back on her faults, failures and never wanting to be a Stepford Wife. 

The only thing is while Nashville would just love to gobble a talent like this up and grind in the wheels of their studded denim flesh machine, Driftwood isn’t interested. She's got Danzig in her soul and despite those luscious harmonies ringing loud, there's blood and violence in them hymns. 

“Baked You a Cake” is almost gleeful with its promises of gore and violence all wrapped up with a cherry red kiss. “Settle for Being Used” is an honest look at Driftwood’s personal life which again, thanks to the devastating lyrics that harken back to the era of early 2000’s emo with bands like Death Cab for Cutie baring the soul to the point of tearing the paper-thin heart. You end up almost feeling sorry for Driftwood, despite the obvious prize of what the listener gets in return. 

The vibe of the record drifts between old school honky tonk and traditionalist country but never loses the rhythmic chops, it’s all killer, no filler without any tired country clichés. There are these moments, though, I don’t know if it’s the old guy in me, or that Driftwood’s dad is a rock and roller, that you can hear the influence of 1990’s alternative in the hooks, the phrasing. It took us a while for the cultural hammer to swing in this direction, but the flavor has the spice that feels like there are some Letters to Cleo, Liz Phair, and even Sixpence None the Richer in that twisted psyche.

“Stripped My Way to Nashville” is a perfect example, while it has some country overtones, but it’s a straight up rock and roll tune that radio in the 1990s would have gobbled up instantly. For all of the societal love for Cardi B making it through the clubs, Driftwood deserves the same treatment. 

It’ll be interesting to see how the music translates live considering if people, women especially, get their hands on the music, there are plenty of anthemic moments that ladies with a few long nights can share as something that’s undeniably theirs. 

In the past, we’ve been good at calling winners. We called Sturgill, Tyler Childers, and Colter Wall. We’re calling it next for Karly Driftwood. She’s going to be everyone’s favorite Halloween witch, and we say bring on the razor blade candy bars. 

Apr 1, 2019

I Don't Know What's Going on Here, But I Like It

By Robert Dean

Gotta respect a dude willing to live for his art. An American Forrest has a new record dropping, O’ Bronder Yonder Donder? And while I have no idea what the fuck that title means, this project is super cool. 

Check out this bio: 

“An American Forrest is the name of Forrest Van Tuyl's western music project. Van Tuyl was recently a featured performer at the 2019 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada (alongside folks like Ian Tyson and Colter Wall, nbd).

When Forrest isn't touring in support of his music, he works as a cowboy in a pack outfit hauling explorers, researchers, and their equipment into the two-million-acre expanse of the Wallowa-Whitman Wilderness. He spends many months of the year on horseback, and training horses. 

As a result, his lyrics are full of contemplative, complex verses that trot and canter as honky tonks, and western hymnals. His new album O'Bronder, Donder Yonder? was recorded at Mike Coykendall's Blue Room Studio in Portland, Oregon. We hope you'll give it a listen. I'm attaching links to his latest videos, filmed in and about the wilderness near his home in Enterprise, Oregon.”

TWO MILLION ACRES. Dawg, I need fried chicken sandwiches in life and Desus and Mero highlights, I can’t be riding in the rain up in God’s Country. But, my man Forrest is all about that life. Check out one of the three new videos they’ve dropped and go buy a copy of the record May 10th, so when this mountain man emerges from the wilderness, he can buy a pair of Vans. 

Also, shout out to all of the cattle roaming through one of the videos. 

And here’s “Yonder My Love”

Mar 29, 2019

A Conversation With Tim Bluhm

by Kasey Anderson

It would be easy to characterize Tim Bluhm’s new solo album, Sorta Surviving, as a “departure” from the California Soul and jam-band-adjacent aesthetic of Bluhm’s work with Mother Hips, and I suppose that characterization would be accurate enough but, at this point in his career, Bluhm has woven together a wide enough variety of styles, and meandered down a wide enough variety of musical paths, that to try and pinpoint anything as a departure from Bluhm’s “signature sound” is reductive. Sorta Surviving differs from a Mother Hips record in that the band is different, the instrumentation is different, and the presentation is different, but it’s a record that anyone with an appreciation for what Bluhm has done -- and continues to do -- as a frontman and songwriter should be able to sink their teeth into.

Sorta Surviving was recorded at Cash Cabin, the legendary property where Johnny Cash recorded the American Recordings series that re-re-resurrected his career. Bluhm described Cash Cabin as, “more like a living room than a studio; full of Pendleton blankets, old rusty stoves, memorabilia,” while talking to me from his own home studio in Northern California.

“It was sort of coming full circle,” Bluhm said, describing the sessions, noting that Rick Rubin had signed Mother Hips to his label, American Recordings around the same time the first album in Cash’s American Recordings series was released. “I listened to that Cash American Recordings album so much, back then and getting ready to go into the studio for this record.”

For Bluhm, Cash Cabin was appealing beyond its history because it sits secluded in rural Tennessee, removed from the trappings and distractions that tend to worm their way into everyone’s lives, no matter what else is at hand. “I spend a lot of time in recording studios,” Bluhm said, “I watch what people do, see their behavior patterns, and the tendency in all of us is to get distracted by our phones, our responsibilities outside of the studio, all of that stuff. You start thinking about what time you have to go feed the parking meter, what you’re going to have for dinner when you get home, little day-to-day stuff like that and it can impact the vibe in the studio, it can impact the performances and the songs. It was important for me to get away from all of that.”

At Cash Cabin, Bluhm assembled an all-star band including Jesse Aycock (guitar, vocals), Jason Crosby (piano, violin, organ), and Nashville session legends Gene Chrisman (drums) and David Roe (bass), and handed the production reins to Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools. The result is an album that draws heavily on traditional country structures and arrangements and brings to the forefront another hallmark of some of Bluhm’s favorite Classic Country songs: humor.

Perhaps the album’s centerpiece, “Jimmy West and John Dunn the Bully” exemplifies Bluhm’s wry humor as it follows the schoolyard conflict between the two title characters, Jimmy West facing down the hulking Dunn in a battle to defend the honor (and prized belt buckle) of the song’s narrator. Those with political leanings could probably find easy allegory in the David and Goliath tale but Bluhm says the song, like everything on Sorta Surviving, is grounded in one
guiding principle: “forget genre, forget everything else, just tell a good story.”

It’s a simple enough formula, and it works. It’s the stories that will keep you coming back to Sorta Surviving, and to Tim Bluhm, in whatever incarnation he chooses to present himself and his songs next.


Sorta Surviving is available today on Tim's site, Amazon, etc.

Mar 27, 2019

Ona Bring The Strange Goodness With "Summer Candy"

by Robert Dean

get a lot of new music sent to my inbox every week. Some of it is good, and some of it leaves me scratching my head, wondering if I’m out of touch, or everyone really does have a new face tattoo? But then when I get music with guitars, I do a happy clap ala Snoopy when Schroder starts banging away on the keys. Rock and roll in all of its mutations are very much alive, and Ona is a perfect example of a band doing something exciting and taking me out of my comfort zone and turning me onto new vibes I’d generally never tread toward.

Nothing drives me more insane is when some dickweed says, “there’s no good music anymore.” And to that guy, I say: go fuck yourself. There’s a ton of great music bursting from every fetid corner of the Internet and record store, you joyless bastard. 

Stumbling onto Ona’s new video for their track "Summer Candy", I was perplexed, yet curious. Somehow, these boys have managed to take 1980’s camera trickery, an office space, a few leisure suits and create something oddly compelling. As the moments unfurled, I just couldn’t look away. The gravitational force of "Summer Candy" is too great, it’s like if Toto, George Harrison, and Tom Petty all got drunk and made a decidedly strange video with a catchy tune. Maybe more aptly, they’re a southern Echo and The Bunnymen, but whatever it is, Summer Candy is a damn fine throwback jam. A guy is in a sparkly cape and a keyboard guy who’s got an A+ mustache and lets the groove take him to the next dimension. The multi-phone clap is a nice touch, too.

I may not understand it, but I like it. Give Ona a listen and fall into the next dimension:

Mar 22, 2019

Listen and Learn: Grand Canyon

Photo by Amanda Rowan

Here’s a video from and an interview with a band I think you’ll really dig. Meet Grand Canyon. You’ll hear a lot of familiar influences in this group (Petty, Laurel Canyon, Fleetwood Mac, maybe some Eagles…), but they do it damn well and bring their own energy to the music. It’s slick stuff, but there’s a lived-in beauty to it. The interview is below the video.



What's the story behind your album's title?

“Le Grand Cañon” came from a text conversation I had with Brendan Benson while he was in the final throes of mixing the album. He was asking if we had a name for it, and I threw out some ideas we had been tossing around. He didn’t really react to anything I said, but he said “I think it would be hilarious if you called the record something that’s almost self titled, but not. Like ‘The Grand Canyon’ by Grand Cañon. And spell your name like that. So people always have to write the n like that.” He then followed with “I’m not even high yet”. Ha! About 10 minutes went by and he sent me a mix of what he was working on, followed by a picture. It was a white dry erase board, and written in black marker was:

Grand Canyon 
“Le Grand Cañon”

It just seemed so wrong and so right, so we went with it.

What's the best advice you have ever gotten from another musician?

When I was just starting out, I had the incredible luck of meeting and getting to hang with THE Donald “Duck” Dunn a number of times. If you don’t know him by the name…trust me, you’ve danced to his bass lines. I was in college and had a (terrible) band and we were playing him some of our demos. To play these recordings for a legend like Duck either meant that we had really big balls or were some sort of combination of delusional and was definitely the latter. He couldn’t have been more kind or supportive.  

As we were about to leave his home in South Florida, I asked him if he had any one piece of advice for a young musician or band. He looked me in the eye without skipping a beat and said, “Casey, if it don’t make you wanna dance or don’t make you wanna screw, it ain’t worth a damn.” I thought it was funny at the time, but it’s probably the single greatest truth about music ever.

What's the best advice to give to a musician just starting out?

In this day and age?? Quit.

Favorite (or first) concert you have ever attended?

The first really big concert I ever went to was The Rolling Stones at The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, FL. This was 1989 on the Steel Wheels tour. I remember my parents joking with their friends about how old the Stones were, and how this could be the last time…LITERALLY!! Mick was a spry 46 years old! 30 years on, and they’re still going. The thing I remember most was Honky Tonk Women and watching this “old” dude sprint around the stage that had these 50 foot tall blow up dolls. Like some sort of rock and roll superhero he's hanging and pulling on the retaining wire to make the girls dance. Incredible.

Another interesting note about this show. Last year, I was doing a search about that tour, and it turns out they released a live album from that tour called Flashpoint. Out of the 14 live songs…3 of them came from November 25th, 1989. Jacksonville!


Did you have a musical mentor? If so, who was it and how did they influence you?

My musical mentor is a producer named Mike Denneen. Mike, who recently passed away, produced three records for my old band The Click Five. Mike was the most important figure in my musical development. I learned more from Mike about songwriting, production, and guitar playing than I did in my years at Berklee. He had a way of getting the most out of a song and keeping things simple. I think the most important thing that he taught me was that putting in the work before the studio was the most important part. Getting the arrangement, tempo, key, and parts down leads to better recording in the studio. Mike, we all miss you buddy.

Where do you draw inspiration from when writing? 

Inspiration for the album "Le Grand Cañon" came from the city that Casey and I call home, Los Angeles. Both of us had recently relocated from the east coast and formed the band shortly after moving to Los Angeles. The city was quite inspiring after spending so much time and one too many winters back east. The iconic fan palms, the Pacific Ocean, the canyons, the seedy nature of Hollywood, and L.A.'s rich musical history were all very moving. 

What's your favorite food on the road?

I'm not sure I have a favorite food on the road. I will say that touring is really just an excuse to eat at great restaurants and sample cuisines from this country and around the world. Whether it's pizza in New York City, BBQ in Texas, ramen in Osaka, or the double cheeseburger at Bud's Cafe and Bar in Sedalia, Colorado, food is the real and arguably best reason to go on tour.

Which song of yours gets the best crowd response?

"Shangri-La La land" is the song that probably gets the best crowd response live. You never know what's going to happen on any given night. Some strange Cajun voodoo spirit seems to invade the body and soul of Casey and he turns into Andy Kaufman's Tony Clifton. He's been known to dance across bar tops, slink across the floor like a snake, maybe break a chair or two, steal margaritas from nice young women and, my personal favorite, be banned permanently from fine establishments. All I'll say is hold on to your drink and enjoy the performance art that's about to ensue. You have been warned.


Grand Canyon - Le Grand Cañon

Los Angeles’ Grand Canyon are one of those rare musical phenoms. Fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist Casey Shea and vocalist Amy Wilcox, the six-piece seamlessly draw from classic influences like The Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Warren Zevon, Fleetwood Mac, and catalyze progression as if ‘now’ and ‘then’ exist on parallel planes. The bridge between the two is quality. The songwriting of Shea and guitarist Joe Guese, offered en masse on Grand Canyon semi-self-titled debut (out now on Bodan Kuma Recordings), is timeless and resonant.

The members of Grand Canyon have sold millions of records, toured the world in their own bands and as sidemen, appeared on countless daytime and late night shows, and had songs that set the scene in numerous television shows and movies. They have graced the stage with everyone from indie folk hero Daniel Johnston to Thai pop sensation Palmy to Celine Dion, played in the SNL house band, and recorded with everyone from Rod Stewart to Linda Perry. They have worked in the studio with Mike Deneen, Brendan Benson, Jamie Candiloro, Dave Schiffman, Steve Albini and more.

In an era of computer-made, beat-driven music, Grand Canyon is the antithesis of modern pop music. However, by focusing on musicianship and timeless songwriting, and drawing on the inspiration of the classic sounds and arrangements of the 70s, it is the kind of pop music that will be wafting through the canyons for a long time.

Opener “Lucinda” starts as a bare-bones tune with muffled percussion behind Shea’s vocal. The rest of the band quickly jumps into gear and gives the listener an instant trip back in time to a place where Rickenbacker 12 strings ruled the radio and melody and great songwriting overruled fancy foot pedals and black box keyboards.

“Heaven” is the kind of tune that made those of us who were functioning members of society in the 70’s wantonly spend too much of our income on really good stereos and lots of vinyl. A dark electric piano riff melts into the guitar/bass/drum ingredients to create a beautiful example of song creation. Wilcox’s voice really shines on this one as she mournfully sings of a heaven somewhat lacking while the lead guitar tears up the ambiance behind her. 

Heavier guitar riffs introduce “Made in LA” which is a descriptive travelogue of life and places in the epicenter of all things southern Californian. Both lead vocalists mold a strong chorus which gives us a minds-eye view of the grittier side of paradise.

“Hanger On” kicks back to the keyboard/guitar mix and allows Wilcox to echo the best of Sheryl Crow. Shea also contributes to give later verses a he-said, she-said vocal which adds a bit of drama to a skillfully constructed gem.

Shea has a bit of Tom Petty’s vocal intonation, but “I Don’t Wanna Wait” adds a melodic structure that doubles down on that iconic sound. The male/female vocal is used uniquely here to give a double plot to the lyric. What Shea is singing about and what Wilcox adds sound like the same story told from two very different points of view. 

The group goes off in a completely different direction for “Shangri La-La Land”. This cut sounds like it was recorded by a mariachi band playing a dark and dank joint in El Paso. It sent me way back in time to the years when Gene Pitney was using his unique voice to sing of blasting Liberty Valance and coming a little bit closer. The unexpected addition of a horn solo further enhances the atmosphere.  This one is pure fun and really shines a bright light on the instrumental capabilities present here. 

Darice Bailey’s piano shines on “Theory of Everything” while the twin vocalists exchange verses dealing with characters living in less than great conditions. “I was there when it all began/ Had a beer while I drew up the plans / So you may not be here at all / You may never be here again.” forms the chorus to close out the record on a sorrowful note.

With Le Grand Cañon, Grand Canyon offer an admirable opus chock full of sweaty, romantic epics, complete with visions of late night rendezvous and unbearable yearnings fueled by emphatic chord patterns that drive ‘em like El Caminos down Ventura Boulevard.

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