Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 – Dear Boy Wins Over the Crowd in Dallas

Tactics Productions had a great show going on at Club Dada this night. It offered a good way to get an early jump on the weekend, without being out too late; and more than a few people had opted to get a live music fix this hump day.

Kitten wasn’t the only Los Angeles-based band on the bill this night, and just a couple days prior to this, Dear Boy had joined them on the remainder of their tour.

“…You got a little bluer before, where’s that shit?” asked singer and rhythm guitarist Ben Grey, speaking to the sound guy, who then adjusted the lights just right. The quartet seemed to love the shade of blue that was now cast over them and the ever-growing audience, and with that, they ripped into the lead track from their debut self-titled EP: “Come Along”.

It immediately became clear they were a very pop oriented group, with some British flare thrown in; and they captured a lot of people’s attention with the intro to that song, which saw Ben aggressively strumming his axe. “Would you like me if I was young? Would you hold me if I was wrong? Would you love me if I was gone? Then come along!” he belted on final chorus.

That song established a very lively mood the band kept up for the rest of their 34-minute long set. During the subsequent track from the EP, “Green Eyes”, Nils Bue jumped on ledge that has been added around the front of the stage — giving a place for the monitors to set — and brandished his bass for all to see. Both Ben and lead guitarist Austin Hayman produced some cool tones and catchy riffs on that slightly sweeter song. Drummer Keith Cooper provided a strong backbone, as well; and if only more people had been familiar with Dear Boy, then I think the chorus of “When there’s no place else to go, I will meet you down below. And when there’s no one left to find, we won’t need this place to hide.” could have easily been a sing-along part.

Upon finishing it, Ben mentioned this was the first time they had every played Dallas. “…Thanks for letting us in your home.” he said in a sincere voice, while a smile crept across his face. He then thanked Kitten for having them on part of this tour with them. “It’s very rare that you get to play with a band you actually listen to.” he said, noting it was an great experience. He went on to say they were going to do the newest song they had, and it was with it that they really hit their stride.

There came a point where both Austin and Ben leaned against each one another’s back, fiercely shredding on their guitars; and they wound it directly into another song, which had a vibrant, fun vibe to it.

The spectators were clearly enjoying Dear Boy; and their next song was one the most well crafted they did as far as the music bed was concerned. Ben started it, and it was performed solo at first, before Austin laced in his guitar at the second verse. A minute or so later it exploded into action with the bass and drums (Nils rocked out next to the kit, creating a pulse pounding rhythm section), and during a break from singing, Ben dropped to his knees, succumbing to the music.

“…We want to meet as many of you as possible!” Ben pointed out once they finished that song, also mentioning they’d be selling their record over at their merch table afterwards. They did another song from it now, called “Oh So Quiet”, which was a little more indie from some of their other stuff. That was nice, though, ‘cause it showed diversity. The song that followed was pretty heavy; and now Nils and Ben did a little more interacting with one another, standing back to back for a few moments.

“…It’s been a pleasure…” Ben said, as their show had sadly already come to an end. They closed with what would be safe to assume is the most high-strung song in their arsenal: “Funeral Waves”. Some elements of the song were completely dance inducing, while others made it a great song to bang your head to. Regardless of your preference, everyone was captivated by it, and the band was giving it their all. They were all outstanding musicians, and their chops highlighted best on this one. Ben even orchestrated a clap along moment at one point, ensuring it was a fun one to end with.

Man, these guys were all too impressive.

You could tell they were having fun up on the stage, but you could also see their work ethic, and it was clear this wasn’t just some band to them. It was a way of life.

They had more chemistry with one another than a lot of bands do, and they music they made was really extraordinary if you ask me. It was infectious and very radio friendly, but maintained originality. The songs also have a lot of lyrical depth, which is always one quality that gets my attention.

They seemed to make a lot of new fans this night, and as I headed out the door after Kitten had finished, I ended up making a pit stop by their merch table and picked up a copy of their EP, along with having a brief conversation with Ben, who was an incredibly nice guy.

I know one thing: I can’t wait for Dear Boy to get back to Dallas. Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.

The have a few shows left with Kitten through the end of this month, and then will be doing a show at The Troubadour in West Hollywood on August 12th. You can find their full tour schedule HERE; and check out their EP in iTUNES while you’re at it. They will also be dropping a new single on the same day as that Troubadour show.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 – Kitten Shows Their Claws in Dallas

Tactics Productions had a great show going on at Club Dada this night. It offered a good way to get an early jump on the weekend, without being out too late; and more than a few people had opted to get a live music fix this hump day.

There’s no questioning that Kitten was the band nearly everyone was there to see. Fans had staked out spots in front of the stage early on this night. A handful of them even wore some headbands with cat ears on them. One guy even sported a hat with fuzzy cat ears on the sides, and the platform shoes he was wearing let him tower over everyone else in attendance.

By the time their 10:24 start time neared, there were at least a hundred people waiting anxiously for the band. In fact, they were so ecstatic some cheers even started minutes before they took the stage, prompting everyone to glance over at the door to the green room. No one had left it… Yet.

When it did come time to start, the four instrumentalists filed on stage, and vocalist Chloe Chaidez wasn’t far behind. The first portion of “Why I Wait” was almost inaudible, as she whispered just as it’s done on the recording. That changed once they hit the chorus, though, and the song packed quite a punch. Chaidez sauntered around for the first bit, before jumping onto the extended part of the stage — a ledge of sorts where the monitors sit. It was there where she spent much of her time this night, being able to better interact with the audience, and for now she was frequently banging her head and tossing her hair around.

Everyone applauded them, but the noise was drowned out by the start of “Japanese Eyes”. If Chaidez needed anytime at all to warm-up, all she required was that first song, and she was on fire now. They hit the first chorus and she turned her back to everyone, shaking her backside at the spectators, and got even more into the track when she grabbed a tambourine, using it and thrashing about as it came to an end. The quintet was quickly building up the intensity, and had already established a no holds barred, take no prisoners attitude, which was pushed to new heights with “Sensible”. The heavy electronic sounds and mighty percussion incited some dancing from nearly everyone, and at one point Chaidez leapt atop that ledge and began leading the crowd in a clap along, something they were all too eager to do.

They took their first break of the night after that. “We’re in Dallas, Texas!” Chaidez exclaimed, playing to the crowd just a bit, before mentioning she didn’t any more than ten people would have been here. She was way off on that assumption. “…Thank you.” she said quite humbly.

Both times the phrase “Just let me breathe” was repeated multiple times over on “Cut it Out”, she would bend down on more of the fans level, holding the mic out to them, allowing them to sing. When she wasn’t doing that, she was dancing wildly around the stage; and perhaps the best moment came near the end, when she again grabbed the tambourine and then raced over to the drum kit, jumping about the kick drum and leaned over the drummer.

“What a crowd you are! Damn!” she remarked afterwards, seeming truly surprised by how invested everyone was in this performance. With that, she asked if everyone was ready to dance, and right as the crowd answered, the track for “Like a Stranger” came on. If no one else was ready to, she was, and did a lot of dancing on that number. Everyone could see her pretty well on that ledge, and towards the end, she dropped the microphone and proceeded to flap and pump her arms in the air, leaving those watching in a state of awe. She was an ball of energy during that song, even more so than most of the others.

The party atmosphere continued as they wound it into the dreamy “G#”. Chaidez waved her arms from side to side at the start, and the fans picked up on the motion, and before you knew it the place had turned into a sea of arms swaying from side to side. The rhythm section sounded unbelievable on that song; and she pulled another good stunt towards the end, as she climbed atop some gear or something in the corner of the stage (my view was slightly obstructed), standing on it as she belted out, “…We’ll see you all again!”, which caused dozens of phones to go up and start snapping pictures.

The transition to a rendition of Berlins’ “Take My Breath Away” was seamless, and Kitten has just the right sound to pull that song off. Chaidez left at one point, right as the guitarist launched into a blistering solo that wowed everyone. She wasn’t gone long, though. Just long enough to let them have their moment.

“That was our new hit single. What did you think?” she joked once they finished it. They then got back to their original stuff with “I’ll Be Your Girl”, and shortly after starting it, Chaidez pulled a cat ears headband off of one fans head and put it on herself. She then made a fans night by pulling her on stage with her, something the fan almost seemed reluctant to do at first, because she was in shock it was actually happening. “I’ll be your protection, I’ll be yours for life…” the two sang, and the fan was working it hard enough she was almost giving Chaidez a run for her money. It was really hard to tell who enjoyed that more, because each of the young women were smiling from ear to ear as the song ended. Chaidez went so far as to say she thought she was her favorite girl she has ever gotten to help on that song, and even commented about how into the performance the girl had gotten.

All of a sudden, Chaidez was alone on stage, and she mentioned this next song was a sad one. She grabbed an acoustic guitar, and informed everyone this next one was titled “Apples and Cigarettes”. Stripped down like this, where there was nothing else for her voice to compete against, it was utterly astounding. Breathtaking even. She had everyone transfixed as she delivered that emotion filled song, and once it was done, she appeared to wipe some tears from her eyes, proving it was one she connects with on a very personal level.

Her band mates were back on stage now, and they were all ready for the next one. “This song you can dance to!” she said with a smile, as she resumed the active forntwoman role on “Sex Drive”, during which came another clap along moment.

Some of the best songs in the live format came from the Sunday School EP, and one of those was “Chinatown”. It provided one of the most raw moments of the entire night. They were all completely immersed in it; and there came a time when Chaidez grabbed the hand of the guy mentioned earlier who was wearing some platform shoes. He kissed her hand, and then she leaned out towards him and gave him a peck on the lips.

“This is overwhelmingly amazing for all of us!” she remarked once they finished, truly being blown away by all the love they were being shown. They began to wind down with “Cathedral”, after which she introduced her “boys”. Nick was on the guitar, Cameron behind the drums, Omar on the bass and Josh on the keys. They each got some noise made for them; and then they fired up the most wild song of the night: “Kitten with a Whip”. It whipped everyone (no pun intended) — band members and fans alike — into a frenzy, and despite Chaidez shaking her body almost constantly all night, this was the only song that seemed overtly sexual in some slight manner. They put every last ounce of energy they had into that one, and Chaidez even rolled across the stage at one point, before motioning to that guy in the platform shoes. She had him bend down so she could get on his shoulders, and it was from that perch she danced a bit (as much as she could), while everyone looked on in amazement.

After 66-minutes, and especially with an end like that, I don’t think anyone really expected an encore. I know I sure I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean no one hoped for one.

A couple minutes went by, but Chloe Chaidez reclaimed the stage, all by herself.

Apparently, some people haven’t gotten the memo that shouting “Freebird!” as an encore isn’t all that funny anymore, but she acted like she didn’t hear the request. Maybe she really didn’t.

The most beautiful moment of the night came in the form of “Kill the Light”, which was done acoustically. It was the way she enunciated the words and the emotion she poured into them. It was overpowering. I would have even been content with that as a closer, but they still had a little gas left in the tank. It appeared “Doubt” would be the final number, and once the last line had been sung, Chaidez once again thanked everyone, and then made her way through the crowd and back to the green room. The band gave the track a long instrumental finish, and one by one, they all disappeared, until only the drummer was left. Some hefty beats concluded it, but as he walked off the stage, the guitarist got back on.

He began to strum the axe, and all of a sudden, Chaidez appeared one last time, creating some more fanfare. The now duo played a cover of “Don’t Dream it’s Over” by Crowded House, and it was another song that really highlighted the gorgeous tone of her voice.

That put the show at nearly 90-minutes, and that really was it.

I was blown away. Honestly, I knew nothing about Kitten before this night. I just came to the show to see a show (plus I was a fan of the local opening act), but wow!

Kitten was dynamite from start to finish, and very unrelenting.

The entire band was excellent, but there can’t be any arguing that all eyes were focused almost exclusively on Chloe Chaidez. She has a persona that commands your attention, and left everything on stage; and despite using her assets at times, the main thing she relied on was her natural talent, which seemed limitless this night.

Everything was topnotch, and the showmanship was so very impressive. I’ve got to say, they earned a lot of respect in my book, because in terms of performance, this is what a band should be.

They have a few shows left on their current tour, and exact dates can be found HERE. Pick up their record in iTUNES, too.

Album Review: “The Dark” by Waking Alice

imageWaking Alice has been around the North Texas music scene longer than most, though it wasn’t until mid-2012 when the current incarnation came to be.

With Rus Chaney as the new lead vocalist and Jonn Levey taking the role of the drummer, they got back into the performing circuit; and three singles came shortly after, allowing them to display the new lineup.

It’s hard to believe that’s already been nearly two years ago, and in those two years, the four-piece outfit has deepened their chemistry, which has resulted in even better material, which is showcased on their first legitimate EP (as this lineup).

The Dark starts with the two most recently written songs in the bands catalog, beginning with what is perhaps the best cut on the EP: “November Burns”. As the title of the EP suggests, these are darker songs, and topic wise, they are a bit different from their first three singles. This is a song about being betrayed by those close to you, offering a vivid account of it. “Waking now from this nightmare of mine; the sutures all but gone…” Rus sings in his unmistakable, slightly gruff tone of voice; and you can feel the raw emotion of it all. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Waking Alice tune without some sort of guitar solo, which Brandon Brewer adds at one point, before eventually easing back into the haunting chord progression of the verses that sticks with you. I’m also fond of the little false ending. A part where live you just might begin to clap, assuming the song is over, before the instrumentalists rip back into it.

“Bi-Polar Heart” is the longest track on the album — nearly five-and-a-half minutes — and the most epic, too. It’s more progressive than anything they’ve done in the past, taking a sudden turn into a very tranquil section that lasts for just a bit. That’s something Waking Alice doesn’t do often (show their soft side). It makes for an interesting change of pace for them, though, and it still retains all the elements that make Waking Alice who they are.

“The Dark” marks the midway point of the EP, which is something a little different for Waking Alice. It’s an instrumental song, which is something I don’t believe they’ve ever done before. They may have lengthy instrumental sections at times, but this is completely different. It’s a high-energy number that keeps the momentum from the first half of the record going, even expanding upon it. One of the best things about it is how each instrument as its own moment. Brayton Bourques’ bass is pretty dominant at the start, then sneaks in later on to accent the drums — which gets a couple of solos. It’s also a little surprising that the guitar is left waiting in the wings for the first half, though it works to the songs advantage, ‘cause when Brandon Brewer does strike with it, it hits fast and hard. At just under two-and-a-half minutes, it’s a perfect length for an instrumental track, letting them better highlight their prowess and instrumentalists, but not dragging on to the point it seems tedious.

“Paper Rock Shotgun” is one song Waking Alice fans have been hearing for quite awhile now, and it has finally been recorded. It’s the antithesis of the first half of the EP. Instead of dealing with backstabbing or the souring of a relationship, it focuses on the blossoming of a new one, one without all the deceit. It brings a hopeful aspect to everything, one that proves that even if you feel down and out, something good can always come along. The instrumental breakdown is also pretty slick, and it’s another track where they fool the listener into thinking it’s over before it roars back to life.

Despite having been recorded at a completely different time, “Hostage” fits perfectly with this collection of songs. For fans, if you look at it as the final piece of the puzzle of this EP, it honestly makes you look at the song in a new light. The nearly year-old track is about rising above whatever’s holding you down and no longer being a victim. “…Now I’m on my feet, I’m gonna kick some ass.” Rus belts on the chorus of what is the heaviest of the five songs.

Not many albums come full circle. That shouldn’t necessarily be a prerequisite for any, but it can be a nice touch. The Dark is one that does.

It starts out one way — with a fairly bleak perspective — and ends by realizing that with the bad, there must also be good; and also you need to take control of the situations around you.

These tracks offer a great look at what Waking Alice has grown into in these last two years, and just what a solid group they are. I’d say it’s the best thing the band has done in all their years together, and it leads you to wonder: If they’ve grown this much as musicians and writers in just two years, then what will the next batch of songs sound like?

Only time will tell, but for now, let’s just savor The Dark.

Waking Alice is:
Rus Chaney - Lead vocals
Brandon Brewer – Guitar and backing vocals
Jonn Levey - Drums
Brayton Bourque - Bass

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit Waking Alice’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter

Current Shows:
 Friday, August 22nd at Tomcats West in Fort Worth / Saturday, September 20th at The Grotto in Fort Worth / Saturday, September 27th at Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth

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Album Review: “You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas!” by Madisons

imageThe Austin-based Madisons formed in mid-2011, and quickly set to work building a name for themselves. I was introduced to the band in May of 2012, when they played the Homegrown Music and Arts Festival in Dallas. Shortly after came their debut record; and they’ve managed to stick to a schedule that even some bands with major label backings have trouble doing: releasing an LP every two years.

Changes occurred in these last two years, though, and only two members from the original lineup still remain. Change can be a good thing, though, and in this case, it has seemed to create a revitalized Madisons. One that has honed their sound and better perfected it during the time between records, and the difference is noticeable right from the start…

The seven-piece folk rock/ Americana outfit wastes no time in getting down to business, placing what is perhaps the best track on the record — “The Misadventures of Shea Grant” — right at the start. It’s as high-strung as they get on this nearly 40-minute long experience, and it’s absolutely pulse-pounding from start to finish. The drums establish a furious pace, and the vast array of instruments, from the guitars to the violin, upright bass and the rest keep up with ease. You’ll surely be singing right along with the chorus of this infectious number, “…I would settle for a smile in the pouring rain, but your smiles won’t pay the rent. It’s a retelling of my summer of discontent…”, in no time, and the rest of it will follow soon after.

Their folk stylings shine more brightly on “A Long, Slow Death in San Marcos, Texas”, where the trumpet is heard much better. The song covers a lot of ground, but is perhaps best summed up by the opening line, “I’m not responsible for the way you say you feel. That’s what therapists teach assholes so they don’t have to feel like assholes…” It’s filled with lyrical gems, from “…You can’t love me for what I am, but you hate me for what you’re not…” to “…There’s a leak in the ceiling and the floor’s begun to rot…” (which violinist Jocelyn White shouts alongside Dominic Solis’ lead vocals, giving it a nice effect.) The line is more or less a metaphor for the gradual desolation of a relationship, and it works beautifully.

The album has quickly been heading on a downward slope in terms of intensity, and with the gentle guitar chords and soothing violin that prevail for nearly the first half of “In My Pocket Forever”, you may be thinking Madisons has already done as much rock as they’re going to. That’s where you’d be wrong. It slowly surges to life; the electric guitar bringing renewed energy when it suddenly arises during an instrumental break. It acts as a prelude of sorts to the explosive end the track has, proving this is a band who has some tricks up their sleeves. As for the song itself, lyrically, it depicts what is easily the most unsettling story on the record, based on real events involving a fourteen-year-old girl who got pregnant by a man twice her age, and he eventually set her on fire. It may not be a story you want to hear, but at the same time, how many bands these days get that real with their music?

There’s a surprisingly fun vibe at times to “Carolina”, which is perhaps the most emotional song on this disc, dealing with letting go of a person you still feel for, all because it’s the best thing to do. The record then goes into “Losing Pictures”, which gives the opening track a run for its money. Presumably, it’s where the album title stems from, with one of the lines in it being, “So drag your sorry ass back to Los Angeles, but don’t forget what you burned. Live inside my friends if you have to, and dig your knees in the dirt…”There’s a definite good riddance feel to this song, verses the emptiness conveyed in the previous one, and being grouped together like this, you get a perspective on two very different relationships. The opening line itself, “Mary never knew she was a terrible person, but that’s what she come to learn. Some folks can’t handle what they’ve been handed, but some folks get what they deserve.” is quite powerful, too. The ebb and flow of the music bed is spectacular as well, waning on the verses to give the words more weight, while the build up to the choruses let you know you’re in for it.

They get back to a semi-gentler tone with “You’ll Never Know”, which carries with it a message of telling people whatever you may need to while you have the chance and don’t keep it held in. The band then throws you for a loop, when you suddenly hear Jocelyns’ voice on “Sucker Punch”. She stands as the lone vocalist on that downcast track, and the heartbroken feeling even bleeds through in her delicate voice. “…How am I surrounded by the ones I love, but I still feel so goddamned alone?” she pines at one point.

Madisons then try something a little different for them. “The Hill” is another personal song penned by Dominic, one about feeling forever trapped in a small town you don’t think you’ll ever get out of. It doesn’t quite fit the folk genre, though, and while it’s sort of rock (especially in the stellar guitar solo), it can’t be categorized fully in that, either. Indie may be the best genre to use to describe it, and the heavily used xylophone adds a nice touch to it all. You know how I said they’re a band with some tricks up their sleeves? Yeah, this is a prime example.

They fully embrace their country side with “Meet Me By the Riverside”. The banjo is in full effect on the joyful, folksy number that makes use of the numerous voices they have at their disposal. It’s just damn catchy, and you’ll no doubt find yourself stomping your foot along to the beat.

“The Fiscal Year” then rounds out this ten-track record, and it’s also the shortest on it. Like so many of the others, it’s about a relationship, and Dominic ponders at the start that, that’s all he seems to do (writing songs about the relationship). With all the turbulent moments portrayed on this album, it ends on a happy note. “The Fiscal Year” is a love song, plain and simple, and the line, “…‘Cause I want to spend my life making art for you…” couldn’t be described as anything else but sweet. There are some other good lines thrown in (“…Don’t go to work if you hate what you do…”); and style wise, they again stray a little from what they’ve set as their standard. There’s a saxophone solo thrown in, and while it’s brief, it gives the song a pretty bluesy vibe.

In just ten songs, Madisons capture a wide spectrum of different emotions on You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas! Best of all, you can tell they’re all sentimental. They all come from some deep part within Dominic Solis.

Their first album, Desgraciados, was great in my opinion. It set the stage for them, making sure you knew they were all about telling stories AND making quality music, and not sacrificing one just to have the other. They’ve taken themselves to a new level with this new release, though.

Their sound is more polished and fierce; and the stories told take you even deeper than those of the first album. It’s an all-around superb record that should rival even the biggest Americana releases of 2014.

No, it’s not necessarily something you’re going to listen to if you’re in a depressed mood and in need of a pick-me-up, but if you value legitimate substance, then You Can Take Your Sorry Ass Back To West Texas! will be a record you’ll be listening to repeatedly for a long time to come.
 
Madisons is:
Dominic Solis - Vocals, acoustic guitar
Jocelyn White - Vocals, violin
Cameron Cummings - Vocals, electric guitar
Oscar Gomez - Trumpet
Thomas Damron - Upright bass
Nick Kukowski - Vocals, banjo
Mike Rothschild - Drums

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES / Amazon mp3

Visit Madisons’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

Current Shows:
July 26th at The Blackheart in Austin, TX / September 13th at Dorcol Distilling Co. in San Antonio, TX

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Saturday, July 12th, 2014 – The Dirty River Boys Debut at Gas Monkey

Gas Monkey Bar and Grill has been in business for about a year now (give or take a little). The restaurant/concert venue took over the old Firewater location (it’s amazing that place has been out of business for about five years now. Crazy how time flies.)

For those not in the know, the Gas Monkey is owned by Richard Rawlings, star of Fast N’ Loud on the Discovery Network; and from the looks of it this night, having that name attached has made for booming business.

I was there for the concert (which was taking place on the outdoor stage), and arrived fairly late. It was about 9:40, yet plenty of people were pulling up in the parking lot and going into the restaurant section, presumably to get some grub and probably a drink. Some even had younger kids in tow. Yeah, the place was bustling.

The patio was no different. It seemed smaller than I remembered. Then again, it was only in Firewater’s last year of business that they strayed from their usual 21+ shows, meaning I could actually get in, and most of the shows I caught there were on the indoor stage.

Speaking of age, even being in my mid-twenties I felt like the youngest person there. A different feeling from the clubs of Deep Ellum I spend nearly every weekend at. By no means am I saying people were old, but instead of primarily twenty-somethings, the demographic at GMB&G was largely thirty-somethings. However, people from all walks of life were out there. Some were a few decades older than that; some people wore cowboy hats, fitting the country mood of the night; others were dressed more casually with shorts and flip-flops.

The patio was a melting pot; and there were also plenty of people taking selfies as they watched the band, or getting a group shot of them and their friends together.

Thieving Birds were on the stage, and while I only caught their last three or four songs of their set, they were quite impressive. I’ll have to try to catch them again sometime, and see what a full show is like.

Despite all the good shows Gas Monkey has had — from local to national ones — it seems like there has always been something else that appealed to me more whenever I might have come out this way. It took The Dirty River Boys playing here to finally get me to the Gas Monkey; and with a couple months having passed since I last saw the group, I was in need of a fix.

It was 10:31 when the quartet from Austin (by way of El Paso) stepped on stage. Singer and guitarist Nino Cooper held his mandolin up in the air, and bassist Colton James, fellow singer and guitarist Marco Gutierrez and drummer Travis Stearns filed on stage right behind him.

They had changed their set around a bit since I had last seen them, and they opened with a partial cover.

“Come along, little children come along. While the moon is shining bright…” they all crooned, showing off some rarer four-part harmonies on Buster Browns’ “Raise a Ruckus”. That seemed extra appropriate, considering it was a full moon this night. It also seemed like a sure setup for a particular original song, one that is usually reserved as the closer. Sure enough, they used that as an intro for the oh so rowdy, “Raise Some Hell”. Some people were singing along and others stomped their feet, while others danced about to the song that sounds very much like an Irish jig. It was strange hearing it right at the start, but at the time same time, lyrically (“…We’re gonna raise some hell tonight.”), it worked perfectly. It would seem it’s one of those songs that can fit either at the end or the beginning of shows.

Some fanfare erupted, but they were busy, and moved on to their next number, the first of many newer ones they did, and it was one that had Colton singing the lead. “How many of you have seen The Dirty River Boys before?!” Travis asked in his booming voice. Plenty of hands went up in the air and cheers were heard, letting him know that this wasn’t their first rodeo. Meanwhile, his band mates had kept the pace up, using a brief instrumental piece to bridge them into the next song, and Nino suddenly began to sing, “She was lusting for some wandering; he was lost in a paper filled room. She packed a suitcase; he sold his old place. They travelled on down a one-way road…” “Heart Like That” is one of their best if you ask me, especially live; and as they got to the final line, Nino put some extra emphasis on it. “What’s not to love about a Heart! Like! That!” he belted in a twangy tone, and the audience quickly burst into applause. “Thank you.” he responded, before counting them into one of the songs he and Marco shared the lead vocal duties on, “My Son”. “The only you could be found is through your footsteps in the cold, dead ground.” the two sang in harmony, before Nino tore off on a guitar solo, and despite being on his acoustic, it was a solo that could put many electric guitars to shame. They even showed off their four-part harmonies again at the end of the track.

Marco then reached for his neck rack and harmonica, playing a few notes to begin “Dried Up”, the lead track off their debut full-length record Science of Flight. “Come on, Dallas!” he yelled as they hit the first chorus and the song really took off. He addressed everyone once it was done, giving a proper hello to the hundred plus people who were there. “We’ve been playing a lot of old ones, so how about a new one? What do you think about that?” he asked. The crowd seemed game, especially once they began the track that is a full on assault on the ears. “That’s a little song about life on the road.” Nino stated once they had finished it. It was another that has usually come later in the set when I’ve seen them, but given its sheer intensity (it is easily their most rock sounding song) it fit even better towards the start.

No sooner had they finished then Travis stood up from his cajon and small drum kit, while Colton laid his upright bass down. “…This is what we like to call a Chinese fire drill.” Marco noted, before going back to the bass. Colton ended up on the banjo and Travis had the mandolin. He paced around the stage with it as they knocked out the short “Lookin’ for the Heart”, which got some movement going out in the crowd, as some people danced along to it.

“Make some noise for Thieving Birds! Keeping rock alive!” Marco yelled once they all got back to their normal positions. He then let everyone know they had another new song coming their way, adding it would be on their new album coming out sometime soon. “It’s called Thought I’d Let You Know.” he finished. The Dirty River Boys are as much a rock band as they are a country one, but that song especially had some more authentic country sounds to it. Similar to the stuff from their first two EP’s, and it was excellent.

Another new one followed, this time in the form of their newest single: “Desert Wind”. You could feel the excitement spike once people heard Nino start on the first chords. I dare say it’s a brilliant song, and one where you feel every single thread of emotion that’s woven into it. It ended with Travis adding some additional percussion, serving up some hard-hitting beats that made it all the more striking of a song. They were on a roll now, and kept on going with an instrumental piece, one that was clearly a lead in to “Draw”. It was pretty powerful, and Colton was slapping the strings of his bass with both hands, while Travis’s act of tossing a drumstick into the air and then catching it by sideswiping it with his right hand amazed much of the crowd. With that, the actual song began, and it was another one people were loving.

“Thank y’all so much!” Marco said in his thick Southern twang once the fanfare died down. He then mentioned this next song was one that Bob Dylan and The Band used to do “back in the day”. They often add a partial Dylan cover onto one of their original songs, but hearing them do a full song of his was something new to me. The song was “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, but they put a completely different spin on it from the original. It boasted some more harmonies from all of them; and Nino threw in a guitar solo for good measure. They definitely spruced it up to better fit their style; and after that spirited version of the song, they got the mood a little darker.

“Oooo.” They all crooned into their mics over some haunting melodies. It lasted at least half a minute, and after Travis beat on his cajon — working his way down the box he sat upon — Marco asked if everyone was still with them. He had to repeat it, because the response wasn’t that great the first time around, but yeah, the fans were still as much invested in this as the band was. “All of the darkness down at the bottom don’t look too dark from here. Keep your eyes on the brick wall, your foot on the throttle; get ready to feel no fear!” belted Marco on the chorus of “Letter to Whoever”. There came a point where the reins were handed over to Travis, who delivered a riveting drum solo on the kit, before shifting his focus back to the cajon. He perhaps hit it a little too hard, because after the song, he pulled the cover off, throwing to the side of the stage, and got a fresh one, one that could withstand several more blows.

In the meantime, Marco chatted with everyone, saying despite all coming from different musical influences, they could all always agree on some good ol’ punk rock. “And punk rock just lost a person…” he said somberly. He was speaking of the recent passing of Tommy Ramone, and dedicated this next one to him. They paid their respects by covering “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and doing a great rendition of it at that. “Rest in peace, Tommy.” Marco remarked after the song came to its abrupt end, and he gazed upwards at the sky.

It seemed like he had been doing a long stretch of singing, but he got a slight rest on “Riverbed Wildflowers”, at least for the first half of it. Perhaps the best part of the song came at the bridge, when Nino and Marco alternated on the vocals, and when Nino sang his lines, he was backed up by Colton and Travis. Fans didn’t even get a real chance to voice how much they loved that softer number, and Marco launched right into the following song on the set list, while Travis brought out his harmonica. It was the outlaw-esque “Six Riders”, which Marco later mentioned was off Science of Flight, saying their merch guy, Dugan, would hook anyone who wanted a copy up with a “phat deal”.

Their attention then turned to some more newer stuff, and Colton again took the lead vocals. “…Let me taste the blood from your mouth…” he sang with a slight drawl; and at one point, a man appeared on stage, interacting with them, doing air bass, guitar, etc. “Hey! There’s my Uncle Bubba!” Colton shouted. The band and the spectators appeared to enjoy the antics of Uncle Bubba, who was clearly having a ball himself.

“…It’s a full moon y’all are supposed to get crazy or something. That’s what they say…” Marco spoke during their next break, before they knocked out another song of theirs that has something to do with whiskey. Nino even swapped out to his shiny electric guitar for it.

They were nearing the end at this point, and Travis now asked the opposite of what he had earlier in the night, and that was how many people were seeing their first Dirty River Boys show. There were a few newcomers there, but not many. He mentioned what a wonderful venue the Gas Monkey was, and they were happy to be making their debut there. He then went back six years, when this band first began. “…From the beginning… this has been an amazing experience. God bless you…” he told everyone, before leading them in “prepping” their vocal chords. He made some sounds and had the crowd follow along, before they really put their voices to the test, helping sing the second round of the harmonies that happen on each verse of “Boomtown”. Nino was back on the mandolin for it, breaking a string later on, but he still powered through. Luckily they didn’t need it anymore this night.

“Have you had a good time so far?!” Travis roared. He added he hoped everyone had, had a good fourth the previous weekend and asked if anyone went to Willy’s picnic. No one here at Gas Monkey had made it. “The dude’s eighty-two! Go see him play!” Travis said, seeming a little stunned.

They slowed things down with the lovely, albeit poignant “So Long Elanie”; and then spoke of growing up in El Paso, crossing the river and going into Mexico for the day (or night). “…We started going to some of those bars at thirteen…” Nino reminisced. You can’t do that safely anymore, though, and they co-wrote a song with Ray Wylie Hubbard about all the violence on the border. It’s called “Down by the River”, and if I’m remembering correctly, one of the lines is “…The undertaker said if you cross that river you’ll never come back.” It seemed like that would be the end of the main set, especially given the powerhouse finish they gave it, which had Travis going ballistic on the drums. Then they suddenly broke into “She”. Nino again brought his electric axe out, as they concluded their 88-minute long set with that oldie from the “Train Station” EP. It’s arguably one of their best.

Chants of an encore started before they even stepped off stage, but everyone knew they were going to come back. They had to. After all, one of the staple songs had been surprisingly absent during the main portion.

After a couple minutes, Nino and Marco then retook the stage, just as a duo. Nino had a lengthy harmonica solo at first, before they did a more gentle sounding “Carnival Lights”. Well, at least for the first half. The rhythm section returned after the second chorus, and things then sprang to life. “Alright, Dallas, you think you know the words to this part?” Marco asked at the tail end of it, before the crowd sang along with him. They tacked on a bit of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” at the end, and Colton hung his cowboy hat on the headstock of the bass as they crooned on the more spiritual track.

Their 12-minute encore then came to a close with what has become a staple for them: their take on The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman”. Marco changed the lyrics slightly. “I laid a divorcee down in Dallas, Texas.” he sang on the second verse, and as the song peaked, Travis stood up for a drum solo, and then Marco followed it with a solo on his harmonica.

With that, they thanked everyone for coming out, and bid Dallas a farewell… For now.

For now, The Dirty River Boys are still just a regional band, though one that is quickly making a name for themselves. However, they’re every bit as professional as the biggest name acts are, and they deliver a show of that caliber, too.

They create a nice mix of rock and Texas country (the good kind of country), and they execute everything superbly. If you haven’t seen them yet, I promise you, you’re missing out.

As for their shows in North Texas, they’ll be in Fort Worth on June 24th at Panther Island Pavilion (that’s a free one); Hank’s in McKinney on August 1st; and Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth on October 10th. I wouldn’t be surprised if another show or two in the area creep in there over the next month or so. You can catch them all over the Lone Star State, though, and they’ll even be doing some hefty touring across the Mid-West in the coming months. Just check out their TOUR DATES for all the info. Check out their records in iTUNES, too, and be on the lookout for their new one, which will hopefully drop soon.

As for the Gas Monkey, I thought it was a great place. For four years, I periodically found myself wishing the old Firewater would get reopened one way or another, because it was a shame to think such amazing stages were being wasted.

They’re not now. They haven’t been for about a year, and it doesn’t look like the popularity of Gas Monkey Bar & Grill is going to die down anytime soon. As I said, the place was packed inside and out. I assume the food’s good. I’ll have to try it sometime. But I can say it’s a great spot to catch a show. Even on this warmer night, there was a nice breeze, so it was never hot; and the sound, the sound seemed better than what I remembered it being. Earplugs are a must for me, and even with them in, the music was still blaring, and I found myself constantly adjusting them to make sure they weren’t sliding out. I liked that.

I’m going to have to try to get out here a little more often. Like I said, they constantly have great shows going on, some of which are free. You can’t beat that. Actually, I think I’ll be back before the month ends.

Single Review: “Man of Means” by The Screaming Thieves

imageMany people have probably been waiting a good long while for Brandon Callies to return to fronting a rock band. Black Tie Vendetta — the band that made him a staple of the North Texas music scene — hasn’t played regularly in years (though they say the band will never actually break up), and while his newest project, the Brandon Callies Band, has some rock elements, it’s equal parts country.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when people learned the other day that he has put yet another iron in the fire, and this one’s being called The Screaming Thieves (which just so happens to be made up of many of the members of the Brandon Callies Band).

They cite influences like Black Sabbath, Muddy Waters, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and MC5; a rather eclectic mix of groups whose styles are heard in The Screaming Thieves first track: “Man of Means”.

It’s a semi-bluesy rock number that is brimming with raw, unbridled rock sounds. The guitar tones and solos have a very magnetizing affect, and are completely pure. That’s to say, it’s just simple, good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. The drums provide a solid backbone for the track, and while the bass and keys are a little less prevalent, they do edge in here and there.

Aside from all that, you get further proof of Brandon Callies’ superb ability as a songwriter. Take for example the line, “…A burden breeds a stronger back to bear a heavy load…”. It’s not all that complex, yet is quite profound.

All of that is condensed into a little under three-minutes; and it sets up a band that is ready to take the Texas music scene by storm. The fact that they are already a part of the Hand Drawn Records family should give them a boost, too.

The Screaming Thieves is:
Brandon Callies – Lead vocals and guitar
Zach Arrington - Vocals and guitar
Omarr Escoffie’ - Vocals and bass
Jason Myers - Vocals and keys
Christina Comley - Drums

Listen to the song on:
Reverbnation

Visit The Screaming Thieves websites:
Facebook / Reverbnation
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Wednesday, July 9th, 2014 – Alexander Webb Packs Out Opening Bell Coffee; Annalisse Nutt Amazes

It had been eleven days since I had last been out to a concert. The last time I went more than a week without seeing a show was probably about six months ago.

Yeah, I was kinda jonesing for a fix; and Opening Bell Coffee seemed like a good place to go to get it this night.

I may not often go to the cozy coffee shop located on south Lamar Street in Dallas, but I make sure to keep an eye on the calendar; and all the acts playing this night sounded good, based on what I previewed online, at least.

It was probably around 7:50 when I walked in, making me pretty late given the seven-o’clock start time. So late, I actually got one of the last available chairs.

Opening Bell was packed! More so than I’ve ever seen it (granted, I’ve only been here on weeknights).

Alexander Webb was on the small stage that takes up a corner of the room, and the Dallas native had a bunch of friends and supporters out to catch him while he was town.

He was in the midst of his set, finishing one original when I walked in, and afterwards told the crowd he was going to do something that might be familiar to most ears. He finished tuning his guitar, then unleashed a spectacular rendition of The Beatles “Come Together”. His voice had a smooth, even soothing quality to it at times, though he belted that track out with a fury, earning him rave applause from the entire room once the song was finished.

“I used to… Well, I still am pretty opinionated…” Alexander stated, setting up his next song, before mentioning this was the second show of a Mid-West tour he and Annalissa Nutt were doing. He also informed the audience that this next song, “All I’ve Come to Know”, was the last one he completed before hitting the road just days earlier, so it was still very fresh. He used a harmonica at times throughout what will surely be a highlight track on his next record; and afterwards invited Annalissa Nutt on stage to help in singing the next number.

It was another cover, specifically “Bloodline” by Matt Morris. It was the best song of his set (at least what I caught of it); and he sang the first little portion on his own, before Annalisse began to add her voice to it, harmonizing with him, and the result was jaw-dropping. It’s a great song in the first place, but the way they did it, it was astounding.

She left, and Alexander chatted with the crowd as he got ready for his next song, saying he hoped everyone was ready for a song that sounded kinda hopeless, but then got really hopeful at the end. He was quite for a moment, as got the capo just right, before he gave a heartfelt thank you. “A lot of years have gone into this music, and being able to share it with you is very valuable to me.” he remarked before “Enough” — the final track from the “Up Ahead” EP. He was clearly a great singer, but now he got a chance to let his skills as a guitarist shine, using both hands to pluck the strings up on the guitars neck in a very intricate manner.

That spiritual song was rather lengthy (lasting a little over five minutes), yet it passed by quickly, and then he wrapped up his time on stage with another song from that EP, which I believe was the title track, “Up Ahead”.

I’m glad I got to see at least a portion of Alexander Webbs’ set, as he is a very talented singer/songwriter.

Apart from his voice, the emotion that was poured into his songs was also striking, and depending on the content, you could tell they were born out of a deep personal experience or something that he strongly believed in.

He has released four albums so far, and the way he talked this night, another one should be coming sooner rather than later. But for now, check out his past ones in iTUNES. Also, if you live anywhere in the Mid-West, check out his current show SCHEDULE. This tour will be lasting through early August, so he just might be coming to a town near you.

The Arkansas born Annalisse Nutt was next, and it didn’t take her long to fill the space Alexander had just vacated. “I’m gonna play some music for y’all!” she exclaimed with a smile on her face. Her 50-minute long set was a mix of old and newer material, as well as some covers, and I’m guessing it was one of those newer songs she opened with. “If these walls could talk, they’d speak in tongues…” she softly crooned on the first line.

She may have been lacking the strong fan base that Alexander had, but many of them had stuck around, and Annalisse quickly won them over with that tune. Following it was what I think was her first cover of the night. I don’t listen to much Rihanna, but what Annalisse sang at the beginning matched up with “Drunk On Love”, albeit a retooled version that was better suited for an acoustic setting. Regardless of what it was, though, it was with that track that she firmly established herself as a vocal powerhouse, one who had completely captivated everyone in the room.

“I played here a couple years ago.” she remarked, adding, “I love this spot.”, before informing everyone this next song was more of a spiritual one. She talked about how it was about there being about a place with God where nothing else matters, and also pointed out it was on her “7 Song Sampler” album she released a couple years back. It was titled “There’s a Place”, and on it she was able to show off an even wider vocal range, nailing some terrific higher notes at times, while a certain forcefulness and intensity was heard throughout.

“I played this at a friend’s wedding last year…” she told everyone of her next cover, saying the way she does it gets a little darker at the end. No one really knew what she was talking about, but I don’t imagine anyone would have guessed it was The Turtles’ “Happy Together”. Some semi-dark vibes were incorporated, but nothing too bad; and it was still a song about being with the one you love. A fitting follow-up to that self-described darker song was “Lavender-Magenta Praise”. She again spoke of her faith, saying that no matter how dark things got, be it physically or spiritually, “…the color always comes back…”. She then said that Alexander happened to send her a video of himself harmonizing to the song. “…And I loved it!” she finished, as she brought him back on stage to help her out. She gently plucked the strings of the guitar she was using, better allowing her voice and his to be the main focal points of the track.

The stage was then given back to her, and Annalisse did what was arguably the best song of her set. She mentioned that when she got back to Nashville, she was going to start working on a new record, and this one, “My Storm”, would be on it. The chord structure was often soft and haunting, and there were several occasions she hit some utterly gorgeous notes that sounded like they were in the soprano range. Everything about it was absolutely amazing.

“You’ll probably recognize this one, too.” She said after the applause and cheers subsided. She showed off her pop side by putting her spin on “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, managing to make it sound very catchy with just an acoustic guitar, and also in the way she sang it. It was engrossing. “Thank you kindly.” she said, seeming a little taken aback by the warm reactions she was getting. “…Is everybody having fun?” she asked, following that with, “Is everybody ready to get sad with this one?” There were no objections to it, and “I’m Sorry” was indeed a very poignant number.

Earlier in the night, she had pointed out that her parents were in attendance, and while she noted this next song was one she doesn’t do often, she wanted to this night, and dedicated it to her “mama”. There were some very powerful moments during it, when her voice surged, being very compelling.

“That about does it.” she said smiling once the song came to an end, leaving everyone a bit saddened by the abrupt end. “No, I got one more…” she then added, checking on time to make sure she was good. She moved over to the keyboard that was on stage, only using it for maybe the first half of this final song, before stopping. The last bit was sung a cappella, and it was absolutely beautiful, even moving.

Annalisse Nutt is an exceptional singer/songwriter, and this night she proved to be a pure, refined talent.

Her breathtaking voice was certainly her biggest charm, but she’s equally as good in the field of songwriting, and not a bad on the guitar or keys, either.

I’d highly suggest you check out her “7 Song Sampler” record on BANDCAMP, and if you have the opportunity, go see her live. She’ll be on this tour with Alexander Webb for the next few weeks; and she will not disappoint.

Rounding out the show was an actual band. A newer one at that; at least new to the performing side of the business.

The three members of Northern National got their stuff setup, ran through the sound check, and then lead singer and guitarist (he used an acoustic for the first part of the set) Michael Rossi introduced himself, and then band mates Michael Allen Wilson on the electric guitar and keyboardist Michael Kanne.

Rossi later mentioned they did a lot of love songs, something that was evident from the get go, what with lyrics centered around love, while the music was softer, more relaxing, fitting the tone of the tracks. He earned some cheers after that first number, when he mentioned he had been with the same girl for nine years, a reaction that made him grin. “I actually just got her pregnant, so we’re having a baby.” he told the audience, which had dwindled to a dozen or so people.

He went on to say their next song, the title track from their debut album due out this fall, was one he wrote about her. It was called “Young and in Love”, a sweet love song about being completed by the person you’re with. Kanne used his mic to chat with the onlookers during the next break, saying they had spent two years writing stuff for their album, and “You’re the One” was one he seemed quite fond of, saying it was more of a soulful tune.

It made great use of the group vocals they were capable of, and the instruments even mostly cut out at one moment to highlight that. A more acoustic based song came next, and Rossi joked that it was as close to country as Northern National got, saying it was about leaving the Lone Star State, and then wondering why you did that in the first place. They did manage to capture a slight country sound — in the Nashville vein of the genre — and it had a low-key vibe to it, something I liked.

Rossi got a break from playing on their next one, and while he sit his guitar down, Kanne continued the storyteller like atmosphere they were giving this show, saying that “I’ll be Okay (Crazy World)” was one of the last songs they wrote.

That was the last one I stuck around for, and after hearing they only had two left for the night, I decided to go ahead and duck out.

Not that I wasn’t enjoying it, although the music was a little more sappy for my tastes. I just wanted to go ahead and get home.

They’re really good at what they do, though, and for anyone who likes pop music, then Northern National is one you must check out. All three of ‘em are equipped with some very good voices, and they mix very well together.

Their album will be dropping on September 2nd, and they’ll no doubt be doing at least a few more shows between now and then. Actually, they’ll be back at Opening Bell on Friday, July 18th.

It was good to get back out and catch some live music, especially from some touring acts. As anyone would, I do tend to stick with seeing the same bands I know I like, so it was good to get acquainted with some of the other talent out there. Another plus? I was home shortly before eleven.

Album Review: “Loss Leaders” by Loss Leaders

imageLoss Leaders has only been around a couple of years, born from the ashes of Calling All War, after Lynyrd Stogner and Millard Hasbrook decided to continue making music together. As I said, it’s only been a couple of years, but it seems like the trio has been around a little longer than that (that’s a good thing).

A small handful of demos were released over time, whetting fans appetites for a real record, a record that took some time to make, because unlike most local bands, they jumped right into it with a full-length.

The record gets off to an unexpected start. It sounds like a line from a commercial, as a voice salivates over “…Cheese sauce, and oh, the gravy… And then the biscuits.” It catches you off guard the first time around; and then “Sugar Pill” instantly fires up as soon as it has been said. “I’d hate to have to break your pretty bones…” Lynyrd sings on the first line, using a hushed voice then and periodically throughout the track, making it sound all the more threatening. As for the song itself, it’s a monstrous track about the darker sides of a co-dependent relationship, teeming with emotion; and I don’t see how it could fail to capture anyone’s interest.

That intense number is followed by one of the shorter offerings on the self-titled record: “Brazen Bull”. The rhythm section comes out swinging on it, hitting hard, before the bass, drums and guitar find just the right mix to complement each other as best as possible. Some stellar guitar tones get laced in along the way, too, making it all the more enjoyable.

“Heavy Leg” is one of those demos they released probably a year or more ago. I really liked it, but man, this polished studio version is phenomenal. It’s an incredibly tight song, with strategically placed lulls — where the bass shines — before assaulting you with soaring guitar riffs. It’s one of the best cuts from the album, and no argument can be made otherwise.

That heavy pace then gives way to “Serpent” —a song about betrayal — where the members of Loss Leaders show off their softer side. “I used to run, before I crawled away…”Lynyrd croons on the chorus, toning down his voice from the previous tracks, showing the listener the impressive range he is capable of. It’s quite good, and the angelic backing vocals that are lightly tossed in on the choruses, harmonizing with the primary vocals, creates a lovely effect. Despite all that, though, it still retains a rocking mood.

The trio gets back to what they do best: intricately written rock numbers, with “The Boxer”, which lasts a little under two and a half minutes, but is more than enough time for it to get its point across.

“Long in the Tooth” has a finely crafted music bed, complete with screeching guitar chords and an instrumental break that lasts just long enough for the trio to really show off their chops on their weapons of choice. It’s followed by “Retrogradus”, a tranquil, rhythm heavy instrumental jam that really calms you. That relaxed feeling doesn’t last long, though, and “Amnesia” once again provides something you can bang your head to, while the guitar riffs are often so sweet, you just might find yourself practicing your air guitar skills.

I seldom make comparisons between bands (I know it may help people relate, but it’s just not something I like doing, because I believe every band as their own style). However, I have to say, “Smut Hammer” has many elements that remind me of one of Austins’ best metal bands: The Sword. There’s just has an epic feel to it, with some more technical pieces thrown in. They saved one of the best for last.

The job of closing out the album goes to “Brick”, and while many records seem to end on a softer note, Loss Leaders keeps the furious pace that has lasted for almost the entire length of the record going. It ensures this debut release is a rip-roaring experience from start to finish.

I have to say, I’m rather astounded at how exceptional “Loss Leaders” is.

The first record for any band usually is about finding who you are as a group. I mean, there are plenty of bands out there who, when you compare their later stuff with what they did right at the beginning, you can clearly tell they weren’t firing on all cylinders in their early days.

Loss Leaders may not be firing on all cylinders yet, either, but it damn sure sounds like they are.

They mesh well on all of these songs, and come across as already being a tight knit outfit who knows just what they want; and what they want seems to be to make quality, captivating rock music that the masses will listen to.

They’re headed down the right road, ‘cause this first release, well, most bands could only dream of releasing something this solid their first go-around.

Loss Leaders is:
Lynyrd Stogner – Vocals and guitar
Millard Hasbrook – Bass and vocals
Paul Pace - Drums

Purchase the album on:
Bandcamp

Visit Loss Leaders’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter

Current Shows:
Saturday, July 26th at Gas Monkey Bar & Grill in Dallas (FREE)

Single Review: “Straight Line Impala” by The Phuss

imageThe rhythm section isn’t always the most prevalent part of a song. Often, it lurks in shadows of the guitars and vocals, creeping out when it can. That’s not the case with “Straight Line Impala” — the first single from The Phuss’ new album, and debut on Magnetic Eye Records.

Trey Alfaros’ drumming is swift and heavy at the start, before the track suddenly explodes into one of the ballsiest songs the trio has churned out.

The bass (wielded by Forrest Barton) adds a pulsating effect throughout the three-minutes and eighteen-seconds the song lasts; a song that has singer and guitarist Joshua Flemings’ voice sounding even more devilish than before, and somewhat demented, too.

It’s a powerhouse number, mixing equal amounts of rock and punk (something the outfit has better perfected since their self-titled debut a couple years ago), and it’s filled with a barrage of wicked guitar licks and tones.

In listening to the gritty “Straight Line Impala”, you’re shown that the rock mantra of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is very much alive; and if you’re not banging your head for every single second of it, then you’re not enjoying the track in the way you should be.

The Phuss is:
Joshua Fleming - Vocals and guitar
Trey Alfaro - Drums
Forrest Barton - Bass

Visit The Phuss’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

Single Review: “The Charade” by Alterflesh

imageAlterflesh has been around for a little while, but last year they started hitting the North Texas music scene hard, seeming to arise from out of nowhere; and making a name for themselves in a hurry.

They quickly became a staple at venues across Dallas and Fort Worth – playing those cities and elsewhere fairly often. It didn’t hurt that they had several singles recorded, too. A total of eight made their way onto the bands Reverbnation page, and while they were demos, the quality was still good, giving anyone who listened a solid idea of what Alterflesh was like.

Still, demos can only suffice for so long, and then you need something more professional. The band turned to producer Alex Gerst and his Empire Sound Studio (to say he’s one of the best in the region would not be an understatement); and before heading into the studio, they grew, adding Andrew Lewthwaite into the fold as another guitarist.

So, to better showcase this new era in Alterflesh history, they didn’t release a polished, professional recording of one of their older songs. Instead, they released a brand new tune.

The pulse-pounding drumbeats that start “The Charade” sound better than anything they’ve done yet, and they instantly let you know you need to buckle up for the ride. It blows everything they’ve released thus far out of the water, with roaring guitar riffs that can become quite catchy at times, while the bass compliments the drums insanely well.

The lyrical content is also up to par with what fans of the band have come to expect. “…Soak in the sponge of awareness…” Dayvoh sings in the later part of the song, a song that has a few different messages within it, one being that there is always more to know in this world, and you should constantly be expanding your horizons (and be aware of the goings on in the world around you).

Along those lines, Dayvohs’ voice sounds as great as I’ve ever heard it on this track. Our paths recently crossed while out at shows in Deep Ellum, and he was telling me had taken some voice lessons; voice lessons that have clearly made him an even stronger vocalist. He’s already set apart from the rest of the pack in the way that he is more of a spoken word artist, and he brings that style with him in his singing; and if you’ve ever seen the band live, then there’s no way you could question his prowess as a singer. You couple his unique style of vocal delivery with a voice that packs a more powerful punch and one he has greater control over, and the result is a force to be reckoned with.

Overall, “The Charade” showcases a completely new Alterflesh. One that is more confident than before. Perhaps even a little more self-aware, too; and striving to be the best they possibly can be.

Alterflesh is:
Paul Kubajak - Bass, backing vocals
Ben Schelin – Guitar
Kevin Mills – Percussion
Andrew Lewthwaite - Lead Guitar
Dayvoh - Vocals

Download the single for FREE on:
Reverbnation

Visit Alterflesh’s websites:
Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
September 13th at O’Riley’s in Dallas / October 11th at Hailey’s in Denton
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Album Review: “Seasons Change” by Dark Avenue

imageAfter being a band for more than ten years, it’s understandable that you could start feeling stifled creatively. So, when Dark Avenue was announced — a band that featured four-fifths of Pistol Whippin’ Ike — it was easy to see why they were starting a side project.

The hard rock sounds they have perfected were traded in for a more metal style, as they flexed their musical muscles. There was a lot of hype leading up to their debut, and after a one-off gig down at SXSW, they made their debut Dallas show an even more memorable event by also having it be their CD release show. Yeah, they came out swinging… Hard.

Right from the lead track, “Seasons Change”, the band proves why Dark Avenue is a fitting name for them. It is dark, even semi-haunting, atmospheric metal, and this song exemplifies that. The rhythm section bears down on you, the bass and drums complimenting one another very well, while the smooth, unmistakable voice of Mario Cadena offers some balance, providing some harmony to it all.

“In Memory of Me” sees the band demonstrating equal parts of metal and hard rock, complete with more pulse-pounding bass riffs and some heavy guitar licks. Then you get to what may be the best offering on the five-track EP, “Another Day”. Lyrically, it paints a vivid picture of the dissension a relationship (of any sort) can take. The opening verse, “Taste the life you’ll never have and for a second my deception looks a lot like your reflection: the life you built for me.”, says a lot about the tone the song has. It’s honesty in its most brutal form; and the guitar solo that’s thrown in is nothing short of epic.

“Sober may well be the hardest hitting song on the album. It’s quite reflective, too. Take, for example, the line, “…I have wasted so much time. The man I use to be has died. This addiction fuels my fire…” No doubt, some people will be able to connect with it on some level, and aside from perhaps being relatable, it’s real. And after all, isn’t that what music is supposed to be? It’s supposed to draw from some personal experience, which in turn makes the song into something far more emotional, as is the case here.

This all too short listening experience (the EP clocks in at not quite 20-minutes) goes out on an explosive note thanks to “Aftermath”. It’s another charged track that boasts some thunderous percussion, which actually tends to stand out more than the riffs. It’s a great one to end with, wrapping up the EP well, but it also leaves you eager to hear more from the Dark Avenue.

The thing with EP’s is (most of the time) it allows the band to put forth their best, most solid material. Such is the case with “Seasons Change”, as not one of these five tracks is lacking.

As someone who has been a fan of most of the band members for a while, too, it’s also nice to hear them trying out something new, and even Mario does some slightly different things with his voice on this collection of songs.

As stated in their bio, the goal of Dark Avenue is to set themselves apart from the rest of the herd. To standout. “Seasons Change” goes a long way in proving that is possible.

Dark Avenue is:
Barry Lorberbaum - Guitar
Barry Townsend - Bass
Jeff Hathcock - Drums
Jonathon Barnes - Guitar
Mario Cadena – Vocals

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit Dark Avenues’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Reverbnation / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:
August 22nd at Tomcats West in Fort Worth / September 6th at The Rail in Fort Worth / September 20th at Curtain Club in Dallas / October 10 at RBC in Dallas / October 11th at Hailey’s in Denton
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The Music Enthusiast Podcast returns for the June installment of the show (I’m aware it’s July. I didn’t get this edited as early as originally planned. Sorry, folks.)

Episode 81 is made up of twelve awesome songs, beginning with City Will Shake (https://www.facebook.com/citywillshakeband), Dead Twins (https://www.facebook.com/deadtwins), Little Sisters of the Poor (https://www.facebook.com/littlesistersofthepoorband), Madisons (https://www.facebook.com/madisonsatx), and Gollay (https://www.facebook.com/gollaymusic). Then, for the second half, there’s Alterflesh (https://www.facebook.com/Alterflesh), Ishi (https://www.facebook.com/ishimusic), SpaceCamp (https://www.facebook.com/SPCCMP), Jessie Frye (https://www.facebook.com/jessiefryeband), Shapes and Faces (https://www.facebook.com/shapesandfaces) and Smile Smile (https://www.facebook.com/smilesmileband).

Single Review: “Pancho and Lefty” by Exit 380

imageCovers are a staple of many bands. One might be thrown in for the fun of it (I know some hard rock groups who have covered Katy Perry and Lady Gaga before), while other bands might find a song that fits with them and then leave their mark it, making it entirely theirs and a staple at every show.

It’s something that nearly every band does or has done, however, it took Exit 380 about fifteen years to decide to record a cover. I don’t think I’ve even heard them play one in the seven or so years I’ve been seeing them (at least not until very recently). Instead, they always choose to show off their vast array of original songs.

But today, the first single off Photomaps (an album that has been two years in the making) was released. It wasn’t “La Rosa Carlina”, which has been hyped for a year or more now. Nor was it any of the other seven original tracks. The single is the final track on the record: a cover of Townes Van Zandts’ “Pancho and Lefty”.

Over the course of their fifteen-year run, Exit 380 has established themselves as one of the best storytelling bands in the area, thanks to frontman Dustin Blocker, and even guitarist Aaron Borden (who has been known to write some songs here and there), each of whom certainly have a way with words. In turn, that makes “Pancho and Lefty” a very fitting song for them to try their hand at.

The promise with Photomaps has been that the band will further embrace the country side they discovered on their 2011 album, as well as adding a Spanish flare to the mix. A Spanish flare that is readily heard on their rendition of Van Zandts’ classic.

They’ve retooled the song completely, and the piano intro (guest musician Andrew Tinker, who also produced the record) establishes the ethereal quality that lasts for the duration of the track. The bass, drums, the lap steel guitar and the guitar, and even the harmonica intertwine so harmoniously. I dare say this song, even simply focusing on the music bed, is one of the most pleasing and calming things I’ve heard. To top it all off, Blocker’s voice is as smooth as whiskey, and I swear it only grows better with age.

If Townes Van Zandt were alive today, I have a feeling he’d be happy with this take on his song.

If a new track weren’t enough, the lineup for their August 8th vinyl release show at the House of Blues was also announced, and both Jessie Frye and Andrew Tinker will be supporting Exit 380. I already wasn’t going to miss that one, but those two singer/songwriters provide even more of a reason not to skip it. So, you might want to go ahead and circle August 8th on your calendar, ‘cause it’s going to be an exceptional night.

Exit 380 is:
Dustin Blocker - Vocals, keys, harmonicas
Aaron Borden  - Guitars, lap Steel
Jeremy Hutchison  - Guitars
Jon Hutchison  - Bass
Bobby Tucker - Drums

Purchase the single on:
Bandcamp

Visit Exit 380’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube

Current Shows:

July 12th at Lola’s Saloon in Fort Worth / August 8th at House of Blues (Cambridge Room) in Dallas.


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Album Review: “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” by The Rye Boys

image“…These days, the Rye Boys have become organized, honing their hellish skills into an inhuman force of good times and alcohol. The term “band” would not be an accurate portrayal of these fellows, as they have also been known to rake yards, and give mighty fine handshakes…”

That’s an excerpt from the current bio for The Rye Boys, and I think it sums up the band quite well.

They’ve been around for a few years now (forming in 2009), but just within the last couple of months released their debut album, “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll”, which, by its title alone, should also be very telling of the folk/rock/country outfit.

The album takes you all over the place and covers a variety of emotions, though it begins with a low-key tune revolving around love. “If I lie awake she could sing me to sleep. When she’s not around I see no need to dream…” goes the first line of “Lucy Song”, with trace amounts of heartache bleeding through in the vocals not just on that portion, but the entire song. It’s a great song, and personally, I’m quite fond of the whistling thrown in, which is incredibly brief, though makes for a nice effect, before they create more of a rip-roaring raucous at the end.

The pace escalates quickly with “Yellabelly”, which is a fascinating hybrid of not just country and folk music, but also some punk. It’s all condensed into almost exactly one minute, showing just how vivacious The Rye Boys can be, and they pull off the gin-soaked sing-along type songs very well.

There’s a slight degree of lo-fi quality to both “Follow Me, Pt. 1” and, to a lesser extent, “Follow Me, Pt. 2”, that makes for a nice sound. It’s mainly found in the unison singing — which is featured most heavily on the first part — but it’s a nice effect, showcasing the vocals in their rawest form. In some ways, they sound better on those two than any other track on the record.

The album throws another twist at you with “Candidate”, which finds The Rye Boys exploring their rock side. It’s a side you’ll get sucked right into, thanks in part to the thicker, heavier percussion, while the guitars easily take center stage with some catchy riffs on the song that deals with not always being cut out for the game of love. “I am the worst candidate… I can’t help you or myself…” goes part of the chorus, which could easily be a fan sing-along.

“Yesterday” may mark the halfway point of “Motherfolk’nrock’nroll”, but with it, the band shows they still have some tricks up their sleeve, and this one happens to be in a form of a solo acoustic song. It’s possibly the best song on the album, and touches on some social issues that can really get the gears turning in your head. “Is it a sin to murder for your country? The Bible says I’m unclean, but the president assures me that God is on our side…” goes the chorus, which is executed in the form of some nice crooning. It’s a song about someone who is struggling with the process of war — having trouble with killing — and perhaps the best part is how the first two choruses are sung more pondering that line mentioned a moment ago, as if trying to become okay with that fact. However, the final chorus is filled with anger and rage about having to do something that is surely so hard to condition yourself to do.

The mood becomes much lighter with the upbeat and fun “Nickels & Dimes”, which can get you moving with ease — even if you’re setting in front your computer speakers listening to it. In fact, you’ll probably be a somewhat sad that it only lasts a little under two minutes.

“Misery Keeps” is another bare bones song, which also stands out as being one of the strongest on the album, and is just solid all the way around, from the lyrics (“…when he learned what love was, he tried to push away his own…”) and storytelling, to the way the intensity grows the further along it gets.

Said intensity then peaks with “Aeroplane”, which is another party-style folk number that evokes some movement from the listener. Then you have “Mama”, which shifts that energy around slightly, and thanks to the heavily featured piano, sounds reminiscent of an old-timey Western tune.

Out of the twelve songs on the album, the only one that really fails to capture my interest is “Yard’s On Fire”. I can’t say that it’s a bad song, nor can I pinpoint anything that could have been done better. It really is as simple as it doesn’t appeal to me.

“Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” then concludes with the howling (in both senses of the word) “Good Time”, a joyous song whose title pretty accurately describes the listening experience of this record.

“Motherfolk’nrock’nroll” is indeed a marrying of the folk/country/rock genres. Not necessarily on every song, but occasionally, and you can bet on hearing at least two of those genres woven together on each track. Above all else, they’re nearly all vibrant, fun songs that you and some friends can jam to, to get ready for some hell-raising good times.

The Rye Boys are (and key members in making the record were):
Clayton Smith -  Vocals/Guitar
Nic Harper - Vocals/Banjo
Jobie Ritchie - Bass
Kraig Zirnheld - Drums
Denver Graves - Producer/Arranger
Mixed by Salim Nourallah

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES

Visit The Rye Boys websites:
Official Website / Facebook

Single Review: Swindle Boys Strike Back with “Comeback”

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It hasn’t quite been a full seven months since Swindle Boys (the Fort Worth-based rock/pop outfit formed by brothers Joey and Matthew Swindle) released their latest EP. The long-awaited “Motion” EP was the first record to capture the band’s newest sound, but even at the CD release show they were looking towards the future and threw a new song or two in the mix.

Their current plan is to release one single per month over the course of the next few months, and the first hit digital store shelves in the wee hours of this morning (right as the clock struck midnight).

It’s an astounding track titled “Comeback”, which perhaps captures the group’s style better than anything else they’ve released thus far. The keys give the song an electronic sound at times, though it’s mixed in well with the other instruments, and never dominates things. The guitar contributes what is often an ethereal quality, before rushing to life, and the drums are, without question, the backbone of the song, providing a steady, yet forceful beat at times and springing into action on the vigorous chorus.

What gets my attention the most, though, is the sheer emotion that is packed into every last word. “…You and I, you know, we’re not the same. But I can love you like you’ve never seen. You know, it wasn’t my choice to leave, but it has to be done…” Joey sings as the tune goes into the first chorus (and throughout it), mixing feelings of both longing and heartache in the delivery.

“Comeback” is one of those songs that gets your attention the moment you first listen to it. It commands it, and it should quickly work its way on repeat on whatever medium you’re using to listen to it. It also gives you hope, hope that if more pop music can start sounding like this, then maybe the genre won’t be as disregarded as it seems to be these days.

Swindle Boys is:
Joey Swindle
Matthew Swindle
Josh Brown
Chance Cochran

Purchase “Comeback” on:
Bandcamp / iTUNES

Visit Swindle Boys websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter

Current Shows:
Friday, July 4th at Shipping & Receiving in Fort Worth

image(Photo credit: Shanna Leigh Tims)