Album Review: Mesocyclone by Nicholas Altobelli

imageNicholas Altobelli is a singer/songwriter through and through, perfectly embodying the genre.

One reason I say that is because just last year, in the earlier part of 2013, he released Without a Home to much critical acclaim, garnering praise from the smallest to the biggest media outlets in North Texas, and even from areas elsewhere. It was a different record for him, as he enlisted the help from several friends and fellow musicians, making it into a full-band effort, and in doing so left behind the solo, almost Americana/folk sound for some more poppy tracks.

Shortly after releasing it, though, he was already talking about a follow-up, even starting on songs for it. However, the year plus it has taken to create and release said follow-up wasn’t an easy one for Altobelli. His marriage came to an end during that time, and he also found himself going back to college to pursue a degree in history.

The result of that heartache is the 6-song Mesocyclone EP. The Gigawatts (his backing band) are again utilized, though they return to what Altobelli does best: folk/Americana songs. Poignant ones at that, and even though he’s known for writing more somber songs, this collection takes it to a new level.

The title of the EP isn’t the only weather reference on this album. Take for example the title of the lead track, “Thunderstorms”. While a full-band may be used, the most prominent elements of the music are still Nicholas’ voice and acoustic guitar, though the heavy use of the drums adds a nice kick to the song, while the pedal steel guitar creates some gorgeous moments, though you can hear that even those notes have a tinge of sadness to them. Various metaphors of wind and rain are weaved in as Altobelli croons about the beginning stages of a relationships demise, trying to put a positive spin on it. “…I just want you to know, thunderstorms don’t last.”

Each song tells the next line in the story, and for “Black or Blue”, that seems to be a line about how important communication is. “If I only understood, I could have been your king. If I only understood, you would have kept this ring…” Altobelli woefully sings. This is a contender for the saddest song on the album, and it’s one filled with what ifs, forever wondering if things had been different how they might have worked out. The saddest thing is, it’s hoping they still will [work out], as the chorus, “And I know that tomorrow you will see what’s been missing you…” suggests.

“I called your bluff and I called it hard. Now I’m left with a clotted scar…” goes the second verse of “Pretty Little Daffodil”, a track that finds Altobelli going back to his roots as a solo musician, armed with only an acoustic guitar. That format is behooving of the mood the song has, which is partly about how hard it is to say goodbye to someone you’ve come to know so much about and spent so much time with.  There’s also a soft and subtle sound of rain mixed into the track, helping intensify the mood.

“Memories” is a little more about acceptance of the situation, albeit reluctant acceptance. Altobelli is one of the best lyricists in the North Texas music scene and that talent is showcased exceedingly well on this track, especially on the final verse, “…Just like the love cherished, this too will perish. The memories we had are all that we’ll ever have…” The track exudes heartache, which shines through on every word. “Memories” also sees the return of The Gigawatts, and the piano is heavily featured, and it and the acoustic often complement one another. Quite well, I might add.

In making this EP, Altobelli also looked to the past, resurrecting a song from the Dog Years EP, “Summer Rain”. The fact that this version is so much more fleshed out with the drums, pedal steel, etc. makes it all the more impressive over the original version. It may have been written years prior, yet it fits the story arc of this record surprisingly well. It sounds desolate, and even with a band, that feeling is conveyed in the music. You’ll feel broken just by simply listening to it.

The delicate sound of rain falling is again heard behind the acoustic and Altobellis’ voice on “Odd Numbers”. It’s a fitting closing number, and despite being hurt, the core message is love is always worth it. “…I wouldn’t trade it in to ease the pain that I felt.” he softly sings as the first verse ends. It’s really a simple song in certain aspects, often repeating the chorus. But as I’ve said before about other bands: there’s beauty in simplicity. “…Yes, the darkness came, but the light sure gave a try…”. That’s such  a powerful line, and my take away from it is regardless how something ends, you should just be glad it happened in the first place. Be grateful you got to experience it for some amount of time, even if you’re left not understanding everything.

It’s sad that the most ardent music has to be born out of the most anguishing of circumstances. Yet in some cruel twist of fate, there’s also beauty in that.

I’m sure there are countless numbers of examples of that in music, and I can think of a few myself, where one album a band produces ends up being superior to anything else they have or perhaps even will do, because it’s so raw. Such is the case with Nicholas Altobelli and Mesocyclone.

The life changing events that he went through led to the best music he has done to date. Yes, it’s even better than Without a Home.

It’s so personal, and he has no trouble laying it all out there for the listener; and I imagine this was somewhat of a cathartic experience for him, too.

As I said, Nicholas Altobelli isn’t known for being the cheeriest songwriter there is, but Mesocyclone takes the sadness and despair often found in his music to a whole new level, completely immersing you in the breakup. It’s so rare you get a front row seat like that.

Don’t let that somber tone keep you from listening, though. This may not be an uplifting record, but it’s one you have to listen to. Savor how fluid these six songs are. How they gradually progress the tale. A tale that takes a mere 22-minutes to tell; and once it’s over, just be grateful you were given this glimpse into the life of Altobelli.

Key players in making the record were:
Nicholas Altobelli: acoustic guitars
Heather Kitzman: pedal steel
Trey Carmichael: drums
Daniel Markham: bass
Tony Whitlock: electric guitar
Rahim Quazi: piano
Salim Nourallah: electric guitar, backing vocals

Purchase the album on:
iTUNES (you can pre-order it now. Official release date is August 5th.) / Amazon / CD / Bandcamp

Visit Nicholas Altobellis’ websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube
image(Photo credit: Sally Durrum)

Album Review: “Ephemeral” by Sam Morrow


The true troubadour musicians seem to be a gradually dying breed these days. If you look hard enough, you can find some truly exceptional ones, though, and one of those would have to be Sam Morrow.

The 23-year-old singer/songwriters debut album, “Ephemeral”, was recently released on Forty Below Records, and moments into starting the listening experience you find it hard to believe Morrow isn’t two or three times his age, due to the depth and honesty that’s conveyed in his songs.

“War” establishes an immediate somber mood, while a gentle playing of the violin accompanies the slower strumming of the guitar. Sam’s art as a storyteller instantly comes to light on this track and pulls you in, and if your interest hasn’t been piqued by about two-thirds of the way in, the sharp, sudden rise the song takes will hook you. “No, we’re not done.” belts Morrow, sounding almost a bit defiant.

The hushed vibe that’s found on that previous song carries over to the first bit of “Old Soul”, but it doesn’t last for long. His rich voice raises to the occasion on this track that’s a little more fleshed out, even rock sounding. “I’ve been told that you break when you’re old, but I’ve got an old soul, my dear.” he belts towards the end of this song about hanging on to a relationship.

Through those two tracks, you can hear the album building, and that pace continues with the harmonious “Sure Thing”. You may already have a preconceived notion about the content of Sams’ songs, and despite the upbeat (which is impossible not to get into), the tone of heartbreak is kept intact. It’s not just a simple re-wording of the past songs, though. In fact, lyrically, it’s almost like an original spin on the oldest subject matter in music.

The best part about “Run” has to be how it suddenly transitions form an acoustic song to one that has an orchestral tinge as the music jumps out of the speakers, assaulting you with an array of beautifully woven sounds.

The feeling of longing is found in nearly every second of “December”, which at times has the very nice addition of backing female vocals, though you have to have the volume up pretty loud to fully hear them. Then comes “Forever”, which evokes a real sense of calm. One that washes over you, and for this track, it’s really best to just close your eyes and give all of your attention to Sam Morrow’s storytelling, which is absolutely superb on this number, even a cut above the rest.

The album then gets turned on its head with “14”. Morrow has dabbled in rock elements before, but nothing to the point that things get taken to on this song. It’s a full-blown country/rock affair, complete with a pedal steel guitar, which lies in the shadows for parts of the song, but strikes at just the right moments to really impress. It’s set apart from every other song on the record; and just because it is more alt country and mentions whiskey and other drinks, doesn’t mean the song is cliché.

At not quite three minutes, “Midland” is the shortest tune on “Ephemeral”, though it’s another incredible song, and one that brings pretty and poignant together in just the right ways.

With the album coming to a close, “True North” is an appropriate way to start the end. It’s sort of about having that internal compass that will always lead you in the right direction, though not without some bumps along the way. The song quite possible stems from his battles with addiction, but the message it carries can be applied to anyone and everyone’s life.  “…One wrong turn and it defines who we are. But it’s the journey that writes the song…” Sam croons on the first verse of the song that is a testament to the fact while you might “screw up” in the eyes of the world, you haven’t necessarily gone off track, and you can always find your way.

“Gone” then closes out the album, and it ranks high on the list of Sam doing what he does best: writing songs that are wrought with emotion.

I’ll return to the word “honesty”. That’s what sticks out the most on this record comprised entirely of songs where Morrow lays his soul bear for the listener. That’s what he’s going for, and in his current bio, he talks about greats like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, how that’s a common thread in their music. “…They all have these heavy truths woven in their writing that you don’t want to believe, but have to…” he says.

In that regard, he’s right up there with those musicians who names will never be lost to time. Perhaps one day he’ll be as legendary as they are, too.

“Ephemeral” is a good title for the album. It’s one that sticks with you, though that’s not a word that would be used to describe Sam Morrow. Quite the contrary, this is a starting point of what should one day be a legacy career.

Purchase the album on: iTUNES or Bandcamp

Visit Sam Morrows’ websites: Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 – The Dirty River Boys Deliver a Spectacle at Hank’s

“If you’re lucky nuff to be at Hank’s, you’re lucky nuff.”

That was what a sign above the stage at Hank’s Texas Grill in McKinney had written on it, and I have to say, after going to the venue, that’s a fitting statement.

It’s not just a concert venue, it’s also a restaurant and bar, and a nice one at that. It’s far more spacious than I would have guessed, stretching back quite a ways. At the back is where the stage is located, and it’s comparable to many venues in Dallas, Denton or Fort Worth. It’s cozy looking on stage, but not too bad; the stage is elevated enough to allow everyone a good view of the band playing; and the room’s small enough to be conducive to an intimate feeling between the fans and the band.

It should be noted this is a country venue, and they bring a variety of acts, even big-ticket ones, up here to the suburbs (just the night before Texas legend Ray Wylie Hubbard graced the stage).

This night, Hank’s was hosting The Dirty River Boys, who had spent the last week up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the Steamboat MusicFest, and before returning home to Austin, these El Paso natives were going to treat their North Texas fans to a show.

At ten on the dot the Nino Cooper, Colton James, Travis Stearns and Marco Gutierrez emerged from backstage, and were greeted with a bunch of fanfare. They may not be a hugely successful band yet, by they definitely have a following, and their fans were out in full force this night.

“How’s it going Hank’s?” Marco asked the crowd while he and his band mates settled into their spots. A few songs in they mentioned it had been about three years since the last time they were here, and noted they were happy to be back.

They cut right to the chase, however, starting their epic show with the lead and title track from their 2011 EP, “Train Station”. Nino added some subtle backing vocals to Marco’s singing, as the two softly plucked the strings of their respective acoustic guitars. It had a little more kick to it than even what comes across on the record, with the highlight moment being when Marco belted out the line, “…My heart’s a broken record, the needle’s singing out here name.”

The crowd loved it, and made it known with some deafening cheers and applause, while they marched on with their next song, which found Nino taking over the lead singing responsibilities, amidst the amazing four-part harmonies they all contributed to. He changed part of the chorus of “My Son”, from “How you gonna find your way back home? The maps you drew and burned and gone…” to, “…The roads you knew are paved and gone…” It was a nice artistic change, and on another note, Travis absolutely owned his cajon during this track. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, it’s a boxlike percussion instrument, and for him it also serves as his stool. He went to town on it, slapping it wildly and forcefully, and it was really something else to watch.

They moved to some more recent material, doing the outlaw country sounding song, “Lungs”. Now that they had done a few that their fans were familiar with, it was time to give everyone a taste of what their forthcoming record will be like. They did plenty of other new songs during this show, and this was one of a few that found Colton doing the singing. He’s got a great voice, and the fact that neither he, Nino or Marco sound anything alike adds an incredible mix of diversity to their music, though there’s still that common thread that binds everything together.

“That was a new song. This one’s an old one.” Marco informed the audience. Most of their songs didn’t have a seamless transition, though for the most part, they smoothly rolled from one song into the next, as was the case here. Marco pulled out his harmonica for “Dried Up”, a beautiful song with some nice hints of rock thrown in, and it’s a song that really shows off what a precise band they are. For instance, there are times when Marco lays into his harmonica in perfect time with one of Travis’s drum beats. Just shows the kind of accuracy you can get when you play shows at a near constant pace.

They even added a fun little touch to it, ending with Marco tacking on a portion of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”. “…She makes love just like a woman. She aches just like a woman.” He sang, flashing a grin at the crowd before he sang the final line, “But she breaks just like a little girl.”

It’s little touches like that, that can make a great song absolutely unforgettable, as was the case this night. They followed it with another new song they’ve cooked up, and afterwards did an old fan favorite with a new twist. They kept “Carnival Lights” pretty slow and entirely acoustic through the first chorus, with only Marco playing it. “…So she stays lonely, with her poison inside medicine bottle, filled with nothing but her own shortcomings. She leans her head back, she puts ‘em down and they taste alright. Please, just try to stay conscious tonight.” sang Marco on the chorus of this emotionally heavy song, and then asked everyone a question. “Y’all still with us, Hank’s?” The crowd hollered at him to signify they were, and that was when they kicked the song into high gear with the full band. That soft start wasn’t the only change they made to the song this night either, and at the end they all four harmonized on the line, “Please, just try to stay conscious tonight.”

They got into more of a rock mode with their next song, another new one, which required Colton to swap from his upright bass to a standard electric one, before going switching back for their next one. “Y’all feel like singing with us?!” Travis shouted at everyone, standing up from his drum kit and waving his hands in the air to pump everyone up. He led them in what to sing while Nino walked over to stage left and took the mandolin out of its stand on top of one of the amps. The song that required some audience participation was “Boomtown”, and the fans were eager to join in. “Y’all take the second round.” Marco instructed early on, as Nino did the main singing, with Colton and Marco coming in at different intervals, harmonizing with him. The fans were more than willing to help out, especially on the chorus, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! There’s a boomtown on the rise.” They kept it pretty fun, too, with Colton spinning his bass around at one point, the feathers and raccoon pelt that adorn it twirling right along with it.

No sooner had the song finished, then Marco set things up for the next one. “This is what we call a Chinese fire drill.” he stated, as the lot of them switched instruments. Nino went back to his acoustic guitar, while Travis took the mandolin from him. Colton brought out a banjo, which left Marco with the upright bass. They did a brief jam, just making some noise before stopping and counting themselves in on one of their most fun tracks, “Lookin’ for the Heart”. It really was one of the most fun songs of their show this night, and not just because you could tell they were having so much fun doing it.

There was one moment when Travis, who was pacing around a bit, turned and ran into one of the support columns on the stage. What followed looked like something out of a cartoon, and was very humorous, as he looked bewildered at the column. He proceeded to flip it his middle finger, than pretended to kick it, looking like he was about to get a bar fight with the thing.

Upon finishing it, they all returned to their normal roles. “…This is a country song about punk rock…” Marco told everyone. It was another tune from their new batch of music, and it really is about punk rock, and even has some tinges of the genre mixed in with their alternative/country/rock sound. The mood was brought down a bit as Nino started playing some notes on his harmonica, getting “Union Painter”, which is another one of their songs that tells a real story, underway.

They weren’t done with the storyteller songs, either. “This song’s about life on the road.” Nino told everyone. I was expecting one of the songs off their “Science of Flight” record, which has a title that fits that description. That wasn’t it, though. Instead, it was another new one, and Colton had to bring his electric bass back out for it.

I don’t say this often about music, so there should be quite a bit of merit in the following statement; the song was absolutely mind blowing. Seriously, not only during it, but also for the duration of their set I was thinking to myself, “Holy. Shit.” It was a roaring rock number, and was not only the most intense thing The Dirty River Boys have done, it was one of the most intense songs I’ve ever heard. It was beast of a song, and these guys really made something special with this song that had Nino singing about all the experiences of a touring band, from loading in and out of clubs and all sorts of other stuff. And fitting with the pace of the song, there was a point in the song where Travis threw his drum stick in the air, as high as he could, and caught it perfectly.

“You can bet your sweet ass that’s going on next album.” said Marco, while Travis set up the beat for their next tune, another new one that Colton was able to show off his chops on. The electric bass was back out for that one, as well as the next one, which was their most recent single.

Travis pointed this, saying that some of the people in attendance may have heard it on one of the local radio stations, and if no one had, they could call and request it. Marco started in with the chord progression of the track, leading in to it, before his guitar fell silent. Attention then turned towards Nino, who was looking up with his eyes closed, presumably counting himself in for “Desert Wind”. He and his band mates all came in at the same moment, launching into the gorgeous and moving powerhouse of a song.

“We haven’t done this one in a little while.” Marco remarked when things quieted down, seeming like he was talking to himself more than the audience. The song he was referring to was “Six Riders”, which had a few people gleefully singing along to it, and even if they hadn’t done it in awhile, you sure couldn’t tell it.

Once it was over, Travis interrupted the show, going ahead and apologizing to his band mates, acknowledging that he knew what he was about to do was highly unprofessional. Apparently, he had forgotten to bring a pack of cigarettes on stage with him, and now asked if anyone had one they would be willing to spare. “I can’t breathe. I need a cigarette.” he told everyone, before one fan dug a cigarette out and tossed it to him.

“Riverbed Wildflowers” came next in the set, and for a slower song, it packs quite a punch, and it may well even strike an emotional chord in you. They livened things back up with another new song, which Nino dedicated to everyone who was drinking whiskey this night. That was what the song was about, and started with all four of them harmonizing on the first line or so, before exploding into a rowdy rock song. It got the people moving, as did the next song, which was one they co-wrote with Ray Wylie Hubbard. They explained it was written about the violence in their hometown of El Paso, as well as the border city of Juarez. If anything can give that amazing rock song from earlier in the night a run for its money, it’s this one. It boasts a vigorous music bed, and Travis did some vicious drumming on it, rocking out to the point that the trucker hat he had been wearing finally went sailing off at one point as he thrust his head back.

The next number was done almost primarily by Nino, and that was the pretty and delicate, “So Long, Elanie”. People seemed to like (I, for one, did), but after finishing it he promised they were going to bring things back up, then looked at the other three guys to make sure they were ready. They created a haunting intro for “Letter to Whoever”, with some spooky music and eerie crooning into the mics, before busting into the short, quick paced song. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Travis Stearns!” Marco shouted before he got a short drum solo during the instrumental break.

A few songs back they had pointed out they only had a couple left, and now, the night was about to come to an end.

“How many of y’all have seen us before?!” Travis asked, again rising up from his kit to get a good view of everyone. Quite a few hands shot up in the air, while others shouted they had. “So, y’all know how we like to do it then!” Travis roared, continuing to rile everyone up, while Nino retrieved the mandolin. They were ending their 93-minute set with “Raise Some Hell”, which musically resembles a Irish jig, and is arguably their most fun song. It certainly got the audience in a boisterous mood, many of whom seemed to take one of the lines from the song as a command, and stomped their feet against the ground. It also became a fun sing-along for nearly everyone, as the fans shouted right along with the band, “…Boys, we’re gonna raise some hell tonight!”

If that was their mission this night, it was one they accomplished, and they left everyone in a frenzied state as they retreated to the backstage area.

No one thought it was over yet, though, and a small group of people began chanting for “one more song”.

At most a minute passed before Marco peaked his head out from the door, then walked back onto the stage.

“It’s been a long week in Colorado.” he remarked as he got back behind the mic. He began the 11-minute encore portion all on his lonesome, having a little moment where all eyes were fixated on him.

“…I let you down, well, I fell through, but by and by I’ll get through to you. Just let me in again when it feels right…” he crooned on the oh so lovely and poignant song, “Another Night”, which is about a “stupid, drunken night” and seeking forgiveness. Nino joined him fairly early on in the song, adding another guitar part to it, and shortly after that first chorus was when Colton and Travis rejoined them, kicking things up a few notches. There’s also what I think is a pretty profound line towards the end, and that is, “…Lips, they’re only lips if they have no meaning.”

That was the last original song they did for the night, and Travis wound them into their final number. I’d guess it was something they worked up for their time in Colorado, and it was a pretty awesome way to close things out with.

They covered a classic from The Rolling Stones, and that was “Honky Tonk Woman”.

I know this will be considered sacrilege by many, but their version was superior to the Stones. They sped it up more from the original version, which made it harder hitting, and even mixed some very light country sounds into what was otherwise a sensational rock song. I guess the point is they made it their own, and once they finished it, Travis stood up from his drum kit and jabbed one of the sticks into one of the drums (I believe it was the snare, though I couldn’t see too well), signifying that they were indeed done.


I do an annual Best Of list on this blog, running down my favorite albums and concerts from the past year. When putting that list together late last month, out of the 120+ concerts I saw last year, I ranked one of The Dirty River Boys shows I saw second. This night, I was reminded why they placed so high on my list.

They’re aren’t many bands like this out there, at least not that I’m aware of. I’m not just talking about all their obvious qualities, either.

Yes, the fact that they have four very capable singers, each with their own unique tone is fantastic, and it’s only made better by how they’re incorporating more of that into their new music. Not only that, but they’re just skilled musicians in general, being right at home on any of the instruments they spend time on. As for their live show, I’d say it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen from almost any band, being extremely energetic and fun. It’s not even any of that, that makes them so astounding, though.

Is what makes them so astounding is the sheer fun they so clearly have while on stage, which in turn translates to the audience, allowing you as a spectator to enjoy what you’re seeing even more. It’s the raw emotion that’s found in their music and the passion they put into singing and performing the songs that make their shows such an experience.

You just don’t often find bands that put that kind of feeling into their music, and that’s what sets these guys apart from most bands.

This quartet recently went into the studio and laid down the songs for their next record, which will be coming out sometime this year. In the meantime, they have an LP and two EP’s, as well as a single of “Desert Wind” all available in iTUNES.

As for shows, their next one will be on January 31st at Cheatham Street in San Marcos. They also have a show in Helotes at the Floore’s Country Store on February 8th and a gig at The Office Sports Bar in Lubbock on the 28th. And on February 21st, they’ll be back in North Texas, with a Fort Worth gig where they’ll headline Billy Bob’s Texas. And for those like me, who live about an hour away from Fort Worth, I promise, their show would be well worth the drive. And after that, it looks like their next North Texas show won’t be until April 25th, when they play the Granada Theater.

Thus ended a wonderful night in the suburbs. I doubt Hank’s will be a venue I frequent, mainly since I’m not a very avid listener of country music, but I look forward to hopefully seeing another show there sometime. And one of the best things about this concert was that it was over relatively early, and the drive home was a little shorter than it is coming back from Dallas.

Friday, August 30th, 2013 – A DFW Undercover Showcase

This was a big night for the local music advocates that collectively make up DFW Undercover, who specialize in doing video interviews with bands, as well as live photography (via Piercing Photography). This night marked their first ever showcase, and it was a singer/songwriter showcase at that.

The Labb in Denton was the host venue, and while I had heard of it before, I had never actually been there.

It’s mainly a sports bar, and as far as sports bars go, it’d be one I’d frequent if I lived closer to Denton… And if I was an avid sports fan. It was a nice place inside, with several large TVs hanging above the bar, and of course some pool tables and dart boards were scattered around, as well as some tables. The patio was where the show was taking place, though, where a decent stage is built as a permanent fixture, with plenty of tables and chairs to accommodate onlookers.

Zach Smith was the first artist this night, but I got there a little later then I intended, which resulted in me missing most of his set.


I really enjoyed what I heard, though, especially the song I walked in on, which featured a backing female vocalist along with him and his percussionist. “This next song’s about alchemy… But it’s about other stuff, too.” said Zach before beginning “The Stone Refined”, which was followed by a track titled “Waiting for the Sun”, which ended with a very long but very good sounding instrumental outro. They then did one last song to conclude their set, which Zach pointed out to his little section of fans was, who had been cheering him on, was one they had never heard before.

Even with only catching a glimpse of his performance, I thought he sounded great, and he has an excellent voice.

Aside from this solo stuff, he also plays in a band called Cloth’d in the Sun, so check them out, too.

Up next was Dallas based singer/songwriter Ashley Falgout, who, like the other acts on this bill, I had never heard of previously, but was interested to hear.

She played a large array or original material during her 52-minute long set, and after finishing her first song, she confessed/joked that she does “…a lot of songs that are half-ass written…” That may be true, but to me, I certainly never would have guessed that, let alone thought it.

After playing another tune, she mentioned how warm it was (the downside of a patio in the Texas summer), then proceeded to set up a cover song. “Sometimes I learn other people’s songs…” she said, then added, “Or two chords out of it…”, noting that she doesn’t feel it has to be precise. That led to do an amazing rendition of Ani DeFrancos’ “Not a Pretty Girl”, a song that she really turned into her own.

She did a nice job of conversing with the crowd, even if it was a one-sided conversation most of the time, it made it seem like she was really able to connect with everyone, and now talked turned to Spotify. She said she only recently learned what it was, and her album, Long Over Due”, could be streamed on it. “…Or if you want to give me money…” she said, pointing out it was also on iTUNES.

She did another killer song about a past relationship, and followed it with a medley of one of her songs as well as a cover of what she said was her favorite song, but (not surprisingly) was one I didn’t recognize. Afterwards, she cranked out a few more numbers, before ending with what I think was “Just Another Lullaby”, and then that was only because the sound guy informed her she needed to wrap it up.

She wound up being my personal favorite act of the night, with her incredible and distinctive voice, which even sounded a bit sultry at times. She was also a very talented songwriter, with fantastic lyrics that often seemed pretty personal.

If you’re into the whole singer/songwriter genre, then Ashley Falgout is definitely one you need to listen to, and her record can be purchased HERE.

There was one last act up for the night, and it was more of a full acoustic band, led by Fred Rush. He’s probably best known as being the drummer for Ugly Mustard (who have been a fixture in the D/FW music scene since ’93), and as far as his new solo project went, this was only going to be their second show.

This acoustic trio, which also consisted of Jeff Michnal on the cajon and Johnny Pina on an acoustic bass, opened with “My Heart Screams”, which was a real knockout. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. I can’t believe I found it, finally…” Fred crooned at the start, shortly before the song kicked into high gear, given they were just using acoustic instruments, after all. Once they finished it, Fred took a moment to thank DFW Undercover for hosting this event, as well as the goal they have. “…I’ve been on a soapbox for twenty to thirty years…” said Fred, saying that the people behind DFW Undercover seemed to be on the exact same soapbox. That soapbox he was referring to was sharing the mentality that everyone in the scene needs to come together for the sake of making things better, rather than bands, venues and the ilk acting as if other bands and venues and such are their competition.

They then moved on to what was a pretty upbeat sounding song, “Insomnia”, with another tune sandwiched between it and “Marigold Lane”. They played several seconds of that latter one, before Fred suddenly brought things to a halt. “I started it in the wrong key.” he said, laughing, adding he thought about going with it, but then decided against it. It had sounded good before, but the key it was supposed to be played in served to make it an even more infectious song, and towards the end of it, Fred’s son, Trent, joined them on stage, adding a little extra percussion to the mix. He grabbed a guitar for the next song, though, and took a seat on a stool on stage right.

Fred stated that they were going to do a cover song, and they gave the crowd a little tropical taste by trying their hand at the Zac Brown Bands’ “Island Song”. Not quite what you’d expect from some guys who are typically in rock bands, but they pulled it off nicely, and despite the contrast between it and Fred’s original stuff, that cover meshed nicely with it all. They had another cover in store for everyone, and as Fred put it, it was in the “spirit of the singer/songwriter showcase”. “…I don’t know where he gets it from…” Fred cracked after informing everyone that his son played in a band, and now the father and son duo kind of co-sang on “Diary for Poets”, which Trent wrote for his group Welcome to Wednesday, though it was Trent who did a bulk of the singing on this one.

Trent, too, could certainly sing, and he and Fred created some awesome harmonies on that track. “…The band was called Fred, I think we’re going to rename it Trent.” Fred joked after they finished it. Apparently, Trent was supposed to leave after that, but he decided they should do an impromptu performance of “All Apologies” by Nirvana. Jeff, Johnny and Fred went with it, with Fred chiming in from time to time, and given the fact that this wasn’t planned, they nailed it. At least I thought they did.

Trent did exit the stage after that one, and they began wrapping up their 51-minute set with another original, before things got a little heartfelt with the last song. Fred dedicated it to his father, whom he said was like Superman to him growing up, and that currently he was experiencing some health issues. With that said, it was fitting that the song was called “Ordinary Superman”, and it brought their set to a wonderful end.

You wouldn’t have guessed this was just their second show, ‘cause Fred seemed perfectly at home behind the microphone with a acoustic guitar in his hands, just like Jeff looked comfortable playing the cajon, yet both have little live experience with any of that.

Fred has a pretty unique sounding voice, too, so it’s hard to believe he’s been keeping that in for song. Oh, and he writes some really good lyrics as well. And for the record, Fred Rush and his band made a lot of noise for an acoustic group.

I know what I said about the artist before them, but I liked Fred Rush and his band just as much, in a different way.

That’s what was so cool about this night. All of these singer/songwriters covered different areas of the spectrum, which was just another reason why I loved the showcase so much, because I don’t see that many singer/songwriters, let alone a small handful on one night, so it was nice that it was all so eclectic, with each act having different styles.

Kudos to DFW Undercover for orchestrating such a cool event, and expect more from them. In fact, they have another show at Hailey’s in Denton on October 11th.

All photos courtesy of Piercing Photography. All rights belong exclusively to them.

Song Review: With “White Heat”, Jessie Frye Looks to Start a Fire


In five years, the Denton based singer-songwriter Jessie Frye has released two EP’s, the most recent being very well received by fans and critics alike. However, in those five years one question has abounded; “When will you put out a full-length?”

Well, last week, everyone got the first glimpse of what her much anticipated debut full-length, titled “Obsidian”, will sound like, when the lead single “White Heat” was released.

It’s showcases a much different side to her music then ever heard before. Jessies’ piano is still an integral part to the song, but not in the more classical style of her past material, instead, this one’s more of an electronic track. The at times soupy sounds of the song are rounded out nicely by the thick drumbeats and subtle, low bass lines, while the guitar serves to enhance the dreamy quality the song creates.

It feels safe to say that this takes Jessie out of her comfort zone, but it’s nice to see an artist embrace something new and different, after all, that’s what sparks growth as a musician. There is one constant, though, and that’s Jessie’s enchanting, marvelous voice. It sounds even better than where the last record left off, and she’s able to create a plethora of textures with it, exerting complete control over it, at times singing in a more sultry tone, like on the line “White on white heat Perfect alchemy…”, and at other point it’s strong and forceful.

In listening to “White Heat”, you’ll understand exactly why Jessie Frye is a North Texas treasure, and while it may be several more months before the world can listen to the full “Obsidian” album, “White Heat” is the perfect song to whet peoples appetites while simultaneously making them even more excited for the record. It’s a gorgeous blend of indie and pop, and if this tune is any indicator, then “White Heat” is but only the kindling for a roaring fire.

The Jessie Frye band is:
Chad Ford- Drums
Jordan Martin- Guitar
Jessie Frye- Piano/Vocal
David Kellogg- Bass

Purchase the single “White Heat” as well as the previous two EP’s in Bandcamp.

Upcoming shows include:
September 13th at Pour Jons in Siloam Springs, AR / September 14th at Foam in St. Louis, MO / September 20th at Village Café in Bryan, TX / September 21st at Avant Garden in Houston, TX / September 28th at Flipnotics in Austin, TX / October 12th at The Poplar Lounge in Memphis, TN

Album Review: “Water in a Whale” by Jillette Johsnon

It’s usually safe to say that most young musicians are still trying to find their niche in the business. From figuring out what style best suits them, to searching for their voice (literally and figuratively), and everything in between. However, that isn’t the case with twenty-four year old Jillette Johnson on her debut full-length album “Water in a Whale”.

A lot of that can probably be attributed to the fact that she has been performing live for around half her life, and while she may well still be finding her place (since that’s an ever evolving process for anyone), she’s certainly further along than most her age, and that becomes readily clear as you delve into “Water in a Whale”.

Torpedo” is the lead track of the album, and is quite an appropriate first song. Lyrically it perfectly capture Jillette’s determination and grit, like with the line from the chorus, “…But I will not lay down in the road, I will not make it easy…”, while musically, there’s a certain ethereal quality to it that will both enthrall and rouse you instantly, ensuring you’ll be listening intently to the remaining tracks.

The next song, “Cameron”, has a more bare bones sound, at least at first as the piano beautifully sets up this serious track, though there’s a nice build throughout the song that happens gradually before it erupts into an anthem of sorts. On the surface, the song is about a transgender friend of Jillette’s and the struggles faced in his youth. However, when you truly listen to the lyrics, they transcend that situation, applying to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, etc., who has ever just felt out of place, as if you don’t belong/fit in. The chorus, “…The world is full of aliens But you are a real, live human…”, is rather brilliant, and Jillette packs it full of emotion and meaning with her powerhouse voice.

A favorite song of mine on the record is “Flood the Ocean”, which is made abundantly cheery with its catchy melody, and it breeds positivity. While the following song, “When The Ship Goes Down”, breaks away from the semi-pop mold cast by the other songs, exhibiting a more classical vibe, which is quite behooving of the elegant mood the song creates, as Jillette croons about wanting to get the most out of her life.

I don’t know if pop is necessarily the best category to lump her music in, because there is a certain sophistication to it that is lacking in much of the pop music you hear on mainstream radio these days, but one song that certainly doesn’t fit that pop classification is “Last Bus Out”. It’s much more up-tempo than the other ten tracks that comprise the album, and is borderline rock, as the band cranks things up and cuts loose. There are some nice electronic elements (in the form of auto-tune) thrown in on a few words here and there, too, and along with the reverb, it adds some nice effects to the song. It’s one you’ll surely be hearing in your head long after you’ve hit the stop button (in a good way, of course.)

If you still have any traces of doubt about what a vocal dynamo Jillette truly is, then “Pauvre Coeur” will be sure to squash it. Her voice is the primary instrument on it, and the listener gets to hear her show off exactly what kind of vocal range she is capable of on this gorgeously sad song, and it may well leave you breathless. The heartache of the song is conveyed perfectly and in much detail, as she paints a very vivid picture for a song that is teeming with emotion, and could be best summed up by the final line, “…I am far too beautiful to be yours.”

Like you might infer from the title, “Peter Pan” is a short number about not wanting to grow up (or at least having a part of you that doesn’t want to.) This rocking little track begins with her (presumably) reminiscing about events from her adolescence, “We don’t get drunk on Tuesday nights anymore. We don’t have the stink from the weed with the towel on the bathroom floor anymore…” It’s yet another great (and infectious) tune this album has to offer, and one that many listeners could probably connect with, as it speaks of your friends growing up, going about their life, while you’re “…the only one left in Neverland…”

Another dazzling track is “Basset Hound”, which tells a tale of being infatuated with someone, and a splendid tale at that. One of the best things about the song, at least in my opinion, is one of its more subtle traits, specifically the way she enunciates “Basset”, putting a little extra emphasis on the “bass” portion of the word, which in turn makes the pronunciation of it completely unique. Sometimes it’s the little nuances like that, that are the difference between an already great song being an excellent one, and such as the case here.

“…Cut split ends to save our strands…”, that seems like the line that would best describe the breakup song “Butterfly Catcher”, which has a slightly more delicate sound than the songs that precede it, yet it manages to have a certain upbeat pop quality, while emanating a melancholy feeling. Sure, those sounds and moods may be a little contradictory, but weaving them together in the way she does is what makes it sound so fantastic.

“Heathen” is easily the most inspirational song on the album, and is another favorite of mine. Like the lead track, it has a certain piousness about it, probably because there are some not so subtle religious undertones to it, like on what strikes me as being a rather profound line, “Cinder blocks around my brain. Came to mock but I remain to pray…” The music bed also boasts a sort of orchestral sound, albeit a scaled back one, which is what really sets the song off.

Bringing this excursion to an end is “True North”, which is a fitting song to close with, and seems to bring the story the album tells full circle. As stated in Jillette’s current bio, it’s about “…coming home and accepting the failures that you endure…” And in the end, it’s the failures as much as the successes that make you into who you’re supposed to be.

All in all, “Water in a Whale” is an utterly flawless record from start to finish, including the two B-sides that are also a part of it (“17” and “Box of Crayons”), which are up to par with the eleven core tracks.

There’s not a song on it that sounds second-rate or inferior to the others, and because it’s so well rounded, I’d say this record is at a caliber that some artists could spend a decade’s long career trying to create and still not manage it.

It traverses between soft and sweet, raw and edgy, and at times, even a bit sultry. But through it all, it’s the passion that really makes “Water in a Whale” so outstanding. I mean, a lot of people can sing, but there’s a more limited number of singers that can squeeze so much emotion into their music, let alone capture that quality so well in a recording studio. That rare feat is something Jillette has accomplished, making each song seem incredibly significant to her, which allows the music to transcend to a whole other level.

She has no doubt set the bar high with “Water in a Whale”, but with such a plentiful amount of natural talent, when it comes time for a sophomore record, I don’t think either her or her fans will have to worry about the dreaded “sophomore slump”.

Purchase the album on:
iTunes / Bandcamp / Amazon MP3 / Barnes & Noble / or physical copies from her Online Store

Visit Jillette Johnsons’ websites:
Official Site / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

Current show schedule:
July 12th at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, California / July 16 at Joe’s Pun in New York, New York / August 23rd at Fountain Square in Cincinnati, Ohio

imagePhoto Credit: Rebecca Miller

Saturday, May 11th, 2013 – The Homegrown Music Festival: Year 4

In three short years the Homegrown Music and Arts Festival has established itself as a Dallas institution, and is arguable the festival that takes place not only in Dallas, but even the entire North Texas area.

A large part of the appeal (well, besides the music) is that it takes place in the urban oasis that is the Main Street Garden Park, a vibrant park, which occupies a full city block, that is usually a good place for people to walk their dogs in or bring their children to play on the playground equipment. However, this one day out of the year two stages are set up, one on the East end and the other on the West, as the park is transformed into a music lovers paradise.

The first two years the festival focused exclusively on North Texas based bands, before expanding in their third year, allowing bands from all over Texas to play. Only a handful of North Texas bands performed during the 2012 installment, but now in its fourth year, Homegrown was getting back to basics, and out of the fifteen bands lined up to play, only four hailed from outside the Dallas/Fort Worth region.

Kicking off this glorious day was Ross Edman, who is better known by his stage name as the electronic act, Datahowler.

His start time was 11:30 that morning, which was about thirty minutes before I got there, making Datahowler the only act I missed this day. It was surely an interesting show, though, since he was supposed to be playing his music alongside a yoga instructor who was in turn leading some individuals in a yoga routine.

I imagine that took him out of his comfort zone a little, but he was one of a handful of musicians pulling double-duty this day, and in a few hours he’d get back to what he specializes in.

I can’t say I’m too upset that I missed his set, since what he does is a style of music I’m not really into. However, you can check out his “The Crystal Gazers” EP in iTunes, if you are into some more ambient, electronic stuff.

Some stop and go traffic resulted in me getting there a little later than I wanted to, arriving right at noon, which I knew meant I was cutting it close, as that was when Madison King and her band were scheduled to start.

Sure enough, as I hurried out of the parking garage, the music crept into earshot, revealing they were in the midst of their presumable opener, “Whiskey In the Morning”.

During my trek over to the other side of the park where the Chevy stage was located, I was surprised by all the people that were already here. Sure, it might not have been a ton, but considering the festivities were just getting underway, there were a lot. Perhaps it’s as simple as they just have excellent taste in music and didn’t want to miss even one of the many great bands playing this day.

But I digress…

Upon finishing that song, they did another from Madisons’ “Darlin’, Here’s to You” record, “Here In Arms”, which is still one of the best songs in their repertoire and tells a great story. Songs from that nearly two year old album were few and far between this day, though, like their next one, which she announced to everyone was titled “Me and You”. Chris Carmichael launched them into the song with some awesome beats in what was essentially a brief drum solo, before electric guitarist Michael Smith and bassist Wade Cofer jumped into it. It’s a love song, and a very good one at that, that had a great flow to it and out of handful of new songs they did during this around 30-minute long set, it was one of my favorites.

During a break after that song, Madison started talking about what a great day it looked like it was going to be, and briefly mentioned that she had already had to duct tape her high heels, laughing as she said, making it sound like at the very least it had been an interesting day for her thus far. They then moved things along with another new tune, “Ghost of the One that Got Away”, and then another song which she dedicated to someone, resulting in two women running up towards the stage and somewhat dancing along to the song.

My favorite song of their set ended up being the next song, which was a slower, hauntingly beautiful number, with one of the lines being, “…We make evil inventions from the best of intentions…” All of those offered a nice glimpse at what Madison has been writing, and they give the impression that her next record will in all likelihood outdo her first, which is saying a lot. Speaking of that first record, they next played the gorgeous, “Nazarene”, during which Madison intricately plucked the strings of her acoustic guitar with just her fingers. “…This next song is called Saved By a Son of a Gun…” Madison told everyone, but almost immediately after starting it, she brought it to a stop. She thought either something was off or that her capo was on the wrong fret, but upon realizing all was right, they started it again, and this time this catchy song went off without a hitch. That brought them to the final song of their set, which was “Darlin, Here’s To You” and it was a fantastic song to end on, especially with the fiery guitar notes and even solo, which Michael rocked by the way.

Okay, so technically Madison King and her band didn’t get the day started, but since they were the first act I saw, they got it started for me, and what a way to begin.

Madison is one of the best singer/songwriters in the D/FW, a fact that everyone who saw her this fine afternoon would surely attest to. And it’s not just that the music and lyrics are great, but it’s also the fact that she so obviously pours her heart into the performance.

If you haven’t seen her yet, you should, and luckily she has several shows coming up in Dallas in June, one of which will be on the 5th at Three Links, then the 14th at the Belmont Hotel and finally the 20th at Sundown at Granada. Also be sure to check out the “Darlin’, Here’s to You” album in iTunes.

The next band was getting ready to take the Shiner stage, but, like all the bands this day, they were introduced by the events MC. “…Have you ever seen a wolf play drums?” the MC asked everyone, then added, “You’re about to.” before introducing the another country band, J. Charles and the Trainrobbers.

I had seen the band once before, and that had been over a year ago, so I was looking forward to finally seeing them again.

Steve Visneau was already sitting behind his drum kit, and after the three remaining members filed on stage, he and singer and guitarist Jeffrey Charles Saenz fired up the first song of their 40-minute set, “Mercy Killing”. They quickly commanded everyone’s attention, specifically when J. Charles’s voiced surged as he belted out, “There’s a bullet here for me, a bullet here for you. Only problem is we love each other too damn much it’s true…” It’s one hell of a song, and only got better when the sounds from Justin Youngs’ bass and Daniel Creamers’ keyboard became more prominent. They soon followed it with the subsequent track on their “Upon Leaving” record, the gritty, “Letter to a Thief”.

“This next song is called My Year.” J. Charles quickly told the crowd as they tore into another amazing song. Towards the end of that one there’s a little lull, during which both Jeffrey and Justin walked back by the drum riser. Then, as the music began to swell, the two marched back up to their respective microphones in perfect synch with each other, where they both sang, “My heart’s been on fire all year long…” I believe it was followed by a non-album track, after which J. Charles made some small talk with the audience, admitting he wasn’t “…good at talking…” That’s alright, not every band needs to have banter, especially when the music is as good as this was. He did use that time though to promote the merch they had for sale, which included their new album, and he used that as a segue into their next song.

It was the single from their debut album, the gripping, “Something Wrong”, which at times is almost a sing along, as the chorus is catchy enough it could easily have the fans shouting along to it. “Three Shades of Black” brought the noise level down slightly (at least for a bit), but not the intensity of their playing was still there, especially in Steve’s drumming.

They changed things up a bit for their final two songs, as Taylor Rea joined them, walking over to stage right. J. Charles grabbed his mic stand, moving it where he could face her, saying something to the effect that they were going to have a standoff, and she moved her mic stand to look at him. They did the lovely duet “Ain’t So Blue”, and they had a lot of chemistry going on as they sang back and forth to one another, even on occasion getting some amazing harmonies going. They had one final song planned after that, and that was their longest song yet, “Tennessee Roads (No Moon)”, which often had Taylor singing some backing vocals, word-for-word with what J. Charles was singing.

I remembered them being a great band the first time I saw them, but nothing on the scale of what they were this afternoon.

They’ve tightened and polished things up a lot in the last sixteen months, and it shows in their performance. They were very coordinated in their stage performance and operated like a well-oiled machine.

It was quite the performance they put on, too, overflowing with energy. More than once during the instrumental breaks of some songs J. Charles worked his way up on the drum riser, shredding on his guitar while banging his head to the heavy beats Steve was laying down.

They may be a country band, but they have the perfect blend of a rock and country sound, and between that and J. Charles’s rich, distinctive voice, they are sure to reel you in. So, if you haven’t yet experienced J. Charles and the Trainrobbers, you are truly missing out.

You should give their “Upon Leaving” album a listen, and buy it in iTUNES if you like it. If you’d like to see them live, they’ll be at the Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth on June 15th.

The next band of the day was one of the out-of-town bands, the Houston based, The Tontons.

They got another good introduction from the MC, who mentioned that last year Eisley played the festival, noting they used to be called Mos Eisley, before George Lucas asked them to change their name. So, after introducing The Tontons, he added, “…Or as George Lucas calls them, The Tons.”

The quartet, led by front woman Asli Omar, had several newer songs to play for the ever growing crowd, though to a lot of people I’m sure they all were new.

Their opener was one of those newer songs, and was a prime example of what the band is about, with a captivating music bed that could easily pull you in, and it made perfect use of Aslis’ soulful, rich and even at times slightly raspy voice. They may be a indie rock band, but with that song I think everyone knew they were in for one of the most unique and original performances of the day.

Asli aided drummer Justin Martinez in the percussion field on their next song, as she shook a tambourine throughout it. Afterwards, Adam Martinez started them on a fan favorite from the “Golden” EP, “Vietnam”, with the infectious guitar chords that at the very least should have you swaying along to the song, if not inciting some full on dancing. Once it was finished, Asli addressed the crowd, urging everyone to enjoy this day they had, before summer arrived making it so hot we wouldn’t even want to step outside. “…By the way, this hair is like a oven.” She added, referring to her afro.

They got back to business with one of the two songs from their recently released 7’’ vinyl record, “Bones”, and the song was simple named “Bones 1”. It carried a more rock sound with it, with some, at times, blistering riffs from Adam, and while Tom Nguyen’s bass lines were often more subtle on some of their other music, they were anything but during this song, creating a very cohesive and solid rhythm section. Yet another new song came next, which took them to the emotion filled title track of their most recent EP, “Golden”. “You’re shallow and silly and oh so conniving. I’d say you were stupid but that’d be denying you were ever smart enough to date me, ever strong enough to break me…” Asli sang on the chorus while dancing along to the song.

During another short break in between song, Asli encouraged everyone to check out their Austin friends Quiet Company, who were playing right after their set, as well as Zhora, who was set to be the next band playing here at the Chevy stage. “…That’s the best part of Texas…” she said, “…We are all family…”

Another barrage of new material followed, as they cranked out three more songs, one of which was another where Asli again played the tambourine. They had been up there for about half an hour at this point, and to wrap up their 34-minute long set, they did the lead track from their self-titled album, “Leon”.

Having only see them once before this (which had been over a year ago), I had forgotten how amazing The Tontons really were.

They are incredibly versatile, owning the more rock style of music they play, but also pulling off the slower, almost jazz like songs, which is reminiscent of something you would have often heard in a lounge setting in say the 60’s.

The interesting music and superb vocals made them one of the most unique bands of the entire day, which in turn made them one of the most memorable.

Between ITUNES and BANDCAMP, you can purchase every single one of the bands releases, even getting a few singles for free download over on their bandcamp page. As for shows, their schedule is currently empty, and word is they are going to be working on a new record.

Three bands in and it had already been an amazing day, and while there were plenty of bigger name bands yet to come, I was most looking forward to the next band on the Shiner stage, the Austin based rock outfit, Quiet Company.

Opening their set was “And You Said it Was Pretty Here”, a bonus track from their new/old record “A Dead Man On My Back: Shine Honesty Revisited”, which is a re-recording of one of the bands first album. This cheery sounding tune found the band looking a little out of place, as Cody Ackors was playing one of the guitars, an instrument he’s actually quite great at, leaving the heavily bearded Thomas Blank to focus on his keyboard. It was the first time I’d heard them open with that song, and despite the drastic differences between it and some of their past openers, it worked every bit as well, as more and more people gathered around the stage to watch the spectacle that was starting to unfold.

Cody gave up the guitar to Thomas, while he assumed his spot on stage right, surrounded by his numerous instruments, which included the trombone, a floor tom and a keyboard. The sample track for “It’s Better to Spend Money Like There’s No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There’s No Money” began to play while the band got ready for it. “…You better stop and smell the roses. You better love the life you live. You better take note of when it’s killing you…” sang singer and guitarist Taylor Muse on the chorus, and after the second one the music gave way to Thomas and his solo on the melodic. It wasn’t just the standard instrumental break, though.

“…We all have regrets.” Taylor said to the crowd, noting he regretted “eating at the Great Wall of China Buffet in Bryan, Texas.” “But one thing I’ve never regretted is dancing at a rock show…” he added, as he proceeded to encourage everyone to cut loose, have fun and dance to the rest of the song, to which some people did.

Those two songs got them off to a fierce and dynamic start, and it was only about to get better as they prepared to do a few songs from what is arguably their best record, 2011’s “We Are All Where We Belong”.

“So you say you got peace about it, I purpose you could live without it…” sang Taylor at the start of “Preaching to the Choir Invisible, Part I”, which had Cody, at least at first, accompanying drummer Jeff Weathers in the percussion field, as he tapped some drumsticks on the rim of the tom. The deep meaning, multilayered song culminated with the guitars, drums and bass, played by Matt Parmenter, soaring to life, as the four members at the forefront of the stage shouted in their singing voices, “We belong!” over and over again, a cry that even their fans who were in attendance joined in on.

Upon finishing it, Taylor again told everyone who they were. “…We’re Quiet Company, a metal band from Austin, Texas…” he said, which caused much of the crowd to laugh, because metal, they are not. He also took this time to point out their merch booth they had, telling anyone who wanted to buy something to go visit the guy in the purple shirt. There happened to be two guys wearing purple shirts, and the one who was not the merch guy said something like, “Who are you talking to?” in the spirit of being funny. Actually, it was funny, but Taylor has a quick and clever wit about him, and instantly had a comeback. He jokingly said he was talking to the guy who didn’t know he was selling the merch, telling everyone, “…But he does have that nice dog, go try to buy it from him.”

As they entered the tail end of their 32-minute long set they did another favorite from their 2011 album, “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”, which they then wound right into the single from the record, “You, Me, and the Boatman”, with some simple guitar feedback followed by Jeff tearing it up on the drums. That amazing rock song, which is really set off by the trombone, soon led them to the final song of their show, which was the more serene “On Modern Men”. That track grows on me each time I hear it, especially in the live setting, and it’s undoubtedly at its best when they all croon and then shout, “Make way for your modern man, we fought to exist. We crawled from the water to the dry land and our hands are the dirtiest.”

It may be an older song, but it fits well with the themes from the songs on “We Are All Where We Belong”, and offers the perfect way to cap off a show.

There may have many bigger name bands left to play this day, but Quiet Company was every bit as astounding as those others were. For the record, they were every bit as professional, too.

They are truly one of the best live bands I have ever experienced, putting on an energetic performance that never ceases to amaze, and their greatest quality, their musicianship, is constantly on display and always shining. If you haven’t seen them yet, you are truly missing out.

This little 32-minute performance instantly became the highlight of my day and was the moment to beat, and while a few bands came close, in my opinion, none surpassed what Quiet Company did.

As for their upcoming shows, on June 7th they’ll be in Chicago, IL at Schubas. They’ll also play the Horseshoe in Toronto on June 11th. And do be sure to check out their music on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP. If you like straight up Rock ‘n’ Roll, you’ll love what they do.

So far, the genres played had included some country and a few varieties of rock, and now, it was time for the only electronic band of the festival, Zhora.

It was a different Zhora than had been seen before, though, because a little over a week before the show, half of the band split, leaving just vocalist Taylor Rea and drummer Ross Martinez. So, in order to do this show, they had enlisted the help of Michael Smith on guitar, while Ross Edman worked the electronic aspect of things, and there was also a musician playing a keyboard.

Right before starting their set, Taylor grabbed a futuristic looking visor (think something out of Star Trek), placing it over her eyes, and then they were off.

One of their newer tracks, which will presumably be on their forthcoming full-length, began their set as they started to take the crowd on an adventure through vivid, sonic soundscapes. “The Hold”, a song from their debut EP, came next, followed by “Futuristic Land”, a song where Taylor really put her vocal effects pad, which was mounted on her mic stand, to use. She changed it to where her voice had a distant sound to it, with just a hint of reverb while she sang, with one of my favorite lines of the song being, “…If I’m seeing stars, pull me to your constellation…”.

This short set consisted of another newer track, which had an excellent dreamy quality to it. It was also with that song where the bands show really seemed to take off. Taylor had been swaying and dancing about to the music thus far, but it was on that song where she got a little more forceful, moving about the stage as she really began to entrance, and even command the crowd. But no sooner had the behavior started, and then it was time to end their 26-minute long set. “Sunset”, which oozes with thick sounds from the synthesizer, was their closing number, and was undeniably the highlight of their show.

Zhora is another band I had only seen once before this day, and honestly, the show was kind of lacking from what I had experienced before.

I can’t really fault them, after all, three of the members on stage this day aren’t even official band members of Zhora. They made it work well, and considering they probably didn’t get much practice in, they came across as being pretty cohesive, bust still it was a little lackluster.

That doesn’t mean they’re not a great band, though, and they are one of Dallas’s best electronic bands, at least out of the ones that I’ve heard. Their songs have a nice texture to them, and their newer material is fantastic. But as far as the live show is concerned, while all the members obviously play a key role, it’s really all about Taylor Rea, who, even on what I felt was kind of an off day, still easily managed to make herself the main focal point of the show.

Keep an eye on their FACEBOOK PAGE for upcoming show dates, which they will no doubt have coming up in the future, once the band is reassembled. In the meantime, download their four song EP on their BANDCAMP PAGE, plus some other stuff.

Now, most times at concerts, things are always running behind, but oddly enough, they had actually gotten pretty ahead of schedule at this point. So, in order to get things back on track everyone had to wait for a bit, as The Burning Hotels set time wasn’t until 3:20.

Now, it had been quite some time since I last saw The Burning Hotels, and the few shows of theirs I had seen I had never managed to get into their music, so I was curious as to if they would change my opinion of them this day, or if it was going to be more of the same.

This indie rock bands 36-minute set focused largely on their 2011 self-titled record, as they kicked off their set with the infectious “Always”, and exerted a lot of energy throughout it. They quickly followed it with a song from the “Novels” album, “To Whom it May Concern”, which found the four-piece getting more into the performance, as lead guitarist Matt Mooty and the bands bass player moved about the stage, and even Chance cut loose when he didn’t have to be stationed in front of the microphone. They changed pace bit with their next song, the at times soupy sounding “Days Are Gone”, which also found Matt singing just as much of the song as Chance did.

They followed it with another track, which if memory serves correctly was one where Chance kind of put his keyboard to use, and next did a tune from the “Eighty Five Mirrors” record, “Lovely, Lovely Lady”. “Sound City” was another song they did, though the biggest crowd pleaser seemed to be their single “Beard”, which had Matt taking over the main vocal duties, and not only was this song the biggest crowd pleaser, it was also the one that had most of the audience dancing along to it while Matt sang the chorus, “…Why did I love you?… Why did I ever love you at all?” Afterwards, they had one more song planned for everyone, before getting to the slightly electronic inspired track, “To You with Love From Me”, which brought their show to a close.

Being objective, it was solid set. I believe I had only seen them twice before this, and I did enjoy the overall show much more this time around then my previous experiences. It’s a little inventive and very alluring. They’re also great musicians, especially Chance and Matt, and that’s evident in watching their live show.

However, on the subjective front, I still wasn’t won over as a fan. Chance sings the majority of their material and in the live setting, his voice is constantly on the verge of cracking. Mind you, it never did, but he has a rather high pitch to his voice, and it’s incredibly shaky and unsteady. And for someone like me, who basis if I like a band or not solely on the singer’s voice, I just can’t overlook nor get past that.

As of right now, the only show date on the bands calendar is their September 14th gig at Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth, where they will be one of many bands playing the Toadies annual music festival, Dia de los Toadies. They will no doubt be playing some gigs between now and then, though, so keep an eye on their SHOW CALENDAR. And to purchase the bands records, go HERE and HERE (they have two different pages in iTunes, hence the two separate links.)

Now, it was time to get to the country music portion of the day. Sure, a few country bands had played earlier, but the next three bands were bigger names, with all three being routine headliners.

One of those acts was the Dallas duo, The O’s, ho received another memorable and noteworthy introduction from the MC’s, which now included Dallas musician Grant Jones.

The other MC said he recalled the days the band was a four-piece outfit, calling themselves “The Hoe’s”, but when they lost two of their band mates, so too did they lose a couple letters.

It made for a good joke, and before even starting their first song, multi-instrumentalist John Pedigo mentioned he was glad to know how they came up with their band name. That’s the thing with this duo, they’re pretty humorous, though they had little time to let that side show this day.

The O’s were still pretty fresh off the release of their third album, “Thunderdog”, and they began this set with the lead track from it “Outlaw”, as John started strumming his banjo, while Taylor Young supplied the beat with his bass drum while simultaneously playing his acoustic guitar. It was a surprisingly uplifting song, creating a pleasant, hopeful mood amongst the audience, but not only that it also seemed to summarize all the years of work and effort these two have put into the band, specifically with the line, “…We all fight the good fight, we all know what is right. We worked too hard to have nothing change…”, which was mainly sung by John, though Taylor added some backing vocals for most of the song.

Afterwards, John found a clever way to work in all the sponsors of the event, saying something along the lines of he had driven his Chevy truck down here and drank a Shiner Bock beer, but only after having a Red Bull to help him get going (the Red Bull ten was where the beverages were being sold at). Taylor was even impressed by it, but he quickly told John they needed to cut it, reminding him they only had a limited amount of time. “I’m sorry, we like to talk…” he told the crowd, before saying their next song was about the fine city they call home, which was appropriately titled “Dallas”. John plucked the strings of his pedal steel guitar for that one, while Taylor did the singing, essentially professing his love for the city, even saying “…This is where I’ll die…”

I’ve never considered myself a true fan of The O’s (at least not before this day), and even though their newest album at been out nearly a month now, this was the first time I had heard anything from it, and I loved those first two tracks from it they had played. It was a step (or two) above their previous material (which is saying a lot) and made it very clear they had outdone themselves on their newest effort.

This show wasn’t all about their new stuff, though, and next they ventured into their sophomore record, “Between the Two”, by doing a song about what else, but the city of Dallas. At least that was the subject matter according to John, who kind of laughed when saying something like it gets hard to find new things to write about. The song was “We’ll Go Walking”, which may be set in Dallas, but it’s more of a love song than anything.

“…This next song is called Kitty…” Taylor told everyone, as they tackled the final track from “Thunderdog”. That song took them almost completely out of their comfort zone, and was very atypical of them, as it had more of a rock sound and the way Taylors’ voice flowed on the song was superb. It was the banjo that really stole the show, though, as John often ran it through an effect via a pedal, and with the help of that, his banjo made a gritty, distorted sound that could rival that of any guitarist from the many rock bands that had played thus far.

It was an excellent departure from their roots, though they soon returned to their folk/country roots with a couple more tracks from their second album, one of which was the rather beautiful “Pushin’ Along”. That led them to the final song of this short 28-minute long set, which was the upbeat “Everything’s Alright”. In setting it up, John announced to everyone the song title, than added, “…Because it is…”, almost reassuring everyone that things were alright.

Each time I’ve seen this duo over the years I’ve become a little more of a fan, and the performance they gave this day, coupled with the brilliant setlist, solidified me as one. They were extraordinary and put forth a show that stands out as being another very memorable one from this amazing day.

You should definitely head over to iTunes and check out their three albums, particularly “Thunderdog”. As for upcoming shows, from June 7th through the 15th they’ll be over in the UK, so check out their REVERBNATION PAGE for their calendar and specifics on where they’ll be. Come July they have a couple dates in Arlington, TX, one at the Grease Monkey on the 5th and the other at Levitt Pavilion on the 12th. On the 13th they’ll play at Hank’s in McKinney and they have many other dates immediately beyond that, all throughout Texas.

That set seemed hard to follow, but one of the few bands that would have no trouble with that was Somebody’s Darling.

It had been several months since I last saw the band, but their opener hadn’t changed, and as soon singer and rhythm guitarist Amber Farris sang the first line of “Weight of the Fear”, you could tell the throng of people were entranced. As well they should have been, because her voice, which has an especially soulful quality to it on that song, was in rare form. Her voice certainly wasn’t the only gripping aspect to the song, though, and one of the others was lead guitarist David Ponder’s stellar solo.

Drummer Nate Wedan started them on their next song, doing a little bit of a solo at first, while keyboard player Mike Talley clapped along to the beat, before Amber eventually crooned the first line of “Back to the Bottle”, “Well, I believe God made a lover for me…” It was another stellar number, albeit in a different way than their first song, particularly at the end when Mike really got to show off his skills on the keys with some fiery notes. Next up, they had a little treat for all their fans, both the old and new ones alike. They usually have at least one cover song in their set, and now they did one that I had never heard them do before, and that was the classic from the band Faces, “Stay with Me”. They put a slight country twist on it, but Somebody’s Darling is still pretty close to a rock band, allowing them to pull the song off with ease and make it entirely their own.

The crowd definitely seemed to love it, and they followed it with a few more originals, as Amber informed everyone that the next song was “Cold Hands”, which is one of the singles and the lead track from their latest release, “Jank City Shakedown”. The guitars soared to life on this occasionally bluesy track, and were rounded out by a solid rhythm section, of course including bassist Wade Cofer, who effortless and methodically plucked the strings of his bass, with that certain swagger that most bass players seems to have.

“We’re gonna slow things down for a minute.” Amber told the crowd upon finishing the last song, saying it quite quickly, as they seemed in a hurry to finish their set to make sure they adhered to the allotted amount of time they had. The slower song she spoke of was “Pretty Leaves”, which is arguably the most beautiful song they currently do, and it tells a real story, with its lyrics packing a huge emotional punch. After Nate’s drum outro, Amber took a minute to banter with the audience, reminding everyone that the next day was going to be Mother’s Day. Her recommendation to anyone who was out here at Homegrown with their mom was simple; “…Get mom plastered today…”

After her sage advice, they did another cover song, and this one was my personal favorite that they do. It’s a rendition of Jack White’s “Love Interruption”, and not only to they own it completely, but it my opinion, they also upstage the original. They had one song left for everybody after that, and they had saved one of the best for last, finishing with the very well orchestrated and intense, “Wedding Clothes”. As it wound down, Amber had the idea to jump off the stage, which was probably about five feet off the ground, give or take a little, and she told everyone of this. Sure enough, after playing her final notes on the guitar, she leapt into the air, rolling onto her back after she hit the ground, and still clutching her axe. “I had to.” She could be heard saying, making it sound like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Their 35-minute long set was a sensational one, and out of all the bands that played this day, Somebody’s Darling is another one that comes to my mind first when I think back on it. Hell, this show they did this afternoon was almost every bit as good as their CD release show last October, which is hands down the best SD show I’ve personally seen.

They’re a band with an overabundance of talent, with David, Wade, Mike and Nate having phenomenal talent on their respective instruments, and Ambers’ voice alone is enough to leave you in complete awe. And no, she’s not too shabby on the guitar, either. However, the best part is they don’t wield any of that talent in a flashy way, and are instead pretty modest, simply doing their thing while they’re on stage.

They have two LP’s available, both of which can be bought via iTUNES, and they also have quite a few shows lined up. They’ll be at the Hunt County Fair in Greenville, TX on June 11th, then the next week, June 18th, at the Wherehouse in Fort Worth. June 20th will find them down in Austin at Stubb’s BBQ, and the 21st they will be in Tyler, TX at Stanley’s Famous Pit BBQ. They’ll be stopping in Shreveport, LA at Bear’s on the 22nd, then on the 27th they have a free show going down at Sundown at Granada in Dallas. A couple Oklahoma gigs are lined up for late July, and then on August 31st they will be headlining the famous Granada Theater in Dallas for the first time ever.

Concluding the country music portion for the festival was another Austin band, The Band of Heathens.

I had listened to their music before, and while I didn’t hate, I didn’t love it either, and I was curious as to how it be conveyed live.

I was able to find a modicum of shade near the guardrail by the stage, but in taking it I was only able to see four of the five members of the band, and their bassist was not in my view, though I don’t think that made much of a difference in the long run.

The lead track from 2009’s “One Foot in the Ether”, “L. A. County Blues”, began their 42-minute long set, and what a way to start. Both Gordy Quist and Ed Jurdi served as the guitarists, and the latter of those two did the singing on this song. Except on the chorus, when Gordy chimed in, creating some amazing harmonies as they crooned, “We’re burning down Las Vegas, half asleep by noon…”. At times they were even aided by pianist Trevor Nealon, who helped them achieve true vocal perfection. It was such a good opener because it highlighted exactly what the band was about, which is a nice blend of country and Americana music with some smooth, soulful and passionate singing.

Their next song, “Shake the Foundation”, also demonstrated those qualities exceedingly well. Gordy handled the lead vocals this time around, but Ed was often adding his deeper, more blues sounding voice to the mix, while Richard Millsap kept a steady and solid beat going throughout the song. “Right Here With Me” showed off a different side of the band, and I thought the song had more of a minimalist sound to it, at least in comparison to the previous songs. It was more simple, and Ed and Gordy, who each sang a few lines before passing things off to one another, often merely plucked the strings of their guitars, though they still put quite a bit effort into it, making it appear more complex than it really was.

It’s already been a couple years since the bands last studio record, and at this point in the show, they offered everyone a taste of their next album. At least hopefully it was a taste, because after finishing it Ed clarified that it might be on their next record, which he added would most likely be out later this year. I sure hope it makes the cut, because out of the seven songs they did, this one was my personal favorite. All I remember is the final line of the chorus, “…Riding shotgun through the past.”, and the song created somewhat of a solemn atmosphere as they recalled times that have come and gone. It was just a fantastic number, and while I can’t say I really can relate to it, it still stirred some type of emotion in me, and really, isn’t that what any great song should do?

They again slowed things down with “Jackson Station”, which was the only song they did off their first studio album, leaving them with just enough time to do a couple from their latest effort, “Top Hat Crown & The Clapmaster’s Son”. One of those was “Should Have Known”, which is catchy enough it could easily get people dancing along to it, and from what I saw this day, there were a small handful of couples who were doing just that. The best thing about this song, though, was when they proceeded to rock out. They had added some instrumental portions to a few of their previous songs, but they went into a full on instrumental breakdown during this one, which took up at least a couple minutes. I’ve said many times before that I’m not a real fan of instrumental music, and that does apply to breakdowns, but in this case I loved it, and not only did it add a nice layer to the song, it also showed off the chops that Trevor, Richard, Gordy and Ed have.

By this point, more than a few fans were shouting requests for a fan favorite song (“Cornbread”), and had this been a headlining set, they probably would have done it, but it wasn’t, and they brought things to a close with the single from their newest record, “Medicine Man”. Gordy’s voice had been nothing short of impressive before, but it was downright astounding during this song as he belted out some of the later lyrics.

I was hoping I’d like their music and show, and I ended up enjoying it all much more than I thought I would. The music they churn out is almost an homage of sorts to the classic country acts, though it’s certainly modernized. The best part of their show however, was the harmonies. It’s done on their records, but it doesn’t even come close to sounding the same as it does in the live environment. In my opinion, that’s a lot of what made their live show so incredible, because both Gordy and Ed are more than capable lead singers, and when their voices mix in the various ways they did this day, they sounded unbelievable.

I think that helps set them apart, because I don’t think there are many country bands like this that utilize two male vocalists, and I also think that is why you need to see The Band of Heathens live, so you can experience that for yourself.

They tour quite a bit, and on June 8th they’ll be in Pagosa Springs, CO for the Pagosa Folk ‘n Bluegrass Festival. The Tap Room in College Station will host them on June 27th, then the next night they’ll be at the Magnolia Motor Lounge in Fort Worth and the night after that they’ll be in Bee Caves, TX at Hill Country Galleria Amphitheater. They have several more dates scheduled in July, including another North Texas show at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton. As far as the bands records, you can purchase their stuff (which is a mix of live and studio records) in iTUNES, as well as get a free download of some of their stuff on NOISETRADE.

The next act up was a very big change of pace from the previous acts, as it was the hip-hop group A.Dd+.

I’ll admit, I was ready to write them off long before they even started, because I’m not a fan of hip-hop and rap in the least, but then again, the hip-hop act from last year’s Homegrown at surprised me, so there was a chance A.Dd+ could do the same.

The duo of Paris Pershun and Slim Gravy’s entire 32-minute set consisted of songs from their new album, “DiveHiFlyLo”. They did a CD release show for their hometown fans awhile back, but it has yet to drop on the national scale, so I can’t even attempt to run through what tracks they did.

The two men rushed onto the stage, announcing, “…We in the house…” during their first track. What really surprised me was the tremendous stage presence they had, and even my eyes were glued to the stage. They followed it up with a ton more tracks in quick succession, some of which were handled mainly by Slim Gravy and others by Paris Pershun, while of course others they both rapped on, and those were the tracks where they were nothing short of being a well-oiled machine.

Before one track, Paris Pershun asked everyone to put their middle fingers in the air. “Put your peace signs up.” Slim then instructed, creating a conflicting and rather funny moment. They did some more stuff from “DiveHiFlyLo”, which they said would be released soon, and at one point during the show Paris took time to address the band’s name to everyone who was unfamiliar with them. Basically, the “.” And the “+” sign are just in the written name and not said in their actual name. So basically, you just say each letter individually to get their name, and that seemingly lengthy explanation eventually led to a rap about their name.

As their set neared the end, Paris threw in some more humor as he asked everyone to them on Twitter, saying something to the effect of, “…You’ll see us and be like, ‘That’s those two black guys who wear backwards pants.” By this point in the show they had, had a friend of theirs come up and rap on one song with them, and now for their final track, he returned as Slim and Paris jumped off the stage into the area used by the photographers, pacing about as they really got the crowd riled up.

I might not have cared for it much personally, but you have to give credit where credit is due, and after experiencing this A.Dd+ show, I can see why a few years ago the Hip-Hop scene in Dallas was exploding, and why these guys were at the forefront of that.

They are exceedingly talented at what they do, and while I won’t be buying their records and probably won’t be seeing another one of theirs shows, for 32-minutes this day they had me enthralled, and even enjoying the music to an extent.

You can find their first release in either ITUNES or BANDCAMP, and in the not too distant future their sophomore release should be available in both of those outlets, too. As for shows, keep an eye on their FACEBOOK for updates.

The day was getting closer to an end now, and it was time for another change in musical styling’s, as two soul acts would be the next performers.

The first of the two was Larry g(EE) and his rather large band, which was comprised of Beau Bedford and Daniel Creamer, both of whom played the keys, and Beau even dabbled with the guitar at times. There was also a choir, featuring three women and a man, and along with the bassist and drummer, there was also a saxophonist, trumpet player and another like instrument used.

This new age man of soul and his band kicked tings off with “Game”, a track from Larry’s debut EP, “Weekends”. If you were unfamiliar with Larry g(EE), then you were probably both surprised and impressed  by the powerful and soulful voice that came out of him, as they wove together a mix of soul, funk and even some R&B on that song. The crowd loved it, and they enjoyed the next song, which was one of Larry’s newer tracks, just is much, and a highlight of that song was the mini choir, who added quite a bit of backing vocals to the tune.

However, it was their next song that truly had everyone mesmerized, as Beau first told everyone they wanted to take them somewhere, and then Larry said essentially the same thing. The audience screamed with delight, obviously more than willing to go along for the ride. They wanted to take everyone “higher”, and to do that they did an amazing cover of the Sly and the Family Stone classic, “I Want to Take You Higher”. There probably aren’t many bands that can pull that song off, but Larrys’ band has all the right parts to do it, and I dare say his voice can give Sly Stone’s a run for its money. That one definitely seemed like the crowd favorite of the night, yet Larry and his group were still just getting warmed up, as they did another newer song, which was dedicated to the city of Dallas.

A couple more tracks from the EP came next, one of which was the more tender love song “I’m Your Fool”, which had Larry scaling back on his singing, showing off a softer side to his voice, and showing that he’s not all about belting out the lyrics with a fiery passion. For the record, though, the passion was still more than evident on that number. Larry set up the fan favorite “Camera Phone” by first saying he wanted his picture taken with the crowd, pulling his phone out and handing it to the drummer, who snapped a shot of him and the massive amounts of people in the background. It’s a bit more soulful than some of his other originals, and it also has a serious groove going on, making it one you can really get down to.

No question that Larry had been the main focal point thus far, even with all of his band members constantly doing something, they were almost more of an afterthought in a way, except on the next song, when Larry exited the stage, giving it all to his band mates. It was another cover song, and I’m fairly certain it was “Rock Me Baby” by B.B. King. There was a little more umph to their version, and the three female singers had a moment to shine, as they each sang one of the verses, working their way down the line, eventually reaching the guy, who also sang. By this point Larry was back on stage, completely consumed by the music, soon taking back over the vocal duties as they brought it to a close.

They had a couple songs left for everyone at this point, and one was another non-album song, “I Don’t Know” or rather, “IDK”, which he set up as being about “making bad decisions”. The horn section really got put to use on the final number of their 32-minute set, “Yo Mama”, which was nothing short of electrifying. Towards the end, Larry hopped off the stage running about the grassy area, before eventually racing back up onto the stage, bringing the show to an extraordinary end.

It was an incendiary set, plain and simple.

For the record, I’m not big on the soul genre of music, either, but it’s almost impossible to deny the talent that flows in and subsequently out of Larry. He’s a beast when it comes to singing and has an aura about him that pulls you in and will hold your interest for the entire time he and his band are on stage.

Go experience a show for yourself, either on July 6th at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI, or in Dallas on August 6th at The Belmont. You can also purchase his EP in ITUNES.

That new wave of soul was excellent, but now it was time for a classic taste of the genre, as The Relatives were getting ready to take the Shiner stage.

They were introduced by Jeffrey Liles, who works at the Kessler Theater, and a high-up at the Dallas Morning News, and both men piled on the praise about The Relatives. The gentleman from the DMN mentioned that the band had disappeared for awhile, “…But I often said they needed to save their voices so they could save the world…” he said, shortly before they left the stage.

Drummer Matthew Strmiska, bassist Scott Nelson and guitarist Zach Ernst were already on stage, and soon five older gentleman filed on stage, Head Deacon Earnest Tarkington, who took his spot on stage right behind some congas, Reverend Gean West, Tony Corbitt, Tyron Edwards and Reverend Tommie West, all of whom stood behind some microphones.

This gospel/soul ensemble played several songs from throughout their career, but the main focus was on their recently released record ”The Electric Word”, and they opened with a song from it called “Let Your Light Shine”. The Reverend Tommie West led them on it, doing a majority of the singing, though they all participated, creating all sorts of divine harmonies, with Tyron Edwards even employing the use of his insanely high falsetto voice, which definitely got your attention. That ended up being merely the start of a 47-minute long sermon of sorts, as the gospel aspect of their music radiated forth from every song, creating a very spiritual atmosphere.

They won a lot of the crowd over with that upbeat song, and next brought things down with the slower “Your Love is Real”, as they continued giving praise. Tommies’ voice flowed so smoothly throughout the song, soothing in a way, though it was the few lines that Gean sang that seemed to steal the show. “One of these mornings, it won’t be long, you’ll look for me and I’ll be gone…” he crooned in a rougher tone that was filled with character. They wound it seamlessly into their next song, and upon finishing it, Gean took a moment to promote their new album, encouraging everyone to go over to their merch table and pick up a copy. He mentioned that before this show a friend of his told him not to beg the crowd to buy their CD, and he then said to everyone, “…So y’all don’t tell him I begged…”, creating a rather comedic moment of their set.

“Speak to Me (What’s Wrong with America?)” was one of the songs they did from their initial run back in the 70’s. It dealt with racial discrimination, which was obviously a much bigger problem back when they wrote it, but while it may not carry the same weight now as it did then, at least in that regard, it’s message about acceptance I imagine was just as strong now as it must have been back then. At least that was what I took from it, and it further enforced that you shouldn’t judge anyone based on their looks (and not just skin color, but also tattoos, piercings, etc.)

“Don’t Let Me Fall” was another track from the groups early years, and while it may be a short song on the album, it was anything but live. They got the audience to interact with them on that song, from things as simple as clapping and singing along, the best, though, was when Tommie asked everyone to “drop it down”. He and many of his band mates formed a cradle of sorts with their arms, then lowered their arms down a little below their waist, and much of the crowd followed suit. That went on for several times, with the old and newly converted fans happily obliging the band. Right before it ended, Tommie told everyone they were going to do it one more time, “…And I want you to drop it down real low!” he exclaimed, as he lowered his arms so much they were almost scrapping against the floor of the stage. The fans again obeyed, and did so with a huge smile on each of their faces.

Beforehand, they made it seem like that would conclude their set, but thankfully, it did not, as Gean proceeded to tell everyone of a book he read from every morning, mentioning different things it said to do to praise God, “…You praise God to dance…” he said, sounding like a pastor as the stage became his pulpit. That last sentenced I mentioned he said was a fitting one, because the song they then did had even more people swaying and dancing along to it than their previous songs had. They were able to squeeze one more song in after that, to bring to a close what had, at least for me, been the most surprising set of the day, and I say that simply because I was not anticipating the action that ensued during their show.

As great as the act before them was, The Relatives proved that the classic brand of soul mixed with gospel and funk is far superior. Mainly because they just don’t make bands like The Relatives anymore.

Actually, I’ve never cared for a choir like group like this before, and while I’d stop short of saying I’m now a true fan of The Relatives, I am a true believer in what they do.

What really amazed me was the voices of the five of them. It’s clear just by looking at them they aren’t any spring chickens, and I mean that in the most sincere way possible. When they just spoke and talked with the crowd, their voices matched their looks, sounding pretty worn and old, but when they sang, they sounded like a group of twenty something’s who were in the prime of their singing careers. It was mind boggling, but in the best possible way.

Aside from their heavenly voices that intertwined in the best ways imaginable, another standout quality to their show was their demeanor, and you could tell they were all just as happy as they could be being on that stage and performing for everyone.

They have a couple shows coming up over the next few months, beginning with one at the Solid Sound Festival in North Adams, MA on June 21st. They’ll also be Albuquerque, NM on July 20th at the Route 66 Summerfest. As for their albums, visit their pages in iTUNES either HERE or HERE. One of those is their new album, while another is their older one.

The festival was now in its final hours, and as soon as The Relatives finished I headed over to the Chevy stage, where a ton of people had already gathered all around the stage.

Headlining this one was the mighty, The Polyphonic Spree. I’ve heard a lot of good things about them over the years, whit many people even saying the band puts on the best live show they’ve seen, but during my seven plus years of being active in the local music scene, I had never seen one of their shows, and was excited to finally experience one firsthand.

A large white banner stretched across the stage, and was tied to both sides of the stage, and while the band prepared, all you could see was some silhouettes as they walked back and forth across the stage, oh, and band members’ feet.

Finally a figure, who ended up being front man Tim DeLaughter, appeared, and spray painted several letters on the backside of the banner. “Yes It’s True” it read when things were all said and done, and that is the title for the bands upcoming album. He then cut the banner at the center with some scissors, revealing the massive, almost cult like looking group.

I say cult like simply because the whole band (which is twenty plus members strong) wear essentially the same attire, with the men sporting robes with bright pastel colors on them, while Tim wore a shirt of the same pattern, and the women in the band wore white robes with simple horizontal blue stripes on the top of them.

“Hi Homegrown, we’re Tripping Daisy!” Tim gleeful exclaimed, referencing his storied Dallas rock band that started over two decades before. It seemed like just a joke of sorts at the time, but by the end of their show that comment would make much more sense.

I was immediate awe, mainly in how twenty plus people were able to fit so well on the stage, still allowing enough room to move around. The band quickly launched into their first song, which was “Section 22 (Running Away)”, the lead track from their most recent original record, “The Fragile Army”. This upbeat, poppy love song was so chipper it was impossible for your mood not to be influenced by it. My mind was quickly taken off the fact that my legs were starting to feel like jelly as I took in the completely brilliance of that song and the band in general, and in those few short minutes they more than lived up to all the hype that has surrounded them.

They gave their show a very fluid quality, often transitioning one song flawlessly into the next, and such was the case here, as they wound things into a song from “Yes, It’s True”. Tim stated that afterwards, saying it was just “a taste” of what’s to come, and at one point later in the show he even pointed out it had been six years since their last release, as if to say this was long overdue. They then got back to some stuff all their fans would now, with Tim announcing their next song was “Two Thousand Places”, or as it appears on the “Together We’re Heavy” record, “Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)”.

Tim toned his energy down to fit the slower mood of the song, and instead of frantically running about, he more paced around, while singing, “You gotta be good, you gotta be strong, you gotta be two thousand places at once…”. Accompanying him on it, at least in parts, was the six-piece all female choir, who stood on some risers at the back of center stage. Upon finishing it, a fan shouted out a request to him, which was inaudible from where I stood. “What?” Tim said, as he leaned out towards the crowd to try to hear better. “Oh, you want some of this?” he said in a second, suddenly turning towards stage right and thrusting his arms out towards his bane members, conducting them. Right on cue the violinist, cello player and many of the other musicians made one quick pluck of the strings on their instruments. It happened another time or two, and they maintained perfect synch with Tim’s movements, before several of the musicians led the charge into the explosive “Section 23 (Get Up and Go)”.

They next did another new song, “Hold Yourself Up”, and out of the small batch they of new material they did this night, that one was by far my favorite. They followed it with what everyone thought would be their only cover of the night, doing a medley of Who songs, starting with “See Me, Feel Me”, which was so harmonious, it often sounded otherworldly. It soon grew into more of a rock song, though, as they moved along to “Pinball Wizard”, where their lively performance once again ensued. They didn’t let up with their next song, either, which Tim said was yet another new song, but not in a true sense, as they had already leaked it.

He was talking about “You Don’t Know Me”, which was slightly different from their other original songs, having a stronger rock vibe, where the guitar, bass and drums where much more prevalent, though the choir, French horn, trumpet and the rest of the plethora of instruments were still put to use.

Tim left the stage for their next song, getting up close to the guardrail as they did the first of two songs from their debut album “The Beginning Stages of the Polyphonic Spree”, “Section 8 (Soldier Girl)”. Everyone seemed truly saddened when he said the next song would be their last, but the curiosity was piqued when he noted they might have a surprise after it. They ended things similarly to how they began, with “Section 9 (Light and Day - Reach for the Sun)”, which is another incredibly glowing song that exuded happiness and positivity.

That may have been the end of The Polyphonic Spree’s music for the night, but they still had one spectacular trick up their sleeve, as Tim began to reminisce about Tripping Daisy. “…There’s not a day of my life that goes by that I don’t think about the band…” he said, adding those were some of the best days of his life.

“No, they’re not seriously about to cover a Tripping Daisy song, are they?!” I thought to myself, and I guarantee you anyone even remotely familiar with that legendary band was thinking the same thing.

Tim continued by recounting the band’s early days, from playing venues I had heard of, like Club Clearview, and more than a few that must have shut their doors long ago. He even recalled how the bands first gig was at an open mic night at Club Dada. Soon enough, he mentioned that Josh Florence, one of the masterminds behind Homegrown, was a big Tripping Daisy fan back in the day, and that this song was for him. “…I busted a nut on this song all over town …” said Tim.

I had never even heard a Tripping Daisy song before this, so no, I couldn’t appreciate this as much as I would have liked to, but that still didn’t mean I wasn’t anxious to hear what they had planned.

“My decision, your decision, there’s no common ground…” Tim suddenly belted out, as the instruments, including the harp, sprang to life. The song was the first track from their first album, “My Umbrella”. It was certainly different from Tripping Daisy’s original, but it was amazing all the same, and by the time they finished it their set clocked in right at 60-minutes.

The things that surprised me the most about The Polyphonic Spree was that, despite all the things going on, on stage, it never once seemed like a sensory overload. All the instruments worked in perfect harmony together, and while many of the instruments may typically be stereotyped as being used in classical orchestras, The Polyphonic Spree certainly broke that mold.

And while much of their music was very poppy, it was also very in-your-face, even downright vicious at times, and that was all thanks to Tim. His voice has one of the most unique sounds I’ve ever heard, and what you hear on the recordings is essentially what you get live. Probably even a little better. He’s also a sensational front man who had seemingly limitless supply of energy, constantly running about and doing everything he could to pull the audience in and get them engaged in the show, which wasn’t too hard for him. Just astonishing, and I’m pretty sure he could run circles around front men that are half his age.

First off, their new record will be released on August 6th, so just a few months away now. But in the meantime, check out their other records in iTUNES, and between live cuts, holiday records and such, there are plenty to choose from. They have several dates throughout the U.S. in June and July, hitting up the states of Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Massachusetts and New York. They’ll also be doing shows in the countries of Australia, South Korea, France and the UK. For specifics on all of those, go to their TOUR PAGE.

Some people left after that. Actually, some even left before The Polyphonic Spree was finished, but there was one band left, and closing out the day over on the Shiner stage was a super group based out of Austin/Los Angeles, the Divine Fits.

Despite some people calling it a day, the band still had a very healthy sized crowd, all of whom were anxious to see what I believe was the bands first ever show in Dallas.

The four-piece rock outfit, which is made up of guitarist Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs), bassist and multi-instrumentalist Britt Daniel (Spoon) and drummer Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks), as well as Alex Fischel who worked several keyboards, took the stage a little after their 9:30 scheduled start time, and to much fanfare I might add.

The band is only barely into their second year as a group and only had one album to draw from, as they quickly got down to business, opening with “Neopolitans”, which is the final track from “A Thing Called the Divine Fits”. While repetitive, the key(s) Alex continuously struck were infectious, though the level of excitement spiked when the rest of the band ripped into the song and Britt began to fully sing the song. I don’t mean to undercut it, but it was simplistic in a lot of ways, which in turn made it somewhat of a haunting opener.

Dan took over on vocal duties as they kicked things up a few notches with one of their singles, “Baby Get Worse”. “…My heart was beating in, in and out of time…” he sang on the chorus, as the song seemed to burrow deeper into everyone’s head with each passing second, as a lot of people were moving around to it, which resulted is some loud cheers and applause when they finished it up. Britt handled the next song, and before starting their love song titled “Like Ice Cream”, Alex left his keyboard station, picking up a guitar, which he rocked on the song.

Upon finishing it, he returned to his original post, while Dan and Britt swapped out instruments, as Sam started them into “Would That Not Be Nice”, a song that really showcased their skilled musicianship, especially Britt, who had some more subtle, yet intricate riffs, which he cranked out like the pro he is. Upon finishing it, the two again switched out instruments, though this time Britt exchanged his bass for a guitar, as they did another album track, “Civilian Stripes”, which was one of my personal favorites of the night.

“We’re gonna do some Frank Ocean…” Dan informed the crowd, which got a nice reaction, as I heard some people start asking their friends what song they thought they would be covering. The song was “Lost”, but if you weren’t familiar with it and if they hadn’t just said who they were covering, you wouldn’t have known it. Obviously they made some changes to it to better fit the style of music they play, and in all fairness I’m personally not a fan of Frank Oceans’ music, so I thought their version of it was much better, mainly because it sounded much more lively. I think a lot of that was due to the full live band rounding out the sound and making it so lush, rather than the sterile sound the (I assume) drum machine gives the original song.

Britt got back to his trusty bass once that song was done, and while tuning it, he asked Dan to tell everyone about their next song, which was a new one they’ve worked up. Dan summed it up by saying, “…It’s about heartbreak and drinking…” Classic. It really was a killer song, though, and one of my favorites from their set. Next up they had another cover in store for everyone, and this time it was a more classic song, coming from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The song was “You Got Lucky”, which Dan sang, with Britt adding the occasional backing vocals. It was another knockout cover, and one that really fit their style, both musically and lyrically, exceedingly well.

They were nearing the end of their 48-minute long set at this time, and next did “Flaggin a Ride”, which was followed by the subsequent song on their record, “What Gets You Alone”, which was the most intense song they did. Judging from it, they had saved the best for at least close to last, and to cap off this show, they had one last cover, one that can be found on their record. The song was “Shivers”, originally done by The Birthday Party, and for it Alex added the bass lines, leaving Britt to take up the rhythm guitar. The song teemed with emotion, particularly with the opening line, “I’ve been contemplating suicide, but it really doesn’t suit my style…” His singing gave it a very melancholy vibe, as well as sounding very apathetic.

The crowd somewhat dispersed after that, though droves hung around in hopes of an encore. It didn’t happen.

Surely no one was disappointed in that, though. After all, they had played almost everything from their record, and certainly hit the highlight tracks and then some.

They put on a great show that seemed to pass all too quickly, and I loved the dynamics they had going on. For instance, the vocals. Both Dan and Britt are amazing singers with very unique voices, and switching up who did the singing like they did ensured things never got stale (though I doubt that would have been a worry in the first place).

However, it’s really all about their musicianship. It’s clear each of them have spent many years doing what they do, damn near, perfecting it, as they each played their respective instruments with ease, making it appear so effortless that any non experienced person from the crowd could have joined them and been just fine. Their talent was a true thing of beauty, and something to marvel at.

Pick up their debut album in iTUNES, and they have several shows on the horizon too, which can be viewed HERE. They’ll be doing gigs in New York, Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio, California, Oregon and Texas, as well as a few around Canada.

As the crowd lingered, hoping for one more song from the band, they instead saw Josh Florence rush onto the stage. His speech was short as he thanked everyone for coming out and also promised that the fifth annual Homegrown Music and Arts Festival would be even better.

That’s a bold statement, and one they’ll be hard pressed to accomplish. But then again, I didn’t think there would be any topping last years, yet they managed to.

I liked the fact that they returned to focusing predominantly on the Dallas music scene, while the few bands from out of the immediate area were a nice way to switch things up, especially since they were scattered about the lineup.

As far as I’m concerned, Homegrown IS the best music festival in the North Texas area, and this year solidified it as that. So, go ahead and make sure you keep your Saturday’s in May 2014 free, ‘cause most likely it will be one of those days when they do the sixth edition of the festival. At the very least it’s a fun way to spend the day, and you can be a very casual music lover and still enjoy it.

It didn’t seem it, but it had been a long day, and it wasn’t quite over yet as I made the very short journey to Deep Ellum for one of the Homegrown after parties…

Friday, May 10th, 2013 – Ronnie Fauss

The suburbs of the Dallas area don’t usually come to mind as a place to go see live music, and the few venues that I’ve known of over the years have never been able to make a real run out of it. However, the one venue that has lasted is one I had never been to before this night, and that Love and War in Texas, which is primarily a restaurant.

They get some pretty notable Country/Americana/Folk acts through, but since those typically aren’t the genres I go for, I had seldom had a real reason to go there, until this night, when Ronnie Fauss and his band were playing.

Opening up for him was a band out of Austin called Greg Mullen and the Cosmic Americans, who was starting their final song when my dad and I arrived and stepped out onto the nice and spacious patio where the stage is located.

It’s hard to get a feel for a band in just one song, but I liked what I heard in that one song. You can listen to and buy both of the bands records on their BANDCAMP site, so check that out, as well as their FACEBOOK PAGE to keep up-to-date on their goings on.

Ronnie Fauss and his band missed their 9:30 start time by a bit, due mainly to some guitar issues, which were finally fixed by Ronnie replacing the battery in his acoustic guitar.

“I’m Ronnie Fauss and this is my band The Chupacabras.” He told the crowd of a little over a dozen, as they then embarked on a 71-minute long set.

They played a majority of his newest album, “I Am the Man You Know I’m Not”, which is also his debut on New West Records, beginning with the song, “The Last”. “…I’ve seen your future, baby, and it looks a lot like your past. I was your first, oh let me be the last…” Ronnie sang on the chorus, while Chris Norwood plucked at the strings of a lap steel guitar, a traditional instrument in country music, that, oddly enough, wasn’t used much this night. Then again, it’s not like they really needed it.

They picked the pace up immensely as Ronnie belted out the opening line of their next song. “Well, I’m driving this rig up to Oklahoma City…” he sang, as drummer Bill Spellman, bassist Rocky Garza, and electric guitarist Chad Hannon ripped into “I Don’t See You”, which is one of my personal favorites song of his, and was one of the catchiest of this entire night.

Chris switched to keyboard/piano for the next few songs, as Ronnie announced to everyone that the next song was called “Tia Maria”, a song that was originally found on the “Mulligan” EP. It’s a true country tune, telling a story of a wife and her cheating husband, and by the end of it, Tia Maria” has “…shot herself right through the head…” It may sound sad, but there’s actually a certain amount of humor thrown into the song.

 “…This next song is called Pistols In the Air.” said Ronnie, leading them into another track from the new album.  There was a brief instrumental breakdown during that song, and Chad stole the spotlight for a moment with some nice riffs that comprised a guitar solo, which was his first, but far from last of the night. They then pulled out another older song of Ronnies’, and while Chris was readying his mandolin, Ronnie asked everyone if they enjoyed a “good revenge song”, as that was what their next song was about. It was “One Eye Open”, and while it appeared to go off without a hitch, Ronnie copped afterwards that he forgot to do his harmonica solo, mainly because he forgot to pick his neck rack up before the song in order to do it.

No harm, no foul is what I say, especially since Ronnie pointed out that Chad picked up the slack by doing another solo. Chris again switched instruments, going back to the keys this time, but mere seconds into the more melancholy “Answers You Already Know”, Ronnie brought things to a stop. “…I didn’t learn from my mistake…” Ronnie told everyone, before reaching down and picking up his harmonica, before starting the song again.

It’s a song that shows off what a truly brilliant songwriter Ronnie is, with a line from the first verse being, “…Children are nothing but grownups who have not had their hearts broken yet…”, which soon gives way to the chorus, “And the stars shine brighter in Texas than they do in Colorado…”

They followed it with what Ronnie said was mostly an autobiographical song. I got almost giddy at that, knowing it was my favorite song of his, “It’s a Long, Long Way”, which I had not heard live since the first time I saw Ronnie, when he was just a solo artist, about two years or so ago. The song does take you through his whole life, right from the opening line, “Well, I was born in the year that Nixon resigned…” The song came to a sudden end, though, which Ronnie noted, saying it was a “impromptu end”, and sadly that happened before the final verse, which includes the line, “…Said life is not about riches, but then Snoop said it’s nothing but money and bitches…” Regardless, excluding that certainly didn’t ruin the song, and it was still a standout.

Before doing the single and lead track from the newest album, “The Night Before the War”, Ronnie plugged local radio station 95.3 The Range, saying he was lucky enough to get some airplay from them, telling everyone that the song might sound familiar if they too listened to the station. Afterwards, they did a the final remaining tracks from the new record, which were “A Pretty Nice Night for Houston”, and “This Year”, during which the mandolin was again put into action, .before going back to the keys for another utterly outstanding song, “Good Enough”.

That left them with just a few more songs from Ronnie’s back catalog, all of which came from 2010’s “Mulligan” EP, but can now be found on the compilation album, “The Sun is Shining Somewhere, but Somewhere isn’t Here”.

One of those was “Just Another Tuesday”, while another was a song that finds Ronnie wishing that multiple characteristics were different, aptly titled “Wish”, and both of those songs again called on Chris to play the mandolin. “To Ease My Mind” seemed like the perfect song to end on, especially with the killer outro they gave it, where Bill, Rocky, Chad and even Ronnie rocked out. Actually, in most cases that probably would have been the end of it, but given the show and the longer set time they had to fill, they had worked in a couple of cover songs.

One of those covers was a much more up-tempo version of Merle Haggard’s “Swinging Doors”, but it was their next song that really captured my attention, almost as much as their original stuff had. Ronnie invited  Greg Mullen on stage with them, who brought his acoustic guitar with him, despite not knowing where to plug it in at, and the sound guy was unable to help them, since he was MIA at the moment.

Ronnie again thanked Greg and his band for playing the show with them, mentioning they crossed paths doing a show in Austin and also encouraging everyone to buy Gregg’s new album, “There are America’s Beyond This America.” “…And I thought my album titles were confusing…” said Ronnie.

The song they did to end it all was “Please Don’t Bury Me” by John Prine, and even though I hadn’t heard the song prior to their rendition of it, they still did an amazing job with it. Like their other cover, this one had a faster pace to it, but that’s what made it so good, as it was really catchy and offered a very fun way to end what had been an incredible set.

Both of those songs were really a fitting end to the show, because it is the more classic country music spirit, like that of Haggard and Prine, and Ronnie embodies.

He’s a storyteller through and through, a fact that is constantly radiating from his music, and his voice has a distinctive twang that sets his sound apart from anyone else’s.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t other country musicians and bands taking some pages out of the original playbook like he does, but all the same, I always find it refreshing when a singer or band focuses on what country is (or was) about. Rather than going with the glitz and glamor sound of the pop influenced brand of country that Nashville currently breeds. You know, the stuff that populates (or rather pollutes) the airwaves of all major radio stations.

So, if you want to hear some good ol’ fashioned country music with a bit of a modern vibe to it, check out Ronnie Fauss and his extremely talented band and listen to/buy his records in ITUNES. Better yet, go see a live show. He’ll be back in Plano on June 6th at the Courtyard Theater, then the following night, the 7th, he’ll be opening for Gary P. Nunn at the Granada Theater in Dallas. He and his band will then return to Love and War on June 23rd to open for Micky and the Motorcars.

Very fun night, and I just might need to get out to Love and War a little more often.



Saturday, March 2nd, 2013 – The Summer and The Fall

It was back to my favorite Deep Ellum haunt, The Curtain Club, this night, where, just like the previous night, a killer lineup of bands had been assembled.

Olivine was one of those bands, and I missed the first bit of their set, because I was out on the patio talking with Paco Estrada, who would later play.

I had never seen the band before, though I had seen their singer, Jake Mai, when he opened for People On Vacation last year, shortly before forming Olivine. I enjoyed the music then, but it was obviously not completely rounded, since it lacked a full band.

That expansion, and the use of electric instruments made all the difference this night. What I did see of it was an explosive performance of pop/rock music. Bassist, Jorge Garcia, and lead guitarist, Casey Hollyfield, put on a dynamic live show, and Jake certainly did his fair share when he didn’t have to be stationed behind the mic. They played several songs off their debut record, “Drift”, and even at one point brought things down, when Casey, Jorge, and drummer, Joe Bortscheller, left Jake alone to do an acoustic song. For their final song, they did the title track itself, “Drift”, which is easily the best song in their arsenal.

Their music is extremely radio friendly, and mines that vein of pop/rock. Usually, that’s a style of music I try to stay away from, simply because it sounds so generic now. Every now and then, though you see a band that can pull it off well, and Olivine is one of those bands. Sure, it may not be groundbreaking, but it sounds good, and that’s what really matters.

Check out the “Drift” record in iTunes. And while they have no shows booked at the moment, keep tabs on their OFFICIAL WEBSITE to find out when they do.

After them was Erik Chandler, who’s probably best known as the bassist of Bowling for Soup, and this night was doing his first show with his backing band. It consisted of Doug McGrath (formerly of SouthFM) on bass and Taylor Young (of Dallas’s hottest country duo, The O’s) on drums, while Erik played the guitar. Now, practically his entire 34-minute set was originals from his upcoming record, meaning I can’t elaborate with song titles like I typically do. After their first song, Erik made mention of the record, talking about how good it is and acknowledged that he has been working on it for awhile. “…And trust me, y’all are all very thankful for it…”, referring to the album, which was self-described as being one of the best records ever. After another original they did a cover of Elvis Costellos’ “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. “…If I wrote this song, I wouldn’t be here right now…” said Erik before starting it. It was a great rendition of the song, and they kept it pretty spot on, with the exception that it sounded like it was more up tempo. Afterwards, Erik thanked Olivine for opening the show, and People on Vacation for putting it all together. “…You don’t get this much rock anymore…” he said, a statement I didn’t find entirely accurate, especially after the show here the night before, which boasted three bands who routinely headline the Curtain. Point is, rock is still very much alive in Dallas. Anyway, they did another song that was about Eriks’ first car, and upon finishing it, he mentioned how good it was to be back at the Curtain. “…This was the place of cutting teeth…” he said, speaking of the early days of Bowling for Soup (whose plaque still proudly adorns the “Wall of Fame” in the venue). He continued, “…It’s like a family reunion, ‘cause almost all the same people still work here…” They did a couple more originals, before doing another cover, which I was unfamiliar with. “…This is another one I didn’t write, but I sure wish I did…” Erik said. Periodically throughout the show fans had been buying them drinks, and at this point, someone handed Erik a shot, which he couldn’t identify. He hesitantly drank it, and while I don’t remember what it is, he said he usually didn’t get along with it. It was too late to do anything about it, though. Before their final song, Erik set it up by saying it was one everyone could all relate to. “…We all have that one cunt that really fucked you up…” he said. It was called “Tonight’s the Night”, and it really was the best song of their set.

I was sure it would be good, but still, the most I’ve ever heard Erik sing is adding the occasional backing vocals on various BFS songs, which makes it hard to truly gauge anyone’s voice. However, Erik’s got a good set of pipes on him, and sounded quite great this night.

The music’s really good, too, and for anyone who is a fan of BFS, you’re guaranteed to like his stuff.

Check out his FACEBOOK PAGE to stay up to date with his goings on, and expect his debut album to drop sometime this year.

Next up was the headlining band, People On Vacation, which is of course the side project of fellow BFS member, Jaret Reddick, and co-founded by another Dallas musician, Ryan Hamilton.

This was a big show for the band, because not only were they celebrating the release of their latest album on CD (it has been available digitally since late last year), it was also Jaret’s birthday show. Jaret pointed this out before they even began the show, and mentioned he probably wouldn’t make it through the night sober. Joining them for this full band performance was Linus Dotson, AKA Linus of Hollywood, on keys, and Jaret pointed him out to the crowd. “…My boo flew in for this show…” he said, and continued by saying that since it was his birthday week, if Linus peed on anything this night it would be completely legal. Yeah, all that happened before they even played a song, which was proof enough that this was going to be an unforgettable night.

They began with “Prettiest Girl In The World”, which surprised me a little, because the last times I had seen them it was more of the closer, or at least fell later in the set. The upbeat, happy tune the song carries made it work well as an opener, though, and immersed the audience into their music. Like his band mate that played before him, Jaret mentioned how good it was to be back at the Curtain Club. “…We just played here…” he said, adding it had only been three days or something, referring to their show here which had barely been a month ago. They then did another song from their newest record, “We Are The Lucky Ones”. “Why can’t we just skip to the good parts. Read through the last page before start. I’ll raise one hand to the heavens, I’ll use the other to cross my heart and hope to die…” Ryan and Jaret both sang, with drummer, Todd Harwell, adding the well planned beats, that dance in between each line. The crazy banter continued after that song, and while shouting out all the other acts on the bill, Jaret officially named Eriks’ band, calling them “Erik Chandler & The Prima Donna Motherfuckers”. They joked about for a few minutes, having the audience laughing right along with them, before eventually busting out another fan favorite, “Back To Being Friends”. Upon finishing it, Ryan was put in charge of entertaining the crowd, while Jaret put on some chapstick. Before he had a chance to say anything, though, Linus chimed in, saying he’s told Jaret before that he thinks he’s addicted to that stuff, and needs to quit using it. “…It’s funny, because while he’s telling me that, he’s over there smoking a cigarette…” he said, speaking of past cases. They briefly debated if someone even could be addicted to chapstick, before discussing how they were going to start their next song. “…You start it.” Jaret told Ryan, who proceeded to strum his acoustic guitar. I had never heard them start this song this way before, but those chords on their own sounded phenomenal. Soon, Linus started in on the keys, which confirmed it was “Alone with You”. That one’s still my favorite POV song, mainly because of that one line, “…Begging for a pardon like a subject of a warden, like I burped up something and swallowed it again…”. I still think that’s pure genius. When it ended, Jaret pointed out that Ryan was the “Where’s Waldo of St. Patrick’s Day”, as he did have on a striped shirt, with green instead of red. Soon, conversation switched to Ryan’s parents, with Jaret saying he didn’t know much about Ryan’s dad, except, “…He helps with the Holiday Salsa. And he likes to weld…”. This led Ryan to tell everyone the best advice he ever received from his father. “Son, if you’re going to be dumb, then you need to be tough.” According to him, that was the best advice he got, and Jaret countered it with his. “My dad didn’t want to have the sex talk with me, so he just told me, “Son, keep it in your pants unless you’re going to the bathroom.” “True story.” He added. When they got back into song mode, they did another happy song from their first EP, “She was the Only One”. During that song, and the past few, a women had been going around taking pictures of the band with her iPad, and at this point, Jaret pointed it out, saying something like, “…Steve Jobs would be rolling over in his grave if he knew the iPad was being used to take pictures in the pit at a rock show…”. Linus then proved his wittiness, ‘His iGrave.” Brilliant (and quite possible true). Ryan was persuaded to play a song he wrote for Linus during one of their UK tours, aptly called, “Linus of Hollywood”. All though short, it was pretty humorous, and not bad at all for something that, at one time, was probably quickly made up. Another song of Ryan’s (a legitimate one) followed, and it was the song about searching for love, “Lonely Fish”. “So many fish in the proverbial sea, I wonder ‘round the world just hoping that you’ll bump into me…” he sang, the first line of this spot on tune. I’m still glad it made its transition into a POV song, because it was one of the best in Ryan’s catalog, and the full band sound just makes it that much better.  The talk then turned to Christmas, when they mentioned that with the release of “The Summer and The Fall” on CD, it was like Christmas. “Play a Christmas song!” shouted one of the audience members. “You really want us to play a Christmas song?!” Jaret asked, and they all looked at each other like they were contemplating the idea. However, the closest they got was Linus playing the tune of one on the keyboard. They then brought things down ever so slightly with “Rainy Day”, and soon after followed it up with the perfect song, and one of their best, “Because Of The Sun”. I liked the little metaphor that made, simply saying that the sun will shine after any storm, and things will get better. “It’s Not Love” came next, and Ryan started the song. Almost immediately, Jaret peaked over his shoulder, looking at where the capo was placed, before putting his on the same fret. Ryan didn’t seem to notice, or if he did he ignored, but everyone else got a kick out of it. “…We just topped Coldplay with that one…” Jaret said when they finished, noting that nobody even had to drop all the cash that they would have to see a Coldplay concert. “…I wrote this next song in the shower…” Said Jaret, which prompted a look from Ryan and bassist, Beau Wagener, of, “Do I want to ask?” “No, not like that!” he quickly replied, which didn’t stop Ryan from asking him if he heard “…Hundreds of screaming children coming from the drain…” It wasn’t as bad as it first sounded, with Jaret saying he thought of it while in the shower, then penned it once he got out. The song was the rhymey, “I Get You”, which is a quick and nice little love song. Jaret began talking about his birthday, stating that the best gift he got was having a service come out for a whole year to pick up his dogs poop. They were then informed they had enough time for one more song, and Beau, Todd and Linus left the stage, leaving the two to close out their 60-minute long set with a more acoustic style song. It was a cover of Ratt’s “Round and Round”, which further proves the bands love for classic 80’s metal songs, which is typically what they cover. It was a very different take on it, yet it sounded amazing. It was the harmonies that really made the song, plus the slower pace gave it more of a somber feeling.

It was a pretty good song to end with, and it was another fantastic People On Vacation show.

With their hectic schedules, they haven’t played live much lately, and I’m pretty certain the last time I saw them was last May. So long I had almost forgotten how entertaining they are.

The mix of infectious pop/rock songs, with hilarious humor make them one of the only bands that encompasses every aspect of entertainment, and they’re bound to reel you in with at least one of those.

Check out the two records they now have available, both of which can be found in ITUNES, and keep a check on their FACEBOOK PAGE for future show dates. ‘Cause hopefully, if neither of them get too busy with their primary bands, they’ll be doing another People On Vacation show sooner rather than later.

They may have been the headlining band, but there was one more act after them, and it was the insanely talented, Paco Estrada.

Joining him was his backing band, which is yet unnamed, but is comprised of Scotty Isaacs on the piano, Joel Bailey on bass, AJ Blackleaf supplying the beats on a partial drum kit, and the newest addition, Nathan Parnell on an electric guitar.

They opened their 42-minute set with one of Paco’s newest songs, “American Girls”, which has a little bit of a folk sound to it, but also is a bit of a classic rock song. As that song came to an end, Paco kept strumming his acoustic guitar, transitioning them right into their next song, which sounded all too familiar. Personally, I think Pacos’ most current release, 2011’s “The Definite and Indefinite…”, is overall the best collection of songs he’s done to date, but over the last year or so, most of those songs have found their way out of the live set, including the gem, “Whiskey Kisses”. Well, tonight they had decided to dust it off, and I think it was largely due to Nathan on the electric guitar. Once they hit the chorus, Nathan’s guitar work really livened up the song, while AJ tore in on the drums. It suddenly became a full-blown rock song, which is something Paco hasn’t done in a very long time. “…Your sweet whiskey kisses, that’s what I’ve been missing. When you lose your inhibitions…” he belted out on the chorus, in his rich, soulful voice. They did another new one, “The Way I Love You”, and afterwards, Paco acknowledged a friend and fellow vocalist who was out enjoying the show. “Tim, when was the last time I got to sing for you?” he asked, speaking to Tim Ziegler. It almost made it sound like the next song was dedicated to him, which I doubt was the case, since it was the ultimate love song, “When We Were Made”. Seriously, you’ll be hard pressed to find a love song as powerful as that one is. After another new song, the enthralling, “She”, they did yet another song I hadn’t heard in a few years. It wasn’t an original, though. “We got any Deftones fans in here?” asked Paco, which got a rise from the audience. He mentioned something about knifes, then said, “… I’m Mexican, so I got a knife in my boot at all times…” As you might have guessed by now, they were covering “Knife Party”, which was often a staple back in the days of Paco & One Love. This was a little more rock version, though, but still the best part was just the way Paco sings the chorus, “…Go get your knife, go get your knife and lay down. Go get your knife, go get your knife, now kiss me.”, with the force he puts behind it making it nothing short of phenomenal. It had only been a few weeks since I had last seen Paco, but since seeing that show in Fort Worth, I had anxiously been awaiting this one, to hear the song they did next, or rather the cover they tack onto it. “This song’s about my dad.” Said Paco, as they started “Breaking Down”. The part about his father comes on the second verse, “…My father had a heart attack at fifty-eight. I never thought that man was built to break. He told us that if he went under, he didn’t want them to resuscitate…”After a couple more trips through the chorus, Paco looked at his band mates during a brief instrumental break, before jumping into the cover. “Did I disappoint you, or leave a bad taste in your mouth? You act like you never had love, and you want me to go without…” he sang. I’ll say it again, out of all the covers he’s added at the end of this song over the years, U2’s “One” is truly the best. He has a knack for conveying real emotion while he sings, and that’s at its best here, especially on the line, “…We’re one, but we’re not the same. Will we hurt each other, then we do it again…”, which is sung with a fiery passion, and personally, I think it trumps U2’s original version of it. At this point, they only had a couple more left, and Paco mentioned that they were “…All love songs, so they’re all slower tempo…” That held very true to their next song, and another classic I hadn’t heard in awhile, “I Will Never Let You Go”. Now they only had one left, and it was the routine closer, “Haunting Me”. “…I’ll pack my bags. I’ll put my heart in a box of letters from you I have. I’ll disappear and paint it black, and when the memory of my face begins to fade, I’m coming back…” Paco croons on the second verse, giving the song somewhat of an eerie vibe. This is another one where he usually adds a cover song on the end of it, and it is the Whitney Houston classic, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, which is a positive note to end on.

The difference between this show and the one I had seen before it was like night and day. Like I said, that electric guitar brought them to a whole new level, and while they still had the songs that were very piano based, the drums and guitar surged to life on others.

It brought everything to life, quite honestly, this is the best band I’ve seen Paco surround himself with since One Love disbanded in late 2010. So, hopefully this will be the band that sticks with him for awhile. I guess only time will tell on that.

However, while this band may not have any recordings, Paco’s catalog is extensive, and several of his older records can be purchased via BANDCAMP.

Their music was a great way to conclude the show this night. It’s just a shame that so few people stuck around, because, as I’ve said many times before, Paco is the most talented singer/songwriter in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Oh, and the incense they have burning during their shows makes it even more of an experience.

It was another killer night of music at the best venue in Deep Ellum, and if you weren’t there, you missed out.

Album Review: “Cupcake” by Said Kelley


Said Kelley is a acoustic pop band based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and the trio was founded by longtime musician, Kelley Larson, who serves as both the voice of the band and the guitarist. Setting her apart from most singer/songwriters I’ve come across is the fact that her main priority is her husband and children, not music.

Her love for music is quite obvious, though, and she uses her family as the inspiration for her songs on the bands current release, “Cupcake”.

The lead track is “Sbwdsufs”. It’s a very rhythmic song, driven heavily by the drums, though the bass works its way into the groove quite well, accenting it and giving it a rather hypnotic beat. To balance it out you have Kelley’s voice, which often soars on the song, and gives it an infectious pop quality. When it’s all said and done, it’s proved to be a splendid introduction to the band and their sound. So, if you listen to only one of Said Kelley’s songs, let it be this one. Then afterwards, you should find yourself hungering for more.

The next song, “Make Me Up”, carries a deep message with it, and one that I imagine could hit home with a lot of people (particularly women). “…I don’t need no makeup to make me up… I don’t need your scales to weigh my worth…” Kelly croons on the chorus, which is all about being who you are and “…breaking the mold created by society…”. It’s a must listen for anyone who may think they don’t belong for one reason or another. i.e. because they aren’t “supermodel thin”. Granted, it doesn’t carry as much weight with me personally (I think being a guy has a lot to do with that), but I can easily see how this could be an empowering song.

Following it is the shorter, acoustic song, “White Walls”. As good as their more Pop based music is, I think they sound their best on this one, and the other slower tunes that are scattered throughout the record. Since first hearing it, I’ve liked the percussion instrument known as a cajon, and it’s used to make a tranquil sound on this tune. And as amazing as Kelly’s voice sounds on the other songs, it’s most captivating here, having a very passionate quality to it and fills the song with emotion.

“Forbidden Lover” has a fiery sound, in a sultry sense, that behooves the atmosphere it’s trying (and successfully) creates. However, it gets a little repetitive to me. Don’t misconstrue that, I’m not saying it’s a bad song, it’s just not one of my favorites.

That brings us to the title track from the album, “Cupcake”. The song is dripping with metaphors, which in turn makes it one of the smartest songs I’ve ever heard. It’s a love song of sorts, probably best summed up with the opening line, “I wanna be your cupcake. Something you look forward to…”, but the best parts are found deeper in the song, like the bridge towards the end, “…Simply sweet, delightfully delicious. Your ultimate fantasy…”. It’s simply a brilliant song, and with the occasional, not so subtle innuendos, it walks a very fine line of being both a sweet song, and a slightly dirty one, which is precisely what makes it so enjoyable.

Things again hit a lull with “Alex Fred”. It’s pointed out on the chorus that, “…This is not a love song about you, it’s just the hard reality of how I really feel about you…”, but it sure sounds like a love song. And a pretty good one at that.

The pace picks up a little with the “Gray Cloud”, which is the longest track on the album. It’s still fairly soft, but the percussion is more much more pronounced on it, than say, the previous song. It’s another highlight song on this fine record, and also another one that showcases Kelley’s gift of penning songs. For instance, this part from late in the second verse, “…As the winds around me dictate the choices I make. A shower of tears puddles around my knees. As I look to my gray cloud for peace…”. Just pay attention to it, and the lyrics alone will drag you in.

Some rather somber bass notes get “Free” going, which is a fitting emotion. The song paints a picture of not being entirely sure who you are as a person, even possible trapped in your own skin, but longing to get out and be, as the title suggests, free. It’s really not as depressing as it might sound, though. Instead, it’s kind of uplifting, speaking of a person who does see all the good qualities, even if she might not have at the time.

The best love song on the record is the next track, “Long Enough”. She just plainly professes her love for her special someone, singing that, “…Forever isn’t long enough…”, It’s straightforward and simple, and that’s often the best way to say stuff of that magnitude.

“Pop Rock Lips” is the closest thing to a sappy tune on this record. I don’t feel that “sappy” is the best word to describe it, though. Like the other songs found on the album, it simply provides a clever way of saying something sincere. Helping it out is the more electric vibe it has, sounding pretty poppy and upbeat, which is very behooving of the lyrics.

“Beautiful” brings things to a close, which is an entirely acoustic song, with the exception of a violin which is added at various points. The lack of the other instruments leaves Kelley’s voice completely exposed, which allows it to sound better here than any previous song. It will most likely leave you awestruck, and the violin serves to only intensify its beauty on this more spiritual based tune.

Over all, I’d say “Cupcake” is an excellent album, simply because all the songs that comprise it are so honest and open.

Unlike some music from other bands, it’s very easy to conclude what the subject matter is about, but are clever enough that they aren’t just plain. Even better than that is the fact that none of these songs sound like anything you’ve heard before. That is to say, the lyrics are better than a majority of the songs out there, and by leaps and bounds at that. And by listening to it, I guarantee you will find at least one song that evokes some type of emotion in you.

Said Kelley is:
Kelley Larson – Vocals & Guitar
Heather Weideman - Bass
Holly Maczuzak – Drums

Purchase the album on:
iTunes / CD Baby

Visit Said Kelley’s websites:
Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Youtube / Reverbnation