Mon, 12/05/2016 - 12:05 pm

Scott Tournet’s new ensemble of psychedelic cowboys, Elektric Voodoo, has released an ambitious self-titled debut album that evokes the cinema of the American West through a cosmic lens. After parting ways with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Tournet has assembled an eclectic outfit that draws from a diverse tapestry of musical influences, featuring Evan Lucas on bass, Mark Boyce on keyboards, Matt Bozzone on drums, and Ty Kiernan on a rather creative blend of percussive instruments . Such projects often run the risk of devolving into a overworked jumble, yet Elektric Voodoo manages to perfect a strange marriage of latin and afrobeat rhythms that provide the foundation for a combination of indie, classic rock, and western grooves.  

Elektric Voodoo’s opening track, Secrets, is an energetic commencement that provides a snapshot of the hybrid of styles that define the remainder of the album. Ethereal vocals dance over the delightfully organic afrobeat drums, and a series of rhythmic crescendos propel the tune forward. Partway through the song, we are treated to a haunting Ennio Morricone-esque melody that is echoed in several of the other tracks, giving the entire album a decidedly spaghetti western feel.

Ball and Chain features an impressive interplay between latin guitar and creative percussion. The influence of jam-band sensibilities is present here, as Tournet and his bandmates navigate a succession of peaks and valleys, allowing the energy to build to a climax before snapping into some truly funky grooves.

Mercy is another highlight, although it eschews the afrobeat and latin sensibilities of the rest of the album in favor of a more industrial drum section. Elektric Voodoo induces a dream-like state on this track with floating vocals and droning western guitar. This reverie is finally shattered by a primal outro that is lengthy and soaring, providing a climax that will undoubtedly serve as an excellent canvas for improvisation in a live setting. The Other Side brings back the eclectic percussion, as well as featuring wailing psychedelic guitar leads and another furiously energetic outro.

Elektric Voodoo takes firmly grounded rhythms and uses them as a canvas on which to explore melodies that can best be described as a psychedelic interpretation of spaghetti western soundtracks. This is a compelling musical pairing, as it ties the frontier theme of the American West to the exploratory nature of psychedelic music. By drawing from a rich variety of musical traditions, Elektric Voodoo has crafted a cohesive album that blurs the lines between genres and eludes classification.

Wed, 12/07/2016 - 11:29 am

Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman (ARW) took the stage Sunday night at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium to an enraptured crowd. There have been numerous configurations of the Yes lineup, yet perhaps none that so perfectly encapsulates the band’s journey through various eras. Wakeman hails from the prog-focused 1970s, and Rabin from the decidedly more pop-oriented 1980s, while founding member Jon Anderson serves as the lynchpin between the eras, having delivered his striking vocals through both. The last time the trio shared the stage was 25 years ago, and the significance of experiencing this lineup after a quarter century break was obviously not lost on the audience. Sunday marked the final stop on the North American leg of the tour, though ARW will tour internationally in March of 2017.

The soft lighting and ethereal white backdrop of the stage conjured up a vaguely romantic atmosphere of 70s science fiction against which the aging rockers cut striking silhouettes, Anderson raising his hands to the crowd like a wizened prog rock priest. ARW was in fine form from the intense Cinema opening onwards, yet they truly hit their stride with a rousing I’ve Seen All Good People, which featured a furious drum-solo from Louis Molino III. After the dust had settled, Anderson led a rollicking performance of Lift Me Up.

ARW’s use of soundscape synths set a futuristic ambience for And You and I, the rhythm steadily building in a manner reminiscent of waves lapping at the shore. Orchestral synths melted into a soaring guitar solo, Trevor Rabin coaxing a crystalline tone from his instrument. With his long white hair and sparkling robe, Rick Wakeman was a wizard upon the keys, twisting his melodies about Rabin’s guitar until they met in a cathartic harmony.

Anderson’s acoustic guitar broke a string during Rhythm of Love, yet this minor hiccup didn’t manage to break his stride in the slightest. Heart of the Sunrise featured an excellent bass solo from Lee Pomeroy, the stage lights bouncing off the face of the instrument as Pomeroy sent pulses of sound into the crowd. Rabin and Anderson traded vocals on Changes before closing the song with a frenzied, climactic outro.

Long Distance Runaround amped up the energy in the auditorium with its festive and bouncing opening riff before settling into a foot stomping groove. ARW closed out the show with an encore of Roundabout, the final crescendo eliciting screams and hoots from the crowd.

The ecstasy of the audience was testament to Sunday night’s performance, which demonstrated that Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman still possess both the unbridled passion and technical mastery that has endeared them to generations of Yes fans.

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 5:32 pm

Theo Katzman, best known for his work with the ever-funky Vulfpeck, has released three energetic tracks from his forthcoming solo-album, Heartbreak Hits. Katzman is a talented multi-instrumentalist, and his previous solo endeavor, Romance Without Finance, received well-deserved acclaim. His eclectic tastes are evident on the tracks we’ve heard so far, which blend classic and pop rock instrumentals with some rather funky licks. These tracks are decidedly more lyrics-driven than Katzman’s work with Vulfpeck, dancing around a central theme of personal loss and, unsurprisingly, heartbreak. Katzman has recruited Vulfpeck bassist Joe Dart for the album, as well as Lee Pardini on electric keyboard, and Woody Goss on acoustic piano. Laura Mace and Mike G provide piercing background vocals, giving the tracks we’ve heard a cathartic atmosphere.

“Hard Work,” the album’s first single, is an interesting dichotomy. The track has an upbeat and exultant tone, yet discusses the pain of making a concerted effort to support and maintain an unraveling relationship. High pitched backing vocals punctuate a nearly pop-punk riff, the songwriter’s outpouring of emotion clear as he enthusiastically laments his unrequited labors of love.

“My Heart is Dead” conjures up powerful imagery as Katzmann describes the physical sensation of heartbreak over a foot-stomping main riff. There is a decidedly classic rock and roll feeling on this tune, as Katzmann lets out a primal and adolescent condemnation of the injustice of heartbreak.

“Good to be Alone” slows down the pace, the cadence of Katzmann’s vocals complimenting his guitar as he laments the empty nature of loneliness. The painful nostalgia of a once-fulfilling love affair is both tragic and touching, conjuring up images of a world that has become dull and meaningless in its absence.

These songs are an intriguing departure from the style Katzmann has demonstrated in the past, as there are few musical similarities between Heartbreak Hits and the works of Vulfpeck. It seems that Katzmann has intentionally diverged from the funkier sound of Vulfpeck, choosing a more cathartic and emotional approach. Heartbreak Hits releases January 6th, 2017, and promises to be an intriguing journey through the agony of loss.

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 9:19 am

Keller Williams is a genre-fusing multi-instrumentalist and vocalist best known for his eclectic one-man-band performances. Williams’ live shows are delightful showcases of musicianship, as Keller employs loop pedals and multiple instruments to provide the audience with an experience not unlike the interplay of a full band. This approach has made Williams a perfect fit for collaboration with an impressive variety of artists from different genres, including The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band. Keller’s newest project is a four-piece outfit known as KWahtro, featuring bassist Danton Boller (Jazz Mandolin Project, Roy Hargrove), guitarist and longtime Williams collaborator Gibb Droll (Brandi Carlisle, Bruce Hornsby) and drummer Rodney Holmes (Carlos Santana, Steve Kimock).

KWahtro’s debut album, Sync, will be released on January 20th. Sync is meant to encompass the sound of the group’s improvisational live performances, and as such, it is a wonderfully organic piece of art. The album is crisp, tight and professional, yet still manages to capture the free-flowing and light hearted spirit of a live show.

Each of the tracks is decidedly danceable and rhythmically engaging, though a couple of the tunes stand out as particularly inspiring. “Ripped 6-pack,” Sync’s opening track, features Williams’ tongue-in-cheek lyrics and clean acoustic guitar with a decidedly Latin feel, dancing over a furiously evolving drum section that builds to a frenzy over the course of the song. “Baby Mama” has a catchy guitar riff that meanders around the soft-spoken lyrics, supported by rolling drum fills that ebb and flow to match the cadence of Keller’s voice.

Kwahtro has toured extensively this fall, which shows in the tight and interconnected tracks on the album. In addition to Sync, Keller Williams will also be releasing Raw on January 20th, a 10-song collection of solo acoustic material. Williams will be touring through April, playing a combination of solo shows and KWahtro gigs, as well as numerous dates with Leo Kottke for a tour entitled “Shut the Folk Up and Listen.”

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 7:04 pm

There is something undeniably appealing about music that evokes the desert landscapes of the American West. The imagery of sun-soaked plains of dust beneath a never ending blue sky has pulled at my heartstrings since I first heard the Dead’s “Jack Straw.” This landscape has had a clear influence on psychedelic and improvisational music, and provides the inspiration for BIG Something’s fourth album, Tumbleweed. The album is a sonic desert trip, which uses the barren landscapes as a canvas for an introspective journey. BIG Something is a 6-piece ensemble consisting of Ben Vinograd (drums), Doug Marshall (bass), Josh Kagel (keys, trumpet), Casey Cranford (saxophone, EWI), Jesse Hensley (lead guitar), and Nick MacDaniels (vocals, guitar).

The first song and title track, Tumbleweed, features a floaty guitar solo that echoes in the void of a sandy desert trip. Tumbleweed conjures up feelings of desolation and introspection, the synthy tribal keyboards continually pushing the track forward. The lyrics have a decidedly psychedelic flavor, with lines like “Cactus tripping/ Glimpse the sun/ You’re just a bag of bones” reinforcing the themes of ego death and the insignificance of man in the vast expanse of the desert.

Song for Us ditches the darker feeling of the opening track in favor of an upbeat, reggae-inspired melody. This juxtaposition demonstrates the versatility of BIG Something, and cements the idea that this album is a journey, bringing the listener back and forth between light and darkness. The whistling synth and chunky bassline are incredibly catchy, and the tunneling guitar solo builds to an exultant peak by the end of the song. This segues nicely into Passenger, which features a galloping western rhythm. The melody and bassline remind the listener of a train thundering down a never-ending track, a theme that is echoed in the lyrics.

Blue Dream is a rather jammy instrumental piece that features some nice interplay between the various instruments. Chugging drums provide a steady backdrop for the guitar. The tone of the lead guitar on this track is worth mentioning, as it has a psychedelic southern rock flavor that plays very well with the desert imagery. Soaring guitar solos climb higher and higher through the middle of the song until they seem to shatter against the desert sky. UFOs are Real is a fun track with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about otherworldly encounters and government conspiracies. The song is noticeably danceable, featuring a funky bass line and several horn section breakdowns.

Every desert trip must culminate with an epiphany, and this seems to come in the form of the penultimate track, In the Middle. The vocals are reminiscent of surf-rock, and discuss the flawed balance of power in modern society. Waves provides a fitting end to the album with a powerful crescendo of an outro that dissolves into a synthy melody, which is eerily reminiscent of the opening moments of the first track.

Tumbleweed is a compelling album, pairing strong production with creative instrumentation and psychedelic lyrics. These tracks were obviously developed and tested in a live-setting, adding to the fluidity and diversity of the album. Tumbleweed will be released on February 24th, 2017.

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 5:31 pm

There is a great deal of discussion of the rift between the progressive and traditional bluegrass scenes, yet a number of groups have taken great strides to tear down the barrier between the disciplines. Ned Luberecki is a perfect example of this dismantling, as he blurs the lines between traditional Americana bluegrass tunes and avante-garde interpretations of songs from outside the genre. Luberecki’s new album, Take Five, features a smorgasbord of banjo prowess reaching across the string-band spectrum, from fiddle-led waltzes to foot-stomping bluegrass and creative covers.

Of the 14 tracks on the album, not one is dull or repetitive. At the heart of Take Five is the symbiotic interplay between the banjo and fiddle, which seem to be holding a lively conversation back and forth on the best tracks. The vocal offerings on the non-instrumental tracks are wonderful, particularly Dale Ann Bradley’s (Five Time Female Bluegrass Vocalist of the Year) performance on Higher Ground. This track has a joyous, exultant chorus that punctuates the back-and-forth between the banjo and fiddle.

Cleveland Park is another highlight, taking a pause from the syncopated bluegrass breakdowns with it’s delightful waltzing fiddle. The track is subtly reminiscent of the tunes used to accompany English Country Dancing, and for a moment transports the listener from the Americana landscape that dominates the rest of the album.

Adams County Breakdown is a rollicking freight train from the other end of the spectrum, a triumph of the five-string banjo that cements Luberecki as a world-class musician. B Flat Medley is incredibly fun listening due to the playful tossing of leads between the fiddle and banjo. Fiddlin Dan is another upbeat example of syncopated picking and a playful fiddle lead, made all the more enjoyable by the lyrics, which employ American frontier imagery to spin an entertaining tall tale. At first, the cover of the Star Trek theme that ends the album seemed out of place, yet Luberecki has put a clever twist on this as well, making it altogether fun and listenable.

Fans of the five-string banjo and string-band music in general will be delighted by Take Five. Ned Luberecki has created a comprehensive portfolio of his dedication to the instrument, which is both technically impressive and musically compelling. Take Five is set to release on March 31st, 2017.

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 5:11 pm

The Brothers Comatose are one of the most exciting bluegrass outfits to emerge in the past decade, and I await each of their stellar releases with bated breath. I first encountered the band at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2015, where I stumbled across the latter portion of their set, the sound of the dueling fiddle and banjo drawing me in from across the sun-soaked fields of Golden Gate Park. After building to a frenetic crescendo, they paused briefly as the audience waited spellbound, before explosively launching into the chorus of “Feels Like the Devil.” Since that moment, I’ve followed the group closely. Their last album, 2016’s City Painted Gold, was a delightful ode to San Francisco, which eloquently described many of the frustrations associated with the city today.

As of February 3rd, The Brothers Comatose have embarked on their Frostbite Tour in support of The Covers EP: Vol 2, which showcases their unique take on several songs from a variety of genres. The first tune on the EP, Ryan Adams’ “To Be Young,” begins with a steady toe-tapping rhythm. Mournful harmonies make for an incredibly catchy chorus, and the end of the song builds from a near-whisper to an inspiring outro led by some playful fiddle work. The Brothers’ take on Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug” features a bouncing, syncopated melody that provides a delightful counterpoint to the twangy vocals, which Ben Morrison has injected with a healthy dose of swagger.

Cake’s “Stickshifts and Safety Belts” is quite brief, and left me wanting more. However, the band manages to incorporate several fun changes in tempo into this short tune, punctuated by a fiddle outro. The high point of the EP is left for the end, with a masterful cover of Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.” At first, the song is plodding, yet in a pleasant and relaxing manner. The fiddle trails the banjo and guitar, which finally twindle to a pause, before a barn-burning explosion of high-tempo bluegrass jamming that still manages to preserve the clarity of individual notes.

Make sure to catch The Brothers Comatose on the road, as they tour the West Coast and Rocky Mountains through March. Their live shows are high energy, foot stomping affairs sure to leave any bluegrass fan with a face-splitting grin.

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 5:56 am

The stars seem to be aligning for John Craigie, a Portland-based songwriter whose stripped down and relatable songs are a refreshing dose of Americana in our saturated musical landscape. Craigie was recently picked by Jack Johnson to open for the West Coast leg of his Summer 2017 tour. This announcement comes after Johnson sat in during one of Craigie’s shows in Hawaii, and the two hit it off famously. These will be the largest venues Craigie has played to date, and should provide a wonderful forum for him to showcase his newest offering, No Rain, No Rose.

No Rain, No Rose is a truly intimate album, capturing the spirit of a live performance while retaining the refinement of a studio endeavor. The album was recorded in an old Victorian home in Portland, where Craigie gathered a group of local musicians and friends to jam and explore the communal nature of folk music. By eschewing the recording studio in favor of a more collaborative approach, Craigie has created an album that brings us closer to the music, blurring the line between artist and performer. No Rain, No Rose is his tenth studio album, and the polish afforded by years of practice is evident. The artist’s life and experiences in the city of Portland provide the inspiration for many of the tunes on the album, and the songs are highly relatable and tinged with sadness.

Craigie opens the record with “Virgin Guitar,” which meanders through lyrics of aimlessness and ambiguity, while exploring the reality of finding solace in an imperfect partner. “Broken” employs Dylan-esque harmonica refrains, and “Highway Blood” features a soft, caressing melody underneath Craigie’s soft-spoken lyrics. “Rough Johns” features a bit more twang and bite in Craigie’s vocals, where he discusses unconditional love for a flawed partner over a shuffling, toe-tapping rhythm.

No Rain, No Rose begins to truly hit its stride with “Savannah.” There is a haunting gentleness to Craigie’s voice in this song, and the vocals flow mellifluously through the chorus. “Bucket List Grandmas” ratchets up the energy, featuring a twangy electric guitar, while juxtaposing darkness and light, happiness and sadness, and hope and despair. Another album highlight comes in the form of “Tumbling Dice,” a stripped down and refreshing take on the Rolling Stones’ classic tune. The most compelling track on the album, however, is certainly “I Am California.” Craigie embodies the land, giving voice and personification to the mountains and trees of the golden state. A lamenting Western fiddle and harmonica accompany the lyrics, which discuss how the spirit of the land remains in the souls of those who have lived upon it.

There is a relaxed and communal spirit to No Rain, No Rose, and the album frequently feels as if it was recorded around a campfire. Compelling music blurs the line between audience and performer, and John Craigie has certainly managed to pull listeners across the divide.

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 6:12 am

The air was crackling with energy last Saturday night as fans piled into The Warfield to witness a tribute to hometown hero Jerry Garcia. The significance of the venue was certainly not lost on the audience, smiles abounding through the crowd on the floor of the theater, which provided a home-base for the Jerry Garcia Band in the 1980s and 90s. Garcia performed at the hallowed venue 88 times, and the memories of countless transcendent nights of music have seeped into the bones of the old theater. Melvin Seals and JGB headlined the night, as the virtuoso organ player and former member the Jerry Garcia Band has carried the torch and continued the legacy of the band since Garcia’s passing in 1995.

Before Melvin Seals took the stage, Peter Rowan led The David Nelson Band through a spirited, hour-long introductory set. Nelson’s presence was missed, however, as the legendary San Francisco rocker is currently battling cancer and was unable to perform.

Melvin Seals and JGB’s first set featured Zach Nugent on guitar, and opened with a cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” This was followed by a fantastic rendition of “The Harder They Come,” a Jerry Garcia Band staple. Few songs in the JGB repertoire convey such positive emotion, and it seemed a wonderful choice to set the tone for the night. The band kept the spirit of revelry high during the set with a rousing “Ain’t No Bread in the Breadbox” and an impassioned take on Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World.” JGB closed out the first set with an incredibly high energy “After Midnight,” briefly slipping into a wild and primal “Eleanor Rigby” jam segment.

While the first set of the evening was certainly memorable, it was the second that turned the night into a rare and unparalleled night of music. Stu Allen, the beloved bay area guitarist who has played an instrumental role in carrying on the legacy of the Grateful Dead’s music, took over the reins from Nugent. Stu was joined by original Jerry Garcia Band vocalists Jackie LaBranch and Gloria Jones, as well as Oteil Burbridge on bass. The addition of Burbridge was truly a delight, and it’s wonderful to see that he continues to pursue Dead-related music during his time away from Dead & Co tours.

The star-studded lineup opened the second set with a rollicking “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” followed by an energetic “Cats Under the Stars,” the signature Garcia tune whipping the crowd into a jubilant frenzy. Each song of the set was masterfully performed, and the band seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience, grins splitting the faces of Seals and Burbridge as they traded solos with Allen. “Run for the Roses” was predictably another audience favorite, as was the ever-soulful and exuberant “Evangeline.” The band brought the energy down for the last song of the set, a chilling cover of Van Morrison’s “And it Stoned Me,” Stu Allen’s voice poignantly floating over the heads of the crowd into the rafters of the theater.

This seemed too somber a note to end such an ecstatic show, and the night’s entire lineup returned to the stage for an encore. All four backing vocalists and both guitarists shared the stage for a foot-stomping, searing performance of “Deal.” There was a communal spirit between the band and audience, and it seemed that they would have played all night if they could. Saturday was a fitting tribute to the memory of Garcia, and gave the denizens of San Francisco an unforgettable experience in a venue steeped in tradition.

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 6:13 am

Ryan Montbleau’s latest album, I Was Just Leaving, is a stripped-down journey into the nature of loneliness. Directly off the heels of the astronomical success of his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” which has clocked in over 15 million plays on Spotify as of the writing of this review, I Was Just Leaving operates in the same vein of profound simplicity. This solo offering marks a departure from some of Montbleau’s funkier work, providing listeners with a clear lens through which to experience his inspired songwriting. The album was produced by Anders Osborne, who took a decidedly minimalist approach. This sensible approach to the album cements the theme of loneliness, as most of the tracks sound as if they were recorded in a bare-walled room with a deeply scuffed wooden floor, just Montbleau and a guitar.

The title track, “I Was Just Leaving,” is an appropriate start to the album, the thumping, muted strum of the acoustic guitar punctuating lyrics that drip with regret. Montbleau’s songwriting chops are put on display as he describes the empty discomfort of wondering how one’s actions have led to the end of a love affair. “Bright Side” echoes the theme of loneliness, discussing the search for meaning and happiness in a drab and unwelcoming world. The tone of the song becomes increasingly upbeat as it progresses, the tempo of the guitar picking up to match the lyrics as Montbleau explores how the positive influence of another person can facilitate the journey from darkness into light.

“Moving Too Fast” is another highlight of the album, and Montbleau’s voice is truly incredible on this track. Clear and self-assured, he discusses transcending the monotony of daily life and laments the disorienting feelings humans experience in the face of the ever-quickening passage of the years. “Abigail” injects some welcome energy into the album, a bluesy guitar line dancing behind the vocals. The end of the song soars to an emotional climax, and one wonders if the entire record has built up to this point. “Cue the Majesty” provides a fitting ending to the album, as Montbleau extolls finding meaning in the beautiful simplicity of daily life.

I Was Just Leaving feels like a cohesive piece of music rather than a collection of tracks, and this is where its strength lies. The uniform rawness of the album achieves the desired effect, entrancing the listener to enter Montbleau’s mental state as he ponders the nature of solitude.

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 7:57 pm

The first chapter of Twiddle’s double album, PLUMP, was released in December 2015, helping to cement the reputation of the Vermont-based jam band, which has cultivated an enthusiastic following through consistent touring and jubilant live shows. On April 28th, the band will release PLUMP Chapter 2 along with a remastered edition of Chapter 1. The double album was produced by Ron St. Germain, known for his masterful work with Bad Brains, 311, and Sonic Youth. Chapter 1 contained a collection of tracks that have become fan favorites, such as Lost in the Cold, When it Rains it Pours, and Syncopated Healing.  The rerecorded version of When it Rains it Pours is particularly compelling, the strumming of the guitar crystal clear alongside Mihali Savoulidis’ crooning vocals.

When live performance oriented bands such as Twiddle release an album, their listeners often hope for an encapsulation of the concert experience rather than a conventional studio album. Twiddle has certainly delivered in this sense, as PLUMP Chapter 2 is an incredibly diverse album, containing a combination of lyrically driven tunes and free-form exploratory jams. The band shifts between a variety of genres across and within the album’s 15 tracks, blending reggae, blues, psychedelic rock, and bluegrass into an upbeat sonic tapestry.

Orlando’s, a psychedelic jaunt that incorporates numerous tempo changes through it’s nine minutes of exploration, is the first full-length track on Chapter 2. The song is a wonderful introduction to the second installment of the album, as it encapsulates much of the fluid jam feeling of Twiddle’s live shows. Self-referential lyrics break the fourth wall and appeal to the listener, dealing with the culture and experience of playing and experiencing live music. Juggernaut takes the listener in an entirely different direction, and has an undeniably Rage Against the Machine-esque quality. A foot-stomping beat plays underneath spoken-word style lyrics that describe the corruption of corporate entities and the subjugation of the masses.The pendulum swings back once more into Twiddle’s characteristically upbeat territory with Moments, a highly-danceable reggae tune with a catchy chorus and a jubilant horn section. Milk opens with a funky, electrified jam that segues into familiar reggae-rock territory, before launching into a delightful guitar solo that alternates wonderfully between soaring and shredding.

Twiddle’s lyrics often incorporate tall tales centered around elaborately-named characters, lending a feeling of alternate-reality to their shows. The Fantastic Tale of Ricky Snickle continues in this tradition, spinning an entertaining yarn about a larger than life smuggler. The tune has a catchy and danceable groove, as well as tunneling guitar and keyboard solos. Other noteworthy tracks include Fat Country Baby, a brief bluegrass jaunt with elements of ragtime and intriguing piano and banjo work, and Dinner Fork, a shuffling tune that builds into a shreddy jam with several delightful peaks.

PLUMP is a catchy and varied double-album that showcases many of Twiddle’s most beloved offerings from their live shows, and is exploratory and diverse enough to appeal to fans of all genres. It is this blending of genres that makes Twiddle so compelling, and gives their live shows an experimental and lighthearted tone. Twiddle is currently touring the Eastern United States, before launching into the festival circuit during the summer.

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 9:05 am

On August 5th, The Southern Belles will release their third studio album, titled In The Middle Of The Night. The Southern Belles are Adrian Ciucci (guitar/vocals), Tommy Booker (keys/vocals), Aaron Zarrow (drums/vocals) and Michael Sallemi (bass/vocals). The band hales from Richmond, Virginia, and has amassed a considerable fan base through extensive touring and energetic live shows. The group is at its heart a southern rock band with a strong flair for the psychedelic, and the album’s six expansive tracks pull from a wide variety of genres. The spectrum of influences featured on In The Middle Of The Night is impressive, as the band segues effortlessly between wildly different influences.

Everywhere, the first track on the album, begins with a decidedly southern-psychedelic guitar lick, as if to emphasize the sonic basis from which the group launches its wild improvisations. The song features themes of nautical travel, freedom, and exploration, which seem to recur several times throughout the album. Part way through the track, the Belles descend into a breakdown that features a head-banging, progressive metal groove. I certainly wasn’t expecting this rather dark tone from the band, and was delighted to hear this type of innovation and exploration on the very first track.

Deja Vu features a slow, rolling riff with heavy prog rock influences. The vocal harmonies on this song evoke a dreamlike trance, and once again the lyrics deal with escape and travel. There is an exultant soaring guitar solo to end the tune, which would provide a great launching point for improvisation in a live setting. L.A. Moves, the first single from the album, features a drifting lullaby of an intro, which quickly snaps into a thrumming psychedelic groove. The tempo rises and falls through the song, oscillating between relaxing valleys and gently soaring peaks. This song has been in the Belles’ live rotation for years, and it truly feels practiced and explored, as if they have condensed snapshots of their best live jams into a definitive studio cut.

Tryin is at times more sonically dense than some of the other songs on the album, and once again features themes of journey, both physical and introspective. Everywhere II begins with ambient sounds of waves lapping against the shore, which melts into floating guitar and otherworldly chimes. The soundscape presented here gives the listener a sensation of standing on a ship adrift on a vast ocean, the lyrics reinforcing the concept of prizing the journey above the destination.

In The Middle Of The Night is a great offering for those who appreciate improvisation and diverse musical tapestries. The Southern Belles have woven together a wide swath of genres in a manner that is not jarring or disjointed. Instead, the variety of tones and influences helps to reinforce the album’s themes of travel and exploration, moving the listener deftly between musical realms.