Sunday, April 19, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: jointpop - Quicksand

jointpop make music that makes your soul feel happy.   I’m not sure if it’s the rebel spirit that oozes from these 13 tracks, marrying the spirit of Joe Strummer (whose Clash gem “London’s Burning” is given a ragged reimagining as “Trinidad’s Burning”, highlighting its universal theme of being an outsider in your own land) or the melodic echoes of everyone from Pavement to Bruce Springsteen, but this stuff is joyous, heartfelt music.   Mainman Gary Hector has a way with words…invoking the essence of famed lucha libre “Mil Mascaras” on the song of the same name, Hector equates the longevity of his band’s existence with that of the titular wrestler.  20 years is a long time for a band to slug it out in the trenches, and the fact that Hector and company are not only still bringing it but doing so with a renewed sense of vigor and interest is damn exciting!

Producer Paul Kimble, best known for his work in Grant Lee Buffalo and always an interesting hand behind the boards, brings his dusky brilliance to the sounds that Hector coaxes out of his band.  The jaunty piano and tangled leads of first single (and standout track) “Simply Beautiful” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the tracks that GLB contributed to the “Velvet Goldmine” soundtrack, and the creamy background sighs on “Two People, Two People” are inspired.  The right production can elevate an okay record to a great one…Kimble’s work here is as fine an example of this as any, pushing Hector’s already great songs skyward.   Take the chance and lose yourself in a good rock record for 36 minutes and you will likely come out the other end a fan of jointpop’s bash and pop. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Damnwells - The Damnwells (2015)

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but I sincerely hope that’s not true, because one of the most overlooked bands of the past 15 years has released a helluva record.  Self-titled and consisting of all four original members for the first time since the tour for 2006’s stellar but ill-fated “Air Stereo”, the Damnwells’ fifth record feels like the record that SHOULD have come after that high-water mark…rocking and introspective in equal measure, wizened but still hungry.   Kicking off with the staccato drums and guitar of “Money and Shiny Things”, it’s immediate what has been missing from the past couple of Damnwells records.  Guitarist David Chernis’ tangled leads are lyrical and biting, and returning drummer Steven Terry swings with precision and aplomb.  It’s exciting to have them back in the engine room, powering lead ‘well Alex Dezen’s songs of love lost and facing down middle age.  Dezen’s lived a lot of life since 2011’s “No One Listens to the Band Anymore” – splitting from his wife, becoming a songwriter for hire, releasing 4 solo eps – and this latest batch of songs is imbued not only with his trademark wit and eye for human detail but also feel personal in a way that make his previous songs feel more like character sketches.  You can’t help but wonder if he is the “bad husband” he sings about in “Kentexas” (which, sonically, feels very much like a part of “Air Stereo”), and it’s tough not to read into Eric Rosse (best known for producing Tori Amos’ devastating first two albums) producing chill-inducing album closer, “None of These Things”.  

Not everything here works – “Heavy Heart” answers the question of what the Beatles’ “Two of Us” would sound like given a yacht rock arrangement and despite its absolutely killer chorus, the litany of reality TV references in “Kill Me” comes across as more distracting than trenchant – but the songs that do show that Dezen and his reunited band of brothers know how to break your heart in exactly the right way.  It’s good to have you gents back…

Saturday, April 11, 2015

INTERVIEW: Yacht Rock Review

How did you guys come together and what inspired you to tackle the smooth sounds of the 70's and 80's?

Let me clear the air before we begin: Yes, our hair, beards and mustaches are all real. 

Peter (the other frontman) and I met in fourth grade in Indiana, and we've been running smooth game ever since. In high school we were on the student council so we could create dances for our band to play. 

I met our drummer ?Mark playing in a soul band at Indiana University, and he joined up with Peter and I to form Y O U. We moved down to Atlanta and did the indie rock touring thing, selling some songs to commercials and scraping by on crappy jobs... honing our craft. ?Mark and I had jobs as secretaries at an insurance company and got fired on the same day.

Y O U didn't seem like it was going to take it to the next level, so I started law school. Meantime, a club in Atlanta gave us every Thursday to do anything we wanted. We were doing original music, comedy, Seger vs. Cougar... and we tried this one-hit wonders from the '70s show with Greg, Monkeyboy, Bencuya, Dave and our friend Brandon Still - who is now the keyboardist in Blackberry Smoke, the only change in lineup we've ever had. It was a big hit by total accident, and we've been scaling up as it has become more popular. I quit law school, we got an office and now we all have full-time jobs wearing polyester.

Do you find that your audiences show up expecting an evening of ironic fun or do they have a genuine appreciation for these songs?

We feel quite lucky that our job is to make people happy - it's always 72 and sunny wherever we are. I think a lot of musicians, my former self included, get caught up in the "making art" side of things and forget that your first duty is as an entertainer. We've learned to take the music seriously without taking ourselves seriously.

Irony used to be more pervasive, but our special sauce is that we can really play. You heard a lot of people in captains hats saying, "But these guys are actually good!" We couldn't get guys like John Oates, Gary Wright, Eddie Money and Robbie Dupree to play with us if it was a big joke. 

You seem to have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of the "yacht rock" genre - what are some of the lesser-known "classics" that you enjoy performing?

The most fun is to play a song people had forgotten, but then as we play it they realize they actually know most of the words. "Pina Colada Song" is a song that always surprises audiences in that way - they never expect to hear it performed by a live band. 

"Moonlight Feels Right" by Starbuck is a great song with the greatest xylophone solo in pop history. Not only have we played it with the original members, but we were responsible for bringing all seven of them together for the first time on stage a couple years ago. It was a magical moment and we're really proud of it. 

There's a lot of craft that goes into your versions of these songs - what do you find to be the biggest misunderstandings or misconceptions that people have about tribute acts?

There used to be a sense that if a musician joined a cover band, they were selling out. I think with the challenges facing musicians, just in terms of making a living, that stigma is largely past. The real sell-out would be if we had spent all of those years developing our musical skills and then switched careers to something about which we felt no passion or drive, like working at a sintering plant or something. 

Because we're playing tribute to a genre, rather than a specific artist, we have a virtually unlimited catalogue of songs to choose from - which keeps it fun for us. 

If you could perform with any "yacht rock" pioneer, who would it be?  
Our patron saints are Michael McDonald and Hall & Oates - so we've got one out of three!

What's on tap for you next?

Our biggest inspiration is getting to play these tunes with the guys that wrote them and made them hits - it never gets old! The energy that passes between us is amazing - I think we inspire the artists with our intensity and accuracy, and we're just fired up to get to share the stage with guys who have been to the mountaintop. Robbie Dupree is one of our absolute  favorites - he's got some of our favorite songs ("Steal Away" was one of my wife's requests at our wedding) and he's a gentle soul... with a dark sense of humor. He meshes with us perfectly, and we're amped to play with him in Niagara Falls. 

It's always fun to play with one of these guys for the first time, and this summer we get to play with Mickey Thomas from Starship... in Hawaii... opening for Kenny Loggins. So that will be a trip! We're also starting to get our lineup together for our Yacht Rock Revival in Atlanta that we do every summer, where we bring a bunch of these artists on stage with us. 

We're also going shopping.