Friday, March 15, 2013

Becoming a Musical Locavore . . .

There's some great music in my adopted state of Colorado

Anyone following my latest posts knows that lately I’ve been trying to expend more effort to learn more about the local music scene here in Colorado.  When I lived in Los Angeles I was very active in the local music scene starting in the mid-80’s, and went to many great shows (though not as many as I wanted to because of financial issues).  But in the mid-90’s I moved both literally and figuratively away from live music and rock music both, as I left to do postdoctoral research at the University of Michigan Medical School for two years and was burned out on rock anyway (the subject of a future post).  It was only starting early in the 21st century that I began to get back into both rock music and live music, but of course six years ago we had our son and since then it’s been harder for us to go out and see live bands for both practical reasons (finding a good and available babysitter, cost, etc.) and other reasons (I’m simply less into hanging out in loud smoky bars as I get older). 

But lately I’ve been really trying to get out and see local bands, and even when that’s not possible I’ve been trying to purchase music by them, and in general to treat music much the same way as I treat food:  buying local and “organic” (i.e., real music played by real musicians).  I must say I’ve been impressed by the quality of the music being made here in the Denver-Boulder area.   Specifically, right now I am really into the following songs by the following bands:

1.  "Cook County Jail” by Ethyl and the Regulars—anyone reading my recent posts knows that I am in LOVE with this band; they are the living, breathing, embodiment of 1950’s honky tonk/hillbilly boogie country, which is right now my FAVORITE music.  I love all their songs, but by far my favorite is this one, which just has that peppy swinging rhythm and catchy groove that I love about so much 1950’s country—the bass on this song is particularly terrific.  I’ve been lucky enough to see this band live now twice at the Oscar Blues bar in Lyons, Colorado, and both times they blew me away.  Their originals as well as their sublime choice of covers (which keep me scrambling for my iPhone to Google them so I can download them when I get home).  Of their originals, I also love “The Waitress Song”, “Canada Dry”, and “At the End of My Blues”.

In addition to terrific covers of songs by usual honky tonk suspects like Buck Owens (including a version of “Together Again” that I actually like MORE than the original, as blasphemous as that might sound), Hank Williams (“Mind Your Own Business”), and a satisfyingly large plethora of Johnny Horton (“I’m a One Woman Man”; “Cherokee Boogie”; “Got the Bull By the Horns”), they have cranked out superb versions of “On This Mountain Top” by Johnny Paycheck and “Apartment Number Nine” by George Jones.  Their version of “Last Train to Clarksville” by the Monkees, with a chunk of Hank Garland’s “Sugarfoot Rag” inserted into the middle, is a slice of heaven to me.  Heck, even my wife, whom I dragged to see them despite her avowed lack of interest in honky tonk country (though she is a big fan of roots- and country-influenced rock by bands like Lucero and Wilco) was impressed by them.  I love these guys and am probably their biggest fan.

2.  "The Longest Night” by the Gasoline Lollipops—I downloaded this song a while back but only gave it a quick and dirty listen then but since then I’ve gone back and given it a closer listen and realized the incredible power and emotion of this amazing, touching song.  It describes the experiences the singer had when a close friend who lived in another state attempted suicide, and his thoughts and feelings as he drove across the country to see her, not knowing if she was still alive or what would happen to her.  The soft but solid rhythm, quiet instrumentation, and heartfelt lyrics and impassioned vocals give this song incredible emotional impact that blows me away every time I listen to it (which is often).  It’s hard to listen to this song and not be deeply touched, the lyrics are so raw and real and honest.  I need to see this band live soon, they have a residency in a bar/club one town over from me and I’m going to try to get out there as soon as I can.  There's also a stark, moody Johnny Cash feel to this song too; I can picture the Man in Black singing this song easily.

3.  “Statutes of Limitation” and “Virtues, Spices and Liquors” by 4H Royalty.  My most recent post gushes about this incredible band, who sound for all the world like a cross between the Replacements and the Meat Puppets, a contemporary/alternative band that’s unabashedly proud of their rural/western roots and infuse their guitar-intense alternative sound with elements of country and bar band.  “Statutes” is a driving, rhythmically pumping song with sweet lead guitar flourishes and is simply wonderful.  “Virtues” as mentioned has a sweet, more introspective high lonesome quality to it, highlighted by some nifty slide guitar work.  These guys are probably my second most favorite band of the moment, just a really effective mix of the contemporary and the classic, the urban and the rural.  They capture to me the essence of Denver—a modern, even cosmopolitan city which is nevertheless proud of its western roots and rural heritage.  Not everyone who lives in a “flyover” state is a reactionary hick; these guys upend any number of negative stereotypes someone might have about the types of people who live here.  I love bands that can do that, as well as walk that line between genres as well as they do.

4.  "Good Morning Blues” by Ethyl and the Regulars--I especially love the line “The ghost of our love, still haunts these lonely rooms, and whispers your name in my ear.”  Another terrific slice of original honky tonk country from this amazing band.

  5.  "All I Got To Show” by Mad Dog and the Smokin’ J’s—I don’t have a studio version of this song, just a live version someone recorded (complete with annoying bar chatter in the background) and posted on YouTube, but this is another incredibly powerful performance and song.  As mentioned in my previous post, the song has that rootsy guitar swagger of the best Social Distortion, but it’s the vocals that really put this song over the top for me—the passionate, bluesy vocals remind me at one remove of John Mellencamp’s early work on albums like Scarecrow, which again I mean as a high compliment.  A very powerful and moving song, this seems like another great band to see live.

6.  “Chinese Turquoise” and “Orbison Eyes” by 4H Royalty—These two songs, off their first album Colossolalia, first got me excited by this amazing band, and in particular demonstrated their amazing guitar work and guitar tone.  The solo on “Chinese Turquoise” is one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long, long time. 

7. “Drive Away” by the Railbenders—arguably Colorado’s finest purveyors of a more contemporary country sound (though far from the overpolished crap that has oozed out of Nashville for the past 40 years), the Railbenders have produced a number of outstanding songs on their four albums to date, but I like this song a lot for its sweet sentiment and melodic charm.  “Drop Me Off at the Honky Tonk” has a distinct Merle Haggard/Waylon Jennings feel and is another fave, as is “I-70 Westbound”, a proud shout-out to the obvious assets of the Rocky Mountain State and another song that sounds comfortably at home on any “outlaw country” playlist. 

8. “Fast Track” by Mad Dog and the Smokin’ J’s—this song, off their  album Fuel For the Fire  is a fun, catchy, bouncy light rockabilly ditty.  Its breezy, finger snapping rhythm and sweet melodic guitar reminds me of Buddy Holly’s more pop work, like “That’ll Be the Day”.  It also reminds me of two neo-rockabilly cuts I’ve enjoyed for some time, “Someday, Someway” by Marshall Crenshaw (which launched his career as the finest purveyor of Buddy Holly-influenced rockabilly revival; he even played Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba) and “Living for Your Lover” by Chris Isaak; both tunes have that same jaunty, catchy approach to rockabilly pop that Holly himself originated.  Great stuff.

9.  “Bud’s Bounce” by the Blue Mountain Ranch Hands—this band, which only gigs sporadically (I missed their last performance at Oskar Blue’s damn it), is a classic western swing combo in the vein of Bob Wills, but with additional female vocals that give it a more swing jazz type of patina.  This song is particularly good in showcasing their instrumental prowess.  This is “hillbilly jazz” of the finest sort, the kind of music that shatters the stereotype of inbred hicks picking on a banjo on the porch.  During its heyday western swing shared musical ideas and musicians with the best urban jazz, and guitarists like Bob Dunn and the late lamented Jimmy Wyble were widely recognized as sophisticated and highly trained and talented musicians.  It’s great to see someone trying to keep those ideals alive.

 10. “My Rocky Mountain Home” by Bonnie and the Clydes—this is another sweet ode to life in Colorado; Ms. Bonnie is a talented, sharp vocalist and they are another band I hope to see more of soon.

This is my version of a Local Top 10.  I've really enjoyed searching out these fantastic local bands.

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