Monday, September 01, 2014

Celebrate Labor Day and spend $1 on the labor of local musicians today.

Photo used courtesy of Shorpy Photo Archive.

On Facebook the other day, I read a post by a local musician I like lamenting that only a few people had paid to download his most recent recording. He said it was hard to muster the enthusiasm and expense to release new music when it is met with seeming indifference from its intended audience. The comments on the article ranged from helpfully good-intentioned to hilariously sarcastic, but they all boiled down to two things musicians need to sell music: exposure and an audience willing to give them money to listen to their music.

To those points I issue this challenge to everyone who reads this: Spend $1 to download a song from a local, independent musician. I have a list below of more than 125 active and former bands from Arkansas. If you live somewhere else, chances are there that many or more bands in your state that are in the same boat. Even if you don’t follow your local music scene, there’s probably that one guy at work who’s always inviting you out to come see his band play. Look them up on Bandcamp or CD Baby or iTunes, listen to their music and spend $1 to download your favorite song.

Just as importantly, share this post. Challenge your friends to support their favorite local musician. Share your own favorite band or list of bands. Let’s promote the idea that local bands are just as deserving of our patronage as the big national acts signed to major labels or big indies.

I’m sharing this big list today. But I’m going to highlight a track by at least one “dollar-worthy” band a week at Bookmark that page, add it to your favorites or you RSS feed, like it on Facebook, and let a local musician know that what they do is worthwhile.

Ashtray Babyhead
Rodney Block & The Real Music Lovers
Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth
Stephen Neeper & The Wild Hearts

Monday, July 28, 2014

Music Review: Bonnie Montgomery

Bonnie Montgomery
Bonnie Montgomery
Produced by Jason Weinheimer, Nathan Howdeshell, and Bonnie Montgomery
© 2014 Fast Weapons Records

Bonnie Montgomery is not retro. She is Old School. She plays a brand of country music that hearkens back to its classic days when Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline topped the charts. Indeed, her vibrant (and classically trained) alto puts one in mind of Cline’s instrument, but where Patsy’s music was polished to a fine, sparkling sheen, Bonnie favors the earthy grit and boom-chicka rhythm of Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Three. Nathan Howdeshell (moonlighting from the famous dance-punk band Gossip) brings guitar sounds that are thoroughly modern, while still recalling the resonator and “wobble tone” six strings of vintage and classic country.

“I left old Black County just to search for my soul,” Bonnie sings in the opening verse of the album, uttering a phrase that comes as close as anything to expressing the album’s predominant theme. Bonnie Montgomery is suffused with a profound wanderlust. It’s filled with tales of the homes we leave, the homes we find, and the tension between the two. Bonnie is the sole songwriter for all ten songs on the album. Some of these songs springs from her personal and/or family history (“Nashville,” “Daddy’s,” “Joy”), others from her considerable imagination. All of them are rooted in the long-standing, and long-neglected, tradition of country music as a storytelling medium, a medium at which Bonnie exceeds. “Take Me or Leave Me,” with its religious imagery and spare first-person perspective, is an outlaw song worthy of Johnny Cash. In just a few words, “Cropdust Skies” recalls all the small, happy memories of a shared life to evoke a deep sense of time and place, celebrating the life of a lost love.

Bonnie’s been playing all or most of these songs for several years now, which has resulted in a mature and confident debut album that will, I believe, rank among the year’s best releases. The best part is, if you’ve seen her live more than once, you know she has a repertoire deep enough to record a follow-up that’s just as good without writing a single new song.

Bonnie Montgomery is available today for download at iTunes and Amazon. You can purchase the CD locally at Arkansas Record and CD Exchange, or order it online from Fast Weapons Records. A vinyl LP version is planned for later this year.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Amasa Hines debut "All The World There Is"

Amasa Hines' debut record, All The World There Is, has a lot of expectations it has to live up to. In the four years the group has been playing, Amasa Hines has established a reputation as one of the best live bands in the region. The band's performances, often augmented by a full horn section, are incredibly tight. Lead singer, Joshua Asante, has a soulful magnetism that commands attention even in the tenderest moments. Ryan Hitt's bass guitar anchors each song, providing the perfect melodic counterpoint without over playing. Judson Spillyard's guitar playing is liquid, with currents you can float on like a river.

Wonderfully, all the best qualities of the band's live performances translated to its recorded work. Shades of vintage funk and soul, 60's jazz, and afrobeat add color and dimension to the music, projecting a sound that is modern, but with a sense of its history. But, the band does much more than simply recreate its live performances on the record. All The World There Is sports lavish production values. The time and attention the band took to make this record is evident in every song. Layered vocal harmonies, full horn sections, and strings gild the edges of each meticulously crafted song.

The record is as emotionally resonant as it is musically. Betrayal, anger, loss, renewal, longing, the pull between the physical and the spiritual, the past and the future, all of these feelings play against each other over the course of the record. One can almost tease out a story, each song comprising its own chapter of the narrative. Taken as a whole, All The World There Is is an ambitious, original, and complex collection of songs that belies the limited resources used to make it.

All The World There Is is available on CD at the band's shows and at Arkansas CD and Record Exchange, and digitally on iTunes and CDBaby. Vinyl copies will be available soon. Contact or follow Amasa Hines on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bad Years, "Decline"

Cover image courtesy of Bad Years.
I'm breaking the silence today to make a little noise for Little Rock noise makers Bad Years who have released their first single, "Decline," today via Bandcamp. Bad Years have been gigging around town for a couple of years, which hardly seems possible since more than half the group is still in high school. But despite their age, they play a brand of punk rock that's as polished as it is ferocious. Listen to the single below and catch them Friday night at Juanita's opening for Bobby Joe Ebola & The Children MacNuggits with Glittercore (who also have a terrific new album streaming at Reverb Nation), and Crooked Roots.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Red Forty, Discography

Cover image courtesy of Harlan Records.

 Nate Powell, the Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist and original member of the legendary Little Rock punk band, Soophie Nun Squad, is blogging a history of Harlan Records, one of the several DIY labels that helped make a name for Little Rock's 90's music scene. Today's "history lesson" is the Discography CD by Red Forty featuring Ben Nichols (Lucero) on bass and singing, Colin Brooks (The Big Cats, Substance, Dan Zanes & Friends) on guitar, and Steve Kooms on drums.

Red Forty's punk pop/emo owed a lot musically to Jawbreaker and Social Distortion, and the members all went on to bigger and better projects, but this record so perfectly captures what was happening in Little Rock at the time, and it still sounds fun and relevant 14 years later.

The best bit of Powell's walk down memory lane is he is digitizing all the old cassette and 7" releases and making high quality downloads available of each release. All the projects Harlan released on CD are being re-released digitally at Bandcamp with lossless CD quality download options. Red Forty's Discography had two small print runs and has been out of print for seven or eight years. It has become a much sought after collectible, so having a legal, lossless download available will make a lot of people happy. Stream or buy it below.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Greg Spradlin and the Band of Imperials, “Hi-Watter”

Image courtesy Greg Spradlin and the Band of Imperials.
I got scooped hard this week by the cover story on Greg Spradlin in the new Arkansas Times by David Ramsey. Spradlin is one of the mainstays of Little Rock’s music scene, long known as a musician’s musician and one of the best guitar players in the state. He’s played with a ton of bands, including Lucinda Williams and Chuck Berry, as well as local heroes the Boondogs and Mulehead. In the 1990s he fronted the alt-country band The Skeeterhawks and in 2003 released …and Twiced as Gone by his own Greg Spradlin Outfit. He worked for several years with legendary Memphis musician and producer Jim Dickinson until Dickinson’s death in 2009.

The big news in the Times cover story is that Spradlin has a new band called Greg Spradlin and the Band of Imperials featuring Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo and Pete Thomas, long-time drummer for Elvis Costello, who no less than Tom Waits has praised as the best rock drummer alive. They have recorded a bunch of songs together and the plan, according to Spradlin in the Times article, is to release them one or two at a time over the coming months. “Hell or Hi-Watter” and “I Drew Six”, released through the group’s Bandcamp page (linked below), are the first two songs the group has made public, and they are monsters. Or, as Ramsey puts it in his article:

The Imperials sound like a bar band, in the very best way. The 10 songs they've finished so far are loose, swampy, anthemic, psychedelic. They sound like Arkansas, and they sound like something from another planet. Spradlin growls and wails like a drunken preacher. It's both more playful and more expansive than anything he has recorded before, dirty enough for a dive bar but with the sprawling ambition of arena rock.

Spradlin will be playing these songs and more tonight at White Water Tavern opening for legendary blues guitarist Kenny Brown. Thomas and Hidalgo, sadly, will not be joining him for this performance, but Spradlin says he’s working on the logistics to get them in to town for a gig.

Full disclosure: Spradlin and I worked together at Heifer International Foundation for a few years, and I promoted a few local gigs with The Skeeterhawks on the bill with another band I was working with back in the mid-1990’s.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Antivenin Suite by Isaac Alexander

Image courtesy of Max Recordings.

Antivenin Suite, Isaac Alexander, Max Recordings, 2012.

I was all set to publish the list of my favorite records from this year when I got word that Isaac Alexander was playing a show tonight Thursday, December 13, at White Water Tavern to celebrate the release of his new album, Antivenin Suite. Now that I’ve gotten a chance to hear the record a few times, it was good decision to hold of publishing my list, because Antivenin Suite surely deserves a place on it.

The record goes a long way to refining Alexander's voice as an artist, separate even from his contributions to Big Silver, The Easys, Boondogs, and the other bands he plays in and writes for.

Alexander's songs are laconic, economically crafted, and effortlessly melodic, drawing the listener in to songs that, without the bouyant melodies, might otherwise sound cynical.

Antivenin Suite is available on CD in the store at Max Recordings webstore and digitally at Alexander's Bandcamp page.