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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Saturday Night Out: The Big Cats

Poster used courtesy The Big Cats.

There are many holiday traditions you may look forward to: singing Christmas carols, candlelight services and potlucks, seeing family you haven’t seen since last Christmas. One tradition that I look forward to all year is The Big Cats’ annual holiday show at White Water Tavern.

Though The Big Cats have been a band for nearly 20 years, for the last decade or more its members have been scattered across the country, making the holidays, when they’re all back here to visit family and friends, the only time during the year they can play together. This year’s show is extra special, as it comes on the heels of the release of the band’s fourth album, The Ancient Art of Leaving, a 3-LP or 2-CD collection of 25 of the best power-pop songs I’ve heard this year.

Once again, they’re playing 2 sets: a 6 p.m. all-ages set, with pop-punk youngsters Bad Years opening up, and a 10 p.m. adults-only set with support from local treasure, Kevin Kerby. If you’ve not heard it yet, Kevin Kerby’s new CD, Apostle’s Tongues, is a thing of stubborn beauty.

You can hear music from The Big Cats at the band's BandCamp site.

Take a listen to "It's Not Needing What You Want, But Wanting What You Need," the single from Kevin Kerby's Apostle's Tongues.

Bad Years have just initiated their own BandCamp site with a recording of a recent live gig at Vino's.

Friday Night Out: Velvet Kente Winter Clothes Dance Party

Poster used courtesy of Velvet Kente.

After you’ve braved the crowds and the stores, after you’ve eaten the leftovers and watched all the football you can take, shake off your Black Friday Blues at Velvet Kente’s Winter Clothes Dance Party. If you’ve been to any of Velvet Kente’s previous Dance Parties, you already know that this is a show not to be missed.

The band asks that you bring an item of winter clothing to donate. All clothing donated will benefit Our House, a shelter in Little Rock that offers educational programs, daycare, job training, workforce preparedness training, financial assistance programs, emergency shelter, and more for the working homeless.

The setlist is all songs from “the African diaspora,” which, if the previous soul and Afro beat parties are any indication, will be seriously funky.

The show starts at 10 p.m. (with support from DJ Swet and DJ Prophet) at the White Water Tavern. The cover is $10 ($7 with an article of winter clothing).

If you're not convinced, here's a clip from last fall's Afro Soul Dance Party.

See more at Velvet Kente's tumblr site.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday and Saturday Night Out: Bear Colony "Soft Eyes" Release Shows.


Album cover courtesy Esperanza Plantation.
Bear Colony pulls off something rather spectacular with its new release, Soft Eyes, which is out this week on the Esperanza Plantation label. On its first album, We Came Here to Die, the group didn’t call itself a band, preferring instead to refer to itself as a “collective.” The descriptor made a lot of sense as the group played more in the studio than on the stage and featured a rotating stable of musicians. Listening to that album, it was obvious that Bear Colony was pulling from a deep pool of talent, but it could often sound like a different band from track to track.

Soft Eyes, by contrast, is tightly focused both in sound and concept, and expands in every way in its predecessor. Most tellingly, the sonic palette has grown from the acoustic guitar plus electronics “laptop pop” that characterized the debut release. The new release is awash with warm, hazy soundscapes, reminiscent of Jesus and Mary Chain or Sigur Rós, punctuated with ear-worming pop hooks. "Flask Retort," the album’s first single and video (posted below), is a great example of the gorgeous sonic textures constructed throughout this record, with its swimmy, distorted synthesizers and drum machine track that recalls everything good about pop music in the 80’s.

I have always thought guitar feedback is one of the most cathartic noises humans have ever learned to make. Catharsis is a frequent topic of Soft Eyes. The record was inspired by the failing health and death of lead singer Vincent Griffin’s mother, and his grief hovers over the album like an unresolved chord. The album opens and closes with the question, “After we’re dead and gone, what is left of our souls?” In between those repeated phrases, Griffin channels his anger, grief, passion, love, and even happiness into a work about loss that is as profound as it is ultimately affirming.

Bear Colony is playing two shows in the region to celebrate the release of Soft Eyes: on Friday, November 16, at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, and on Saturday, November 17, 2012, at Revolution Music Room in Little Rock. 607, one of Little Rock’s most popular and prolific hip-hop artists, is also performing and releasing a new album, titled YIK3LIF3!, at the Little Rock show.

Full Disclosure: Bear Colony’s drummer and producer, Mattew Putman, is also in the band SnailhuntR that released an album (the utterly brilliant Origin of the Spiral) through my own record company, Bigwig Enterprises, in 2003. Brooks Tipton, who used to play keyboards for Bear Colony, was my neighbor from 2007 to 2010 or 2011. Also, I am a Facebook friend with lead singer Vincent Griffin. This review is completely biased by those relationships, but it does not change the truth that Soft Eyes is a beautifully rendered work of art, well-deserving of your patronage.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Big Cats "The Ancient Art of Leaving"

Once you’ve done your civic duty today, take your mind off all the campaigning red state vs. blue state madness and check out “The Ancient of Art of Leaving” by one of the best bands the great state of Arkansas has ever produced, The Big Cats.

Two years in the making, “The Ancient Art of Leaving” is a 25-song double album, the first half of which, “High and Low,” was released on CD and iTunes almost a year ago. The second half, “Two Parts,” is available on CD and online today. All 25 songs are available on a massive, limited edition 3-LP vinyl set.

The “Two Parts” volume is easily the best start-to-finish record The Big Cats have ever made. It’s almost a shame that it’s the second half of a double album. It is, I think, a better stand-alone record than “High and Low,” though not so much that it’s dragged down playing the entire collection through in one sitting. In that context, however, it’s the rare album that gains energy, momentum, and focus in its back half.

The songs, starting with the irrepressible “I Can See Land,” are all memorable and smart. In fact, nearly every song has a hook that sticks with you well after the song has ended (and makes it easy to sing along to, even if you’re hearing it for the first time). The album’s production polish sounds shiny and expensive, but still has the energy and abandon of a band that’s excited to play these songs together. And the band continues to expand its sound in new directions. The horn section that showed up on the “High and Low” track “King of Brief” makes another appearance on “Born Clean.” Burbling synthesizers and glockenspiel fill out the sound on other tracks, and guitarist Jason White takes over lead vocals on the haunting “High Up Over the Wall.”

Efforts by local and indie bands frequently succeed squarely on passion, love, and ambition, but falter due to lack of resources. It’s truly great to hear a group of DIY true believers that sound like a million bucks. I should like to find some way of tempering my enthusiasm for this record or run the risk ruining my credibility by sounding like a fan boy (an occupational hazard since I typically only write about things I like). But the fact remains I’ve not heard many other records this year so consistently listenable, so well-written, and well-crafted from beginning to end regardless of where the band came from or how well I knew the musicians personally.

The 3-LP vinyl (with better than CD digital download options) is available at Bandcamp.

The CD and links to iTunes are available at the Max Recordings web shop.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Velvet Kente "Binti"

Stop what you're doing right now. Press play on the video embedded below. Watch the entire clip, and do not attempt to restrain yourself from singing and dancing. That would be futile.

"Binti" is the song that introduced Joshua and Velvet Kente to the world. The demo that accompanied Korto Momolu's models walk on the runway in the 2008 Project Runway season finale, however, bears little resemblance to the epic jam as performed by the band these days, riffing off an irresistible Fela Kuti hook with horns, percussion, and full audience participation.

Visit Velvet Kente on the web:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bonnie Montgomery to open Gossip's Fall US tour

"Cruel" is out soon on Fast Weapons. Image courtesy of Bonnie Montgomer/Fast Weapons.
The news just keeps rolling in today.

Ms. Bonnie Montgomery just posted the news on her Facebook page that she'll be opening the Fall leg of Gossip's US tour. Bonnie's retro-rockabilly should make for an interesting contrast to Gossip's punk-inspired disco/glam. But it should all be awesome. Gossip's 2009 show at Vino's is still one of the best live shows I've ever seen, and Bonnie is a fantastic entertainer. I would love to hear her and Beth Ditto do a duet if for no other reason than to hear Ditto sing country. I'll post the tour dates as soon as they're announced. The tour dates are listed below. Hopefully, Gossip guitarist, Nathan Howdeshell, will be backing up Bonnie on this tour as he has at her appearances around town and on the road for the last several months. The tour will be in support of "Cruel," Bonnie's debut 7" and CD for Howdeshell's indie label Fast Weapons.

Here is a live clip of my personal favorite Bonnie Montgomery track, "But I Won't."

This is Gossip's latest single, "Move in the Right Direction"

UPDATE: Here are the tour dates (No Arkansas dates, sadly):

Mon, Sep 24 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - 9:30 Club, Washington, DC
Tue, Sep 25 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - TLA, Philadelphia, PA
Wed, Sep 26 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Royale, Boston, MA
Thu, Sep 27 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY
Sat, Sep 29 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Phoenix, Toronto, ON
Sun, Sep 30 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - L'Olympia, Montreal, QB
Tue, Oct 02 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - The Majestic Theatre,Detroit, MI
Wed, Oct 03 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL
Fri, Oct 05 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Majestic, Madison, WI
Sat, Oct 06 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Fine Line Cafe
Tue, Oct 09 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Showbox Market, Seattle, WA
Wed, Oct 10 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR
Fri, Oct 12 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Fonda Theater, Los Angeles, CA
Sat, Oct 13 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Treasure Island Festival, San Francisco, CA
Sun, Oct 14 - Bonnie Montgomery opening for Gossip - Treasure Island Festival, San Francisco, CA

Thick Syrup Records 2012 Compilation

I owe a bunch of reviews on recent releases by Little Rock's great bands. Suffice it to say, all the records are great and you should seek them all out and pay double for them. But I didn't want to wait to clear out the backlog before mentioning that the release of the 2012 Thick Syrup Records Compilation is upon us.

Thick Syrup Records' occasional compilations are great snapshots of what's going on Arkansas' music scene, and the latest entry is no different. There's a party at Sticky Fingerz Friday night ($5 cover) with performances by The SEE, Frontier Circus, and Ginsu Wives -- all featured on the CD -- to celebrate the physical release of the 2012 edition, but the digital release is already up on BandCamp and features 35(!) bonus tracks. This, my friends, is good news.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday Night Out: Don't Stop Please and/or The Wicked Good

There’s lot’s of entertainment choices around town tonight for anyone who wants to brave the rain and/or heat.

Conway’s Don’t Stop Please is releasing a new EP, Crowded Car, at Stickyz. Fayetteville’s The 1 Oz. Jig opens up the show, which starts at 9. $6 will get you in the door.

The first single from the EP, the wonderfully Brian Wilson‑esque “Window Song,” is streaming below, or you can check it out at the band’s BandCamp page.

Over at White Water Tavern, The Wicked Good headline a show that will be frontman David Slade’s last with the group. Peckerwolf and Jab Jab Suckerpunch start off the 10 p.m. show. The Wicked Good’s CD, You’re Welcome, was one of my favorites from last year, and the CD release show was one of the most relentlessly rocking events I’ve seen in ages. I’ll be interested to see how the band adapts without Slade.



Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Big Cats "Ancient Art of Leaving" part 2 out in August

Image used courtesy of The Big Cats.
The second half of The Big Cats' song cycle The Ancient Art of Leaving: Two Parts, will see the light of day on August 21, according to a new post on the band's website. The first half, High and Low, was released at the band's annual holiday show back in December. Rumor has it, both halves be combined for a 3-LP vinyl release as well. I'll post further details, song streams, release party, pre-order info, etc., as I get them.

Once it's out, I'll also post a review of both parts. Reviews are also forthcoming for Kevin Kerby's Apostle's Tongues, Holy Shakes' Feast or Famine, as well as recent releases by The SEE, Year of the Tiger, and other Little Rock bands (old and new) I want to talk about.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The last Beatles' song I "discovered"

Am I the last person in the world to realize what a great frakking song The Beatles' "It's All Too Much" is?

Does it get the shaft because it's over six minutes long (making it hard to play on the radio or put on a hits collections) and buried on Yellow Submarine, one of The Beatles' least considered albums? Did everyone in my generation just assume they were listening to The Stone Roses or Oasis?

For pride's sake, I should point out I came to this realization about three years ago. And, in a way, it's comforting to think you can love a band's music for decades and still have the capacity to be surprised by it.

Soon we will all live forever

Two articles cross my RSS feed today that herald fortuitous new medical discoveries that will soon usher in our immortal future.

The first, "You cannot poison an opossum", by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing references Jason Bittel's article on the unique protein produced by opossums, the Lethal Toxin Neutralizing Factor (LTNF), that makes the marsupials nigh invulnerable to all environmental and even man-made poisons. More astoundingly, by injecting the protein into other mammals, rats in the case cited by Bittel, they also exhibited an immunity to everything from the venom from Thailand cobras, Australian taipans, Brazilian rattlesnakes, scorpions and honeybees, even always deadly man-made poisons like ricin.

Of course human trials of this protein would, I think, be quite unethical, as it would require poisoning your experimental group with all manner of known toxins to see if they are, indeed, immune. Mistakes would be lethal. But there is a lot of medical potential here if the ethical issues can be worked out. Just think of the huge boon/setback this will provide to the espionage/assassination industry.

The second article, "Scientists Find Molecule That Will Make Your Teeth Cavityproof," by Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo references research by Yale and Universidad de Santiago scientists who have discovered a compound that effectively kills the bacteria that cause tooth decay and, used regularly, would put an end to dental cavities. Which is good, because if we are no longer able to poison ourselves before we reach old age, we're going to need good, strong teeth to feed our immortal bodies.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

"Augustus and Juniper" by Joshua of Velvet Kente

A terrific surprise appeared on my Facebook news feed this afternoon in the form of a video of a new song by Velvet Kente and Amasa Hines frontman Joshua. The video also teases its audience with the first public hints about Good News for Sinners, the long-awaited debut album by Velvet Kente.

The song, "Augustus and Juniper" tells the tale of "lovers. husband and wife. dreamers. parents. slaves. and of their escape from a South Carolina plantation with their twin daughters." It's also a fantastic showcase for Joshua's soulful singing.


Joshua's Tumblr blog,, is a masterclass in jazz and pop music history. He posts pictures and links to recordings by his musical forbears on almost a daily basis, demonstrating the sense of history, and respect for his elders, that flavors the stew of influences that makes Velvet Kente and Amasa Hines so timely and timeless at the same time.

More details to come as I receive them.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Coming July 17: Kevin Kerby's "Apostle's Tongues"

You can't tell the history of Little Rock's prolific music scene or list the city's greatest songwriters without making a lot of space in those documents for Kevin Kerby. He played guitar in Ho Hum back when the group was signed to Universal, then struck out on his own and made four amazing albums leading the alternative country band par excellence Mulehead. The homespun recording The Secret Lives of All-Night Radios was Kerby's first solo release in 2005. He followed it up in 2009 with the more raucous Beautiful and Bright, recorded with his band Battery. Like a character in a Faulkner novel, Kerby writes country songs about rock 'n' roll hedonism, sings gospel songs in a bar at 2 a.m., and praises the bonds that tie him to a place he longs to escape but that also defines who he is.

It was the best news I got all week, then, when Max Recordings put out the news that Kerby's new album Apostle's Tongues is set to release on  July 17, and posted a nostalgia tinged video for the album's first single "It's Not Needing What You Want, It's Wanting What You Need," which is embedded at the top of this post. Apostle's Tongues is available as a limited edition (100 copies) CD and booklet, a regular edition CD, and on iTunes.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Friday Night Out: Iron Tongue 7" release show with The Holy Shakes, and Nigh Ends aboard the Arkansas Queen

Photo courtesy of Iron Tongue's Facebook page.
It's a busy week, not only bands for playing shows, but for bands releasing new music at said shows. Purveyors of fuzz and doom, Iron Tongue, featuring members of such stalwart Arkansas bands as Rwake and Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth, among others, are releasing a split 7" with Memphis' The Dirty Streets at a gig Friday night on The Arkansas Queen riverboat. The bill is rounded out by The Holy Shakes (more on them soon) and Nigh End. The boat casts off at 10 p.m. and the cover is $15.

Here's a video of "Shoot the Moon" from Iron Tongue's performance at this year's Riverfest Festival.

The Tricks' self-titled CD-release show at WWT tonight

Image courtesy of The Tricks' Facebook page.
Little Rock indie-rock band The Tricks are releasing its self-titled debut CD with a celebratory show at White Water Tavern (2500 West 7th Street). You can download a pair of singles from the album (streaming below) for $1 each at the band's Bandcamp site or stream the whole thing for free at its Soundcloud page. The CD will set you back $10 at the show. The band is also offering a CD+T-shirt deal for $15. The cover charge is $5. Conway's Don't Stop Please opens the show.

New Charles Portis 'miscellany' to be released this Fall.

Illustration by Mike Reddy. Used courtesy of University of Arkansas Press.

If any of you, my occasional readers, love me at all, a copy of this better be under the tree for me at Christmas. Multiple copies will not be looked upon with disappointment.

Twenty years after the publication of Portis’ last novel, Butler Center Books, an imprint of the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, is publishing Escape Velocity: A CharlesPortis Miscellany, edited humorist and journalist Jay Jennings, that collects Portis’ short fiction, travel and journalism (including his coverage of the Medgar Evers assassination and Elvis Presley’s funeral), a memoir, and previously unpublished comic three-act play, Delray’s New Moon.

Portis published five novels between 1966 and 1991. He won over fans and critics with his deadpan humor, attention to detail, and masterful dialogue. Two of his books, Norwood and True Grit, were adapted as films. True Grit was adapted twice, first in 1966 starring John Wayne, and again in 2010 starring Jeff Bridges. Wayne won his only Academy Award® for his portrayal of Portis’ iconic character Rooster Cogburn, and Bridges was nominated for his portrayal of the same character.

Portis’ third novel, Dog of the South, is reportedly being made into a feature film by director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland, Paul) and starring Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live, Men In Black 3, Paul). No production information or release date was available on IMDB.

Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany goes on sale October 1 at fine booksellers everywhere.

Hitting the reset button

After three years of shamefully not updating my blog, I am preparing to resume posting content on a  somewhat regular basis. I've changed the name (I might yet change it again, if I can come up with something better that is available), updated the template, and decided to focus on Little Rock's cultures, popular and otherwise, as well as music, books, movies, politics, religion, or any other topics that I'm interested in that would not be properly served by simply sharing a link on Facebook.

I've got a number of posts already planned to post in the near future. Once they're used up, I'll probably lapse into another three years of inactivity. Or I'll get in the habit of planning and posting content regularly. If anyone besides me reads this thing, I might slather the site in advertising, too. We'll.

If you are amused even in the slightest by what you read here, feel free to add this blog to your RSS feed, leave a comment, and share a post on one the myriad social networks you belong to.