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.